Oh, Toreador-ah Don’t spit on the floor-ah

Singing Christmas carols at Fort Camp (1948)

Walter Gage had an ear for music and enjoyed listening to the classics performed at the Orpheum theatre. He wasn’t shy to lead a party singing Christmas carols or breaking out in a song if the right occasion arose. One such occasion happened in the Fall of 1977. It’s a story shared by Victor Hugo Noguera, BSc. Earth Sciences, 1981.

Victor was a student in Calculus 101.  He was the only student speaking Spanish-accented English. In no time Walter picked up that he was from Venezuela and far away from home.

When Victor approached Walter with a calculus question after class ended, Walter would look at him intently and with caring eyes and ask – “Mr. Noguera, are you happy? Are you feeling lonesome?  How is your family in Venezuela?”  If Walter only knew the effect that these simple, short and polite questions had on him; that a professor in so high a place would care about the well-being of a foreign student from far ashore was amazing in every way.

Hang on! It gets better. Here’s another story in Victor’s own words.

One November morning, the campus, and all of Vancouver, woke up with an unusual, thick layer of heavy fog.   I had seen fog in my home country but never as dense and spread as that morning.  Once I got to campus, visibility was less than a couple of feet.   I got off the bus (Broadway #10) and hesitantly walked toward the Math Annex building to make my 8 am class.   I struggled to make out one building from the next. Finally, after nearly fifteen minutes getting my bearings I found the buff- colored, vine-covered Math building.   When I finally got to the door of the amphitheater I looked at my watch and confirmed I was about twenty minutes late to the fifty five-minute class.

Those familiar with the amphitheater of the Math Annex building know that the only way to access the classroom is through two doors situated in the front of the classroom floor, at opposite ends of the extra-long blackboard.  As I approached, I could hear Professor Gage dutifully immersed in his lecture, chalking away equations on the blackboard.   I gently opened one of the doors, heart beating, and moved forward into the room. Much to my relief I could see that he was concentrated on solving a complex math problem, and that his face and body were turned away from the class.   I slid into an empty desk, eyes avoiding contact with anybody, and carefully pulled a notebook and pencil from my backpack, and while my breathing returned to normal I proceeded to start taking notes. Professor Gage continued undisturbed, writing formulas fervently and elegantly moving the math problem through a number of logical steps until he reached the much sought after solution.  Once there, he paused, then turned around with a happy and confident glean on his face and extended both of his arms openly to the entire classroom.  He would enunciated with a thundering voice the verse of Bizet’s Carmen Toreador song which goes something like this:

Oh, Toreador-ah

Don’t spit on the floor-ah

Use the cuspidor-ah

That’s what is for-ah

This unexpected triumphant chant inevitably resulted in a strident and unanimous laughter from the entire class.

Once the laugher subsided, a minute or so, he turned his still smiley face toward me, and said in a very audible voice that resonated across the classroom – “Mr. Noguera, I see you arrived a bit late this morning!?” ……. I reckon having problems with your commute?”  …A long deafening silence was only perturbed by the pounding of my heart reminding that I was still alive ……A grin slowly formed on his face as he proceeded to say “Oh, don’t worry about it, Mr. Noguera……we all figured that commuting to UBC every day from Venezuela must be quite the ordeal!”

A second outburst of laughter spread rapidly across from the entire amphitheater, under the friendly and playful expression of Professor Gage.   This brought my agony to an end and left everyone in my calculus class in a state of blissful and relaxed camaraderie.

I promised myself never ever again to arrive late to a Walter Gage math class……. no matter the circumstances.