MLA Travel Story

One car, two planes, one taxi and 13 hours later I arrived at my hotel in Philadelphia.  It’s not anyone’s fault that the weather in Philly created major delays all day, so that by the time my plane arrived, we couldn’t land (seems there has been nearly 2 inches of rain here combined with snow melt today). We did get to spend a lovely hour at the Baltimore airport to refuel, during which we were not given anything to drink or eat, and using the toilets that no longer flushed was not advised.

Luckily the couple next to me offered me a delicious homemade holiday cookie to keep any hunger at bay.  It’s raining heavily in Philadelphia, though, so when I finally arrived at the hotel, I was relieved to find a relatively affordable hotel bar with decent food: a glass of wine and a veggie panini can be divine…

I did get some reading done, so being stuck on a plane wasn’t all bad:

  • Loved Joan Acocella’s review of the new prosey Chaucer translation in The New Yorker.
  • Finally read Three Cups of Tea:   yes, Mortensen sounds positively saint-like, and some chapters were engaging and interesting, but I found myself skipping a lot, especially toward the end. 
  • Read Allison Lurie’s Foreign Affairs (1984), a Pulitzer Prize winning academic novel.  It’s  a tragicomedy, more tragic than many academic novels. Even though the two English profs discover something about love and passion, and their own complicity in their inability to find lasting love and passion, I don’t see it as the grand comedy that contemporary reviewers (looking at the back of my used copy) seemed to deem it.  It’s definitely Jamesian (as the narrative constantly reminds us). The two main characters, 29 year old Fred Turner (asst prof and untenured) and 54 year old Virginia Miner (full prof), both from what is probably Cornell but on sabbatical at the same time in London, take turns telling their tales in alternate chapters.  Virginia’s meditations on middle aged sex are briliant. At first she seems to resign herself to the sex-lessness of being a middle aged woman since, for one reason, such women never have sex in English litererature. Then she meets a large, sort of sexy,  nearly 60 year old Oklahoman man and, eventually, she is much less inclined to think about giving up sex: “And this world, Vinnie [Virginia’s nickname] thinks now, is not English literature. It is full of people over fifty who will be around and in fairly good shape for the next quarter century: plenty of time for adventure and change, even for heroism and transformation.” But, despite this big breakthrough, she loses the Oklahoman man, and although she does a few selfless acts at the end of the novel, I fear she’ll return to Cornell and be her usual spinsterish selfish mostly sexless self.

But I did enjoy the novel, and I’ll look for more Lurie to read (or reread?) in the future.  It’s definitely a novel of the middle aged, if I want to pursue that idea someday…

Now, off to bed. The weather report says that tomorrow is the best day of the week, and I’m looking forward to my free morning to explore.  There are a few MLAers in the lobby and the restaurant, but it’s obviously the lull before the enslaught tomorrow…

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