Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Traveler Returns

Nearly twenty four hours passed between the time I awoke in my wee wheeled bed at the Hotel Tavistock and the hour when at last I collapsed in my own creaky bed with whining cat and grateful husband at about one am (6am GMT); far too long for a mere cross-Atlantic voyage. The time span was due to delays at Heathrow (our plane bound for Philly had been filled with cargo for Pittsburgh which required turning back from the runway to the gate, waiting, waiting, unloading and loading again) as well as at Philadelphia (we missed our original connecting flight, and later flights to Albania were delayed by planes not coming in from the Midwest, thus we waited about 6 hours for a 40 minute flight). As expected, we were surrounded by lots of other very cross, very tired people and one monster child -- who of course ended up sitting in front of me with his monster mother, but as I promptly fell asleep upon takeoff, it was not as bad as in the terminal.

Then there was the snow globe incident, which required one student to be detained by security for a time in Philadelphia. More on that later, too.

US Airways is evil. Just thought you'd like confirmation of that.

So you'll have to wait a bit longer for a thrilling account of my adventures in London (part deux) because now I'm going to have a bath and then I suspect I will be whisked off to the movies because I don't think Gene can wait another day to see Ironman. If you want pictures, see the students' posts on the class blog.

Missing all my London friends -- be back soon. Many schemes afoot to manage it...

Friday, May 23, 2008

London Postcard

On a rented computer, so a swift recap of odd details with likely little time to give links for things, so when in doubt, Google them yourself and have fun.

Monday off to the airport with the students, many parents and family in attendance, so feeling the reins of responsibility rather heavily. Ran into Paul, our friend who owns his own island in the Hudson (there's a write up of that on the blog somewhere). So we chatted a bit and then it was time to get the students on board. Off to Philly and another layover where the airport was shutting down. Still 9 students, so that was a plus. On board and on our way with much excitement and eventually, snoring and drooling and sleeping (at least on my part). Through passport control -- not the group line either, so they all got their passports stamped.

Tuesday already by then; we eventually got all the luggage -- poor Pat must have had the first bag on the plane as it was the last one off. Stops at the cash point and then on to the tube where I bought them their Oystercards. We jumped on the Picadilly line and went all the way to Russell Square. Two blocks and we were at the hotel -- the Tavistock is way better than the industrial Royal National. I gave them an hour or so to unpack, then wrangled some lunch which we ate with Gandhi in Tavistock Square. Then we swung by the British Museum so they could ooh at the Great Hall (which really is magnificent) and find that the entire medieval wing is closed off now -- crap. I walked the jet-lagged crew as far as Trafalgar Square, pointing out landmarks along the way, then we jumped on the tube and went to Hyde Park where we walked form Speaker's Corner to Peter Pan, then back to the Lido for hot drinks (the day had turned chilly and they were flagging fast). Dinner with some of the students, admonishing all that they had to stay up until at least 10pm.

Wednesday the hop-on hop-off tours and boat to Greenwich, where one student already gave her preentation. I jumped on a train back to meet my pal Paul, the Holy Dragger, where we had a few drinks and the students kept stopping to ask me questions because I foolishly chose a pub near the hotel.

Thursday, we went to my pal James' school and my students met his and had a good time talking about their expectations of one another and were given English food in a blind taste test. And we all said, "Happy Birthday, James!"

Today I am heading off to Hanwell to see the Brookses which is always enjoyable. I have spent the morning in the shockingly surprising way of shopping for books, which as usual means a lot of reading and perusing and a little bit of buying. Next week is theatre, this weekend more visits. If I have time and inclination, I'll write more, but London calls...

You can see the students' own comments and pictures here.

Monday, May 19, 2008

On the Road

In anticipation of my travels, here's a raven from the Tower of London, snapped by Richard Seaman, the Flying Kiwi.

NEWSFLASH! Gene-Gene the book reviewing machine has an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education, but you have to have a subscription to get past the wall.

I'm packing (well, obviously I'm typing, but you know what I mean) and getting ready to go this afternoon. Let's hope the weather holds -- it's clouding up at present, but scattered storms shouldn't pose a problem.

I'm looking forward to sharing some of my favorite spots with the students and, of course, seeing friends while I'm back in London (yes, yes, I'm sure I'll also be visiting friends like Skoob and Quinto, too, not to mention the various Oxfam Bookshops...).

Not sure how much I'll be able to post while traveling, but I may be able to sneak in a little writing now and then at the British Library.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Congrats to the joey Zone!

Walking down the aisle to accept his certificate today, all hail the joey Zone! Graduation day is when everyone gets medieval.

We survived the first step in moving. Big thanks to Robert who patiently stood by as we debated and divested and sorted the storage space. Glad hugs to Miss Wendy, Faye, the Queen of Everything and Johnny 10X (and Marko, thanks for the badges by way of the QoE!). Strange to always run into folks we know at the pub Friday night, when we haven't lived there in four years, but hey -- that's Willimantic! At least they had some porter and we found a table despite it being packed.

Now I just need to finish editing this essay so I can send it off and go to Britain with a easy conscience.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Vecchia Zimarra

Off to Connecticut tonight to empty out the storage space. I shall have to sing my goodbyes to the things we throw away (may they be many). But I'll think about that later -- work to do now and anyway, I should be thinking about seeing friends tonight (a much more pleasant thought).

I woke up thinking of Dorothy Parker:

When I am sober and the grass springs up green,
I will tell you the meaning of miracles you have seen.
When I am tipsy and the grass has grown brown,
I'll explain why good intentions usually drown.

I looked into extending my trip, but purchasing a one-way ticket for a different date would cost over $1100. Yikes. Maybe next year when I am not taking a group of students to London (I swear), I can have more free time.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


My hairdryer started on fire the other day: it's been that kind of week. Sparks flew, smoke rose and I yelped.

Last day of teaching for week one of the summer intensive. Monday we're off to London. I will not think of all the things that can go wrong, or how much writing I have not been doing. I have an essay to finish revising by Monday. Yeah, somehow -- I had thought I was too late already to submit this essay, but I ran into the editor of the journal at Kalamazoo, who hailed me across the Valley III lobby with "Where's my essay?!"

Tomorrow we're off to Connecticut for the stressful work of emptying out the storage space and -- inevitably -- moving some of it to a storage space here. When I return, there's moving. Maybe I can change my ticket...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Monster Folk

The monster folk are organized! See their blog -- join their ranks. This may be a new land speed record for acceleration from idea to committee. Partly this is due to the early deadline for Kazoo session proposals (tomorrow). I've already faxed off mine for Medieval Popular Culture.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Random Thoughts

Why, oh why, did I agree to do this summer class? Still getting details settled. At least the airfare and hotel should be all set, but the money never goes quite as far as you'd hope. The Globe hasn't called me back but they said they would hold the tickets even if their credit card service continued to have problems (just like last year). And yes, I did get tickets for Midsummer Night's Dream and not Lear, although I may go to that myself afterward. But for some of them it may be the first time to see real theater -- let's go for the magic rather than tragedy.

I am still determined to write that Nick Lowe musical one day. Every time I hear Mary Provost, I see the shape of it in my head.

I'm not even going to mention moving...

Yet a little thing like hearing Queen's "We are the Champions" on the way to campus can lift my spirits a little. Just as well -- it's Arthurian day in our swift run through the Middle Ages (a thousand years of literature in three weeks -- ha), so I will be playing clips from Holy Grail and the Gawain films as well as yes, A Knight's Tale.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Because I Will Forget

I read Iain [not M.] Bank's Walking on Glass partly on the trip to Oxford, then finished it in Kalamazoo. Enjoyable -- it winds three different stories together. Two strands are mostly mimetic realism (although one character seems to be given to some paranoid delusions), while the third clearly takes place in an unfamiliar realm. I wasn't entirely happy with it (mostly due to a tricky revelation at the end), but I enjoyed most of it -- after all, how can I be unhappy with a book that mentions Grettir's saga? I made sure to steal something from it (Eliot was right about some things) for the novel I'm finishing soon (which is to say I am creeping toward the end point, I think, I hope). I also loved his idea of Ethical Hedonism, defined by one character as:
Have fun, be nice, veer left and never stop thinking...

There are worse philosophies to have.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

And home again...

Saturday is often a comedy of errors at Kalamazoo: the best laid plans, etc. Don't trust me: lots of medievalists blog about the 'Zoo. I had dinner plans, but they relied upon catching up with other people. In between, I met up with one of my panelists at the wine hour and tried to find others; seeking out the mead tasting room, I ran into the "monstrous" folks (that's an indication of research interests, not character [for the most part ;-)]) and drank mead and, consequently, missed the phone calls for dinner. For myself, well, I could pay the price, but I'd invited the panelist along and had to apologize for the gaffe. But we went to dinner with the monster folk which was jolly enough -- who but monsters know how to laugh? -- and eventually went back to the monster folks meeting where ideas were explored for acronyms and journal titles.

Next I ran off to the UConn impromptu party where I was aghast at the choice between Miller and Bud until I found there were additional options on the floor. Then it was back to meet up with Miss Wendy and ply her with some Dickies to get her in the mood for the dance. MLA folks, eat your heart out -- while you feast on acrimony and stress, we medievalists dance. It is the heart of Kalamazoo. I made use of any friend who came our way to drag them out on the dance floor. Lacking my sweetie, who is always willing to hit the floor and have fun, I have to often drag the unwilling out (kudos to Will, who asked me -- you are a scholar and gentleman!). Dancing is a joy (although it also tends to remind you in the morning that it's not the years, it's the mileage).

Of course, Sunday morning panels come quite early after the late night dance, but despite the rain, I was there on time. All went well -- the panelists had much of interest to share and we had a lively session even at 8.30 am on Sunday. As soon as the panel was over, the three Furies headed back to Detroit in the rain, but I made my flight, fell asleep quickly and bit my tongue three times (ouch) and then was home where Gene made me chicken curry and we watched Doctor Who, Smallville and the latest episode of Cranford. Simple joys are best.

Tomorrow the summer immersion begins: what was I thinking?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Zoo Life

If you could get them to time it right, the geese make an excellent alarm. They fly to the top of the dorms and honk for all they're worth -- or at least the ones I saw this morning did. Imagine calling the desk to ask for a 8am goose call (be careful what you ask for?)

Animal life today: one bunny by Fetzer, a blue heron flying over head and yes, the ever adorable ducklings following their mother and making all and sundry go "awwww!"

I decided to skip the heavy academic panel I had planned to attend this morning and instead went to the "Play Music" performance at the chapel featuring Early Music Michigan and WMU's Collegium Musicum. Good choice: they presented music from plays by folks as disparate as Hildegard and Shakespeare, including the Jeu de Robin et Marion, which was a lot of fun. Always enjoyable to hear a little early music -- and dance, too. They had some very young dancers and began the program with a processional led by Death. It sounds gloomy, but it was accompanied by the lively "Ad mortem festinamus."

Lunch meeting and then a panel on the Beowulf films have occupied me since. I came to the lab to print my boarding pass. Already nearly time to leave! But of course, first there's the dance tonight, whose legend looms large.

Last night was dinner at the Great Lakes Shipping Co. and their non-nonpareil dish, the schrod in parchment. Wonderful! We headed out there after the UConn reception at which we saw many familiar faces and chatted for a good while (and enjoyed free beer, naturally -- Bell's!). I was strong-armed into the New England Saga Society, giving me yet another affiliation to compete for my time at Kazoo. Always too much...

Friday, May 09, 2008

More Zoo Stories

I saw a little brown bunny on my walk to get tea this morning, just nibbling beside the sidewalk. That's Kalamazoo: birds and fish and bunnies and squirrels -- and all the medievalists you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time). It must be a reflection of how long I've been coming here that I see people I know just about everywhere.

Today I attended sessions, mostly for Societas Magica -- lunch was a meeting to plan for tomorrow's general meeting. There was a panel on teaching just before I came here that ended a little early because two panelists could not be there (for rather unfortunate reasons). So I came to the lab to see how bad my email was (not too bad) and of course, write up a little news of the day because (let's face it) I write obsessively.

Dinner last night was at the Roadhouse -- always a good meal. Miss Wendy and I met up with my pal Frankie and her student Dawn as well as with Meredith (yes, your pal, Cheryl!) and her friend Oz. Later we hit some of the receptions and drank free beer (always tastes sweeter) and then retired to our room relatively early. I slept better last night with my eyeshades and earplugs, but I guess Miss Wendy fared no better.

Looks like it's just about time to go meet her.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

From the 'Zoo

Hey kids -- we're in the 'zoo now. Well, at present I'm in the computer lab at WMU like a bunch of other medieval geeks typing away. I got to Detroit yesterday with no problems. Our plane was so empty I stretched out and went to sleep across the three seats. Once I got to the Motor City, I did some more sleeping while waiting for Wendy and Faye to get there. Once they arrived we had some lunch and then picked up the rental car and headed out on 94. Way too much rain to be fun, but we made good time nonetheless. Outside of Kazoo there was a big accident in the eastbound lane that backed up traffic for miles.

We headed over to registration to find that we were in Valley I; better than Valley II (up the very steep hill) but not as good as Valley III, home of registration, the enormous book room and the coffee & wine hours. We went to Bilbo's for dinner; none of us had been to their new location yet, so it was nice to check it out. It's much bigger and airier, but without the basement there's a certain charm missing. The pizza and beer, however, are just as good -- I had some Dragon Red Ale, yum.

We dropped Faye off at the Radisson (no dorm life for her!) and headed back to our ever-so-charming dorm room. Wendy had work to do on an essay she was editing for Mechademia (I think) as well as looking over her paper for this morning (nice to get done in the first session of the day).

We both woke up early; there was a bird determined to wake the entire state outside our window and lacking a BB gun or trained falcon, there wasn't much else to do but get up. I wandered out to go get some tea and began running into folks right away. Had a long chat with fellow UConn alum John Sexton and ran into a bunch of the other UConn folks, as well as my new local colleagues from Siena, Mary and Pam. Wendy's panel went well, of course. Wendy talked about martyrs from the South English Legendary and was brilliant as usual.

Time to go enjoy the conference and the beautiful spring day. The swans are nesting! They weren't at this time last year, so that's cool. More news as time permits.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Off to the 'Zoo

There will be words and music, dancing and learning, feasting and laughter...

Relieved (sort of)

Well, grades are in, but as we all know, that isn't necessarily the end of the story, so I brace myself for those who are unhappy. One student has already complained about a grade before the final grades were entered, so the odds are good that there will end up being some kind of dispute. So it goes.

Hey, here's a cute baby horse picture thanks to Cute Overload (AKA something to cheer the blackest heart). I feel better now. Don't you?

I shall force myself to feel some relief, too. Endpoints and beginnings are important to note. I had lunch with a very smart graduating senior who cheered me immensely, and it is Tuesday, which means a beer at Mahar's with the History and Political Science folks. Tonight we sign the lease on our new apartment, too, so that's good. Tomorrow morning it's off to Kalamazoo. I'll join Faye and Miss Wendy in Detroit, and then the three Furies will drive across the state to the big medieval geek fest.

The rest of the summer will be devoted to avoiding semi-colons.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Becoming Elinor Dashwood

We are moving again; at least this time, it's only about 10 miles. Nonetheless, it will be (as always) difficult. Even more so because we are moving into town and, necessarily, into a smaller place (that's city life). On the plus side, the apartment is three blocks from my office and includes heat and water. That means savings in gas as well as money. It's a lovely little apartment and very light. Four closets -- in contrast to the one we share at present. No attic and no shed, however, which will prove a challenge.

I have decided that I must approach this as Elinor Dashwood would. The heroine of Austen's Sense and Sensibility provides the perfect model (appearing above in the fabulous paper doll version by Legacy Pride). We must simply do without a lot. Part one: go to Connecticut and get everything out of storage later this month (probably the 17th). Be ruthless: we will need a storage place here, but we want to unload things we could not convince ourselves to abandon when we moved to Texas. We'll be able to get some of the books that we could not take with us then and swap out some that we do not need at present.

I have a feeling those stairs up to the third floor will make some choices easier.

To seal my fate, I took the requisite on-line quiz which persuades me that I am in fact inclined in that direction:

I am Elinor Dashwood!

Take the Quiz here!

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Review: Nick Lowe at the Linda

The essence of cool -- and wit, for that matter -- is to make it all look effortless. That's Nick Lowe in a nutshell. If you don't know this sardonic songwriter, get thee to a music store tout de suite! We happy few who saw him at the Linda Wednesday night will no doubt carry that concert around in our heads for a very long time, "and gentlemen in England now-a-bed / Shall think themselves accurs'd they were not here." As Gene said, "I've never seen anyone so at one with a guitar."

This was our first visit to the Linda. It's a great little venue which looks like it might have been a bank once. Gene was cheered to find a basket full of free chocolate. I was amazed to wind my way downstairs to the restrooms and find a line for the men's room. Every woman who came down the stairs gaped in amazement. Already the night was memorable. The guy at the door teased us by asking whether our parents knew we were out; we were on the young end of the scale for the audience. Gene remarked (not without cause) that they got away with fewer lights in the auditorium because of the shine from all the bald pates. The sound in the hall was terrific despite its unorthodox shape.

The show opened with an energetic solo set from Eli "Paperboy" Reed. The Boston boy came out in a grey suit and French cuffs to wail away enthusiastically. He has studied his Wilson Pickett well. During his second song technical problems hit: the microphone started twirling around and his guitar strap came unhooked. He hardly skipped a beat and finished the song. The audience was impressed and let their approval be known. His music had a retro appeal and bouncy tunes, so a lot of people stopped by the table to pick up cds and chat.

After a brief break, it was time for the headliner. Lowe (who had been watching Reed's set from the side of the stage, casual as can be) walked up on stage with his guitar and launched into "People Change," a song from the latest album. It was clear that the audience already knew all the new songs and greeted this one enthusiastically. Gene tried to snap a picture with his Treo, but the combination of the backlighting, Lowe's snow-white hair and crisp white shirt resulted in a kind of blob of light. With a huge back catalogue, it was hard to guess what Lowe might play (not "Mary Provost" alas) but the audience was eager for every tune. I'm sure there was probably a set list, but Lowe seemed to meander at random from the old to the new, chatting occasionally to the audience between numbers. After the back to back snarkiness of "All Men are Liars" and "I Trained Her to Love Me" he recalled his last visit to Albany ages ago, "when I was in a rock band, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed" and where they found everything they wanted, "some of which required a visit to the doctor afterward" he added. I cast my mind back to remember the last time I saw Lowe. He was appearing with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder and Jim Keltner as Little Village in Boston at the Orpheum: was it really 1992?!

Although pleased that the audience already knew all the new songs, Lowe explained this was bad news for the merchandise table, "you must already have the cd." He mentioned the re-release of The Jesus of Cool by Yep Roc records. Worried that he was beginning to sound like an advertisement, Lowe told the audience to think of it as a news report instead. Yep Roc will be releasing more of his back catalogue with extras -- good news indeed.

Lowe played a wide variety of songs from the old to the new, including a brand new song, "I Read a Lot" which he introduced somewhat deprecatingly, saying that there were two reactions to those words, "new song": some who will say "I can't wait, is there no end to this man's genius?" and the rest who'll go out in the lobby and wait for the hits. "The good thing is none of my songs lasts more than two and half minutes so you won't have to wait long," Lowe assured us. I don't think anyone left.

He apologized that his voice was a bit croaky before singing "Shelley My Love," one of his rare songs that focuses more on vocal stretching than linguistic, but the roughness only added charm. Ravers like "7 Nights to Rock," "Cruel to be Kind," "Heart of the City" and "I Knew the Bride When She Used to Rock-n-Roll" were greeted with obvious delight, but quieter numbers held the audience spellbound, too. These included big favorites of mine like "Heart" and "The Beast in Me." The most amazing song of the set is the one he chose to end with: an utterly entrancing version of "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" It was followed by thunderous applause (and encores).

The good news is that the show was recorded and will be playing this fall on WAMC. We'll keep an eye out for it and let you all know when it airs if we can (you can listen on line).

For a briefer review, visit the Times Union review here.

Friday, May 02, 2008


More information in about a week, but here's the cover from a book collection that I'll be in. My contribution is an essay on Grendel in Beowulf. You can guess the theme, right?

I wrote this piece so long ago and the project has had such a tortured history, that I had quite forgotten about it (although its ghost still lingered on my CV). Out of the blue an email came from the editor today, saying, "Guess what?!"

Soon you'll have something to chew on. ;-)

One final down, two to go and grading in between: our year end tenure reports are due today, too. Nonetheless, I hope to do the Nick Lowe review this afternoon if I can squeeze it in. Can I say again, what a great show?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

May Day / New Column

The tipping point toward summer is here, yet there was frost on my windshield this morning. Brrr. But the buds on the trees turned into leaves in the course of the weekend I was gone.

Speaking of pagan holidays: I'm pleased to announce I'm doing a (paid) bi-weekly column for the four times-a-week newsletter, the Daily Spell. I'm writing about medieval magic for this general audience of people interested in magic and witchcraft. There's been a bit of confusion with the starting date, so I didn't realize the first column actually appeared April 17, page 3. The latest column appears today on page one (and two). It's great to be able to share my learning with a wider audience than just academics. I like the discipline of a regular deadline, and you never know what ideas something like this will spark.

However you celebrate, enjoy the day and be careful around the bonfire. The Nick Lowe review coming soon -- short version? You so wish you were there: he kicked ass!