Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Deer Park

Okay, for everyone who doesn't want to read my second-grade Hindi, here are the photos from my day at Deer Park.

Lazy Susan.

Well, I'm not making headway in the archives, but I'm going to try something new tomorrow and see if it works. I give it a 80/20 chance of failing, actually, but I'm out of ideas.

Anyway, the real point of this post is to open a poll. In other words, tell me what to do. The question:

Should I pay a lot of money for a driver to go to Chandigarh for a long weekend in January, or should I be economical and take the train?

The plus side of driving is that the driver would be mine for the entire weekend--wherever I wanted to go, including Pinjore, would be included in the driving price. Also, if I wanted to stop somewhere (Kurukshetra, Ambala, anywhere else?) on the way to Chandigarh, I could. Also, I could go through Sirhind for kicks on the way back. Also, I wouldn't have to carry any luggage around the train station or worry about it getting stolen. I probably would have a daypack, my camera bag, and maybe a courier bag to deal with, and I get tired of carrying that stuff around.

The plus side of taking the train is, of course, the price. Train fare isn't expensive, even for first class, and it probably takes as long (maybe longer) to drive to Chandigarh from Delhi as it does to take the train. The Shatabdi express is easy and comfortable, and I've done this same route before. So, my bank account is telling me to take the train.

The negative cost of the driver is only the money, that and having to share the road with all the other drivers for a day full of honking horns.

The negative of the train is that I would have to take an autorickshaw/taxi from the station into town, and then negotiate with autorickshaws all weekend while I'm out photographing architecture. And I'm not sure I would be able to arrange a lift to Pinjore once I'm in Chandigarh.

Money vs. convenience, that's what it boils down to. What should I do?

Saturday, December 27, 2008


I read an article in today's newspaper that said that visibility at the airport (new runway) was down to 900 meters due to fog. At the end of the article, the author conceded that this fog was actually smog. Anyway, that's about 400 meters more visibility than I proposed yesterday, but still, not an ideal amount of visibility for a truck driver, much less an airline pilot.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Om Shanti Om

I think we're going to have to consider this day a success, even if it did start with me refusing to get out of bed and face the world for a full two hours after my alarm went off.

I managed to get myself to the archives without too much hassle this morning. The first rickshaw I flagged down offered a reasonable price (ie, only Rs. 20 above the meter fare), so I took it and felt grateful after yesterday's transportation fiasco.

I'm not sure what I did wrong the first day at the NAI security booth. Other Americans walk right by me, sign the entrance book, and get security passes handed to them with no comment. I, on the other hand, have to wait while the security guard calls someone to ask if the person who has the letter from the U. S. Embassy is still allowed inside the building. So far, I am eventually allowed inside, so I'll just call that good enough for now. I'm not really using the archives at this point. Another historian recommended starting with the library collection, just to get used to the place, so that is what I am doing. I have a stack of half a dozen books that weren't available to me in the U.S., and although it feels like a slight waste of time (why read secondary sources when you are sitting just feet away from primary sources?), it's all I can really handle right now. I know how to check out a book, so that is what I am going to do for the next few days.

So, although the dust irritates my throat, and there is one huge--and hugely persistent--fly that annoys me, I can call that part of my day a success because at least my computer wasn't plugged into the wall during the power loss/surge on, and the battery held out in my headphones so I could listen to music while I scoured the bibliographies of the books in front of me.

Amazingly, the first rickshaw I flagged down after I left the archives agreed to take me to Green Park (sometimes they refuse to drive south of the tourist area) and offered me exactly the meter price to take me there. I was so stunned I almost forgot to get inside the rickshaw. So, that was also one success today.

I discovered that there is a Costa Coffee in the Main Market of Green Park. This makes me happy for several reasons:

  1. Since they are ubiquitous in London, they look familiar and welcoming. The coffee shop closest to my house in Southgate was a Costa, so I spent many evenings there drinking hot chocolate and reading while watching the traffic pass by on the high street.
  2. It reminds me home, because Catherine and I stopped in at a Costa so I could introduce her to Hot Chocolate with Marshmallow the night we went to Covent Garden for Christmas shopping.
  3. It is quiet. Although my favorite coffee drink, the Cold Sparkle, can be found at CCD, neither CCD nor Barista are good for studying. The tables at CCD are horrible, and they are always playing Shania Twain (I kid you not, this is my third visit to India, and all three times--Shania Twain on repeat). Big tables at Costa, and a quiet atmosphere.
  4. The menu is limited, so I have to order a cappuccino. Drinking a cappuccino out of a mug with sugar stuck to the rim always reminds me of my friend, Dana, because I had to take up drinking coffee when we started meeting to discuss books and things. The coffee shops on the UIUC campus don't carry Diet Coke, and they also don't know how to make decent Italian sodas or iced mochas, so I had to switch to hot coffee.
So, these are all good things to experience in a day. I have a feeling the Costa in India will be getting a larger percentage of my monthly income than did the Costas in London.

After doing my Urdu homework at the coffee shop, I walked for an hour in the park next to our house. It is a very small park, but it is closely watched by our watchman, so I can feel secure walking there even after dark. Catherine gave me a Zune for Christmas, so I can download podcasts and listen to them while I am zipping around in little circles. The pollution is so horrible you can hardly see across the park,* but I did see Jupiter while I was walking. I listened to the December episodes of News from Lake Wobegon, and started crying twice, once during "Gesu Bambino" and once during "Silent Night." That doesn't feel like much of a victory, but I've been wanting to cry for days and have been forcing myself not to do so. Music is a good excuse to let go.

Finally, I also watched "Deewangi Deewangi" from Om Shanti Om twice while I was sitting in Costa. I almost didn't buy this DVD because judging from Beth's two reviews, I figured I wouldn't like it. I have no love for movies that are about the movie industry (ask Catherine how many times she's heard me complain about The Player). And, sure enough, I liked the second half of the movie better than the first--I'm probably the only person in the world who will say that. Don't get me wrong, I like some inside movie jokes. I am always up for a good Gabbar Singh reference, for instance.** But that's about where I draw the line--one inside joke, fine. Forty two hundred, well, that's not a movie I want to see.

However, I really like "Deewangi Deewangi," probably because of all the beautiful women. I have to say, I know she gets help from her stylist and whatever, but Rani Mukherji must be the most beautiful woman in the world. Kajol comes in a close second, or maybe Priyanka Chopra comes in second. All quite beautiful. There are many loveable things about this picturization, but the thing I liked the most about it, and the movie in general is that THERE ARE NO WHITE PEOPLE DANCING BADLY IN THE BACKGROUND. Thank you, Farah. If I want to see white people dancing badly, I can just look in the mirror while I'm cleaning house. Also, the other thing that I liked about this is that it just shows that SAK isn't that...hm...bright. Don't you think he would know by now that dancing next to SRK is a bad idea? It just makes him look all loose and sloppy. OTOH, although the disco pain song demonstrates that SRK is not scrawny, he sure looks like he is when compared to SAK, Salmaan and Mr. Munna Bhai, MBBS.

Also, from Beth's description, I expected Rekha to look truly frightful, but she just looked normal to me. A bit of dramatic makeup, but actually more light-hearted than she is often depicted.

Okay, that's enough. I think I should stop writing and go to bed before something goes wrong and makes this into a bad day instead of a good one. I haven't decided how I'm going to spend the day tomorrow, but hopefully somewhere with clean air and few people. If only.

*I exaggerate not on the pollution. It was better for a day or two, but now has worsened. It is so bad that when I was standing on Jan Path, half way between Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate, I could just make out India Gate, and only see a shadow of Rashtrapati Bhavan. They are about 1/4 mile apart.

**Thinking about this, the Gabbar Singh scence was the best part of Amu. Also, the Gabbar Singh joke was the only funny thing about Dostana.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


Some day all of this will make for a very funny story, much like the glowing blue cones up my nose in the Soviet Union. But right now, I feel exactly like I did when I pulled my Leningrad roommate, Kristine, out of class so she could sit with me while I cried about the experience of having less-than-clean foreign objects shoved up my nostrils.

First, let me say that the place I am staying is quite nice, and the owners have been very kind to me. Last night, Vandanaji made me a special waffle dinner for Christmas Eve, and Kush, the son, brought me a bowl of incredibly good popcorn. They also gave me a present, which I haven't opened yet, but from the familar size and shape, I'd say was a Cadbury bar of some variety. So, I recognize that everything is not completely horrible, and life could be much worse. In fact, right now, I'm sitting on the balcony outside my room, alternately watching Om Shanti Om and the cricket match going on in the park across the street. That's not a bad way to spend an afternoon in Delhi, that's for sure. I could be sleeping in the A.I.I.M.S. park with those whacked out stainless steel alien sculptures, but I'm in a comfortable chair enjoying the winter sun, instead.

Still, I wonder--if I stay here for nine months, how bitter will I be in the end? Will I hate the choices that I've made so much that I'll refuse to finish my dissertation? Or, if I finish it, will I refuse to do any work related to India or even architecture? This is a real possibility I think.

My day got off to an awkward and annoying start. I overslept, which seems to be happening every day to me. I just can't get myself out of bed, I don't want to do anything at all but sleep. Anyway, I got out of bed late, so I was still in my room when the maid came by to clean. While she was cleaning, she flat out asked me for baksheesh (money/bribe/"tip"). And I was thinking, you've got to be kidding me. I'm paying more than enough for this place to cover the cost of cleaning my floor. If you don't want to clean it, fine, but our first conversation shouldn't open with the word "baksheesh". At least say hello first. Anyway, I pretended I didn't speak Hindi, and left as quickly as I could, because honestly, it really isn't my place to be giving her money.

Yesterday, I thought I had ascertained that the NAI would be open today. It turns out that, yes, the NAI is open, but not the reading room or library. I should have been more specific with my question, I guess. So, I arrived for work today, only to find out the security hut closed and locked, a clear signal I wasn't going to get anything done today. So, fine, that's 60 rupees in rickshaw fare wasted, but I could find something else to do with my time. For instance, I could just go to a coffee shop in CP and work on my citations or something. I flagged down an autorickshaw and headed toward CP.

The rickshawalla approached CP such that we arrived right at one of the gates for the Palika Underground Bazaar. Well, it's a holiday, I thought, so why not pick up a DVD, sit in the coffee shop and watch it? But when I got out of the rickshaw, those complete jerkface scam artists surrounded me, trying to polish my shoes. I warded them off, but got stuck near the rickshaw too long because the rickshaw wallah had no change. No one around would give him change, so I did the nice thing: I walked to a vendor, bought a bottle of water, got change for the rickshaw wallah, gave him the bottle of water to boot, and sent him on his way. This stupidity kept me in the area just long enough for the shoe-shine jerks to step close again, throw wet monkey dung on my sandals and then tell me, "Oh, madam, your shoes are dirty, I can polish them!"

This made me furious, because for one, it was A LOT of dung, and they splattered it on my jeans which had just come back from the laundry. I told them to fuck off, grabbed a rag from one of them, and started wiping off my foot. You can imagine how the guy felt about me taking the rag out of his hand, but I figure, hey, you throw monkey dung on my sandals, you face my anger. I got off as much as I could, threw his rag on the ground, and walked away.

I was completely pissed--which means I was trying not to cry, because I cry when I get angry--but I didn't want them to think they had won (although they obviously had), so I went into Palika Market and bought a DVD with monkey dung residue on my foot. And then I went into a coffee shop, ordered coffee and a glass of water (and it took me three attempts to get the water), and used the water to rinse my foot. Still, there is no way to clean that stuff off without scrubbing, so I decided that my backup plan of watching a DVD and drinking coffee just wasn't going to happen.

Have I mentioned that I hate CP? No, I do NOT want to buy your stupid junk, so quit jumping in front of me and demanding that I look. I have eyes, and I have free will--if I want to look at your crap, I will. Otherwise, leave me alone. Seriously. Leave me alone.

So, I got a rickshaw back to SJE, and about half way here, the driver starts giving me the "I know a very good bazaar, we stop for only 5 minutes, then I take you home." At this point, I was feeling like I could punch him in the back of the head, but I took the peaceful route and just kept refusing. However, when you are in a moving vehicle, what are you going to do when the driver turns off the route? I thought about jumping out, but then what? Negotiating with my fourth rickshaw wallah of the day? So, in the end, we ended up at the bazaar. At first I refused to go in, but after sitting there in the rickshaw for awhile, it became clear that if I didn't go in, I was never getting home. I also thought, well, I could wait for another rickshaw here, but then there would be this long confrontation about how I hadn't paid him for the distance driven, etc. Fuck all that noise.

Into the bazaar, more people telling me to "Just look, Madam!" and they are all lucky I had no weapons to hand. I hovered for approximately three minutes, walked back out and demanded to be taken home. Luckily, the driver took me home this time, I don't know what I would have done had he ignored my wishes.

So, a lot of scrubbing of jeans, feet, sandals and hands with Dettol soap. Sometimes I feel like Dettol is my only friend here, I spend so much quality time with it.

Anyway, Merry Christmas. The weather's nice, the cricket game is interesting, the movie is a reasonable time pass, but that's really not enough pleasantness to erase the smell of monkey dung from my memory banks.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Kya bat hai?

I'm trying to tell myself that this frustration is normal. This was originally a very long blog post about all the walls I hit today, but I've deleted the details in the interest of not making myself look like a crying, whiny baby. Let's just leave it there.

One of my former Hindi professors from Jaipur is doing his Ph.D. at JNU (which, btw, has the most beautiful campus in the world). We've arranged for him to give me Urdu lessons, something I hope will help me with both my Hindi and my Persian. Anyway, he's coming over this evening, we'll have some chai-wai, he'll teach me some alefs, and hopefully I'll feel better afterward.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Has it been nine months yet?

Because I really want to go home.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just send me a Missed Call.

I've had this cell phone for four days only, and already it is dictating the rhythms of quotidian life here. It wakes me up in the middle of the night, it wakes me up in the morning (btw, how do you politely tell someone who is trying to help you get things done that you need more uninterrupted sleep?). Calls, missed calls, text messages--I feel as if my phone is glued to my hand already, and without it, I am no one.

This is somewhat true here, of course. Pradeepji told me that even someone who only makes Rs. 2000/month will invest in a b/w cell phone, say for maybe Rs. 500. They will never recharge it (or "top it up" for those of you from the UK), or use it to make outgoing calls, because that costs money. Incoming calls are free, however. As long as they have the capacity to receive incoming calls, they have an identity and a location.

Some Americans use their phones the same way here in India--never paying to make outgoing calls. Instead, they call and hang up as quickly as possible, creating a "Missed Call" message at the other end of the line. That way, the other person has to go to the expense of making the call back. I'm not quite sure why Americans suddenly become reluctant to pay for phone calls here, but it seems to be a common behavior. Common enough that I can't get upset about it, anyway. Rest assured, if you are my friend, and you send me a missed call, I will always call you back. I love you THAT much. I will gladly pay Rs. 10 to talk to you for ten minutes.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

दिल्ली में हूँ

थोड़ा सा अजीब है कि मैं दिल्ली में हूँ, न? मतलब, मुझे लगता है कि कभी नहीं दूसरे देश में रहती थीं। हाँ, साफ है कि अमरीका से हूँ, लेकिन सब कुछ साधारण है। सब्जी बेचने वाले आदमी हर सुबह चिचियानों से मुझे उठाते हैं। कबूतर जो मेरे कमरे से बाहर ऐ.सी. के ऊपर रहते हैं, वे सुबह और शाम को उच्च स्वर करते हैं। कुत्ते गलियों में सोते हैं। एक बात ही नयी है--मौसम अच्छा है। बहुत लोग स्वेटर पहनते, लंबे आस्तीनों से हैं। तो, हाँ, ऐसा मौसम बहुत पसंद है! प्रदूषण यहाँ खराब है, और स्वासथ्य और श्वसन तंत्र पर चिंता हूँ। इस के अलावा, सब ठीक है।

आज का कार्यक्रम ऐसा था--डीर पार्क गयी। यही बहुत हरिण रहते हैं। कई चिड़ियाँ भी हैं। मैंने मोरों, हंसों, तोतों, वगैरह देखा। पार्क में इमारतें लोदी वंश (1451-1526) से भी हैं। काली गुमती, बाग-ई-अलम गुमबाद (मस्जिद के पास), और तैफैवाला (Tefewala) गुमबाद देखा। सबसे अच्छा इस पार्क में एकान्तता थी। मतलब किसने नहीं मुझ से बात करना कोशिश किया!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Firefox *$&*!!!!!!

I updated Firefox the other day, and it completely broke my machine. Not only can I not access the web with Firefox, I can't use Opera, either. And I couldn't even get Chrome to install as a third alternative. IE still works, but as we know, IE is hosed. WTF? It can't be my firewall, because even when it is completely disabled, Firefox and Opera don't work. Everything worked perfectly fine before this stupid update, I've followed all the suggested fixes, uninstalled/reinstall Firefox, uninstalled/reinstalled Opera, turned off and on all my security settings in various configurations, and nothing works. Do you know how hard it is going to be to get someone to fix this in Delhi? Goddamn you, Firefox.


I now own four cell phones. A surplus of riches, I'm sure. I had good reasons for buying them all, I swear. The first is, of course, my US cell phone (an old phone, replacing the one I stupidly ruined last summer). That's my only phone for use in Illinois, and with the commute of the last three years, and the hockey travel before that, it can only be considered essential. The second is the phone I bought in India in 2006. Not absolutely essential, but making phone calls while standing along side the road got old really quickly. The unreliability of public ISD service was making me break out in hives, so that phone felt pretty essential, too. Oh, and I had to buy the new phone, because the US phone wouldn't work. Third, the phone I just bought in London. My US phone was locked, and the India phone needed an adapter, both of which would have required I find a new store. The fees for unlocking and cost of an adapter were equal to the price of a new handset, so I just got the handset and thought, well, now I'll have yet another backup the next time I carefully place my phone in a pool of water.

That brings me to the fourth phone. I won't tell the whole story of me visiting FIVE different mobile phone stores yesterday, but let's just say that arranging for a cell phone provider in India can be a super headache. I didn't need a new handset, only a SIM card--both my first India phone and the London phone will work here--but in the end, my need to call my parents was greater than my need to get exactly what I wanted. India can be a very complicated place, and it tends to make you go for the compromise more often than you would otherwise. [Sidenote: Mark, you were in the Airtel store, dressed in all white. You made your own verification call, during which you told your friends that Airtel wanted to "verify if you were human"--thanks, you made me laugh. Also, your Hindi is brilliant.]

My journey through five stores probably wouldn't have been so exhausting if I hadn't stood in line at the FRRO (office for registering foreign visitors, necessary if you are going to stay longer than six months in India) for approximately 4.5 hours beforehand. Well, I stood in line for two hours to get the green form, on which I wrote my name, address, passport and visa numbers, and incoming flight information. This might look exactly like the information one has to write on the landing card before going through immigration and customs at the airport. Well, it is. I'm not sure why they need it a second time. Filling out the green form took approx. 2 minutes, then I had to leave the office, go outside, down the street, and get two copies made of the green form. Then I had to paste passport photographs on these three forms and in the visitor's booklet, then get back in line. That all took about 15 minutes. Then I stood line to get my forms stamped. After approx. 1 hour, the entire office went to lunch, leaving all in the office. After lunch, which took approx. 45 minutes, I waited approx. 20 minutes. My forms were stamped, and then I went to In Charge, where it took approx. 15 seconds to deposit my forms in a wire basket.

So, you can see that was approximately 4.5 hours well spent.

Actually, my friend Rebecca did her registration today, and she showed up at 8 a.m., an hour before the office officially opens. She was 3rd in the queue, and was done by 10 a.m. So, there you go.

I've done all my tasks. I am waiting now for my letter from the U.S. Embassy, necessary for access to the National Archives. All I can do is wait now, the request has been made. Claire says that I can keep trying to be the first person ever to get into the archives within two weeks of her or his arrival date, but I will just end up exhausted and frustrated. After yesterday, I suspect she's right. I'm going to take this time to try and write up some of my London research more formally, even though I'm not quite sure where it's all headed yet.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spicy Chaat.

Today, waiting out a traffic jam, I found myself reading a book in the back of my autorickshaw. I don't think that means I'm fully acclimated to Delhi and therefore oblivious to my surroundings, but I'm sure it means something. Mostly it means I need to practice my Hindi, because I was reading the first chapter of the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, and I still stumbled across many unknown vocabulary words.

I had to take several deep breaths today (thanks for the advice, Claire) and tell myself everything was OK, really, it was. Just because I was in the archive working two days after my arrival in London doesn't mean the same thing will or has to happen here. If I'm in the archive by next week, that will mean I'm very lucky. I know this is the way it works--I do have to get fifteen thousand pieces of paper signed by fifteen thousand different people, all of whom sit at desks next to each other, but for some reason can only communicate through signed pieces of paper. In nine months, I will probably have accomplished about as much as I accomplished in London in three months. Now, I just have to convince my dissertation committee of this basic truth. I hope they understand I'm NOT MAKING THIS UP.

This evening, my "facilitator" is coming over to the guest house to help me fill out foreign visitor registration forms. I hope this goes okay, I'm not sure my hosts think my registration with FRO is necessary, but it is. It's particularly important that I do everything by the book now, because I will need to extend my visa before I leave, and I don't want to have any mistakes in my paper work before that time. If all goes well tonight, the facilitator will go with me and another American (coincidentally, a former classmate from my AIIS Jaipur program) to the FRO so we can register our presence as foreigners in India. I was advised today to take a book because although it is a matter only 3-4 signatures, it takes all day. This will be particuarly true now, because of Mumbai.

Speaking of Mumbai. Although I am complete agreement with Arundhati Roy when she writes that Mumbai is not "India's 9/11," still, the city's name is said the same way. You can articulate a lot by slightly shrugging your shoulder and saying, "Well, you know. 9/11." The same communicative potential is here, only you say, "After Mumbai..." and wobble your head slightly more slowly than you would normally. Anyway, after Mumbai, I definitely won't be able to sweet talk my way into a cell phone without a certificate of residency.
Am I worried about being blown up? Well, yes, more than I am worried about being shot, unless Chachaji down the street drops that rifle when he falls asleep in the shade and accidentally wounds someone. In two days, I have stepped into the space hit by four of the bomb blasts in September 2008--I walked right through the two spots in GK1 on Sunday, and today, along with hundreds of other people, I crossed paths with two bomb sites in CP. This is the type of assault that worries me. This is much like Jaipur blasts, all seven of which occured in places I had stood not just once, but many times. So, yes, I do worry, not about those places, but where the new places will be, since nowhere seems to be hit twice (knock on wood? not sure).

I read an article today that said because of Mumbai (slow head wobble), American and European tourist numbers are down by 50%. I can't really verify that, but I can say that I only saw 5-6 white people at CP today. This is a place that should be swarming with foreign tourists, so I suspect the news report is right.

Other than this, I am settling in as well as can be expected. I've developed a sore throat and nasal drip from the INCREDIBLE pollution levels (I'll let you do your own Google search for details, but here's a summary) in just two days, and am thinkingly longingly of the relatively clean air of Jaipur. Delhi is about >this much< more intense than Jaipur, and I hope Catherine doesn't freak out when she visits. But hopefully she will find it all amusing. I was riding to GK1 yesterday, thinking, "Oh, Delhi, you're such a noisy city," when spontaneously, all horns around me sounded off just in case someone didn't realize it was time to move forward, and I had to laugh--how can you not be charmed by such a pointless gesture? Make as much noise as you can, especially when you can't even see whether the light has turned green or not, because why not? You have a horn, after all. Use it.

And now, I have two hours to work before my facilitator arrives. Well, work, and eat the spicy chaat my host, Vandanaji, handed me a few minutes ago. Today's snack is puffed rice sprinkled with green chili--hot, but crunchy.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Trying to spend my last weekend in London outside, enjoying a last bit of "public privacy" before heading to Dehli next week. Passed the day at the zoo. Winter is always a nice time to visit because the animals aren't collapsed of heat exhaustion, and crowds are non-existent. I hurt my knee in Paris, I think a bit of an after-injury stemming from the fall I took a couple of months ago, so walking all day on hard surfaces was probably not the smartest thing, but stil and all, it was nice to be outside in the cold air. I already miss winter. Catherine and I had a bit of Christmas--shopping and busker-watching at Covent Garden, a nice dinner at Mahoe--but I think I will miss the run up to the holidays along with the winter weather. I don't take my winter holidays as seriously as the British (you should have seen the traffic jams caused by turning Oxford Street into a pedestrian-only shopping area today), but still, it's always something that I've done, so I suppose I will miss not doing it for the first time in forty plus years.

Perhaps later I will go back and add a post or two about Paris, but for now, I think I'm just going to leave that part blank. A few of the tourism highlights are covered in the photostream, anyway, and I don't suppose adding photos of my research would be very exciting.

Also, proving that what I said about myself earlier is true, I am now reading Hugo's Hunchback of Notre-Dame.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I had forgotten about the trap door,
your fingers on the spring,
waiting for the moment
of escape.

--fragments, 2009

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fa fa.

The big insight gained so far from life in Paris is this: being butch means you're the one who has to do all the French-language communication tasks. You're the one who has to buy the metro tickets, order the meals, buy the bread, pick up the room key from the reception desk, give directions to lost people on the street, and tell people queuing behind you that "the cashier said that this line is closing after she rings up our groceries." Good luck with that.

The photo stream expands.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

There's a word for people like me.

I do everything backwards. I read Les Miserables in Russia, and I'm reading Crime and Punishment in Paris. I never thought I'd say this, but twenty years later, I kind of wish I had looked into fictional Raskolnikov's fictional cupboard when I had the chance...

I know, you're all wondering, what spectacular things has Susan been doing in Paris? Is she hanging out on the Left Bank, smoking cigarettes without filters and drinking les cafés crèmes? Is she spending her nights at the Lido, hoping to spot the Australian's girlfriend on stage? Is she recreating dance scenes from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom in front of the Louvre?

Sadly, I'm doing none of the above. Instead, I've been hunched over manuscripts in the Archives des Jésuites in Vanves. Above is a representative--and most important--folio from the Fonds Brotier. You can expect to see that text cited in my dissertation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

That's right.

This is why the link to Michael McAllister's blog has been hanging out on my links page for the past four years.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sunday, November 16, 2008


"This man was thin. He was thin in a way that was immediately familiar. Hollowing from the inside out. His skin reddened, and his brown eyes looked over me as if lightning might fall on me out of that clear afternoon sky. And I knew then, as I paid twenty dollars for the boots, that they'd been recently emptied. That he was watching me walk off in the shoes of the new dead. And that all of this had been happening for some time now."--Alex Chee, in After Peter

Saturday, November 15, 2008

And in real news....

I found this incredibly stressful to watch, but interesting to watch against the edited version. I've been thinking a lot about Harvey Milk lately, and what kind of advice he would offer, but I've been coming up pretty much blank.

Think how fucking scary Stonewall must have been.


I can't tell if it's sign that I'm living my life right, or that I'm living my life wrong, but this afternoon, in order to listen to an announcement on the train, I had to lift my eyes from a page of Russian text* and turn down my Hindi music** so I could focus on the spoken French.

I've been thinking about foreign languages a lot lately, partly because London, as a post-imperialist city, is packed full of people speaking everything but English. In fact, I have not heard so much Russian spoken around me since I was last in Moscow. In Haringey, I hear a lot of Panjabi, Hindi, Urdu, etc. The other day, I was in an off-license buying chocolate, and a guy came in to buy something out of the cooler section. The cashier kept yelling at him, but clearly the customer had no idea what was being said. The customer eventually just shrugged and walked back out without buying anything. When I got up to the counter, the cashier complained to me that he didn't know why the guy didn't understand, since he was yelling, "Milk!" in Gujarati. Is everyone in London expected to speak Gujarati? This morning, when I got on the tube, there was a Turkish newspaper abandoned on the seat across from me. Four stops later, a man got on, sat down, turned on his i-pod, picked up the paper, and started reading it, just as if he'd expected to find a Turkish newspaper waiting for his arrival.

So, there's that, but mostly I've been thinking about the relationship between foreign languages and research--shouldn't there be a limit to how many languages a person should have to know to do dissertation research? Right now my MS Word spell check is set up for English (United States), English (United Kingdom), French (Paris), Persian, German (Germany), Portuguese (Portugal), Hindi (India), and Russian (Russia). Also Arabic (Algeria), but that's just for a few astronomy words, not something I've really used in the past two months. The rest of it, though, is completely real--all languages in which I've read or transcribed manuscripts over the past eight weeks. It's starting to feel like a bit much--I know I'm supposed to be all postcolonial and into the local and everything, but I'm starting to wonder why I don't rely on the Persian/French/German manuscripts that have already been translated to English, instead of finding new manuscripts, or double-checking old translations? I just read a perfectly decent book that relied heavily on the English versions of Tavernier and Bernier, for instance--was there any need for me to read it in French?

Probably not. When I was doing post-bacc. work in Art History, one of the assignments in the Modern-Contemporary Survey Course was an annotated bibliograpy. Each student was assigned a female artist whose work was exhibited in the Paris Salon (1907? 1917? can't remember), and we had to produce all the sources we could think of to research that artist's biography. The artist didn't have to actually show up in any of the sources; rather, the sources just had to be real possibilities for information (checking the Thieme-Becker for an artist showing at the Paris Salon of 1910-ish would have been a good idea, for instance, even if the artist didn't actually appear in it). Anyway, I put down the standard list of sources, but I also put down a bunch of Russian bio catalogues, because they were from the right time period, and they included information on the Salon exhibitions. Instead of giving my paper back in class, the professor asked me to come to his office to retrieve my assignment. Why? He wanted to ask me why I put down all those Russian sources in my bibliography. I said they were relevant, and in fact, my artist appeared in one of them. His response? "I don't think you put them there because they're relevant, I think you put them there to show off." No one else in the class had used any foreign language resources (except the Thieme-Becker and the Benezit, obviously), so of course, I was showing off.

Well, okay, that's a very wordy and round about way to say that it feels like I really am just showing off at this point. Who the hell cares if I'm translating the road book from the Chahar Gulshan myself? I mean, really? Does it really matter if I just use Tod's history of Rajastan for clan lineages instead of struggling through the #*^&&!!!! Jaipuri myself? I think no one would notice or care if I used the Ball or Phillips translation of Tavernier, instead of citing the original French. Ditto for Tieffenthaler (although in that case...hm. The original was in German, and the translation I'm using is in French, so...not English). I would be getting a lot more work done if I just stuck to the English archive, that's for sure. I'm not quite sure what I'm up to here, but I'm definitely tired of thinking in foreign languages--not a good sign when I'm a) on day 1 of a 14 day stay in Paris; and b) looking ahead to a 9-month stay in India.

Revisiting my opening statement, I think it might be the second choice--if the nightmares you've been having about being trapped outside during aerial bombing attacks on London are in multiple languages, that's probably a sign you're doing something wrong.

*I'm reading Pikovaya Dama again because a note in the edition of Crime and Punishment that I've been reading this week [in English!] says it was a direct inspiration for Dostoevsky's story

**I seriously need to expand my collection of Bollywood music, the last new soundtrack I purchased was Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Off to the Continent.

Okay, off to Paris. The daily commute is starting to wear me down, anyway, so it's probably good that I am moving on to an archive that has a total travel time of "0 minutes" from my home, according to Mapquest France. As I was telling a friend last night, I'd be a whole lot more excited about this trip if I could conduct all of my business via the internet--the archivist could sit at one end of the room, I could sit at the other, and we could exchange e-mails. I read French really well, write it passably well, but speak it offensively poorly. I mean, I horrify myself when I speak French, imagine how the archivist is going to feel when I slaughter his native tongue.

As to other details of travel, I have quite fortunately stumbled on a decent place to stay in in Delhi, in Safdarjung Enclave. That's a bit farther to the west than I'd hoped (I was looking at Defence Colony and South Extension), but the place promises to offer "a relaxed stay even for single ladies." How could I not go for that? It looks great, and it's a relief to have something in place for my arrival, instead of having to look around after I get there.

As to other details of life, Catherine is arriving in Paris on Thursday morning. This is the second longest period we've been apart, by one day (ten weeks in India last year, we'll be meeting next week after 9 weeks, 6 days). If all goes according to plan, 10-12 weeks later, we should be meeting in Delhi. Then...six long months, unless I can come up with some bright funding scheme between now and then. Must stay in denial about that.

I'm sure I'll be adding to the flickr photostream over the next weeks, even nothing gets posted here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I hope he's right...

...about item no. 12, 'cause no. 12 is about all I've got right now.

Dogpoet: Twenty Reasons to Join the Impact.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Reassurance at Speaker's Corner.

Today it was windy and stormy, with only infrequent sun showers, so I thought I would take the camera out and see what it could do in such conditions. I feel obligated to learn how to use it, since it's a work tool, paid for by one of my fellowships. I really need to have a firm grasp on all of its bits and pieces by the time I get to India. The typical cycle goes something like this: I study the manual, pack up the camera, go out and start taking pictures, and realize either a) I can't remember what I read in the manual; or b) I read the wrong part of the manual. So, I mess around, and sometimes hit on the right thing to do, but mostly not. Anyway, today I tried to take some black-and-white photos, figure out the camera's (as opposed to the lens') zoom functions, and also mess with some RGB settings/filters. Mixed results of these attempts can be viewed in the Kensington Gardens set on my Flickr page.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

I think there's a movie named after what I'm about to do...

Well....maybe we should try being honest with ourselves.

There's a lot of anger directed toward the state of California right now (most of it coming from me, I admit), but the truth is, the people of the Golden State didn't do anything different from the rest of us who cast our votes for Barack Obama. Sure, he said he didn't think a constitutional amendment was "necessary" to support his position, but he made it quite clear that as a Christian, he believes that marriage could only exist between a man and a woman. He proposed glb (and probably some t) should get a separate set of laws, instead of giving us access to those that govern his marriage to his wife and his relationship with his children.

There were a lot of reasons--probably most of them good--to vote for Obama despite his denial of equal rights to members of the glbt community. Catherine suggested I think of the polar bears his energy plan might save, for instance (although there's an argument to be made that if we kept Palin tied up with business in Washington, D.C., she'd be too busy to go out and shoot more wolves from helicopters). So, yes, it's pretty easy to ignore, or at least to rationalize, the negatives of voting for Obama. The U.S. was a sinking ship, and a few people had to be thrown overboard to save it. Fine, I get that. But still and all...calling Californians bigots for doing exactly what we just did...that's a bit much. There really is some truth to that old saying about pointing fingers: you can point a finger at California, but don't forget there are three pointing back at you (unless you're that kid I grew up with who accidentally cut his finger off when we were still in grade school, he's only pointing two fingers at himself). Maybe we like our reasons for throwing our support behind someone who doesn't believe in equal marriage rights better than some of the reasons put forward by the pro Prop 8 campaign, but really....same difference.

I've got a lot of fury spilling out of me right now. Some of it is directed toward...well...the targets you'd expect, and some of it is directed toward targets that probably would surprise you. A lot of my anger is directed at myself, for once again voting for someone I don't believe in, a candidate obviously willing to extend fair treatment to everyone but me. Mixed in with that is anger at myself for being too selfish to take the hit--shouldn't I be noble enough to step off the boat before I'm thrown off, so others can survive, and even improve their position? Turns out I'm not that generous--who knew? I want to be one of those people jumping up and down with joy, I want to be happy for all those people for whom this was a real victory. But I'm not, I'm not even close. I can be happy about not having a McCain/Palin administration, but the rest....I don't think I'm ever going to be able to forget what it felt like to watch the President-Elect celebrating with his wife and family in front of all those cheering people on election night, effortlessly enjoying his position of heterosexual privilege, no matter how much good comes out of this administration in the next four years.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Yes, that's me.

If there's one thing this blog proves, it's that I'm capable of achieving stunningly high levels of snarkiness. I've got years of surly snark built up in those archives, folks. Enter at your own risk.

Poor Customer Service.

You know what? Classmates.com really sucks. Any service that relies on auto-renewal, without informing its customers that the renewal date is approaching, is sketchy. It's making money because customers are absent-minded (me) or busy (me again), not because customers are satisfied and sign up for another year by choice. Yeah, well, maybe you can get my money once because I didn't keep on top of things, but you'll never get it again.

ETA: Aha--someone else has had it with classmates.com. Imagine how angry he would be if that $15 subscription turned into a $40 subscription over night.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Regent's Canal.

So, I had a totally good time today at the London Canal Museum. This is a small museum tucked alongside Battlebridge Dock, near Islington Tunnel on Regent's Canal. I spent a lot of time walking the towpath around here the two summers I was staying in Bloomsbury, so I wanted to re-visit a couple of spots, and check out the museum. The best part of the museum is really the part about it being a former ice house. I thought the audio they had of a man reminiscing about his dad's work at the ice house was really nice. The b/w archival films they had of life on the canal were also splendid. It was a nice day, overcast just the way I like it, but not cold or wet. Nothing very profound to say about this walk, and the photos I took weren't all that, but it was still a fine day out.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Still Alive.

Saw the French & Saunders Still Alive show this evening, and it put me in a slightly better frame of mind. Actually, I was a bit teary at the end (before the encore bit with the wall), but so was the man sitting next to me, so I guess that's okay. They wore the funny pants through most of the show, making funny things even more funnier. Still, it's sometimes amazing the thin line between horribly funny and horribly painful. I think the boarding school skit must have really hit some people hard, because I heard a lot of stifled moans at its conclusion, as if everyone thought it was funny, but then couldn't laugh because they'd suddenly realized that it could have been them left at school for the holidays. Ditto for the sketch with Saunders as the whacked out, emotionally fragile, Glastonbury-esque mom and French as the smart, overweight daughte who could never be sure her mother loved her because she was fat. It was funny, but I know many women were watching the interaction thinking, "That's what my mom said when she wanted me to lose weight!"

Speaking of weight, there's a photo in the program/brochure of Dawn French, looking quite young. The woman next to me said, "Oh, she's so young! And thin!" And I replied, "But you know, I bet she didn't realize she was thin." And the woman nodded and said, "We were just talking about that, how we thought we were so huge when we were young, but now we look back, and think, oh, if only I could be that skinny." "Yeah," I said. "I was tiny when I was in college, and all I could think about was how fat I was. It's amazing, isn't it. We all start out behind, thinking the worst of ourselves, don't we?"

And then we enjoyed two women taking the stage, and holding it as their own, and that was the best thing that could have happened after such a conversation.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Breaking my own rules.

And losing all my friends. But I've decided that's okay. I keep thinking that I just have to hold the fury in a few days more,and then it will be okay, and I can talk to people again without risking ruining relationships with my anger, but that "few days more" keeps stretching to a few weeks, a few months, and then four more years.

Today is my sixteenth anniversary. Do you know what Catherine and I did on our first date 16 years ago? We went canvassing, handing out literature against Measure 9, an anti-gay measure sponsored by the OCA. A few years later, we were working on No on 13 (same measure, different number). We left Oregon before we had to work against yet another Measure 9.

Seriously, you'd think in 16 years, things would change. I bought into the (Bill) Clinton's administration promise, and look what I got--a president who wouldn't even speak to us at March on Washington, and Don't Ask, Don't Tell. I got a President who signed Public Law No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419, otherwise known as the Federal Defense of Marriage Act. And since that time, I've watched the U.S. become swept up in anti-gay legislation--only five states do not have some sort of statute against gay marriage (in most cases, that "statute" comes in the form of an amendment to the state Constitution). Anti-gay politics has evolved into a very pro-active institution--think of what gay people might want to do, and take that right away from them before they even knew they had it to begin with.

And we're at it again, of course, with Prop 8. There was no point in getting excited about being allowed to marry in California, because you know that ten minutes after permission was granted, we were all pulling out our pocketbooks to fund the campaign to preserve that right. It seems like improvement, fighting for the right to get married, rather that just the right to have sex without going to jail, but let me tell you, it feels exactly the same on an emotional level.

And we're at it again in other ways, too. Once again, I'm being told that I shouldn't expect too much or any support from any presidential candidate. How many times have I been asked in the last sixteen years to put my own civil rights on hold so we could elect "the best" candidate, a candidate that would surely fight for me once he or she got into office? Yeah, and how has that worked out for me? Not very well, I can tell you that. That's why endless comments like those made in response to Andrew Sullivan just piss me off--how many times can I be asked to sell myself and my relationship out for the Democrats? How many times am I going to be blamed for the loss of a presidential election for being too controversial? Don't be too vocal about Prop 8, you don't want to mobilize the religious right in California and lose the state for Obama! Well, fuck that noise.

And news flash for you: it's cowardly for a presidential to say that marriage is a "states' rights" issue. It's also just false. Let me tell you, it's not State law that is keeping me away from Catherine this year, it's a Federal law. A federal law signed by a Democrat.

Well, I waived my right to a secret ballot so I could vote through e-mail from here in London, so I can say that I voted the way everyone around me wanted me to vote. But I don't feel good about it, in fact, I may feel worse than after the last two elections. Once again, all I'm getting is more "separate but equal" rhetoric. Welcome, again, to the back of the bus.

So, when I get yet another e-mail from a friend telling me to be sure to cast my absentee ballot for Obama, I have to stop and remind myself that this person doesn't understand the level of sacrifice they are once again asking of me. It takes a long time for me to lose my political anger after every election season, and I have to work very hard to remember, "These people are my friends, they don't mean to hurt me." And I tell myself, "Really, don't be selfish, it's not all about YOU." And that is so true, it's never about me. If it were about me, I would be able to vote for a President who actually believed that everyone deserved the same rights.

I really miss Catherine, and I hate everyone who helped make this twelve-month separation possible, including myself.


Tourists spend a lot of time and money looking for the perfect memento to mark their trip to London. Some people buy models of red double-decker buses (hi, Beth!), some buy packets of biscuits (hi, Catherine!). I myself purchased multiple postcards with tube maps and images of the Tower Bridge and god knows what all on my first two trips to London. The truth is, however, if you REALLY want to capture the essence of London, you need to buy a Hi Viz Vest, or at least take a photograph of any random street in London, because you will be all but guaranteed to capture the image of some person--construction worker, charity volunteer, policewala, bicyclist--wearing a High Viz Vest at all times, night or day.

For the life of me, I can't remember which Dick Francis book contained the following scene: our hero needs to swap horses between two horse trailers without the driver of horse trailer A noticing the switch. So, he and his co-conspirators set up a fake census checkpoint along a dual carriageway, and then proceed to flag down the drivers of horse trailer A. The drivers park the horse trailer and go into the caravan to fill out lengthy census forms. While they are distracted, our hero swaps out the horses. The drivers return, notice nothing, see nothing, hear nothing, drive away.

You'd think this plot wouldn't work in real life, but Dick Francis remembered they key element on which all successful subterfuge relies: the Hi Viz Vest. If you are wearing a Hi Viz Vest, you can do ANYTHING in London (and probably the whole of the UK) and no one will question your right to do it. You can dig holes in the ground, park illegally, stand in traffic, ask people questions, force people to queue--the Hi Viz Vest is all powerful. Dick Francis noticed this 30 some years ago, and people still believe it in 2008.

Sadly, I already have a day-glo orange reflective vest w/matching arm and ankle bands for running after dark, so I don't need to buy a piece of authentic London to take home with me. But, I really should, because even more than the announcement that "There is a good service on the Piccadilly Line," or people nightly trying to force a copy of the London Lite in my hands as I go into King's Cross, the Hi Viz Vest is emblematic of my every day life in London.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Early Winter

According to one of the free newspapers that everyone abandons on the floor of the tube during the evening commute, today was the first October snowfall London has had in seventy years.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

I think this proves my point.



Decided to spend my Saturday around Canary Wharf yesterday (photos here). Usually, I'm pretty good at finding my way, but somehow I read the map upside down and ended up wandering around quite a bit before ending up at my intended destination, the London Museum in Docklands. I had my camera, so hopefully my wandering looked intentional to passersby.

If you only judged by the photos I've taken in my four trips to London, you'd think all of London lived quay-side, Thames-side or canal-side. I'm not sure how I always end up walking next to the water, or more precisely, how it is that I only have my camera with me when I'm walking next to water.

Anyway, I haven't been to Canary Wharf since 1997, we took a quick look-see at it with my Victorian Society Summer School, to check out the rebuilding after the bomb. It was then that I decided that I wanted to write my dissertation about bombs and buildings--too bad that was vetoed by my then adviser, as I would have been going on the job market some 4-5 years later, just in time.

The Museum in Docklands is quite nice. There's a special exhibit up on Jack the Ripper, which I didn't see. It was super crowded, either because this was the first Saturday of half-term break for school kids, or because it was the last Saturday of same, not sure which. I really only went there to see the London, Sugar & Slavery exhibit, anyway, so I kept my focus on that.

Well done exhibit, not nearly as brutal as I probably would have made it, but I guess that's why I'm not a curator. One thing I really liked about it was that the issue of slavery (and implicitly, empire) was brought into the present day (or at least up to 2007). What I found a little puzzling was the exhibit's starting date of 1700. There was a wall of statistics for the slave trade, listing the ships, number of enslaved Africans carried, destination, etc., but the stats all related to the last two decades of the eighteenth century. Enslaved Africans were used in the American colonies starting from 1650 or so, and I know Jamaica had rapidly growing enslaved populations in the second half of the seventeenth century.

Anyway, that's more of a side issue--the main point is that at least the museum is trying--not too long ago, it seemed as if Madge Dresser was talking into an empty void of indifference.

My favorite part of the exhibit was a bit of technology, actually. They had an interactive map that showed traces of slavery around eighteenth-century London. For instance, it had marked St. Botolph without Aldgate as a church with many African congregants, and a site of many African burials. It would be really brilliant if you could take the museum's map, and lay it over top of the maps from the Sugar Refiners and Sugarbakers database. If you could also overlay maps of trading houses for goods produced on plantations, and add to those maps locating domiciles of slave holders, or those with financial interest in slave ships, or those who produced the goods to trade for sugar, or the places where rum was bottled, you'd have an incredibly dense map, demonstrating fairly conclusively that slavery changed the geography of Thameside London as much as any seventeenth-century fire.

Speaking of fire, the only other galleries I really spent time in were the "docklands at war" rooms. They had a film clip borrowed from the Imperial War Museum, showing the inferno caused by incendiary bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe--I wish it had been longer, because I was riveted by it. I regret not being able to write my dissertation on Canary Wharf. Maybe the "bombs and buildings" wasn't such a great idea, the London Museum in Docklands demonstrates that somewhere in my research, I would have found an interesting, and hopefully worthwile, topic.

Friday, October 24, 2008

That's ridiculous.

So, I just tried to look up the name of an Anupam Kher movie--I know the general theme, but not the title. He has 285 movies listed under name on imdb. That's just outrageous.

ETA: Found it, believe it or not. Anyone who can score me a copy of Daddy wins my eternal gratitude.

Game Over.

What I look like on a Friday night after a week of feeling homesick, two days of being ill, and an afternoon of a sad movie:

Not a lot accomplished these past few days. I held steady through Wednesday, but yesterday just couldn't stay at the library. In the morning, I tried to do some research at the Royal Society, but ended up spending much more time feeling sick in the loo than I did doing actual work. I also spent some time sitting by myself on the platform of the Piccadilly Tube Station, watching trains go by, but feeling too upset in the stomach to get on any of them. When I did finally get on, it was clear I wasn't going to be able spend any quality time working, so I rode back and forth for a bit on the Piccadilly Line, waiting for my temperature to come down a bit.

In the end, I decided to spend the afternoon at a museum. I didn't feel like going all the way back to the house, and anyway, I knew my housemate was trying to get her lesson plan done and she didn't need me to be in the way. Museums have bathrooms, and they have benches, and they often have temperature controlled rooms, so that sounded promising. So, on my second time through the South Kensington station, I got off the tube, and walked over to the V & A. I spent a lot of time in the Sacred Silver collection, as well as in the stained glass collection. If you're feeling like you might vomit, these are good places to be, because the lighting is dim, no one else is around, and you can bolt down the ceramic staircase to the bathroom in an emergency. Also, the lighting is dim in the hallway with Lord Leighton's frescoes, and there is a nice floor-to-ceiling window at one end, so that is also a good, quiet retreat in times of distress.

What is NOT good for distress is to book a ticket for a special exhibition. This might seem obvious to everyone else, but it's difficult to walk out of a ticketed exhibition in search of a bathroom. I was thinking only, "High end exhibition = good temperature control, surely comes with benches." Unfortunately, it also comes with a tightly controlled path of movement--once you're in the exhibition hall, you're stuck until the end. Still, Cold War Modern was worth the nine pounds, even if I rushed the last two rooms a bit (the rooms for "revolution" and "last utopias"). If you're in London, and you're an architecture student, this is a great place to look at some architectural renderings for Soviet building projects--they're amazing, and they're BIG. I also enjoyed the recreation of the 8-minute "light and sound" experience originally plotted by Corbusier. Fall-out shelters, space suits, modular furniture, hammocks---this exhibit has it all. Except an easily accessible bathroom, so keep that in mind if you're not feeling 100%.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thank god for globalisation.

Otherwise, I would have been forced to spend 20+ quid on a hair cut at a shop in the high street of Cockfosters. Thanks to aggressive capitalist markets, I instead spent only 12GBP for a trim at the Supercuts in Shopping City at Wood Green.

Actually, that's not true. I spent 15GBP--I gave the hairdresser a 25% tip. Part of my generosity was due to the fact that she took on the challenge that is my head 20 minutes before closing time. Most of my generosity, though, was because she was nice to me, and talked to me while she was working. Well, yes, hairdressers often try and chat with me (ask Catherine about the woman who sometimes cuts hair but mostly just talks in the shop out at Whitehall), but I tend not to engage in small talk. It's often the end of the day--or the beginning of the day--and I'm tired, and not really in the mood to chat. I'm polite and all, but not really talkative. Usually. I don't know what happened yesterday, but I had a real, honest to god conversation sitting in that tippy chair.

We went through all the usual questions--do you ever color your hair, why are you in London, do you have any children--and then got onto the topic of Skype, and how it was saving my marriage. She also uses Skype, but said she gave up using it with her mother, because her mother always cried at the end, and because she was a "big wuzzy", she also ended up in tears. It was easier to say goodbye on the phone than on a webcam. Somehow we moved on from there to a discussion about aging parents, and I admitted that was one of the worst parts of being away for a year, the worry that I might not see my parents again.

She told me that her father had died three years ago or so, and talked about how hard that first year was--hard for her, but also hard because she had to step up when her mother fell to pieces. She told me that it was something for which you tried to prepare, but until it happened, you just didn't quite understand what it was like. The father of a friend had died a bit before hers had, and she tried to be supportive, but it wasn't until her own father died that she realized just how much she didn't understand what her friend had been going through. The first year was the hardest, but then she was able to move on--it got easier with time. Still hard, but better.

I don't know, she was remarkably upbeat about the whole thing. Serious, but also looking out for the points where a positive turn could be taken--didn't I have siblings that could help, wasn't it good that my father had a course of treatment that kept him here this long, etc. It was the first real conversation I've had in weeks, and I don't think I'll ever forget her telling me about her parents, and how they loved each other, right up to the end, even after 45 years of marriage. "My father was a good man," she told me. I could tell she meant it, she was telling the truth, and it was really kind of her to share that moment with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Documentary fiction.

Amu: I've been watching the old people lately, thinking about how much trauma they must be carrying around inside them. Yesterday specifically, I was watching the old people at the Diwali celebration on Trafalgar Square, wishing I could overhear their thoughts just for a moment. If you're eighty years old, and you were born in the Panjab, you probably directly experienced Partition. Maybe you can remember it clearly, or maybe you've suppressed it, I don't know. You definitely remember the Emergency. If your family moved to Delhi after Partition, you're carrying around memories from the 1984 massacre of the Sikhs. Or if your family moved to Mumbai, you have the 1992-1993 riots in the back of your mind. Even if your family had already emigrated to the UK--thus explaining your presence at the Trafalgar Diwali celebration--you've probably got some family members who were directly affected, even if they weren't living in the metropolitan areas. And of course, if you're living in London, you probably aren't a stranger to anti-immigrant violence that in all likelihood was tuned to the pitch of "anti-Pakistani."

All of this is to say that there's a lot of violence to explore in the history of India and Pakistan, just as there's a lot of non-violence to explore in the history of those two nations. So, I understand the intentions behind a film like Amu, particularly when the Indian government does such a good job at denying that such events have happened, and that certain sections of the government in fact enabled them to happen. And it wasn't a bad film, it just wasn't a great film. I felt as if the screenwrite and the director couldn't decide whether they wanted to make a documentary, or a work of fiction, so they flopped back and forth between the two genres. That made for some really stilted dialogue. And the stilted dialogue reminded me that, oh, this is following a script, this isn't real, thoughts that kept me from being swept away into the story. I love Konkona Sen Sharma, but her American accent slipped one too many times. And I'm sorry, but no person of color who grew up in L.A. and is old enough to remember the 1992 uprising is ever going to be puzzled about riots and massacres. Maybe a white teenager might ask earnest (and stupid) questions about the police role in violence, but not someone who is supposed to have the background of Kaju.

This sounds like a negative review, but it's not. It's a worthwhile film, obviously. I think it wasn't meant for people who study the history of India for a career, but for those who have only heard whispers in the background of their lives about earlier troubles. It's a nice entry point into that history, and because it was done as a popular film, perhaps more people will hear about these important events. It's a film the creators can be proud of, and I think I would recommend it to the right people--not to a completely naive audience, but one that knows something about India, but might not have been able to figure out how to learn about this bit of the past.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

"This has been my best day ever, Lee Carter."

Yeah, so...sorry. I had a bad week and didn't much feel like talking about it. Barely dragged myself out of bed on Monday to make it to work. Thought I'd shake things up and reinvigorate myself by working at the RIBA Library on Tuesday, but ending up falling on the sidewalk instead. Sore--in both the emotional and physical senses of the word--all week, and just generally angry at London.

Fortunately, I spent some time with friends this weekend, so I'm a little less surly now. Alex and Matt just got a new puppy--SO CUTE--so I went out to Ealing yesterday to check it out. We had great Chinese food for dinner, and watched Son of Rambow while the puppy chewed on its toy. I really liked the movie, but it was nothing like I expected it to be--I think the U.S. trailers for it must have been completely misleading.

About 14 hours after I left Alex and Matt for the night, I met up with Alex again (Matt stayed home to take care of the cuteness that is Chiyo). I think meeting up with Alex should become a trend, as he seems to have good taste in food, and I can use the variety in my diet. A group of his friends were gathering at the Blue Elephant in Fulham Broadway to celebrate a birthday, so I hung out with them for awhile, then headed home for a much-needed nap. On the way home, though, I saw a Diwali poster on a tube station and remembered that today was the Diwali celebration at Trafalgar Square. Couldn't just blow that off, so I stopped by for a while and listened to covers of Bollywood songs. A lot of good Diwali energy, but I was feeling pretty beat, so I came home before the lights came on, etc.

The neighbors have been celebrating Guy Fawkes Day a few weeks early--for the past two weekends, they've been putting on their own light show with fireworks in the garden. I guess I can count that for my Diwali show.

I also spent a good chunk of yesterday just wandering around by myself, trying to learn how to use this new camera (photos available on flickr). I'm not sure I want to spend the time learning everything about it--I'm not in this to become a professional photography. I can see that I'm going to have to invest in a perspective-control lens, though, and learn how to use some of the light-compensation settings. I left everything on AUTO yesterday, and it mostly worked out, but not completely.

Son of Rambow: nice movie. I caught myself laughing out loud a few times, making those weird noises you make when you can't control your hysteria. Some of the accidents the kids had were just too damn funny. Of course, some of the accidents the kids had were just too damn tragic, and at one point, I turned to Alex and said, "Man, that would put me into therapy for ten years. Oh...and there's another ten years added on." Something about the movie felt really familiar, but it wasn't until the second half, when the mother was having a flashback to her childhood that I figured it out. The lifestory of Will is driven by his mother's participation in the Plymouth Brethren. There's a scene in the movie in which the church elders come to have a talk with Will's mother about his behavior, and it put my heart in my throat. Ah...the church elders. I know exactly how this is going to go, how conditional the church's love is, even for a child. I spent most of my teenaged years desperately trying to prevent anyone from sussing out my atheism, because I didn't want to go through one more of those damn meetings. Christian love--at least as I experienced it--is so tenuous. The moment you transgress the church doctrine, you're out of the fold. Even if you repent, they are always watching you, waiting for you to screw up again so they can kick you out for good.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Fine Day Out.

Yesterday I walked Section 17 of the London Loop. All nine miles of it. What was I thinking? Well, from mile 6 to 9, I was thinking "God, you're a dumbass, just stop!" alternated with "God, don't be such a wuss, keep walking!" I swear, the last three miles took as long as the first six, I'm that out of shape. But it was a warm sunny day, something that's soon to be a scarcity around here, so I really wanted to get out into the country side. Unfortunately, I have no photos to share because while I'm alert enough to pick up the camera before I leave the house, I'm not alert enough to pick up a fresh battery. So, you won't get to see a team a draft horses pulling a wagon through a field, the "most charming part" of Turkey Brook, or the view up the lawn to Forty Hall. Trust me, they're there.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Pissed, and not in the good, drunken sense.

I know it doesn't make any sort of sense, but sometimes I get REALLY ANGRY when people mistake me for a man. Or, I guess it's not the mistaking part of it, it's the "is that a girl or guy?" conversation that happens when I am obviously in earshot. I know I've ranted about this before, but bear with me, because it just ruined my day again.

Yes, as I've noted before, sometimes I think it's funny. Case in point: my first day here in the UK, I went to Carphone Warehouse on the shopping parade and bought mobile phone and a world SIM card. Throughout the entire transaction, the clerk called me "Sir," even after I gave him my credit card (only Johnny Cash knows a boy named Sue, surely). And I thought that was pretty funny, because he just never really clued in, despite the fact that when I walk, I lead with one bodacious bosom.

Tonight, though, it just pissed me off. I was on the train home after a decent afternoon at the movies (How to Lose Friends, if you're interested), and I was in the last car on the train with a small group traveling together. Americans, seemingly from three different families, going out to Cockfosters for god knows what reason. Three CUTE little boys that made me laugh with their stated intentions of having 600 kids. So, I was getting off the train, thinking"that was a nice way to end the day, listening to American accents is so effortless compared to what I do most of the day" (one of the adults actually said "Look at this bad boy!" when showing his mate a picture of the largest catfish in Europe, such an American thing to say), and then they had to ruin it.

When we got off the train, just them and me from the last car, I wasn't even 3 feet away from before the catfish guy turned to his friend and said, "Was that a guy or a girl?" and his friend answered, "Yeah, I know, I had to look twice before I could figure it out." Okay, I'm wearing casual clothes today, apparently women in the UK aren't ever allowed to wear plaid shirts, jeans and tennis shoes, but jesus christ, couldn't you just let me get a little farther away before you start talking about me? I'm just saying. No, I'm just saying thanks for nothing, losers with American accents. I hope they are your dead bodies inside that outsize, European catfish.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


I wonder if there's a limit to the number of people you can get to know in a lifetime. If there's a limit to the amount of energy a person can expend exchanging and absorbing life stories. Perhaps if you share too much too often as a young person, you run yourself short on possibilities for new friendships later on in life. You can't keep hold of all those people you knew when you were ten or twenty or thirty, even though they represent a major investment of time and energy and intimacy of sorts. But it's difficult to replace them when you're young, and it's even more difficult when you're older. If you only have it in you to really, truly know twenty people in your lifetime, and you've met and parted with eighteen of those people before your fortieth birthday, you've only got two people left to draw newly close to you in the second half of your life. It's too bad you didn't realize until too late that you should have used your choices more carefully when you had the chance ten years ago.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Doing new things.

I finished up at the British Library a bit early today, so I went to see a movie. I know, Catherine must be picking her jaw up off the floor: I willingly went to the cinema, and guess what--I saw a serious film: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime. I knew nothing about it except that it had Kirstin Scott Thomas in it. I generally avoid movies with her in it, even though I think she's stunning. She reminds me of Eileen, who then reminds me of Todd--perhaps because we saw Angels and Insects with them? I'm not sure. Anyway, Scott Thomas should be proud of her work, as should Elsa Zylberstein. I'm not going to say anything about the movie, other than it was beautiful, but painful. The one editorial I would write about it would give away the last scene, so I'll keep my opinions to myself.

This movie also briefly reminded me of Debbie, because in one scene was shown a poster for Les Jeux Dangereux, which reminded me of the poster for Jeux interdits I had on my wall my freshman year of college at WWU. My first French film, and I wouldn't have seen it if Debbie hadn't taken me to the PAC with her.

In other news, I am eating too much pizza, but at least I'm working hard to get it. I can hardly wait to get to India where I can eat with my fingers like a civilized person. God, silverware sucks.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conspiracy Theory.

"Everyone knew that Kathleen was pregnant and that she died of the child. You'd have to be an idiot not to have figured that out, what with the girl's hasty home-coming and incarceration in the house. But the thing you do in a case like that is to go along with the idea that the child is the offspring of the grandparents. Everyone agrees to this fiction, and the only people who'd breathe a word of the actual facts to the illegitimate child are those who are so malicious to begin with that they are easily dismissed as liars. As in truth they are. For the beneficent lie tells the truth about the child, which is "you belong in this community", whereas the malicious truth-tellers use fact to convey a lie, which is "you don't belong". This is an imperfect system but it's the prevailing one. As as the years go by the facts get eroded and scattered by time, until there are more people who don't know than people who do."

Ann-Marie MacDonald, Fall On Your Knees (London: Vintage Books, 1997): 165-6.


Sometimes the intensity of my anxiety surprises even me. For instance, did you know that for the past ten years, I have been worried that something was going to happen to the Standard of Ur and its companion pieces, The Ram in a Thicket and the Queen's (Golden) Lyre of Ur? I know this fear is crazy--what possible difference could it make in my life if the Standard of Ur somehow was destroyed? But I ran over the to British Museum today just to make sure they were there. At first I was completely disoriented by the renovations made since the removal of the British Library to its own site (the British Museum now seems more like an over-sized gift shop than a museum, I think). Once oriented, however, I went straight to the Mesopotamia rooms to make sure the Standard and friends were okay. Even as I got closer, my anxiety grew more acute. At two galleries away, I was panicked that they were gone. At one gallery away, I had sweated completely through my shirt and jacket. At ten paces, I had to fight back tears of relief that everything was in place and as it should be.

For anyone else suffering from this particular anxiety, there is a small women's restroom just outside the north lift where you can recover from yourself in privacy.

Even a monkey can do it.

Anyone who has the (dis)pleasure of dining with me knows I am completely incapable of using cutlery. My wife teases me about the way I hold my fork, and my parents used to argue about the same when I was a kid (whose responsibility was it to teach me to hold a knife and fork properly, anyway?). So, here I am in, in a land where everyone eats pizza with utensils instead of fingers, suffering and sweating every lunch hour. As I slowly work my way through the menu at Pizza Express, I am being forced to eat my entire lunch, day after day, with fork and knife.

This week I discovered that the angle at which you hold your knife when cutting actually makes a difference. It's much more effective to saw a pizza crust at a 23-degree rather than a 45-degree angle. Who knew? Well, probably everyone who knows how to use silverware knew this. However, until recently, that group did not include me. I'm sure whatever gains I make will be lost after nine months of eating with my right hand only in India, but in the meantime, I'm making progress with my tools.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


This is what I look like when I'm playing Intergalatic Battle Checkers on Facebook w/Catherine.

Little Head, Big Brain

Just got in from a 3-hour walk along the London Loop. I only went halfway along the section between Cockfosters and Enfield Lock before turning around, so I guess I only walked about 7-8 miles total. A nice stretch of the legs, but not really a very brisk pace. Much of the time I was in or around Trent Park, a rather large bit of land that was once part of Henry IV's hunting grounds. It has a lofty obelisk that fans of Dr. Who might recognize. A large step off the main path will lead to Camlet Moat, an earthworks that dates to the 1300s or so. Most of the stuff on the web is about the moat as a haunted site (although I suspect all those burned-out spots and trees with fabric draped on them were created by teenagers earnestly exploring the occult, perhaps with a lager or two, not by haunting spirits), but I did find an interesting write-up about Camlet/Camelot, Geoffrey de Mandeville and myth to read.

Anyway, I saw much today, including four fighter jets flying in formation, a landscape produced by Repton and Brown, an ancient moat, a rather large obelisk, children playing cricket, plowed fields, baled hay, and dozens of dogs off leads, but I'll tell you what I'll remember the most. I'll remember the high-pitched voice of the little girl behind me informing her parents as loudly as she possibly could, "That lady has a little head! That big lady has a little head!" You'd think a child walking behind someone with a expansive, colorful tattoo on her calf would notice that, but no, she notices my weight and my pin head. Lovely.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Well, that's true.

I finally saw 30 St. Mary Axe in person--from a distance, mind you--but that was probably worth the long bus ride into the city. Actually, I saw it while looking across the Thames from the south bank near the Millennium Bridge, so that's two Norman Fosters in one glance.

Also, for you bollykids, I was briefly in Waterloo Station today. Catherine, you will recognize the guy standing next to Mr. Bachchan in that video clip. And while I'm posting Jhoom Barabar Jhoom links, this one is kind of sweet.

ETA: Sorry, fixed the links.

Surprisingly Quiet

I think it's a rather sad commentary on my creativity that I have been in the U.K. for over a week now, and I can't think of anything interesting to write in my blog. Or my journal. Journaling lasted exactly one day, and that day consisted of bullet points.

In part, I think this is what happens when you travel to work rather than play. I spent a day or two clearing up communications issues--bought a new cell phone w/world SIM card, got my computer set up on the wireless network at the house, got my British Library reader's pass, bought an Oyster/Travel Card so I could use the tube to go into the city every day. After those exciting problems were easily and swiftly resolved, I just slipped into a regular work schedule: up in the a.m., eat an apple on the way to the station, sit on the train for 30 minutes, get off the train, sort my stuff into a locker at the British library, work for several hours, eat lunch, work more hours, take a break for a cup of coffee and a quick phone call to Catherine, work another hour, pick my stuff up out of my locker, sit on the train for 20 minutes, walk home from the station. In the few evenings I've been here, I've spent them: talking to Catherine via webcam, watching television, walking to the supermarket, and eating dinner.

There is very little excitement in the daily schedule of the working life.

I think it's just possible that I've now spent enough time in London that what once might have seem notable or odd is neither any more. Well, what is notable and odd is that there are dustbins everywhere these days, even on the train platform at Cockfosters. Obviously the days of "bomb in trash" worries are over (supplanted by the days of "bomb in train" worries), and now it is easy to eat my breakfast on the way to the train, because I have somewhere to throw the core when I'm done. Also, the British Library is a much friendlier place these days. It is no longer like working in a prison, with the warden standing just there, behind your shoulder. It's a much better environment. I only wish the reading rooms had longer opening hours--trying to get everything done between 9:30 and 5:00 is difficult.

And, yes, I've turned into Randy. I know.

I spent the day on the bus from Cockfosters to London Bridge (don't do that again). I intended to spend a full afternoon at the Tate Modern, but once I got there, I realized I was bored. The building didn't grab me the way I thought it would, and the art on display wasn't...wasn't...I don't know. Nothing drew me in. I hate it when I can walk into a gallery and tick off the artist of every piece on the wall without trying. It's true enough that I could have spent more time in Surrealism gallery, but de Chirico and partners make me queasy even in small doses. The only piece that really held my attention was Cornelia Parker's Thirty Pieces of Silver, and even that viewing was somewhat marred by the poor design of the exhibition space. People, if you are going to put up a long text about a piece in a room that has only one entrance/exit, MOVE IT AWAY FROM THE DOOR. Huddled masses, trying to read, tripping over the barrier.

Anyway, I think I should have enjoyed the art, the building, and the experience more, and I'm not quite sure why I didn't.

Today was the last sunny day EVER for London. At least, that must have been written on the memo that was sent out to all of Europe this a.m. The south bank Thames Path was packed, shoulder to shoulder, everyone trying to absorb one last bit of Vitamin D before the winter grey sets in. It made for slow service in the cafe, but for cheerful people on the pavements, so that's a fair trade, I suppose.