And so at last I arrived in Worcester, after a couple of days at liberty due to the Lincoln archive not receiving visitors this week! You've already heard about my adventures with the NHS - I have to admit that the penicillin seems to have worked just fine as I'm very nearly recovered. Of course, now I have to keep pounding the stuff for days and days per directions, but whatever. Just happy to feel better!

The Great Western in Worcester was beyond lovely, I have to say - it was like staying in a hotel staffed by a kindly fairy godmother. Almost every time I opened my door there was some little snack out there - fruit, tea, cookies, chocolate. The breakfast was good, the rooms all freshly renovated - and all that for 35 pounds a night. Worth being a bit out from the center of town - a cab ride was rarely more than 3 quid.  It was wonderful. I can't recommend it enough.

I went to the archive and was the only outside researcher working this week - I had the table all to myself:

The wind was rattling the Victorian windowpanes ferociously and I found myself looking at them pretty often, and charmed by the graffiti carved in the stone:

There were wonderful fresh manuscript descriptions written by the archivist and contained in a catalog I hadn't seen in any libraries etc., so my work was quick and agreeable, and as I'd lost a day to the doctors, I was glad of it. The main thing that needed to be done was to check a manuscript that was attributed in the existing inventory to William of Auvergne, but didn't have a recognizable incipit. Turned out to be William of Auxerre. That's one more I don't have to transcribe!

When I was done, I went downstairs and had a turn around the cathedral. The main altar has an incredibly vivid modern piece of embroidery on it, and I'm not sure whether I like it or not. I guess I like it, kind of, but didn't care so so much for it in the cathedral? As a matter of personal taste. But I like the steampunky embroidered rainbow chipboard part, mostly. I have to say that it looks to me more like somethign that belongs in a Unitarian church of the 1970s.

There were also some lovely marbles:

Then I did a turn around the courtyard by way of the interior - it was raining pretty hard.

arcanamundi: (Default)
( Apr. 30th, 2009 07:49 pm)
Despite Sandra's jeremiads, I decided to go to Melton Mowbray. Since I hadn't seen any news or telly in a few days, I found these headlines REALLY alarming. It wasn't until I bought a copy of the HT and the Guardian and read them that I discovered that the headlines were not that closely related to the situation on the ground. I didn't freak out when I saw them - I've been in England for nearly two weeks now and I've watched the news here and read newspapers. They're exponentially more prone to overemoting than ours. It's a little strange. Still, I called home to get some reassurance and info from my mom (who is bringing N95 respirators), who said that things weren't as bad as the headlines were making out.

Still, I have to tell you that I have a real horror about the idea of getting a serious illness like this while I'm in Europe. I hope health authorities can keep a lid on it. I hope that the WHO alert doesn't go any higher, because then we're looking at travel restrictions and I don't want to get stuck here. A lot.

I got in to Melton Mowbray late in the afternoon, checked into my room above the Noel Arms pub (it was perfectly serviceable, though nothing to take pictures of for posterity) and went for a walk. I took a few pictures of the town, and bought a slice of cheese and a slice of ham for a late lunch.

I took a nap in the room and then went out for dinner (the only thing open on Monday were Indian restaurants, and I had a delicious chicken and yogurt dish in one of them). On my way back in to the pub I stopped for a chat with the bar maid Carole (the bar's back door was open to the staircase that led to the rooms upstairs), and she told me to come around to the front for a drink. I have no idea what she was thinking, but I walked around the corner and through to the pub and found myself looking at a small group of grizzled, mostly elderly habitues - almost all of them with gin blossoms in their cheeks and bruised and swollen noses. Oh boy. They stared at me. I stared at them. I looked around and said "You know, you lads would probably get more ladies in here if you'd play some Celine Dion and put out a fruit bowl."

Most of them were unimpressed, but two of them laughed really hard, so I went over and stood with them and they bought me a Hobgoblin, which is a kind of delicious bitter. They asked me why I was in Melton Mowbray - EVERYONE asked me why I was in Melton Mowbray - and I said I was there to taste some cheese and to see the Tuesday markets. They all looked at me like I was crazy. That was the nearly universal reaction. You would think that the people of the Rural Capital of Food would have a little more bien sur about tourism!

The next morning I got up early and had my first full English breakfast (fried egg, sausage, bacon, beans, mushrooms, tomato, toast with jam and marmalade and a big pot of delicious coffee) and, fortified, went off to market.

If I hadn't been bursting at the seams with beans and eggs, I would have totally tried a rooster burger!

I wanted to go down and cuddle lambs, but the sheepies were off-limits to the general public, the better to give space to the farmers:

So I went next door to the livestock auction, where they were selling cattle. That was where I spent most of my time, as the people watching was excellent.

I took many pictures of these two, who had a kind of good cop/bad cop meets elder farmers type vibe that I liked.

I was very fond of these two jolly fellows, who were either brothers or best friends. I think they noticed that they were favorite subjects because at one point the one in the blue jacket told the auctioneer that if he'd known there would be a camera, he would have worn a tie!

Though it took nearly an hour to figure it out because the signs of bidding are so very nearly invisble, eventually I sorted that they were getting into fairly regular bidding wars with these two:

And sometimes there was smack talk. All in good fun.

The auctioneer had a gnarled hazel stick that had been given to him by a farmer which he used to point duing the bidding, and the clubbed end was his gavel, which he'd bang on a board when the bidding was over:

This is pretty standard sheep farmer attire - the cattle farmers were a little less professorial - I found the sartorial difference interesting:

I saw a man selling rafts of eggs, and stopped to take a picture. You can see him bending over to pick up goose eggs as I took the picture of the chicken eggs:

When he raised up, he struck the following pose:

I had to ask him to do it again because I hadn't been fast enough on the draw, and he obligingly did - to the consternation of the fellow who stepped into the frame at the moment I took the picture.

I think he'd had a few pints. Or twenty.

I stopped and enjoyed some delicious cake at the booth of a lovely farm couple on my way out: They agreed to have a picture taken, and afterward I gave them my flickr card. I hope they find it and figure out how to download and print it - it's a lovely picture.

They look just like any Kansas farm couple might, especially the husband - the wife's hair is a little fashion-forward for Kansas, as is her lovely embroidered boiled wool coat - but the wide smile is familiar. I like how the farmers and the ag people felt like home folk to me - I think that a not small part of my desire to go to Melton Mowbray was to be someplace that was very close to being home in Kansas, just for a breath of familiarity and comfort. The market could have been Pottorf Hall, where we have auctions and markets. It all smelled like the fairgrounds at CiCo park - livestock manure and baked goods and straw bales and whiffs of cigarette and pipe smoke. I was happy. It was nice to be around people who had that rural Midwestern down-to-earth vibe. The kinds of people who probably couldn't act pretentious on a bet, and wouldn't be able to keep from laughing the entire time if they even tried. Good people. And drunkety chicken farmers.

I bought some cheese from a local dairy and tucked it in my bag to have for a late lunch when I got to Worcester and headed back to collect my suitcase and head to the train station.

When I got to the hotel in Worcester a few hours later, I pulled it out and ate some of it with a cold, crisp Braeburn apple. It was delicious.

My mother gets here TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We meet in Oxford!

So on Saturday I left Cambridge, goodbye and good riddance. I never did post pictures from it, and I took a few nice ones:

I like this one in particular because I enjoyed reading the names of all the punting boats that the students taxi people around in. If I was to choose which one I'd like to ride in, I think I'd go with Mad George. Sheet to the Wind is the funniest one, but better (in my opinion) for a sail boat or catamaran.

The brick in Cambridge is very pretty in the long gold evening light.

I walked to the train station with my bags, which wasn't much fun, but it was a beautiful day. Though my experience at the B&B was quite bad, it has to be admitted that the surroundings of Cambridge had some bucolic charm! I took the train to King's Lynn, and then a rural bus (the bus driver had no idea where my stop was, but fortunately for me a kind and garrulous woman who lived in the next village up knew it exactly, and she rang the bell when we got close to it.)

Then my bag and I sat next to the highway for awhile, until the little bus that would come into Little Walsingham pulled up, and I had a genuinely thrilling and terrifying ride to Sandra's village - the driver drove very, very fast down the windy, bendy, roller coastery country lane and I had to hold on to the thoughtfully-provided rail bar with both hands the entire way. I arrived in Little Walsingham to find my friend and her charming, playful dog Holly waiting for me at the center of the village - the little stone town pumphouse. Sandra brought me back to her very pretty house (built in the 17th century, and is flying freehold with both of her neighbors in all kinds of eccentric and fun ways - the brick here belongs to the neighbors, a Scottish Anglican priest and his partner Clive and their little white terrier Mandy - Sandra's house is the flint one right behind it) to give me tea. Sandra is very shy about having her picture taken but I caught her in profile:

I do admire her pretty white hair. I don't know why she's shy about having her picture taken. I think she's very pretty. She showed me family photographs though and it must be admitted that there were some really epic beauties in it - her aunt, her mother, a cousin - it could give a person a mild complex. I found out her age at last, after guessing at it based on knowing that she went to boarding school with Julie Christie, and Rupert Everett's mother - she's 68. She looks much younger than that - I wouldn't have put her as older than my parents when we met.

Sandra made us tea and cut thick slices of granary bread from the farmer's co-op around the corner, which she then spread with salmon mashed in double cream. This is very different from salmon cream cheese in the sense that it is infinitely better and decadent. We ate it while sitting on the couch and chatting, which we did a good bit of:

I like Sandra's house. Every window has something in it which catches the light and an icon, and the entire house is crammed to the rafters with a lifetime's collection of items gathered during travels to Africa, the Middle East, the Laplands, the Arctic, all over Europe, the Far East - mostly natural objects (including rocks! She liked my story about my mother collecting rocks from all over on our French roadtrip to put in the garden back home) and tapestries. It feels like an adventurer's home.

Then we went on a walkabout in the village, which was a tremendous lot of fun for me because as the guest of a well-liked local, the reception was a bazillion times warmer than anything I'd had in Cambridge. It was like something out of a movie, the funny little dialogues she was having with everyone while I watched with delight at the zinging back and forth. "I've a mind to bring you up on charges!" she yelled at a cute red-headed guy in his 40s who was walking toward us with a capering little westie dog at his heel. His eyes widened in not entirely mock alarm. "Charges?!" he echoed, in a strong Scottish brogue, pulling along side us on the road. "Charges of ATTEMPTED HOMICIDE!" she said, waving her finger and scowling. "You left that giant rock right in the middle of my path! Again!"

Now his eyes widened in recognition, and he started apologizing in earnest, and over the course of the exchange that followed I learned that Clive liked to bring out this big rock to balance some kind of improvised clothes tree to dry clothes in the sun, and was forever forgetting it in the middle of Sandra's walk, where like as not she could trip over it and hurt herself rather badly on the cobbles. He swore he would not do it again. Evarrrrrr! Scottish brogue! We continued. We met a very handsome man with circles under his bright blue eyes who looked like he'd been smoking way too many cigarettes. Once we were well out of earshot she told me that he was the former village postmaster, and a ghost of himself ever since his (now ex) wife had brought false charges of attempted murder against him the year before.

I was sucked into the gravitational pull of a charity shop, which was all good, as Sandra's friend worked there. I found a very pretty 1950s copy of Through the Looking Glass, destined (I hope) for being read to nieces. I also found a pin that looked to me like it was written on in runes. I held it up and said I would take it for 2 pounds as well, and did the shoplady know anything about it? Sandra glanced over at it and said "Oh yes, it's an excerpt from runic Viking graffiti that was on the wall of a burial mound - it says something to the effect of "Ingeborg, a tall and haughty lady, had to stoop like everyone else to get in here!" I gawped comically at her. And of course it turned out that the pin had in fact belonged to Sandra, who had brought it in as a donation, and I had happened to pick it up and buy it.

Then we went on to the Historical Society (a single room featuring a great many old books and magazines for sale and a 16th century mural. I received a lecture on the mural. It went on for a very long time and was extraordinarily suspect on almost every term of interpretation, which was really... Reaching. But it was entertaining, if improbable and worthy of about a B+ in an undergraduate class on historical art interpretation.

Supposedly this is a monkey and its minder. Could be a monkey. That wasn't the craziest thing I heard.

I was half-dead from the stultifying lecture at the historical society, which I'd attempted to alleviate by purchasing a lady's magazine from the 1950s and a saddle brass for Walsingham, but retail therapy failed me. But along came Sister Wendy, who is as bracing as getting a faceful of cold seawater fresh from the crashing waves on a jetty. "WHAT HO!" said Sister Wendy. "I SAY!"

"Oh, excellent!" said Sandra. "Sister Wendy is one of the nuns of the Society of Saint Margaret!" I had been charged with the task of reporting on their habits and liturgy to Dear L. ([ profile] naamaah ) and had expressed this ambition to Sandra on arrival when asked what I would like to do while in Walsingham - and though I'm afraid that my knowledge of the Anglican liturgy is so little (i.e., nonexistent) that I can't say much about their take on it, the habits are indeed marvelous - long grey dresses with the chausable-y apron pull over thing, and a fairly traditional long black veil held on with the white band, and best of all, a really quite large black and white (ebony outside and ivory in the heart) crucifix that resonated with the veil of the habit and made a nice unity of statement. I wish I had dared to take pictures of Sister Wendy!). "Watch out," Sandra added. "Sister Wendy and Holly together are a real demolition team! I had to replace a wall in the house one day after those two were playing together!" Holly, Sandra's dog, did indeed look VERY happy to see Sister Wendy and was wagging fit to bust.

"HALLO!" said Sister Wendy, having joined us. Sandra told her that I'd expressed an interest in the Society of Saint Margaret (which, incidentally - apparently has a community in Boston!) and Sister Wendy gave me a searching look. "OH REALLY! I WILL COME FOR TEA LATER! WE WILL SEE!" said Sister Wendy - and with that, off she sailed off, the abundant yardage of her habit flapping in the wind like the sails of a galleon on the high seas, Holly gazing longingly after her.

"Demolition team!" said Sandra. "We'll have to brace for impact!" We got back to the house after stopping in at the co-op - Sandra had insisted that I buy a Melton Mowbray pork pie before embarking on a pilgrimage to this place as she said they were absolutely disgusting, and that I should go somewhere else for my unscheduled layover. There were none to be had, so Sandra made the butcher promise to put one aside for us and that we'd be back for it tomorrow. We arrived back at the house just a few minutes before Sister Wendy arrived. Sister Wendy declared that Holly was a silly dog and "USELESS AS A CHOCOLATE TEAPOT!" and that she would take coffee instead of tea - when Sandra offered her a tin of cookies, Sister Wendy opened it and sighed with a long-suffering exhalation. "YOUR BISCUITS ARE PREDICTABLE!" she said, pronouncing the word "predictable" like it was a particularly rude word in Finno-Urgic. Bored with the biscuits and of her admirably athletic hurling of Holly's stuffed hedgehog so she could fetch it back, Sister Wendy returned to her inspection of my person, and appeared to decide  that I would do. "I LIKE YOUR BOOTS!" said Sister Wendy, the first positive remark I'd heard from her, and so of particular value. The boots, incidentally, have been otherwise reviled and repudiated for their likeability, so I was pleased to hear a kind word about them as they've been so awfully good to me. I grinned widely and said "Thank you!" with probably a little too much energy, and Sister Wendy flipped her giant crucifix to one side and held it like a tiny ukelele while strumming it with the other hand, and began to sing - loudly and beautifully, like a resurrected Viking with a passion for Nancy Sinatra covers: "THESE BOOTS ARE MADE FOR WALKING", she boomed magnificently. "AND THAT'S JUST WHAT THEY'LL DO!"  When it became clear that she was going to do more than sing just the refrain, which is what the women of my family do  when we're song-referencing in conversations (you have been warned), but intended to sing the whole song, I joined in with the helpful and necessary "ba-dum-dum-dum" bass line. It was fun. She then sang some Dusty Springfield, and we did a duet on You Don't Own Me, and I think Sandra was ready to pitch us both out in the alley for a couple of caterwauling miscreants, when suddenly Sister Wendy launched herself up out of the couch and said "WELL I'M OFF THEN!" And off she went. I liked her - she was grand and loud and bawdy and slightly terrifying. Sandra says she is also thoughtful and a deep thinker. I'm not surprised. I think I understand that pretty well.

We walked around the corner to collect fish and chips for dinner! I had haddock. It was delicious. The crisp shell around the fish was thin and friable and perfect deep gold and sparkling with salt, the crisps fresh and good (nothing on the Belgian frites, but hey). I was beyond happy to discover that Sandra had no intention of eating them with vinegar, but had a jar of very good tartar sauce at home. Atta girl! It made up a lot for the really unnecessarily protracted gross-out she'd had when I told her about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the idea of which struck her as nasty on kind of an epic pickles-and-ice-cream scale. After our dinner we watched a fascinating documentary about The Worst Journey Ever - my uncles would like to read it, I think - and then she made us mugs of Horlicks, and we turned in for the night. I transferred pictures from the camera to the laptop and sketched out notes of the day - no internet - read for a little while, and went to bed. The next day we were up and out after a leisurely breakfast, headed to the bird sanctuary where she volunteers and to take lunch at a crab shack near the water. We ate a huge lunch of crab, and cockles, and tiny sweet shrimp - all fresh caught - and sardines, which I didn't know I liked (still wouldn't have them on pizza for love nor money) and hot new potatos with parsley and butter, and lemonade. It was all delicious. We headed back to Walsingham via some stops at local pottery shops etc., and I asked if we could turn in at some ruins I'd seen to the side of the road - which turned out to be part of a really lovely church which is still in operation:

They use a Tudor-era kitchen table as their altar, which Sandra loves about the church:

We ran into some friends of hers, as they were sketching stones in the graveyard. It started to rain soon after, so they were glad of our sudden appearance because it meant we could all pile in the car for the drive back to the village (they had walked, bold souls and sturdy soles).

Then Sandra and I went to tea at another of her friends' houses, where she hoped to sell her clavichord to a local (by residence, Cambridge by occupation) astrophysicist who likes Bach. Her husband, who teaches theology and science stuff at Cambridge, was also there, and their precocious and lemon-cake loving red-headed son Rupert - a very jolly family, and it was wonderful to sit and have hot milk tea and lemon cake in a cozy living room while an amiable fire crackled and popped in the iron fireplace while people discussed the merits of a portable clavichord while other people drew astonishing inventions involving supernatural creatures made out of Choco Pops and yet other people watched and asked grave questions about the mechanics of the flying machine made for transporting beer.

Sandra and I left because we had another engagement - to go out to see a friend of hers named Kathy and have a country road, was the idea presented to me - but it turned out that more specifically, the country roads were on the estate of the friend who, more specifically, is the Lady Buxton, Baroness of Alsa, wife of Aubrey, Lord Buxton- who (in addition to being the producer of the BBC wildlife show Survival and one of the few surviving founders of the World Wildlife Federation, is also the former Extra Equerry to Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, a lifelong friend and regular visitor to the farm, where he likes to see their heirloom sheep and Highland cattle). Oh!

Incidentally, here is one of those Highland cattle - I can't remember which is Miss Flossie and which is Miss Bessie, but those are their names:

This unexpected brush with the peerage was a delight to my strange little American heart (we love the idea of nobility an awful lot for people who successfully rebelled against it in favor of bushwacking our way to a progressively more successful attempt at egalitarianism). Sandra paused and looked at me. I thought about this for a minute. "Prince Phillip is the guy who's married to the queen, right?"

Bright girl, me. Very on top of things. All I can say is that I did know it, I just didn't remember it very quickly. Sandra laughed. Yes, she said. But not to make exclamations over it to Kathy, as she keeps the visits all very calm and quiet.

We met up with Kathy, who came out with three more dogs, and headed off for our country walk, which went on for a long time and never left their grounds. "Watch out for toads!" said Kathy. "They're crossing to get to the river to mate!" I looked around but at first I didn't see any toads:

But it was true - there were a LOT of tiny toads on the roads leading to the fields, they were just incredibly well camouflaged by the road itself. I held up the party by having to stop and take pictures of the ones I found particularly cute, like this one:

I like how the toad is all bumpy and the road is all bumpy.

This one looks to me like a gateway to fairyland.

The dogs were rambunctious and kept charging into the foliage in pursuit of pheasants, and at one point Kathy yelled that they'd got into a nest and we all charged into the brush to pull them off - I happened to discover the nest as we came in, and plopped down on my knees in the rain-wet dirt and grass in a kneeling version of a hockey goalie's blocking posture, bodychecking dogs that were hot to get at the eggs, which I guess smell *really* good to them and sort of hurling them back onto the green while Kathy chased the most intrepid hunter, her Parson Jack Russell Terrier, who cracked me up because it was SO bossy. On our way out of the rough (only one egg crushed in the battle for the nest) I twisted my ankle and fell down. Happily, it was a very minor twist, mostly because I fell down instead of trying to stay up. Sadly, the fall was into a plant I'd heard of but never encountered - nettles. OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. Kathy is an expert countrywoman and promptly set up the hunt for dock leaves, and bade me to crush them and rub the juice on the nettled areas. Sadly, some of these were under clothes, and would have to be dealt with later using the much less agreeable home therapy of straight ammonia (OUCH OUCH OUCH) but I was delighted to learn to identify these two plants and to listen to the lady talk about the doctrine of sympathies as she hunted for the dock leaves.


Dock leaves:

She was very kind to me, though I'd been made a little crabby by the whole covered in nettles thing plus a moment of stressy shock when I thought I'd managed to sprain my damnable ankle just days before my mother's visit.

When we got to the seaward end of the estate she pointed out at the water and said "There's nothing between us and the Arctic circle but that water:"

For the latter part of the walk we talked companionably and she asked about my research and I gave the telling of the backstory and the question and the motivations of the question all the narrative flourish and storytelling I could muster, and she seemed very genuinely interested and asked to be updated on the story as it develops, which I thought was awfully nice of her. By the time we got to the barn (whereupon there was another chasing of the black lab puppy Lily, when it was thought she'd gotten into the coop and stolen a freshly hatched chicken egg - we chased the dogs a lot, and Kathy said "I hear that some people have nice relaxing country walks!" and Sandra said "We must be doing it wrong!" - it was charming. I have to say that I do like the English sense of humor - not just the loud Monty Python one, but the quiet, wry, clever, always-on, never-neon one.

We came back to the house and had a light dinner of boiled egg (fresh from Kathy's hens at Old Hall Farm) with more thick slices of granary bread and butter from the farmer's co-op, and milk tea (the milk also from the farmer's co-op, fresh and with cream floating on top) and blackberry jam, and then - both of us jawcrackingly tired, to bed. I left the next morning with fond goodbyes all around, headed (over Sandra's protests that going there instead of Lincoln Cathedral was something I'd have to answer for to Saint Peter) to Melton Mowbray.

This evening I have adventures to recount and pictures to show you - but for the moment just a quick update because I mentioned that I thought I probably needed to go see a doctor - and here's how that went!

Experienced traveler [ profile] double0hilly

 suggested that I check to see if the hotel had a doctor. This was very sensible. The hotel does have some kind of NHS number and registration with a doctor in general practice around the corner, and the hotel made the appointment for me and a lovely woman my age named Katie took me to the doctor and we girltalked until I was called in - the appointment took less than five minutes and there was no nonsense about measuring and weighing and taking a full history - the doctor had me in to her office, I told her that I'd had either a bad cold or allergies and that all had passed other than the broken glass feeling in my throat and throb in my ear, she looked in my throat and pronounced it a bad infection, said (alarmingly) "Well, there's no abscess, so it's not diptheria!" (!!!! that still exists?) and that it certainly hadn't been allergies, and gave me a prescription for seven days of penicillin. 2 tablets four times a day. I would have much preferred a Z-pack (the last one I had was for a severe case of bronchitis about five years ago and I was better within two days) but when I ventured the question I was rebuffed firmly. Penicillin, then. I gather that they think of zithromax as being an advanced/special/rare use or something.

Penicillin seems a little weird and old-fashioned or old-timey or something. Like being given laudanum for the ladyvapors. I think erythromycin is the most commonly used one in the States, and Zithromax if you're allergic to the erythromycin. I think we don't use penicillin as much because it has bad side effects? But I can't remember.

Anyway, any antibiotics is better than no antibiotics. She says if I'm not feeling better by Friday to come back in, so I'll be there first thing Friday morning if that's the case.

Knowing now that I was made really very ill during my wretched stay at ghastly Vine Farm - damp sheets, cold room, no heat, bizarre proprietors with weird ideas - I will admit that I have no intention at all of returning the keys which I had to take with me as the Wackos were nowhere in evidence the morning I left, and fully intend to add them to my souvenir windchime. I don't give a fig if that was the only bedroom key: bite me, jerks! They wrote to me demanding that I return the keys, their 10 year old and badly out of date (as I discovered) map book, and to account for the whereabouts of another book, which also inadvertently made the trip with me as I shovel-packed from the bed to the bag. I note that they make no mention of my hair dryer, which I forgot in the bathroom and will miss as it was a rare! out of print! diffuser called the "Conair Curl Dazzler" - obviously they're not as interested in returning my things as they are in the converse. Honestly, if they'd said "Oh, by the way, could you post the keys? And we have your funny little American hair dryer and where should we post it?" I wouldn't have felt so much churlish, petty, vindictive delight in causing them a spot of bother over the replacing of the bedroom key, but as it is, it was just one more piece of bad behavior on their part to act so utterly and totally self-serving and entitled, and one more piece of bad behavior on my part to return the favor with interest. No saint, me - as I sat in the doctor's office grumping to myself about Vine Farm's vexing legacy  - my illness and wasted morning - I was immoderately cheered by how deranged I was certain the Wackos were about the missing keys. I expect they'll change all the locks, fearing the worst. Perhaps they'll even have to have the village shaman in to aspergate the place of my evil eye.

Coming soon: tales of nuns and farmers and English aristocracy!

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!

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."

I just received this email from the archivist at Worcester Cathedral. Emphasis (on the directions how to get to the library) are mine!

Dear Miss Smith,

Thank you for your enquiry regarding coming to look at manuscripts F.32 and F.44. I have checked the diary and it will be possible for you to come on the days you mention. The door and intercom for the library is located in the south west corner of the nave behind the Victorian font. The library is reached by a medieval spiral staircase of 39 steps. If you have any further questions just let me know. 

With best wishes,

Yours Sincerely,
Librarian/ archivist.

I found a picture. Can you see the door and the intercom button?

The rental bike is dead as a doornail - evidently the somethingsomething popped off the gearsomething and it's because it is a cheap piece of shit and the B&B guy says I should get my money back. More likely, they'll charge me for repairing it - they've got a 100 pound deposit. I hope this doesn't get ugly.

Further, the B&B guy refused when I asked if he'd get me and the bike as far as the station because evidently that would be too much trouble.  He demonstrated how I could scoot the bike along like a scooter. Thanks!

Then he and I got into one whale of a dispute because they keep the house at 16.5 celsius overnight (about 61 degrees). I had a thermostat for my radiator until they took it away. I had a room heater, but he decided that would cause a housefire. I have heard about the prior guest who caused a house fire about four times now. He told me that it was unhealthy to have the room warmer than 18 or so and that I had to keep the window of the bedroom open because I was making the room sick. He insisted on this. I am not shitting you. I have a terrible cold (probably from being so goddamn chilled all the time - my poor immune system is getting the short end of the sick when all my body heat is just going to staving off hypothermia) and he says I am going to make the room sick by not ventilating the air to the outside while I am sleeping. I said that there was no way that was happening and blocked him when he reached to open my bedroom windows. He had brought some kind of piece of wood with screws that would keep it open. NO WAY. The window stays shut. I told him that extreme cold - say for example a difference of more than 35 degrees Fahrenheit between your ambient temperature and your body temperature - stresses your thermoregulation significantly enough to impair your immune system and that this was a fact. If they get sick during the winter, they might want to think about keeping the house warmer. I told him that a) having the window open would not cause the virus to JUMP OUT OF THE WINDOW and that b) the ambient air would bear a very low virus load in any event unless I was constantly sneezing and coughing which I was not; and that c) it would be counter-productive to getting better to continue to stress the body with extreme cold. He protested and said not only was I making the room sick, I was making it damp by refusing to sleep with the windows open, and it was bad for the new carpet.

I indicated that English beliefs about condensation were against every law of physics and rational thought, and that they had it so cold in the house that it was harder for moisture to evaporate. Heat dries faster. Dry heat evaporates moisture. Bringing cold wet air to the inside? Damp and damper. The interior surfaces so cold that you can make your doorknob bead with condensation by breathing on it. RIDICULOUS! Opening the windows so more cold and damp could get in was quite silly, really, if you thought about it scientifically. But, I said generously, that it was totally understandable because every culture has its own beliefs about electrical appliances and air. I gave the example of Korea, where it is believed that a room fan steals oxygen and will suffocate you if you leave it on overnight, so they only sell room fans that are equipped with timers so your fan doesn't suffocate you in the middle of the night while you are sleeping. So you don't die of fan death!

Trans: “Do not use to generate a strong wind close to you in a sealed room. There is a high risk of death if used while sleeping."

His mouth dropped open. "What you think is just like that," I said. "There's no scientific basis for your beliefs about immunology or condensation at all. If you kept the house warm and dry by heating it and keeping the windows closed so the surface of the glass inside would be warmer, and the air next to the glass not so terribly cold, and it wouldn't happen. And if you kept the house warmer, you wouldn't spend the winters being so sick. Your bedsheets wouldn't always feel so cold and clammy, as they do here. It's really not necessary. In the States people think it's very strange to get more than a cold or two a year. More than that and we start looking at immune system problems as a possible culprit. Here, it's these interesting folkways!" He spluttered. He turned purple. He looked really mad. I smiled benignly, enjoying the magnanimity of sharing my imperializing wisdoms with the inferior culture. And a lot of passive-aggressive revenge-having, as I'd been feeling fairly vexed by how unhelpful and peremptory they've both been. I sallied off one last "Travel in Europe is so interesting because you get to find out about so many quaint Old World beliefs and customs! England is an especially interesting European country because our cultures seem so much alike in other ways! So little things like this are especially fun, aren't they!"  He did not seem to agree but was speechless. Oh well!

I'm an ugly, ugly American. I was pretty sure that calling England "a European country" would be like "wound, meet salt! salt, meet wound!"

But HAHAHAHA! That's what you get for being a jerk! I will mock you openly under the guise of being nothing more than an intolerable pedant. 

If I could have found a hotel that I could afford with openings for the rest of the week, I'd pack all my shit up and call some insane expensive country taxi to take my ass to the train station tomorrow.

Grrlpower in Zaventem:

My plane:

My first trip on the London Underground was on the Piccadilly line, which meant that I had to hear a posh accented woman say "Cockfosters" every five minutes. I understand the fact that this really sent me into inner giggles every time is a sign of my own immaturity. I was also sort of worried about the apparent imminent collapse, as evidenced above the COCKFOSTERS sign.

No problems getting from Cambridge to Vine Farm - while Stapleford is more of a rural suburb than out and out countryside, I was still impressed by the village's pay phone:

The b&b is very pretty:

All has come clear at Vine Farm - the lady of the house/operator just doesn't do well with spontaneity. Today I asked her if there were recycling bins and she got really stressed out and started huffing and sort of freaking herself out and though I tried to get the genie back in the bottle by saying things to the effect of "Please don't bother, I was just curious, it's really not important." she wouldn't stop. There ARE recycling bins, but evidently it's quite complicated, and I won't even go into the system she juryrigged in the kitchen or how she heaved a huge sigh and said she'd walk it all out to the bins in the evening before bed. Couldn't I do that? No, she said. She'd rather I didn't. OK. I wished strenuously that I hadn't said anything but I was expecting something along the lines of "Yes, around back of the garden house,"  not some kind of high-test dithering. I believe her really uncool behavior prior to my arrival was a combination of the failure to compartmentalize upset over something else (which she said had been the case) and because she thought I'd expect some sort of transpo and was resenting the imposition in advance, and worrying way too much about how to coordinate it, etc.

The husband Robert is a dollface, and this afternoon we had tea out in the sun in the garden on comfy chairs, and petted the dogs and listened to some kind of important sport match at Salisbury. The inn has a marvelous collection of  pets - there are two big, fluffy ragdoll cats who were aloof for all of 15 minutes and then acted like I'd been there forever and clearly existed to provide scritches and tummy rubs, an elderly chocolate lab named Denny and a yellow lap named Telly, a really marvelous elderly tortoise named Terry who quite likes to have his neck scritched on the top but not on the bottom and has legs that are scaled like pinecones and shiny black eyes that are intelligent like mouse eyes but a lot more mellow. There are also a whole bunch of birds that have built nests in the ivy all around my window and in the morning it's the most joyous racket you can imagine.

This morning I walked to the next village up, which has more shops - it's a short walk, about 20 minutes, maybe it was 30? and got cash. Then I walked to the train station and got a ticket to Cambridge - the trains leave hourly on the 13, and return on the 43. I bought a weeklong ticket valid between Shelford (the larger village) and Cambridge for 11 pounds. I rented a bike (and a bike basket and helmet) for the week for 23 pounds. I rode the bike around the parking lot for 15 minutes to make sure I still could (it's been years), then rode it out onto the streets to find out how well I'd do with the potentially stressy part of cars and traffic and stuff. The buses tend to drive a little too close, but mostly people give you a wide berth if you're on a bike. Sure of my decision, I went back to the station with my bike to return to Shelford. I had to wait awhile for the train to come, so I had lunch sitting in the sun on a bench in the station - fresh OJ from the wee Marks & Spencer in the station, and a ridiculously delicious thing called a Cornish pasty, which is kind of like a steak pot pie calzone. Yeah. GOOD. I got off the train with my bike and rode it to the Boots, and bought some soap and shampoo and conditioner. Then I rode it home. I have the guest half of Vine Farm all to myself for now, which I love. I dropped off my stuff and exchanged my long-sleeved shirt, raincoat, scarf, and hat for a short-sleeved henley, the bright blue light jacket, and my grey cap. I got back on the bike and rode it to the corner store, which was fun. Just last night as I was walking that walk for the fifth time and I saw people zipping back and forth on their bikes (going to and from the store in the time it took me to walk one third of the way) I was deeply resolved to get a bike too. I bought chicken, asparagus, cucumbers, an apple, an orange, strawberries, rhubarb, mushrooms, a bottle of Spanish rose, a giant round pat of Welsh salted butter, eggs, sugar, salt, flour, a loaf of bread, some McVittie's Hob Nobs, a jar of Golden Shred marmalade, a jar of pickled onions, a little packet of wine gums (nom nom nom), coffee, milk, and peach yogurt. I put all of this in the basket of the bike and rode it home without any problems, though the bike wobbled a bit fearsomely at the start.

I unpacked the groceries and then went for a walk through the front and back gardens, and did some photography. I had the whole place to myself as the owners were gone. Then Himself came back and I had tea and companionable time with the lord of the manor, the dogs, the tortoise, and the birds. Then dinner. The lady of the manor got home and came into the guest kitchen (where I was now slicing and chopping and listening to BBC news) looking pleased and astonished. Did you hire a bike?! Yes, I said. You brave thing! she said. I rather thought so! I cheerfully agreed. They were both so happy to see the bike. If they've had that much bother with people asking them for rides here and there, maybe they should have a bike or two to rent at the B&B? Is what I would do. It is a bit remote. It's a pleasant walk to the next village up, but it's an even more pleasant ride.

My intention is to ride the bike to the station in the mornings, then get on with it to go to Cambridge - I'll ride the bike to the library instead of walking or taking the bus. There is a bike path very close to the train station that goes straight to University Library. I could ride the bike all the way there, but according to Himself, that's an hour-long ride - which means that for me, probably an hour and a half. I bet he rides fast. He's all short and wiry and fit. I don't want to ride my bike for three hours a day. Sorries!

Speaking of which: if you ever find yourself in England and suddenly possessed of a bike after not riding one for a long time, your butt is going to be real sore. The roads are bumpy and jouncy and bikes are just so not comfy. Many Americans of a certain age will, if they are casting around for the socially acceptable and/or cute way to say "ass" or "butt" will opt for their grandmothers' favorite: fanny. As in "Ooch, my fanny hurts from sitting on those metal bleachers at the baseball diamond". Do not, under any circumstances, tell the ladies at Boots who are impressed that you went and got a bike and are riding it around that you like it a great deal but that your fanny REALLY hurts after riding it all day. It's not that this sentence doesn't make sense in British English. It's just that it makes an entirely DIFFERENT sense, because fanny is the cute word for your ladyparts. Your bagina, cho-cho, kitty, vajayjay - in British? Your FANNY.

Yeah. You know I did that. I realized the mistake seconds later, as I looked at their shocked faces. I knew better. I just forgot. I'm sure at some point I'll use the word pants incorrectly too.

I made cucumber salad to have with dinner - had to use malt vinegar as it was all they had. The shop lady thought it was weird, the idea of putting it on cucumbers, but said "They do that sometimes, don't they?" by which I guess she means either "people" or "American people", not sure which. I sauteed some very good, very plump and fresh chicken chicken breasts in butter and onions for dinner. Then I did up the asparagus. I was very happy with my simple meal.

Yesterday sucked but I am feeling optimistic this morning. I managed to get up exactly on time even though my cell battery (which is also my alarm) died overnight - it must have been on all day yesterday. I had the desk ring for a cab, which came on time even though it was raining. I asked him to drop me at the Schubert rond, where I figured I'd grab the airport bus to Zaventem. Kind of like the Roissybus leaving from Opera. He said dosh! I will take you for 30 Euros, you are my first customer and it is good to begin the day making someone happy. I was happy! According to the internets a taxi to the airport is usually 50 Euros, and the bus ticket would have cost 10 (and taken an hour and a half at least, with the rain), and the cab 10, so he was giving me a lot of value for that last 10. I was tickled and didn't even mind that he talked the entire way about how Bush is the ACTUAL devil and Obama is a Muslim and sent by actual God and is an actual prophet and angel, so now everything will be OK. Amusingly, it is not only racist rednecks that think Obama is a Muslim! Evidently there is at least one Arabic Muslim cab driver who is also down with that whole idea. I agree that there is something providential about Obama, but I'm not sure he was actually transubstantiated here by the divine, y'know? He was so nice though. I bet big money that he was Iranian. I've had so many good experiences with their kindness and generosity on this trip.

Then I came into the airport and was initially told that I had to check the Red Baron, even though I did all kinds of packing Tetris to get my messenger bag and all of its contents plus my clothes (bye-bye long black cardigan! I hardly knew ye!) into it without even unzipping the expander. So all I had was the laptop bag and the spinner. ALAS! I cried. ALACK!  ALARUMS! Well, not really. I just felt a bit disappointed. And I said "How much to upgrade to have one more carryon," I asked. The desk lady seemed to like very much that I took it in that direction instead of going straight to begging and/or yelling. Her shoulders relaxed and she smiled at me, and said: I will authorize it for free, the plane is far from full this morning.


I think it might be my new hat, which seems to make people smile. It is a little on the whimsical side, it's true.

Then I discovered the entire airport is covered by the wireless company from which I acquired some WiFi time that I couldn't get to work at the Eurostar terminal, but is working fine here, so I get to use it instead of just wasting the money.

Hopefully all will go well getting the Red Baron actually on the plane. Not having to try to find/recuperate it at Heathrow is one hell of a boon.

Oh hey - by the way! Travel tip: the lady at the BMI desk told me that people who check in very early for their flights have a 50% greater chance of losing their luggage because it never goes straight on the truck that will take it to the plane. It goes to another depot, and then back onto a truck, and then on the plane. And she said that it often happens that the baggage people "forget" to go back to the depot to pick up the early luggage.

I also got to talk to K last night and she said that the lady at Vine Farm was cold at first but warmed up eventually. Seriously, what gives with someone being cold and inhospitable and rude if they're going to run a B&B? But whatever. Evidently I don't have to see her much since I'm self-catering, and I'm feeling better about the whole situation after a good night's sleep and a morning of back-to-back small blessings.
arcanamundi: (Default)
( Apr. 16th, 2009 12:11 am)
This is my first entry in awhile. It’s long. There are lots of pictures. You might want to get a cup of tea.

Two Sundays ago in Saint Omer: I got an hour of extra sleep and then got up to write and post my last LJ entry. I took a cab to the station and the train to Lille, then train to Kortrijk, the train to Bruges, another cab to the hotel.

Time machine entry, activate!  )

Easter weekend at the convent: to be continued tomorrow!

arcanamundi: (Default)
( Apr. 9th, 2009 06:35 pm)
Well, hunting and pecking while sitting at a Dutch keyboard in the Bruges public library. I finally found some goddamn internet! It is a long goddamn story - down at the hotel, most weblisted wifi hotspots are cold, etc. etc. and please - don't trouble yourself digging up spots online to email me- I'm so sick of running around just to find that those places no longer have it that I could pretty much barf and I'm not doing it any more! Over it! Don't need no stinking internet!

I will have a long and picture-laden post describing many marvels and adventures on Tuesday, when I get back to the modern zorld via Brussels. A post full of beautiful and strange delights! A post that, if it were to have a trailer, would have one by Delerium. This is my promise.

I check out of the hotel tomorrow morning and spend the rest of the weekend at the beguinage! Julie is coming to Bruges on Sunday. I made reservations for us at a restaurant that is having asparagus and lamb for Easter dinner.  I leave for Brussels on Tuesday morning. I am definitely staying at the Vine Farm inn in Cambridge - it's far out but self-catering and inexpensive and Kerryn recced it so I'm happy - if anyone knows a cute/nice/cheap place in Lincoln or Worcester I'm all ears.

This time next week I will be in merry England! England for the last of April and most of May; and a week back in France and the fieldwork is done. And did I mention my mom is coming to stay with me at Oxford a hundred times already?

And I think Hilly should come. And hang. And we can apartment hunt for you!

I started in Cambrai, where I had a wonderfully comfortable bed in a hotel that had seen better days but still had its dignity (unlike the unfortunate Pension Arenberg in Vienna). I took this picture from my position in the breakfast room while I was waiting for my coffee:

Then I walked to the library:

I was greeted by a friendly archivist and given full run of the manuscript - want to take digital images of the whole thing? Sure! I spent the morning doing the description, ran out for lunch, and came back in the afternoon and took 238 pictures - one for each folio. I had to shoot one-handed because the library didn't have anything for propping books open, and I was feeling the burn by the end.

Lots of cool stuff! CLICKY )
I started in Venice with my phone alarm going off at 3:45 and made it to Cambrai, France by the end of the day without any epic fail related to being stupid tired. Score one for the forces of Less Evil Than Some!

Notable features:

Walking out into Venice at 4 AM in the dark and the rain was very... Atmospheric. In which the atmosphere is "gothic thriller" - if I'd heard footsteps behind me I probably would have barfed, I was so wound up from the... Atmosphere. Of black narrow streets oily with rain and no streetlights to speak of, and the sound of the water sibilant and dark and everywhere: it's coming from all around us, man. IT'S ALL AROUND US.

Things I learned about myself at 4:00 this morning: 1) Dark water gives me the heebie jeebies. I was standing there on the pier wating for the 4:50 Alilaguna and my skin was crawling from the wiggins. Like in a genuinely spooked and adrenalized way. The water roiled under the bridges, undulating in weirdly luminescent curves of preternaturally smooth darkness and the boats thumped and the docks creaked and darkness, darkness, the dark and the rain and the river, and in the dark boats running without lights would roar out of nowhere and send up  hard currents that would make the water gnash its teeth against the stone and seriously, within about half an hour I was ready to jump out of my skin. Then some other people showed up and I was fine, because OBVIOUSLY I am not going to be filleted by Jacobi di Rippero and/or eaten by the creaturi di laguna negra if anyone else is around. And then the boat came and we all lay down on the seats and slept til we got to the airport, and then walked nearly a kilometer to get to the airport from the port port, and then there were planes and trains and no automobiles. Everything went fine though I was OOB tired by the end of the day.

Dinner in the hotel was amazing. It was the very definition of French comfort food:

Starter: a piping hot bowl of fragrant shellfish bisque (SO MUCH CREAM) with bay scallops, fortified with slivers of carrot and onion
Main: pot au feu - beef, carrots, turnip, and onion, in a sauce made with the demiglace, yet more cream, and paprika.
Dessert: Turkish delight ice cream and fresh fruit - I am near sure that the ice cream was made by melting Turkish delight, folding it into whipped cream, adding yet more pralines and candied orange peel, and then freezing it til near-hard and slicing it into wedges. Which were then served with slices of fresh orange, apple, and kiwi, on a plate that had been dusted with powdered sugar and dressed with a spoonful of strawberry coulis. It was incredible.
After: Tisane instead of coffee - I had tilleul with mint.


The bed is large and soft, the shower hot, the wireless free and unlimited, the television in a language I can understand. Yay! And even more satisfyingly, I find myself feeling really and truly "at home" in France, where I can speak the language in the fashion which sorts me into a certain social type and provides certain privileges and protections - no being treated like some freak leper from stupidity city. I can say things equivalent to "I would take a laurel and mint tisane, if you have it to hand" instead of "ME PLANT TEA LIKEY." I know the expected social customs and patterns, know the warp and weft of daily life - when things open and close, what everything is called, the right turn of the phrase, how to enter and exit shops without a ripple - I can travel here without any difficulty or friction borne of cultural confusion or language barriers. And after 6 weeks in Austria, Germany, and Italy -being back in France feels like coming home. That's a nice way to feel about France. Accepted. Belonging. Not alien. Home.


arcanamundi: (Default)
( Mar. 31st, 2009 10:31 pm)
Who cross posted this picture?

Because it now has 378 views. THREE HUNDRED AND SEBBENTY AIGHT. And I haven't gotten around to naming or tagging the pictures yet so I have no idea how it got so monster!


It is now my second most-viewed-ever photograph next to the equally inexplicable popularity of this simple snap of a Joseph Wright painting that isn't even that good, and has 1202 views. WHAT WHAT.


Side note to [ profile] zcat_abroad - Hey Kerryn! Please email me the name of the place you stayed in Cambridge and some details on how you got around? Pretty easy to and from it wrt the colleges?

It is once again past time to do the laundry but the service in the hotel is beyond absurd - the cost of laundering 1 pair of jeans? 20 Euros. Seriously! Not going to happen. I wish the sink in my room was large enough to hand wash them, but it's not, and the idea of trying to do it using the shower which is just a thing that sprays out of the wall on the whole bathroom kind of boggles the mind.

Working at the Marciana has been a mixed bag - on one hand the room was generally staffed by two sorts of docents- pleasant ones, and shockingly ignorant ones who liked to throw their weight around but have absolutely no idea how to handle rare books. Anecdotes from the archive.  )
My plane will arrive in Brussels around 10:30 - I'll head to the train station and take the TGV to Lille, and then a little regional train to Cambrai, where I'll be staying in a hotel with the charming name of "Le Mouton Blanc." I went ahead and made a reservation for half-board for that night, so I'll be able to have dinner in the hotel restaurant, which looks pretty nice, and then go back to the room to turn in for the night. I have high hopes for the restaurant - the last really well-prepared meal that I had was back in Erfurt. Man, that Zum Schwann restaurant was soooooo good. Everything they put out was pure deliciousness. I'll probably go straight to bed - I have breakfast in the morning at the hotel (that half-board thing) and then I'm off to the Cambrai archive. Which I sincerely hope still exists. All the contact information I was able to find online involved defunct emails and broken web links. I'm just going to show up at the mediatheque and hope that it turns out as well as Braunschweig did - there, my manuscript was in a regular small-town library, all modern and tiny. They were like "Oh, yeah, we have some old books. I'll go find that one for you. You want to take digital pictures of the whole thing? Sure, knock yourself out. Take all the time you want." Yes, please! Ditto for Saint Omer - my email to that library at least didn't bounce, but still no reply. Again, I'll just show up. They're unlikely to have librarians who get all affronted by failure to observe the proper protocols, because if they did, they'd make sure there was a way to contact them.

Last night I got home from the library at 7:00. Ate ghetto tapas for dinner. Worked for four solid hours on getting my reservations and appointments booked for the next couple of weeks, and figuring out the travel specifics - boat, train, and bus schedules and loc;s for my travels to and through the next six cities (which happen in the coming 14 days with travel on one Sunday, often tricky here). It takes time. Gotta find a decent hotel for not much money. Get the trains sorted. I'm going in and out of two small towns that have limited rail service - you don't want to just show up whenever, because that might be 15 minutes after the last train there for the day left. Make rudimentary maps and walking directions for the small towns (train-hotel-library) that won't have city maps for sale all over the place. I have my ducks lined up for the next two weeks, just the way I like them: profoundly micromanaged. In Germany I didn't do this stuff because I had a lot of mental security re: the extent and frequency of German trains. But in France? Not so much. I don't mind being unstructured about my leisure time, but when I'm getting from point A to point B, I like to get there. I don't want to screw around. Summer road trips are different. You're driving, you've got a Big Gulp full of Dr. Pepper and a bag of Twizzlers, a full deck of music in the iPod: I will stop at pretty much any weird highway-side attraction with a gaudy enough billboard. But not here and now.

So my notes in my commonplace book say: "Wednesday, April 1: Venice to Cambrai - Alilaguna from San Marco to VCE, Linea Blu leaving at 4:50 arr. 6:09. Latest check-in is 7:35 at Brussels Airline counter. Brussels Air flight leaves at 8:35, arrives in Zaventem at 10:20. To Brussels South/Bruxelles Midi, there is a train station in the sub-1 level of the airport (fastest to take the train, not one of the shuttles or buses). Leaves every 15 minutes.Take the Eurostar from Brussels Midi to Lille Europe, 11:29 (arr 12:02) if stars aligned (baggage was carried on, train to Midi from airport arr. the instant I get there, no line for ticket purchase, etc.), next one not til 3:00 (arr. 4:32). Metro from Lille Europe to Lille Flandres. 1 stop in the direction of Saint Philibert, the #2 (red) line.  Train to Cambrai from Lille Flandres. May need to change at Douai, depending on what time you get in. Timetables are saved on the desktop. If you get in at noon, the next trains are at 12:56 and 13:01. If you get in at 16:30, the next trains are at 17:06 (train to Douai and then change for Cambrai, arr.  18:10 - and after that one there’s an 18:04 (also changes in Douai) and an 18:38 (direct, arr Cambrai 19:43). How to get to Hotel “Le Mouton Blanc” at 33, rue d’Alsace Lorraine 59400 CAMBRAI from the train station. Go straight down Rue d’Alsace Lorraine, road center facing the train station , it’s before the boulevard General Herbie. 10 minute walk max. Check-in: verify rates and  hotel reservations are for the nights of April 1 and April 2. Night of April 1 is half-pension, dinner and breakfast are included in rate."

Now that I've got the course set up for the next 16 days, all I have to do is jump the hoops, like I did through Germany and Austria and Italy - I had all of that planned before I left Indiana so I just hit the part of the itinerary that says Here There Be Dragons. I booked a hotel called Le Mouton Blanc in Cambrai, the Ibis in Saint Omer, and a hotel with a seriously mixed reputation in Bruges called Hotel Karatos. Still - booking a room for 55 Euros a night in Bruges during Easter vacation? Pretty much the luck of the Irish.

Venice was freak expensive. I mean FREAK EXPENSIVE. Everything here cost 2-3x more than it does in freaking PARIS. It's just ridiculous. In hindsight, I have to say that the apartment rentals, though also freak expensive, at least let you avoid the painfully freak expensive prices you pay for really unworthy food. I ate some mediocre-to-bad meals for 20-30 Euros per, and know that the decent-to-good restaurant menus are between 60-80 euros per, which honestly galls my Scottish soul. For $100, I want amazing food. Not "edible" food. I want delicious, high-end, artful, decadent, finely tuned dishes that taste as if they'd been cooked over the Empyrean fires of heaven. Seriously. Not just "less crappy gnocchi than that other place had."

Items which got dumped:

Stupid non-functioning Rick Steves laundry cord,
Langenscheidt and German phrase book,
Black twill pants & black Levis (note to self and other concerned parties: black pants actually travel pretty badly on extended trips).

Items which got stolen:
About half of my Advil got nicked out of my bathroom bag back in Nuremberg. Grrr. I have to imagine that anyone who would steal that much Advil must feel very tired and sore at  the end of the day every day. Advil here is about 3 Euros for 3 strong doses, and it's just so wrong. One of the many things I don't take for granted anymore.

Items which have been acquired:
Stuff from Vienna and Salzburg that was sent home by post
Venice: some Murano glass trinkets, a couple of scarves, some bookmarks, a really lovely colored Italian print of a family tree that has to be filled in by someone in the family who is fond of calligraphy such as myself and then framed by someone who is good at that such as my mother, a copy of Marco Polo's travels, and a copy of Room With A View.
A CD-Rom of Mantua 34.
A commitment to learning German.
A suspicion that my previous protestations that I can "basically" speak Italian because I can speak French were really, really, really stupid.
A lot of codicological notes and a permanent reproduction-related migraine.
In Venice also: a ton of what I fervently hope are mosquito bites.

Ciao! Ciao Venezia!

arcanamundi: (Default)
( Mar. 29th, 2009 06:41 pm)

So last night I heard the acqua alta siren go off – not that I knew what it was, I had to call down to the hotel reception to find out. And this morning when I woke up I felt like it was Christmas morning, I was so amped to go out and see what it looked like! And it was pretty much what you’d expect, as far as having anywhere from 6 inches to nearly a foot of water on all the public walkways in the piazzo San Marco area, which was really cool. I rolled up my jeans and headed out in my trusty Asolo boots, which worked great as far as their waterproofing was concerned, other than the end at the ankle and the water was SO much higher than that, especially when walking, because of the sluicing. So I bought some galoshes and at the end of this day I love them so, so much.

Everyone who had galoshes was running around EXACTLY like this: we all had huge smiles on our faces and were frolicking through the water like Mary Tyler Moore leaping sylph-like across a busy New York street.

Tourist photography DON'T:

This is my favorite picture of the day, I think. I swear I did not pose them, they all just DID IT:

Seriously, though - everyone walked over that bridge from the direction of Rialto, witnessed the extreme water conditions at San Marco, and just had to kind of... Take a minute to think about it.

Still, I walked around and took a lot of pictures, and then came back to the hotel to get some dry pants (mine were soaked to the thigh, and I was starting to get chilled) and asked the reception if they knew any place I might be able to buy a pair of inexpensive rubber boots. They suggested that I go to a shoe store that was next to Cartier. If it was open, they might have some. The words “next to Cartier” don’t exactly inspire confidence that the boots would be cheap, but hey. So I got to the store at 1:10 and saw that they had rubber boots for 18 Euros and I was SO happy. But the door was locked and they would not let me in! They yelled that the store closed at 1:00, and that I’d have to come back on Monday. I begged and pleaded and pointed at the rubber boots and yelled TRENTA NOVA! which I think was a a pretty close approximation to saying SIZE 39! And they relented and let me in and sold me boots (after deciding that I needed a size 40, and they were right) and I was so happy. I ran back to the hotel and put on some warm leggings and a long sweater and my high galoshes and ran back out into the world to splash around in the most gigantic puddles you have ever, ever seen.

Sidewalks were largely impassable due to the ratio of available space to tourists, umbrellas, and luggage. Passage was slow and dreary, so I mostly stuck around San Marco. I thought maybe I'd take a vaporetto somewhere but the stops were jammed full of people and so were the boats - everyone had the same idea of going around rather than through. Still, I had a fantastic time. I was really happy and had a blast.

Here are a bunch of pictures of my day:


I have no idea why, but these kids had formed an impromptu gauntlet lining one of the only streets onto Piazza San Marco and were clapping and chanting some kind of song every time a tourist tried to go down it. I started taking pictures and they got all cute:


I have no idea how this happened - this is straight out of the can, no photo manipulation at all.

arcanamundi: (Default)
( Mar. 29th, 2009 04:18 pm)
The best 18 Euros I ever spent: GALOSHES. The water was high today! San Marco was flooded! It was so awesome! I had so much fun! Pictures to follow!

Hello from Venice!

The Marciana allows PENS. Next to the manuscripts! Poised above the precious parchment! I had a very mild case of agita pretty much all day from watching a slackjawed Dutchwoman holding her ballpoint in the same hand she was using to turn manuscript pages. It was like watching the people riding around on bikes in Mantua with babies balanced on the handlebars. It gives me displaced anxiety.

Marciana locker room.

I'm not sure what exactly turned the worm, but this girl was feeling really unwell on Friday. Could it be the 10 hours of sunshine I got all at once after weeks and weeks of rarely seeing it for more than 15 minutes at a time? The calamari and strange new fish not getting along with the rest of the body? The hours and hours spent on boats and floating docks? I dunno - but I felt very sick - feverish and nauseated and really miserable. Of course I became convinced that I had mal du debarquement, imagining that this would possibly be something I'd be more vulnerable to after having my balance nerve destroyed by the vestibular neuritis, etc., but by the time I got back to the hotel I knew it was just exhaustion. There is a kind of shaking, feverish nausea where I just feel like bursting into tears all the time that I know is from not sleeping. I hadn't had a good, full night's sleep in nearly a week. I'd been getting some sleep, just not good sleep in a comfortable bed or nearly enough of it, and eventually that makes me physically sick. I almost managed to sleep in this morning, but had a wrong number call in the hotel that woke me up around 9 and I never managed to get back to sleep, just stuck in that weird dreamlike state where you're neither awake nor asleep and everything is weird.

Piazza San Marco at twilight.

I'm sure that tomorrow I'll be able to get plenty of much-needed sleep. I wish I was someone who could go to bed early, but I'm not. If I go to bed before 10, I will wake up in the middle of the night, around 2 or 3 in the morning, rarely able to get back to sleep, and it ends up making things so much worse.

I still don't feel very well, but I walked a ton today (I finally figured out that my pedometer isn't turning off and on and resetting itself - it's rolling over to 0000 when it gets to 9999 steps, of course - all those times I thought at the end of the day "I know I did more than 6000 steps" it must have been 16000, and so on. So anyway, today I walked about 8 miles total, and I'd say that I was lost for about 5 of them. I started by walking from San Marco to the Campo Santa Margherita, crossing at the Rialto bridge instead of the Accademia bridge so I could see more things. Venice being an absolute rat maze, it's pretty goddamn easy to get lost. It took me two hours to walk from San Marco to Campo Santa M. Two hours. Walking non-stop. And I was rescued by a kindly white-haired Italian grampa who saw me perched on a stone bridge with my map in one hand and my compass in the other, with an expression on my face that I imagine was somewhere between "doomed" and "murderous rage". It was not a good moment for me: it was the moment that I realized my @*#&(*&^% map is not oriented to true North, the printer turned it like 30 goddamn degrees. @)(#*@($*)(@#(@*#)(*#. But he was so sweet! And finally I was there, and I could have lunch, and I was so hungry and disappointed to find the place was nothing like what I'd expected (e.g., full of food you could proceed to eat without cooking, like markets in Paris and Vienna and Munich and etc. I ate in a restaurant, again paying twice what I'd pay in Paris for food of half the quality, but I will say that the lasagna was actually pretty damn good, though the scallopini was not. Pretty, though. I had a charming little lunchtime companion. He only had bread, though.

Still, I ate it for the protein, and the mixed salad, and then I stopped in a grocery store to buy food for tonight and tomorrow, and as there was no way in hell I was trying to walk that stuff out of The Shit, which would require me to use a map one-handed in the wind while toting a bag in the other, I took a vaporetto back to the Piazza San Marco.
I would like to reiterate my advice to buy a vaporetto pass when in Venice, for whatever duration your stay if you're living la vida turistica on all those days. You can walk until your legs terminate in bloody stumps if you want, but I can guarantee you that at least 8 times in one week (which is what it will take to break even with buying single tickets) if you are doing some hardcore sightseeing, you're STILL going to want to get from A to B without hitting every single letter in the Roman AND Sanskrit alphabets in between, and when you have walked for hours and end up stumbling across a vaporetto stop and you can just leap on board as nimbly as a gazelle and be whisked across the romantic waterways, the pass will be like a Get Out of Jail Free card, and I promise you it will be worth it. It absolutely will.

I didn't really mind being lost that much, because at least I was lost by myself and not in a zerging horde of tourbots, and I took a lot of pictures. Streets in Venice that can be walked on as opposed to boated up and down on are narrow. Very, very narrow. This is not an awesome place to pedestriate if you're claustro and it gets old fast. It’s not the best view in the world when you’re walking around in them, and they seem to go on forever. I was always sooooo happy to get to a waterway and a bridge because at least the road was going to open up a little bit for a tick and there would be something to see besides BRICK WALLS CLOSING IN ALL AROUND AIIEEEEE. This is why I have so many pictures of gondolas. I’m always so goddamn happy to see something that isn’t a brick wall.

See what I mean?

That last street is the one that leads to my little hotel. You can kind of see the little deco neon sign down there. I’m really tired of fighting my way down it. Attention tourists: you do NOT need to walk side by side and three abreast down these goddamn streets! They are narrow! Can people get around you? If no, you’re doing it wrong.

Occasionally the streets end in water. Sometimes a dock. I was standing on one of those when I took these:

Venetian kitty had a misspent youth (his ears bear the tale!) but is now living in a very nice little gated courtyard, which he lords over like a little pasha.

I can now add to my collection of pictures of Venetian civil servants (I have postman, police, and ambo) - firemen!

They are backing the bus in, so I think that this is actually the fire station!

Another picture of the interior of a gondola. They are so pimp. They should come with pimp cups and pimp sticks for people to hold while they’re riding around, and free purple drank for passengers, and they should pump out pimp music and bounce on springs like lo-rida pimp sedan. If they did, I would take one. Instead I just make fun of the people who take them because seriously, they’re getting robbed. Unless they get the one gondolier I’ve seen who actually does that sings opera arias. That guy is freaking awesome.

Venice souvenir:

I met this woman the other night but didn’t get around to uploading the photos til now – she makes the most amazing masks. Not all of the ones in the store are hers, she has a workshop of people too, but she was in the middle of painting masks with colored waxes when I showed up. We talked for a little while and she agreed to let me take some pictures:

The masks were so unique and special – not like the mass manufactured crap in a lot of the stores and on the streets.

I like this shop too but it reminds me of that crazy aunt of my friend Marilyn, the one who collected the porcelain masks that all looked alike but were painted differently.

Plague doctor masks. When I was teaching Plato to NATO in the fall semesters I always offered extra credit to students who made functional plague doctor costumes for Halloween, and I’ve seen a few costumes that were really amazing. One kid even used a pair of novelty “nerd” glasses to get the optical distortion effect that was supposed to prevent transmission via the gaze!

I went for another walk in the early evening and saw:

These street shrines with bars on them make me want to fashion FREE THE VIRGIN MARY signs and NO PRISON FOR THE MOTHER OF CHRIST and post them adjacent but I know Italians wouldn’t find it amusing. At all.

It is my belief that I am owed a Nobel Prize for CUTE PICTURE on account of:

Seriously. Can you believe that coat? Putting a cute baby in a teddy bear coat is like the cuteness equivalent of a fried Mars bar.

In other news of the cute, I’m kind of powerless to explain why I could not resist this little piece of Murano glass- because it is tiny – but I just couldn’t. I looked at it and looked at it, and held it, and looked at it, and finally I bought it. And then I brought it home and looked at it and looked at it and looked at it some more. It’s a clear glass marble (a bit flat on the bottom for standing up) with a perfect tiny goldfish and air bubbles and everything. So tiny. And its little face is so so so cute. Love is weird.

I bought some ice cream – I will say this for Venice: their ice cream is priced humanely (1.50 Euros) and is so unbelievably delicious.

I had a good day on Friday, though I was feeling pretty bad physically - it was productive. Had fun sourcing a manuscript with another obscure name of a dead monastery. Ask me how much I wish I could bring the Marciana's set of Orbis Latinis and all their map books back to the hotel with me to paddle around in all evening. LOTS. I had a wonderful time looking through all of their reference works. Honestly, every reading room I go to gives me another handful of entries in my mental reference bibliography on manuscript study, especially when it comes to area-specific resources - indexes of colophons unique to that library or area, catalogues of scientific manuscripts from libraries in a specific country or region, etc. etc. - I'm learning a lot. I can say that much for a moral certainty: I am learning a ton. Archive librarians will teach people who are appropriately humble before them. Most academics have to be the expert ALL THE TIME, have to constantly say "Oh, I knew that" or "Oh, that's not how I do it" or whatever, simply can't help themselves even though it's terribly tiresome, and I think it makes most archival librarians a little hesitant to take on a pedagogical role with even a junior researcher, because honestly, nobody gives high hat like an academic who is bristling from the imputation that they might not know everything on the fucking planet. Fragile little tweedy egos, so insecure. Not me, man. I'm not insecure about my expertise. That would be like feeling insecure about my Porsche. IN THE SENSE THAT I DO NOT HAVE ONE.

So I made friends with a nice archivist who ushered into a back room wherein I was shown many marvels of reference works, some of them so old that they'd be in special collections stateside. It was cool. There's no map or list of usuels like at Richelieu, so this is just one of those things... And in that room, there was a set of books SO AWESOME and SO OUT OF PRINT for like 200 years, and I am going to translate it and find a publisher and make some money. All I have to do is find a copy through ILL or microfilm or something when I get home to work off. It is so cool. It was really hard to set those volumes aside and get back to my real work. You will see!

What was really odd is that the Marciana is on the San Marco piazza, and the windows are ancient - not at all insulated in any way - so the sound of shrieking teenagers and the water dashing against the stone and the clatter of tourists and carts and so on comes in as though there was nothing between us and that at all, and even more peculiarly, so does the smell. In places close to the windows this is more evident, but it's true for the whole room. I went over to the shelves where the watermark reference books were and discovered that I could smell the wet stone, the water, the cigarette smoke, the exhaust fumes of the vaporetti - it was as if the outside was inside. I actually pulled the curtain aside a smidge to see if the window was open. Nope. At one point the room had become so cigarette smoky from the tourist teenagers smoking while leaning against the walls and watching the gondoliers that I started to marvel at the fact that it's always like this, ever and always, and nobody has ever tried to stop it or make a no smoking area around the reading room or anything. Funny.

Also, nobody in the Marciana reading room speaks English, but that's ok because they all speak beautiful French! So I did not have to deal with miming things like “Where can I find your LED light sheet” and “Is there a bibliographic file on these manuscripts?” and so on. Unfortunately, one of my manuscripts has never been microfilmed, so it’s going to be freak expensive to get at. I’m going to whale on transcribing some of it Mon and Tues, and see if it can’t be sorted out some other way…
After I got back to the hotel I decided to hang out at the plaza for awhile, not walking, just sitting quietly and people watching:
This guy’s job is like the very modern definition of “clean the Stygian stables.” Can’t you just totally see the job description? “City worker sought for position in which enjoyment of futile, never-ending labor of cleaning up after people acting like total pigs. Must use broom made out of plant parts following ancient recipe of a Stregheria witch. Send photo CV.”

These ladies were so cute backseat driving each others’ photographs. My guess is mother and daughter.

The absolute HIGHLIGHT of my peoplewatching in the plaza was finding myself positioned exactly between two groups of people engaged in an incredibly loud screaming match! For real! In one corner, you’ve got the Italian teenage girls! Screaming like banshees! Gesticulating wildly! Flipping the bird, which is to say, two fingers forked up in a scooping gesture while parted, with the back of the hand facing the target, as if to say: get fucked by a pitchfork, asshole! And gesturing at their asses and armpits! Screaming in real indignation, I mean seriously, like someone said something real bad. In the other corner! A group of older male German tourists! Who are laughing so hard that one of them actually done fell over! I of course start taking pictures!

Then one girl sees me taking the picture of her group and flashes me a victory V (thank god it wasn’t the bad one), then indicates that I should also document that the guys are assholes! I assume, not knowing what she’s really saying, which is in Italian. They all come over and surround me and explain to me, when I ask them what the hell is going on, that the elderly Germans contain in their midst a FARTER! And that this gentleman FARTED while standing in front of one of the Italian girls who was, at the time, seated! And hence FARTED IN HER FACE! And they are SUPER PISSED ABOUT IT. The Germans, on the other hand, are just absolutely dying they are laughing so hard, not because farting in someone’s face is funny, but because there is absolutely nothing on this planet more terrifying and hilarious than a pissed off Italian teenage girl. Much less a gang of them! It was so awesome.

Tonight I heard the high water alarms go off in Venice. Rain has been forecast, quite heavy rain tomorrow, and evidently they are expecting very high waters. High to the point of requiring wading boots, probably not. But we’ll see! Torrential rains are expected tomorrow, so I guess it could get interesting.

arcanamundi: (Default)
( Mar. 26th, 2009 11:33 pm)
First off - I can't get my damn cut tags to work in this entry, so for those of you who are reading this via an f-list on LJ, apologies. I just can't spend any time screwing around with it when I'm paying for internet access by the minute and it's way past time for me to be asleep.


Piazza San Marco
Down the Grand Canal
Over the Rialto Bridge
Pesceria fish market on Rialto
Up and down the Grand Canal some more
Murano, Cemetery Island, Burano
Basilica di San Marco & Piazza San Marco
San Marco neighborhood amble
Hotel Antico Panada, home sweet hotel.

Want to go for a ride?
A Preface.
I have recently found myself easily irritated by pretentious statements from young acquaintances about their uncanny ability to pass for native when in Foreign Lands. First off, when you're a tourist, everyone knows. Your attempt to seem not like a tourist just makes you seem young and insecure, not extra worldly. Second, if they speak to you in their native language, it's not because you're so effectively camouflaged in your international urbanity that they've somehow been fooled. They are speaking to you in that language because THAT IS THEIR LANGUAGE and you are in their country.

NB: The French will speak to people in the language which they believe is that person's mother tongue because that in turn is part of how they show off how cosmopolitan they are, because they are also pretentious gits. The reason I am pretty sure that I can pass for Euro (which I do not in particular take as a compliment, just as a misperception) is specifically because French people will typically address me IN GERMAN instead of in French. This is ironic because my shortcomings in that language are so epic that the first time it happened I thought the guy was trying to clear his throat, when in actuality he was telling me the Pariscope come out on Mittwoch (Wednesday).

The greatest tragedy, in my opinion, of this sort of tourist's lofty insistence on being able to appear utterly ordinary as the ultimate accomplishment of being extremely worldly (haha Americans haha, such funny people) is that by insisting on this farce, you deprive yourself of the opportunity to be awed, because you are too busy cultivating your air of blase ordinariness. Are you really sure that's a great bargain?

The people of any country will, if they are certain that you'll be appreciative, be pleased to show you their marvels and wonders, large and small (the most valuable and special of these are certainly those that are small and quite specific to the person demonstrating - it could be a piece of lace they are making, the unusual gills of a fish they caught that morning, the special dyed wax and technique they use in their leathercrafting, etc.) and to greet you as a visitor from faraway lands who has made a long and perilous journey for no other reason - at that exact and precise moment in time - than the chance to find yourself face to face with them. People will honor that if you do. They will enter into that encounter in that spirit, but you have to invite it, encourage it, will it to happen - and that kind of receptivity has to come from being genuinely and truthfully in that moment. Which you cannot do if you are prancing around pretending to be someone you're not.

Travel humbly and ready and willing to be impressed and amazed and educated. People will reciprocate by showing you marvelous fish and exotic fruits, their workshops, their child's picture, hidden doors and directions to places that are not on maps, and by telling you stories that aren't in books. And these will be the things that you will remember. These things. More than any other.

Everyone you will meet has something they know is special, and that they're dying to show or tell. They know that you, as a traveler, will find it exotic. You will not find it ordinary. And so to you they will show their treasures, trusting that you will, in fact, treasure them. And this is a moment they cannot have with their neighbors or fellow lacemakers or fishermen. This is a moment they can only have with you.

So don't blow it.


I have been reading Marco Polo's Travels. I bought a copy here. It is a good book to read while you are traveling.

Early morning on the Grand Canal

Today I got up earlier than I usually go to bed back in America, but although I have long speculated that this crossing of the temporal streams would lead to a catastrophic rift in spacetime, the world nevertheless continued to turn. So much for my main excuse for regularly sleeping in until 8 or 9 on this trip. My secondary excuse, which is that sleep deprivation makes me an insane person and I can rarely manage to sleep before midnight, will have to continue to serve.

When I got there the street sweepers were still sweeping last night away.

Everyone else was still getting set up in the part of the market with fruits and veg:

The exhausted fishermen, who have already put in near a full day's work, are finishing up by cleaning and slabbing their catch while talking quietly and smoking cigarettes:

You know the fish is fresh when it's twisting up in rigor right on the table:

At the fish market I saw these tiny silver fish and I thought they were really pretty. Make a note: these are going to come up again. Around lunchtime.

Hilarious conversation with no words: between me and a fisherman at the Pescaria. I indicated my camera and made question face. He nodded, expressionlessly. I started snapping.  Still expressionless, the fisherman came over and made an amusing tableaux of fish, in which he made it look like the decapitated head of a swordfish was eating the cleaned body of another fish. I burst out laughing. Still expressionless, he made a little bow. SO CUTE!

Another fisherman brought out a spiny rock lobster for me to take a picture of, depositing it with a flourish in the center of his table and then whisking it back out of sight into a tank under the table after:

I am glad I knew enough about how rare and hard to catch these lobster are to have been suitably impressed and to have produced uninhibited oohs and ohhs at the sight of him. That's another one for you, Tony!

Another fisherman came over while I was looking at his fish and wordlessly opened up a fish to display its odd bony gills to me:

I liked these too:

The fishermen were really all very kind and generous in showing me cool stuff. I believe this is a perk of showing up at 7 AM, while they're all still setting up. They've been up for absolutely ages of course, and are now at market and whacking and chopping and cleaning their morning catch for the market. I was the only civilian in there when I was there - I'm sure that when it gets busy they don't want any goddamn tourists getting in the way of responsible commerce (evidently a fishmarket in Japan actually had to ban tourists because they were making such pests of themselves), but at such an early hour when there's no harm to it, what the hell. It makes the time go by until the paying customers get there. I'm sure that was part of the secret to the success of my market pictures from Paris - getting there early, asking permission, and trying not to be a hindrance.

I rode around on boats for awhile, taking them to the end of the line and then getting off and getting on another one. Then I met a nice Australian lady and her two sons. She said I should go to Burano because it's very photogenic (I gave her my flickr card so she could get copies of the pictures of her and her sons).

So then I got on a boat for Burano. While on the boat another lady said I should stop at the cemetery island because it was strange and beautiful, so I did that too. It was strangely unphotogenic for all that it was quite striking in person, but it could be that I just had entirely the wrong kind of light for it - it was nearly noon. Perfect light for Burano's crayola-box houses, all wrong for ethereal mossy cemeteries. I'm sure it would be stunning in the early morning or evening. Cemeteries, like Italians and rabbits, are crepuscular.

Burano was amazingly bright and colorful and cheerful:

Overheard on Burano: "I don't know why they're all coming off dark when the sun is *right behind you*! I watched as a British mum fumed at her camera's inability to take a proper picture, clearly getting aggravated. "Try putting her on the other side of the bridge and she'll light up," I suggested. I am, after all, an academic. Born to the tweed, even. And like all academics, I'm never one to let social propriety or decorum stop me from being a smartass know-it-all who can't resist a chance to teach lecture show off tell people stuff they don't already know: "In general you want to put the sun behind you when you're shooting so it lights up what is in front of you." I saw them later on and could see they'd become kind of unhealthily aware of where the sun was when shooting, so I called over: hey, you know, all kinds of shots will look good, it's mostly just with quite close subjects that it's an issue! And the mum was all "Noooo! Your method works! We're using it all the time now!" I did not tell her that it wasn't so much my personal invented method of photographing things but a kind of basic fact of physics and light not being able to bend around solid objects to illuminate them, but because I am not a galloping jackass 98% of the time, 96,  95, 92, definitely 92% of the time, I did not do this. I just waved and carried on.

Another Burano photo tip: in post, do not use the saturation tool. You will burn your retinas. All the colors that you see here? Actually that bright in real life.

Slightly alarming food moment: when the pretty silver fish I'd admired in their freshly caught state, above, were presented to me on a plate in their cooked state. In my world those are BAIT fish, if they are what I thought they were, which is to say smelt, which I only saw once before when the whole family was visiting Uncle Mike in San Diego and we went deep sea fishing at fucking-hell-are-you-sure-I-wasn't-adopted o'clock in the morning. I picked at one with a fork to check the bone situation and it fell apart. I decided to pick one up and just eat it. They're whole, mind. Not been cleaned on the insides. But they're clearly finger food. So I stuck one in my mouth up to the tail and chomped down.

It was delicious. Thank God. If it had been disgusting I would have had to watch all my fantasies of taking over No Reservations some day go swirling down the mental drain. I mean seriously: if you cannot handle eating fried chum, you're pretty much not on Anthony Bourdain's list of adventuresome eatin' buddies.

That slab of fried polenta on the side was pretty much made of awesome, no sauce required.

Burano: is it laundry day or is there some kind of town code requiring that everything be as picturesque as possible ALL THE TIME?

I was very tired so I had some chocolate gelato and it was delicious. I was too busy shoveling the melty, drippy cone down my piehole to take pictures of it.

This made me smile:

And this made me smile:

And this made me smile:

Venice is freaking expensive. intertext will be here soon and asked for advice - here's some initial words of (dubious) wisdom: get up early, buy a vaporetto pass for the week at 50 Euros, you will not regret it, especially if you end up taking the vaporetto 10 times which is to say for 5 trips to and from any destination in Venice, and believe the old packing adage that goes: "Pack for your trip and draw up a budget. Now take out half of what's in your suitcase, and take double the amount of money." Seriously. I have hemorrhaged money here like crazy just on vaporetto fares - I bought one ticket from the rail station (6.50), and had to buy one this morning because I was out and about before the booth had opened and there was no automat at my station (6.50) and then bought one for 12 hours (20 Euros) and then proceeded to ride up and down the Grand Canal, and out to Murano and Burano and back again and generally all over the damn place because I took the boats roundabout so I could see the most stuff instead of just  jamming up and down the #1 line and taking the DM to Murano and back. So anyway: that's 33 Euros in vaporetto fare within 24 hours. Two meals while out and about set me back another 25 apiece, and that was me getting off easy - this city makes its living off tourists and it's not holding back. That's 50. I spent another 20 on handful of Murano glass trinkets and a piece of lace at Burano. I spent 100 Euros in a day, not including my hotel. I've been living much more frugally than that in general - so much more that I feel slightly horrified, but it was money well spent. Tomorrow, Saturday morning, and Monday (possibly also Tuesday) I'm in the library, safe from the allure of shiny objects and boats that are Going Places. I'd like to make it to the Doges Palace and the Campo Santa Margherita. If I had to pick, I'd pick the Campo. If I didn't make it anywhere else I'd feel like I still saw a lot and really got a feel for the place. Knowing that the weather was about to go bad on me meant that I packed a hell of a lot into my day of sunshine.

It is supposed to rain torrentially on Saturday and Sunday. I think there is a fairly good chance that I will be spending most of Sunday in the luxy lounge of the hotel, curled up on the sofa with a book, though I have it in my head to go to services there Sunday morning.

Saturday, I don't know. So much depends on how things go tomorrow at the library. I'll have a better idea of whether I'll have any free time on Monday or Tuesday by the end of the morning once I've seen the manuscripts. Wish me luck on that - despite the fact that I've written all my emails in English with my apologies, every reply back has been in Italian. I'm pretty sure I understand them, but if I show up and there's nobody at the Marciana who speaks English it's going to be a wealth of vexations, I know from experience.

I re-enter lands in which I am fluent in the languages in SIX. DAYS. I suspect that I may actually kiss French soil which will come as a shock to absolutely all of us, myself included.

Linguistic hilarity is on tap and flowing freely here, because Venice is jammed with tourists and as far as I can tell in this month they are split pretty evenly between all the languages guidebooks are written in. German, Spanish, French, English, Russian, Chinese, Japanese. There are actually quite a few Indians but they all speak nearly incomprehensible English and then fly into black rages when the Italians don't understand them, which is totally inevitable because they pretend like they understand English but don't actually grok what you're saying - instead they make up an assumed intention and react to that, so a question like "Is this pass good on *all* the lines?" will prompt them to start screaming directions to the bathroom at you. So the Indians are doomed. I find their quickness to take offense and become enraged baffling because first off, according to my worldview, they are supposed to be a peaceful, tea-drinking people too busy exploiting the shit out of their peasant slave classes and lepers to bother anyone else. Second, I'm a native speaker, and I have no idea what the hell they're saying most of the time, so I think they're wicked unreasonable.

Another travel tip! If confronted with a screaming Italian, act bored. They will stop. There is no point in yelling at someone who is bored by it. An Italian will only scream for as long as there is someone else paying attention or screaming back, regardless of whether that person was involved in the original verbal transaction. Sources: some chick at the billeteria who started screaming at me about the bathroom when I was trying to find out if my pass worked on Alilaguna lines; a group of Italians who got into a 23 minute long and extremely entertaining screaming match after their dogs all got into a fight with each other in the street, which will happen when the street is three feet wide. 

On Zerging.

Which reminds me of a moment I had which made me want to burst out laughing so hard that suppressing it actually hurt my throat muscles: I stepped onto a street and found myself in the path of what my geek brain identified immediately as a horde of zerging n00bs. ACK! said geekbrain. ZERGING n00bs! And that struck the rest of my brain as really hilarious. Zerging is kind of hard to explain but basically it's a mass attack, either deliberate or based on sheer do-what-the-other-guy-does n00biness. If you show up someplace where there are a lot of new players they'll pretty much all attack one monster all at the same time.

What you do NOT want to see when you are on your way down a three foot wide street while carrying a grocery bag filled with bottles of water, juice, and beer is a horde of zerging tourists converging on your present location, bent for leather on a location which is on the other side of you. They have the strength of numbers, plus blind panic at having found themselves in something approximating a cattle chute while surrounded by natives who are all wearing sunglasses which readily identify them as the human-eating aliens from V: The Miniseries, and given the total lack of any way to turn right or left they will forcefully and with great velocity zerg their way down the passage until they are presented with the option to go in a different direction. Going backwards is not possible because of the similarity of zerging to the natural phenomena of lemmings and salmon runs. Really, your only option for survival is to crouch behind an elderly Italian man who survived The Black Death waving a cane and screaming imprecations at the fucking Allied troops.

The best way to get a good picture of a gondolier is to cut the tourists out of the picture - the ones who take the gondoliers are inevitably not picturesque. To put it mildly.

You would have died of the cuteness which was this kid learning to feed pidges from her mom and dad:

I walked over to give them my card after getting off these snaps and ended up covered in real live pigeons. I liked this a LOT LESS than you might have thought I would based on generally kind of liking pigeons in the abstract. NOT IN MY HAIR THOUGH.

They were a really lovely young family. They laughed so hard when the baby decided to try the pidge food:



NOT ON THIS BOAT is ranking pretty high on the list of places I'd like to be in an emergency.


I'd like to know what he was reading, standing in the window with his cigarette (and cup of coffee, not in frame).

Evil Impulse suppressed: desire to push douchebag American youth with carefully Eurosculpted facial hair and matching Eurotard glasses off the vaporetto due to crime of sitting five feet away from his friend on a nearly empty bus boat, then yelling about his material goods, personal wealth, and friends of consequence by way of topics of conversation. Die, douchenozzle! What are people like that even doing AWAKE at 7 AM? Also, to the sign on the boat saying no standing, only sitting, I have this to say: WTF, did we need 2 "NO"s?

I am pretty sure some kind of Catholic holiday involving Easter just started because the church bells are going bizzonkers and it's midnight. I still feel like I'm on a boat, and it's been almost 7 hours since I got off the last boat and put to land. Hilariously, this includes a lot of the bonk-jolts that the vaporettos get when docking. The brain is a funny thing.

I know this got really disorganized toward the end - but I wanted to finish it before I hit the sack.