samedi, novembre 18, 2006

SEM Day 3: Papers, Parties, Prostitution

OK, I just threw in the last one for alliteration's sake, but I suppose no conference review is complete without some metaphor involving comparisons between the sex trade and the Obscene Paper-making Machine that is academic conference culture. "Blah blah sell your soul blah blah performative courtship rituals blah blah never mind that we're equating the politics and risks of sex work to a self-congratulatory circle-jerk between privileged academics."

I suppose I should pause here and say that I do like SEM (otherwise I wouldn't be a member) and I get an immeasurable amount of inspiration and instruction out of its conferences. If it sometimes tends toward a careerist clusterfuck, it is no more so than any other academic conference I've attended; Ethno/Anthro jobs are scarce, after all.

So, Saturday itself was a fun but densely-packed day. I went to a series of morning sessions, then a big block of papers on "DJ cultures" (I have my issues with that term), took a short lunch at Ruffage again, skipped a bunch of medium-interest papers for a short and intense visit to the beach, then off to the official banquet and the Uchicago/Upenn party afterwards. A few of us made it to the sushi place again for late-night 50% sushi, but the 15-odd people who followed us an hour later missed last call, so we just sat around and drank. The bar seemed to be determined to close early, and they were already turning up the lights by 1am. What's up with that? From there, a few of us who had Sunday morning sessions headed off to bed (with some cocktails, of course), while another part of the group headed off to find a bar that was open (or a liquor store, failing that).

UPDATE: pics of Hawaii here.

vendredi, novembre 17, 2006

SEM Day 2: Give it up for the Beach

After an early morning session that was just un-missable (i.e., the papers were too promising for me to sleep in), I grabbed a bit of a late breakfast and caught a few other fragmentary paper panels. After a while, me and a bud from the University of Toronto (hi Kate!) headed off in search of cheap sushi, and ran into the folks from the morning panel (many of whom had a U of Chicago connection) and we all ended up at an awesome local Hawaiian place. For around $10 each, we each had a towering mess of lotus leaves, slow-cooked pork, poi ("special" day-old flavor!), various pickled things, and some fish. Tasty!

UPDATE: see pics here.

I skipped the afternoon plenary sessions (precisely because they never scheduled a break in the schedule), bought myself a pair of hideous board shorts, a beach towel, and a reed mat, and hit the beach. I sprayed on a bit of tanning oil (SPF 4; hooray for my brownish ancestry!), inflicted my hairy body on the general public, and got my tan on. After a few good minutes of roasting on both sides, I hit the water. The shallows were warm and clear and there were little fishies swimming by, which could've entertained me for ages. Indeed, I once got a fantastic sunburn in Grenada by spending the entire day floating face-down, snorkeling over a reef full of fish. Some of the fish were actually pretty big and in really large schools and it was a lot of fun to find yourself surrounded by them. Also, there was this pair of tiny neon-blue fishes that looked like miniature swordfishes and swam really close to the surface. If it was possible, I would've picked them up and hugged them, they were so cute.

And then back to the conference. That little bit of sun had me in a much better mood, and I headed off to catch the last few papers of the day and then head off to the Popular Music Section meeting (a subgroup of the SEM). That meeting ran a bit long procedurally (i.e., Roberts Rules + slightly OCD academics = slow progress), but it's always fun to see the popmusic folks.

That evening, we hit the Harvard reception party, ate a lot of their fantastic baked brie and drank their free booze, schmoozed, and then headed off with a few of my folks to that sushi place in our hotel, Sansei, for 50% sushi after 10pm. There were about 9 of us in the end, and we ordered about $200 worth of sushi (that's after the discount). It was fantastic (especially the maguro!) and we all went away a bit over-stuffed and satisfied.

Afterwards, it was back to our room for more beers and cocktails on our balcony. Yay Hawaii!

jeudi, novembre 16, 2006

SEM Day 1: Early Rising

So, a certain friend of ours, none other than Mr. Wayne of wayneandwax had a paper in a 7am, session, so we all dragged our asses out of bed at 6h30 and headed down to the meeting rooms to find him. If I had thought of it earlier, I would've made a picket sign that said "I'M ONLY AWAKE FOR YOU" and held it up as he delivered his paper. Who starts an academic conference at 7h00? Especially an ethnomusicology conference. Most other SEM conferences have started at 8 or 9 in the morning, but I get the impression that there were simply too many papers accepted this year and they just had to add sessions wherever they could. Either way, there were cumulative results:

  • You had to get up early for morning sessions, so nighttime activities (i.e. schmoozing, networking, partying) were more subdued this year.
  • There were more paper sessions going on simultaneously than usual, so you had to make lots of difficult decisions between generally interesting papers, papers in your field, papers delivered by friends and colleagues, and other things, such as meals and peeing.
  • There were very few "holes" made in the schedule and lunch breaks were very short, which meant that you had much less time to chat with other attendees at the conference, eat meals together, etc, and %75 of the SEM conference experience goes on outside of paper sessions.
  • The conference organizers didn't leave open the Friday afternoon, as they often did in earlier conferences. This open afternoon usually meant that people could take care of a few touristic outings at that time, and would be less tempted to skip papers and events during the conference. Without that window of opportunity, many of us started skipping large chunks of the conference to take advantage of Hawaii. I mean, we were in fucking Hawaii. I'll be damned if I'm not going to hit the beach once in a while.

Anyway, first day of the conference went well, despite the tight schedules. A bunch of us had lunch at this awesome veggie sandwich shop called "Ruffage"; the owners were this older Japanese couple who constantly heckled each other as they made your sandwiches. Very amusing, if a bit rough at times. I hit the welcome reception that night as well, and then there followed some drinking and carousing that I sort of lost track of. Good times, tho.

UPDATE: pics of Hawaii here.

mercredi, novembre 15, 2006

Pre-Conference Slacking

Aahhh, slacking.

[UPDATE: pics here]

Actually, I kept on waking up, Wednesday morning. My clock was still on French time, so I woke up at 2am, 4am, 6am and finally 8am. At 8am I couldn't make my body fall asleep again, so hauled my ass out of bed, showered and dressed, went downstairs for breakfast, then took my laptop down to the lobby (where there was some free internet that everyone was using) and did a bit of blogging.

Around noon, Greg and I got ourselves together, and went downstairs to check out. We were going to spend the rest of our time in Honolulu at the conference hotel, which was two blocks over. We checked into the conference hotel (which was beautiful, if a bit confusing to navigate), grabbed lunch at a conveyor-belt sushi bar, and then headed off into Waikiki to do a bit of shopping. Greg had a bit of souvenir-shopping to do, and I needed to buy swimming trunks and flip-flops (see my failed shopping trip in Paris two days ago).

We quickly discovered that we were not Waikiki's target audience. The roads running along Waikiki were studded with high-end shopping, such as Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, Coach, etc. Ironically, the stores were mostly filled with Japanese and Chinese tourists shopping in the same stores they could find in Tokyo or Hong Kong. Either way, there was no way I was going to find cheap flip-flops and swim trunks. Eventually, we returned to the hotel and I went to a nearby ABC store (which has a greater monopoly on convenience stores than Tim Horton's does on donut shops in Canada) to get some flip-flops.

As the day wore on, we ran into various other U of Chicago folks, and eventually our other roommate, Andrew, arrived as well. Sometime along the route, we also bought a case of beer and a bottle of rum to put in our hotel room. That evening, we set off in search of a beachside bar, only to realize that the ban on alcohol on the beach meant that there would be no beachside bar. We eventually settled for a terrace bar overlooking the ocean at our hotel, and had ourselves a few overpriced cocktails. Then, we headed back to our room and started what would become a nightly ritual of drinking beer and rum&cokes on the balcony overlooking the water.

mardi, novembre 14, 2006

Hawaii, by way of hell

Oy. Travel, she is a cruel mistress.

I got up at 6am to put myself together (hastily), make a final check that everything important was with me, and then head off to the airport. My flight was at 9h55, so I headed out around 7h30 in the morning so that I could get to the airport by métro/RER (public transport). I stopped at my boulangerie for a quick coffee and pain au chocolat, and then I was off. Thankfully, I was traveling against the flow of rush hour, so the RER train from Châtelet to the Charles de Gaulle airport was sparsely populated.

When I got to the airport, I went up to the surface and waited for the shuttle bus that takes you around the terminal. There are at least five different buses that run between the terminals, and I saw on the map that more than one of them went past my destination, Terminal 2A. When a bus finally pulled up, everybody piled on and I noticed that the bus number matched a route that passed by my terminal, so I followed everyone else. As it turns out, I took the wrong bus. It eventually did get to Terminal 2A, but only after passing the rest of Terminal 2, then the remote parking, then Terminal 1.

Thankfully, I had arrived early enough that this small detour didn't eat into my schedule. On the other hand, I realized as I was checking in that Continental airlines had only given me 1 hour to connect from my Paris-Newark flight to my Newark-Honolulu flight. Now, that is a tight connection in any case, but that was especially distressing for me, since it was clear that I would have to arrive in Newark as a foreign arrival, pass immigration, claim my luggage, pass customs, re-check my luggage, re-pass security, and then find and run to my gate. And to top it off, we took off about 15 minutes late. I had asked the man at the check-in what Continental could do if I miss my flight, and he said that there were no later flights to Honolulu. I would have to overnight in Newark (scenic Newark!) and then fly out the next night, thus losing a night of my hotel stay in Honolulu.

So, I got to enjoy the nearly 8-hour flight to Newark in a constant state of worry and distress, obsessively watching the flight-progress display, in the hopes that the "estimated arrival time" would roll back as we picked up speed over the ocean.

It seemed as if we would arrive about 15 minutes early, but by the time I had gotten off the plane, we were back to about 10 minutes late. From here, everything was a blur. I sprinted as best as I could (after 8 sleepless and uncomfortable hours) along an endless series of corridors until I arrived at the US Immigration desks. Of course, there were already a big mess of lines from other flights, and they didn't separate out Canadian and American travelers from others, which meant that I had to wait in line while everybody in front of me had their fingers scanned and their pictures taken. Of course, two of the people in front of me had to have complicated cases that required a lot of explanation, so I had to stand there and tap my foot impatiently while people I had outrun in the corridors passed me in other lines. When I finally got to the US Immigration desk, the guy didn't quite know what to do with me. I have an F-1 US student visa, but I'm living in France, so my visit to the US shouldn't prompt all of the visa arrival paperwork, but instead the standard tourist visa for Canadians (which involves no paperwork). All of this added more time, as he had to ponder the various options; in the meanwhile, I had to do my best to suppress my impatience, since he might mistake it for impatience with his job (which it was, anyway), which could result in him arbitrarily detaining me or ordering some invasive body cavity search. When you're crossing immigration borders, you're at the complete, potentially sadistic mercy of the border guard.

Finally, the paperwork was taken care of and I rushed over to the luggage claim area to get my bags. Of course, my luggage was one of the last to come out of the plane. Still more panicked, I accosted a nearby Continental employee and told her that I was supposed to make a connection in less than 20 minutes. She told me that the flight had been delayed by 40 minutes, which means that I might still make the flight if I run like crazy. Newly inspired, I ran across the luggage claim area and through Customs (mercifully brief) and then tried to re-check my luggage for my connection. When I entered the connecting luggage area, the place was a zoo. There was a huge line of people waiting to leave their luggage, and everybody's luggage was being tossed into piles, the conveyor belt obviously overwhelmed. Clearly, I was going to miss my flight. A small latino man walked by, carting some luggage from one pile to another. I quickly accosted him, speaking Spanish to him, and telling him my tale of woe. He directed me towards another, less visible and much shorter line, and in a few seconds my luggage was in one of those piles, hopefully heading with me to Hawaii.

Next, to pass security. The nature of the luggage claim system requires that you effectively exit the secure zone and then re-enter it. So, off I run to the nearest security checkpoint. Obviously, I wasn't the only one trying to catch a connecting flight, because there was a cluster of worried, impatient people waiting in line. I ws eventually sent to a line that was being manned by the angriest woman in the airport. She yelled at everybody to have their boarding pass and ID in their hands, and had no patience for the international travelers that couldn't parse her thick NJ-black vernacular accent. As I was putting my laptop and shoes and jacket and backpack into separate boxes, I put my passport and boarding pass on the table next to the boxes. What I didn't see was that a flight crew member (a pilot, I think), jumped ahead in line, stood behind me, grabbed another plastic box, and put it down on top of my passport and boarding pass. When I reached the metal detector, the woman shouted at me "WHERE IS YOUR PASS?!!!" Looking at my empty hands, I apologized and ran back to the table. My passport and boarding pass were gone! I looked around the table, sure that I had kept it in my hand. Eventually, the woman let me pass without the documentation, presuming that it had passed through in my bag along with everything else. Of course, she didn't fail to humiliate me like all those who had gone before, yelling "Next time, you will LISTEN and REMEMBER!!" while jerking her finger towards her head, as if I was severely mentally handicapped. I made it through to the other side, but couldn't find my boarding pass among my items. Panicking, I look back to see the flight crew guy passing through and the couple behind him holding my passport and boarding pass, looking confused and asking other folks if this was theirs. Over shriek of the guard woman, I yelled, "Hey! That's mine!" The woman presumed I was talking to her and said "That's nice. Next time you'll reMEMber!" and turned her back to me, presumably pleased that she had forced me to leave a personal object behind. The couple walked through with my passport and boarding pass bundled with their passports. For whatever reason, the woman at the metal detector didn't notice this, and then the couple passed through, similarly harassed, and quietly handed my documentation to me. I thank them quietly but profusely, gritting my teeth at the thought that this woman will spend her day being similarly sadistic to all who pass by.

I sprint to my gate and behold! The plane is still there. I wait until they call my row and then run onto the plane, coated in sweat. As I sit down and take a closer look at my boarding pass, I realize that I am in for an 11-hour flight, in clothes that I have been wearing for more than 18 hours and a layer of sweat. Hooray.

The final 11 hours of flight were uncomfortable to say the least. To top it off, there was a couple across the aisle with two little kids (about 9 and 12 years) who were not very well-controlled. They were understandably restless after the first few hours of flight, but the parents were also surprisingly unresponsive and passive; one of the kids would throw a tantrum or make noise, and the parents would just say "Sssh! Quiet honey!" I know that the US is so anti-corporal punishment that a parent can't even give their child a sharp look, but they need to figure out some way to assert control. A family is NOT a liberal democracy; there's a reason many fascist regimes were modeled on "the family."

Mercifully, there was this adorable pair of older ladies sitting near me that were endlessly entertaining. One was Chinese, the other NJ-Jewish, and the two were heading off to a bridge tournament in Honolulu. They spent the entire time gossiping with each other, with heavy accents, about their various bridge partners and opponents. "Did you hear that Ari dumped Gertrude? Shameful. That's the 4th wife he's left." "I don't like that Sophie, she thinks she's so special, with the money and the private bridge lessons. Feh." It was awesome.

We finally arrived in Honolulu and I had never been so glad to leave a plane (and that's saying something). I staggered off and headed for the luggage claim, nearly missing the beautiful airport. A walk from the gate to the luggage claim brought us through an open-air breezeway and past their gardens. It was night by this point, so all you could see were silhouettes and tiki torches, but it was a wonderful way to welcome a weary traveler. That and the 25C warm breeze. (UPDATE: See some pics of this here.)

I half expected my luggage to be missing. After all, I barely made my connection. Thankfully, it was there, and it was one of the first bags out, so I was doing OK. I was supposed to meet one of my roommates, Greg (not the same one as the Greg in Paris), who was supposed to arrive on a flight 10 minutes before me. I couldn't find him anywhere, not even at the luggage claim for his flight. After calling his number and getting redirected to his answering service, I presumed he had been bumped to a later flight and headed over to the hotel.

I didn't realize how far Waikiki was from the airport (not that far, but I expected/hoped the distance would be shorter on a tiny island) and taxi fare is EXPENSIVE, so a 15-minute ride to the hotel cost me $38 USD. It was pretty nuts. I checked in, took a shower and put on fresh clothes and—despite the fact that I had been awake for more than 24 hours now—lurched down to the front desk to ask for nearby sushi restaurants. The concierge directed me towards the sushi bar in the Mariott hotel (the conference site, where I would be staying after tonight) called Sansei (Japanese for third-generation, apparently). I headed over and ordered a few rolls from the bar and a beer. The sushi was great, if a bit expensive. However, I had been told that the sushi was %50-off after 10pm on fridays and saturdays, so I made plans to return friday and saturday for a late dinner. I was really impressed with the inventive sushi rolls and the freshness of the fish, but what really blew me away was the maguro (tuna): it was ruby-red, shiny, lustrous and it melted in your mouth. Soooo good.

The beer did the trick of knocking me out pretty well, so I staggered back to the hotel ready to sleep like a mo'fo. Greg arrived a bit later; he had apparently missed his connection in L.A. and had to take a later flight. Off he went to forage for food, while I pretty much fell into bed and fell asleep. At some point, I recall Greg asking "Do you mind if I watch a bit of TV as I fall asleep?" Hah.

lundi, novembre 13, 2006

"Get everything done" day

Ack! Today was the day to make good on the long to-do list I had written up the day before. I needed to make an appearance at the Center, take care of some IT support issues, print out all of the documents I needed, go shopping for chocolate (gift for someone in Chicago, via an attendee in Hawaii), buy batteries for my camera and a plug adapter for my French cellphone, a swimsuit and some flip-flops for the beach. And, eventually, I had to pack.

Ultimately, I took care of most of these items, but I had to drop the flip-flops and swimsuit. The simplest and cheapest flip-flops were 12-20€ and there were no reasonable swimsuits. Apparently, there is a reason why European men always wear speedos at the beach: there is nothing else available. I searched high and low for "board shorts"-style swimming trunks, and all I could find were handkerchief-sized speedos and thongs. There's no way I'm showing up in one of those in Hawaii.

Also, as I was packing later that night, I accidentally dropped my cellphone charger on the floor. It broke into two pieces. I swore, thinking I had busted it, but instead I found that the French electrical plug had detached from the charger, revealing an American plug underneath. Damn, I just spent about 5€ on an adapter I didn't need.

I comforted myself with the thought that perhaps this was the obligatory pre-trip fuck-up, which meant that the rest of the preparations would go smoothly. I was partly right. My preparations went fine (even though I went to bed late), but no amount of excellent packing could've made the following day any more tolerable.

Colour me sheepish



...which, I presume, would be off-white or something like that. Anyway, I've been working madly away on my SEM paper, so I haven't been keeping up with the blogging. I'll hopefully back-fill everything soon (perhaps while I'm waiting for my flights), but I just wanted y'all to know I wasn't dead or, worse, bored.

dimanche, novembre 12, 2006

Paper-writing sweatshop, Day 3

Today's sweatshop wasn't so sweaty, actually. My paper had been finished last night, so I just needed to take care of my handout and some final organization. I ate a late breakfast, fixed some coffee, and then took to making my handout.

I wanted to make a marked-up map of downtown Toronto as part of my handout, but I was surprised to find that neither GoogleMaps nor MapQuest offered the ability to mark multiple locations! As it turned out, Google offered that service only on GoogleEarth, which provides satellite pictures rather than easy-to-read maps, while MapQuest restricted the service to third-party businesses paying for their mapping services (e.g.,'s hotel location maps). Meh. In the end, I took a screen capture of an unmarked GoogleMap, imported it into Word, and then marked it up with Microsoft Word's "Drawing" tools. It was slow going and frustrating, but it looked good in the end. I would've probably gotten prettier results with Adobe Illustrator, but that would've taken much more time.

I also double-checked my flight and hotel reservations, started planning my trip to Chicago and Toronto/London for Xmas, and did some research on whether my cellphone would work in Hawaii. As the afternoon wore on, I started making a "to-do" list of things I needed to pack and things I needed to print out at the Centre on Monday. I suspected that printing at the business center in the hotel in Hawaii would be expensive (it turned out to be $1USD / page!), so my plan was to take care of my printing at the Centre and just drag everything along. Unfortunately, that meant that I needed to have my paper and handout in final form by Monday morning. My paper was done, but it was too long and I still needed to make a final edit to reduce length and correct typos.

Late that evening, a colleague and friend of mine called me and invited me out to dinner. Although I felt like I was somehow slacking (despite being pretty much done), I agreed to heading out for dinner. She took me to the Indian / Sri Lankan neighborhood near the La Chapelle métro stop where we ate a delicious meal of South Indian vegetarian food. Mmm. In addition to discovering a new neighborhood of delicious Indian restaurants, my friend also introduced me to a large Indian grocery store right across from the métro station, that carried a much broader selection of hot peppers, yucca/manioc (finally!), more spices than I could've imagined, and bags and bags of rice. Oh, and mangoes that promised better results than the ones I found in chinatown last week. Since I was leaving for Hawaii in two days, I didn't buy anything, but you can be sure that I'll be making mango salsa as soon as I get back to Paris.