Archive for August, 2007

… the mice will play.

Posted in Uncategorized on August 28, 2007 by ladyredjess

This week’s entry (if we do indeed now count my entries by the week, though I don’t think that wise as I am constantly losing the time amidst pages of research on botany or spiritualism) is not another discourse on pink-eyed, nimble-footed furry vermin, but rather a pointer to H-‘s blog, which I besieged – ever so politely, of course – over the weekend while H and I were dogsitting. Not only did the lovely H- allow us to reign over her wine cellar, the contents of her fridge and her chocolate-coated Labrador, she also left her computer up and running. Naturally, being an inquisitive girl, I worked out that one could also gain access to her blog, and proceeded to abuse my privileges thereof. I contemplated allowing H to write his bit, but not being bound by the parameters of good sense and breeding like his sister, I finally deemed this unwise and would not allow him near the computer.

Suffice to say, a lovely time was had by all in Bath, despite my carrying some variant of the 1918 Spanish flu which consigned me to the now-famous cream couch for much of my stay. I have to confess I was up one night vomiting, like my brother (see here), but naturally made it to the toilet basin in time, rather that floundering in the far reaches of the living room. Needless to say, this was not on account on the imbibing of too many substances, but rather a reaction to my flu drugs. If anyone knows anything about why one’s left eye should be stinging and weeping whilst vomiting, please let me know, as I am somewhat concerned.

I even managed to burn a portion of my legs upon the roof, which was amazing as they have scarcely seen the sun this season (I refuse to call it ‘summer’), and then, arising from my deathbed, I made it into town to purchase a gorgeous pair of green suede boots, and felt as though I had reached nirvana, which surely had nothing to do with my semi-conscious state.

Rattus

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23, 2007 by ladyredjess

This is the name H* gave to her resident vermin when she moved into her new flat. I was reminded of it as I examined the jar lid full of dead slugs at the back of our cupboard. But there were little white pellets scattered about, and the paper of the flour bag had been eaten again, so I shall have to put out more snail bait.

And I have been thinking of rats in general, because lately I have felt like one becoming fused, Deleuze-like, to its wheel. I work at the library, then work at home, and have one afternoon and one day off a week. I’m fixing up my Salzburg paper because it’s been accepted for publication in a book, then (over the long weekend) I have to rewrite the paper for a non-fiction competition, then I must redo my Heidelberg paper for possible inclusion in another book, and on top of all that I have to write 20 000 words of my thesis before I am released from my shackles for a trip to Oz in mid-October.

Little wonder, then, that my body has rebelled and cast me into bed with a very bad flu. I’ve spent the day staggering from my desk and into sleep and back to my desk again. Then I gave up and finished Diana Souhami’s Mrs Keppel and her Daughter which is the most brilliant and gripping piece of non-fiction I’ve read for ages. It’s a biography of Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII (the eldest son of Victoria), and her daughter Violet Trefusis, who was a lesbian and passionately in love with Vita Sackville-West. What makes the story interesting (aside from the excellent writing) is the intricacies of aristocratic society and how Violet’s relationship with Vita threatened the foundation of that society: marriage. It was a tempestuous and heartbreaking affair, especially because Vita chose conformity over Violet. She wanted to stay with her husband Harold, for her life with him represented calm and stability, even though Violet roused in her violent emotion and happiness. I was irked by Vita. Although I could understand her desire for conformity, I was angry that she shunned Violet for sleeping once with her husband (Trefusis), even though Vita had chosen to stay with her man. In addition, she often dangled the chance of happiness before Violet like a bait, and always withdrew it. Violet was constantly cast as a dangerous seductress and marriage-breaker by those caught up in the storm of the affair, even though her only crime was Othello’s – that of loving not wisely, but too well – and of wanting recognition of her love in an era which would never permit it. I was in tears by the time I got to the end of it and read the following extract from Vita to Violet, written after years of separation:

We simply couldn’t have this nice, simple, naïf, childish connexion without it turning into a passionate love affair again … You and I can’t be together. I go down country lanes and I meet a notice saying ‘Beware unexploded bomb’ so I have to go round another way. The unexploded bomb is you (275-276).

If you want a fascinating take on the tangled threads of class, passion and sex, read this book.

On Wednesday I had to work at one of the medical libraries because they were short staffed. After the hour and 45 minutes it took to get there in the vile weather that supposedly constitutes Summer, I was regretting having volunteered. However I’d gone because I wanted a change of scene, and it was vaguely interesting to employ the same processes in a new place. The only unsettling thing was being hit on by a doctor who gave me his mobile number and email address within five minutes of meeting me, when all I did was crack a joke, be friendly and helpful and smile when I took his money for a photocopy card – in short, be good at my job. H said he probably mistook all that for interest, since the usual expectation of customer service in this country is to be spat upon or grunted at.

Tomorrow we are off to Bath to dogsit Henry, which I am very much looking forward to. Not only because of Henry, but because I can go shopping in Bath’s lovely shops, drink some coffee and watch the people, and walk in nice parks, and generally see something other than the four walls of my room. It is supposed to be hot, so I am carefully deliberating over which of my many unworn summer outfits I shall pack. I also have to take my wheel with me, but at least the change of scene will do me good.

New Worlds

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2007 by ladyredjess

Beloved readers, I am back from Germany. I am on a diet. This says everything that needs to be said about German food, but I shall continue. It is vile (as M- wrote, whoever thought of having cheese for breakfast?); everything is fried (as M* found, looking bemused at a plate of fried schnitzel and fried potato croquettes) and most of it contains cream. At one dinner a girl ordered a ‘salad’ and was handed a pile of cubed potatoes and meat. The only leafy greens were those in the forests, not on a plate.

But I digress from the fascinating topics of archives, media and narrative, which we were my reasons for visiting Germany. I was sent there by the Consortium, along with 5 other boys (to whom M swiftly began referring as my ‘harem’), with all expenses paid, to a conference titled ‘Ways of Worldmaking.’ So although I hate conferences, it would have been silly to turn it down.

Monday saw me getting up at 4.30am, to be picked up by a greasy-haired taxi driver and taken to Heathrow. It was actually a beautiful morning – the sun glinted off the spire of a church, the sky was still streaked with pink, and then it became so bright I could almost have been in Sydney. We flew into Frankfurt and were conveyed to Castle Rauischolzhausen, near Marburg. It was a very beautiful place, but much newer than it looked – the building being completed in 1875, but designed in the Gothic style. To an Australian, it still seemed pretty old. In the gardens was an arboretum, and, on Wednesday afternoon, when I couldn’t bear another conversation on someone’s thesis topic, I took myself into the grounds and walked through the trees, and became much calmer.

I hate meeting people en masse. I’m fine with a few at a time, because then I can recover the energy needed to listen and to enquire, but to do this hour after hour, for 6 consecutive days, was terrifying and exhausting. To make things worse, nearly everyone who spoke at the conference had an accent, which meant that hearing was even more difficult. There were people from France, Germany, Italy, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Spain, as well as one little fellow, probably feeling even more adrift than I, who was from Chile. As an end result, I took in very little of what was being said. By the time I had figured out the words the person was using and put them into sentences, I didn’t have time to then piece them into an argument; it was all just too fragmentary. The paper I can recall most clearly, apart from that by S, my supervisor, was by an English guy who’d moved to Giessen University (who was hosting the conference) to study W.G. Sebald. His voice was so clear, and his delivery so charming, that for the first time in days I relaxed and listened well.

Having said that, I didn’t get quite as tired as I expected, and I did meet some lovely people. We were taken to nearby Marburg for a tour while at the castle, and a nice fellow asked me how I was going with hearing the tour guide. ‘Not very well,’ I told him, and added that usually, if I wanted to find things out, I just looked them up later on the internet. He said I wasn’t missing much, and I asked, jokingly, how long it would take him to repeat it all to me, and he said, ‘Two minutes. Actually, no, make that one, because I’ll forget half of it,’ and I started laughing.

The boys that I was with were fun, when I could hear what they were saying. S was a nice bloke, but I could never hear him because he mumbled. M spent half the week deliberating what to get his girlfriend, until there were jokes about needing a three-day seminar in the matter. Eventually, on the last evening, he went into a tourist shop full of tat and came out with a small plastic beer mug, which we looked upon with subdued horror and amazement. Each to his own, however, and I didn’t do much better, getting H chocolates at the airport. They had pictures of Mozart on the front, which was confusing as Mozart hailed from Salzburg, but I bought them because they looked so awful they had to be good. They weren’t, as it transpired, because they had marzipan in them, and we both hate marzipan. However, I wasn’t prepared to make much of an effort, as the last place I’d got him a present (well, before the nice eggs I got in Salzburg) was in Istanbul, and I’d trudged halfway across the city with a tragic hangover to get him what I thought was a very nice print from the markets, only to receive a fairly noncommittal response.

To continue. B turned out to be one of the most gorgeous men I’ve ever met, second only to SP. But where the latter is all sunlight and golden skin, B had a stark Byronic streak, with dark hair and a 5 o’clock shadow, and with eyes that were fringed with long lashes, like a deer’s. He was studying Wordsworth, and I said to H that I didn’t understand how someone so attractive could be so obsessed with Wordsworth, but I found the contradiction amusing, and appealing. The only drawback was that he chainsmoked and he was ruining his lovely teeth.
R won me over by accompanying me in my stupid (but cute) shoes in Marburg. Normally they’re quite comfortable, but not, it transpires, when the town is full of cobbles. At the end of the day we had to walk up a steep hill to get to a castle where the restaurant was, and I found it so difficult I just took the shoes off and went up barefoot. Then, on the last evening in Heidelberg, he laughed at me in despair when I insisted on wearing stiletto sandals (they weren’t very high), and could barely negotiate the cobbles. ‘What were you thinking?’ he asked.
‘I want to feel like a woman!’ I protested. ‘I’m sick of wearing jeans, I wanted to put on a skirt and sandals.’
However the skirt (which was tight, but nothing out of the ordinary – I frequently wear it to work) had ramifications, because the waiter, who had been insistently trying to catch my eye all evening, dropped some coins down the back of my chair and had to slip his hand down there to get them out. R was indignant on my behalf, but I had thought it was an accident, and even if it wasn’t, it was still so pathetic a gesture that it didn’t even register on my radar of contempt. Later, R said to me, ‘Well, if you dress sexy, that’s what you get,’ and I corrected him, saying, ‘No, I have the right to wear what I want without being assaulted.’ H pointed out, when I repeated this incident to him, that if you wear provocative clothing then you haven’t the right to be affronted. I said that it was hardly provocative, and I was wearing minimal makeup, and if I’d wanted attention I would have worn something with a plunging neckline, and what did he expect me to do – wear a hessian sack? Honestly, this is the argument they try to use against women in rape cases – she was dressed inappropriately, therefore she was asking for it. Aren’t I allowed to be a woman, and to dress like one, without fear of reprisal, or at least without some fuckwit trying to get his hand near my arse?

After a few days of the boys’ company, however good, I sorely needed some women to talk to, and made friends with an Irish girl who lived in Sweden. She had one of the most beautiful, lilting accents I’ve ever heard, and told me that women doing their PhDs in Sweden actually get paid for maternity leave! Clearly I am in the wrong country. On another evening, when I couldn’t bear to face another plate of Fried Something in a loud, crowded room, I came across a lady to whom I’d mumbled a few words at breakfast (not being a morning person, that was the best I could do), and who later said she’d liked my paper. She was sitting on a bench, trying to figure out how to get to the designated restaurant for dinner, although she didn’t really want to go, and I asked her to come out for a drink and dinner with me. She turned out to be a barrel of laughs, and I was really glad that I’d met her.

On the Thursday we were taken to Heidelberg and the pace relaxed a bit. We did some sightseeing, and were taken to the ruined castle overlooking the town. Half of it was unfortunately covered in scaffolding, but it was surrounded by some pleasant parks. On the final day, Saturday, we walked up a hill, through some beautiful, dappled forest. It was amazingly green, and the light so soft. I didn’t talk to anyone really, because by this stage I had given up completely and just couldn’t muster any more energy, or even the inclination, to communicate. At the top of the hill was an amphitheatre which had been used by barbarians for their corroborees, and then the Third Reich came along and got their poor serfs to renovate it, brick by brick. Beyond this, further up the hill, was a crumbling monastery, with lots of rooms exposed to the elements. A family was picnic-ing in one of them. On the way down we stopped by a pub and had some apple wine, which was like cider and water, and didn’t even make me drunk, at which I was heartily pleased. When the light shone through the glasses, it seemed like they were holding gold liquid.

So all in all it was good, but I was a little disturbed by the infinitesimal amount of information my brain retained, compared to all the stuff that was going into it. I got one good idea for my thesis however, from Herbert Grabes’ master class, so that made it worth it.