You know how I sometimes mention I’m in grad school? Well, yesterday I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation! It’s been a long, sometimes quite difficult, but also very rewarding six years. Here’s me and my lovely committee at the post-defense celebration. Happy May Day!
On our second day in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, we hiked the Borrego Palm Canyon Trail. There were plenty of people, and the trail was awash in desert flowers. The clouds of blooms were mainly shades of yellow and purple (desert dandelion, Parrish’s poppies, phacelia), with greenery and smatterings of other colors thrown in. The trail was pretty easy for a long stretch. Mountainsides jutted up sharply on either side of us, but far away on one side. There were streams (or maybe just one stream) flowing with cold water, and we had to cross all of these, usually on stepping stones or a log bridge. Closer to the palm oasis that was the endpoint of the trail, the path grew steeper and rockier in places.
The oasis itself was a circle of California fan palms, the only native California palm tree. It was deliciously cool in the shade. Nearby, a shallow stream was flowing, and it seemed you could wade up it to find a waterfall. This sounded lovely, but a bunch of people had just arrived, so we opted to start the hike back. We stumbled upon some more ghost flowers along the trail, but alas, we didn’t meet any bighorn sheep.
On the drive back from the state park, we saw along the freeway near Lake Elsinore (lately overwhelmed by superbloom seekers) the hillsides coated in orange California poppies that are the signature of this year’s superbloom. The flowers do make impressive patches of color.
Back in Los Angeles, we visited the Getty Museum, where the illuminated manuscripts exhibit was Artful Words: Calligraphy in Illuminated Manuscripts. As usual, I tried to read the French texts. There was an amusing legend to an illustration in The Visions of the Knight Tondal: “The Good But Not Very Good Are Nourished by a Fountain”. Sounds like Not Very Good is good enough, then? This particular exhibit featured a lot of pages from books of music, which I’m a big fan of.
On the final day of our vacation, we visited the Getty Villa.
2018 has been quite a year. Do I say that every year? (I actually don’t, but I probably could.) Between the am-I-finishing-grad-school-this-year-or-not uncertainty (answer: no), the politics, the traveling, and the wonderful times with friends, it’s been a full year. Here are some highlights, not in chronological order:
- I published my first short story, “Lómr,” in Cicada (which, sadly, is no more)
- I wrote more zines, which you can download here
- As one of those zines attests, I got my wisdom teeth removed
- I participated in the Women’s March again
- I met Thi Bui at UCLA
- I went to my first Los Angeles Philharmonic concert
- I obtained copies of the Turkish translations of Sparkers and Wildings
- I gave six presentations at conferences in places such as Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, and Lisbon
- I visited my first cat cafés, in Los Angeles and Minneapolis
- In the summer, I spent time in Lisbon, Paris, and southern France
- I visited San Francisco again
- And I actually went up to the Bay Area one other time, to attend a friend’s going forth ceremony as they took the next step toward becoming a Buddhist monastic
In 2019, I will be dissertating and, I hope, writing and perhaps beginning a brand new adventure!
Earlier in October, I went up to San Francisco for the weekend. The reason for the trip was to give a talk in the Berkeley Linguistics Department, but it was an excellent excuse to spend time in a city I like more and more. I arrived on Friday evening and met my friend Dustin for dinner. The place where we met was a stone’s throw from the Chinese restaurant where the banquet I went to before the premiere of Dream of the Red Chamber was held, but we ate at a different Chinese restaurant, which specialized in Sichuanese cuisine. We had mapo tofu and steamed fish over tofu with chopped chilies.
I made my way by BART and bus to the Marina District, where I was staying with my mother’s cousin and his wife, whose wedding in Maui I attended last year. They very kindly introduced me to some of their favorite places to eat. On Saturday, we went to the farmers market around the Ferry Building for chilaquiles (which I had never tried) and porchetta sandwiches. Then they took me to Lands End. Beyond the ruins of the Sutro Baths, the tide was very low, and gulls and cormorants crowded on the rocky outcroppings just off shore. Here by the ocean it was cloudy, and the wind-sculpted conifers stood tall and eerie on the hillside.
I spent part of the afternoon in Golden Gate Park catching up with my friend Katherine (alas, I did not get to see the bison paddock). Then in the evening my cousins and I went out for seven-course beef (bò 7 món), which I had also never tried (or even heard of). NO PHO, a sticker on the door of the restaurant proclaimed, and inside every table had ordered the specialty. The meal consisted of seven courses of beef in different forms, including a salad at the beginning and congee at the end, passing through various iterations of thinly sliced beef and ground beef sausages. Most of the meat was meant to be rolled in lettuce and/or rice paper wrappers with vegetables and herbs. It was fun and very tasty.
On Sunday morning, I went to church with Katherine. It was the Indigenous People’s Day Service, and the sermon was partly about the Nez Perce translation of the Gospel of John and the Nez Perce story of Coyote and his daughter. After church, my cousins and I drove to Berkeley, where we ate an Indian restaurant/market specializing in chaat. I had a mango lassi, and we shared a bunch of dishes served on metal trays. These included lamb biryani, masala dosa, puri, a puffed rice dish, fried fish, and bhature (a.k.a the big puffy thing), with a variety of sauces and accompaniments.
My cousins dropped me off at my friend Jesse’s place, and the next day Jesse and I went into the Berkeley department. I spent the morning at the Free Speech Movement Café and then returned to give my talk, which was on a couple of my dissertation experiments. Afterwards, I went out to lunch with some of the Berkeley folks, including my friend Andrew. Then I made my way back to the airport to fly back to Los Angeles.
In the second half of June, I went to LabPhon, a phonetics and phonology conference, in Lisbon. I had never been to Portugal before, and so when I and several other colleagues from my department were accepted, I decided to go to my first international conference. In preparation, I ordered a Portuguese phrasebook from France and proceeded to study European Portuguese extremely halfheartedly for weeks. It didn’t help that the phrasebook’s explanation of Portuguese pronunciation was abominable.
LabPhon itself was good. I presented my poster and had some fulfilling conversations with fellow linguists. It was also a good place to see friends from other universities. That said, I did skip a lot of the conference to explore Lisbon. Here are the highlights:
Isabelle and I met up in the afternoon and walked to the Terreiro do Paço, on the estuary of the Tagus. From there, it was a short walk to the Casa dos Bicos, or House of Beaks, a 16th century house whose façade is covered in pyramid-shaped protrusions reminiscent of beaks. It reminded me a little of the beaky portal of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Iffley.
Inside, on the ground floor, there were remnants of the Roman walls, and upstairs was the Fundação José Saramago, the museum of one of my favorite authors! The permanent exhibit featured hundreds of copies of his novels, translated into many languages, including Georgian! There was a lovely account of how after Saramago died, as the airplane carrying his remains took off from the island of Lanzarote, his neighbors read passages of his novels aloud, to bear him away, so to speak. And then when the airplane landed in Portugal, people waved copies of his books to greet it. It was rather moving. We also learned that Saramago’s ashes were buried under the olive tree we’d admired out front before entering the museum.
We then took a break, and I ate my first pastél de nata, bought at a fancy bakery earlier. This pastry is akin to the Chinese egg tart served at dim sum, but it’s thicker and richer. I’d heard of them long ago but never had one, and my first was delicious!
Next we visited the Igreja de Santo António, where mass was being celebrated (in Spanish…?). We went down to the crypt, where a sign indicated that St. Anthony was born HERE. Just up the hill was the Sé de Lisboa, the cathedral. We climbed one of the towers to get to the treasury and found you could walk through a narrow doorway onto the balcony at the back of the sanctuary. It was rather magical when it was just us up there.
In the evening, Meng and I walked around the narrow streets of the Bairro Alto and ate at a restaurant, where we got the bacalhau (salt cod) for two. It was also delicious.
This was the day I presented my poster. After the conference, Meng, Jeremy, and I walked up some very steep streets in what seemed to be a sort of Chinatown. We met up with Adam, Marc, and Jamie, all graduates of our program, and their partners on a bar patio overlooking the Tagus and shared some sangria. Then we went to a restaurant in the Alfama district, where I had rabbit in a plum sauce with couscous.
After a day at the conference, I met up with my friend Andrew and two other Berkeley grad students to visit the Castelo de São Jorge. There were splendid views, as well as peacocks, peahens, and their babies. We had fun climbing around the castle walls.
We had dinner at a restaurant downhill from the castle, and I had my second salt cod dish, bacalhau à Brás. It’s sort of like fish with egg and hashbrowns, all mixed together. It was tasty and filling. Two of the Berkeley students had bacalhau com natas, which looked a bit like a lake of cream with bits of fish in it (this is how I learned that nata means ‘cream’).
After dinner, we kept walking downhill, enjoying Lisbon in the evening light of midsummer.
I am woefully behind on blogging about my adventures, but such is the way of things. In the last month or so, besides diligently writing my dissertation, I’ve returned to the aquarium, enjoyed a 4-hour “study session” at the new cat café in my neighborhood, and spent nearly three weeks in Portugal and France. This post, however, harks back to early May, when I was in Minneapolis with Isabelle for the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America. It was my first phonetics conference. We presented posters in the same session, and I met exactly the linguists I wanted to talk to about my somewhat perplexing study (one of them, from the University of Minnesota, lives practically down the road from my parents!). I also got to see a friend and fellow linguistics Ph.D. student I know from Swarthmore.
After our poster session, Isabelle and I had lunch on Eat Street and then walked over to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to see Power and Beauty in China’s Last Dynasty. This exhibit was meant to weave objects and artwork from the Qing Dynasty into an immersive, sensory experience drawing on elements of theater. It began with ten minutes of meditation in a dark room. It was almost pitch black, but a vase placed high in one corner was illuminated. A piece by John Cage involving what sounded like pencils being dropped onto a stage played in the background. Several of the exhibit rooms included music, some of it rather strange. One of the rooms, featuring a carved wooden throne, had walls painted red with the image of a rather Western-looking dragon and a soundtrack of screams (possibly not all human?). The whole thing was rather unusual, but I liked the art.
After emerging from the Qing Dynasty exhibit, we stumbled upon another temporary exhibit, Boundless Peaks: Ink Paintings by Minol Araki. Araki was a Japanese painter born in China who studied with Chinese painter Zhang Daqian. I was quite taken with his paintings, especially a monumental one covering several walls depicting mountains and trees.
At the beginning of January, I attended the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Salt Lake City. It was my second LSA; my first was Minneapolis in 2014, when I was a first-year grad student. As a fifth-year grad student, I did both more (presented, had more social meals) and less (didn’t volunteer, attended fewer talks, and certainly no sister society talks). The conference was also my second visit to Utah, the first being our road trip last summer.
My plane from Los Angeles flew in past pretty snow-dusted mountains and over a big lake that I thought was the Great Salt Lake. Looking at a map later, I realized it had almost certainly been Utah Lake; the Great Salt Lake would have been much bigger. I took the train from the Salt Lake City airport to downtown. A relative had told me that all Salt Lake City geography was structured around the Temple, and it was true! As I rode east, I saw through the train window the Madina Masjid, next door to the Pentecostals of Salt Lake.
The LSA was being held at the Grand America Hotel; the student rate rooms were across the street in the Little America (appropriate, eh?). I checked into the room I was sharing with my co-presenter and discovered that despite its younger sibling name, the Little America was probably the fanciest hotel I had ever stayed in. I headed over to the Grand America to register, spotted some familiar faces (as linguistics is a small field, the LSA feels like a family reunion), decided not to go to anything that evening, and set out in search of some dinner. I figured if I walked north into downtown I would stumble upon something.
Indeed, after walking for several blocks I noticed a sandwich board on the sidewalk advertising Curry n’ Kabobs, Indian/Afghan cuisine. I glanced through the door the arrow was pointing at and saw a restaurant counter at the back of a convenience store. This sounded perfect. But just ahead was Eborn Books, the used bookstore I’d glimpsed from the train coming in. I decided to check it out before eating.
Visiting local bookstores during conferences is becoming a habit. There was Caveat Emptor in Bloomington, IN, the Strand in New York City… Eborn Books was delightful: a quirky, labyrinthine shop stuffed with books. A sign over one doorway read: “Welcome to What We Call ‘The Ugly Room,'” which included self-help, politics, and religion. A sign pointed in one direction for LDS books while another pointed in the opposite direction for anti-LDS books. In the foreign languages section, I found a French book on given names, quite similar to one I bought at a used book market in Paris years ago, which said, of Eleanor (Éléonore): “Perhaps no other first name fascinates as much…” (clunky translation by me).
I wished I could have lingered longer in Eborn Books, but I had things to prepare that evening, so I left and went next door to order takeout. The man behind the counter was very nice and friendly, and I took an order of Afghan mantu and a mango lassi back to the Little America. They were delicious.
The LSA is an enormous conference (for our field), and I had resolved not to try to do too much. My poster was in the Friday morning session, and I gave a joint talk on Saturday afternoon as big snowflakes fell gently outside. On Saturday evening, we had a Swarthmore linguists dinner at a Nepali restaurant. There were six of us alumni, including my friend Andrew, from the classes of 2007 through 2016, and also a former Swarthmore professor who taught me semantics and typology/conlanging and also helped me navigate getting into grad school. There are a lot of young Swarthmore alumni in linguistics Ph.D. programs across the country; there were more at the LSA who couldn’t make the dinner.
On Sunday, I had lunch with Andrew and then squeezed in a last bit of sightseeing. First, I went to the public library, a five-story building with glass walls on one side that funnily enough hosted a linguistics conference (that I did not attend) a couple of years ago. The rooftop terrace was closed, to my chagrin, since I’d hoped to take pictures of the mountains from there. Still, it was a beautiful, very modern library, and there was a mobile in the atrium that consisted of many small blue book/butterflies suspended from threads that together formed a child’s head (I think). There was also a little boutique that sold vintage Utah postcards, stationery, and literary gifts.
Finally, on my way to the airport, I stopped in Temple Square and walked around. A young woman asked me if I’d like to go into the Tabernacle for the organ concert, but alas, I didn’t have time.
Downtown Salt Lake City had been bright and sunny, but the airport was plunged in thick fog. It created travel problems for other linguists, but I was lucky, and my flight departed. We flew out of the fog very quickly, and below, the mountaintops looked like islands in a milky ocean.