We’d been in the air just a few hours on Wednesday when the pilot came on to announce that McCain had just made his concession speech. There was a scattering of applause through the cabin, though it was pretty muted: we Australians are a surprisingly modest and discreet bunch, on occasions.
When I hit the ground at LAX, I’m not sure what I was expecting in terms of waves of euphoria. Probably if I’d been still at home, at the Obama party, or watching the speeches and reports on TV, I might have had a stronger sense of occasion. Trouble was, I didn’t really have anything to measure it by. But it seemed to me to be business as usual.
I got the shuttle to Riverside and after a shower and a bit of a nap, went walking to see what I could see. Almost nothing. We are staying in this — literally — fabulous place (complete with spiral staircases, secret roof gardens, medieval chapels, chiming clocks, arcades, arched corridors leading to thick wooden doors, paved courtyards, Escher-style arches, little fountains, and dark wood fittings throughout). Also, an enormous heated pool in which you can do proper laps. They are decorating for Christmas, and so this morning when I was swimming, there were little stars and pieces of glitter in the bottom of the pool.
But when I went for my walk, the streets were deserted. There are lots of antique shops around here, but not much in the way of tourist traffic, and if you set out to walk in any direction, you very quickly become the only pedestrian. It’s one of those American cities where no one walks. Everyone travels by car, and so you don’t really feel comfortable walking more than two blocks down the street. In fact when I did start to walk, I could never get very far without encountering a freeway entrance. I guess everyone gets their exercise at the gym, or in the pool. If I lived here (yes, of course one fantasises) I would miss the creek, and my morning walks, and my bike rides to work.
Once I met up with my friends, I started to feel the jubilation, though, and they explained that Riverside has suffered badly in the declining Californian economy; and a lot of folk had lost their houses. So perhaps that’s why it’s quiet on the streets, though Riverside had, against expectations, also voted for Obama.
Last night at the conference dinner, people were rhapsodising about the new president. Someone said he would finish the work that Abraham Lincoln had begun. Another remarked that even Iowa, which has only a 2% black population, had turned out for Obama. But in California, this brave new day has been marred by demonstrations about Proposition 8, which seeks to bar gay marriages. The Australians couldn’t understand how the US could elect a black president but overturn the right to gay marriage, until we were reminded that the Civil Rights movement, which helped Obama to power, is a Christian movement, and so perhaps not sympathetic to gay marriage. I’m sure these are shocking generalisations, though.
Our conference has been wonderful: one of those great symposia where everyone speaks for between 25 and 45 minutes, and where there is time for discussion, and where everyone attends the same papers, so there develops that lovely continuity and community of shared interests.
Some of our papers followed quite closely the theme of Medievalism, Colonialism, Nationalism (and Andrew, Louise and I worked with Australian material), while others traversed the idea of the medieval in dance, dream, psychoanalysis, fantasy, and so forth. There was very little that was simply descriptive (one of the presiding weaknesses of the field), and enormous amounts that were stimulating, engaging and intellectually generous. Everyone got along very well, and we were beautifully fed and watered. Truly, a model conference, with lots of connections and friendships made.
I’m off to Wooster (near Cleveland) tomorrow, but there’s time for one last hurrah over brunch with a group from the conference.