Salut, monde!

This day starts, as have quite a few lately, in Paris, France, where les Digital Humanities (les humanites numeriques) are taken really quite seriously. Of course we brits never take anything johnny frenchman does too seriously, but it must be admitted that whereas British funding and support for the field has yet to recover from the nose dive evidenced by the abrupt closure of the Arts and Humanities Data service last year, the French committment is advancing by leaps and bounds. Witness the existence of the Tres Grand Equipment ADONIS for which I am currently working halftime and about which I expect I will rabbit on intermittently for the rest of the day, even though I have to take a train back to blighty in the middle of it, so as to be back in time for the launch of our splendid new Digging into Data project, about which I expect to do a fair bit of coney-catching too

Mostly in transit

0800: Bonjour. I wake with a start from a dream in which for some bizarre reason David Robey features prominently, and start getting up. The tiny flat in rue Froidevaux which Lilette and I have been renting this week has in its favour a splendid view over the cimitiere de Montparnasse, which goes some way to compensate for other shortcomings, notably uncontrollable heating and a temperamental lift. I contemplate the splendour of the Basilique du Sacre Coeur, now gilded with sunshine, and wonder whether it might not one day be repurposed. After all, le Pantheon, now a secular testimony  “aux grandes hommes la patrie reconnaissant“, used to be some kind of church too. And I contemplate the expanse of little houses of the dead, each with a grand nom de famille attached, laid out in a grid, and wonder whether they too might one day be repurposed: it seems much more unlikely. Time to get ready for work, on the last day of my deplacement parisien for March.  Make coffee and toast, and enjoy them with the last of the fig jam, before setting off to le bureau.

0930: I don’t trust the lift so walk down the seven flights of stairs to the street, and start my 20 minute (ish) walk to work which has a few interesting landmarks (I am rather partial to this statue of Marshall Ney and others nearby L’Observatoire) but a pleasing juxtaposition of architectural styles, like most of Paris. The route culminates in a stroll along the rue St Jacques, one of the oldest streets in Paris, which runs in a more or less straight line from the end of the world (i.e. Denfert Rochereau) to the Seine, via val de Grace (a grandiose church now owned by the military) and the Sorbonne. Jean de la Meung lived on this street and there are two plaques to prove it. It also contains the Institut d’Oceanographie’s splendid octopus and  one of the finest little bakers in Paris (as recommended by Wim van der Mierlo).

1000: I arrive at the office of the TGE Adonis at the same time as its director, Yannick Maignien. and we dive into a protracted discussion of the future of the TGE, the challenges and opportunities confronting it at present, how the political situation affects it, and much more beside. Yannick was on holiday last week, and we have both been in various meetings all week so far, so this is our first opportunity to catch up. In fact, the conversation continues more or less uninterrupted for the next two hours. Some of it is spent reviewing the past few weeks meetings — it sometimes seems that almost everything in France is done by reunion. For example, this Monday, there was a day long meeting organized by Richard Walter to discuss Millefeuile. Millefeuille is, or might be, a rather nice free TEI-XML editor, originally developed as an Eclipse application by Jean-Daniel Fekete; the idea is to make it a bit easier to use and deploy, and also to establish Eclipse as a common platform for other TEI software developments. (A project proposal along those lines had been put forward by Jean-Daniel and Serge Heiden to Adonis earlier this year). I wish I could say that this particular meeting came to a firm conclusion as to how to take this excellent proposal forward, but I can’t. Even after a two hour train journey with Serge, it still remains mysterious what if anything was decided. For further example, the entire Adonis management team, excluding me (because I went to Lyon instead) went to Nancy for a meeting at INIST on Tuesday. That one, I learn, actually went very well, and managed to resolve some outstanding technical issues which will enable the Adonis flagship project ISIDORE to harvest data from INIST. And as a final example, yesterday we held a grande reunion in Paris for some of the people recently employed  to work for ADONIS on specific services. This also turned out to be (mostly) fun, and useful both as a means of seeing whether we all share the same vision and of communicating it in the highly distributed environment that characterizes this project.   I was asked to write an “edito” summarising this meeting, for the TGE’s website, which is what I should be doing instead of writing this.

We also spend time speculating about the consequence of the current regional elections in which Valerie Pecresse, Minister of Higher Education, is standing as a government candidate. There are three possible outcomes: (a) she gets more than 50% of the vote; (b) she gets significantly less than 50% of the vote; (c) she gets somewhere between 30 and 49.9% of the vote.  Of these, if I’ve understood aright, either (a) or (b) would mean that she has to resign her current ministry, whereas (c) would confirm her in it. And why should ADONIS care? because the TGE, as an infrastructural agency, is very much a beneficiary of the Minister’s current policy of trying to reconfigure the balance of power in HE between the CNRS and the Universities. Outcomes (a) or (b) would inevitably mean a protracted period of delay, during which the CNRS, specifically the Institut des Sciences d’Hommes, can be relied on to further strengthen its own position. Without going into individious personal detail, it is clear that Yannick considers this would not be an unmixed blessing.

1200: I’m running late. I glance through my email, dominated, as it has been for the last few weeks, by debate on a variety of proposals for change in the TEI. We have a TEI Council meeting at the end of the month, and there’s a whole variety of issues we’d like to get sewn up there or preferably before, ranging from the blindingly obvious like the need to support non-rectangular zones somehow, to the more abstruse like whether or not “modules” should be manipulable in the ODD language in the same way as other objects.  I’m pleased to see that the debate about how to handle end of line hyphens seems to be reaching a conclusion thanks to magisterial input from Eric Muller of the Unicode consortium, no less. I’m also pleased to see an announcement that two French language and currently somnolescent TEi discussion lists are to be merged, and hopefully thereby reinvigorated.  And a brief note from John Coleman about tomorrow’s “Digging into Data” launch event which I don’t have time to read because it really is time to say farewell to everyone,  before I retrace my steps back down rue St Jacques, to Blvd Port Royal, and thence via a slightly different configuration of side streets to Blvd Raspail, and across the cimitiere again to meet Lilette for a quick lunch and clearing up of the flat in rue Froidevaux which, I think, we will never see again. Not least because of the lift which has discovered a new game: it takes you up the seventh floor, refuses to open the door, and takes you back down to the ground floor again. Pah. We collect luggage, hand over the keys to the agent (who is late) and struggle off to Denfert Rochereau to start the journey back to Oxford.

1340: The next train on the RER B is late, which means that when it finally arrives it has standing room only all the overheated way to Gare du Nord. We just make it in time, threading through the rush hour crowds, up to the Eurostar lounge which is, dammit, also overcrowded, though with a slightly different class of person than one rubs shoulders with on the RER B, and with copious amounts of free refreshment. (I am the proud owner of a Eurostar “carte blanche” frequent traveller card, which is unsurprising since I do indeed travel frequently on it — once a month at least for the last six anyway).

1518. Attention au fermeture des portes, on y va. The next hour or two are peacefully and relatively comfortably spent typing this record of my day so far and grazing on a rather substandard quiche-based lunch.

1655: I emerge from the Channel Tunnel, and instantly gain an extra hour for my Day of DH, since the time here in England is still only 1555.  England looks somewhat grayer than France, as usual.

1700: Aaargh, we have arrived in the middle of the London rush hour. The tube from St Pancras to Paddington is not quite as crowded as the RER was, and it’s certainly better ventilated, and likewise the 1722 from Paddington to Oxford… but from here on, our journey is much too horrible to consider with equanimity, let alone report on in detail. Suffice that we made our way back to Burnard Towers eventually.

1907: And now I have had a nice cup of British tea, disposed of a week’s worth of junk (paper) mail, and am sitting in my study in Oxford wondering what I ought to do next. Bung in a blog entry, clearly.