Soup for a heat wave

This recipe is courtesy of my friend R. We made it this weekend when the temperature was hovering around 90 degrees, and it’s guaranteed to make you feel at least a little bit cooler.

Hungarian Cucumber Soup

Peel, de-seed, and finely dice 2-3 medium cucumbers. Mince up 1 garlic clove, and chop up a bunch of dill (how much will depend on how much you like dill). Toss all of the above together in a bowl with a bit of salt and black pepper. Stick the bowl in the fridge to get it as cold as possible.

While the main ingredients of the soup are chilling, lightly toast a generous handful of walnuts and chop them up finely. Set them aside until it’s time for dinner.

Right before you plan to serve the soup, take out the bowl of cucumber, add about 8 ounces plain yogurt, stir until mixed, and then add cold water until the soup is your desired consistency. Correct the seasoning, as the Joy of Cooking always says. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Put a couple of ice cubes in each bowl and ladle the soup over the ice cubes. Serve immediately. The ice cubes keep the soup cool while you’re eating it, and the whole thing is a lovely balance of crunchy and refreshing.

In other news, I am (re)discovering that the puzzle-solving feeling of slotting books into boxes is almost an antidote for the sorrows of moving. Let’s hope I still feel that way when it comes time to wrap each of my plates, mugs, and wine glasses in tissue paper and box them up.

Things to do in Philly when you’re moving

I’ve got a little over a week before my big northward move, and I’m trying to enjoy my remaining time in Philadelphia as much as possible while not frantically packing. Tomorrow a friend from out of town is coming to visit, and we plan on taking in my neighborhood’s Bastille Day celebration and the Maurice Sendak exhibition at the Rosenbach. Other things I’m going to try to see and do between now and moving day:

  • see a few movies at the Philadelphia International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival (possibly Affinity, because I love Sarah Waters‘ novels, even though that one isn’t my favorite; maybe some of the short film compilations; I haven’t decided what else);
  • have a few farewell dinners with Drexel classmates;
  • revisit the Philadelphia Museum of Art, especially the Marcel Duchamp room;
  • maybe go see a free outdoor movie at Penn’s Landing (Spider-Man 3 is on tonight, which sounds like just about right for a summer evening);
  • eat a few more cheesesteaks and sample a few more flavors of Capogiro’s gelato, preferably while sitting in the shade in Rittenhouse Square.

Alas, I’ll be leaving too soon for Shakespeare in Clark Park. Ah well. I’ll miss you, Philadelphia.

Personal anthology: E. M. Forster

In honor of my impending move, which is now (gulp!) less than two weeks away, a particularly apposite couple of paragraphs from E. M. Forster’s Howards End:

The Age of Property holds bitter moments even for a proprietor. When a
move is imminent, furniture becomes ridiculous, and Margaret now lay
awake at nights wondering where, where on earth they and all their
belongings would be deposited in September next. Chairs, tables,
pictures, books, that had rumbled down to them through the generations,
must rumble forward again like a slide of rubbish to which she longed
to give the final push, and send toppling into the sea. But there were
all their father’s books–they never read them, but they were their
father’s, and must be kept. There was the marble-topped
chiffonier–their mother had set store by it, they could not remember
why. Round every knob and cushion in the house gathered a sentiment
that was at times personal, but more often a faint piety to the dead, a
prolongation of rites that might have ended at the grave.

It was
absurd, if you came to think of it; Helen and Tibby came to think of
it; Margaret was too busy with the house-agents. The feudal ownership
of land did bring dignity, whereas the modern ownership of movables is
reducing us again to a nomadic horde. We are reverting to the
civilisation of luggage, and historians of the future will note how the
middle classes accreted possessions without taking root in the earth,
and may find in this the secret of their imaginative poverty.

— E. M. Forster, Howards End, chapter 17

Like Margaret Schlegel, I’m getting tired of being a nomad, and entertaining the occasional fantasy of just chucking everything and starting over. But at least it’ll be over in a couple of weeks.

(And speaking of Howards End, if you haven’t read Oso Raro’s splendid post about it at Slaves of Academe, go forthwith and read.)

Five years

This coming Monday will be my five-year blogging anniversary. (Five years?! Time flies, et cetera et cetera.) When I started my old blog, I intended it to be primarily about my transition out of academia. Around the time I started the blog, I had the “I don’t think I want to do this anymore” conversation with my dissertation adviser; he didn’t have any more ideas than I did at the time about what kinds of “alternative careers” might work for a fugitive English literature Ph.D., but he said he thought that whatever I ended up doing, I’d be doing something really cool in five years’ time. And he turned out to be right: here I am, having reinvented myself as a librarian, about to start a great new job, with four years of highly varied and very interesting experience under my belt. In some ways I haven’t wandered all that far from academia — I did end up as an academic librarian, after all, and I’ll be putting my subject knowledge to good use as a liaison to the English department — but in other ways, the distance between who I was then and who I am now is immense.

The biggest change is that, while I still follow what’s going on in English studies to some extent (albeit less than I used to), my relation to the field is much less personal. When I scan the contents of new journal issues, it’s for professional awareness as a librarian more than for my own research. And when I do read something in one of my areas of interest, I don’t feel obligated to stake out my own position in the critical debate unless I really want to. There’s a whole other set of professional debates to join instead. And I don’t define myself as an academic before anything else, the way I used to when I ate, slept, and breathed my (former) profession. My identity no longer hinges on my being a Literature Person, although that part of me is certainly still there. I think, on the whole, that this is a very good thing for my sanity.

It’s like standing at the fringe of a group of people at a party. In the past, I’d have been desperately trying to join the group, to say something clever, to change the course of the conversation, to get the rest of the people to accept me (because if they didn’t, it would mean I was an abysmal failure), and to avoid revealing how ignorant I really felt. Now, I’m much more relaxed; I can join in if I want to, or drift off and talk to someone else. My sense of worth isn’t bound up with joining that one group. I’ve already been welcomed into a different group, a big friendly heterogeneous one with lots of interesting topics of conversation, and I’m no longer worried about winding up alone in a corner.

Where I am as a blogger is a trickier question. If my referrer stats are any indication, people are still reading, but not in the same numbers as they used to. I don’t know if this is due to my mixed-topic blogging (part library, part literature, part opera, part random outtakes from daily life), or what. But I don’t think I’m in any danger of shutting up any time soon. To all of you reading this, thank you for coming back!

Confidential to the BSG fans among my readership…

… especially those of you on Twitter: I just learned (via Twitter, of course) that someone has set up Twitter accounts for a whole bunch of Battlestar Galactica characters. I’m currently following @billadama and @cylonhybrid. (But where’s Laura Roslin?) And looking forward to getting cable in my new apartment when I move at the end of the month, so I can catch up with Season 4.

And, speaking of Twitter and things related, I’ve had a small epiphany: I’ve been deeply interested in the internets ever since I discovered the web circa 1995, but I’ve always thought of that interest as separate from my official research interests, even after I officially moved into information science land. But, I realized last week, why not consider internet cultures (and subcultures) as one of the things I want to write and publish about? I can add it to the ever-lengthening list, which now ranges from history of the book to humanities computing to assorted literary-critical topics from my dissertation to the spatial dimensions of information. At some point, I’ve got to find a writing group so I can actually get some of these amorphous projects into a somewhat more morphous state, and pin down which ones are feasible.

But, in the meantime, I’ve got to go update my Twitter status. Later…

Pre-weekend update

My move (a little less than a month away) is finally arranged, and now the address-changing and packing begin in earnest. Tomorrow is my last day at Swarthmore, and then I take off for a long weekend of camping and canoeing in the wilds of Delaware with my extended family. And then back to Philadelphia to enjoy my last few weeks in the city and try to relax a bit and get ready for the movers to haul my worldly goods northward. I think the trip to the woods will be a welcome diversion.

In the meantime, I leave you with a link to the Steampunk Treehouse. Someday, I want to build one just like it.

Department of unexpected operatic adaptations

There are some types of source material — Shakespeare plays, classical
myths, lives of particularly colorful or notorious monarchs, and so on
— that lend themselves readily to being adapted into operas. There are
others that seem unlikely but turn out quite well; if
Stravinsky could write an opera based on Hogarth engravings, nearly
anything is possible. But occasionally, the mind does boggle. I confess
to a certain degree of startlement when I read the news that
there's going to be an operatic version of "Brokeback Mountain", based
(according to an interview with Charles Wuorinen, the composer) on the original short story by Annie Proulx rather than on Ang Lee's movie adaptation. I couldn't quite imagine what kind of musical idiom would work for the story: what happens when cowboy music meets opera?

On reflection, though, I think I'd probably enjoy
it more as an opera than as either a story or a movie. The movie, in
particular, struck me as very well-made but emotionally remote, as though the massive
weight of repression lying over the characters extended to the audience
and squelched whatever catharsis the end might have brought; turning it into an opera might reverse that effect. And, as Wuorinen points out, doomed love and the conflict
between desire and duty are pretty much staples of every opera plot

But what really boggled my mind was reading that Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is going to become an opera at La Scala. I mean, how would that even work as an opera? One scratches one's head and wonders in vain. I'll be very curious to read the reviews for that one.

Mapping and transportation hacks, #253

I've been trying to figure out the bus system for my soon-to-be neck of the woods, and have thus far found the regional transit agency's website a tad challenging to navigate.
So I made up my own transit map instead, with the bus routes marked on it, plus grocery stores and coffee shops and sundry other necessities of life. Which I'm linking to, just for fun:

View Larger Map

Just in case any of you happen to be in New London and want to get around without a car. (I'm still resisting the prospect of car ownership, because, well, $5-a-gallon gas, anyone? At least the current oil crisis means non-car-owning people like me aren't total freaks anymore. Though I'm studiously trying not to think too hard about the implications of peak oil, because it scares the living daylights out of me.)

Speaking of transit agency web sites: I'm perennially surprised by how many of them don't bother to furnish, say, a map of where all the routes go. SEPTA, for instance, has a clickable map of its regional rail and subway lines, but not of its bus lines, of which there are lots and lots. You're apparently just supposed to guess which routes might go near your destination and then look at the maps for each one separately, which is a right pain. And in the age of readily available free mapping tools, where anyone can whip up a map gizmo like the one I just made, why on earth aren't public transit agencies doing something similar?

Which is not to say that I won't miss many things about SEPTA, like having transit options on Sundays. I'm thinking about re-learning to ride a bike, a skill I haven't worked on in more than twenty years. But the nice thing about New London is that it's compact enough to bike everywhere.

Proof that the LOLcats model is universally adaptable

How on earth have I gone all this while without knowing about the existence of the LOL Manuscripts blog? Its motto: "Everything could use a little LOL. Especially the Renaissance." Technically they're LOL woodcuts, but, as the author of the blog, a graduate student who makes frequent use of EEBO, puts it, "LOL Early Modern Printed Materials didn't have the same ring to it." My favorite so far: "UR dueling it wrong." My inner early modernist is vastly amused. (Plus, I feel exactly the same way about black letter.)

A new job on the horizon

Those of you who've been following my posts about my job search have probably noticed that I haven't said anything about it in a while. I've been holding off making any kind of formal announcement until everything was settled, but now that I have an official offer letter in hand, I can share the big news: starting at the end of July, I'm going to be the new Reference and Instruction Librarian / Special Projects Coordinator at Connecticut College, in New London, CT (here it is on the map, if you're curious). As well as all the things implied by the job title, I'm also going to be doing some outreach to the English department — so I'll be putting my overeducation to good use, and in a highly congenial setting. I've come to really like the small liberal arts college library atmosphere after the past couple of years at Swarthmore, and when I went for my interview and a follow-up visit, I just really liked everyone I met and everything I saw at the library. To say I'm thrilled with the way the job search turned out is, if anything, an understatement.

I've already found an apartment in New London, and am now enmeshed in preparations for moving. New London is a small city, but big enough to have an arts scene, good coffee, a soon-to-be organic food co-op, and an early music festival. Plus it's got so much maritime history I may just have to take up messing about in boats. In my spare time I'm pondering what life will be like in "the Shire," as a friend who moved to New England a few years ago calls it. I'm already noticing how many references to Connecticut there are in Wallace Stevens' poems; while apartment-hunting, I also got to visit James Merrill's home town of Stonington, which is just up the coast from New London. I've never lived in Connecticut, but I'm intrigued by all the poets it's produced.

I'm going to miss Philadelphia, but I'll be able to get my big city fix (not to mention my opera fix) in New York and Boston, both of which are close by. And I'm certainly going to miss all the great people I've worked with for the past two years; thank goodness for library conferences, and for e-mail.

As of yesterday, I'm officially a librarian, with the master's degree to prove it, and as of next month, I'll have my first official professional library job. I'm still kind of amazed that it all worked out — but amazed in a good way.