Thursday, July 31, 2008

Closed door, opened window.

The cleaners weren't supposed to arrive at my flat until 10 a.m., but there they were, outside my open door, at 9:45. That last 15 minutes was going to be crucial, and they had come early. I did my best to scurry everything out the door and across the courtyard as quickly as I could, but what their earliness meant was that I hadn't had time to sweep the dust from the bathroom counter, or to wipe out the tub after my shower, or to drag the chest of drawers back out of the hallway where I stashed it a year ago to make myself a dressing area. "Stop worrying about it," said the across-the-courtyard acquaintance who threw open her flat's door and made today possible for me. "Cleaning flats is their job. For what we pay in rent, no one should be complaining if we don't do everything perfectly."

The worst part of getting chased out of the flat was that I barely had time to bid farewell to the space that has sheltered me so well for nearly a year, a space which has generated stories for me that I'll be telling for years.

Like my newest one, titled "How My Underwear Escaped Me." (I'm also toying with "How I Lost My Pants," but only for the UK release.)

It goes like this.

Last night, about an hour after Wednesday's usual formal dinner, I had finally worked myself up to the point of putting everything in the suitcases. It was clearly a physically impossible task: I had more things than would fit in the two cases allotted for the job. But I was determined to try, and I went about it the way I know how: shoes first, everything else later. I stuff underwear into the toes of my shoes, in order to help them keep their shape. This is how I do things.

Only last night, when I went to get my underwear and roll it up to put it in my shoes, I found that it had disappeared--all but the six or so pairs I'd pulled out so that I'd be in clean pants until I leave next week.

What the hell?

I combed through all the piles of clothes on my bed--I'd emptied my drawers before dinner, you see--but no underwear. I checked in the chest of drawers again, but there were no drawers in there, either.

I sent an e-mail to others who have recently left this place, in the hopes that maybe one of them would at the very least get a laugh out of the contortions one can get into while trying to leave a sabbatical abroad--and might perhaps even cough up a good suggestion for relocating my less-than-sexy knickers.

Just when I was actually starting to panic--because the disappearance of panties is no laughing matter, and I was having trouble remembering whether this would qualify as some nerdy "panty raid" (I know, let's go to the institute for advanced study and steal the cotton underwear of an English professor!)--I remembered what I'd done with all those other pairs.

I'd folded them neatly and used them to pad the bottom of the extra carry-on in which I'm taking home some of my burgeoned library from this year. That's right: my underwear's doing double duty. Some of it protects me; some of it protects the books that are like a great, big, heavy, paper extension of me.

"How are you going to get your things through the airport?" my beloved Lexingtonian has asked. The only answer I can come up with sounds as though I'm trying to be a smartass, but I'm really not. Very carefully, is all I can say. I'm giving up all pretense that I'm anything like mobile on this move. I'm just not. I'll be looking for trolleys, and porters, and help of any kind at pretty much every stage of the trip.

As for tonight's title: I've moved into the other part of my college and am sojourning in a friend's flat until I leave here. It's like another world--a weird hotel version of the world in which I've been living. This building is a good thirty years younger than the building where I've been living (which is the college's original building of flats, whereas this one might be its newest). And one wretched thing about this place, compared to my previous one, is that its space is so subdivided by its various rooms that it's impossible to get any air flowing--a feature compounded by the fact that all of the windows are equipped with locks that keep them from being opened more than a couple of inches. I'm all for safety measures, and I recognize that lots of families use big flats like this one when they stay in the college. But since I am not at risk of falling out the window, I'm no fan of these locks. So, after I schlepped and schlepped and schlepped, I did what my friend and I did for his flat, back in September: I removed half of the security lock so that I can get some air into this little room before it's time for me to sleep.

Because I need some sleep, and I'm going to need it soon.

No pictures today: though I did take some time and go walking through town (at the near-insistence of the neighbor who gave my stuff shelter all day), I didn't bother to unpack either of my cameras and take them along. Tomorrow, I will re-venture--in part to see how different Cambridge will look to me now that I am not so securely and happily perched as I have been for eleven months. I'm not so much farther from the center of town now than before--no more than five or ten minutes' extra walk--but it feels like I've left my universe. Since I'm a little further west now than I was before, I suppose that that feeling might be appropriate: it's not quite a halfway house, but it's taken me one half-mile further from one place that I love and closer to another.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Deep sighing.

After a day of inventorying and taping and labeling and stacking, I have moved to the emptying wardrobes stage of getting ready to pack. This stage is also known as "if I can do it, I'd prefer to pack these bags only once, so I'd like to get it right the first time around, please." I remember the eleven-months-ago version of this process as having been easier, despite the fact that I had to cull my supplies from a large flat's worth of stuff. Somehow, getting a tiny flat's worth of stuff into the same luggage: not so easy-seeming. Hence the deep sighing.

Let's just look at this lovely view of the Cam together, shall we?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Thinking back, thinking ahead.

On my first night in Cambridge, I remember well, I had dinner in town with my new neighbor, someone who already knew the city well. On our way home, we climbed up the steepest hill in town: the public footbridge over the Cam. From there, on a cloudless night, one can see much of the Milky Way, and I stopped to savor the first parallel to home that I'd found. It's just like home, I said into the dark. What a relief. It's such a surprise, he replied. I don't see stars like this where I live.

Tonight, I walked home from a pub in a part of town I'd never visited, further down the river, near a common where cows graze. And the stars were legion, everywhere, even though the night is only partly clear. It's just like home, I said to myself in the dark. What a relief. Which is to say: when I walk out into the night in two weeks, the Milky Way will still be there to welcome me, though the night will be afire with the screech of summer insects, all those sounds that aren't here. And there will be no sound of distant motorway--all those sounds that are distant background for me now.

At some point this afternoon, the project on my desk and the project all over my flat both got to be too much for me to handle in my beloved studio space, and so I struck out into town. To do errands on foot: to have a cobbler who can put new heels on my flat shoes, to have a shoe store that runs a fabulous sale, to have a shipping company that will sell me a box and give me all the Customs and Border Patrol forms I could want (plus some that just make me feel embarrassed). These are the things I will miss when I am no longer here.

And the gardens.

But we have gardens at home, too, and not so much further away, on foot, than the ones that I have loved here. I just have to remember to use them.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No finer fruit.

They are a staple of my summers, have been since I started graduate school and discovered that a real blueberry bears little or no resemblance to anything "blueberry flavored." Here, at full price, they are $16/pound. Fortunately, these were half off, and I only bought a half-pound.

Today: though I added 545 words to the piece, they are nearly all words I wrote back in February. But I count them anyway: now they're in a more-right place. And no, I don't yet want to talk about the 461-word endnote currently hanging out in this piece.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Measured out in cardboard boxes.

I am becoming very familiar with the following terms:
  • volumetric weight
  • minimum edge crush test
  • baggage weight fee
  • extra baggage charge
I am extraordinarily pleased to report that though US Airways has now instituted a first checked bag fee of $15--something of which I'd never even dreamed--both that fee and the $25 second checked bag one they instituted earlier this year do not apply to flights originating in or traveling to Europe. Thus, it's only the third-to-ninth baggage checked bag charges I'll be worrying about.

Ninth checked bag? For real?

Suddenly I have a fantasy about taking four or even five bags on the airplane, not just three. The costs are much lower than shipping, goodness knows, even at $100 for each extra bag: to ship 50 lbs. costs about £142 (=$284). At some point, the only question would be: how on earth does one get that many bags to the airport in the first place? I'll already be carrying more than I can actually carry--which is its own embarrassment, frankly, because I've grown used to being able to do things like manage my own baggage. And the amount I already know I'll have (and possibly exceed) is more than the coach company actually guarantees being able to accommodate--something that I'm simply hoping a great big American Girl Abroad Smile™ will help me to bypass. At 5 a.m. Actually, I have no sense that a smile will help me at all. I'm just counting on the fact that the bus is often not particularly full at 5 a.m.

The moral of this story so far would seem to be that if you have too much stuff to carry in an appropriate amount of luggage, you might find yourself thinking or even doing peculiar things to accommodate all that stuff. The bigger moral, I suspect I don't need to add, is that you might find yourself realizing yet again that you simply have too much stuff, wherever you go. And by "you," I obviously mean "I" but am trying to include other people in my sorry state just to keep myself from feeling like a schmoe.

All of these calculations make me glad that I had those two summers of not-moving, in 2005 and 2006, since I'd moved in 2003 and 2004 and now, it seems, will be pulling a relocation each summer for the next half-decade. And at least this one doesn't involve all my worldly goods, the way the next two will.

Let's just look at this lovely flower together, shall we?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

This is just to say.

Because the peaches were not ripe, I filled tomorrow's pie with blueberries.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Play me a beautiful melody.

This morning's piano lesson deserves--and will get--a long, meditative writing from me. But apparently meditative is not where I am right now, these days, as I start really to face the fact that I'm leaving soon, which means that I have to be packing soon. Which means that I have to be shipping soon. Which means that my mind is skittery.

Which is exactly why I loved my wise piano teacher even more this morning when she was able to gauge exactly where I was coming from, with my admission that it's been weeks since I played, and then to take it all in stride. "I know," she said excitedly. "Let's do some practical musicianship. It's so much fun." And away we went: soon, I was improvising and composing melodies and harmonies according to the parameters she was setting for me. Half an hour later, after telling me that I'd basically just passed a Grade 5 examination, she said, "You see, if you were staying here, I could do so many things with you..." When I left her house, forty minutes after having arrived, I felt able once more, somehow reselved. And even if the rest of the day turned out to be kind of a wash, work-wise, it was worth it for that transformation this morning. I was as happy as a bee in lavender.

Sadnesses creep in at the cracks in my daily life now, every once in awhile. There's no time for anything more frequent than that. And I'm too happy about going back to my people, anyhow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

In recognition of the perhaps brief arrival of summer.

In the evening sun the air is starry with winged things.

Suddenly this week has come to be (in small part) about Shakespeare: King Lear at the Globe last night; Richard III at a Cambridge college tonight. Our rush hour is less crazy-making than London's, that's for certain. I spent a Tube trip yesterday evening closer to five strangers than I've been to even my loved ones any time in years.

And this work of revision-construction? My ideas are crystallizing, and I am coming to believe once more that this project is going to be viable and exciting--even to me, who have to write it. Obviously the only way to celebrate is to spend a second night in a row watching a king gone wrong.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What I am seeing.

(Minus the shirtless men [with big stomachs and falling-down shorts and absolutely no protective gear for their heads and (most shockingly) their eyes] who are demolishing the concrete bottom of an old downspout maybe twenty yards from the desk where I am busily constructing my revision's theoretical framework. I am thinking of this experience as being in training for the next few years of my life, when I will be working in the midst of a very non-metaphorical construction site.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That crazy raven.

When I went to the library this evening at 5:30, I looked for the raven out back, in the car park. He wasn't anywhere that I could see, and so I strode on into the building, through the revolving door that they've opened so that its glass panels bisect its circular space and let some air into the stifling entrance hall, past the portrait of the bookseller "universally known as 'Maps,'" through the security turnstile and up the steps into the stacks. Here, there, to the books, to the photocopier, around the library I went, happy in the fact that the building isn't air-conditioned (or doesn't have its air-conditioning on, because the weather doesn't require it) and thus windows are open all over the place and a breeze can play through. I balanced out my books again (three returns; three check-outs; a constant total of five in my possession) and strode back out of the building.

And found the raven standing on the low wall that separates the front lawn from the parking area for bicycles.

I thought about walking up to him, to see what he would do, but I remembered his apparent fearlessness beside the walking couple yesterday. As I walked past him, much nearer than I'd gotten yesterday, I realized how big ravens' beaks are. He didn't flinch as I walked past. A few feathers in his crown were askew, giving him a slightly mad look. Genially mad, but mad nonetheless.

I looked back a couple of times as I walked away from him, along the wall on which he was still standing. The third time I looked back, he wasn't there: he'd hopped down and strutted right up to a couple who'd just left the building. He pecked at the man's shoe, looked up at them expectantly. The woman leaned down, brushing her thumb against two of her fingers, the way you do when you try to call a cat to you. The raven looked at her hand.

I turned around and kept going, saying to myself, that crazy bird.

And then, as I rounded the corner of the library's front, a woman ran past me toward the back corner of the library, where I'd seen the bird yesterday. "He's up here! He's up here!" she was calling to an older woman who was coming along the side of the building.

"Are you talking about that raven?" I asked them. They nodded. "Is he sick?" I asked. I've been wondering this since yesterday: does this bird have some kind of illness that makes it fearless?

"No," the older woman replied. "It's just got tamed, somehow. Someone must've been feeding him. He's had a good meal already today. But it's not good for him, see, because now he's in danger from everything else." They explained that he usually hangs about in the back of the library, and that he doesn't seem to be able to get much higher than a low wall's height; they nearly always see him just walking around down on the ground.

"Thanks for your interest!" they called back to me as I headed home, and as they headed to the front of the building to check on their bird.

If I go back tomorrow, I'll take my camera; I'm betting he's good at posing, too.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Impertinent bird.

After a sunny afternoon of writing and doing what I can only call amassing for this project, I strode over to the University Library to trade in two books and pick up five (my allotment here). Normally, the walk from my flat to the UL is perfectly pleasant but not particularly noteworthy. Today, though, just as I rounded the back corner of the building, I saw it:

A man and a woman came walking along the side of the building, lit up in the late-afternoon sun. And at their side trotted a great big amiable looking raven. They paused, and the raven paused, cocked its head to look up at them, and hopped over to the woman's cream-colored patent leather handbag. He pecked the corner of the handbag. The couple laughed. Then the raven hopped back, walked forward again, and pecked at the woman's foot. They laughed again and started to walk away. The raven followed them, with his jaunty little walk, and nipped at the back of the man's ankle. The couple stopped, and the raven darted at the top of his foot. As they turned to walk away again, the raven followed, flaring its wings up and flapping along a little faster so as not to lose them.

Ravens are the size of small dogs. Yet I've never actually seen a raven acting like a little dog.

When I left the library half an hour later, I looked for the raven. And there he was, still wandering around near that corner, not a little peculiarly.

If I'd had a little leash, I'd have wanted to offer it to him.

Today: 778 words. And suddenly, this evening, I began to be able to feel the approach of a join between the new material I've been crafting and the material in my first version, which makes me feel as though tomorrow might be the day when this thing starts to fly right along. I'm hoping for cut-and-paste soon...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

All you need to know.

Cambridge, late July. If you ever come here for a visit, I'd suggest avoiding the summer months if at all possible. I sorely wanted to snap a shot of a blue-shirted and yellow-backpacked group of Italian teenagers whose English tour guide had stopped them under an enormous new scaffold on Trinity Lane and was asking them, "You all know who Isaac Newton was, right?" "Isaac who?" one called back. It was at that moment that I decided to cut through Clare on the way home; somehow, perhaps because Clare has fewer graduates whose names trip off of tongues, fewer groups parade through there. And how else would I have seen the King's cows calmly ignoring these punters?

Today: 566 words. You only have to write for an hour, I told myself. And yet I still almost got out of the day without doing it. But: I did 80 good minutes, which would seem to suggest that I'll get there eventually, wherever "there" is.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brain clutter.

Then there are the days on which one doesn't get out of bed until 1 p.m.

It seems clear to me that both my body and my brain are struggling with pretty much everything happening right now: the fact that in the seven days since my last major trip, I've run down to London twice; the fact that I've had these ridiculous itchy bites; the fact that I've had to resort to antihistamines to make my itchy bites get uninflamed; the fact that, over and above it all, I have this article to revise. The fact that in three weeks, d.v., I'll be back in my flat in mid-Ohio.

I'm now actively fighting a drift toward letting my imminent return home, with all the good and mixed emotions attendant upon that return, dwarf the intellectual tasks before me. At the same time, I'm actively fighting a drift toward letting the article-for-revision (the biggest of those intellectual tasks, and possibly the only one that will get done) balloon into a referendum on my intellectual worth.

I have a lot to do. I feel as though I am no longer particularly disciplined. These two things don't play well together. So, now my goal is simply not to run away from the whole mess, hiding its messiness under a cloak of justifications for being distracted. More distracted than usual, that is. I will not give myself permission to mulligan on this one.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Petulance all over again.

Finally, after months of having to (or getting to, depending on your perspective) postpone revising my newest essay for resubmission to the journal that might want it if the revisions are successful, I am tackling this task. And I don't like it, not one bit: don't like the feelings of sloppiness and looseness that creep in when I start trying to explain things, don't like the sneaky (and, I can only hope, utterly wrong) worry that after I devote hours to the revision, the journal won't want the piece after all, don't like sitting at the computer to tap out these new lines and burrow them into the old draft. I know that no one likes these parts of writing, that I'm not special in my feelings of frustration and of fear. I don't like the fact that that knowledge doesn't make it easier for me to persevere, though persevere I will, all in the hopes that--as I believe I said back in February--what I'm really disliking is being disconnected from my material, having to putter around on its edges until I rediscover my way in, that moment when things click and turn and whirr and I feel as though I'm doing something that I want to be doing for its own sake, not just something that will allow me to fill in a box beside the question so just what were you doing all year?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Set in.

At the end of a day so grey it looked like October, now the sky is beginning to redden. You should know that we're a mere thirty-some days away from my one thousandth writing here--and I am letting that idea steep, in the hopes that I'll be able to come up with something special in celebration.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

How you know it's bad.

When the doctor says the words "mites or scabies" and you think, "Thank God he's not saying 'bedbugs,'" even though you're still sure that those now-huge, inflamed bites on your arms were, in fact, made by the Welsh bedbugs you're now sure you've carried back into your own dwelling by means of your suitcase, or your sweaters, or your shoes, or all of the above--and that you've been washing everything all day in very hot, hot water trying to eradicate--then you know that it's just no good, no good at all.

Those of you who have ever known anyone who's had bedbugs know what I'm talking about. Cross your fingers and help me hope that I'm not carrying an infestation around with me. Meanwhile, I'll be the kid in the corner, smearing insecticide cream all over herself ("everywhere but your face," says the doctor) (this cream is also meant to kill crab lice--when I saw that at the pharmacy, I thought a thousand narratives that the doctor might have been thinking: "she was travelling: she was having unprotected sex with wild strangers: she came back with crabs"). What's absurd, of course, is that if it actually is scabies, I'm carrying an infestation around inside me--not in my suitcase, or in my mattress, but in and under my skin. But bedbugs are the evil I know, and in this case, somehow, the evil I know is more frightening than the evil I don't. One of the bites on my arm is now bigger than a quarter, having started out last Thursday as something that looked like a mosquito bite. "This is going to heal, right?" I've been asking the few of my friends who remain.

I find myself thinking all the clichés, chief amongst them: I never thought this would happen to me.

I'd blame this on Aberystwyth, the doctor said. Damn you, Wales! I replied.

It's time to start the smearing. "30g is plenty for one hairy individual," says the package insert. Yes.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Mystery men.

Outside the Royal Festival Hall on the south bank of the Thames in London, there's a strange piece of interactive art that's much more alluring than one has any idea until one actually steps up to try it out. Perhaps even more alluring than the artwork itself: the people who are drawn to it. Like this guy in the blue t-shirt and orange and white shorts (which might be swim trunks). I'm having so much fun finding him in my photographs that his name might as well be Waldo. Or Wally, as the books say here.

When my Wisconsinian friend and I did our time wandering through the LED plinths, we had just come out of one of the strangest (and most wonderful) films I've ever seen; easy amusement with possibly responsive colored lights, out in the fresh air, was exactly what we needed in order to be able to eat dinner. Seriously, are you watching Guy Maddin films yet? Give him a try, why don't you?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wisely driven?

Walking to my piano lesson, I saw a sticker on the back of a truck. Wisely driven? it said. I took it as a sign that what I've been considering for the past couple of days is actually a good idea. To wit: because I have had so much to think and write and do on the outside of the Cabinet lately, I've been giving what's in the Cabinet shorter shrift than I'd like. I never wanted this place to be full of "then I went here, and then I did this" updates. And yet that's what I have the brainspace for, most days. For the next week or so, just to give myself a rest, I'm going to let myself go as close to word-free here as I want. Some days, I may find myself unable to stay quiet. Some days, I may just be glad for the silence of an image I can offer here. I don't believe that I'm making a gradual exit from these writings; in fact, I believe that once I'm home, this place is going to be crucial to me in all kinds of ways, just as it was before I left to come here, and just as it's been throughout my time here. But just for right now, I need one less commitment that involves words.

Forty-one years ago today, my father and mother met on a blind date. She had masses of curly red hair; he had a shock of thick dark hair that fell over his forehead again and again. They went to an amusement park and rode the Tilt-a-Whirl. Lucky for me, by the end of the night they were goners.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

One way or another.

When they call from the car on their way home from the memorial service, the baby is wailing inconsolably in the background, and so I tell her some of what I have planned to tell you. Oh, the place where I was had the best kind of beach: stony and susurrous, waves sidling up, sliding back. The stones hissed and hissed.

(I'm afraid she might be so worked up that she can't even hear you, my friend says over the line. Don't worry, I say.) I sing-song along: and then we took a funny train up a big hill, up up and up, to the top of the hill where we found a strange frizbee golf course and it was frizbee with a z and it was the strangest place for a frizbee course because the wind was so strong, so so strong, that any frizbee would just have disappeared. And there were sheep and we could hear them say baa! baa! and so we walked along a narrow muddy track, going along a cliff, and the person I was walking with was afraid of falling off the cliff, but I wasn't, which was unusual because I am usually the one who is afraid of falling. And we walked toward the sheep who were saying baa! baa! but then the person I was walking with got too afraid and we had to turn around in the mud, and I could understand that, because sometimes I get freaked out, too. And so we turned around, and then we found a sign that told us cliffs can kill--only they can't, unless you hit them as you fall off of them. And then we found the strange frizbee golf course, with a beacon in the middle of it, only the light must have been stolen from the beacon because all that was there was a wooden post. And then we came back down the hill on the funny train that had no driver, and then we had pizza for dinner, even though I hadn't planned to eat dinner, because somehow dinner seemed like a good idea.

And right about this time, I realize that when I draw a breath, no anguished sound rushes in to fill the air between us. She has quieted, even before I had a chance to tell her about the strange red-and-white buildings up on top of that hill, or about how the sun had been spotlighting the sea, or about the castle ruins on the headland, or about how the land shadowed away into ever-paler blue up the coast. Or about the impossible green of this world. Or about the paper-thin slices of cured meats at the deli, or the olives I could have eaten until I was sick, or the hot sandwich of crusty bread and Spanish goat's cheese and sun-blushed tomatoes and tapenade that made me miss the tapenade and pepper and provolone and salami sandwiches I used to make on ciabatta when I still lived in New York. And I haven't told her about the light on the pastel terraces fronting the seaside promenade, or about the flags of minority European nations--Wallonia, Sardinia, Corsica, Cornwall, on and on--lining the beach, in Welsh solidarity with other countries-within-countries.

I haven't gotten to bizarre eatery signs.

And I haven't gotten us back home again, back past Ely in the distance, to the Saturday-crowded platform and the airport-bound passengers forcing in their luggage before we can even get off the train. But I've gotten far enough, far enough for now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

In the space of two minutes.

7:45 p.m., Friday, facing west from N 52˚25'5" W 4˚5':

7:47 p.m., Friday, facing east from the same point:

It was, in fact, the meeting of my two favorite kinds of landscape.

7:48 p.m. Friday, facing north:

And yet, somehow, it was still a deep, strong pleasure to hurtle backwards into the fens this evening. I am back, and tomorrow I suspect that I will tell you all about it. Tonight is for settling in.

Friday, July 11, 2008


No, for real. They can.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

With dispatch.

I'm smart enough to know that on the biggest day of my conference, I'm not going to have time to give you a full report, or anything like even a small report. And so, a report on Aberystwyth graffiti.

"Don't take a picture of my television!" said the owner of the chip shop where my flatmates and I stopped so that one of them could buy fried cod for the walk to the wine bar on Tuesday; this television was on the side of his building. "It's a lovely television," I told him. I'd already taken the picture. I was fairly certain he was kidding, though there's often no way to be sure.

I've seen three pairs of these eyes here. One was in town on the way to the wine bar. One was in town on the way home from the wine bar; one of my flatmates noticed it and said, "Hey, another pair of your eyes!" A third pair graces the back of the labyrinthine building that houses the university library and several major departments.

There's a tattoo parlor called West Coast Tattoo. My first response was to laugh. My second was to take a picture. My third was to think, well, yes: we are on the west coast. There's nothing between me and North America right now besides Ireland and a lot of Atlantic.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Continuing to be where I am.

The rain was so hard this morning that when we came back up the high hill from this seaside town, we were soaked to the skin. This meteorological development was a small disaster, given that we had a free morning in a beautiful place. Even had I carried the camera out for our mid-morning ramble, I wouldn't have wanted to take it out of its case to shoot things like the ruined castle on the beach, or the sad students surveying the shore.

I'm pinning my hopes on Friday afternoon, now. Tonight the sky is almost red, suggesting that tomorrow might be almost good weather. But I will be inside all day, speaking and chairing and asking questions and being convivial, and so it will not matter so much to me if tomorrow's weather is beautiful. Friday is another story.

And in the meantime, more images of what I passed in order to get to where I am.

I am perched near the Atlantic; I am looking toward home.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Getting to where I am.

I paid my £2 for a cappuccino just so that I could sit in that window with the stone arch above it, there at the far end of the bridge, and take some pictures for you.
From the spa to the seaside: the trip took about five hours but was beautiful almost start to finish. I took pictures all along the route, but it would seem that the borrowed computer on which I'm typing isn't going to recognize my memory stick, and so you will have to wait a bit longer to see what things looked like. [Ooo--operator error. Fixed! Ooo, kind of. Internet Explorer: you suck! I will fix this jumble of images later.]



I have about three hours before the next stage of my journey begins, and so I am off to move silently through this strange town, taking more pictures and finally seeing the inside of its Abbey.

One of the peculiar things about Bath is that so much of its city centre was built at roughly the same time (in the eighteenth century) that it has a strangely uniform look: long avenues and terraces of Bath stone, strong and simple lines decorated with grand neoclassical flourishes. For this trip, I've stayed on the top floor of a townhouse in the famous Great Pulteney Street, with a lovely and strange view of the top floors across the way.

Already today we've had sun, cloud, pouring rain, and more sun--weather far more changeable than in Cambridge, a thing I always forget about what it was like to live in the southwest all those years ago.

On the front of the Abbey, angels climb up and down ladders on either side of the west windows. The angels appeared to a bishop in a dream. What a dream it must have been.

Monday, July 07, 2008


Just before dinner here in Bath, I learned that a dear friend of mine--who is also a dear friend of many of you--lost her father this morning. This loss is one of the most difficult I can imagine, even given many months of advance warning and even given the gratitude she feels that the considerable pain of a long illness has now ended. If you know her, then you also know how to reach her. Even if you don't know her, if you believe that sympathy and strength can be transmitted from well-meaning people to those in emotional need, I'll make a rare request of you: please send some strength and peace in the direction of her and her family. She is such an excellent person that we all have a lot to thank him for.