Friday, 19 February 2010

Things I have been up to

It was absolutely heavenly preparing my paper for the Rome conference, and I was lucky enough to talk in the very first session, which took off the pressure. Of course now I have to write it up for the proceedings, and I'm enjoying that so much that I keep going back to it instead of doing the things I need to do, viz., prepare teaching for Monday and Tuesday in York. This is particularly necessary because on the Monday I want to tell them why provenance is important. I feel very strongly that provenance is important, which is why I decided to add it into the course, but fitting the importance of provenance into a single session is going to challenging. Tuesday is just post-Conquest script in England, so it won't be too hard, but I need to amass lots of examples in a powerpoint.

Anyway, to return in focus at least to Rome, here is the view from my bedroom window in the Domus S. Marthae.

You look across the Piazza S. Marthae to the northern side of the dome of St Peter's. On the left-hand-side of the curve of the dome there's a door with a guard outside it, tiny in that picture because St Peter's is so huge. I was told that this was a way for Vatican residents to enter St Peter's without going through the tourist queues. The guard led me through a narrow dark passageway and opened a door for me, and suddenly I was about ten feet away from a red velvet rope behind which large numbers of people were taking photos with flash going off right at me. It turned out I had come out of a door in the middle of a tomb. Here is a picture I took afterwards from behind the photographing tourists; I emerged from the darkness under the skeleton.

It was very disconcerting and I had to go and sit by the confessional boxes for a while just to try to look spiritual, and like the sort of person who might justifiedly take shortcuts through the Vatican and appear out of renaissance tombs.

In general St Peter's is not to my taste. The first time I ever went to Rome I was rather shocked by it. I was not there as a tourist, but to read a wonderful manuscript in the Vatican Library, so I had just one morning, out of a busy week, set aside for seeing things. I went to visit some catacombs as a contrast. The rows of bare tombs, and the scratched messages of vulgar Latin commemoration like "Vibas in Christo", are far more congenial for a Protestant.

I also found an amazing place to eat, so good that I went back for lunch the day after Fiona took me there for dinner. It's called Antica Taverna, and is at 12 Via di Monte Giardino.

I just made it back to Devon in time for Shrove Tuesday -- which I realised on the plane made my present to my mother of some Trappist-made chocolate spread rather inappropriate, since she always gives up chocolate for Lent. Yesterday I was off again, to London this time, for the Annual John Coffin Palaeography lecture, which was a really excellent paper and well worth the journey. Also I had been invited to the dinner afterwards, which was rather flattering. A certain palaeographer of recently increased fame was there, being his unique self, fun but challenging until you've had enough wine to just go with it. (For a flavour, see his comments on this blog entry.) I haven't been to a dinner with so many toasts in a long long time. My contribution was Humfrey Wanley (1672-1726), who is the closest thing I have to a hero, a cheerful man of remarkable learning. The eminent Professor in question indignantly refused the suggestion of M. R. James -- "I will not toast that over-rated gynophobe!" he said with a high degree of firmness. It occurred to that if, when we revere past scholars, we start to leave out all the over-rated gynophobes we may be in trouble -- I did not say this. But it was really an excellent evening.

Today was the BL, where I was trying to disentangle Jerome from pseudo-Jerome in a manuscript of considerable codicological interest, and Lambeth Palace, where I was looking at a lovely simple Anglo-Saxon Psalter of deceptively sophisticated learning. Then a lamb shashlik with a friend. Then back to Devon for cocoa and rats. Hurray!

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