Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Getting by with a gammy leg

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Here’s what I managed to do on my expedition to France this week…

When I arrived at Nancy Gare about 6 pm, I was pleasantly surprised to be met by Bertrand Gaiffe, who bundled me into a taxi and sent me off to the Hotel de Guise. Which offered me a first-floor room, which was OK since the staircase in question is highly scenic, featuring nice marble statuary, and well -worn but very small steps. The room rejoiced in a very creaky floorboards and a walk-in shower, hoorah.

Half an hour later, Alex Boulton turned up with his wife and a colleague called Jeanne-Marie Debaisieux: I managed (somehow) to get into the front of his immense motor, and off we drove to the Gentilhommiere, one of the best in the little restaurant ghetto which is rue Marechaux, and which also provides the good advice you see in this photo. nancy.jpgMy steak was a little too well done, but we had a very enjoyable evening, deprecating the deplorable absence of oral corpora in France (on which Jeanne-Marie has forthright views), and the general cussedness of French academic life.

Next day, Tuesday, I had a shower, which was nice. Bertrand then returned and whisked me off in his motor to ATILF, which was much as I remember it from 2003, except that in the front hall there is now a poster proclaiming to the world that it hosts the Centre nationale de ressources textuelles et lexicales (CNRTL) and that this is strictly a TEI establishment (or soon will be).

We had a useful morning discussing TEI politics, and speculating idly about what we should do in the context of the Adonis TEI Expertise project. Then we walked (very slowly) up the hill to lunch, where I enjoyed my first tartiflette of the year: a deliciously rich baked confection of potato, cream, cheese, and ham served with just the right amount of crunchy salad and a decent cote du rhone. After lunch we walked even more slowly back down the hill, and were then joined by two ladies from INIST for further discussion about the proposed ADONIS project. They suggested we might use it to reanimate the TEI-FR list, which seems to have been largely moribund since 2006. Various speculative plans were confected, and Bertrand wrote them up. Then the talk turned to local matters (notably a plateforme for dissemination of oral corpora which Etienne Petitjean had apparently started but not finished).

Bertrand then walked me and my suitcase down the hill to the gare (employing a secret and previously unknown to me route) again, in good time for the 1810 train Corail train to Lyon, which railway route has the extraordinary characteristic of linking one major city in France to another without going via Paris. On the other hand it takes a bit more than four hours and didn’t seem to have a buffet car, which was annoying. I passed the time by doing some more TALC reviews, but mostly by reading Marina Lewycka’s new novel Two Caravans, which I can warmly recommend, though I have my doubts about the talking dog.

I arrived at Lyon Part Dieu about 1030 pm, so everything was shut (obviously); humped my suitcase down to the metro, and made it to Debourg just in time to persuade the late night kebab house on the corner to sell me something that might be considered dinner. The security guards at ENS-LSH had clearly been alerted to my arrival since when I presented myself to request the key for my room in the Hotel des Invites, I was told that I had a special ground floor room, and even personally escorted to it,a degree of service which I have never seen before. I ate some of my kebab, drank a lot of water, and went to sleep.

ens-lsh.jpgWednesday morning I experimented with a different shower: also nice. I walked down the road to the little bakers for my petit dej without my leg irons, which was also nice. Then I put my leg irons on properly, and set off to the JADT 2008 conference, arriving in time to make a dramatic entrance in the middle of the ENS director’s opening remarks, for which he will no doubt not forgive me.

As well as being the first time in a long time that I’ve been out of the country, this was also the first time in a long time that I’ve been to a proper academic conference: I won’t try to summarize everything I heard (all the proceedings are online, and were also handed out in printed form), but I can say that I chaired one session, asked a (very small) number of intelligent questions at others, had my mind blown by one or two papers, and managed to stay awake through several others. I heard about some new cool text analysis software; I struggled to follow some very ingenious mathematical modelling; I saw a large number of diagrams that looked like this one.3axes.jpg

How pleasant to be at a conference which I had not organized, and where I had nothing to do but listen (I was down to do a Xaira workshop, but hardly anyone turned up so I cut it very short). I renewed acquaintance with numerous textometricians and French corpus linguists, and met some new ones. I was impressed by a plenary from Francois Rastier, less so by one from Jean-Michel Salaun. One evening, there was a screening of a video made a few years ago, in which some of the founding fathers of the current generation of textometricians, i.e. the equipe St Cloud lead by Maurice Tournier and Pierre Lafon, reminisce about their work in the seventies analysing the political broadsheets and tracts from les evenements May 68.. Alas, the archive of papers visible in the video seems to have vanished as ineluctably as the data (on punch cards) derived from it. Another evening offered a boat trip, but I regretfully declined that in favour of a quiet evening eating, yes, tartiflette at the student resto round the corner. Friday evening, with the conference finally wound down, I was able to go out for a quiet dinner with Serge Heiden, and seek his views on the ADONIS TEI project.

Awaiterll of this intellectual activity was rewarded on Saturday morning when I caught the 1000 train to Paris, in good time to meet Guy for lunch at Le Train Bleu: a truly memorable feast in truly memorable surroundings. We had the 48 euro menu, at the heart of which was a gigot d’agneau served from an early 20th century carving table by a waiter with early 20th century flair. There are not many places like this restaurant left in the world, and very few of them are in such good working order: they are to be cherished. See further my flickr pages.  After lunch, I checked into a hotel near Gare du Nord, and we then went to inspect Guy’s flat in rue Alexandre Dumas, a bijou residence at the top of six terrifying flights of highly polished wooden stairs, with a wonky banister somewhere around flight number four. But the lunch made it all worth while…

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Written by Lou

March 16, 2008 at 22:15

Posted in Biographical

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