Monday, May 12, 2003

At last, the Mother Superior and Sister Andrea have returned from Kalamazoo 2003, when three thousand medievalists descended upon Western Michigan. We had a lovely time wandering about among the scholars, going to scholarly events, buying T-shirts and books, etc.

Certain things deserve special mention, of course. We shall describe them:
Please note, all of Iris's comments are italicized
Great scholarship. I can't even begin to explain the joy of sitting in a room that holds four or five of the queens among scholars of high medieval English women's anchoritism, when, after a few grad student scholars give their papers on Barking Abbey, the royals begin analyzing the precise gradations of Barking's history and literature. I sat and gawked. I could almost see new books and articles forming in the air around the room. Same goes for the second plenary session, given by Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, in which the good professor (one of the queens of anchoritic scholarship) sang the praises of multilingual research in twelfth- and thirteenth-century "English" literature. Effectively, she gave me a mission statement for handling research for the rest of my life. First plenary was excellent as well, providing genuine and believable connections between antisemitism and homophobia in fifteenth-century Spanish poetry and the wider rise of antisemitism in Spain before 1492.

Yes, much of the scholarship was good. It made my brain hurt. I went to three mind-expanding sessions the first day and nearly had an aneurism. Good thing Monty Python's Holy Grail was on that evening, or I might have been forced to endure more scholarship than I could handle I haven't been back in an academic environment since May of 2002. This was a taste of what I might experience if I ever go back for my masters. I think I need an aspirin.

Horrid scholarship. In one session, which followed medieval themes in a well-known fantasy trilogy by a well-known Old English scholar whose work has recently been made into a well-known movie trilogy by Peter Jackson, there were four presentations. The fourth presenter was a woman not noticeably older than the members of the Nunnery. This woman felt called upon to give her paper while wearing a thin, see-through, low-cut pink blouse over a thin fringed skirt just reaching her knees. She sat upon the desk with her legs crossed as she gave this paper, thus displaying her thigh through the slit in her skirt to the assembled company. Clothing choices aside, this woman's research qualities... well, first, I do not think casual readers of same fantasy trilogy need to examine the pronunciation guide in the appendices, but givers of scholarly papers really ought to. Besides which she made four or five MAJOR errors in her reading of the text. For example, the well-known short furry-footed hero does not die at the end....! Sighhhhh.....

I concur. The tart couldn't discern that although the wizards in the story were not referred to as gods, they were in fact a subset of deified beings, and thus should not have been left our of a paper specifically about actions by gods. Le Duh. Hand me the clue-by-four, Sister Andrea.

Alcohol. I have never seen so much free booze in my life. Of course, most of the free wine at the daily wine hours... well, shall we say, there was alcohol to recommend it. Then again, on Saturday afternoon, the grad students at the University of Central Oklahoma brought home-brewed mead, which was certainly worth drinking, especially the

Metheglin. I always wanted to drink metheglin, spelled "metheglyn" in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising when Merriman and Will drink it at Miss Greythorne's ball. It turns out to be a type of mead flavored with cinnamon and ginger (? I didn't get an ingredient list), sweet, spicy and quite worth getting drunk on. In fact, if I could get metheglin at New York pubs, I would do quite a bit more drinking.

Burp.

The Exhibit Hall. Imagine a room the size of a football field, filled with sellers of books on medieval topics, tapestries, manuscript pages, more books on medieval topics, swords-in-soaps, Viking t-shirts... Oh yes, and there were side corridors holding overflow sellers. Imagine Andrea entering this complex of rooms. Imagine Andrea trying very hard not to spend the next year's tuition.

It wasn't quite that big, perhaps a fourth of a football field. Sister Andrea, you must remember, does not have much experience with large fields. She's out east, you know. There were lots of books though, that was true enough. Many were sold by the time we got to them. They sat on the shelves with their "sold" tags stuck inside, jeering at us. Quite disconcerting. I wandered around the stalls asking for new scholarly work on Pecham. No one had any. I found some obscure thesis paper written in 1949, so I bought that. Twenty dollars. Carrying all of Andrea's purchases back to the room, I was amazed by the weight of used money.

The Dance. Quite a hallucinatory experience: hundreds of scholars between the ages of twenty-one and... seventy?... grinding on the dance floor to music that stretches from techno back to polka. I heard a sixty-some-year-old male professor enthusiastically head-banging to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" announce, "I love this song. Who sings it?" Oh, and I got a swing-dance lesson... from a fellow grad student who, while not M. Darcy, was certainly worth getting a dance lesson from. It's a pity I'm an incurable klutz.

Grinding is the wrong word. Flailing, is much more appropriately descriptive. There was a kilt. I didn't have a chance to look underneath it. There was a purple mesh shirt, from which all averted their eyes. Old people danced. Young women danced. Geeky, horrid boys danced. Couples danced. Young eligible men sat around the tables arguing about bad presentations, poor scholarship, and collegial politics . They also oogled girls from time to time. Cowards.

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