Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Mind Boggles

I'm, err, communicating with a colleague. C has had a bad day.

C tells me s/he is worried that another colleague, Y, is unhappy with hir. I ask why, and C says that s/he'd asked Y about a policy issue (one quite clearly spelled out in the legal stuffs but which has to do with classroom management on a basic level). And then Y had emailed an administrator, and then the administrator had sent out a mass email, basically restating the policy and claiming no responsibility for how individual instructors handle their classes.

And then, C tells me, s/he had sent the administrator an email about the policy email, and gotten back an irritating email from the administrator.

So what I want to know: who the hell emails an administrator an email about a policy like that?

As long as what you're doing is fair, ethical, reasonably in line with the policy, and aimed at teaching the class well, then what does an administrator have to do with the way you manage your classroom?

And who the hell emails an administrator to argue about a policy which is reasonable and quite clear, and which the administrator has basically restated with a nod to instructor responsibility?

Seriously, people, why have you made this a big to do? The administrator is busy doing whatever administrative stuff has to be done, and certainly doesn't want to muddy things up in individual classes. And neither of you needs to worry about what the other does in class (assuming, of course, appropriate ethics are in order, and they appear to be). Aren't you busy enough just doing your own work?

I am glad for great distances sometimes.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Time for a Deep Breath

I had the best weekend in Norwich, as I told you. I haven't told you about one of the little things that added to the goodness. I bought a book and started reading it.

Now, of course, you think, duh, you're an English professor. You read LOTS of books. And indeed, you would be right. But usually I read books to teach them or books about books, which are all very interesting, but, to be frank, not always fun.

I grew up reading for fun, and one of the things I've discovered is that I don't read as much for fun any more. For one thing, reading is physically tiring (the eyes, the sitting so you can see and take notes, or at least see), so it isn't what I tend to want to do for fun as much. And there's so much work reading that I don't always get beyond it. (The big surprise for me this semester is how much I enjoyed teaching PL and FQ
, at least the parts we did, and how much the students seemed to like them as well.)
But this weekend, I didn't take grading (I didn't have much, and most of it got done yesterday, with one thing yet to grade today), so that left my evening free (because I'm a boring so and so who doesn't go out clubbing after a day of medieval church visits).

So I got a book. For a while now, I've been hearing about Terry Pratchett and that he's a good and funny writer, and since I didn't feel like anything serious (I could have brought PL along for serious, or reread the rest of the FQ), I found Terry Pratchett's books among the young adult stuff, and got one, I Shall Wear Midnight.

And it was good! Lots of fun, relaxing, and amusing. It wasn't the first book in the series (Discworld), but it was the one they had, so that was that. I'd like to read more, but will probably mostly hold off until I get back to my own, homey, public library. (I live my public library.)

Now, I have about 6 more hours of teaching this week, and then it's finals time. But for now, right now, I'm not prepping any big new works (because I know making students read a big work for the final days adds stress, and because Blake and Milton wrote some excellent short poems and such, and also one class is finishing up the second book of PL). And that means I have some time to breathe. It's not that I don't have stuff looming, but I feel a bit relaxed. I went for a short playing session outside today, and I feel so much better for it!

Here's the to do list:

For today: grade 2 papers and prep 2 classes (relatively easy preps and I have a 3 hours to get these done)

And then:
Write and grade 3 finals
Grade papers (when they come in, not huge numbers left)
Write my SAA abstract (for Dec 1)
Mail a sock monkey hat to one of my cousins

My excel grade books are ready to go so that I'll enter the last grade numbers and the final numbers will be there. (I love excel grade books.)

I have a few "duties" here (going to a dinner, a concert, and so on) along the way.

And then there's packing, which I will start on Monday, I think. And finish a couple hours later. And then I'll have to dig through to get my toothbrush out again, since that always seems to happen.

I wonder if there are any more Pratchett books around the Abbey? I've also got a hankering to reread The Hobbit and LotR.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Norwich, Topping Off the Day

After I had some refreshment (a really good fresh fruit scone with blackberry jam and coffee), I was on to my visiting the parish churches on the east side.

St George Colegate was beautiful, though Georgian on the inside (which, after all, is sort of fitting, no?). But there's just a bit of wall painting sort of surviving. It makes me think how colorful and wonderful medieval churches must have been inside, and makes me wish I could see one restored to look like that somehow. Or maybe a new church built to look like that so we didn't mess with a real medieval church? I think I'd get a really different sense of light and meaning in a really colorful church.

There are signs around the church explaining what's to be seen and such (as in the churches I visited the day before), but I couldn't find any of the monuments they seemed so proud of. And then I saw this. What's that? It's a rug. But there's something sticking out from underneath it. Hmmm.

Success! At least it's success if you consider finding a 15th century grave marker a success, and I do. That gave me the impetus to go around looking, and I found another rug.

And look, it's another old brass marker. (Stick with me, I know how to have real fun!)

I walked around several more medieval churches that were (sadly for me) closed, and through the market. The market in Norwich is just fun. I think in order to really do it justice in a photo, you'd have to get a ladder or something so you got up high to take the picture. I didn't have a ladder. I did have some hot tea (because it's really all about the refreshments). And then I went back to St Peter Mancroft.

If you're like me, you're thinking, who's St Peter Mancroft? It's just the regular St. Peter. The Mancroft part is a place name (a lot of the churches have place names in Norwich). I asked and was told by the docent guy that in old French it was originally "magna croft" or big meadow, but people got lazy, and then it became mancroft.

I ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, you get rewarded by learning or seeing something really unexected. And that happened at St Peter Mancroft, because in addition to asking about the name, I asked the docent if he could tell me where Thomas Browne is buried. I know what you're thinking: Thomas Browne? Really? Did you actually read Hydrotaphia, really? (a tiny bit, and I have no clue.) But nonetheless, he has the courtesy to have been dead a good long time, so I asked.

But sometimes, you hit the goldmine. Maybe the docent is bored, or maybe he's fascinated by really dead guys. And this is the goldmine of Thomas Browne weirdness. This, my friends, is a plaster cast of his skull.

I know, it's not in great condition, but there it is. And it comes with a story. In the 1840s, "they" went to bury someone else in the floor right near Browne, and when they were opening things up, his coffin came open. And the curate at the time decided to take out the skull because it was the height of phrenology and he wanted to see why Browne had been "such a clever fellow" (as the docent put it). So he took the skull and did the phrenology stuff with it, but by the time he was done, "they" had closed up the floor again. So there he was with Browne's skull.

By 1845, it found its way to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where it was displayed in the museum for a good long time. And then in about 1920, the church vicar asked that it be returned. And it was. But before they reburied it with the rest of Browne, they made a cast. And they wrote up an article in the parish newspaper.

When I asked about Browne's grave, the docent showed me the grave and told me the story, and then took me back to the room behind the altar where the priests do their prep stuff and all, and there was the box with the plaster skull and he showed me that, and then he pulled out the magazine and showed me that.

And then because I'd gotten lucky, he also showed me the 15th century tapestry that they normally keep covered. They think it was made by the flemish clothworkers (the ones who hung out in Strangers Hall and that area). The subject of the tapestry is the resurrection. On the left, Jesus is visiting Mary in a rather fancy house. (Things started looking up after the whole manger thing, I guess.)

A fair bit of time ago, I heard VA Kolve give a paper or something on the imagery of Jesus as a gardener talking to Mary Madgalen. And look, here's a beautiful image of just that from the tapestry!

And below the tapestry sits this huge, massive chest. The docent said it had been brought to this new church from the original Norman church, and was probably the oldest thing in the whole church. How is that for way lucky for me?

I was pretty much full up on excitement, so I walked back down to the train station and caught my replacement bus (because the rail lines were being serviced) out of town.

But I'm going to leave you with one last image. In the little room in back of the altar, a room where pretty much no one but the priests were going to see what's there, some medieval workman carved these lovely heads on the ends of the beams. Unlike the heads way up high in most churches, these are in a fairly small room, and I could actually see them up close. So here one is.

I think you can see why I had an even better time on this visit to Norwich!

Norwich, the Morning

After my breakfast (there's something about the "traditional" English breakfast that's perfect for walking around a lot; it fills you up a bit and gives you energy, and you don't get hungry for HOURS), I walked to the city walls, or what remains of them. If you look on the map, you'll see there's a little grey dotted-line thing down near the bottom; that's what's left of the city walls. I was staying near the rail station, so I walked along the river path, and then over the bridge where there was an old looking tower sitting near the water, and some walls. If you're thinking of York's or Chester's or Canterbury's walls, well, you're not going to be impressed by these. But if you're thinking that you didn't even realize any of the walls had survived at all, then they're wonderful because they're sort of overgrown and lost on this steep hill where the city has put stairs so you can wander up and along the wall and look out over the city and it's just about as perfect a city wall ruins as you could hope for.

These are, in fact, just the sort of city walls that a modern day timid adventurer enjoys, obscure enough that most people won't even notice they're there, but good for getting a bit out of breath on the stairs and feeling like you've found something. Of course, the modern stairs mean that you haven't actually found anything that hasn't been found and put on the map for you, but you get what I mean.

From the city walls, I walked back along the river, past the rail station and over to the east side of the old city. The cygnets were pretty convinced that I had something to feed them when I wandered nearish the edge. I don't think I've ever been that close to a bird that size before.

There's an old watergate and ferry building (the watergate is 15th century, I think, but the ferry building is quite new), now a private home, but you can still see where the river was dug out a bit.

The river was picturesque in that town river with cool bridges sort of way. Along the southern part, there are a couple of footbridges (as well as car bridges), and they're also building a new footbridge across the northern part. (I heard that it was running over cost and time because they'd built one off-site and brought it by barge only to realize that it was 6 or 8 feet short. Oops. I was only told that, so I don't know.)

There's also something called the Cow Tower, which was built in the 16th century to provide protection across the river. It was built to house canon, and it's tall enough so that it can see over and shoot at the hill across the river. (I was told that the river had been the protection for that whole side of the town since it was so marshy on the sides that you couldn't have gotten an army across very well or easily. But maybe there was also a wall of some sort. Or not.) And if you look closely at the tree near the tower, you'll see a modern art installation. The sign says it's housing for whatever wants to live there, birds or insects. The juxtaposition made me smile.

And then there's this. What is that, you ask? Some sort of medieval swimming pool? The sign says it's a "Swan Pit," the last surviving one in England. At which point I turned to my trusted wikipedia, which uses this very swan pit as its exemplar. I guess it's 18th century?

I wonder what the cygnets would think?

I ended my walk along the river by turning away from the river here. I have a feeling the sign may be a bit newer than the pub. So cool!

More on the afternoon, to cap it off, so to speak, in a bit!

Norwich - Even Better the Second Time

As you may remember, I really enjoyed Norwich when I visited in early November. I enjoyed it so much that I went back this weekend. You may be surprised to learn that I had an even better time this time.

One part of that has to do with something I've learned about myself: it takes me a good day to warm up to a city, even a small city. But revisiting Norwich meant that I was warmed up as soon as I stepped off the train. I'm glad my first visit was fairly recent because I remembered how to get places pretty well.

Another part has to do with the helpful folks at the tourist office and some just dumb luck. I got a tourist map at the tourist office (I know, I know), and asked about some of the medieval churches. So the woman behind the desk marked out some churches for me that she thought might be open, and I went on my way.

The first one, St Laurence (or St. Lawrence), was open but empty. So of course I walked in. It was totally empty, but the space was peaceable and quiet. At first it's sort of weird being all alone in an empty church, with a bicycle and carrier thing right near the door, just inside. But I walked around a bit and it was good. The ceiling is way up, and the church is amazingly light. But of course, when it was built, it would have had lots of interior paint and such, and wouldn't look all whitewashed.

I walked two blocks (and short blocks at that) to St Margarets. Unlike St. Laurence, St. Margaret is anything but empty. In fact, it was being used for an art exhibition on Saturday, so there was an artist there putting up her work. She was nice enough to let me wander around once I promised not to sue her if I fell and broke my ankle. I like that the building is being used for art and such. It seemed a whole lot less lonely than St. Laurence. (Though not as open for pictures.)

Then I went on to St. Swithun, which is now an arts center. The art center folks were kind enough to let me wander around inside, but there wasn't much to see since the space has been reworked as a concert space with a stage and standing room.

Then it was on to St. Gregory Pottergate, which was probably the very best church of all because it had this magnificent and cool wall painting still up! You need to click on that painting to see it as big as you can because it's so wonderful. As I learned on my last trip to Norwich (at Dragon Hall), there was a religious fraternity thing in medieval Norwich dedicated to St. George (yes, RedCrosse!), so here he is. (There's also a dragon named Snap in the castle museum.)

This is a modern Snap (I'm pretty sure it's not 15th century at least) hanging around. What I learned last time is that the Lord Mayor does an annual entry or something and is led by Snap, and all sorts of other festiveness. I have to wonder what would happen if poor Snap met a real dancing dragon like for Chinese New Year. I have a feeling Snap would feel a bit inadequate.

There's also this great misericord with a guy... well, the description on the website says he's sitting on his haunches, which would sort of fit with the whole semi-sitting on the misericord. But I have a hunch he may not be sitting. Look at his face; doesn't he look like he's concentrating pretty darned hard? I thought so.

Then, of course, there's the ceiling. Who doesn't love a good medieval ceiling! I do, anyway. I can't quite wrap my mind around the idea that people built this 500 or so years ago, and it's still there, and still looks pretty darned sturdy.

I'd pretty much had a day of medieval churches (with some hot cocoa from Caylee's to keep me going), so I wandered through the market and around as it began to get dark. You probably remember my friend Onofre. Well, when I posted pictures on eff bee, some folks said they thought he was great, and some other friends here have said they'd like to give hats to their kids, so I stopped and got some hats. And then when I got back to the manor (on Saturday), I took a picture of the whole clan, with the first Onofre at the upper center in a place of more or less honor. Or something.

They sort of look scary all there together, don't they? (The center is a red fox. He's got the BEST tail!)

In a bit, Day Two of the Norwich Second Visit.

A Rant in the Key of Eff U - Grad School Recommendations Edition

I'm doing letters of recommendation for grad schools. It takes me about an hour to write a good letter using the materials the student has sent. I'm happy with the letter and enthusiastically recommend the student, who is a fine person and will do well in the chosen career path.

But the forms. Curse a bunch, and then curse some more. Stupid forms!

One insists that I give my country's phone code. Seriously? The address that I've filled in is in the middle of the US and you need my phone code? How about you use some minimal coding knowledge and have the form set so that when I choose "United States" from the country list it automatically knows that the phone code is 001. (Yes, I had to look it up. I don't call the US from outside the country much and I certainly didn't need to devote even a single cell to remembering that number. Except now I will probably remember it through a haze of dementia so that on my death bed I'll croak out something about 001 and whoever is cleaning the floor at the time won't know what it's about or care, but it will be my final sound.)

Some of the forms want me to distinguish between the top 1 or 2% and the top 5%. Really? I teach a good hundred students each semester in a variety of different classes, and you want me to decide who's number 2 vs number 3?

I don't think you actually need the number of questions that you put on those forms. Some of them have ten questions ranging from communication and writing to maturity to creativity to whatever. How do you distinguish between writing and communication? Have you ever had a really excellent student who could write but couldn't communicate? Or vice versa? They aren't quite the same, but they're pretty darned closely related. Most of the choices are like that, too. They may not ask quite the same thing, but they're close enough that you're not going to get a student who does one really well and can't do the other at all.

One form had at the very bottom a choice box for how likely the student was to complete the program. I'd say it depends on funding and disasters; given okay funding and few disasters, this student will be great. Given a bad disaster, the student will die tomorrow. And you think I can answer that question in a meaningful way? (I picked the best one because I think the student is superb. But I still can't predict disasters.)

And finally, the forms where I have to upload the letter, in either pdf or doc format, depending on which it wants (and no, they don't all want the same thing). The screen says that when it uploads properly, you'll see a button that says something like "check the upload" so that you can see what you've uploaded. But it doesn't actually say that. So you start all over, and funny enough, it thinks you've already uploaded the letter.

I think everyone who makes up these forms or decides that they're department will use these forms should be forced to fill out a bunch of fake recommendations just to make sure that what you've SAID will show up actually shows up.

This student is applying to a number of schools. I'm halfway done with the forms, and more than halfway to high bloodpressure. (At least this student isn't applying to different sorts of programs that require different stuff IN the letter like one a year or two ago.)

And one of the universities that was supposed to have sent me information about how to submit a letter of recommendation hasn't.

Yes, recommendations have always taken a long time, but this is stupid.

Okay, back to work.


Well, one more thing. I decided to check my eff bee page. I did. And there, at the top, two of my "friends" have somehow clicked like or whatever on a big chain store. One of these people is all on sometimes about how radical and stuff she is, but she likes big box capitalism. That makes good sense.

Let's be honest, you can't click on eff bee that you love big box store and in the next moment assert that you totally support local OWS stuff. It makes no sense. That big box store IS Wall Street. Those profits are going to Wall Street, and they're what they are because the store imports cheap crap from overseas factories that don't allow unionization and that have poor pay and work conditions.

I feel like unfriending some people because they clicked that they like a big box store. How snotty is that? (Pretty snotty.)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


It's about the last weekend here at the Abbey until finals, and then I'll spend a few days in London before flying back to the Northwoods.

I'm thinking of a leisurely weekend away, somewhere.

I could go to Durham. I hear there's a lovely cathedral and that it's a good place for walking. I haven't been yet.

I could go back to York. York is incredible, AND there's a big Christmas market I could wander through. But maybe crowded?

I could go back to Norwich. Norwich is friendly and fun, and great for walking. But I was there only a couple of weeks ago. (I still need to post up about my trip to Norwich some more!)

Other thoughts?

So where should I go? (The folks who suggested Norwich before did a great job, and I trust you may have other ideas.)

I've been to:

Dublin (and a bit around Ireland)
Wales (Llandudno, mostly)
The Lake District
Burghley House and Stamford

I'm totally game for a tiny town or something different, so long as I can get there and back on public transportation and there's a warm-enough place to sleep.

I'm also getting near the point where I'll prioritize where I want to go while I'm in London.

So far, I'm planning to revisit Westminster, Paul's, the Banqueting House, and the British Library. Other places I should aim for, especially things I haven't yet? (I know a lot of places are closed for winter, but I'm here now.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gettin' my Geek On

I'm teaching Robinson Crusoe right now. I'm always a bit overwhelmed teaching novels. There's so much there, and it's not divided into acts and speeches and such.

Sometimes, that means I get a little focused on little things. And often enough, those are stupid little things. Like this time:
It was now Harvest, and our Crop in good Order; it was not the most plentiful Encrease I had seen on the Island, but however it was enough to answer our End; for from our 22 Bushels of Barley, we brought in and thrashed out above 220 Bushels; and the like in Proportion of the Rice, which was Store enough for our Food to the next Harves... (208)
I know what you're thinking: "Okay, they harvested enough."

But I was listening to a couple audio books recently, one a history of medieval Europe, the other a history of the crusades (from a European point of view), and both texts talked about some important changes in food production during the middle ages. From my poor memory (which is a big disadvantage with audio books), there are changes from a two field system of crop rotation to a three or four field system of crop rotation, which led to greater production. There's also the introduction of the horse collar, which means greater plowing production, and so more land can be cultivated. And so on.

But by the late middle ages, if memory served, the ratio of seed to harvest had gone from 1:2 (which means you then have to hold half the harvest to reseed next year) subsistence farming to 1:3 or 1:4 not-quite subsitence farming.

But ol' Crusoe isn't doing crop rotation, and he's working in imaginary tropical fields (which in real life aren't suited to barley production at all, though apparently in literature they sometimes are, on which, more later).

But by the 1720s when the book is published (as opposed to 1659, when he supposedly got shipwrecked on the island), Jethro Tull (the agriculture guy, not the band) had done some serious agricultural work to increase production. And other rotation practices (and potatoes!) were being introduced around.

Anyway, I was getting my geek on about this, and look what I found! It's a database of three centuries of crop yields in England!

You have to sign in, which I did, and then play around a bit to find an estate for which there's data for the years and crops you've chosen, but it's just way cool! And if you were a real geek, you'd start looking for somewhere that the database covers AND that has good parish records, and you'd go to town wildly looking at food production and birth/death/wedding information.

In Kent, for example, at a manor called Westerham (owned by Westminster Abbey), in 1312-13, the yield for wheat is 4.46 (that's the ratio, again) and for barley it's 7.56. The next year the barley ratio is above 8. But in 1304-5, the ratio for wheat is 1.32 and for barley 1.25. (That had to be a BAD year.) 1348-9 is even worse (1.27 and 1.19), and then there's apparently a 12 year gap in the records.

I've only explored a bit, but the 8 fold increase seems exceptional, and an increase of 2-4 fold seems typical. (You can explore yourself! It's fun and entertaining!)

What does this tell me about Robinson Crusoe? I think it suggests that someone more 18th century than I should figure out if something similar is available for 18th century crop yields. But I suspect what it tells us is that Defoe doesn't actually know much about farming, and so is at best overestimating yields (especially in a tropical context). At any rate, Crusoe is basically doing BAD medieval agriculture (and not using clover in his rotation, as was being introduced into England in the 18th century, or any crop rotation or fallow field rotation), so he probably shouldn't count on the 10 fold yield. On the other hand, it's a neat little thing in the text that they're willing to wait 6 months so that they can get another crop in before bringing over the Spaniards from where they were captives.

Other than that, well it's more entertaining to look at a database of medieval crop yields than to think about teaching an 18th century novel, but I suppose that says more about me than about the novel.

Anyone have crop yield information for the 16th, 17th, or 18th centuries in England?

Sources (because the geek is strong in me!)

Campbell, Bruce M. S. (2007), Three centuries of English crops yields, 1211‑1491 [WWW document]. URL http://www.cropyields.ac.uk [November 21, 2011.]

Daileader, Philip. The Teaching Company: The High Middle Ages. 2001. Audiobook.

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. Ed. Thomas Keymer. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007. Print.

Harl, Kenneth W. The Teaching Company: Era of the Crusades. 2000. Audiobook.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


One thing: when you visit Versailles, it's easy to see why some folks thought they needed a revolution.

That said, wow, I had a great time.

I had been hanging out with Singing Woman, who speaks a bit of French, but she didn't want to go to Versailles, and I did, so I went on my own.

I'll admit it: I was a little nervous before I went to Paris because I don't speak the language and feel unsophisticated and stuff. But it was fine, and better than fine. I got directions at the hotel for the special train (RER) and bought a ticket at the Metro station. I had to switch trains, but it was straightforward and obvious that they were really used to directing tourists to Versailles.

Imagine, when Versailles was built as a palace, it was well outside of Paris. Now it's a suburb. And, according the the stuff I read while I was there, Louis XIV built it so that he could get all the bureaucrats out of Paris and under his thumb to run things, which works well if you're really good at running things and they aren't too big, and then probably doesn't.

This is Hercules, on one of the fireplace mantles, I think. I love the detail of the lion helmet/hat thingy with the eyes closed and the nostrils just off center, and the lion's face becoming one with Hercule's hair. This mantle is sort of a toss off, not one of the big pieces of art, and yet it's still stunning and beautiful. It could be all by itself and I'd stop and gawk.

But then the whole place is just overwhelming beyond belief, and poor Hercules becomes one of a million other things you see and finally can't really take in any more.

Because we'd gotten the Paris pass thing, I didn't have to wait in a long line (yay), and also had already paid for an entry into the Trianon palaces, the smaller palaces in the estate. So after I walked through and got all overwhelmed by the main palace (including the Dauphin's rooms and the family rooms), I got a ticket for the mini-tram thing and rode down to the Grand Trianon. It's a pinkish marble, and just about as beautiful as a building can be in the sunshine.

I really liked it. Somehow, it seemed like an intimate palace, if one can imagine such a thing? I mean, I could imagine real people living there, and I really couldn't imagine anyone real in the main palace at all because it is just too huge for comprehension.

There was a room with malachite vases (look!) and a table and such, and it was just eye-stopping. I could have stared at those vases for a good long time. I love the patterning in them. I guess they're somehow carved out of solid stone? And then polished beyond belief?

Sometimes, I've seen pottery with crystaline glazes that look sort of like that, except not in such a perfect green. (I really like a good, deep green.)

So, in case France is wondering, the malachite vases are welcome to come visit the BardiacShack any time you get bored of having them at the Grand Trianon!

After my visit to the Grand Trianon, I was hungry, and lo, there was a food stand! Actually, it was a baked potato stand. I'd never seen a baked potato stand before, but it's baked potatoes! What (except for Dan Quayle's spelling) could go wrong? Not this! This, my friends, is a potato done in Norwegian style (or something in French), and it's hot potato with sour cream, herbs, and smoked salmon with a lemon slice. I doubt Louis the XIV had a more welcome baked potato! It gave me the energy to go on to the next palace, the smaller Trianon.

I took the tram from one Trianon to the other, and then to the canal thing, and walked through the gardens up from there. (I'm really not happy with the composition of this picture, alas. I took one with a better composition, but somehow the horses are going uphill in the water, so it just doesn't work. I don't know how I got it so off kilter. Still it's Poseidon and horses, and they're coming up out of the water!

The gardens were off season, and yet still beautiful and green and so very full of people wandering about. I imagine in spring and summer it's more beautiful with flowers, but there are also even more people going through. (The gardens were fine, but going through the main palace was pretty crowded. I think part of why I found the Trianon palaces so much more appealing is that they were far less crowded. I can't help sometimes feeling that way in crowds.)

And that was my visit to Versailles. I had figured I'd probably take half a day and then go visit the Orsay in Paris, but it was a beautiful day and I was really enjoying the whole thing, so I didn't rush it at all. And I'm glad I didn't. I got home safely in the evening, and went to bed, and then got up early and was at the Orsay within a few minutes of its opening, so I at least got to see it for a bit.

I love Van Gogh. I would marry this painting if it were allowed. (Maybe France would let me marry the painting, but I'm sure they wouldn't approve of it coming home with me. Alas. Maybe we can just live together?) The thing about Van Gogh is that I can just look at the brush strokes all day. I look straight on for a bit, and then I move over to the side and look at an angle so that I can see the depth. And then I look from the front again. And so on. The Orsay was a pretty darned good time for me!

In addition to the Van Gogh's and other art (Lautrec! Renoir! Monet! Pisarro!) the building itself is beyond magnificent. What a great way to use an old train station!

A word about Renoir. Sometimes, his pictures of people look vapid to me. But sometimes he catches something about them with what feels to me like great affection (like this one) and then he's as good as the best. (I really like portraits, and like Raphael especially. Look at his Castiglione!)

I had a couple of hours at the Orsay, and then went back to travel back to the UK with the student group, back under the Chunnel. What a nice way to start a travel day!

I know you're all wondering what Onofre was up to while I was visiting Versailles. Well, he was up to his usual tricks, trying to get on the head of a statue (but alas, I couldn't reach)!

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Paris!

After that, we found our way to the Museum of the Middle Ages, the Cluny, which was high on my list, and totally wonderful. They have lots of stuff from the 12th to the 15th centuries especially, and it's just so darned cool to get to see it! I even took a picture of my hat (now called Onofre, by the way) visiting the gargoyly statue on the outside well thing.

From the Cluny, we went to eat. And that was good! And then we walked to the Pantheon.

The Pantheon is big. It's supposed to be like a secular French monument to all things French, but it sort of did nothing for me. And that's strange, because you know how much I like to visit dead people? Well, there are a LOT of really great dead people here: Voltaire, Rousseau, Madame Curie, Alexandre Dumas! All sorts of people. But there's nothing that struck me as, I don't know, personal? about the vaults. There are these big vaults in these crypts, and they're all basically the same (except for Voltaire and one or two others). It's not like there's a little Chaucer thing here and a Spenser thing there, as in Westminster. Nor are you even walking over Darwin and Newton. Somehow, that walking among them made me happy to visit them, but this just left me cold.

After that, Singing Woman wanted to buy a purse at some special shop, Longchamp. We got lost here and there, but finally found it and she got her bag. (She'd been looking at this purse for a good long time, I guess, and knew exactly what color and size and such she wanted. Once we found the store, it took all of perhaps five minutes for her to buy her bag.)

And then it was getting late, but the guide book SAID that that Musee D'Orsay was open until 6pm, so we headed there. Unfortunately, we got there shortly after 5pm, and they weren't letting people in any more. So we didn't get to go in. We did eat dinner, though :)

But the guide book said that the Louvre was open on Friday evenings until 9pm, so we went there. Unfortunately, maybe because of the holiday, it wasn't actually open. The mall was open, so people could buy stuff, but you couldn't go into the galleries to look at stuff.

Next up, Versailles!

So, Paris!

Last weekend was Paris. It amazes me right now to think back that merely a week ago, I was in PARIS! (I've never been to France, much less Paris, before. Exciting!) We started off by traveling to London, specifically St. Pancras Station, which is where the EuroStar trains that travel the Chunnel (Channel Tunnel) leave from.

We all got our passports checked and then got on our train, and a few hours later, voila, we were at the station in Paris, the Station de Nord. From there, we walked through the station (imagine this huge herd of American students mostly, with a few adults tagging along, more slow and lost than the students) to the metro station (the Paris subway is called the metro, not the tube or the underground), and got on a subway train for three stops. Then we got off, walked around the corner and up a tiny block, and we were at our hotel for the weekend! We got there at about 6pm. Yep, here's my lovely hotel room. Look at the size of that bed!

I was travelling mostly with another faculty member, Singing Woman, who is lots of fun. We get along well. So once we got checked in and dropped our stuff, we wandered around for an hour or so and found a bar/restaurant to have dinner. I had a lovely lasagne, and then we shared a chocolate cake, because, after all, PARIS!!!!!

I should probably mention at this point that Singing Woman and I had bought "Paris Pass" tickets ahead. The idea is that you pay a lump sum and get a four day metro ticket, tickets to lots of museums and tourist stuff, and tickets to a boat ride on the Seine and other activities. You also get to go into the shorter lines for people who already have tickets, which saves a lot of time.

In the morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the Louvre. THE LOUVRE! We visited the Mona Lisa of course. I know a lot of people say that it's a much smaller, less impressive painting in person, but I thought it was plenty big and totally cool and impressive. We also saw other Renaissance paintings. When I went back to school at a local community, I took an art history series of classes, so it's way cool to see a painting from across a room and think, "hey, that's Malateste!" and it actually is. (He's the subject of a famous portrait.) The Louvre is a lot like the British Museum: you could spend weeks wandering around and never see everything. Unlike the British museum, it's a pretty amazingly beautiful space all by itself.

But we only spent a couple of hours, long enough to see some of the pieces we most wanted to (Winged Victory, the Venus de Milo, and so on), and then we left and walked through the gardens area to the Orangerie. Even the views in the gardens are artistic :)

The Orangerie holds some of the huge sets of Monet water lilly paintings. There are two large oval rooms upstairs of water lilly paintings, with seats so you can just sit and be overwhelmed and amazed by the paintings. And then downstairs there are selections of other modernist European works, including some really lovely Picassos. But they frown on plebians such as myself taking pictures in there, so I didn't.

We went back out to the garden then (the Tuileries) and found a cafe for lunch. Food is good!

Then we decided to walk to the boat place on the Seine and take a ride for about an hour. It was a nice day, not too cold, and clear enough to see well, and the cruise was on a big barge thingy, so we got to see stuff along the Seine, including both sides of the two islands that make up the very center of the city. (The one is the Ile de Cite, and the other the Ile de St Louis, which was added later, I think. The Ile de Cite is the medieval heart of the city. I may be backwards about these...) So we saw Notre Dame from the water and the Louvre from the water, the Orsay, and so on. Pretty darned neat!

The boat loads and lets off right near the Eiffel Tower, so that was next on our list. There was a HUGE line to ride up, and a smaller line to walk up the stairs, so we went up the stairs. It's got a lot of stairs. And then you reach the first platform, and realize there are a lot more stairs to reach the second platform. But it's totally worth it! We got there and it was becoming dusk. I rode the final elevator up to the top platform, and could see the city lights in the evening light (the last picture in my previous post is from the top of the Eiffel Tower), and that was about as good as it gets.

When we got down, we got to see the tower all lit up, which they do for about ten minutes every hour in the evening. It's something they supposedly started for the millenium, and was so popular that they continued it. It's pretty darned amazing.

And then it was time to eat, so we found a Japanese restaurant and had sushi. Yum, and something completely different from our usual fare. And then off to bed. (Yes, I missed out on the Paris nightlife.)

The next morning, we were at it again. It was the 11th of November, and so rememberance day. We started by walking to Notre Dame, and when we got there, they were just starting a special service in honor of a bishop from one of the Francophone African countries. The place was PACKED. We sat through the start of the service, and then we decided to split up because Singing Woman wanted to stay for the service, but I wanted to wander around the Cathedral. We agreed to meet up in front at 11 am. So I wandered and saw the different chapels and such, and walked around the outside (and checked out the massive line of people waiting for the tower tours) so that I could see the big flying butresses. And at 11 am, I was in front of the Cathedral.

And that, of course, is when the bell started tolling for rememberance. So that's where I was on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of the 11th year. And I remembered and thought of some friends of my parents when I was a kid, one of whom was a soldier during WWI, the other a nurse, especially. (I think this is St. Denis, who got his head chopped off and picked it up again, if I recall?)

Then Singing Woman came out and we ran into some students, and headed towards the Memorial to the Martyrs of the Deportation, which is Paris's holocaust memorial. It's behind Notre Dame in a park. You know how the Vietnam Memorial is, that you walk down into it? Well this is down, like that, but you take stairs down into a square, and it's very somber and grey, and then there's a crypt thing that you walk into, with the names of concentration camps, and a tomb of an unknown victim. It's quiet, and sad.

And that's enough for this post. More to follow, shortly.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pick One?

There's a small (tiny) photo contest, and I'm thinking of entering a photo. Help me choose which one, please!








Which one should I enter? (And can you explain why you chose that one?)

ps. Yes, I took them all, not a hyperactive four year old. I'd love to learn to take better pictures, but I just haven't put in the effort in a real way.