Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Singing for our supper

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bruluxYou’d have thought with one part of the EU’s administration firmly established in Brussels, and the other part firmly ensconced in Luxembourg, that getting from Brussells to Luxembourg (which are 250 km apart) would be a lot easier and quicker than say getting from London to either of them. Sadly, this is not so, or not yet at any rate. Getting from London to Brussels these days is a breeze: eurostar takes less than 2 hours to whisk you from the glamorous former train shed at St Pancras to the cavernous glory of Bruxelles Midi. Getting from there to Luxembourg is OK on paper — there’s an IC train every hour, and you don’t have to book ahead — but the journey is a real flashback to the gory days of steam.

To start with, let’s face facts: no city, no matter how important, needs as many railway stations as Brussels has. I make it five, and the train to Lux stops at each of them, even if they’re only five minutes apart. Then there’s the alarming state of the track — as soon as the train picks up (or, more frequently, relinquishes) speed round a corner (and yes there are corners), your laptop is likely to fly off your knee. Every now and then, your InterCity sits down and sulks. On British trains this would be followed by a reassuring discussion of
what’s going wrong from the train crew; on Belgian trains, the most they will do is advise you not to get out of the train into the field. Being charitably inclined, I suspect that the main reason for this staccato mode of transport is primarily that the track is in a constant state of renewal, which necessitates single-line working every now and then. Maybe the next time I have to go the Euroforum for a project review they’ll have finished. One can but hope. Meanwhile I hack out some more slides about the wonderful things we’ve done in Work Package3, holding tight onto the laptop as we go round the corners.

Depart pour l'Avenir
Depart pour l’Avenir

My train finally crawled into Luxembourg Gare Principale around 9 pm,by which time I was overdue for repairing toDining Room at the Hotel Alfa the bar of the Hotel Alfa, where Matthew was patiently waiting for me, for dinner, and for a brief discussion of what on earth we were going to say to our Reviewers. The Hotel Alfa has scrubbed up nicely since I was last here (in 1990 or so for some early TEI meetings), without completely losing its thirties decor, antique cash registers, or tasteful murals. Our review of my ten slides goes well, a luxemburger and chips better, and a couple of bottles of excellent luxemburgish riesling best of all.

Luxembourg is a strange place. It’s a small town that might be anywhere in Europe, except that it isn’t French, or Italian, or German, or Dutch, or Spanish, but a confused mixture of all of them. Most people speak French, German, or a mixture of the two. A notice in the train station says “Attention aux pickpockets.” There is famously a huge Portuguese underclass, restaurants of every conceivable kind, and more banks per square metre than is quite decent. But we’re here to work, not philosophize, so the next morning, we board our bus to the Euroforum with all the other bureaucrats, and seek out our meeting room. Something called the Expert Group on Digital Libraries is meeting, but regrettably that’s not us.

We are here for a mid-term Project review, which means we have to persuade two expert reviewers and our Project Officer that our project has delivered what we said it would so far, hasn’t gone too wildly over budget, and should be be allowed to continue for another year. To avoid any needless suspense, I can tell you now that we passed. Our Czech colleagues (who are after all running the show) displayed lots of reassuring slides, and rather rashly attempted to demonstrate some unrehearsed queries against the new Manuscriptorium database. Matthew delivered my nice slides about our joint Work Package in a magisterial manner, and the reviewers asked some slightly unexpected questions about manuscripts. They politely suggested we might to do more to show why the idea of a cross-European
catalogue of manuscripts is a good thing, which is such a good idea I for one had never thought of addressing it before.

Somewhat surprised by our success, Matthew and Elsa and I then repaired to the bar at the very top of the very poshMatthew props up yet another bar hotel where Elsa was staying, in order to drink in (a) the view and (b) more excellent Luxembourgeois riesling. I feel compelled to record that this bar featured pink strip lighting underfoot as well as splendid views. You can see some of it to Matthew’s right in the thumbnail.

As a result of all this activity, we realised, the ENRICH project lives on, to fight another day. Perhaps the dream of a pan-European repository, describing in loving detail (and multiple languages)¬† all sorts of aspects of the treasure trove of digitized manuscript materials squirreled away in collections across the continent, can actually be realised. Perhaps we are on the dawn of a new age comparable to that which set in once people agreed on how to describe the collections of printed books squirrelled away etc. Perhaps the muse of quantitative codicology will shortly¬† have substantial amounts of data with which to beguile us. Or maybe it’s just the riesling talking.

View from the bar at the top of the Hotel Posh


Written by Lou

February 5, 2009 at 16:53

Posted in Biographical

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