Friday, November 19, 2010

A Moment to Breathe

This is the penultimate email I sent before opening this blog. I had thought I would write with much greater frequency, but the kind of time necessary for long and detailed letters is hard to come by, and I hate sending hastily dashed-off notes when I know there is more to say.

Hello everyone!

I realise it has been rather a long time since I was able to send a real email, but I'm sure you understand that the pace of the work here is extremely high! I feel like I have time only to study, eat, and sleep. Even now, I should probably be reading an online article in preparation for tomorrow's presentation on collaboration amongst early modern playwrights (specifically, the collaboration done on "The Book of Sir Thomas More," which exists only in one patchy and heavily revised manuscript with no fewer than seven different hands distinguishable, one of which might have been Shakespeare's). However, having just returned from a yummy MCR lunch of fish and broccoli and potatoes, followed by profiteroles for dessert, I am feeling relaxed and a little sleepy, and definitely not likely to concentrate on reading.

Looking back on my calendar from the past week, I can hardly believe how much I did. I'll try to go into some detail about the important things. On Tuesday 12 October I attended a coaching seminar with Bodo, the German coach of the women's crew here at Lincoln, and then went through two practices with him. Unlike crew on the Delaware, here on the Isis there is no room for motorboats to move in and out of the many sculling and sweeping boats out on the water (not to mention punts, kayaks, and house boats!), so the coaches ride along the bank on a bicycle. Bodo had us working on maintaining the proper body angles throughout the stroke, and he complimented me on my form, saying it was "almost perfect." My only problem is that I am not flexible enough to get full compression on the slide (I can't pull myself all the way to the front of the slide, because my ankles don't bend far enough), so I have to work on that. By the way, one of those practices was at 6:30 a.m., and I had to run through Christ Church park in the dark to get to the river, which was a little scary but also kind of peaceful and beautiful, in its way. I do love morning practice; you get to watch the sun come up, and you sort of wake up with it. I'll be rowing in the morning again this Friday, and probably at least once or twice a week.

Thursday 14 October was a really busy day. I gave my presentation on Philip Sidney and John Dryden at 10 a.m., running the class with my partner, Minoo, who did have a few interesting things to say, though he was a bit disorganised. I got positive feedback from my peers, but not much from the professors. David Womersley told me I could email him for feedback on my paper and presentation, but when I did (a day or two later) I got an Out-of-Town notice saying he's in Rome till the 24th, hehe. I guess I will have to wait. After the presentation I went up to the Graduate Common Room of the English Faculty Library to attend the EGO (English Graduate Organisation) lunch, where we voted in our new committee members for the year. It was crowded (naturally, any time you tell poor grad students there is free food, it will be crowded), and I was at the back of the line for the food, so I ended up with a cheese sandwich, a small apple, and a packaged cake of sorts that tasted of preservatives. Lesson learned: arrive early! It was after 2 by the time the voting was over, but I left a little early to pop into a lecture by David Norbrook on Marvell which I had seen on the lecture list. The system here is that anyone can go to almost any class, lecture, or seminar they find interesting (though of course some of them are mandatory for certain students). This means that there is something I might attend at almost every moment of every day, and it is strongly encouraged that we do go to these things. Unfortunately, I wasn't overly thrilled by the Marvell lecture, because it dealt mainly with politics, though the handouts that accompanied it were thorough and interesting, so I am glad I went. As soon as it was over, I had a 3:00 Palaeography class to get to. Now, Palaeography is one of the sexier parts of my field, because it means the study of hands--that is, handwriting of the period. There were two main categories in the 1550-1700 period: secretarial hand (which is nearly impossible to read unless you are trained in it) and italic hand, which is much more legible to the modern eye because it is in most cases just a very fancy cursive script. Unfortunately, even in this hand there are vastly different spellings, the "u"s are all written as "v"s and the "i"s as "j"s, and punctuation is extremely varied. Add to that personal codes and abbreviations and flourishes for each individual writer, plus varying qualities of pens, inks, and papers, and different styles when writing for other people or writing for oneself, and you have a whole discipline that is both challenging and fascinating. Our instructor, Will Poole, is sort of a star of the faculty for his adeptness with the hands (he can even forge them, and he encourages us to do the same, because the best way to know a hand is to write it!). He is also the most animated and jovial of my tutors, and his classes are sure to be lots of fun. He supplements them with actual samples, which he happens to own--one of which he bought for £30 on eBay because the owner couldn't read it and didn't know what he had! Of course, we all handled these things gingerly, and then we were shocked when he roughly shook one of the larger legal documents and then said, in response to our gasps, "Ah, the great thing about vellum...[holds out manuscript at arm's length and *punches* it with other hand]'s practically indestructible!"

After Will's class I ran back here to change for crew, because I had offered to sub for someone last-minute and had to be there by 5. I was a little late, but I had warned them that I had a class, so they didn't mind. I was to row again the next morning, Friday 15 October, from which I ran back here to shower and change, and then ran to an e-resources session with the English Faculty librarian at 9:30, and from there I ran back to Lincoln for a meeting with my advisor, Chris Stamatakis. (I did a lot of running that day.) On the way, though, I stopped by the accounts office, because I received a notice from Barclay's that my application for an account had been denied because my certified documents (which had been copied by one of *their* employees at the branch in town) was incorrectly copied. I am quite annoyed by that, because it means my loan moneys can't be released to me yet, and I am out of cash and didn't want to have to take out more from my checking account because of the fees. I think I will try another bank, but that means another 2-3 week wait... sigh. At least my advisor was sympathetic. Chris--who is actually younger than I am, being a new member of the faculty just this year--kindly took me to Cafe Nero for a hot chocolate as he asked me about my courses, whether I understood the system, and if I knew whom to contact if I needed help. He gave me some advice, too, on what lectures to attend and when to get started on my papers (obviously ASAP). It was very pleasant, and good to know that I have someone to talk to who has only just completed all of this, himself! (I will be picking his brain about the D.Phil and opportunities for employment later.)

After the meeting I went over to Blackwell's Book Store, where I was to meet up with Derek and Tiffany, my two friends who were honeymooning in Bath but had decided to come to Oxford for a day to see me. After some searching (their train had been late, so I waited for them a while), we found each other, and immediately went over to the History of Science Museum so I could show them the Secret Life of the Museum exhibit which I wrote about before. Derek adored the slip of paper with "R.P., You son of a whore" written on it, and he repeated the phrase throughout the day. There was also a guard in the downstairs area who saw our interest in everything and took us aside to recommend going to the Ashmolean museum (which, sadly, we did not get to that day) to see a musical instrument (I think it was a zither or a sitar?) that was a replica, but differed from the original because it had Adam and Eve carved into it, which he found so appropriate because, "If music be the food of love...". Even though we never got to see it, it was wonderful to have the conversation with the pleasant guard! From there we went into the Bodleian exhibit (the only part of the library they were permitted to enter without a Bod card or a pre-booked tour), which right now features the writings of John Aubrey (1626-1697) and the development of Experimental Science. There were lots of works, both print and manuscript, for us to see, as well as a fun interactive computer display where you could see sketches Aubrey had done of Stone Henge and other interesting yet mysterious structures. We went next to the History of Natural Science, which actually is just the gateway to my favourite Oxford Museum, the Pitt-Rivers. Most of you have heard me rave about this fabulous Victorian collection of curiosities from around the world, but if you haven't, I highly recommend you visit the website and take the virtual tour, because there is so much there (from totem poles to battle axes, from china dolls to shrunken heads!) that it is impossible to describe. <>

It was after 3 when we left the museum, and we were hungry, so I took them across the Banbury and Woodstock roads to the Eagle and Child (aka the Bird and Baby), which is famous for being the hangout of the Inklings, and informal literary discussion group that included J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and Nevill Coghill. We had some Shepherd's Pies (Derek and I) and Fish & Chips (Tiff) there, and then we headed back toward my apartment to check the train schedules. Of course, we had to pass by Lincoln to get there, so I took them in for a tour of the campus. Finally we came back here and sorted out train schedules, I introduced them to Jackie, and we chatted about this and that for an hour or so. Later, after a stop at Sainsbury's for chocolate (for Tiff's friends) and a sandwich (for Derek, who was somehow hungry again) and some granola bars (for my early crew mornings), we walked down to the train station and said good bye.

The next day was Matriculation day, pictures of which I have posted on Facebook. The actual process involved getting dressed in our sub fusc, which for girls is dark shoes, dark tights, dark skirt or trousers, white blouse, ribbon tie, and gown. We then met at Lincoln for roll call at 1, and then filed into stands in the quad for the group photo. At 2:40 or so we were led by the Senior Dean out the doors, down Brasenose Lane, around the Radcliff Camera, up to High Street, and into the Examination Schools. (I joked that we went in two straight lines like the little girls in Madeleine books, but it wasn't quite so orderly!) When we got there, they lined us up yet again, though to little effect, because they then funneled us into the large room with the high wedgewood blue ceilings and enormous paintings where we had had our orientation, and we stood in rows facing a center aisle, where the Senior Deans of the three or four colleges who were scheduled for then all stood. Finally, the VC (vice-chancellor, I think) came in, accompanied by a Bedel lady who held a huge silver scepter (!), and he stood upon a dais and waited for one of the Senior Deans to speak to him. Our got up and spoke to him in Latin, and he replied in Latin, and as far as I understand it, that was our matriculation (I think it was a lot like what Dr. Paradis does at Doane graduation, where he says that the candidates have been tested and found worthy, etc.). The VC then made a 10 min speech congratulating us and explaining the traditions (apparently the matriculation ceremony used to be accompanied by an examination conducted in Latin! good thing they don't do that any more, or I'd never have made it...), and then it was all over. I walked back to Lincoln in a bit of a drizzle, stood for an individual photo, and then went home to change for the crew swim test I had at 6. After all of that I was tired, but there was the Emily Carr Party still to come, so I had to shower and dress again.

The Emily Carr house is actually a section of the Bear Lane Complex, where I live, donated by Ms. Emily Carr lots of years ago (I have no idea how many). Now it houses the MCR social committee, who once a term throw an all-out rave in it, complete with DJ and loads of free alcohol. I had to go, as it was literally ten feet from my front door, but I didn't stay long. There is one photo of me to prove I was there, which Will Bowles posted on Facebook (I am tagged in it, so I think you should be able to see it without being his friend...and it is worth the look, because somehow my hair managed to look rather awesome). I danced a little, drank one drink, and went home to bed. I really am not much of a drinker, and people were getting so sloshed that the floor was sticky with spills, and boys were leaning so close to talk to me that they were spitting on my face. That is just not my idea of a good time. But I did it.

After all the fun, I spent ALL of Sunday reading for this collaboration presentation. I met with my group at 4 on Monday (after a D.Phil planning meeting, which was helpful), and then Monday night I had choir rehearsal. I don't remember if I told you, but I joined the OUSU (Oxford University Student Choir), which is a non-audition choir, and we are singing Bach's Christmas Oratorio on Wednesday of 8th week (Dec. 1, I think...). I had gone to a rehearsal the previous Monday and really liked it, because although the group is really big, it is also lots of fun, and the sound is beautiful.

Phew! Well, that brings us to today, during which I woke at 6:15, went for a run (I was headed to the boathouse to erg, but the rowers had locked it, silly things, so I just ran), came back and showered, went to class (Textual Bibliography--we talked about the physical parts of a printing press today, and got to hold some movable type. We also talked about the development of information transmission from clay tablets and papyrus to e-books and the new Espresso Book Machines that produce books on demand), then went to the MCR lunch, and now have written to you! And now, in the hour I have before the Early Modern Graduate Seminar at 5, I really must read something, so for now I must bid you adieu.

I hope most of this was interesting. It would be much better for me to try to spread it out over more frequent, smaller emails, I know. I will work on that, if I can.

I miss you all! Let me know how things are going back home!



PS: I adore getting real mail, and I am excited because I received a beautiful letter today from Mr. Bennett. It was simple and kind, and just so characteristic of him. He is such a sweetheart! Someone give him a big hug from me, please?

1 comment:

  1. Leilah, Gabby, Callan and Frank visited today. I think that we successfully launched them. This blog is all so fascinating, Danielle; I think that it will prove quite a useful record for you. Thanks for the link to the Pittt-Rivers; I spent some time with the Explorer-Photographer. I think that the invasion of Iraq could have been justified on environmental grounds. I'm going to look into the photographer's work with Marsh Arabs when I get the chance.