Saturday, 10 December 2005

Apples and Oranges

You just cannot compare Apple and basically any other computer vendor! Today I went down to London and popped in to the Apple Store on Regent Street. Gawd. It's gorgeous. Fully of lovely Apple stuff, stuff I really really want. It is so nice to be able to see all of their products in one place. They have a cool Genius bar upstairs, and a theatre for presentations etc. It's such a cool space.

Saturday, 3 December 2005

Bennett & Kerr Books

Today I went on an adventure, all the way out to Steventon in rural Oxfordshire. Hurrah. The reason for this incredible voyage into the heart of darkness is that a rather excellent bookseller is there and invited me out to have a gander around their books. Think Famous Five meets Ambridge meets American Gothic (without the pitchfork). The village itself is just beautiful, full of lovely early architecture, a lot of Tudor timber-framed buildings and parsonages and the like. There's a very unusual causeway (a type of raised footpath) that runs through one part of the village too. The directions to this bookshop included things like 'cross the railway line', 'down the lane', 'walk through the farmyard', which is intended to give you an impression of what it's like to literally stand in the middle of a field looking for the entrance to the farmyard! Picking my way through the chickens I eventually made it to the shop. The obstacle course isn't normally an issue since customers all purchase online. Very cleverly, Andrew asked me out to browse because he knew I'd be a danger once I got started. And I also met Edmund and did my very good impersonation of slightly crazy and obsessed bibliophile.

The stock is absolutely wonderful. It's a mix of remaindered texts and secondhand books, some from the libraries of various saints and scholars. For example their latest printed catalogue lists some books from the library of the late Marjorie Reeves. There were so many I wanted desperately but couldn't allow myself. A highlight that comes to mind (sadly spoken for) is Malcolm Parkes, English Cursive Bookhands 1250-1500, priced at a very competitive £48. I also saw a copy of Hoccleve: Facsimile of the Autograph Verse Manuscripts, for what I think was £50, which is good value. But you'll also find other bargains at lower prices. They've got an excellent stock of material on Chaucer, Langland and Beowulf. They've got lots of general medieval history, as well as a considerable Renaissance stock too. If you're after something, send an email and they'll do their best to sort you out.
I myself picked up a copy of Norton-Smith's Geoffrey Chaucer (London, 1974); Chaucer's Dream Poetry: Sources & Analogues, ed. Windeatt (Cambridge, 1982); and a kind of (serious) folly, Barbara Nolan, Chaucer and the Tradition of the 'Roman Antique' (Cambridge, 1992). Needless to say that none of these books is the book that I actually went out to Steventon to collect! That was Coulson & Roy, Incipitarium Ovidianum: A Finding Guide for Texts Related to the Study of Ovid in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Turnhout, 2000). I had actually ordered this in Blackwell's and it had arrived and was awaiting collection when I saw Bennett & Kerr's copy for exactly half the new price! This justified blowing a fortune in my warped mind. But I am actually using these books at the moment so they're not being used to steady a wobbly table.

When I win the National Lottery I am calling to Bennett & Kerr Books for some serious shopping, just as I'm on my way down to London to Harvey Nichols for some very very serious shopping. Suits you sir, very nice. I could write a better thesis dressed in Prada. I just know it.

Thursday, 1 December 2005

The Spitting Image of...

In an extremely funny episode of Spitting Image, a television producer presents his latest cool idea for the BBC to Janet Street Porter (former exec there, left). He has a platter such as you might see at a banquet, and after much hyped talk takes the lid off, to the disgust of the panel, who are hilariously wretching and covering their mouths in panic. 'Oh my god, it's a steaming pile of ... '; you get the idea.

My last official meeting with the superV went a little like that (though he certainly doesn't look anything like Janet Street Porter). Of course I could only agree with him. Well, after a cruel birthing process another piece of work has been sent to him and I felt a little like including a platter with a lid. In a fit of hypocondria I went to the doctor today thinking my viral flu was actually a kidney infection. While it's not in my head, it's not in my kidneys either. So I just need to sleep it off and rest.

Needless to say the platter was returned, its contents having been competently poked with a stick, worthy of a medieval physik. I now need to return to that platter and do something with it. Next time he'll just put it in a jar of formaldehyde and keep it on his shelf as an example of a rare and grotesquely disgusting creature, one that looks kind of familiar if you squint at it, but then it's gone; nah, it's just weird.

There's always a career at the BBC....

Wednesday, 30 November 2005


When I'm in the throes of writing and rewriting (more often the latter than the former) I listen to Pau Casals play Bach's 6 Cello Suites. He practised them every day for 13 years before he performed them in public. The range of expression and emotion is astonishing and they remain the centre of his output.

They give me solace when I'm revising and revising and going over the same thing for what seems to be the millionth time.

Monday, 28 November 2005

Wallace (ed), Middle English Literature

Today I picked up a s/h copy of David Wallace's Medieval English Literature, and read Christopher Baswell's contribution called 'Latinitas'. It's a very very good chapter on the complexity of the idea of Latin(s) in medieval England:

"Indeed, the divide between Latin literacy and illiteracy was always unstable and permeable. We should instead speak of a gamut of Latinities in medieval England: from minimal competence for practical needs, and largely mnemonic command of sacred texts; through the supported access provided by Books of Hours and by the schools; and only ending in the reading and writing of sophisticated literature. This was complicated still further by the ease of aural access to Latin at all social levels. A secular aristocrat might have a clerk read to him or her; an urbanite could attend and absorb parts of public Latin rituals; even a peasant would be able to pick up Latin tags from sermons or the liturgy. We are unlikely ever to have a full and nuanced sense of the extent of lay literacy in Latin; but ongoing research always seems to reveal an increased proportion of laymen who read Latin, or used it ably through intermediaries."

Reading Baswell and leafing through my notes I was reminded of Édouard Jeaneau's prickly prickly remarks in 'Berkeley, University of California, Bancroft Library MS. 2 (Notes de Lecture)', Mediaeval Studies 50 (1988), 438-456 (450-1) about Baswell's citing of Jeaneau's attribution of an Aeneid Commentary to Bernard Silvestris - it's like a wonderful Victor Meldrew moment where he says that he doesn't know in what language he must write in order to be understood! Anyway, in Baswell's (extraordinary) Virgil in Medieval England (Cambridge, 1995), p. 355 n83 he humbly and impressively apologises for the misinterpretation. A lesser scholar would not have handled it nearly as well.
Anyway Medieval English Literature is a treasure trove of material that will serve very well anyone dealing with the Middle Ages.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

Beware: Mellel & Grammarian

This is a (sort of) technical post about computery things: if you do not know how to switch on a computer just listen to the elevator music in your head and I'll be right with you.

My mood is frustrated and angry.

For a while now I've been using Grammarian Pro with Mellel. It's supposed to be a nifty spell-checker that gives you interactive pop-ups with suggestions for both spelling and grammar. All sounds great. So I'm tidying something to give to the superV and I decide to do a spell-check. It goes through the entire text, and then makes the changes all together at the end. It asks you "do you want to paste the changes?", to which I said yes. I had already made another couple of small changes and saved before I realized exactly what this thing had done. It strips your formatting first of all, so indentations, italics, all such are gone. Very helpful. Then came the horror the horror. It had stripped and deleted EVERY FOOTNOTE in the text. Now just think how helpful I thought Grammarian was at that very moment.

Tech support got back to me quite quickly, but say they are still testing stuff. Great. Oh and no they can't give me a refund. To me, this piece of software is worthless. I recognize that those of you using other programs to write with might have positive experiences, and that's fine. But for me, this is a chocolate wristwatch. And I sure am sorry I wasted my money on it.

Just know what this thing does before you buy it, and if you use Mellel, do not buy it. It's not compatible enough. Simple as that.

Now just press the elevator button for the roof please....

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Went to see Kiss Kiss Bang Bang this evening and I really loved it. The script is so sharp and tight. There is a wonderful chemistry between Downey Jr and Kilmer and you just laugh out loud so often.

Go to see it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

Idea #13224

I have an idea. This might be a good idea, or it might be a bad idea. And that's where you come in. I need you to post a response to this so I can see what's the temperature.

What about posting short podcasts of people talking about a poem? These podcasts, in the form of mp3s could be downloaded by the reader from this blog, listened to, and a response posted. It could create an informal forum for talking about medieval literature. The format of the discussion could be you and me talking about the piece, or you and someone else. Say you've worked on Sir Orfeo for an essay, why not sit down with your lecturer/professor for 20 mins and talk about it? It's a way of harnessing the informality of the internet in a combination of spoken and written word to our advantage. So things don't need to be very polished but, since you might be replying to posted comments, ideas need to be worked out logically too.

Post comments with your thoughts, suggestions, etc. Please!

Thursday, 10 November 2005

Greyfriars & Blackfriars

Listen to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time this week on the rise of the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the 13th century, discussed by three eminently listenable experts: Henrietta Leyser, Alexander Murray, and Anthony Kenny. It's an extremely good introduction to the period and well worth listening to.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual

Eleanor Prescott Hammond's famous Chaucer: A Bibliographical Manual, first published by Macmillan in 1908 and reprinted in 1930 has been reprinted again by Higginson Books (NY) in a library binding: Barnes & Noble are selling copies for 25 squids. It is not beautiful but the book is extremely useful, which is remarkable for a book of its age and for a bibliography. Testament to her brilliance I suppose. The greats don't date.

It's one of those books, like Brusendorff's The Chaucer Tradition, that you easily forget are there and when you go back to them you realize how comprehensive and stimulating they are.

My copy of Giorgio Brugnoli, Identikit di Lattanzio Placido: Studi sulla scoliastica staziana, ETS Editrice: Pisa, 1988 (ISBN: 88-7741-409) was defective when it arrived, misbound with blank pages left right and centre. But a quick email (perhaps a little more stern than it should have been) to the publishers resulted in a fresh correctly bound copy being sent straight away. So thank you ETS!

Sunday, 6 November 2005


I saw Downfall last night, about the last days of Hitler. It is an excellent film, full of the terror of a crumbling 'empire', Hitler's disbelief of the extent and disconnection with the reality of the failure around him. Most of the action of the film takes place in the bunker and the sense of claustrophobia and impending doom is just inescapable. It doesn't make for easy viewing.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Sagittarius A

Apparently they have discovered a black hole at the centre of our galaxy: it has been described as 'super-massive'. What that means is that it is four million times the size of the sun. And we've just discovered this thing!! I mean I've missed the obvious before, far be it from me to comment, but I don't think I've ever missed anything four million times the size of the sun (even if it felt like it).

Lecture in Trinity went very well, and was delighted to see some old friends and teachers there.

Thursday, 27 October 2005

Getting IT Together

A very important part of doing research is being organized, and keeping your references and notes in a format that makes the information easily retrievable and easily editable. One way people do this is a card index. Nothing wrong with this at all. It has worked for generations of scholars quite well and I'm not denying its simplicity and effectiveness.

But there are a couple of software programmes that allow you to easily organize your references, keep each piece of bibliographical information in a place that can then be organized easily, through a template style, into whatever format you want (such as MHRA, or Chicago) at the click of a button. You can also keep all of your notes attached to these records, and then do a simple search within the programme for everywhere you noted an author's name, or a title, or a word. I started out using Endnote, which is not a bad piece of software. It is not a great piece of software either, and there is a learning curve. It's very much geared towards the sciences and making changes to suit your own needs takes nerves of steel and plenty of patience.

Then I found Bookends. I find it excellent. It is easy to use and integrates with my word processor seamlessly. The advantage is that I don't have to worry about compiling a bibliography, because as I write and insert my references in footnotes, each of these references is linked to Bookends. When I want to format them, Bookends will compile the bibliography based on the references I have inserted in each footnote. All pain free. And their support forum is excellent. The main man, Jon, will reply to questions in sometimes lightening speed - I'm serious. I've had replies within five minutes from him on queries, all cleared up effortlessly.
Now all you have to do is throw Word out the window and get yourself something sleek and sexy like Mellel. Writing a thesis in Word is simply not very clever. And if you're clever enough to write a thesis, you should be clever enough to get rid of Word. Buying Bookends and Mellel was the best software purchase I ever made.
Now if only I could remember what my thesis was about....

The Chief-Super

The SuperV had his Inaugural last evening: Lunatics, Lovers, and Poets: Some Compact Imaginations. The reference is to A Midsummer Night's Dream (Act 5 Sc. 1): 'The lunatic, the lover, and the poet | Are of imagination all compact'. It was a fine analysis of medieval literary theory as it can illuminate Chaucer's poetics, in particular the House of Fame, which he describes as the most revolutionary piece of poetry in the English language.

It all made me want to go and work. That's encouraging. For me. The work is coming along, but it needs to come along a little faster. These last couple of weeks have been busy, hence the radio silence.

I'm writing a lecture for the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at Trinity College Dublin (the alma mater), which I'm giving on Tuesday. The subject will be: 'Chaucer and Italy'. I'm looking forward to it. Very much.

Thursday, 20 October 2005

The People who Blog!

Pete Townshend, the rock star, has his very own blog right here on Blogger: It's called The Boy Who Heard Music and he's blogging a serialized novel!

Wednesday, 19 October 2005

In Remembrance of Things...

The great Mary Carruthers is here as a visiting professor at Balliol College and is doing the Eastman Lectures on historical perspectives on the arts of memory and the arts of thinking. I went to her second lecture yesterday and it was fascinating. There are a series of workshops too, and apparently we get to try it all out and see if we can remember every prime minister and the Psalms, the usual stuff. That's going to be fun.

It's now time to get back to work. If only I could remember what it is my thesis is about...

Thursday, 13 October 2005

85,000 PhDs

I heard on the radio today that Europe produces 85,000 PhDs a year. That seems rather a lot doesn't it? I'm a bit dizzy thinking of it. One doctorate at the moment is dizzying me.

Prizes all round too: Banville won the Booker. I haven't read it, but have heard terrible things about it. Really terrible. And ould Pinter won the Nobel Prize. There's a big 75th birthday celebration season at The Gate in Dublin.

Sunday, 9 October 2005

The Pope and His Theologians

Have a listen to the wonderful Denys Turner talking with Irish radio presenter Andy O'Mahoney on theology, knowing God, the incarnation, and the diminished role of the theologian in the contemporary church. I could listen to him all day.

Saturday, 8 October 2005

Book Crisis

So I went in to my local bookshop yesterday and someone has obviously sold off their medieval library. There are loads of nice things - I immediately picked up A Preface to Chaucer, by D.W. Robertson, Jr. - but one thing that I really want is Manly and Rickert's The Text of the Canterbury Tales, 8 vols (Chicago Univ. Pres, 1940). The problem is that it costs £250, which is a lot of money. I might be able to get something off that, but it would still be a pretty hefty whack of money. I think that I am going to have to leave it, but I know I'm going to regret this.
I really am.

Friday, 7 October 2005


I would like to recommend The Bull, a new play now on for the Dublin Theatre Festival, by Michael Keegan-Dolan. It is quite simply outstanding. It has changed the way I think about theatre - and dance and music, for that matter. He's an extremely talented Irish choreographer and this is his second show for the Theatre Festival: last year he was responsible for the amazing Giselle. Read this interview with Keegan-Dolan, and click here for more info on the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Wednesday, 14 September 2005


Lovely article in Monday's Guardian about Judi Dench. She has a great story about being in New York with Maggie Smith and being asked about the Sanford Meisner method of acting, which is based on ruthless self-exploration. "Maggie, in her unique way, said 'Oh, we have that in England, too. We call it wanking.'"

I'm now back from holidays and enjoying some time in Sligo by the sea. Am reading Hollinghurst's Folding Star, Zoe Heller's Notes on a Scandal and a few other bits and pieces. Greatly enjoyed reading Toibin's The Master. It's a beautiful book. Barry's A Long Long Way was stunning, really stunning. Willie, the protagonist, comes back on leave from the war to his father, and when the son thanks the father for writing to him, the father replies: 'It was an honour to write to you'. That's kind of how I feel about reading the book. It was an honour to read it.

Wednesday, 7 September 2005


Miglior acque is currently on holidays. He is reading the following books in case anyone wants to comment: Sebastian Barry, A Long Long Way (Faber, 2005); Colm Toibin, The Master (Picador, 2005); Iain Pears, The Last Judgment (Berkeley Prime Crime, 2002) - for fun!

Monday, 29 August 2005

All Will Be Well

John McGahern, Ireland's finest fiction writer, is publishing his memoirs on Thursday, Memoir (Faber, 2005). I am very excited. It is a really important publishing event, and for anyone interested in the best Irish fiction around.

I have also come home for this, to Co Leitrim, where McGahern himself is from. Quiet countryside, watching the sun try to shine all day. It's exactly where I want to be reading it.

Read this interview in yesterday's Observer.

Friday, 26 August 2005

Poets and Patrons

Apologies for the silence. I've been preparing a review of John A. Scott's wonderful new book Understanding Dante, and have it nearly ready. It's for The Sixteenth Century Journal.

I then read Cynthia Brown's book Poets, Patrons, and Printers: Crisis of Authority in Late Medieval France(Cornell U Press, 1995). She talks about the way that printers become very important and influential at the opening of the sixteenth century and, by examining things like frontispieces and colophons, she charts the rise of the author and his sense of identity, especially via an increasing sense of literary rights (or copyright). Fascinating, and persuasively written. I also had a read of Robert Edwards's Ratio and Invention: A Study of Medieval Lyric and Narrative(Vanderbilt U Press, 1989). If anyone has read it and has a comment on it please post; I couldn't make head nor tail of it, and I suspect that may be because the book has neither head nor tail.
If I have not been able to make sense of an argument in a book, whose fault is it? Mine, for being thick (a strong possibility), or the author's, for not being able to get his point across? I remember a long time ago handing a piece of work in to my history of art lecturer and going through it with him; at one point he said that something wasn't clear and I, in a moment of humility, apologised. He said, Yes, you should apologise, because it is your fault and your problem if the point is not getting across. You are responsible. Agens rather than auctor maybe.

I've seen the V.A. Kolve Festschrift s/h and was thinking of buying it. But I'm a bit wary of buying collections of essays: after all, you'll only ever need to refer to one or two ever. What's the point? I usually prefer to plough money into texts. I just ordered Shackleton Bailey's new edition of the Thebaid, for the LOEB. Has anybody used it yet? I'm presuming it is a new edition, and translation. I'm missing good bookshops here in Dublin.

Friday, 19 August 2005

Charlie Charlie

Went to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory last night. With Tim Burton involved one expected it to be a bit crazy, but I have to say that it is very weird. The film could quite legitimately have a subtitle: A Study in the Grotesque. I can understand Johnny Depp's problem, trying to make a classic character all his own, but there were some very, well...unsettling moments in his Willy Wonka. And then all of those references to eating and over-eating have resonances now, with fat children dying of bloody heart attacks, that they did not have when Dahl wrote the book nor when the original film was made.

Mo Mowlam died last night. Very sad. Two terrible recent losses for the Labour party.

Wednesday, 17 August 2005

Pauvre Victoria

Poor Victoria. Apparently she has not read a book in her life. She's been too busy, she says. I know the feeling Victoria, but well, you make time. It's a great opportunity to pull out all the old prejudices though. Hester Lacey's piece in the Guardian is great, apropos. She writes about how she loves reading, her mother brought her to the library when she was still in the womb and she read the entire works of Dickens before she was born. Victoria apparently prefers fashion magazines. Maybe that's why she looks the way she does, and her husband, too.
Lacey says that reading is the only habit seen as universally good. Well, I'm not sure that's true. There are plenty of places where they burn books, still. And your average school, or rather "school" in the Bible belt (ye old US of A, needless to say) will have its heavily censored libraries guiding its students. Reading is moral and political: in the Middle Ages it would have been described as ethical. And that means it is potentially dangerous.

A similar revelation was made recently by Noel Gallagher, another culture-making vulture, who said that he was nevously beginning his first book, Angels and Demons. Gawd. Where shall I start? I suppose at least he has expressed an intention to read a book, as opposed to Victoria, who doesn't seem pushed if she never reads a book for the rest of her life. Maybe we should applaud Dan Brown for getting people reading who wouldn't normally "do" the whole book thing.

Like the old joke of the distinguished academic being introduced by a long list of his publications who says: I may have written them but I assure you I have never read them, Victoria herself has written a book.... sob....

But modern publishing is as mercurial and superficial as the fashion industry, something nicely sidestepped by Lacey and her swipe at those who know the difference between Gucci and Prada - implying of course that there is none (I mean really darling...). Reading might be seen as 'good', but good books do not necessarily get published, nor will the reader know they exist. Those who populate both worlds are, in my humble opinion, as superficial as each other.

I'm off now to buy a Gucci man bag in which to put my Ulysses.

No really, I am....

Sunday, 14 August 2005

Busy busy

Well aren't you all busy little readers: see the comments on the last post, what a nice surprise to see some exotic visitors posting, as well as my old friends!

I'm afraid I've been rather busy this week. I have been writing furiously, trying to make up for the lost time in Italy. I met my supervisor and had a chat about it and gave him the chapter-section to read. We'll talk about it when I get back from Ireland. I'm leaving on Wednesday. Before then, I must pack and leave my room. I've been in a nice two-room set this past year (a priviledge for the MCR president), and it if full of stuff. I had a huge cull today and threw out two black refuse sacks of clothes, papers, and rubbish. Great feeling.

I have such an amount of work to do it is not funny...

Over the past few days I've also been going into Blackwell's to read Ralph Hanna's new book London Literature, 1300-1380 (Cambridge, 2005). I haven't had the cash to blow on it, but I think that I will when I get back, it's well worth it. It's a brilliantly accomplished book, actually so good it makes the hairs stand on the back of your neck. I've read the first three chapters and when I went in yesterday someone had bought the only copy on the shelf! Oh well. I might post a review when I read the rest of it. Absolutely essential reading - no medievalist can afford not to read it. I mean that!

Despite the disappointment of not being able to finish my free read in Blackwell's, I did pick up a lovely mint copy of The Oxford Guide to Style, which I'd been meaning to look for to check a couple of things. (Yes, expect things to get elevated from now on...). Barnardo's on the Cowley Road is not where you'd go first for books, but actually there were more than a few interesting things. And (in Oxfam) I picked up a nice (-ish) recording of Renata Tebaldi in La Wally, an opera I'd only known bits of before. Better than its low profile would suggest. I heard her sing a recital a few years ago in Bologna, one of her last public appearances. Her voice had weakened a lot in the higher register, but for the easy stuff it was very nice. And she left in a kind of breeze of adulation only to come scrambling back on stage becasue she had lost her diamond bracelet. Not very dignified. But kind of funny.

Saturday, 6 August 2005

Editors and Butchers

Great piece in today's Guardian by Blake Morrison on the role of editors and how it is becoming less and less important in publishing houses. He argues that while it is becoming easier to get work out there, through a variety of formats (including blogs!), if editors are becoming obsolete, it is bad for language and bad for books. It is true. And he says that the decline in the position of editors is related to the rise of university courses on creative writing, that if you walk in to a class you hear exactly what we can read between Pound and Eliot, or Maxwell Perkins (at Scribner) and Wolfe.

Thursday, 4 August 2005

That'll be 72 raisins for me thanks...

Is George Galloway completely mad? I think so. The Arab world hardly needs some MP (who?) running around the Middle East whipping up anti-Western sentiment and encouraging martyrs to write their names in the stars. Poor man. And if it is virgins that are promised in the Qu'ran - and not, as Christoph Luxenberg suggests in Die Syro-Aramäische Lesart des Koran: raisins - then just remember that it could be 72 Ann Widdecombes you meet up there. I'll have the raisins thanks. Why must everything be twisted to suit those who wish to gain and hold power? Hanif Kureishi has an interesting piece in the Guardian today.

I've just been listening to Bell X-1, mainly from having seen them on Vexed and Glorious' blog, and I think they're really good. The diary from the States, on their homepage is great. Music in Mouth is the first album. [The title is a nod to a poem called "The Planter's Daughter" by Austin Clarke, one we all learned in school. Beautiful.] And I called in to my local library today and picked up a few of novels (they have a 50p shelf) - Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, Beryl Bainbridge's The Winter Garden, Michael Ondajee's The English Patient, and Iris Murdoch's The Message to the Planet. I'm embarrassed to be reading these only now.

And then today one of my friends just unwillingly revealed that he had written a novel! It's with his agent now. How depressing and exciting is that, in equal measure. What am I doing with my time? He wrote the thing in four months. Four months my friends.

My issue of Speculum arrived today. I feel so grown up when these things arrive for me!

Tuesday, 2 August 2005

Blogging White Noise

Apparently....a blog is created every second, according to Technorati. (I just searched for myself on it and got a hit!). I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. That's a lot of blogging. Maybe I need that white noise programme for my computer. White noise.

Check out this blog called: Black Looks.

Monday, 1 August 2005


It is not often I get butterflies in my stomach when I go into Blackwells. Today I had two very different reasons to have them. First, I was buying Michael Dibdin's new novel in the Aurelio Zen series, Back to Bologna (Faber, 2005). I shall post soon with a review. V exciting. And I only saw it by pure chance on the Amazon website a couple of days ago. I had intended on treating myself at the end of the week if I was very good [with the work and all], but I couldn't wait and ran out this afternoon.

The second reason for butterflies is that I think I have picked up a rather rare volume in the second-hand section for the princely sum of £3. And I mean rare. It is a first edition (in super condition) of a collection of poems in dialect by Andrea Zanzotto called Mistieròi, with etchings by Augusto Murer. (Feltre: Edizioni d'arte castaldi, 1979). But here's the catch. It's signed. BY THEM BOTH! Wow. It is a real collector's item, as in a Sotheby's collector's item. Bliss & Joy.

Sunday, 31 July 2005

Limited Edition

The chaplain of my college is retiring, and yesterday the college put on a bit of a spread in the Master's Garden. Very nice affair, buckets of champaigne, several of which I looked after, and lots of old students and friends back to say chin up old boy. Stephen Hawking was there - he's an old member -, adding a bit of intellectual weight to the whole thing. I wanted to ask him about this new planet they've discovered, but I was afraid he would explain what it meant for humanity, and that I wouldn't have a clue what he was talking about.
It is mad though, a new planet. Think of all those school charts around the world that now need to be changed. And what are they going to call it?

Apparently I have descended somewhat in the estimation of my friend Nicholas now that he has discovered I have a blog. V sad. Ironically he's the computer geek, not me, though we have had the odd conversation about LaTeX, ahem. I'm afraid I've converted to Mellel...I just couldn't do it!

I have been putting some thought into the design of my study, when I become fabulously wealthy and build my own pile somewhere fashionable and handy for the British Library, or some other such convenience. If anyone has seen the Bernard Rapp film Tiré à part, with Terence Stamp, then you will have seen the study the writer, Nicholas Fabry, works in. Beautful octagonal wooden study, shelves from floor to ceiling, and a nice desk in the middle. Something out of a Borges story. Some day. Some day.

The PD James novel was satisfactory, but not her best. All sorts of wild supernatural and religious storylines floating around. Not entirely convincing.

Friday, 29 July 2005


Apparently I'm never going to get a job, now that I'm a blogger, at least according to Ivan Tribble. Very worrying.

On a more positive note, I got a good day's work done today. Am very pleased. I might even be able to look my supervisor in the eye. Chaucer's Legend of Good Women is quite something, and I think underestimated. The prologue is terribly clever. Really clever.

I just got Don Akenson's Surpassing Wonder and am just dying to get stuck in. Has come highly recommended by a friend (thanks Peter!). That's after I finish the PD James novel I'm reading... Just picked up Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones, and Michael Frayn's Sweet Dreams, and also looking forward to them.

Wednesday, 27 July 2005


Darragh just said my opinion is null and void. He's right. I'd like to say that I haven't a clue what I'm talking about, my parents didn't buy me comics when I was growing up because they thought it was a waste of money. So now I've got this complex about comics. I did watch 'Anything Goes' on Saturday morning where they would show the cartoon 'Batman', and the TV series. I enjoyed those. Especially where those signs 'Clank' and 'Crunch' etc would pop up on screen - Yeah, I missed those from the film...I think it would have added some authenticity.

So now I go around thinking people who read comics are sad. It's yet another complex aspect to my mixed up mind. Will I ever achieve enlightenment? Can't I just live and let live? Whyyy?

I just used the last of my book grant towards Minnis' The Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems. It's such a good introduction. A model of its kind I think. But why is it so friggin expensive? Haven't they heard of paperbacks? I know it's big. But still. I did manage to wrangle a discount out of Blackwell's. I know they're going bust and everything, but I'm still a poor student. I want to buy Suzanne Reynolds' book on medieval glosses on Horace and reading practices's out in paperback (apparently). And Oxfam have a new bookshop on Turl St. It smells of paint. It's just wrong in a bookshop. But it's new.

New Obsession: Squash. It's such fun. I mainly play with Gregor and Eric, who are both beginners, so we just fumble around on court. I played with Craig who kicked my lily arse around the court in a most undignified manner. I went through six games without scoring a point. I think that must count for something!

I've just found a super blog: Whose Culture Is This? Funny, rude, and I don't understand a word. But she is that can't be all bad.

Can't you tell I'm procrastinating on working on the Legend of Good Women?

Tuesday, 26 July 2005

Batman and My 3 O'Clock

Dinner dinner dinner. I'm going to eat now but I thought I'd post quickly just to let you know that I'm not dead or anything. As the title might suggest I've been to see Batman Begins. Now after being stung so badly with that crap I posted on earlier, I wasn't must have been something sadistic that had me going... Well, Batman Begins is actually very very good. I really enjoyed it. Liam Neeson plays this sort of wise evil guy who teaches Bruce Wayne all he knows. I suppose the geeks will talk endlessly about how it differs from the comics, but nevermind. People who read comics as adults are extremely sad, it has to be said. I don't get it at all. But the film is good. And Cillian Murphy as the psychiatrist/scarecrow. I'm not sure about that to be honest. I think that Christopher Ecclestone would have been a bit scarier; I think Murphy was too young for it to be honest. Murphy is a good actor though. This won't hurt him.

Someone I know, I have discovered, has put herself on that Oxbridge escort service. There's been stuff about it on the paper etc, and some high-class Sun article (or some other such quality newspaper) trying to prove it was all about sex. You get these desperate people looking for Oxbridge people to bring to dinner and various functions, and some people get up to....£300 for it. That a whole lot of rubles in my country. And you don't have to sleep with them. Really. The whole thing just about dating an Oxbridge person. Jeez, I'd throw the sex in for free if I were getting 300 quid for dinner at the Iveagh! But the fees are rather high here and, after all, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do. I just can't help thinking of Mira Sorvino in Mighty Aphrodite: 'Hi, you my 3 o'clock?'

Wednesday, 20 July 2005

War of the Worlds

Ok, I know I know. I should not have expected much, and I suppose I didn't really. But boy, I didn't get much. It was a truly awful awful film. All those interesting storylines gone untapped and unexplored. An undeveloped mass of crass cliches. DO NOT GO TO SEE IT. Stay at home and read HG Wells.

I did just see the last double episode of CSI, directed by...Quentin Tarantino. It was wonderful. Nick, one of the team, is kidnapped and buried alive, and the rest of them race to save him. Some very Tarantino scenes in it. Great stuff. BTW: don't bother watching the NY or Miami spin-offs, they are very bad parodies.

Also got to catch up on the last few episodes of the West Wing. Santos is getting very close to becoming the nominee but who will be the VP nominee? Leo. Hmm. Not sure about that, what with his heart problem, and history of substance abuse. But I'd prefer him than Bingo Bob. I think the writing is still excellent, and hasn't lost any of its freshness. It has changed over six years, but I am still a big fan. Especially now that there is so little to watch on TV.

Back in Oxford. Back to work....gawd. Work.

Sunday, 17 July 2005


Some of my faith in tourism has been restored. On my way back an English couple sitting opposite were reading Michael Baxendall's Painting and Experience in Fourteenth-Century Italy and George Holmes' Florence, Rome, and the Origins of the Renaissance. They, of course, were not those who made me despair in Florence, but still, it was heartening to see people asking why the art they are seeing is the way that it is, and prepared to read the research of some great experts to learn this.

Today I read Oriana Fallaci's article in Corriere della Sera, called 'Il nemico che trattiamo da amico'. She makes some very inflammatory remarks. Her voice is full of fear, full of searching. It doesn't make easy reading.

I'm sitting in Stansted. Words can hardly describe my feelings of utter disgust for this airport. ' is not fit for humans now'.

Friday, 15 July 2005

Italian Television

Italian television is perhaps the clearest indication that there is something seriously wrong in this society. When you watch it you realize that this cannot be the product of a healthy and vibrant country. It has to be some of the worst shit I have ever seen.
The problem is not so much awful television, which every country has to put up with in one form or another, the problem is that these are the national channels, the stuff that everyone watches, and they watch it in their millions!
Everything is a variation on the theme of variety shows, where the old favourites are wheeled out to sing, dance, and reminisce for hours and hours (literally) on end. These will be interspersed with interludes where semi-naked girls will do a little boogie boogie, which the presenter will dutifully praise (without a hint of irony). I remember when I saw a political satire, a sort of a cross between 'Have I got News for You' and 'Spitting Image' without the dolls and without the teeth, and I thought finally, something a little bit more serious. What happens next? There is an ad break, but instead of cutting from the studio, the presenters reappear IN THE STUDIO with the products that are paying for the programme (in this case I think it was Lavazza). Next, more naked girls come out to do a little boogie boogie, and we go back to political satire. I swear I'm not making this up.
Of course if you are looking for news, you can forget it. The whole thing is sewn up by Berlusconi and his people. And that's is not a cliché or an urban myth, it really is like that here. A channel called 'La7" is the best, owned by a consortium of concerned citizens, they have good political discussion, news, and they show good films etc.
All of this is so ironic considering Italy's history, its very strong intellectual left-wing traditions, far more serious that we have in the UK (Ireland doesn't even count, we don't know what the right and the left is: you are just Republican or something else).

The only thing that I can watch without feeling physically sick is MTV Italia! That and Magnum PI translated keep me going here.

Thursday, 14 July 2005

My new favourite bookshop

I'd like to tell you about a really cool bookshop I have just discovered in Bologna. It's called Libreria delle Moline, in via delle Moline 3/A (051-232053). There have some great stuff there, and have a very high quality stock of second-hand books, which is not nearly as common here as it is in Ireland or the UK. Anyway, the owner, Gregorio, told me that he might be able to find Opere minori in the Ricciardi-Mondadori series, and also in the same series Poeti del Duecento. Cool. If this works out I'll post again on it. Three years of looking for this stuff, I'll definitely post on it!

Went for lunch yesterday with Gino, Giulia, and Estella. We went to their usual huant, Caffè dell'Accademia, all the memories! I'm not sure the owner remembers me, but that's ok! I highly recommend it, though. Apparently lots of famous people go there, but being famous myself I don't notice these things! We spent the day together and met up again with Gino for dinner. It was lovely really to see them all again.

I'd also like to recommend an internet cafe here in Bologna in via Oberdan, 17b, called HappyNet. You wouldn't believe how much trouble I had to find a place I could hook up to the internet and get my mail. So this place is like an oasis! There have computers and ethernet cables so you can bring your own laptop, and they tell me that in a couple of weeks they'll have Wi-Fi. It's got a kind of bohemian feel actually, and very relaxed, and they are very friendly.

Wednesday, 13 July 2005

Bologna (II)

I'm having so trouble connecting to the internet these last couple of days so my posts are less and less regular, for which I apologise. At the moment I'm sitting in Gino's office, whom I haven't seen in five years. He's in good form, and it is a real pleasure to see him again. My old friend Giulia, a friend from both Dublin and Bologna, is coming today and we are all going for lunch. It will be great to catch up.

I got lost looking for this office. It was quite a disconcerting experience, I must say. It is a bit labyrinthine, to say the least. I spent so much time here, and came here so often when I was studying here that I cannot believe I got lost. But then I went back to the front door, got my bearings, and started again!

Yesterday I went to Italianistica and met two of my old professors for Dante, Giuseppe Ledda and Daniela Branca. It was great to see them and to hear news of other students in my year and what they are doing. Giuseppe was involved in a bad accident on his bike and has spent the past month in bed, waiting for his spine to heal. He is still a bit shaky, but improving. He's got an article on Dante I can't wait to read, and will post the reference when I get it.

Friday, 8 July 2005


I'm listening to the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4. I only heard about the attacks yesterday afternoon and got to an internet connection to listen to the radio. It is just so terrible. One of our friends in London was about to get on the bus to work but decided to walk because it was so full. Five-hundred yards down the road it exploded. It's hard to know what to do with that kind of a story. Whether you cry, or pray, or disbelieve. Or remain silent.

I leave Florence today for Bologna. I suspect my posts will be more intermittent as internet access will be a little more difficult. I'm hoping to catch up with some old acquaintances and friends. I'll keep you all updated as best I can.

Thursday, 7 July 2005

Two Magic Flutes

Kenneth-Claudia canterini
Originally uploaded by Miglior Acque.
And here we are. People stopped in the street. It was like that scene in Shawshank Redemption when Tim Robbins plays Mozart for the prisoners: for a few minutes the local Florentines were truly free!

I cervelli ISU

I cervelli ISU
Originally uploaded by Miglior Acque.
Here we all are. Actually, I notice that Silvia is missing from this photo, but she has promised to send a photo of her crazy hair so I can blog it. I also think that Jeremy, an American visiting student is not here, though I'm having trouble making out some of the faces.
I'm also posting a photo of Claudia and moi singing a little something from The Magic Flute.

Wednesday, 6 July 2005


Just so you don't think I'm all negative I'd like to tell you about a couple of great places to eat here. Two of these places I found through the Italians here, and the other a found quite by accident myself. The first is a rosticceria in via Ricasoli, I think. It's kind of a gastronomic 'fast food' place, but with yummy pasta and salads. Great for something quick in town.
The second is again in via Ricasoli, and it's called Oliandolo (via Ricasoli, 38r-40r, tel. 055/211296). It is wonderful. A real Tuscan place packed full of Italians. Delicious. Today I had the schiacciata del giorno. The third, the one I take pride in because I found it myself, is called La pentola dell'oro, on via di Mezzo, angolo via dei Pepi (tel. 055/241808). It's the best restaurant food I've had in Italy. There are a group of people who look like your aunts and uncles in the kitchen producing wonderful pasta dishes and all sorts of other goodies. I had the fusilli all cacciatora con ricotta salata, and skipped the second to have pecorino stagionato con pera e oliva al forno. Yummy. Yummy. In my tummy.

Tonight Giuseppe has invited me to dinner in his place with others from the course. I'm looking forward to it. He is a lovely Palermitano who is dizzingly clever but very modest about it. He's got a very calming influence on me when I meet him. It must be the Sicilian sun that shines through.


Why can't anything be simple? Why does everything here have to be so...difficult? I am coming to a crude realization that the only thing you can do in Italy with any ease whatsoever is spend money. The only thing that has been streamlined here to any level of 21st-century standard is the process of handing over money for something. Anything that doesn't involve you paying for something doesn't count.

Today I made another trip to the Biblioteca Nazionale, full of (justified) trepidation. One book wasn't available downstairs so they sent me upstairs. The lady upstairs couldn't understand why I'd been sent there and sent me back downstairs. One of the books I asked for was in use by another I had to go back upstairs and sit by the desk to look at it quickly before the other reader came back. That book we have in the Taylorian so I wasn't pushed, but the other is not in any UK library. So my requests are getting cancelled and reordered and cancelled through the afternoon, and, because you're only allowed three requests, I can't make any more until tomorrow. Even though I've already seen on of the requested items. It is tremendously frustrating. Nobody is pushed. Nobody wants to care. I don't know why. Maybe they are incompetent. Maybe they aren't paid enough to care. Maybe it's just too hot to worry. I don't know.

I may have dreamt all this...

The funniest things happen in the middle of the night. Last night a group of us from the course decided to go out for a drink. In Italy this means going out at 11 pm (that's early!), and staying out until all hours. We bought pints in plastic glasses and, like a group of fine Italian chavs, sat on the steps of Santa Croce. Imagine. Gawd. Anyway, on the way home, we were walking along, not making that much of a racket, when someone opened the window above and threw a bucket of water on top of me! I swear. There was a verbal altercation between some of us who argued it was unreasonable to throw water on top of people, and a simple Italian screech out the window to keep it down would have been sufficient. There was no talking to him. My first thought was: 'This isn't water....", but it was. My second was: "This is a Boccaccio novella!".
On my way home, drenched, I'm walking on a deserted street, I look up, and there are two cats sitting on the sill of an open window, following me with their eyes. I swear that they were about to say something. They had such a look of contempt, like, 'you are such a sad bastard'. It was quite unnerving.

It was good to see Silvia, who is recovering from a kidney stone. I blame the Petrarch seminars, but apparently the doctors think it has something to do with drinking water. She got them zapped and is feeling better now. As soon as some of the others send me photos I'll load them for you to see.

Tuesday, 5 July 2005


Today I saw the Certosa at Galuzzo, which is lovely, and spent some time with Paola looking at SISMEL. It's where they produce and edit gorgeous medieval books, library catalogues, and where they produce Medioevo Latino. Quite exciting to see where it all happens, as it were.

I overcame my inhibition and went in to the gorgeous paper shop called Il Papiro, a famous cartoleria here in Florence. Their stuff is so nice. I had a chat with Janet, an American lady who works there, who helped assuage my guilt at buying such luxurious paper. "You're worth it". I'm over it now, of course. And I didn't spend that much at all. I was so close to getting cards printed. Jaysus. Instead I bought a little set of blank cards with my surname inital on it. Classy. When I win the lotto I'm going to open an account with them!

Cloudy today, and a little rain. No bad thing. Relieve the tension in the sky a bit.

Monday, 4 July 2005


Yesterday I went to Bologna to visit Emilia. We went, with her brother and his two daughters (Jessica and Ylenia) to Castel del Rio, to their medieval festival. Gawd. It was pretty awful. They had a mock witch hunt and trial. Oh how we all laughed. Still though, she looked pretty guilty to me, so my conscience is clear.

This week it's library work, though this afternoon I'm going to go to the pool for some 'me' time. I also want to do a bit of reading. My friend Paola has offered to bring me to the Certosa a Galluzzo tomorrow and I'm rather looking forward to it. The last time I was here I was researching my undergraduate thesis on the Certosa di Padula. Beautiful. Visit it if you are anywhere in the south of Italy.

This morning, on the train back from Bologna, a man sitting opposite me had a watch on each wrist. I thought that they would have different times, that he might have been from another country or something, but they both had exactly the same time. Why do you think he would go around with two watches? Does anyone have any ideas?

Just found this cool website for O/P and S/H books in Italy: Maremagnum

Friday, 1 July 2005

Last Day at School

Today is my last day at school. Emilio Pasquini will talk about his edition of the Trionfi. It should be interesting. Siliva Rizzo's paper yesterday was extremely interesting. She's scarily good. And even more so because she's quite modest and disarming. Not a baron(essa) at all.

Went for dinner last night, organized at the last minute, in Claudia's place, with another on the course, Paola. Paola is another example of the kind of calibre of student I'm talking about here. She works on Leon Battist Alberti. During her research she has discovered two previously unknown autographs, and the year of Alberti's birth, written in his own hand. Imagine! Yeah, I'll just dream on, scratching through my notes waiting for something brilliant to jump out and bite me on the arse. Food was great, of course. And Claudia cracked open a bottle of Aurum, a liquer from her area, a bottle that is no longer on the market and quite rare. We didn't help its rarity last night. And then Claudia let me borrow her bike so I could get home; so drunk as lords, Paola directed me in my general area and off I went.

Next week the library and I have to get to know eachother a little better, and maybe I might remember what it is I'm doing again. I'm sure it'll come back to me.

I suppose it's like riding a bike...though usually it feels more like the way I was cycling last night, out of control and going in every direction but the right one. I didn't eventually get home though...

Thursday, 30 June 2005

What's in a Name?

I love the names of shops here, the way that they use English (or rather english) to attract attention rather than to mean anything. It's a form of tourist vulgarity I suppose. So there is an ice-cream shop very close to the Duomo called "Very Good!" - with the exclamation mark, that's important. I like that one. Then there is the use of the phrase "Self-Service", of which it appears nobody in Italy knows the exact meaning. You see it in restaurants that are certainly not self-service, and I have seen it over the entrance to a....clothes shop! Now what can that possibly mean? Another of my favourites is a shop on via dei Calzaiuoli, a rather posh street leading from the Duomo eventually down to the Piazza della Signoria. It is called "expensive!", that's with the small "e", and the exclamation mark. Is that a sort of piss take of tourists who are easily parted with their money, or maybe it's directed at the Italians who wouldn't quite get the sfumature of the word? I might buy something there just to have the bag with the name on it.

Classes are going well, in the sense that nothing has changed. Yesterday one of the barons said that he was conscious that some of the doctoral students might have trouble following so his paper would be directed at us and apologised to his colleagues who would know all this already - he then proceeded to give exactly the same paper he had written for the seminar, written for his colleagues. A couple of us asked questions but there were not really listened to. This is not for us. I don't really know what to say about all this. I'm torn between enjoying the high level of philology and the complete lack of respect for the context.

We were supposed to eat with some of the students who had travelled from the south but they didn't wait for us and started eating without us. We didn't join them. It didn't seem worth it after such bad manners.

Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Petrarca and Inferno

The beach was a hoot, apart from the sunburn. But it's healing nicely now, so don't worry. I hadn't seen Emilia's nieces in 5 years and they have completely grown up. It's incredible.

This week we've got a week of double classes, i.e. a morning and afternoon session. What was originally planned was about 5 scholars talking about Petrarch. That's what was on the programme originally. Somehow this has transformed itself into an editorial committee of everyone working on a new edition of the complete works of Petrarch. What has happened is that one of the main guys decided to get everyone together and to do a kind of progress report on the edition. The doctoral students are utterly and completely excluded from this exercise. Betsy, my crazy American friend, said that it sounds like a typical summer school. But actually this is not a summer school at all - these are the normal classes for the doctorate of this institute. What has happened is that their classes have been hijacked, if you like, and they've been left out in the cold. The 'lectures', which are 15 - 20 mins long, by a whole series of illustrious filologists and famous people, are directed at eachother, not at students. There is no attempt to direct anything at them. And, furthermore, one famous Petrarch scholar has brought his doctoral students from another city, to participate. It's just that they are being treated as guests, so they all go out to lunch and dinner, with the speakers etc. So there is a complete separation of us and them.
Don't get me wrong: what's going on is very very interesting, and it's exciting to put faces on all the famous names. Really. I would also like to say that the only academic who has bothered, so far, to direct a word to the natives is Silvia Rizzo. It just goes to show that the greats are so often blessed with magnanimitas. As for the rest, guardo, e passo.

On top of this, and maybe making it worse, is the heat. Really, it is so hot I can hardly think straight. Yesterday it was more than 38 degrees (that's celsius, 450 Fahrenheit), and as bad today. Oh my god. You cannot imagine how uncomfortable it is to feel and hot AND not understand anything that's being said in class. You feel like jumping up in class and shouting out: "Is it hot in here or is it just me? AM I THE ONLY ONE DYING HERE!!"

Today we had lunch at the apartment of three of those on the course, Anna, Ilaria, and Stefano. It was delightful. They prepared a wonderful rice dish, and then we had anguria. Yummy.

Saturday, 25 June 2005


I'm off to the seaside on Sunday. Emilia, her brother, and his two daughters (and me!) are all going to the seaside - somewhere near Ancona. I can't wait. I'm off now to buy a bucket and spade. And some sun screen.

Some kind person called "Dutchie" told me that those Vape thingies are illegal in "Dutchland" (I presume) because they cause CANCER. So in addition to mosquitoes and sunburn, I've got cancer to deal with here. You know what, I think I'm going to be glad to get back to Northern Europe. I can't believe I'm saying that.

I went to eat in a nice place called Café Godò last night, not far from where I'm staying. It's quite nice I must say. I sat outside and had directly opposite a woman with perhaps the most annoying voice I've ever heard. She was making such a racket about having to leave by 9.30 that if she had shut up and eaten more she'd have been gone in 10 minutes. Beside me was a couple gurgling at eachother in a most unseemly manner. I'm all for love (I'm even in love myself), but really, I'm not at all sure that is appropriate. She looked a little cheap to be honest - all OTT designer stuff, him with his diamond earring and Rolex (common as muck here by the way, every second person has one). Yuk.

I have forgotten about my friend's birthday: Belinda, happy birthday. I'll send a card on Monday. I'm an evil person to have forgotten and I am so sorry. Did you have a nice day? I've also received news that Pat and Siobhán have just had a baby. That's rather exciting.

Thursday, 23 June 2005

Armani, Prada, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana

Yes dear reader, this is what I have to put up with here. All of these lovely things and no money to buy them. But I can still look. I keep having these fantasies that I try on loads of designer things and there's an earthquake or something and I walk blithely out of the shop with a year's salary of clothes on while everyone is running for cover. Even if I were killed I'd look great. A win win situation.

Today was the last lecture by Winterbottom. It was very good. A real slap to some of the barons here. Humble, generous, open, and utterly utterly competent. He was interested in what the students were doing, and made no attempt to hide behind his reputation. His lecture talked about some of his own emendations and errors and how we might avoid them. It was about him teaching us something, about passing the baton on, as it were. I laughed, wondering whether you'd see some of the princes here do such a thing. I don't think so.

What should I tell you about some of the student on my course? I suppose I should talk about them a bit. Claudia is probably closest in research interest. She's a hoot. One of Mazzoni's students here, scarily good at what she does, has published a book, and is ready to publish another (in addition to a wheel-barrow of articles). These people really do know how to make you feel unaccomplished. We're off shopping for books now, so I have to dash.

I do have to tell you about Siliva, who is completely nuts. She has a crazy head of curly hair which looks like it has a life of its own, which nobody can tame. She smokes a pipe (I swear) and is probably the typical Italian: she looks like Giorgio Armani himself dresses her in the mornings before she goes out. And then she's great fun. Oh and she's beautiful, did I mention that? (Bitch!). So in addition to feeling stupid, I feel ugly. (And what with the leprosy....).

By the way, I appear to be well recovered from my mosquito problem. Tomorrow is the festival of San Giovanni Battista, so obviously the entire city is shutting down. Perché no!

Wednesday, 22 June 2005

Bite Me

The great mystery of the 'hives' has been solved. Yeah. Hives. Like hell. These are goddam mosquito bites. All makes perfect sense now. To those of you reading this blog from countries that have mosquitoes, or at least little things that bite in the night, you will think that I am very stupid. I am. I come from a country with no heat, no sunshine, and certainly no mosquitoes. I did not think that a) it was such a problem here, and b) that they could do such damage. All those explanations I had in my head, like an allergy to the water, the food, the coffee (eek!), the sun (!), the sheets, my clothes....air, are redundant. And now I know why just my arms, hands, and face are affected, and why it appeared on the very first morning I was here - I left the window open.

So all was revealed when a girl on the course said, quite in passing, oh, you are staying at the 'Oltremare' accommodation. It's nice, except for all the mosquitoes. I knew the first day I saw you that you were there from all the bites on your face and hands.' It turns out she had been staying there for a bit last year and was in a similar position, though perhaps not quite as bad. So off I went to the chemist to buy a Vape, a little gizmo you plug in that emits fumes the little bastards don't like, and I slept very well. I had been hoping for the sounds of screaming dying insects, but alas, just silence. I feel better already. Now that I know what this is. Just have to wait for the boils to calm down now. The accommodation is the guest wing of the Istituto Agronomico per l'Oltremare, which houses what was the Botanical Gardens for the Colonies, where they brought back unusual and rare plants from what the Italians rather optimistically call their 'colonies' (sorry, I couldn't resist).

It could be worse, they could have had malaria.

Double class today. I'll probably be praying for malaria by the end of it.

Monday, 20 June 2005

Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost

Just finished Iain Pears, An Instance of the Fingerpost - and it is WELL worth a read. It's an historical crime novel set in the 1660s in Oxford and it is very enjoyable. It has four parts, each part is an account from the point of view of a character, all of whom suspect each other. So events get reported from different points of view and you have to weave your way in and out of their suspicions and prejudices to get to the bottom of the mystery. Read it.

Just started Guglielmo Gorni's Il Dante Perduto about a forged manuscript of Duecento poetry. A sort of thriller, but much more serious. I should stop reading this stuff.


I spent the weekend in Bologna visiting my old landlady and seeing all the old places I used to haunt in my two years here. It was such an emotional experience actually because so many of these places were tied up with the way I thought back then, which came rushing back to me when I revisited them. It was like seeing myself five years ago (and to be honest not being too impressed with what I saw!). They city is still beautiful. Really. I love it so much and have such affection for it. If it was ever possible to live there I think I would.

Lecture today was much better, in fact I would say quite good. We'll have this prof for the next two classes, and then we've got Michael Winterbottom from Wed to Fri. I'm rather looking forward to that. There is a funny dynamic in the classes because some of the students have done some pretty serious work and would be quite qualified for an in depth discussion of certain philological points etc, but there is no real desire to get into issues. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe they (i.e. the profs) don't want to bother; maybe they are afraid they'll look unprepared (which some of them most certainly are). Finding the balance, that's the key.
This is also interesting from the point of view of thinking about how I would put a course together, at whom I would aim it, and how. So for that I'm glad I'm here.

The hives are beginning to clear, and it's about time. My God. I looked like an leprous outcast for a while. Now I look like a leprous outcast on the mend. I was even reluctant to take the train to Bologna on Saturday such was the state of me. But it seems to be calming down a bit. Thank God for cortisone.

I'm almost afraid to go near the library such is its power to frustrate. I get enough of that in my study.

Friday, 17 June 2005

Tourist - Spots

For the five days now I have been tormented with hives, or at least I think they are hives. They appeared the first morning here in Florence and I haven't the foggiest what caused them. It might be the sun, as the pharmacist said. It's true. I have been without sunshine since last summer in Spain (sorry, I mean real sunshine, not what we get in Ireland or the UK). So I'm using a cortisone-based cream and taking anti-histamines. They're not getting better. I was so uncomfortable in the library that I got very little done.

Let's hope it passes. I'd rather not learn anything about the decrepid health system in addition to the university system.

The silly season has well and truly begun here. The city feels like it is groaning under the weight of tourists. Huge crowds swelling around the Piazza della Signoria, around the Galleria degli Uffizzi, all the usual places I suppose. I had to explain to one poor soul at the National Library that, no, you couldn't just take a wander around, that you needed an admission card. I tried to console her by telling her that there wasn't much to see. As a library it is not particularly beautiful. I could have added that as a library it is not particularly useful either.
I particularly enjoy those elderly American tourists who have a fierce look in their eyes. They are so serious that they have bought Nikes especially for the occasion and they are determined to see everything. They have a stamina I admire (and of which I am jealous, I must admit), and in this heat.

Won't post over the weekend I shouldn't think. Will probably go to Bologna to see some friends. Next week it Latin philology and textual criticism. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 16 June 2005

Labyrinthine Libraries

Prepare yourself for a rant. Italy is a beautiful place to visit, but it is a difficult place to work. I am beginning to remember now just how extraordinarily difficult everything is here. Every simple, simple task is just extraordinarily complex. I used to think that nothing happened, but I know that that is not the case. The minions do everything for those who have reached powerful positions and take advantage of it at every single occasion. Here we refer to professors as barons. This terminology is fully alive to its feudal origins and that is how things work here. And you have to play the game, otherwise someone else will, and will get ahead.

I went to the library yesterday to look at a thesis I had seen cited somewhere and was promptly told that it would be impossible. They have to make a request to the author, who leaves a forwarding address on the thesis, and then you are permitted to see it. When it comes to very old theses (mine was from 1977), the President of the Faculty just might give you permission - though the helpful library said she had never heard of permission being granted. Can you imagine? While I was browsing through the card catalogue of theses I realized why one particular professor is such a huge expert in his particular field - all of his students have done the work! I'm talking about critical editions, transcriptions, manuscript descriptions, the kind of stuff that should be in print. Some of which is in print, under his name.

The class today, on Greek textual traditions, was basically a private conversation between the professor and one of his colleagues, who introduced him. They spoke about tiny MS variants and made gnomic references to each other's published works (without any bibliographical references, needless to say), to their respective polemical and pseudo-polemical positions and to those of other scholars located in arcane journals with titles that require Unicode to write. We were treated as if we had arrived uninvited to an after-dinner conversation and would be supported as the way years ago in Ireland a simpleton relation would be not quite disowned but not quite part of the family either. It is a great example of one of the worst aspects of the Italian education system. These professors are experts in their fields - they could teach you a lot, if they bothered to think that that was important. But classes are inconvenient obligations.

And this is a class of a PhD programme. The students became restless and there were several simultaneous conversations going on in the room, as well as several people leaving during the coffee break. I don't think that I'm going to come to class tomorrow, but will spend the day in the National Library instead, doing some of my own work.

Tuesday, 14 June 2005

Godi Fiorenza

Another class done. Interesting, I must say.

The director of the course took us all out to dinner last night to a pizzeria. It was very nice, and I got to meet some of the other kids. Nobody played with me, but some of them did talk to me, which was nice. One in particular is doing some interesting research relevant to my own and has published some things I shall read with interest.

I had forgotten how disgustingly feudal the whole Italian academic system is. You have to be an acolyte to do anything here - the right person has to present you here and there, and if you are not presented by such-and-such, then forget it. I shall probably post again about this, in particular on how one person's work gets left out of the bibliography of another person's work, all for very arbitrary and political reasons that have nothing to do with scholarship. I am glad I don't have to do anything here. I think that I would find it a very suffocating experience.

I've got a list of s/h bookshops and am off out now to hunt. I shall post with any luck that I might have. And a bird shat on me today, so that's good luck. Isn't it?

Monday, 13 June 2005

E con una verghetta l'aperse

The building is which we have our seminars is very nice, quite a mini pastoral idyll with trees in the garden outside, the wild city kept at bay with the palazzo walls. When it became obvious that there was no pointer with which the eminent professor could illustrate details on his slide show, one of the assistants must have rushed out, pulled off the nearest branch, wrapped some scotch tape around it, and presented it to him to use. So here he is using a Golden Bough to illustrate his lectures. I giggled.
I also asked a question, about whether we knew anything about scribal training in Greek texts; I asked because I didn't know the answer. He answered like I shouldn't have asked the question. I might keep quiet again.

Florence still looks beautiful.

I'm off to eat something and go book browsing.

First Day at School

It looks like access to the internet is going to be more difficult than I thought, so I'm writing my blogs in little txt files and uploading them when I find somewhere with an internet connection.

My journey to the school on my first morning says everything about this place: via Marconi, piazza Fra' Girolamo Savonarola, via Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, via Massaccio, It is looking beautiful in the sunshine. It is so refreshing to wake up to sunshine instead of incessant clouds and rain.

The eminent professor is setting up the lecture room for a ten o'clock start - actually, we are running on the academic quarter here, so we are starting at 10.15! Ah, Italy. How I've missed that academic quarter.

Sunday, 12 June 2005

Bella Firenze

Florence, here I am at last. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful Florence.

Before I begin, let me say that the conference was a resounding success and we got a great buzz from it. The papers were very strong and the discussion was encouraging and stimulating. It was exactly the environment we were hoping to foster. The English Faculty turned out in force, and we had Eric Stanley make the closing remarks, as brilliant as they were funny. Watch this spot for possible published proceedings...but more on that anon.

Florence. I flew to Forlì from Stansted. This required me to leave Oxford at 1 am this morning for a 7 am flight. Exhausted does not really describe my state at the moment. Paralytic with tiredness is much better. Anyway, I got the bus to Bologna where I spent the afternoon catching up with my landlady when I was there. It was lovely. Her dog is as insane as ever.

I have just got into my lodgings which are a little bit out of the city centre, but then, this is Florence after all. The 'foresteria' is obviously not in use much because the toilet was full of little tadpole thingies. I swear. I'm afraid to go into the bathroom now in case the mother ship comes back to punish me for flushing them away. God.

And, in keeping with my accident-prone week, a bottle of shower gel opened in my bag and covered every single thing in my wash bag (now in the bin) and covered my socks too. So while the room stinks of shower gel, there was not a drop left with which to actually wash.

More anon. Bed now. Early start. First day at school. Will the other kids play with me? Will I get homework?

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Allegorical Soup

You know when you are really busy and running around with very little time, and then something very silly happens that holds you up in an extremely frustrating way? Like when you're rushing out the door and you tear your shirt on the door handle, or you lose a button. Usually it is not something serious, usually it is something stupid, and it makes you very angry and then frustrated for getting angry at something so silly.

I just dropped my wallet into a bowl of soup. This doesn't sound serious, but do you know how messy that is to clean up? All my cards, covered in cauliflower soup. I had to empty the wallet, wash everything individually, then wash the wallet, and now have the many little pieces of my life before me drying.

The reason I'm so busy is that we are one day away from our Allegory conference. It's called On Allegory: Aspects and Approaches, at Lincoln College. I'm really looking forward to it and think that there are some interesting papers lined up.

Monday, 6 June 2005

Saint Gaudí?

Sagrada Familia
Originally uploaded by Miglior Acque.

This is Antonio Gaudí's Sagrada Família in Barcelona. I think that anyone wanting to get a real sense of medieval culture should visit this cathedral. It is, in short, astonishing. When Monsignor Ragonesi, the Papal Nuncio, visited the site in 1915 he told Gaudi: "Maestro, you are the Dante of architecture. Your magnificent work is a Christian poem carved in stone." The achievement of this piece of architecture is difficult to put in to words, just as it is difficult to put the achievement of the Divine Comedy into words. Its unfinished nature adds to its mystery and compels us to work our way through the structure in a very physically and intellectually challenging way. But what do we think about making Gaudí a saint? I'm not sure. There is something every bit as miraculous and mystical about experiencing this building as reading about the lives of any other 'conventional' saints. And yet we seem to see it as an encroachment upon art. Somehow the whole thing looks, how shall I say it: unseemly. (After all, are there any 'real' modern saints anymore?...Media darlings maybe, but not saints). How would we feel about making Dante a saint, for example? I suppose he has managed to be safely hedged by the academicians and somehow seems not at home in a conversation about sainthood. Perhaps he was too critical of the Church he saw around him. It would be a bit like talking of Saint William Langland - it jars too much to take seriously. And at the same time nobody is talking about making Henry Yvele a saint, or Villard de Honnecourt.

And then there is that wonderful link that Ragonesi intuited between the structure of the Comedy and the structure of the cathedral, later outlined so powerfully (in this case anent St Thomas and High Gothic architecture) by Panofsky in Architecture and Scholasticism (1951).

So do we make Gaudí a saint or not?

Friday, 3 June 2005

Exams: how do you eat yours?

Oxford students go nuts when they finish their exams. This is a phenomenon that I am still trying to work out and would appreciate feedback on same. They queue up outside Schools and throw flour, eggs, sparkly glitter stuff all over eachother, they open cheap bottles of fizzy wine and spray that everywhere. Then you will see students, clearly just post-examination, walking around Oxford with their parents. This I do not get. I walked through main quad the other day and I heard a student say to her friend: 'Aw my Dad just dropped a crate of champaigne and some flowers...isn't that sweet? And he's calling by tomorrow and we're going for lunch.' [emph. mine...]. The friend then asked 'Oh are you finishing tomorrow?'.
I remember finishing my university exams and nobody went crazy, most of us were too tired to celebrate like that, and besides, we just got over it. It was just finished, the whole city didn't need to know about it. I don't think I even called my just wasn't such a big deal. I don't remember it being a big deal for others either.

I do remember this kind of behaviour, however, when I finished my Leaving Certificate (Eng. equiv.: A-Levels; God only knows in the States), which leads to my next controversial little observation. Oxford is basically an extension of boarding school. You are fed and watered, you have someone who cleans your room, you are taught one to one, etc. Most colleges usually identify themselves as undergrad-oriented, and do everything they can to strengthen that identity. As a graduate here there is very little real understanding at either College- or University-level of the needs of graduate students. This is changing, true, but not quickly. And I wonder on what exactly is all this energy being expended by the VC making the academics 'accountable' (whatever that means...), riling the dons in the process, making them suspicious of every move he makes. Sounds like a resigning issue to me to be honest.

But despite the best efforts of these people:
Oxford has fantastic archival material from a medievalist's point of view, so I shouldn't complain. And in Duke Humphrey's they are very nice to me, even though I am something Malcolm Parkes or Ralph Hanna would scrape off their shoes.

Thursday, 2 June 2005


As I suspected 'The Lament of the Last Survivor' had nothing to do with AS poetry, but I think was a humourous reference to himself and the state of English studies. It was an extremely entertaining send up of some of the more bizarre and awful trends in modern medieval scholarship and compare and contrasting the present state with the 'good/bad' (delete as appropriate) old times when he was an undergraduate, of having DS Brewer come to Bermingham and seeing him as at the cutting edge of criticism, invigourating the study of the subject there. He then went on to propose a rehabilitation of an appreciation of the 'poetry' of Chaucer, and to see just how good it is. We are so afraid to say that now aren't we? And we are so afraid to say that Lydgate is simply not as good. That simple.

I'm off to see a 14th C Ovid MS in Balliol.

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

Rain - in June, Imagine

So the Strawberry Field is no more, and not even poor aul' Yoko could save it this time. Kinda sad I suppose. And the Dutch are about to say Ne, well that might not be a bad thing. People might start to get worried about Europe and in the end it will only get stronger and I won't have to listen to the anti-European nonsense all over the place here.

Just for the record: I think that Christopher Hitchens is a royal pain in the ARSE and I'm sick of listening to his moaning and whining and pseudo-intellectual sheiße.

I'm sorry, that's terribly undignified of me. It's not quite what he says, it's the way he says it.

Derek Pearsall is giving a paper at the Graduate Medieval Seminar this afternoon. I'm rather looking forward to it, he's always good for a laugh. His paper is on 'The Lament of the Last Survivor'.

Monday, 30 May 2005

Complexity is a Word with More Than Three Syllables

I couldn't resist this one: when I was looking for a link for Pears' Dream of Scipio I landed on the website, where I was given a box with the statistics of the book. Things like the number of words, the number of pages, number of sentences etc, and...its complexity rating (11%, if you are interested).

"The Complexity calculations indicate the complexity of the words and sentence structure in the text of a book. A word is considered "complex" if it has three or more syllables."

Three or more syllables. Oh my god. That means that syllable is a complex word. And complexity, wait a minute, that's got four syllables.

Can nobody read anymore? And am I the only one who in this index detects a note of disapproval with all this 'complexity' business in books? Deary me. What is the world coming to? I'm now doing my impression of Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men in the Muppet Show.

[Mind you, I can't write, as an anonymous reader pointed out earlier: peal is what bells do, and if you've got an orange, then you can peel it.]

The Bells, The Bells

Chekov said that he loved bells, that they were all that religion had left him. Sundays in Oxford remind me of Italy: it is nothing but bells all day long. Beautiful. They peel out from various colleges and mark morning and afternoon services. I love listening to them. I once was going to be a bell-ringer. My friend (the same HH below) and I went for a couple of weeks to Christchurch Cathedral, in Dublin, but interest waned and we sloped off and never returned. A pity. They were recruiting for a big Millenium peal they were planning, and if I remember correctly were getting another big bell installed. Ever since I've been meaning to read Dorothy Sayers' Nine Tailors.
Speaking of reading, I've started The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears (thank you Ralph for the excellent suggestion - I just wish mine [Phillipa Morgan, Chaucer and the House of Fame] had been as good...doh!). It's a good read I must say, though you do have to get over the very quick interchanges in the story before you enjoy it.

And thank you Hesitant Hack for pointing out my neurotic behaviour with the books. (And thank you, by the way, for terrifying me with that memory of yours too....). I admit it. I have a problem. It's something I'm working on. I know that when I get my D.Phil. and I'm all grown up and clever I shan't need books anymore. It could be worse, I always say, it could be....oh, human heads or something that I collect.

Oh, and it's raining again here. Raining. It just not know how to do two days in a row here without raining. I really really need to see some proper sunshine. Ok. Just a little. My vitamin K levels (or whatever sun gives you) are dangerously low.

Saturday, 28 May 2005

Books and All that Jazz

Books. I love books. In a kind of crazy psycho way, I love books. I love reading them, I love touching them, opening them, closing them, and I LOVE owning them. I own a few gems of which I'm terribly proud: Thilo and Hagen's Servius, for example. The BAC edition of the Summa Theologiae. The facsimile of the Kelmscott Chaucer that I bought for £20 at the Oxford Book Fair. Gorgeous. And the bargains, I remember each and every one. Like Curtius' Gesammelte Aufsätze zur romanischen Philologie for a quid in the Taylorian sale, or the wonderful Public Architecture in Ireland, 1680-1760 by Edward McParland (my old History of Art lecturer in TCD) that I picked up in Unsworth's on Turl St for £2. All the way home I thought they were going to run after me saying there had been a terrible mistake. It's a beautiful book and written with all the verve and passion I remember from his lectures.

But what really annoys me is buying odd volumes of a set and then being unable to complete the set. Examples: vol 1 of de Lubac's Medieval Exegesis (English trans). It is findable, I just have to fork out the £20 quid for it, instead of the 5 I spend on vol. 2. And then, most painful of all, vol. 1 of the Ricciardi paperback reprints of the Minor Works of Dante. The Opere minori were published first in 1979-84 in two volumes, and then in 1995 were reprinted in paperback, in six volumes. I cannot find the first volume (containing the Vita nuova and the Rime, ed. by de Robertis and Contini) anywhere. The ISBN is: 8878171077, if anyone has one. God it annoys me. And it is not particularly expensive either, €12 or so, and I just know there are stacks of them sitting in second hand bookshops in Italy (though Italy does not really do a big trade in s/h books). It annoys me so much I have considered taking an ad out in some bibliophilic journal in Italy.
And I really really want Contini's Poeti del Duecento. I've placed an order with Casalini but I very much suspect that it is out of print, and Casalini usually take about 2 months to figure it out. That too has been reprinted by Ricciardi in four volumes.
If only you knew that this is just a snowflake on the tip of an iceberg of obsession.


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