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Category: travel

Living From Home: Day 1

This was going to be a different Day 1 post. It was going to be about our walk from Knettishall Heath, which is the official start of Peddars Way, to Little Cressingham, 15 miles up the path. And I’ll still write that, because it was a wonderful trip and I want to share it. But things have changed and I want to document that too.

Between the final time I looked at my university’s health guidelines and email messages before leaving London (Friday morning GMT) and when we landed in DFW for our connecting flight to St. Louis (Friday afternoon CDT), the UK had been put on the watchlist. Everyone returning from there had to check in with the health services and get instructions. Our layover was three hours long because we cleared immigration in no time (more on that later) and our flight was delayed, so we hit Starbucks and found some seats. Big cup of tea in hand, I started calling the university as instructed. I dialed two numbers and was told at each that I should call a different one (the first suggested the second, the second gave me a third). The third number had a recorded message which had clearly not been updated since the changed policies and claimed the health service was closed even though the recording went on to say it was scheduled to be open at the hour I called. At that point I gave up and called my department office to tell them TheH and I were on our way home and probably destined for 14 days of self-isolation. Our administrator, who was on another line dealing with a colleague’s more serious travel crisis, emailed me phone numbers when she was free, but they were the same numbers I already had. So I gave up and read the news until our flight boarded.

Yesterday was Day 1 of our self-isolation. I call it “living from home” rather than “living at home” or “working from home” because everything we do has to radiate out from here. We’re still working, indeed our work time right now is greater than it would have been without the shutdown since we’re figuring out how to transfer in-person courses into distance learning. We’re luckier than our poor students, since we are in our regular home. They left a week to 10 days ago thinking they’d be back in a week, and some of them didn’t even go home until they found out they couldn’t come back to school.

We spent yesterday unpacking, assessing our situation, and catching up with work. I sent emails to my grad teaching assistants and to my two classes. I made up multiple ToDo lists, just writing down things as they came to mind. There is a lot ToDo in the next week. I’m very grateful to have the extra week of “break” because shifting to online teaching will require some deep thinking about how to do it. I’ve never taught a course online, although I’ve considered it in the past; ironically, the one I’d thought of doing is the Privacy course I’m teaching now. But a full, planned-ahead online course is quite different from what we have in front of us now. More than half the semester has been taught in person, so now it’s a matter of figuring out how to revise the syllabus, requirements, and teaching approach, as well as to compress six weeks of material into five. At least I don’t have to change the finals week requirement. But I do have to consider whether group projects, which are the big assignment in the second half, are doable.

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Travel update

I had hoped to post daily updates during the walk itself, but our days were long and by the time we stopped we were usually ready for dinner, rest, and bed. It was a great trip, although by about halfway through it became impossible to avoid thinking about coronavirus, and the news updates, both general and specific, came thick and fast.

We wound up spending two full days in London, which was relaxing. We had no trouble booking more nights at our hotel, indeed there was only one small boutique hotel which was full on our whole trip. West Norfolk and the Norfolk coast were great places to be during the unfolding pandemic. London was less crowded than usual, everywhere. Our favorite restaurants had plenty of available tables, the streets were less packed with people, and the buses were light. Not so empty as to feel eerie, but definitely noticeable.

We’re coming home to a city and state with few reported cases, unlike other parts of the country. TheH is postponing his upcoming trip to California; our county has quite a few cases and the university has required cancellation of all non-essential travel. So no Midwest meetings for us this year either.

The UK is taking a less draconian approach to controlling the virus than most of Europe, about which I have mixed feelings. We have done what we can to mitigate our exposure while here. But given we’ve been in a major city with crowds, taken the (amazingly clean and half-empty) Tube to Heathrow, and then are flying on two full flights through two more airports, we’ll limit our contact with other people for at least a week once we’re home. We have friends as well as family of friends and colleagues who are high risk and we don’t want to be transmission vectors.

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Weeknote 7

Happy March! We were granted another sunny weekend with temperatures in the 50s. February did not feel nearly as long as endless January, but it didn’t fly by, either. But I think we are out of the bitter cold days, finally.

WORK

It’s grading time! Papers in Privacy and an exam in Political Protest. I am blessed with excellent graduate assistants, though, so I am very fortunate. And I have a couple of guest lecturers in protest, so I am easing into spring break. I’m on a law school panel about the Hong Kong protests this week, and there are a couple of committees for which I have to do some work, but otherwise it’s pretty quiet. Now that I’m not part of the governance apparatus for my department I can actually catch my breath and do things I want to do.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

On Sirius’s recommendation we also started watching the British TV series Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn, and were immediately hooked. The show is based on a series by Ann Cleeves and is set in northern England (the Angel of the North appears in the opening credit sequence). Vera is the stereotypical gruff loner detective but gender-switched. She doesn’t like children, has few friends, drinks, and is devoted to her job. But she cares deeply about the people around her, she just can’t/won’t show it. Blethyn is just as good as you’d expect. She plays the role with warmth and depth, and I love that she’s not playing her as the more common tough-as-nails type. There are several season so we have plenty of episodes to look forward to.

We also watched a very enjoyable independent film starring Keanu Reeves, called Henry’s Crime. Reeves is a highway tollbooth attendant who is tricked into driving a bunch of acquaintances to a bank robbery and is convicted of the ensuing crime. In prison he meets James Caan, who’s been in for years and is avoiding parole. When Reeves gets out he meets Vera Farmiga, an actress, and starts to have the first real adventure of his life. It’s entirely unbelievable and very low-key (to the point of being comatose, according to some reviewers), but the acting and Buffalo setting work well. If you’re a Keanu fan, check this out (we found it on Hoopla); you’ll get to see him performing scenes from The Cherry Orchard as a special bonus. He’s pretty good!

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Weeknote 6

It’s still February. It’s still winter, with the occasional warm day to suggest spring might show up eventually and the regular single-digit-degree morning to suggest otherwise.

WORK

We’re halfway through the semester, so time for midterms and papers. The poor students have been felled by one of the worse flu seasons we’ve seen in a while, so I’m just impressed when they show up to class and participate. Which they’ve been doing admirably, in both classes. In the Privacy class we watched and discussed CitizenFour, the documentary about Edward Snowden. Many of the students weren’t aware of the extent to which the government was hoovering up data on not just supposed terrorists but also citizens. And when your surveillance list comprises over 1.3 million names, that “supposed” is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting.

READING/WATCHING/LISTENING

I finished The Hobbit and will post my TBR Challenge review on it in the next couple of days. I enjoyed it a lot, and I probably would have adored it as a young person. The writing is occasionally quite lovely, although there are also sentences which I had to read two or three times to make sense of. It’s the ultimate Quest story, of course, and it’s very episodic. It isn’t really clear why each of the encounters and episodes needs to be in the story, except to introduce another part of the world and another set of interesting non-human characters. I also don’t understand at all why the film adaptation required three separate installments, except for the obvious motivation of that sweet, sweet financial return. I appreciated that in contrast to Peter Jackson, JRR Tolkien didn’t consider battles worthy of long descriptions. I got a good sense of what was going on and the characteristics of the participants in the amount of space he accorded them. I will move on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but after a break with some human literary companions.

We’ve been listening to music in the evenings rather than watching movies or TV shows. I know we watched something this week, but it must have been very timepass because I can’t remember what it was. I got back from a work function Friday night and enforced socializing left me fit only for a Midsomer Murders episode, which turned out to be one of the ones where the people are particularly unpleasant. And the policeman sidekick was the middle one who never clicked with Barnaby and was gone after a couple of seasons.

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Art break: Kara Walker’s Fons Americanus at the Tate Modern

At the end of our Fen Rivers Way walk we spent a couple of nights in London. One of our main goals was to go to the Tate Modern and see the current installation in the Turbine Hall. I’d read about Kara Walker’s new work in the Guardian and we felt really fortunate that our trip would overlap with the exhibit. We were staying in Holborn and it was one of those cloudy/sunny London days, so we walked down to the Tate in the morning. There wasn’t much of a crowd yet, and the Turbine Hall is free to enter.

Walker’s sculpture is a reimagining of the Victoria Memorial in front of Buckingham Palace. That original piece was commissioned as a celebration of the Queen-Empress and her accomplishments, complete with a Winged Victory statue at the top. Walker’s has Venus in its place, one who spouts water from both breasts as well as from her neck.

It’s a breathtaking piece which interrogates imperialism, the 19thC fetish for nationalist and imperial monuments, and the UK and US’s still under-examined and very partial understanding of the consequences of their imperial enterprises. The nautical aspects of the original work here call forth memories of the Atlantic slave trade, with the ships lost as sea, the families torn apart, and the sharks that filled the waters (the sharks are also a reference to the famous Damien Hirst shark in formaldehyde).

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