Saturday, February 27, 2010

Little House on the Creek

In Little House on the Prairie there is a very affecting scene which I must have read many times. The family is suffering from an ague — and Laura, the least sick, must crawl across the cabin to fetch water for Mary. Both parents are also unable to move. Her body is aching but she makes it, and is praised as a hero by her parents.

It's not been quite that dire in this household, but close. P came back from the US last Sunday and immediately took to his bed, with what we thought was a violent case of food-poisoning. We know now better, as five days later, J and I fell ill within hours of each other, with the same thing. The worst of the dramatic symptoms only lasted 12 hours, but we are all weak as kittens, now. Yesterday we were taking turns to be the least sick, and to make the cup of tea and dried toast for the other. I went back to bed at 9.30 last night, and slept with a wet face-washer across my fevered brow. It's just what you want as you head into a new semester's teaching. And P is still a little frail, so it might be a long week.

I wasn't as sick as Mary and Laura, but I will confess to a moment of despair when everything seemed so horrible and difficult, I thought I'd never be able to read or write or teach ever again.

Two of J's friends have just come to pay a call, to make sure he's ok, and cheer him up. Sweet!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Eating in Public again (kind of): Vindaloo Against Violence

It's hard not to get the sense that the problems of street violence and racism in my beautiful city are somewhat intractable. Yet it was also hard not to be swept up in the popular movement of eating Indian food today to demonstrate solidarity with Indians resident or visiting or studying here. Indian restaurants have been booked out for the day, and there's a big facebook group, apparently. I was going to suggest we ordered Indian take-away tonight, but when P came home he went straight into the kitchen and started preparing a delicious eggplant curry. It's not just about celebrating multiculturalism in the way we now eat globally, but the idea of commensality — sitting and eating together — with a common purpose.

So I'm going on record to say I abhor violence altogether: whether it's racially motivated, the opportunistic copy-cat drawing of a knife, the murder of a little girl, a classmate in the schoolground (two recent examples from Queensland), or ... I don't know ...  the everyday and everynight violence against women, too. If cooking and eating together can slow down even a little such violence, I don't care how daggy or idealistic it seems: pass me another poppadum.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Eating in Public: a series of occasional vignettes

At Barkly Square (a pretty ordinary shopping mall in Brunswick: no nightingales here), I walked past the big glass windows of the little food court. Sitting up at the bar facing the windows (with the fish and chips, the "asian" food, the turkish bar, the hamburger joint and the roast chicken bar behind him) was a man with a big spoon, demolishing with gusto a large half of watermelon. Its lurid pink and green looked cartoonish against the quotidian drabness of his surroundings.

In April last year, I blogged about a woman eating cheerios in Philadelphia. Are two examples enough to constitute a series?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

What was she thinking?

I called into Clegs today and found my attention caught by a bolt of the material Haley Bracken chose for the "bodice" — I use the word loosely — of the dress she designed herself for the Alan Border presentation. It's a gruesomely fascinating image — her hair, her dress, her smile, her breasts — that I can't quite bring myself to post on my blog. If you haven't had enough of an eyefull, go here. The material itself is quite pretty, in an ornate sparkly fairy princess kind of way. And the layers of blue and green in the long wavy skirt and its train? Ditto.

But I couldn't help but wonder: what was she thinking? Glamour, cameras, fame, and all the mystique of The Dress that will transform you, and, in this context, take on a life of its own, I guess. But apart from the sexual politics of her choice, there's a more prosaic question, about the imaginative process by which she negotiated the passage of seeing all those beautiful materials in the shop, choosing this combination and those shapes to end up with the finished product?  I used to be quite good at negotiating those tricky waters: today I became paralysed and indecisive. It's not that clothes shopping is that much fun: but at least when you try something on you can see what it looks like.

I'm also struck by the oddity that I can barely tell the faces of this one and the other blonde WAGS apart; but that I could pick the textile of her dress, out of context, in a flash.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Grant time again

In a return to one of the original motivations for keeping this blog, I'm going to talk about an ARC application. Not the Discovery grants that are due in now (sympathies to anyone in the final throes of this process), but the big national round for Centres of Excellence.

This is a highly competitive round that only comes up every couple of years. We think about 20 will be funded in the current round, and half of those will probably be renewals of successful existing centres. If you consider that all fields are eligible, you can see how tough it will be for research in the humanities to tick all the boxes of international collaboration and national interest, and to compete with disciplines with much longer histories of team research.

However, the clever medieval and early modern folk at the University of Western Australia, who developed the successful ARC Network for Early European Research, are putting together an application for a Centre of Excellence. It will be a Centre for the History of Emotion, spanning approximately 1100-1800. I'm glad to say I'm on the team as one of the potential Program Leaders. We heard recently that of the 230+* expressions of interest, about 50* have been encouraged to submit a full application in April; and we are one such, so we are madly scrambling to put ideas and plans together. 

I love working with these people. They are models of enthusiastic interdisciplinary collaboration; and we are really enjoying thinking about how to make connections, both nationally and internationally, with other scholars of the medieval and early modern; with musicians, writers, galleries, etc. And I'm thinking about all the folk in Australia and other countries it'd be so cool to have funds to support visits from. But the project would also investigate the long history, or the afterlife, of early European emotional regimes as they are played out in Australian and colonial culture (this would be my wing of the project).

So, in addition to getting ready to teach two new subjects in twelve days' time, working on other research projects, and a bunch of other things, and making sure the English program as a whole is ready for the academic year, I need to write up a couple of prospective research projects. Not from scratch, obviously: there's stuff in my head, though I'm not going to disclose it all here. Instead, I want to express some of the excitement about this new venture. As we said with the Network, even if we don't get it, we will still develop some neat collaborative research ideas for smaller grants.

Oh, and the other academic in the household has also had his expression of interest go through to the next round, too. The family that applies for grants together...

And ... can I just say: I had lunch (grilled chilli calamari, and grilled semolina-dusted polenta) with Pavlov's Cat?  And it was good. Very good. It had been way too long since I'd seen her (when she was last in Melbourne, I was in Perth); and she was looking terrific. We shared lunch with two other cronies; and it was just one of those lovely, relaxed occasions, with no ... edge, you know? What a shame I had to go and talk to a bunch of incoming students, as they were ordering another glass of crisp-looking white wine!

*Corrected figures: of 111 applications, 32 have been shortlisted. Our odds just got better!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The old cat

Jeffrey has posted here about the death of his old dog; in a meditation that is also about vegetarianism, to which I increasingly aspire.

But this post is about my old cat — nineteen next spring. We had a lovely year together last year, as when I was not gallivanting around the US and Italy, I was home most of the day. We'd take regular breaks and wander around the garden together. These days she's small and thin — a real bag of bones, I'm sorry to say. She has renal disease (special diet); hypertension (medication); thyroid disease (medication); and growing arthritis. She is also pretty much deaf. But she seems content enough. She still grooms herself carefully. She still loves to sit on our laps and be cuddled. She particularly loves to sprawl all over Joel, or around his neck, when he's watching TV. She still talks to us. We give her her medication (with the vet's approval) in tiny clumps of cheese, and after several months, she's still licking her lips in great surprise at the odd taste of the stuff. She spends most of the day outside, nestled in amongst the gardenias, or sprawling on the stones in the sun.

The last few days she has taken to climbing up on the kitchen benches, after years of being trained not to do so. She's there in the morning, looking down at you when you fill up the kettle for morning coffee. She was there tonight, as Joel was doing the dishes. So I brought a chair for her, and she sat on that and watched him clean the kitchen. She weighs almost nothing, and when I pick her up, I can feel the touch of skin and bone, her delicate ribs, the arcs of her spine, the joints in her tail. She is growing old as gracefully as it's possible to do. I hope she has many more days in the sun, and in the gardenias.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In tears at her desk

I was recently at a meeting where various folk had to come in and talk to the committee at different stages of proceedings. At this meeting, there was a little delay, then a man walked in and said the woman who was supposed to come couldn't, because she was in tears at her desk.

I felt this was a little too much information, in a professional setting. I know we always like to hear about trauma and drama, but if I am ever discovered in tears at my desk, I'd prefer people didn't announce it, with my name, to a committee of strangers, thank you very much. I'm just saying.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Advertising spam

I'm getting a bit of junk coming through my comments box lately. Something to do, perhaps, with the mention of cancer sending out a kind of alert to all the many websites selling pain relief or alternative cures....  I'm not ready to change my policy on comments, yet, but if you see traces of comments that have deleted by the blog administrator, it's because they are of the generic "I like this post and thought I'd leave a comment but don't know what to say" variety, usually featuring a link to a website that says if you take a special vitamin supplement you won't get cancer. Nothing more sinister than that; but nothing conducive to the friendly interchange of ideas and thoughts amongst human beings, either.

Friday, February 05, 2010

It ain't over till it's over

So you have the surgery; and the radiotherapy (and if you're lucky, like me, you avoid the chemotherapy). And then you start the five years' hormone therapy. Apart from the obvious trauma and shock to the system of instant onset of menopause (that lace fan I bought in Venice in September is getting a good work-out this summer), and an abiding suspicion that you don't think or concentrate as well as you used to, you're going ok. But then, after a visit to doctor and gynaecologist, you remember that long list of possible side-effects of tamoxifen.

I'm sitting up in bed at home, recovering from a general anaesthetic, yesterday, for a hysteroscopy to remove uterine polyps that grow under the influence of tamoxifen. So far, everything looks benign: just one more pathology report to go. At once stage Deborah, my lovely gynaecologist, was talking about endometrial cancer and a hysterectomy and chemotherapy and the whole works, but it seems I have got off lightly. Though with two more years of tamoxifen to go; and the way it seems to stay in the system, chances seem high I may have to go through this process again over the next few years.

It seems a little harder to blog about this than having breast cancer, and I wasn't sure I would. But I'm too groggy to do any work today, and am not really feeling strong enough to get out of bed. It involves rather more intimate body parts, too, I suppose: my "lady bits", as I think Ampersand Duck or Pavlov's Cat refer to them. I can remember being a bit appalled when still at school by a girlfriend who referred coyly to her mother's hospitalisation for "women's troubles." Though that's exactly what it is.

And also, my goodness, are heads of programs supposed to be blogging about their intimate bodies? Will having this administrative responsibility change the way I blog?

Yet again, I found myself fascinated by my surgeon and the entirely female team who attended me yesterday, with the exception of the orderly who wheeled me into surgery. Where Suzanne, the breast surgeon, is goddess-like in her attentiveness and authority, Deborah is equally direct and focussed, but a bit closer to the other side of the austerity—warmth spectrum. I was very sorry when she came round to visit me when I was back in the ward, to tell me that everything was looking fine, because I couldn't hold an intelligent conversation with her. For two or so hours, I would start to weep and feel I was about to black out, every time I opened my eyes. I can remember, similarly, waking up from breast surgery and sobbing. It's an acute form of the depressive affect of the general anaesthetic, but it's an object lesson in forms of chemical or hormonal depression that last longer: you know precisely what's causing it; and yet you can't stop feeling terrible.

I'm feeling much better today, though my lungs seem very heavy, and my legs and arms feel weak, so I still haven't got out of bed. I'll get up later, for the joyous resumption of our Friday night ritual with our mirror family (two academic parents; one girlchild Joel's age), back home after their sabbatical in Oxford.

I'm supposed to start Italian class again tomorrow morning: I'm going to load up one of the CDs and do some revision while I doze...

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Call for Papers: Poverty in the Medieval and Early Modern World

Here's your chance to head to the most beautiful university campus in the world, the University of Western Australia, for a conference on Poverty in the Medieval and Early Modern World. Details below:

Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies
2010 Conference: Poverty in the Medieval and Early Modern World





This conference will explore the subject of poverty and and the poor in the medieval and early modern world, c.500-1800, across a range of disciplines.


Date: 11-12 June 2010

Location: Trinity College, University of Western Australia, Perth

Organisers: A conference of the UWA Centre of Medieval and Early Modern studies with the Perth Medieval and Renaissance group.

Keynote speakers:

* Prof John Barrell: University of York
* Prof Christopher Dyer: University of Leicester
* Prof Susan Broomhall: University of Western Australia

Papers

Paper proposals from any relevant areas of study within the field are very welcome. Possible approaches and themes may include:

* Poverty and the poor in social and economic history
* Religion and poverty
* Representations in literature, culture and the arts
* Intellectual and religious understandings
* Poor families
* Social attitudes
* Gender and poverty
* The experience and utterance of the poor
* Anthropological approaches
* Archaeologics of poverty
* Any other relevant areas of study

Abstracts of c.300 words for a 20 minute paper are now being called from interested participants.

Submission of three 20 minute paper panel proposals are also welcome. Please supply abstracts, names of contributers, and contact details.

Submissions must be sent by March 2, 2010 by email to Pam Bond (cmems-arts@uwa.edu.au) or posted to:

Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (M208)
The University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway
Crawley, Perth
Western Australia 6009

Telephone:+61 8 64883858.
Details on the conference program, registration, travel and accommodation will be available soon.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

In which I wear a hat to a wedding

Sunday was very hot, with a vile blustery northerly wind that would send a branch of our eucalyptus citriodora crashing down onto the clothes line. But our minds weren't on the weather: rather, a wedding between D and A, a woman from Timor l'Este who's bravely marrying an Australian and moving, mostly, to Australia.

The service was held in a little catholic church in Rosanna. Everything about it was perfect, modest and thoughtful. No grand organ; no grandiose flowers; no strings of bridesmaids in stupid dresses. A handsome dark suit with silvery grey tie; a delicate and sleek white gown with a simple train that could be looped up around A's wrist: a veil that D himself lifted. It was just impossible for any of A's family to be here; and they will hold a second, traditional Timorese wedding with her family in a few weeks time. A's long dark hair was caught up in a simple knot; the veil held by just the right amount of sparkliness to match her necklace.

They had been planning this wedding with the priest for a long time, and he was so discreet, generous and welcoming with the largely non-Catholic congregation: explaining about the responses, and inviting us all to join in, as witnesses to D and A, and as part of our well-wishing to them. They walked slowly down the very short aisle (the church was circular), but I was so struck by the difficulty they had when M invited them to take their seats in front of us. They were both so nervous, and so caught up in the momentousness of everything, and the formality of their ritual clothes, that it took them a long time to turn their bodies into the right position for sitting down; and then to sit down. Not that there was fuss or discomfort; just a sense of ceremonial weight sitting heavily, perhaps especially on A's shoulders.

The Old Testament reading? Rebecca, of course, who leaves her family and homeland to marry Isaac. For the record, yes, I found it hard not to cry as they walked down the aisle, as they took their seats, as they recited their vows. And how lovely: D repeated his vows, phrase by phrase, after the priest. A, who is still learning English, spoke hers softly, but without prompting.

Palpable relief as they left the church to Pachelbel's Canon and headed out into the wind. Storm clouds gathered as we drove to D's house afterwards, and they decided to have the speeches first, before the rain came. D's mother spoke so warmly of A, and her love for her, and her pride in her son. D translated into rapid Tetum for the video cameras, then A read her beautiful warm speech in careful English. It was starting to rain, then, so D thanked us all for coming and they agreed to do the Tetum versions inside.

Everything then gradually transitioned into a casual family-and-friends party in the backyard: D's brother did the roasts and salads; and *his* daughter had made the cake, complemented by an extraordinary pavlova. D and A changed out of their formal clothes; some of the guests who live close by did the same; some of the family were already in shorts. I took off my hat - and shoes, at one point — and Joel removed his tie and braces.

The rain came pouring down, and at one point all the little kids were out it in, happily getting soaked to the skin. One boy stood under the tarpaulin, where the rain was dripping down, utterly mystified by the sensation of rain and water dripping down so luxuriously, holding out his tongue, looking up in wonderment, not really minding at all that a bunch of adults with cameras were taking his photo.

I think A and D are going to be very happy together: but it is not going to be easy. I'm not going to bang on and on about the cultural gaps between their worlds, though they are truly immense. But if their wedding was any indication of the thoughtfulness between them and the loving support of their friends, it augurs well.