Sunday, December 24, 2017

Thoughts on my Days in the British Library

I spent my last 10 days in the UK mostly reading at the British Library.  Amazing.  What a place!  It's like the British people have given a gift to the world.  Well, probably some of it was stolen.  But what I read was pretty much all texts (manuscript and print) produced in England, often London, so those weren't stolen from afar.

The catalog system isn't as straightforward as it should be, especially requesting manuscripts.  Some of the librarians are fabulous, some less helpful.  (I tried to sign up for a session with a librarian, and I sort of had one, but not an official one because no one responded to my official request.  And the librarian I met with was less helpful than one would have hoped.

Figuring out the catalog moderately well made everything go better, but that took a while.  Fortunately, I'd started trying to figure things out (and did pretty well on print texts) in September, so that by the time I was really in London steadily, I was finding my stuff pretty well.

By the end of my time, I was doing that thing where you'd go through one day feeling like I'd pretty much read everything I needed to, and then near the end of the day I'd make a tiny breakthrough and realize I had a whole other area to read in, or had found some number of texts through a different search strategy in the catalog.  And the next day I'd have a full, full day, and the third day, I'd be back thinking I'd read pretty much what I needed to, until late in the day, I'd find more.  By the very end, I really was beginning to feel like I'd gotten a handle on a lot, and the one thing I wanted to look at was being "used" or held or something by another reader.

There's really nothing as good as holding a physical book in your hands and reading it, especially if it's a manuscript and a little hard to read.  But even a printed book is a lot easier to flip through to find things in person than a digital version ever seems to be.

Despite staying at a hotel with a good sized room and en suite bathroom, within a short walk of the Library, I was pretty much reading to be not staying at a hotel after 10 days.

So now, of course, I've had a few days at home, and then went on the road to my siblings where I'm staying for the holidays.  And then my Mother will come home with me for a few days, which I'm stressing out about because my house is dusty and I didn't really have time to settle back in.  Between she and my brother, she invited herself, and I couldn't say "no" of course, and wouldn't, but I'd like a bit of time to myself to settle back into my home and organize my British Library notes for the next step before I forget everything.

I haven't played the violin since mid-August.  I brought it along to my siblings, but would really like to just have time to myself without feeling like there's a judgmental audience listening and ready to comment.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Last Hurrah in the UK: Battle and Battle Abbey

On Sundays, the British Library closes, so I had a chance for a last field trip.  And I decided to go see where the Battle of Hastings happened.  Apparently, not really at Hastings.  Instead, it happened outside of Hastings by some miles, and where it happened, William the Conqueror ordered an Abbey to be built.  And then a town grew up.  And then the Abbey was dissolved and what was left became a country house.  And then that became a school, and voila, a tourist attraction.

 Enough background; here's a map overview of the area.  (I tried to turn it sideways, to no avail.)  See where the red dotted line makes a corner at the bottom left?  and then there's a dotted line on the left?  There's a path leading from the corner, down the hill, skirting the battlefield, with statues and such around.
 Inside of the gatehouse.
 This gate leading down to the path (dotted red line on the map).  It was a windy, damp day.
 These shield things show where the Anglo-Saxon front line was.
 The shield thingies are small on the left in this next picture, as I walk further down the path.
 Near the bottom, there's the metal arrow stuck in a tree for effect.  I bet there are others I missed.
 Looking up from where the Norman position would have been.
 And up to the Abbey.
 Rooms.  It's cool how much light manages to get in.

 Looking from the Abbey down over the battlefield.

 Oooo, a stairway leading somewhere mysterious.
 The view over the Latrines.

 This would have been the chapter house.

 The walled garden/orchard.
 A view of the school and Abbey ruins.

 Looking at where the original church would have been.
 The marker for Harald.  Upside down, I know not why.
 Ruined Abbey.

 The gatehouse from outside in the town of Battle.

That pretty much ends my excursions in the UK.  Soon, I'm headed back to the great Northwoods.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Three Days in Barcelona - #5: Mar Mediterraneo and La Pedrera

The last afternoon in Barcelona, Saturday, the 11 of November, the day of planned protests about Catalonian Independence.  Earlier in the day, I went to the Museo Historica de Barcelona.  My plans for the afternoon involved a quick tour of the Chocolate Museum, a short walk to the beach, and a final Gaudi House, Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera.

The Chocolate Museum was nothing special.  I shouldn't have bothered.  Then I walked towards the beach, and found the railroad tracks in my way.  It took a while, but I finally found a way to cross them (on a bridge).

 A few more blocks, and there is is, the Mar Mediterraneo!  The Mediterranean Sea!  I'd never seen this Sea before, so now I saw the sea.
 Here's a selfie of me walking on the beach.  You know what that means!
 Yes, I went wading!
 And my finger got in the way...
 Then I washed off (they have lovely little shower areas), and walked back out, planning to take a bus.  And there's the protestors, gathering in the distance.  I went the other way.  (I don't know enough about the issue to really have an opinion, though I do have a vague sense that self-determination is very good, but also at the same time that breaking into a small region might increase costs for defense and such for the whole area.  So I have no business telling Spain or anyone else how to organize themselves.  And I went the other way.)
 I asked a police officer (there were a lot around) and he kindly pointed me to a metro station, much closer than the bus stop even!  So off I went, back to Passeig de Gracia, and to Casa Mile, La Pedrera!  You enter on the ground floor, and there's once again a big light well.  But this one's even bigger than the ones at Casa Battlo.  (The whole apartment building seems way bigger.)
 But it plays with shapes and colors!
 You go up to the roof first.  Amazing!  The chimney toppers are amazing (and were copied for at the Sagrada Familia Passion fa├žade for Roman helmets).
 The way they glow in the sunshine!
 Somehow familiar and alien at the same time!
 You can see the Sagrada Familia in the distance.
 And a familiar four armed cross.
 These chimney toppers are glass mosaics from champagne bottles, but I could never catch the light right with my camera.  In person, they're stunning.
 Inside, catenary arches!
 And a chain display showing catenary arches.
 With a mirror so you can see them as arches looking structural.
 And a structural model.  (This is from another church catacombs.)
 Inside one of the apartments that belonged to the Mile family.

 Doesn't that tub look inviting!

And that ends my visit to Barcelona.  More than a month after it actually happened.

I need to get back in grading jail and finish grading.  I leave the Abbey tomorrow and head to London to read at the British Library for about 10 days.

And then home to the great (and icy) north woods.