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 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? 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 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.