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Being as how I'm on leave for three weeks, we (me and jo&stv) just had four days up the West Coast in Riebeek Kasteel, which is a one-horse town whose notional horse is exceptionally beautiful, and is generally pleasingly empty and non-touristy. And very Afrikaans. I had a slightly surreal experience buying inordinate amounts of olive products in the olive place, realising only after the transaction ended that the nice cashier lady had addressed me entirely in Afrikaans, to which I'd responded entirely in English without actually noticing the dual language thing going. Apparently Afrikaans comprehension has settled on me, like lint.

We stayed in the same Air B'n'B we did a couple of years back, the one up on the hillside over the town, with the view from the front porch looking like this:

We did a desultory amount of wine and olive shopping, and walked a bit, and cooked or ate out, but mostly collapsed on sofas or in the pool and read a lot. It was incredibly relaxing and, with the trifling exception of pining for my kitties and the absence of wifi, good for the soul. On the upside, apparently I have enough phone data to read fanfic via a tethered Ipad, although it's probably just as well I was boycotting Tumblr in a marked manner owing to ideological miff. Also, the two latest Naomi Novik novels (Uprooted and Spinning Silver) are brilliant, kick-butt fairy tale retellings and should be read immediately by all right-thinking people. Spinning Silver in particular has a phenomenal, intricate narrative structure and does phenomenal, intelligent things with the Rumplestiltskin tale and male power and Jewish identity. Unreservedly recommended.

Stv also had the brilliant idea of mounting a half-hour's driving expedition to the wind farm which is in the far distance of the house's view. Wind farms always please me enormously in concept, because clean power, but they are also weirdly striking up close. The turbines do the oddest thing to scale: they look huge when you see them in the distance from the house, and then seem a lot smaller when you are ten minutes away, and then when you're right there they are suddenly placid giants dwarfing everything around them. I found the vibe and atmosphere they create to be enormously striking: they have a sort of serene, remote, implacable presence, towering quietly over you while retaining a self-contained distance, calmly spinning in pursuit of their own mysterious ends, to which you are clearly irrelevant. I'm not sure actual humans actually made them, it seems more likely that they are some sort of inscrutable alien entity which simply grew overnight.

I wish I could say the heavenly ray of light in this last one was a deliberate artistic choice, but it was a joyous happenstance.
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There are many, many advantages to living in Cape Town, which is my Favourite Place In The World, but high on the list are two of them we invoked on Sunday: good food, and beautiful countryside. We drove out to Luddite wine farm, up past Grabouw, for a local chef's pop-up Sunday lunch. It's about an hour and a half's drive through beautiful scenery, up Sir Lowry's Pass and among mountains and farms and lakes, o my! We are firmly in Spring in the Cape, and it trotted out a blazing summer day just because, and it was a truly lovely excursion all round. Somerset West notwithstanding. (Somerset West is a small-town-vibey suburb of Cape Town, distinguished mainly by its apparently pathological need to assert its own importance by putting eight or so long-phase traffic lights in a row on the main highway going out of Cape Town. It backs up like a complete bastard. Took us an hour to get through, coming back. Citizens of Somerset West have, I fear, a high background level of minor mishap on account of all the ritual cursings of frustrated motorists).

The pop-up lunch thing is fun because apparently it's perambulatory, and takes place in odd kitchens - this one was the winemaker's own home, with concomitant lawns, and dogs, and interesting architecture and art, and a deliriously wonderful accumulation of mismatched crockery to accommodate all the people. (And an interesting selection of people, too! Apparently a good way to randomly expand one's social circle from unlikely angles). It was an excellent lunch - while we were promised Beef Wellington, apparently there was some sort of critical fumble with the beef, and we got two kinds of lamb instead, a sort of shredded slow cooked thing, and beautifully rare chops; also asparagus and artichoke starters and an amazing pan-fried trout with crispy skin, yum. Luddite also does a very small, very concentrated selection of really superlative wines, introduced during a winery tour by the fanatically dedicated and charming wine-maker. (Defiantly anti high tech, hence the farm name). Grenache noir, who knew? Amazing stuff, apparently very commonly grown in France, but rare in the Cape. Kinda light, and fruity, and a bit jewel-toned.

Part of the enjoyment for me was also that I drove, in my little Beastie car, which made for slightly slow and low-gear assaults on the steeper bits of the pass, with the AC turned off, because she has a very small engine and doesn't do hills well with three people in the car. (Or, frankly, with one person in the car). I love driving, and love having a reasonable car into which I can pack friends; it's also an elegant solution given that my current fatigue levels mean I can't actually drink very much without after-effects, so I may as well be Designated Driver and allow jo&stv to imbibe freely, which they did, to great hilarity. (Also, bonus, driver's music choice rule. When you put my MP3 player on random it reveals there is apparently an over-abundance of David Bowie and Annie Lennox in my music collection, but also occasional outbreaks of Franz Ferdinand, during which everyone bops).

The only problem was the wheel-wobble we picked up on the way back, which I attributed at the time to wheel alignment being knocked askew by the really rather terrible dirt roads on the farm. However, when I trundled the Beast into the tyre place on Monday for an alignment, they gently pointed out the balding front tyre on the point of actual collapse, and gave me a Stern Talking-To about tyre tread, the natural life of a tyre, and the need for replacement. Four new tyres, R4000, second visit to have a caster shift alignment done, whatever the hell that is. (Apparently the Beast was pulling the wrong way for our road camber. It's technical). I was clearly overdue for tyres, I've been driving the Beast for five years anyway, and mostly I'm just profoundly grateful she didn't explode on the highway on the way back. Other than in Somerset West, where she could have exploded with impunity on account of how we WEREN'T MOVING.

Owing to wine, heat and general uselessness I took absolutely no photos. You'll have to take my word for it. Also, my subject line is Omar Khayyam, by contractual obligation when I'm talking about a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and the wilderness.


Friday, 7 September 2018 09:40 am
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A couple of weekends ago we (me and jo&stv) took a weekend off to go up to Wellington, where we spent two nights in a slightly larney AirBn'B on a wine farm, and followed our avowed intent of doing nothing much all weekend. It's amazingly good for the soul, to spend a wet, cold, blustery day high up on a hillside overlooking the valley, with a fire, blankets, books, games, wifi, good food at ridiculously short intervals, and excellent company. Holidays where you don't leave the house, my favourite kind. Also, underfloor heating in the bathrooms, which is a pleasingly sybaritic luxury. And beautiful views.


We did stop for lunch on the drive up, at another wine farm. They had an elephant, of the arty rather than the flesh and blood variety; he was excellent.


I am fortunate to live in an exceptionally beautiful part of the world.

how the other half

Thursday, 17 August 2017 10:25 am
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Oh, dear, I appear to have disappeared off the face of the blogging earth again. I blame career change angst and the start of term. I am in the middle of negotiating a severely crisis-ridden change of curriculum week, characterised by advisor flakiness, administrator fail and fascinatingly political double-bookings in my curriculum change venue. (Had to close down the advice process for an afternoon to accommodate an awards ceremony featuring four consuls-general, which was somewhat surreal). I am, shall we say, a little frayed.

By way of a slightly retroactive upside, my mother was in town for the last month; she left on Saturday, alas, but it was a lovey visit, during which she made me clothes, niece-wrangled, did the washing up a lot and was otherwise her usual comfortable and comforting presence. The washing up was necessary because my weird body is at it again, I grew an extra mutant knuckle on the middle finger of my right hand and had to have it surgically removed before it achieved sufficient mass and pressure to fracture the bone. (If you have déjà vu, it's because this happened about a year ago, same finger, different spot. This one was more complicated because the cartilage tumour was partially under the tendon and the surgeon had to detach and reattach the tendon to get at it. Apparently that's a thing you can do. It necessitates two weeks in a splint, and ouch).

While Mother was here we (i.e. me and jo&stv, who are at this point pretty much her surrogate offspring) took her randomly to Riebeek Casteel, which was a lovely weekend in which Airbnb delivered spectacularly on the Some People Have Too Much Money end of the scale, something of an antidote to the weirdness of the Franschoek one. Seriously palatial: a huge, open, beautifully built house with approximately quadruple vertical volume, comfy sofas, a superb kitchen and three ensuite bedrooms. Good food and wine and company. Spectacular views. Generally good for the soul.

(That last one is the view through the front window, which is across from the stairs and above the huge, high living space. The window is amazing, the view even more so. I darkly suspect that church steeple of being Deliberately Picturesque.)
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Mad storm experiences have distracted me from noting that my weekend away in the winelands was lovely, thank you! Franschoek is really pretty, in a slightly Disney-village sort of way that verges at times on the cutesy. It takes its French heritage very seriously, in a plethora of Frenchy names on farms, roads, shops, restaurants, art galleries (it has a metric buttload of art galleries) and wine. It also has Damned Fine Winefarms and Damned Fine Restaurants as well as superlatively lovely mountains, so I completely forgive it the slightly cut-price rural France effect.

We stayed in an Airbnb for two nights, which was an experience in beautiful farm setting, comfortable beds, good internet, owls hooting in the trees at night, and an otherwise almost complete abandonment of practicality in favour of dubious "designer" aesthetic. Giant wooden chandelier aesthetic. Clunky giant wooden silver-painted monstrous mirror aesthetic. Random plethoras of blocky dog sculpture aesthetic. Dirt-coloured see-through open-weave linenoid drapey chunks of fabric over the windows instead of curtains aesthetic. (Including the window with its sill at knee height right next to the toilet, looking out on the patio by the entrance). Privacy was a complete no-go - one giant room with the bathroom sectioned off, second bedroom in a loft up a dicey and precipitous ladder, with no wall or curtain. (Or light source, for that matter). It's lucky jo&stv and I are very, very good friends, is all. Also: gas stove with oven, but no oven pans. No comfortable chairs. Dodgy electrics (no hot water on the final morning). Bumps in the bathroom floor. Loft shutter didn't latch, and blew open disconcertingly right by my head in the storm as I was drifting off to sleep on Saturday night.

But a beautiful view.


We did Colmant for champagne on Friday afternoon (we ended up very sloshed, the charmingly persuasive tasting dude had a rather heavy pouring elbow), supper at Foliage (excellent but not superlative, fascinating use of foraged ingredients), wine tasting at Topiary in the morning (Topiary has actual topiary as well as excellent shiraz, viz.:


).. followed by wine tasting at Glenwood in the late morning. The excitingly chunky Tuesday wol artwork at the head of this post is in the Glenwood foyer, it's blurry because I was, again, sloshed and was waving the camera around a bit randomly. Score at Glenwood, the wine tasting lady was a Known Associate of Jo's from AfrikaBurn, and gave us free wine as well as a virtuoso tour. Then we had lunch at Bread and Wine, which was, as always, superlative (goat's cheese and hazlenut risotto, and red curry soup with prawns, and roast duck breast, and incredible bread). Then we collapsed for the afternoon, and ate, small cautious amounts of supper at Dutch East, who gave us quite the best gnocci I've had in years, with artichoke and chilli, must try at home. We didn't have room for the deep fried milk tart, but I wanted to.

It was a lovely weekend. I approve of this full weekend in the winelands thing, it allows a quite indecent and sybaritic concentration of food, wine and landscape which is exceptionally good for the soul, if somewhat catastrophic to the bank balance. 10/10, would definitely indulge again.
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Right, so, another year, another crisis. LJ has just relocated all its servers to Russia. This means that LJ blogs are likely to come under Russian censorship, but more instrumentally, apparently Russian LJ users are jumping ship in droves, and there's a fairly high chance that the site will go under for lack of custom. I have mirrored the entirety of the extemporanea archive at Dreamwidth, where it's freckles_and_doubt. (This was because some evil-minded individual has nicked the extemporanea title on Dreamwidth; on the upside, freckles_and_doubt was what I initially wanted to call the blog but was prevented from doing by LJ title limitations).

So I fear that, suddenly and without warning, this has become a Dreamwidth blog rather than an LJ one; I will post from Dreamwidth, and crosspost to LJ with the comments disabled, at least until the point where it's clear my itsy bitsy audience has made the migration. Please update your RSS feeds accordingly! If you want to comment, do so on Dreamwidth, please, and with my apologies if LJ is easier for you. Dreamwidth does cheerfully support OpenID. It's also a fan-created and fan-driven site which has been the alternative to LJ for a while, with any luck it won't have the wobbles of shifting ownership that LJ has had to endure.

I have been on LJ for almost exactly 12 years, my first post was at the end of January 2005. Blogging generally has declined a lot from its heyday in the oughts, and the LJ community has shrunk a great deal, but it was a safe and happy internet home for a long time. Dreamwidth feels very similar, but it's still the end of an era, and I'm sad.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
There's something particularly pleasing about an entirely self-indulgent holiday you really can't afford and are damned well taking anyway. Bartholomeu's Klip is a luxury farmhouse guest lodge thingy, where they charge you rather a lot for incredible amounts of superlative food, accommodation, game drives, and generally beautiful surroundings in which to lounge around doing nothing much (or, in my case, reading the new Phryne Fisher, which incidentally has tickled me pink by virtue of being unabashed BBC Sherlock fanfic) while minions bring you tea or gin at your command. We had two nights there, which is really all the average constitution can handle given their daily plan of pre-game-drive tea and muffins, giant brunch, high tea, drinks with snacks, and a four-course meal in the evening. It's also all I can handle financially, even at winter half-price specials, given a recent move and house-refurnish. But it's utterly, utterly worth it. We had enough of us to book out the whole house, which meant we didn't have to freak anyone else out by having drunken argumentative conversations and playing Gloom and Fluxx all over the show, or when reading the new Phryne Fisher caused me to lie on a garden chair and giggle like a maniac for the better part of a morning.

It's near Wellington, and the private game reserve is reclaimed renosterveld; I loved it on our last visit, when it was much more desert-like, but also loved it this time under rain and greenness. It's a very beautiful landscape.


The game viewing was really good - millyuns of buck, gnu, amazing bird life, and for some reason an unlikely and pleasing number of bat-eared foxes, which were running around in small packs all over the adjacent farmland as well as in the game reserve itself. I don't think I've ever actually seen one in the wild before, despite living in southern Africa my entire life. The small hordes of them made me very happy. We also scored a reasonably close, extremely grumpy and entirely fortuitous porcupine, which was also truly happy-making. I love porcupines, the way they trundle along. This is a truly terrible photo, because it transpires I shouldn't use the zoom function on my cellphone camera, but it gives you a good sense of the bat-eared fox's really nice line in pausing to look suspiciously back over its shoulder while displaying its ears.


This place has beautiful mountains and magical light. Also, in addition to the bottles of wine they give you Jedi cloaks on the game drives, which is fortunate, because they're bloody cold.


My subject line is from the Bee Gees, although it's a very weird, atonal and wistful little song that really has nothing to do with the lovely holiday. I have also successfully ear-wormed myself utterly with the Bee Gees, and have been singing them madly around the house all morning. I suppose there are worse fates.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
I have just found three CDs in the side pocket of my Ipad case. They are unmarked, save for a small, cryptic barcode sticker. They do not play when put into a normal drive. I have absolutely no recollection of these - where they came from, who gave them to me, what they're for. I have been reading enough dodgy fanfic that I am half convinced they're a sneaky hacker ploy, and the seven seconds the one spent in my drive making meditative and abortive read noises to itself is in fact the herald of my entire system melting into slag, because unlikely superviruses. This is ridiculous. I know my memory is bad, but this is ridiculous. Who's given me CDs lately? Why? What are they? How long have they been there? What is the meaning of life?

In the Department of Memory, Lack of, Total, there's also Bartholomew's Klip. We had that lovely weekend there over Easter - five-star luxury on a game farm with nothing to do except go on desultory game drives and consume early tea and muffins and biscuits shaped like rabbits, brunch, high tea, sundowners and godlike snacks, dinner, and the shortbread and decanter of sherry in your room when you went to bed. It was bloody marvellous. The group represented that happy confluence of 8 people any one of whom was interesting to talk to in their own right and who were downright hilarious in combination, which is pretty much the definition of a good weekend, although owing to the booze flowly-freeing more or less continually, it was also extremely argumentative. (In a more than somewhat entertaining way, although I do find myself wondering what the hapless staff thought). Jo and I don't agree about feminism, but a bottle of champagne soothes all ideological ills. The food was beyond excellent. Vi pwned me at Scrabble.

I've just remembered that there are a bunch of photos of the place on my camera, and have been since Easter. A full month later, here are some, in a spirit of memorial penitence. (There are a few more on Flickr).

DSCN2645 DSCN2644 DSCN2627

Lovely old farmhouse, lots of garden space, weaver nests in the tree outside the dining room, and if you hang around on the wicker chairs on the patio reading dodgy fanfic on your Ipad for long enough, someone brings you a gin and tonic.

The landscape is also very beautiful, in that sparse, self-contained sort of way I love about the Karoo.

barts klip stitch

There were inordinate varieties of buck, but my camera skills were not up to capturing them. Also, renosterveld, and heart-warming stories about endangered tortoises and invisible Cape leopards. And my dawn and dusk camera skills have not entirely deserted me.


We slid in on an off-season half-price, and booked out the whole house (five double bedrooms for eight of us), and it was expensive but bloody worth it. A++. Will spend absurd money on again.
freckles_and_doubt: (South Park Self)
So, new car. It's a rude word. I have inspected and/or driven a metric buttload of Yarises, or possibly Yari, under the kindly auspices of Jo, who is a drive-me-around taxi goddess and car-inspection moral-supporter of incredible patience and sweetness. I like the Yaris, but every single car I have driven has failed dismally to pass the test of an inspection by my lovely mechanic people. They've all had worn engines, concealed post-accident bodywork, collapsed inner fittings, a dismal flatness when you floor them, weird exhaust noises, what have you. I have gradually shifted my budget up and up to try and include newer cars with less suspicious defects, and still no dice. It doesn't help that I am back at work and have neither the transport nor the time for an extended search broadened to other models and makes.

The upshot of this has been that my mental state is now severely negative, and my mental budget is now in the ballpark of a new bottom-end small car, specifically the Hyundai Athos. This is not out of the question owing to a nice new raise I recently received, so funding is not too much of an issue, and would solve a number of dilemmas.

Except that they've discontinued the Athos, and the replacement is about R10 000 more expensive.

Except that the nice salesman has phoned madly around the country and found me possibly the last Athos in South Africa.

Except that it's in Joburg, and is going to cost me a couple of thousand to bring it down here.

And it's white, which is boring and which I particularly wanted to avoid, although not a dealbreaker.

So, two things. (1) Clearly I have failed in my due sacrifices to the arbitrary and mechanical gods of the automobile, and am doomed to automotive complication. (2) I can't think straight about any of this stuff any more. So I fling this open to the useful peoples of the internet. Is it going to be more worth the extra hassle of the shipped-in Athos, or simply biting the bullet and paying extra for a newer model? Will there be spares issues with an Athos? What if they lose it in the Karoo somewhere, or it's run over by an 18-wheeler? Why can't I simply make this decision in a firm, decisive sort of fashion? Am I fundamentally useless? What is the meaning of life?

In the meantime I'm having to walk home every day, which is probably good for me, but definitely added incentive to sort this out chopchop as I certainly won't have the energy to walk home while running orientation, and will have to simply camp out under my desk. A horrid thought.

I find I want to simply reinvent myself as one of those Wheelers from the later Oz books. It would save so much hassle.

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I am not, alas, of the cellphone generation. My phone is not a prosthetic limb, it's an occasionally useful communication device on which I probably receive more spam/sales calls than social ones. I am capable of, as I did this weekend, turning it off for a meeting on Friday morning, and suddenly and vaguely recollecting its existence on Sunday afternoon, at which point it had accumulated about eight texts and missed calls, and had caused me to leave hanging several people who were trying to visit. For which, my apologies. Note to readers: I am very firmly of the internet generation, and will infallibly read email way before I'll remember to look at my phone.

It also has a camera. I occasionally remember this, and occasionally take photos with it, and then completely forget that I've done so, until the guilt at not looking at the damned thing for three days prompts me to dig around in its innards in a spirit of enquiry and reveals all sorts of images going back months.

This was taken at the Kingston-on-Thames conference, and is a rather conflicted combination of a truly beautiful river-surmounting evening sky rendered generally exquisite by London's insane and terrifying density of aircraft vapour trails, the contemplation of which invariably gives me a punch to the solar plexus with eco-fear.

This is a stitched composite which has a chunk missing as I apparently didn't take any photo which covered that patch of sky; however, it gives a much better sense of that amazing repeated bow effect than the better but narrower stitch which is also on my Flickr.
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Oh, my. I am home, and despite the fact that that was generally a wonderful trip, I can feel inner bits of me spreading happy tendrils to occupy familiar space properly, and wriggling in sheer joy. That was 24 sleepless hours of travelling, encompassing walk-with-suitcase to bus, bus to Heathrow, plane to Frankfurt airport (tentacular, and in possession of Tardis-like corridor lengths longer than actually possible given the building size, they must snarl like spaghetti), plane to O R Tambo (whose signposting is abysmal), six million miles of OR Tambo in search of the non-signposted domestic terminal, plane to Cape Town, and an extraction professionally arranged by stv. The moment of stepping into my own personal shower, with all its hot water in heady amounts, was epiphanic. Celebratory. Practically religious. You don't realise how absolutely essential oodles of hot water delivered with force over a wide area actually are to mental health. (The last B&B had a horrible, lukewarm, trickly shower which had to be activated with a giant button, and which produced unbelievable amounts of groaning, bubbling noise which made a late-night pre-bed shower an exercise in shrinking guilt).

I also arrived back with not only the usual sense of indefinable grime attendant upon 24 hours in aircrafts and airports without sleep or shower, but with the exacerbated version created by a week in London water, leaving one subtly scaly and with heavy, lank straw for hair. God, London water is horrible. If I had to live in London I suspect I'd bath at vast inconvenience via a Heath Robinson contraption supplying bathing water out of a rainwater barrel.

I am also slightly weirded by the practical perambulatory successes of the trip. Despite all these complicated multi-country transfers, the presence of the Paralympics in London, the exigencies of public transport, the unfortuitous confluence of a Lufthansa strike, and the absolute necessity of giving a double period seminar on campus three hours after stepping off the plane, I managed to navigate all of the above without any flight being late, and with my luggage following me docilely, like Rincewind's but without the psychosis, from point to point. I suspect I'm still riding the wave of karmic backlash from the Australia trip, which was rife with flight delays and clouds of ash in addition to its more melodramatic medical upshots. (And I didn't get sick at all this time, which is lovely! Usually the sinus inflammation caused by twelve hours in aircraft aircon mutates into something Sid-related at the earliest inst.)

Also, the double period seminar was, possibly because sleep deprivation breaks down inhibitions and allows bizarre levels of free association, probably the best and most lively I've run this semester. Go figure. Possibly it was also the post-conference intellectual buzz. Marina Warner, eeeeeeeee! But my inbox of doom is rather exponentially more doomlike than usual, so I should probably kill some email. Sigh.

everyone's a critic

Saturday, 8 September 2012 04:06 pm
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This was a very well-run conference, with oodles of information and maps and planning to within an inch of its life (e.g. your sign-up for the conference dinner was confirmed on a separate sheet in the conference folder, personalised to you, with a map and directions and a reminder of the menu choices you'd made in July when you signed up, and had promptly forgotten.) It was a big conference for this particular discipline, two and a half days with three or four simultaneous tracks and four keynote speakers, and I think the overall quality suffered as a result - there were some very basic and/or arbitrary papers. However, the people are uniformly lovely (the organiser commented that in his experience fairy tale theorists are much more pleasant to deal with than postcolonialists. I bet.)

Good stuff: my paper was a lot more successful, still a few minutes over time with some bits cut out, but I did manage to give an overall sense of my argument rather than having to strangle it in mid-flow. (I think the 40-minute-paper luxury from my keynote earlier this year has reset my mental sense of paper length, but I am slowly reasserting my grip). People said nice things about it. I think my book or other papers were referenced five or six times by speakers in the tracks I attended, which means the overall cite-count must have been fairly high (*is smug*). Various people sought me out specifically to burble enthusiastically about shared interests. I met my editor, who is a lovely man and wants me to do more encyclopedia entry stuff for him. And - this has totally made my trip - Marina Warner, who was the biggest name keynote speaker, asked him to point me out (I forgot my nametag this morning and was wandering around in an anonymous daze), and came over to introduce herself and say she found my encyclopedia entries particularly useful. A nice hot cup of validation from a legend in my field really doesn't hurt at all. (Her talk was wonderful - she does a very characteristic synthesis of ideas and images across an incredibly broad front, and was talking about Lotte Reiniger silhouette animation, which has always enchanted me completely). I am, on the whole, stimulated and fired with new ideas, plans, scribbled lists of interesting new texts with which to cripple my credit card, and happenstance sparked connections, together with a realisation that actually as a critic I'm OK, and probably do better than about two-thirds of the speakers I heard. (I score big because I don't read a paper, I deliver it extemporaneously from the written version, which means people engage instead of switching off).

Bad stuff: this B&B doesn't have internet, and the BT temporary account I bought suffered from wireless transmitter crash for all of yesterday, causing the usual internet withdrawal. The Big Cheese critic who I met at the Ghent conference cut me absolutely dead in this one. (Bugger him, anyway. I'm still a good scholar). The convivial conference dinner last night featured Italian food that violently disagreed with me, so today I'm pale and feeble and severely short on sleep. Oh, and I'm booked home tomorrow on Lufthansa, who are having a strike.

However, in mitigation, I get to watch the second Doctor Who episode of the season tonight. On balance, it's definitely been a good trip.
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There's a piece of Harry Potter fanfic I read lo, these many moons ago, about which I can remember nothing except that it featured Draco Malfoy on the run through Muggle England by train. (It may, on mature reflection, have been an A. J. Hall). At some point his train stops in the middle of nowhere, and a soothing voice on the public address system advises passengers that there will be a slight delay because "there is a sheep lodged in the high-tension cables." I always thought this was pure hyperbole. Hah.

Today my otherwise calm and well-planned trek from Golders Green to Kingston was stopped for a total of about half an hour at two stations on the Northern Line, because (a) "they're still having that bit of trouble at Belsize Park" (precisely what kind of trouble history does not relate), (b) "the Fire Brigade are examining Chalk Farm station", and (c) "there's something stuck under the rails in the tunnel." It's a little disconcerting to be told all change, this train has been discontinued, please cross the platform to the other train, oops, sorry, that's also been discontinued, please cross the platform back to the first train, which has now morphed from the desired Charing Cross iteration to one that goes via Bank and is thus perfectly useless for purposes of Waterloo. (And what's with a station called "Bank", anyway? I don't know if it's meant to be taken in the financial or geographical sense, but either way, it's a sad failure of imagination).

It is, I suppose, faintly inevitable that passing through Mornington Crescent repeatedly for several days should cause hallucinatory fragments of the game to circle vaguely and continuously through my skull.

I managed in the end to change at Camden Town without undue trauma, and there was a lovely taxi at Kingston Station who took me and my suitcase (which is, I have to say, doing that inexplicable suitcase thing of becoming heavier and more overfull despite the fact that I'm actually taking stuff out of it rather than adding) to the B&B. It's a slightly downmarket B&B, rooms not en suite, but chintzy and comfy and right on the mighty river Thames, which this evening looked like this, with added swans, sculls and vapour trails:

Achievement Unlocked: Visit All London-Resident Ex-Boyfriends Whose Names Begin with A. (My romantic history has some strangely specific trends, at least in the geo-alphabetical sense). I had lovely lunches with lovely people on Monday and Tuesday, and [ profile] egadfly and Iza were princely hosts (the latter allowing me to feel useful by assisting her to cut up and laminate untold oodles of stuff for her class full of teeny titchy kiddies, which is absolutely the closest I care to get to kiddies, teeny-titchy, for the use of, en masse, and was rather fun).

Oh, yes. *speaks urgently into Secret Service wrist-mike, à la Chuck*: [ profile] wolverine_nun, I am happy to report that the bok has bumpied. Repeat: the bok has bumpied. *skulks off*.
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Hooray! I am back in the familiar embrace of Winona, with all my logins automatic, instead of having to type the wretched things in manually on my mother's computer. I miss my own virtual space. I am also much in favour of Virgin trains, which are currently trundling me happily towards Euston with a power point and a table for Winona and easily-accessible internets, with no greater drawbacks than occasional fainting fits in the wireless connection, and a slight tendency to double-type when we go over a bump. Ain't the future wonderful.

I had a truly lovely week in Sedbergh with my lovely mother, and have now sadly left her to her pre-term preparations for the 71 teenage girls who descend on Wednesday. My mental image is of her manning the bunkers wearing an army helmet and an expression of grim determination. She does, however, send love to any of you lot who are acquainted with her.

It is also the start of another month, which is (a) terrifying on account of how the year is doing that acceleration thing, (b) means I missed [ profile] wolverine_nun's spanky birthday party on Saturday, woe, and (c) obligated me to pay my intellectual debts. Unsuspecting sources from whom my subject lines have ruthlessly nicked euphonious words over the month of August are as follows:

  • 1st August: one of the more crescendo-to-silly bits of the Arithmetic Song from the Doctor Seuss Song Book, a copy of which I joyously possess. It's actually surprisingly atonal and tricky music to play, but the inherent insanity of the lyrics makes me very happy.
  • 6th August: the Obligatory David Bowie quote, here, of course, from "Life on Mars" in rather nicely layered commentary on Curiosity's perfect landing. The ineffable satisfaction with which a quote clicks into place on several levels simultaneously is... well, ineffable.
  • 10th August: Charles Dickens, the opening Chancery bit from Bleak House, in which he is sustainedly and beautifully rude about lawyers.
  • 14th August: you should have spotted this one - pretty much my statement of weather-related creed from "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", which was written for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid by one of the world's great song-writing duos, Burt Baccharach and Hal David. Those guys wrote great music, particularly for piano rendition. Hal David, by an unpleasant co-incidence, died a couple of days ago.
  • 19th August: a somewhat prescient reference to The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, since, while I have neither seen nor read the work concerned, I have spent the last week rather dementedly catching up on my YA girly literature from the library in the boarding house. This has involved a slightly gruesome amount of paranormal romance in addition to teen fantasy and a bucketload of Meg Cabot. Meg Cabot is fun - funny, acute and surprisingly well written. As a bonus, scientific experimentation suggests I can whack through a Cabot novel in about an hour and a half, which means that the total number of books I've read in the last week is... *counts on fingers* ... somewhere slightly in excess of fifteen. I feel much more frivolous now.
  • 20th August: a horrible pun mashing up the conference venue with the sort of agony-column state I was in after completely screwing up that first conference paper. My second paper is much shorter and more ruthlessly shaped, and I am poised to watch myself like a hawk for unnecessary elaboration.
  • 23rd August: dear Bilbo, slightly drunkenly at his birthday party, quoted in mitigation of the slightly drunken ability of a select cohort of academics to correctly remember the quote at the after-party.
  • 30th August: William Wordsworth, naturally, from "The Prelude". Sticking a pin randomly into "The Prelude" at almost any point will yield a quote useful for heading posts about sight-seeing in the Lake District.
I'm in London for a couple of days, crashing with [ profile] egadfly, and lunching with various peoples who are being very kind about my feeble flutterings at the idea of navigating London with a giant suitcase in tow. I go through to Kingston for the conference on Wednesday, and then head back to CT on Sunday. I feel very globe-trottery.
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The Lake District is very beautiful - the perfect balance between the neat, green, patchwork fields with their drystone walls, and the far more rugged fells which prevent everything from being just too safe and cultured. I totally get why the Romantic poets were mad about this place. I've been staying with my mother since Saturday in Sedbergh, and we've been driving around the lakes - Windermere on Tuesday, Ullswater today, and home through Kirkstone Pass, which is stunning. It's been overcast and dampish, my perfect kind of weather.

This is Windermere:


On Tuesday we also went and wandered around Muncaster Castle, which is pretty tourist-trappy and is not an actual castle so much as a mansion with delusions of crenellation:


... and which was selected almost entirely by virtue of its owl sanctuary. I share with my mother my obsession with owls, which I discover makes us strigiphiles. They have owls from all over the world, including several species I've never seen before.


Points for spotting the second owl in this photo. Thursday wol is definitely a ninja.

A quick heads-up: the wireless connection in the school where my mother works refuses to acknowledge the existence of Winona, my netbook (it insists she isn't adequately virus-protected, which is bollocks). This annoying fact, coupled with the inevitable corollary that I forgot to bring with me the password which allows me to access my mail on the web, means I can't get into my usual email, and am thus doing all email contact via Gmail. If you've emailed me over the last week or so and I haven't replied, that's why. Sorry. Try
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Ghent is rather pleasingly prone to outbreaks of dogs and bicycles. I'm not sure what prompts the dogs, invariably cute and well-conducted specimens on leads, but they're entirely consonant with the pleasant, polite, slightly reserved demeanour of the Ghentians I've met. Bicycles are a key mode of transport; little flocks of them toddle past at all times, and pedestrians seem highly trained to avoid both cyclists and trams. The city doesn't seem to be laid out with cars in mind, they're forever piling up behind trams and stopping patiently for pedestrians in a generally subdued and reassuring way. The trams are cute, although it was a miracle I managed not to step on a rail and turn my ankle. I did witness a young lady run her bicycle wheel into a tram rail groove and come a spectacular cropper. Salutary.

I spent yesterday morning sight-seeing, including pottering around the Gravensteen, alias the Castle of the Counts, which is a rather touristy reconstruction of the original 12th-century castle.

It boasts rather a nice collection of medieval armour and weapons, which I spent unconscionable amounts of time with given that I'm no longer in the SCA. Possibly my roots are showing. But sixteenth-century crossbows are simply cool. It also has a rather lovely view of Ghent from the battlements:

I spent a happy hour or so wandering around Saint Bavo's Cathedral, drawn thither by the organist apparently practising. Medieval ecclesiastical architecture sets out to awe and overwhelm, and by gum it does its job. I didn't see the Van Eyck or Reubens, being not so much an art geek, but I love the soaring spaces and the mantle of hushed calm a cathedral wears. Also, several of its bishops park off on their tombs in an attitude of relaxed marble indolence, which always amuses me.

As is obligatory, I accompanied my Earl Grey (in a rather fairy-tale iron teapot) with a Belgian waffle with cream, partaken of at a café on the edge of the square. Belgian waffles have a curiously chewy surface to them, I suspect they're sugared, but they're substantial and very good. Memo to self: try to achieve soggy waffles for Jo by making giant fat ones.

I am now ensconced in a hotel in Brussels preparatory to flying to Manchester tomorrow morning, and then the Lake District. Achievement Unlocked: Ghent. I liked it.
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Right, one down. That was generally a lovely conference - smallish, beautifully run, papers uniformly interesting (I only really tuned out during one or two of them), and lovely people with whom I had lovely chats. The fun thing about fairy-tale theorists is that if you scratch strategically, just under the surface a high proportion of them are total geeks. Animated conversations at the conference dinner last night included fan fiction, LARPing, the exact wording of Bilbo's drunken birthday-party compliment/insult (under the influence of rather excellent wine none of us could remember the details) and the value of truly dismal B-movies and Alan Rickman. One of the papers was on fairy-tale elements in White Wolf's Changeling, causing me to get into a spirited debate with the speaker about her actual definition of fairy tale based on my actual knowledge of the system and role-playing generally, which I don't think she saw coming at all.

Accents represented at the conference: Flemish, French, American, English, Greek, German, Dutch, Israeli, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Australian, Romanian and me, who apparently counts as "English" to the non-Brits and "weird unidentifiable colonial" to the Brits. Curse those creeping South African vowels. Most of the above non-English languages occurred in outbreaks within hearing more or less continually, frequently with mid-conversational switches: a lot of these people are at least bilingual and frequently multilingual, and their English is of course very good. All rather humbling. I was, however, congratulated on my reasonably French pronunciation of such tongue-twisting fairy-tale writers as Madame d'Aulnoy and Mlle l'Heritier, which I suppose makes up for getting "Nicolajeva" dead wrong.

Despite being lovely, the academics present were, alas, clearly academics. A small but spirited catfight broke out on Day 1 around the issue of oral versus literary fairy tale, and intensified as the conference proceeded, with proponents of both sides among the keynote speakers. There was some pointed, slightly nasty and occasionally amusing dissing of each other's theories/works/previous intellectual attacks from behind the lectern, and some insistent spirited debates continuing not quite sotto voce in the back rows. A bit sad, really. Apparently highly-regarded academics require a reasonable dose of territorial instinct to become highly-regarded in the first place. Bother, that's where I'm going wrong.

[ profile] rumint asked which abbey the conference was inhabiting. It's Saint Peter's Abbey; from the outside it looks like this. (The bits and pieces in the square are because there was a massive Leonard Cohen concert there over the weekend).

It also has a very beautiful refectory, in which restoration has recently revealed a roof mural no-one knew existed; herewith A Conference Inhabiting A Refectory, and a close-up of some of the murals. The abbey people insist the murals are 13th-century, but the style looks far more 15th or 16th to me. I attribute the slightly blurry roof picture to the peril-sensitive nature of my camera. It's protecting me from cherubs.

I slept beautifully late this morning, and am now going to trundle out and sight-see in the medieval quarter for the day. It's not a bad life. If you don't weaken.

travelling pants

Sunday, 19 August 2012 07:06 pm
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Surprising and unpleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling:
  1. Lufthansa won't let you check in online. Apparently they work on a database system which is orthogonal to the entirety of the known universe, and you're screwed if you have connections on another airline.
  2. Despite the giant leg of the journey being two hours shorter and there being a lot more breaks from all the sitting, the CT-JHB-Europe journey is actually far more exhausting than a 12-hour one without the breaks.
  3. Frankfurt airport, which is a giant, rambling, incoherent monstrosity blessed with a profound lack of logic in its systems, an incessant stream of simultaneous arrivals and departures in the same traffic streams, and a shy and reticent approach to bathrooms which tucks small iterations into highly obscure corners at infrequent intervals.
  4. Germany. It wouldn't give me any money (and for sheer unadulterated terror, try facing an ATM screen which says "YOU HAVE EXCEEDED YOUR PERMITTED WITHDRAWAL LIMIT" which you've accessed in pursuit of drawing Euro, which you didn't bring any of with you, and which you will need in order to get from Brussels to Ghent. Fortunately Belgium is apparently happy to let me draw Euro to my heart's content). In a parallel process, Germany didn't recognise my cellphone, whereas Belgium has contentedly connected me to a network of some sort which is allowing the delivery (currently) only of spam SMSes, but hey.
  5. The Belgian public transport system, which is large and ubiquitous and probably goes absolutely anywhere you may want to, but is almost entirely opaque to outsiders.
  6. In fact, the ease of the two Scotland trips in terms of negotiating unfamiliar transport systems was horribly unrepresentative. I'd judge that it's probably going to take about two years of not moving much before the mere mention of overseas conferences no longer has me reflexively clinging to Cape Town by the teeth and fingernails.
  7. A sudden, unheralded and entirely horrible mouthful of coconut in an innocuous-appearing slab of cake and custard on the Jhb/Frankfurt leg. Also, attempting to watch Mirror, Mirror in a spirit of fairy-tale theoretical enquiry, and discovering that it's a bizarre agglomeration of stylisation, slapstick and lack of adequately defined reason for existence.
  8. The slightly disconcerting experience of trying to sit down in my seat for the Frankfurt/Brussels trip and almost falling over the giant, hairy, sandal-clad feet of the white-robe-wearing gentleman of undisclosed but passionate religious conviction who had stuck his feet through into my footspace from the seat behind. I suspect his knees were double-jointed, I wouldn't have thought that particular invasion was a physical possibility despite the obvious length of his legs.
  9. Discovering that my hotel doesn't have a tea-tray in my bedroom, which its Australian franchise cousins did, thereby blindsiding me nastily. I am too buggered to leave my room in search of tea, and the withdrawal headache is starting to mount. (Mental and psychic health dictates that I do not drink the corrosive fluid labelled "tea" on aircraft or in airports).
  10. Ghent's weather. Apparently when they say "heatwave" they mean it. I have brought almost entirely the wrong clothes.

Surprising and pleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling:
  1. Despite three connections across three countries, my luggage arrived safely in Brussels in an obviously more calm and collected state than I did.
  2. Lovely mostly-English-speaking random Belgians who rescued me at most of the most radical onsets of confusion and doubt in my ham-fisted attempts to navigate the public transport system.
  3. Instant wireless connection to 5 days of free access and unlimited bandwidth in aforementioned hotel. I have almost forgiven them for the tea.

Unsurprising and unpleasant things about the last 26 hours of solid travelling: I am utterly buggered despite having napped for four hours immediately upon hitting my hotel (eventually, after missing the tram stop and having to walk back), and have while negotiating train steps with a heavy suitcase, managed to land the wretched thing solidly on my left baby toe, which is blue and swollen as a result. However, through my rather glazed and exhausted state Ghent seems to be pretty, and the countryside is lovely and green and given to outbreaks of aesthetically pleasing buildings in interesting brick. I have high hopes both of the conference tomorrow, and of acquiring sufficient sleep both to enjoy it, and to give something resembling a coherent paper. But, memo to self, chance to talk shop with colleagues notwithstanding, next year I say it with journal submissions rather than in person.

poised to flee

Saturday, 18 August 2012 10:08 am
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Gawsh. There's that weird way where a complicated trip hoves to on the horizon for months, as a sort of substantial and slightly threatening mirage, and then suddenly the cats are all over you in generalised insecurity, the netbook contains one and a half finished papers and about twenty different maps to various hotels and universities and medieval abbeys, the suitcase is straining at the seams, there are evil little Clexane syringes in the hand luggage, and the Evil Landlord is tromping around the house preparatory to shunting you off to the airport in the next hour. I have a sort of generalised sensation of "eek". Also, excitement. Also, irritation, because Lufthansa, bless their lack of traditional Teutonic efficiency, won't let me check in online, and I'm terrified I'll end up without an aisle seat, climbing over my compatriots in cattle-class hell at two-hourly intervals until they rise and slay me. I am prepared, if necessary, to wave doctors' letters and weep gently.

I am, however, getting better at this travelling thing. The thought of all the public transport connections between me and my first paper (car to airport, plane to Jhb, plane to Frankfurt, plane to Brussels, tram to station, train to Ghent, tram to hotel, walk to venue) is not in fact inducing panic. I have grown as a person. Also, I am prepared to embrace, regardless of expense and with a sense of wicked self-indulgence, the creed of taxis if pressed to it.

I shall see my mother, post-Nesbitted, in about a week. I shall see the London horde, post-mothered, in about two weeks. I shall see the internet again in just over a day. Excelsior! My banner with a strange device reads "PERAMBULATION".
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Perhaps there is some balance in the Cosmic Wossnames after all, since after the rigours of Hellweek it has been a somewhat decadent weekend. Yesterday we Salty Crackered out at De Meye, which is a wine-farm out near Stellenbosch, with an attached restaurant called The Table, who do a strictly à la carte lunch menu in their beautiful little farmhouse, which looks like this (with bonus mother):

and is set in surroundings which look like this:

and which are profoundly un-kinking to the tense-tight muscles of the soul. We were the only guests there. The staff are lovely and relaxed, the food is marvellous, they fed us huge quantities ("there's more in the kitchen if you want it") of duck pâté and tomato soup and slow-roasted pork belly and hasselback potatoes and red cabbage with apple (stv's photos are lovely), and then for dessert we did this:

and they brought us chocolate gateau and coffee under the trees. After which we staggered home, too full to think straight.

Then today was Robbi's birthday at Kitima in Hout Bay, which does a lunch buffet of Asian food, which means for the first time in the history of ever I actually had enough dumplings. (I love dim sum. Three platefuls, and I told the nice chef "One of everything, please!" each time). And duck spring roll. And salmon hot/sour soup with tamarind, and roasted duck, and pork with ginger, and lemongrass icecream, and we staggered home too full to think straight. I'm sensing a theme.

Notwithstanding all of the above, I have also this weekend finished editing my Harry Potter paper, and sorted out my seminar outline (my teaching starts tomorrow), and found a bunch of interesting articles which will allow me to babble happily about shifting identities and symbols of skin and blood and jewels in Catherynne Valente's feminist rewrite of "Aschenpüttel", a word which my Evil Landlord has taught me how to pronounce. One of Saturday's drunken, overfed insights was that all Germans are telepathic. It made sense at the time. (Leaving the farm, there were roadworks and a couple of workers at either end of about a kilometre of road, stopping one lane at a time in synchronisation via some hidden communication. EL's comment: "Funny, he didn't look German.")

It was a lovely weekend, and tomorrow I don't have to be on campus at 7am, and there won't be umpty-million students wanting to change curriculum. Life's okay.


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