I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

London-Cambridge return

I had meant to revive this blog while travelling, especially for family members not on facebook.  But there are so many distractions when travelling, to say nothing of the work one has to do, that facebook has been a good quick and dirty way to post photos and updates.

I have a busy week coming up, too, with three talks to give here at Queen Mary, though after Easter there will be more time for reflection, some archival work here in London, some writing, socialising and some more music, too.

I arrived at Queen Mary on Monday and Paul joined me on Tuesday. We are out at Mile End, a busy tube station surrounded by tiny supermarkets selling lots of prepared meals for students, lots of little Indian take-away and pizza places, a Costas coffee bar etc. The campus is a five minute walk from the Tube station, and our college is right on campus, too. I’m a two minute walk from the English department and the library; and there are little cafes, an Italian restaurant and a laundry right here. The residence is a new building that is completely obsessed by the threat of fire. You enter through a heavy door into a corridor, then open the heavy door into your entrance hall. It has a heavy fire door on the right that goes into the bedroom with bathroom that looks out over the canal, and a heavy fire door on the left that goes into the kitchen/living area that looks out over the eastern City of London. All very light and spacious: an utter contrast to the much darker but more personal corners of our Manhattan apartment.

The first few days I just stayed here, working, and finding paths and a park to run in. Then on Thursday morning we took the train up to Cambridge, so I haven’t seen anything of London itself yet.

The Cambridge symposium was a small, concentrated affair organised by Peter de Bolla, on “Knowing Affect”. No papers, but sixteen people from literature, philosophy and history taking part in focussed discussions. We had 11 or 12 readings, but didn’t always refer to them very closely. Some good discussions, though as always in emotion/affect studies there’s a lot of unresolved, and unresolvable discussion about terminology. What’s the relation between an affect, an emotion, a passion, a feeling and a mood? Well, it depends in part what discipline you come from, and the importance you give to language in shaping and forming the phenomenon. No interest, on this occasion, in psychology or the neurosciences; little interest in the post-human. An interesting assumption, from one speaker, that because I was a medievalist, my attitude to the medieval would be one of nostalgia.

I’m not sure what will emerge from this symposium, but it was a very good way of conducting discussions, without the distractions, as they would have been, of individual papers.  So a little like CHE’s methods collaboratories. Though I still can’t believe I missed the Melbourne one with William Reddy last week.

And of course, Cambridge is delightful. We gave ourselves enough time to wander around a bit on Thursday, climb St Mary’s Tower and take photos, have a fine lunch, buy a cashmere cardigan for £59 before heading over to Kings. Our room was not in college, alas, but in the “hostel”, an utterly modernised old building around the corner. We were up on the top floor with dormer windows and an automatic lighting system so oblique I had to get up in the middle of the night and switch off power to the room so the bathroom light and fan would go out.

Our meeting was in “the Wine Room”, a long dining room directly opposite King’s chapel; and dinner that night was in the Saltmarsh room; not unlike the Karagheusian room at Melbourne, though with a really excellent dinner of carpaccio tuna, suckling pig and a fine white and gold dessert: all kinds of delicate and differently textured delicious things.

On Friday at lunchtime our host walked us over to the chapel, which was closed to the public as they set it up for a concert. I had been there before – oh dear – forty years ago (sigh), but had forgotten how immense it is. And how clean, dry and warm, even as the bitterly cold winds swarmed around the vast quadrangles and along the river behind us. Inside, the organist was playing scraps of Zadok the Priest, and I was instantly taken back to a record of music from King’s that my father had bought years ago and that I played over and over: Allegri’s Miserere, Zadok the Priest, a bunch of hymns, Orlando Gibbons’ This is the Record of John, etc. etc. The cover of that record shows a bright blue sky cut into up by the elaborate stone carving of the Chapel's distinctive front. Then all of a sudden, while Pete was explaining the history of the Rubens painting at the far end of the chapel, the organist pulled out all the stops and launched into “All People that on Earth do Dwell.” Fantastic vibrations of sound – the only way to describe them – across the dark wood of the choir, along the broad flagstones on the floor, up the fluted columns, already transfigured by light coming through the towering stained glass windows and up and across the delicate but authoritative fan vaulting (so strong it’s possible to walk on the top of, apparently).

We got back to Mile End at 7.30, and toyed with the idea of bringing home a pizza from the Indian take-away place, but steeled our resolve and walked back to France house, dumped our bags, put on several more layers of clothes and walked back out again, along the canal, then through the park to Hackney village, where there are some good-looking restaurants and pubs, a deli where we bought some beautiful cheese, a hairdresser where I got a great hair cut, a bike hire place we may investigate, and several pubs. Eventually we found a pub that had a woodfired oven, and a great pizza menu. We ate a gorgeous gongonzola number (I am ever on the quest for the perfect gorgonzola and leek pizza), drank a glass of red wine and watched the first half of a soccer (sorry, football) match between England and San Marino, before walking home in the brisk dark English spring.

This morning we woke to snow. Paul is reading Paul Strohm’s stories and chuckling out loud, and I am catching up on the blog before we head out for lunch at my sister’s house in Barnes. Looks as the snow is already turning to rain and slush...