I've kept this blog, on and off, since 2006. In 2015 I used it to chart daily encounters, images, thoughts and feelings about volcanic basalt/bluestone in Melbourne and Victoria, especially in the first part of the year. I plan to write a book provisionally titled Bluestone: An Emotional History, about human uses of and feelings for bluestone. But I am also working on quite a few other projects and a big grant application, especially now I am on research leave. I'm working mostly from home, then, for six months, and will need online sociability for company!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Three-day event

Chez nous, making Christmas puddings is a three-day event.

Day One: buy brandy and fruit. Sultanas, currants, raisins, apricots, figs, ginger, peel, cherries, dates, and a handful of the prunes soaked in port I keep in the pantry. Chop and soak.

Day Two: assemble other ingredients: butter (I can't abide suet; and there are vegetarians in each family, anyway), sugar, flour, spices, eggs (free-range, collected by hand from under the chickens who laid them in the nests at the Ceres co-op), carrot, breadcrumbs, orange rind, lemon rind, almonds, beer and more brandy. Mix with fruit, and get assembled members of the family to stir and make a wish.

Day Three: pack into bowls,

Wrap with layers of foil and tie with string; then juggle various saucepans until you come across this extremely satisfactory arrangement for the two big ones.

There's a third smaller one in a saucepan bubbling away on the stove now.

Every year I make three: a big one each for Paul's family on Christmas Eve (his parents, aunt and uncle, brother and sister and their partners and children), and one for mine on Christmas Day (my parents and sister).

I have blogged about making the puddings earlier, under much more difficult circumstances. Very good, this time, to feel healthy and strong and able to stir with ease. I'll try and remember to take a photo at Christmas and update: this recipe makes a very rich and dark pudding, which we flame with hot brandy, then serve with lashings of brandy butter and fresh berries and cream. The little one we are supposed to eat mid-year, in mid-winter, but last year's is still lurking in the fridge. I checked it yesterday and it looks fine. Must find an occasion to eat Christmas pudding soon...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Son of Humanities Researcher

... hath a blog! Here's the link to Love, Society, Videogames and Life, full of wonderfully obscure cartoons, many at the expense of the social sciences. Goodness! where did that come from? This is the child who was commenting the other day, too, that most of our friends were academics. I mentioned a handful of alternative names, to which he instantly replied, "but you met them through me!" and it was only too true.

I note the first entry to LSVL talks about a history assignment that should have been being written at around the time the first entry was written. As mother and blog reader, what's the etiquette here? Pretty much to find not a leg to stand on.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Joel!

Friday, November 28, 2008

More Momentous Days

This is a horrid time of year, really. We finished teaching weeks ago, but are still up to our necks in papers, meetings, graduate applications for next year, accounts to reconcile, reports to write, and all the rest of the end-of-year stuff that drags on and on. But today we started organising our Christmas lunch, so that felt a bit better.

It's also conference season, too, so I really must get down to writing the paper I'm giving in Hobart next week. I'm part of a panel on Bruce Holsinger's Premodern Condition (more on this in another post).

But I think a brief report on the trip to Canberra is called for. Suse and Pav have kindly asked for photos, but while a thousand official ones were taken, I forgot to take my own camera, so we might have to wait till I can persuade Joel and myself to dress up again...

We flew up with Deirdre, my wonderful new(ish) colleague: how I adore having another senior woman in the department, especially one so energetic and passionate and generous. We checked into the hotel, changed into our finery, then got a cab up to Parliament House.

From this perspective, you can actually see two Parliament Houses: first, the old one (wedding-cake style) then further up the hill, the surprisingly and charmingly modest new one, set, hobbit-style, under the slopes of grass. Well, modest from the outside: inside, it's all marble and quartz and wood, and corridors and courtyards filled with light. Quite beautiful, I think.

We had lunch and then queued up to sit in on Question Time. We ended up sitting in the gallery above the Gov't side, but had fun spotting the familiar heads and faces. Rudd was on his way back from Peru, so Gillard was acting PM, and very dignified and determined she was, too. Peter Garrett was easy to spot with the bald head, and we picked out lots of others. Tanya Plibersek took a great dorothy dixer and spoke movingly about domestic violence white ribbon day, and then Malcolm Turnbull made his only speech of the session we saw, saying, in effect, "me too". The real fun, though, was looking over to see Nelson, Costello, Abbott, all looking rather subdued, though Abbott was querulous in his challenges to the Speaker for his failure to reprimand Albanese, I think it was, who dared to suggest providing a cushion for Fran Bailey, I think it was, who seemed to be falling asleep. Well, then it was on for young and old...

After a while, Joel suggested we nip round to the other side, so we could see "our people", but by the time we got round, Question Time was over, and there was a steady emptying of the chamber.

We then headed off to the reception before the awards ceremony. There was tea and coffee and cheese and biscuits, and much checking-out of name tags and fashions. There was a fair amount of taffeta and tulle and lace, given that the note just said "smart or business dress", and one Islander and one Indian woman wearing beautiful long dresses and saris (ok: one each). But also some beautifully tailored suits and jackets.

We took our seats and the chair of the council announced that Julia Gillard would not be able to present the awards, as she was too busy being acting PM. I swear, there was an audible groan of disappointment, particularly among the women. We had been given our instructions, so it was pretty well run, as we lined up, moved forward, shook hands with Brendan O'Connor and received our surprisingly heavy trophies and certificates.

The big award, the Prime Minister's Award, was split this year by Marnie Hughes-Warrington, an historian from Macquarie, and Stephen Barkoczy, from Monash, who teaches tax law. Both gave fabulous impromptu speeches, and you could see instantly that they would be great teachers. I have to make a 12 minute presentation at the Vice-Chancellor's Colloquium on Tuesday (and accept my Grimshaw award: hey, another chance for my new dress, I think!), and I was inspired by both of these addresses not to make a powerpoint. I'm just going to talk. Well, I was also persuaded by the fact that they wanted the powerpoint by this morning...

We then walked down the hill to the old Parliament House, and sipped champagne and snacked on smoked salmon on melba toast, little pies and other nibbles, before proceeding into the old members' dining hall for enormous prawns or peking duck; baked salmon or lamb cutlets; rich chocolate pies or miniature tartes tatin.

In the morning, Joel took full advantage of the sumptuous breakfast buffet, and then we walked across the lake and then along past the National Library and the High Court to the National Gallery, where we paid appropriate homage to the Sidney Nolan Ned Kelly series, and pedantically corrected a tour guide who was explaining how Kelly's armour was now in Melbourne Gaol.

We then met Deirdre and Mary, another Melbourne colleague up at ANU for the day, for lunch at the National Library, in the coloured lights of the Leonard French windows there, before heading home.

It was a really lovely occasion. In the humanities, teaching awards are not regarded very highly. I think it's assumed we can all teach, and that good teaching is incommensurate with good research. If you're getting good "quality of teaching" scores, you're seen as putting time into your teaching that should go into your research. But I'm all in favour of them. There's no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive; in fact, most of us would argue that in fact, they depend on each other. Good researchers make good teachers; and vice versa. Anyway, any colleagues who are reading this: I'm going to be encouraging folk in my area to apply for these awards next year.

The other momentous thing this week was watching Joel in the Year 8 production of Midsummer Night's Dream last night. He has chosen drama as one of his elective subjects this year, and they clearly have very talented teachers at this school, who brought out some very good performances from these 13-year old kids. The play had been abridged, and there was lots of playground-style physicality amongst the rival lovers and the mechanicals. Of course Joel's parents, aunt and grandmother all thought his Demetrius was excellent. At least he didn't rush through his lines (a common enough mistake, to race through the metaphors to the principal verbs, whereas it's often the metaphors that carry the meaning). An excellent Helena, Lysander, Bottom, Titania and Puck (and Demetrius!) carried the play. There were some wonderful musical moments too: this school somehow makes it possible for even youngish kids just to get up and sing unaccompanied.

So it's been a big week chez nous. We are just now about to commence our weekend in the time-honoured way: doing the grocery shopping while Joel has his piano lesson; then catching up with our mirror family for pizzas, red wine, and lollies. Happy weekend, everyone!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Momentous Days

Well, the day has finally arrived. On careful and objective scrutiny, it seems my son is now as tall as I am. I've kind of been waiting for this day, ever since, years ago, I started measuring him against my rib cage and counting my ribs as he ascended in height. But now I look him directly in the eye, and see he is my height. Or rather, I see I am his height.

I sit at the big table and look at him moving around the kitchen and measure my own height against the cupboards, and it seems I am not as tall as I thought I was.

I tell him to be careful on the bike, because kids are harder to see than adults; and he tells me I am, by the same token, just as hard to see as he is.

His shoes are now bigger than mine (and I have long feet).

He wears my old jackets.

But tomorrow, when he accompanies me to the teaching awards ceremony in Canberra, he will wear a second-hand cream jacket his friend bought him at Savers, his new skinny black jeans, and a black shirt — and red Converse sneakers. I was going to save money, but eventually went shopping and bought a new dress. Locally made, locally sold, and, given that it is a wrap-around jersey number, amazingly flattering. It is red, black and white paisely print, with a deep black hem slightly curved around at the front, so we will be colour co-ordinated to the max.

I thought about buying a new suit — I have one basic black one which is now four years old — but didn't want to spend as much money as would take to get a really good one. And in any case, I'm not really sure that heavily tailored look suits me. Anyway, I have gone with this look (no. 12 is closest in design to mine, and if they had had this one in stock, I probably would have chosen this).

But in case I think I am not heavily enough tailored when I shake hands with Julia Gillard tomorrow, I just have to remember the words of the Sprinkle website:

Welcome to the world of Madam Mafia
....inspired by all those passionate, fiery European women who are not afraid to speak their minds!! Think Sophia Loren and Isabella Rossellini....

This collection is not for the faint hearted. Madam Mafia is a strong and yet feminine woman, who wants to stand out from the crowd. She is glamorous and stylish....a woman who knows and gets what she wants.

Great! Textiles with text! Dresses with attitude!

I bought it at Lupa, a little shop around the corner that features local designers. It was the first place I went to: freezing cold until she turned on the heater outside the changing cubicle. Turns out the owner is seriously thinking about going back to university to do her BA...

Ideally, of course, in our consumer, occasion-driven society, I would have bought new shoes, too. But I have perfectly good ones to wear. I did go shopping with Joel for tights, though, and was tossing up the various textured and coloured options. I chose very sheer black ones, and showed Joel all the control options for holding your stomach in. "You don't need that", he said.

When it was his turn, another momentous discovery: he is now too big for the "boys" section of Best and Less and K-Mart, and we ended up at Just Jeans, where he bought not the smallest pair of men's jeans. They were way too long, but I said not to worry, that I would take up the hems. Indeed, there was an ancient Singer machine in the shop, but it was Sunday, and no one was on duty.

So this afternoon, before it got too dark, and it got too hard to sew black denim, I got out my ancient little Elnita SP sewing machine. I was properly brought up to sew my own clothes, but these days, tend to leave even my mending till my mother comes to visit and offers to sew for me. She sewed all Joel's clothes for the first eleven years of his life (highlights include beautiful smocked baby nightgowns; a long, green, fur-trimmed dressing-gown; and indeed, the two waistcoats she made recently to his design). But I found I could remember how to thread the machine without thinking, threading the cotton through spools and levers as if I had performed that ritual every day of my life. I started to fantasise about sewing some more, especially next year, when I am on leave, and rediscovered the smell of my hot little machine, and the cotton dust that gathers around the bobbin, and the satisfaction of a neatly pressed hem as you stitch it into place. A wonderful throwback to my mother's house: ironing board and sewing machine at the ready, and the aromatic smell of warm cotton filling the house.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bells: Strike Three!

I'm at home marking honours essays and theses this morning, but can hear, as I heard last night, the very distinctive sound of a bellbird. There is a little community of them at a certain turn of the Merri, where I walk most mornings, and in summer you can see their mossy green bodies at eye level as they hang upside down feeding in the trees alongside the path. I've not heard one in our garden before, but it is a wonderful piercing and distinctive sound. If you follow the link above, you can hear exactly what I'm hearing.

On my desk at work is a beautiful tower (ok, vase full) of pink Canterbury Bells, given me by a student, in commemoration of Chaucer, and even more specifically, of Criseyde, whose name and reputation will be rung like a bell down the centuries.

And on my bedside table, the novel I was reading on the plane home, recommended by the same student for the purpose, Dorothy Sayers' Nine Tailors, which is structured by bell-ringing in a little East Anglian church. I'm not a huge reader of detective fiction, but I had read this before (and completely forgotten the plot). It was nice to buy it in a bookshop on Venice beach, though!

Ringing the bells for serendipity this morning.

OK, now back to the marking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waking up

What is it like to sit for fifteen hours in the one spot?

On my flight over to LA, I was upgraded to premium economy, sipped champagne before take off, and compared my good fortune with my neighbour (just ONE neighbour!), who'd similarly got the bump. We thought Qantas was either trying to entice people to pay the extra, on future trips, and that there might have been a few cancellations in the business sector.

Coming home, I was way back in the plane, and sitting on the aisle. I used to prefer the window, because you could sleep with less chance of being disturbed, but now I like the freedom to get up and move around; and if you lift the arm rest, you can almost sit cross-legged, or curl a leg up under to sleep. Passing down the aisle to my seat, I saw my neighbour from the flight over (he'd been to a wedding in Cancun), going home to his three daughters under 3 in Adelaide. He didn't get an upgrade this time, either. I took my very strong American melatonin, and slept about five or six hours, I guess. Paul picked me up from the airport (bliss to not have to deal with one more taxi), and we collected Joel and went to tennis.

I thought this would be a good idea, but found, when it was my turn to receive a shopping-trolley basket of balls from Larry, that my legs and arms would just not move fast enough. The balls came so fast, though they had a strong wind behind them, and try as I might, I just could not get to them, or hit them with any strength.

This morning, I went for my walk along the creek, and saw the blue-tongued lizard under the wooden walkway. He looked rather pale, and very thin, and was obviously very sluggish, just coming out of hibernation, and putting his head into the morning sun. He looked at me through heavy lids, and I could see he wanted to withdraw back to safety under the bridge, but couldn't move his legs. I knew exactly how he felt.

What perverseness, then, to spend much of yesterday afternoon on the Qantas website, me in one room and Paul in the other, booking flights to New York for next year to take advantage of their amazing 2-for-1 sale, which ends tonight, and battling the rigours of the frequent flyer point system to book flights to London next September for our holiday in Italy. It was horrible to discover that all the cheap flights go through Sydney, which adds a couple of hours, including transit, to each trip. But on the other hand... New York! Philadelphia! DC! Boulder! London! Florence! Rome! And best of all, travelling companions!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Tourist or Traveller?

Early on in the Bertolucci movie, Under a Sheltering Sky, the young hero (it is a very young John Malkovich) says, proudly, something like, "We're not tourists, we're travellers". I think that even then, many years ago, I might have wanted to identify as a traveller, not a tourist, but I have to admit I don't think of myself as a particularly good traveller.

I get anxious about arrangements; I don't like calling hotels; I get anxious about cash, and tipping; I'm worried the taxi will take me somewhere I don't want to go; I don't always sleep well when exhausted. I fuss and fuss about what to wear on the plane.

However, I do do things, by making myself do them. I taught myself, years ago, to eat a two-course meal in a good restaurant by myself (sometimes with, sometimes without book). I am sometimes tempted by stupid ideas, like walking somewhere when a sensible person would take a taxi, but have learned that distances when you are a traveller are much longer. And I have developed a reasonably good sense of what's safe and what's not. Or else I've been lucky, but I don't have any disaster tales to tell.

Travelling on your own adds just one more layer of difficulty, too. When I arrived at LA ten days ago, the plan was for me to wait a couple of hours for the next flight that would bring Andrew and Louise from Sydney, and we could then get the shuttle to Riverside together. But I recoiled at the idea of waiting alone, accompanied by bag, laptop and suitcase. Impossible to go to the bathroom, for example. And as it happened, their flight was delayed a few more hours, so I was pleased my instinct — to ask for an earlier shuttle — was right.

This time, I broke my trip home, too. So here's my new rule. If you get one flight, even from New York, into LAX then join the 11.15 pm flight to Melbourne, that's ok, but yesterday, after Terry drove me from Wooster to Cleveland, and I flew from Cleveland to Dallas, raced around and around from gate to gate on their skytrain because the gate had changed and the flight was late, then from Dallas to LAX, then I was very glad to check into my hotel on Venice beach.

I walked along the beach this morning, then checked out of the hotel and got a cab to the Getty museum. I had been to the Getty Villa years ago (getting the bus, and getting off too soon and walking along a most inhospitable freeway for the last bit), but I had learned my lesson and rode in a taxi.

It is an extraordinary place. I went to the Villa on my first visit to the US, in 1991, when I went to the Medieval Association of the Pacific conference, and was blown away by the sheer size and scale and magnitude of the vision of the place, and also by the incredible lavishness of the disposable cutlery, plates, and glasses. American galleries, museums and gardens are some of my favourite places in the world: the Frick, the Met, the Huntington, the Getty villa; and now the Getty Museum. This is a wonderful vision of marbled courtyards and small square blocks of galleries: two storey marble cubes. I confined myself to the pre-1800 stuff, and then enjoyed wandering the gardens and courtyards, especially as the sun started to set over the sunken maze water garden (it's warm here, but also November, and so the days are short). And I'm used to the endless proliferation of paper and plastic goods.

So now I'm in the Qantas lounge. They are re-building at LAX, and have put us all in the First and Business lounge, so it's very pleasant, if rather crowded. I just heard some folk leaving, saying, "there are an awful lot of Aussies there", so I think my countrymen and women must be making their presence felt over at the bar.

Of course I'm not such a good traveller as to remember to bring my camera on this trip. My elaborate plans for getting a working cell phone came to nothing, too. But at least I haven't felt the dreadful homesickness that plagued my trip to London earlier in the year. It's a much shorter trip, so missing my family hasn't seemed like such a huge sentence; and I've also been busy, working hard, while staying with friends and their cats also made it feel much more homely. And in my suitcase? Obama t-shirts and a rockin' snowdome (globe) from the Cleveland RocknRoll Hall of Fame...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Such is Life

Amongst the things we Australians remember on November 11 are Remembrance Day, and the dismissal of the Whitlam ("Well may we say 'God Save the Queen', because nothing will save the Governor-General") Government.

Here's the ABC broadcast of that fateful day: my act of cultural and political homage:

But we also remember the death of Ned Kelly. Most people agree that the famous bushranger's final words, as he was led to the gallows in 1880, were not "Such is Life", but rather, something more mundane like "So I suppose it has come to this".

So here's a little thought for Ned. When I was growing up, I could not imagine why Ned Kelly, a murderous thief, should be a national hero. Now that I am more interested in cultural history, and national stereotypes, and perhaps especially since I have read his Jerilderie letter, I am quite taken by this man, and when I read part of the letter at the Riverside conference on Saturday, could not help but channel a little of the Irishness of his accent. It is the most extraordinary document. Here's a sample of what I read:
those men came into the bush with the intention of scattering pieces of me and my brother all over the bush and yet they know and acknowledge I have been wronged and my mother and four or five men lagged innocent and is my brothers and sisters and my mother not to be pitied also who was has no alternative only to put up with the brutal and cowardly conduct of a parcel of big ugly fat necked wombat headed big bellied magpie legged narrow hipped splawfooted sons of Irish bailiffs or English landlords which is better known as Officers of Justice or Victorian Police who some calls honest gentlemen but I would like to know what business an honest man would have in the Police as it is an old saying It takes a rogue to catch a rogue and a man that knows nothing about roguery would never enter the force and take an oath to arrest brother sister father or mother if required and to have a case and conviction if possible any man knows it is possible to swear a lie and if a policeman looses a conviction for the sake of swearing a lie he has broke his oath therefore he is a perjurer either ways a Policeman is a disgrace to his country and ancestors and religion as they were all catholics before the Saxons and Cranmore yoke held sway since then they were persecuted massacreed thrown into martyrdom and tortured beyond the ideas of the present generation what would people say if they saw a strapping big lump of an Irishman sheparding sheep for fifteen bob a week or tailing turkeys in Tallarook ranges for a smile from Julia or even begging his tucker they would say he ought to be ashamed of himself and tar and feather him, But he would be a king to a Policeman who for a lazy loafing cowardly billet left the ash corner deserted the Shamrock, the emblem of true wit and beauty to serve under a flag and nation that has destroyed massacreed and murdered their forefathers by the greatest of torture as rolling them down hill in spiked Barrels pulling their toes and finger nails and on the wheel and every torture imaginable more was transported to Van Diemans Land to pine their young lives away in starvation and misery among tyrants worse than the promised hell itself all of true blood bone and beauty that was not murdered on their own soil or had fled to America or other countries to bloom again another day were doomed to Port McQuarie Toweringabbie and Norfolk Island and Emu Plain and in those places of Tyranny and condemnation many a blooming Irishman rather than subdue to the Saxon yoke were flogged to death and bravely died in servile chains but true to the Shamrock and a credit to Paddys land
This is amazing, yes? The letter was probably dictated to Joe Byrne, so it clearly bears traces of oral composition, but it does read something like Joyce's Ulysses, I think. Is "Cranmore" Cranmer here? There is so much that needs to be thought about here (not least the fact that I could not help channelling a vaguely Irish accent as I read).

Still, I was very pleased to find, when we finally got to Wooster at 1.30 this morning, to find a miniature of Ned Kelly on Tom's bookcase.

But I was talking about Ned Kelly with my father-in-law a few weeks ago, and found him expressing exactly the same view of Kelly that I used to hold. Interesting that my interest in medievalism has brought me round to re-think the nature of authority and the subversion of that authority. It's not that I have deep affinities with this model of Australia rebelliousness, but there is something about discovering Kelly as such a textual being (this was not the only letter he dictated; and he was also very fond of Lorna Doone, which I read on the plane coming over), as well as the easy anti-colonial sentiment, that is rather attractive.

I've had the laziest day, today. After getting in so late, I slept in this morning till after midday, lazing in as other people got up and went to work, and to school.

I've had a chance to think more about the conference, though. Stand out papers for me, because they made me think (in new and difficult ways) again about my own work, were talks by Aranye Fradenburg and Seeta Chaganti. The first was an extraordinary meditation on dreams, Freud, Chaucer and medievalism; and the second a suggestive account of the way medievalist dance (actually, Raymonda) can help us think about the way medievalist bodies move in time and space, and perform medievalism differently. Seeta also helped me think differently about the way Kelly's relics are preserved and venerated: that is, that it's the structure by which we view and treat his relics that might be one of the most medievalist things about the Kelly legend.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Letter from America

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.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Sign of the Times

You know times are tough in your workplace when for the first time in my memory of it, no one's had the energy or the spirit to organise a sweep for the Melbourne Cup. Many's the year I've crowded round a TV or radio at work with a glass of warm champagne and cheered on a horse I'd never heard of till a minute before. And often have I marvelled at those folk who had actually placed real bets. Even last year, in the first flush of collegiality in our new school, we had so many people that we ran about four sweeps, I think.

But of course, it's the same loyal hard-working office staff who run the sweep, and this year, after dramatic shifts and changes and instabilities and re-organised workloads and grumpy academic staff, they've had enough. And I must say, I don't blame them. There was even talk of not having a Christmas party for the same reason, so I have rounded up a few folk with a commitment to both organise and clean up after a party next month.

It's the day before I get on a plane, so it's the usual crazy rounds of laundry, tidying up loose ends in the office, getting my photo taken for the Canberra awards ceremony on the 25th, and now coming home. I watched the race with Paul and Joel. Paul was the bookie, and stood to lose a lot of money if any of my horses (Nom de Jeu, Barbaricus and Moatize [ridden by Clare Lindop]) had won. None of them did, of course. But the Reserve Bank has dropped interest rates by .75%, so that is better than a win!

So now it's time to finish the Ned Kelly paper, sort out the powerpoints, finish a reference and some revisions to an article and do the ironing, and then the packing, meanwhile drinking lots of water to hydrate in preparation for the flight to LA, flying into Obama time, I hope.

I'm off to lovely Riverside, in California, first, then on to Wooster, outside Cleveland, for some quality writing (and tennis) time with Tom. And then a day in LA on the way back: I'm just getting too old for those 27 hour trips without a night in a bed in between...