Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bunny Nativity

It was brought to my attention awhile back that there is apparently a subcultural art genre best described as "bunny nativity scenes/figures."

Looming lop-eared nativity figures
Simplicity pattern of lop-eared group

While we're at it, see this fine essay on the Easter Bunny's Nativity.

I don't think I have the nerve to tell Ms. Spots and Orion about this.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Just Lazing About

I admit it, I have been remiss. There has been no blog post in nearly a month! Shocking!
Well, you know, when the fall quarter ended, your faithful correspondent was a bit weary. Went and imbibed Slavic culture at AAASS. Attended a wedding in the alien land of Florida. Took garage kittens to the shelter. Took Ms. Spottolina to the vet and returned with four kinds of medicine. Played Scrabble with colleagues. All that sort of thing.
More news might be forthcoming over the Christmas season. It can't be guaranteed, but it might happen. Some of us have a lot of course prep to do and are putting some of it off while writing a few things.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Carver and Lish

Once upon a time, in world far far away, I began submitting my fiction to literary magazines. I'd read stacks of books on becoming a writer, although most of them seemed rather unhelpful as regards writing the kind of fiction I had in mind.
Gradually, although I did succeed in publishing more fiction than most people I knew (in part because I was very diligent about both writing and going to the post office), I began to realize that something called "dirty realism" was what American editors really wanted. Never mind that they might say they were open to all kinds of fiction so long as it was good, "dirty realism" was what they really thirsted for. I learned that a guy named Raymond Carver was the king of dirty realism, that his acolytes were many, and that by god, if you wanted to write some other kind of short literary fiction, you had better pretend you were from a foreign country, or at least set your tale in one. Friends suggested that I adopt a Spanish pseudonym, but I resisted.
Another name I saw mentioned time and time again was that of Gordon Lish. Lish, who was Carver's editor, was quite the arbiter of taste in those days--the heir to Maxwell Perkins, it seemed, except that he never sounded anywhere near as nice as Perkins. I always had the feeling that Perkins was the kind of guy you'd like to have work with you, especially, if like Thomas Wolfe, you had trouble editing yourself down to a readable length. Lish, on the other hand, gave a more severe impression. I never had even the slightest fantasy of working with Lish (perhaps because I found most dirty realism singularly dull reading), although clearly many writers found him helpful.
Of late, articles have been coming out detailing Lish's editing of Carver. Apparently Lish chopped quite a bit out of Carver's work, not just in a fat-cutting operation, but completely changing tone, characterizations, and endings. James Campbell discusses the editing in The Times Literary Supplement, and none other than horror writer Stephen King provides an account of it in his review of Carol Sklenicka's recent biography of Carver for the New York Times.
I confess I find the whole thing rather shocking. A good editor can improve a piece of writing, or at least some pieces of writing, but changing the entire thrust of the piece? Reading Campbell's and King's articles, I began to wonder whether perhaps I would have liked Carver's writing had Lish not (as King suggests) taken the heart out.

A little addendum (I just ran across this):
“...neo-realistic minimalism--a dull mode starring writers like Anne Beattie, Frederick Barthelme, Bobbie Ann Mason, and Raymond Carver. Because of its barren anti-adjectival, anti-adverbial unwittiness, this style also fails to win audiences--but it is easy to teach in creative writing classes to a clientele with little literary background or allusive competence. At the moment, while Latin America[n] literature continues to march forward, American fiction is becalmed.” Elizabeth Dipple, The Unresolvable Plot: Reading Contemporary Fiction (New York: Routledge, Chapman & Hall, Inc., 1988), 11.
How I would have loved to have seen that assessment back in 1988!

Monday, November 23, 2009

And Still Too Busy to Blog...

From a take-home final exam:
"Popular entertainment of this period were drinking and prostitution according to Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere."

" is unbalanced in a very traditional manner instead of all the figures and buildings being sporadic."

"The painting depicts free love in a classless and harmonious society. [...] I also admire Renoir for fanaticizing the typical scene at the Galette."

Re Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party: "Maybe this is a luncheon after a funeral..."

The Bellelli Family by Degas: "Though the girl sitting on the chair looks like she only has one leg. Which could make her mother not pay attention to her."

"As for Cassatt’s little girl, she is placed in a dress showing her lacy undergarments, which is a great capturing of what little girls do. Or, the exposure could be a foreshadowing of what path this girl may meet later on in her endeavors."

"...the cobblestone street that continues back into the depths of the painting with the larger masculine buildings in the background as well."

Re Caillebotte's Pont de l'Europe: "Is the woman approaching the man as some sort of constituent? [...] While one asks themselves these questions they can most certainly wonder weather the dog is feral or the middle right man is the object of the previous man's gaze?"

"While the focus is arguable, I find the railroad often my priority."

"The girl at least is still fixated on the railroad..."

"Manet’s piece contains a loom of steam created by a train’s engine."

"Caillebotte is also sure to include the railroad system which was popular during this time..."

"The statement seems to be that whatever your class or gender, you were controlled by the railroad system."

"...whether your fighting a war, or sticking rocks in your shoe, I suppose you won't know if your great 'till a historian tells you!"
And when you're writing complete crap on your exam, I suppose you won't know till you get your grade. Question for self: should I not have discussed railroads as a sign of 19th-century modernity?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More Distractions from Blogging

The survey exams were for the most part encouraging, but revealed some evidence of confusion. There were also some surprising observations.
On the Etruscan She-Wolf: "Though the mother is presented as a dog and the children are human, it still is betrayed as nursing the young."

The Parthenon "was one of the first and only structures to be completed before the Peloponesian War." (One hopes the student meant "after the Persian wars, atop the Acropolis," not ever in human history.)

The Hagia Sophia "is based on a Gothic style church." (As a prophecy, perhaps?)

From a student who has no facts at her command about any image seen: "The Roman building on the left [the Parthenon] is meant to be more decorative than useful since there are no walls... This buidling may have been used for meetings or gatherings when it was still used. [The Hagia Sophia] definitely has church qualities on the inside because of the apse in the center..."

"This was the orignal partheon. Found in athen's the romans highly regarded this building. It was built during the Peosipanian War. Queen Athena was found inside the partheon. She was later removed by we only have pictures of what we think she looked like, and remodeled statues."

The Pompeiian "Portrait of Menander" and an early Medieval St. Matthew "are of males dressed in togas with olive tree head dresses... One man is bearing part of his chest while the other is cloted but has the front of his toga open so women can see his chest while he relaxes and reads a book."

St. Matthew (painted 816-835) "looks as if Picasso had a hand in this."

Menander, on the other hand, "is mellow, as if he is lounging on the beach soaking up the rays."

"The painting is three dimensional." (I suppose this is meant as a tribute to the skill of medieval Islamic book illustrators...)

Complete misidentification of the Bayeux Tapestry: the Tapestry "is pretty self explanitory by the title, A poor man is being refused to enter a mosque ... Both pieces [Bayeux Tapestry & Arch of Titus] tell us a story it is trying to figure out what that story is, is the hard part." (Not if you read the textbook and came to class...)

"The top is sculpted, and the bottom is a tapastry. Both images are battle scenes." (And this is a complete essay?)

The Bayeux Tapestry "depicts the story of Moses..."

"The 'tapestry' tells the story of how the Norman ruler swims across the channel to claim the thrown of King Edward the Confessor."

"This is not quite a textile because it was knitted."

The Primaporta Augustus "could have been created by the Gods or they just loved him."

Re the Primaporta Augustus: "With cupid on his heels it makes me thing that he did not have a love, until cupid stepped in. Maybe Cupid is sending/helping him find his love."

Well, now I know what to do for Valentine's Day. I'll send cards of the Primaporta Augustus. Be Mine!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Why I Have No Time to Blog

From a recent paper assignment:
"Big patches of color are lying on their canvases like a blanket of stars on the night sky and like most art movements, comes heavy criticism. "

"It is rather more importantly the distinction from anything else, rather than conglomerating to a particular niche with the same status or mindset."

Degas "loved to paint moving bodies that were sent into peculiar angels."

"When attempting to paint an image of the modern time, artist have trouble with people staying still and remaining still."

"Dandyism is a state of idleness with an indispensable amount of money in terms of finding a sense of individuality and contentment."

Rulers "had to be perfected in a beautiful manner or the artist would have suffered severe consequences. The artist may have been jailed or even put to death because of his inability to incorporate the impressionist style into their painting. "

"Behind her is the second woman who is holding a bushel of flowers, lying on her side with her head probed up by her hand." (Courbet's Young Ladies on the Banks of the Seine)

"Art historians look back into the future and try to capture their responses to paintings, sculptures, or even photos." (Back into the future?)

Baudelaire "proved he was well informed and a prurient art critic earning respect from the art community."

"Baudelaire does not digress that painters from the past should be all together ignored..."

"I gain the sense that [T.J.] Clark is the type of guy that tells you that the young teenagers kissing are going to die first in the horror flick."

And we slog on.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

More Linguistic Explorations

In my last post I mentioned Geoffrey K. Pullum's witty and instructive analyses of certain aspects of Dan Brown's literary style. Today I am pleased to present a guest post by a reader who, while much entertained by Pullum's criticisms in general, was (like me) a bit surprised by one of them. We follow up on the Slumbering Moa's earlier anonymous comment with a more thorough investigation of the phrase in question.

The Slumbering Moa writes:

Let us stipulate, as the lawyers say, that Dan Brown is not a great prose stylist. Nevertheless, I think one of Pullum’s criticisms of him is unfair. Specifically, Pullum faults Brown for writing that “a handful of scientists moved briskly about,” since “‘moving briskly about’ is a cliché.” For Pullum, Brown’s use of the phrase discordantly evokes a humorous passage from Stephen Potter concerning a fictional character who enjoys one-upmanship: “To a definitely older man, of his still older wife he would comment that he was glad she ‘was still moving very briskly about.’" Pullum goes on to explain:

The remark was of course intended to be deeply unsettling if not shattering: to say of someone that they are "moving very briskly about" implies that they are extraordinarily old and infirm, and it is a wonder they can even take a step without their walker. It simply isn't something you would normally say about ordinary people who have a spring in their step, or about scientists walking from one office to another in the foyer of a research center. It's a wonderful example of Dan Brown's knack for coming up with exactly the phrase not to use.

Pullum’s criticism has two basic premises. First, the phrase “moved briskly about” is a cliché. Second, it implies extraordinary age and infirmity, making it bizarrely inappropriate to apply to working scientists.

In my earlier comment, I noted that Pullum ignores the word “still.” This word is key to the humorous effect Potter achieves, and Brown does not use it. Pullum also ignores the word “very,” which Potter employs to intensify this effect. Again, Brown does not use it.

But is Brown’s phrase a cliché? A little googling does not produce overwhelming evidence for Pullum's claim. First, let’s look at some raw numbers. I did four searches: "moved briskly about" (Brown's exact words), with 121,000 results; "move briskly about," with 4,500; "moves briskly about" with 699; and "moving briskly about," with 18,600. Given the millions of search results one often gets from Google, these numbers do not seem particularly impressive for a supposed cliché. Furthermore, when you eliminate those results from the search for "moved briskly about" that include the word "preacher," thus removing one particular joke that appears online repeatedly, it brings the number down from 121,000 to 47,600. By contrast, the phrase “proof of the pudding” produced 253,000 results, while its ubiquitous corruption “proof is in the pudding” produced 554,000.

A search for “moved briskly about” and “cliché” together produces only one result which identifies the former as an example of the latter, namely Pullum’s own post on Language Log. All the others simply had the two things appearing somewhere on the same page together. Again, by contrast, a search for “proof is in the pudding” and “cliché” together produces result after result noting this phrase’s undisputed status as a cliché.

Moving beyond the numbers, what do the search results themselves reveal about usage?

The top result from the search for "moved briskly about" was Pullum's article on Language Log, quoting Dan Brown. Twenty of the top thirty results were for the joke I mentioned above, which includes the sentence, "The preacher was wired for sound with a lapel mike, and as he preached, he moved briskly about the platform." The others included: "Desktop Calendar 2.3.7 moved briskly about," from a page that won't come up when I click on it; "the 58-year old moved briskly about the stage" from a review of a performance by Robin Williams (one of only two top results from all four searches that I thought supported Pullum's claims, however weakly); "the new officers of the 4th Battalion of New Jersey Volunteers, moved briskly about on their new errands," from a book on the Revolutionary War; "Uniformed and plain-clothed personnel moved briskly about their tasks," from an online excerpt of what appeared to be a romance novel; "The nurses who moved briskly about smiled at the young man in an ordinary suit who had come among them," from a book on psychology; "She moved briskly about the yard, taking things from the line," from "When the Bayou Overflows" (1895) by Alice Dunbar; and "Buck Mulligan's gowned form moved briskly about the hearth to and fro," from Ulysses by James Joyce. There were also two irrelevant results, in which "about" did not form a phrase with "moved briskly" but rather with the words following it (e.g., “the handpiece is moved briskly about ½ inch above the skin”).

I did not get more convincing support for Pullum's assertions when I changed the tense to "move," the top ten results being: "Nurses move briskly about the room, checking the conditions of the various patients," from a site on "Care after Surgery"; "It is difficult to move briskly about the kitchen weighted down by sixty pounds of baby," from "Cooking Madness" by Carol Castellano; "She could move briskly about, while he seems fixed to the spot," from a teaching guide to Macbeth; "To move briskly about. Used chiefly in calling country dances," from Dictionary of American Regional English; "males were seen to move briskly about with the tail turned sharply at an angle of about 90 degrees from the body," from a scholarly article on the courtship habits of salamanders; "Staff officers and couriers began to move briskly about," from an account of a Civil War battle; "it is well that they move briskly about their tasks," from two different pages on microbial parasites; "Their inhabitants move briskly about in Fords," from a Time magazine article from 1928 on the cities of Egypt; and one irrelevancy (“They do, however, move briskly – about two steps per second.”)

"Moves briskly about" yielded: "the sun moves briskly about the center of our galaxy," from a book on Einstein's theory of relativity; "The player's young king moves briskly about his town," from a review of a video game; two more versions of the preacher joke; "Hoffa moves briskly about the suite as he finishes putting on his clothes," from Life magazine (1959); "She moves briskly about her laboratories," from Time magazine (1933); "Mr. Buono, who has been called J.B. for as long as he can remember, moves briskly about campus with a friendly greeting to all," from a New York Times story about a 95-year-old (the second arguably supporting citation for Pullum); "He doesn't have an actual office but moves briskly about the plant, trouble-shooting or trying out some new production theory," from an article in the Indiana Star; and "Invisibly he moves briskly about the room as if he owned the place," from a poem posted to the site Neopoet. Once again, there was also an irrelevant result (“moves briskly about a fish trap”).

What about "moving briskly about"? The first result is again Pullum himself, followed by: "An American in Paris, Moving Briskly About Town," the title of a New York Times review of Stanley Karnow's Paris in the 50s; "Maude was moving briskly about the room, putting it into the beautiful order that Mother insisted on," from "A Fortunate Mistake" (1904) by Lucy Maud Montgomery; "One need not have visions of unattached neurons moving briskly about the brain," from a blog post; "Through her bright windows we could see her moving briskly about from kitchen to sitting room," from "The Woman Who Tried to be Good" (1913) by Edna Ferber; "In all these prairie villages, the Burrowing Owl is seen moving briskly about," from the Audubon Society's website; "The group is to start moving briskly about the room," from a "community-building exercise"; yet another version of the preacher joke; "Grace was constantly surrounded by people moving briskly about," from "The Secret to Happier Meal Times"; and "It seemed as if hardly any time had passed when she heard the household moving briskly about, and breakfast preparing downstairs," from The Woodlanders (1887) by Thomas Hardy.

These seem to me to represent fairly diverse uses that are not at all suggestive of cliché. Admittedly, when you read them all together like this, the cumulative effect is to make the phrase seem tired, but I think that's inherent in the exercise. But cliché or not, the phrase, judging by these examples, hardly bears the unavoidable connotations of age and infirmity that Pullum suggests.

Ultimately, Brown’s crime in this instance seems to be that he used an innocuous expression that happened to remind Pullum of a favorite passage from a writer he much prefers.

In closing, I might add that in one of my students' papers we get the Brown-like (or perhaps merely journalistic) construction "Portrayed through sculpture is the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite, along with her son Eros, also known as Cupid."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Style and Popular Fiction

I've been amusing myself recently with items from the linguistics blog Language Log (latest posts here). One of the topics it has covered in years past is the writing style of Dan Brown, who for those who don't know is the author of The Da Vinci Code and other apparently quite similar thrillers. I don't follow present-day popular culture any more closely than I can help (just as I try not to tailgate on the freeway--it could be hazardous to my health), but as an art historian, I couldn't help hearing about Brown's book, if only because art historians fight an endless battle with students who think that Leonardo da Vinci should be called "Da Vinci." (Being a specialist in modernism, I've stepped back a bit from this fight because I have the opposite problem, that of training my students to stop calling more recent artists by their first names. And not just artists. I just graded a paper that repeatedly, although not consistently, referred to the philosopher Edmund Burke as "Edmund.")
Well--not to digress too far onto the vagaries of students--these pieces, written by Geoffrey K. Pullum, are highly entertaining even for those of us who haven't bothered to read anything by Brown. I am not linking to every last one of the posts, as there are many and some of them are a bit tangential to Brown's stylistic quirks, but this is a good sampling:
The Dan Brown Code
The Sixteen First Rules of Fiction
Dan Brown Still Moving Very Briskly About
Renowned Author Dan Brown Staggered Through His Formulaic Opening Sentence
Learning the Ropes in the Trenches with Dan Brown
Now, while I thought Pullum's observations were quite funny (not to mention that they have taught me a few things I didn't know about what Mark Twain might have called The Awful English Language had he been writing from a German perspective), it did rapidly strike me that prior to his encounters with Brown, Pullum had evidently escaped acquaintance with the language of American popular fiction.
I don't read all that much popular fiction myself, and very little of what I do read falls into the blockbuster category, but I've read enough of that sort of thing that the quotations from Brown's books didn't sound odd to me. My reaction was not so much "My god, the man has execrable style" (after all, I read much worse style every time I grade papers) but "Hmm, sounds like typical bestseller schlock style." I was a bit surprised, in fact, that Pullum was so appalled at Brown's journalism-inspired habit of saying things like "Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered..." It's not a construction I would normally use in my fiction, but then I don't write Brown's kind of fiction.
This might not have struck me so forcefully had I not recently been pawing through a stack of books on writing. A few of them have been on academic writing, but some of them have been on fiction writing, because I am well aware that plotting is hard for me and I thought I might investigate what other writers have said about it.
This bit of investigation quickly reminded me why it has been so many years since I've read books on writing fiction: books on writing fiction are almost invariably designed to teach the reader how to write somewhat like Dan Brown. Whether it be a question of style or plotting, the general sort of thing Brown does is held up as an example of how to write.
I can see why. Brown may have crummy style, but it's vigorous crummy style. When books on fiction writing give examples of good and bad writing, the bad writing is always remarkably inert. Writers like Brown (and to be fair I don't think I've seen a writing text use him as an example, but other thriller writers are quoted liberally) carry the reader along with their energetic words. It may be the energy of an uncoordinated guy playing Whack-a-mole, but that kind of thing clearly appeals to a lot of people.
Since I'm not one of those people, I look at such writing guides and sigh. There may be useful tips in there even for writers of literary fiction, but it's hard to pick them out when the authors are exhorting us to write cliffhangers.
The analyses of Brown's flawed phrasing brought a couple of additional thoughts to mind. We learn to write from the writing we read, and so if popular fiction is full of mangled metaphors and poorly thought out phrasing, how can I expect my students to do better? After all, we're all seeing so many plurals written with apostrophes that it's hard to avoid writing those even when we've always known better. I've had to reality check myself on things I know are correct (I first found Language Log when I felt compelled to verify that "simplistic," a word I am constantly telling students to look up, does not mean "simple").
But also, after looking through all the things that Brown does wrong, I began to get very nervous. There's a general notion that I write pretty well, but the thought of having Geoffrey K. Pullum copyedit me makes me unusually anxious.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


There have been requests for photographic documentation of the kittens who appeared in the garage. Yes, they were a product of spontaneous generation. As Shakespeare (that is to say Hamlet) says, "For if the sun breed maggots in a dead dog," the obvious corollary is "a dark garage full of defunct refrigerators breeds black kittens."
Try it yourself, I'm sure you'll find that kittens result. On the other hand, it would be better if you adopted these two. They're awfully nice. And one of them will prune your geraniums for you.

Friday, October 23, 2009

And Kittens...

Yesterday morning as I stumbled into the garage to drive to school, something small and dark dashed from under my car over toward the pile of miscellaneous debris left by I'm not sure what earlier inhabitants. Despite my nearly sleepwalking state, I was hard-pressed not to let out a yell. Were there... rats in the garage now?
Fortunately I had gotten a brief look at the creature's tail, which seemed much too furry for a rat. I decided it must have been a squirrel, since the neighborhood abounds with them. Or a chipmunk, perhaps; if it was a squirrel, it had a pretty poor excuse for a tail.
When I returned, I saw three squirrels with extremely bushy tails playing outside the garage, and I thought well, it certainly can't have been one of those squirrels. I opened the garage door, got out of the car, and caught sight of a small face that could only belong to a kitten.
This was better than seeing rats, but not at all what I wanted to find in my garage. The animal was very skittish, so I went in the house and, being utterly exhausted, forgot about it.
This afternoon, however, I remembered that there was a kitten in the garage, so I thought I had better reconnoiter. Apart from the fact that it was a rainy day, the kitten might want to get out of the garage and go home.
Er... I now perceived that there were at least two kittens in the garage. This could be bad. There might be a whole litter, although how my neighbor, my landlord, and I could have failed to notice a litter of cats growing up in the garage over a period of weeks, I couldn't imagine. I decided I had better bring them some milk. My neighbor didn't seem to be home, so I put a note in her mailbox about our new tenants. She has cats, so I supposed it was vaguely possible that the kittens belonged to her, but this seemed improbable.
When I went out to check the mail later in the afternoon, I found her checking hers as well. Her reaction to the news of the kittens was not a happy one. She had just, she informed me, taken in a mother cat and four kittens to help out a friend, and was having no luck finding homes for these animals. The last thing she needed was more kittens in her life. We agreed that the young squatters must have wandered in recently when our landlord was working on the garage. We did not think it made sense to tell him about these new inhabitants, as he reacts badly to stressful news and would probably tell us that it was our fault that kittens had moved into the garage. Instead, we went out to examine the beasts. They are small and black, one with sleek fur and the other with fuzzier fur. One of them also has a white spot on its chest. As is the nature of kittens, they are quite enchanting, and while they were initially very shy, the scent of cat on Leanne prompted them to feel more comfortable about both of us, and we were able to pet them a bit. This did not, of course, help us figure out what to do with them. Leanne said that the local shelters had already told her they weren't taking any more cats. We gave the kittens more milk and some cat chow, and Leanne took me in to meet her new guests, who are quartered in a sector of her living room, separated from the permanent cats. Leanne's kittens and their mother are white with tortoise-shell-like spots, and of course are also very appealing animals. The garage kittens look very slightly older, but I don't suppose by more than a week.
We haven't decided what to do about our guests, but of course we can't let them starve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life with German Wasps

I've been complaining of the yellowjackets that keep appearing in my dining room. I'm not sure where they get in, but once in, they fly around, burn themselves on the overhead light, crawl around on the floor, and eventually die. From time to time they venture into the living room, especially if I have a lamp on there. Now and then they buzz angrily past my head, which makes me nervous. And I've seen Orion gazing at them with deep fascination, almost like a cat ready to pounce.
Last weekend was the jackpot, entomologically speaking. In the space of two days, no less than ten of them found their way onto my dining room floor. While most of them were dead by the time I counted, a certain number were crawling about. I was mildly concerned about being stung, but more worried that Orion would incite one to sting his nose.
Of course, I was the one who got stung. I was minding my own business, which is the best thing to do around bees and wasps, but one of the yellowjackets apparently crawled onto my sock and got entangled in the surface (it was a sort of terrycloth-like fabric). The first I knew of this was the onset of a nasty sensation in my heel. I looked down and observed the creature--probably still stinging me.
Well, I've been stung by bees before, with effects from minor to fairly extreme (not, however, including anaphylactic shock), but yellowjacket stings were new to me. I knew that while bees die after stinging, wasps are able to sting again, so my main thought was to get the sock and yellowjacket separated from my skin.
That wasn't all that easy given that I was in pain and the sock was way down there on my foot. Sometimes one's foot seems remarkably far away from the rest of the body--mysteriously inaccessible--and I say that despite not being more than perhaps five or ten pounds over my ideal weight. But eventually I got the sock off and limped upstairs to the tub, where I washed the sting, applied a Czech insect-bite-and-sting remedy (all I had handy) and a bandaid, and hunted for the Benadryl.
As such things go, the sting wasn't appalling. It kept me awake for awhile that night, but not in agony. This was, I will say, the first time that Benadryl didn't knock me out completely--but then I've only taken it twice before, and not for stings.
The area around the sting, however, has continued to be rather itchy, and this finally led me to do a bit of internet research. Apparently quite a few people find that yellowjacket stings itch for long after the initial pain subsides. People even describe the sensation as making them want to rip their skin off. I'm glad to say that I am not in that position. I am, however, contemplating getting one or more of the remedies suggested by the various sufferers, which include household ammonia, baking soda (normally I do have this on hand), meat tenderizer, and hemorrhoid creams.
I also looked up yellowjackets with the notion of learning more about them. It turns out there are several species of similar wasp all going by this name. Postmortem examination of one of the corpses tells me that what we have here are German wasps, a fairly aggressive species that has mostly taken over from the native Eastern variety. Both types are beneficial insects so long as they don't come into direct contact with humans. They eat insect pests, but unfortunately they also like things like picnic food and garbage. Their fondness (and I might say especially the German wasps' fondness) for junk food and sugary things leads them to conflict with humans.
I don't actually keep either meat or many sugary foods on hand, but if the wasps are nesting in the wall of the house, apparently all I can do is wait until the frost kills them. Only queens, apparently, overwinter and nests are only used for one year in this climate.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Revising the Dissertation

Publishers want my dissertation. They've told me so. But of course that doesn't mean they want it as is; the more well-regarded of them want it fixed up. There haven't been any specifics on this, but I know they want the footnotes trimmed, the literature review (which I didn't want to write anyway) trimmed or excised, the title improved, and all that sort of thing. And the book proposal has to be finished up and then (like a basic grant proposal) recreated in several different formats to suit the various publishers to whom I will submit it.
Exactly when I'm going to do all this when teaching full time and preparing new classes, I don't know, but pretty much everyone with a new PhD and a job has that problem.
I'm not sure my dissertation needs huge amounts of revision, but whatever it does need is bound to seem huge to me. With all that in mind, I took a look at William Germano's From Dissertation to Book.
As with any how-to or self-help book, the question facing me as a reader was "What brilliantly useful bit(s) can I glean from this? Will there be anything that just rockets me forward?" It really only takes one of those tidbits for a book of this kind to be worthwhile. But unfortunately, or fortunately, as the case may be, I'm already rather familiar with writing and publishing. It's not easy to give me the pleasant surprise of "that's just what I needed to know." All through the first half of the book, I kept muttering "Get to the revision." That first half was full of information and counseling that I'm sure a great many people need, but which for me were bloody obvious. Germano doesn't get going on actual pointers for revision until halfway through, but that wasn't really clear until I got there. After all, you never know where some informational gem might be hidden. I might not know as much as I think I do.
Germano has useful tips on coming up with a new title (something I had already done, at least provisionally); on subheading the chapters (sections with subheads had been a big help from a book on writing the dissertation itself, but my subhead titles will benefit from the Germano touch, as will the chapter titles themselves); and while people generally think I write well, I was decidedly charmed by Germano's advice not too quote too liberally from authors whose prose style is far better than one's own. "Strong writers, like strong perfume," says Germano after throwing a fine chunk of M. F. K. Fisher our way, "should be used with great care. Comparison with your own prose will be inevitable." Indeed. I like to think I have a pretty good prose style, but its best examples are not to be found in everything I write. You are not finding my best style in this blog post, nor will you find it in most of my dissertation, despite the compliments I have had on the latter.
The overuse of the passive voice is not, I think, one of my major sins, but I very much like it when Germano says "Some passives we're glad we haven't had to see:

In the beginning the heavens and the earth were created by God.
Arms and the man are being sung by me.
Ishmael is what I'm called."


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Toyen (the band)

I've known for quite some time that there was a Czech band named after Toyen, but it was no longer recording while I was living in Prague, so I never ran across any of the group's albums.
The band has a MySpace page, however, so I've finally had a chance to find out what they sound like. While I'd hardly say they are the musical equivalent of Toyen's art, they're quite listenable.
According to the MySpace page, they began in fall 1988 in Prague, but were officially founded in March 1989. Audiences and critics were apparently looking forward to their debut, because most of the band had been in "the legendary band Letadlo" [Airplane], which was suppressed by the Communist regime in the early 1980s. According to the MySpace page,
"The band TOYEN were in the right time on the right place. The guys had good infos from the world, good timing –after „Velvet revolution“ and the main-good songs,image and they have own material with Czech lyrics, but they could sing the songs in English and it was very important for their future."
In fact, the band toured in the US, including a concert at CBGB's, and also in the UK and Austria. At one point they apparently were opening for Depeche Mode. However, before long Toyen experienced some changes in personnel and did not last long despite its success at home and abroad.
I like the idea of a band named after a surrealist, but I think I'd have preferred the group to have borne a closer resemblance to the artist. Then again, I don't think we can exactly say the Manchester band Durutti Column is all that similar to the anarchist anti-Franco contingent that fought in the Spanish Civil War under Buenaventura Durruti, either.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Napping Rabbits

"So stretched out huge in length the Arch-fiend lay" (Milton, Paradise Lost)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Mysterious Scrapbook of Dayton

The other day I finally ventured into the antique mall housed in the county fairgrounds, which is perhaps a mile from home. My plan was to seek lamps, and possibly other useful items of furniture.
Well, there were indeed some tolerable lamps at reasonable prices, and there were some very tempting items of furniture, but it was raining and I didn't have a lot of space in the car, so I put off buying any of those things.
Well, what did I find instead? I found a very odd scrapbook, which I felt strangely compelled to buy.
The compiler of the scrapbook is anonymous, and she (I am sure it was "she") did not divulge her purpose in creating the thing. It is basically a collection of collages of magazine pictures, mostly of babies, but they get older as the series goes on.
Now, those who know me well are aware that I'd rather look at pretty much anything other than baby pictures. Pictures of centipedes, bats, garbage cans, and paramecia will just about always catch my interest above pictures of babies, although I would certainly far rather look at pictures of babies than at pictures of politicians or plutocrats. It's not that I have anything against babies, I just don't care for their appearance, and I prefer to deal with children who can say a few words. (I am, however, fascinated by the mental world of babies. I'd rather see through their eyes than look at them.)
That said, what on earth prompted me to pay for a whole scrapbook of baby pictures?
I'm still trying to figure this out, but it has something to do with the layout. Whoever put this thing together had a good sense of design and page layout. There's also something increasingly odd about it as one pages through. Initially it just seems like a lot of "cute" babies in conjunction with some flowers and animals (mainly doggies, especially poodles). Yet by the end I was being strongly reminded of Hannah Hoch's scrapbooks, which are considerably more mainstream-looking than her other collages. The unknown collagist compiles her images in ways rather like Hoch, and like Hoch, even uses the same pictures in more than one collage.
The images all seem to come from about 1959 to 1969. Some might be earlier but I don't think many can be much later. In fact, I not only recognize some of the sources (Healthtex, Borden, Rice Krispies) but I am just about certain that the artist who drew the pink-cheeked elephants (not shown here) designed one of the baby shower cards my mother received before I appeared in the world.
I'm really curious what the Unknown Collagist was getting at. Did she just want to put together a book of cuteness and not quite succeed? Was it a school assignment of some sort? Was she attempting an Ernstian collage novel about childhood that doesn't quite come off? Inquiring minds want to know.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Maximal Floral

I try to make it down to the Dayton market every weekend. It's in easy biking distance, but I've discovered that it makes sense to drive: the flower vendor there sells ten bunches for ten dollars, and if you buy ten bunches, he throws in four or five more bunches. I'm not sure exactly what's going on with this floral extravaganza, but this is what I ended up with the first time around.

My most recent purchase got me so many gladioli that I had to use my blender as a vase. I'm now looking for cheap large vases suitable for glads.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Heller plates

Back in my early youth (as I look upon it from my crochety and occasionally dyspeptic present), I bought some handsome plastic plates and mugs at the local Crate and Barrel store, which in those days was a pretty fine place to shop. Leading as I did a rather maritime life, I didn't want too many breakables.
The said plastics, in an orange-tinged red and a cobalt blue, have been my main plates ever since. Unfortunately, while I'm not sure just how many I originally bought, their numbers have dwindled over the years. I know that a small blue plate, and I believe the blue mug, got smashed by wild airline baggage handlers (my first scanner also bit the dust on that flight). More recently, it seems I must have lost several plates moving, as I know quite well that I had at least five of the large plates in Pittsburgh and somehow only had three when I unpacked. (Where can they have gone?) I really felt that three large plates remaining of what must originally have been six or eight, and two small plates plus two mugs, could not be called a proper supply.
It occurred to me that these fine items--Heller by brand--must still be available somewhere out there. I took to Google and discovered that indeed they are. In fact, they are invariably described as a classic design. They were designed by Massimo Vignelli in the 1960s (no, I did not buy them that long ago) and you can see a fine photo of some of the colors here. They were recently reissued in white (white? how boring) but I was able to find some red ones on Etsy, which arrived today and are in newer, glossier condition than the ones I originally bought long ago. See how splendid they are?

In a fit of enthusiasm, I have now just found and ordered some blue ones on Ebay. While I dislike much mid-twentieth-century design heartily, the Vignelli Heller plates are absolutely divine.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rabbits Like Stairs

The attempt to keep rabbits downstairs and out of the office (since its door doesn't close and it is full of tempting papers and boxes):

How Ms. Spots turns barrier into ramp for early-morning explorations of the upper realms:

Baseboards here are too thick (about an inch) for proper deployment of the barrier. It's easy for rabbits to knock over the barrier and bound up the stairs. Calypso Spots knows she's not supposed to do this, but the temptation is too great. After all, she's found packages of stale airline cookies lurking in tote bags up there. What rabbit could ask for a more exciting breakfast?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Of Mice and Lights

Just the other day, My Sibling remarked that perhaps the days of Lots of Weird Stupid Things Going Wrong were over and I could settle into enjoying life and my teaching and all that sort of thing.
Well, the lights in the bedroom closet have ceased working (again, after a respite--keep in mind the bedroom has no overhead light), and a mouse just ran across the dining room floor. The latter was quite the distraction from my attempts to put together a Powerpoint on ancient Roman art. Is this mouse just passing through, spending a rainy day indoors, or does it live here? How did it get in? Does it have fleas or any unpleasant diseases that it could pass on to Ms. Spots and Orion? Inquiring minds want to know the answers to these questions.
Inquiring minds would also like to know when the temperature in the Creative Arts building will rise a bit. It was not pleasant wearing a turtleneck, jacket, and coat indoors most of yesterday. Still felt bone-chillingly cold in there.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Online Catalogs and their Peculiarities

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education looks at problems in online library catalog databases and some efforts to fix them.
This is a topic of ongoing interest to me, but I can't say I think the article addresses the problem with sufficient depth, and the comments on the article suggest that I am not alone in thinking so.
We're presented with a specific case: a grad student gets poor and frustrating results when using University of Virginia's Virgo catalog. We aren't told what the Virgo search options are or where in the interface the student typed "Thomas Jefferson." We are told, however, that new and better software is taking over.
I haven't used Virgo, so I don't know how it's set up. But I've used Melvyl, Gladis, PittCat, PittCat+, Library of Congress, WorldCat (and is this or is this not the same as OCLC?), and various other library databases in the US, the Czech Republic, and Great Britain. I'm not a librarian and I don't consider myself an expert on library software, but we could say I have some experience in using and getting used to different catalogs.
In most catalog software I've used, the user chooses whether to put "Thomas Jefferson" into search fields such as author, title, or keyword. This is usually but not always pretty effective. Things aren't always properly catalogued. For instance, when I returned from the Czech Republic, I spent a lot of time looking for materials at UC Berkeley--generally books for which I had full bibliographic data. I was surprised to discover that often the library didn't appear to have a book when I searched by title, but that an author search would bring the book right up. I think the reverse was also true, and that sometimes it was more productive to locate Berkeley books using Melvyl, even though I'd normally Melvyl to see if any library in the UC system (within easy driving distance) had a book.
Some of the new catalog software, however, has you just type in "Thomas Jefferson" without specifying whether you want books by him, about him, with his name mentioned in the keywords, or with his name in some other random location. University of Pittsburgh's new PittCat+ does this, forcing the searcher to spend absurd amounts of time winnowing down the categories to find him as a subject. When I first saw PittCat+, I thought I would like it because it does allow you to narrow the search in ways that I had seen on OCLC, but I rapidly concluded that since you can't start with a focused search as in PittCat "Classic", PittCat+ simply wastes the user's time. This was a complaint I heard repeatedly from librarians and faculty. We learned rapidly that PittCat "Classic," with all its faults, was way quicker and easier to use than its replacement.
I've heard people argue that Google-style searching is the new direction for library catalogs, and I've heard people decry it. Well, surely it should be possible to have both Google-style searching (useful for fairly obscure things) and more focused initial searches. After all, if you want books about Thomas Jefferson, the problem is more likely to be how to narrow down the search, since there must be a plethora of books dealing with various aspects of Jefferson--biographies, histories, political studies, works on plantations and slavery, etc.
One of the people to comment on the Chronicle article argued that what we really need is a return to Library of Congress headings. He or she apparently taught these headings for years and imagines that they are easily learned. I beg to differ. I wouldn't say Library of Congress headings are useless, but back in the early days of online catalogs, I tried searching with them, since in those days UC Berkeley's online catalog used them (maybe it still does, in some hidden place). I'd dig around in the big red books, trying to figure out where in the hierarchy my topic might be. I understood the concept of hierarchy, but--not having taken the commenter's class--I found it impossible to guess which aspect of a topic might be higher on the hierarchy. If I had wanted to look for Czech art, for example, I would have been uncertain whether Czech, Czechoslovakia (this was before the Czech Republic existed), or art would start the string. Fortunately Boolean searches pretty much wiped out that problem. Not that Boolean searches are always simple, but the basics of Boolean searching are easy. Czech and art, or Czechoslovakia and art.
I haven't yet familiarized myself with the catalog here, but I've already had one disturbing experience with it. I wanted to put a volume of the commonly used anthology Art in Theory on reserve for one of my classes. I searched for the title Art in Theory and was shocked to find that apparently the library didn't own any of the three volumes. I therefore (after scanning the pages needed and posting them online) requested that the library order the series. To my great surprise, yesterday I got an email saying that we do actually own the volume in question (apparently not the other two) and that it has been put on reserve for my class. Well, I'd like to know where this book was hiding in the catalog.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Photo Book on the Neighborhood

A local photographer has just brought out a book exploring my neighborhood, and you can see previews of it here. She's put more focus on the art galleries and restaurants (some of which I've already visited), with some interior shots to go with the exteriors, but a few of the local houses are also shown, including two that are down the street from me (the 1870s house and the ultra-modern house).

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Neighborhood, Part 2

I wouldn't want it to seem as though everything around me is annoying. It's time for a few more photos of my neighborhood.

Friday, September 18, 2009

And Now for a Moment of Tetchiness

On the whole, I am settling into my new teaching situation without any real trouble. Faculty and staff have been generally welcoming, and my students (so far as I can tell thus far) are pleasant and friendly, with some good observations to offer in the classroom.
On the other hand, I am disconcerted to receive a small onslaught of student emails that do not really bode well.
For example, a student who apologizes for missing class due to taking care of alleged administrative hassles inquires "Is there anything I missed?" This is the kind of query that tempts me to respond "No, I don't bother to lecture when you aren't there."
Another student asks "Since I missed today, I was wondering if we have any assignments due next week?" While it is better to ask than to miss out, the syllabus does reveal that there is a paper due next week.
Somewhat in the same vein is the question "what is the name of the paper we have to read and where can I find it also do we have to write a feed back to the paper and if so how any pages?" All of this information is on the course website, which is also where the syllabus can be found since (as a cost-cutting measure) we are not supposed to hand out paper syllabi and assignments. For that matter, I did talk about next week's paper yesterday in class.
Finally, another student apologizes for tardiness due to problems in the preceding class, and regrets that telling me so after class would have caused further tardiness. Since it is only the second week of class, I have certainly not learned to match everyone's name and face yet, nor do I notice everyone who slips into a dark classroom late; thus it is essential for me to know who actually showed up so that I do not wrongly penalize lateness as absence; hey, handing me a simple note after class would do the trick if I am (improbably) surrounded by eager students.
It's true that I prefer students to ask even somewhat foolish questions than be too shy or easily embarrassed to ask a question at all, but it would be nice if they thought a bit, too.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


And why does Blogger suddenly want me to say I accept its Terms of Service in order to upload a photo of Orion? I've been uploading photos onto Blogger since 2005 and I don't recall having had to accept any such thing in the past...

Monday, September 14, 2009

Around and About

One or two of my faithful readers have mentioned, offline, that there have been lamentably few posts of late. Or just few--perhaps not lamentably. I shouldn't make assumptions here, but if people are looking to see what's here, I suppose they might want to see something new now and then.
The school year has begun here, rather later than for most of my colleagues at other institutions, and curiously enough various things have settled into place. The fluorescent lights in the bedroom closet, for instance, which stubbornly refused to function for a week or so, went back on last week despite my having done nothing yet in the way of checking the fuse. The toilet-paper holder that had fallen from its mounting finally consented to stay in place again. I can't say that the molding around my windshield has magically stuck properly again, but another call to the glass company will fix that, when I get around to it. (I think their next step will be to replace the window a second time.)
More entertainingly, I have been out in the community taking a look around. I visited the Dayton Art Institute, a very fine small-scale museum. (And free to the public! And in biking or even walking distance from home!) I attended the monthly dinner of the Dayton Area Rabbit Network, where I met other people who live with long-eared beings and made tentative plans to have the Spotted Pair's toenails clipped. I visited the 2nd Street Market--several times, so now I know that Saturday is the day when all the produce vendors show up (I'm not sure, however, that I can take home a pumpkin on my bike until I get actual bike baskets). I was too tired to roam the streets and galleries on the most recent First Friday or the latest Urban Night, but I did get to my neighborhood's last potluck picnic of the summer (my potato salad was devoured and I met neighbors who garden, adopt shelter animals, and like art). I also roamed yesterday's street fair on 5th, which meant I finally set foot in some of the galleries and even bought a couple of things. I didn't sample any of the foods, because I had just eaten Thai food at the aforementioned market, but I enjoyed checking out the various art and jewelry vendors.
I was intrigued by the collage-decoupaged furniture made by one vendor, and seriously considered getting a piece, but since the university is only reimbursing about a third of my moving expenses, I felt protective of my pocketbook and thought I had better be certain that I didn't buy anything over $100 and that any piece of furniture had to be something I would actually use and, of course, that I was particularly drawn to the collage on that particular work. Well, I could in fact use another piece or two of furniture, but the types the vendor had available weren't precisely what I would find most useful in my current residence; some of the pieces I liked the most were out of my price range; etc. I chatted a bit with the artist, who was a bit disgruntled that nothing had sold yet despite people liking the work. I said that I supposed it is harder to sell in this economy, but she assured me that in some cities she's sold lots of pieces recently. It seemed to me that in a bad economy people are more likely to buy art objects that don't cost too much--Archelaus cards sell very well--but the artist was skeptical about that. Well, since I don't have a lot of money and there wasn't one special piece that just called my name, I confess that I didn't get any new furniture. And I daresay the artist wouldn't have liked the thought that, as a person who's done a lot of collage myself, I might someday make my own collaged piece of furniture. But that wouldn't stop me from buying someone else's piece if I thought it was absolutely wonderful. Each person's imagination is a bit different, after all.
And, in fact, shortly after that I talked to a different artist, also a collage artist. He remarked that since he was really broke, he was selling pieces for $20 each. Well, I had admired them earlier but assumed they were expensive, so I hadn't considered buying one. At $20, though, I figured I could get one, and that I didn't even feel like it had to be one I adored, but simply one I kind of liked. He does his collages digitally, so I suppose he can make as many copies as he likes of any individual collage--I'd like to learn to do this, since there are a lot of things I'd like to collage with but don't want to slice up, and for that matter I've found a lot of potential collage sources on BibliOdyssey and other art-related sites. The artist was friendly and local, and indicated he might be up for teaching me how he did some of this. So now I've got one of his collages. I also picked up a couple of art-deco-ish spoon rests from his dealer; I've never used a spoon rest, but the elongated rabbit and dog are pretty neat just as objects.
A ways down the street, I wandered into another gallery, where I was immediately complimented on my Czech linen hat. Next thing I knew, the woman who liked my hat, along with her friend, were giving me directions to the local Czech club, which has frequent dances (not that I have much experience with the polka); great places to hike and ski; and so forth. When these kind people bade me adieu, I took a look at the gallery and saw some works by a few of my new colleagues, which was rather fun.
Most of the time, of course, I have been sitting at home working on my classes, on a postdoc proposal, on journal articles, and on other projects.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Blogger Search Sucks

Those of you who have been reading blogs for some years have probably noticed that those hosted by Blogger usually have a search bar up at the top of the page. In theory, you can search the blog for mentions of a specific word or phrase.
It used to be that this search worked just fine, or at least I had no reason to believe it didn't. I used it every so often to locate old posts on my own and other people's blogs, and generally I got more results than I expected.
Over the past few months, however, I began to suspect that this search was simply not functioning properly; I'd search for something that I knew was discussed in a blog somewhere, and yet get absolutely no results, or not the specific post I was seeking. This made me panicky; were my friends deleting some of their old posts, or was I searching using the wrong terms, or what?
This morning I wanted to find what Jesse's old Brno blog had to say about Czech trains and train stations. I knew that Jesse had had quite a bit to say on the topic, so I started by searching for "train."
Not a single post came up. Gadzooks, I thought, can he only have mentioned trains in the plural? I did a search for "trains."
One post came up: a post about trams, which parenthetically calls them "street trains" although in English I've usually called them "streetcars" (A Streetcar Named Desire).
I began to feel a little frantic, and searched on "station." Again, I got one post, this one about the Brno train station. And hey, it used the word "train" right in the first sentence, as well as "trains" later on. Why wasn't this post coming up on my previous two searches? And for that matter, I knew Jesse had also blogged about the Prague main train station, about the train known as the Brnensky drak (sorry, my Czech keyboard doesn't want to work just now), and probably about quite a few other train-related matters.
Jesse began the blog well before Blogger introduced labels, and I don't think he added Delicious tags to each post. My own old blog is partly labeled and also has Delicious tags for quite a few posts, but that still doesn't help me find a lot of the old posts. So the reader really does have to rely on the search function to locate old material. It really has to work, and it just isn't anymore.
This annoys me.

Monday, August 31, 2009


It has been my experience that one periodically goes through times when apparently it is decreed (by some minor and annoying god, no doubt) that an unusual number of things should fail to work, or be recalcitrant, or otherwise drive one somewhat mad.
I have alluded to how the drains on tub, sink, and dishwasher all had to be fixed shortly after I moved in. To update these specific items, the tub proves not to like hair-washing, and its drain clogs after two or three washings; the sink now doesn't really hold water long enough to soak laundry; and the dishwasher (a fancy-looking new Siemens) has to be run every couple of days now because it is apparently a weapon of biological warfare and promptly grows mold on anything placed in it, mold which is only mostly removed during the wash cycle. My previous dishwasher could accumulate dishes for a couple of weeks without mold growth, and removed pretty much everything except dairy-related encrustations. (I could also fit a lot more dishes in that one without wondering whether they would dance around and break one another.)
Speaking of things that go bad, they are doing so at a record pace in the refrigerator. I didn't think refrigerated fruit usually had to be eaten within a day or two. Let's keep in mind, too, that the house is air-conditioned, so we're not dealing with a sweltering kitchen.
Then there was the adventure of the blender. I hadn't had a blender in quite some time, but thought that if I got one, I could make fruit smoothies and rapidly boost the amount of fruit in my diet, as I imagined that would be simpler than making fruit salad. I bought the blender and put it together according to the instructions, or so it seemed, but it dismantled itself and dribbled a lot of liquefied fruit everywhere. For that matter, the stuff I was able to salvage didn't taste nearly as good as a fruit salad would have. I have been hesitant about trying the blender again, since I'm sure the motor got inundated with fruit and water, and I'm not sure that I've put the apparatus together any better than before.
I am not sure that the vacuum cleaner is picking up much, although I replaced its bag just before moving here.
On the automotive front, about a month ago I had my windshield replaced due to the remarkable size and quantity of debris thrown at it by various trucks. I was very pleased with the replacement for at least a week or two... specifically when I moved... and the rubber molding around it came loose. The job being under lifetime warranty, a technician came out to fix it once I finally had a chance to schedule an appointment. It has now come loose again.
While the windshield problem was initially alarming (at first I thought the windshield might fly off as I drove down Highway 70), it has not been as troublesome as the car airconditioning, which I had fixed in two separate ways during the summer to the tune of well over $1000. The airconditioning gave out again as I left Chicago and I have really not had time to schedule an appointment with the shop that did the original work.
I may not have mentioned previously that the electricity in the garage gave out just after I moved in (fortunately with the garage door open rather than closed, or I would have been stuck at home for awhile), but my landlord and his able assistant were able to rewire the building in less than a day, so perhaps that doesn't count as remarkably troublesome.
In the realm of the internet, as I have noted earlier, the signal came into the building well before I was able to make use of it. This was because the DSL modem I had gotten from Verizon stubbornly subverted everything from AT&T. I still don't understand how this can be, but that was what the AT&T technical staff, who tried quite a few tests, concluded. People often complain about technical support, but I felt the people I dealt with were pretty clever and well trained, and they were nonetheless stymied. On the plus side here, however, the new modem is also a router, so I have wifi all over the house. This is an excellent thing since the lapine contingent wants me in sight.
Speaking of the lapines, I knew I would have to keep them out of the office (cords and boxes) and possibly the bedroom. As it turned out, the office door doesn't close--it gets to about two inches of closed and then quits. So I bought a handsome pet gate, one with wire since Ms. Spots has been known to destroy plastic gates. Well, it is designed to be pulled as wide as the doorway or other passageway and to stay in place with the aid of rubber bumpers. Whether this actually normally works, I cannot say, but the height and thickness of the baseboards here make it impossible to keep in position as designed. I thus stuck the thing at the foot of the stairs, sort of leaning against the stairs a bit. Mostly this works, but Ms. Spots rapidly figured out that if it's tilted enough, she can climb on it and go up the stairs anyway. She's always rather surprised when she succeeds, and since what she always seems to want is breakfast, this hasn't caused a real problem yet... but it could.
That's more than enough ranting for now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Neighborhood, Part 1

I suspect that my readers--at least those who know me personally, which is most of you--have been itching to see what sort of place I've landed in, other than the moving boxes and unpacked books.
My neighborhood is called the Oregon Historic District, and it's one of several historic neighborhoods in the central part of town. Most of the houses seem to have been built between 1840-1865 or thereabouts, although not all of them have date placards on the front. I don't know when mine was built, other than that the front half looks like other houses in the neighborhood and the part I live in was added on at a later (but not terribly recent) date.
Most of the houses are brick (often painted), with some sort of wooden trim and usually a porch or veranda with columns.
It's a nice place to walk or bike.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Veranda, Again

I was awakened this morning by the sound of Orion making his way upstairs. Rather than wreaking havoc, he consented to lie down in the bedroom and be petted. His real mission, however, was to get me downstairs to provide breakfast and morning petting for the Princess of Pittsburgh, who came up herself when I didn't stay downstairs long enough to suit her. She was a bit miffed that I hadn't kept her company during breakfast.
In the meantime, there are non-rabbit photos:

Looking up at the veranda from the sidewalk. And a view from the veranda, looking across the street:

The tenant in the front half of the duplex does the gardening and the hanging plants. I have added a batch of plants around my front door, however. In addition to flowers, I got some rainbow chard and parsley, but these aren't really growing enthusiastically enough to feed Ms. Spots and Orion. Only enough to take off a few leaves every few days.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Hate Things Not Working Properly

Since I won't have usable internet at home for awhile, there won't be much appearing here for at least a few more days, or so I imagine. Technically there is internet... DSL flows through the phone line... but for some reason the modem I had gotten from Verizon refuses to let AT&T's bandwidth get through to the browser. Why this should be is a great mystery to me. I consider myself fairly competent with computers--after all, I use lots of different programs, I install new parts from time to time, and I can troubleshoot a fair number of things. But this doesn't make me an expert on anything in particular. How the Verizon modem can tell that the bandwidth flowing through it isn't Verizon's, I really don't know. The computer recognizes that it's getting a signal, but it's unable to make any use whatsoever of it.
So I await a new modem. I hope it won't only work with AT&T, since there's no guarantee I'll stay in AT&T territory for long.
For variety, I offer a photo of my front porch. Or is that my side porch? Let's just call it the veranda I share with the front tenant.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seen on Facebook...

"Nothing improves one's perpective faster than being suddenly incapable of reproduction. Made me feel better."
(Re a comment on the need to spay a rabbit)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Something Completely Different

As a change from photos relating to moving, I present a couple of photos from last Friday's birthday party in San Francisco. As it happens, no photos were taken of the guest of honor, as the other guests were too busy discussing literature and world politics.

Above: Cesar, Betty, and Scott

Above: John, Ali, and Moazzam

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Update, Update, Huh?

I was rather hoping to post some photos on this visit to the local cafe (it looks as though I won't have functional home internet for at least another week, and possibly more, due to a mysterious incompatibility between the modem Verizon supplied me two years ago and AT&T's DSL service). Regrettably, my camera battery seems to die every time I get halfway to the cafe. I'm not sure why this is. I don't take THAT many pictures of my neighborhood in the course of two blocks. Perhaps there is some strange force-field on the corner of Sixth and Tecumseh. In any case, sooner or later there will be some photos again.
Mainly, at the moment I simply feel relieved at having finished and sent off the latest journal article, which was not so much a difficult one to write as one whose writing coincided with my having no real blocks of time to devote. This caused me considerable anxiety, since I also had to think about various bills, car repairs, prescriptions, and so on.
Meanwhile, I see the cafe is dimming its lights, which I think means it is time to drink up and depart.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

On the Verge of Success?

As is so often the case, Rob Breszny offers a tantalizing horoscope for me:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): Your strategies are very close to working. The results you've generated so far are almost useful, bordering on successful, and on the brink of being beautiful. My question now is: You won't stop here, will you? You've already garnered a measure of recognition. You've gotten a taste of victory over your old bugaboos. Will you be satisfied with these partial breakthroughs, or will you fight and kick and scratch to strip away the almosts and ascend to utter triumph?

We've managed to unblock the drains in my tub, bathroom sink, and dishwasher, and the internet is almost working at home now (it exists, but the computer and modem are unsure how to handle it). Of course, I don't think these things are really what's involved here. Or even that journal article I'm racing to finish. There are more important things at stake.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Land of Boxes and Stray Books

Remember how harmonious the last kitchen photo seemed? Well, of course, it was taken prior to the delivery of most of my belongings, so it was a bit unnatural. The kitchen quickly began to look like the following photo, and rapidly transmogrified into a complete disaster area, since although there are many cupboards, it's hard to know where anything ought to go. I mean, most of the storage is out of my reach or too narrow or shallow to accommodate what I might want to put inside. On the plus side, I discovered that there is a lazy susan. Major bonus points there! (Although I wish it could have been a full round one rather than 3/4.)

The dining room is in recovery from being The Land of Full Boxes, but I am not sure that being The Land of Empty Boxes is much better. Yes, there is a so-called "mudroom" and it is also full of boxes. (Is "mudroom" a recently invented term or has it been around for more than ten years? It's used copiously in every home design magazine I've read in recent years and I am wondering whether Martha Stewart invented it. She did not, I am sure, invent the concept.) The mudroom/laundry room has to reserve space for bike and rabbit area.

Moving right along to the living room, although most people will probably see it first, books are gradually finding their way onto shelves, although not in a very coherent order. The main thing has been to get them in some approximation of the right place, not to get them exactly right on the first try. Besides, there's not a real exactly right about book placement. Shelving by topic wars with shelving by approximate size. Besides, even shelving by topic is tricky. Do we want Alberti shelved with Italian Renaissance or with architecture? Do we want Paula Modersohn-Becker's diary shelved with German art, biography, or women artists? This problem worsens with the history books, although they are fewer in number. Should all history simply go upstairs in my office, or can some of it stay in the dining room? Can we just have Central and Eastern European history upstairs, or just women's/gender/sex history? Why am I separating histories of European paganism from the fairytale books? I am so glad not to be a librarian. No classification system will ever fully satisfy me. And, considering that most of my theater and film books are boxed up in California, how did I end up with so many such books here, which clearly need to go together? (Or should those on the avant-garde, or on Czech film and theater, go somewhere else?!)

My office, rapidly becoming a repository of boxes of miscellaneous papers (not shown!), is coming along well enough in other respects. The tall bookcase is pretty much entirely filled with Czech art books, although there is some overflow (five of said books are much too big to fit on its shelves and sit on the desk). The desk is home to lots of dictionaries and related books, in the optimistic belief that I will actually use them rather than merely regard them as a kind of security feature.

And it all continues. After all, that mudroom has to be prepared to hold a new two-story bunny condo (bought on the theory that the rabbits might enjoy it as a special place to hang out), and the downstairs in general has to be prepared for their arrival on the seventeenth. Meanwhile, of course, there's no shortage of academic sort of work to do, unfortunately. I certainly hope I don't have to move again next summer.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Moving In

Moving in is quite the ongoing process. At first everything looks relatively stark:

Subsequent to the arrival of one's belongings, one also becomes all too aware of how a great many of them clash with the paint:

After all, bedding, kitchen items, and so forth based heavily in cobalt and other forms of blue just don't go very well with walls the color of coffee ice cream. Nothing against coffee ice cream, it just clashes with quite a few common decorating schemes. It wants colors like cream, dark brown, and black.
Fortunately I already owned more than one shower curtain, for just this sort of situation, so swapping out the leafy pale blue and green one for something more sultry was easy:

Stay tuned for more on the decorating front!

Friday, August 7, 2009

A Little Hoffmeister

Why is it that my friends invariably link to me just when I haven't posted anything very remarkable in awhile? I'm afraid it is just fate (in this case, my having just moved and not yet having internet at home).
Well, for everyone's entertainment, I offer two Adolf Hoffmeister pieces:

"The Founding of Devětsil," 1927

"Pisces," 1963

Adolf Hoffmeister was a Czech artist and writer (not to mention diplomat). I'd say more, but I really must return home and continue unpacking several hundred (or is it thousand?) books. That is, I know I've unpacked several hundred, but at least 30 boxes of something or other have yet to be opened.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Good Omens

Rob Breszny's horoscope for me this week:
LEO (July 23-Aug. 22): If you really knew how much you were loved, you would never cry again. A sublime relaxation would flood your nervous system, freeing you to see the beautiful secrets that your chronic fear has hidden from you. If you knew how much the world longs for your genius to bloom in its full glory, the peace that filled you would ensure you could not fail. You'd face every trial with eager equanimity. You would always know exactly what to do because your intuition would tell you in a myriad of subtle ways. And get this: A glimpse of this glory will soon be available to you.

It's possible I have some inkling of all this wonderful stuff. That doesn't mean I'm looking forward to all the unpacking and other work ahead of me, but nonetheless I feel pretty good.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The refrigerator after the removal of the magnetic poetry and before removal of magnets (and why is this photo so blurry?).

And the file cabinet after removal of all postcards and the like. Note large number of magnets from the UPM. Unfortunately some of my non-Czech magnets disappeared on the way back from Prague... Ah, the vicissitudes of moving.

Well, all the magnets have been packed now and and the entire apartment looks like the site of a natural disaster! Only one more packing day left.