RBOC: Erev Fall Semester 2010 and end of summer reflections

[I’m dumping this out on the page mostly to empty my brain so I can have a successful linear thought. Most is completely non-Armitage-related. Feel free not to read this. More Armitage coverage is coming soon, and Servetus thanks you all for your patience.]

  • It’s 103 F outside today. This is a break because yesterday it was 106 F. We’re all adapted to it, by which I mean skilled in avoidance. We try to stay in air conditioned rooms for the worst part of the day, and if we have to walk outside, we have hats and sunglasses and we shuffle in a very leisurely fashion, trying hard not to sweat any more than necessary, because if you enter an air conditioned building with a lot of sweat on your skin it’s easy to catch cold. Those poor construction workers. In the morning, they walk onto campus with ice chests rather than lunch bags. I’m glad no one we know is filming in 100% leather costumes in a polystyrene castle today, because he would not survive this. Under these circumstances, I am not even sure that I would volunteer to run around behind him, sponge the sweat off his brow, and redo his makeup, which I’d definitely volunteer to do in other atmospheric conditions.
  • It’s the day before the Fall Term starts, and the campus today is filled with (mostly) first-year students who’ve been told by their mentors and RAs to walk around and find their classrooms ahead of time. (This is a very large campus, with one of the largest student populations in the United States, and the ten- and fifteen-minute pauses between instructional periods are often not really sufficient for students to make it to their classrooms.) They look, as usual,  younger than ever, and scared. I don’t have any intro classes this year at all, so I won’t be dealing with them, but I try to smile kindly when I see a gaggle. In general, my appearance is not very professorial, so they usually smile back. I am not very frightening — until you see my syllabus. Then you run away screaming.
  • Though it’s kitschy, reading the Beloit College Mindset List is as always instructive. I find four things on this list noteworthy: most first-year students have not been taught to write cursive (this problem has been growing over the past five years or so — making inclass bluebook exams harder and harder to read); 25% of them have an immigrant parent (this makes me proud of the United States); Nirvana songs are on the classic oldies station (I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on an oldies station for the first time last year and just about fainted); and, probably the most important thing for me: they do not share the defining fear of my adolescence: trepidation about Soviet missile strikes. Which, I would like to point out, never happened. We had an interesting discussion about that in western civ last year. They have no memory at all of the Cold War. The echoes of that conflict I hear when I read about Russia blocking off natural gas lines to western Europe are completely absent for them. As this is a major theme of Spooks, I wonder what they would think of the series if they were to watch it.
  • The main thing, of course, is that all of my cultural references get more dated every year. Even Harry Potter is old hat for this crowd. One has to be able to speak Twilight. Uch. I read the first two books and saw the second movie, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to do more than refer sarcastically to it.
  • Inspired by comments made during the Spooks 7 Rewatch, I’ve realized that my reading of certain characters that preceded 7, especially Ros, is lamed by not knowing their entire history, so I am now watching all of Spooks from the beginning. Just got to 1.6 — and am watching on discs via netflix — and was flabbergasted at the end. Were they really going to leave me hanging about whether that bomb exploded? This morning, looking on the netflix streaming options, I realized that was the series cliffhanger. Vicious! These episodes are really different in a lot of ways from S7 and S8. Much more humor, much more exploration of the personal lives of the characters, actual plots seem less complicated, indeed less important to the episodes as a whole.
  • I’m on record as being annoyed by clumsy historical fictions, but I read three this summer that deserve mention for excellence: Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall; A.S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book; and David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. I was especially impressed by Wolf Hall — I’ve felt for a long time that most of what’s to be said about the Tudors has been done to death, but this was something new, and amazingly affecting. Hint to Mr. Armitage’s agents: the last would be an excellent vehicle for him, either in the role of Jacob de Zoet in a film, or as an audiobook opportunity.
  • Finally picked up The Sunne in Splendour. I thought I must have read this while I was in high school, but now I am almost certain I have not. I’d never have forgotten these amazingly touching scenes at the beginning in a million years. Thinking about this as a favorite book of Mr. Armitage Sr. and Mr. Armitage our hero is definitely interesting. (Admittedly, for me the thought of having a father who reads is already a bit of a stunner — let alone one who reads stuff like this.)
  • I’ve felt for the last few years that there were various soundtracks running in the back of my head. This used to happen occasionally (for example, in the fall of 1998 all I heard in my mind was the first movement of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony), but lately it seems to happen constantly. Last Spring, it was Keane, Perfect Symmetry. This summer, Le Vent du nord, Dans les airs. I am starting to think that this fall it will be Kate Nash, Made of Bricks. This is the song I am singing as I shuffle carefully across campus the last few days (warning for the s-word):
  • I have two resolutions for the fall: to avoid as much possible the tendency to fall into sin; and to be as kind as I can to the people around me. (Yes, I realize that both of these goals will be contravened if “The Shit Song” becomes the soundtrack for the Fall.) I realize this sounds hopelessly religious, but due to my childhood, it’s how I think.
  • Which I suppose brings me to the last point before the long overdue obsession update: our academic year starts tomorrow and the Jewish New Year begins week after next. The confluence of those two things has tended to be more important in my life than the more intensively celebrated solar New Year, and though this blog is only six months old, it was at about this time last year that I saw Richard Armitage for the first time, as Mr. Thornton in North & South. Es hat mich nachdenklich gestimmt, so that’s where I am going next — obsession update.

~ by Servetus on August 24, 2010.

29 Responses to “RBOC: Erev Fall Semester 2010 and end of summer reflections”

  1. As usual, there is so much on which to comment in your discourse. As you begin the semester, your not always well-self-disciplined, going off on tangents, blog people, have more than enough to be going on with!! And most of us are probably not first-year students….

    106! The heat wave has ended here; there’s autumn cool in the mornings and evenings. That doesn’t usually start till Labour Day, around my son’s birthday.

    At least this year, I’m not missing, so to speak, as on Sept. 11, 2001, stranded at Logan airport, with frantic family back up north, trying to make sure their daughter/sister/mom was not on one of those planes….(they do occasionally let me out on my own now).

    There is never an off-season for giving. There is always a neighbourhood need, a Pakistan flood. We might not be able to give big donations, but even $5 or whatever helps. Or your time.


    • Wow, in an aiport on Sept 11 — that must have been frightening. I got off a plane about midnight on Sept 10 and counted myself lucky to be well out of it.

      Absolutely right on giving. Even a smile in the right place can be priceless.


  2. As always a really interesting post, even if low on the Armitage quotient. Regarding Spooks I recently watched the first episode of Series 1 and was struck by the differences too, even though I watched it first time around – it has evolved a lot, even Harry is different. I also loved the Tom Quinn character and was gutted when he left. The deep fan fryer scene in 1.2 generated a massive number of complaints to the BBC, was shocking at the time. Spooks had a big impact from the beginning, and has always been a must-see show in our house. Yes, a vicious cliffhanger, believe me – I had to wait!


    • Yeah — was really struck by the different Harry. And can’t imagine what that cliffhanger must have been like. How long did you wait for series 2?

      Today I read that McFadyen and Keely Hawes fell in love during the filming and that it was a huge scandal as she left her husband.

      It’s amazing how much technologies and graphics have changed since then. In 1.6 the terrorist McCann has to explain how he’s using the SIM card in his phone. Now that’s common knowledge.


  3. Oh will have to check out le Vent du nord, reminds me of the French album Kate & Ann McGarrigle did years ago. Kate Nash is great, I was listening to Lily Allen’s on the beach, she has a delightful F song, a good thing about waves it that music doesn’t carry far.
    I’m glad for us the temperatures dropped as I finally tackled that jungle out here called garden. Poison Ivy is encroaching, a poisonous American weed which makes me wish I’d prefer stinging nettles in profusion instead. Altthough I was mainly dealing with regularly English ivy.
    Happy Roshashana! Good luck with your goals!
    I have The Sunne in Splendour still here from the library, just like Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, I hope to finish them before I run out of renewals.


  4. @iz4blue, please put Josephine Tey “The Daughter of Time” and Anya Seton “Katherine” on your list! As well as everything else du Maurier….old romantics never die, they just; I don’t know what. Suggestions?


    • I just joined Goodreads, will put them on my shelf there. Rebecca is my mother’s favorite book and movie so I am ashamed I haven’t read it. She also loves the follow up by another author: Return to Manderley. Oh will have to put Prof.S rec for nxt RA audio on there as well.


    • they just … get more romantic?


  5. Today was also the DAY BEFORE the Fall term starts (capitalization intentional) for me as well. Gaggles of uncertain first year students abound here as well. Some things never change.

    I’ve been listening to Mr. A read the Robin Hood episode “The Witch finders”,and it is so enjoyable that the traffic has been tolerable and I found myself working on imitating his various accents (he does a good Jonas as Robin and Sam as Munch and Alan a Dale and Little John…and a pretty good Kate too…well, you get the idea) and laughing at the humor. There is also an interview with him at the end and I have realized that when he laughs, you just have to laugh too, its infectious.

    One last thought at the end of this very long day, my favorite fan video maker, Spikesbint, has just released her RA birthday video in honour of his 39th birthday. Check it out on YouTube if you can. As always, I enjoy this blog. Take care all.


  6. PS thanks for the recommendations!! Nice follow ups!
    I have the Pale Horseman waiting for me and the last kingdom in transit. Picked up a Keane album I had requested before we left for the week but I can’t remember what fanvid or possible blogpost.
    @Servetus Kate’s dickhead song is my ditty, love those background harmonies. Super album


    • I like that song, too — although where I grew up “dickhead” was a pretty serious insult. Maybe not in England. I noticed that Carol calls John Standring a dickhead in Sparkhouse 1.1 and it doesn’t seem to faze him at all.


      • I think perhaps it’s equal to the use of dimwit and twat in UK, like dummy and moron is in US idiom. Sparkhouse is set in Northern country, its rougher around the edges. What shocked me is the foul language/behavior Carol teaches her daughter in coping w/ peerpressure. She probably also grew up with those nasty sheepjokes!
        Btw my fave is schmuck but I learned the other day what it used to mean LOL


        • I was a bit shocked that Carol would tell a six year old those things, too. But then she never held back, did she?

          Yiddish has a well developed vocabulary for that topic, including putz and schlong.


  7. I’ve been reading a few of people (in RA fandom) are reading The Sunne in Splendour and I’m feeling like put on top of my ‘to-read next list’.

    I’m glad you smile to the kids, when you’re like ‘And now where on earth am I suppose to go’ is nice to have someone smile at you just for reassurance in general or to give you the courage to ask for help when you so desperately need it.

    If you didn’t care much for the first 2 movies (or the books, which I actually liked, not literature’s best but the story was interesting to me) do not go to watch the 3th, I found it a little boring…

    OML 🙂


    • I’ve only read about fifty pages, but they are quite poignant. She does a good job of interspersing action with explanation. Still it helps to have that genealogy in the beginning of the book so you know who everyone is.

      This morning when I walked on to campus I saw that on almost every street corner there was an upperclassman holding a big placard that said “are you a freshman? Do you need help?” I don’t think we’ve done that before — but it’s a good idea. They are scared, this is a big place, and if they bunch up in the wrong place they can create traffic problems.

      Twilight: I probably wouldn’t even have read number 2, except that it was previewed in the back of number 1, and the cliffhanger was too good. My general objection is to the main female character, who seems to have no personality or independent thought. But I’ll probably see more of the films. It helps to be able to talk to the students. Last term we got into a discussion in my upper division class about where vampires would fit into the medieval penitential system (“can vampires be saved?”) that was instructive for them, I think.


  8. @Sev — how would you feel about compiling a reading list? There are so many book recommendations flying around I have lost track. Enjoy the first day of the semester. Back to school time always give sme that fizzy feeling of a new year, new possibilies. Just like graduation time of year always brings with it a meloncholy feeling.


    • Would this be books stemming from Armitage’s work, or books we like, i.e., what would be the heading? I could probably create a separate page, if I can figure the control panel out.


  9. lovethe hurdy-gurdy in the second vid 😉


  10. Re the Benoit College list: “Winds of Change” by the Scorpions was on the local oldies hour one day last week and I got choked up listening to it. I then tried to explain what it was about to my eight year old and was uable to do it without blubbering. I’m glad that my kids will never know that fear, but sad that I can’t share that transcendent moment of freedom with them beyond my inadequate words.


    • Yeah, they really don’t get it — the fear that is inculcated into us these days is really much more vague and diffuse (terrorism).

      I SO agree with your last sentence, jazzbaby — both that I am relieved that these students will not have those fears, but that they won’t ever have that sense of liberation from fear, either.


  11. On your mention of cursive. I hope that will provide the motivation to teach children in the US cursive first. Print is so much harder, there is no natural flow to the characters. Really should investigate where that came from.


    • As far as I know, they never were — at least when I learned to write in the US it was printing first and cursive later, in the third grade, not least because boys’ fine motor skills are not up to it until then. I imagine that cursive will entirely disappear in the not very distant future as keyboarding is now the standard. And to think I didn’t learn to touch type until I was 14!


  12. To this day in Belgium cursive is learned first at age 6. There are theories out there about the continuos flow of cursive being easier for kids, compared to stop and go and needing to know the direction of the lines. In preschool (which is public from 2 1/2 or 3 depending on maturity of child and optional until 6)children practise making loops and shapes, basic fine motorskills. By age 7 I was writing in ink,but now pens are just used. Pencils are not commonly used, Can’t please anyone with fancy pencils from the dollarstore 😦
    Apparently Montessori schools teach it first. Can’t say that mine is the finest but it is the quickest. We did learn print later once cursive was established.


    • Interesting. I had no idea. Maybe if they made kids here practice loops it would help.

      I remember handwriting instruction as one continuous piece of torture. I got bad grades until I finally got a teacher who said, the important thing is for it to be legible, not that it conform to the pattern in every respect. That at least took the emotional aspect out of it for me.


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