Conference Travel: The Ridiculous and the Sublime

I am back from my conference travel and I have oodles of things to tell you!  I’ve also got pictures, but — sadly! — the one thing I most wish I could have photographed will have to live on only in my memory and your imagination.

The conference itself was quite nice, and I got to see two of my friends present their material (though I had to miss seeing another friend, who presented in the last session of all, after I’d had to leave – major bummer) and of course I presented my own paper, in what turned out to be a rather interesting panel.  I won’t say much more about it than this:  The woman who chaired our panel did not read a paper, but rather rambled on vaguely about a bunch of things of which she was “not a fan.”  These things included, explicitly: short stories, stream of consciousness, writing as therapy, and editing. Implicitly, she was evidently also not a fan of: argumentative writing with clear thesis statements, pants with a zipper. The one image I wish I had photographed was this woman, in her Halloween socks, stretch Lycra pants, and veterinary scrubs-type top emblazoned with pictures of cats.  Sadly, sadly.

Let’s move on to the things I did photograph!  One of the perks of conference travel is that we get VERY reduced rates on VERY nice hotels (recall, if you will, my deep, deep love for the InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco!) and these are also often paid for by the university.  This time, we got to stay in the very hotel where, allegedly, F. Scott Fitzgerald met the gangster who inspired Jay Gatsby and where he set the wedding of Tom and Daisy Buchanan!  I KNOW!  As a huge Modern Novel Geek, I practically had to change my underwear upon learning this knowledge.  (Luckily I later found an underwear shop; more on that later.)

The hotel itself, regardless of the Fitzgeraldian reputation, was a phenomenon in glamor:

Looking out at the opulent hotel lobby from my perch Above It All. Not pictured: several ten-ton crystal chandeliers.
Looking out at the opulent hotel lobby from my perch Above It All. Not pictured: several ten-ton crystal chandeliers.

I had to make this a soft focus so as not to terrify you with its beauteous detail.  You’re welcome.

In each room was this mysterious box, which opened out onto the hallway side of the door:

Shoe-shine receptacle. Inside: a shoe horn and a cloth shoe bag to protect the shined shoes.
Shoe-shine receptacle. Inside: a shoe horn and a cloth shoe bag to protect the shined shoes.

One of my friends guessed it was a place to put your shoes if you wanted them shined, and when I later investigated the situation, I found a bunch of shoe accoutrements inside.  I can respect a hotel that is willing to give this much love, ritual, and attention to guests’ shoes, let me tell you.

This next thing, oh, OH! THIS NEXT THING.  This is just a small section of the bar area at the Old Seelbach Bar, where the list of Bourbons is approximately a mile long.

Hundreds of bourbons for your indulgence and pleasure. Why I do believe I will.
Hundreds of bourbons for your indulgence and pleasure. Why I do believe I will.

It’s all dark wood and jazz bands and mysterious old-style cocktails involving two kinds of bitters and friendly local gentlemen with fewer than the standard number of teeth but more than the standard amount of social graces.

On the last day I was there, we all went out for a ridiculously tasty brunch in a neighborhood where old shops like this one are either standing vacant or are being re-tooled into brunch restaurants and home-accessory boutiques.

A (sadly long closed) textile shop near where we ate breakfast.
A (sadly long closed) textile shop near where we ate breakfast.

I can imagine this business thriving just as well as the hotel 90 years ago, but while the hotel has been bought out, restored, and re-established, this shop has not.  Does the hotel’s excess seem ridiculous to me now? Do I care?

Other relics of more prosperous times in that neighborhood included this stained glass awning:

Stained glass awning outside the breakfast joint.
Stained glass awning outside the breakfast joint.

From the street, this would be hidden behind the jaunty brunch sign, but it was clearly visible upon exiting the restaurant.  Glad I noticed it.

And that about does it for my travel recap.  Tomorrow: my brutal and bloody war with an optometrist!

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4 thoughts on “Conference Travel: The Ridiculous and the Sublime

  1. John February 25, 2009 / 2:12 am

    Nice diggs! Did you try ALL the bourbons? My hotel, while not as grand as the hotel in your photos, had a flirty, French-speaking concierge and an awesome breakfast.

    It is difficult to understand a store that sells curtains, window blinds, dresses and … underwear?

  2. Vivienne Haigh Wood February 25, 2009 / 6:27 am

    OH MY GOD THERE WERE SHOE SHINING ACCOUTREMENT IN THAT BOX?!?! AMAZING! AMAZING!

  3. Ruby February 25, 2009 / 4:08 pm

    Please please tell me you had some shoes shined. That would have been worth all the faintsy business travel in the world.

  4. Alfina the Vague February 25, 2009 / 9:22 pm

    J – I did not get to try all of the bourbons, but I did try four different ones: Basil Hayden, Four Roses, Woodford Reserve, and Bulleit (which is my regular choice). The first two were probably my favorites of the new ones. Re the underwear, yeah. I would hate to be picking out underwear while the shoppers around me were looking at window treatments…

    VHW – I know! Not a lot of stuff, but a nice shoe horn I totally should have stolen.

    R – Sadly no! I know, I am so lame! It’s truly shameful. (Of course I bet the service costs plenty.)

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