To Chicago and back -- just
I haven’t told you about my trip to Chicago last weekend. Partly because I realise that some readers of this blog have little sympathy for “the don’s” complaints about the inconveniences of air-travel. If she will gad about the world, needlessly consuming the planet’s resources, then she deserves all she gets. That’s the tough, austere line.
But perhaps it’s worth putting it this way. When some sweet-talking boffin like me turns up to enthuse and inform for an hour about ancient Greece or Rome, exactly how much time and effort has gone into that hour (no to mention the time taken preparing the lecture, and the life-time of swotting to be able to count as a boffin in the first place)?
Let me tell you the story of my trip to Chicago last Friday and Saturday to talk about the Parthenon. I had agreed months ago to do a gig at the Humanities Festival there. That was when I assumed that by late October all my Sather lectures would be long written. In fact, I had the last one still to write, so it wasn’t exactly brilliant timing.
Anyway the extremely efficient administrators of the festival had booked me onto the American Airlines flight leaving San Francisco at 4.30, getting into Chicago at 10.30 pm. I already knew as I left the Berkeley campus at 1.30 that the flight was an hour late but there didn’t seem anything else to do but go to the airport. What if it miraculously caught up? It didn’t of course. The iron rule is that airplanes only got later, and we were only just beginning to board at 6.30.
Could have been worse. But soon, it was clear from the mutterings of the cabin crew that they were a person short. That person, we were soon told, was the captain. They were paging him, but no luck so far. It was by now gone 7.00. Within a few minutes it turned out that the captain was sick. Indeed he had called in sick the previous day, but finding a replacement had somehow fallen through the net. They would get a reserve captain, but meanwhile off the plane please.
I was one of the lucky ones and went back to the ‘Admirals Club’ (AA’s not very generous ‘lounge’). I suggested that we might have free food and drink, given the wait. That got a frosty reception. This isn’t EU-land, where after a couple of hours delay they are obliged to give you something. Anything more than a soft drink you had to pay for.
We finally took off at 9.30 (with a ‘thank you for your patience’ but not a sign of an apology) and got to Chicago at 3.30 am. Following the husband’s example, I muttered as we got up to leave – ‘with organisation like this, no wonder they cant win a war’, and got a nasty glare from the guy in the seat next to me. I finally got to the hotel at 4.30 am.
But actually the story has a happy ending. OK I missed my morning noodling in Chicago because I slept in till 11.45. But the festival, the hospitality of the organisers and the lecture occasion itself were all just tremendous (for me at least, I hope for the listeners too).
For a start I was scheduled to talk in a vast Victorian Gothic Methodist Church-cum-skyscraper (the one in the picture). The minister in charge told me that he lived at the very top, on what must have been something like the 30th floor. Apparently Cherie Blair had recently visited to admire the view! Then it turned out that something between 350 and 400 people had showed up to hear about the Parthenon on a dreary, cloudy Saturday lunch time. Then rather movingly, proceedings started with a tribute to a piece of sculpture they had recently installed – a bronze cross with a black Jesus, made by overlaying the remains of a cross (in the picture) torched by the Ku Klux Klan in 1963. The sculpture John Kearney was there – and spoke about the work, and about his nearly next door neighbour, Studs Terkel, who had just died.
I then did my bit, which I think went down well. I was talking largely about the history of the Parthenon since antiquity and how it had been MADE into a cultural and national symbol. The questions and discussion at the end were memorable too. One lady had brought along her souvenir lamp (in the shape of the Parthenon). The first question was an improvised rendition of what I had been saying IN SONG.
All in all it made up for the travel disasters. But didn’t see much of Chicago. I got in a cab and went straight back to the airport after the lecture, and was ‘home’ by 9.30 pm.