Monday, January 21, 2013

The Middle-Ages/d Professor in Winter

some important writing to be done
You know that early line in The Lion in Winter, when Peter O'Toole, as Henry II, pulls himself from bed to break the layer of ice that has formed over his wash basin and hears gentle Alys plead with him, knowing he will have to spar all week with the nearly indomitable Eleanor - and he says (something very like): "Don't, it's going to be a beast of day" as he splashes freezing water on his face? That moment? That's what it's like to come back from winter term in Brittany.  There's a beast of a semester that awaits, mostly (in humble deference to Henry II) of marvelous things that will take a lot of work, as opposed to complex personal and political negotiations. But a beast nonetheless, if you factor in all of the other (non-teaching and non-writing) song and dance of academe as it approaches spring and summer.  And this blog, my one place of safe respite, my spot to whisper in the reeds, is now besmirched with hideous banner ads and I don't know how to get rid of them!!! I've put something up on the forum, but honestly, that's like sending a little paper boat off the windswept sea cliffs of Brittany.

I can't summarize the trip, yet - I hope to do little meditations on individual photographs, à la after Israel (if I can deal with this stupid ad issue). But I can say that this tremendous world gives.  There are things I have (images, joys, convictions, elations) that I know will slowly, invisibly transform themselves into the writing I will be doing this spring.  I hope, in some not small way, that these gusts of seaside air, that these towering cliffs, that these misty and misleading forests I traveled for two weeks will push into my writing. Not in a descriptive way, not in my telling, but in some new breathing, in some lack of fear of academic reprisal, in some new-found freedom. Yes, at my age.

Musee d'Archéologie Nationale
Hope for writing, hope in writing - this latest abstraction we added to maybe what we think it means to be human.  Watching our students try to figure out how to move a 1-ton megalith in the forests of Broceliande, seeing a female student stride forth amongst the young men who had jumped at the chance to do this thing and found themselves stuck, witnessing the moment when they realized they needed to find the midway point of the rope to lash it around the stone in a way that would distribute their force productively (equally?)... I marveled at the abstractions (both social and geometric) needed for this brute movement, stone lumbering on land.  Standing before the impossibly small "Dame à la Capuche," (sometimes called the "Dame de Brassempouy"), I stumbled in thought, trying to imagine the moves 25,000 years ago that resulted in this carving of ivory (ivory!) of a figure whose head is so delicate, so full of human presence superimposed (?), interwoven (?), at one with (?) the ivory from which she is carved.  Maybe it is also these expanses of time that will provide this desired amplification of writing. In the meantime, it's time to shatter the ice on the wash basin and plunge my face in the freezing waters of academic-work-that-is-not-writing-and-teaching and think more on Eleanor dazzling the troops of the Second Crusade than poor Henry's tricky palace politics.


  1. Ah, Katherine/Eleanor... As I'm sure you can relate, I sometimes wonder if my Eleanor is named after Katherine more so than any other of the famous Eleanors (formidable though they are): the twelfth-century one, the twentieth-century one, or the family namesake. This is lovely and I can't wait to read more about Brittany. Until then, may you dazzle away!

  2. dear Jennifer - agreed, completely!!!