I love the fact that the first day of SAA always starts just after lunchtime--thus avoiding the shock to the system of a conference that begins at 8 a.m. after everyone has gotten in late the night before or the irritation of a conference that starts at 4 p.m. and whose first sessions most people miss anyway. And because of my unusual housing arrangement this year, the first day was especially nice: I slept for 10 hours and awoke to a grey, damp day whose chill was immediately alleviated by a fire in the fireplace, fresh espresso, and homemade Belgian waffles.
So any worries about being isolated from The Real Conference Experience were mostly quashed. Turns out? Waiting in line to spend $7.50 for coffee and a pastry in a hotel café ain't much to regret. Moreover, my folks live so close that after a short drive I found myself in an elevator from the parking garage to the conference hotel lobby. . . and it was just like having taken an elevator down to that same lobby. And since conference hotels are the same the world over, and the crowd of friends and colleagues and acquaintances exactly as it would have been anywhere, I forgot for long stretches of time that I had any personal connection to my location. (At one point, someone asked whether I were originally from the Northeast, and I said, brightly but mechanically, "oh no! I grew up outside of Seattle, in a town called--oh.")
My seminar met on the first day, and for the first time ever, I had a submission that actually dealt with Renaissance drama. Responses to it were extremely warm (except for the eminence who said, more than once, how much my paper had troubled him and gotten under his skin), and the seminar participants themselves were lovely people doing interesting work. However, the auditors looked like they were dying a slow death, trapped in the room listening to us talk about stuff none of them had read. I've never quite figured out why people did it--sat in on other people's seminars--and though I've tried it every year and regretted it every year, watching the fidgety agony of our own auditors decided me against ever doing so again.
So the conference got off to a good start, marred only by a poorly-conceived opening reception. The food was great, but the event was a sit-down dinner in a generic, windowless hotel ballroom that replicated all the bad parts of the annual luncheon: a grim little room, no ability to circulate, and an anxious, disgruntled, middle-schoolish scrambling for friends and tables. Still, an open bar goes a long way toward mitigating all that, and Flavia after a large whiskey followed by two glasses of champagne always decides that she's what every grad student most wants: a solicitous oracle of advice and commiseration. (Grad students may in fact not want this, but it makes her feel happy and generous--and she imagines she's doing her bit for SAA's reputation as a friendly and inclusive conference. The friendly crazy drunk lady is still friendly, after all.)
Then we went out and shot some pool at a bar I didn't know existed, the average age of whose clientel appeared to be about 22.