This summer I crossed the Big Pond once too many times, for when I came home from New Haven last Tuesday, I was hit by a wave of jet lag of epic porportions. A big, old, giant, beastly dragon of jet lag. It swallowed me whole and didn’t spit me out for several days. Hence I barely managed to crawl out of bed in the mornings (mornings? ha!) and was on the verge of falling asleep for the rest of the day. I properly woke up only after 6 p.m. or thereabouts. Gah!
This time, my visit to the USA was a bit of an adventure: not only did I take the train from Newark International Airport to New Haven (& caught a glimpse of Manhattan during the journey!!!), but I also trod the hallowed halls of Yale University. To be honest, I felt somewhat daunted by the prospect of giving a paper at Yale. I mean, Yale!! And I was considerably more nervous than I usually am. Especially as I had to shorten my paper, like, five minutes before the presentation (uh-oh!) (for whatever reason, the whole “8 pages of double-spaced text = 20 minutes of talking” so didn’t work for me this time around — duh!). In addition, it was considerably warmer than I had reckoned with (aka I sweated like a pig). And if that wouldn’t have been bad enough, this was also a conference where I didn’t know anybody AND I was to give the first paper. (Oh the pressure!) (And I’m not just talking about the pressure on my poor little academic soul, but also the one on my bladder!) But I needn’t have worried: Richard Doyle’s illustrations always make people smile and chuckle (even if the presenter has some problems with the stupid Power Point presentation!) Yay for Dicky Doyle!!!
Naturally, I was impressed by Yale. Who wouldn’t be? It’s a beautiful campus; the university owns several museums; and the libraries are so gorgeous they make you cry. But on the other hand, Yale is full of strangeness, too. Take the buildings: somebody took great pains to copy Oxford and Cambridge as well as to make everything look really, really, really old. Think treating the individual stones with acid and/or putting them in the river to artifically age them. Think false cracks in the windows. Think medieval turrets. You get the picture. It made me chuckle.
A lot. 🙂
And then, there are the secret societies and their buildings, which aren’t shown on campus maps on account of them being, well, secret. Very secret. So secret that each (huge!) building only has one entrance and no windows. Obviously, secret societies meet in the dark (on account of them being so secret, of course!) and don’t like other people peeking in on their secret business (makes you think of Terry Pratchett’s Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night, doesn’t it?). Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m perfectly fine with secret societies in fiction (and the Elucidated Brethren are rather sweet in their own twisted way), but in real life? What do secret societies do? Apart from hanging out in places to which nobody else has access??? It’s all a bit cloak and dagger, and very odd indeed!
What shocked me was the rather noticeable contrast between Yale and New Haven: on the one hand, you have this very rich university; on the other, there is a rather poor town with an appallingly high number of what looked like homeless people. Very disturbing!
The conference itself, though, was fantastic. The RSVPers are a bunch of knowledgable and thoroughly nice people with great enthusiam for the Victorian Age in general and Victorian periodicals in particular. Not only did I learn an awful lot, but I also met people who had actually heard of Richard Doyle. There even was a paper on Doyle’s father, John Doyle, the political caricaturist “H.B.”! Not to mention the paper on needlework patterns!!! Attending this conference was a heady and thrilling experience and exactly as academia ought to be, but as it, alas, so often is not.