Friday, August 1, 2008

Santa Cruz Diary

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday is the point in the Dickens Universe when you realize that your trousers feel too tight at the waist with all the overeating you’ve been doing all week long. It’s also the point at which you realize that you haven’t quite accomplished as much writing as you would have liked and ought to be more choosy about which talks you will attend and which activities you will avoid.

Breakfast done, I retuned to my suite to spend time on the phone with the two bus companies that run the public bus service along the mid-Californian coast. I am determined to visit Carmel-By-The-Sea, a beautiful little coastal town at the other end of Monterey Bay that everyone has been raving about. However, to get there without a car means spending about three hours (one way) and transferring through four buses. None of which daunts me, of course. After all, I cannot think of a better way by which to see this part of the country. Having obtained the schedule and having discovered exactly how to get there, I intend to leave right after breakfast tomorrow morning on my own little adventure.

I spent the next couple of hours working on my Anglophilia manuscript and was amazed at how much work I managed to accomplish. Then it was time to get to lunch and head to the screening of the final installment of Hard Times, which for me has been one of the more entertaining parts of the week.

Then, after a cup of lemon tea, I headed off to listen to Margaret Loose of UC San Diego speak on Chartism, a session I found most enlightening. I actually managed a short afternoon nap today before heading off for dinner and a glass of Port, then repairing to the Porter Dining Hall for the DVD presentation of Elaine Freedgood’s presentation on “Industrial Spectatorship: Factory Tourism and the Adventure of Production”. This quite brilliant presentation by one of my own NYU colleagues was fascinating and heart breaking at the same time as I came to understand the cruel conditions that prevailed in the Victorian factory and the detailed archival information that is available in the form of descriptive accounts and illustrations of the life and work of factory hands in the late 19th century. Despite the fact that this talk was taped, Elaine’s dry humor and deadpan expressions even when saying something hugely funny was a revelation in itself.

Then, it was time for another party—a cheese and desserts party thrown by the Friends of the Dickens Universe, at which an array of cheeses and cakes were presented for our nibbling pleasure together with a range of wines. Unable to take in another sip, I escaped to my suite for a shower before dressing to get out once again for another party—yes, this one thrown by the ‘English Ladies’ in our midst in their suite just above ours. Over champagne and strawberries, I socialized some more and it was only close to midnight that I decided to call it a day.

And so to Bed…

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sally Ledger of Birkbeck College, London, is a delightful speaker and I looked forward to her morning talk on “Mere Dull Melodrama: Popular Aesthetics in Hard Times and Mary Barton” all week. She did not disappoint. The poise with which she articulates her ideas and the thorough scholarship with which they are elucidated is a model for any earnest scholar. No wonder the faculty seminar session that followed it was lively and collegial and involved a fruitful exchange of views and ideas.

Lunch done, I attended Jim Adams’ session on Scholarly Publishing with the idea of discovering any new thinking in the field of academic writing. Then I raced off to see the third installment of the Granada TV version of Hard Times which I am coming to anticipate eagerly with each passing day. After a lovely Victorian tea, I returned to my suite to spend the next couple of hours revising my Anglophilia manuscript.

Then, freshly showered, I joined Carol Mackay and my suite mates Deborah Shapple and Jill Mattus at O Mei, a Schezwan fusion Chinese restaurant that concocts the most amazing food. But for the crispy noodles which I found a little bland, everything else was delightfully tasty and for someone who doesn’t usually care for Chinese food in North America, this was truly a treat.

As if this much activity wasn’t adequate, I joined my colleagues, once again, at the party thrown by the faculty for the graduate students. Spending the next hour chatting with many of them, I realized at 11 pm, how fatigued I was and returned with Deborah, across the fog-enshrouded bridges over the ravines, back to my suite to call it a night. And so to Bed…

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hard to believe I’ve only been here three days. We’ve already packed so much into this Dickens Summer Camp of sorts that I fear there will be nothing left of Dickens to dissect by the time Friday rolls around!

Determined to catch up with Chriselle and hear all about her cruise, I finally caught hold of her at work after I returned from breakfast and spent almost an hour talking about everything. Happily, I discovered that the cruise was a very unique experience for her and one that the entire Harris family enjoyed.

Determined also to discover Santa Cruz more closely than I had last summer, I took the public bus downtown this morning and strolled at leisure around the main shopping areas. Haunting consignment and thrift stores, antiques and collectible shops, I found some treasures and promptly snapped them up. Then, I raced back to the bus terminus in time to watch Part Two of Hard Times in the auditorium. It is surprising how much of the text is eliminated in film adaptations without losing the essence of the work. Though much abbreviated, this series is compelling and I am enjoying it very much. At the Victorian Tea that followed, I tried to restrict myself to just a few treats but my sweet tooth let me down badly and I feasted on the dainty temptations laid out for our consumption.

Back in my room, I worked steadily on the revision of a manuscript that is a creative memoir when I received a call from my friend and former neighbor Rosemary Harding. It was delightful to chat on the phone with Rosemary whom I least expected to talk to in California. After a productive stint at my laptop, I walked downhill along the redwood forest trails with my roomie Deborah Shapple of the University of Oregon and the newest room mate to have joined our suite, Jill Matus from the University of Toronto. Over Mexican Beef and Cheese Enchiladas, we got acquainted, then I enjoyed a delicious glass of Port at Post Prandial Potations that preceded a very absorbing lecture by Jim Adams of Cornell on “Industry and Insurrection: Narrating Manhood”. This gave me the opportunity to chat with Sally Ledger of Birkbeck College, London, whom I had met last year but who informed me that she has just accepted a new position at Royal Holloway College in London. However, since she uses the British Library frequently, we intend to meet often for coffee when I am in London next month.

Fairly ready to drop but satisfied at the mix of work and leisure that the day brought me, I showered and spent a while reading before hitting the sack… …and so to Bed.

Monday, July 28, 2008

No such luck. I awoke at 5 am., did some reading, then walked downhill towards breakfast and more granola. Finally got a wireless signal today and was able to access my email, making the carting of my laptop across the country worthwhile.This morning’s lecture by James (Jim) Buzzard of MIT on “The Frontiers of Ethnography” with special reference to Mary Barton was wonderfully up my alley and dealt with so many of the issues with which I have grappled as I my own comparative ethnographic inquiry on Anglo-Indians has taken shape over the past two years. While Jim’s talk focused on 19th century anthropological attitudes towards ‘culture’, many of the aspects of his study intersect mine and I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to him about some of these during the faculty seminar session that followed.

Also wonderfully enlightening and highly entertaining was my friend Catherine Robson’s lecture humorously entitled, “Why ‘It’s Grim up North’: A Brief Primer on Yorkshire, Lancashire and All Things Northern”. Having been raised in Yorkshire herself (though she went to Grad school at Berkeley and now teaches at UC Davis), Catherine included a great deal of her personal history in the presentation which she interspersed with excerpts from Monty Python routines and YouTube.

Following John Jordan’s advice that we pace ourselves well lest we collapse with exhaustion, I skipped attendance at the evening lecture, escaping to my room after dinner and a glass of wine. Eating four meals a day will soon do me in—yes, we do have a Victorian Tea served to us each afternoon with marvelously tempting treats thrown in each day. Despite my best resolve to eat healthy, I am succumbing to the temptations of ice-cream sundaes and will either have to skip a meal a day or step up my exercise routines on campus.

One of the lighter elements of this week’s stay in Santa Cruz is the screening of the 1977 Granada TV version of Dickens’ Hard Times each afternoon in installments in the auditorium. Part One was superbly acted with Timothy West playing Bounderby to perfection and I intend to catch the remaining three parts in the next few days.

Was delighted to receive a call from Chriselle this morning, back from her Caribbean cruise, and though we could not talk for long today, I look forward to getting the low down on every single aspect of her holiday tomorrow.

With Pepys’ line echoing in my ear, I shall turn towards the reading of Fodor’s Guide to Scotland, in preparation for our driving tour of the Highlands next month.

…and so to Bed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

So I showered at the unearthly hour of 6 am trying hard not to disturb my other suite mates still soundly asleep in their own bedrooms. Then eager to retread upon fondly remembered pathways from last summer, I wound my way downhill to College Eight hugging myself to ward off the dawn chill of this campus that sits aloft lording it over the sights of Monterey Bay which slumbers at the foot of the mountain ridge along which the university campus sprawls. Mist hangs from the giant redwood trees outside my window making me feel encapsulated by the arms of Nature and living in a tree house for the week, emerging only to find creature comforts in the vulgarly vast meals I consume thrice a day in the cafeteria.

To get to College Eight from the Grad student dorms—a luxurious suite of 4 bedrooms each of which is occupied by a “Victorianist” from a different part of the country--I pass herds of deer (much smaller than the ones who ravage my Connecticut garden—unless these are all fawns!) and fearful signs that say “Beware Mountain Lion” along enticing trails fringed with Alpine greenery. How any student can get any work done in such idyllic surroundings remains a mystery to me!

For a foodie to anticipate dorm grub is somewhat odd but I have to admit delight and relief to find that the College Eight cafeteria still stocks “Mark’s homemade granola” that I ate by the bowlful last year and led me to devise my own recipe at home using the variety of seeds—sesame, pumpkin, sunflower—that he adds so liberally to his mixture.

Determined to shake jetlag away though the temptation to nap almost overcame my resolve, I took the local bus downtown from campus to the Boardwalk at Santa Cruz on a particularly warm afternoon. Once the fog burns off, a generally pleasant day takes shape and despite the fact that many store fronts remained closed for the weekend, there was an air of activity along Pacific Avenue where the trendy shops and restaurants attracted droves of tourists. Naturally, I ignored all the clothing and shoe stores and browsed in the vintage jewelry and antiques stores before I found my way on foot to the Boardwalk where I was excited at the prospect of meeting Dr. Kashinath Pakrasi (who now goes as “Kashi”), former professor of English at Bombay’s Ruia College and my M.Phil dissertation mentor.

Here’s to Reunions, Californian or otherwise. If you had told me 24 years ago that I’d see my mentor again after a quarter century as bikinied beauties and cell-phone junkies passed by on a beach promenade in California, I’d have told you to get your head examined. At that point in my life, the USA wasn’t even remotely on my mind, let alone emigration. Meeting Kashi again was a startling experience for both of us. Having driven all the way from Mountain View with his wife Sheela and daughter Nandita, they arrived late for our rendez-vous but we made up for lost time by catching up as quickly as we could on the news of the past two decades over some hot java at a local coffee shop. They dropped me off at campus but strolled around through the dense redwood trails before bidding me goodbye and promising to stay in touch via email.

With dinner scheduled for 5.30 (who can eat at 5.30?!?), I made my way back on foot to College Eight—this is possibly the only exercise I will obtain all week long; so I might as well make these mountainous treks brisk and frequent—for Pork Ribs and wonderfully crisp sauteed mixed green beans and a generous helping of salad before succumbing to the temptation of a large ice-cream sundae. This meal was followed by PPP (Post-Prandial Potations), a session devoted to wine sampling and socializing before the start of the evening talk, this one given by my suite mate and friend Helene Michie of Rice University in Texas whose lecture was entitled, “Doing Hard Time: The Tenses of History”. Though it was superbly thought over and crafted, I have to admit to succumbing to jetlag once again. My eyes refused to stay open beyond 9 pm and when the questions and answer session ended, I gratefully raced back to my room desperate to grab a few zzzzs and hoping my body clock will adjust quickly enough and wake me at a more reasonable hour tomorrow morning.

As Samuel Pepys ended his own 18th century diary: “… and so to Bed”.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Uneventful flight from Kennedy airport into San Francisco. I gave up my window seat to a husband-and-wife duo who wanted to sit together and, in grateful return, helped me stash my duffle into the overhead bin. I lost no time getting down to the funny business of devouring the paperback I carried with me for in-flight reading—Brit-Think, Ameri-Think:A Transatlantic Survival Guide by Jane Warmsley. The book was a gift from my Brit friends Jonathan and Diana Thomson who thought that my new teaching assignment in the UK would require me to get acquainted with the cultural differences that separate England from America. Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw who said that England and America are two countries separated by a common language? Well, Warmsley shows, in the funniest of ways, that they are not only separated by language but by attitudes towards money, food, fashion, children, pets and leaders. Her comments are so astute and so comical that I finished the entire volume on the six hour flight stopping only to enjoy the yummy crab cake sandwich lunch I had carried with me from home washed down with the diet coke that (mercifully) American Airlines is still providing on domestic US flights.

My colleague Tricia Lootens of the University of Georgia was awaiting my arrival at the baggage carousel at 2. 30 pm local time and together we shared a shuttle service called Early Bird to Santa Cruz where we are attending the week-long Dickens Universe at the University of California. Despite rather bad traffic snags around Los Gatos, we made it in an hour and a half--just in time to pick up room keys (in the grad dorms) and extra linen, meet and greet other colleagues from around the country at the Welcome Dinner and receive an Orientation lecture from “the Director of the Universe”, my friend John Jordan who does an outstanding job each year coordinating this event. With the focus on the industrial novel Hard Times (with Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton thrown in for good measure), it promises to be an enlightening week and I hope to learn a lot about England during the Industrial Revolution.

Then serious jet lag set in and unable to suppress my yawns a moment longer, I headed off to my room only to spend a fitful night and to wake up at the crack of a new California dawn, jetlagged and wide awake.

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