Monday, April 14, 2008

NEWCA '08

I was, in a sense, really not looking forward to going to NEWCA this year. I was traveling with a not insubstantial negative balance in my bank account, meaning I couldn't put gas in my car (or in myself, for that matter; planning a three-day weekend that includes literally one meal you've prepaid for is a bit depressing). I was stressed out that nearly the entirety of conference planning fell to me, and although everyone made her own photocopies, I still had to make a late night trip to Kinko's to photocopy materials, spending over $40 to make copies for our presentation the night before leaving; and then wound up collating the photocopies alone late after 10 p.m. the night before the presentation because everyone else was too tired - nor did we even run through the presentation outline we had prepared a few weeks ago.

It was really the details of planning that were negative. The drive both up to Vermont and back to New York were absolutely fine, despite the rain in both directions. I brought the GPS Chris got me for my birthday last February, and even though I had printed out Google Maps' directions, I had picked up Vhary and Patricia in Brooklyn and missed my turn in leaving the city, so the map's directions were moot, which is when the GPS came in handy. We took I-87 all the way upstate - I took a break from driving for a while, and Patricia took over - and were a bit surprised when the GPS Lady said, "Prepare to take the ferry." We were, in fact, led to a ferry that turned out to be closed for the season, but someone gave us directions to another ferry (and, at this point the shortest route to our desired destination in Vermont), and once we actually got the the ferry we were able to board right away, with no wait, and our little detour only cost us perhaps 45 minutes or an hour.

The perk of having been waylaid on our way to Vermont was that we came across
Ausable Chasm, which was a surprise. There we were, driving along in the rain (and not realizing a ferry was in the cards), when we drove across a bridge and saw this chasm, which took all of us by surprise. I'd never heard of it, although Chris did - apparently it's fairly well-known in the area.

The conference itself was a lot of fun, and for that reason alone I'm glad I went. The keynote was amazing - probably one of the best I've heard. One of the books we'd read for my tutoring class last semester was
The Everyday Writing Center, which is (was?) authored by five women who gave the keynote together. It was a very funny keynote, very lighthearted but well-presented. At the last minute it was discovered that I, in fact, had a camcorder (whereas Harry had forgotten his), so I taped their keynote. The concurrent sessions were good, too (at least the ones that I went to): Transgressive Behaviors in the writing Center, and a few minutes of Case Study Analyses of Writers with Autism. (Even though I've previously sat through three sessions in a row, I'd been running nonstop since Thursday morning, only stopping to go to bed, and I just needed time to stop, so I didn't stay for the entire session.)

And the University of Vermont campus is
huge! And very, very pretty - some gorgeous buildings and architecture all around. We got lost for about half an hour trying to find my car (which is where I was storing the handouts for our session), and were a tad late to our own session), and got lost randomly a few other times driving around the UVM campus. (I really did appreciate having the GPS to get around both campus and Burlington.)

And at least the drive home yesterday was pretty uneventful, aside from the GPS trying to redirect us back to the ferry.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

CCCC '08 New Orleans - Day 4

My last two days here in New Orleans were quiet, although I still managed to get out and be busy. By Saturday morning I was really just tired and not in quite in the mood to get up when the alarm went off, and go places, but I made myself anyway, and I have to admit I'm glad I did: I'd made a reservation for a Saturday morning harbor cruise on the Steamboat Natchez Riverboat, and thought, what the heck, I need to eat, and even ordered lunch on board. Got disembarked a bit late, and it was overcast and cool, so I could have brought a light sweater, but I didn't feel cold until the bitter end. A member of the crew narrated some of the history of the buildings and boats we passed down the Mississippi River, and after about 45 minutes or an hour we just cruised along (in a very lazy sort of way), and some background music was put on instead. It shouldn't have surprised me that the Mississippi River is still so industrial, but after we passed New Orleans proper there were really nothing but boats on both banks, or floating on down past us.


Lunch was pretty good, and I'm glad I ordered it: Salad, gumbo, jambalaya, fried chicken, and bread pudding. And lots of coffee and iced tea. Plus two bars (drinks were pushed pretty hard), which I just tuned out, but at least one could wander through the steam engine room and talk to the engineer on duty. 

After a two-hour cruise and disembarking, I strolled through the French Market, up to Central Grocery, where I finally got my hands on a muffuletta sandwich, which Chris had told me about and which was one of the best sandwiches I've ever had. The entire store smelled like an Italian grocery - which it was - and in hindsight I wish I had looked around a bit more, but I was a bit worried about getting back to the convention site (which was a mile and a half away and therefore going to be walked, sore feet be damned) for my session. I'm glad I double checked the time; the session started an hour earlier than I thought it did. 

The session went fine; one of the participants hadn't been able to make it, so there were only two panelists, myself, and four people in the audience; it was very informal, and we all just sat around in a circle. One of the panelists didn't really seem too interested in chatting, or even introducing himself, and as soon as the session was over he and everyone else (except the other panelist, with whom I chatted) hightailed it out of there.

And it was at that point I myself just went back to my hotel. I had been told about tours of the 9th Ward, and I had also wanted to go meander around one of the cemeteries, but I hadn't even known tours of the 9th Ward were a possibility until it was too late, and I was too tired to try to walk several more miles to look around a cemetery a few hours before nightfall. So I think those will be two things to keep on my list for the next visit.

And Sunday - well, very little happened on Sunday. I had just enough time to go to church, come back to the hotel to check out, and then get to the airport (where I had the luxury of sitting around for a few hours; fun). I had a good time in New Orleans but it's good to be home!

Friday, April 4, 2008

CCCC '08 New Orleans - Day 3

So, no conference for me today. Today was the day of GirlTourism (tm). And it was really a fabulous day.

I got my days mixed up very slightly and realized late last night that my reservation for the swamp tour was this morning. I forget how, but a week or two ago I had discovered that there are, in fact, swamp tours to be gone on. I didn't know at the time just how many there were - since I've gotten here I've seen quite a few advertised - but the Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour seemed promising. There were only three of us on the tour, which was actually on some alternately privately- and federally-owned canals that ran through the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Add to this that apparently this Jean Lafitte fellow was a pirate; I got to hold two alligators (which was seriously awesome); the weather was gorgeous - sunny and very warm in the sun, but not muggy (not until much later in the day, at any rate), and very breezy; and our tour guide, Captain Jamie, was just a very nice guy who got the alligators  to come right up to our boat by tossing them marshmallows, of all things, and told many, many corny jokes (Me: "Why do you feed them marshmallows?" Capt. Jamie: "Because they're marsh animals."). Added bonus: There was the option of transportation to and from my hotel. It was a good long tour, about 90 minutes, and the land was beautiful, and it smelled like nature, which I guess is obvious, but it smelled fresh and green, and I forgot how much I love that smell.

I hung out in the hotel for a little while before going to the Old Ursuline Convent. I was under the impression that there were tours at specific times, but I'm glad I called before I went because it was open a bit later than I had been told previously. I got there a few minutes before 4, when the office was closing, but I was told that that's just when they close the front gates, and although the tour was self-guided, that I was welcome to wander throughout the gardens and lower level and church as long as I liked. It didn't take long, but it was beautiful and cool and peaceful. The gardens were beautifully kept, and the attached chapel had all these very bright, vividly painted statues, sanctuary, and Stations of the Cross in French. The docents told me that Mass hadn't been said there since Katrina because of the severe shortage of priests; between that, and a lot of older parishioners not coming back and St. Louis Cathedral being three blocks down - and that being a minor basilica, and garnering a lot of local and tourist attention, etc. - the Convent just didn't have the ability to have Mass anymore. As it is, I was told, they rely on tourism, which really is a shame. 

I poked my nose into St. Louis Cathedral for a few minutes before wandering through Jackson Square and down to the French Market in search of a muffuletta from Central Grocery, but I got there just as they were closing, so I decided to have more beignets and an iced cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde. (I fully support these kinds of chains, in which I get tasty treats that occasionally ruin my dinner.) I sat outside, listened to some live music, and watched people walk by. At which point I realized that I should start to meander back to the hotel.

But it took me a long time to get back to the hotel because on the way I stopped at the Riverwalk Marketplace. I'm not too keen on shopping this trip - it's not fun to do alone, anyway, although I did look into some stores at the French Market; but that was just as well because by the time I got there it was about 6:30 and the whole place closes at 7. Just enough time to pick up some sushi to go (I got a Mardis Gras roll - "Cajun crawfish inside, tuna, avocado, masago outside and crunchy on top"; and a Premium Spicy roll - "spicy salmon and Tempura flakes, topped with spicy chopped tuna") and sit outside looking at the river before it started to pour. 

Fortunately the rain didn't last long and the walk home was actually very pleasant. Night was falling, the wind blew, the wind was clear and clean and a bit sweet, and warm and cool at the same time. I wish I could open the window in my hotel room. 

Thursday, April 3, 2008

CCCC '08 New Orleans - Day 2

I was a very busy person today. Or at least it seemed so at the time, and looking back I feel I didn't do as much as I thought I did. I had agreed to do some reviewing for KAIROS, so I picked up some information from the guy who was in charge of handing out said information to volunteers, and was on my merry way. I went first to a session at the Computer Connection, which turned out to be very interesting: "Low-Stakes Writing with WordPress Blogs," in which the presented discussed how he used blogs in his classroom, and the problems and benefits he encountered. (I'll be writing up a review of this session so I don't want to repeat myself.) What was especially helpful, though, was that he included in his handouts the URL to his own spring semester assignment, as well a study of blogs being used in post-secondary education.

I got a chance to walk around the Exhibit Hall for a little while, but I couldn't muster too much enthusiasm, so I walked over to the Riverwalk Marketplace in search of lunch, but I got distracted by the beignets and cafe au lait from Cafe du Monde. I get the impression that it's a thing down here, and it was on my list of places to find, so I munched happily before heading off to Patricia's session, in which she spoke about her experiences working with the South African universities' writing centers and tutor training.

I met up with Meridith at this point at the next session: "Changing Writing Assessment: Building Active Collaboration among High Schools and 2-Year and 4-Year Colleges." This one turned out to be unexpectedly interesting (I had been planning on going to a different session but decided to tag along with Meridith instead.) English teachers from different levels had been collaborating to improve their students' writing, with some interesting results. I got some good handouts and was glad I went. (This is the short version, of course.)

Jessica, the doctoral student from St. John's I had met yesterday, was giving her presentation today, so I went to her session and stayed for that. She did well, and had taken much of Harry's advice. I didn't stay for the other two presentations, opting to go back to my hotel and nap for a little while, since I was really tired and hadn't slept well the night before (and had to be up fairly early).

I slept so long - well, only an hour and a half, perhaps - that I managed to miss the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which I was partially unhappy about since there were two or three I wanted to go to, but not amazingly disappointed, since I was so tired. I probably should have gone back to the conference in the evening, but instead I opted for trying to find dinner in the French Quarter. Let me tell you - beignets, as a food group and as a meal are wonderful, but sustain you through the day, they do not. Even though I had found two places to try for dinner, the first place was too busy, but the second choice, Petunia's, was a very quiet place a block off Bourbon Street.

Although crepes seemed to be their speciality, or at least a large part of their menu, I opted for the deep fried crab fingers appetizer, which were pretty darn tasty; and for the entree, fried catfish, which was gorgeous, with fried okra, which was amazing, and some of the best tartar sauce I've ever had. (I didn't even get to the red stuff.) I think the tartar sauce may have had dill in it, I'm not sure, but it was fabulous. (Stupid superlatives.) The ladies at the next table ordered a dessert that was delivered literally aflame: The Flaming Dame Nellie Melba Crepe (sliced peaches, vanilla ice cream, and a raspberry brandy sauce that apparently "delighted the famous opera diva"; this is the lady for whom peach Melba was created). And it was huge! These two ladies had opted to split the dessert, but half of it was still left, so they offered the remainder to both me and a gentleman who was also dining alone. I'm not a big fan of peaches, but boy, it hit the spot. And I was glad to have tried it, because I was stuffed from dinner, but curious about their crepes and had wanted to try just a small amount of one.

None of this was healthy in the slightest, and there was a lot of it - so much so that I took about half the catfish and perhaps 2/3 the okra back the hotel with me.  But it was a fantastic dinner, and friendly service, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

CCCC '08 New Orleans - Day 1

Today was arrival day here in New Orleans - I guess depending on whether or not conference attendees were going to workshops, which I was not. Chris got me to the airport in a timely, fairly awake fashion, and check in went smoothly; because I managed not to fall asleep all the way to the airport (and I did close my eyes a bit on the ride there), I rewarded myself with some pretzel sticks a la Auntie Anne's, and an orange scone and iced tea from Au Bon Pain. (The scone, I have to say, was actually good - and it even had icing on it! Shocking. But still good.)

Of all things, I ran into Writing Center Director Patricia at the terminal; we had booked the same flight, even though of course we weren't sitting together. I did sit next to a very nice (and very chatty) publishing rep, though, and then proceeded to run into two former Stony Brook University acquaintances while waiting for the airport-hotel shuttle. It was fairly surreal, actually. I made it to the hotel, took a shower, decompressed, and was very glad to see that the Wi-Fi that was advertised as available in all rooms was, in fact, available.  All good things so far.

I wandered down to the convention site, picked up a schedule, and went off in search of Harry and Meridith, and found neither. Eventually I heard from Harry, who was, in fact, not at the convention site, but at his hotel back in the direction from which I had come, so I wandered into the French Quarter, got mildly lost, got very sweaty (so much for the shower), and found him in a wonderfully air-conditioned hotel, coaching one of his doctoral students with her presentation. Eventually (after a good long time) we got in touch with Meridith and various other doctoral students (including an adjunct from my undergraduate days; she's now a doctoral student at St. John's University), and made our way to Remoulade, which was around the corner, and, I have to say, a truly wonderful establishment. I wound up with a combination called "a taste of the bayou," which came with crawfish pie, a half an hour of jambalaya (which was just excellent), and turtle soup (which I had in place of jambalaya).

Eventually everyone wandered off, and just Harry, Elizabeth, and I were left. Harry and Elizabeth decided to find a drink around the corner, and invited me to come along, but I was more in the mood to take a walk. Actually, what I wanted to do was to take a nighttime walk along the Mississippi River, but by this time it was about 10 p.m. and I didn't really want to be wandering around in potentially dangerous neighborhoods alone. I think maybe that's something to do another night, when it's a bit earlier.

Tomorrow: The convention geekery officially begins!