Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MLA Bound

I am, once again, MLA bound next week. Off to snowy Philadelphia to deliver a paper, see old friends, and horse around in a place I used to live.

I'm dreading and looking forward to it. Dreading it because MLA still fills me with residual dread. It's just so huge. Sometimes it's really hard just to locate one's friends in the midst of all the posturing and networking and nervous job candidates and competitive colleagues. And dreading it because the economy's so bad, there are few jobs available for anyone, and even my alma mater has canceled its annual party. It's a dark, dark time.

But let's face it, I'm a nerd. I totally love the work that we do, and so I am looking forward to it because part of me cannot wait to give my talk, and meet the important person who agreed to chair our panel, and reconnect with scholars whose work I admire.

But if you're one of my friends and you'll be there, and you're also feeling overwhelmed by the massiveness that is MLA, please get in touch with me and let's arrange to meet up. In advance.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Maybe it's me, but I find most pop songy holiday music as irritating as it is inescapable this time of year. So I'm always glad when a little jazz standard by Irving Berlin ("White Christmas") or Mel Tormé ("Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire") comes out over the loudspeakers, only partly because both composers were Jews who knew that Christmas sells. They were also elegant composers who knew the thrill and complexity of a long, drawn out musical phrase.

Another Jew who capitalized on Christmas was Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics to my favorite Christmas song of all time, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." I like it because the original lyrics are so dark and ironic and uncertain.

Meet Me in St. Louis was one of my favorite movies as a little girl. And this scene in particular. Have yourself a merry little Christmas indeed. Then run outside and smash all the snowmen, because you have to move to New York.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

This Little Light of Mine

It's a gorgeous day: bright blue cloudless sky, red gold leaves in the trees and underfoot, and warmth under the dappled sun. As I tramped through the leaves in the backyard, half listening to my neighbor summon her cat "Cowgirl! Here kit-kit-kit-kit-kit-kit-kit-TEE!" which makes me feel like I'm in the country, I noticed that the familiar call was mixed with a strain of bright music. There is a church on my cross-street, a tiny white box of a building that I never paid much attention to. But today I could hear a small gospel choir inside singing

This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
I'm gonna let it shine
I'm gonna let it shine
This little light of mine
I'm gonna let it shine
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shi-ine

My mother used to sing this to me when I was very small. Hearing it today was kind of transcendental.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Being under review again is challenging, since I've started to make progress on my manuscript revision. The review can take up a lot of psychological and emotional acreage, leaving little room for focus on my current projects, if I'm not careful. And it gets scarier and scarier in the years leading up to the tenure decision. I'm only 3 years in and already I'm worried.

Reading one's colleagues' critical reports is a bracing experience, but I'm trying my best to take them to heart constructively by thinking about how I can use this as an opportunity to change as a teacher and as a scholar. I'm trying to read them as assessments rather than evaluations. And I'm hoping they'll keep me on.

I have also realized I am not a fan of certain words and phrases that tend to crop up in such reports. It's probably because right now my mind's landscape is being overtaken by thoughts about the review and its uncertain outcome. But for some reason the verb "evinces", even used in a positive way, freaks me out. It has nothing to do with what the word means. I think it has something to do with the way it sounds- kind of like a sharp knife slicing away at paper.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Haiku Dissertations

I recently came across these beautiful haikus (via an email from an adorable beau) based on doctoral dissertations.

Somehow I'm more impressed by these scholars' abilities to write haikus based on their projects than by the years of research and argumentation that went in to the original projects. It's so much more difficult to reduce one's argument to seventeen syllables.

I think perhaps I ought to try to write a few of these about my book project, and maybe they will help me clarify my proposal.


Monday, October 05, 2009

Yellow Leaves

I'm back in the South for the time being. Montreal and New York were wonderful, but I've had to come back here for a while, to work, until I can find a subletter and a sublet elsewhere.

I've just turned in my 3rd/4th year review dossier (sigh of relief, followed by sigh of apprehension) and am settling in to writing, or fixing up my manuscript.

The weather's been cool, and the leaves are starting to turn. I'm switching from sandals to boots, tights, jeans and cardigans. It's not cold enough to turn on the heat just yet, but it's cool enough to smell woodsmoke and cold wet grass in the air, go for a short walk in the park and return to brew a pot of tea for the afternoon's work.

I love autumn. I think maybe I say this every year around this time of year, but I believe I think better, write better, work better when it's just starting to get chilly out. The air is thinner, crisper, my mind is sharper. Or maybe it's all the mugs of tea I'm consuming. At any rate, I am grateful for the arrival of autumn and for my leave- there are few things I would rather do than sit down with a pile of books and a pot of tea, wrap myself in a wool cardigan, and settle down to read or revise, with a nearly comatose cat nestled in my lap.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

retourner à Montréal

Tomorrow morning- eye blinkingly early - I'm going to take the 11 hour train from New York to Montréal. It will be my first time back in the city in two years, which is almost unbelievable to me, given that I still dream of Montréal and still think about myself as having come to the south from there, kind of as if I lived there longer than I actually did. Of course it helped cement that feeling of being "from Montréal" in my head, when I kept going back to Montréal for a year and a half after I moved south (I was dating someone who lived there).

But anyway, it's been two years. My French is rusty. My vocabulaire Québecois even rustier. I can't seem to remember the proper order of the streets that ran between my own street, Rue Drolet, and the main street Boul. St. Laurent, even though I walked past them several times a day for a year, and for some reason I find this vaguely disturbing. Henri-Julien, Laval, Hôtel-de-Ville, Coloniale, St. Dominique. There, I think that's right. (I just checked google maps and had forgotten de Bullion- how could I have forgotten de Bullion?!). Every day I would walk along Avenue des Pins from Drolet to St. Laurent and pass these same streets. I'd pass the Theatre des Quat'Sous, housed in an old synagogue, and the fancy restaurant Laloux where my parents once took me and where we ate coqilles st. jacques cooked with creme, orange rind and pernod and they served mousse de fois gras instead of butter with the bread. It sat across the street from a humble little potato place, Patate au Four, which I never tried but liked the idea that it was open late next door to a Buanderie- so you could get a piping hot potato if you were stuck out in the cold, dark winter doing your laundry.

This time, I'm not going alone. There is a fellow traveler (an adorable beau), who speaks better French than me but has never been to Montréal. I can't wait to show it to him. But it will also be good just to walk those streets again, speak that weird mixture of Canadian French and English, see my old friends, and wander through the used bookstores of the Plateau, stocked with beautiful francophone books and huge collections of discounted classical music CDs. I think I still have my 10% off discount card for the Bouquineries St. Denis and du Plateau, which I remember had this great window on Rue St. Denis full of curious book specimens, all of which I coveted. And of course we'll see some French cinema and visit Mile End, with its mixture of Portuguese cafes, Greek delis, and Orthodox Jews, and the Spanish and Portuguese places in the Plateau, and the lovely Café Côté Soleil on St. Denis to have a Montréal brunch, and then go for a walk up the "mountain" maybe with a picnic lunch from Marché Jean Talon and I'll see my friends and colleagues too- three days is starting to seem a little too short to fit everything in.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

First Paycheck On Leave

30% of my half-pay has been withheld in taxes. I now make less per year than I did as a postdoc in Canada.


Back to grant applications for the spring.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Home again, home again, jiggety jig

. . . And it's pretty much the same. Except that the cat is trying to make up for 18 days without me by sticking her face in front of me every two seconds, and about 50% of the tomatoes were destroyed by caterpillars or blight or not enough water or all three. The first day of classes was yesterday but I'm on leave so I roll out of bed at 8 and spend the morning writing and listening to Bach in my pajamas. I feel kind of ill- like I'm playing hooky or I've got one long extended sick-day.

I've got to get out of here! And so I've devised a marvelous plan: who says I should spend my leave here just because I didn't get a fancy long-term fellowship? Here, where my house is full of distractions and I feel all wrong going to campus and hanging out around my colleagues who are not on leave, and thus envious of me? I have decided to try to sublet my place and move somewhere (avec chat) with bigger libraries, more rare books, more influential and important early modern scholars, and writing-friendly cafes, preferably late this fall, but I'll do January if I must. Can I afford it? Barely. But right now I think it might make a huge difference in my productivity and general happiness. Yes?

Friday, August 21, 2009


I'm still working on this book review. I've never reviewed a book with problems, so I don't really know what the protocol is, or what I ought to do. So please, people who have published many reviews, write in and tell me what I should do.

Here's the deal:

1. It's an edited anthology that was produced in Europe. The introduction has two or three interesting historical observations on the topic, but not much analysis. It doesn't pose any provocative questions or attempt to answer them with the essays in the volume, which is kind of what I thought anthologies were supposed to do. But maybe European anthologies have a different critical approach. Maybe they're less concerned with asking enormous questions and trying to redefine the Renaissance in a ground-breaking way, the way we North American and British folks keep trying to do (and failing). So resisting a grand recit actually would be kind of refreshing, come to think of it.

2. It's full of errors. I wouldn't mind the copy-editing mistakes, but there are some really big ones. For instance, an essay all about Renaissance emblems and poetry repeatedly uses the term energeia ("activity") when the author really means enargeia ("visibility"). Although enargeia is energeia's henchman - "visibility" makes "activity" possible - it's clear that the author of this essay neither understands the difference between the two, nor their relationship. The same article confuses ut pictura poesis (Horace's equation of poetry with painting, which is really about PERSPECTIVE) with poema pictura loquens ("a poem is a talking picture"), a mistake a lot of people make, which never gets corrected because no one reads ancient languages for REAL anymore, or bothers to read the whole of Horace's Ars Poetica and compare it with Plutarch. This really, really bugs me. But maybe I'm overreacting.

3. Sadly, I wish I could write to the editors and tell them about all the mistakes so that they can fix them. This book probably shouldn't have gone to press with so many errors.

So- do I write to the journal who gave me the review and tell them the book shouldn't be reviewed? Or do I review it and mention all its faults in the gentlest way possible? I mean, 500 of my 700 words would be summary anyway . . .

Fellow writers and scholars, please weigh in.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The New Flattery

For the first time, the guy sitting next to me in the Red Horse Cafe asked "where do you teach?" instead of "where do you study?" Is this the new flattery, or am I starting to look my academic age?

To be fair, he was much older than me, taught at a noted boho New England liberal arts college for nine years and got tenure there before moving to a noted boho Manhattan college.

And if he peeked, he might have noticed that my desktop was littered with virtual post-it notes saying things like "Article due August 31," "Book review due Sept. 1" and "Get image permissions" plus the deadlines of various fellowship competitions. Does that make me seem more professional?

Maybe he was just being extremely charming. What young female scholar doesn't want to be mistaken for someone with a successful professional career? This guy was slick. Then he left to go take care of his three-year-old. It's Park Slope, after all- he probably had to walk the dog while his wife went to Yoga class.

Epilogue: the same evening I went to a comedy-improv performance with an adorable beau. The young woman sitting next to us was shocked (actually even a bit taken aback) to learn my "real" age- said I looked "MUCH younger." My students always do this and it makes me laugh because what do they know? They don't know anyone else in their 30s. Maybe it was the beau.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

If you can't say something nice . . . say something mean.

I'm sitting in a cafe just south of Park Slope in Brooklyn, working on two pieces due at the end of the month. It's a lovely space- reminds me very much of the coffee-house where I work in my small Southern town, only much smaller (there is too much extra space in the South). The guy at the counter is from Alabama and serves Sweet Tea and seriously good bluegrass is coming out of the speakers. Were it not for all the cars outside and cute, bespectacled urban hipsters inside, I could be back home. Except that I think I like the South better when it's in Brooklyn.

My pieces are only sort of due August 31- one's a 3,000 word invited article for an online journal, and the other one is a book review which was originally due May 30. I tried to explain this to an MA student who has a crush on me a couple of nights ago. I was out with my friends, a married couple one of whom is a colleague, the other a writer. The student showed up too, and spent a couple of hours chatting with us. My colleague and I were complaining about our deadlines and then we started joking and laughing about how we'll never turn our pieces in on time anyway, because we were invited to do them. The MA student gazed at us with a mixture of shock and admiration, like he was privy to some illicit bit of information about how academics really work. And I'd forgotten all about how scary deadlines used to be, back when I was a student, back when they really mattered (or so I thought). But now that I get asked to do things all the time, of course, everything is so flexible. 'Cause that's how we hot-shot academics roll. (I hope my readers know I'm being silly and sarcastic here: I do take deadlines seriously and only rarely get invited to do anything. Just for clarification).

Anyway, I'm sitting here trying to write a decent review of this book, a collection of nine essays all vaguely pertaining to an organizing topic, and divided into four sections, but the introduction seems cursory, the organizing principle tenuous, and the section themes haphazard. Have you ever started to read a book you're reviewing and begun to think that every sentence (or every other sentence) is false? I'm at that stage right now. The book is decorated with my interjections. As I read each sentence I keep thinking "Really? No way! That is so not true." I can't tell if I'm right about this, or if it's just because I'm in a contrary, doubtful mood, inclined to question anything anyone tells me, whether it's an historical fact, an argument about Renaissance emblems, or a profession of love.

Book reviews don't really count as publications in my world, but they are still necessary. My friend Veralinda calls them exercises of good citizenship. It's just something we do to show that we are part of an (imagined) community of readers, especially at this early stage in our bookless careers. But the problem is that a book review makes a difference in someone else's career- the authors of the book I'm reviewing. And I don't want to ruin their careers since academic ones are so hard to come by. And because I can't afford it because then they could ruin mine. Still this review (graciously passed to me by Veralinda) is for a publication I respect. And I need to start being a good citizen.

At the moment I'm very fond of someone who never tones it down, who speaks his mind honestly and articulately and at times (some might say) insensitively. I have tremendous respect for him, because I cannot stand it when people gloss insults with insincere niceties (bless their hearts). And because I don't think he would speak so honestly if he didn't respect and like me, too. But in the case of my review I think there must be a way for me to write clearly and truthfully about what is wrong with this essay collection and still remain sensitive to the careers I may be tarnishing. I just haven't found it yet.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Freud Returns

Although Freud never visited the Holy Land in his lifetime, I took it upon myself to return him to the land of his ancestors. Here he is looking thoughtful at the Kotel (Western Wall). I wonder what he is thinking. Has he seen the light? Or is he a bit circumspect, muttering, "Sometimes a wall is just a wall"?

Tel Aviv and Jerusalem could not be more different. Jerusalem is golden white, cool, hilly; Tel Aviv is busy, dingy and peeling, congested, towering, hot and sweaty, and despite or because all this extremely compelling, especially to Freud. It is filled with arty graffiti.

The love-child of Keith Haring and a Hasid:

Freud's favorite spot (voden?):

Friday, July 24, 2009

Middle Eastern Engrish

There are probably fewer examples of Engrish in Istanbul and Tel Aviv than can be found in Japan, but I did manage to find some:

This is a coffee-shop in Sultanahmet, the historic neighborhood of Istanbul full of wooden houses, cobblestones, and cats. I passed it on my uphill walk to the Aya Sofya.

From a hotel room door in Tel Aviv.

"Naughty" Air Freshener isn't technically Engrish, since the Hebrew actually means "naughty child scent". I think maybe it's supposed to be used when your (bad) little boy makes a nasty stink in the bathroom. Incidentally, I recently learned that the Hebrew word for mouth (peh) and the French word for fart (pet), are homophones.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Spice Bazaar

Overlooking the Galata bridge which crosses the Golden Horn in the Bosphorus, linking Eminönü to Beyoğlu in Istanbul, sits the spice bazaar, an ancient spot where traders on the spice road set up shop. The current structure dates from the 17th century, and is called the Mısır Çarşısı (Egyptian Market) in Turkish, because the first merchants there came from Egypt (supposedly). Inside the displays of pyramids of peppers, curries and teas are dizzying. You can also find towers of lokum and helva, both of which look like jewel-studded precious stones and come in every possible flavor. There are also long strands of dried okra, eggplant, and peppers, for stuffing with rice and simmering in stews.

As I walked the length of the spice bazaar, shopkeepers placed bits of lokum in my mouth, shoved pungent loose pomegranate tea under my nose, and tried to entice me in Spanish and French. (Apparently I'm not very American looking). I replied in Turkish with "yok teşeker" (No thank you).

I bought 100g of Aşk çay (Love Tea) at a shop near the entrance. It has rosebuds, pomegranates, hibiscus, lemon, dried apple, dried sour cherries and camomile in it and made everything in my suitcase smell delicious. When he scooped it out for me, the clerk asked me how many "darlings" I wanted to lure with the tea, 10 or 15? I settled for a modest 5- no use provoking a full-on assault. He also insisted that I purchase some lokum to serve with it because Turkish Delight is supposedly an aphrodisiac. I was a little miffed- did he really think I needed such devices? But I bought both, and gave the lokum away.

At Arifoğlu Natural Products, I sniffed four types of rose essence, made up of roses from Turkey, Syria, and Iran. I chose a tiny dram of Attar of Roses and after I paid the (cute, young) shopkeeper proposed to me even though I hadn't offered him any of my Aşk çay. When I politely refused him for the seventh time and went to join my parents, he saw them and after striking a comical deal with my father (he promised to throw in his sister), finally stammered that he was only joking. Too bad, because I was already planning my life as a spice-bazaar shop-keeper's wife.

The Attar is very strong- only a quarter of a half of a drop is needed. But it is 100% natural and blends very well with my favorite Parisian perfume (an extravagant gift from one of my 5 or 6 darlings), adding a little warmth to a very unobtrusive light incense scent.

The Food

Oh, the food in the Middle East. It seems fitting that I dedicate an entire blog post to it. Looking back at my trip, it seems as if I ate vast amounts of food, even though I lost about 7 pounds.

Turkish and Israeli food are quite different, but have at least one thing in common: they are both delicious. The best thing about both is the freshness of the ingredients. Somehow even the most unassuming tomatoes are bursting with flavor (they actually taste red), and cucumbers, so bland in the States, positively sing with green, melony flavor. An Israeli I know bites into both as one might bite into an apple. They are, after all, fruit.

My favorite Turkish meal is breakfast. My Istanbul hotel served breakfast on a rooftop overlooking the Sultanahmet neighborhood, with the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya on one side, and the Sea of Marmara on the other. Laid out on a long table was an overwhelming buffet- copper bowls and jugs filled with three kinds of olives, yogurt, various white and marinated cheeses, fresh cherry tomatoes, bunches of mint and parsley, walnuts and hazelnuts and watermelon and sometimes plums, a mess of dried fruits including apricots, sour cherries, figs and white mulberries, and a full-sized honeycomb, hanging vertically from a wooden trestle.

There were also various egg dishes like menemen (finely scrambled eggs with tomato), plus small pastries sprinkled with sesame and black cumin seeds, and jars of various spices including aleppo and urfa pepper, to sprinkle on top. There were Turkish jams and confitures like pekmez (pomegranate molasses), rose petal jam and pumpkin preserve. And fruit leather, and halva, and even some tiny jewel-like pieces of lokum (Turkish Delight) to tempt those with a sweet-tooth. And Turkish coffee and Turkish tea to drink, served in a tiny tulip shaped glass on a white porcelain dish decorated with red and gold. Iced drinks included sour cherry juice and oriental sherbet, which tasted like spiced sour cherry mixed with lemonade and cardamon.

For my first three days in Istanbul, it was impossible to choose what to eat. I always took too much of everything and ended up skipping lunch and not having anything until 9pm. Finally on day four or so, I settled on melon with feta and walnuts with some veggies and a cup of Turkish tea. And that is what I ate contentedly for breakfast for the next 8 days. My mother settled on oats with hazelnuts, dried white mulberries and hot milk, and my father always had a mixture of dried fruits, bread and nuts. We never deviated.

The other Turkish dishes I love are the cold meze, small dishes (like tapas) of dips and such, usually served as appetizers. In restaurants, they come around with a huge tray of them and you get to pick. All were delicious, but I had three favorites, and I don't remember their turkish names. One was a simple dish of thick strained yogurt and purslane, a lemony succulent. Another was a tapenade made from almonds, olives, and red peppers. And the third was a marinated white fish called levrek (translated as Sea Bass), served in slivers in a simple sauce of olive oil and lemon. I could eat these three things alone for the rest of my life, but they also taste divine layered on a piece of bread.

I didn't eat as much in Tel Aviv as I did in Istanbul, but I was equally impressed by the food. The sandwiches are amazing, especially sabich (grilled eggplant, hard boiled eggs, tehineh and pickle) and shakshukah, which is fried egg and tomato in a pita with all sorts of pickles and veggies and tehineh and other things- I didn't really pay attention to what the guy put in it, but it was incredibly delicious. My friends CAG and AP swear by the coffee, but I had a taste and found it too bitter for me, though the texture was thick and grainy, like Mexican hot chocolate.

I already said that the vegetables were ten times more flavorful than here in the States, but so are the fruits. You can get tubs of giant fresh green and purple figs just about anywhere, along with fragrant lychees which sometimes come in little heart-shaped plastic boxes bearing a red sticker with the brand-name b'reshit ("In the beginning . . .") which must be a reference to all kinds of fruits being thought-up at the creation, i.e., "In the beginning, God created lychees." It is very tempting to remove the label and stick it on something else like an arm, or a laptop ("In the beginning, God created macbooks").

And then there are the freshly squeezed juices and lemonades, preferably had on a sidewalk cafe shaded by potted plants. The empress of all these is the limonana, a refreshing drink made of lemonade, crushed ice, and tons of fresh mint. The perfect thing on a hot day, though one limonana is clearly never enough. Because it is extremely hot all summer long in Tel Aviv (indeed, the coolest parts of the day are 6am and dusk), the city is full of incredibly refreshing things to eat and drink to cool off. Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv's first settlement, which feels like a tiny southern European village, is worth the short walk for the gelato alone (though it's also full of French tourists, who find it "franchement sympa"). My only regret foodwise is that I didn't get around to trying Israeli frozen yogurt, which I'm told is icier than American.

Yesterday was my first day back in North Carolina. I went to the grocery store and bought watermelon, feta, walnuts, lemons, and mint.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Back Stateside

Phew- I am exhausted. I have so much to report, but I'm going to need a few days to recuperate after the disappointing ordeal of spraining my ankle on my last night in Tel Aviv just as I was leaving my cousins' house, and then having to navigate airport security in TA, Istanbul, and Chicago with a bum leg. But in the end I got bumped up to business class, so it worked out fine.

I've got a handful stories and images from my trip, so watch this space, if indeed I still have readers left- I hear that blogs are already quite antiquated.

I took many more pictures of Istanbul than I did of Tel Aviv, which I'm regretting- along with not bringing home a giant jar of tehineh and/or a kitten -but will try to describe my impressions over the next few days. I find I already miss both places profoundly, in very different ways.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I promised photos of this blog's mascot on vacation and I do not want to disappoint. Freud took a little trip up the hill in Sultanahmet and visited both the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque, pausing to smell the roses in between. Roses and rose-scented things are everywhere in Turkey. I found rose-scented vaseline at the pharmacy, and bought a tiny dram of Attar of Roses in the spice bazaar. The Turkish word for rose, gul, may or may not be related to the word for smile, which is gulay. The Turkish word for "bye bye" is gulay-gulay, which means "smile, smile."

Freud was particularly fond of this street, which means "street of the bald beards."

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Real Istanbullus

My photos today are sadly Freud-less, only because it was too crowded and busy in the Bazaar, I was afraid I'd lose him, and I felt kind of weird taking him in to a functioning mosque.

Anyway, Istanbul is full of cats, and most of them are born in the spring and summer, so that means kittens of varying sizes everywhere in early July. Kittens that come and beg at your dinner table when you dine at a fancy al fresco restaurant, kittens that jump in front of you on the sidewalk in the dark and make you squeal, and kittens sleeping anywhere food is discarded and it's warm and sunny. Istanbul residents (Istanbullus) seem to like the cats, and I've also seen several headscarfed women happily feeding and cooing to them. In the First Courtyard of Topkapı palace, I noticed a number of kittens large and small, and two rather indulgent fathers letting their toddling sons pet and talk to them. It turns out that cats are sacred to Islam. A story goes that Mohammed cut off his sleeve, rather than wake the cat that was sleeping on his arm.

Monday, July 06, 2009

GMT +2.00

. . . I'm in Istanbul. And it's lovely.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Back in the Midwest

My parents live in a sizeable old brick house with a sizeable terraced back yard, with a sizeable fence.

Yesterday my parents' neighbor rang the doorbell and threatened to call the cops because the dog was barking too loudly. I kind of sheepishly agreed with him- not about calling the cops, but about the noise the dog was making. And the whole thing was my fault because I was on the phone with someone halfway around the world and had shut the dog outside and completely forgotten I had done so, or for how long.

Still, I think this neighbor serves as a perfect example of Midwestern self-importance. His own, ample yard is at least 50 yards away from my parents'. He just happens to be retired and happens to spend a lot of time outside. He also happens to be an asshole. If this were a big city, he would never complain about a barking dog 50 yards away because his ears would already be deafened by car horns and sirens and people's stomping feet in the apartments all around him.

I leave for Turkey tomorrow and have been told not to pet any of the stray cats, because I don't have a rabies vaccination. This will be very difficult for me, but I'd rather not get sick so I will try really hard to resist their feline charms.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

No Need to go to the Farmer's Market

It is so easy to grow things in the South. Seriously. You just stick seeds or tiny plants in the ground and wait. We got a lot of water this month, so there was little need to water anything on my own. I harvested today's bounty because I'm leaving very soon for my trip. In the picture you can see fancy beets, cucumbers, rainbow swiss chard, and two Stupice tomatoes, all picked about half an hour ago. Below, more Stupice and the larger Early Girl.

When I get back, at the end of July, the heirloom tomatoes should be bountiful. That's when I'll become a gazpacho-making madwoman. I'll have to update the recipe I posted a couple of years ago, since I've made improvements (like the addition of smoked paprika).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Early Modern Literary Pastiche

I'm thinking about web-editions of early modern literary pastiche. Because it's fun, and I may or may not have just written one.

Here are a few, in recent memory:

Hieronimo's (hilarious) Shakespearean History cycle based on the Bushes: 2 George II- I. i and III. ii

Which perhaps inspired this one: The Lamentable Historie of Zelda

Anyone know of any others?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Domestic Goddess

I've been stuck here at home working on various writing projects, some old, some new, some just for fun. And I'm shocked to say that I'm kind of enjoying being a homebody at the moment. Yesterday I made a lovely, cold and tangy Chlodný Borscht- I am a Russian Jew, after all -with some of the cucumbers I harvested. It is a beautiful, shocking pink.

I picked a tangle of wildflowers from the garden, which Saffron has already started sampling:

And I've taken up knitting. I'm not very technically advanced to do anything other than garter stitch (I can't even purl), so I don't know what I can produce. Maybe this will end up as a scarf, or a cell-phone case, or fittingly, a garter. But it's a very peaceful activity, and it gives my hands something to do when my mind is suddenly beset by thoughts of doubt and insecurity. Before I know it, I will have become a little old lady who knits and has cats. Somebody, please, rescue me before it's Too Late.

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the Garden

It is such a thrill to grow one's own food. Today I dug up about 25 icicle radishes. I had initially thought they were spinach, until I saw their little round root tops poking up out of the soil. I also harvested a few baby chioggia beets. The tomatoes and cucumbers are growing nicely.

"Sometimes a cucumber is just a cucumber."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


So I was originally planning on going to Turkey and Israel and maybe Paris this month. Was supposed to leave yesterday. But due to family illness (nothing life-threatening, thank goodness), my trip has been delayed for one month. I'll be visiting Istanbul and Tel Aviv in July, instead of in June.

Although I was all ready to go, tickets purchased, armed with histories of Istanbul and glossaries of Turkish and Hebrew, my suitcase packed with lightweight, summery linen dresses, and a perpetually scowling Freud doll, I'm actually relieved and elated that I won't be going for another month. This way, my father can get healthy and my mother can attempt to stop worrying (well, maybe only a little). And we had trip insurance, though apparently once you use it to cancel a trip, it expires, kind of like when you insure your tires and have to replace them- you need to take out a whole new policy on the new tires.

I intend to spend the next four weeks trying to jog my memory of the child's Hebrew that has somehow slid down deep into my unconscious, so that I won't seem like a complete idiot when I meet up with a friend in Israel (reason no. 1 why I'm glad to wait until July). Yes, I'm suddenly very self-conscious about this. Why did I choose to learn French, a language that can only be spoken in Northern Europe, parts of Africa, and in an utterly unrecognizable form in Canada? And why did I choose to learn Latin and ancient Greek, languages that cannot be spoken at all? Oh, right: Renaissance scholarship. Very useful for scholarship and teaching; much less useful for travel- at least until we figure out a way to travel back in time. And as soon as that happens, I'll immediately travel back to age 12 and get my mediocre command of Hebrew back.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

New Mascot

The Freudian Petticoat has a new mascot:

That's right, a Bobble-head Freud, who came to me all the way from New York, a surprise gift from a dear friend. Although I'm sure Southern culture would perplex him to no end, Freud isn't staying in the South- he's coming with me to Turkey and Israel, because I think it would be funny to photograph him scowling in front of various exotic backdrops. Maybe I'll even smuggle him into the Kotel tunnels! Watch this space for his thrilling adventures.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Not Biden Our Time

I'm coming out of thinly veiled anonymity to say that Vice President Joe Biden was our Commencement Speaker this year. And that it was my first commencement at Selva Oscura U., and I went only to cheer the MA student whose thesis I was honored to supervise. But I was surprisingly charmed by the experience.

I normally find such pomp and circumstance tiresome, full of dull people taking themselves far too seriously (my boisterous and ridiculously over-the-top graduation from Crunchy Chocolate U being the major exception). But today was different. My colleagues and I poked fun at how much this pageantry felt like a "Renaissance Faire". There I was in my Quill & Stylus regalia, looking like an early modern scholar (or girl dressed as boy scholar) and I nearly launched into "The quality of mercy is not strained" as we trudged across the quad to the accompaniment of a brass ensemble playing 16th century tunes. But we had fun doing it, despite having dragged ourselves out of bed at an uncouth hour. And some small part of me, (the part that wanted to be Queen Elizabeth I at ten and a Shakespearean actress at fourteen) was secretly delighted.

Biden did not eschew political rhetoric. He called on our students to enact change. And he cited the "terrible beauty" in Yeats' "Easter 1916" to suggest that change is inevitable for us. And, probably because I was sitting about 5 feet away staring at him, he smiled at me. Twice. Swoon! (Confession: okay, so if it had been Rahm Emanuel, I probably would have clutched my colleagues and screamed like a teenager in 1963. He is one hot, foul-mouthed Jewish politician.).

That said, a little less than one third into the awarding of the undergraduate degrees (and yes, all 1000 of them marched up one by one and shook the presidents hand, and yes it did take FOREVER), I decided that one full commencement ceremony was plenty for the next three to ten years.

Friday, May 15, 2009


I tried changing the bed linens this morning, but soon encountered an obstacle.

It's pretty clear who gets the last word in this relationship.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Diamonds and Coal

Crunchy Chocolate U (my undergraduate college) had a daily newspaper that would award figurative "diamonds" to the people who made good things happen, and "coal" to those who allowed bad, along with the occasional Cubic Zirconium for mediocrity. Here's my own list, and I think it's pretty balanced:

I didn't get any short or long-term fellowships this semester (coal), but I did get a piano and am going to spend a month in the Mediterranean (diamond).

My article got rejected from ELH (coal), but my panel got accepted for MLA (diamond).

Number of times I've been to my local coffeehouse in the past 3 months: 4. Number of times I've been hit on while there: 4. Weirdos: 1. Guy who blatantly hit on me in front of my then-boyfriend and not for the first time: 1. Cute, interesting potential dates: 2. (2 coal; 2 diamonds)

I'm not eating out (coal) but I'm becoming much more conscientious about what I eat and where it comes from. I've already lost 7 pounds by eating more healthfully (local organic veggies) and working out more intensively. I find I have much more energy (diamond).

Last night I made this wonderful dish from my new favorite food blog, Orangette, both of which my friend hd introduced me to last summer. It's called "Pasta with Five Lililes" and is composed of caramelized sweet onions, sauteed leeks, scallions, red onions, all melted until sweet (I braised them in a little white wine which makes them tangier) and tossed with pasta, ricotta salata, fresh chives, and a squirt of lemon. All of these bulbs are in season right now. I found everything except the red onion either in my garden or at a farmer's market. (yummy diamond)

And I'm really excited about my little heirloom vegetable garden. When I first placed these tiny, vulnerable plants and seeds in the ground I became really nervous. Aside from the odd pot of herbs, I've never grown anything edible before. Would they grow? I was positively paranoid. Then, mirabile dictu, they all grew, every one of them, even the seeds I put into the unadulterated dense clay soil, and I'm finally able to relax.

There are blossoms and tiny green nubs on the 'Early Girl' tomatoes, and the other heirlooms have shot up two feet. I've got "straight eight" and "lemon" 'cukes (which will be round and look like tiny yellow basketballs), and 11 heirloom tomato plants with wonderfully folksy and fantastical names, and what promises to be a whole spectrum of colors: Black Seaman, Mr. Stripey, Lemon Boy, Black Brandywine, Green Grape, Yellow Pear, and Stupice (which I have taken to calling "Stupid" and "Stultus" and sometimes "Doofus"). Of course none of these will be ripe until July and/or August, but it's fun to see them grow so fast. Expect to see more photos and blog-posts about gazpacho, caprese salads, and casual bucolic dinners over the next three months. (future diamonds in the rough)

I tend to make the most progress when I'm balanced, and not when I'm euphorically happy or woefully sad. I guess I'm in a kind of "tolerable tropic clime," to re-appropriate one of my favorite Donne elegies. Bring on the work! (Cubic Zirconium?)

Saturday, May 09, 2009


So there's this great, dirty anecdote about Samuel Johnson. He wanders into a room looking perhaps more unkempt than usual with his breeches unbuttoned and an uptight lady squeals something along the lines of "Sir, your penis is sticking out!"

To which Dr. Johnson replies, "You flatter yourself, Madam . . . it is hanging out."

Such a useful anecdote. But I wish there were a girl version of this.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Omnia Mutantur, Nihil Interit

I have no name
I am but two days old . . .

But the Freudian Petticoat is actually three years old, as of yesterday. I can't believe how much space I've filled with (to bend Sidney), this pixel-wasting toy of mine. And how much my outlook has changed. Well, changed in some ways, strengthened in others.

Like many blogs, this one was born out of change. I started it because I needed a space to deal with my move from Montreal to the South, my change in status from postdoc to tenure-track professor. And though my status and location have not changed in almost three years, I'm happily surprised by how much adaptation, growth and change is actually documented here.

It's enlightening to reread my first few posts about moving to the South- my anxiety over Southern Slowness and conservative football games, my delight at Southern quirkiness. Each of which, I suppose, has reversed or dissipated. As an academic, I hardly find life here slow- instead, I'm desperately trying to catch up on work, friends and obligations. And campaigning for Obama and turning the state "blue" this year really opened my eyes to the wonderful collective liberal spirit awakening here. But the cutesy, quirky charm I once saw has become saccharine and ordinary.

I guess I'm most amazed at how my voice has changed over the past three years. I just sound so much more innocent in the beginning. I'm not at all sad that I'm less so- I mean, I was frightfully innocent when I was younger. And I yearned for wryness, irony, and sagesse. (Probably yearning for it in itself is pretty innocent). Have I attained that darkened level of wit and perception I so craved? OMG I so hope so!!! . . . Or maybe it's like Blake's Songs (one from Innocence is pictured above): we can only talk about innocence from a position of experience, and experience is always haunted by innocence.

Over the course of three years, I've blogged about attending five conferences, throwing four parties, and obliquely charted the courses of two romantic relationships. Somehow the numbers seem so small, compared to the amount of text and emotional, intellectual output.

{Four parties? Is that all? For someone who professes to like entertaining, I haven't thrown a dinner party in almost two years. We all have our tastes, but the blog tells a different story.}

Here are my 5 favorite posts in the history of this blog, from earliest to most recent:

1. "Strindberg in the Kiddie Room": Ikea Trip
2. Jew in the South = Hispanic? Indian?
3. The Grammatology of Anthropologie I, II, III
4. My best conference liveblog (SAA 2008)
5. "A Bracelet of Bright Hair"

Bonne Anniversaire, blog.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Weird . . .

So I get alerts now from certain sites I'm registered with (like Academia.edu) when people google my real name. It's ordinarily just business stuff- they're looking for someone else with my name, or they're looking me up because they lost my e-mail.

But this one site sends me an e-mail any time someone googles me with the search terms entered. And just today someone entered "my real name + blog." And apparently someone entered multiple search terms related to my name at 5:30am yesterday.

Should I be flattered, or . . . ? I'm not sure I like knowing that people are searching for me in this way. I mean, we all google people we're curious about. But no one should know that everyone is doing it for real. Suddenly it's creepy!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Sincerity v. Flattery

I once wrote a grad paper about the ethics of flattery in Renaissance culture. Or lack thereof- flattery was always characterized as a negative thing, a manipulative rhetorical stance devised to get the flatterer something. It was described as effervescent, cloyingly sweet, embodied in the tongue, and exerting a feminizing, emasculating force on any and all who were tempted by it. Hamlet says as much to Horatio, spelling out their Platonic love (married souls) as one beyond materiality (though I've often thought he's being rather rude to Horatio too, by drawing attention to the difference in their classes):

'Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue has but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flattered?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. "

So Renaissance flattery is a sweet, poisonous kiss that conceals an ulterior motive (usually a financial one). And I think flattery today still carries that sugary venom, though the motives are frequently less clear.

This wonderful thing happened to me at the Shakespeare conference last month: an old friend who also happens to be a newly distinguished Shakespeare scholar came up to me out of the blue, gave me a hug and told me I was absolutely gorgeous. He wasn't hitting on me- he has a brand new baby - he wasn't just being "nice" because we haven't been in touch so he couldn't possibly have known that my self-esteem was floundering. He simply wanted to tell me this. It was so deeply sincere and compassionate and charming, that I was sort of bowled over by it. And then it happened twice more, at the same conference- various people told me I was beautiful. People I've known for years who never said it before, and people I'd just met.

The thing is that I rarely feel attractive- I'm still 15 pounds overweight, my clothes don't fit the way they should, and I'd been dealing with a lot of frustration over the past two months.

But I soared on those words. I know it's silly to let something superficial like a compliment on my appearance lift my mood, and it's not as if I haven't heard the same words many times before (given the choice, I'd much rather be told I'm smart). But this was different- it was not in the least flattery. This wasn't about him wanting something from me. This was sincerity. And it was magical: it conjured respect and joy out of sorrow and insecurity.

There's something about people being truthful and guileless at the right moments that I find incredibly refreshing, though it's rare- I can't tell you the number of kind, well-meaning things that have been spoken or written to me that conceal other intentions. Though it frequently takes me a while to get there, the truth always comes out with me, even when it's not wise or useful. But now I think this is a good thing.

The upside of stress

Roses beginning to open outside the bedroom window.

I'm losing weight- I had to remind myself to eat today, ate only some veggies and smoked salmon. This is really good because normally I crave a bagel with lox and cream cheese on the weekends (a bad habit I developed with my New Yorker and Montrealer exes) and if only one of those three ingredients is in my fridge or freezer, I usually go out and buy the rest. Especially because my garden is now full of fresh herbs in pots and the ground (oregano, tarragon, thyme, cilantro and fennel) and wild chives, which are actually a nuisance, but which go really well with the cream cheese.

But today, I had to force food down. And I nearly threw myself out doors to get to the gym this afternoon, where I knew peace of mind was waiting for me. Maybe I'll even get back to my normal weight, the weight I had before I moved here to this barren, sidewalkless suburban city and put on 15 pounds driving everywhere. I've got to get into good hiking and city-walking shape anyway, because in a month I'm off to Turkey and Israel with my family for three weeks!

So the plan right now is weights plus cardio every other day at the gym, plus yoga and belly-dancing 3 times per week. And any and all hikes I can wheedle my friends into going on. This area is great for hiking and I've explored only three of the excellent nearby mountains and trails. Between that and tending to the tiny organic vegetable garden I've started (heirloom tomatoes, yellow and purple bell peppers, herbs, spinach, radishes, cukes and swiss chard- ok, maybe not so tiny), the review and article I've got due at the end of the month, I should be fairly busy.

My tiny heirloom vegetable garden in the back of the house.

I'm a little sad about the doves and fig tree, though. The mourning doves have moved out of their urban loft on my porch. The babies grew up and the whole family took off. It's probably best for them, given the nest's proximity to the porch railing and the neighborhood cat. But the garden doesn't lack for bird activity- I've spotted at least 8 or 9 different species and calls in the late afternoon. And I think perhaps there is a bit of a Robin overpopulation problem- they're everywhere! I had to drive them out of the upper garden the other day, where the spinach and radishes are growing. I'll try to post a picture of one of the more enterprising ones.

Alas the fig tree that was so productive last year has fallen victim to the late snow and ice storm that consumed my birthday. The entire trunk has split in several places, there are no new leaves, it's wobbly and hollow and grey and most of the upper growth turned black. I cut off the black parts, but I think it's pretty much gone. Thankfully there are a few tiny shooters coming out of the base of the trunk, so it's not entirely dead, but the yield will be much smaller this year. And so there's this sad, dead looking tree in the middle of my lush front garden.

So the doves have apparently moved out for good. The fig tree is mostly corpse-like, but for a few tiny green shooters at the base.

I'm trying not to see this as a metaphor. Like the tree, I've had a rough couple of months. Man, sometimes I hate being a literary scholar.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fan Mail

Last week as I blithely drove to work in the morning, obeying all the rules of traffic, I noticed a car attempting to turn left out of a gas station across four lanes of busy traffic without regard to the cars around him. I honked to let him know I was coming and couldn't slow down (there were cars behind me) and he slammed on his brakes just as he hit my passenger-side fender with a very unsatisfying crunch. Ugh. By the time I got to the gas station (about three minutes later), he was long gone and my car was crumpled in front.

It was annoying (and will cost an annoyingly high amount because we couldn't track down the perpetrator), but I'm fine. Since the other driver stopped as he hit me, the impact was only enough to hurt the exterior of the car.

Two days later, my car is in the shop, I'm going about my life fairly normally, when I return home in the evening and check my mailbox. Imagine me opening the mailbox and letters pouring out like a cliche film montage. Yay- letters! I don't usually get this many letters. People are writing to me!

After I brought the initial bunch inside, my joy was somewhat diminished when I discovered that seven of them were from legal firms offering their services, and three were from chiropractors. But still, they took the time to write to me! Fun! I opened them all.

Despite despising the sleazy ethics involved, I find this hilarious. Only one of the first seven legal letters actually spelled both my names correctly, another one addressed me correctly, but in the body of the letter referred to me alternatively as "Mrs. Johnson" and "Mrs. Jackson" (I am not married, nor is my last name "Johnson" or "Jackson").

My favorite was the letter that resembled a belated birthday card, in a pretty canary yellow envelope. I excitedly tore this open revealing a card bearing photograph of a droopy sunflower in a vase and the cursive letters "Sorry about your accident . . ." I opened the card and inside it read "If you're fine, WONDERFUL! If not, you may need to see a chiropractor." Inside the card were two coupons for $10 off a first visit, plus a second card. This card informed me that it contained a simple test to see if I might need chiropractic services: "Think you don't need to see a chiropractor? Take this simple test to find out!" (In other words, "Think you don't need a chiropractor? Think again- your alignment sucks!")

After careful inspection I discovered that most of the envelopes had minuscule lettering on the back stating "this is an advertisement for services" so I'm guessing there's some sort of state law that allows such blatant solicitation providing the disclaimer is barely visible.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Recommendations Bitch

Here follows a transcript of an e-mail exchange between myself and a student I'll call Junior Birdman:

On 3/27/2009 6:44 PM, junior birdman wrote:

Professor Pamphilia-

I apologize to email you both so late and on a Friday, but I was inquiring this week about Professor Constanza's Honors program next year and was hoping you'd be able to write me a recommendation. They are due Monday, and I completely understand if you cannot find the time. I'm sure with grading our papers along with all of your other classes you're swamped. Please let me know if you are unable to write one so I can know to ask someone else. No matter what, I look forward to class and presenting next week. Thanks and have a great weekend!

-Junior Birdman

My response:

Hi Birdman,

I'm sorry. It is too late for me to write for you.

If I had known about this earlier, I would have been very happy to do so, but I require at least one face-to-face discussion, some materials (transcript, cv), and preferably at least 2 weeks notice before I can write a letter. Also, given that I have not taught you in any classes before English 000, and have not yet graded your first full length paper, I don't feel I know you well enough to write a proper recommendation.

In the future, I will be happy to write letters for you, please just ask me at least 2 weeks in advance, and come see me first.


Here's the deal: our students must have a 3.5 gpa in the major and be nominated by at least two faculty members in order to get in to honors. There's no recommendation involved, normally. But students can get professors to write letters for them if their major gpa is below 3.5 and/or they weren't nominated and they're dying to be in the honors seminar and write a thesis. So JB's chances of getting in to honors were very slim to begin with, since he didn't have a 3.5 or higher.

What's your policy on recommendations? Are you strict or a pushover? How often do you say no?

My policy has changed over the years but generally I tell students asking for serious recommendations (scholarships, grad school etc) that if they didn't receive an A- or higher in my class, it might be a good idea for them to ask someone in whose course they did better, instead. I will, however, write any and all recommendations for study abroad. Other than that, I have a few nitpicky requirements designed to weed out the serious students from the less serious ones:

  1. Students must come meet with me in person to discuss the recommendation
  2. I need at least TWO WEEKS notice.
  3. I need stamped, addressed envelopes, filled-out forms, and a list of deadlines
  4. I need copies of transcript and cv.

At the meeting, I usually ask the student about the thing she's applying for, and- a little tip from my dad, a former professor himself - ask her what she would like me to say about her in my letter.

I figure at this point if the student isn't totally freaked out, if she's come this far and done all I've asked, I owe her a recommendation.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hawk and Dove

Last week I went to Big City to give my talk, and to see friends and family. It was chilly and grey, but I had a great time. The best part, I think, was staying with my friend A and getting to know each other better. I'm one of those people who finds it fairly easy to meet people, but much more difficult to become good friends. I get shy, and sometimes awkwardly share too much information too soon. Or end up talking too much about myself in an effort to counteract any awkward silences. But this time, I felt like I got to know A a lot better, and by the end of the visit I think we're much better friends. It makes me very happy.

Although I spent 6 years in an adjacent metropolis, and another year in one further north, it's been almost three since I've spent time in a big city. And one of the things I had forgotten about was the sounds pigeons make in the early morning. Not just the "croo, croo" noises, but the obscene sounding "Mmm-HMMM" crescendo, which really sounds like they are rather shamelessly sharing their pigeon intercourse with any and all in the vicinity with ears. It turns out that those noises are actually the sounds they make when they're being territorial with one another ("Get off. It's my airconditioner!"), but it's a very distinctive sound nonetheless, and one I had completely forgotten. So much so, that in the foggy half-wakefulness of the early morning I thought I was hearing an owl hooting, which is sometimes what I hear outside my window at home near dawn.

This led me and A to a discussion of the representation of the owl in her favorite artistic Russian animated film, Hedgehog in the Fog (which I highly recommend). And a few minutes later, lo and behold, a raptor landed on the fire escape opposite her window. "Oh my god, it's an OWL!" we shrieked, softly.

Of course it wasn't an owl (it was a sunny afteroon and the bird didn't have a flat face). But it was definitely a bird of prey, and it was looking down avidly at pigeons and other things scuttling around below. We thought perhaps it was a peregrine falcon, and A took some pictures. The next day, it was back around the same time (5pm-ish), and decided to literally pay us a visit, sitting right outside A's window, looking in at us with a detached curiosity. I swear it raised its right talon in salute, then soared off into the air to hunt. I've since identified it as a red-tailed hawk (my precocious 5 year old cousin showed me pictures of peregrine falcons, and after comparing them to A's photos, he correctly identified it). The city has a few famous RTH couples, including one that nests on the shoulders of a statue of John the Baptist at the cathedral near A's apartment. It's most likely that the hawk who paid us a visit was one of these two birds.

When I returned home to a chilly Southern spring, I noticed there were mourning doves sitting on the porch railing right outside my living room window. I watched one for a couple of minutes, and noticed it flying up to the space between one of the porch columns and the porch roof, right next to the wooden porch swing. There at the top of the column, resting on the Chocolate Vine, was a tiny nest, with another mourning dove brooding on it. I've never had birds nesting so close to the house before. It's fascinating, though now I'm very worried that the neighbor's enterprising cat who frequently hangs out on my porch will devise some way to infiltrate it. But so far, he's oblivious. And the birds don't seem to mind me wandering around on the porch. I think they are safe.

I can't decide whether this is a good or a bad omen: it's lovely to have such beautiful birds making their home close to mine. But they are mourning doves, and their call is both comforting and melancholy. My folklore research has turned up some mixed symbolism. On the one hand, doves represent peace, love, and marriage, as they are associated with Roman Venus and the Christian holy spirit. On the other hand, a mourning dove circling above or tapping at the window signifies sickness or death. Luckily, there has been no circling or tapping. Mourning doves' calls are supposed to indicate an end to drought, and they are supposedly a good omen where love and relationships are concerned, so I'm inclined to see this little dove family in a very favorable light.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

33 and a Snow Day

Yesterday, on my thirty-third birthday, my university cancelled classes because 6 inches of snow fell overnight in the midst of a storm that started out rain, then turned to hail, then to winds (which knocked a tree over my colleague's roof and car) and then to snow. And this snow decided to stick around. Which is really something, down here.

Ordinarily this time of year the daffodils are starting to wake up, the forsythia puts out little yellow star-shaped flowers and the early cherry trees are covered in pink fuzz. Instead I woke up to snow covered bushes, icicles and blinding white. My house, which faces north, doesn't get a lot of light in the main rooms. Yesterday, however, it was searingly bright indoors.

It was actually nice, though I spent the better part of the morning pushing snow off the front walk with a broom (who owns a shovel in the south?), and hacking at the masses of snow and ice on my car. It's funny how everything shuts down here. Honestly, 6 inches shouldn't cause all schools and offices and Borders (yes, Borders!) to close for an entire day. I recently learned that this is because my city has absolutely no budget for snow. The town where I grew up, on the other hand, which is in the so-called "Snowbelt," annually budgets about $5 million for snow removal. So basically we had a snow day because there wasn't any money to pay for workers and equipment to get out and clear things away before everything froze again over night.

I appreciated the free day, though, and enjoyed a nice long birthday walk in a transformed universe. It's been a difficult week for me- first the break-up, then a troubled student advisee passing away unexpectedly (it doesn't seem to have been a complete accident, given that no one has released any information about how or why he died). So I was grateful for an extra day on my own to enjoy the snow and curl up at home with the cat, work and a good book or two. Saffron celebrated her seventh birthday with "vitakitty" chicken breast treats, a couple of bites of smoked salmon, and much cuddling and lap-sitting.

My new ex texted me 'Happy Birthday!', which I guess is less shmucky than forgetting or ignoring, but shmuckier than calling. (It's a fine line of shmuckiness exboyfriends have to tread. How much is too much?). My parents got me a beautiful art deco style watch, which I keep forgetting to look at because I've been without one for over a year. What will I use my phone for now? Making calls? How preposterous. In the evening I went out for drinks with a few loyal, die-hard friends, and even though the swanky-ish downtown bar I wanted to go to was closed for a private party, we found a cozy one with an earnest, waistcoated, pony-tailed bartender near my house to serve as a good substitute.

33 wasn't a particularly exciting birthday, and it wasn't without its share of reflection and sorrow, but it was warm, relaxing, and I was okay most of the time, which I suppose is all I can ask for right now.

Professionally I've got a lot on my plate at the moment- a talk next week at a big research institution in a big city, a review due next month, 2-3 MLA paper/session proposals to submit, a new article for a new anthology to collaborate on, plus the Shakespeare Association meeting next month ("Shakes Ass" as Flavia's blog has christened it), a piece under review at ELH and another one almost ready to send out. I'm excited that my SAA seminar organizers have partnered me with a leading scholar in my field who is also someone I respect and know from previous conferences. And of course there's this book to finish and a few fellowships still to hear from. So at least I know that the first 3 months of 33 will be full of work and opportunity.

I hope 33 surprises me with a little happiness too.

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Last week I had the students in my upper-level English seminar do an OED exercise. They were to look up a word we had encountered in one of the readings (Golding, Browne, Shakespeare), produce a sense of its historical and etymological trajectory, then illuminate its use in the context of the passage where they found it.

One of my students looked up the word "sole." When I started reading her assignment I scoffed inwardly. I mean, what could the OED possibly add to a modern understanding of "sole"? It means "only." It means "alone."

My student surprised me. She revealed that in early modern England, "sole" specifically referred to an unmarried woman. It's actually the first three definitions in the OED. She produced a lovely reading of "sole heir" in Cymbeline that connected Innogen's status as Cymbeline's "only" and unmarried daughter, with another meaning of "sole" which is "soil." In her reading, it mattered not only that Innogen was Cymbeline's only unmarried daughter, but that her claim to inheritance tied her to the very soil of Britain.

Tonight I am feeling all sorts of "sole." I am alone again- my relationship with Mr. 19C ended this evening. I don't want to go into any details, but there was no anger or resentment. Only sorrow and a feeling of defeat.

But it has left me terribly saddened. It's always sad when things don't work out. And I will miss being part of something. I don't relish being alone again.

I went outside on the porch and smelled the frozen air, wandering around the garden. Just last week the sunshine and damp earth held the promise of spring. But right now it is cold outside- even the soil, which was beginning to show signs of warmth, pushing bulbs and worms to the surface, is chilled.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Monday, February 09, 2009

Peanut Butter- or Something Else?

I've been browsing the FDA website listing the vast number of peanut butter products affected by the Blakley, Georgia processing plant salmonella re-call. The highest number of products containing peanut products from the factory is candy.

Candy that bears a strange resemblence, nominally, at least, to something else, and I quote from the list:

Bear Poop
Bear Scat
Buffalo Chips
Chicken Coop Poop
Cow Patties
Cow Pies
Deer Droppings
Moose Droppings
Osprey Poop
Prairie Dog Pebbles

I think these packages of chocolate coated peanuts are widely available in airport gift-shops, packaged as local "delicacies." Seriously, though- Osprey Poop?!

Why name confectionary after animal droppings? Is this perhaps the ironic, post-history of early modern fewmets? Coincidence? You decide.

Oh, and I have to include the names of some other peanut candies, just because they seem pretty funny to me:

Crew Rations
Torn Ranch

The full list is available here: http://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/peanutbutterrecall/index.cfm#Candy

Armoured Cat

I was chatting the other morning with my boyfriend, Mr. 19th Century, about cats. He's thinking of maybe getting one. I'm thinking of maybe fostering some kittens. More importantly, it's that time of year just before early spring, when the ground warms up and the worms start to crawl toward the soil surface, and the air and earth are plastered with robins and crested titmouse (titmice?).

And the cat is going insane because she's an indoor cat. She sits in the window all day making predatory clicking and chirping noises at them. Lately, she's been so frustrated that she's given up chirring for wailing. She sits at the window and cries. All day long.

Mr. 19C wanted to know why I didn't let her outside to hunt. There are several reasons, but the main one is that I'm scared I'll lose her. My colleague's cat was nearly destroyed by a car, and my neighbors across the street had their kitten mauled by a nearby dog. That and the fact that Saffron has never been outside before in her life- I adopted her as a kitten in an urban environment rife with FIV (feline AIDS) and Leukemia and cars and buses.

So we discussed putting her in her harness on a long leash, for supervised periods of outdoor hunting. But the trouble with the harness is that whenever it's on, she acts like she's in a straightjacket, creeping along the floor, pretending that she's so encumbered that she cannot possibly even jump on to a chair (jumping on the chair and then falling off dramatically, wailing all the time).

Mr. 19C had a much better idea: Kitty Armor. We joked about it, and said something like "I bet it totally exists."

Well, it does, in the work of the artist Jeff Deboer, whose meticulously filigreed and chased helmets and breastplates for a war between cats and mice recall the arms hall of the Metropolitan Museum of art. I keep thinking that someone must have written a mock-heroic epic about such a battle, like the Batrachomyomachia (which pits mice against frogs), or Ebeneezer Mack's The Cat Fight: A Mock Heroic Poem (1824). Any takers?

But back to armor: Saffron is seriously considering it.