Sunday, August 31, 2008

Feasting fatigue

Bullock and I have spent today lounging around the house, because we last night we finally had the medieval feast we were planning to have to celebrate my getting tenure, and we're exhausted. Bullock spent all day in the kitchen yesterday (while I straightened and cleaned the house and occasionally helped in the kitchen) and still we weren't quite ready for the party start time. The scene for the first hour and half of the party was like something out of Dinner Impossible or some other stress-filled cooking show, as we desperately tried to get everything ready *and* entertain guests -- including introducing a lot of folks who'd never met each other.

But it all ended up a success, I think. Aside from the food -- which I'll get to in a moment -- the social elements all came together. Three Western Canadians bonded with each other; the five kids of four different couples formed their own little society and pretty much spent the evening entertaining themselves; Pippi slept in her crate without a fuss and behaved herself when she was let out (and was much admired when she was); people drove from literally hours away to come, my friend the Big Teutonic Queer coming from the farthest (2 1/2 hours by car); a possible job opportunity was made; the people whom we know *don't* get along managed to be civil and avoid each other; and the aforementioned BTQ fell madly in platonic love with a certain well-coiffed medievalist from a similar institution in a neighboring state (but then who *doesn't* love her??) and my chair ooh'ed and ah'ed over said medievalist's cool jewelry. Everyone, in short, seemed to have a great time. As one person remarked, "You have some *very* cool friends." Yes I do!

I have to say, though, I always feel a little like a latter-day Mrs. Dalloway at these moments, because whenever I throw a party (not counting the smaller affairs Bullock and I have thrown together or where the guest list has consisted of our usual suspects, all mutual friends), I invite all my friends that I know from various circumstances, and it becomes clear to me -- and in fact has been pointed out to me at various times in my life -- that I know a lot of people and seem to get along with a lot of different kinds of people. Now, in this case, it was mostly academics, but there were, at least, people from different fields and institutions, and, as I mentioned, many who had never met before. And I enjoy watching them come together and get to know each other. But whenever it's my own party, I always feel a little like I'm *merely* watching, and I never get to talk to any one person for very long because I'm always flitting from one to the next. I suppose, though, that's the nature of being the hostess. Thank god it's not a role I relish taking on frequently.

Bullock's situation was even more distant from the festivities. With the madness of still rushing around to get the food going as guests arrived, the cooking duties fell even heavier on his shoulders and I don't think he got to leave the kitchen much at all. But for all his work -- and his ingenuity in overriding or adapting some of the directions in the recipe books -- we were rewarded with a slew of fabulous dishes, most of which we'd never made or tasted before (a bold risk for any party hosts!). Here's a picture of the spread and a close up of one of the pies; following that is a list of the dishes and our sources:

In the top picture, front row to back left to right, you see:

- Boiled shrimp with a cold citrus and herb sauce (sauce recipe adapted from the blood orange and sorrel sauce in Pleyn Delit)

- Saracen Stew (a Middle Eastern style beef stew from Pleyn Delit) -- this was the biggest hit of the night, even with the kids

- Two Salmon Pies which really tested people's limits for the more exotic elements of medieval cooking, because they featured the medieval taste combination of sweet and savory -- along with the salmon, they were filled with dates, figs, currants, raisins, and pine nuts (from Fabulous Feasts). People either loved or hated this one.

- Regular old loaf of bread (we cheated - we bought it and its mate). There were no trenchers involved in this feast, btw. We served everything buffet style (obviously) with paper plates and plastic utensils, including forks.

- Two Pies of Parys (beef and veal meat pies -- very tasty as cold leftovers, btw) -- from Pleyn Delit.

- Another loaf of bread next to an earthenware jug that later contained the "Creme Bastard" (a cream sauce) for the dessert that's in the back row

- Two Tarts de Bry (brie) -- the only dish I'd had before -- available in both Pleyn Delit and Fabulous Feasts, I think.

- Salat (green salad of a very herbaceous sort -- lots of mint, parsley, fennel, thyme, garlic scapes, green onions and the like, as well as leafy green) - from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food items -- sunflower given to my by my department chair and castle pop-up book given to me by the BTQ, which made an excellent table decoration!]

- Cherry Bread Pudding (read that as 'cherry pudding with bread in it' -- not really bread pudding in the modern sense -- this dish was the only real disappointment for Bullock and me) -- this was served with the "Creme Bastard" -- both from Pleyn Delit.

[Non food item - gorgeous roses given to me by a colleague and friend]

Not pictured: "Ravioles," aka cheese ravioli, which are not only medieval, but also something we knew the kids would eat. We didn't make them ourselves -- although a recipe is in Pleyn Delit -- but purchased them from Costco. Shhhh. We also served them bagel dogs -- *not* part of the medieval theme, clearly.

People brought an assortment of drinks (including a gift of Chaucer's Mead from my chair!), but we started everyone off with Belgian Trappist ales, Monty Python's Holy Grail ale, chilled mead, white and red wine, and, best of all, a Spicy Pomegranate and Gin Cocktail that we concocted by adapting the mulled pomegranate juice recipe in Pleyn Delit. Yummy!

Oh, and as a post script: my friends Victoria and Milton gave me Beowulf the Game for Play Station (yes, we now have a Play Station). Hey, it can't be worse than the movie, right?

Friday, August 29, 2008

Unintended consequences

My medieval survey class was initially scheduled in a large lecture hall on our satellite campus -- a dimly lit, echoing nightmare of dilapidated room that was terrible for a class of 20 that relies on discussion. But I wasn't going to be a diva about it because I thought if this horrible building and its crappy classrooms were good enough for my grad students and their comp classes (usually in the smaller rooms, of course), it was good enough for me.

However, it's one of those lecture rooms that slope down from the doors, with steps that are of unconventional depth and without railings. My blind student* pointed out that this was very dangerous for him. (*Note: I wouldn't normally identify him as such, but I don't want to refer to him by name or even initial on the blog. Further down I will refer to him as Funny Guy because he's got a pretty darn hilarious and corny sense of humor.) So I called Wednesday morning to have the room changed and got it immediately because of the safety issue, despite the current chaotic room shortage problem on campus. I made a command decision to have the change effective for the Thursday class and e-mailed all the students to tell them. I e-mailed them all more than 24 four hours before the class.

Our students are told they're expected to check their campus e-mail because that's the *only* way they get certain important information, including billing statements, notices of registration holds, etc. The ones who are savvy have that e-mail forwarded to their Gmail, Hotmail, or other account that they use more frequently, but, sadly, many students on our campus are kind of clueless when it comes to electronic media. (Tangent that may become a separate post one of these days: when I read Margaret Soltan's posts railing against the use of laptops in class, I think, "What planet is she living on? What planet am *I* living on? Where are these laptops?") And now I know that despite the *requirement* to use their campus e-mail, they don't check it.

How do I know this? Half the class didn't show up on Thursday. Funny Guy checked his e-mail -- I called him to make sure because I knew he wouldn't be able to see a room-change notice and I didn't hear back from him -- but half of the rest of the students did not. Perhaps I should have been calling the sighted students instead of Funny Guy; clearly they needed more looking after. (Funny Guy genuinely appreciated the call, but I now feel kind of like a condescending schmuck. However, it did give us an opportunity to chat more about textbook issues and I got those sorted out.) And, alas, the classroom management office obviously failed to put up a notice about the room change -- as they're supposed to do -- since I got an e-mail from one of the students later in the afternoon yesterday telling me that the missing students were all there wondering where the rest of us were. I should have gone there myself to put up a sign or a message on the board, but I trusted the process. Silly me.


In other unintended consequences, it seems that if you tell a fanboy that you like Tolkien and Star Wars, you will get a marriage proposal. Granted, it wasn't a serious marriage proposal, but one of my students yesterday did indeed say, upon learning that I am Tolkien and Star Wars fan, "Will you marry me?" Also, it seems I look just like a character in another student's own fantasy literature writing. That's not really a consequence of anything -- except maybe of not having bothered to get my Medusa hair cut in a year -- but I thought I'd mention it. Clearly, I'm already deeply in with the fandom crowd and it's only the first week of class. I love being a medievalist!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trying to accommodate

I have a blind student in my medieval survey. I just found this out on the first day of class.

He doesn't read Braille but he has a computer that will read electronic documents aloud to him. I wonder, though, how it handles glosses and footnotes?

We're using the Broadview Anthology of British Literature and I think they have the entire text available on PDF, in individual units, so I've contacted various people I know there (an editor, the sales rep) to find out about getting electronic copies, because our office of accessibility is notoriously slow.

In the meantime, for the next class we're reading a bunch of short poetry from both the Old and Middle English periods, and every poem but one that I assigned was out there on the intertubes, in the original language and the translation, so I put together a little Word document for him and e-mailed it to him. Apparently he can do e-mail, but I'm wondering how it works in terms of opening attachments. He said he could, but I'm interested in how it works. Is there a program that reads the e-mail for him and then asks, "Would you like to open the attachment?" I'm really curious about this -- I think I'll ask him. He seemed excited on Tuesday to tell me about his cool computer programs.

And next, we're doing Beowulf, so I told him to get the Seamus Heaney translation in audio format. It's abridged and it's not the translation we're using, but it will do for now, until we get the textbook for him.

But what's got me most worried is how I teach and what he'll be missing in terms of that. I use a LOT of visual aids, and I emphasize looking at the manuscripts when they're available in facsimile. Yes, I've been obsessed with sound a lot lately, and I read aloud in class a lot, so that will help. And, of course, medieval "readers" themselves received texts in multiple ways, including being read to, which I think now I'll emphasize even more this semester. But still, I don't think everything will translate for him.

Does anyone have any advice or suggestions? And yes, I'll be calling the office of accessibility today.

Monday, August 25, 2008

NO! I'm NOT ready!

I'm not ready for the school year to start. I mean, I am in some ways -- syllabuses and handouts are mostly made -- but I'm just not in the spirit yet. I'm in some kind of funk. I'm sure it will be better once my classes start tomorrow, but right now I'm filled with some kind of bizarre combination of first-day anxiety and yet also ennui. For one thing, you'd think I'd be on campus to be around for the new and returning grad students, but I'm hiding at home. I'm working on non-teaching things, and Mondays are going to be my dday at home this semester, so I'm trying to establish a routine, but I really do feel like I'm hiding. Granted, I was on campus 9-5 M-F all last week, but still, shouldn't I be there today? But I can't bring myself to get in the teaching mode.

Case in point: I'm teaching in our weird satellite campus in BFE (OK, technically it's only 2 miles away, but it seems far) that used to be a CC that we swallowed up at some point in the past, and I haven't even bothered to go check out the classroom. I haven't been there since 2005, and I'm not even sure I remember what street it's on! And I teach tomorrow!

See, I told you I'm not ready.

What's up with this? I like teaching, "Back to School" is my favorite season of the year. Why do I feel so weird this year?

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Weekend fluffy cuteness

Because Bardiac requested it and because I haven't posted since Monday and wanted to put *something* up, here's the best picture Bullock's taken of Pippi so far. If you're a digital photo freak and have your monitor calibrated for truest color, then this picture is the closest we've come to capturing Miss Pip's true color on digital film (although my amateur attempt that now resides permanently in the sidebar isn't bad). But what I like best about this picture is that he caught her in ears-up attentive mode -- I *love* it when she does that.

Bask in her cuteness!

As always, click to "enbiggen" if you wish to see her cuteness up close and personal.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Aaaaaaand cut! That's a wrap!

Remember that insane to-do list I had for the month of August? The one I posted about here? Well it's all DONE!

Yup, that's right -- since August 1 I have done the following:

  • Revised an article, doubling its length from 21 pages to 42.
  • Written a short book review (after having read the book on trains and planes during my UK trip)
  • Read a dissertation (defense not yet scheduled, but I'm meeting with the student this week)
  • Corrected proofs of an article
  • Prepared for and participated in grad student orientation activities
  • And met with my colleague in the theater department re: the medieval plays we'll be producing and teaching in 2010
In addition to that, I have also:
  • Put together my annual merit report
  • Written two letters of recommendation
  • Had minor (very minor) surgery
  • Turned in all the texts I'm putting on reserve for the fall.
The only thing I haven't done on that original list is read the MA thesis, but only because I haven't been given a copy of it yet.

Now all I have to do if finish up my syllabuses, which are mostly done, and decide what I'm going to do on the first day of my classes which start next week, and I'll be completely ready for the semester!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

What's the role of the outside reader?

Here's a question that I think any of my readers who have been involved with a Ph.D. dissertation or M.A. thesis committee -- for their own or others -- can address.

What do you think the role of the "outside" reader is (that is, the person who's either at another university or in another department)?

I'm on two committees gearing up for defenses soon. And in both cases, I was either brought in late as a replacement or else haven't otherwise been involved in the writing in progress. And as far as *I'm* concerned that's fine. I see my role as largely formal: I'm there to keep the "inside" people honest, and make sure wacky things aren't going on. In the committee where I've been involved longer, I've also made reading suggestions, in part because the work really does overlap with my own field and knowledge, and the other committee members really didn't know much about it. And actually, in the other case, it overlaps with literary studies as well, but other knowledgeable people have been involved, and I was only brought in this summer when the dissertation was already largely done. In that case, I think any advice I'd have to give would be way too late.

So, in both cases, I'll show up for the defense and ask some questions to tease out things that maybe weren't fully addressed in the writing, and some others that are kind of big picture and disciplinary ('how is this an X discipline work and not a literary studies work?' is probably something I'll ask both of them, since both really do overlap with literary studies). But I'm not looking to stymie or fail them, or expect them to suddenly meet *my* expectations. I'm the outside reader, after all, not the director.

But one of the students involved -- the one whose committee I didn't join (as a replacement) until right before I left for the UK and who's already largely done with the project -- *wants* my feedback. I'm thinking of explaining to her what I see as my role -- a pro forma one, especially given the circumstances -- and assuring her that I won't pull anything at the defense. If her director will sign off on the diss and pass her, so will I. Do you think that's fair? I barely have time to read the thing, let alone give detailed feedback.

But in more ideal circumstances -- where one is brought in from the beginning -- what is the role of the outside reader?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Medieval waste management in pictures

I imagine that when most people who are not medievalists think of sewage in the Middle Ages (er, if they do at all), they think of the line about one minute into this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "Dennis, there's some lovely filth down here!"

But medieval structures, especially the expensively built ones, had some pretty impressive systems for their waste management. Here, let me show you a couple of examples.

The first set of pictures is once again from the castle Carreg Cennen in Wales. First, you see a castle privy, minus the wooden seat that would have provided a slightly more comfortable place to rest one's bottom than what remains of the stone edifice:

If you're wondering what those white, glowing spaces on the right are, either something happened in the data transfer to my hard drive and erased a portion of my picture (most of which I cropped out), or else this is an extra-special haunted loo. I like to think the latter is the case.

OK, so that's the loo. But where does it go? Here's my friend G. to demonstrate:

Here's a closer look:

That's right, G. is being a giant piece of sh*t. Heh heh.


In this castle the outlet seems to be in the outer yard. Let's hope it was behind the horse stables or something, but it still means some poor guy was in charge of cleaning it up every so often. Ew. But the yard there slopes down towards the cliff side, so maybe the poor sap just needed to wash it downhill with a bucket.

Meanwhile, the Cistercian monks at Kirkstall Abbey, outside of Leeds, had a better system. And today's museum curators know what will get the attention of kids and Dr. Virago -- a monk on the loo! Look! --

Actually, technically he's a lay brother, but whatever. "Monk on the loo" is a much funnier phrase (though not as funny as "monkey on the loo" would be.) And no, he's not pooping on people's heads. He's on what would have been an upper floor. Where his waste goes is the clever part. The toilets in this dormitory for the lay brothers were constructed over a trench that ran between the walls. Here's a picture of fragments of those walls which I borrowed from the Abbey web site:

That trench was fed by water from further up the hill (where the monks had a mill) and ran under the entire monastery complex. Here are a couple pictures of the now exposed trench:

Eventually the trench let out in the nearby River Aire, which I realize is not all that great, but I still find the system kind of fascinating. And hey, maybe it's why the wild flowers it this final picture are so abundant!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Verbiage and verbosity

I've spent the last week and a half editing an article I need to send off tomorrow to the editors of a collection. It's almost done -- I just need to add one discursive footnote as soon as I get a necessary text from interlibrary loan tomorrow. (Now I have to turn to a review that's technically due tomorrow. It's going to be a little late, but since it's short and I already have it outlined, I should be able to get it done by the weekend.)

I sent a draft of this article to the editors in March and they sent it back with copious comments and corrections in June. There were, in fact, so many comments (using the Word comments function) that it was sometimes hard to follow them and I'm not sure if I really responded to every last one. This experience has taught me two things I can use in teaching:

  1. When it comes to comments, you can be too "helpful." Cut down on the verbiage and the message will probably be clearer. Concentrate on recurring and global issues and use a few examples; ask the student to find the rest themselves. Too many comments definitely overwhelm, and when they become too local, it's hard to see the forest for the trees.

  2. If you assign a "draft" before the final product, keep that in mind while commenting. Chances are the writer took "draft" seriously and didn't always give the greatest care to the details. Remind the writer that they'll need to do so in the final version, and tell them what to look out for (lack of citation, sentences that ramble on, or whatever) but you needn't go over these issues yourself with a fine-toothed comb, or else you'll be making much more work for yourself, doing what the writer should be doing (and taking longer to get a response back to them). Or else, instead of asking for a "draft" and a final paper (because, as I've seen, different people interpret "draft" differently), assign a paper and a revision, which changes the expectations for the first version.
That's not to say that the editor's comments weren't helpful -- though, again, a little overwhelming -- but that at times I felt a little sorry for them and a little guilty. They put in a lot of work I'd intended to do myself. You should have seen the printout of the "final plus markup" version -- the margins were filled with comments and changes.

Meanwhile, regarding my *own* verbiage...The draft I sent them was 20 pages. The final version they're getting is close to 40. That's right, I *doubled* the essay's length in a week and a half of writing. That's because a lot of the manuscript research for a lot of the detailed points I needed to make had yet to be done, and in the midst of doing it this summer, I found *more* stuff to talk about -- pertinent stuff directly related to the subject at hand. In other words, the draft that I sent them really was a draft, a work in progress. I hope this doesn't freak them out.

Anyway, all of this writing, every day, all day, is why I haven't been doing things like participating in the ITM group (re)reading of Dinshaw's Getting Medieval, or commenting on your blogs much.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The killer among us

Pippi has killed more than one baby robin since moving in with us in March. There's a pair of nesting robins in our maple in the back yard who don't seem to get it that if they want offspring, they really should change address.

But today, for the first time, I had to pry a baby robin from Pippi's mouth. Ew.

Here's what happened: I heard Pippi whining down in the family room, and realized she hadn't been out in a while, so I let her out. She made a bee-line for something, but I couldn't see what. Then two adult robins started dive-bombing her. She retreated and at that point I couldn't see anything in her mouth, nor, after looking around, any sign of a baby in our yard. But I must have missed it, because after another dash to the particular part of the yard where the adult birds were chirping madly, Pippi came back triumphantly with the baby in her mouth. Then, like a good bird dog, she dropped it at my feet.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure that we're correct in our theory that Pippi first belonged to irresponsible hunters who didn't tag her or look for her when she somehow got lost.

Anyway, this is where I screwed up. I praised her for dropping it, but then noticed that the poor thing was still moving. Shit, I thought, I've got to put it out of its misery. And since she dropped it at the back door and seemed to want to go inside (which might have also meant that she'd scoop it up on the way inside), I needed to figure out how to get her in without her bringing the bird in.

Pippi must have taken my dithering as a sign that the bird was hers -- or else she wanted to play "tug" and "fetch" with it -- because she scooped it up, pranced away, and them came back to me, pleased as punch, but without dropping it again. She kept nosing me with the bird in her mouth (ew!) and then sitting in her alert, waiting-for-a-command/treat/reward kind of way. Maybe she was waiting for me to say "OK," which means she can eat it. But instead I kept saying "Drop it! No, Pippi, drop it!" and dancing away from her. This confused her, so she started to gnaw gingerly on the thing, but still kept approaching me with it. And every time she did, she seemed to gulp the thing further into her mouth, so that now all that was showing was a leg and the little head.

So I did what I did when I need to get a broken beef bone out of her mouth: I tried to pry her mouth open while saying "drop it!" But I don't mind touching gnawed beef bones; half dead or, by now, dead baby birds are another thing. So I wasn't getting my fingers in the back of her mouth, where it's most effective. At any rate, after some wrestling with her over it, Pippi gave up and dropped it in the driveway, away from the back door. All of this was going on, by the way, while two screeching adult robins were dive-bombing us both. I praised her -- though probably, at this point, in a somewhat hysterical voice -- and commanded her inside.

I gave her a Greenie, which probably rewarded her for behavior I *don't* want, but I saw it as a) rewarding her for dropping it and coming inside on command, and b) cleaning her mouth, which was now full of bird guts and feathers -- ew!! This also calmed her down somewhat and gave me the opportunity to go clean up the slaughter while she stayed inside.

It was indeed a slaughter now. Having given up on my wanting the thing when I didn't scoop it up the first time, Pippi stopped being the soft-mouthed bird dog who's supposed to give you a whole and unmarred bird and really dug into the poor thing. Blood and guts were everywhere. Well, at least it was now dead and not half-alive and suffering.

I really hope the robins get a clue and move their nest!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Do you hear what I hear?

When I was on the top of the the hillside perch of Castle Carreg Cennen in Wales (pictures of it in this post), I made a little video with my camera not for what you can see, but what you hear. In that video you can hear sheep baa-ing and you can see them move in the field some 400 feet below. You also hear, incidentally, the motorway in the distance and the air moving past my compact digital camera's miniscule microphone.

I wanted to post the video for you, but the direct Blogger video posting tool won't allow over 100 MB, and my clip is just over that (and I don't have any editing program to cut it, alas). It's just as well, since listening to sheep baa isn't very exciting, and you don't really have to see and hear the clip to get what I want to say about it.

At the time we were there visiting the castle, someone remarked that the sound of the sheep was the sound of medieval power -- the lord of the castle could look around below him and not only see what he controlled, but also hear it as well, maybe even hear every word spoken down there. At the time, I thought, "Hm. Yes."

But later, upon reflection, I thought, "Wait. No." If Carreg Cennen was ever a bustling castle, even if it only served defensive purposes, and not as a full time residence (and unlike Kidwelly, it had no town grown up around it), it would have been full of its own noises. Those noises might have easily drowned out the sound of sheep just as surely as modern mechanized noises could. After all, where I stood when I shot that video was where the former outer ward lay. In the outer ward would have been the stables, blacksmiths' and armourers' workshops, the lime kiln (its ruins are still there) and all sorts of general hustle and bustle. Would you have been able to hear the sheep above that clamor?

I've been a little obsessed with the sounds of the Middle Ages lately, not in any way that I'm going to write about it professionally (which is probably good, because I hear Claire Sponsler *is* writing about it), but just in a musing sort of way that I sometimes bring up in class. I think some of my students assume that the Middle Ages was a quiet and still place -- like Castle Carreg Cennen today -- so I like to draw their attention to noisiness in the literature, whether it's noise being depicted in literature (the jingling of the bells on the Monk's bridle in the Canterbury Tales, for instance, both described and imitated by the poetry), or the kinds of environmental noises one might encounter while experiencing medieval literature such as the York plays (church bells, the pageants at the stations before and after the one where they were watching, other playgoers, etc.), or the noise of the literature itself as it was declaimed or read aloud. This interest was spurred long ago by my interest in drama, but also by the "Medieval Noise" cluster of Exemplaria (Autumn 2004, no longer available online, alas), which included an introduction by Jeffrey J. Cohen with a title, "Kyte oute yugliment: An Introduction to Medieval Noise," taken from one of my favorite moments in medieval drama, where the Herod of the York plays breaks down into utter nonsense in the face of Christ's silence.

But only recently has the interest risen to the level of obsession. And lately I've been thinking of medieval sound as ghosts. One of my friends suggested I might mean echoes, but I really mean ghosts. Sound travels in waves, right? So once those sheep baas reached me up on the crest of Carreg Cennen, the sheep who made them might no longer be baaing. They could, theoretically, have uttered their last baa, and I might be hearing it in past tense, so to speak. And so when I or my students read Chaucer aloud in my class, and read of that Monk's bridle "Gynglen in a whistlynge wynd," even though our reconstruction of Middle English is an approximation at best, there's a sense of a very old sound traveling across time and space, perhaps distorted by the distance it has traveled, but reaching my students and me nonetheless, haunting us in a way.

But it's not just medieval literature that's ghostly. In a sense, all poetry consists of ghosts, for all poetry deals in some way with sound (well, good poetry does) and asks to be read aloud. And having already been written, each subsequent reading, even by the poet him- or herself, is a bit of the past coming forth to the listener in the present. Every reading of a poem is a little bit haunted.

What do you think?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Bullock is the man!

Bullock is on sabbatical for the entire year this coming academic year (08/09) and I'm deeply envious. I won't be able to take a sabbatical until 2010/11. I'm eligible starting in 09/10, but I won't be able to schedule it for another year. Seeing him not having to prepare for the coming semester is making the wait that much harder for me.

But that's not why he's the man. He's the man because he's just been invited to be a (modestly) paid keynote speaker elsewhere and because he's going to some hoity-toity small conference in the winter where each of the speakers are having their travel costs totally paid for.

Bullock is, for the moment, leading that mythical professorial life, where he's being paid to do his research and only his research (though granted, at RBU, a full year's sabbatical means a pretty significant reduction in pay) and is being paid honoraria by others to fly around and present it. He's like a social science version of a David Lodge character or something.

See -- he's the man!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More pics of castle bits - Part II

Here's my follow-up to yesterday's post.

Carreg Cennan Castle
(Go here for more impressive pictures than mine, as well as some historical background.)

Carreg Cennen wasn't as well preserved as Kidwelly, but it had that Romantic picturesque thing going for it in spades. Here you'll see I was so impressed and excited that I started snapping pictures from the bus with still quite a ways to go to get there:

Here's the approach by foot, about half way up the hill the castle commands:

Tired of all that climbing? Here, why don't you set a spell while we cook something up in the castle kitchen:

I am obsessed with arrow slits. It may be because I was an archer in college. But at any rate, here are two pictures of well-preserved ones:

If you thought the castle had an impressive perch from the way we approached it, wait until you see the drop on the other side:

Here's one of the few pictures I took of the layout of the inner parts of the castle, perhaps because I couldn't get as depopulated a shot as I could at Kidwelly:

Carreg Cennen had a special attraction, a tiny cave carved way down in the hillside underneath the castle. The page I linked to above has good shots of the entrance and the vaulted passageway, as well as the cave itself. The only picture I took down there was this one, of the graffiti of the date 1873 (or was it 1875?) carved into the rock, which you can just barely make out in the center-right of the picture:

Tourism of castles is of course nothing new. Though we were 21st century medievalists visiting the remains of a medieval site, in many ways we were performing a very Romantic/Victorian act. There were multiple pasts and presents speaking to us from those stones, which seems all the more appropriate given the attention to medievalism at the conference itself.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Pics of castle bits, Part I

From the NCS conference day trip to Kidwelly Castle and Carreg Cennen Castle, some bits and pieces of castles, part I --

Kidwelly Castle
(For some professional pictures that give you the sense of the whole structure, and for historical background, go here.)

The gatehouse:

I don't know how, but I managed to get a lot of depopulated pictures, despite the medievalists everywhere. This one is of one the towers of the inner ward and, in the foreground, the hall added later in the castle's building history:

This medievalist thinks he's king of the world (or is he threatening to taunt me with a silly French accent?):

I thought the opening in the following picture was an oubliette, but upon consulting my guidebook later, found out it's just an entrance to the store room. How disappointingly mundane!

But this is definitely a murder hole:

Mise-en-abyme? -

I like the creepiness of the face-like quality of this one:

But for those of you who prefer your ruined castles more picturesque, here's a pretty flower:

Friday, August 1, 2008

Home, sweet Rust Belt

I'm back home and rested and on US EST time again (I think), after forcing myself to stay up unti 9pm last night. Since I got up at 4am London time, that's 22 hours of being awake. But Pippi graciously didn't wake up until 6:30 am, so I got 9 1/2 luxurious hours of sleep in a comfortable bed. Oh glorious memory foam mattress topper! Oh pillows with actual pillowiness!

And every time I go to the UK or Europe, whether I'm there for a week or a year, upon my return I'm alway astounded by the size of things in the US, especially in the midwest: houses, rooms, yards, cars, streets, and trees. The only things I can think of off the top of my head that are either similarly sized in the UK or bigger are food portions (I think we inherited that one from the Brits) and the giant rhodedendrons and hydrangeas in London's big parks. Oh, and all the mile high ferris wheels (the London Eye, the Yorkshire Wheel, and whatever the one in Windsor is called).

So while the house Bullock and I share is modest in size (both house and yard) by US standards, and very close to its neighbors, as well, after spending time in the UK, I feel like we live in a small palace on vast grounds -- or perhaps a royal hunting lodge. Even the 1930s part of our house has larger proportions than most of the places I was staying in the UK, including my friend's mid-century home.

And now, if you'll recall, I have an insanely busy August ahead of me, so expect light posting. I'm about to upload my pictures, finally, so I may just fill August with photo blogging if they're any good.