Monday, December 18, 2006

Onward and Upward

I finished my grading yesterday at 5:22pm (only 22 min. late) and dutifully entered my grades online (O brave new world).

I'm done! I'm done! I'm done!

Now all I've got left: one letter of recommendation and two articles to send out.

One of the articles reminds me of an old warrior I'm sending out to battle for the fourth time. He's got a limp, a cripped left arm, and is creased with scars from previous battles, but his spirit is high and his heart is true. Please, someone, give him a home in a distinguished scholarly journal. It is the last wish of his old age. Don't make him tilt another windmill. He's also bit like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the one who keeps getting his limbs chopped off but defiantly won't give in: "I'm invincible!"

The trouble is that I know this is probably my best piece of work to date: It got me a job and a postdoc and important connections. But because it has inspired such vehemently mixed reactions (I love it! I detest it!) it has been rejected three times already, twice with no explanation or readers reports. Thus I'm a bit scared to send it out again. If you reject him once more, at least send him home on his shield.

Tomorrow I leave for "God's Country" in the midwest. I haven't been home in 6 months so it will be good to see everyone again. My parents throw a big party on Dec. 25th for all the non-Christians in town. It's called "Our thing on the 25th." It's become a big deal because it is the only event of its kind in town, so the house is completely packed with people and we usually run out of bagels and lox and wine early on. I haven't been home on the 25th for three years (because of MLA) so it will be good to catch up with people, though I hope they don't notice how much weight I've gained since grad school (I was pretty emaciated from 2003-2005).

Then I'm back here for three days to recuperate. Then I'm off to Montreal where I will happily spend the first two weeks of the New Year. I can't wait.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Professor's Complaint

With apologies to Shakespeare . . .

From off a hill whose concave womb re-worded
A plaintful story from a sist'ring vale
My spirits t'attend this double voice accorded
And down I laid to list the sad-tuned tale;
Ere long espied a fickle Prof full pale,
Tearing of Papers, breaking pens atwain,
Storming her world with marking's wind and rain

Upon her head a beret black of wool
Which fortified her visage from the cold
Whereon the thought might think sometime it held
The carcass of her manuscript, growing mold
Time had not scythed all the semester had begun
Nor work all quit; but spite of heaven's fell rage,
Some energy peeped through lattice of seared age

Oft did she heave her papers to her eyne.
Which on them had conceited characters,
Laund'ring the mismatched figures in the brine
That seasoned woe had pelleted in ink
And often writing "why" and "what do you think?"
As often scribbling undistinguished woe
In phrasings of all size, both high and low.

Okay, I realize that some of you might not recognize the first three stanzas of Shakespeare's poem "A Lover's Complaint," even without my horrid emendations. Because not many people read it anymore. Which is a shame. Because it's actually quite interesting for a complaint poem. I'm particularly fond of it because the language is so dark and dissembling. It's also a great parody/one-upping of Spenser. But yes, grading is hell. And grades are due the day after tomorrow. Chappy Chanukah everyone.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Good lord, I had no idea tarte tatin was this easy. I used my cast iron skillet.

Everyone is welcome to a virtual bite, with or without creme fraiche.

The tea party was a delight. I relaxed and had a fine time. Could this be the beginning of a new era?

It did help that my guests numbered in the single digits (8). I think I can do tea. Maybe I'll be able to work up to an intimate soiree. Baby steps.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Happy Birthday Milton

Now we are 398.

Happy Miltonmass, everyone.

One of the professors I worked with last year on my postdoc (a Miltonist) holds an annual party in honor of Milton's birthday instead of a Christmas party. It takes place in her gorgeous Victorian in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal, around the corner from the all night bagel shops, where you're likely to encounter frum housewives wearing headscarves, groups of yeshiva students in streumels, Portuguese hipsters, and university professors all on one block.

Students and faculty and the local used bookstore owners attend. There's usually a birthday cake for Milton, and everyone gathers around the piano and sings carrols. In the front hall the boots and slush pile up, and people wander around in their socks or in nicer shoes that they bring along in plastic bags. The compulsively obedient border collie trots from room to room, checking up on everyone, whimpering and whirling when another guest walks in the front door. It's cold and wet outside, but warm, bright and jolly inside. Everyone gets drunk and can't stop hugging everyone else goodnight.

I've always wanted to be the kind of professor that throws parties like this. But whenever I throw a party I spend too much time worrying.

It didn't used to be like this: during my year at Oxford I had people over constantly, cooked up a storm. Dinner parties in grad school were haphazard and fun. Then things seemed to deteriorate. The first party I threw post grad school was mediocre: too large for a dinner party and too small for a party. By the time the last of us found ourselves stuck in an entirely un-engrossing conversation about drywall I knew it was time to shoo everyone out the door.

The next time I tried too hard. I burnt the fiddleheads for the morel risotto, filling the kitchen with smoke. When my guests arrived (coughing), the risotto wasn't done, so they took turns helping me stir while I wrung my hands and paced from room to room. Then I accidentally froze the creme brulees and had to put them back in the oven which for some reason turned the caramelized tops a crestfallen shade of gray. As I took them out of the oven, one of them was so disgusted with my attempt at french cuisine that it abandoned ship, skidding off the tray and sacrificing itself on the kitchen floor. Meanwhile I'd invited a guy I'd fancied who didn't return the sentiment but couldn't figure out how to break it to me. I contemplated telling him it was okay, but my attempts at semaphore went unnoticed. It was months before I could have people over again.

The only party that was not an entire flop happened at the end of the summer. And I had help. Still, I fretted. Of course it was ok. No one got into a fist fight, there were no awkward silences, no one ended up having to sit in the corner. We invaded the backyard patio belonging to my landlords and sat outside in the candlelight. It was difficult to get folks to leave, actually, because I think some of the people were having a very good time. But a very good time has a price: After the last person departed the two of us left passed out from sheer exhaustion.

Which brings us to December, 2006. I can't seem to have parties on my own. I need someone to pry the vacuum cleaner from my shaking hands at 1am the night before the party when I'm terrified that my allergic friends won't be able to breathe, or that my fastidious friends will frown at the giant dustbunnies snuggling together under the bed.

Tomorrow I'm having 8 or 9 friends and colleagues over for tea. I went to Whole Foods, got some interesting cheeses. And I'm going to try my hand at a pear tarte tatin. I purchased ready-made puff pastry so I won't do it all from scratch. I've vacuumed and dusted, but I'm not going to mop or polish the bathroom sink. I think this is a nice compromise. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Maira Kalman Day

The first Wednesday of every month is Maira Kalman Day. That's when the writer and illustrator Maira Kalman publishes her blog, The Principles of Uncertainty, on the New York Times website.

Kalman has written and illustrated a number of children's books, Strunk and White's "The Elements of Style," and produced some very famous New Yorker covers and back pages, including "Newyorkistan," and "Ask Your Doctor," a made-up list of new drugs that I remember reading aloud to my adorable mildly hypochondriac parents, laughing until we could barely breathe. She is also a professor of desgin at the School of the Visual Arts in New York.

Her blog is out of this world. Or rather, very much in this world, in an ethereal, tragicomic way. She makes me miss New York and Paris. She makes New York and Paris more beautiful even than they are.

And she has fabulous hats.

We should all be so lucky.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Cat is Too Smart for Her Own Good

It's about half an hour before "kitten dinner" time. Saffron's started meowing and probably won't let up until I feed her.

Two seconds ago she ran up to the Grape Ivy plant, stood on her hind legs and took a large bite out of it, munching vigorously and loudly, purring as she munched. Then, still munching, still on her hind legs, she turned around and looked squarely at me, her mouth full of leaves. Still staring hard at me, she uttered a plaintive, muffled, questioning mew.

A berating mew that seemed to say, "See how your Great Neglect has forced me, a poor, starving, helpless animal, to forage for my dinner like a savage beast in the forest?" A mew that concluded, "If you don't feed me This Instant, I will mangle your plants and vomit all over your beautiful Turkish carpet."

Of course there is nothing I can do but feed her.

Of course she knows it.


I taught my last classes of the semester on Thursday: Huzzah!

I am now free until 17 January. Free to work on my own articles, fellowship applications and manuscript, free to read what suits me, free to sleep past 8am, free to take a while to respond to e-mails. And I'm not going to MLA, so free to Not Be Anxious Dec. 27-30: Huzzah!

I love my new car. Thanks to some excellent family bargaining, I managed to get the fancy, souped up Impreza for close to the same price as the no-frills version. So now I am the proud owner of a Subaru Impreza Outback Sport. With a tremendous sound system, satellite radio, automatic climate control, ipod jack, four wheel drive. If I wanted to, I could even drive up to "God's Country" (Midwestern Family Seat) and Canada this winter instead of flying, though it would probably even out in gas and motel costs. I'm already fantasizing about road trips this summer. My first longish drive will be Friday, when I drive east to Big Fancy Research Institution's Medieval-Renaissance Seminar to hear a talk on Islam in the Renaissance. Maybe if I ask one of my "Look at Me!" questions I'll get noticed like I did at SAA and then they'll invite me to present or collaborate with them. (Oh come on, a girl can dream). I'm so excited. Mobility and comfort are beautiful things: Huzzah!

And I've been added to the Graduate Faculty here, so I can be a reader on two Masters Thesis committees. Both are smart, talented young women writing about Renaissance drama. One single-handedly created the Early Modern Reading group. The other is applying to a number of very good Ph.D. programs: Huzzah!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Practicality Rules

So as much as I love the Prius, I've decided to buy an Impreza.

At my salary, my very new salary, my very young salary, my "lowest paid assistant professor in the state salary," it makes more sense to buy the cheaper car that gets better highway mileage. That way I can drive up to the big fancy research institutions more easily, and probably pay off this car in 3 years.

I do still want a Prius. But I think it would be better for me to wait and get one when I have more money.

But the good part of it is that I think a Prius will join my family-- after the test drive my father was really impressed! So although there may not be a Prius in muse's future, there may be a Prius in muse's family, which muse would get to drive now and then.

Thanks for all your suggestions and recommendations. The Mazda 3 was also a great car, but the Subaru has four wheel drive.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Banquet of Words

In which your writer, who had the last word in the comments section of her last post, is spoon fed her words on a silver plate.

Make that a battery-powered, digitalized 60 mpg-in-the-city plate.

Yes, I test-drove a Prius yesterday. And it was FABULOUS. You just press a button and it goes. You press another button to put it in park. It has a little LCD screen that runs the whole thing. When you stop it is entirely silent. Whenever you drive under 15 mph, you can't feel it moving at all. It's the battery. And the digital positioning instead of gear shifting.

Yes, it is about $5000 more than I really wanted to spend, but a large part of it is tax deductible. And broken down, it would only cost me about $50 more per month for an extra year (5 instead of 4) to do it.

And I'd easily make that up in money I saved at the gas station. 51-59 mpg in the city! Imagine going to the gas station half as often. I can't.

I also tried the Subaru Impreza, which was a bit more Imprezzive than the Mazda 3, I found, and only about $2000 more. It has four wheel drive where the Mazda 3 doesn't (and the Mazda 3 doesn't even have Electronic Stability Control, I think). Not that I need to worry about that here in the South, but what if I wanted to drive up north to see my family in the midwest? Or further north just for the fun of it?

Tomorrow I shall test drive the Mazda 3, but I do think I've narrowed it down to the Imprezzive and the Priapus.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Car Fancy

I'm in the market for a new car.

Having bashed up the old vehicle (I'll call her Ingrid) rather too much, my insurance guys are telling me to take the check and not look back. Ingrid was old and perhaps not that trustworthy. She had a nice life but needs too many repairs for it to be worth either my while or the insurance company's while. They've bought her from me and will fix her up and sell her on their own.

Yes, this is what we call "totalling" the car.

No, I wasn't hurt nor was there much damage. Ingrid just happens to be very old, very Swedish, and very expensive to fix.

So I'm buying a new car. And suddenly I'm taking an interest in cars, seeing as I thoroughly depend upon one now to get me really anywhere in this town. I'm looking for a small hatchback with good gas mileage. Hatchback so's I can fill it with all the cheap, "previously owned" vintage and antique furniture I want.

I've pretty much narrowed the search down to the Mazda 3 and the Subaru Impreza, but if anyone has any suggestions or opinions, please do post here and let me know.

I had originally wanted a Honda Civic, a nice, dependable little sedan with the highest mpg and safety ratings on the market. My friend Nick calls it "The Assistant Professor Car." But the Civic doesn't have a 4 door hatchback, only a 2 door one. Which wouldn't be able to carry precious antiques. Then I thought about the Toyota Matrix. My parents have one. My dad calls it "The Mattress." But he complains about its lack of horsepower. And it's a bit too expensive. So I don't think I'll get a mattress. I'd rather have a car.

I have this amazing senior colleague who knows everything there is to know about cars. She's a little obsessed. It's kind of cute. She's obsessed with Renaissance drama and cars. Anyway, she thinks Subarus might be a bit pricey to repair. She seems to be rooting for the Mazda 3.

My cousin here in the South seems to think I should get the Impreza. Both his daughters drive them, and apparently his neighborhood is "The Subaru Capital of the World" so I might be able to get a good deal there.

I'm going to test drive both models and maybe a couple of others next week (the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving). I've never done this before. Anything I should look out for? What should I do on the test drive? Where should I take it? Will there be a salesperson with me pitching the car the length of the ride? I loathe salespeople. I don't want to "give poor Gil a break." I just want a car.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Bare Quires

Last time I checked, it was still fall here. How bizarre! It's 71 degrees outside, the trees are flaming like drag queens, and students are trudging across the quad in tee-shirts and flip-flops. And the only "bare, ruined quier" I behold is the blank document on my laptop screen. (Check out Flavia's excellent post on "that time of year thou mayst in me behold").

I'm getting a little antsy at all this pleasant weather. Somehow it doesn't feel at all close to the end of the semester to me, because I'm not chilled to the bone. It's disconcerting. It's making it hard for me to write.

More importantly, how can I wear my new lofty merino wool funnel neck and my duffel coat with the red beret if it's 71 degrees outside? How can I feel remotely academic without a turtleneck and a steaming mug of tea? I need the cold to make me stay inside and write for hours on end. As it is, I can't sit still for more than 40 minutes at a time. I keep jumping up and running outside into the sunshine.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Anyone can take this Quiz

(Thanks to Jonathan on Superbon!).

How Canadian are you?

Like Jonathan, I scored a whopping 91%. Which means that all true Canadians must score something like 400% (it's a really easy quiz).

I think I lost the 9% because I refused to order pizza from Tim Horton's. There are just some things one does not do.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Time Keeping

There are only 5 more teaching days left in my semester.

I can't believe it.

It happened so fast.

And today, for some strange reason, it's 81/30 degrees outside. Some of the trees have lost their leaves. Others are golden, rust, and pale celery. A lot of them will stay green year round.

It's kind of shocking to think that in 3 and a half weeks I'll be done with the semester.

Then I've got December and half of January to work on sending out essay number three and an anthology proposal, as well as writing and editing my ever-changing book manuscript.

December also witnesses my trimuphal return to the Midwest, to see my totally amazing and wonderful parents and their totally amazing and rather excitable dog. And I shall catch up with all my family friends and maybe even my very oldest friend.

I'm excited about New Years' too, which I get to spend in one of my favourite cities, with clever and delightful people and the Second Most Clever and Delightful Cat (aka "Trouble"). It will be 20 Below but I Won't Care. I seem to be into capitalization At the Moment.

I just have to get through the next three and a half weeks. Teach my classes, mark my essays, buy a new car, pay my bills, and drive safely.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Fall Color

Today I did some exploring.

And a mysterious package arrived.
It was from Tashkent.

It was a lovely day for a walk.
We went all the way up to the top.

We were very careful.

The colors were beautiful for November.

There was even a waterfall.

And inside the package were more colorful things.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Commonplace Blog

I can't think of anything original to say. My brain is exhausted. I have too much work to do between now and Thanksgiving and the end of the semester.

Instead I've decided to make this into an online commonplace book until I can think of something more interesting to write about.

Last weekend I found myself leafing through a poetry anthology. It was fun.

Here are two old favorites, both of which do much with the traditional 14-line sonnet, not only formally but also in their use of light/dark imagery. Though different in subject, I still like to think they're talking to one another.

Milton, Sonnet IXX

When I consider how my light is spent,
Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest He returning chide,
"Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?"
I fondly ask; But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies "God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear His mild yoke, they serve Him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at His bidding speed
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."

Millay, Sonnet VII, from Second April

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause; and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On Eating

How far would you travel to taste the food of the gods?

It wasn't just the warm interior of the little restaurant nestled on a dark anonymous corner. Not the shiny tin ceiling, the full, animated room, the twinkly lights or the mirrored walls. It wasn't the wooden tables and chairs, and it wasn't the no-nonsense dinner ware, the flushed faces of the servers. It wasn't the open kitchen or the blackboard. Or the cold outside. It wasn't smiles on faces, or the excitement of dressing up.

It was the cloud-like foie gras and the sharp sweet wine-cassis reduction on the (almost raw) venison and the crispy tendrils of shaved leeks everywhere and the simplicity of the brasied lamb which was humbly named after a mouse and the bitter darkness of chocolate and sorbets too intense to describe in terms other than platonic because they captured something essential about fruit, something that made all other fruits seem like so many shadows.

I remember little of the conversation. I do remember that we nearly forgot our coats.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The Paradise Lost Teaching Chronicles, Part II

Is this more likely to happen in the South? I wonder if any one else has had a similar reaction:

Today we began with Satan out of Hell and approaching Eden, the beginning of Book IV.

A lot of students were really moved by his opening speech, where he seems to have come to some pretty profound self knowledge and is aware of his mistake and his eternal burden. It's the one where Hell is redefined as something Satan carries with him, as well as his distance from God (similar to Mephistophelis' definition of Hell in Marlowe's Dr. Faustus).

We began to talk about how Satan becomes more human, more sympathetic in this book, and how we begin to appreciate the view from his perspective.

I had one student who resisted sympathizing with Satan.

This student contended that, as pure evil, Satan is just deceiving us, getting us on his side so that he can win; his remorse is false. An interesting perspective, I acknowledged, and since Milton's text loves reversals, this seems like a possibility. But when I asked her to support this idea with textual evidence from the passage, she faltered, even though she's an excellent reader, very good at using the text to back her claims.

And yet she refused to see it any other way. So in response I stressed that perhaps as PL is a prequel to both Genesis and Christianity, it's also a prequel to the creation of Good and Evil, and that it might be a narrative about how Satan becomes the Prince of Lies, rather than assumes that he's always embodied some essential evil quality. The student seemed unwilling to accept this interpretation too.

I can't quite figure out why this student kept insisting that Satan's grief and remorse were false, but I could tell that she was struggling to resist the urge to sympathize with him, and I liked that she wanted to try to see things a different way. And then I wondered if maybe it had something to do with fundamentalist or evangelical christian belief. In other words, I wondered whether my student was afraid to weep with Satan, that the devil might make an entrance if she did.

And and then I became afraid-- that I'm stereotyping my devout Christian students too much.

Maybe she was just trying to get on top of the reading which is already full of reversals. Maybe she was just trying to play "devil's advocate" with the devil's advocate. And in this sense, she was probably thinking more like Milton than anyone else.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Just Procrastinating

I still have about 16 more papers to mark, another course to prep, and a gazillion meetings this week before I can relax. I've insanely offered my house as the spot of the next Renaissance Reading Group meeting, which will happen over dinner tomorrow night. The Renaissance Reading group here is made up of MA students and talented undergrads and it was basically created because the students in my senior colleague's class just didn't want it to end.

So I'm opening my house up to students, before I've even opened it up to friends. Crazy, I know. Then there are departmental meetings, a trip to the Rare Books Room with my Renaissance poetry students, and more papers to hand back on Thursday.

I should be doing all of this without a break, but I can't, so instead I took off half an hour to blog and read the new york times.

In the yesterday's times, I found this expose of Montreal. It was pretty much on the mark for what to do as a rich, boring tourist in the city (shopping and eating), though it recommended cylcling in the wrong direction on the Lachine canal and named a lot of the big cliche places to eat like L'Express when everyone knows the smaller "m'as tu vu" places on the side streets are better. But I'm not telling which ones are best. Go find your own.

However, it also said this, which made me snort and almost spill my tea: "With the city’s debilitating 1990’s recession behind it—and the specter of Québécois secession all but forgotten — a lively patchwork of gleaming skyscrapers, bohemian enclaves and high-gloss hideaways now outshines the city’s gritty industrial past." I think a whole lot of people would disagree with that statement about "the specter of Quebecois secession all but forgotten." And what's wrong with a "gritty industrial past" anyway?

For some reason I'm glad it got a lot of Montreal wrong. I'd rather the best things about Montreal remain the purlieux of the cognoscenti. And that's why I'm Not Telling.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

This made me laugh, then sigh

One of my newest bourgeois indulgences on the weekends is looking at catalogues. It's a luxury in which we truly middle class citizens have the right to indulge, and I intend to make the most of it, especially whilst I still have a house to furnish. One of my favorites is the Sundance Catalogue. Yes, it's that Sundance, Robert Redford's estate, company, independent film institute, and the location of the annual film festival. The goods are overpriced but the aesthetic is wabi-sabi, weather beaten, environmentally sound, water washed antique. My kind of thing, if I could afford it.

Yet paging through their catalogue today I noticed something strange and oddly nauseating. The rhetoric has changed. Suddenly it seems they're courting conservatives. It's obviously a marketing decision. But it annoys me because it sounds like even Sundance, the most liberal of wealthy liberal outfits, previously prone to wearing its green, ecologically sound, fair trade heart on its sleeve, suddenly buys in to this bogus notion that we're all becoming more conservative. This is mostly bullshit and continuing to pander to the ignorant like this will only make it worse.

Here's what made me laugh. The description of the Hemp Rug. Just so you don't start freaking out about Hemp and marijuana, you patriotic conservative:

"When the Founding Fathers encouraged colonial Americans to grow hemp, they were on to something. Strong but soft, thick yet pliant, naturally long-wearing and environmentally sound, hemp meets or beats competing fibers any day of the week, year after year after year. Ours is organically grown and woven by hand, like George Washington's. Natural materials and handcrafting make each piece unique, and sizes may vary slightly. Imported. 2' x 3', 2 1/2' x 8', 3' x 5', 4' x 6', 6' x 9', and 8 1/2' x 11'. Additional shipping $10.
hemp rug #40273 $40.00 - $500.00"

That's right. For only $500 you too can have a dining room rug similar to the one that George Washington had! And I bet you didn't know that the Founding Fathers encouraged early Americans to grow hemp. And to be organic farmers too! Well, if the Founding Fathers did so, it can't be all about crazy hippie liberals now can it?

But the best part comes at the end of the description: "Imported."

Incidentally, you may not have known that George Washington was actually all that and more.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Freudian Slip of the Day, Week, Month, Year

Scene: My British Literature survey class. I'm having the class go around the room reading Satan's elegaic speech to the fallen angels on the lake ("Fairwell happy fields / Where joy forever dwells! Hail horrors, hail / Infernal world").

One of my students, perhaps going a bit too fast reads this:

"And thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy New Professor, one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time!"

The poor kid was pretty embarassed. But after I assured him that as a New Professor I wasn't the least offended, was really quite flattered, he seemed to relax.

It was hard to keep a straight face. It's nice to know I'm on their minds, even if it is in connection with hell.

I kept comparing Charles I to George W. Bush in class today, though not in so many words. I said "Here is a ruler who wants to make his own rules, who ignores the views of Parliament when they disagree with him. Here is someone whose power is out of control." I couldn't tell if more than two of them noticed.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Où est Charlie?

When I lived in Montreal not so long ago, I kept seeing these odd Where's Waldo posters in the Métro, only in French they bore a large silhouette of Waldo and the subtitle Où est Charlie? Which is very funny because without the aliteration and the busy scene hiding the tiny guy in the striped shirt, Where's Waldo completely loses what weak appeal it may have held. (As a toddler I much preferred Anno's Counting Book: Yes even at 2 I was a literary snob).

Nevertheless, I've been having several Où est Charlie moments over the past few days. I wake up and I can't find the cat. Or else I'll be sitting on the couch marking papers and the cat has disappeared. I call for her in every room, check at the bottom of the stairwell, peek in all the closets, search behind the plants, prod the plexiglass in the fireplace. And while I'm doing this she wanders silently and sleepily into the living room so I can't really tell where she's come from.

This evening I figured it out. Here's proof. Où est Saffron? You can hide, but you can't hide.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Damn you, A.O. Scott

I really didn't want this movie to be any good. And I certainly didn't want you to like it. There are so many things wrong with turning Marie Antoinette into a teenage rockstar, especially in this day and age. And I can't figure out which is more incongruous: Jason Schwartzman as Louis XVI or Rip Torn as his father.

And although I liked Lost in Translation well enough, it seems like Sofia Coppola's films are always over-hyped, which can only lead to disappointment ("so this is this great film everyone was raving about?) or an intense scrutiny on the part of the viewer, to the detriment of his or her pleasure ("Is this really all that great? What makes this great and not just sort of interesting? Is it great because it's a little boring? Are we supposed to be listless like the characters?)

But . . .

But . . .

The pointy satin shoes, the Laduree macarons, the the the . . . petticoats.

I have to see this film. So Sophia Coppola's no Max Ophuls. We've established that. Is it possible she's actually done something right this time, and made a film that it is a pleasure to watch? I'll have to let you know.

A.O. Scott reviews Marie Antoinette

Oh, the Innocence of Youth

I seem to have been gushing perhaps a bit too much about the intellectual maturity of the students in my upper level Renaissance poetry seminar. Let me rephrase that . . .

They may be able to think and articulate fairly complex ideas. They may be comfortable talking about sex and religious turmoil in the same sentence.

But when it comes time to turn in papers (their first batch this semester, only 8-10 pages), they don't seem to understand that a due date means that the paper is due on that day.

The night before the due date I received two e-mails. In the first, a student complained that her computer had been failing all week and finally crashed late at night, she was unable to access the paper she'd been writing and thus unable to complete it until she could talk to the computer repair service and get her information off her computer. She asked for an extension.

In the second, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper arrived home at 3am and was too exhausted to write his paper so he sent me an e-mail then asking for an extension.

Both of these requests came less than 8 hours before the paper was due.

I know college students typically write their papers the night before they're due. I did that too.

Call me mean, call me unsympathetic but to blatantly ask for extensions this late in the game and acknowledge you haven't started writing until after 9pm isn't just immature: it's wimpy! Don't beg for an extension, chug back some espresso and pull an all-nighter! That's what college is all about.

For the record, the freshmen in my Brit-Lit survey class all had papers due yesterday too. Every single student arrived in class on time, toting his or her paper.

Ah, the innocence of the young. I wonder how long it will take them to get corrupted.

So what did I do? I gave Mlle Ordinateur Brise an extention until midnight of that day, and I told M. Journal that for every 24 hours he didn't turn in his paper he would lose a letter grade (from A to B, from B to C, etc). So if his paper is 2 days late (it's already one and a half), whatever mark I give the paper will have to fall by 2 full letter grades.

Am I being too harsh? It's my first time at teaching an upper level seminar, so maybe I'm holding them to higher standards than I should be.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Philip Glass, Eat Your Heart Out

This poor kitten is forced to toil day and night composing music for psychological thrillers, getting none of the credit. Really. It's true.

I know this post may not stimulate your intellect, but I'm thoroughly exhausted after a long day of teaching, meeting with students, and discussing Dr. Faustus over dinner with graduate students. Which was lovely, actually, but I'm Really Tirednow.

Sometimes at the end of the day you just need to look at a cat on a synthesizer and Nothing Else Will Do.

Yes, I do realize that to some of you my work seems a bit like that kitten's on that synthesizer. On good days it seems so to me too. Like the amazing day I wrote about recently when my student did all of this investigative archival work on her own. I just sat and yawned and stretched and all this interesting discussion and material came gushing forth from my students.

I'm ready for my bowl of milk now.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Cutting through the Fog

I spent most of this week rather out-of-it. Staying up too late trying to get to sleep, rushing about preparing for class jolted to attention by several cups of coffee or extra-strong powdered green tea. I marked and handed back my first batch of papers in what seemed a daze. I did finally manage to see a doctor about this cold my students gave me along with their essays on Death, the medieval Church, and regurgitation. Which resulted in my being even more mentally unmoored in the latter end of the week due to the side effects of the drugs he prescribed, some of which I refused to take.

But through all the fog, I must have done something right because what I think was a tremendous thing happened in my upper level Renaissance class.

I've been calling it "Reading, Writing, and Poetry in Renaissance England." It's a (insert adj, noun here: "delicious romp"? "satisfying schlep"?) through Elizabethan poetry paying special attention to the materiality of the text. This means not only looking at facsimiles and copies of original editions, but paying attention to the way poets write about writing. (It's very meta). And printing. And book-making. And reading. And how their poems will be read in years to come. And whether or not they will survive, due to the instability of all the aforementioned practices.

Anyway, I've tried to get my students to really look at these Renaissance texts, to understand the many hands that shaped them, and to try to conceive of what Renaissance readers might have experienced.

And I think maybe I am actually getting through to them. Because one of them sliced through my foggy stupor on Thursday.

Every student has to do a short presentation on the reading for class. On Thursday we had one presentation on Spenser's Faerie Queene.

And my student, my undergraduate student, all on her own, prepared for her presentation in the following way: She decided to wander up to the Rare Books Room in the library, talk to the librarian, and convince her to come to class with the 1609 Folio edition of the text, so that the class could look through the books and more fully comprehend the factors at play in this particular material text (which is heavily ornamented and lavishly portrayed). As the books were passed around, students began to notice more and more. They asked intelligent questions. They handled the books with reverence. They each had something to say, something entirely original based on their individual experiences with this particular printing of this particular edition.

I keep telling them to check out the Rare Books Room, to use the Early English Books database. I keep bringing in facsimiles to class. But our visit to the Special Collections is slated for later in the year, when we look at emblem books (though the library is small, they do have some nice old books including 16th century editions of Alciato and Horapollo).

My student did this all on her own.

It totally made my day.

Friday, September 29, 2006


Nothing of substance to say today except thank god it's Fall. The weather has cooled down, the windows are open and somewhere down the street grass is being cut and the smell is blowing around in here. The sun is out, the sky is blue, the leaves are just beginning to turn. It's only 64/17 degrees outside and the week is finally over.

There is at least one good thing about this place: it's gorgeous this time of year. There are so many hills and trees and wildflowers, and it often amazes me how lush everything looks poking up through the red clay soil. Some of my colleagues and I are planning to drive up to the mountains (no more than an hour away) towards the end of October when the fall color fully emerges. We'll hike along some of the trails, and wander around the hippie-artist-bluegrass city nearby buying used books. I'll be sure to take some photographs and post them here.

But for now, before I travel anywhere, it's nice to sit in my sun-filled dining room listening to the trees rustle in the breeze.

I took these photos today, looking out the bedroom window and standing in front of the bookcases in the living room.

Notice the very grown up looking sofa. The color turned out darker than I expected, more golden. But I like it better that way.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Vintage Cuban Movie Posters

I've just acquired some lovely vintage Cuban Movie posters. They are large and colorful. They are somewhat witty. I can't wait to frame them and put them on my walls. My favorite one is "Vampiros en la Habana" (Juan Padron, 1986). Look at that Cuban vampire. He's relaxed. He's even a little sleepy. He's happy. He's smoking a Cuban cigar. Not a care in the world. Oh, to be a vampire in Havana!

In all Propriety!

I've recently received some notes of concern regarding the original picture I selected for my profile (it is no longer available for viewing on the web). Apparently some folks thought it looked a little over-exposed, if you get my gist. It wasn't. But the fear that it might have been has caused me to meditate on what it means to be a woman with a not-very-anonymous blog.

Why do people tend to worry/assume that women who expose their thoughts on the web in blogs and elsewhere might also be baring too much photographically? No one wonders whether maybe male bloggers are showing too much in their photographs (below the waist).

Thinking about this also makes me think about a separate but related issue: the fact that my freshman survey students needed to be reminded to call me by my title and not "Miss" or "Ms." This would almost never happen to a male college professor, no matter how young. If you disagree, fine, let me know. I'm happy to be told otherwise, but I suspect your examples will be few and far between.

The worst part is that I felt compelled to take the original picture down, even though I know there's nothing wrong with it. Because now I'm feeling incredibly self conscious.

I've decided to replace the profile picture with something better. So there's no question of whether or not I'm "flashing a breast."

Ok, so maybe I over-reacted. Blame it on the upper respiratory infection. Don't worry, admirers, I'll get my vanity back and post some more pictures of me when the time comes. But I'm still experimenting with just how anonymous I can be on the web and still be myself and still write truthfully. For now, I'm going to be a Renaissance engraving.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Fever Blogging

Nothing much to say today, except that it's the Jewish New Year and I am too sick to enjoy it. I knew something was coming on yesterday when I woke up with a sore throat and a funny taste in my mouth. Today I woke up with bowling ball head and not only a sore throat but that strange skipping thing your throat does when you swallow and you can't feel it half the way down. And the sense that every little task I had to do, take a shower, close the windows, turn on the ac, get the mail, was somehow too complicated to manage.

I don't have a very high fever, but it's there. Poor Saffron sees me lying on the bed trying to read a book when it's gorgeous and breezy (albeit hot: Indian Summer here) outside and thinks I'm just a lazeabout and should really be entertaining her. The plaintive mews come about every 7 seconds.

I've taken Ibuprofen, so hopefully I'll start to feel better. Usually Rosh Hashana is a day to go for a nice walk, contemplate the turning of the year through the turning of the leaves and the season from summer to autumn, relax, take a day off from work. Today would be a good day for that. 84/28 degrees outside, sunshining, breezy.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Academic Maturity or, "John Donne: Still Sexy after all these Years"

Neither of my classes is ever dull, but the level of maturity of my more advanced students sometimes blows me away. It amazes me that in three to four years students can grow so much.

Today, despite only four hours of sleep, my upper level Renaissance poetry class basically rocked. Not because of my level of preparedness (or lack thereof) but because they were so excited by the material and said such smart things. I, on the other hand, appeared sleepy, sniffly (allergies) and groggy. But it was ok. Sometimes we have not-so-good days in the classroom and we suffer through them. Other times, we think we'll have to suffer through class and our students lift us up. We continued our discussion of Donne's Songs and Sonnets, examining Reformation rhetoric alongside imagery of material decomposition. We also continued our on-going discussion of gendered rhetorical stances. And somehow, through all of this wrestling, pondering and arguing, we ended up acknowledging that most of us would probably allow ourselves to be seduced by J.D., because of his cleverness, his wit and the way he seems to keep "pushing it almost just a little too far" as one of my students put it. Another had this to say: "His rhetoric is violent and misogynistic and I'm totally grossed out by his morbid imagery, but you have to admit that he's still sexy after all these years."

When a student gave a presentation on Donne today and mentioned Donne's punning on "Death" as a euphemism for orgasm, no one blinked. If I had brought that up in my freshman survey, I think there would have been a mixture of giggles, squirming, and lips pursed together in shock.

I don't know if the reason why this kind of discussion could never take place in my freshman survey class has to do with the students' age or wisdom. Is the maturity of my advanced students simply an ability to acknowledge and relish contradiction within a text? Or is it an ability to be comfortable talking about sex and literature and ideology all at once? Or maybe they are simply used to us crazy English teachers sexing up our readings?

I chose a picture of the young Donne for this post. It's dated 1591, and he looks quite innocent and a little anxious (notice the hand gripping the sword hilt, the raised shoulders). Not at all seductive, if you ask me, though I do think his nose is cute. He should ease up on the eyebrow plucking, though.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


My mom sent me this image today as a quesiton that she later answered herself. Is it Venus (because Cupid is holding up the mirror)? No, it's Donato Creti's allegory of Prudence, and the figure is La Prudenza (late 17th century), who is able to overcome vanity or fancy (represented by the putto holding a mirror) with knowledge and awareness of death (represented by the open book and the skull).

Hmm. Actually it looks more like she's about to lob the skull at whatever she sees in the mirror, which would kind of defeat the purpose. In other words, if you're prudent, then you know what you see in the mirror is an illusion, all is vanity, so smashing it would be to confuse the image with reality. Besides, breaking a mirror means bad luck for seven years, and it's a mess to clean up.

Or, put another way (courtesy of Muse Maman), "So if you can read and look in the mirror and fling a skull at the same time, you must be Prudent?"

Don't say she's just holding the skull up in opposition to the mirror. What a boring interpretation. Dull, dull, dull. You get a B minus for not taking enough risks in your reading. This skull was made for flinging, and flinging's what it'll do. One of these days, It'll fling all over . . . yes, well, turns out she's not very prudent at all, is she?

Originally, I thought the image was a nice reminder of what I'm trying to do here, i.e, trying not to let my rampant imagination dominate my thoughts and get in the way of my scholarly exercises.

But I've never been one to smash my imagination. The imagination is what fuels my scholarship. I'd like to keep the mirror up there. And I don't need to do away with Cupid either, he's not hurting anyone. Come to think of it, the skull's important too, especially to my work. Let's just try to keep our skulls away from our mirrors, shall we?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

I Would Prefer Not To

Today the temptation to peruse the Job list, which recently went live two days ago, was very strong. Supposedly it is blooming with jealousy-inducing early modernist jobs. Oscar Wilde said: "I can resist everything but temptation."

But I resisted.

I won't I won't I won't I won't look at that list.

Just thinking about ever applying for anything again, interviewing, suddenly wanting something so badly, and if I'm lucky moving, oh god, moving, fills me with anxiety.

I'm also receiving my first invitations to apply for jobs this year. When I got the first e-mail I started to have a panic attack, instead of sitting back and feeling flattered. Maybe this is due in part to being in my first month of a tenure-track job: what doesn't cause a panic attack, at this point?

So if you ask me whether I've seen the job list, the answer is that I would prefer not to.

Whether I can restrain myself is a different quesiton entirely.

I certainly haven't been very good at restraining my imagination these days. Today especially.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Terrible News from Montreal

This news is terrible: Shooting at Dawson College in downtown Montreal .

Jonathan has written well about it over on his blog. There are also first-hand accounts on Metroblog, and Pantagruelle posts on the subject, wisely pointing out the necessity of gun control. I was actually shocked to learn that Canada doesn't have tougher gun control.

It's pretty terrifying. Most of all because Montreal is supposed to be a safe place, and schools are supposed to be safer places inside a safe place.

Now maybe they'll have to install metal detectors and security guards and people will be scared going to school to teach and learn. And people will be scared walking the streets of Montreal.

One of the things I loved about living in Montreal was how much safer it was than big American cities.

I really hope it stays safe, despite this horrific incident. But once they add the necessary metal detectors and security guards, it certainly won't feel the same.

Nonetheless, life, and learning go on. Sometimes, as a close friend said in response to yesterday's trauma, you just have to open your books and keep teaching. And I do think that is perhaps the best thing to do.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

La Petite Domestique

I'm still feeling very domestic, still working on my apartment.

Two new things happened-- I started to cover the ugly 70s paneling and my mod Saarinen style kitchen table arrived. So here are some new views of the hall and the breakfast nook. It's amazing what one can do with a staple gun and some burlap!

The hall walls are actually a kind of pale 18th century dirty turquoise, like a robin's egg, but it looks darker than usual because it was nighttime and the flash was on.

Oh, and here is Saffron engaging in some decoupage. You see, I'm not the only one in the house being crafty:

To Autumn

I love autumn, especially the harvest. And it's on its way.

This past Sunday I went to the farmer's market, about 20 minutes out of town on the way to the airport. It was quiet and smaller than on most days, but it was still in full swing. There were plants, flowers, flowering plants, fruit, vegetables, fruiting and vegetable-ing plants, and fresh churned butter.

So there weren't any crepes, Algerians selling olive oil and tagines, or a Baji lady. But the South has its own specialties: fresh squeezed lemonade and pork skins! Here's a picture of my colleague getting some lemonade. The lemonade guy was awesome. All he wanted to do was talk. It turns out he has a son in Massachussetts, where my friend got her Ph.D. And he went to law school where we teach. And he had this wonderful, kind of formal way of speaking, which I later learned is sometimes called "High Southern."

Also there were lots of apples and pears, varieties I had never heard of including a monstrous giant apple, mostly green with some red, kind of lumpy actually, a little obscene, really, called "Adam and Eve." Mixed apples and pears for $4 a peck. A peck, it turns out, is a smallish paper bag (about 8 apples). We were surprised to see so many apples, but we surmised they came from the Mountains, where it's cooler (NB it's already started to cool down here and is in the lower 60s tonight). The ones we bought were definitely from the mountains.

There were also pink and yellow speckled beans, which I remembered seeing at Jean Talon in Montreal. Here, they're called "October Beans." Not to mention baby vidalia onions and the biggest heirloom tomatoes I have ever seen for the lowest price, $1.29 a pound (see photo below right).

The number of things you can plant in the ground here that will actually grow is fairly remarkable. My friend bought two large-ish hibiscus trees at $5 each. We also saw large fruiting fig trees, heavy with little yellow-brown local figs ripening on their branches. They were $25 each and we both went home planning to research whether we could plant them in our backyards or in pots and have them fruit next summer. There were pots of Carolina Crepe Myrtle everywhere, which looks like a tall fuschia lilac tree and flowers all summer (there are two right outside my house in bloom when I arrived a month ago and still going strong), as well as the divine trumpet vine, which releases its creamy scent only at night.

In the end, I returned with the ingredients for an amazing summer's end gazpacho, two bouquets of flowers, a smile on my face, and a craving for a fig tree. Here's how the farmer's market dahlias have enhanced my apartment:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Do you Tear up when you Salute the Flag?

Is what a friend of mine asked of me, not a little sarcastically, when I told him I was going to my first football game ever this afternoon.

All the new faculty got free tickets and seats in the box for the first two games of the season, so a bunch of us who know nothing about football and could not be even called football enthusiasts, let alone fans, decided to go because it was an event.

As for the game, from what I'm told it was pretty awful, we were playing pretty badly. In the end we won, but just barely

But that was not what shocked me about this football game. No, what shocked me about the football game, and I'm sure it shouldn't have shocked me, I should have been ready for it, was the powerful connection to the military out on the field. This was due, in some part, to it being "Hero Day," but I'm not sure whether it's actually "Hero Day" anywhere else.

In any case, there was a lot of standing and saluting the troops and saluting god, and praying for the brave men and women overseas. Which didn't bother me. Until halftime. When about eight teenaged boys and girls stood on the field in matching US Army tee-shirts and were sworn in to the US Army by four men in camouflage fatigues. The swearing in ended with a Christian prayer. Then they walked off the field, leaving every new faculty member sitting in the box speechless.

I happened to be sitting with two colleagues who went to grad school in my home town, a nice college town with a fairly large football team and a stadium about 100 yards from my parents house. I asked them if anything like this happened at football games in Large Midwestern City. They said no. And they also said that people don't get dressed up for football games in the Midwest either. People really got dressed up, I mean in formal 1950s style strapless sundresses and high heels. Lily Pullitzer is alive and well in the South.

The whole experience felt a little surreal. Like we had all been transported back to some imagined 1950s place that never really existed in the *real* 1950s.

So do I tear up when I salute the flag? Only because I'm a little scared of the South, right now.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Speaking of Appearances

Speaking of appearances, this midwestern-born Jew is finding it nearly impossible to blend in here in Southeastern America. I have two stories regarding this.

Upon my arrival in the airport, a very friendly young woman with long blonde hair and high bangs came up to me to chat about my cat. She just loves kitties. She's got four at home. And when she found out I was teaching at the local private university, she got very excited. You see, her father was an electrician there, and she and her sister were the first staff children allowed to attend. She was very proud of this. It was pretty cool, actually. Then she said to me, "So, you'll be teaching Spanish, right?" When I said no, I'd be teaching Renaissance English literature, she said "Oh, good for you!" as if I had pulled myself up even farther than she had, which made me oddly both embarassed and angered.

Second story. A few days later, I'm sitting in the bank opening up an account. And the woman who is handling it is another excessively friendly woman with bright blonde hair (no high bangs this time; white collar background). And she gets really excited because she looks at my birthdate and we're the same age, born in the same month. And then she gets even more excited because I live in the neighborhood and she just moved here too! Well, we'll have to be neighbhors! Then she decides that she just has to try to set me up with her friend, a pharmacologist. Because he's really nice, and she thinks I would really like him and she just knows he would like me: his name is Vikram and he's been looking for a nice Indian girl for a while.

I decided to let her down easy. "You see," I said, "I teach Spanish . . ."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Anonymity be damned

So some of you noticed that there is now a small, blury picture of me in the upper left hand corner of the blog.

I figured it was blurry and therefore modest enough to post without entirely blowing my cover of anonymity.

Since most of you who know me already know what I look like, I figured those who don't know me won't be any wiser staring at a small, blurry photograph.

Then some of you asked for more, better pictures of me. I like to let the blog unfold organically, so I'm not about to paste my face all over it upon request.

But I couldn't exactly refuse either, flattered as I was. So here are some better pictures. You can see that the one on the left was taken after my nose job. The studio made me do it. The one on the right was taken shortly after Traviata at La Scala.

Ah, those were the days . . .

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Won't Somebody Please come to my Office Hours?

Office Hours. I've begun to loathe them. I hold them at the end of a long day of teaching, and today they are at the end of a long week of teaching. I sit in my office at the end of a long hall.

And no one ever comes. Except the week before papers are due or the week after they have been handed back. Then they all come and camp out in the hallway.

I don't know how people do this. I just can't keep still sitting in one chair for that amount of time. Next week I'll bring work and try to get some of my own writing done, but for that I like to get up every 15 minutes, swing my arms and pace around the house. How anyone as fidgety as me got into academia is a source of bewilderment.

I've got about an hour and fifteen minutes left before I can go home. I'm sitting here doing teaching prep for my upper level seminar in Renaissance poetry, looking out at the rain (today's forecast on NPR was that we would have a 100% chance of rain).

I'm preparing to teach Shakespeare's sonnets. I know the students will want to know about the biographical controversy, especially since this is coming on the heels of Sidney's Astrophil and Stella, a sonnet sequence that does have a fair amount of contemporary biographical information on display. Was Shakespeare gay, straight, bisexual? Who was Mr. W.H., and who was the dark lady? What happened to make the speaker change beloveds 3/4 of the way through? I'll try not to spend too much time on those mysteries. I'm tempted to use Stephen Booth's terse answer, though it kind of takes all the fun out of the mystery:

"HOMOSEXUALITY: William Shakespeare was almost certainly homosexual, bisexual, or heterosexual. The Sonnets provide no evidence on the matter."

Ha! So much for that. Now we'll have to focus on the materiality of the text. No Anthony Burgess or Stephen Greenblatt for you.

Is Burgess' book even in print any more? I remember I had to check it out of the library in order to read it when I was 17. I wonder if I'd still like it. Maybe I should teach a literary historical novel course and assign it.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Missing Montreal

I think I'll always miss Montreal. Food was what I missed third, after people and culture. But now that I miss food, I miss it acutely. Adjusting to suburban American life, I've realized I no longer have ready access to yummy things like good baguette, Montreal breakfasts (les oeufs benedictine at Cote Soleil and Cafe Fruits Folie), Blanche de Chambly, Coup de Grisou, pate, Portuguese grilled chicken, and goat cheese. Yes, even goat cheese. Chavrie is sold at the supermarket chain here, but it's $6.99. Fucking Six Ninety Nine! Oh well, at least good California wine is cheap and abundant here. And North Carolina wine too. Stop laughing.

I probably missed Montreal even while I lived there. The city frequently gave me sunny arm-swingy euphoria-inducing stomach-flipping days, especially in my last five weeks there. But sometimes it showed its melancholy side too.

This is one of my favorite storefronts in the Plateau.

It's from an old Jewish owned shop that sold "Planters (Biggest Name in Peanuts), Stationery, Candy, Twine, Etc."

Just what does the "Etc" stand for anyway?


I had planned not to indulge in weekly KB, also known as "kitten-blogging." But I couldn't resist just this once. Saffron is finally settling in to her new surroundings. One of her favorite spots to sleep is inside her mod circle-in-the-square cardboard scratching post.

A cat's ability to be blissfully comfortable in any kind of container always impresses me. Look at her dangling outstretched paws!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Bookish Post

So I've been thinking about the book questions, the ones Common Smartweed answered on her blog, Nice Belt.

It's a basic set of questions about books I've read and books I've liked and why. But answering such questions is hard when you're an English teacher. Because a) I don't really get to read many books for fun anymore, it's all mostly Renaissance texts and criticism and early modern documents and the like and b) I have this fear that because I'm an English teacher I'm actually supposed to know something about literature and therefore people will take my answers seriously. Which they shouldn't.

Which book/s changed my life?

Pale Fire and Mme Bovary. I read them both when I was 16. Up until that point I had been devouring novels right and left and delighting in living in the imaginary worlds they proffered. No longer. I guess I just hadn't realized that books could hide nasty secrets. But I love that they do.

The Goldbug Variations, because no one writes like Richard Powers, and no one tells a double-helix story as well as he does, here. You might as well give up on double-helix stories, because this is the best and final one, like Beethoven finishing the sonata with Op. 111 (in Mann's Dr. Faustus). Powers basically created and finished the double-helix story with The Goldbug Variations: there is nothing more to say on that subject.

And finally, Hamlet because if I had never been a 14-year-old Ophelia, I probably never would have become a professor of Renaissance English literature.

Which book/s have I read more than once?

Everything by Jane Austen. It's quite curious that something with such a predictable plot could continue to give so much pleasure again and again, and could compel me to keep turning those pages in anticipation. Why on earth is this? We all know she gets him in the end of every single book. Maybe it's something metaphysical about Austen's prose, maybe it's the way her knowing narrator includes her audience in the dryness of her jokes. I don't know, but I think it's a little bit weird.

I've also read The Rape of Lucrece probably about eighteen times in the last three years. And the damned article still won't get accepted. Oh well, I'll never tire of reading that excellent and terrifying poem, so I guess I shouldn't be so upset at having to continually revise my critical entry into it.

Which book/s would I like to have on a desert island?

I don't know what function desert island books are supposed to have. Are they supposed to comfort me in my hour of need, or are they supposed to be something that never bores me? I guess Paradise Lost would probably fulfill the latter function, but only Don Quixote could do both.

Which book/s made me laugh?

Don Quixote, Titus Andronicus (macabre humor: I love it), Crying of Lot 49, Hero and Leander, the last act of Poetaster, and a certain novella I read recently.

Made me cry?

Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian, all of P.L. Travers' Mary Poppins books (but especially the last one when she goes away for real) and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Children's novels do it every time.

Do I wish I had written?

Since I'm just a humble English teacher and not a writer per se, critically speaking, I'm still in awe of Patricia Fumerton's Cultural Aesthetics and Bourdieu's Distinction. There are a lot of scholars I'd like to be able to write like. The transparency of Margreta de Grazia's prose resembles cool, clear spring water. And Simon Schama's historical prose is impossible to resisit. And I suppose I wish I had cashed in on the medieval/renaissance historical murder mystery. Because I wouldn't have had to do any extra research, and I'm immodest enough to say that I think I could have done it a lot more imaginatively than almost every one I've read, with the exception of Ross King's Ex Libris, which is kind of like a 17th century Crying of Lot 49. I also wish I could write like Thackeray. There, I said it. Put away your puppets children, our play is done.

Do I wish had never been written?

The Da Vinci Code

Am currently reading?

I should probably lie and say that I'm reading something great but right now I'm heavily into teaching prep as I start the day after tomorrow. So I'm reading Chaucer, Sidney, Lydgate, and Holbein's illustrations to The Dance of Death (also known as the Imagines Mortis). Actually, the Holbein is pretty cool: dancing skeletons in various stages of decomposition, mocking their living counterparts.

Wanting to read?

Gilead. Because Common Smartweed makes it sound really good. Pearl, because my mother says it's really good. But definitely not the next brilliant break-out novel by some guy named Jonathan or David with glasses who lives in Brooklyn. Seriously, there are at least five of them. Shouldn't we be worried?

And now it's time for me to pass the baton, because it seems to be customary with these questions. So I pass it to Jonathan (Super Bon!), Skookumchick (Rants of a Feminist Engineer), and Pantagruelle. Have fun, guys.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Views

Here are some early views of my apartment.

First, on the left is the the vast living room, sans couch, which will be arriving between October and November. Not pictured: three Billy bookcases, almost full of books and cds, and the window on the other side of the fireplace. If you look closely, you can see the museum plexiglass in the fireplace. My landlord had it installed after the cat in the chimney incident. It reminds me of those museum pieces that beep if you get too close.

Next, you may peruse the almost empty dining room. I think I need a bigger table and definitely more chairs. I'm still waiting for my giant cuban movie posters to arrive, and I've got to get a frame for my Metropolis poster too.

Finally, we have the messy bedroom. Three windows but precious little light, as they all face North, and there are only patches of sky in the tree-filled back yard. The bed is unmade because Saffron is curled up under the quilt at the bottom and I did not wish to disturb her.

Not pictured: kitchen, front hall, breakfast nook, study. All too ugly and unfinished for your eyes as of yet.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

George and Ira Gershwin were Effing Brilliant

Here's why:

The way you wear your hat
The way you sip your tea
The memory of all that
No, no they can't take that away from me

The way your smile just beams
The way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams
No, no they can't take that away from me

We may never never meet again
On the bumpy road to love
Still I'll always always keep the memory of

The way you hold your knife
The way we danced till three
The way you've changed my life
No no they can't take that away from me
They can't take that away from me

It's a cyclone!

A cyclone of activity, that is.

I've been driving around, getting used to driving and having a car, rushing about on campus , moving into my office and into my home.

It took me two and a half days to completely unpack, but it was exhausting because I could only unpack in the afternoon and evening, after a full day's orientation on campus.

But thankfully I am now set up with a spanking new laptop, printer, and office. With a big window that looks out on one of the quads, the one full of giant Southern magnolia trees, some of which have decided to be in bloom, though sparsley. There is a nice old oak tree in front of the window.

I'm still physically exhausted from unpacking, moving boxes around, and getting rid of empty boxes, not to mention depleting the rain forest and wasting bushels of crumpled up paper. Nothing tones your arms better than shoving tons of crumpled up paper into giant black trashbag after giant black trashbag, sitting on said trashbag to compress the paper, then shoving in some more, and then carting six of said giant black trashbags down three flights of stairs to the garbage cans at the side of the house.

From what I've seen of the social scene here in this town, it is nil to negative nil. Thankfully this is not so on campus amongst the faculty. Already I've become friendly with two new history profs, a dance prof and a large number of 3-year visiting assistant English profs. Two of whom (the historian and the dance professor) live 2 blocks away from me.

It's pretty unfair how ghettoized the visiting assistants are, though. They all have to have offices in the basement with no windows, they get older computer models, and they didn't get much moving funds either. I'm sure the space thing is due in part to a shortage of office space on campus, on every campus everywhere. Hell, as a postdoc I didn't even get my own office. And while there were windows, lovely lovely windows, I still had to share with two other people, one of whom was doing administrative work and was on the phone frequently. So I never went to the office more than 4 or 5 times (and my office mates are probably reading this and only remembering 3 or 4 times). But creating an automatic distinction between tenure-track and visiting assistants does nothing to integrate departments. I'm doing my best to include them and to introduce them to tenured and tenure-track faculty. Aside from the fact that I think they will make up more of my social group because we're all around the same age and they are really cool, I am also struck by the thought that it could easily have been the other way around, with two of them upstairs on tenure-track jobs, and me and the other new tenure-track prof downstairs in the basement. The English job market is notoriously arbitrary, unstable, and dessicated in particular areas for a number of years. It's no accident that most of the visiting folk are late 19th-early 20th century scholars. This particular field has had a negligible number of openings on the market for the past three years, whereas my own field has experienced a bit of an expansion, going just by numbers.

This weekend I am working on my lesson plans and syllabi. In between short breaks to hang pictures and repot plants. One of the benefits of living in a highly suburban area is the high number of garden centers nearby. I now have a small conservatory of green friends in my vast livingroom, which includes a 4 foot rubber plant, a long-leafed weeping ficus (like the one I gave Amy), a button fern and a curly bostom fern, a china doll, and a hoya. Not to mention the thyme, rosemary, lavender and basil sititng in the kitchen window.

Once it's all set up I shall post a few photos here, just to gloat at what I can get for $675 a month down South.

Saffron has finally calmed down and has taken to sleeping under my quilt and purring up a storm all night (the bedroom is chilly from the air conditioning, so she likes to get under the covers to stay warm). Right now she's asleep in a sunbeam on my living room rug (a new purchase, huge, gorgeous so-called Bakhtiari, cheap, thank you ebay).

Monday, August 14, 2006

Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you, tomorrow

I have finally made contact with my driver. His name is Giles (not the British way, the French way). ZJeeel. He will deliver my things tomorrow (Tues) at 1pm. Fingers crossed.

Tomorrow I have a 4 hour new faculty orientation which I think will be just a bunch of people giving powerpoint presentations about benefit offers. In any case, I'll need to leave at 12:30, get in the car, and high-tail it home to meet the movers and let them in. Then, when they're done, I'll load up the car with boxes and posters and high-tail it back to campus to move into my office.

It's going to be a long day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Caution: Ranting about my Move

If only I could rewind and start the move over again. In all of one week, I managed to lose my wallet and everything in it, the movers haven't come and have missed their projected window, the movers overcharged me and my school (who refuses to pay for the whole move), and the cat somehow managed to crawl into the chimney and then got stuck and refused to push herself out. Not even a handful, and I mean a whole handful of smoked salmon could tempt her to squish her furry floppy body back out through the narrow opening. Finally when I attempted to block off her ascent with a large piece of cardboard, a torrent of falling soot distressed her enough for her to get out. Then she ran into the closet and stayed there for 24 hours. I think I was pretty traumatized too, but not as much as I was when I discovered my wallet had fallen into a trashbin that was emptied the previous morning.

I've basically been making trips to Target (tahr-jay, which is suburban bourgie shopping paradise to the uninitiated), slowly buying up duplicates of things I already have but need now because they are all with the movers until my cash runs out and my credit cards arrive.

Funny thing about the movers. As you know, my things left my apartment and were loaded up onto a moving van last Thursday. I was told they would arrive in 2-8 days, but once the van was loaded, that window would narrow or become more specific. Or so they said. Today I learned that although the shipment left the Montreal warehouse yesterday (a week after leaving my apartment), it hadn't crossed the border yet today at 7:15pm. And Montreal is half an hour from the border. They keep bullshitting me when I call, too. Yesterday I called to try to get some information and they told me the guy in charge was in the toilet and they had lost my file. Then they called me back about 3 hours later and had me speak to a new guy who wasn't clued into the fact that my file was soi disant missing. "We never lost your file, I have it right here," he said innocently. There is a website for me to check the status of my move, but it doesn't have any updated information. In fact, it places the estimated time of arrival between a week and 5 days ago.

It probably goes without saying, but just for extra emphasis: If I had known it would take the movers this long to deliver, I could have stayed in Montreal an extra week. Which would have been grand.

So basically here I am waiting for my replacement drivers license to arrive by overnight mail (it was in my wallet), waiting for my clothes, books, cooking utensils and furniture to arrive by van and praying that it will arrive all in once piece and with nothing missing . . .

I've got a little under 2 weeks before I start teaching. But I've got orientation activities all week starting this Tuesday and I'm supposed to move into my office too.

I've been being extra nice to strangers, hoping a little karma will come my way.

At least I read a really good novella the other day.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Airport Wireless

L'Aeroport de Montreal has wireless! I'm sitting here, looking out at the gorgeous blue sky and blogging from the airport, as I wait to fly to the States in about an hour. I'm such a cyber geek right now. I just updated my ipod after importing some new songs to itunes, some of which are very funny (thank you for the CDs my dears), so I'm listening to my ipod, giggling and blogging. I'm wearing my new Montreal Perdu t-shirt (available here). I am such a hipster cliche.

Well, I would be, except that there is a drugged cat sitting in a carrier at my feet, my clothes are covered with cat fur, I haven't brushed my teeth, my hair is a mess and my eyes are red and a little puffy. I sure look put together. Oh well, it's a little late for tears. I guess I can't change my habit patterns.

So far, the move is going as well as could be expected. Saffron was very brave, though it took longer than half an hour for her drugs to kick in and she trembled and shed handfuls when the security guards made me take her out of her case and then forced us to wait several minutes before going through the metal detector. When I put her back in the carrier I could feel her little heart beating hard and fast. Or maybe it was mine. But now she has sleepily snuggled down in the cat bag.

I knew it would be hard to leave Montreal and to leave you (all the "you"s in all the songs, abstract and specific), I knew I would be sad, so I'm just letting it happen, letting it pass through me. I feel things very intensely and I like feeling things intensely even if it hurts. It feels good to feel.