Congratulations are in order for Jeremy and the Massachusetts Historical Society: the new John Quincy Adams Twitter feed has amassed more than 5000 followers and been featured by a number of news outlets, including the AP, NY Times, and Morning Edition. You can see Jeremy speaking about the project with CBS in this video. Great job! Be sure to follow the Twitter feed to get Adams’ succinct daily updates on his trip to Russia.
So the pictures from my trip to Egypt are finally up here.
My favorite thing was cycling around Luxor for two days. It’s a great cycling destination because it’s flat, and while the congestion isn’t as bad as in Cairo it’s still loads of fun weaving in and out of traffic composed of cars, donkey carts, pedestrians, and carriages. You get a much better feel for things, can stop on a whim, and the other drivers are generally courteous because they’re used to many types of vehicles being on the road. (Polite honks when passing are standard.) It also meant complete independence from tour operators and drivers, a huge relief compared to the situation in Cairo.
On the second day we rode all the way from downtown Luxor to the Valley of the Kings, with the last leg an incredible ride up a mountain pass that was deathly silent when tour buses weren’t rumbling past. The way back was a beautiful downhill glide. In all seriousness, the best day ever.
The bikes themselves were pretty incredible: Chinese Forever Bikes, heavy steel cruisers that looked like they’d seen their fair share of action. Each had its own little quirks, and we became very attached to them. Now I have to find one in London.
Other awesome stuff about Egypt:
- Street life, shopping, and eating happens almost all night. Wandering busy streets in the cool dark.
- Food, food, food.
- People asking about Obama.
- Seeing the desert from the airplane.
- Eons of graffiti.
- Lots of military/security guys with scary guns.
- Visiting a medieval mosque.
- First glimpse of the Giza pyramids from between suburban apartment buildings in various states of growth and decay.
- The Egyptian Museum, a rambling, dusty place that probably hasn’t changed since my dad visited in the 70s.
- Amazing tomb paintings in the Valley of the Kings.
- Kingfishers hunting along the Nile.
- ‘Security’ checkpoints where bags are not searched and a beeping metal detector means ‘go ahead.’
- Royal mummies. And understanding why it’s controversial for hoards of under-dressed foreigners to be allowed in their presence.
- Seriously, what is up with all the under-dressed tourists?
- Finding out how scary camels are.
- Being completely alone in the crumbling Temple of Seti I.
- Traveling through the countryside, seeing agricultural practices that haven’t changed much in thousands of years.
- Shocked looks on the faces of people in tour buses as they passed us on our bikes in the Valley of the Kings.
- Being called ‘Spice Girls’ more than once.
- Seeing Hapshepshut’s mummy and temple.
- Learning Egyptian Arabic.
- Hearing the call to prayer wash over the city, especially in the evening.
- Strong tea in beautiful curved glasses.
Now some photos. Oh, and to keep this slightly on-topic, here’s Thoth, god of writing and technology:
Last weekend I finally did some traveling, heading to Antwerp for a couple of days to see the Plantin-Moretus Museum. On the whole, information about specific early modern printers is rare and usually gleaned from the texts they published. In the case of the Plantin-Moretus dynasty, however, a wealth of material has been preserved in close to its original context. Founder Christoffel Plantin, originally a bookbinder, opened a printing firm in Antwerp the 1550s. He was a clever businessman, printing material for a range of groups including humanists, scientists, Catholics, and Protestants, and his success allowed him to expand rapidly. In 1575 he moved the press to a new headquarters which makes up part of the museum.
Plantin was succeeded by his son-in-law, Jan Moretus I—it was common at the time for senior employees to marry into printing families with the expectation that they would inherit—and the business remained within the family until the late nineteenth century, when it was sold to the city of Antwerp. Because of unbroken family control, and the fact that the firm remained at the same headquarters for hundreds of years, a great deal of its history is preserved, including the layout of rooms, artifacts, decor, presses, type, casting equipment, engravings, finished books, and the extensive company archives. The museum even holds the two oldest printing presses in existence, in addition to a number of canvasses by Reubens, who was apprently a friend of the family (too bad he’s one of my least-favorite artists). There is no other place like it in the world, and it’s a fantastic experience for anyone interested in book history.
I traveled with my friend Megan (who just happens to be another book historian living in the same hall) on the Eurostar, which I’m happy to report was one of the nicest transportation experiences of my life. I did get patted down at security, but overall it was easy, quick, and much more pleasant than flying. The Eurostar tickets covered our transfer to local rail at Brussels, and it was about an hour from there to Antwerp Central Station.
Our first stop in Antwerp was for a late lunch of frites, and it’s now difficult for me to entertain the thought of eating lesser fries than those in the paper boxes we carried down the main thoroughfare toward the museum. The Plantin-Moretus publishing house is completely engrossing—far larger and more rambling than we had expected. It’s hard to say what I enjoyed the most. The press room was fantastic, and it was a joy to see the workshop filled with antique typecasting materials. But it’s the experience of visiting a completely preserved publishing firm, and getting a sense of its day-to-day operation and the lives of the people who ran it, that is really special.
After the museum we wandered around the city for a while, had dinner, and drank Belgian beer at a bar filled with tourists and tacky religious icons. The next day we explored the art and fashion museums and more of the city. Oh, and lunch was waffles. Which, for me, meant waffles with ice cream, chocolate sauce, and cream. Overall a fantastic trip, and I felt that even in such a short time it was possible to get a good sense of the city. I would definitely recommend it for anyone traveling in Europe, and I’d love to go back again during the summer months. You can see my pictures of the museum, with explanations, here, and the set for the rest of Antwerp is here. There is a brief history of the Plantin-Moretus firm at the museum’s website.
On Thursday we visited our second UNESCO World Heritage Site of the week: the 5000 year-old Brú na Bóinne Necropolis just north of Dublin. This amazing paleolithic site is composed of three major burial mounds: Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth, (though only the first two are accessible to visitors) and around 40 smaller passage tombs and other monuments, making it “Europe’s largest and most important concentration of prehistoric megalithic art.” Visitors are only allowed on the sites as part of a truly excellent guided tour run by the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Center, and while you can choose to visit one site and skip over the other I strongly recommend that you see both if afforded the opportunity. Allow about three hours for the entire visit and go early while it’s quiet.
On our trip we stopped first at Knowth. A lovely, peaceful site and the largest of the tombs, with two separate passageways believed to have been lit by moonlight at the spring and summer equinoxes. (There is also a ring of smaller tombs surrounding the main burial mound.) Several important artifacts were found here, including a sacred basin stone around which the tomb was constructed, and which cannot be removed because it is actually larger than the passages. Unfortunately, due to damage to the passageways over the course of history, visitors can’t enter the burial chamber, but this is made up for by the amazing artwork on the large kerbstones surrounding the tomb. Knowth actually contains over 60% of all neolithic artwork found in Europe.
Knowth passage tomb.
Wooden henge next to Knowth.
The second site at Brú na Bóinne is the slightly smaller but quite striking Newgrange. The outer walls of this tomb are covered with a pattern of white quartz and grey river stones, and the single burial passage is lit by the rising sun at the winter solstice. There are only a few pieces of artwork here, but they are amazing, especially the large stone at the entrance which features a beautiful tri-spiral. The tri-spiral appears again in the burial chamber, along with diamond shapes, individual spirals and the representation of a fern. Visitors are allowed into the burial chamber with a guide and can see the amazing construction of the corbelled chamber roof. In 5000 years no water has ever leaked into the burial chambers at any of the Brú na Bóinne passage tombs.
Quartz and river stones. The wall, along with the outside of the Knowth tomb, was reconstructed by archaeologists beginning in the 1960s. This brings up a lot of interesting questions about how we choose to interpret and reconstruct historical sites. What do we find valuable about a place and how do we choose a way to recreate a structure that has existed in various states for 5000 years?
The black stones are not original to the site and indicate where the restoration was altered to allow the visitor entrance to be constructed.
The entrance stone with the tri-spiral on the left. Some researchers believe this to be a map of the area, with the tri-spiral representing the three main tombs and the wavy lines below them indicating the river.
Days three and four weren’t terribly exciting from an historical point of view; we spent most of them hiking in Killarney National Park. It was beautiful, though, and it’s blackberry season, so yum.
On Monday afternoon, exhausted with hiking, we drove north to the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs are amazing but have recently been saddled with a new visitor center, tacky shops and a good bit of fence. When Laura was here a few years ago she was able to walk right up to the edge. Now there’s a big sign saying not too, but we completely ignored it and were able to walk along the edge for a long way beyond the designated visitor area. We had better views of the cliffs and ocean with the sun at our backs and got away from the hoards of loud tourists. It’s very peaceful once you walk a bit from the fence. The seabirds swoop around level with the top of the cliffs and you can hear the booming waves. We even found a place that was aligned so perfectly with the setting sun that when waves rolled by the spray floating from their tops came off in rainbows.
Oh really? I wouldn’t have guessed.
View from the safe area.
We’re definitely not the first to ignore the sign—the path is pretty well worn.
Excellent view from the dangerous side of the fence.
Looking a bit wind-swept.
The Skellig Islands are rocky peaks jutting from the Atlantic about 15km off Ireland’s southwest coast. Little Skellig, home to an important bird colony, is off-limits to visitors, but Greater Skellig was the location of a monastery between 588 and the 12th century and later became a pilgrimage destination.
Tours leave from Port Magee, a short drive down the coast from Cahersiveen. The boat to the islands took about 45 minutes over rough seas, with a brief stop near Little Skellig for a wonderful view of the gannet colony (and there are puffins as well, during other seasons.) My photos of Little Skellig really don’t do it justice—it was mind-blowing.
Next, on to Skellig Michael, where you dock at a primitive landing and climb onto slippery, narrow stone steps, trying to land your feet while the waves bobs violently. (No part of this trip is suitable for the faint-hearted.) The path to the monastery winds up the mountain, offering spectacular views of it’s own sheer sides as well as the ocean and Little Skellig in the distance, looking snow-dusted but actually covered in birds. Soon the path narrows and steepens, then becomes a set of rough slab steps running almost vertically to the summit. The monastery remains well preserved at the top, though visitors only have access to a small section that includes several domed buildings and some graves. When we arrived there was a park ranger giving a really interesting talk on the island’s history and the culture of the monastery. After the climb it’s nice to sit in the sun enjoying the view and thinking about the people who arrived here in wooden boats 1500 years ago.
Leaving the Port Magee harbour.
Gannet colony on Little Skellig – 60,000 breeding pairs!
Great Skellig/Skellig Michael.
View back from about halfway, and Little Skellig in the distance.
Last flight of steps.
After an uneventful flight (in first class with ice cream sundaes) we landed in Shannon on Friday morning, picked up our teeny rented Yaris and drove southwest to the hostel in Cahersiveen, where there is an ancient ring fort as well as the ruins of a castle. More pictures here.
At the beginning of the Ring of Kerry.
The beach at Cahersiveen.
Some of the top sections have been restored.
We climbed around up there!
Ravens really add atmosphere.
Apologies for disappearing over the last week or so; I’ve been pretty busy preparing for my trip, spending time with my family, training the new person at work, etc. And my coworkers even threw me a party—thanks for the farewell wishes everybody! But now all is ready, and I have some free time while I wait on the luggage courier to come for my bags.
The plane leaves the ATL tonight at 10 (I’m flying standby—if you don’t already have a buddy in the airline industry I strongly encourage you to procure one) and my similarly-named friend Laura and I will land tomorrow in Shannon for a week in Ireland. During the holiday I’ll try to write a little and post some pictures of all the book and history nerdery we get into. Then on to London where my classes start on the 29th. Here’s what I’m taking this year:
Book History Core Course (Fall and Spring) – includes the following surveys and case studies:
- Book Structures and Manufacture
- Publication and Distribution
- Reading and Preservation
- The Medieval Book
- Books of Hours
- Shakespeare’s Quartos and First Folio
- The Illustrated Book
- The Novel 1830-1895
- Modern Publishing
- From Papyrus Roll to Scrolling Screen
Digital Publishing and Book Studies (Fall)
The Medieval Book (Fall)
The Italian Book (Spring)
Textual Scholarship and Contemporary Editorial Theory (Spring)
I can’t even begin to express how happy I am about school starting. Just reviewing my reading lists has been exciting. And now I go to hydrate myself in preparation for air travel. See you on the other side of the pond!
Great news today: my UK visa application was officially approved. And I’m relieved to report that the entire process was quick and painless (especially compared with the major hassles of my student loans).
Now everything for school is sorted, save for the housing paperwork that hasn’t been mailed to me yet. The other odd bits, like getting a bank account, can wait until I arrive in Britain. By the way, if you have any recommendations regarding banking please let me know! I’ve heard that setting up an account can be a nightmare, especially with online banking, which is all I ever use here at home.
I had a very exciting day: I got to drive to the UK visa application center in Atlanta to surrender my biometric data. It’s a new policy for the student visas that requires the applicant to provide fingerprints and a digital photo. I was a bit worried that it was going to be some kind of nightmarish bureaucratic hassle in which I would be shunted between various ques and uncomfortable plastic seats for an hour. Like the DMV! Happily, it was exactly the opposite, with no lines and very friendly, efficient staff. They let me go ahead even though I was a little early, and it was all finished in ten minutes. The highlight was having my fingerprints done; it’s all digital and they appeared magnified about 1,000 times on the computer screen. Pretty cool (and a bit creepy. Oh well.)
And, quite appropriately, here’s one more memorable book cover I just thought of. I’m kind of surprised EW missed this one when making their list.