Apartment: set! (Er, unless there's some untoward disaster.) Plane ticket: set! (And I don't even have to fly in the wrong direction to change planes. That's what comes of avoiding British Airways this time around...) I'll be in London for approximately six weeks, from mid-May to the end of June, reading religious novels in the British Library and, with any luck, looking at some publishers' archives.
A couple of posts down, I mentioned a Good Thing that would involve library research--this being an academic's definition of a Good Thing. The Good Thing became official as of today: I've received one of my college's "big" fellowships (multiple K instead of multiple hundreds), which will enable me to spend a few weeks in the British Library (and some nearby archives) during my next winter break. Victorian Catholic novelists, brace yourselves--I'm about to read you.
Like all highly-paid American academics, I stay in only the swankiest London hotels when I come here. And eat at the poshest restaurants.
...OK, I'm actually staying in a dorm. Which has permanently locked windows, so perhaps a trifle warm at this juncture. (I'd upload a picture, but I don't think the broadband has enough oomph, or something.) Nevertheless, it's not Campbell House--for starters, the overhead lights have shades.* Meanwhile, I had a sandwich for dinner, in order to save money for the truly important things. (Namely, rectangular objects with paper inside.)
My brain is still mush from the trip, but I'm sure you're all awaiting my reports from the British Library, which shall feature many accounts of rare novels about Jews. As opposed to my last BL jaunt, which primarily resulted in reports on sermons. The novels may or may not be more exciting. (Also, an experiment in note-taking using the iPad instead of the larger machine.) On the 23rd, it's off to Liverpool for this conference, where I'm on the program (er, programme) twice: once presenting (on...vampires?)** and once being presented on (!).
*--It's possible I'm being unfair to Campbell House, which conceivably could have provided shades for the overhead lights since I stayed there last.
**--This has prompted a number of baffled stares from those acquainted with my usual literary stomping grounds. It does, in fact, have to do with Book Three, a.k.a. Inexpensive-For-Me Book, a.k.a. Book Requiring No Travel (which is not about vampires per se).
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?