Time off.

So I’m doing this entirely novel thing where I take whole weekends off. I don’t think I’ve done that since maybe the summer after second-year undergrad (literally ten years ago) because since then I’ve always had at-home research jobs (where I was basically terrible at keeping regular hours) or a thesis or dissertation to work on (where deadline anxiety meant I pretty much worked or at least thought about work every weekend) or summer course prep (there’s no taking weekends off in summer courses).

Also there was that one summer I took extra Latin courses and there’s also no taking weekends off when you’ve got a million pages of Apuleius to translate.

One of the things I’m trying to do with my time off is make time to go to more shows. I used to be pretty darned good about finding  concerts and performances to go to on the weekends (this is a pretty good city for that kind of thing) but I got out of the habit of it in the last year when walking and standing got difficult.

But I’m feeling pretty adventurous lately. So I just need to find out where all the random organ concerts are being held these days.

24 September 2016



So far…

the weather has been mostly cooperating with my ‘read outside every day’ plan (though to be accurate it’s really ‘read outside every day except your one day off, or when you have to go out in the afternoons on errands’ plan).

I’m not entirely sure why, but I decided that lit theory is the thing I have to read out of doors. I suppose the cold weather keeps me from drowsing. I finished Foucault earlier this week and am now going to work my way with exceeding slowness through the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. I’m trying to reground myself in the canon before narrowing in on a few schools.

One recommends a heavy blanket in addition to full winter garb when reading outdoors -11°C temperatures. But mostly it’s been hovering around zero here, so it hasn’t been so bad.

5 December 2014

Since I’m no longer a grad student…

I also no longer have an on-campus office. While I was never in the habit of working there every day, the knowledge that there was an office in which I could either work or drop my books/laptop off in while working elsewhere on campus, did at least encourage me to leave my apartment sometimes, for work-related (rather than social) reasons.

Also, the cafe near campus used to have free wifi, and now one has to have a local cable account to access it.

So while I occasionally have the urge to go elsewhere to do some reading/typing, there seem to be fewer options of late. The on-campus library is generally overcrowded and noisy during term time, and I feel awkward sitting in a coffee shop for long periods of time without ordering anything: and I also don’t want to start a habit of needing to spend money just to get some reading done.

So lately I’ve been sitting outside, reading (Foucault’s History of Sexuality). And it’s actually quite a nice routine. There’s light and fresh air, and the opportunity to wear scarves. And I can make my own coffee/hot lemon water and take it with me. And I’m reading theory again, which is probably good for my brain.

I’d like to keep this up all winter, as long as it’s not -20°C (sometimes -40 windchill!) all season like last year. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’ll do.

24 October 2014


we were out of the special hypoallergenic cat food that keeps Lady Jane healthy. Unfortunately, so was the local store, so I had to go a different store in an area of the city I rarely ever have cause to go to.  It wasn’t a fair distance away, but it felt like a pretty out-of-the-ordinary excursion.

I should probably have adventures more often.


Wynton Marsalis and Paul Roger’s Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! is appealing for young readers for many obvious reasons: the illustrations are bright and energetic; the book draws on onomatopoeia in a way that children are automatically drawn to; it’s fun to read aloud. The book points out the sounds we encounter in every day life (the scraping of a knife over toast, rumbling trucks, creaking door hinges, for example), and presents these sounds as different kinds of musical instruments. And intermingled with these everyday instruments are what we more conventionally think of as musical instruments: tubas, trumpets, saxophones basses, and violins — whose sounds the book also introduces to its readers. Children thus move from familiar everyday sounds (that become musical) to perthaps less familiar instruments (that enter into the realm of the everyday). The result is a fun harmonious celebration of all kinds of sounds and music!


Marsalis, Wynton. Illus Paul Rogers. Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2012.

17 October 2014

Two days ago…

fishing goosewe went walking and walking and walking. All up and down the coast line of the Oak Bay area of Victoria. The day was punctuated by birds. Walking through a wooded area near the observatory/offices of the Land Conservancy we heard a massive “thunk” right above our heads and looked up to see a bald eagle taking off (the nice man from the Land Conservancy told us we could track the eagle by the sound of riled-up crows). Those crows really aren’t happy to have eagles flying around their nests.

Climbing down into some tide pools we also found a goose (pictured), fishing for some sort of wildlife. Maybe more of the massive alien sea plants C. and K. were intrepid enough to pick up off the rocks, or maybe the little crabs that seem to scurry under all the rocks (not pictured, but they are quite adorable — for crustaceans.)

cawAt the Ross Bay cemetery we found this charmingly Gothic crow.


‘Ware the gull!

Later, at the hotel, a brazen seagull (also pictured) peered straight at me. He or she was soon joined by an only-slightly-less brazen friend. Last time I was here I learned of the monstrosity of coastal gulls (and lost a peanut butter sandwich during the lesson). That balcony door is staying closed.

Friday was also a day filled with countless happy bounding dogs, wet and muddy from playing in the sea, but as I did not stop to take pictures of any of them, they aren’t included here.

In non-bird news, I read my paper on Marston yesterday, and think it went well enough. I stayed upright and said all the words. Now I’m free to hear other people say smart things and read Paddington in the breaks. I think there’s a quota on how many words one’s brain is willing to hear and make sense of in a single day, though. I may attend fewer sessions than I planned tomorrow, and walk about the harbour and see the museum instead. Any bird-related misadventures shall be related here first.

2 June 2013 ~ Victoria

Books acquired.

Another short post before more editing. I’m slowly accumulating books to read here and on the flight home (and afterwards, probably). Yesterday I brought home a collection of Wodehouse stories (what better to read in short intervals between working and walking about?). This morning we drove to Sidney to an area affectionately called “book town” (or so I am told). The name is well deserved: children’s book stores, used books stores, military books stores! Basically, lots of books. Somewhat teary-eyed, I left the five-volume hardbound set of Woolf’s diaries unpurchased (I just can’t see getting them home on the plane), but did find a nice copy of Beatrix Potter’s The Fairy Caravan and a first edition of Peter Ackroyd’s The Lambs of London. And we went to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria this afternoon (David Blackwell and Emily Carr exhibits!): I stumbled upon Kevin Major’s poem Ann and Seamus (illustrated with David Blackwell prints).

My tiny Victoria library is growing. I’ll have to make sure it doesn’t get too big. But I feel a little less adrift now I’ve got books to carry about again.

30 May 2013 ~ Victoria

Short addendum to misadventures.

Very short: I’ve now been awake for 23 hours.

The wait in Calgary became very long indeed. Lightning delayed the flight for 2.5 hours, all of which I (along with everyone else on the flight) spent staring at the wing of the motionless plane from inside the cabin.

The flight over the mountains made up for some of the agony however. On my last trip to Victoria I suspected my fascination with the mountains might be due to my travel naivety, but I’m starting think they may just be impressive. I’m a little bit in love with them. And with this province, which is beautiful. So far I’ve done nothing in the way of academic activity. I have met several horses, a dog, and three fine cats.

Paper editing tomorrow. Or, later today.

29 May 2013 ~ Victoria


I am far far behind…

The airports probably have regulations about these things.

The airports probably have regulations about these things.

in my “writing on everything I read” plan. Thoughts on books will resume next week. I the mean I’ll be indulging in further grad-about misadventures. Though the only misadventure thus far has been opting for the flight with the four-hour stop in Cowtown, Alberta. But it means I have more time to work on journal proofs, stare at my conference paper, and read La chasse au Snark. And think of all the books I’m going to buy when I arrive in tiny Britain.

Further misadventures to follow.

28 May 2013 ~ Calgary

Grad-about Misadventures: art, rain, libraries, scones.

Having forgotten that Parliament would be extraordinarily busy today, I opted not to poke around the grounds (despite that I rather like old buildings, and was impressed by them  from a distance). I made my return to the American-European wing of the art gallery instead. Starting with late medieval religious art and moving through to the modernist stuff was a bit like walking through an introduction to western art text (in a pleasantly informative way). It was quite a lot of fun to watch the changes in painting styles: the development from medieval types to representations of individuals, large portraits of cardinals and royal patrons replaced with portable diptychs of not-so-famous wealthy merchant couples, religious to secular subject matter (though classical subjects show up fairly consistently throughout the years), the appearance of children as common subjects in the 1800s, the rise of mannerist and then rococo business to uncluttered neoclassical style, the appearance of new technology (paintings of photographs and photographic equipment), new literature (especially Shakespeare and Tennyson) new institutions (the Royal Academy under Joshua Reynolds), and moments where complete and distinct breaks in styles appear (impressionism, symbolism, and cubism are the most obvious moments).

I suppose I was a bit unfair when I characterised the representation of animals as unthoughtful types in medieval art, forgetting that the use of stylised and representational types rather than realistic and individual figures was the technique of medieval art (for humans and animals alike). Indeed, one of the reasons that Caravaggio was so innovative (and scandalous) was because he started painting stock religious characters according to real models (with all the bodily “flaws” that real models have) — a practice that tainted the spiritual quality of the figures in ways that the use of types refused.

To continue my incredibly unthinking list of “things I liked in the art gallery”, I rediscovered how much I like the Flemish style in the northern Renaissance: the technique of painting with oil on wood produces vivid colours, the portraits generally convey a lot of individual character, and everyone’s wearing those flat Flemish hats with the long feathers in them. I also played “spot the momento mori” (of which there were many, and some unreservedly gruesome, including at least one sculpture displaying rotting flesh and viscera), “translate the Latin” (nothing unremarkable there), “guess what Mr van Wealthy Merchant is saying to his wife” (but all the Flemish merchants unaccountably had British accents), and “Guess who all these Roman people are” (usually unhappy Ovidian maidens).

I still couldn’t bring myself to like much 18th-century British portraiture and landscape (with apologies to John Constable), but did very much like Vigee-LeBrun, who’s always taught as one of the few remarkable female painters of the Rococo period, but who has, until today, never appeared very remarkable: one of the many times that seeing a reproduction gives quite a different impression from seeing the work itself.  I found the same disjunction in viewing most of the sculptures in the gallery — especially the Calder and works by Clodion, and J.L. Gérôme‘s amazing sculpture of Caesar crossing the Rubicon (the photo of Calder’s work doesn’t capture the movement of the mobile itself, while the photo of the Gerome really can’t convey the sense of movement one has walking around the sculpture of Caesar on his horse).

And then I found Turner and Monet again and decided I really like pictures of seasides and harbours (though I was most taken with the colourful autumn scene of Monet’s Jean-Pierre Hoscedé and Michel Monet on the Banks of the Epte).

Finally, there was J.B. Oudry, who I’d never ever been introduced to in art history classes, but whose “portrait” (as the NGC charmingly identifies the painting) of two cats cheered me in the absence of my own pair. (Besides some pigeons and squirrels, Ottawa’s not a town where animals are a common sight.)

After the two-and-a-half hour stroll through the history of American and European art, I continued the day with lunch in Major’s Hill Park, which turned out to be a bit of folly given that ominous dark clouds were taking up most of the sky. And of course, it rained. And deservedly I ended up walking through the muddy park grounds in the wet. Having brought no such thing as a coat with me I stopped to buy one (alright, I’d sort of planned to stop and buy a coat anyways, if I could find one I liked, which I did; I’m really not so very whimsical after all).

Finally, I made my way over to the National Archives (humming Gilbert and Sullivan’s finale to Iolanthe as I passed Parliament[i]), where I registered for a  library card.

Me and my library card: a moment of triumph.

I read in the archives for an hour: it was silent, and I’d stored most of my belongings in a locker, so I felt undistracted and uncluttered for the first time in several days. I’ll go back tomorrow, I think.

Before long it was 3.45, and A. had come to collect me for scones and coffee, and walking all about the downtown (including the ByWard Market area where there is both a stationery store and a relief known as the “Woman Wall”). I was most amazed to actually see the locks of the canal — which are quite small, and hand-powered(!). I also learned that librarians have the most access to all sorts of collections and have decided that for the good of research I ought to befriend as many librarians as possible in future.

I’ve walked to the point of nigh-collapse today, and shall to bed early. Tomorrow I think I’d like to tramp around the U of O grounds in addition to spending a couple more hours at the archives. Let’s hope I wake up in time!

24 August 2011 ~ Ottawa

End Notes.

[i] finale to Iolanthe. Because it’s about a young lad being enchanted by faeries and going into Parliament you see. And the chorus goes “Into Parliament he shall go / Backed by our supreme auTHORity / He’ll command a large maJORity / Into Parliament, into Parliament, Parliament Parliament he shall go / Into Parliament he shall go.”

Grad-about Misadventures: at last, Caravaggio!

Last night’s wanderings were a bit discouraging, especially after I started feeling ill, and began imagining dragging my sick corpus through the gallery (only to fall over halfway through). But early bed restored all good humour, the grocery store was an easy walk, and I set out for the gallery well fortified with three tiny bowls of cereal (and blueberries), and accompanied by sandwiches.

I continued to be temporarily perplexed by the tiny bowls.

And a map. I’ve also gotten very good at asking neatly-dressed persons with newspapers for directions (assuming that these are the bankers, office people, and lawyers who permanently populate downtown Ottawa), and have by now constructed a series of landmarks to keep from going astray (including the National Arts Centre, and the scaffolding with the enormous Canadian flag on it).

I think that might be it...

Finding the gallery was simple enough given the imperative that all galleries must have enormous sculptures surrounding their grounds (and, well, directional signs everywhere). The “Caravaggio and His Followers in Rome” exhibit was just what I wanted. It was, as always, a very strange experience to see an enormous collection of works that get circulated in textbooks hanging within arm’s reach (but no reaching allowed!). Almost all of the paintings were scenes (rather than portraits) — early Caravaggio and co. tavern and gamester scenes, and later Caravaggio scenes from biblical and classical narratives. The kind of Baroque style that Caravaggio was painting doesn’t seem to have been much fussed with backgrounds and clothing, but very much with expressions and gestures, so scenes where a number of people are communicating in a close space (and often conveying an entire narrative in a single frame) are well-suited to the style. Animals featured in rather a big way at the end of the exhibit, especially in a series of the early  Christian saints and another of the Sacrifice of Isaac. The animals ended up having as much expression as the humans (which strikes me as not often the case in medieval and early Renaissance religious art and 18th-century military scenes and portraits). I think I may have bothered a woman while looking at one of the Isaac paintings (not Caravaggio’s version), because I sort of giggled aloud at the ram with its head lifted up to Abraham in an earnestly pleading way.

I suppose if one is painting religious tableaus in the Renaissance  one develops a knack for painting lifelike animals. The Orpheus painting (and I cannot at all remember who painted it, except, again, not Caravaggio; I’ll have order to exhibition book when I get home) was one of my favourites, mainly because the animals (including a cat and a dog) were all lounging about the singer’s feet, in very cat- and dog- (and tortoise- and lion-) like ways.

Caravaggio seems to have an excellent sense of humour — not only terribly obvious in the room devoted to showcasing the tavern and gamester scenes (with all sorts of cheating, swindling, and theft), but also in paintings like his “Mary and Martha” scene, where all the light and detail has gone into Mary Magdalene’s cloths and jewels (Caravaggio seems to have gone out of his way to take all sympathy from her).

The tavern/revelry/con-artist scenes, however, were the room I enjoyed the most; these were scenes where the exchanges of expressions and gestures were most playful (revealing who was in on the pickpocketing and card cheating cons). Nicholas Tournier’s revelling scenes also included a recurring character standing at the left side of the frame gazing out at the viewer, simultaneously pointing out the cheats and gesturing for silence (thereby seeming to include us in the con): the painting equivalent of city comedy (and indeed, sharing many of the figures from Italian Commedia dell’Arte).

There was also a sinister lute plsyer, a very strange St Christopher (where the baby looked like a wizened gnome), a delightfully gruesome Judith and Holofernes by Artemesia Gentileschi (like Carvaggio — but unlike most of her male contemporaries — she paints the scene mid-beheading rather than Judith carrying the already-decapitated head).

Outside the featured exhibit the National Gallery is overwhelmingly big. I wended through the “American-European” wing of the permanent collection, fell in love again with Monet, Morisot Pissaro, Degas, and Cezanne  (impressionists have so so so much colour), and Rothko. And discovered why Van Gogh’s “Iris” paintings are made a fuss of (more colour!), as well as Alexander Calder’s mobiles — which are again very playful pieces of art, and unusual (even for sculptures in a gallery) in that one can walk under and within them as the move. And there were futurists, and Picasso, and oh, just these 2000-year old reliefs and statuettes (which were dishearteningly left both nigh-unvisited and unattended). I could only make it halfway through this wing in just two hours, and finally had to leave out of exhaustion; I’d like to go back tomorrow if I can.

Beautiful stairs.

I was in the gallery for five hours. Somewhere in that time I had lunch with an elderly British couple who wished me luck on this PhD thing, read some Richard Brome, marveled at what I think is the best staircase design ever concocted (and which I was not at all nervous about traveling about on), and sat for awhile with Champlain  in the little outdoor theatre seats that overlook the rear of Parliament (where all the flags were at half-mast today).

Samuel awaits the boats.

Then I left to loiter about some bookstores, get the tiniest bit lost (alright, I circled the American embassy twice), and the tiniest bit more confused by the changing of the guard ceremony at the war memorial (the confusion is mostly about why the guards look like they should be at Buckingham palace), and then wended home.

Tomorrow, after writing, I’ll find a place to buy a sweater of light jacket (it is far far cooler than I thought already), wander about Parliament, maybe travel back to the National gallery, and definitely to the Library and Archives (I’ve been warned that U of O’s library isn’t terribly impressive). And then I will be chaperoned to scones (and coffee?) by A., who apparently still lives in Ottawa, and promises the experience won’t be weird.

"Into Parliament, into parliament, parliament, parliament he shall go, into parliament he shall go!"

Now: sleep, sleep, sleep.

23 August 2011 ~ Ottawa

[Er, the larger view is upside down. How fun!]