Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Help me fill a class day

Having caught up on my sleep last night, and with the semester a mere three weeks away here, I spent today updating my syllabuses for my two fall courses. One of them, I'm happy to say, needed no changes other than dates. Lest you think that I've already become one of those moribund stereotypes of a lazy prof even before being tenured, I feel I have to say that the reason why I'm not changing this class a bit is because it worked and I don't want to mess with it. Huzzah, a class that worked! Sure, I'll retool individual lesson plans, but the big picture part doesn't need messing with.

On the other hand, my research and methods class needed complete re-doing. Last time I had my colleagues come in to give state-of-the-field talks in their various fields, but I'm not sure that was useful for the students and I'm pretty sure it was a burden to my colleagues. My students and I might have debated which were the most useful/informative talks, but I think we'd all agree that the series was hit-and-miss, and when you're a beginning grad student, it's hard to take it all in anyway.

So this time I'm taking the class back -- more work for me, alas -- and spending much more time on the nitty gritty issues of research. I'll do a blog post with more detail about what I'm doing -- which I've been promising to do anyway -- but first I need your help. I have one slot in my class schedule that needs filling and since it comes near the end of the course, and after we finish reading Gerald Graff's Professing Literature, I'd like to do a day devoted to "The Future of Literary Studies." I might turn to blogs like The Valve (just to give one example) for the content, but I'm wondering if you wise people of tha interwebs have other ideas, particularly articles (in print or online; conventional media or blogs) about the profession (including those of both the hand-wringing ilk and the optimistic kind) and its future. I'd prefer they be specific to English/American literary studies, but related humanities fields, or the humanities in general might also be useful.

Any ideas?

Monday, July 30, 2007

I'm baaaaaaack

Bullock and I got back this afternoon. We were *supposed* to get back this morning, but our red-eye flight from Portland yesterday didn't leave until nearly 2am. And of course I hardly slept on the plane or in the airport while waiting. Why, btw, does airport furniture make it impossible to recline and snooze? It's not like today's airports, with their "ticketed passengers only" rules, are in danger of collecting homeless bench sleepers. Given the frequency with which passengers get stranded, you'd think they'd at least give us reclining seats.

So anyway, we're very tired here, but the trip was fantastic. The wedding was beautiful -- it was at a resort in the Columbia River Gorge -- and all the associated events were fun and full of good food and company. And even though Bullock and I knew no one but the bride, all of her friends were interesting, good people, and we had a fine time talking to them all. Plus, in addition to wedding festivities, I got to see my friend Tommy, eat some yummy food he prepared for us, meet his sweet doggie, and also see his co-op chicken coop and chickens. Being the suburban/city girl that I am, I'd never held eggs fresh from the chicken and it was kind of cool. Plus the chickens were pretty -- not your generic white ones.

We also spent some time in downtown Portland, buying books at Powells (of course), eating sushi in an automat, drinking coffee, shopping, and generally walking around, watching people.

And finally, on our last day, before that red-eye flight, Bullock and I spent the day doing the auto tour of the "Historic Highway" along the Gorge, stopping at all the waterfalls and hiking up the trails around -- and sometimes under -- them. (I'll post pictures when we've uploaded them.) By the end of the tour, I was kind of fascinated by the fact that we were doing what the road had been built for -- auto-tourism -- but we were also reading markers and seeing interpretative exhibits about those historical tourists. So were tourists *of* tourism. It was kind of a tourism mise en abyme.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Away for the weekend

Bullock and I are leaving early tomorrow morning for a long weekend in the Portland, OR, area. We're going to a wedding there. Bullock will look dashingly handsome in a charcoal gray, light-weight wool suit in a snazzy, modern, narrow cut, which he'll wear with a bright blue shirt and a polka-dot tie in shades of green, blue (same as the shirt), and silver. I tried to take a picture of the lovely combination, but the camera wasn't doing justice to the tie's colors.

I will be wearing colors that don't match Bullock at all -- browns and pinks -- but which suit my green-eyed, brunette coloring. His colors are better for his blue-eyed, red-headedness. Anyway, I mentioned a while ago, when I danced for joy over the arrival of H&M to Rust Belt, that I had a helluva time getting just the right top for the skirt I wanted to wear to make it seem like a formal enough outfit. I think it was Medieval Woman who asked to see a picture, so below is the complete outfit, complete with wrap and necklace also purchased at H&M, and the perfect little clutch purse bought with my last 5 quid at Heathrow airport on my way home from London. (The shoes I had. They're not perfect, but they'll do.) Voila:

And while we're in Portland, we'll also be visiting my friend Tommy of The Angry Liberal and the food blog, Macerating Shallots. Tommy has known me since "the summer I was a governess"* when I was 15, but we've only seen each other once since then, when he came through Rust Belt a few years ago on his way to visit family and friends in Neighboring Blue State. But we've kept in touch -- at times more regular than others -- over the years by letter, e-mail, and now the blogosphere.

*I wasn't technically a governess. I was a live-in baby-sitter at the far-away summer residence of a family I baby-sat for during the school year. But I *was* grossly underpaid, exploited, and treated like a second-class citizen by everyone except for Tommy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


I have not read a single Harry Potter book.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Return to Rust Belt

I'm back in Rust Belt, where the sky's a "windjammer blue" (well, it would be if it were a paint color), there's a lovely breeze rustling the trees, the birds are a-twitter, and the temperature is a perfect 72.5 degrees. Bullock's mowing the lawn and I'm catching up on mail. It's good to be home.

But despite the change in location, look for retrospective London posts to come.

FYI, if you called or texted me on my UK number after 9 a.m. GMT, I didn't get it.

Monday, July 16, 2007

I can't read!!!!

You have to imagine the post's title in the voice of a distraught dog (if dogs could talk). It's a reference to a dog treat commercial from about 5 years ago where the dog gets all excited when his human comes home from the store with bacon-flavored treats. He runs around the house, trailing her, while a voice-over cries in excitement, "Is that bacon?! Do you have bacon?! Is there bacon in there?! It sure smells like bacon!!" And then when the bag comes down to his eye-level, he cries in utter despair, "But I can't read!!" Totally hilarious. At least to me.

Anywho, I chose this lament as the post's title because today I spent my first day having to deal with 15th century documents in Latin. Oy. So far I've been ridiculously lucky in that everything that I've encountered up to this point was in English. But starting today, my luck ran out. Now, you're probably thinking, "Hey, you're a medievalist. *And* you went to Catholic schools. Don't you know Latin?" Yes, I do. But not fluently. I need a grammar and a dictionary by my side. And that's when I'm reading it in modern, printed texts. These texts, you see, are manuscripts, written in a 15th century version of the "Secretary" hand, which, if you ask me, is the Worst. Hand. Ever. (Though I'll take the 15th century version over the crazy mad loops of the 16th century version.) Here's an image for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, but let me tell you, it looks all nice and neat and easy here and that's *not* what happens when it's in a civic record! And when 15th century (or any medieval century) people write in Latin, they don't write everything out. They abbreviate every damn word, leaving off endings and sometime middles. And to top everything off, my paleography skills are rusty. Though they've gotten better over this trip, it still sometimes takes me a long time to decode what a particular scribble is supposed to say. When it's in English, it's a bit like playing Hangman -- get enough letters and the rest falls in place. When it's in Latin, and abbreviated, and your Latin is hella rusty, well, you suddenly feel pretty damn illiterate. Hence the title of this post. (Hm, maybe I should go buy this. Cute.)

Oh, and I'm reading from microfilms, which also makes it a little difficult, though these are pretty damn good ones, at least. And on the upside, I can make copies of and print out the relevant pages and work out the words I'm missing now when I get home to my dictionaries and grammars. Plus, what I'm looking for are records about a particular person -- who once owed a manuscript I'm writing about -- and so it makes it an easier task to go through the records looking for his name. I don't actually have to read the pages I'm looking at unless they're about him. But, oh, god, it's incredibly boring. Imagine paging through hundreds of pages of strings of digits looking for repetitions of a particular string and you'll get the idea.

I think, by the way, this is one reason why I like good police procedurals. I empathize with the characters when they have to pour through some civic records office looking for some suspect's adoption records or whatever because all they have is part of a name and a general time span, or something like that. I feel their pain.

So why am I doing this? I'm not entirely sure! Seriously, I don't know what I'll find and if I can use it, but I figure the more information I have about the owner of this manuscript, the more I can say about how the fifteenth century additions to it in the margins and flyleaves reorient the book as whole toward this owner's social world. But man, getting back to the literary texts in the manuscript itself is going to be such a treat!

Celebrity sightings in London

JJC not only saw, but sat next to Jude Law while dining at the cafe at Salisbury Cathedral. (The proof is in this post, ninth picture down -- though don't be in too much of a rush to see Jude or you'll miss the best cute kid pictures ever. Jude is behind the man with the unnerving stare.) OK, that's not London, I know, but the Cohen clan was based in London. But read on...

I, on the other hand, jogged past and locked eyes with Viggo Mortensen. But alas, I don't have proof. It happened somewhere between the Tower of London and Paul's Walk on my way back on this route on Saturday (between miles 5 and 6, going west -- he was going east).

At least I *think* it was Viggo. The guy was the right height (i.e., not at all tall), and it really looked like his face. That bone structure and cleft chin are pretty remarkable. But if it was him, he's dyed his hair dark and is bulking up for some role (or for himself) -- hey, if Brad Pitt can do it, Viggo can, too.

Then again, I get a little loopy when I run.

ETA: Says Bullock: "It might not have been him though, there must be lots of Danes running around London and their gene pool really isn't all that large so they probably all look alike." Te-hee! Maybe what I saw was a Viking who'd just sailed up the Thames. Anyway, Bullock's a Swede (well, Swedish-American), so his comment is even funnier in a intra-Scandinavian grudge-match context.

Update: It wasn't Viggo, just his evil twin (because the evil twin is always the one with the dark hair). I have it on the good word of Viggo's personal secretary biggest fan (see comments here and here) that he's on holiday in Denmark and his usual blond dreaminess.

One of these days, btw, I do mean to get back to serious blogging, including finally doing that Thinking Blog meme that Bardiac tagged me for (thanks Bardiac!).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Random Bullet Points of London

  • I ran an 8-miler today from 'home' to the Thames north bank and along it to Waping. I'd never been to Waping and it's really cool, at least along the river. There are all sorts of re-purposed and refurbished (and not so refurbished) warehouses and cool little pubs hidden in them -- like the Captain Kidd.
  • Note to self: don't do a run through a major tourist attraction at midday on a Saturday. Running by the Tower of London and Tower Bridge would be much cooler early in the morning before opening. And it doesn't even have to be *that* early to beat the tourists. Cobblestones are bad enough without having to play "dodge the tourist."
  • Mad dogs and Englishmen...and runners go out in the midday sun. I wasn't the only one out today, and not even the only one trying to dodge the tourists at the Tower. This made me feel like less of an idiot.
  • To the asshole Italian tourist who thought it would be funny to run up right behind me, into my personal space, and pant like he was doing Lamaze: yeah, I'd like to see you even try and keep up with me. Loser.
  • Not all of my day was spent running. I also taught Hassan the bartender in the college bar how to make a "black and tan" (half lager, half Guinness). He pronounced the color "really nice" and said he'd have to try it later.
  • And Hassan taught me exactly why you have to let a Guinness set before serving it (and why a black and tan probably should have the Guinness poured first). It's not just that it has a big head (though it does), but the color and clarity improve with a little waiting, too. I watched it as it went from smoky brown to its usual clear blackish amber.
  • And I read some more Ed McBain in the courtyard of the college, sitting in the sun on a bench.
  • I'm also doing laundry so I'll have some socks for a planned roller-blading outing tomorrow (if the weather holds), and though I've done laundry now three times in the college laundry, I only just now figured out where the drawer for the detergent cube thingies is, and only because someone else was there with his open. D'oh! I've been putting them in the barrel itself (which the directions say will do if you don't have a drawer). Well, how should I know they were hidden behind the key for all the little pictures?
  • Yes, I *am* having a mellow, do-nothing day, why do you ask?
  • In other news, the other day I found and bought an apple green t-shirt at Benetton on sale for 6.95 that goes perfectly with my awesome new skirt. Excellent!

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I've been taking tons of photos of gorgeous English flowers, but these are NOT from England. No, these fantastic, multi-hued hydrangeas grow in our yard in Rust Belt. Bullock sent me the picture since they hadn't bloomed yet when I left. I love the fact that we never know what we're going to get. I don't remember so many blooms or blue ones in the last couple of years.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

This job is painful

I nearly cried out "Fuck! Ow!" in Private Archives #2* today when I smashed my pinky finger. I smashed it good and hard, because it *still* hurts a little to type with it, and it was awhile before I could calm down and get back to skimming archival material for the couple of names I'm there to try and find. (*No, I haven't mentioned Private Archives #1, but I will in another post.)

And how exactly did I smash the said finger? (FYI, I love saying "the said x" -- it's all over these documents.) I'm not sure. I think I just smacked it against the box that the big fat, heavy manuscript came in. Or perhaps I caught it between the big fat heavy manuscript and the box, since I was lifting the manuscript at the time. Whatever I did, it hurt like hell.

Yeah, they really shouldn't let klutzes into archives. This is the first time I hurt myself, but the other day, at Fancy University Manuscript Room, while looking at one of their "select" manuscripts, I decided I needed to smell it. I have no idea why. I'm weird. But when I bent down to do so, I nearly got lipstick on it!

In unrelated news, in my first week here I discovered a bookstore near me that sells really cheap, but not used, paperbacks. I keep buying Ed McBain police procedurals for £1.99. And can I just tell you: I *love* Ed McBain. Love, love, LOVE him. I don't know why I hadn't read him before, given my affection for more contemporary hard boiled detective fiction and police procedurals, but I hadn't. And it somehow seems weirdly wonderful to discover such an American hard boiled writer in England, birthplace of the "golden age" of the 'softer' variety of mysteries (Agatha Christie, et al.).

Monday, July 9, 2007

Eight things

The Combat Philosopher tagged me for the 8 Things meme (or "game" as he prefers to call it). Since I seem to be the last person to do it, I doubt you really need an explanation, but for the few readers I have who are not bloggers, I will explain. The tagged blogger is supposed to list 8 random and preferably surprising or interesting things about him/herself and then tag 8 more people to do it. After reading the Combat Philosopher's 8 Things, I'm afraid mine won't be all that interesting! And since I did that 100 Things meme (over many posts last summer) I'm also worried about repeating myself. But here goes:

1. I have petted a lion cub and an orangutan (not at the same time) and look on both moments as ones of sheer pleasure and wonder, never to be forgotten. The lion cub encounter was at the Vienna Zoo when I was 9 years old (I did not, btw, set free the bears). The orangutan was at the LA Zoo and I was 32.

2. My siblings entered me in a kiddie beauty contest when I was young enough that I have absolutely no memory of this -- I have only their word.

3. I once stole, er, "borrowed" a fake, 6-foot totem pole from a fraternity (as a prank). I simply walked out with it while they were holding a party. I thought about holding it for ransom, but then just returned it mysteriously in the middle of the night, leaving it outside their house, ringing the doorbell repeatedly, and running away.

4. Sometimes, when I'm talking (in conversation, in class, wherever) I have the sense that there are two simultaneous versions of me: one talking, the other listening and, usually, thinking, "Omigod, did you really just say that?"

5. I once shocked an audience of about 1000 at the Cambridge Union by starting a floor speech with the phrase "I've had sex." The thing is, the TV personality who spoke right before me said much the same thing but said it more euphemistically, and no one was shocked. Funny what words can do.

6. I used to be incapable of telling a joke or funny story. I was that person who started trying to tell it and then interrupted herself to say, "Wait, that's not how it goes..." Oy. (As a friend in college said, "Virago, you're funny just being you.") So I worked on memorizing a few jokes. Except, for some reason, the only jokes I now know are dirty ones. Then when I had to go to traffic school and picked "comedy traffic school" (don't ask -- it's an LA thing, I think), and the comedian needed a break and asked us to tell jokes, I was the only one in the room who knew any. But they were all dirty. So we asked if anyone would be offended, and everyone said no, and the comedian gave me the go ahead. So I went from being the person who couldn't tell a joke to save her life to the one who told dirty jokes in front of an audience. Apparently, I'm incapable of moderation when I take on a new project (cf. my marathon running).

7. At least three of my ex-boyfriends have names that sound fake, or like comic book characters, and two of them were (and still are) named Guy. So a friend of mine used to tell people, "She's dated only two guys." (That's not really a fact about me, I guess, but I find it amusing.)

8. In my college application essay, I compared myself to a Magritte painting, a Woody Allen movie, and a John Irving novel. That's just plain bizarre. Ceci n'est pas un pipe!

I'm supposed to tag people, but given how I feel kind of pressured by memes, even as I appreciate being tagged, I'll do the cop-out thing and say, if you want to do it, be my guest!

Now that's just sad

I am a lame blogger. Witness this:

Free Online Dating

Mingle2 - Free Online Dating

It's kind of ironic given that I swear like a sailor in real life, even around babies and children.

Accidental warblogging

[The title of this post is a play on the term "warchalking."]

I'm in the BL. I enabled my wireless because I wanted to use the catalog from my seat. I'm not supposed to be able to access the real internet without paying for access (the BL site and its catalogs are free to access), but somehow I did. I feel naughty. And this is bad, because I don't need distractions from work. In fact, enough said -- I'm getting off the bloody internet.

In other happy accident news, I ran into JJCohen and his lovely family while we were each on our respective way to our day's destinations, just walking down the street. How funny to run into someone you know (and mostly virtually) in a city of some 7 million people and about as many tourists and visitors. Granted, I was only steps from my home here, but it was still a pretty surprising coincidence. Although I didn't get a chance to talk to them for long, I pronounce them all delightful. Kid #1 especially cracked me up, in part because he's about the same age I was the first time I came to London. I'm glad I got a brief chance to meet them all in real life.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

I can has medieval house?

It's medieval, it's in a town called Battle for pete's sake, and it's only £375,000. (Well hey, it's a lot cheaper than the Victorian town house next to the Dickens House in Bloomsbury that's selling for 4 million!) Please, please, can I have it? It's really cool -- look at its listing and check out the pictures.

Update: I can has church? Well, it's not medieval, but it's a church! With a spire with rooms in it! OK, in the fantasy world where I can actually afford these things, and where I have a job in freakin' Battle, England, should I live in a medieval town house or a early 20th century converted Methodist church. Hm. And don't forget the needs of Bullock (the church has more space for the workshop, I think) and our imaginary children. What a quandary!

PS -- In case you were wondering, yes, I was at Battle Abbey today, and walked the grounds of the Battle of Hastings. I saw the house above and snapped that picture, then ended up on the real estate agent's webpage. I wasn't actually *looking* for real estate in Battle, despite the fact that I have a last name with Norman origins.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Oh sunny day!

*Finally* London had a sunny summer day. So Morgan and I spent it walking to the Camden Lock Market and along the canal from Camden High Street through Regent's Park, past the zoo. (I still have to upload my pictures.) While in the market, we discovered the *fabulous* skirts of Nicola Quilter buried among the stalls of knock-offs and cheap imports. (If you want to find her stall, it's in in the middle of this jumble. Or you could just go to her website.) I bought this skirt:

[ETA: That's not me. The picture's from the website.] The photo doesn't do the green leaves justice -- they're a really *bright* green. Isn't it cool? Morgan got a mini, too, but in a totally different color-scheme and pattern. I'll let her post about her own. But aside from the cool design, I really liked Nicola herself -- funny and nice and knowledgeable about what size was right for each of us and what would look good on us -- and I especially liked her sizing system. Instead of numbers, she has names: tiny, trim, normal, healthy, extra-healthy, and voluptuous. Awesome!

I also bought a hideous beaded bag for 5 pounds. I don't know why. I think I was considering it and just about to realize it was hideously garish, when the shop keeper went to a whole lot of trouble to take it down from the display for me, and so I felt guilty and bought it. It's really quite garish.

Then after the market -- which also included a lunch of West African goat curry; yummy! -- Morgan and I wound our way on foot through London to the Leicester square area to meet up with Owlfish and Pittenweem at a pub.

Then, after drinks, after leaving the pub and walking quite some ways, upon entering the Bloomsbury area, in the middle of a conversation with Morgan about our mutual love of mystery novels, I said, "Oh f@*k! I forgot to pay my tab and get my Visa!" So I split off from Morgan and walked *back* to the pub, and then walked home again.

So for those of you playing at home today, I walked just over 10 miles today. That's on top of my 4 mile run this morning. Well, it was a beautiful day, so what they heck.

And then I met Dance at the college bar. And now that I know someone else in the dining hall, maybe I won't be afraid to go in. The subsidized prices (even for non-members) are really cheap and now I won't necessarily have to stare at my plate. Woo-hoo!

There have been other blogger meet-ups before these two, as well. Early on in my stay here I had lunch with the fabulous Flavia, and on Thursday a bunch of bloggers got together for American BBQ (yes, BBQ -- not bad, actually, but not as good as Bullock's) for a belated 4th of July celebration that Owlfish and Pittenweem organized. Morgan was there, as was Eulistes, the latter of whom I met up with earlier in the week, as well. (Eulistes, btw, claims I have "the best quizzical look [she's] ever encountered" and she wants "to bottle it in concentrate for future use." Really? I think I just frown a lot when I'm concentrating or trying to hear over the din).

Which is all just to say that in addition to working, walking a lot, running, and visiting museums, I've been being very, very social. So with all of that, I haven't been able to blog all the longer posts I want to do on seeing The Merchant of Venice at The Globe as a 'groundling,' or comparing the three libraries I've worked in so far, or, for that matter, doing the two memes I've been tagged for, or catching up on all those posts I promised about my graduate research class or the mortality of my former professors. Ack! Too little time, too much to blog!

But now I'm very tired. Must sleep.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Pictures of pork

Because I haven't posted in awhile I thought I'd throw *something* out there for you so you know I'm still alive. I took these pictures above for Bullock because he's rather obsessed with pork in all its culinary varieties. (Yes, I know there are other meats in the display window. He likes those, too.) They're from a Yorkshire town called Otley.

Anyway, he responded that the place looked like where the English branch of the Sopranos would hang out. Te-hee.

Happy Independence Day!

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A day of diversions (in many senses of the word)

Oh, so much has happened today, and every little bit of it deserves its own post, but alas, it's late and I have to be up early tomorrow, and I'm completely knackered. In short: I traveled just under 12 miles on foot today -- 6 running, 6 walking to and from the Tate Modern -- but about 3 of those miles were due to diversions in the sense of detours. One was caused by a 10K race taking place on my running route (an appropriate reason for a diversion, but requiring a change of route, none the less) and another was caused by who-knows-what craziness that the police had to take seriously, given the recent bombings, thus causing them to close off the Thames walk on the south bank of the river between me and my way home. I was just east of the Globe Theatre and wanted to go west to the Millennium Bridge, but about 12 cops stood in my path and told me "it'll be hours" before the mysterious event was dealt with. For a moment I thought, "I'm stranded in Southwark!" but then I collected myself and headed to the next bridge eastwards and took a more roundabout way home. And while on that bridge I could see that the trouble was already cleared up and the pedestrians moving freely along the walk. Sigh.

And, of course, the Tate Modern was very diverting. The current free exhibition in the Turbine Hall on cities was really fascinating and I love how the permanent collection is laid out thematically. This wasn't my first trip there, but it was more leisurely visit this time.

And the other diversion -- in both the entertainment sense and the detour sense -- really, really deserves its own post. Here's a highlight: during my run, while I was contemplating the reason why Middle Temple Lane was locked off at Fleet Street and reading a sign on the gateway, a man asked me, "Why are you running through the middle of London? Are you a werewolf?" (Note: I was not in Soho and did not have a Chinese takeout menu in my hand.) There's a lot more where that freaky pick-up line (because I think that's what it was) came from, but I'll have to save it for a "Freak Magnet: London edition" post.

And I still haven't blogged about the lovely time I had in Specialized Library #1 this week, which I keep meaning to do! Ack!

Tomorrow and Tuesday (and perhaps Wednesday also) I'll be up at Oxford and may have even less time to blog. We'll see.