Monday, June 30, 2008

First Day

Today was my first day of German classes. And I managed to buy postage stamps (who wants a letter?). And I just wrote a poem. Yay! It's been a while. . .

GLS, the language school I'm attending, seems pretty good so far. Well organized without being too formal. I was at a table with a bunch of French and Swiss French kids (like 18-21) while we waiting for our placement tests to be processed. I'm not sure if speaking French all morning helped my German much, but at least I'm getting some kind of language practice in.

I also speak some German here in the apartment with Alexandra, the girl I'm renting the room from.

And I speak German to her cat, Michi. Mostly things like, "Michi, don't bite my foot. Michi, get down from that shelf."

(Yes, those are my remaining balls of lace yarn).

But he is too beautiful for me to stay angry for long. . . Although the rascal actually managed to lick my yarn in two with his sharp little tongue.

But I tied it back together and continued. It's a diamond patterned shawl called Adamas that I'm making for Mom. My progress is somewhat less astonishing now that I'm not sitting in a conference all day every day.

But it's coming along.

Pitying my all-by-my-lonesomeness, my kind friends are attempting to set me up on friend blind dates. In the next few weeks, I could conceivably meet up with a friend of Anna's, a friend of Mark's, a friend of Dan's, a friend of Adam's, a friend of Khalil's and a friend of a friend of Kathryn's.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Knitting Parlour, Malvern

Although I already bought her green shawl yarn along with me (and I'm on row 29 I might add), Mom was right about what I found in Malvern: a yarn shop. Yay! When we got home from Malvern, the shop proprietress had already looked me up on Ravelry, prompting Anna to compare knitters to the free masons. Ahem. Maybe.

I bought some handsome Colinette Jitterbug in "Jay" to make some fingerless gloves for Anna. Her roommate's cat Ella was quite interested.

I managed to finish glove #1 before leaving, but I had to promise to send its mate along in the mail. It's another spirogyra.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Andrea Baker tagged me for this a little while ago, but it took me a bit to find it, and then a bit to be in the mood. But anyway, here I am.

What were you doing five years ago?

  • I had just gotten my B.A. from Brown and moved to Italy to be with Carlo, the Italian guy I was dating then. I was writing and trying to figure out what to do next with my life. I already had a vague plant to apply to MFA programs.
  • looking for a job teaching ESL in Bologna, going from school to school handing out my resumé and trying not to get too discouraged
  • reading Ulysses
  • cooling off my feet in the bidet – it was really freaking hot
  • writing in my journal what would later become the Souvenirs poems

Pictures of me five years ago:

What are five things (in no particular order) on your to-do list for today?

Well, I just arrived in Berlin yesterday, so I have lots of settling in things to do, like:

  • look into get a monthly train pass
  • look into getting a SIM card for old Italian cell phone
  • buy some food basics (olive oil, yogurt, fruit, pasta, cheese) and odds and ends (hangers, postage stamps)
  • walk around my new neighborhood and get oriented
  • buy addi turbo lace needles in size 5 to start a new shawl

What are five snacks you enjoy?

  • popcorn (sometimes I like to melt the butter with sage or thyme)
  • fresh raspberries (I could pretty much live on them)
  • pickles
  • cheese (often with pear or apples slices)
  • hippie corn nuts

What are five things you would do if you were a billionaire?

  • give money away to charities for clean water, food, etc. in poor places
  • buy dangerous amounts of yarn
  • take various people on various trips (ie. go to the south of France with Sophie)
  • get a larger apartment in Palo Alto or even (gasp!) a house, so that Caleb and I could each have studio space, a large kitchen, a guest room. . . maybe a garden. . . .
  • buy various old and heavy equipment for various kinds of fiber (for paper: letterpress printer, guillotine paper cutter) (for yarn: loom, spinning wheel, etc.), also some kitchen gadgets

What are five of your bad habits?

  • staying up all night to finish a piece of knitting or a gripping book
  • procrastination
  • that awful sort of trap not working efficiently but then never being in a fully non-working mode. I think it's really easy to fall into this in PhD school, and getting over it is one of my biggest goals.
  • using all the canvas bags in the house. When I need to go somewhere and I'm in a hurry, I just grab a new bag and put my papers or knitting or whatever in it. Then I end up with various things in 4 different bags and I think I've lost things and Caleb gets annoyed when we don't have a bag to take to the farmers' market.
  • spacing out on the internet for hours and then saying that I don't have time to write.

What are five places you have lived?

(These are all for at least a year)

  • Palo Alto, CA
  • Brooklyn, NY
  • Providence, RI
  • Bologna, Italy
  • Portland, OR

What are five jobs you have had?

  • adjunct community college English professor
  • ESL teacher in a private language school in Italy
  • library/bookstore work in college
  • waitressing (also mostly in college)
  • babysitting (for as low as $3 an hour)

Which five people do you want to tag?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

& Strawberries

For some reason, this sign totally cracked me up. It's outside a chain restaurant of some sort, and it's advertising their summer special. I presume it means that you can get any menu item with strawberries for 6.95, but it looks a bit dubious with this "something." Like they don't want to tell you what it is. Or maybe they're not entirely quite sure themselves what it is, but they're jolly well not going to let that stop them from selling it to you with strawberries for 6.95.

This made me miss Jessalynn because this is totally the kind of joke we would perseverate on way past the point where anyone else would find it amusing. Like "hold the honored citizen."

I actually wish I'd gotten a picture of another funny sign, but we were busy walking and I didn't want to be the annoying tourist. Basically it was an image of a dog and it said "no fouling." I think the point there was "pick up after your dog."

Later, having taken the "something & strawberries" shot it briefly occurred to me to walk to a park and look for "no fouling" signs so I could get a picture. The point of this confession is that maybe we should all be grateful that I have this knitting obsession. My obsessions could latch on to far more petty and ridiculous things. I had gloves to finish – I did not go in search of "no fouling" signs.

I'm in Berlin now, and I've even settled into my room. It feels great to have everything and shelves and in dressers in a terribly minimalist way rather than having to dig through the suitcase. Alexandra, the woman I'm renting the room from is really nice. We even spoke a little German. And she has a fabulous big blue-grey cat named Michi. He's super sleek.

Pictures of the cat and some remaining UK shots to follow soon.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Finished Object: Swallowtail Shawl

Pattern: Swallowtail Shawl
Yarn: a little under a ball of KnitPicks shadow lace yarn in "Snorkel Heather"
Needles: Addi Turbo Lace US 4

Or "Will I Ever Be Able to Successfully Divert These Obsessive Tendencies into Something Productive Like Writing a Dissertation?"

So, the Swallowtail Shawl proceeded quite rapidly, and I was a few rows from finished on Thursday night. As my fellow conference participants had demonstrated considerable curiosity as to what that weird blue bunchy thing I was working on might be, I was determined to complete it in time to wear it to our final session on Friday morning. I somehow managed to forget how long it takes to bind off the long edge of a lace shawl. But I kept obsessively at it, listening to the last few hours of my Dorothy Sayers audiobook, until it was ready to be bathed and blocked. We're talking maybe 3am here. Blame jet-lag?

Fortunately, although we didn't have private bath rooms, we did have little sinks in our rooms, so I was able to soak the shawl in the privacy of my own chambers rather than having to loiter in the hallway bathroom explaining to anyone who came in late to pee why I was soaking something blue in the sink.

I had been planning to block the shawl on my bed, but that was when I thought I would be blocking it during non-sleeping hours. Fortunately the carpet had a sort of under-mat that the blocking pins managed to stick in, and I blocked it overnight (or what remained of night) in the tiny strip of space between bed and desk.

In the morning it was ready to go.

I had no trouble sleeping on the train to Birmingham.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Midsummer's Day

I'm in Birmingham now, staying with my friend Anna.  We used to be ESL teachers together at the same rather hilarious English school in San Lazzaro, just outside Bologna. We had a very tense boss named Magda who spoke barely any English. We taught our students to repeat "there are drinks and snacks in the next room" with precision. 

Yesterday, to celebrate Midsummer's Day, we went for a hike in the Malvern hills. We were aiming specifically for one called "Midsummer's Hill," but I think we ended up scaling "Perseverance Hill" accidentally.  This may in the end have been more appropriate, as it was rather damp and misty, more requiring of perseverance than particularly evocative of midsummer. 

Her friend and her little son came along with us.  The little boy was totally adorable.  Just look at his walk. 

He was interested in everything.  He kept running all over to check things out.  He started talking about moles, and his mum said something about how you "can't pull a mole," and he thought this was the most hilarious thing ever.  Seriously, ever. He repeated it well over a hundred times.  He's autistic and tends to fixate on things like this, but after a few dozen repeats and belly laughs we began to find it pretty hilarious too. 

This house he's in front of above was gorgeous.  I want it. Complete with enormous fluffy cat in window. 

Now, can you guess what I found in Malvern village that made me very pleased?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


As promised yesterday, my menu-comprehension secret weapon. It was a gift from Sophie (she found it at a thrift store) right before I took off. It is also from 1970. I'm not sure whether I should be hoping foods haven't changed too much or not. . .

It's all German-to-English, and it's organized by course: vorspeissen, suppen, fisch-gerichte, haupt-gerichte, mit, and süss-speisen. It basically has anything you might encounter on each portion of a menu – dishes, preparation methods, ingredients, etc.

Something I think I will avoid:

Aalsuppe: A Hamburg specialty. It is a sweet-sour soup containing pieces of boiled fresh eel, whole prunes and other dried fruits in a broth flavored with white wine, ham or bacon, vegetables and spices.

Fortunately, I am not going to Hamburg.

Tonight I had penne all'arrabiatta with two fellow Californians, four Dutch people and a Belgian.

Monday, June 16, 2008

My Saving Lace

(But nothing, nothing will save me from bad puns. Alas.)

If you knit lace (or probably if you knit at all), you will agree that this is quite a bit of lace to have knit in a single day. The conference panels are interesting, don't get me wrong, but my sit-and-listen attention span is not up for 9-5 with just a few brief coffee/lunch breaks. But thanks to the lovely swallowtail, I sit calmly and listen well. And I use my row counter very discretely. <click>

Angela and I went for a nice long walk after things finished this evening, so here's the obligatory shot of us in front of a monument. So, Jess, this make you think of a certain basil plant?

We also had the obligatory fish and chip meal, and I was able to translate for some bewildered Italians who had been at the pub the day before and wanted the same meal (roast beef I think), but it was only offered on Sundays and they were very perplexed. They thought I was from Bologna, so I was all "aww, shucks." So I will be the bewildered one in Germany, but not when it comes to food! Tomorrow I will tell you why. . .

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Departures and Arrivals

the face of jetlag

In an ambitious attempt to make up for frequent silences in the last few months, I am resolving to blog something or other every day (or close enough) while I'm away from home for the next two months.

I left SFO around noon on Saturday, and I'm now in a University College of London dorm, on the forth floor in a small pink room with a bed, a desk, and a sink.

I'm hijacking some kind of internet, so the connection is weak, and I'm not sure how many photos I'll manage to include here. Maybe sticking with small ones will help.

I'm here for the Hermes Graduate Student Conference and Symposium. Basically, there are about 30 PhD students from various (primarily European) universities, and several professors as well. We're divided into about four panels of three people per day, and we will each be giving a brief (around 20 minute) talk followed by discussion. Mine is tomorrow just after lunch. I'll be talking about metaphors and the work of the Lautréamont.

I finished Laminaria just before I left (pictures soon), so I'm starting a new lace shawl to keep me "focused" during this week of listening.

Say hello to the beginning of bright blue Swallowtail:

Question of the day: Can you sleep on the plane? Do you read/knit/write/watch the movies/listen to music?

This flight I slept much of the way from SFO to Houston (I fear my mouth may have been hanging open when they came by to offer drinks), but I didn't sleep a lot on the Houston to London flight. I did, however, read Orson Scott Card's Enchantment in its entirety. I have to say, I got a great geek thrill when Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Folktale was mentioned. :) I'd thought I would knit, but I was bringing all new projects, nothing in progress, so I ended up waiting till I got here to start a new pattern.
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