april 2003

4.1.03
Grrr...I should have known that the bizarre weather patterns that have gripped our region for almost a year now would decide to go out with a bang. Yesterday, at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Maryland, the Baltimore Orioles opening day game versus the Cleveland Indians was delayed in the third inning due to...snow.


Winter Wonderland
(The snow is a little hard to see at this size, so click here to see a larger version)

True, it didn't stick, and the game was only delayed for fifteen minutes or so, but still, it is just wrong, wrong, wrong for it to snow during a baseball game, even in March (unless you're playing in Colorado or Chicago—and even then it's still pretty wrong).

The umpires decided to call the game after the snowfall got so heavy that the ball got momentarily lost on a critical play in which a run scored. During the delay, the PA engineers had a good time playing "Let It Snow" and 10,000 Maniacs' "Like the Weather". Very cute. People in the stands made a mad dash for the concession stands during the break, returning with either beer or coffee; some didn't return at all. As usual, the forecasters screwed us: they predicted a sunny day with a high of 45 and maybe a brief flurry in the afternoon; we got a mostly cloudy day with an extended snow shower and a temperature that at not point even considered the possibility of getting out of the 30s.

Due to a fortunate confluence of events, however, we will be seeing two more games this week, one more against the Indians on Thursday night and another on Saturday afternoon against the Red Sox (I'm hoping Pedro will be pitching), so hopefully I will get to experience baseball as it was meant to be experienced at some point in the near future. Seriously, weather gods: you've had your fun now. Can we please just get on with spring already?

P.S.—This is in no way, shape, or form an April Fool's joke. Although I have long toyed with the idea doing a special April Fool's Day version of this site, I so far have lacked the energy to actually follow through with this notion. Please see this link if you require further proof of my story's veracity.


4.2.03
Well, we're only one day into the season, fantasy baseball-wise, but in the one league that's been activated at this point, I'm in first place. Not that I expect this to last, but it's still a nice way to start the season.

4.2.03
Penn State can bite my shiny metal ass.

See, when we went up to the gallery show of the Circular Ruins book at Penn State last October, they guy who set up the show told us that we could all park in the lot right next to the gallery. Apparently he hadn't done anything to actually get us permission to park there, and so after the reception was over, everyone came out and found parking tickets on their car from the campus police, even though the lot was more than half empty both when we arrived and when we left (it was a staff lot on Friday night, so that's what you would expect—I feel I must also point out that Hopkins is smart enough to open its staff lots to all visitors in the evenings and on the weekends, which seems like a much smarter policy to me). Our host told us that he would take care of it and that we could ignore the tickets, which is what I have always done with parking tickets on college campuses that were not my own, since the standard remedy for refusing to pay a ticket is revoking your parking pass, which is a useless punishment if you don't actually have a parking pass for that campus.

A few days after the event, however, our host sent everyone an email saying that he hadn't been able to work out anything with the parking people, and that we would all have to pay our fines. Even though it was only for $15, I still decided to ignore mine because I didn't feel like it was my responsibility: I was an invited guest of the university and I had parked where I had been told to park by my host (granted, even if I had received what I thought was a legitimate ticket from the campus police, I still would have ignored it, but in this I really felt justified in not paying it).

Imagine my surprise then when I received a follow up notice for non-payment in the mail, almost five months after the supposed violation. Apparently the DMV (or as Maryland stubbornly calls it, the MVA) databases are open to pretty much anyone who can make any claim to be a member of anything that can be loosely called a law enforcement agency (including campus police from a school in another state) can get access to your name and address (and god knows what else) from your license plate number alone.

Rather than risk further late fees, court costs, etc., I decided to send in the fine, along with a letter of protest, but I have no expectation that Penn State will do anything except throw my letter in the trash and cash my check (the instructions on the violation notice say that any appeal must be accompanied by a check in order for the appeal to be considered). It's not that much money, but it's still really irritating to have to pay this.


4.3.03
On Monday of this week, our office mailed out around 2500 admit letters for fall 2003 regular decision candidates. Normally this is a time when everyone in the office can stop, take a break for a week or so, and then wrap up the last few details of this class before beginning the relatively slow summer season, where most of our time as an office is dedicated to visiting prospective students and limited data entry on those students.

This year, however, there won't really be a break, especially not for my group. In addition to sending out the admit letters on Monday, we also launched the first part of a major new database/student information system that the university has spent tens of millions of dollars on and which will eventually be used by many student related offices on campus, including all the other admissions offices, the financial aid office, and the registrar. You'd think that this would mean that we could take a break, but this part of the system deals only with prospects (that is, students whose names we have purchased through a search or who have contacted us expressing interest in Hopkins); the second, much larger part deals with applicants and applications, and it is supposed to come online in July. Which pretty much means that we have to start working on it immediately. Add to this our normal summer tasks, our participation in the open house events (we hold three in the spring for accepted students and three in the summer for prospects), and the work that remains to be done on a major new marketing piece (which is actually mostly my responsibility), and we're going to be busier over the next few months (typically our slowest time of the year) than we were last fall (usually one of our busier periods). And even after we launch in July, it doesn't let up; that's the true beginning of the next cycle, which means that's when our normal duties will start to ramp up again.

So my group is really not going to get a break until a year or so from now, and we already feel like we've been horsewhipped for the last six months. It feels like everyone else in the office is relaxing all day and going home early, but we're still going just as hard as we were two weeks ago, coming in early, taking short lunches, and working late. I really hope that we get some windows of relief, some days where we don't really have to get anything done and we can just kind of regroup and prepare for the next wave of work (although at this point, we really need weeks, not days). But realistically, I don't see that happening. I just hope we can find a way through it without losing anyone; giving the glacial pace of Hopkins' hiring process, a two week notice can easily turn into a six month vacancy. And I don't see how there's any way we could get through the next year being shortstaffed for any extended period of time.

4.4.03
Last night we went to our first Orioles' game where we got to sit in the seats we had purchased under our 13 game season ticket plan (we also went to opening day on March 31, but we were in the upper deck then—the holder of the 29 game plan for our seats gets them on opening day). We also got to park in the season ticket holders lot for the first time, which is located next to the Ravens stadium, is cheaper than any of the regular downtown lots, and which has a much less congested way to get out to the interstate after the game is over. It was warm during the day, but by the time the sun went down and the wind starting blowing in across the harbor, my short sleeves weren't really enough. Even Julie, who had a light coat on, was pretty cold—but it still wasn't nearly as bad as Monday night, when it snowed during the game (and that was a day game, too).

We learned some very valuable lessons about economizing at the ballpark: we found a street hotdog vendor (Big Jim) who only charged $2.50 for a pretty large all-beef hotdog (compared to $4.25 in the stadium), and his dogs also including grilled onions and peppers and sauerkraut. Not only that, but he wrapped them up for us so we could take them into the stadium. We also ended up buying bottled drinks, pistachios, and pretzels from street vendors to take into the stadium, but in the future, we can bring those ourselves and only have to spend $5 for two hotdogs.

I was in a little bit of a bad mood when we got there because, instead of having Kathryn take me out for a nice leisurely lunch for my birthday, she ditched me and I ended up not even being able to take lunch because there was so much for me to do in the office (even though pretty much everyone else has already shifted into slack summer mode). But when we sat down in our seats and started to enjoy our hotdogs, all the stresses just faded away. It's very therapeutic for me to sit and watch the pregame activities, first batting practice and then the field preparation. The game was very short because there was very little offense from either team, but by the time we left, I was in a much better mood even though I was freezing cold. Baseball fixes everything.

We're going again on Saturday to see Pedro Martinez pitch for the Red Sox, which I'm really looking forward to. I've always been a big fan of his—I remember seeing him outside the Expos spring training complex (which they shared with the Braves at that point) the spring after he got traded from the Dodgers, who had used him exclusively as a relief pitcher and who thought he had an attitude problem. The Expos saw the potential in him as a starter, however, and it would only take a few starts that year before it was clear to everyone that the Expos were right about him. When we saw him, however, he was still an unknown relief pitcher; no one was asking for his autograph, wanting him to pose for pitchers, etc. I actually had a minor league card of his that I wanted him to sign, but it was at the bottom of my stack and I couldn't find it in time to flag him down, which is in retrospect my biggest missed opportunity autograph wise.

Maybe the best thing about this game on Saturday is that the tickets were completely free. As a bonus for showing up on tag day to pick out your season ticket plan, they gave everyone a pair of tickets to an exhibition game between the Orioles and the Mets. But when that game was canceled for some reason, they gave everyone who had tickets to it (including comps) the opportunity to exchange the tickets for any home game in April. And the seats are surprisingly good, too—they're in the upper deck, but they're right behind home plate and not too far up in the upper deck. Should be a great vantage point to watch Pedro mow down what is essentially a triple A ballclub. After that, the baseball pace slows down a little bit: the next game on our plan isn't until April 22. But that's okay—three games in one week should keep me sated for a while.

4.7.03
I hate the "spring forward" part of daylight savings time.

4.7.03
My birthday this year turned out pretty good, after starting off rather poorly when Kathryn didn't show up for our lunch date and I had an extremely long day at work the day before my birthday. Things started to get better that night when we went to our second Orioles game of the season, and our first where we got to sit in the seats we had purchased under our partial season ticket plan.

Friday, my actual birthday, was very relaxing: I was working at home, but I didn't have to do too much work because I was able to combine the half day I worked on Monday (which everyone in our office was supposed to get off) with the extra hours I had worked the rest of the week to take pretty much the whole day off without penalty. I played some games, did some work on the site, and went out in the afternoon to get a haircut, which was the shortest (and best) I've had in a while. After that, I was in the mood to drive around and listen to music for a while, so I drove up to Westminster and went to the record store, where I picked up the Cursive EP "Burst and Bloom", the White Stripes' "Elephant", and Trail of Dead's new EP "The Secret of Elena's Tomb" (I was also looking for the new Daniel Johnston, which was produced by Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse, but they were out of stock; I ended up picking that up on Sunday after church in Frederick). To top it all off, Julie took me out to dinner that night to our favorite thai restaurant.

Saturday we went to another Orioles' game, this time against Pedro Martinez and the Red Sox, getting free tickets by exhanging the comp tickets we had for a canceled exhibition game. We brought our own drinks, pistachios, and popcorn, and only ended up paying a few bucks for hotdogs outside the stadium. The sky was cloudy, but for the first time this year we dressed appropriately and were comfortably warm throughout the game. We were surrounded by Red Sox fans, which was a little annoying because the cheers were about equal for the home and the visiting teams, but was fun to witness the anger and disappointment when their ace lost his second game of the season to a team that is likely going to be one of the worst in baseball this year.

It was a really great game. Pedro was pitching well, which is to be expected, but surprisingly, so was the Orioles' starter Jason Johnson. They went toe to toe for several innings, with the Orioles eventually scoring a single run after a bobbled ball in the outfield led to a triple which then turned into a run after a close play at the plate. The Orioles looked like they had it all sewn up when their closer, Jorge Julio, came on in the ninth with the score still 1-0 in the Orioles' favor, but he ended up loading the bases and then walking in the tying run (to be fair, the ump was calling a really tight strike zone on him, much tighter than he had called for either of the starters). In an odd twist, however, the Red Sox closer of the evening, who earlier in the week had blown the lead in Pedro's first start of the season, also loaded the bases and walked in the winning run. There are surprises in every baseball game, and if you're paying attention you're likely to see something you've never seen before, no matter how many baseball games you've seen in your life, and two of the three games we saw last week featured events that I'm not likely to forget any time soon: snow on opening day in Baltimore on Monday, and tag-team run-scoring walks in the ninth inning to decide a very close and well-played game. Plus, Julie had them put my name up on the the scoreboard in recognition of my birthday. Who could ask for anything more from a day at the ballpark?

4.7.03
I don't really expect to get any gifts for my birthday or Christmas anymore, not because I don't receive some every year, but because there's not a whole lot of things that I want, in the sense of actively desiring them. I'm not sure I'm really explaining this very well, but the phrase "actively desiring" has to do with my understanding of the Buddhist concept of desire as detailed in the Tao Te Ching, which is...this is getting too complicated, isn't it? Let's just say that I'm pretty content and don't base a lot of my happiness on acquiring material things.

Anyway, I got some pretty cool gifts this year. Tori's box came first, and included a few hand-knit wool caps, copies of a couple of books that she likes, and some Spongebob keychains. Rachel sent me a homemade cheesecake (made from a book of recipes that we got her for Christmas last year), which survived its trip through the mail mostly intact. We carefully unpacked it and put it in the fridge, and a few hours later it had firmed up nicely and was as good as any I've had.

Tom's gift was especially generous, considering that I missed his birthday a month ago, and in fact did not even know that I had forgotten it until I realized that my birthday was coming up and his is just about a month before mine. He sent me three CDs: the first was the new release from Will Oldham of the Palace Brothers released under the name of Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Tom has been a fan of his for a long time, and I've always meant to give him a listen, but I've just never been sufficiently inspired to make a purchase. I've only listened to the CD Tom game me once so far, but I like it pretty well—Oldham's voice reminds me a lot of the singer from Snow Patrol/Reindeer Section, and the quiet tone matches the mood set by those bands as well. Next was "Blue Sunshine" by the Glove, a side project from the early 80s featuring Robert Smith of the Cure, a member of Siousxie and the Banshees (who Smith was also moonlighting with in between Cure albums), and a female vocalist. I've only listened to that once as well, and it's much better than I expected it to be. The songs themselves are good, but the production is what is really surprising: it's both much cleaner and much lusher than anything else I can remember from 1983, even the Cure and Siouxsie. If it was released today, I think critics would hail it as a comeback album for Smith that incorporated his Cure sounds with new orchestral and percussive textures, but as it is, it's just languishing in the collections of people like me and Tom (I'm very curious where he found this; I knew it existed, but I had no idea it had been released on CD). The final CD was Brian Eno's 1977 masterpiece "Before and After Science", a record I've heard a lot about from Tom, but which I've never heard. I haven't listened to this yet, but I'm looking forward to it; it will probably make a good headphone album for work (interesting note about this record: Phil Collins, still in his pre-solo days with Genesis, played percussion on the album).

I think that was everything (aside from the Orioles season tickets, which were purchased using a combination of my Christmas money, some money that Julie had saved up for my birthday, and Julie's parents' gift of cash). It was more than I expected, and certainly more than I deserve. Now if I can just remember all the birthdays of all the people who remembered mine....

4.8.03
I am sick to death of frozen precipitation and cold, grey days.

4.8.03
After the first week of this year's version of my fantasy baseball league, the Reef, I am exactly where I was at the end of last season: in first place. Not that I expect to stay there for long with the competition I'm up against, but it's a good way to start off the season.

4.8.03
I scored a 70 on the pop culture quiz in this week's Entertainment Weekly, which seems about right for a collector of useless information like me (one of the columnists took the quiz with four of his friends, who were all also pop culture junkies, and three out of the five had scores of 70, 71, and 73). I missed a few easy ones, but I also guessed a few correctly, so I think it all balanced out in the end. You probably don't really need to know this, but I was pretty pleased with myself and I wanted to share it with the group.

4.9.03
I got back my first paper from my class on the history of the book and it was an A. I knew it was a good paper, and the teacher is not really a hard grader, but still, it's always nice to see that A scrawled on the last page of your work. It's very validating.

Hey, and guess what: since I don't have any other content ready for today, I'm going to post the paper below. If I'm going to spend all this time writing these things, I might as well get some use out of them here. The paper is a physical description of the book of hours I've been assigned, Walters 241. The Randall that I keep referring to in the paper is Lilian Randall, the author of the definitive book on books of hours and other illuminated manuscripts in the Walters Art Museum, "Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Walters". A lot of her measurements and other observations are actually wrong; she missed a page in my book, a quire in another class member's, and even an illumination in a third. But she's the standard, so when you talk about books in the Walters, you have to start with her.

There's a lot of technical stuff that only bibliographers will understand (like page collation formulas, etc.), so you can skip down to the part where I talk about the content of the book. That's the real heart of this paper. I know it's probably a little hard to imagine what I'm talking about without seeing the book and the illuminations I refer to, but I'm hoping to photograph the relevant pages and update the article with them in the next week or so.

4.9.03

Physical Description of Walters 241

Manuscript number: Walters 241

Catalogue numbers: Randall 163; De Ricci, vol. 1, p. 801, no. 283; Bowles 1976, pp. 721-725; Owens

Exhibition catalogues: WAG 1957, no. 339; Time Sanctified, pp. 29, 38, 133, 135, 199: no. 61, Fig. 128 (f.92).

Title: Book of Hours (for use of Rouen)

Place: Rouen, France

Date: 1480s

Number of folios: 136, along with some parchment leaves at the beginning and end that were added later (in the 1600s according to Randall, which would coincide with her estimated date for the binding). The formula is: Ff. ABC (parchment, c. 1600) + 136 + XYZ (like ABC). Randall uses 139 in the middle of her formula, but I'm wondering if that's a typo.

Dimensions: Randall says 195 x 138 mm, and I got 194 x 136 mm.
Support: Leaves are 187 x 129 mm. Randall on the parchment: "calf, medium weight, reasonably well-selected, highly prepared." However, there is definitely a large variation within the book between some exceedingly nice folios, and some that teeter on the edge of ragged. Whether this is wear and tear from heavy use (some of the worst-looking pieces of parchment are on folios with full-page illuminations, while some of the best are found in long text sections) or from lower-quality parchment, I cannot tell. On some of the folios, the hair side is very obvious, with a brown tone and pores that once held hair follicles clearly visible. Pricking is not evident, so the book has been trimmed, and the tightness of the binding makes it almost impossible to see the stitching in the middle of the quires without cracking the spine of the book. Lucky for me, catchwords can frequently be found at the end of the quires.

Page layout: The calendar has five columns of sixteen lines each with the fourth column blank, and the main text has one column of fifteen lines. I took measurements of all the various calendar and regular text blocks and compared them to Randall, and they were more or less the same, with only the occasional millimeter variation. So let's just take it for granted that her measurements are accurate and move on.

Ruling: Ruled in a "pale mauve ink", according to Randall, and that seems about right. She also says the bounding lines are erased in the margins, and this appears to be true as well.

Collation: I 12, II 6, III-X 8, XI 6-6, XIII-XV 8, XVI 5+5, XVII-XVIII 8. This differs from Randall only in the notation of quire XVI, where Randall missed an extra folio that had been inserted at the end to hold the last bit of text for that section. This miscalculation can be seen simply by comparing her collation formula to her list of first rectos, because quire XVII should only have eight folios according to the formula, but it has nine if you look at the first folios for XVII and XVIII. I believe that this extra page was added to the end of XVI and not to the beginning of XVII, and that 121 is the true first folio for XVII. There is a catchword on 119v, which on the surface could make it seem like 119 should be the end of one quire and 120 should be the beginning of another, but after examining the text, this seems highly unlikely. First rectos on ff. 1, 13, 19, 27, 35, 43, 51, 59, 67, 75, 83, 87, 92, 100, 108, 116, 121, 129. Catchwords are found in many places after the main text starts: ff. 26v, 34v, 50v, 58v, 66v, 82v, 86v, 99v, 107v, 115v, 119v, 128v.

Binding: Randall says the binding is from France, c. 1600, and is made of brown morocco leather. There is a repeating pattern of mirrored letters "C", "Y", and Greek phis rendered in gilt, along with some other abstract patterns. It looks very worn, with the distinct patina of age that is found only objects that have been well-loved by their owners.

Contents: The first time I glanced through my book, I thought it was a completely amazing thing: a four hundred year religious artifact and artistic work that combined the labors of several skilled artisans to create what has now become a piece of history, a fragment of our culture, and a link to a past that seems both technologically remote and emotionally close to the world I live in today.

But then I started to glance out of the corner of my eye at my neighbors' books, like Walters 103, with its richly detailed patterned backgrounds in the larger illuminations and fanciful borders so organic that it seemed as though vines were sprouting from the pages. Looking at the books around me, I was beginning to get the feeling that mine had not been made for the richest most discriminating of patrons. The real killer, however, was sitting next to the temporary custodian of Walters 233, a manuscript which was from the same town (Rouen), the same time period (1480s), and even the same workshop (the Master of the Geneva Latini) as Walters 241. But whereas my text, borders, and illuminations were done by the anonymous denizens of the workshop, Walters 233 was executed by the Master himself and his best team of workers. And this wasn't just because Randall said so; the quality is evident in even a cursory glance, and become more glaring the longer you compare the two works.

Being able to compare my book to Walters 233 allowed me to gain a deep understanding of what quality means in the context of a book of hours: in every case, Walters 233 was more impressive than Walters 241. In Walters 233, the text is more clearly written and easier to read; the borders are more intricate and feature more than roughly executed abstract floral patterns; and the major illuminations are all of a much higher quality, framed by richly conceived architectural motifs and brimming with a higher level of detail. Even the illuminated capitals within the text are more refined. On a purely artistic level, Walters 233 is simply a better book, hands down.

Since each book is a unique, handcrafted piece of art, there is really no such thing as an ordinary illuminated manuscript. But from its illustrations to the texts that it includes, Walters 241 is as close to a generic book of hours as you can get. Although Walters 241 is made for use in Rouen, the texts included and the order they are presented in are fairly standard: a calendar, the Gospel Lessons (preceded by a single full-page illustration featuring all four gospel writers), the Hours of the Virgin (accompanied by a nativity cycle of illustrations), the Hours of the Cross, the Hours of the Holy Spirit, the Penitential Psalms, and the Office of the Dead, along with the 15 Joys of the Virgin, 7 Requests to Our Lord, and the Obsecro te and O intermerata. Even the illuminations themselves are pretty typical of their time and place: their subject matter and even their composition are very similar to Walters 233, meaning that they were likely copied from a template made by the master. There are no ordinary illuminated manuscripts, but if there were, Walters 241 would almost certainly be one.

But there are unique elements to Walters 241, things that have made me grow to love the book no matter how clearly I see its imperfections. The drolleries in the borders of the full-page illuminations are subtly engaging, with beasts and humans interacting with one another amidst the ever-present abstract floral designs, visually connected by separate islands of green on which they stand, which are in turn often connected by a broad ribbon of gold. There are several drolleries that feature half-man, half-beast depictions, and in one in particular you can find an ape reading a book. A unicorn even makes an appearance (granted, it looks more like a greyhound with a horn than our contemporary versions, but it is unmistakably a unicorn).

One aspect that especially fascinates me about my book is the depiction of peasant life. Peasants are featured in many illustrations, from the small medallions at the base of each starting calendar page to the full-page illuminations. Based on the sympathetic depiction of peasant life (stressing its hardships rather than romanticizing its perceived simple joys), it is interesting to consider the rougher quality of the illustrations not as the work of an incompetent illuminator, but rather the expression of a style that has its roots in the world of the peasant. Is it possible that the artist of Walters 241 had in fact come from peasant stock, and was still emotionally connected to that worldview in a way that influenced not only the content of his illustrations but his stylistic approach as well?

The small medallions that illustrate the calendar are a good place to start when considering this idea. They depict the labors on the months, and since peasants did most of the laboring, they are featured prominently. But in every instance where they appear in the calendar illustrations, the body language and facial expressions of the peasants emphasize the hardships of peasant life; their faces are distinctly unhappy, and they are often shown bent over and engaged in field work. There is no romantic ideal of the peasant whiling away the days in harmony with nature: their lives were hard, and the artist often depicts them toiling away in backbreaking labor.

In most of the calendar illustrations, the peasants alone are shown, but we can gather further insight from the four scenes which involve members of the wealthy classes. Two of these are illustrations for months where the labors depicted are not actually labors, but instead enjoyable activities, April (courting) and May (hawking). In these two scenes, the peasants are not represented at all; the life of leisure and fun is reserved strictly for the upper classes. In two other illustrations, we have scenes where the rich and the poor are shown side by side. January is traditionally represented as a feasting month, and this is the case in Walters 241. But although there are two men in the illustration for January, only one is actually feasting. The other is a peasant, who is relegated to a servant's role while his master is shown seated and enjoying his meal. In February, a wealthy man is shown seated by a warm fire, protected from the cold weather outside. But it's not such a happy time for the peasant standing behind him, hauling in logs from outside to make sure his master's fire continues to roar.

Peasants aren't featured very often in the large miniatures in main body of Walters 241, but when they do appear, it is significant. The pattern seems to be that they appear during especially stressful times in the life of Christ, as if to remind us that the suffering of Christ is really suffering for us all by including the archetypal representations of suffering, the poor and the meek; in other words, the peasants.

The first peasant appearance in the large illuminations is at the nativity (f. 43): in addition to Mary, Joseph, an angel, and the beasts in the manger who witness the birth of Christ, the artist has also included two peasants in the background, peering timidly over a wooden gate. Before the magi bearing their luxurious gifts or the presentation in the temple, the artist chooses two peasants to behold the wonder of Christ's birth. And even though this is a joyful time, it is also the beginning of the story, a story full of hardship and pain; the presence of the peasants, standing outside the manger proper, are a foreshadowing of the harsh realities that Christ will encounter as an adult in the world outside the manger.

Members of the peasant class naturally make an appearance in the annunciation to the shepherds (f. 48), and for once they seem happy. Placed in an idyllic setting with rolling green hills and clear blue skies with no master around to dole out field and house work, the male and female figures are enjoying the music from what looks like a bagpipe, and the general tone of the scene is one of contentment and relaxation.

A peasant figure next appears in the illustration for the flight into Egypt (f. 57), another dark time in the early life of Christ. While Mary sits on her donkey, riding to Egypt to avoid persecution, we see a peasant in the background working in the field. What is noteworthy, however, is that alongside the peasant is a man dressed in military garb who is approaching the poor farmer in an intimidating manner with a spear. Again, the artist could be making a parallel between the persecution of Christ and his family by the authorities and the peasant farmer in the field being harassed by an authority figure.

As expected, the peasants are absent from the coronation, but make a reappearance at the most stressful time in the life of Christ: the crucifixion (f. 67v). Even though I was expecting the peasants to be there, at first I did not see them: scanning the faces and clothes of the crowd gathered at Christ's feet as he hung on the cross, I could not find any who even remotely resembled the typical representation of a peasant that this artist had used in all previous illustrations. It wasn’t until I elevated my gaze to the level of Christ himself that I noticed them in the form of the two thieves who were crucified along with Christ. They are clad only in loincloths, just as Jesus is, but the faces are unmistakable: these are definitely the same rough, round, piggish faces that can be found in the calendar and at the nativity.

It's not just the sympathetic portrayal of the peasantry that makes me think the artist may have come from a poor background: the upper classes tend to be portrayed very negatively, especially when the well-dressed figures symbolize the wealthy and not holy people (who are also depicted as well-dressed). There is not too much rich-bashing in the life of Christ sequences, probably because many of the upper class members portrayed in those scenes are actually representations of saints and other holy figures, but in the more secular sequences, and even in some of the border drolleries that surround the portrayals of Christ, there is significant commentary on the wealthy that can be gleaned form the content of the images. Many of the drolleries, for instance, feature half-man (or woman), half-beast creatures, mockeries of their subjects, and the only consistent thing about them is that the human half is always clad in the garb of the wealthy.

The illumination that precedes the Office of the Dead (f. 92) is particularly telling. The main scene is an interpretation of the story of the Three Living and the Three Dead, and the three living young men are represented on horseback and dressed in finery that only the wealthy could afford. When the viewer sees the three scary-looking skeletons opposite them, however, we know that this is their true visage, and that all the money in the world can't save them from the fate that befalls all mortals. There are also two border medallions and even a drollery that continue this theme: in one of the medallions, a death figure carrying a coffin pulls what Randall calls a pope (but what is obviously some sort of high-ranking clergy member) out of a church doorway and into a cemetery; in the second medallion, a death figure is pointing a spear at a rich young man in a cemetery; and in the border drollery, a death figure aims a spear across the floral pattern at a half-well-dressed woman, half-beast on the other side of the page. So while the peasants, depicted as thieves crucified next to Christ, suffer in this life but are offered comfort in the next, the rich, who experience all the material comforts and joys of this world, are portrayed mockingly as half-animals and are led away to the land of the dead by frightening skeletal figures.

When you take in the totality of the representation of the peasants and the wealthy in the drolleries, calendar medallions, and in some of the large miniatures, it is easy to believe that the artist may have come from a poorer peasant background, and that he is choosing to subtly mock the rich patrons who purchase his art and sympathetically depict the hard life of the lower classes with which he still identifies. That being the case, it's also then possible to believe that his illustrations are not rough and rude just because he was not that talented, but because he was allowing the influences of his rustic background to show through in his artistic style.

In my heart, I don't really believe that this artist was as talented as the Master of the Geneva Latini, or was even one of the master's better apprentices. There is a difference in quality that is apparent to even the moderately trained eye that can be summed up in a favorite quote of mine from Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" (which I am unfortunately paraphrasing): "A cricket bat isn't better than a stick for hitting a ball because of my bias, it's better because it's better." The artist of Walters 241 simply did not have the elegant touch of his master. But that doesn't mean you can't find beauty in his less refined technique, even when you are comparing it directly to his master's work, especially if there are clues in the content of the illustrations that tell us why the artist might have chosen to use a rougher style in his illuminations. So I guess I still think Walters 241, my book, is a completely amazing thing, but for different reasons than I did when it was new to me.


4.10.03
Remember when Iomega Zip disks seemed really cool?

4.10.03
As you can see, I don't have a lot to post about today. I need a week off from work, from this site, and from class to regroup, take some new photos, and work on some new articles. But I won't get it, so I'll just have to force myself to do that stuff this weekend instead of playing Diablo 2 and obsessing over the week-old fantasy baseball season.

4.11.03
Drinking wine is a sin—even if it is deliciously fortified.

4.11.03
For my final paper in my History of the Book in the West class, I had planned to do a comparison of the book at the dawn of the printed age, roughly 1400 to 1500, specifically books of hours like the ones we've studied in class, and books as they exist now, in what could be the twilight of the printed age. The basic idea was to show how things like books of hours, which are unique artistic creations as well as storage devices for information, no longer exist in our modern world. Books of hours are not just finely crafted works of art, they are functional devices, whereas books today tend to be almost purely functional (printed books) or purely artistic (handmade art books like the ones produced for the Circular Ruins project). I was also going to talk about how some printed books strain against the uniformity and utilitarianism of the modern printed book (specifically House of Leaves), while the creators of the Circular Ruins project strain against the untouchable status of their work as a Serious Art Object by putting copies on display that can be explored by the public as a book is meant to be explored, by touching it and turning its pages (rather than keeping it under glass and allowing the public to see a single page, which is how most art books are displayed in galleries).

But I felt like this topic was going to take up too many pages for this class (our teacher, Will, likes it when his students keep their papers brief—five pages for the first one and ten pages for the second—a rule I've already broken by turning in a ten-pager for my first effort), and I hadn't even started to think about the extra pages that I would write by incorporating research sources like Writing Machines, The Renaissance Computer, and Scrolling forward, critical texts that deal with similar issues. That was also before my revelation about the true functional-art books of the modern age, comic books, and their more high-brow kin like Art Spiegelman's Maus and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan. So I just don't think this topic is going to work given the scope of this class: Will wants the papers to be relatively short and they don't necessarily need to incorporate a lot of research elements; I think I could easily write 50 or 60 pages on this subject, and that's before I've even begun to do serious research and and put real thought into the topic.

This is too good an idea to pass up entirely, however, so I'm thinking that I might severely limit the number of topics/texts that I discuss for Will's paper and use my work for his class as a dry run to start exploring some of the basic themes I'm interested in and also give me rough draft of 10-15 pages that I can build on later. One of the requirements for this degree is that we write a thesis inspired by some aspect of our classes, and although I know it's a little early to choose a topic for that thesis (I won't finish my coursework for another three years), I'm already thinking that the bigger version of this paper would be a perfect way to fulfill that requirement.

Who knows, though? Maybe the next class I take will steer me in a different direction and get me excited about another potential thesis subject. But whether or not I use this topic for my thesis, I think it's important that I write this larger paper. There are a lot of compelling ideas hidden within it, and it's will be a good exercise in academic writing and research to organize my thoughts on this topic and bring this project to fruition.

4.14.03
I mowed the lawn for the first time this year yesterday. It feels like spring is coming really late this year, but looking back, I first mowed the lawn at about the same time last year. Of course, last year I probably mowed it because I could have mowed it a couple of weeks earlier and it was getting a little thick, whereas this year I mowed it before it really needed it because Julie is going to embark on a reclamation project this week that requires that the lawn be mowed. After last summer's disastrous lack of rain, most lawns in our neighborhood—including ours—have lots of bare patches (even the ones that belong to the professional landscapers), so Julie is going to spend the week reseeding, fertilizing, and even watering twice a day now that the water restrictions have been lifted.

Anyway. I guess that means spring is offically here. Thank god. Now if it can just hang around for a couple of months before we get back to the summer...

4.14.03
There is a quote from Tom Stoppard's play "The Real Thing" that I am constantly referencing, but I don't have it memorized and there doesn't seem to be anyone else on the web who is fond enough of it to have posted it so I can Google it when I need to refer to it. So I'm going to do it myself. As I recall, Henry is kind of the protagonist, Annie is his girlfriend, and they are having an argument about a script by someone named Brodie, who I vaguely recall is one of those from-the-streets writers with no formal training (or apparent talent) but loads of interesting life experiences. Here is the quote in its entirety, along with a little of the dialogue that leads up to it:

Annie: You're jealous of the idea of the writer. You want to keep it sacred, special, not shomething anybody can do. Some of us have it, some of us don't. We write, you get written about. What gets you about Brodie is he doesn't know his place. You say he can't write like a head waiter saying you can't come in here without a tie. Because he can't put words together. What's so good about putting words together?

Henry: It's traditionally considered advantageous for a writer.

Annie: He's not a writer. He's a convict. You're a writer. You write because you're a writer. Even when you write about something, you have to think up something to write about just so you can keep writing. More well chosen words nicely put together. So what? Why should that be it? Who says?

Henry: Nobody says. It just works best.

Annie: Of course it works. You teach a lot of people what to expect from good writing, and you end up with a lot of people saying you write well. Then somebody who isn't in the game comes along, like Brodie, who really has something to write about, something real, and you can't get through it. Well, he couldn't get through yours, so where are you? To you, he can't write. To him, write is all you can do.

Henry: Jesus, Annie, you're beginning to appall me. There's something scary about stupidity made coherent. I can deal with idiots, and I can deal with sensible argument, but I don't know how to deal with you. Where's my cricket bat?

Annie: Your cricket bat?

Henry: Yes. It's a new approach.

Annie: Are you trying to be funny?

Henry: No, I'm serious.

Annie: You better not be.

Henry: Right, you silly cow—

Annie: Don't you bloody dare—

Henry: Shut up and listen. This thing here, which looks like a wooden club, is actually several pieces of particular wood cunningly put together in a certain way so that the whole thing is sprung, like a dance floor. It's for hitting cricket balls with. If you get it right, the cricket ball will travel two hundred yards in four seconds, and all you've done is give it a knock like knocking the top off a bottle of stout, and it makes a noise like a trout taking a fly... (He clucks his tongue to make the noise.) What we're trying to do is write cricket bats, so that when we throw up an idea and give it a little knock it might...travel... (He clucks his tongue again and picks up the script.) Now, what we've got here is a lump of wood of roughly the same shape trying to be a cricket bat, and if you hit a ball with it, the ball will travel about ten feet and you will drop the bat and dance about shouting 'Ouch?' with your hands stuck in your armpits. (Indicating the cricket bat.) This isn't better because someone says it's better, or because there's a conspiracy by the MCC to keep cudgels off the field. It's better because it's better.

And while we're at it, here's another quote from The Real Thing that I like a lot:

Henry: [Words are] innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more, and Brodie knocks their corners off. I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.

The Real Thing actually isn't my favorite Stoppard play (that would be Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, which I wrote about a while back), but it's got some nice ruminations about the nature of writing and the writer, which I am maybe a little overly fascinated with. It's a pretty good play nonetheless, even if the language is started to sound a little dated (it was originally published in 1982, and the slang is contemporary for that time, although it is British so it doesn't sound quite as odd to an American ear).

Anyway. Here it is, Google. Now index it for me so I don't ever have to check the book out again. Just to be sure: Tom Stoppard. The Real Thing. Cricket bat speech. Cricket bat quote.

That ought to do it.


4.15.03
Not only does April signify the beginning of spring and of a new baseball season, but also of the beginning of the fantasy baseball season. This year's version of The Reef features the same seven players we had last year, with only a couple of team name changes. And while I'm happy to have everyone return for another season, I still wish we had had at least a couple of new additions. Oh well. There's always next year.

As for this season, so far it's remarkably similar to how we finished up last year: Scott, Jeff, and I are battling for first, Dodd and Mark are duking it out in the middle and gunning for the top three, and Doug and my dad are bringing up the rear. Of course, it's only a couple of weeks into the season, and based on last year's season, I'd be willing to bet it won't be too long before that order changes significantly (although I doubt that we'll have a repeat of dad's surprising hands off strategy that kept him in the hunt—and the rest of us very nervous—until pretty late in the season). I'll keep the sidebar to the left updated throughout the season (I know it's getting a little crowded over there, but where else am I going to put it?), and I'll try not to gloat too much when I kick everyone's ass again. Good luck, suckers.

4.16.03
It's been three years. I need a new Modest Mouse album.

4.17.03
When you make France's opinion on international matters seem reasonable, you're doing something wrong. When you make anti-semitic rants from Syria's propaganda machine seem reasonable, you're doing something wrong. But when you make anything Al Sharpton has to say seem reasonable on the Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes, you're doing something very, very wrong.

4.17.03
Well, whining and complaining without bothering to do any research first pays off once again. After my plea for a new Modest Mouse record yesterday, Doug sent me this link to a recent Pitchfork story about how the recording is going for the band's next album. Unfortunately, it looks like they have parted company with drummer Jeremiah Green, whose style is almost as important to Modest Mouse's sound as Jimmy Chamberlain's was to the Smashing Pumpkins or Stewart Copeland's was to the Police.

But whatever. Isaac Brock has always been the heart and soul of the band, and when he says they've got sixteen songs written and more on the way for an album that he hopes to have ready by September 1, it's hard to get too upset about the drummer leaving.

4.18.03
Oops. I again forgot to email myself the text I wrote two days ago during lunch, and today I don't have anything else waiting in the wings except this proverb from a 13th century French manuscript we looked at in class last night:

"There is no man in the village so hunchbacked that he cannot find a hunchbacked wife."

I don't know exactly what it's supposed to mean, but it sure makes me smile.


4.21.03
I've been thinking about the quote I posted on Friday from a 13th century book of proverbs a little more, and I think what it's supposed to mean is "There's someone for everyone" (it came to me while we were watching Shrek again this weekend, a movie which remains far more entertaining than I ever would have expected). But that's still a pretty funny way to say it.

4.21.03
Yesterday, we went for a walk in the resevoir where we did a geocache almost exactly one year ago, and I took the opportunity to take a picture from the same spot and angle where I took a picture last year. Let's compare:


Liberty Resevoir, April 27, 2002


Liberty Resevoir, April 20, 2003

Yeah, we've had a little precipitation recently. Thank god.


4.22.03
Computers may be twice as fast as they were in 1973, but your average voter is as drunk and stupid as ever.

4.22.03
In class now we're kind of in a free form period where Will will talk for half an hour or forty-five minutes about a more esoteric topic suggested by the class, and then we'll look at whatever catches our eyes in the rare books and manuscripts collection. Last week I got to see an early illuminated manuscript of The Romance of the Rose (one of the earliest secular texts to be given the illuminated manuscript treatment and also one of the first printed texts that was neither religious nor scientific), an early paper book that was not printed but rather handwritten and illustrated like a traditional illuminated manuscript (most manuscripts are done on vellum or parchment), and a 15th century Italian manuscript of poetry (also on paper, also handwritten in a more artistic and informal script) that had drawings and commentary written in the margins by the original owner.

The more treasures I find hidden in that room, the more I realize how hard it's going to be to leave it behind, and the harder it gets for me to focus on a manageable topic for the final paper in this class. I could spend a lifetime in there and find something completely new every day, and I'm pretty convinced I could spend a lifetime learning about each book in the Walters' collection. But I'll take what I can get, and be thankful for every minute. I just have to hope the other classes I take in this program are half as fulfilling as this one has been.

4.23.03
Why are the Dixie Chicks being so villified by their supposed fans and the radio stations that have made millions in ad revenue by playing their music? If a right-leaning country act had said the exact same thing about Clinton (substituting Arkansas for Texas) while he was in office, would anyone even have given it a second thought, much less turned it into a huge ordeal that required multiple apologies and even a news special? Why is it so wrong to disagree with the policies and statements of the president? Rush Limbaugh and countless imitators made very good livings doing just that in the Clinton era—why aren't more liberal entertainers and/or members of the press given that same latitude (because let's face it, Limbaugh is more an entertainer than a journalist, an increasingly common occurence in the news industry)? Along these same lines, Bill O'Reilly—who I actually enjoy watching because he's not always just a mouthpiece for the Bush administration (though he often is, especially since the start of the war)—has no real right to criticize Susan Sarandon, George Clooney, Tim Robbins, and other entertainment celebrities for speaking out on the war, because he is no more a newsman than I am—he is an entertainment celebrity himself, just in a medium which continues to pretend that the product it sells is fact-based (another fascinating irony in this vein: the campaign to revoke Michael Moore's Oscar because of claims that his documentary wasn't really a docmentary because it wasn't true according to some right wing nut's view of the truth). Why is it that only hardcore neoconservatives who back the Bushies no matter what they do are allowed to say whatever they want without repercussions, but wearing a slogan from the Bible on a t-shirt can get you arrested? The country we seem to be becoming scares me more and more every day.

4.24.03
I was going to write about attending our second baseball game in our season ticket seats on Tuesday night, but I just got an email telling me I've been selected as a beta tester for the Mac version of EverQuest and giving me a link to download the program. Kick ass.

4.25.03
Yesterday in the mail I received a nice metal cigarette lighter from Marlboro, and I have no idea why. The few times I've smoked a cigarette in my life didn't involve Marlboros as best I can remember, and I haven't signed up online for giveaways or anything like that. The best I can figure is that they purchased my name from a marketing service, but I have no clue as to how I would have ended up on the "cigarette smoker" list. Whatever. The lighter's pretty cool.

4.28.03
It is really hard to come up with a semi-generic email subject line (like "haven't heard from you in a while" or something like that) that doesn't sound like spam.

4.28.03
Man. Nobody was home yesterday. I was in a rare mood to talk on the phone (I'm generally not a big fan of the medium), so I figured I should use the opportunity to connect with friends and family I hadn't spoken to in a while. First I tried Tom: no anwer. Then Tori, then John (a friend from NCSSM who was in my wedding who recently reestablished email contact with me), then Greg, none of whom were home. I gave up after that, figuring that with the four messages I left, I'll spend more than enough time on the phone this week.

4.29.03
Instead of working on my paper for the book class or finishing up a couple of entries I started over the weekend, I spent most of my evening working on a response to an email that CS Jeff's girlfriend Connie sent me in response to some of my posts. (I hope you made it to the end of the email, Connie—I know I can get a little passionate when I get in rant mode, but the last couple of paragraphs should make clear my intentions if my tone got a little too intense elsewhere in my response. And Jeff, this is also why I haven't replied to your IM query from Friday, which is also turning into quite a long email.) Normally I would just post her email and my reply, but I don't know Connie well enough yet to do that without asking her permission. Which I did, but I didn't hear back from her in time to post it today. So maybe tomorrow. And if not, I guess I'll just have to come up with something new.

4.30.03
Wow. Great quote on CS Jeff's site yesterday. Where does he keep coming up with these?

4.30.03
You'd think that movies like X-Men 2: X-Men United and The Matrix: Reloaded, both of which are going to make boatloads of money over the next year (despite the fact that they have each been saddled with a really dumb ass sequel name) wouldn't feel quite so compelled to whore themselves in the product placement and co-branding arenas. But you'd be wrong.

4.30.03
I feel myself falling behind on this page and behind on my paper. I haven't even mentioned the baseball game we went to a week ago (Esteban Loaiza had another amazing outing for the White Sox), or any of the stuff we did with my mom when she came for a visit over the weekend. I need to finish writing about the Circular Ruins book before Thursday because I'm going to give my copy to my professor so he can study it before he reads my paper (good news in that area—Tom and Dean have sold one of the extra copies to Special Collections at UVA for $6000, which they will use to fund future artistic projects), and I really need to get the House of Leaves portion written as well in case I have to give that one up as well. Last night I was planning to get a lot of work done on both my work for the site and my paper, but I got sidetracked and spent at least three hours writing a response to Connie's email. And I still haven't called back Tori, Greg, John or Tom (although I did speak to Tom briefly on Sunday night).

My personal life of communication is starting to feel like my work life: I spend hours every day trying to make the piles of paper on my desk smaller and cross at least one thing off my to-do list, but at the end of the day I'm left with the same piles I started with hidden underneath a new set of tasks. I really need to finish something, to experience that bliss I used to get when we would send off a three-month CD-ROM project to the duplicators at CO2, or send a batch of camera-ready pages to the printer to be turned into a new textbook or treatise at Michie. I am naturally suited to ebbs and flows in my work, intense periods of concentration and effort followed by quiet spaces at the completion of a project. But with a site like this where I need to come up with content five days a week or a job like my current one where every day brings at least five new assignments that didn't exist the day before, I finding myself getting a little burnt out. Without a tranquil period to let me recharge my batteries, I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to be willing to maintain this level of intensity. I'm a sprinter; lots of short-twitch muscles that burn out fast and then need to rest before they're ready to go again, but the last six months have been a marathon test of endurance—and the finish line is still not in sight. (I originally spelled the last word of the preceding sentence as "site", which is a freudian slip if I've ever seen one.)

Good thing the Memorial Day holiday is coming up, I guess. And for the next couple of days I have offsite training for Crystal Reports, which means I get to sleep a little later, come home a little earlier, and have a nice lunch on the company dime. Not that this is enough to completely renew my spirits, but it may be enough to get me through the next couple of weeks. And then comes the summer, with its abundance of holidays and flexible work schedule that lets me take a three day weekend every other week.

(Just so you don't have to say it, I'm aware of the irony of spending so much time and energry complaining about how little time and energy I have. I never mean for these things to be more than a paragraph, but somehow they keep snowballing.)
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