Friday, August 08, 2003

Okay, it's official: I'm making a full epic ten-day excursion to Birmingham and beyond. Got my ticket and a reservation for the duration of the MSA conference at a charming (for Birmingham) little B&B in someplace called Acock's Green; spoke on the phone to a woman there named Margaret who was incredibly warm and gracious, putting me instantly at ease. According to the Frommer's website they even serve organic produce at this place. The rooms are probably small, but they can't be smaller than the room Emily and I had in the Hotel Place des Vosges in Paris spring of 2002 (Nada has made us both very nostalgic). That was a perfectly lovely experience—I highly recommend it—and although I'll be lonesome this time at least there'll be motherly Margaret down at the desk.

Where should I go once the conference ends? Wales? The Lakes? Edinburgh? East Anglia? Stratford-upon-Avon is just south of Birmingham if I want to be touristy. On the border between England and Wales there's Hay-on-Wye, which is supposed to have more used bookstores than any other town in the world. My dream would be to follow in the footsteps of Ronald Johnson and Jonathan Williams as they in turn followed the footsteps of Wordsworth and a number of other interesting English characters. I read the book that came out of that experience, The Book of the Green Man, this morning, and it was so purely beautiful that it made England, or rather the fantasy of England, real for me for the first time. Up till this point the trip seemed rather drab and businesslike in my mind—I mean Birmingham, or "the Brum" as the guidebooks insist on calling it, is not exactly a romantic destination. Now through Johnson's eyes I have the countryside, the hills and mountains, the rain, Grasmere, the Wye River, and other sights before my eyes the way I had cafes and arcades luring me on the trip to Paris. I only have five days or so after the conference, which would make it impossible to really follow Johnson and Williams (I'm also inspired by Richard Holmes' great book about biographying, Footsteps, which I read half of going to and from Chicago), but it would be marvelous if I could at least get onto their trail for a bit.

Gina Franco, who sent me a helpful nudging e-mail urging me to take the full trip this morning, still wants me to say something about the MFA/PhD split as I've incarnated it. Maybe I'll write on that this evening at the Bookery when I tire of poring over guidebooks.

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