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A short post-mortem of the Twenty-third Annual Harvard Celtic Colloquium

I took Thursday and Friday off work to fly out to Harvard for this Colloquium. The HCC was free, and Cei was speaking on Cernunnos, so I really wanted to go.

I looked into flights for a low fare to Boston. Apparently, there aren't any, so I looked up Southwest and found some reasonable prices to Providence, RI. But I didn't buy.

Instead, I called my parents, and told them where I was going, then asked how I get the lowest rates at Southwest. Well, then my dad tells me that he happens to have free tickets for Southwest, and that I could have said tickets. I admit, that was very nice to hear, and I kind of hoped that might happen.

So I have the tickets, and my flight leaves real early on Thursday morning, and my flight back leaves at 4:30 on Sunday afternoon. That gives me about five hours to get to the first lecture, and about three and a half hours to get back to Providence. I was a bit worried about cutting the return flight close.

Once I had my flight booked, I emailed Cei to let him know I'd be there to see (and hear) him speak. I asked about the dress code, etc., and he mentioned that there would probably be a lot of tweed worn, as befits a bunch of Celticists. I also emailed Monika and Meghan about the conference, and they were both very interested, and trying to find ways to come.

Well, Meghan decided she couldn't go first. Then Monika found out she had a presentation on one of the days, but that she might still be able to make it for one day. (Either way, it was no skin off my back, since I was already planning to pay for a hotel room and rental car all alone, anyway.)

Well, the week of the conference arrived, and I still didn't have a rental car or a hotel room reservation. On Tuesday, I finally called for a room, and made a reservation with Red Roof Inn in Woburn, north of the city. Then I made a reservation with Avis in Providence. I noticed, though, that their price was for drivers over 25, which frightened me.

Apparently, a person under 25 can't rent a car anywhere in RI or MA. I called Avis, and spoke with a very nice lady. She told me the only way to lower the driving age was to get a corporate discount. I asked about Ohio State, and (lo and behold!) OSU had a discount I could use! So, I got a free upgrade, a $25 discount, and I didn't have to pay any fees for being under 25. Stupid rule in the first place.

Anyway, on Thursday morning, I woke up, showered, and Tina took me to the airport. On the way, she complained about how I treat her. She feels ignored and unloved sometimes. I was in too good a mood to have that particular conversation, though.

So I arrived at the airport, and wandered to the ticket counter. The gentleman took my bag, gave me my ticket, and told me oh-so-subtly that he works for tips. Unfortunately, I had only a single dollar in my wallet, so I gave it all to him. The rest of the flight I was terrified he had kicked my bag or been rough enough with it to break the bottle of mead in it. I'd packed the mead because I still didn't know if Monika would make it, and I had a few other things for her too.

I got to security, and they asked to search my bag, so I let them. The man searching it pulled out all my books, my pens, and my stamps. Finally, he opened a flap I hadn't thought to look through and produced my scissors.

I told him to keep them. He gave me back my stuff and I went to catch my plane.

I sat down near the gate next to a very nice lady. I pulled out Ton Derks and started in on that, but the Benny Hinn morning worship service kept distracting me.

Instead of reading, I just talked to the nice lady. It turned out that she was flying to Baltimore to see her son who was in the army and bring her sister back to Columbus that night.

She was nervous because she'd never flown before. She asked to sit next to me, and I (of course) agreed. At about that time, it was announced that Baltimore was under a heavy fog (400 ft. visibility), and we might be delayed by as much as an hour.

Well, it wasn't that long, and we eventually got to board the plane. The nice lady did just fine on the plane. I got into Baltimore to change planes, and (while waiting for the ticket counter to open), a janitor came up to me and asked me a question:

"What do you get if you cross a donkey and a rose? One sweet-smelling piece of ass!"

He then refused to tell me any more jokes on the grounds that I hadn't laughed at his first joke.

So I transferred to a new flight, and found a very nice gentleman who knew a lot about the drive from Providence to Boston. He gave me several tips, like not to worry about time (since the cities are about 60 miles apart) and to go do what I wanted to do. He also told me to see if the Patriots were playing, because that would affect my travel time quite a bit.

On this flight, I got a drink and some peanuts. Amusingly, the packaging to the peanuts says: "Produced in a facility that processes peanuts and other nuts". Sometimes I'm afraid of how stupid we Americans really are.

Back on the ground, I went to get my rental car. I got a dark blue Saturn L200. At first, it was terribly uncomfortable, but as I settled in for the drive, I felt better in the car. The stupid power windows were next to the shift, though.

I had directions from the Avis guy, and so I drive to my hotel first. It was a beautiful drive. Amusingly, I was shocked at how beautiful it was, and how much I enjoyed the drive. I think I've always had the wrong impression of New England. From my history studies, I've gotten the impression that the northeast is an industrialized monster with factories everywhere. I must admit, I didn't see a single factory in New England. The leaves were just changing, and so I spent a lot of time gazing out the windows.

Even the drivers seemed better in New England. I drove at the speed limit, and was actually one of the fastest cars on the road. This is very different from the Midwest and Ohio, where a 65 mph speed limit actually means 80.

I pulled into my hotel at around 1 PM. Unfortunately, they didn't have any rooms ready for check in yet. They asked me if I minded waiting, and I said I didn't, so I went to lunch.

Across the street was a small mall which had various eating establishments, so I went there. I stopped at the ATM just inside and pulled out $80. I didn't think this would be enough, but it was a start. (I got home with $20 left of that original $80, so it actually was enough.)

I wandered through the mall, and about half way through, something caught my eye: there was a poster with a French maid, a nurse, and a catwoman in the shop window. I was utterly confused until I saw the name of the shop: Frederick's of Hollywood.

I really wanted to go in and look at their "selection" (for entertainment purposes only), but, honestly, a guy just can't do that in such a store. No, I needed a woman to go in with me.

Alas, there were none to be found.

I stopped at McDonald's on the mall and had a quick bite to eat, and then went back to the hotel. I checked in and found out immediately that the toilet didn't flush. I went back downstairs, told the person at the desk, and then asked about how to drive to Harvard. The lady behind the counter told me I shouldn't bother, but should just take the train and the subway. She said it'd probably cost me $50 to park for the remainder of the day down there. She gave me a schedule and directions to the station (very close).

So I drove up there, and found out I needed 2 singles to pay for parking (apparently, a $5 bill isn't good enough). So I drove back to the mall, bought a paper, and went back to the station. I parked, paid for parking, and went inside to purchase tickets.

I got a round trip fare for $5.50. In the station, there was also a Dunkin' Donuts, so I bought a Boston Cream doughnut. No, it didn't have anything to do with the fact that I was in Boston.

Well, I hung out and waited for the train. I actually called Tina from the Train station, but there was no answer and our machine didn't pick up. Knowing I had some time, I also gave Monika a call and let her know that I was in town, asking if she would be coming in too. She was a bit wishy-washy, so I told her I'd call her later to find out.

The train arrived, and I sat down. A half hour later, I was at North Station, which is where the commuter rail ends, and the subway begins (on that side of town). I ran over to the booth, bought a token ($1), and ran up to the platform. The green line train was already there, but I didn't get onto that one. I let it pass, and asked someone on the platform if that train would take me to Park Street, where I could get on the red line to Harvard. Turns out it would, so I waited for the next one.

I got on the next green line to show up, and rode to Park Street. As we were pulling in, I asked a lady next to me if she knew where I should go to get to Harvard, and she told me to follow her. So I did. We got onto the red line just in time, and I thanked her.

On the red line, there were two women speaking in what sounded like Lithuanian. One was probably 60, and the other was about 19. when I stood in front of them, the older one started talking animatedly, and the younger one looked at me, and then trailed her eyes down my body, stopping at my crotch. Then she blushed and looked away. The older lady staring unashamedly, though. The older lady continued to talk and the younger lady continued to blush, occasionally glancing down. Ah, well, that's what I get for wearing tight jeans on a bus and standing right at eye-level. And I know exactly what they were looking at. Even ruling out my ego, it was pretty obvious.

Well, I got off the train at Harvard, and came up into the light. I'd never seen so many hippies anywhere. It was like the 60's never died in Harvard Square. There were street musicians, anti-war protesters, and people handing out leaflets. The most frightening thing is that they were all different groups. It wasn't like I'd stumbled into a single protest: it was more like I'd stumbled into 10 of them in about 20 square feet!

Well, I wandered away, and asked a few people if they knew where Quincy Street was. No one had any idea. Finally, I just gave up and started walking. I looked up at a road sign, and, low and behold, I was already on Quincy Street. So I got to the Faculty Club and asked around.

I found the lecture at about 5:15. I sat and listened, and the subject matter was wonderful: it was on Text Styles and Textiles in Wales. It kinda rocked, actually.

As the lady talked, I scanned the room for Cei, knowing he'd be there. Well, having never met him before, I was going off a picture that Jenni showed me a few weeks prior. Of course, at this point, I was at the back of the room, so I was looking at the back of lots of heads, which was terribly unhelpful.

When the lecture finished, people started congregating and talking. I saw someone who was obviously looking for someone else, and he saw me, but there were loads of people between us, so I just patiently hung out.

When he got a chance, he pushed some chairs aside and got over to me. We shook hands, and I had found Cei. We talked for a bit, and then decided we should go where the food was being served. We went into the other room, and started eating. They had some great little pastries, basically like custard doughnuts, but really small. They rocked.

Cei and I talked for about two hours, completely ignoring everyone else. It was great to be able to talk to him, mainly because he knows so much about a lot of things I like to see and read.

Eventually, we'd talked for so long we got kicked out of the Faculty Club, so we found a Starbucks and sat down there to talk. We ended up talking almost until 11, and I had to get to the train station, so we went down to the subway and (after buying a token) got onto the red line back. I said goodnight and got onto the green line at Park Street, and then got back to the train station, where I had to wait about an hour for the next train out.

(For those of you keeping track at home, transportation was a total of $9.50 per day.)

I finally crawled into bed around midnight, and started calling. I called Tina first, left a message telling her I got in okay. Then I called Monika to see if she'd be coming up. She said she wasn't, so I got bummed, but we talked for a while. I even told her I had the mead, but she'd been screwed by her rental company and had no money. Honestly, I understood.

Next morning, I woke up and grabbed breakfast, and went back to the train station. I waited for the train, got down there, and jumped the subway. I made it about 5 minutes late to the first lecture, and was utterly confused coming into it a bit late. Unfortunately, the guy doing the "Celts in Egypt" talk wasn't there, so this was a different lecture. Good thing, because I would have kicked myself had I missed that paper.

Some of the highlights of that day included the following lectures:

John McDonald, "Water-Serpents and Demonic Cows: Some Resonances between Táin Bó Cúalnge and Rg Veda I.32". Aside from just having a cool title, some very striking and impressive parallels were drawn. It was a very good talk.

Grace Neville, "Dirt, Disorder and Dislocation: John Ryan, an Irish Traveler in Pre-revolutionary France". This was a paper on the journal of John Ryan, a regular joe Irishman, as he traveled through France. Some of the more amusing points: he never mentions meeting any French people, only Irishmen in bars; he complains rather constantly; and he seems to really miss England, where the civilized people live. Sounds about like I envision most Irish people.

Erik Larsen, "Cú Chulainn: God, Man, or Animal?". This paper described the changing view of Cú Chulainn through the Táin, and eventually concludes that the animal imagery outweighs the image of God or Man.

Jennifer Reid, "The Epistil nGalar and the Idea of Writing in Medieval Irish Literature". Not only was the presenter cute, but she was an awesome speaker. Basically, the paper discussed the importance of letters and letter writing, emphasizing the presentation rather than the contents. This was one of my top three presentations.
Cei and I had lunch at a little Vietnamese place in an indoor food court about a block from campus. After the lectures were over, we hung out for a while and talked. I have to say, Cei really is very intellegent.

I hopped the requisite train back to Woburn at North Station, and (as I often do on public transportation) I was looking for a hot girl to sit near. Well, I found one, and I sat down in front of her, and pulled out my notebook. At that time, I looked up and, across the aisle from me was a girl I hadn't seen when I sat down. She had dark, wavy hair (almost curly), beautiful eyes, and a very nicely shaped body. The conductor on the train was chasing people, and she was laughing at the conductor's antics, as I was. It was rather like we shared the joke.

I didn't say anything to her, but I did pull out a pen and I started writing a poem. I haven't done that in years, but she was so beautiful I didn't have a choice in the matter. I described her quite well, signed it, and then wrote at the bottom, "If no one has told you that you're beautiful today, it's about time." As the train came to a halt at my stop, I handed her the folded piece of paper. I doubt I'll ever see her again, unless my signature was neat enough to be legible and she Googles my name.

So I went back to my room. I stayed up late watching movies on HBO, and overslept the next morning.

The only inbound trains on the commuter rail on a Saturday morning are at 7 AM and 9 AM. Well, 9 AM would be too late, so I wanted to get up in time to catch the 7 AM train. I really, really wanted to see the paper on "Assimilating Ogam" that was being presented at 9:30, and knew that if I didn't catch the 7 AM train, I wouldn't make it to Harvard in time.

Well, I looked at the clock that morning at 6:55, and knew it was a lost cause. Always thinking, I decided to take my time and call a cab. So I went to the front desk (after a shower and shave) and asked them to call me a cab. I figured I'd take the cab to North Station (about 5 miles) and then take the subway from there.

The cab arrived, and I got in. I told the driver I needed to get to North Station, and asked how much that would be. I immediately got out when he told me it would be $40. I had decided to wait for the train.

Anyway, I arrived at Harvard at the beginning of the 10:15 lecture on Welsh Translation. It was a very interesting paper, and I enjoyed it. I managed to get the notes to "Assimilating Ogam", and I also grabbed a copy for Skip, because I thought he'd like it (I sent them off when I got home, with an apologetic note about not being able to provide actual notes as well).

This day also had some interesting speakers:
Kathryn Izzo, "The Arrows that Murder Sleep". This paper examined unrequited love and the tormented lover, and she mentioned something I hadn't ever thought about: if love always worked out, we wouldn't have stories about it!

Juliette Wood, "John Rhys as Folklorist". This paper opened up new insights for me about some sources, and it's given me the desire to pick up some of his books.
After the lectures that day, Cei was going to the dinner, and I was going back to my hotel to watch the OSU-Wisconson game. We all know what happened there, so I won't bother telling anyone. Damn Robert Reynolds.

I got up the next morning and tried to drive to Harvard. I got lost at least three times, but eventually I snagged a parking space right in front of Barker Center. Parking was free on Sunday, so I was set. It would also allow me to get out quicker than if I had tried to take the train back to Woburn.

I arrived very early (about 30 minutes before the organizers), and so I hit up some computer kiosks in the basement of Barker and updated my LiveJournal. Then I got to sit up in the conference room and relax. I ended up giving out my website to one of the presenters when I mentioned that I had an entire page or three dedicated to Esus. It was kind of nice. I hope she enjoys it and finds it useful.

The morning was packed with good papers. I was particularly impressed by several:
Elizabeth Willingham, "The Vine and the Cross in Icon and Design: The Origins and Continuing Influence of Medieval Celtic-influenced Religious Decoration, with Special Reference to Yale MS 229, and a Footnote on Celtic Design Elements in Contemporary Popular Culture". Lots of colour and beautiful manuscripts.

Alexandra Hartnett, "Introducing King Nuadha: Mythology and Politics in the Belfast Murals". This paper was accompanied by some beautiful colour slides from Ireland, and showed the political murals of Belfast. I was shocked at the beauty, and wished Americans could get better graffiti. I was amused that Nuadha was depicted in a very similar manner to the comic book hero Thor.

Brian Ó Broin, "Old Irish Desgabál and the Theology Underlying Christ's Ascension". I admit, I was occasionally bored at this lecture, but I woke up very quickly when I saw a relief depicting a very similar tree to the one Esus cuts down in the Trier relief. Though they aren't connected, it was shocking to see it.

David Fickett-Wilbar, "Cernunnos: Looking a Different Way". This was Cei's paper. I'd heard most of the paper over the first few days of the conference, just from talking to Cei, but this was the original reason I came to this conference, and I was not disappointed. It was very well done.

Sharon Paice-MacLeod, "Oenach Aimsire na mBan: Seasonal Work, Gender Roles, and an Early Irish Cycle of Myths". I learned a lot of cool things about the Celtic seasons and the calendar during this lecture. One of the more interesting things (which I had read, but never heard academically) was that Beltaine is not a time of marriage, but Lughnassadh is. Beltaine is actually a very unlucky time to get married at. She had an awesome handout, too.
When everything was said and done, I managed to get my (and Jenni's) copy of A Book of Pagan Prayer to Cei to have him sign them. He (of course) got mobbed by people asking questions, so he didn't get to sign the books immediately. It was 1:45 before I got the chance to say goodbye and hit the road, books signed and very satisfied with my conference experience.

I got lost again in Boston, and made it onto the interstate by about 2:30, lot later than I wanted to. There was a Red Sox game at Fenway (which I had to drive by), and a Patriots game I also had to get by. Despite that, I made it to the Providence airport about half an hour before my plane boarded. I got to the gate, and they asked for my boarding pass and ID. Well, I coughed up the boarding pass with no problem, but I couldn't find my ID. I was deathly afraid I'd left it at the ticket counter, especially since I asked if I'd need it again, and the guy had said no. I didn't panic, though, and I had the nice lady call the ticket counter and ask. She said they hadn't seen it.

Just before boarding the plane, though I found it. I'd stuffed it in the wrong place in my wallet. I felt pretty stupid.

In Baltimore, I saw something for Monika, and bought that, since her birthday is coming up. I called Tina and told her I'd be in around 9, and asking her to pick me up. She said okay, I got on the plane and flew home. Everything went off without incident.

In all, the HCC rocked. If you didn't go, well, I'd feel sorry for you, but I had too much fun.


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