Friday, February 16, 2007

Conferences, collaboration and koalas

Home again, back at the desk after just over a week away in Adelaide. It was a lovely conference: Lawrence was incredibly lucky with the weather (I see it's going to be 38 there today and 40 both days of the weekend); papers were great; and people were charming. This is a group where I know lots of people, and normally go to heaps of papers and hang out at Simon's bookstand and at morning and afternoon teas. This year it was an abrupt re-immersion into public life after my illness, and it was tough at times. I certainly didn't have the energy to go to papers all day, so had to make some hard choices, and time a nap back at the hotel every day. I found it easier to sit down than stand up, and easier to sit outside in the quiet sun than inside with all the conversational buzz. Since coming out of the slump after radiation therapy a few weeks ago, I'm physically feeling a bit stronger all the time, but am still feeling fragile in lots of ways. One of the symptoms is distress if I can hear too many conversations going on around me. I've always been completely intolerant of hearing two pieces of music at the same time, even in snatches of song or a tiny musical theme on the radio; and this has now extended to conversation.

Long before I was diagnosed, Tom and I had planned to circulate our paper for discussion prior to the conference, and this turned out to be a great idea, as we didn't have to stand up and talk. This is the first finished paper/chapter of the book we are writing on theories of medievalism and its relationship with medieval studies. Rather, Tom spoke for a few minutes; John gave his response (sympathetic, but also opening up some tricky avenues for future thought); and then there was time for a good discussion.

On my way to the paper, I passed a tutorial room and heard a familiar, dulcet voice explaining something. It was clearly a "teaching moment"; and it was also clearly Pavlov's Cat in full, eloquent flight, teaching a summer school. We met up with Paul as planned that night and it was a delight to see her looking so very well: her lovely face animated with conversation.

Adelaide turned on some beautiful restaurants and weather; then Tom and I hired a car and drove a group down to Port Willunga (long stretches of clean sand between magnificent cliffs and brilliant ocean), and then after the conference headed off with David and John towards Mt Gambier, where we put John on a tiny plane for his flight back to Adelaide. Medievalists on a three-day road trip! Fantastic weather; one or two exceptional meals; country hotels of mixed quality; and explorations into the volcanic and sandstone landscape along the coast: caves, sinkholes and craters one day; then cliffs and crumbling coastlines the next. A highlight was a dusk stop at Tower Hill, a volcanic site that is now a wildlife reserve: emus, kangaroos and koalas striking curious poses... We walked around the rim of one volcano in the heat, with just a frisson of uncertainty about whether we were on the right path or not, and were then rewarded when we came down with the sight of a koala and her baby taking a stroll then climbing up into the tree. Even later that day, as the setting sun was glowing off "London Bridge", a huge arched pile of sandstone on the way into Port Campbell, we also saw a little bandicoot on our path, exploring David's shoes, and then a young fox in the carpark. We were convinced it was playing hide-and-seek.

Generally, with one visitor from California, another from London and Philadelphia, and another from Cleveland and Iowa, I thought our fauna and flora put on a pretty spectacular show. We also made a stop at Penola, to research the life of Mary McKillop, Australia's only candidate for sainthood. I, of course, did not have a camera with me, but here is a picture of another pilgrimage site we visited: the sea wall at Portland where my father recently arranged this:



This Joel is my Joel's great-great-grandfather.


Since I've returned, I've re-written much of our grant application. Our whole team met in Adelaide, and worked through Sue's extensive comments. It was a classic case of initial resistance to many of her suggestions, before we realised just how canny and smart they were. I really hope we are just about done with it now. So much depends on these grants in this country. Sadly, one of the great incentives for applying is that once you get a grant, you don't have to apply again for another couple of years. Our team distinguised itself once again with its brilliant spirit of co-operation. I am now involved in three collaborative projects, and I am a total convert to their pleasures.

4 comments:

Philip said...

Blessed Mary Mackillop did well, didn't she, to choose such a gorgeous coast to sanctify? Even without her presence the area is ripe for valorisation as a great Australian site for pilgrimage; it might just take a few more medievalists to show the way!

From my dark little Parisian apartment it is good to hear about the buzz of ANZAMEMS, the stillness of the South-East, the largeness of that other London Bridge...

Thanks, Stephanie.

J J Cohen said...

Wow, Australians know how to conference!

What was the theme of the meeting, and was it just medievalists?

Stephanie Trigg said...

Philip, must be hard to be back in winter darkness: it's going to be 38 today and we are heading to the beach - Torquay - for some body surfing. And yes, David's paper at ANZAMEMS was on frontier sainthood and Dorothea of Montau: so Penola was a must.

JJC, this was the the biennial conference of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies: Byzantine to C17: literature, history, archaeology, languages, politics, music, art, etc. About 150 papers: sometimes more, in other years. Keynotes this year were Jaynie Anderson (C17 art: Melbourne), Vanessa Harding, on population changes in London from C14 to C17 - and I believe you've heard of David Wallace and John Ganim. A stellar cast; and truly interdisciplinary panels. Simon Forde from Brepols regularly attends so there is always an interesting book display. Another highlight for me was Conal Condren on the public sphere and the difficulties of applying this model to earlier periods. Next conference: Hobart, in 2009...

Pavlov's Cat said...

Aw, shucks.

*Shuffles feet*

I'm so glad the road trip was such a success. Did you go to the Star of Greece for dinner? Did you see the dolphins out to sea?