It is my intention to get caught up on my travelogue today - I have pictures of Cambridge and some stories, and the rest of my itinerary for the whole trip is all set and I can tell you about that, and I really must finally write about Bruges - I think I've been a little procrastinaty about it because it was an astonishing weekend, packed full of amazing people and experiences, and it's a little overwhelming to think about trying to capture it all. But I will give it a whirl. I feel like I should do that before I leave tomorrow to visit Sandra in Walsingham.

But first, a rant!

Secondary rant: I've been working in the libraries here when I haven't been busy with my infernally long commute from Stapleford, which I think is "the nice parts" of the seventh circle of hell - I've told you a little about that. The landlady has grown progressively more psycho - when the bike company came to pick up my cripped bike the other day she flew into an absolute tantrum, and was screaming at the guy - even though I absolutely flew down the stairs when I saw his van pull into the drive, it wasn't in time to save him from the crazyfest which is Jayne. I heard her screeching that she couldn't be expected to let him into the garden - "did SHE tell you it was OK, does SHE think she has the right, I am not normally HERE and frankly if I hadn't been, what does she THINK that I just OH LOOK HERE SHE IS!" as I came round the corner. Obviously I was here to handle it. Obviously. But she's crazy. I accidentally called her when I was trying to call the cab company to then cancel the scheduled bike pickup in the "people mover" (minivan) for this morning and she went into a paranoid fugue about how I was trying to skip out on her without paying. A short while later I found that she'd pulled down all my laundry, which had been drying on the line, and put it in a wrinkly heap on the kitchen table. She is absolutely crackers.

Not quite as crazy as a landlady I had in Atlanta in 1997 - that one was actually certifiable. That landlady, who had been absolutely dreamy to rent from, very kind and generous, let me use her vintage convertible, gave me loads of great stuff she said she wasn't using, etc. - she went insane when I gave notice that I wasn't renewing the lease because I was going to take a carriage house closer to campus. EVERYONE LEAVES ME! she screamed. EVERYONE LEAVES ME IN THE END! And then she started howling like a wounded animal. It was unbelievable. I ran downstairs to my apartment (I lived downstairs, she upstairs) but I could hear her upstairs, stomping around and occasionally breaking something while she screamed and screamed that everyone left her, that they were all ungrateful, ungrateful, ungrateful! At this point we'd suspect that she'd gone off her meds or something, but even as recently as 1997, that wasn't the first suspect. I waited downstairs, trying to decide what to do. I didn't want to call the police because it wasn't bad enough for that yet. So I called Ally, who would be my new roommate in the carriage house. Ally came over and listened as the crazy went on and on. We heard her pound down the stairs and held our breath. I was holding the phone in one hand, ready to dial 911. Then all the lights went off. She had cut the power. We crept into the laundry room (adjoining my apartment) when she was gone and found she'd pulled all of the fuses to my level of the house. We put them back in. Ally went home around midnight. Around 2 in the morning, I woke up because I heard a noise, and saw my apartment door opening. It was the landlady. Standing there. In the doorway, just a black shadow outlined by the porch light. I knew she couldn't see my face all the way over there and decided not to move or say anything, to just pretend to be asleep and wait to see how it would play out. She stood there about 15 minutes. Then she left. I kept all my doors barricaded when I was at home from then on, and the inside door barricaded *all* the time.

So these folk aren't that crazy, anyway! Although the guy just came into my room to bitch that a burner had been left on. True fact: I did not use burners last night. I heated up some mac and cheese in the oven, and flipped off the orange stove switch at the end. I'm the only guest here now. Seriously: they are CRAZYCAKES.

I'm now pretty sure they are close to being equally as crazy as Atlanta lady - I made eggy in the basket to go with my tea and then turned off the stove (they do that here, have on-off switches for everything). Came upstairs to eat - and he starts bellowing at me from downstairs that I left the burner on again, and this time he's out of his mind about it and yelling fit to bust. I know for damn sure I turned the stove off. Big orange switch. I come downstairs, point out that the stove is off and he's yelling that the burner is hot. Well, what shall I do? Douse it with cold water after cooking? I said I was going back upstairs. He followed me up, yelling and yelling about the stove (which, remember - had been turned OFF, which I guess he hadn't noticed because the temperature knob was turned and the burner was hot). I calmly point out that I'm leaving first thing in the morning so no need to continue with the conversation, dead letter issue. Nope, he can't. I am telling you - neither of these people can self-regulate. He's standing in the room I paid for, screaming. I tell him to leave. He keeps screaming. I tell him to leave RIGHT NOW. I stand up. I mean business. I tell him in my coldest, scariest voice that it's unprofessional, inappropriate, that I'm not having it, and that he needs to leave immediately. I open the door (which he had SHUT) and he pops a gasket and says he will NOT be kicked out of a room in his house! and that I'm a guest! A paying guest, I say, and the room mine and not his until tomorrow. Go. Now.

He looked at me. I looked back at him. I will admit to you that I was thinking that if he went crazy I could totally take him, easy peasy kitten mittens. He is a small 60something British man with Eggbert glasses. I am a stout Midwestern American woman of a Certain Temperament. If you run the hypothesis (like Ninjas v. Pirates), hefty bitch from Kansas is going to beat shrimpy old Brit every time. Some inkling of this thought process may have shown on my face. He went away.

I called my mom and screeched indignantly for about 15 solid minutes, and about 10 into it (the refrain was "THESE PEOPLE ARE PSYCHOTIC!" they peeled out of the drive together in their blue car. I am guessing they probably didn't like overhearing the American woman calling them fucking lunatic psycho shitbirds in their own home, even if it wasn't to their faces. JESUS.

Incidentally, when I scheduled the pickup with the cab company and gave them the address of this B&B, they said, and I quote: "Oh. THAT place. Yeah, we know THAT place."

I rather suspect that they have picked up more than one person who had one overwhelming desire: to flee. K and I have been talking and she says that they kept the house boiling hot while she was here. These people are obviously completely barking mad. I'd love to know why they had it broiling hot and no windows allowed open when K was here, and now that I'm here it's that the room must be freezing cold and the windows ALWAYS open. They told me that K hadn't been able to use the internet at ALL while she was here, but she never mentioned that to me at all and I'm guessing it probably wasn't true, because that would have registered with her as a salient issue for me worth mentioning, I'm sure. K did say to me the other day that they were aware that the people did absolutely nothing of any service at all re: transpo to or from the relatively remote B&B or any sort of info about travel. So that was a shared experience, but I didn't have forewarning.

Anyway, I personally do NOT recommend it, and I thought I'd write about them to the Cambridge board of tourism. As it turns out (which I didn't realize - again, I came only based on K's recommendation because I didn't have enough internet access to do my own research and booking because of the situation in Bruges, Vine Farm actually had to get back to me via fax) these people actually have NO accreditation of any sort, and aren't registered with the B&B board in Cambridge. Not listed in the directory. How much do you want to bet that it's because they're FUCKING CRAZY and got kicked out of all of the above? Yeah.

My primary rant is archival.

I asked to speak with the archivist who wrote the description of one of the manuscripts I was working on - I found the description marvelous. She came out and was clearly expecting to have some sort of fight with someone, because she was both defensive and offensive. Quite elderly, and prickly would be an understatement. I was sitting there feeling fairly shocked by how rude she was being (she actually refused to shake my hand when I offered it on meeting her, and only took it after it became fairly clear that I wasn't withdrawing it) and felt suddenly flat-footed. I complimented the description and said that I was hoping to hear a little more about how the documents on the pastedowns had been researched (they are the primary means of dating and placing the manuscript and they are pretty goddamn obscure, content-wise) and she snapped "You are asking me QUITE PERSONAL QUESTIONS about HOW I WORK." I mean seriously, she absolutely bit my head off, and quite loudly. She had no interest whatsoever in the conversation. None. I switched to the neutral questions about citing the unpublished descriptions (her name was on one, but the other was by MRJ) and she got all upset about THAT and said that they were absolutely discretionary and she didn't want people asking questions about them because she wouldn't necessarily know the answers. Interesting. Not even her own? So I asked some more questions about the description v-v the book, as for example the description's statement that the book was in a northern Italian hand. Honestly, it's a fairly nondescript 15th c. bookhand that could have been Italian, or Austrian, maybe even German. What about it said Northern Italian to her? She looked startled. She looked at the page. Then she flipped to the pastedown and said "Well if you can't tell that's an Italian hand I don't know what to say!" Um. OK, first? That's not the same thing as saying the manuscript is in a "small northern Italian hand", which is what the description says. The pastedowns are 14th century and yeah, in a small Italian documentary hand. That wasn't the question. So I asked some more.

In this manner of asking questions and getting totally loud bitchcakes answers that were intended to insult and repel, I quickly figured out that the reason she was being SO hostile and refusing to answer questions was because the description she had put her name on was not actually her original work. It is a reworking and synthesis of prior archival work which it appears she doesn't completely understand and can't explain - she probably checked the codicology, but the rather brilliant job of decoding the text on the pastedowns was certainly not done by her and she was embarrassed and angry to be asked questions about it. She became *really* flustered and evasive about how the description should be dated, cited - it was just awfully clear that she was Super Sekrit Squirrel on the subject and was pained by the idea of having someone else - and eventually that someone is going to be a professor and not just a postgraduate student - come and ask her about "her" work. I am inferring here that she has her name on it so it could be claimed on a report of works completed to the library head or whatever. But she's super reluctant for anyone to publish the description with her name on it. evidently because she could never actually account for or explain it. Which is totally PANTS, as the kids say here. PANTS! I believe that the way this would be handled in America would be to CITE YOUR SOURCES and name yourself as the EDITOR of those sources, hey? As opposed to claiming that you wrote a thing and then getting angry when you get busted? She said I was being difficult.

I smiled at her. My patient, amused smile. "You understand that I'm not being difficult, right? This is a matter of simple due diligence. I want to make sure that I cite my sources completely and ethically when I write up my findings."

She jumped like I'd goosed her. And she started harping and harping on about how in *her day* people didn't try to pin other people down on things like this! (Referring to my question "Do you wish to be named as the author? Just your initials and date are on the page.") She grabbed the page from me and scratched out the date with a pencil, muttering something utterly incomprehensible about how dates change on things like this! Don't cite this date! If you're going to be difficult I might have to refuse to let you have it entirely! (Too late! All typed!) Well, how about your name? May I pin that down as the author? You are these initials, yes? She had to allow as that was so, but with more incomprehensible angry muttering.

I had been prepared for a nice conversation about book - especially since the archivist at Jesus had been such an angel and had specifically recommended that I meet with the archivist at University Library, further stating certainty that said archivist would surely be glad to have a chat. But at this point I was thoroughly done with the matter and ready to have this prickly, venomous person away - so I said, in tones of perfect sincerity and Midwestern earnestness that I was TERRIBLY sorry to have asked about the manuscript description and that I had NO IDEA that they were considered such INTIMATE and PERSONAL questions in England and was just DREADFULLY SORRY to have asked for her, but that [JC archivist Name drop!] had actually recommended that I ask for a chat with her but that it was AWFULLY clear that it had been a TERRIBLE IMPOSITION and finally that I was TRULY VERY SORRY I HAD ASKED TO MEET HER.

It was clear that she had not figured out that I was being sarcastic (nobody does big-eyed earnestness like a Kansas girl) and she at least had some kind of small, decent bone in her body - probably that really tiny one that floats around in your ear, or a little one in the foot - because she did look slightly embarrassed. For a TOTAL WITCH. And then she owned it! She said "Manuscript descriptions are never the work of one person! You rework and rework prior descriptions! I can't answer your questions!" If I was subtitling it in sloppy Hong Kong action film style, except in Latin, I'd have just written "MEA MAXIMA CULPA!"

A-ha!!! And it all comes clear. Plot cathexis! If there is any narrative justice in the world she is back in her office trying to sort out the name of the person who actually wrote it, and the camera will pan through the stacks and stacks of paper that represent pilfered words that must now all be put right, and her rheumy old eyes will tear up. I hope that any original work she might actually get around to doing will have been totally obscured to posterity by a parallel and similarly shameful intellectual theft by some grabby future archivist in 2040.

When I next saw the gorgeous (good god, Englishmen with their tweed and their glasses and their jeans and their scrubby sneakers, I could die happy just boywatching here) archive fellow who had passed on the request for a meeting to her (the reason I gave was the amazing description) I said "I don't think that lady likes to be bothered." And he said "Yeah. Don't take it personally." And I said "Oh, I don't!" - I said it a little too brightly, and he gave me a funny look and said "You never know how people are going to react to her." and I said "It was an interesting experience!" again, probably too brightly. And he said "I'm sure it was informative." And I said "It was interesting!" and he said "Informative?" and finally I said "Evidently she didn't actually write the description I was asking about, which made it rather embarrassing situation for both of us." His jaw dropped. I shrugged.

And that's score one for my passive-aggressive Dark Avenger.

Additionally, when I'm writing up my findings in an article this summer, I will be citing the description as "Archival description of SHELFMARK," - since the archivist was such a squirrel and clearly didn't actually write it, I think I will reference her only as "typist's initials: JSR."

One month and one week left - in some ways it feels like I've been doing this much longer than that - in other ways it seems like it's impossible that it's already 2/3 over. And this is the fun part - there's so incredibly unbelievably much work to be done when I get home. But
for the next five weeks, I still have more adventures abroad.

This weekend I'm traveling to see Sandra (the Canoness of Augustine that I met in Bruges) in Walsingham. I figured out how to get to Walsingham so she doesn't have to pick me up in Watlington - 50 km isn't much to an American, but I think it's considered something of a chore here. So here is how I get there: train from Cambridge to King's Lynn. Bus Station Bay 2 - Take the Norfolk Green/X8 toward Fakenham: Oak Street Interchange. (41 minute ride to Fakenham Wells Road Toll Bar). Cross the road and take the Norfolk Green/29 toward Wells: The Buttlands Church - 9 minutes to Walsingham: The Pump.

So wish me luck with that! Anyway, I've got her cell.

On Monday I'll reverse the process back to King's Lynn and travel to...


Where? You might be thinking. Whazza? Well, as I was googling places that were on the rail line from King's Lynn to Birmingham (and then down to Worcester) I came across the following piece of information on travelwiki:

"Melton Mowbray[1] - usually referred to locally as just Melton - is a market town in the county of Leicestershire, England. It is famous for the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie and as the centre of Stilton Cheese production."


Regular readers know that Stilton is one of my favorite cheeses (maybe even the number one) and I read that the traditional way to serve pork pie is with a slice of stilton and a spoonful of Branston pickle! Breakfast, lunch, and dinner please.

"Stilton whey fed a large pig population in the Melton area. Local bakers developed the edible hot crust pastry which is ‘raised’ to make the pie and filled with coarsely chopped pork, salt and pepper. Fresh pork, from pigs killed in the winter, the hunting season, is grey when cooked. The pies were bow shaped as they were baked free standing in the oven. They were filled with hot pig stock which jellified when cool filling all the spaces so that huntsmen could carry them riding without breaking. The pies were soon in hot demand in the London clubs. Protection for the Melton Mowbray Pork Pie is now set to be approved in October by the European Commission after legal battles in the High Court and Court of Appeal. An authentic Melton Mowbray is bow shaped, grey inside and made in the Melton Mowbray area."

My plan is to have mine from the famous and venerable

What's a pork pie? Well, in addition to being a cute hat, it's pretty much a thick, flaky pastry crust that's stuffed with seasoned finely ground pork, then capped, then baked, then hot pork jelly gets piped in (the sauce is on the inside - part of the reason for it's popularity is its hot saucy lunchtime goodness).

"Renowned worldwide for its production of pork pies and Stilton cheese, Melton Mowbray lies at the centre of Melton Borough in attractive and unspoilt countryside. The town is a typical bustling mid-England market town that still retains a busy street market (Tues & Sat) and one of the last surviving Cattle Markets in the Country (Tues). It has a strong local history linked to its local food delicacies and the ancient sport of fox-hunting. Although located in a rural setting on the banks of the River Wreake, the town is encircled by the cities of Nottingham and Leicester, and the towns of Loughborough, Oakham and Grantham (all within 30 minutes drive time).Population 26,000"

I will also be going to  The Melton Cheeseboard for some delicious Stilton from local producers, and believe me: if I get word of any available illegal unpasteurized king of cheese Stiltons (that episode of Lenny Henry's wonderful show Chef! was my favorite) I will be hot on the trail.

I have read that The Eating House on Sherrard Street is the best restaurant in town, though the name "The Eating House" kind of suggests that a) it's the only one and b) that the locals aren't aware of what other people call eating houses. All the food at The Eating House is made exclusively with fresh, local ingredients. The restaurant web page actually specifies that it buys all its meat from Derek Jones! It's very popular and I was unable to book a table for dinner, but I will be there for lunch on Tuesday after my morning at the market (and I had to make a reservation for that!) All the to-do to get a table, and the menu is the essence of simplicity - fresh fish with chips and peas, or fresh meat with chips and peas. I love that kind of restaurant.

I will be staying in a room above a local pub, as there's just one hotel and it's outside of town there are a few rooms for visitors in a couple of the pubs. Mine is the Noels Arms, which has a web site here. I'll stay there Monday night, and spend Tuesday morning at the Melton Mowbray market, which sounds AMAZING:  it has "livestock, plants, produce, timber, chattel, antiques, and sundry." And it also has a web site!  Note that "Fur and Feathers" and "Farmer's Market" and "Antique Market" and "Livestock" are all on Tuesday morning, so I am looking forward to a really eclectic market! I am seriously very excited.

After lunch I'll probably swing back by the market to see if it's winding down, maybe take some more pictures, and then take the train to Worcester. In Worcester I'll be staying at The Great Western hotel, a modest but well-reviewed place near to the rail station and an easy walk to the cathedral, shopping, and the bus depot. I need the bus depot because my plan is to spend Wednesday wandering around the beautiful Witley Court ruins, gardens, and fountains, and the best way to get there is on the Yarrington 758, or so I read.

On Thursday I'll be at the cathedral chapter library working on my manuscripts. Friday I travel on to Oxford, where my mama will also be in the early afternoon!  I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to seeing her!

I'm at Oxford, where there is a nice lode of manuscripts, until the 23rd of May. On the 24th I'll leave for Chartres, where I'm just dipping in to see the manuscript (and the cathedral, of course) - I check out on the 26th and move on to Paris. I have made happy arrangements for housing in Paris - I think one would be hard-pressed to find a cooler place to stay, in fact. Because I'm staying HERE:

Yep. I'm staying IN the Basilica. At night. After it is closed. And all the tourists are gone. And I will be at vespers every night with the nuns, and vigils in the morning, and I'm SO HAPPY that they agreed to take me, there was a Process involved. Of gentle questioning. For 15 minutes.

At the end of the week I will go to visit ma copine Julie in Dunkerque, returning on Monday. I made one extravagant hotel reservation this semester, and it was getting a room at the CDG Hilton (the one in the terminal) so I can have a good dinner, a long soak in the room's hot marble tub, and a good night's sleep before heading home.

It's going to be a shock to get back to Bloomington. There's no getting around it. I'm already braced for orbital re-entry. The blow will be softened a lot by the fact that I'm planning to spend a few weeks doing nothing but working and sleeping, and then heading back to Kansas for the summer. People never believe me when I say this, but Kansas is INFINITY TIMES BETTER than Indiana, which I don't even think is Midwestern. It's a trans-Appalachian state. It doesn't have a thing to do with Midwestern culture, the accent is all weird and southern, and culturally it's just awful. I can't stand it. I have no words for how much I have come to hate Indiana - poor backwards Indiana, which missed out on the 60s and 70s, in which Bloomington is a kind of pathetic defensive encampment of its 34 aging hippies and anyone born in Indiana who has anything resembling originality or difference in their soul, plus a bunch of the awful people too. Bloomington is like the Alcatraz Island of Misfit Toys of Indiana and it's just depressing. It's like nobody living there understands that the rest of the world is better. They've all come to love their tiny little prison, because it feels like freedom compared to the hells that spawned them. SO SAD. I can't wait to move on.

This summer my mother and I are going to clean out the house and garage and get the inventory of the home down to things needed and loved and cherished - there are a lot of things that she's picked up over the years for the love of the hunt (antiques and collectibles) that are gathering dust in storage downstairs and in the garage. I also intend to go to every pow-wow, county fair, carnival, and rodeo within a day-tripper's drive. I am looking forward to putting my camera on Kansas in the summer - when it's at its hottest and dustiest and fullest of events and people doing interesting things. I took a few pictures - some of them pretty good - of Kansas when I was home for Christmas, but January is a hibernaty time in the Midwest. I am really looking forward to photographing it this summer. So much to do and see.

So those are the plans!



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