Thursday, July 17, 2008


A selection of random observations about this particular trip to London.

1. The flat I'm occupying is owned by perhaps the nicest 60-ish couple I have met other than my parents. He's a distinguished prof on the West Coast, she's an artist. The flat is large for London, though it doesn't get a lot of light. It's furnished with English antiques and books. There's a small bookcase near the doorway to the bedroom, full of books on the topic of which this professor is an expert. I pulled one off the shelf, thinking I'd learn a bit more about his subject- and discovered that everything in the shelf was authored by him.

This makes eight books published in the US plus 2 or 3 published in Europe, plus a 7 volume translation. Okay, so he collaborated on the most recent book and on the translation. But not one is an edited anthology, so still, it's a phenomenal amount of work for any one professor, and even more when you consider that every one of these books is about the work of the same author. Grand total of books authored, edited and translated by this professor: 18. Grand total of books authored, edited and translated by Pamphilia: 0; 1 in progress. (.75 Down, 17.25 to go).

2. I just finished Michael Chabon's first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which was hilarious. There's no television in the flat, so I've been reading novels (not that I'd watch TV in London anyway of course). Anyway, it's sad and hilarious. At one point the hero decides to go on the lam with his partner and they check in to a hotel "under the name of Saunders." Hee- they think they're being obscure and literary but it's Winnie the Pooh.

Anyway, at the back of the book was an essay by Chabon about writing his first novel. He says that there are three parts to being a successful writer: talent, discipline, and luck. And the only thing anyone ever has any control over is discipline. So that became his work ethic. I keep thinking about this while I'm here because I've actually become a lot less disciplined than I used to be. I mean a long time ago, when I was in high school and did all my homework every night and practiced the piano every day for 3 hours. I was fairly disciplined in College too- I don't mean that I drafted my papers in advance, but I did turn them in on time. I wonder what happened- when or where I lost this rigorous discipline. Was it in graduate school when I had the luxury of focusing only on one thing? Or was it living by myself that eroded my discipline- there was no one around to tell me what to do, or to set a good example? In any case, I've resolved to become more disciplined.

3. Taking the bus from where I'm staying to the BL today in the rain (I sat up on top), I overheard a lovely elderly British couple narrating the bus-trip to one another. He was pointing out landmarks to her, so she must have just come in to town. It was sweet the way they talked with wonder about all the newfangled technology taking over the world- cellphones with email and pictures and music and such. When we passed Mme Tussaud's the man said that he went once, but that was "before the War." I don't know which war he meant, but "things were different then."

4. I didn't really know what "Expensive" meant until I had been here a week. "Expensive" is basically the fact that everything that should cost what it would cost anywhere else, is not available for anything less than a ridiculously high price. Sandwiches are $7, and lunch is $30. EVERYWHERE. It's July and lots of things are "on sale." This means that tee-shirts are only $40 instead of $80.

5. The British Library is full of people you think you know, but don't. Everyone looks vaguely familiar and you will inevitably bound toward someone thinking he or she is your friend or colleague and then be embarrassed when they turn around. This meant that when I did see a colleague from a neighboring university, I approached him timidly and barely whispered his name. Which of course meant that our entire conversation was conducted in barely audible whispers because he thought I was being extra polite (sssh, it's a library).

6. Timeout London knows everything. Where else can you find information about the London Bat Watch and nude men's yoga in Islington?


plam said...

Yes, I'm kind in shock at a 550GBP registration fee for a conference that I should go to in London in September. That is expensive!

Pamphilia said...

That's much more than my field charges- the most I've seen is 200 GBP. Does your university reimburse you for that? My travel allowance was just cut and now it's something like $1000 per conference, which includes registration, hotel, meals, and airfare.

Astrophil said...

The year I lived in London, I watched television until my eyes glowed with a strange light. Basically, I only knew 8 people in town, my entire social life revolved around the BL, and when the Rare Books room closed, what else was there for me to do except go home, cook dinner, and watch cable TV? Plus, I hadn't lived in a place with a TV for YEARS.