Little Fish in a Big Pond
(June 22, 05)

Regrets for the Day

I got up late and they had stopped serving breakfast by the time I got down to the cafeteria. Thankfully, I knew how to work the milk machine so I could have a couple of bowls of cereal and coffee. But that just isn't a "stay with you" kind of meal.   Then lunch today was kind of light at the school. Well, I could have had a second sandwich but I couldn't identify the chunky brown dill pickle jelly thing that was on the bread with the brie cheese. (There was a whole stack of them left. I could have had several of them.) Then because I skipped the afternoon classes, I missed tea-time, so I didn't get my tea and cookie snack at 3:30.   (And you all know how I get about food.)   So that's definitely my regret for the day. Although it doesn't seem so bad because I'm eating a Chicken Tikka Kabob right now. (Carrots, chicken, cilantro and coconut milk in what looks like a fried burrito. I'm branching out at the Indian grocery.)

Western Scientific Manuscripts

Okay, so this was the class that I signed up for just because they gave a price break if you signed up for the whole week's worth of classes.   I'd already decided to skip the afternoon session, unless it was just really splendid, because along with the classes, they gave us a week's pass to the Senate House Library. Unfortunately, it closes 30 minutes before we get out of class. So, wow, hey, cool, I have a pass to the best paleography library in the English speaking world, but I can't use it because I am in classes. (Passes are about $10 a day.)   And indeed, I did just attend the morning classes.   Some interesting tidbits though.

So England is kind of a back-water place during the Middle Ages. Who knew that they were just a little hotbed of scientific manuscript translation and production? Now you're probably wondering--Science--how interesting can that be?   But you have to remember that they lumped Arithmetic, Geometry, Music, & Astronomy all together into something called the "quadrivium." So, it's a pretty broad playing field. And indeed, he covered all of them except Music. (Sigh.)

Where did a backward little country like England come by such stuff? Well, after the Normans invaded in 1066 (no, no, I can tell you are thinking about the Saxons. The Saxons invaded England in yesterday's classes. Today you should be picturing Errol Flynn as Robin Hood, being called, "Saxon dog" by his arrogant Norman French overlord. Okay, are you with me?)   So after the Normans invaded, they started stocking the libraries in their newly acquired monasteries.   Conveniently the first Crusade in 1098 had created a big boom of Arabic used books. The Spanish King had also loosened up a bunch of texts by kicking out all the other religions, except for Christianity. So a crap-load of medical texts, math books, and first year geometry books started making their way across Europe.

You are probably picturing a donkey (like in Lord of the Rings) laden with a bunch of big square books, aren't you? Well, not exactly. They would recopy books, translated or not, and go ahead and stitch them together, but they wouldn't put the book boards on yet. (Did you all see the book I made for Jean Paul's knighting? The one with the hard wood covers that you could knock someone unconscious with? Well, that's the part they didn't do.) Instead they would put them in these flimsy vellum covers and sell them that way. Once our Norman lord got home from the scribe-on-demand bookstore, he would group up several of these floppy manuscripts (called libelli) and have his local bookbinder make them up into a prettily bound book. Some of them were even on paper, despite the fact that this was only the 12th century. (But you have to buy from an Arab bookdealer to get paper. They are the only ones who know how to do that.)

Riddles for the Day

  • Who first managed to do math with the aid of the number zero?
  • Also, who introduced the zero to England?

These are not exactly who I thought they would be. So the Indians invented math with a zero, and the Muslims got it from them, and then we got the zero as part of the whole Arabic number set.   But surprisingly that wasn't a completely new thing. The Romans had a zero, they just used it to mean... well... zero. They didn't do fancy-schmancy algebra stuff with it. (For everyone who's dying to know, it looked like an o with a hat on it, or an o with a slash through it.

So Where Did the Professor Lose Me?

I decided I wasn't coming back after lunch after he made us read the second manuscript aloud in Latin that explained how to do multiplication using Roman numerals. Many people found it a lot of fun, but I was starting to have to pinch myself to stay awake.

The Kindness of Strangers

While standing and looking at the washers and dryers last night, I spotted several bottles of laundry detergent. There was a lady at one of the ironing boards so I asked, "Are we allowed to use those?"   She said she didn't know whose they were, but she would loan me some of hers. She ran up to her room and came down with two Evian water bottles full of detergent and fabric softener. What a nice person. Her name is Ann, she's from the Virgin Islands and is here for a month course.

Later today, after an hour of the librarian at Senate House Library grabbing random experts who happened to be walking through the library and forcing them to help me, a lady overheard him tell me I should go to the Warburg Library. She came over and said, "I'm walking over to the Warburg right now, do you want me to show you where it is?" So, like the good Midwesterner that I am, I said thank you and accepted the kindness.

Once I arrived at the Warburg they gave me a slip to fill out, but I couldn't finish the form since they wanted to know whether I was faculty or a PhD student. (They don't let Master's students in.)   When I got to the desk I looked as trustworthy as possible, and they said, "Oh that's all right. We'll just give you a temporary pass."

All in all, I'm finding London a friendly place.

Thesis Stuff (or Why I feel like a little fish in a big pond.)

Well, after the librarian grabbed Dr. Ganz, one of the speakers from yesterday, and made him listen to my questions about the funny little section marks on my lullaby manuscript,   (The one I'm doing my thesis on! Do keep up!) I had some success in locating a bunch of examples of similar signs in a couple of books. However, by that time, the library was closing and the nice lady was offering to take me to the other library. So the librarian stashed my pile of books in a corner, and promised not to re-shelve them. I'm going to get up early and go back over tomorrow morning. How I'm going to sort through 3 books and a 12 volume encyclopedia of Latin hymns in 30 minutes, I don't know. But I'm going to give it a try. Perhaps I'll look pitiful again.

The Tube

So having been pretty thoroughly overwhelmed, I decided to overcome my Tube intimidation. I wandered down to the Holburn station so that I wouldn't have to change trains to get to St. Paul's. (Diarmaid ask for some photos from around there. See the link at the bottom of the page.) I pondered the instructions, decided that what I really wanted was a "return ticket," which I was pretty sure meant that I could go there and come back, since it cost twice what the other tickets did. (Yes, I did read the travel guides. But that's the exact sort of information that doesn't stick with me.)

The train had 8 million people on it, and I wedged myself, sardine like between a woman with a purse and a man with a backpack, then tried hard not to step on the toes of the woman wearing little black flip flops who was sitting so I couldn't really see her. Very warm, very aromatic. However, surprisingly easy to navigate around in. Everything is excruciatingly well marked. One would just have to willfully be trying to get lost, to miss one's stop.

St. Paul's

Well, I arrived too late to go on the grounds. Take a look at the photos. That's pretty much what I saw. It's kind of a touristy area, so everything is clean and nice. I got the feeling that if I yelled, several off-work bank tellers would pile out of the nearest coffee shop or champagne bar and bash my assailant over the head with a "Back the Bid" coffee mug.   (Britain is bidding on the Olympics for 2012, and that's their slogan.)   As you take a peek at the photos, remember that this is at 9pm at night. The sun rises about 4 and doesn't go down till well after 9:30.

Obligatory Statements (from the St. Paul's website)

A Cathedral dedicated to St Paul has overlooked the City of London since 604AD, a constant reminder to this great commercial centre of the importance of the spiritual side of life. The current Cathedral - the fourth to occupy this site - was designed by the court architect Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1675 and 1710 after its predecessor was destroyed in the Great Fire of London. Its architectural and artistic importance reflect the determination of the five monarchs who oversaw its building that London's leading church should be as beautiful and imposing as their private palaces. As the Cathedral of the capital city, St Paul's is the spiritual focus for the Nation. This is where people and events of overwhelming importance to the country have been celebrated, mourned and commemorated since the first Service took place in 1697.

Photos for Today