Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Saint Patrick's Day (of course)

Here's my little leprechaun, all "Irished" up - and plenty to do. That's the fittingly dubbed "Patrick" in his right hand, and the "airplane of the day" (thanks, Uncle Steve for the Airplane-A-Day calendar!) in his left. If you need more shots of St. Patrick's Day around the world, the MSNBC slide show is pretty swell. Today was all about Saint Patrick's Day (which passes very low beneath the radar in France, if it's noticed at all). Oliver declared in the morning that since he "doesn't believe in saints and things" today was actually "Good Luck Day." Terrific! (How does this happen, that I have one child who rushes into every church she sees to pray, and the other who is a religious skeptic?). Well, we did have good luck as it turns out, because today was the first true day of spring spring spring!

It was 18 degrees Celsius (around 65 Farenheit) and we headed out with a picnic to the Lists. (Note the various shades of green on the kids). None of us could believe how balmy and warm it was. The kids stripped their coats off after running around just a few minutes, and looked like they were just enjoying being able to move. It was a warm reminder of how the best is yet to come: when the trees and flowers start to bloom, this already wonderful little town will become even more incredible. It's a 3-flower "Ville Fleurie" (kind of like a Michelin Guide system) and everyone here takes great pride in their gardens. I'm ready for that from Indiana and so can't wait to see the results of serious gardening here.

Oliver (and Patrick, who was with us all day) were blissed out. Wednesdays will be bittersweet days when we'll be back in the States. I still sometimes find myself saying "Really? A day to ourselves? Just like that? Aren't I supposed to be doing something specific with the kids?" but less and less. Today, I just enjoyed watching them run around, climb trees, make up games, eat and run (and eat again), and laugh. I thought briefly that I should have brought a book or an article to read, but no no no. Let this time be. And the truth is, about an hour into our time outside (we were out for close to four hours today!), my Leeds paper started coming together in my head - with possibilities for book chapters forming, too. I want to concentrate on the Heroïdes and the Triomphe des Vertus - it's an interesting and provocative pairing on the ambivalent space and desire for "Outre-Mer" issue (I love that French term, "outre-mer" - you'd translate it as "overseas," but it has more romance than that, I swear.) What makes me happy is that I'm talking about pairing images as well. So hoorah for time to think and breathe.

Which brings me to a short paragraph about why sabbaticals really do work and are a good idea. And yes, everyone should have them. They're definitely great for work, for the production of work - you have a project, time, you can get work done. They are unbelievable for new ideas (is there any way to "shake things up" at home that could have the same effect? No number of "brainstorming retreats" can do the creative work of sabbatical.) But I'm starting to realize that, for me this time around, it's also about renewing the teaching mission of the liberal arts - allowing yourself to research for discovery; allowing curiosity to take over. Being curious takes tons of energy (and we all sadly see students seriously lacking the ability to be curious) - and (yes, I'm going to say it), being curious makes the world a better place. If you stop, listen, ask, and wonder, you're engaging in the best of what makes us human, you're on your way to social change. It sounds hopelessly naïve and optimistic, but yes, this is absolutely what I believe. I teach curiosity as well as research and writing skills. And no, it's not ever one class or one painting that makes all the difference - it's the cumulative effect of asking questions about seemingly unrelated things that matters. Always. I tend to see art history both materially and allegorically: materially, it is the study of objects in the world (paintings, stained glass windows, sculpture, etc.); but allegorically, it's about problem-solving and interpretation - it's a preparation for future discernments that will have to be made, for future interpretations you will need to convince others of. Art history is about art, but it's also about persuasion and argumentation (two aptitudes I would consider essential if one if going to make one's way in this world).

I stuck with the green food theme as much as possible (we had pesto pasta for dinner tonight) - these pistachio "pots de creme" are one of the kids' favorites. They get very serious about eating this dessert - and it is really good. Truth be told, being with the kids and watching their voracious curiosity, their gripping fascination helps me remember What It's All About, as well. "Childlike wonder" is actually rarely a passive thing: they seek out the object of their obsession (and I'm not just talking about Oliver and St. Patrick) and relentlessly pursue it and seemingly never get tired of it. I am happiest and most productive in my research when I'm the same way. And so, yes, my heart sank a bit when I saw that both Eleanor and Iris's teachers were going to be on strike next Tuesday (another day of work lost!), but I also know that I can't wait to see where they take me.

After about three hours, Oliver and Eleanor actually got a bit tired. Or maybe it was just the sheer pleasure of lying in the warm sun (on a 14th century ruin!) that had them relaxing beneath the arches. Nice.

Iris did not join them as she was too busy chasing a butterfly - you can just see its flitting, yellow body! She never did catch it, but was busy hatching many different ways to do so. Almost as satisfying.

Oliver's been restless sometimes at night here (seems like something to expect), and so I've been fixing him a glass of warm milk (that's what they did in the olden times, right?) and we chat a little bit and he goes back up and, he says, "It works every time, mom!" I've come to love these warm milk breaks. Tonight, when I asked him how his St. Patrick's Day was, he said "Great! But now it's time to start looking forward to Easter." I, myself, am looking forward to screening La Reine Margot, graciously loaned to me by our new friend!, in preparation for part two of the TV movie about "Henry IV" (she was his first (most unwilling) wife) that will be on tomorrow night! Late 16th-century mayhem!


  1. thank you for the blogs! They make me happy. I love Oliver's house! And your stylistic analysis of the political party names. Mac

  2. hi there! what a cool (weird) new way for us to communicate! so glad you got internet access - have fun tonight and safe travels to wonderful Berlin tomorrow!!!