A briefing on the conventions of travel
IN one of Malcolm Bradbury’s novels there is a mysterious character who seems to exist only at academic conferences. It is a specialised calling, given the universally dreary choice of conference locations.
Possibly to discourage the attendance of spouses, these gatherings rarely take place in the vicinity of great galleries, good shopping or natural attractions. They occur instead on uninspiring campuses miles from suburban hubs, let alone any urban temptations. As a result, I have been blown about by massive gales in Nova Scotia. I have been stranded for many hours on a broken-down Greyhound bus in the uninteresting stretch of the eastern US round Ithaca, with a nervous Scandinavian academic and some very large individuals worried about their parole officers and the lack of cigarettes.
I have been stuck in student accommodation in a Sydney January that proved so hot, many colleagues (despite their reputed stinginess) moved out to hotels at their own expense. At a conference on conviviality in the unlovely English city of Reading, a fire drill at 3am disgorged ancient professors in nightshirts and generally confirmed the sartorial frumpiness for which academics are renowned.
In Arizona (a long, long way from the Grand Canyon) and stuck, as usual, in a resort with no pedestrian escape, I found some ancient French teachers willing to share the cost of an outing. What fun it was playing truant to see the fabulous desert. Most recently I attended a conference in West Carrollton, Georgia. I was rather hoping to experience something of the deep south once I landed in Alabama. An expensive and lengthy taxi ride later, I was in a thin-walled conference motel on a highway scattered with fast-food outlets and only the Coca-Cola Museum as a distant distraction.
Not to be deterred, I attached myself to a lively group of 20-something graduate students curious about the reputation conferences have . . .I disillusioned them and then, in a demonstration of true southern hospitality, someone with a vehicle turned up to whisk us off for a great meal.
It seems a long, long time since I was a student, staying in college during vacations and bewildered by the frantic scampering of adults when a fellow prankster with a loudspeaker bellowed Achtung, Achtung one morning at 6am.
Nevertheless, I am considering Perth for a conference in June. Does the topic ‘‘medieval emotions’’ appeal to anyone? RANT OR RAVE Send your 400-word contribution to our Follow the Reader column. Published columnists will receive a stylish and practical Catherine Manuell family-sized waterproof toiletries satchel (sample pattern pictured); fully lined with a hanging loop and handy internal pockets. Valued at $45. More: (03) 9499 9844; catherinemanuelldesign.com. Send your contribution to: email@example.com.