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 . . .