So I packed for the event last night, and emailed several times with the good lady who said I could ride with her, but I was feeling a little uneasy. Actually, I was just feeling queasy in general because the heat never dropped enough to sleep. This morning though, the humidity and heat really hit me like a brick. We were back in the hottest of the classrooms for the whole day and there were workmen painting outside, so people in the class kept shutting the window. About mid-morning I just really felt wretched--kind of like I do up in the mountains when I have altitude sickness. Is it possible to have humidity sickness? Anyway, I carefully thought about my plans for the weekend:
- Drag suitcase several blocks in the rain to a train station.
- Go to a different burrough of London
- Disembark in a strange train station.
- Use very iffy directions to try to find person's apartment, which is in an unmarked building in an alley.
- Go grocery shopping.
- Arrive on site, help set tent up in a thunderstorm.
- Potentially lay awake all night in strange tent feeling queasy.
That's really as far as I got before I decided--that's nuts. If I could day-trip, this would be fun. But camping is going to be just one step too hard. Of course, I'm an Ansteorran, and we are not a terribly sturdy people about being rained on. (Okay, and I'm from Northern Ansteorra, this much humidity eventually makes me feel sick.) So I snuck onto one of the Senate House Library computers at coffee break this morning and sent emails saying I was not coming. They were terribly nice about it.
One of the librarians in the classes urged me to leave a bit early today and go get my reader's pass at the British Library. (I had to send letters of recommendation, it all had to be approved, and a number had to be issued to me before I got here. Now I have to go have a permanent picture ID card made that says I can use the BL.) I trotted back to the dorm just as it started raining and gathered up my stack of documentation that I brought from home to show that I'm a trustworthy person. Still feeling a little queasy and out of it, I carefully picked up my umbrella and walked to the British Library. As I came in the doors, I read a big banner that said "British Museum."
Now for those of you that know London, you realize that it's not really possible to be trying to get to the British Library and accidentally find yourself in the great court of the British Museum. So I have to say that I blame Diarmaid for this.
Last night he was telling me that if I was getting so hot, I should go to the British Museum because it was air-conditioned. Obviously, my subconscious filed that away, and when I wasn't paying attention, diverted my feet towards the air-conditioning. So there I was in the British Museum without my camera and lugging around a bunch of documentation and notebooks that would have been useful at the British Library, but ended up being just so much luggage to be hauled around. I'm sure it won't happen again though. The British Museum's air-conditioning isn't up to the heat and humidity either, so it was kind of "less warm but still muggy" inside the exhibit galleries.
Wow. Big building. I wandered around a bit and ended up going through the Egyptian, Roman and Greek exhibits. Just so bizarre. Lord Elgin in the early 1800s was a British Ambassador who had statues and friezes removed from the Parthenon and brought to England. We're not talking about a couple of them, no, he took enough to cover the walls of several large galleries.
I walked around, torn between thinking how cool it was to be able to see statues that were carved three or four hundred years BC, and feeling sheer horror that so many national treasures had been looted from various countries. Having visited Egypt and seen places where European countries have made off with parts and pieces of temples and won't give them back, I have a strong sympathy for all the governments who are constantly suing the British Museum trying to get their stuff back.
To be fair though, the artifacts are being well housed, and some of the countries that want items repatriated are poor enough that they would not have been well cared for this last 200 years. (Even that's kind of creepy isn't it? They have been at the British Museum for a couple of hundred years already.)
I'm going back tomorrow with a camera. One of the manuscript school students and I are going to meet at the Library and go do the Museum together. Then possibly make a day of it on Sunday and go to Norwich and do a "Margery Kempe" tour. (He's doing his dissertation on Margery Kempe, and let's face it, I'm probably the only person he knows who would think that would be fun.)
Later Middle English Handwriting Class
A couple of you have asked questions about when did calligraphy turn into handwriting? Well, to sum it up... the Romans who wrote home to their moms for warm underwear, wrote their letters in an informal Latin cursive. Although that doesn't get retained completely, you can see a relationship to it, in the informal handwriting that occasionally appears in books from the Anglo Saxon period. So, there have always been levels of scripts, those produced by professionals for books and important documents, those produced by scribes for legal purposes, and then a very informal, quick kind of writing that monks used when they made out their grocery lists, or scrawled bad poetry on the walls of the garderobe.
In the later Middle Ages (12th -15th century) a kind of handwriting developed in Britain that they call Anglicana. It was used for laundry lists, inventories by the Wool merchants, lawyer's briefs--you get the picture--the middle class. Well, when the middle class came into money, they wanted to buy luxury items like books. So those books started being written in a script that they could already read easily. But the scribes made up a slightly nicer version that scholars call Anglicana Forma. (See the photos for today for examples).
If you clicked over to the examples, you can see that it's pretty darn hard to read. It's got lots of abbreviations and letterforms that look alike. The professor, Pamela Robinson, gave us some nice handouts on what the abbreviations were and how the letter forms change over time, and how one is supposed to transcribe a medieval document. But she only went over about half of the material before she started having us go around the room and try to read out loud from sample texts that she kept passing out. That was actually the entire class--all day--just the whole bunch of us, reading poorly, out loud, in the hot classroom, poking each other trying to stay awake.
It was good practice and by the end of each sheet I'd be thinking, "Oh that funny circle with the squiggly bit, that's a "W." But as a teacher I was kind of appalled that she didn't go back and "catch us up" once she realized that most of us were not familiar with the letter forms. Of course, she was hot as well, and so she started being snappish when we couldn't read a word, or guessed wrong. So, of course, every time we went around the circle, there were fewer of us who were willing to keep reading. (Oddly, the older people dropped out first, then the Brits, at the bitter end it was all us foreign students who were still in there plugging away at it.) Still, as I said, very good practice, and really excellent handouts on Latin abbreviation and a nice bibliography on the history of literacy.
She also gave me a couple of more terms for my paragraph marks from my thesis manuscript. She called the C looking one a "capitalum" and said it derived from the word "chapter," (which I knew already). But she called the vaguely P shaped one a "gallows punctuation mark." And indeed, it does look like a little gallows. She recommended one of the books that I've got stacked up at the Senate House Library that I didn't make it to. I'll check to see if they have the same books at the British Library, but if they don't, I guess I'll have to pay for a pass to get back into the Senate House Library.
So I'm sitting here eating a spinach bhaji and a vegetable spring roll. After I send this out, I'm going to address some postcards and then lay on my bed and read a bit in a children's book I bought on the walk home, one of the "Tales of Redwall" series. Since I haven't been sleeping well, I thought I'd better get some light bedtime reading.