There may come a time in my life when I can sleep on a transatlantic flight. Now is not that time.
I think this was the first time that customs wanted to know my academic specialty.
*sigh* The weather here is what it was back home at the end of April (i.e., unwarm). I will admit to having a small sad.
I tipped the cab driver here exactly the same amount as I did the driver who took me to the airport back home, for pretty much the same fare. Reaction from US driver: "Thanks." Reaction from UK driver: "...that's really generous. Wow, are you sure?" Tipping like an American: achievement unlocked.
Why don't we have dark chocolate KitKats? I ask you. This is clearly a sign of our inferiority when it comes to matters chocolate.
Then again, I think we can do without whatever that sandwich was I had for dinner.
One of the side effects of being in a post-jetlag haze is that you inadvertently walk away from the supermarket, instead of towards it. Ah well.
I need a new London A to Z.
This time around, I'm renting an apartment. Finally, as a middle-aged, newly-promoted professor, I have graduated from dorms!
When, as a graduate student, I first went to the British Library to use their holdings, at the dawn of time about twenty-odd years ago, I prepared for the trip by consulting the old hardcopy edition of their catalog. Moreover, I came equipped with what, in retrospect, was an extremely primitive portable computer. (As that was in the days of the old Reading Room, getting an outlet for said computer meant showing up at the break of dawn and running [not altogether figuratively] for one of the few modernized desks.) In some ways, things are now much easier: the Library has digitized their catalog, despite some weird search constraints (what do you mean, you can't search books by date range?!); you can order books in advance; all the desks have outlets, so you're only competing with the people who...don't actually appear to be using the library...for a seat; and (oh frabjous day) they're now letting readers photograph lots of stuff, thereby reducing the amount of transcribing and increasing accuracy.
Digitization, though, does have some interesting effects on one's plans. It's now easier to map out one's textual plan of attack; however, it's also necessary to double-check if it's simpler to just read the book online, lest one waste precious grant-funded hours in the library. And, of course, just because GoogleBooks doesn't have the book (or has yanked it out of public access, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone except Google) doesn't mean that it's missing from archive.org. Or HathiTrust. Or maybe Project Gutenberg. On the flip side, all of this double-, triple-, and quadruple-checking also reveals weird gaps in online access. For example, Mme. de Genlis was extremely popular in the first half of the nineteenth century--but there's this really weird shortage of her translated works online. (Mme. de Genlis in the original French is everywhere, but I'm interested in what was circulating en Anglais.) Obviously, the gaps are an artifact of which libraries have opted to participate in various digitization projects, which usefully reminds us that what may look like an unbounded (free) resource remains very dependent on the vagaries of material collections.
Where would we be without more complaints about conferences? I've moaned about conferences more than once on this blog, myself, so I fully understand the temptation. But I wonder to what extent the ongoing funding crash in higher ed will force changes to the conference scene. Everyone gripes about the $1K costs involved in going to the MLA...yet, really, just about every conference costs $1K or more to attend, depending on location. One can scrimp and pinch in order to lower the prices--eat at McD's, share a room, drive (yikes), etc.--but for many faculty, the cost in doesn't necessarily equal value out. My campus, which is relatively generous with travel funding, nevertheless only gives us enough to support part of any given conference jaunt; moreover, as we can use that funding for research purposes as well, we have to make some hardnosed calculations. (This year, I needed my funds to partly subsidize plane fare to the UK, so no conference travel at all.) For adjuncts and t-t faculty at cash-strapped universities, the conference routine is even more difficult.
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?).