Where have you been, Dr. Virago?

OK, that doesn’t scan quite onto “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio,” but close enough.

Well, since I last posted in March (!!), the Polar Vortex winter we had here in the Great Lakes continued unabated, giving us an April snow that killed the buds on my flowering bushes and trees. Boo! The hyacinths you see pictured survived, though:

This just isn't right

This just isn’t right

And I finished up my first semester of being Humanities Institute Director with a big talk by a visiting bigwig and a couple more Humanities Happy Hours. The latter seem to be very popular and growing in attendance, so I’m definitely continuing them this coming year. I need to work on publicity, though, especially to draw in off-campus people. I met with a couple of high school teachers this year and they gave me good advice for getting their attention, so that’s good. And I’m collaborating more with local library events coordinators. At the very least, we can publicize each others’ events.

Then after the semester was over, it was off to Kalamazoo for the annual Medieval Congress. I think we did a good job of being more welcoming to newcomers at our annual Medieval and Renaissance Drama Society meeting, and I’m hoping we continue that trend in years to come! If you’re at all interested in medieval drama and are at the Congress in Kalamazoo, please come to our business meeting and find out what we’re about!

Speaking of medieval drama, then I took a long weekend trip to NYC over Memorial Day weekend to see The Mysteries at The Flea Theatre with another medieval drama aficionado and to hang out in Manhattan and Brooklyn with my sister and one of my best friends from graduate school. It was a *gorgeous* weekend, so my sister and I walked the High Line (where I think I was too stunned by the crowds and the thing itself to take pictures) and I spent a day strolling through Brooklyn water-front parks and walkways with friends:

Lower Manhattan from the Brooklyn Promenade

Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade

I also did a dumpling tour of Brooklyn’s Chinese neighborhood, Sunset Park, went for drinks and dinner in Red Hook, strolled Williamsburg, saw the Ai Wei Wei exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and had a mostly Brooklyn weekend (well, except the day and evening in Manhattan). When I left NYC in 1994, that’s not something I would’ve done back then (except that I did have a friend who lived in Park Slope and did a walking tour of Brooklyn Heights back then) — Brooklyn is a whole new world compared to then, so it was like visiting a whole new city. (Even Sunset Park, which was a Chinese neighborhood back then, too, was much sleepier back in the day, as I recall.) And the High Line neighborhoods in Manhattan, too, were largely new to me — I don’t think I’d ever gone over that far west before in that part of Manhattan. And, of course, the skyline of lower Manhattan has sadly changed since I last lived in NYC, too.

And then in June, I went to Hong Kong for the Consortium of Humanities Centers and Institutes annual meeting. It was kind of a weird conference, since, as scholars, we all work in different disciplines and subfields, but it was very interesting and largely pretty fruitful (though I would like more practical panels and sessions), and hey, it was in Hong Kong! Given the location and the theme (performative humanities), we were treated to performances of Cantonese opera and traditional music, and a poetry reading by a contemporary Cantonese poet and his translator. The reading and music performance also happened to take place during the 10-course opening feast of Cantonese food, which was *included* in the registration price. Other conferences have a lot to live up to! The conference was held at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in the New Territories, so many of the rooms reserved were at the Hong Kong Hyatt Regency Sha Tin, right next door. Best. Conference. Hotel. Ever. This was my view of Tolo Harbor (which you could also see from the bathtub because one wall of the bathroom was also a window — though it had a shade if you wanted privacy):

Wish I could have taken this view home with me!

Wish I could have taken this view home with me!

I also wish I could have taken any of the charming Buddhas from the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery (really a temple; not a working monastery) home with me. This shrine, nestled in the tropical mountains just steps away from the Sha Tin MTR stop, was such a peaceful respite from the city and its equally busy suburbs that I went there twice. Here’s just a taste of it. I wish you could hear the deafening sound of the cicadas and the chattering of the monkeys, too.

One of the over ten thousand individual Buddhas, each with their own personality

One of the over ten thousand individual Buddhas, each with their own personality

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Nearing the very top

Nearing the very top

The ultimate Buddha

The ultimate Buddha

The view from the very top.

The view from the very top. See the red fences at the bottom, to the right and in front of the buildings in the center? That’s where I started! (The pagoda on the far right is not part of the 10,000 Buddhas monastery, but a cemetery/ancestral hall next door to the base of the monastery entrance.)

These are just a few of the over 700 pictures I took in Hong Kong, and only one of the sites I saw! I had about a day of free time before the conference started and two and half free days after, so I went to the top of Victoria Peak via the tram, visited the Hong Kong History Museum (really great, and new since I was last in the city in 1992), watched the Symphony of Light in the harbor, got a tour of the Chung King Mansions by an asylum seeker from Ghana (arranged by the conference), took a Star Ferry across the harbor, rode all the way up the “Mid-Level Escalators” (outdoor escalators! neat!), visited the Man Mo Temple (where I lit incense sticks upside-down! d’oh!), walked around SoHo and various other mid-level districts on Hong Kong Island, rode the “ding ding” tram car just for fun, and visited Lantau Island, where I saw the Big Buddha, had a delicious vegetarian lunch at a real, working monastery, wandered around the fishing village of Tai O (and felt miles away from the city), and took a boat to see Chinese White Dolphins. And the conference also organized a quick visit to Macau, though the bus tour concentrated too much on the casinos and didn’t give us enough time in the historical parts.

And *then*, in July, I went to Reykjavik, Iceland, for the New Chaucer Society Congress. Owing to a weather-related delays and cancellations of flights, I got there a day later than planned, and only had one truly free day, but also a day and a half of excursions organized by the conference. And I played hooky for three sessions. So I still got to see a lot, though I took fewer pictures because I was often in company. (I take more when I’m alone, as I was in Hong Kong.) I fell completely in love with Iceland and so intend to get back there with Bullock in tow next summer or maybe the summer after (for a 5th wedding anniversary/belated honeymoon of sorts).

My favorite parts of the Iceland trip were…well, everything! But especially a) soaking in cheap public hot tubs at public swimming facilities (no pictures of the hot tubs themselves, alas, just the sign for them); b) riding Icelandic horses in the mountains; c) spending a gorgeous day spent at Thingvellir, an awesome site of historical, political, and geological significance.

Not "bacon sitting," but hot tub soaking!

Not “bacon sitting,” but hot tub soaking!

Foreground: Saga, my horse. Yes, that was really her name. Background: a horse with a fabulous mane!

Foreground: Saga, my horse. Yes, that was really her name. Background: a horse with a fabulous mane!

The hidden waterfall to which we rode. The elf got cut out of the picture, alas. :)

The hidden waterfall to which we rode. The elf got cut out of the picture, alas. 🙂

The horses at rest while we explore

The horses at rest while we explore. Saga is in front right of the group in the center.

Thingvellir National Park, featuring the Almannagja rift, the eastern edge of the North American techtonic plate, and the "logberg" or "law rock" (the white flag pole), the site of the earliest parliamentary meeting in Europe, the Althing, founded in 930

Thingvellir National Park, featuring the Almannagja rift, the eastern edge of the North American tectonic plate where it meets the European plate, and the “logberg” or “law rock” (the white flag pole), the site of the earliest parliamentary meeting in Europe, the Althing, founded in 930

But now I’m home in Rust Belt, where I seem to have brought the cool, gray Icelandic weather with me. So where are our public hot tubs?!

Oh, and by the way, I presented a successful pedagogical paper at New Chaucer Society, which I want to write about in part soon. Now that I’ve settled back into a groove here, I will try to get back to regular posting!

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A National Arts and Humanities Month announcement

So, I just learned today, half way into the month, that October in the US is National Arts and Humanities month. Who knew?

Well, from now one I will know, and it will be my business to know, because…drumroll please…I have been named the new Director of the Humanities Institute at Rust Belt University.

Our HI was founded in the 80s, but it’s been defunct for about 5 or 6 years now, so I’m essentially presiding over a “reboot,” Humanities Institute 2.0, an HI for the 21st century. I think I’ll take Doctor Who and Sherlock as my models (though with less of Steven Moffat’s disappointing sexism, thankyouverymuch), since the old HI was pretty beloved here and I want both to do it justice, but also to make it new, to make it useful for the humanities at RBU now. I’m meeting with my college’s dean this week to start the ball rolling — including putting together a steering committee, etc.– and I’m going to work on a draft mission statement today. We’ve only got a small budget to start with, so for our first semester of events and activities, I need to keep things realistic as I also seek out other funding. But my general vision for the Institute is one that makes connections: across humanities disciplines (and with those scholars who do humanities-type work in non-humanities departments), of course, but also between RBU and the wider community. I also primarily want the Institute to be an engine of advocacy and support for the humanities, both within the university and in our community.

So, internet hive mind, if your university were just starting up a Humanities Institute, what would like to see it do?