S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

State College, Pennsylvania

This weekend, I attended a conference in State College, Pennsylvania, at Penn State, a pleasant town and university campus. Penn State is, apparently, where most meteorologists in the U.S. have degrees from, and is also home to the U.S.'s oldest ice cream manufacturing program. It didn't start as a land-grant university, but that's how it grew, so it's large, but well-integrated with the town.

Before I tell you about the conference, I want to say how much I like the Pittsburgh airport, at least terminals A-D of it. It is very spacious and extremely well-stocked with a useful variety of shops. It hassunlight and are well-kept. It has chocolate shops and at least one fruit smoothie shop and a decent food selection. It has a spacious central atrium. As I was talking through the atrium en route to terminal E, I saw a sign at the top of the escalator, announcing the presence of a Caulder sculpture. I looked up. I looked down through the several levels viewable down the escalators from where I was standing. I completely failed to a see a Caulder sculpture. Being in no hurry, I meandered over to ask about it at the Information desk. The sculpture wasn't there, she agreed - it wasn't my oversight. It'd been on loan to the Guggenheim in Spain for the past year, and many other people in that hear had stopped to ask about its lack. It's a pity the Guggenheim didn't lend anything in exchange (not that she knew of). I rather like the idea of airports lending each other art, actually. They hardly lack for transportation!

Wind & Water: the Medieval Mill was a weekend well-spent, and not only because one of my dissertation chapters is on windmills. The talks were good, the company was entertaining, I had a chance to catch up with old friends and meet colleagues unknown to me. The co-organizer, in fact, was Steve Walton, a friend from IHPST, where we overlapped for my first year. The speakers lived and worked in a variety of countries, which led to some amusing moments, particularly Friday morning. Over the course of the three papers given that morning, the date of the earliest known tide mill was pushed back and back until eventually no one offered evidence to supercede seventh-century Ireland. One of the speakers, who moonlights as a BBC tv presenter on Time Flyers, also runs an MA program at the University of Bristol which specializes in teaching students how to make historical documentaries. Shevaun (the student) presented a documentary she'd made on old English mills, which gives a good sense for what the standing structures are like. (I should have my own copy of it in just a few weeks!)

In order to include more students into the project of holding this conference, the engineering and architecture students were, as part of two coursees, recruited to construct a half-size medieval postmill on campus. Eventually, it was intended to become a part of the medieval garden, also on campus. The postmill wasn't finished while I was there, but it was fun to have all of its parts and pieces, increasingly constructed together, lying out in the sun-swathed courtyard over the course of the conference.

Friday night featured a "medieval" banquet, which required only those at the lower tables (including myself, of course) to eat without a fork. Most of my companions made do with a knife and spoon, but I found it much easier to just use my fingers. We had napkins, after all. Give or take a few dried cranberries, the dish ingredients were generally and correctly Old World ones. I spent most of the banquet talking to the architecture students who were otherwise busy building the postmill, and Paul Gans, best know online for his medieval technology pages. (He promises he will update them further in the near future.) The banquet finished with an amusing "Play of the Crafts", the plot of which revolved around the cuckolding of a miller. Afterwards, six of us living in four different countries went out for another hour of conversation and drinking at a local bar. Shevaun and I bonded over good taste in clothing - she'd worn a full-length plaid skirt, Austrian leather belt, and elegantly pseudo-medieval blouse for the evening.

The Talks

  • Steven Bashore, Miller, Stratford Mill, Stratford, VA. "Development and Technological Advancements in Wind and Water Mills". (It was particularly appropriate to have a miller speaking at this conference. He showed slides of many of the artworks which I use in my own work, and provided a general survey of the history of mills.)
  • Mark Horton, Archaeology, University of Bristol. "The Medieval Mill as a Forerunner of the Industrial Revolution". (Shevaun's video was shown as a prelude to this talk. The speaker strongly advocated archaeology and history working more closely together, and demonstrated a number of instances were there were clear and prolonged disconnects between these two fields on the subject of mills.)
  • Niall Brady, History and Archaeology, Discovery Programme, Dublin, Ireland. "Water and its uses in Late Medieval Ireland, with Particular Reference to Mills and Milling in the Hinterland of Dublin City". (The survey he is working on gives an excellent sense for how close/far away from each other different mills were, what they clustered around, and how common the different mill-types were. The name of the Programme he works for caused endless and usually intentional confusion over the course of the weekend.)
  • Kirk Ambrose, Art History, University of Colorado at Boulder. "The 'Mystic Mill' Capital at Vézelay". (Kirk has a forthcoming survey of all the Vezelay columns forthcoming from PIMS. In his talk, he particularly emphasized that the fourteenth-century mystic mills have a great deal more iconographic baggage than can be realistically read into the Vezelay capital.)
  • Janet Loengard, Professor Emerita, Medieval English Legal History, Moravian College. "Lords' Rights and Neighbours' Nuisances: Mills and Medieval English Law". (Did you know that court cases and complaints were filed because, among other things, a given mill was too easy to get to?)
  • Adam Lucas, History of Technology, University of New South Wales, Australia. "Monastic Innovation or Monastic Oppression? The Role of the Monasteries in the Development of Powered Milling in Medieval England". (I met Adam when he gave his paper at SHOT in Toronto a few years ago. His survey of medieval English mills shows how monastic involvement in milling and milling innovation was primarily for economic reasons.)
  • Thomas Glick, History, Boston University. "Mills and Millers in Medieval Valencia: The Wheat-Flour-Bread Cycle in the Fifteenth Century". (A particularly good history of a miller abusing the power of his mill, and of the existence of illegal in-betweeners in Valencia who would buy grain from the market with loans from millers, be forced thereby to grind the grain with the miller, and then broke even through resale.)
  • Roberta Magnusson, History, University of Oklahoma. "Public and Private Urban Hydrology: Water Management in Medieval London". (When I was young and living in London, I was part of a chorus of sewer rats in a musical about the River Fleet. Roberta Magnusson's talk gave me, among other things, a historical grounding in how the Fleet when from "a brook to a ditch to a drain", which was delightful to have after all these years.)
  • D. Fairchild Ruggles, Landscape Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Waterwheels and Garden Gizmos: Technology and Illusion in Islamic Landscape". (Many of the mechanical birds and creatures recounted in places like </i>1001 Arabian Nights</i> would have been water powered, as we know from still-extant animal foutains, as well as medieval/Islamic sculptures, texts, and images.)

On Saturday, after the last of the talks and another chance to check on the ongoing status of the postmill, a few of us went off to eat some of the Penn State creamery's ice cream, but to no avail. It was the first really hot Saturday of the year, and the line stretched around the block. Instead, we went downtown to Ben and Jerry's.

I had to leave before everyone else to go back to the hotel to meet my sister. I thought she'd run late, since based on the time she told me she'd be leaving, it was unlikely she'd arrive as early as she'd initially said. Instead, she arrived an hour early, having left even earlier. In a delightful coincidence, she'd just gone for a walk in the same direction from which I was coming, so I met her three-quarters of the way back to the hotel, in the middle of a residential neighorhood. Her allergies were acting up and not helping her asthma at all, but she was still up for joining the remnants of the conference crowd for dinner at the chair of Medieval Studies' house. The dinner was wonderful - really delicious Ukrainian or Polish or eastern European anyways themed food, buffet-style, and a house crowded with people I'd had a good time with over the course of the previous two days. We spent several hours there, talking and eating. I tried a really tasty apple schnapps there, in which the taste of the fruit was very clear and rich. After a few hours, however, it was increasingly clear that my sister's inhaler wasn't working and her asthma attack was becoming worse.

And that's how my very first trip to an emergency room occured. Steve drove us back to the hotel, and we drove to the hospital in order to have my sister's breathing treated. She hadn't had to go to the emergency room for asthma in years, fortunately. Her asthma's been quite managable for the last several. My sister also said it was the nicest emergency room she'd ever been in, and I had a good first experience with one there. The intern who dealt with her was all brushed up on the latest asthma literature, and there weren't many other people there. The surroundings were quiet and calm. That said, it did take two and a half hours before she was checked out and we could go home to sleep in.

On Sunday, after sleeping in, we went out to brunch, wandered the streets of State College to check out the shops (I'm now the proud owner of the new Playmobil beaver set! It's part of their new North American animals series, featuring moose and skunks and a bald eagle - and they're coming out with Noah's Ark this fall!), visited the Mount Nittany winery (where, unusually for me, I liked the semi-dry I tried better than any of the sweet wines), spent an hour at the campus art museum (I particularly liked the Intimate Purlieus exhibit, featuring a variety of small landscape images), and then finally went to the Penn State Creamery for ice cream, where the line no longer stretched around the block. Much as I love chocolate chip cookie dough shakes, most straws are not up for them. Then, my sister had to leave - she had work the next day. It certainly was good to see my sister though. I'm very glad she drove up.

Sunday evening was my first time alone for an extended period of time in several days, so I finished off the fiction book I had with me. A Sorceror's Treason was pretty good - solid enough I might read the other two books that the author has written in the same world. I liked the opening premise even better than the fantasy world. The heroine is a lighthouse keeper on the shore of Lake Superior in late-nineteenth-century Wisconsin.

Monday morning, I met Steve for brunch at The Waffle Shop, were I had a rather tasty waffle with sour cherry sauce. We caught up on people we both knew and talked through the weekend's events. He introduced me to an older Dar Williams song I didn't know, and "Wilder than her" has been going through my head ever since. Eventually, however, he had papers to grade and I had a hotel to check out of and a tammabanana to meet, so we went our separate ways. Tamma and I spent several hours patronizing a gourmet sandwich and hot food shops just down the parking lot from the hotel. We didn't actually buy that much food, but we considered buying a great deal of it. Neither of us had quite enough appetite to eat as much as looked good there. The desserts especially looked phenomenal, but after a late brunch and a sandwich, I was too full.

Tamma's delightful and she's good to talk to, and that's mostly what we did. We talked. Even if we hadn't met before, we have a certain degree of common social circle to make up for that. I learned the saga behind her family's sheep collection - she would be living on a farm if all the farm animals weren't pets. We discussed family and bookshelves and books and how hard writing can be. And afterwards, we went to a used book store which the waiter at the restaurant had recommended as "fun". I liked the bookstore even more for its very wide aisles and all the chairs to sit down on all over the place. While there, I found all four volumes of a series of books I had fond memories of from when I was in my young teens, but which I'd never owned: Elizabeth Ann Scarborough's Songs from the Seashell Archives. I read the first one on the airplane and on my three-hour layover at the Pittsburgh airport en route home, and started the second before I made it back to Toronto.

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