There's nothing like booking a dorm room in London to make you suddenly flash back to your graduate school years. My first solo trip to London, as part of my dissertation research, involved a stay at UCL's Campbell House, which at that time (mid-90s) was...how to put this...somewhat grimly decorated. Sort of "late Victorian penitentiary." (Me: "Wow, this is so Foucault.") I have vivid memories of reading bad Wilkie Collins novels under the light of a single, unshaded bulb...
I spent some time in the NYPL, reading a bad Victorian Catholic novel (as opposed to my more familiar fare of bad Victorian Protestant novels). Now that I've started reading 19th-c. Catholic fiction more systematically, the most glaring difference from the Protestant variety is the ongoing presence of figurative thorns. That is, in a Protestant novel, the protagonist who rests firmly on his or her faith in Christ alone will always be "cheerful" (a word that crops up frequently), no matter how many disasters happen; they're never annoyed or upset by minor irritations or major reversals. By contrast, Catholic novels always insist that their heroes and heroines are liable to be exasperated by things that go wrong, and even when they're absolutely sure and strong in their faith, there's some "thorn" scratching away at them, somewhere--even at the end. In the case of this novel, The Better Part (supposedly a reworking of Luke 10:38-42, except that the sisters, Martha/Marie, don't match up with their Biblical parallels at all), the dauntless Marie is still distressed about her worthless sister Martha when the novel concludes, even though everything else has gone providentially right.
There's nothing like your GPS system spontaneously resetting itself while you're enroute to the airport to make you say, "Why do I even have that thing on? I know how to get there!"
It is possible that I may have entered the Strand, and also possible that I may have purchased certain rectangular objects while there.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get a wifi connection in the Strand, which means that--curses, foiled again--I now have a second copy of Nightingales. Which I will donate to the nearest free book table.
Incidentally, I was pleased that no bizarre fuzzy things were scurrying around in the Strand basement this time--or, if they were there, they politely refrained from scurrying in my vicinity. (Seriously, I have no idea what that...thing...was that scooted by a couple years back, but it certainly made me vacate the premises with some celerity.)
I have stayed in teeny-tiny hotel rooms before--not that you get any other kind in NYC--but never before in a hotel room where almost all of the living space was occupied by the platform bed.
Although it's easy on the back to tote the iPad around, it just doesn't do it for me as a note-taking device: I've yet to find an external keyboard that feels comfortable (anyone have a recommendation?) and the onscreen keyboard is frustrating for anything more than tweeting or facebook-ing.
Oddest sight of the trip: Big Bird chatting with Smurfette.
I'll be trekking across the pond for the first time in several years to present at the Neo-Victorian Cultures conference in Liverpool. The conference is at the end of July, but the current plot is to be in London for most of the month, camped out in the British Library (where else?).
1. On Saturday, I gird my loins (how do you do that, anyway?) for a trip from Rochester, NY to College Station, TX. More precisely, a trip from Rochester, NY-->NYC, NY-->Houston, TX-->College Station, TX.
2. The airport is not snowed in.
3. Our boarding is only slightly delayed.
4. And then, we are informed that our plane is kaput. Of course, we can wait around for the next plane to LaGuardia, which will arrive in about 3 hours; alas, that does nothing for me and most of my fellow passengers, as we have all seen our connections go kaflooey.
5. We wait in lines.
6. Apparently, college students have booked everything for their February breaks, or something. Why do all these college students have February breaks?
7. We continue waiting in lines. The poor gate attendants have the unpleasant duty of informing passenger after passenger that there are, in fact, no seats on any planes to anywhere.
8. One young woman berates an increasingly tense attendant, despite being told repeatedly that there are, you know, no seats. The young woman makes a decision, then changes her mind after the attendant punches in all the necessary information. The attendant is displeased. Meanwhile, one guy decides to use non-family-friendly language, which displeases the attendant even further (there are young kids nearby).
9. I am ushered over to another line, where I am told that "young lady, you're not going to College Station tonight." I knew that. I did not, however, know that I was a young lady--forty-one is no longer especially youthful--but I decide to go with the flow.
10. I camp out at one of the airport hotels.
11. Take two! Now it's Rochester, NY-->Detroit, Mi-->Dallas, TX-->College Station, TX.
12. Ack, the dreaded middle seat.
13. Help, no layovers at all between Rochester and Dallas. Starvation is imminent!
14. I finally scarf down some dubious 'que in Dallas.
15. Hooray, College Station! One good thing comes out of the delay: a free room upgrade.
1. This bronchitis could stand to do a little more ratcheting down. I twice had to explain to candidates that my reasons for suddenly decamping from the interview session did not include either dying or bizarre infectious disease.
2. Speaking of asking questions, it probably would have been a good idea to figure out what I was ordering for lunch. What arrived was, I suppose, suitably monastic in conception for an academic, but not advisable fuel for several more hours of interviewing.
3. Still, no bankruptcy in sight.
4. There was also no bankruptcy in sight after visiting the book exhibit on double-quick time during the lunch break. What's up with all the exhibitors saying, "sorry, no, I can't take money, we're not selling anything"?! (Come on, Harvard, I wanted that new book on Dickens.) I gather there's some sort of commerce regulation at issue, but...really? I did break down and buy a book from Cambridge (now, there's a bankruptcy-inducing prospect), and I've reserved a couple of free books from the Scottish Writing folks; maybe I'll pick up some stuff on Sunday.
5. And continuing the theme of things not in sight: people in the exhibit. I've never seen it so empty. Economic downturns, departments Skyping their interviews, or some combination of the above?
1. I am in New York City. My home airport is Rochester. My mother, who is meeting me here, called about an hour ago to say that she had been diverted...to Rochester. We agreed that maybe she should just have visited me in Brockport.
2. The Strand now has some of my hard-earned cash. Also one of my remaining lives, thanks to the gigantic insectoid whatsit scuttling around their basement by the university press section. (At least I managed not to scream and/or jump on a chair, unlike the time a water bug invaded the Modern Philology office at the University of Chicago. [All sorts of unimaginable horrors lurk in the U of C basements--and sometimes, they come upstairs to visit. Stephen King could write a novel.] I offed it with a Chicago Manual of Style, in case you were wondering. The water bug, not the whatsit.)
In any event, I picked up several discounted novels (including a few Japanese historical novels--it looks like they had a big shipment of Japanese fiction in translation) and a couple of monographs. If I have time next week, I may go to the Argosy Book Store, or possibly to Labyrinth Books.
3. NYC budget hotel architecture never ceases to amaze. In this room, the entry door is angled in such a way that its doorknob crashes into the bathroom doorknob when you open it. On the other hand, there's actually space around the beds, which is not to be taken for granted in NYC hotels.
4. I'll be here for a few days, so the plans include both relatives (my mother, two cousins) and religious fiction at the NYPL (two books in the Jewish Miscellany series released by the JPS in the mid-19th c., including Caleb Asher, and some short Catholic texts).
This weekend, I'll be in Charlottesville, VA, enjoying several days of intellectual stimulation in the company of convivial Victorianists.
That is, if I can ever extricate myself from the clutches of a very damp state of New York.
The morning began with an apologetic robo-call from US Airways, informing me that my 9:31 AM flight out of Rochester had been canceled. First reaction: My flight is gone! NO! Second reaction: It was at 9:31 AM, not 11:00 AM? NOO! Third reaction: Wait, my flight really is at 11:00 AM, and yet they're calling me about a different flight. Does this mean that they've bolluxed my reservation? NOOO!
That sorted, I arrived at the airport, to discover that my plane was on time. Except that it wasn't on time. Feelings of sadness ensued, thanks to the prospect of a busted connection to Charlottesville, VA. (There aren't that many flights to Charlottesville, VA.) Nevertheless, the gate agent found a workaround. It would involve a very long layover in LaGuardia, but I would still make it to my destination.
Finally, the plane departed Rochester, bounced a bit on its way to LaGuardia, and landed...just in time for me to make my connection after all! Cheers! Felicitations all around!
This celebration lasted approximately the five minutes or so it took me to deplane, as I promptly discovered on my arrival that the connection in question...had been canceled.
Only five hours and six minutes to go on my layover, in case you're wondering.
THE PLAN: Depart Orange County at 8:05 AM; arrive in NYC around 4:30 PM; arrive in Rochester at 7:40 PM.
4:40 AM: I awake, twenty minutes earlier than necessary, from a rather bizarre nightmare involving a survival horror video game. I devoutly hope that this will not turn out to be a prophetic dream about today's flight.
6:50 AM: My parents drop me off at Long Beach Airport, where I see very long lines for Jet Blue.
7:10 AM: I survive long lines for Jet Blue, then arrive at the gate, where I stock up on a non-gourmet sandwich.
c. 7:20 AM: Our 8:05 AM flight has magically turned into a 9:05 AM flight, thanks to a window malfunction.
c. 8:00 AM: And now our 9:05 AM flight is at 9:30. Sounds resembling GRAR can be heard.
c. 8:30 AM: We have a new plane! We're still going to be late! I ask my mother to relay a message to the colleague (whose phone # I have forgotten) who was going to pick me up at the airport, suggesting that maybe that won't be such a great idea.
c. 9:00 AM: ...And now we're going to depart at 10:00 AM.
c. 9:10 AM: The oh-so-chipper gate agent is reassuring us that we're going to get in around 5:45 PM. 5:30, even! No need to worry about our connecting flights!
c. 10 AM: Well, we're on the plane. Too bad it's not in the air.
10:40 AM: Now that we're off the ground, the pilot tells us that we'll be in NYC around 6:15 PM or so. I hear an odd sound, as of a connection being busted.
(We now switch to Eastern time.)
4:00 PM: I finish reading Bengtsson's The Long Ships. I usually don't like adventure novels, but this one is engagingly wry: there's no overt commentary from the narrator on the bloodthirstiness of his characters, but the effect is one of extreme dark comedy. Nevertheless, all this head-cracking has tired me out, so I doze off.
6:00 PM: Finally, we're in New York State! Now, if only we were not entering a holding pattern!
And hold we do, for another hour. So much for a 6:15 PM arrival.
c. 7:30 PM: I'm off the plane. A gate agent tells me to run to gate 9, in the company of a lot of other people. At gate 9, there is...no plane. I sigh. Another agent books me onto the 10:45 flight, which will get me into Rochester after midnight. This assumes that nothing else goes wrong, of course...