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Greetings from Lexington, KY

Here I am on my annual trip to Lexington. I come here each April for the Foreign Language conference at UK. I generally have a good enough time to question Eliot's claim that April is the cruelest month.

I got a call Wednesday morning telling me that my room in the Holiday Inn Express wasn't going to be available, and that they offered me a room at a place called Candlewood Suites a half mile away. It's all fine with me, I'm not one to complain. The thing is that the shuttle bus to campus doesn't come to this hotel. Campus is about an hour's walk from here, but, you know?, I really don't mind. I actually enjoy the walk. I'm staying in an industrial area, laced with black and hispanic neighborhoods. As you get closer to downtown you notice that the socio-economic status starts to rise. And, by the way, the old 19th century houses in Lexington, made of brick, many of them run-down, are awesome. I couldn't bring the camera because I lost it last Saturday. Had I brought it, I would have taken pictures of some of these houses that I saw during my walks to campus.

Wednesday night, the colleagues that I rode up with and I ate at a Cajun joint. Cheap and good. I had a plate of jambalaya and two beers for $9.50. Granted, I ate off a paper plate with a plastic fork, but still!

My panel was 2:00 to 5:00 on Thursday. So I got to sleep in. I lounged in my hotel room, drinking coffee, listening to Nick Lowe on YouTube, and solving all the puzzles in the USA Today. After my long walk, but before getting to campus, I stopped at a place and had what in New Jersey is called a "ripper," with sauerkraut and mustard. In Kentucky they just call it a deep-fried hot dog, but I kind of prefer the New Jersey nomenclature.

I chaired the panel ("Memoria histórica en México"), meaning that I introduced the other speakers and made sure that we kept on schedule (20 minutes for a paper, 10 minutes for discussion). I realize that while I've always considered myself a not-so-ambitious young scholar, little by little I've become an old fart ... I mean, elder statesman. I actually had a few people come in specifically to hear my talk... or maybe they were there by accident. Meanwhile, the Mexican graduate students who read after the coffee break read to a crowd of like, three. Anyway the panel went well, and the business part of the conference was over.

In the evening I went to the Spanish-language poetry recital, where my friend, boss, and colleague, Santiago read, along with other poets from Spain, Mexico and Colombia. Afterwards Santiago and the other two colleagues (with whom I rode on the way up) went to a fancy restaurant called "Portofino." I couldn't decide what to order so I started out with chowder and followed it up with fried squid and shrimp. Not bad. Oporto for dessert. Then off to a bar for a celebratory shot of bourbon or two. A guy hit on me, but I told him, sorry, I bat right handed. At least he thought I was cute.

Today I slept in till around 10:30, and lounged about until almost one. I made the one-hour trek to campus, stopping twice before I got there. First for a haircut at a barber shop, and then for lunch. I flirted with the idea of eating at a French restaurant I ran across. I could have started with onion soup and continued with quiche ... but it was a little "cher." Especially considering the money I spent the night before at Portofino. So instead I went to a place where I could get a big slice of pizza with three toppings for $3.75. I had artichoke hearts, red onions, and green peppers as my toppings. I washed it down with a delicious pint of Czech beer (Staropramen) from the tap ... American beer fanatics love their IPAs and their hops. But for me, the ideal beer is a German or Czech lager.

I headed to the university where I listened to papers on Mexican film. I actually interviewed the chair of that panel several years ago at the MLA conference in Philadelphia. I don't think he remembered me. I'm glad to see that he found a good job. (I'm assuming the job he has is a good one).

This evening I sort of "crashed" a party at the house of the head of the Spanish Department at KU. Santiago was invited and I tagged along. The food and drink was great. The husband, a chemist, roasted a turkey and made gumbo. The conversation was good. I rubbed shoulders with some people, whatever that means, and chatted away in Spanish with the head of the Spanish department at Pennsylvania University (a freakin' Ivy League School) along with the man of the house, whose work was nominated for a Nobel prize. Out of my element perhaps , but I faked it pretty well and took advantage of my natural charm and wit. They never guessed that as a scholar I'm a relative nobody.

Tomorrow I'll ride back to Carolina with Santiago, who missed his calling as a Formula One race car driver. I bummed a tranquilizer pill from another colleague to keep my fear and anxiety in check during the drive. On the positive side, we'll make good time.

Next year, I think I'll try to go to a horse race, and eat at that French restaurant.


Thanks, Jim

My only regret (I mean my only regret at the moment) is that I didn't sit at their grand piano and tap out some blues or some Ellington.

And, I realize now, that there was even somebody there from the Royal Academy of the Language, the folks who write the dictionary. Had I realized it, I would have cornered him and asked him a couple of questions.

June 2019



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