Englandaganza, Stop 7: Cambridge

By: | Post date: June 25, 2008 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

Arrived in Cambridge Monday night —

and got a cab to my accommodation. My accommodation was a while away. So much away, that the road exhausted Cambridge, and took me to an industrial park next to Cambridge Airport. (Yes Cambridge has an airport. Who knew.)

As I already had found, the UK takes the “park” component of “industrial park” seriously, so the view out my window was rather more, shall we say, bucolic than I’d expected.

I finished off the 12 page down to 4 page document, and collapsed. Wouldn’t you know, the document did swell back to 11 pages. I’d like to think the 11 pages are more readable than they used to be, at least.

My appointment wasn’t till 10 the next day, so when I inevitably work up at 6, I pledged to get some more work done off my “Warning Warning June 25 Deadline Approaching!” list. Being still in holiday mode, I didn’t get moving until way past 7 am, but I did manage two or three items. Maybe a bit more expeditiously than I’d have liked.

The signs all over Cambridge Town proclaimed that this was the home of Anglia Ruskin University.

But I had business at another tertiary institution at Cambridge you may have heard of: I was visiting the Mediaeval Greek Grammar project .

I’d made contact with Notis Toufexis, who blogs matters Early Modern Greek, and was blog-savvy enough to be camera shy. I’d also met the project head honchos in conferences, and I’d known Io Manolessou since my PhD years. Io now lectures in Patras, and I had no idea whether she’d be in town; she was (and was leaving the next day), so I kept up my mission of seeing her every four years. Marjolijne, their other researcher, was new to me; she’d replaced Tina, who was already suffering Junior Academic Syndrome in Athens U.

In fact a whole lot of academic mobility, which is what happens when you haven’t talk to people in four years: Pantelidis in Athens, Doulavera in Salonica, Giakoumaki retired.

And Nicholas a business analyst (a job title I had to explain to people yet again). I knew intellectually that visiting the project was going to cause me lots of regret, but that doesn’t quite prepare you for the actual emotion. After all, I knew those books.

I’d written one of them, after all:

Even worse, there were several books there I didn’t know, because my bibliography stopped in 1995. If you’re not doing the conference circuit, you have little idea what’s coming out, and what editions people have been sitting on (“What do you mean, a new Athens Digenes edition is coming out?”) This is particularly bad in Greece, where far too much academic publishing happens in vanity presses, and is never heard of again. Not to mention that, with the collapse of Modern Greek studies, Western libraries don’t buy Greek books any more anyway.

Notis was bemused by me not considering Greek university libraries Western. Ah, caught out once again by the Hellenic/Romaic dichotomy. After all, the Greek libraries now have a unified online card catalogue, Zephyr. But me being from Oceania instead of Eurasia, if it isn’t on Worldcat, it doesn’t exist — certainly not as far as our interlibrary loans people are concerned.

(Conversely, Notis being from Eurasia instead of Oceania, he’d never heard of Worldcat. I’m assuming btw that Oceania is and always has been at war with Eastasia. Otherwise I might have trouble getting back.)

The pangs didn’t stop there. See the project whiteboard?

Let’s zoom in close on the list of things to do for the grammar:

That, ladies and gentlemen, was the research question of my PhD thesis.

(Even worse, that was the question I didn’t get to do anything mediaeval on, because I ended up distracted for two years by the modern dialect data.)

Nor did my attempts to impress them with my gleanings of odd inflections quite work out as planned:

ME: [to Notis] Have I got an inflection for you! 1st person passive imperfect -unmu. Turns up twice, in the Achilleid as estekunmu, and the Alexander Romance as erxunmu.

IO: Yeah. I came across that in the Theseid as memfunmu.

Well that’ll learn me. I should have already known not to mess with Io. (And note that the Theseid is basically unpublished.)

At any rate, I discussed with Notis for a couple of hours what we were doing in our respective gigs — same subject matter, same data even, but not really same approach or results. The grammar, after all, is a grammar: it’s tight and organised and exhaustive (I was very impressed by the sneak preview of the articles chapter). My lemmatiser is really engineering instead of science: it tries to deal with all stages of Greek at the same time in the one search engine, so it’s less perfect than if it did one dialect at a time, and relies a lot on ranking. Fallible ranking, as Notis found in a search for “creek” he did while I was there. (Fixed later that night; duals are not your friend.)

I did get to lunch with Io and friend, and dine with the researchers and other friend. In between, the grammar project was, after all, a place of work, and they had deadlines, so I moseyed over to the Greek Lexicon Project, which is developing a learner’s dictionary of Greek. The dictionary isn’t competing with the big standard dictionaries; but I have unearthed a handful of headwords missed out by those standard dictionaries, and thought they might be interested.

So unannounced and all, I knocked on the door in Classics (once I found it), and launched in:

BRUCE: … Yes?

ME: You don’t know me, but I’ve been lemmatising the TLG for the past five years, and I may have some lemmata for you.

BRUCE: … You’re Nick Nicholas! Do come in!

It’s good to be king.

We only chatted for a quarter hour (they too were in a place of work), but it looks like there’s room for followup there. Turns out that Bruce is giving the Friday evening seminar that Gabby (an old TLG colleague) had invited me to. They’re actually taking the semantics bit of the dictionary seriously, which standard classical dictionaries tend not to (especially as they all date from 1840); so I’m looking forward to it. Will have to take my leave of the people at London School of Economics early, though.

With a couple of hours remaining, I went down to the Classics Undergrad library, to see what I could see. You only get access to the Grownup library if you have a letter of recommendation stating your business. I can’t for the life of me get this preciousness; and that’s the kind of preciousness that Web 2.0 will not bust open.

No surprises in the Byzantine section (banished to an alcove off the side); the mediaeval grammar had taken all the good stuff anyway. Cute 1880s grammar of Albanian in Greek characters, reversing Greek characters to do new phonemes. (So reverse kappa was what’s now “q”, reverse gamma was “gj”.) When characters were symmetrical, they had to go plundering: lowercase gamma revived the Byzantine lowercase form (a miniature of the capital); capital lambda (“l” vs. “ll”) went for the Roman character). Don’t let anyone at Unicode know; as far as I can tell this was a one-off; and unlike the reverse letters of Ancient Greek Musical Notation, it was aesthetically challenged.

I also gathered up some lemmata for the lemmatiser, from the specialist dictionaries in the undergrad library. Again, most of them I’d already seen; but I got four words of Callimachus pinned down, and there’s a new dictionary of Menander I’ll have to order in when I get back.

Once ejected from the library (“You have a key to get out, don’t you.” “Uh, no. That would be my exit cue.”), I wandered into the town centre (and not back to the industrial park). There was something different about Cambridge than Oxford that I couldn’t pin down. My first stab at it was, Cambridge was grey. There was certainly plenty of evidence of that about:

Io was dismayed to hear my one-predicate encapsulation of Cambridge. No, she said, you aren’t seeing the right part of town. You must go to where the colleges are. And she’s right: the colleges aren’t grey.

More beige, really.

OK, OK, beige and magnificent.

Or redbrick and old and magnificent.

Or in the case of the Fitzwilliam Museum, marble and magnificent (and a little Albert-Speer-ish):

Except for the green bits. They were green and magnificent.

But the bits that weren’t the colleges didn’t counterpoint with the colleges in the aggressive, jumbled way that Oxford High St did. And Io — a Cambridge partisan through and through — proffered the crucial insight:

IO: Cambridge is a village and Oxford is a town.

And all became clear. Especially after she lamented that the only place open past 11 pm was the Greek souvlaki place.

Oh, btw, scrumpy? Never again. I downed just half a pint of scrumpy, and couldn’t walk straight. A pint of scrumpy! You might as well pour a pint of vodka! I think they actually did pour pints of chardonnay in there: they certainly had wine on tap.

Wine on tap. What the hell kind of country have I gotten myself into?! Probably the same kind of country in which restaurants are vegetarians.

(ΧΟΡΤΟΦΑΓΟΣ ΕΣΤΙΑΤΟΡΙΟΝ—a slight mistranslation. That’s cursive Hebrew, right?)

Wednesday morning, I was getting out of Cambridge and to That Other Place (“Oh no! Not that place west of here!”) The 06:30 bus has intriguing evidence to suggest that Cambridge and That Other Place are actually accessible from each other.

But a bus is a daft vehicle to travel on. You’d have thought I’d learned that lesson on the Greyhound in Richmond, Virginia…


ME: My luggage is on that bus that just left.


ME: And I’m not.


No luggage lost this time, but I did lose my reservation number; so that’s £6.50 I’m never seeing again.

Dishevelled, sleepy, and cramped (daft vehicle to blog on, too), I am now being disgorged at Oxford. Where I’ll hold on to my philological identity just a smidgeon longer…


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