Prague – City of contradictions

I am in Prague, doing my usual conference work for Inter-Disciplinary.Net. From its beginnings 13 years ago with one conference per year, ID.Net now runs 63 projects, next year 70, with annual conferences for each in Prague, Salzburg, Oxford, or Sydney. The organization is growing almost too fast to keep up with itself, and I’m happy that I’ve taken a backseat for the time being; I can sit back and make observations (some of them useful!) without actually being part of the decision making. I’m one of two or three Meetings Managers now. All that involves is showing up and being extremely efficient for a couple of weeks, and then going away again til the next time. I can do that! This role requires no ongoing preparation or logistics. All I have to do is be helpful, make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be and has what they need. In fact, it’s even less than that, because we work with an events management company called Prague Events Solutions that sets everything up for us, including the catering. So I just show up and am nice to people. You have to have a ‘go to’ person, and that’s me. On the rare occasions when anything goes wrong, I earn my keep. In the meantime, I’m free to dip into whatever sessions take my fancy. Occasionally I have to take over a project, if the leader gets ill or something, but this only happens once in a blue moon.

At the moment we have two projects running concurrently: “Urban Popcultures” and “Interculturalism, Meaning and Identity”. At UP we have 14 countries represented; at IC, 19. This is the most exciting aspect of the work – that, and the inter-disciplinary makeup of the participants. Each project meets for 3 or 4 days. Next up, starting tomorrow, are “Pluralism, Inclusion, and Citizenship” and “Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds”. I will definitely attend some of the latter, as I’ll be teaching an online course in the fall on ethical decision making, using Second Life as the learning platform. I got the idea from last year’s meeting. Yesterday, I went to talks by speakers from Barbados, Romania, Taiwan, and Turkey.

The weather in Prague is good old March weather, nice and breezy, a little on the cold side (in the 40s during the day, 30s in the evening). Today is a good day to be indoors, as it’s kind of showery. I’ll be stuck in the Michna Palace til 5.30 anyway…It really is (or was) a palace, so the meeting rooms have 30′ ceilings with lots of stone gingerbreading. Very picturesque. We have a ban on powerpoints, because we really encourage dialogue, but it is very hard to pry people away from their dependence on technology. While I was writing this, the project leader for IC came out to count to ten because someone had snuck in a powerpoint. We don’t mind people using images, but we do object to the didactic stance of powerpoint. It’s the distinction between data, information, and knowledge that’s at issue, and the difference between having a dialogue and having a lecture.

Unless they were brought up here, anyone who says  they love Czech cuisine is probably a liar. The food is heavy, hefty even, and very meat-based. Beer is cheaper than water. Good stick-to-your-ribs food – if you’re out working on the land all day! If you’re sitting in a conference room all day, it’s just an invitation to extra poundage. I am still devoted to my weight-loss project, so it’s fruit and yogurt for breakfast, fruit at the coffee breaks, salad for lunch, and then whatever I can find for dinner that didn’t once moo, bleat, grunt or squawk. Fortunately I’ve been here several times now, so I know a great Indian restaurant and a couple of good Thai and Italian places too.

I titled this entry as I did because the city is magical by night, but by day it is a visual nightmare that seesaws between the gray legacy of communism and the colorful whimsy of the early 1900s. The city is literally stuffed full of churches (mostly Baroque or Rococo) and statues of saints everywhere you turn, yet only 4% of the Czech population is still Catholic. And everyone in the service industries speaks a little bit of English, yet if you wander off the beaten track by even a few yards (or from the usual pleasantries of hello, how much, and thank you) there isn’t much cultural overlap between Czech and English. No one expects foreigners to speak Czech, though. There are so many ex-pats here that they have their own daily newspaper! It was very cheap and easy to live here in the 1990s, less so now, but still dirt cheap if you can work from home.

I should probably go do something official. More later from this fascinating place.

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Only what is important

I know I’ve been bad about keeping up with the blog, and I promise to redress that this weekend, but first I have to tell you what happened yesterday.

I often go to the Abbey to meditate in the mornings. One chapel there is reserved for quiet and prayer, so I usually wander in there to sit for half an hour or so. Yesterday I arrived at 10.29, just as a Eucharist service was starting. The minister – who was straight out of The Princess Bride, flowing white beard and all – invited me to stay – well, I could hardly say no, could I?

The service was lovely, very quiet (no music) and sincere, about 20 older women in attendance; it was a Mother’s Union service (a Church of England group).  I was probably the youngest person there. It happened to be St David’s Day, the patron saint of Wales. Afterwards, as I sat praying, a soft hand on my shoulder was accompanied by a jolly voice saying, “Aren’t you coming for coffee?” I looked up at this very merry face, and said, “Well, I’m sort of shy.” She said, “Tough, get over it! I’m chopsy and I’m Welsh, and you’re having coffee!”

Needless to say, I had coffee. Pat introduced me around, and everyone told me about their American connections – a son, a cousin, a favorite trip. I was welcomed in the simplest, kindest ways. But most of the time it was just Pat telling me the story of her life, from Wales to the New Forest to finally settling in Romsey seven years ago.

Pat is an artist. She mostly works in oils and acrylics, but also does some photography. She said that when she turned 75 (she’s now 78, and doesn’t look a day over 65) she decided she only wanted to paint what was important. So she devoted herself to a series of paintings of a Greek island off the north of Crete. The island is called Spinalonga.

Like most places in Greece, this one has a fascinating history. It became a Venetian colony in the 16th century “until the Ottoman Empire took possession of it in 1715 and created a Turkish village with around a thousand inhabitants.

After Crete gained its independence, the Turks were required to leave the Island of Crete. But the Turks living on Spinalonga were reluctant to leave. It is said that the Greek government turned the island into a leper colony to scare away the remaining Turks. So from 1903 until 1957 the island became a leper colony. Approximately 400 people inhabited the island over the half-century.” (http://www.completely-crete.com/spinalonga.html)

This was the place all Greek lepers were sent from 1903 until the cure for leprosy was found, the same year that I was born (I’ve always said it was a good year!). Since then it has been uninhabited, but it’s possible to visit the island and tour around it. She feels it is important as a marker not of people being cast out of society or used for political purposes, but rather of the strength of the spirit: that despite this terrible illness, the people who lived here really LIVED – they fell in love, they married, they had children and deep friendships. That’s what’s important.

I still haven’t quite figured out the derivation of the word ‘chopsy’, but based on Pat, I’m all for it.

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Edinburgh musings

I went up to Edinburgh for the weekend to interview a Tibetan Buddhist nun for my project. More about that another time – this is a travelogue today.

I had booked a room through airbnb, and I was staying in the apartment of a very nice computer geek about 15 minutes from the university. Just like when I was here in 1984, I walked everywhere. I’d forgotten how compact the city center is. The Royal Mile, with the Castle at one end, and Holyrood Palace at the other, is as dramatic as ever.I went to New College, my old stomping ground, and it hadn’t changed a bit, of course. I spent Friday preparing for my meeting with the nun, then Saturday at the National Gallery complex and Sunday tramping up and town the New Town (well, it was new in the time of George IV…). I went to the Botanical Gardens on Sunday and also up Calton Hill, from which you get a great view of Arthur’s Seat and the whole town spread out below you.

Edinburgh is full of follies. The High Street is dominated by the gigantic Burns monument, and Calton Hill boasts the National Monument – twelve giant pillars in search of a temple – and various other statues, cylinders, and domed thingies. Amazing feats of architecture everywhere you look, all in pinkish grey sandstone. And the wonderful smell is still there, of hops brewing. Mmmm. Is there any more cozy smell than that?

Miraculously, it didn’t rain the whole time I was there. My host, Guy, had not only a voluminous knowledge about whiskey, but also an equally voluminous knowledge of where to go to drink the stuff – just mention a neighborhood and he’d tell you the best whiskey collections. He was a perfect host! I managed to choke down a few whiskies while I was wandering around the town…Didn’t have any haggis though, not even the vegetarian kind. That is an actual living oxymoron!

Two big things were happening while I was there: “Britain’s Got Talent!” and the hullabaloo over Scottish independence. WHY they want to secede from the UK is a matter of heart over head, frankly, but good luck to them. And BGT is as insane and inane as the American version. Everybody wants to be a star.

The two highlights of my visit (apart from the drinking) were mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral and the exhibit in Saint Andrew’s Square. Edinburgh has a very large Polish population, since a lot of Displaced Persons ended up there after the war, and also a lot of Italians, who had either come as prisoners of war or DPs.  Mass in the Cathedral was beautiful and homey at the same time.

During the week I went to the Dominican Chaplaincy, where I’d lived while I was writing the thesis for my M. Th. I should explain – the chaplaincy is in George Square, kitty corner to the University Library. All the buildings in George Square have five stories. In the chaplaincy, the basement was our communal kitchen. There were – are – offices on the ground floor. The next floor up is the chapel. The upper floors are let out to students, with one bathroom on each floor. I lived on the top floor. It hadn’t changed a bit, though they are raising money to renovate the chapel. I think it’s just fine the way it is: it’s on the second floor, with large picture windows behind the altar looking out onto the Meadows, and a free-floating crucifix. They want to put the chapel in the basement to make it handicapped-accessible. Just as long as they keep it light.

There I had one of the more embarassing moments of my life: I had been asked to play the organ at a student’s wedding. Not anyone I knew, just someone who wanted to be married in the chapel. Since it was summer, there weren’t many students around. I explained that I didn’t really play well, but they were desperate, so…I practiced the hymns that they wanted, and I worked really hard on a fairly easy piece of Handel for a wedding march, and another one for the recessional.

I wish I could say that the embarassing part was that I hadn’t played well. It was much worse than that! I got into my fancy duds and played them in, fine. Played the hymns, fine. They then left, and I played them out with my nice little recessional. Fine – well, not TOO many wrong notes. All set. Phew – made it! Switched the organ off and went upstairs to my room, changed into my writing clothes and sat back down at my desk. A few minutes later I hear pounding up the stairs followed by pounding on my door. There stood Fr. Timothy – “where did you go? They’re waiting for you to play them out! We thought you’d run off to the bathroom!” They had gone into the vestry to sign the register – a detail of British weddings that I had completely blanked out on in my anxiety to get my playing over with. YIKES!!! I threw my dress back on and there was nothing for it but to sail back in and play the same piece again, very loud and twice as jolly, to the baffled looks of the wedding party.

I wonder why I was never asked again.

 

 

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Brrrrr

It’s been bitterly cold this week, but that hasn’t stopped me from walking. I’ve been out for an hour nearly every day. The light is amazing, and the clarity of the cold air is bracing.

Yesterday W and I met a friend of hers in the New Forest for a really long walk. The New Forest is only about 10 miles from here. It’s been called that for several hundred years, having been set up as a private park for William the Conqueror in 1079. It’s a lovely area, half forest, half moorland. There is a tradition here (also several hundred years old) that certain local people are allowed to let their animals graze freely. As a consequence, there are thousands of half-wild ponies, donkeys, deer and pigs that roam around. THEY have the right of way on all the roads, so one can’t drive very fast. They seem to derive a perverse pleasure in standing in the middle of the road thinking v-e-r-y slowly about whether or not to finish crossing the road. The ponies are quite skittish, and except for the newborns they usually don’t like being touched. Their tails are cut in one of four ways so that the owners can identify which quadrant of the forest they are from: either long, chopped in half, or with either the left or right side chopped in half. They are rounded up once a year, and rumor has it that their numbers are kept down by quite a number being sold for dog meat. Most of them are never trained or ridden. They’re just large lawn ornaments.

The donkeys are much more friendly, and I had a nice moment with one yesterday who really enjoyed being scratched behind the ears. We saw a HUGE herd of deer, at least 40 of them, but of course from about 100 yards away. They don’t go near the roads much, but at that point we were deep in the woods.  As long as we kept moving it wasn’t cold, but we were very glad to get home to a cup of tea and a crumpet.

The evening before, I had gone to a Buddhist meditation session held in the Daughters of Wisdom hall. It would have been great except that the monk in charge never stopped talking! The silence of the Forest offered much better scope for meditation.

W’s friend, Fiona, is in her 70s and is a great walker. She has (recently) done all sorts of walks that I’d like to do, like the West Highland Way and the Coast to Coast, a 200 mile walk which goes from St  Bee’s in Lancashire across the Yorkshire moors to Robin’s Hood Bay on the Yorkshire coast. She just got back from a week’s skiing in France. When I said I’d never been skiing, she asked me how old I was. “Hm, 54. That’s a good age to take up skiing!” I replied that I was pretty sure my family would disown me if I did any such thing.

All in all, a quiet week reading and walking. Tomorrow I move into my new home. I will  miss M and W, but I’ll only be around the corner.

 

 

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Back to the land

Yesterday, January 28th, was two months from my back surgery.

I celebrated this luniversary by taking a five-mile country walk, part of the Test Way that follows the River Test.

It took me just over two hours. About 85% of it was great, just me and the birds and trees. I only ran into two other people – they were walking from Romsey to Salisbury (about 27 miles). The other 15% was mud, so deep I kept losing my feet! We had had a hard frost, so I had high hopes that the mud from last week’s rains would be hardened up, but nope.

It’s not the walking that gets me now, it’s the stiles. I lost count after 15. The Brits have a wonderful system of public footpaths, literally thousands of miles of paths, so one is frequently walking across (or at the edges of) farmland. Yesterday I walked through two fields with cattle, one with sheep, and one with pigs (but those were separated from me by an electrified fence). The cattle usually won’t approach you unless you approach them. I think they were having fun watching me slide around in the mud they’d churned up near the stile. The Test Way is more or less well signposted, and I didn’t get lost yesterday. When you cross a stile to enter a field, you can usually make out the path worn by other walkers. We don’t have anything like this in New England – I don’t know about the rest of the States, but I doubt it. Here, one isn’t allowed to close off an established footpath, and upkeep is shared between the landowner and the government. In some of the muddier places there are plank footpaths over the worst bits. The very first forsythia are coming out, and the crab apple blossoms.

When I was little. I used to spend Saturdays at the stables with my horse, along with Susan and Sandy, two adorable blonde girls who had the knack of arriving home as pristine as they had started out. I, on the other hand, was always covered with mud, with straw in my hair. My poor mother used to wonder why I couldn’t stay as neat and clean as Susan and Sandy. Arggh. So when I would get home, she’d make me undress on the back porch and run naked up to the shower. Yesterday wasn’t quite so bad, but I was covered in mud halfway up my calves. I managed to get inside before stripping off.

I just can’t quite believe that two months ago I was under the knife, and now I am absolutely fighting fit. Thank God for Dr. Abbed and Yale! I’m pacing myself and not overdoing it. But WOW!

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Poetry for Pleasure

And last night W and I attended a poetry evening in King John’s House. This is a Saxon building about two blocks from here. In the original building, they have uncovered the original bone floor. These were made by taking the long bones of deer or cattle and pounding them into the dirt. They interlock to create a strong and obviously long-lasting foundation – this one has been going 1000 years.Unfortunately the heating seems to have come from the same era; everybody kept their coats on.

The evening was hosted by the Romsey and District Society, which runs many of the cultural events around here, including birdwatching walks, folk music evenings, and lectures. Next month’s event is a lecture on the Titanic, which, after all, departed from nearby Southampton.

Six intrepid readers (three women and three men) offered an inspiring array of poems. The first half were all on a theme; after intermission, they were ‘free choice’. The theme was ‘Coast to Coast’, and coasts from Ireland to Antartica were featured.

Strikingly, each of the six had chosen at least one poem from an American author. The very first poem was by Elizabeth Bishop, from my own home town of Worcester, Mass. There were also poems from (or about) Cape Cod, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Vermont (Robert Frost, of course), the U.S. Navy, and North Carolina. It made me feel very much at home.

One of the readers walked from Land’s End (in Cornwall) to John O’Groats last year – 950 miles! He said he had a lot of time to think about poetry on his walk.

Most people read their poems, but there was one very spirited recitation of Kipling’s “The Ladies” which was very well acted. Also a scene from A Winter’s Tale (Act III, Scene III, if you must know), which ends with the unique stage note: “Exit Antigonus, pursued by a bear.” The reader had brought props, but a bear was not among them.

The poets ranged from Shakespeare to the present, and all were presented and read with gusto and, in some cases, skill. Even the ones which were not performed with flair had a lovely local color. My favorite was one by W H Davies called “Sheep”, and here it is:
When I was once in Baltimore,
A man came up to me and cried,
‘Come, I have eighteen hundred sheep,
And we sail on Tuesday’s tide.
‘If you will sail with me, young man,
I’ll pay you fifty shillings down;
These eighteen hundred sheep I take
From Baltimore to Glasgow town.’
He paid me fifty shillings down,
I sailed with eighteen hundred sheep;
We soon had cleared the harbour’s mouth,
We soon were in the salt sea deep.
The first night we were out at sea,
Those sheep were quiet in their mind;
The second night they cried with fear –
They smelt no pastures in the wind.
They sniffed, poor things, for their green fields,
They cried so loud I could not sleep:
For fifty thousand shillings down
I would not sail again with sheep.
W. H. Davies
(Poem reproduced with kind permission of Kieron Griffin as

Trustee for the Mrs H Davies Will Trust)

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Ho Ho Ho PANTO!

A week of good hard reading was enlivened by two events (so far!).

First, Thursday evening: despite living for nearly 10 years in Britain, I had never attended one of the great British cultural institutions: the pantomime. Now of course this has nothing to do with Marcel Marceau, and I haven’t bothered to find out the connection to mime, but it IS an institution. I doubt that I’ll be able to do it justice.

All pantomimes (or pantos, as they are lovingly called) contain certain elements ,and consist of variations on themes. First, they always show up around Christmas and January, because they are a wonderful night out for the whole family. They are all based on fairy tales; the one we saw was based on Sleeping Beauty. Most of the jokes are as old as the hills, and as smutty or inuendo-filled as possible. These stories and jokes are then rewritten to highlight local and current affairs. So, for example, we had jokes about the Eurozone crisis and local football scandals. Then, there are certain characters who MUST be present. Audience participation is also a must. There is singing (and singalongs), dancing, pyrotechnics and lashings of dry ice, a horde of children from local ballet schools, and it’s all performed by a cast of desperately die-hard amateurs, in this case, the Romsey Operatic and Dramatic Society.

The fundamental premise of all pantos is twofold: good triumps over evil, and there is a lot of cross-dressing. In fact, the ratio of familiar to new is about 95 – 5. So we have:

— the Principal Boy, who is played by a woman in a tunic and fishnet tights, who does a lot of thigh-slapping and sword-brandishing. S/he falls in love with

— the Princess, who is usually not older than 20, and who has a sweet voice and portrays Innocence personified. These two always get married in the final scene, but not before there has been a lot of interference from

— the Evil Witch. Whenever she comes on stage, the audience has to boo and hiss as loudly as possible. Her comic foil is

— the Nurse or Dame, who is always played by a huge man, and who gets the worst jokes. S/he also has the best (and greatest number of) costumes.

— a Trio of Fairies, middle-aged women (or men) who serve as a sort of Greek chorus. Ours were called Fairy Puff, Fairy Fluff, and Fairy Nuff (get it?). That about tells you the level of sophisticated wit. Of course sophistication is totally not the point here. The point is feel-good, community fun, and a chance to ditch the famous British reserve for a few raucous moments.

In addition to communal oohing and aahing over the lovely princess, and booing and hissing the evil Witch, there are a number of ineluctable elements. At one point, no matter which fairy tale is being shredded, someone has to look for someone or something, and is helped by the audience shouting “He’s behind you!”. At another point, two characters have to get into a spat, one shouting “Oh no you can’t!” and the audience shouting back “Oh yes he can!” several times. Other set pieces include a cake-making scene, fireworks from the evil Witch, and a lot of jolly and not terribly tuneful ensemble pieces. And not to be forgotten: the PANTO SONG, which comes towards the end. The words are dropped down from above or brought onto the stage on a sheet or banner, and the audience is divided into two halves. A competition is then staged between the two halves, and as one half is singing, the other half is encouraged to show their appreciation of the singing half, with boos and shouts of “Rubbish! Give over! Get off!”

Nope, I was right: I haven’t done it justice. I said to M and W that I think it’s sort of like Marmite: it’s hard to love unless you’ve been brought up to it. Of course, I LOVE Marmite.

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Walking on air in the Water Meadows…and beyond

Sooner or later this euphoria will come to an end, I’m sure. But til then, as the McHorrible slogan goes, I’m lovin’ it.

Had a glorious walk today through the Water Meadows behind Winchester Cathedral with NS, J’s partner. (Side note: here,the term ‘partner’ doesn’t have a gender-preference connotation. Girlfriend or boyfriend shifts over to partner once one reaches a certain age – or the relationship does. After about a year.) So we walked by meandering streams which would have reminded me a lot of Oxford, except that NS went to Cambridge, so I’m not allowed to say the O word…

We ended up at St Cross, but we didn’t take our portion. St Cross is a 14th century almshouse – still in operation! – and anyone who comes here as a pilgrim is still eligible for a cup of beer and a piece of bread. This is largely symbolic now, of course. But the almshouse is full, and some of those guys may well have been here since the 14th century. More on St Cross here: stcrosshospital.co.uk. And here is a bit from the website:

‘England’s most perfect almshouse’
(Simon Jenkins: England’s Thousand Best Churches)

Welcome to the Hospital of St Cross & Almshouse of Noble Poverty

“Nestling in the water meadows alongside the River Itchen and in the shadow of St Catherine’s Hill lies the ancient Hospital of St Cross. Reknowned for the tranquillity of its setting and the beauty of its architecture, the Hospital is one of England’s oldest continuing almshouses.

These fine medieval buildings have provided food and shelter for hundreds of years. The principal activity of the Hospital continues to be the provision of individual, private apartments for a living community of about twenty-five elderly men. Known as ‘Brothers’ they wear black or red gowns and a trencher hat for daily church and other formal occasions.

At the heart of the Hospital’s inner quadrangle is a wonderful Norman church, its tower, chancel, transepts and nave soaring so high that it looks like a cathedral in miniature. Nearby stand a classic medieval hall and kitchen, as well as a Tudor cloister, with another ancient hall in the outer quad that serves as a tea room. The extensive gardens are immaculately maintained throughout the year.

To the surprise of many, and despite it being a place of privacy and even retreat, visitors are welcome to St Cross. The Church is perfect for traditional weddings: this extends beyond the parish to the wider community, for whom baptisms and memorial services may also be conducted. All depend upon the agreement of the Master of St Cross. Other areas may also be hired for private events.”

We declined our ‘portion’ in favor of a pub lunch at The Bell, a stone’s throw away, where I had a pint of the local draft cider. Then we staggered back. NS took this picture of me on our way back into town.

Last night we went to a concert by the Southampton Youth Orchestra, which J belonged to for years and years (he plays the trombone). He’s moved on to bigger and better groups, but it was a lot of fun to see the young people so intent on making music.

Today I walked even further – 45 minutes each way with W across the fields from Timsbury to Stockbridge. That is just about the limit for my legs just now. It was a beautiful day, more like late March than January. Tonight we are going to visit O and K. They are Israeli, and O is a political philosopher at the University of Southampton. He is helping me set up reading privileges for this semester.

Does anybody know if we have ever had almshouses in the States?

 

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Wow, sabbatical!

I haven’t posted for a couple of days because it didn’t seem to me that I was doing anything particularly interesting. But today I realized again what an amazing privilege I am in the middle of.

All I’ve done for the past two days is read. The luxury of time is so rare these days, the ability (even the duty!) to sit down and mull over a book for the whole day, with very little else in the way of responsibility. What a gift. And it’s just the beginning!

The book in question was Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude: A Study in the Necessity of Contingency . Like his mentor Alain Badiou, Meillassoux has the knack of rendering incredibly complex ideas into very clear language. I had meant to do a close reading, alternating bits of that with Psuedo-Dionysus, but I just devoured it in one day, even though I was taking notes and re-reading passages. It was the philosophical equivalent of a potboiler – I couldn’t wait to see what happened next! I even had the anxiety that I often feel when finishing a murder mystery (like my current fave Henning Mankell, who wrote the Wallander series) of worrying, as I get to the end, of how the heck the author is going to tie it all together in the last pages. I fret that not enough space has been left for a satisfying ending. Well, like Mankell, Meillassoux did not disappoint.

So today, after coffee with my friend P, I’ll spend the rest of the day with Pseudo-D. Maybe next time I’ll reveal why he is called that.

Of course I have walked every day for at least 45 minutes. Trying to work up to my old all-day habits, and I’m sure I’ll get there. The Test River, famous for its trout and salmon, winds in and through Romsey, and there is also an old canal with its accompanying tow-path, so there is plenty of walking and looking at mallards and swans. The weather has been unseasonably mild, low 40s, and not too much in the way of steady rain; more mist if anything. Here’s a nice quote for the day:

Lord save us all from a hope tree that has lost the faculty of putting out blossoms.”

I don’t know if Mark Twain really said it, but I’ll go with that!

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Phew! A hard day’s work

I did a really good, hard day’s work today, doing the final revisions on the hermit’s book. I will complete it tomorrow, and then I will have to battle with a much harder task: negotiating the niceties of correspondence in French, which is almost as intricately layered as Japanese, as far as I understand either. At any rate, it looks like I’ll be able to send the manuscript off to him on Thursday, and then I’ll just have to sit back and wait for his reaction. I’m excited to start the next phase of the project, which will be more reading than writing. I’m planning to read two books side-by-side: Meillassoux’s After Finitude and Pseudo-Dionysus’ Via Negativa. That should be interesting!

Of course I took time off for a brisk walk on the canal path, and also to have my hair cut.

But most of the day I was glued to the computer. I am relishing every minute of my time here. The salon is tucked away from the main road, about a six minute walk from M and W’s. On the way there I had an overpowering flashback of memory brought on by the wonderful smell of hops coming from the local brewery. It took me back to my first day in Edinburgh, back in 1984. I got off the train and was assaulted by the rich, sweet smell of hops. Mmmm. Nothing like it on a cold day. I don’t drink beer, but I love the smell of hops!

In the picture, I was reading to everyone at lunch a short article about the hermit, which you can find in English here: http://www.hermitary.com/articles/bourguet.htm. (I’m too impatient right now to figure out how to make the direct link). I can’t wait to meet him in person! We’ve decided to fly to Avignon and then rent a car. We can fly directly from Southampton Airport, which is a very short drive away. He lives in St Jean du Gard, about an hour northwest of Avignon. So I am sending him a couple of options of when I can visit; I’m hoping that May will work for him. By then I should be back to full-strength hiking – he lives in good hiking country!

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