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.

Toothless in Oxford

I've just had another wisdom tooth out, the second in as many terms. At this rate I shall never get my thesis done. I should have started the antibiotics straight away but instead I thought I'd be responsible and see if the infection cleared up without their assistance. I'm now sitting with a thumping pain in my jaw listening to the sound of the city enjoying the last of the day's warmth with the light stretching out every last minute. I was supposed to be out with my friends Oisin and Avril but have had to cancel. Sorry guys.
But summer must be here. I had to excavate the fan today, so that is a very good sign.

Listening to Schubert's complete Trios. They are so...perfect. Always measured, never ambitious, but always succeeding to do far more than you expect.

My friend Sebs has given me a terrible time over saying I liked Farinelli and I'm going to bow to pressure and remove it. It has been a long time since I saw that film and to be honest I now only really remember the soundtrack. That is amazing because the whole thing is a digital blend of two voices, a soprano and a counter-tenor, and it sounds good. Maybe sometime soon I'll see it again and reconsider. Anyway, he's a snob in all the right ways so I don't feel bad about it. He has rightly chastized me over missing the Caravaggio exhibition in London. It was just so bloody awkward to get tickets, but I'm kicking myself. Literally. Velásquez is on my list and will not be missed.

I'm half way through Ian McEwan's Saturday, but I haven't been able to finish it because I gave it away. My friend Myra coveted it in Kalamazoo and I just couldn't say no (as Dorothy Parker might say).

I'm rambling. It's the pain and drugs. I'll go.
Peace and Love my friends.

Friday 27 May 2005

So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

Went to see the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy last night after woolfing down a plate of noodles in the lovely Noodle Bar in Gloucester Green. I had been to the Graduate Medieval Seminar (a very interesting look at Tolkien's medievalism) and got a little ubriaco on wine afterwards. It was worth it to discuss the merits of Desperate Housewives with one of the faculty - I shall not name her, she's a fan -; I then allowed the drink cloud my judgement and started a very silly rant about using royal titles here in the UK. Is it legitimate for me, a citizen of the Republic of Ireland, to refer to people with royal titles - i.e. my lord this or that? They are not my lord, they are only my lord if I am a subject of the Queen, from whom the authority of the title is derived. She, in turn, derives her authority from God (that's the theory at least). And if you think she doesn't, then I don't see the point of having a queen. So what's the protocol? What if I had to meet the queen tomorrow? (Listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme "The Day I Met the Queen" - hilarious) Would I bow? Not ask HM any questions? Not turn my back on her? Only speak when spoken to? This is the kind of stuff her protocol people tell you before you meet her. But that would not work if she were meeting the President of Ireland or the President of France, for example. They are heads of state: the protocol must be different. I am a representative of my country here, essentially (enough jokes about drinking). Surely I am not bound by those same protocols.
Anyway, I wouldn't meet HM, I wouldn't bow, I'd ask her questions ("What in your handbag?", "Have you got a mint?"), and I'd leave when I got bored. You're not my queen, ma'am. Get over it.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is well worth seeing. Funny, bizarre, and unusual all the way. Great stuff. And Stephen Fry, just possibly the one person I would call Your Majesty, is wonderful as the Guide and Narrator. And a very simple, and moving, "For Douglas" at the end. Nice.

Wednesday 25 May 2005

Cards cards cards

Ok, rant time again. I've just booked my flights to Italy for the seminar cycle I'm attending at the University of Florence. I ran into the same problem I had with my flight to the Zoo: British Airways don't accept Visa Electron. How stupid is that? Neither does Expedia, how stupid is THAT? [BTW: Debenhams don't take Visa Electron either!! Imagine!! God this country] The credit card I have has a billing address in Ireland, so it is not possible to book flights leaving the UK - they only accept UK billing addresses. So I had to fly with Ryanair, which I hate doing...from Stansted! Eeek, I've got to leave at 1am to get a 7am flight. This is just disgusting. And all because:
a) BA, etc are complete luddites about new CHIP technology; and b) Halifax, my bank, will not give me a credit card because I'm a foreigner. I can vote in this country, but I cannot have proper banking facilities. What is so difficult about this?
And don't even get me started on that joke airline Alitalia...

Nothing can be just...easy, can it? And all of this took me hours to work out, what with different flight times, getting here there and whereever. Now I'm flying to Forlì (the city Ryanair helpfully call 'Bologna (Forlì), which is like saying London (Manchester)): taking a train then to Florence. Apparently it's straightforward, but then again...
And my Zen is completely upset for the day. Doh!

Sunday 22 May 2005

Friday 20 May 2005


Ok I know this is my second post today and I am in danger of some overkill but I felt it was time for a little rant, so brace yourself Betty.
Espresso: why don't so-called 'cafes' know what it is? (I shall not even mention those other beverages they call coffee - cappuccino, americano, frappuccino...etc - in these establishments, they do not even merit attention: in the words of Dante's Virgil: 'non ragionam di lor, ma guarda e passa'). Espresso is NOT a cup of strong coffee in a small(er) cup. Let us get that clear, first of all. Espresso is NOT some 16-year-old's personal interpretation of 'a coffee' behind the counter at my local cafe.

Espresso must be very very (very) small. That is important. And that is why it is an 'espresso', id est: if you cannot drink it quickly then it's not bloody espresso! Anything more than two or three thimblefulls is too much. Second: it must have a very thick and rich cream on top, what we call 'la cremina'. This adds a real smoothness to the brace of coffee at the bottom of the cup.

Why do you never get this kind of coffee in England (or Ireland for that matter)? Because we are surrounded by nouveau riche pseudo-cosmopolitans who had never heard of a cappucino five years ago and still don't know what one is. These are the people who ask for a 'panini' blithly unaware of its plural form - the singular is 'panino' dear reader, and do not be afraid to use it. Where should one go for an espresso. Italy, of course. What if you cannot get to Italy?

Thankfully all is not lost. There are several things one can do. Joe's Cafe, on the Cowley Road in Oxford do a sublime espresso. In Dublin, Dunne and Crescenzi, on South Frederick St, serve lovely Palombini; Enoteca delle Langhe in Quartier Bloom (it's hard to keep a straight face writing that, but that's what it's called...more nouveau riche) do gorgeous Italian food and coffee; and La Corte in the Epicurean Food Hall also do a good coffee. If you cannot get to any of these places then there is one other thing you can do. Buy Bialetti's wonderful 'Brikka' machine: it really does work. And you need a machine for this by the way, not one of those plunger things, so throw that out. And don't waste your money on one of those home espresso bars because you won't make enough coffee for them to start making good coffee - in a cafe they are on the go all the time and the coffee gets better during the day.

So my question is: where else can one find a good coffee? By 'coffee' I mean of course 'espresso'. Please post. And if what you think is a lovely coffee does not exactly conform to the description above in the second paragraph then you are being conned and please don't bother posting where I can get such a coffee.

Finally, I am a nice person. I know that you wouldn't think it from this post, but I have a bit of a crazy coffee thing and I kind of lose rhyme and reason for espresso. I promise I'll say no more about this.

Titian, Allegory of Prudence

This is Titian's Allegory of Prudence (1565-70), at the National Gallery, London. It is a good example of how allegorical texts meander through the literary and visual arts to find a synthesized expression in the Renaissance, a long way from its 'original' and yet indelibly marked by its medieval expression and stimulated by a renewed interest in Egyptian imagery, the image's 'original'. Here, as (the Great) Panofsky pointed out, the old man on the left would be Titian himself, the middle man would be his son Orazio, and the young man on the left would be his cousin and heir, Marco Vecelli, his heirs apparent and presumptive. This painting is Titian urging his family to be prudent in the administration of their inheritance as he draws near to his death.
A motto or inscription over their heads (difficult to see in this reproduction) reads: Ex praeterito/ praesens prudenter agit/ ni futura(m) actione(m) deturpet. "From the [experience of the] past, the present acts prudently, lest it spoil future action." This found popular medieval expression, typified in Petrus Berchorius' Repertorium morale: 'Prudence consists of the memory of the past, the ordering of the present, the contemplation of the future', coordinating the three modes or forms of time with the faculties of memory, intelligence and foresight.
The three-headed creature has a long and varied history, from the Egyptian Serapis' companion, a three-headed monster: the head of a dog, a wolf, and a lion, all encircled by a serpent. Another famous variation might be Cerberus, the three-headed dog. When we get to Macrobius' Saturnalia, this tricephalous monster becomes associated with Time, and Serapis is associated with the Sun. When Petrarch describes him in Book III of the Africa (ll. 156 ff.) he is associated with Apollo. But in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the image mutated somewhat into a serpent with three heads (distinct from a three-headed creature with a serpent coiled around its neck) becoming an image of what Panofsky calls a 'time serpent'. It was only in a Cinquecento 'reintegration of classical form with classical subject matter' that the canine body returns. But this transformation may also be linked to Egytomania in the fifteenth and sixteenth century, with texts like the Hypnerotomachia Polyphili, and, particularly relevant for Titian, Valeriano's Hierglyphica (1556).

Those who wish to read more about this should go to Panofsky and Saxl, 'A Late -Antique Religious Symbol in Works by Holbein and Titian', Burlington Magazine, XLIX (1926), 177-181, and Panofsky, 'Titian's Allegory of Prudence: A Postcript', in his Meaning in the Visual Arts, (London: Peregrine, 1970), pp. 181-205.

Wednesday 18 May 2005

To The Lighthouse

Galley Head
Originally uploaded by Miglior Acque.
I'm back in Oxford and pouring through post and opening my new copy of the Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, Vol II: The Middle Ages - can't wait to stuck in. The picture is where I spent the weekend. It's Galley Head Lighthouse in West Cork, and it is administered through the Irish Landmark Trust, where you can book it for weekends or longer. It was absolutely gorgeous, wild, and wonderful. Waking up to the sea crashing all around you is quite different to college bells knelling the morning into action.

On the way back I read Ciaran Carson's translation of the Inferno (Granta: London, 2002) and I was entranced by it. He has approached it utterly unfettered by academic concerns for accuracy and has instead approached it as a poet working in a war-torn city (Belfast). The result is not at all what I expected. It bristles with life and action and it almost leaves you gasping for breath. It is wonderful, and I highly recommend it.

Yesterday I went to see Kingdom of Heaven. Oh dear. It could have been such a good film. But instead the whole thing is ridiculously implausible. If you like battle scenes this will inevitably satisfy, and if you like hoards of Christians going after hoards of Saracens, this is the one for you. If, on the other hand, you were unimpressed with Ridley Scott's portrayal of the American military at its best in Black Hawk Down, then you'll get more simplistic and unsatisfactory stuff here. All this as Newsweek is in the middle of its difficulty with the administration and the Pentagon. The State Dept. said that Newsweek's shoddy journalism was damaging America's reputation abroad. Imagine the gall? 'Damaging America's reputation' might imply that any of it is left intact.

Peter Hawkins' lecture (which will appear in PMLA) was wonderful - a brilliantly nuanced and beautifully expressed look at how important smiling is in the Commedia.

Thursday 12 May 2005

Dry Land

I'm back on dry land again, this time Dublin. Have I had a chance to digest what I experienced in Kalamazoo? Probably not. But it was great fun and I am very glad I went. It is quite something to see so many medievalists in one place, like a kind of critical mass. I spent some time with my friends Myra, Mary and Eileen, and met some other familiar faces from TCD.

I've just picked up copies of Gianni Vattimo, Beyond Interpretation, and am very much looking forward to it. Has anyone read it? I've also started to read Michel de Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, which was recommended to me by my friend Eileen, who is frightfully clever (I mean really), but of course...crazy. I've just read the introduction and I'm a little dizzy. I'll order my own copies from Amazon I think.

I have also received news that I shall be attending a seminar cycle at the Istituto di Studi Umanistici at the Universtia' di Firenze for six weeks from the middle of June. The seminar is on textual criticism of medieval texts and I cannot wait.

Now I am off to Peter Hawkins give a lecture at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (Trinity College, Dublin) on Dante, called 'The Art of Smiling'. I shall report back.

Anyone else at Kalamazoo like to post a comment?

Friday 6 May 2005

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I am now in the home of Snap, Crackle and Pop: Kalamazoo, Michigan. I arrived on Wednesday evening and stayed at the Congress Plaza in Chicago. There are a group of protesters outside who've been there for over 2 years protesting against conditions. Every left wing sensibility was sorely tested as I crossed the line, but I was so tired and relieved to make it out of O'Hare. I learned afterwards that it is the world's largest airport, and believe me, it looks it.
On the train on the way into the city centre, two adverts stared back at me. The first was for an egg donor company: "Egg Donors, We can Compensate you, but never Repay you". Beautifully navigating the dangerous territory of putting a price on something you cannot put a price on, but going ahead and doing it anyway! The second was for a college offering degrees: "Real Degree, Real Fast, Get the Education You Deserve". I don't know whether that is a compliment. It's like the language here is the same (sort of), but everything means something else. A very very strange experience.
The little things you take for granted are the biggest shock: the cars are different, bigger, more luxurious looking. And everyone asks in restaurants if you want the leftovers on your plate boxed!
I don't really know what to make of this place. I think I was just lazy in assuming that it would be the same, but I honestly feel like I'm on another planet.
My paper is tomorrow morning. But first there is an afternoon of papers to go yet... I'll update shortly.

Wednesday 4 May 2005

Uncle Travelling Matt

Uncle Travelling Matt
Originally uploaded by Miglior Acque.

I'm off to the "Zoo" as we call it: Kalamazoo, Michigan tomorrow morning. This year is the 40th International Medieval Congress and there are going to be lots of people there including some people I know... There's a dance on Saturday night and I've been told it's like seeing your bibliography on the dancefloor. I'm rather looking forward to seeing how much of my bibliography is still alive. I hope I don't say that to them. For those of you who are interested I'm giving a paper on Boccaccio's Teseida and its commentary context. I'm looking at how these glosses betray a tension between humanist and medieval or 'scholastic' tendencies in his work.
Uncle Travelling Matt is from Fraggle Rock: he went to see how these alien humans behaved so strangely and sent postcards back to keep the other Fraggles updated. That's how I feel now.

I fly to Dublin and then Chicago. I do this because Halifax treat international students like international money launderers (I can vote here but not have a 'student account') - and British Airways don't take the Visa Electron debit card. I don't know which of them is more incompetent. Anyway I get to see Chicago for a night because at the last minute my friend Betsy got sick and cannot give me a lift to K'zoo. Now I have to stay downtown for the night and get the train the next morning.
I'm still packing. I should go.

Sunday 1 May 2005

About the name...

It's Dante: Per correr miglior acque alza le vele / omai la navicella del mio ingegno, / che lascia dietro a sé mar sí crudele (Purgatorio, i.1-3).

This blog is going to be mainly about medieval stuff, like the books I'm reading, what I'm working on, what's going on around me. So I hope people will post comments if they are interested.
I hit on through looking at vexedandglorious's blog about music and various cool artistes. Worth reading. I'm listening to Muse right now. I think they are amazing, some beautifully lyrical pieces. Especially Hurricane and Butterflies, and Blackout. She doesn't talk about them...I don't think. They might be too mainstream...her choices are very cool and unknown.
I need to get back to work now. I'm writing a paper for a session at Kalamazoo, a big medieval conference. So I hope to post during the conference and report the various crazy goings on. I might even post a photo of it.


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