Friday, June 29, 2012

After eating all that food...

After all that eating, I've spent the past several afternoons in a stupor.  "I will never eat again," I tell myself.  Ugh.

Why didn't somebody tell me: "Hey, Notorious!  Dontcha know that that tourist attraction on the edge of town is a nice hike, with enough vertical for some exercise?  And that once you're there, you'll have a bit of a breeze, and also cool views?" 

  And there will be cool old crumbly stuff, like this:

And you will at first be confused to see seashells so far from the ocean, and even when you eventually you'll figure out that they're the abandoned homes of snails, you'll still be so amused by your own idea of sea creatures on a land-based vacation (kind of like a cruise, in reverse) that you'll get way down on the ground to photograph them...

  ...though you will get some wicked burrs in your hair in the process:

And, BUM-BUM!, staggeringly! large! things! that force you to practice "photography-pilates," which is when you lie mostly on your back but with your upper body slightly curled, focus, exhale, and try to hold the camera steady.

And this whole "looking up" thing will inspire you again to try to shoot the moon over all this gorgeous stuff, and even though you know for a fact that your camera and/or lens can't handle it, you'll still try anyway: 

And then it will be getting to dusk, and you will decide to come down before it gets too dark and you twist an ankle.  And when you get home... you'll be hungry.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What I Ate in Deltaville

I love food.

I always tell people, when I'm off to Blargistan, "I'm going to eat my weight in cheese."  And I always come back a good five pounds heavier.

Deltaville has been a challenge.  It's a town of about 30,000, so there aren't an abundance of good restaurants.  The night I got in was a Sunday, and I scoured the town in vain for a place to eat.  I finally ended up at one of those bar/cafés that serves a meal, and what I had was so disappointing (iceberg lettuce salad, followed by seafood and french fries that had obviously been frozen) that, since then, I appear to be attempting to make up for it.

Fortunately, the hotel I'm at is just down the block from what may be the nicest restaurant in town, and I've been eating lunch there every day this week (except for the day I spent the lunch hour heading to Blarg City to fetch my camera battery).  Here's what I have had:
[1] Yes, you read that right.
  • A prix fixe lunch menu that consisted of a first course of a room-temperature vegetable couscous, a second course of grilled tuna, and a dessert of three two-inch squares of fried custard-like substance[1] (though dense enough to pick up with a fork), served with cinnamon ice cream. =>
  • A truly outlandish lunch of a first course of a green salad, and a second course of squid-ink papardelle with lobster meat and shaved black truffle (no dessert this time; too full).
  • What I'm calling my "black and white meal": Black Rice (a sort of risotto/paella thing, made with shellfish and artichokes and colored with squid ink), and for dessert, a local variation on blancmange. I tried to go without a first course this time (I was stuffed all evening after the previous day's meal, and I knew the rice would be bulky), but apparently they felt bad that there was a 20-minute prep time on the rice, so they brought me out a dish of steamed mussels.
  • tomorrow... who knows?  I think I'm going to try to have a salad. Though there may be cheese involved.
Now, this is not a cheap way to eat.  In fact, it's about 50% more than I would ever pay for a table-for-one meal in the U.S. (though perhaps that should change?)  And I've been doing it every. single. day. How the hell can I justify this?  Because I'm totally a backpacker the rest of the day:
  • Breakfast comes with the hotel price, which at about $35 a night, is a bargain.  I get an egg, a yogurt, juice, and a coffee.  I also surreptitiously pocket a piece of fruit and a couple bits of cheese and stash them in a plastic bag in my room.[2]
  • Midmorning, I treat myself to a coffee and pastry (these are also delicious here) for a 30- to 45-minute break from the archive.
  • Evening, I hit the supermarket and buy a roll (to eat with the cheese), some vegetables to be eaten raw (green beans work well for this), and a bottle of water. Dinner is bread, cheese & fruit from breakfast, raw veggies, and water. And a granola bar for dessert.  Oh, and last night I added a limeade slushie (don't know how else to describe it) to my evening eats.

Total food bill for the day: about $40.[3] Over three-quarters of which is lunch.

So, I'm eating well.  But probably way too much.  And don't you tell me "Oh, you're walking everywhere!"  I walk and bike everywhere at home.  And here, it's so hot that all I can do in the middle of the day is retreat to my air-conditioned hotel room and write blog posts.

Five weeks = five pounds, here I come.

[2] Because this is an out-of-the-way town, and the hotel might be best described as "economical", the price is about $35 a night.  Which made me feel extra-special bad when I woke up after 6 1/2 hours of sleep to discover that I hadn't shut the bathroom tap off all the way, and somewhere just a bit more substantial than a "trickle" of warm water had been running all night.  I'm an asshole.
[3] I save a bit because of the near total lack of tipping. Any other Yankee researchers in Europe who still feel weird about this? My friends here reassure me that it's totally optional, and that half a euro per person for lunch is fine, a full euro for a nice restaurant, and the leftover 10-20 "cents" for coffee.  So that's what I do.  But I still feel very weird walking out with what amounts to a 5% tip on the table.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Oh, Yeah...

All this running around and camera battery stuff and trying to find restaurants in a town of 30,000 and I nearly forgot: Today is my flippin' birthday!

So, I spent it in Deltaville (where I know no one) in the archive.  Here are the good things that happened to me today:
  • slept in.  Which put me off schedule, but hey -- I got to sleep!
  • had a delicious pastry, typical to this region, with a very nice coffee
  • actually found more stuff than I thought I would in the archive.  Well, I found signs that there might be stuff, and I'll know for sure tomorrow.  But this is still more than I expected.
  • ate a ridiculously good lunch at a nice restaurant, and noted that this week, for one week only (a week and a half, maximum), they've got lobster and black truffles.  Guess where I'm having lunch tomorrow?
  • had a nice walk and took some cool pictures:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

That's PROFESSOR Dumbass, Ph.D.

I like to tell people, "My brain is highly specialized."  Because sometimes, I do things like this:

Wake up at friend's family apartment in Blarg city.  Look at stuff to take to Deltaville, a town 2 1/2 hours away from Blarg City, where I'm going to be spending a week in the archives.  Ask host/friend if I can leave my hand luggage with him for the week, then pick it up on my return.  He says yes.  I sort while charging various devices (so the many, many cords can be one of the things I don't haul with me), then toss the "keep it here" bag in his closet.  I make darned sure that computer, clothing, toiletries, cell phone, camera, and Books I'll Need actually make it into the "take it with me" bag.

Get on train to Deltaville. Unpack bag in hotel.  Everything is in order.  Take out book and wallet as I go out to scout the location of the archive, and try to find a place for dinner.  Take camera, too, because the sun is setting, and it's going to be great picture-taking conditions. Leave computer and passport in hotel room.

Half an hour into my walk, I'm down near the river.  Pretty light.  Something photo-worthy pops up.  Dig camera out of bag, remove lens cap, turn on, look through viewfinder... wait -- what?

Why am I not getting a clear picture?

Did i not turn it on?

What's going on?  Did I break it?

No, dumbass: you left the conscientiously charged camera battery in the charger, then put the charger and cord in the "leave it here" bag.  It's back in Blarg City.  Two and a half hours away.  And you need it for your research here in Deltaville.


So, since I can't show you the picture I would have taken today, here's another one from a couple of nights ago:

Much like my brain: An Unintentional Abstract

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How I Learned to Read (a tale from the archives)

I have arrived in Blarg City.  In fact, I arrived a couple of days ago.  I haven’t started working yet – that comes Monday – but that’s okay.  What I have been doing is staying at the home of a good friend here.

Friend and I met when I was a mere slip of a grad student, not even ABD yet.  I was here in Blarg City doing pre-dissertation scouting research.  We met when a group of grad students from here, also working in the archives, came over to my table one day and announced, “It’s coffee time. Join us.”  Of course I did. 

Then, a few days later, he saved my life.

Okay, well not precisely my life.  But close enough, for a grad student.  And now I’m going to tell my version of the story that just about every medievalist (and many people doing archival work in other fields) has.  You see, about a week after we met, I ordered up my first document register.  Exciting!  And they plunked three volumes of records from the fourteenth century down in front of me: More exciting!  And then opened the first one, and realized that, despite my training in paleography, I couldn’t read it.  Not at all.

So I opened the next register.  Same thing.

By the time I got to the third one, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, and excused myself to go out into the lobby where the coffee machine was.  Alone this time, I got a coffee and sat there, contemplating my future.  I would have to go back home and figure out something else to do, because I sure as hell couldn’t do this.  So I put the registers on reserve and went back to my apartment.

The next day, I went back to the archive[1] and began to attempt a transcription. It was awful.  And at coffee break that day, Friend (who really needs a pseudonym) asked me what was up. And I told him.

And he had me pick up a register and the transcription I had attempted and head to a private reading room with him.  And he looked at the register while I read my transcription, and stopped me and corrected me every time I was wrong, showing me exactly why the letter or word in question was something different than I had thought it was. And I made what I can only describe as sketches of the letters and ligatures as we went along, for about an hour.  Then he went back to his work, and I went back to mine.  And then we did the same thing again the next day.  And the next.  For a week and a half, he took an hour a day away from his own research.  And my sketchbook grew, to the point where I could use it to work through the documents more or less on my own.

Since then, his family has adopted me.  His mother refers to me as her “American daughter.” And I’m staying in a room in their house for the first few days, while I get my legs under me. 

And tonight, Friend and I went out to see the Midsummer’s Eve celebrations (see below).  He and I have both been through some major changes over the past 14 years or so since we met.  And sometimes we argue.  But it’s one of those lifelong friendships, and it all started out with an act of generosity in the archives, one that I hope to repay, if not to him, then to some other young researcher at the point of despair.

Happy Midsummer’s Eve, everyone.

[1] Please note: this is the single most important thing you can do.  No matter how discouraged you are: go back to the archive the next day. And know that this, too, shall pass.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Another placeholder, before leaving again


In the ten days since I last posted, I have:

  • recovered (briefly) from my Rio trip
  • made arrangements to have some fairly disruptive work done on my apartment's bathroom while I'm away
  • hosted my nine year-old niece, Lady T, for her first solo visit to Auntie NotoriousIt was fun.[1] 
  • done an upgrade on the old computer and a major data and program migration to the new one,[2] so I now, for the first time, have two computers
  • semi-thoroughly cleaned the house and thrown out a ton of stuff 
  • had a lovely get-together for lunch with Historiann, Squadratomagico, and Susan 
  • found that I'd dropped another major ball for my trip to Blargistan Seminar Month.[3] 
  • pre-packed, in that I've thrown everything I think I'll need for my trip into a small suitcase. 
  • booked an airport shuttle that will pick me up Tuesday at four-forty-five in the freaking morning. [UPDATE: you know someone is really an above-and-beyond kind of friend when that person sees this post and immediately volunteers to pick you up and take you to the airport in the hours before dawn -- something I never would have dreamed asking someone to do.  Thanks, B!]

  • I'm hoping that there will be semi-regular blogging from Blargistan. Hopefully these posts will not simply be more "here's why I haven't been posting" posts.  Still, any customer dissatisfied with the frequency or content of blog posts may apply to the management for a full refund.

    See ya' in Blargistan!

    Lady T. in the sun

    [1] "Aunt Notorious is weird," she told my father.  "She doesn't eat meat, and she dances whenever there's music on."  I can live with that.
    [2] An 11" Mac Air.  Yes, it is awesome.
    [3] I'm pretty sure I can pick this one up, but it's gonna mean less time to do the prep work I need to do.  Did I mention that I've been moving from pillar to post since November?  And that I'm sick of it?

    Thursday, June 7, 2012

    A new all-time favorite student eval comment

    "Her passion for history is as contagious as smallpox, and a lot more fun."

    (The runner-up, from the same class, was an evaluation that read, in toto: "Good job, tough class, great hair.")

    Anyone else get any good ones this year?

    Here's an unrelated photo, from my travels:

    Tuesday, June 5, 2012

    Random Bullets of Rio

    • Tropical fruit tastes different when you're actually in the tropics. I ate a lot of mangos, and an acaí smoothie every other day.  I regret nothing.
    • Yes, I was staying with a friend 2 blocks from Ipanema beach, and a 20-minute walk from Copacabana beach.  They're famous for a reason.
    • Tourist stuff: yes, we rode the cable car up Sugarloaf mountain.  Athletic folks, you can actually climb this thing, though about 15 meters of it require rope and a guide.
    • Monkeys! 
    • As far as I can tell, the food groups in Brazil are: tropical fruit, deep-fried starches, meat, and sugary things with other sugary things on top of them.  I was pretty okay with that. 
    • In Rio, you wear a bikini to the beach, even if you're a 60 year-old grandmother with the body to prove it. I was one of three people on the beach wearing a one-piece suit.  The other two were long past retirement age.
    • I may still have sand in my belly button.

    Oh, and a picture: