Sunday, June 14, 2009

Belgium trip--little details

Over at W4 I've put up a post on my Belgium trip. It's good to be home, though the conference was great.

I got to see a little bit of Leuven while walking to and from the conference. Lots of cobbled streets and narrow sidewalks. Watch out for the bicyclists! There was a park we walked through going to dinner and to and from the hotel, and there was some sort of beautiful bird song going on there every time we walked through. I asked several people who lived or had lived in the town what it could be, but no one seemed to know. It sounded a bit like recordings of a nightingale that I have heard, but if so, there are an awful lot of nightingales in Leuven, they sing all day long, and they are very loud. I never caught a glimpse of it. But it would be nice to think that I've now heard a real nightingale, as we don't have them on this side of the Atlantic.

I missed my chance to be shown the little cathedral (as cathedrals go) on the first full-length day of the conference. I had arrived with a bad backache from a combination of the previous Friday's horseback riding lesson and a very long plane ride on Monday-Tuesday. So when a local student offered to conduct a bit of a tour of the town over lunch on Wednesday, I had to decline. I don't know that there would have been time for both lunch and the tour in any event. By Friday, the last day, I felt more like doing a little extra walking and wanted to see the inside of the Cathedral, but at 9 a.m. when we tried the door it was locked, at lunch we barely had time to catch lunch and get back, and at 5:30 p.m. when we tried the door it was locked. So I missed out on that but did get to see genuine flying buttresses on the outside and saints in their niches all up and down the sides of the town hall just across the square. I also heard (from the same student) the story of how and why the Nazis burned the university library there in Leuven to punish the Belgians for resisting the Nazi invasion, on the orders of their king and as a matter of principle.

We met likable philosophers, brilliant philosophers, interesting philosophers, and curmudgeonly philosophers, but if I start giving descriptions, they might read them sometime and be embarrassed, even if the descriptions are complimentary.

Airplane travel is absolutely not my bag. By the time I got to sleep last night, I felt like I had in actuality awakened from a slightly boring nightmare in which one walks endlessly along long passages and around huge halls, looking for something undefined, sits forever in dingy rooms on uncomfortable seats, and answers never-ending security questions. The feeling of having no true privacy or relaxation for something on the order of fifteen or more hours is unbelievably difficult, I find.

So all in all a very successful conference, and I hope to write some papers on the strength of its inspiration and hope to keep in touch with some of my new friends. I just wish the next one could be at Notre Dame!

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