I never really blogged properly about Kalamazoo. It was an odd conference for me, because I spent a lot of time at meetings of various kinds, rather than going to sessions all day, as I do at NCS. Moreover, many of the sessions I did go to, including the two where I spoke, were really meta-sessions, talking about the way we do scholarship, rather than the scholarship itself. Which it is very important, sometimes, to do, perhaps especially at times of crisis. But it’s also very pleasant to contemplate a return to my two book projects, and the larger research project that will soon start demanding my attention too. The meetings I had, with collaborators, editors and publishers, were all very productive. Ideas for books are becoming plans for books; book manuscripts now have proper deadlines for delivery, and one of the presses with which I work is re-thinking some of its conventional expectations about the kinds of work they will publish. So in that sense, the conference was a great success for me, though I came away still feeling pretty much as I did the day I arrived: overwhelmed at the sheer range and variety of medieval scholarship, and despairing of ever really feeling on top of it.
This is our last night in the US. The cable satellite is down, so after a game of Scrabble we are all at our laptops. Plenty of time, tomorrow, to start packing up for our 7.00 pm flight and the horrors of the journey. When we get home, we’ll head up to Ceres to let the chickens out (one day I’ll blog about these chickens, I promise), and in the afternoon head out to visit Jean, who’ll have some more health tests next week. Alas, Paul will be on a plane again first thing Monday morning, on his way to Port Moresby.
This afternoon Joel and I made a last, tired trip to the Met. We’d spent a good few hours there a few weeks ago, but wanted to see the Temple of Dendur again. When he was a boy of about five, we had shared a deep fascination with all things Egyptian, and today we meandered around, feeling weirdly at home with the mummies, the drawings and the carvings, the faces of sarcophagi so serene.
On the way home, I found the three piano showrooms I’d walked past last week. We went into the least intimidating-looking one, and got into a bit of a discussion with the piano-maker there, that was way over my head in terms of the technicalities. Still, we are thinking it’s time to start saving to buy Joel a new piano, and you may as well start at the top. I realise I know almost nothing about how to do this.
After a while, Joel asked if he could play, and the two brothers agreed. Joel sat down quietly at a big Steinway, and felt his way into a G major chord (as he told me later: wish I had perfect pitch, but I don't). I wondered what he’d do, but he just started to play a few gentle arpeggios, and then started improvising around them. He was not intimidated by his surroundings at all; just played gently but freely, working up confidence gradually, but still barely testing what this beautiful instrument could do; and I could tell he was happy. They were closing up, but they've invited him back tomorrow morning, and I'm sure he'll go. After a month away, his fingers are itching to play.
The other night we went to Carnegie Hall to hear Daniel Barenboim lead a program of works by Elliott Carter, an American modernist composer. The highlight was a sonata for piano and cello: when the bow first moved across the strings, I could feel Joel's intake of breath. Piano is his first love, but a month away from both instruments is starting to show. At the end of the concert, Carter, who is now 101, was helped up onto the stage and took a few curtain calls and bows to rapturous applause. As we were leaving, an old man said to Joel, "Well that's history in the making. You won't forget that!"
We also made our pilgrimage to the Cloisters museum on Tuesday, and on Wednesday got down to the opposite end of Manhattan Island too late to get the ferry out to Ellis Island, and instead walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in the sunshine. So many wonderful things to do. So little time. But time now to head home and pick up the threads of our real lives, our own beds, our garden, and our little cat. This time tomorrow, we'll be in the air, flying home.