Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A few things I learned in Oxford

1. Walking around medieval streets never gets old...though it does do a number on the knees.

2. There will always be a market for the nautical/preppy look.

3. Oaths must be taken to enter libraries: "I will not set flame to the building (presumably with my candle that I'm reading by), nor will I smoke next to my 16th-century manuscript. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye."

4. "Magdalen" is pronounced "Maudlin" in ye olde Oxford-lish.

5. The inklings are everywhere...& Harry Potter. Really. Kids in black robes with glasses and scars above their eyebrows...ok, maybe not that last part.

Just when you thought you were stuck with me

Sue, a fellow seminarian (and special collections librarian) is keeping a nicely detailed travel blog during the trip. I'm envious of her commitment to the cause or at least to regular, informative posting.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Friday, June 26, 2009

Who needs computers when you've got 17th-c printing presses?

Everyone I talked to who had been to Antwerp--not the longest list, but a list nonetheless--had one comment in common: The Plantin-Moretus Museum (a name I can know actually pronounce...with a Dutch accent or a French one). Ah, how right they were. Of course, it didn't hurt that the NEH crew had already carefully orchestrated a VIP tour of the place and its amazing holdings, including several original printing presses from the 17th century. In true "field trip" style we even got to ink & press a piece of paper using one of the original machines. A few personal favorites included the small Mercator atlases during our VIP book exhibit and holding the small piece of type mere seconds after it came out of molten metal. Sound dangerous? risky? shocking, perhaps? That's because it is. Bookishness has its risks, you know. (I'm feeling the need to quote some super hero line--or to make some cliched point about knowledge and power--but I'll resist).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Top five ways to avoid/beat jet lag

1. Don't sit next to a ten-year old girl traveling solo on an overnight flight, otherwise you'll be "playing school" (in Dutch) and remarking with forced enthusiasm to every comment about how the wing looks--all instead of sleeping.
2. Avoid six legs of mass transit when carrying three jumbo pieces of luggage where signs are in non-romance-language-no-way-I'm-gonna-understand-this Dutch.
3. Drink espresso--asap.
4. Block out all light coming in from window (midsummer nights, wha?!), and go to bed at 8:30 p.m. like said ten-year-old.
5. Don't do #3 right before #4.

[Picture: View from my room in Antwerp.]

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Reformation of the Book

For about six weeks this summer, I'll be joining 15 or so other participants in the NEH seminar, "The Reformation of the Book." We begin the bookish adventure in Antwerp, followed by a brief stay in London and then our three-week residency (of sorts) at St. Edmund Hall in Oxford. In lieu of mass email updates, and at risk of never-ending cycles of meta-analysis on what it means to write about travel (a natural conquence of this), I'll be temporarily transforming this blog into a travel blog--and hopefully linking to the blogs of my fellow seminarians.

On a somewhat related note, my current shameless summer reading selection (Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian) has proven to be a surprisingly appropriate precursor to the trip--old libraries, travels around Europe, vampire pursuits...the stuff dreams are made of.

Comic relief brought to you from...the 'twitterverse'

Monday, June 8, 2009

Film "Book Report": Helvetica

I'm indebted to Krista Hoefle and her good decision to reincarnate a true classic: the book report. Here goes.

Title: Helvetica

Author: Gary Hustwit

Summary: Helvetica is everywhere. It is watching you. It's in Ikea, on that dollarstore sign down the street, and on the binding of those New Mermaid editions of Renaissance plays sitting on your bookshelf...

Main point: See summary.

Favorite Part: When the "fontist" said to have invented the Helvetica typeface nonchalantly dismisses every font designed since 1950 with a wave of his hand and a roll of his eyes. Or maybe I'm just reading into things.

Questions for the Author: First, is Helvetica a perfect modernist reckoning of design, utility, and balance, or is just fascist? Second, what's up with the Helvetica haters? Finally, do you have a fan club?