Monday, August 13, 2007

More weekend rituals

Another weekend of ritual practice.

Saturday was the graduation of my PhD student Larissa, so I joined in the academic procession, via the "robing room" where the mysteries of my academic hood were resolved with a bunch of little gold pins: seems to be much easier to get this to look right if you are wearing a tie. I also had to interrupt my own robing with an undignified dash to the mirror with my hairbrush, since it was a very windy day and I had arrived rather bedraggled and flustered. Still, once I had been pronounced presentable by the protocol office, it was not unpleasant to muster in the cloister, tucking our arms into our robes against the wind, greeting our students as they received their lesson in "doffing", and catching up on a bit of gossip with colleagues. They then marshalled the procession in its careful hierarchies. The BAs and MAs were already in Wilson Hall, but the new PhDs were lined up in alphabetical order on one side of the cloisters, and the academics on the other, in even more scrupulous hierarchy. First the Lecturers, Senior Lecturers, Associate Professors, then Professors all ranked according to the date of their promotion: you have to include this information when you register to take part. Then the Deans, Vice-President of Academic Board, the visiting speaker, the Vice-Chancellor, the Esquire Bedell, carrying the Mace, then the Deputy Chancellor. My informant tells me that even the University of Sydney, Melbourne's equal in tradition and formality, doesn't rank its procession in this way.

Other academic bloggers have written about the rituals of graduation, with a mixture of feelings. I must admit I quite like taking part once a year or so; and to my delight, it was also the day when a recent MA graduate and an honours student, now doing an MA with me were also taking out their degrees. It was lovely to see Michelle and Andrew, as well as Larissa and her family, especially her two children born over the course of her candidature, along with her parents and her grandmother. I saw several colleagues who attended the ceremony but did not process. But I think if you are going to go, you may as well dress up in a funny hat and experience the ritual moment.

Our ceremony takes place in a high modernist building, built in the 50s after the gothic splendour of the old Wilson Hall was destroyed by fire in the heat and wind of a hot January afternoon.

My guide says there was considerable debate about the style of the re-building: to rebuild in gothic style and affirm the ceremonial links with the medieval period; or to trust in modern engineering and architectural style. Apparently the cost of building in stone was prohibitive, and so the current building was designed to capture a sense of modernity. Of course it now looks completely dated; perhaps just entering its retro phase now. In fact, it's recently been registered as a Historic Building.



The standard speech of welcome and the accompanying brochure both stress the continuity of our procession, our gowns and hoods with medieval universities, and of course it's true, though it seems very easy for the modern practitioners of this medieval ritual to pick up or set aside this inheritance almost at will.

My second ritual for the weekend was a football game in Geelong. Paul and I had been invited to the Pivotonian Club at Kardinia Park. It's a much smaller ground than the MCG, but their rituals are just as strong. We were in the second ranked club (first is the President's), but the dress code specified tie and jacket, and no denims. As we waited in the car for the rain to stop I saw a number of women heading in wearing high heels and sheer stockings (I admit; this was my dress choice for the graduation, but I couldn't come at it for the footy!). We sat down to a three course lunch with "silver service" and some excellent regional wines from the Bellarine Peninsula, and little place names (one of the very few times I've had to answer graciously to "Stephanie James"). The MC for the lunch was Ian Cover of the Coodabeen Champions, and long-time Geelong supporter; and the guest speaker was -- oh! Rodney Hogg, former fast bowler for Australia, and the rather debonair and stately Rodney who was sitting at our table. After lunch, we all trooped out into the stands to watch the game. There was a glassed-in enclosure where you could watch and be out of the wind, but my table said "you're not really at the footy if you're not outside", and so we sat down at the front of our little area. I have to admit they were brilliant seats. The ground is small, and the stadiums aren't all that high, and our box sat out in such a way that you felt you were really on top of the action. These are not fantastic photos, and this is not a very powerful camera, but you can see how close we were:



That's Nathan Ablett, by the way, No. 45.



We were so close that when the boundary umpire had to put the ball back into play, he was facing us, and I could see the intensity of his expression as he put his head back to take in a deep breath, then bring the ball almost down to his feet before leaping back and sending the ball flying over his head in a perfectly round arc. A few minutes later there was a dispute over his awarding a penalty to Adelaide, and the man in front of me, wearing an immaculate suit and dark glasses, called out distinctly, and loudly, and I swear the words came out of his mouth in capital letters: "YOU ARE A COCKROACH!"

One funny moment, too. Early in the first quarter the Cats put on four or five goals before the Crows had even troubled the scorers. Adelaide tried to buy some time by passing the ball backwards and forwards along the 50 metre line, to the jeers of the extremely partisan crowd. Ian Cover called out, "there's a man out there in Moorabool St", the main road that runs alongside the ground.

At halftime we went back into the clubrooms for afternoon tea: scones with jam and cream; and little meat pies. Because, as several people said to me, "you're not really at the footy if you don't have a pie." Such fun, to be in this dangerously liminal territory: to be in the clubrooms of one of the oldest, most traditional clubs in the league, and to be flirting with the idea of not really being at the footy, of taking part in the ritual, but at the same time, not taking part in the ritual.

My poor old team, the Bombers, having dumped their coach of 27 years, are floundering down in the bottom half of the ladder, and so I'm fast losing interest in the AFL for this year. Still, by the time we got to my parents' place for tea, and to pick up Joel, my neck was completely tense from the concentration of watching the game. I think I need to go to more games, to learn how to relax into them a bit more!

2 comments:

meli said...

Thanks Stephanie, I love posts like this one! I've never been to a footy-game, you're making me feel like a non-aussie...

Just wanted to let you know that I've nominated you for a Thinking Blogger Award. It's sort of a meme, and you don't have to do it if you don't want, but I thought you definitely deserved to get one!

Details back at my blog. (Still haven't figured out how to put links into comments...)

highlyeccentric said...

i do love outdated academic ritual :D