When Reading Is Doing

It’s Saturday morning, sunny though cold, and I have loads of things I could pick out to do: stretch, go to the gym, pack/de-clutter, grade (the current batch of papers look quite good; this will not be a purgatorial task), work on my application for Full, work on The Last Overdue Revisions, color while the light is good, play with my kitties, futz about on the Internet (oh wait . . .), and what do I do? Put together a bibliography for an article I want to write, on a text I’m teaching, a text that hasn’t received enough attention IMHO. I’ve ILL’d one essay, and I can get several others in hard copy at my library, and there’s one book I’m dying to get my hands on that may require a field trip because there are about 7 copies in the world and they don’t circulate.

(Another obsessive un-answerable question: why are there not copies in UK depository libraries, when it was published in the 20th century in London and copies are supposed to go the BL, the Bod, and CUL? Did someone not send them? Did someone not catalog them? Are they somehow catalogued by something other than author and title? I have poked around in the online catalogues, and I do know how to use them, and this book does not turn up. My lawful-good-J side is deeply disturbed: something went wrong in the book world. I tell you, were I not an English professor I would need to be a Literature Detective.)

Someday when I’m futzing about online I really should create a blogroll. I spend quite a bit of time reading blogs by delightful-sounding women who enjoy food, crafts, gardening, restoring old houses, and similar pursuits that I prefer reading about to doing. Despite all the well-meant advice on the Chron fora and similar places about Getting A Life and Pursuing Hobbies Outside of Work, what I really want to do, what I get excited about and spend sunny Saturday mornings on, is reading, researching, and writing. I’ve tried the gardening, restoring, crafts, and so on. They sound like fun. The results look good. But I just don’t get fired up about things I can do with my hands. Except write, which is manual labor, as Colette said.

I have other projects I need to finish right now, so this putative article will go on The List (I have learned the hard way not to get distracted by the New Shiny). Someday I will get to it, and my future self will be happy to have the core bibliography assembled and some basic thoughts outlined. Maybe next spring, when I hope to teach this text again.

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Light is the left hand of darkness

and darkness the right hand of light.

Two are one,

lying together like lovers in kemmer,

like hands joined together,

like the end and the way.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin, 21 October 1929–22 January 2018

 

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Barcelona

My Spanish experiences are more Andalucian than Catalunyan, so, here, a rose from the Alhambra for the victims in Barcelona.

¡Ay, cómo lloran y lloran,
¡ay! ¡ay! cómo están llorando!

I don’t know . . .

I’ve been thinking about a new template for awhile. I like the two-column format. But I miss the stripped-down minimalism of my old template already. I may have to keep experimenting. Any thoughts or recommendations?

Oh, Parliament . . .

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/11/world/europe/critics-ruffled-as-parliament-turns-the-page-on-parchment.html?emc=edit_th_20160211&nl=todaysheadlines&nlid=28733710

I did not know that parchment had remained in use until the present day by this august institution, but I am disappointed that the tradition is ending. While it is true that high-quality paper lasts for centuries, parchment lasts longer. The cost doesn’t seem high enough to make much difference in a country’s budget. Will sixteenth-century Acts of Parliament still be available to scholars when the 21st-century ones have crumbled to dust?

I had not thought about this question before: what style of handwriting was used through the twentieth century for the written-on-parchment records of the British Parliament? I’ve never looked at anything later than the 17th century.

Auden’s conclusion

Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

More poetry

He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

(W. H. Auden, “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”)

Tea/coffee, English/Continental, Pym/Thirkell

I have long been a tea drinker. I normally make tea in the morning (loose if I have a little leisure, a bag if I’m running out the door or am just too groggy), and read while I drink it and wake up. One of my great pleasures when traveling alone is to take a cup of tea back to bed and read or write in bed, which I cannot do at home since Sir John and I live in different time zones.* At least, I do this when I’m traveling alone in England, where hotel rooms are always equipped with an electric kettle, or in the U.S., where there is always a coffee maker that can usually be coaxed to produce hot water that doesn’t taste too much like coffee if I take the thing apart and clean it.

However, Barbara Pym’s observations in Excellent Women about tea on the Continent still apply in the present day: “When it comes, it’s a pale straw-colored liquid . . . and the tea’s in a funny little bag . . and they may even bring hot milk with it.” As to the pale liquid, I might add that you’d be lucky; usually you get a pot of slightly-more-than-lukewarm water and the funny little bag still in a paper wrapper, and you have to inflict the making of pale and unsatisfactory fluid on yourself. The same points apply to many restaurants and cafes in the U.S.**

Thus, on my recent trip, after a couple of unfortunate mornings with straw-colored liquid, I resigned myself, with increasing pleasure, to cafe con leche rather than tea. It was of course necessary to get dressed and leave my room for this, because Continental hotel rooms do not provide kettles or coffee makers.**** I never thought of the French and Spanish as a batch of morning people, but apparently they achieve some minimal level of functionality before caffeine input in the morning, at least when they’re not in their own homes. (Getting the cafetière going is a recurrent trope in the modern novels I have been reading lately.)

After a week of cafe con leche in a southern Spanish plaza, tea chez moi just didn’t taste right. And so I thought that perhaps this year, my “something new and different” that “you didn’t do as a normal part of the work routine when you weren’t on leave” could be cafe con leche. It did occur to me that I run the risk of turning into an Angela Thirkell character:

“Eccomi! said Mrs Grant, throwing both arms wide so that her necklaces and her bracelets clanked and clattered in sympathy. “Eccomi!” she said again, stretching her hands towards her friends as a shipwrecked sailor might stretch towards his rescuers. “Sir Edmund! You remember me. Felicia Grant.” Sir Edmund said with great truth that no one could ever forget Mrs Grant. “Ah, we were younger then,” said Mrs Grant. “We meet now nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita. But in sunny Calabria age has no terrors. A crust, a clove of garlic, what more is needed? Brother Sun and Brother Sleep.” Noel said under his breath And Brother Mosquito Net, which made Lydia laugh.*****

There are other risks, it turns out. Coffee-making is just too complicated for my early mornings. Tea involves putting on the kettle, scooping leaves into the strainer, and pouring hot water until the cup is full. I can cope with that, and there are bags to avoid the scooping step if I’m really groggy. But coffee requires finding the grinder, beans, filter, and filter-holder, and getting them assembled in the proper order. The beans go in the grinder, not the filter or the holder. Then it’s necessary to grind them menace the cats with Terrible Cat-Eating Machinery, which they flee; with luck they don’t knock anything over during their escape from the kitchen.******  Ground coffee goes in the filter, not into the cup or the filter-holder. The water has to be measured, and the milk heated, but preferably not boiled. After Caffeine, I could probably manage just fine. Pre-Caffeine is another story.

I can tell you that my respect for baristas has increased dramatically over the few days I have been trying to prepare coffee in the morning. No doubt there are shortcuts and gadgets that could change this picture. But the idea was to add pleasure, not to complicate my life. So I’m going back to tea. Coffee will just have to be reserved for Continental breakfasts taken on the Continent, where someone else operates the machinery.*******

 

*Same house. Different time zones. I’m New Brunswick, he’s Vancouver.

**At Peet’s Coffee, they know to put boiling water*** on a tea bag. They even sell loose tea. The place could just be called Peet’s Caffeine.

***I even know that water for tea should ideally be just off the boil, but let’s not get unduly fussy. I’d prefer the water be too hot than too cold.

****The Mercure at CDG had a kettle. No cups, or tea bags, or coffee packets. Perhaps you have to ask for the kettle set-up, as you ask for down-free pillows or a lighter blanket. Vive la France!

*****Angela Thirkell, County Chronicle (1950; rpt. Moyer Bell, 1998), 160. Mrs Grant also appears in The Brandons, but I think I must have purged my copy on account of its being excessively battered, while the library can supply me with a sturdier copy.

******Without luck, there’s more mess to clean up than just spilled coffee grounds.

*******If I’d thought ahead, I might actually be spending my sabbatical abroad, but (as usual) the home situation is just a little too complicated to allow us to pack up and move for a year. Too many cats, too much house. I am not Excellent Woman enough for that; or maybe I am, precisely, Excellently presiding over my own home instead of gallivanting adventurously abroad. Perhaps I should have studied anthropology like Helena Napier, instead of getting involved with English Literature.

Deux pensées

Est-ce que les idées nous attendent si longtemps? C’était peu probable. Les idées patientent un peu, et partent à la recherche d’un imaginaire plus accueillant. (123)

On n’écrit pas parce que la vie vous laisse du temps libre. Il faut organiser sa vie autour des mots, et non le contraire. (268)

David Foenkinos, Je vais mieux (Éditions Gallimard, 2013).