One of the things I said to Betty Duffy, during one of our thirteen-hour car rides, was that I didn't post often because it takes me so damn long to write anything. "I have to write a finished post, and it takes forever," I said eloquently. And Betty talked about drafts and polishing, but I say, never mind the polishing. What you see is what I'm pouring out -- the first draft.
I am in love with New Orleans. I love the architecture, the huge mansions on St. Charles Ave. which still manage to maintain a dainty Southern charm despite being built on massive foundations of money. I love the cobblestones peeking out from under a threadbare blanket of asphalt. I love the American vernacular of the city: not quite mediterranean, not quite French. Given its age and history, it's one of the few American cities that has never tried to imitate New York City.
We were there, of course, for the Walker Percy Conference at Loyola University, which was just perfect. I have been to but one academic conference, and this was it. I am told that academic conferences can be quite insular, but this one, being in its the first year, in fact), was open to all comers, both attending and speaking. Academics and amateurs spoke on the same panels and hobnobbed most collegially. Darwin and I probably had the most fun of anyone attending: we came with a built-in social set, and we didn't have the stress of presenting a paper. I asked questions and started discussions at panels, and no one told me that I didn't have the standing to comment, or that I didn't know what I was talking about. It was like having all the fun of college with none of the bother. I discussed some of my areas of interest with the director of the conference, and she urged us to present our own paper at the next conference. Mark your calendars in two years' time, for MrsDarwin's academic debut, entitled (what else?) An Actor Prepares: Binx Bolling channels Stanislavski, complete with staged scenes.
But the fun started with car trip. 5:45 am is a bad time to discover a flat tire, but the drama was minimal. If Betty was agitated, she didn't show it, and the spare was applied with no casualties and little mess. We made it down to Tennessee driving well over the car manual's cautionary estimate of no more than 50 mph while Driving With Spare. In Nashville, while the car sat at the tire shop, we were hosted by Jordana, who has the most gracious bungalow and the bluest eyes, and whose children showed to absolutely best advantage in their mix of erudition and goofing off, and all this on a few short hours' notice.
One of the best elements of the weekend was rediscovering how well online friendship translates into real life. This was a theme repeated all weekend. Betty and Darwin and Jordana and I sat in the living room and talked like people who'd known each other for years. In New Orleans, I embraced Dorian like a lost sister -- we'd met before, which made the reunion even more delightful, but our friendship began online. Our group was kicked out of the hotel courtyard one night (and given a warning the second night) for being too raucous, a by-product of being too vinous. I'm not sure that any virtual conversation could top navigating down Bourbon Street with Matthew Lickona and his wife on our way to dinner, or toasting each other in the ancient brick-paved courtyard of the prestigious restaurant in the French Quarter, the ambiance of which was only slightly marred by the boldness of the rats who anticipated closing time by making brazen forays out of the foliage. And what could be more memorable, and less comfortable, than jouncing across Lake Pontchartrain in the back of a schoolbus with Potter and Jobe and the other cool kids after a foray to Walker Percy's grave? We didn't drink in the back of the bus (the spirit was willing, but the liquor laws weren't) but that was the exception. In front of the computer you drink alone; in New Orleans you drink with Lickona.
And then it was time to go. Betty noted that we drove thirteen hours with nary a fart between us, but even more notable was that we went thirteen hours without a silence. The talk was varied and ranging, from rearing savvy but innocent children to inside blog baseball. It was like conversational heaven, only in heaven you don't have to bounce for ten miles driving through deepest Mississippi looking for a bathroom. Then we were staggering back into our house at 2am, having delivered Grandma from five days' custody of her energetic grandchildren (who were more than ready to transfer that combined energy force back against their parents). Party was over, and the warmth of New Orleans was only a pleasant memory which fluttered weakly against the Ohio chill.
And I'm not going to sit here with a first draft and shake my brain until some clever bit of summation falls out. I could sit and polish this thing, or I could go to bed and dream of New Orleans. Nighty-night, ya'll.
Fortnightly Book, March 29
4 hours ago