>RBOC – Gray winter day edition

>Blogging bullets:

  • You may have noticed that I have no blog roll. That’s because it was a Blogrolling blog roll, and Blogrolling has ceased to exist. That’s a shame, because it was a handy system (though the ads on it in the last year or so of its existence were annoying). But I cut and pasted the blogroll before that happened, and when I get the energy for it, I’ll repost an updated version of it.
  • I’m thinking of changing to WordPress. Those of you who’ve made the move, how hard is it to move the archive of the blog? What do you like/dislike about each platform?
  • I’m also thinking of claiming my blog as service/outreach when I do my 5 year post-tenure review or when I go up for full professor. Any opinions about that?
  • My partner has been known as Bullock on this blog because I named him in our Deadwood-watching phase, during which time he grew a Seth Bullock-style mustache and goatee. But Deadwood is long gone and my man is clean-shaven. Plus, even though “bullock” meant “young bull” in Middle English and that’s one of its meanings today, it also can mean a castrated bull, which is not the association I wish to project for my Bullock. (Though it is kind of a funny pairing with Virago.) But it would be confusing to rename him. I’m thinking maybe of just putting a “cast of characters” in the sidebar and explaining the origins of the name. Any other ideas?
  • I have been remiss in telling Pastry Pirate fans that she has long been blogging elsewhere. First she was in New Zealand, working and exploring, and now she’s working in Antarctica. No, really. I kind of think “Baking in Antarctica” should be the title of the blog, but since it started before her life on the Ice Planet Hoth (as I like to think of it), it’s called Stories That Are True.
  • Hey, cool, I managed to blog more than in 2009. Not exactly an awesome accomplishment, since I was really lame in 2009, but still an improvement. What should I blog about next?

Work/Life bullets:

  • Our Christmas tree is up, all the Christmas shopping is done, and all but one present is wrapped (because it hasn’t arrived yet)! Hooray!
  • On Thursday, I wired the deposit for the studio flat in Belsize Park. It’s non-refundable, so this makes it official. I’m going to be living, however temporarily, in a flat in London! I’ve never lived in a flat in London before! Heck, I’ve never lived in a flat before (American apartments, yes). How cool is that?!
  • The one-week rent for the studio flat in Belsize Park (the amount of the deposit) is just over my one-month rent in my awesome two-bedroom Rust Belt Historical District apartment and only about $175 less than our monthly mortgage payment. I’ll never be able to live full-time in a big, expensive city again — I’ve been too spoiled by the low cost of living here in Rust Belt. But hey, now I can afford 6-week jaunts there! So, I may live in Rust Belt, but I can better afford life in the big city in small doses. This is what I keep telling myself, anyway.
  • OMG, my sabbatical is half over!!! Ack!!!
  • Something I realized at the various holiday parties this week: asking me “So, how’s sabbatical going?” is as crazy-making for me now as “So, how’s the dissertation coming?” was for me once upon a time. Also, faculty on sabbatical don’t want to talk about work issues. Come on, people, surely we can talk about something else!
  • Bullock is grading finals. He just said to me, “It must be Christmas time, because a student just spelled Commerce Clause like Santa Claus.”
  • Bullock and I are going to BullockLand for the holidays (with Pippi). I spent Turkey Week in Cowtown with my side of the family and starting this year we’re alternating where we go for Christmas so that we don’t have to do the crazy-making hurryhurryhurry to get to one place and then the next. That makes my going out to LA to visit Virgo Sis and go to the MLA much less stressful (so does going to MLA just to go). Of course, so does being on sabbatical, because otherwise I’d be doing MLA back-to-back with starting our Spring semester.
  • Speaking of holiday plans, in case I don’t blog again before we leave:

>Moving on up…

>…to Bel-el-siiiize! [Come on, sing it with me, to this tune.] To a de-luxe apartment in Bel-siiize!

OK, OK, I’m not really *moving* to London, but I am going spend a 6-week research trip from May to June in Belsize Park, a very posh neighborhood that I wouldn’t normally be able to afford. In fact, the apartment I arranged through SabbaticalHomes.com is pretty darn pricey, too, and when I first started looking, I put it pretty low on my list as too expensive. But then I got a little windfall of money I wasn’t expecting, which made me decide that it would be really fun to pretend for six weeks that I’m the kind of person who really could afford a swank place in Belsize Park. And it’s just as well, too, because all the cheaper places that I was interested in — the ones that weren’t way out in SE23 or thereabouts — turned out not to be available for my dates. They were listed as available, but then the owners said they already had parties interested. People! Update your listings! Stop leading me on with your promises of elegant little Bloomsbury 1-bedroom apartments for relatively reasonable prices! Or they said, sorry, but they couldn’t do 6 weeks, they could only do full months. Then say so in your listing! I went through 7 possibilities before the Belsize Park person said yes, it was available for my dates and he’d be happy to rent it at the advertised price with no hidden charges. Hooray!

Thank god I don’t have to look for *permanent* housing in London (or any other insanely expensive city). I’m pretty sure I’d go mad in the process or I’d be more willing to commute from Zone 6 or something. The place I’m renting has a monthly rate that’s roughly three times the cost of our monthly mortgage (although at least the bills are included in the rent) for a 600 square foot loft studio (vs. our nearly 2000 square foot, four bedroom house with a yard and a garage). I know that sounds like madness, too, but for my purposes in the short terms, it’s pretty much within the range of the expected. Put in these terms: it’s the same per night as the Holiday Inn Express in the area charges, but I’ll get to live as if it’s my own house (because it will be for 6 weeks), spread out in a bigger space, cook for myself (thus saving on dinner especially), do my laundry in my own space, and so on. And out of curiosity, I looked at a real estate website offering apartments in the area, and the comparable ones had much higher rent, so I think I’m doing well for the area. The only way I’ve done things cheaper is to rent a student room, once at Goodenough College and once at the University of London’s College Hall. But this time I’m going to be there while it’s still term time, so those options aren’t open to me. (Well, Goodenough might have a room available, but you have to share showers. In the summer, when few people are around, it’s one thing, but I really don’t want to share a shower with a hall full of students, even if they’re mostly postgraduates. And last time I lived there, I was three floors up from the kitchen — *very* inconvenient.) If it were available to me, I’d think about College Hall again; its ensuite rooms are very nice and there’s a pantry or two with a fridge and microwave on every floor (though for 6 weeks, microwaved food might get sickening).

Anywho, the place I’m going to rent is swuh-ank! It’s sleek and modern and all recently renovated, top to bottom, with gorgeous, gleaming dark oak floors, huge French windows letting in all sorts of light, and an open-plan kitchen that’s reasonably roomy for a studio apartment. Put it this way: the minute I showed Bullock the pictures, he said, “Oh, that’s NICE!” and he has pretty demanding taste. When I will the lottery (heh), I’d love a pied-a-terre just like it. I’m not the only one, it seems: I contacted one of the previous renters and she said she wished she lived there all year round. She stayed there with her husband and child, so it should be roomy enough for just me.

I promise, though, that while I’m there I’ll work very, very hard at the BL and not sit around my flat pretending to be posh or hanging out with the celebrities who live in the area. And come visit me — I’ll give you the king size bed and I’ll sleep on the couch!

>I think I may be a secret geography geek

>I think maybe I should chuck literature and the Middle Ages and get a degree in geography and planning and learn GIS. Oh, you think I’m kidding do you? I swear, I’m not.

Why? Because today I blew off half a day’s work on things medieval because I got *obsessed* — OBSESSED, I tell ya! — with “Legible London,” the new(ish) “pedestrian wayfinding” project by Transport for London in partnership with Applied Information Group (AIG, but not that other AIG) and Central London Partnership. (I think I’m getting the credits right — or maybe CLP was the real impetus behind it. Or AIG.) I think a couple of hours went by as I read the research behind the project, browsed around on the project websites, and played around with Google street view maps.

(This all began as I was looking deeper into the neighborhood I might be renting in for my 6-week trip in May and June and ended up playing around on the Transport for London site, so I guess the spur to this geographic obsession was the fact that I’m going to London again for research in things medieval. So I’m not really giving up my day job. Yet. Btw, the neighborhood I might be staying in is Belsize Park. Well now, aren’t I posh?)

Back to the subject of the post. If you’ve been to London since 2009 and have walked around the Bond Street, Southbank/Bankside or Bloomsbury/Covent Garden areas in central London (or Richmond and Twickenham areas in the outskirts), you’ve seen the pilot program of this project. Here’s a gallery of what the maps look like — it might ring some bells for those of you who’ve seen and used them.

What got me so jazzed and took up so much of my time today was reading the “Legible London wayfinding study report,” done by AIG and CLP, which you can download in PDF from this page, where it is also summarized. The report is worth reading if you’re interested in maps — the visual, material objects and their design, as well as their abstractions as data, or the psychological processes of “mental mapping” — because I swear you’ll have a fun time reading it, too. You’ll also be interested if you’re interested in design, information technology, urban planning, initiatives to encourage walking (for health of the individual or the planet), or humans’ relations to and cognitive negotiations of space. For starters, it’s a beautifully presented piece of public communication. And hey, I’m not the only one who thought so — AIG won the 2009 Design Week Award for Best Promotional Brochure for a version of it. And it’s *fascinating,* especially if you’ve ever tried to find your own way on foot around London.

One of the recurring themes of the report is that London has no consistent wayfinding system of signage and maps for pedestrians, in contrast to the systems for drivers (not just in London, but across the UK) and public transport users. Instead, an eclectic, sometimes even contradictory, collection of different systems in different neighborhoods has built up over time, and many of them actually aren’t helpful for the way most people navigate on foot. In other words, they don’t give pedestrians confidence (a key term in the report), and so people give up and rely on public transport, even when it would be quicker to walk. And it’s not just the tourists, but the locals, too. So, for example, someone needing to get from Charing Cross tube stop to Covent Garden might go to all the trouble of going down into the tube, taking the Northern Line one stop to Leceister Square, transferring to the Picadilly Line, and taking it one stop to Covent Garden (traveling time 8 minutes, not counting getting in and out, transferring, and waiting for the trains), when instead, they could take an 8 minute walk for free.

But the obstacles to making that walk are many, according to the report. For one thing, the destination isn’t visible in real space, where it is on the iconic tube map (more on that in a minute). In fact, London has few vistas, and with the exception of a handful of tall, iconic buildings and structures, not a lot of landmarks visible from a long distance. It also doesn’t have a lot of long-running avenues, but instead, a warren of streets whose names change seemingly every block, and whose street signs are often blocked, hard to find (especially for pedestrians, as they are often oriented for traffic), or missing. And so even the native Londoner might not feel confident taking the Strand northwest to a left on Bedford to Garrick to Rose to Long Acre to get there. Even if there are signs pointing toward Covent Garden, they’re likely pointing to the market and you need to get near the tube stop. Or if they do point to the tube, there’s only one on Bedford and you won’t see it unless you’re already there. Or it’s one of those little narrow signs (“finger” posts) and you miss it. Or someone has intentionally or unintentionally turned it and you get turned around. Or it says “o.5 km” and you think that sounds like a long way (more on that in a minute, too). Charing Cross to Leceister Square to Covent Garden is easier and the trains do the work for you.

I can understand this lack of confidence even though I’m generally over-confident at pedestrian navigation. At the risk of sounding obnoxious here, I’m actually a pretty good navigator and reader of maps (though add mountains and up and down and I get a little thrown), and I have a pretty complex “mental mapping” system in which I try to combine information from large scale system maps with my experiential mapping of traveling in smaller segments of that space. (For example, I’m the kind of person who knows which direction a subway is going, which direction(s) the exit ramps and stairways go, and therefore, which way I’m facing when I exit a subway or tube stop.) I’m not always right, but I’m rarely “lost.” If I get off track I get back on it pretty quickly and I usually know what I’ve done wrong.

But *man*, I once got pretty darn lost in the Covent Garden area and I blame those damn skinny little “finger” posts that the Legible London report picks on frequently. I stupidly relied on those instead of getting myself a good map and I ended up not only going in the wrong direction entirely, but also disorienting myself because of it. This must have been on my trip in 2007 before the pilot “Legible London” maps were put up! I ended up finally righting myself, but came thisclose to hopping on the tube, even though where I was going was only a 15 minute walk away (the maximum time length that the Legible London study says people consider “walking distance” and that is often faster than the tube). In other words, that incident would’ve made a great data point for the Legible London folks: I lacked confidence as a pedestrian and almost fell back on the tube because of pedestrian-unfriendly signage up top and the ease of use of the tube and its well-designed map.

But the tube and its iconic map are also really misleading. This I already knew, but I didn’t quite realize the extent of its effect. The tube map is a fantastic work of classic design — which the report acknowledges — both in its aesthetic value and its use value, at least in so far as it’s used to navigate the tube. But did you know vast quantities of Londoners use it as a map for above ground, too?! That’s madness! In case you’ve forgotten what it looks like, go take a look (opens PDF). It’s a gorgeous piece of mid-century modernism, isn’t it? Makes you want to sit in an egg chair under an arc floor lamp, doesn’t it? But it’s an abstraction that’s not made to scale — there’s no way of knowing how far one stop is from another and often places are suggestively represented as being closer or farther apart than they are, or in different cardinal directions from each other than they are in real space. And it does funky things to the Thames to fit the design. So, for example, it shows the Thames seemingly going East-West (as a border, not the flow of the water) from Temple to Westminster, and makes Victoria seem like it’s pretty near the bank; thus, on this map, Waterloo is South of Westminster, and the Westminster Bridge thus seemingly runs North-South. Except that none of that is right. In reality, the Thames runs North-South in that stretch; Victoria is to the South-West of Westminster and not near the bank; Waterloo is to the North-East of Westminster; and the Westminster Bridge runs East-West across the Thames. So when people use this map to navigate anywhere but the tube system itself, they’re going to get hopelessly confused — as the report in fact shows. And yet, people rely on it because it’s a really cool, well-designed, easy to use map — it’s just not meant for pedestrians. (And meanwhile, the A-Z guide is made with cars in mind. And it’s complicated and busy and nothing like the simplicity of the tube map.) So what the Legible London project is trying to do is, they hope, create a way-finding system for pedestrians that’s as intuitive and easy as the tube map.

But people have funny intuitions about things. It’s not just the tube map’s fault that people think the Thames runs East-West. The report points out that that’s a common misconception. It doesn’t say this (maybe because they didn’t get language and literature people involved) but I bet it’s partly because there’s a neighborhood called “Southbank” and borough called “Southwark,” and they are, indeed, South of the oldest parts of London, where the Thames does run roughly East-West. Language shapes us as much as iconic imagery does. And history has something to do with this, too, as “the” Southbank was once directly south of what was then the limit of the city. I’ve seen this effect of language, culture and history on oreintation elsewhere, too. When I lived in LaLa Land, a couple of friends wouldn’t believe when I said Malibu was West of Westwood, not North of it. In their minds, they drove “up” the coast to Malibu, and “up” is north, right? And they lived on the “West Coast,” so it must run north and south, right? Well, abstractly and and in big-picture sense, sort of, but really only if you’re looking at it from outside of California. But actually, no, because at Pacific Palisades, it turns West and runs that way until about Point Mugu, and then it goes northwesterly until about Santa Barbara, when it starts going west again, and it pretty much alternates between northwest and west until you get to Humboldt County way up north, where it ironically straightens out. (Duuuude.)

But I digress. The point is, it’s not the Tube’s fault if bright people in car-dependent LA also don’t know their West from their North. Let’s get back to London, where people have just as many cockamamie ideas about where things are and how to get to them as SoCal people do. Lots of Londoners walk, but more would walk if way-finding signage were designed with their needs in mind. And the more people walk, according to the report, the fewer cockamamie ideas they have about where things are in relation to one another — the better their mental map is. (OK, so that *does* explain SoCal, because as the song goes, “Nobody walks in L.A.”) According the Legible London folks, one of things pedestrians need to be more confident and therefore to walk more and further is to have maps oriented “heads up” — that is, in the same direction they are facing when they read it. Funny thing is, this actually once nearly threw me off when reading one of their signs in Southbank as I was making my way to Waterloo station. It was oriented to the South because it was facing that way, which was also the way I needed to go, but I very nearly went in the opposite direction until I noticed. But I’m used to the “north is up” convention and how to compensate for that, and most people are not, apparently. I can give that up, since there’s nothing inherently right about “north is up” — as we medievalist know, many medieval maps were oriented to the East — and the most sensible orientation is the one most useful in context (and so north-pointing maps are useful when you’re orienting by the North Star — not so much on the street in London!).

To give you another cool example of how the new maps are designed around the needs of pedestrians: if you go back up to that “gallery” link and look at the first three pictures in it, you’ll see some of those pedestrian-friendly elements. Though the maps are largely aerial, they give at least the outlines of all buildings and then 3D images of landmark buildings and popular destinations. They’re also generally more detailed, because of course a walker can take in more detail than a driver. And, perhaps most important, they give distance in time measurement instead of space measurement and show maps with a 15-minute walk radius (and also a 5-minute radius) because people are more likely to walk 15 minutes away than 1.3 km (.8 miles). As their pilot programs and surveys have shown, it also makes people realize that a lot of things are closer together than they think. London is a very dense city, with a lot of sensory stimuli in a 15-minute walk, which can make it seem much bigger geographically than it is. I’m a runner (or well, I was), so I’m used to thinking in both time and distance, and I can read “1.3 miles” and know how long it will take me to get there and that that isn’t a long distance. But to most people it sounds daunting, even to native Londoners. Creating a system of maps that helps people digest their city in manageable chunks–bringing it down to human scale–actually does important social and cultural service, connecting people and neighborhoods, and in a huge megalopolis like London, that’s no small feat.

As new and forward-thinking and digital and innovative that AIG and this project are on many levels, I think one of the reasons I love it — and one of the reasons I love maps of all kinds — is that it melds the old and the new. It takes old forms of travel, forms that Chaucer’s pilgrims would have known in their London and Southwark — traveling by time (one day’s ride to X town) and by itinerary (pass the old church and turn right at the next crossroads) — and melds them with satellite images and GIS and the latest research on cognition and “mental mapping,” along with forms of cartography somewhere in between (the map of a whole area, for example, instead of just the turn-by-turn itinerary that a GPS [or “SatNav” in the UK] system would give), and brings London’s distant past, the near past, the present, and the future (a more walkable, 21st century London) together, much the way that the city itself is a palimpsest of time and history. I really hope this project successfully expands to the entire city and its outskirts.

>On relics, medieval and modern, sacred and secular

>Sorry for the silence, especially given that I’d promised to get back to blogging more regularly. Blame “LeechBlock,” a plug-in for Firefox. It lets you bar yourself from certain websites during times you set, and I set it to bar me from Blogger (among other things) from 9-5, M-F, to help me focus on my work. And I haven’t been getting up early enough to start the day with a post, and by the end of the day I need to get away from the computer because my back is killing me. I need to be at the computer during the day because I’m working on a editing project that is due very, very soon, but unfortunately, I tweaked my back a couple of weeks ago, so that sitting has been uncomfortable — so you can understand why I don’t want to do it for long.

Anywho, that has nothing to do with the subject of this post, which is all about relics, because this summer I got to see — and even hold (sort of) — my very first relics (one of them right here in Rust Belt State, no less!). Perhaps you find that surprising, given that I’m a medievalist and grew up Catholic, but I think there are some reasons for the belatedness of my encounters with relics. (And also, as the post title suggests, one of these “relics” is neither Catholic nor medieval. But I’ll get to that.) First of all, the Catholic subculture I grew up in — midwestern, suburban, largely well-off — was kind of trying to pass as WASP, I swear. I have another post in mind in which I might try to explain that more, but you’ll have to take that as a given now. At any rate, I don’t think I even *learned* about relics until I was studying medieval literature, or if I did, the Catholics who taught me scoffed at them. And though I’ve seen many, many reliquaries in museums, it’s not often that the relic is still in it (or if it is, it’s not visible). This especially true in the US and the UK, for obvious historical reasons.

I must have felt this lack on some unconscious level — how can I call myself a real medievalist if I haven’t seen a relic?! — and managed to turn this summer’s travels into “Dr. Virago and the Quest for Relics.” OK, that’s not *all* I was doing, but I did consciously seek out three encounters with relics, and then accidentally encountered another one in a museum closer to home. The last one, the one in the museum, was one of the few rare visible relics in a museum-owned reliquary; it’s the least exciting one, especially since it was the last of the relics I saw this summer, but I thought it was kind of serendipitous and funny that all this time I could have seen a relic in my own backyard. The overseas ones were the ones I actually sought out.

The first one was the hand bone of St. Etheldreda in St. Etheldreda’s church in Ely Place in London (just off of Holborn Circus and next to Charterhouse St). My quest to visit St. Etheldreda’s started when I purchased a book called Secret London (or was it Hidden London?? I don’t have it to hand now) on my first day in London this summer — to kill time at Waterstone’s on Malet St. while waiting for my room at College Hall to be available. Both St. Etheldreda’s and its neighbor, Ye Old Mitre pub, were in the book, and since they weren’t far from Malet St., I decided I wanted to pay a visit to each — the pub because it looked adorable and the church because, OMG!, a relic you can see! of a pretty cool Anglo-Saxon saint whose Life by Aelfric I’ve used in Old English and so know something about.

I went to the pub first with my friend Mark on a pub crawl that also featured the Princess Louise, the Cittie of York, and Blackfriars, all of which I recommend. But I’ll have to do a separate post on those, especially so I can post pictures of Blackfriars, which is an *extraordinary* Art Nouveau extravaganza, and of the Mitre, which really *was* freakin’ adorable (although its history is tied up with Reformation and the Bishops of Ely in kind of a nasty way — at least according to history of St. Etheldreda’s on their web site). And so when I was looking for something to do with my friend C. and we decided on another pub crawl, I talked her into starting at the Mitre, but only after we paid a visit to St. Etheldreda’s first.

St. Etheldreda’s was cool and fascinating not just because of the relic. Since the late 19th century, it’s been back in the hands of Catholic church, so there were stained glass windows and statues commemorating Catholic matyrs to the Reformation who were all associated with the church or its nearby neighborhood, including Carthusian monks from the monastery up the street on Charterhouse St. The Carthusians were commemorated in the stained glass window made in 1964, and scenes of their execution lined up with scenes of the Passion. Yeah, not subtle. But it’s pretty extraordinary to see such religious propaganda in England on the *Catholic* side of things. And while it must not have riled people up in 1964 in England, imagine such a thing being installed in Northern Ireland at the same time (or a decade later!). It’s weird to think about the history *and* the present of religious strife in England and its dominions and to look at that window in peace in a quiet church on a placid little street in London today. You can see the window itself, as well as the statues commemorating other martyrs, here.

But back to the relic. The guide book said it was kept in the sacristy and if we asked nicely, we’d be able to see it. So, we asked nicely. And the man (lay caretaker?? he wasn’t a priest) who we asked cheerfully marched up to the altar and the sacristy, opened the decorated coffin the relic is kept in (which I actually didn’t see from my vantage, but you can see it here), brought over the reliquary, and *handed* it to us! OMG! I’m *touching* a relic — weird! (To this day I keep thinking I could have turned to C. and said, “Run!” and we could have disappeared forever with the relic of St. Etheldreda. Not that either of us would have *really* done that, but it amuses me to think it.) And actually, we weren’t really touching the relic itself — just the surprisingly heavy reliquary, which was hand-shaped and had a little window through which you could see the bone. The web site says it’s an “incorrupt” part of her hand, but it looked like a bone to us. And it had a bright red spot painted on it — anyone know what that’s about?

So that was my first relic, and being the kind of person fascinated with the macabre, I was fascinated with it, even though, in retrospect, it wasn’t all that exciting. No, there was a *much* more exciting set of relics awaiting me at the Basilica San Domenico in Siena, Italy: the finger and *head* of St. Catherine of Siena. I have C. to thank for this, too, because she saw them first and told me I had to see them because they totally topped St. Etheldreda. And boy, was she right!

You can’t take pictures of St. Catherine’s head, and my measly camera wouldn’t have been able to handle it anyway, because you can’t get very close — the chapel is roped off. (You can get much closer to the finger — at which I stared for a considerable time — but again, no pictures.) But luckily, there are images out there on the web that I can borrow. OK, prepare yourself to be a little grossed out.

Are you ready? It’s pretty grotesque, so I thought I’d warn you before you scroll down.
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Here it comes, St. Catherine’s head:


Now *that’s* an incorrupt relic! (OK, it’s partially corrupted, but it qualifies for incorrupt status.) Weird, huh? I was kind of creeped out and utterly fascinated at the same time. It was like rubbernecking at an accident. Standing and contemplating all of this, I had one of these moments where I thought, alternately, “What kind of weird freak-show religion did I grow up in?????” and also “Wait, *am* I Catholic? This is totally weird and alienating to me.” It was one thing to hold a reliquary with a bone in it and think, “Hm, interesting!” and another to look at this and be kind of dumbfounded, as I was.

But you know what? It’s not just medieval Christians and modern Catholics who preserve and display the dead among the living…and that brings me to the modern, secular “relic” I also paid a little “pilgrimage” to, back in London, and this was also thanks to that quirky guide book and my residence in Bloomsbury in a UCL dorm this summer. Have you guessed yet what modern, secular relic I visited?

That’s right, Jeremy Bentham! Here’s good old JB, with his wax head, this time in pictures I took myself:


And lest you think Jeremy’s presentation is much more decorous than Catherine’s, let me remind you that underneath those clothes stuffed with straw is JB’s skeleton. And those are his clothes and accouterments. And once upon a time, JB’s preserved head was also on display — between his feet! — as you can see in this picture from the nearby display [WARNING! Another grotesque human head coming!]:



(Sorry about the blurriness — because of the glass case, I couldn’t use flash. But perhaps some of you are grateful you can’t see that mummified head clearly!)

Bentham called this little display, which he arranged himself before his death in his will, his “auto-icon,” so he had to be thinking of the religious valences of the word “icon.” And sure, given that it’s Bentham the Utilitarian we’re talking about, he was probably *playing* with that notion and had no intention of being actually venerated. But still, the little display that University College London has erected around him — not to mention the UCL Bentham Project as a whole — isn’t all that different in its curatorship and its tone of appreciation from the display of Catherine’s head and the San Domenico web site. The Dominicans and UCL may be fans of, respectively, Catherine and Jeremy for different reasons, and Bentham’s fans don’t expect him to intercede in the spiritual realm for the them, but they’re fans nevertheless.

The other thing that unites Catherine and Jeremy — besides the division of their heads from their bodies! — is that both heads have been the object of theft. Catherine’s head was originally secretly brought to Siena from Rome, where the rest of her body lies, and it’s now under such tight lock and key because of subsequent attempts to steal it. And JB’s head is no longer on display because of an infamous theft of it by King’s College London students in the 1970s. What is it about mummified heads that make people want to steal them?!?!

And I think underlying both the religious relics and the secular one are our complicated relations to death and (im)mortality. The two heads, especially, seem to want to keep the memory of and admiration for these two figure alive, to show the ways they conquered death, whether spiritually or intellectually, but they also announce our universal mortality, and in that way serve also as memento mori. Catherine and Jeremy likely had very different attitudes towards the meaning of that mortality, but they couldn’t escape it, and they each seemed consciously attentive towards that — Catherine refusing to eat anything but the Eucharist at the end of her life and JB writing his will with instructions about his “auto-icon.”

And it’s probably my own obsessions with/fears of death that has me so simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by these relics.

>Why you should go to Knaresborough and see the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag

>While I was in England this summer, I took a weekend to see my good friend E. in the Leeds area. She asked me what I wanted to do and I said, “Let’s go to that adorable town, Knaresborough, that I keep seeing from the train on the way to York.” (Note: that’s on the line to and from Ilkley, which is the line my friend is on, so I’ve ridden that route a couple of times before or after visiting her and also going to York for various reasons.) And she said she hadn’t been there since she was a kid and would love to go back, so go we did. And it turned out to be the *perfect* place to have a picnic lunch and spend an intermittently sunny and pleasant English Sunday with a friend and her three-year-old little girl, as well as a place of interest to medievalists in the area temporarily or permanently (I’m looking at you, TO’D!), as well as anyone else who’s looking to do something in Yorkshire and has visited all the usual suspects.

First of all, you might be wondering what it was I could see from the train that so delighted me. Well, first of all, let me give you a view of where the train passes through. The following picture is one I stitched together from three or four other photos and is taken from the edge of the castle and its gardens high on the cliff side (click to “embiggen,” and it won’t look so fuzzy, though you will still see where I stitched it together):
So, you’re traveling through the rolling hills and flatter fields of West Yorkshire when all of sudden you’re on this lovely 19th century bridge (which is better appreciated here than on the bridge, of course) with a town opening up not only in front of you, but above and below you, too. (Btw, in the big version, if you look closely on the horizon on the left, you’ll see the house that I will someday make mine. If I win the lottery, that is.) Here are some more pictures of the part of the town on the terraced cliff side and below, including one when the sun was brighter, and one of “The Old Mill House” (now a private residence):


Now, the center of town and its high street is actually on the plain above the river. I should’ve taken more pictures, because it’s pretty exceptionally cute, even by cute English town standards. But here’s a picture of the statue honoring the Historical Town Character, Blind Jack, who was a surveyor, bridgebuilder, and roadmaker despite being blind — hence his surveyor’s wheel in the statue:


His *actual* surveyor’s wheel is in the town museum, the Courthouse Museum (on the castle grounds), which is actually quite a good local history museum if you can ignore the god-awful misinformation about the Middle Ages in the kid’s hands-on exhibit (though there are fun costumes to try on!). The stuff about the Middle Ages in the *actual* museum, where the old stuff is — at least what I saw in the limited time before the three-year-old got impatient — was quite good. I wonder if part of what made it interesting both to me and to the town that keeps it up was that this seemingly little, out of the way town often played a part in national history, especially in the Medieval and Early Modern periods. (Here‘s the Wikipedia overview, but you can read more about the castle and its history here at Knaresborough Online.)

I don’t have a whole lot of pictures of the castle because there’s not a lot of it left. It’s been reduced to little more than Romantic-lite garden ornament, having been ordered destroyed by Parliament in 1646 (*shakes fist*)–though the tower was kept intact as a prison, and another part used as a courthouse (hence the Courthouse Museum). Here’s what’s left of the East gate:

And here’s a bit of the castle proper:


There’s enough left that you can climb up part of it (where I took the above picture) and climb down into the “dungeon” (uh, it’s just the undercroft), but it’s not so challenging that our three-year-old companion couldn’t do it. There was some more silly signage in the castle, including one about what was obviously a medieval-era coffin (which looked like the one on this site) that said something like, “This could be a coffin — it’s shaped like a body — but if it is, where has the body gone?!” Um, to the charnel house so they could reuse the stone? That’s one possibility, anyway. But hey, the views are lovely, and the garden/park that the castle grounds have been turned into included a mini-golf/pitch-and-putt area, and who doesn’t love mini-golf?! And when we were leaving at the end of the day, a brass band was giving a concert in front of the tower — lovely!

But the highlight of *my* day, anyway, was the visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag, including the walk there. It’s a *fantastic* surviving example of late medieval lay devotion and its survival, especially given it’s a Marian shrine, is all the more surprising given the destruction of the Trinitarian Friars’ abbey down the road during and subsequent to the dissolution.

The way to the chapel, along Abbey Road (no, not that one) is a lovely walk and there were plenty of other people making it — mostly locals from Knaresborough and the next village over, out enjoying a beautiful summer Sunday — but it gave me some serious real estate envy. It’s clear Knareborough is pretty prosperous and that it takes a lot of money to live along the river. The first clue? The Porsche parked outside of this cottage:


I don’t need the Porsche (not pictured) — just let me have the cottage, please. Or, even though it’s not really my style, I’ll take this home with the river-front dock:


I didn’t get a picture of the following, but a number of the houses with fronts facing the road and backing up to the river had planters out front that were clearly made from reclaimed stone from the abbey. Some might have been troughs of some sort, but judging from the carvings, I’m pretty sure these were more coffins! But if so, where had the bodies gone?! Te-hee!

There’s also a posh-looking little gentleman’s farm, with these adorable heritage hogs and a marvelous wood pile outside of its wattle and daub walls:


And this to-die-for antiques and book shop:


Or this inn along the river, perfect for the English version of Lorelai Gilmore:


And, of course, there’s the Chapel of Our Lady of the Crag itself — which, by the way, is still used as a shrine to the Virgin Mary (even *more* remarkable in modern England, I’d say). I could never get a picture of the outside of it without someone in it — not to mention the ugly plastic chairs — so this will have to do:


As the historical records indicate, it was built by John the Mason in 1408, and as you can see, he gave it elements of a proper, full-sized church, including a glass window in the style of a stained-glass one (though not actually stained). Yes, I’ll get to that weird knight figure in a minute, but first here’s a picture of more of John’s details, including the “vaulted ceiling” complete with “roof bosses”:


And there’s this marvelous little face. What is it?


There’s an altar, too, in this 10-foot-square space. The statue on top of it is a later addition, the original presumably destroyed by the iconoclastic Parliamentarians iconoclasts of some sort:


Now back to that knight outside. Here’s a closer look:


The brochure I bought says that there’s no record of it being carved at the time John the Mason got the permit to carve the chapel, but then says there’s no reason not to believe it’s as old as the chapel. Really? My friend thought the face looked too “modern.” I think the mustache looks more 19th century that medieval, but dating by style is a tricky thing. More important, the carving doesn’t look worn away enough to be as old as the rest. Look at that weird little face again that I showed you above and how worn *it* is. Would the knight be as worn or even *more* worn, considering it’s outside? And why would John the Mason carve a knight? What do you think?

Anyway, I really recommend a trip to Knaresborough — especially in fine weather — if you have the time, opportunity, and inclination. My only regret is that we didn’t have time for the Hermitage of Robert of Knaresborough — the three-year-old could only take so much — but then again, I think the Lady of the Crag is more interesting, given that it’s surviving evidence of the intensity of lay devotion.

And let me leave you with one last picture just for the heck of it (it didn’t really fit into the narrative). Be sure to click on the picture to read the name of these “holiday cabins” and then marvel at how *wrong* that sounds!

>Back from the UK with visions of food dancing my head

>In past summers I’ve spent a lot of time in the UK, but this year I went there only for a week — totally personal, too, not professional — and I’m actually looking forward to a summer of reading, thinking, and writing in my own home. And in the next post, I’ll have a research-related query for you all. But first, an update.

Bullock and I are just now back from our trip to the north of England where, as many of my Facebook friends already know, I attended a good friend’s wedding in a borrowed dress and shoes (and no makeup, and unwashed hair!) because my luggage didn’t get there in time. The fact that there was an attendee who lived locally and who had an extra dress in roughly my size was nothing short of miraculous. Otherwise, I might have gone to the wedding in the t-shirt and chinos I’d been wearing for about 36 hours straight. And not just any chinos, but coffee-stained chinos, the result of the flight attendant having spilled coffee all over me on the flight there. But it all worked out, and I actually liked the borrowed dress better than my own. England has many more cute dress options that the States, even in the English cities that are more or less the equivalent of Rust Belt City.

Speaking of which, I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this, but much of the north of England — especially Lancashire and Yorkshire — have a lot in common with the upper Midwest. It’s full of former industrial cities that hit hard times in the last few decades but are experiencing some renaissance now in the creative and cultural classes (think Chicago or Cleveland or even Pittsburg; and then Manchester and Leeds); the people are friendly, unsnobby, and hospitable; there are large Muslim populations in Dearborn, MI, and Bradford and Leeds; there’s great Middle Eastern and Pakistani food to be had; and there is much beer drunk and much cheese eaten. No wonder I feel so much more at home in the north than in the south of England. Of course there are less savory similarities, too — Yorkshire just elected a member of the British Nationalist Party to the European Parliament and Michigan is also frequently known as Militia-gan.

But one thing every city (and sometimes the towns and villages) in the north of England has that is missing in Rust Belt City is a slew of restaurants doing interesting and inventive things or just doing traditional dishes exceptionally well. The fact that the UK is having a cuisine renaissance is now practically common knowledge, and I’ve been noticing it and commenting on it for at least the last 10 years. In the north, especially, I’ve had amazingly good traditional, local food, often at small hotel restaurants and local pubs off the beaten tourist path. This trip I had tender, slips-off-the-bone-with-a-fork lamb at The Peasehill House Hotel Restaurant in Rawdon (a suburban village near the Leeds/Bradford airport); rich, tender duck confit salad at The Malt in Burley-in-Wharfedale (at the wedding reception); sweet and creamy mussels at Delrio’s in York; mouth wateringly rich pork belly at the Hotel du Vin Bistro in York; and a lovely steak with a crunchy duck egg on top (the egg had been dropped into the fryer so that the whites fried up in the shape of wings, but the white stayed runny inside — you wouldn’t believe how good runny egg on steak is!) and a “trifle” of asparagus (a foam with crunchy peas in it) at J. Baker’s Bistro Moderne in York.

But the best of all dinners was one I booked us for our last night. We were staying at the Crowne Plaza Manchester Airport (NOT recommended — boo!) for our morning flight, so I did a bit of hunting on the internet to find an interesting and fine restaurant in the general vicinity. I finally decided on The Alderley at the the Alderley Edge Hotel in Cheshire, about 7 miles southeast of the airport, whose online menu suggested that they did interesting interpretations of traditional dishes, using mostly locally sourced ingredients. (If you’re ever inclined to do the same — though hopefully from one of the other airport hotels, NOT the icky Crowne Plaza — I recommend taking the train from the Manchester Airport to Alderley Edge and walking through the posh and charming village to the restaurant, then taking a taxi back, since the trains stop running back to the airport at about 10 — the taxi is about 15GBP and the restaurant will call it for you. We chickened out and taxied both ways, because we weren’t sure what the walk from the station looked like, which really was a waste of money.)

Anyway, we were not disappointed. First of all, it was simply a lovely dining *experience*, the kind we can’t get at all around here. Our coats were taken and we were first seated in the bar, where drink orders were taken and we were given a complimentary plate of amuse-bouche to go with the drinks. Then we were brought the menus, and the head waiter/maitre-d’ (it was a small wait staff of three who shared tasks, but it clear who the top guy was) let us take our time as we hemmed and hawed over whether to go with the three course prix fixe menu, or a la carte, or go for the 6 course tasting menu. (There was little overlap between the three and it all looked SO good.) In the end we went a la carte because those were the dishes that excited us the most. (And here, I should say, if you go there and order what we did — cocktails, inexpensive house bottle of wine, bottle of water, three courses each, plus coffee and petit fours — it will cost you about 150GBP. It will cost more if you go off the house wine list (which is still quite nice, btw) — that’s where we cut a little cost because we not as much oenophiles as we are foodies. We knew we were splurging, but given the level of service and the wonderful food — and given how much we like food — it was worth it for us.)

And then once we’d ordered and we seated at our table, we had a leisurely dinner, perfectly paced by the attentive but unobstrusive staff, who had the rhythms of their restaurant down perfectly. And the food! Oh. My. God. The food! I really should’ve taken pictures, because it was all so beautiful on the plate, and just as rapture-inducing in the mouth. (You can see what I mean if you go to the website; you can also see the whole current menu there.) Just to give you an idea, for our entrees, I had the “Saddle of Roe Deer, Venison Hash, Poached Cherries, Pickled Sloe Gin” and Bullock had “Cheshire Spring Lamb, Three Ways with ‘Shepherd’s Pie,’ Pickled Beetroot and Leeks.” The “Shepherd’s Pie” is in quotation marks for a reason — not because of random quotation mark abuse — because it was a miniature, almost bit-sized “pie” with a tiny little tart shell, a bite sized piece of lamb, and a dollop of mashed potato on top. (And then there were the other ways his lamb was prepared — a lovely variety of miniature traditional lamb dishes.) And the pickled stuff was in the form of artfully sliced jellies that added color as well as taste to the plate. My plate, with its accompanying spring carrots and green onions looked liked modernist art, like a Mondrian done in triangles instead of squares and rectangles, but topped by the perfectly bite-sized array of oval slices of roe deer and the little ovals of the venison hash. And oh, was it good. The flavors seem kind of busy in my description — so many things on a plate — but it was all laid out so you could have a bit of saddle of deer with a cherry, or the hash with a bite of the sloe gin and a carrot.

I know for some people this might seem all too fussy, but I really appreciated the care, the craft, the art, and the thought in it all. I like the way it appeals to the eye as well as the nose and the tongue. I like the fact that it reminds me of other arts while I’m enjoying it. In fact, I think that’s what characterizes this kind of cuisine — it’s food for thinking about as well as tasting. Or thinking about *while* tasting. And given the leisurely pace of the experience you have time to do that, to savor, to think, to discuss, to ruminate (well, hopefully not literally!). And I also like that with three courses, plus amuse-bouche and petit fours, I didn’t feel horribly stuffed. I like the fact that I get to try all sorts of different flavors (and the appetizers and desserts were equally abundant in tastes) without over-eating. And alas, I still haven’t found anything quite like this in and around Rust Belt City. There’s an award-winning regional restaurant in the city 2 hours away from here that we like very much, but it requires an overnight stay, since a 4 hour round-trip drive is too much for one night. But this academic year Bullock and I have been quite spoiled with our trip to Paris and our trip to England, and now I fear we’ll feel the lack of such restaurants even more. Sigh.

We also did all the touristy things one does in York and Leeds — the Minster, the Yorkshire Museum, the Jorvik Viking Center, the Royal Armouries, etc., etc. — and had a fun time at my friend E’s easy-going, relaxed wedding and reception (once the dress issue was sorted out, anyway!). I also recommend the Hotel du Vin in York, if you can get a good discout rate. It was by far the most comfortable and modern hotel we stayed in (fantastic hurricane shower head! wonderful bed! and everything smells so good!), and it’s only a 10 minute walk from the train station, as well as from Mickelgate Bar and the medieval part of the city.

Oh, and also, having learned about Eric Bloodaxe in all the York Viking-related museums, Bullock now wants to be known as Bloodaxe on the blog. But I thought that might be confusing for readers who pop in now and then. I suppose I could just attach the Viking nickname to the Western pseudonyn, like so: Bullock-Bloodaxe (with or without the hyphen). What do you think?

And yes, I will have some pictures, once I upload them from my memory card, and once Bullock gives me copies of his much better ones. I have a post brewing about one in particular. More later.

>Medieval waste management in pictures

>I imagine that when most people who are not medievalists think of sewage in the Middle Ages (er, if they do at all), they think of the line about one minute into this clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Dennis, there’s some lovely filth down here!”

But medieval structures, especially the expensively built ones, had some pretty impressive systems for their waste management. Here, let me show you a couple of examples.

The first set of pictures is once again from the castle Carreg Cennen in Wales. First, you see a castle privy, minus the wooden seat that would have provided a slightly more comfortable place to rest one’s bottom than what remains of the stone edifice:


If you’re wondering what those white, glowing spaces on the right are, either something happened in the data transfer to my hard drive and erased a portion of my picture (most of which I cropped out), or else this is an extra-special haunted loo. I like to think the latter is the case.

OK, so that’s the loo. But where does it go? Here’s my friend G. to demonstrate:


Here’s a closer look:


That’s right, G. is being a giant piece of sh*t. Heh heh.

Ahem.

In this castle the outlet seems to be in the outer yard. Let’s hope it was behind the horse stables or something, but it still means some poor guy was in charge of cleaning it up every so often. Ew. But the yard there slopes down towards the cliff side, so maybe the poor sap just needed to wash it downhill with a bucket.

Meanwhile, the Cistercian monks at Kirkstall Abbey, outside of Leeds, had a better system. And today’s museum curators know what will get the attention of kids and Dr. Virago — a monk on the loo! Look! —


Actually, technically he’s a lay brother, but whatever. “Monk on the loo” is a much funnier phrase (though not as funny as “monkey on the loo” would be.) And no, he’s not pooping on people’s heads. He’s on what would have been an upper floor. Where his waste goes is the clever part. The toilets in this dormitory for the lay brothers were constructed over a trench that ran between the walls. Here’s a picture of fragments of those walls which I borrowed from the Abbey web site:


That trench was fed by water from further up the hill (where the monks had a mill) and ran under the entire monastery complex. Here are a couple pictures of the now exposed trench:



Eventually the trench let out in the nearby River Aire, which I realize is not all that great, but I still find the system kind of fascinating. And hey, maybe it’s why the wild flowers it this final picture are so abundant!

>Castles and manuscripts and semi-automatic weapons, oh my!

>I made it to Windsor today to look at an eight-line poem written in the fifteenth century in a blank space in an earlier manuscript. And though a small bit of text, it was a fruitful trip in many ways. Yay for successful fact-finding missions, however marginal they may at first glance seem. But my, what a process to get there! For eight lines!

To get where I was going at Windsor Castle, I didn’t have to go through the usual tourist entrance, but instead was told to enter through the Henry VIII gate and ask the policeman there to direct me to the pass office. Easier said than done. I will spare you the detailed story about how just getting to Windsor was an adventure because I stupidly took the wrong Tube line and so missed the 08:23 train from Waterloo and got to Windsor a half hour later than intended (it involved the Northern Line — I now loathe the Northern Line, for it is wicked), and skip to arriving at the Henry VIII gate to be faced with a kevlar-armored police commando holding a semi-automatic weapon across his chest. It’s bad enough to enter through the Henry VIII gate — will I be divorced? beheaded? or will I survive? — but *you* try explaining to a heavily armed policeman that you’re here to look at a medieval manuscript. It’s rather intimidating!

Actually, he was very nice, as was his less armed partner, and they both directed me to a yet kindlier policeman inside a vestibule, who seemed to be the Copper with the Answers. It was a bit like a set of nesting dolls — you had to get past the big imposing one, then the medium sized one, to get to the adorable one at the center. And the ones on guard in the afternoon were equally friendly: when I “surrendered” my pass, one made sure I wouldn’t be coming back, and when I said yes, he said, “Well, our loss then!”

And once I was directed to the pass office and came back with my pass and showed my passport for ID (which the man with the gun had trouble with because apparently US ones have the picture in a different end than UK ones — “trust you lot to be different,” he said in a jovial way), everything went smoothly until I was confronted with a chain across the stairs leading to the archives. What with the heavily armed policemen around — not to mention all the ceremonial swords on all the traditional guards — and, I’m sure, CCTV covering every nook and cranny, I didn’t really like the thought of ducking under it. So I went back to the kindliest of the three bears, er, policemen, the one with the Answers, and asked him, “Yo, dude, what up with the chain?” OK, not in so many words. Kindly police officer that he was, he left his post and walked back with me to figure out what was going on, and undid it for me, telling me it was just to keep the general public out. Awesome — I’m not the general public! (Do you now have “Tenderness” [Link = YouTube clip] going through your head? Yeah, me too.) Later, when I was exiting that part of the castle, yet another chain was up across another space, but that time, knowing that I was not the mere general public, I very cavalierly undid the chain myself and walked out, as curious tourists wondered who I must be. OK, maybe they didn’t care, but I thought I was pretty special.

It’s not like I saw anything fabulous that tourists couldn’t see from other vantage points, but I was in a part of the castle that’s its own little world, separate from the tourists and State Rooms and changing of the guard and all that royal ceremony hoo-ha. In the Horseshoe Cloister, which I passed through to get to the Vicar’s Undercroft, it seems there are living quarters, presumably for residential castle staff. I took a picture of the unusually curved building (hence the name “Horseshoe Cloister”), but as you may recall, I can’t upload my pictures at the moment. It’s a half-circle building in the style now called “Tudor” (only here it was obviously the real thing) — brick on the bottom, beam and plaster on the top — and has a continuous covered walk around its length over the entrances to all the residences (hence “cloister”). I know it was residential for two reasons: there were signs that said “Residents Only on Grass”; and as I left I caught a glimpse of the inside of one of them. They reminded me of the “rooms” (that is, apartments) that some Oxbridge dons have “in college.” And beyond the Horseshoe Cloister, near the Vicar’s residence and on the back side of St. George’s Chapel, a whole little village seemed to open up. As I was leaving, a man and woman with a baby carriage were entering, presumably to go home.

In other words, I was in a living modern-medieval castle, bustling with life and activity on a grand scale, and not just because of the mad swarms of tourists. I know the traditional guards have horses somewhere, but here there were cars parked in reserved spaces in the Horseshoe Cloister and in the next court yard. The castle was guarded by modern versions of knights and infantry – some with swords, some with guns. The tourists were the courtiers and visiting statesmen, while the residents and staff and various and sundry went about their daily business, and I and the other “clerks” were busy doing things with manuscripts, and, in this case, microfiche, photocopies, Word texts, and PDFs, too. Meanwhile, the royal household was a presence without actually necessarily being present.

Plus ca change…

Post script: given all the fire power and other security (I had to apply for my pass in advance, presumably so they could look me up on watch lists and also see if I had a record), I was pretty surprised that there was no bag check. Nope, not one bit. In the *archives* I had to leave my bag in a vestibule inside their locked door (entrance by buzzer only), but no where outside of the archives was my bag a problem. After the archives, I even wandered around the tourist parts of the castle for awhile. (No one asked to see my entrance ticket — there was 12 quid wasted on the discount ticket I bought with my train fare. D’oh!) I went in and around St. George’s Chapel with my bag strapped to my back, and wandered around the middle and lower wards with it as well. Very strange.

>RBOS: Random Bullets of Summer

>

  • Hm. Random Bullets of Summer sounds like a gansta rap album title.
  • Thanks to everyone who offered congratulations and huzzahs and woo-hoos in the last post. And Karl, that David Wallace as anonymous blogger joke never gets old with you, does it?
  • I have made my summer UK travel plans. I will be at the NCS in Swansea — I have trains and planes arranged — then visiting a friend in Yorkshire for a few days, and perhaps catching up with a former student who will be completing her MA in Medieval Studies at York. And then I’ll be in London from the evening of July 27 just through the 30th (I leave the morning of the 31st) to look at a couple of manuscripts at the BL, and maybe out at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor, too.
  • Get this: in order to get in to the library at St. George’s Chapel, I have to pay for admission to Windsor Castle. Hm. I haven’t been there since I was a kid — maybe I’ll do the touristy stuff, too, when I’m done with my manuscript.
  • For those who want to know, you can book train tickets through TheTrainline.com only if you have a UK mailing address to post them to. They’ll tell you you can’t use a non-UK credit card, but I did. (They also claim you can’t even register with a US address any more, and I seem to have done so. But then I remembered I already had an account from back in 2004, and logged in and purchased my tickets with that account.) The AmEx has been charged and my Yorkshire friend should be getting the tickets any day now.
  • I decided to stay at The Euro Hotel in London, partly on Mike Drout’s approval of it for what it is, and partly because it seemed to be the only cheap place available of the places really close to St. Pancras and the BL. I like the fact that it’s on a little crescent street and it’s relatively cheap for London — 55 GBP for a single with shared shower and toilet (the online reviews say the showers are very close, clean, and never busy). I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve stayed there — or even *while* I’m there, as they have free wireless (another attraction).
  • So I think I may fiddle with the blog design. It’s summer — I have time. JJC finds it too soothing after my old template’s screaming orange. (Though was it really that screaming? I always thought of it as an autumnal ’70s rust, and so went with a complementary color with the new design.) He also tsk-tsk’d the flowers at the bottom. OK, so it’s a little genteel and froofy, but I love English gardens (the picture was taken in Cumbria). But he has a point. It’s not very Virago-like. Any ideas?
  • Pippi is also getting ready for summer. I took her to the groomer today. It’s the first time since we’ve had her that I’ve handed her over to strangers and walked away. It was very traumatic for *me*. But for her? Nah. Her attitude was all “ooh! new people to love me! new scents! other doggies! let’s go!” Sigh.
  • So you know what I just realized now sucks about being tenured — aside from more service work? Now I only do a dossier every five years, so I have to be super-organized and save all the proof of what I’ve been up to in research, teaching, and service for five long years. D’oh.

>More pictures of Norwich

>Just because I feel like it, here are some more pictures to go with the post below.

First, three views of the world’s crookedest building (or so I think), across from one of the gates to the Cathedral grounds:



A Norman keep plus a nun walking a cute dog plus a sunny blue sky = a perfect moment in Norwich (where is everyone else on this perfect day??):

The market square with the guildhall in the background:

A close-up of one of the tents (check out the sign — is it all wireless??):

Interior shots of the great hall at Stranger’s Hall (kind of dark, I know):


Seen in window while standing in Stranger’s Hall’s garden (creepy!):

One of the many medieval parish churches, a stone’s throw from the boundary of the Cathedral close (turn around and you’d see the Cathedral looming over you):

And finally, a view of the river across from where the Pastons once lived, complete with swans and one of many, many pubs in Norwich, The Mischief (on the right at the end of the bridge):