Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Universe! Enough with the paleography already!

Today I sort of hit a wall. I know, it's only been three days--and when I hit said wall, it had only been two and a half. But sitting quietly in the manuscript room fussing over fourteenth-century Latin abbreviations for two and a half days is not exactly relaxing, trace or no trance.

Essentially, I was tired: I slept badly last night, having been kept awake until almost 2 am by the irrelevant ranting I was doing in my head. Really--I was having long mental arguments over trivial things with people I'm unlikely to even speak to in the next three months, anticipating all kinds of disasters in the upcoming semester, worrying about money when I have no business doing so (chiefly regretting committing to an overseas conference of which the College will only be able to pay half, which means that my savings account will be depleted by about 8%--horrors! Really. Just tell me to shut up), etc. Evidently I have some kind of stress or something. Or perhaps my body is overcompensating for the jetlag? The point is, I was tired.

I also kind of lost direction by mid-day. I'd answered my immediate questions and was casting about for another one; in practice, this meant staring off into space a lot and then idly flipping through a few pages.

At 3:00 or so, I decided to take off. This isn't helpful, I thought. I vowed that I would regroup tomorrow and do something productive.

So, having dropped off my laptop etc., I went to the used bookstore to pick up a novel, since I'm almost done with my fun reading. I settled on Zola's Le Reve, because I had enjoyed Germinal (which I read in English) and it was relatively short.

Off I went, to wander, drink a beer, etc. I was doing quite well with the French and enjoying the story, which--so far--is about a young girl named Angelique who is taken in by a couple, Hubert and Hubertine Hubert (or so I enjoy calling them, to myself, because the characters are individually called Hubert and Hubertine and collectively called les Hubert).

One day, twelve-year-old Angelique stumbles upon--seriously--a 1549 edition of a French translation of Jacobus de Voragine's Legenda Aurea. Seriously.

She likes the pictures, at first. And then she confronts the text. I translate, loosely:

The two dense columns of text, whose ink had remained very black upon the yellowed paper, frightened her, because of the barbaric appearance of the Gothic characters. But she got used to it, decoded its characters, understood the abbreviations and the contractions, figured out how to decipher the ancient words; and in the end she read fluently, enchanted as though she had penetrated into a mystery, triumphing over the conquest of each new difficulty.

And then, I kid you not, Zola blathers on for twenty pages about the lives of the saints.

The revisiting of Juliana and Vincent and Stephen and Christina etc etc I can take. But a twelve-year-old reading a sixteenth-century Gothic hand? Please. And, universe, I know that I'm not very good at this--stop rubbing it in.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010



Why do none of my TV-watching programs work in Europe? And why is the woman who lives across the alley from my room (actually like 6 feet away) on a Tom Jones (the musician, not the fictional character) binge? And why is she not bingeing on the character instead, since that would certainly amuse me more? Or perhaps at least be quieter? And why, for that matter, does she spend all of every day sitting either in the window or at the desk right in front of the window talking?

Seriously--every time I'm in this room, she's over there, talking. Until about 11:00 at night. Starting at about 8:00 in the morning. It's weird. But this is her home, not mine, so I suppose I can't complain. Much. A little, maybe.


I've been reading for my Particular Subset of Theory seminar (Fall '10) this week, usually while I'm drinking beer in sidewalk cafes. You know what? Difficult Theorist is better with beer. All theory is better with beer. Yay beer!

*Unrelated, of course, to the question.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Apparently I am capable of intense focus

First day at the library. I'm here to look at one manuscript, and I wasn't even sure whether there would be anything of interest therein--I knew that it contained the oldest version of a vita that I've been working on, but knew nothing about this variant or what else was in the codex. Kind of a gamble, eh, for Field to spend upwards of $3000 for me to look at this thing? Sometimes this profession seems beyond absurd.

Anyway, so I get to the library right when it opens, figure out how to get a card (easy), and gain access to my codex. It shows up at about 9:30, after only a 10-minute wait; I use the time to review my edition of the vita and psych myself up. The codex is small and fat, elegantly rebound at some point--not recently, I'd guess, but certainly not in the fourteenth century. I start in.

First: I copy out the table (or rather paragraph) of contents on the first page, trying my best to decode the Gothic rotunda Latin. It's been...a long while since I engaged in anything approximating paleography. I am Rusty. However, it's not too hard to recognize actual Latin words as opposed to the monstrous mistranscriptions I sometimes concoct, so at least I know which words I'm most likely to have misunderstood.

The excitement begins when I spot my vita listed in the ToC. Then: another medieval woman's life! And a bunch of other random vitae and orae, as well as a totally indecipherable name.

Step two: Start looking through the book, page by page, writing down where each text appears. Blah blah blah. No pictures, occasional decorated initial (nothing fancy), plenty of red ink. Finally I reach my Vita. It's not terribly interesting, visually, but does have one intriguing bit of marginalia--intriguing because it suggests an interest in similar vitae, vitae like the unexpected woman's life. Hm. Okay.

Something I can't identify follows my vita. Ho hum.

A few pages later: WHAT IS IT??? I think. Something crazy! A drawing with a big red mandorla-shaped item in the middle, surrounded by words. Later, I come back to this, and figure out that the red splotch is a wound, and that it is made of blood flowing off of the cross above and into a little spindly, flower-decorated cross below. Coolness. And it contains a prayer of some kind that keeps referring to wounds (I need to translate it--can't be more specific yet. My Latin sure does suck, although I'm doing better than I would have expected ). Alas, the writing to the right of the wound is cramped and hard to make out, and the writing surrounding it is virtually illegible. I do my best.

A few pages later: More visual craziness! One page in a totally different hand lists what appear to be numbers of days associated with individual people (Pope So-and-so three years and twelve days, pope such-and-such sixty days, etc.). In the right-hand column are labeled drawings of, for example, a torch, a bleeding heart, and ten footprints in little boxes. I haven't entirely figured this one out yet. Actually, I haven't figured it out at all, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

Oh, and [indecipherable] turns out to be another contemporary female saint. Some kind of pattern might be emerging. Not sure what yet. Something else to follow up on....

"Madame." The librarian is standing in front of me, whispering. "On ferme."

What? No way. They must be closing early, I think. I emerge: It is ten minutes to five. I've been at it since 9:30 (minus the enforced one-hour break for lunch: the library is closed from 1 until 2). How did this happen? My hand, back, and shoulder ache. Good lord. Why can't I work like this all the time? Or at least one day a week?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I am here

I have arrived!! --in Brussels. (Since there is virtually no chance that revealing my mysterious researching whereabouts will expose my identity, given that I haven't actually published on anything in this region, I might as well tell you where I am, right?)

I got here this morning. I thought that I was doing pretty well with the jetlag--I checked into my hotel at around 11, unpacked, walked around a bit, had lunch at the lovely vegetarian restaurant Den Teepot, then wandered through the City Museum in its entirety--but when I got back to my room it was only 2, and my legs ached so badly that I decided to nap. Then, magically, it was 4. I had some chocolate (I had wisely, but without actually thinking about it, bought a chocolate bar) and overcame my desire to just stay in bed until morning. I emerged into the beautiful (like 70-degree!) afternoon, wandered, checked out the cathedral and a park, called TM, and found an outdoor restaurant where I ate quiche and drank two high-alcohol beers.

It's about time for bed (8:30). But, because I am marvelling at it, I will share with you some pictures of my hotel. If you need a Brussels hotel recommendation (it's cheap and centrally located! And will blind you with its bling!), please do let me know.

Love the Obama poster in this one, especially since it looks like it dates from about 1967. -- Below is my room. Yes, the painting is STRANGE.

Oh! And I must mention Thursday's visit with The Rebel Lettriste & Babies. It was lovely to see Rebel L, who is funny and smart and awesome as always. And the babies, my friends, are, first of all, real (I was charged by The RL with verifying their authenticity, though I wasn't aware that there were any doubts). Second, they are little sweetikins, and I love them. If you're ever in the Lettriste's territory, I highly recommend taking one out for a walk; while they're heavy as hell, they're also utter sweethearts, and everyone who sees you will smile. It was a lovely afternoon.

(I must add that I thoroughly enjoyed watching TM, who joined us a little later, cuddle and charm the contemplative Bede. Meanwhile, active Caedmon attempted to paint my face with spit. But lord, the dazzling smiles on those guys! Even the spit--copious as it was, and goodness was it copious--couldn't detract from their charm.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

So we looked at the house.

It's gorgeous, actually. But too small; the kitchen is cramped and would be hard to expand, and the upstairs bedrooms are all tiny and put together in such a way that it would be difficult to make any of them bigger. But that's okay. We're still kind of toying with this whole property-buying idea, anyway.

And then today we went to an open house at a good-sized place quite close to campus. The pictures online suggested that it was not exactly decorated in our style, but you know, we like the idea of painting and we swung by.

And GOOD LORD. This house is officially The Ugliest House in the World. Each room worse than the last! Heavy, awful curtains over every window; thick pink carpeting and pink walls; drop ceilings in places where they have no reason existing; shiny white linoleum; heavy awful curtains AROUND THE BATHTUBS; wall-length slat-doored closets; insane "Western"-themed fake-stenciled wallpaper bordering the kitchen ceiling; shiny silvery patterned wall covers (what is that stuff?); CARPETED WALLS in the stairwell--I could go on. The mind boggled. And it wasn't just the ugliness; additions had been tacked on willy-nilly so that, for example, the master bedroom was only accessible through the kitchen and the dining room was nowhere near the kitchen. To make it worse, the realtor was a relative of the owner's, so we had to hold in all of our incredulity until we were back in the car.

Oddly enough, it turned out that the owner also recently married the (elderly) father of a co-worker and friend with whom we were getting together immediately after our viewing. She confirmed the unbelievable ugliness.

So we're still thinking about what exactly we're doing here, and until we figure it out, we have a nice place with a month-to-month lease.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fretting, Uselessly

(Is there any other way to fret?)

There's a house for sale. A nice-looking house, right next to campus (which would be great--not a problem at all; it's not too close to the dorms, but it is across the street from our office and close to the gym!). Three bedrooms, two baths, new roof kitchen heating AC etc. It costs...$129,000.

We haven't looked at it yet. I picked up the flier with the specs this afternoon. Seems good, in general. The rooms are quite small (I'm guessing that's why the price is so low?), and it has one weirdly enormous bathroom (twice the size of the bedrooms!!), but it has a big enclosed front porch, a screened-in back porch, and a patio. The porches would be perfect for prepping seedlings, and the yard is the right size for a garden, reasonable lawn, and minimal mowing.

The bedrooms are really small, though--8.5 x 11 (plus walk-in closets). The dining room and kitchen seem smallish, too.

OK, but here's the source of the fret (because, again, we have not looked at this house, and whatever, there will be other houses). At what point should one buy a house? I don't mean in terms of affording it (because at that price, I expect we could easily be paying less in a mortgage than our current rent, if we wanted to, and I have some savings that could make a small down payment), but rather in terms of life-planning. Especially in academia, because, let's face it, if we (both) got some kind of nice deal elsewhere, we'd take it. (The "both" makes that more difficult, of course.) But I don't want to keep wafting around noncommittally because I might one day get a job somewhere else. On the other hand, what's with this sudden urgency? We've been talking about looking for a house next spring, but neither one of us wants to move RIGHT NOW. And obviously we shouldn't just look at one house; so, if we look at this house (which we've agreed we ought to do, if only for kicks), shouldn't we look at others, too? And what if it's too small? In principle I'm okay with small rooms, but I don't want to buy a place that we'll "outgrow" in a few years (although I guess that's not the end of the world.... I just like the idea of stepping outside of the whole buy-buy-buy thing that seems to be our national home-owning culture). So, ugh, maybe I just need talking-down?

I'm sure that this enthusiasm, or whatever it is, will blow over in a day or two. In the meantime, I need to go measure my bed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Little and Much

Not very much has been going on over here, in the grand scheme of things. I'm busy, naturlich, but not with anything worth noting--going to the gym, eating, sleeping, reading, writing this or that little thing that (I hope) will one day join up with other little things and produce something bigger. On the other hand, there is The Garden.

The Garden is truly three gardens (East, South, and West), and it is truly the province of The Minister, though I contribute here and there. (I made a triple batch of pesto today, for example. We now have more than 50 tablespoons of pesto in the freezer.) It is a lovely and densely packed garden, or gardens, chiefly because of some vines (melons and a mystery squash) that have filled in every empty inch and would willingly tear down the other vegetables if allowed. Tonight, inspired by the beauty of our lettuce going to seed, I took some pictures. For your pleasure:

First, the lettuce. It's almost in flower! We're hoping it'll reseed the patch.

Our chard is frankly out of control. This is one of like five rows (albeit the healthiest one). Chard, chard, chard. It'll produce until November, too.

Plenty o' poblanos.

You get two pictures of the eggplants viewed through the jalapeno leaves, because I think they're pretty.

And now for the jalapenos.

The ever-bearing strawberries are trucking along; we've got about three gallon-bags worth in our freezer already, and they'll keep rolling in into the fall.

Raspberries! The bushes are still pretty tiny, though.

A single blackberry flower.

The mystery squash! It grew out of our compost. It's huge. It wants to conquer the world.

Oh--and of course, there will be tomatoes.

I love summer.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hey Fatty Boom-Boom

I only wish that I were so happy to be at my computer.