Wednesday, November 21, 2007

NCA - Chicago

I've finally resurfaced from the NCA conference in Chicago, after working to complete a lengthy set of interviews for candidates to the SJSU Peer Mentor Program in the days that followed. Only now I can spend a few moments reflecting on my trip. This post won't focus on the academic side of my travels - presenting papers about Greyhound bus terminals and mobile/placeless enclaves, and hearing some of the research shared by my colleagues. Rather, I'll highlight some of the images from the time around the conference that stuck with me:

I enjoyed breakfast at the Artist's Snack Shop with my former forensics coach from Berry College, Randy Richardson, and our mutual friend and colleague, Kathy McKee. I so enjoyed the chance to relax with old friends, sharing our recent adventures in writing along with our other activities. Our conversations carry a collection of well-worn stories and jokes that we tell year after year, offering comfort and consistency no matter where or when they're shared. It always means so much to spend time with people who helped me become who I am. During our breakfast, Randy and Kathy encouraged me to check out Renoir's "Alfred Sisley" at the Art Institute of Chicago. They assured me that my resemblance to the figure portrayed in that piece was uncanny. How correct they were is a testament to our friendship.

I toured the Chicago Art Institute on a drizzly Sunday afternoon, digging the impressive collection of nineteenth and twentieth century pieces. Favorites include Georges Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" and Gustave Caillebotte's "Paris Street, Rainy Day," while I also enjoyed the eerie post-9/11 vibe of Richard Misrach's collection of birds-eye view photographs entitled (post apocalyptically) "At the Beach." I was less enamored with the Jasper Johns collection that seemed less about art as communication and more about communication between artists.

I also ambled through Millennium Park, peering upon Anish Kapoor's beloved "Cloud Gate" installation (known informally as "the bean") and photographing the Crown Fountain. I overheard a tour guide explain that the faces on these twin 50-foot tall glass-block installations were picked from regular, every-day Chicago residents. But there was nothing normal about their towering height and creepy one-way stare. I also enjoyed the Frank Geary-designed outdoor amphitheater, notable for its graceful crisscross of silver arcs that hold speakers aloft so that folks sitting on the lawn can still enjoy the show.

I went to dinner with Chris Nix, Kenny Sibal, and Lee Wyman, taking a taxi to Smith and Wollensky. The restaurant is a favorite of mine for its location, ambiance, and quality. This is a red meat and martini place, where the menus are cased in glass framed wooden displays. The prices are somewhat obnoxious, but the steak almost always calls to mind the "ignorance is bliss" scene from The Matrix. Afterward we walked to the Hancock Building, me enjoying the guilty pleasure of a fat cigar. We met a large contingent of Georgetown College students at The Cheesecake Factory. There's something delightfully wrong about ordering a massive dessert at midnight.

While returning to San Jose on Sunday night, my plane flew over a grayish cover of clouds for almost a half-hour, a carpet lit by a brilliant moon. As we began to descend, I thrilled at the prospect of carving through that gray wall, wondering what I'd see below. Sure enough, for almost a minute I waited as my window filled with cloud. Then gradually I gazed upon the clear and vividly lit city. I wondered at the fact that all those people below saw only a dreary cloud cover, maybe not even imagining that angelic moon glowing above.

I'm told that NCA will be held in San Diego next year, which is nice enough. But I'm delighted to hear that we're returning to Chicago in 2009. It's my favorite conference city, one I can't wait to see again.

(Mobile Phone Photos by Andrew Wood)

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