Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Too busy living to blog

Or at least that's the positive spin. Perhaps "too busy being disorganized to get anything done at all" is nearer the mark.

At any rate, there's little more to tell about the Italy trip I intended to continue on. Unexpectedly being in Milan Sunday morning (rather than passing through rapidly on Saturday afternoon) I took the opportunity to visit the cathedral. I'd been in Milan cathedral once before, but not for a sung Mass on a Sunday: an entirely unexpected bonus. Just lately, leafing through Joyce Sugg's anthology of Newman's letters, I happened on a letter written to Henry Wilberforce from Milan on 24 September 1846, describing services in "that overpowering place, the Duomo":
the incense rolling up from the high altar, and all this in one of the most wonderful buildings in the world, and [...] all of this without any show or effort, but what everyone is used to -- everyone at his own work, and leaving everyone else to his.
Alas, such joyful and unselfconscious solemnity is something I'm not at all used to, and it's rather like finding an oasis in the desert. My Chinese travelling companion tagged along, and although an unbeliever she happily sat through Mass just for the beauty of it.

The reason for going to Bologna was in large part to consult the oldest copy I'd been able to locate of a fascinating Dutch children's picture book I want to write about. Bologna has a copy printed in the 1710s, while the earliest I'd found in the Netherlands was from around 1760. Shortly after my return I found that an even older copy, from the 1690s, had turned up in Groningen or somewhere. Ugh.

Still, at least I got to do some other things in Bologna, not least simply be in the Archiginnasio. But I had serious academic stuff to do there, not just sightseeing: I had to consult Robert Dudley's Dell'Arcano del Mare, the first maritime encyclopedia (a strange absence from local libraries, but it was published in Florence so I suppose Italy is an obvious place to find it), and also managed to read some of the works of Thomas Dempster, a Scottish professor in 17th-century Bologna and a neglected figure in Neo-Latin letters.

Anyway, it's all months ago now. What I really want to be doing is getting down my impressions of South Africa from last week. This wasn't intended as an academic "travelblog", but somehow it's turning into that.

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