Although the unofficial rallying cry for some of us among the NYI faculty and staff has become “Is it July yet?” there are moments throughout the year that refurbish the connections among various subsets of the people I’ve come to know and to care for a great deal via my trips to St. Petersburg. Obviously, the vast majority of these take place in the electronic realm, whether via e-mail or occasionally video…
(this, by the way, is one of the most wonderful things friends have ever done for me…and I’ve been pretty fortunate to have a lot of good friends in my life, mind you.)
All of those means of keeping in touch and maintaining immensely meaningful friendships are quite important, but there are also the occasional moments where circumstance actually puts us in the same places at the same time (like last spring in NYC) and one such moment just concluded, which was a quite nice surprise that came together on pretty short notice.
My NYI colleague Kathi Wiedlack and her partner Masha Neufeld both were in Toronto (where Masha is doing research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) and had some time during which they wanted to come to Montréal for a visit. Initially, we had also tried to make some plans for Kathi to give presentations on her book, Queer Feminist Punk: An Anti-Social History, but the combination of the short timeframe and the early stage of the semester (when planning at academic institutions consists mostly of panicked coping, rather than skilled improvisation) scuttled that hope fairly quickly. Nevertheless, they came to stay with us in Montréal for four nights — Thursday through Sunday — during which time we managed to do quite a bit of rambling about in the city to give them a sense of things.
They arrived late on Thursday, having taken the Megabus from Toronto, which (as is its usual habit) was about an hour late in arriving. Still, for the price and for the WiFi en route, it’s not a bad trip, though the long day of travel along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence had them pretty wiped out and they fell asleep almost immediately after being greeted at the door by the curious dogs.
On Friday, we took an extended ramble through the city, starting up on the Plateau at the Drawn and Quarterly bookshop, where we dropped a bit of cash on some excellent reading material, but also where Kathi promptly sold a couple of copies of her book, which I don’t think are going to take long to be snapped up by D + Q’s clientele.
They immediately set her book out on a display table, amidst some pretty great company.
After that, we ambled further down the Plateau to a pair of Montréal institutions, St. Viateur Bagel…
…and the Dieu du Ciel brewpub for a bit of refreshment in the form of food and drink. A subway ride later, we were back home for a mellow Friday night in Pointe Saint-Charles, punctuated by a dinner of rotis from our phenomenal neighborhood Jamaican place, Boom-J’s.
Saturday began with a trip to the Musee des Beaux-Arts for their long-awaited show on the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. I saw the controversial show of his that made the rounds of the United States back when I was a freshman in college at Boston University in the fall of 1990, so it was interesting to revisit some of those same pieces in twenty-six years later in a context that was almost entirely devoid of the controversy that marked that earlier show at the ICA in Boston. After a meandering trip back home afterwards, we rested up to prepare for dinner at one of our favorite places to eat in a city filled with good choices, East Africa. They most certainly did not disappoint and we had a lovely dinner, accompanied by a wide-ranging conversation that touched on the commonalities and differences from our various backgrounds in Austria, Russia, Germany, Canada, and the U.S. We dropped Masha and Kathi off at Katacombes for a punk show, but they showed up back at the house about ninety minutes later, having been unable to get in for lack of ID (a pretty rare occurrence in Montréal…).
On Sunday, we started slowly, beginning with brunch at Ma Tante Quiche, where Steph is working until she begins school again in January. From there, we headed up to the city again, this time to take in the view from the belvedere atop Mont-Royal.
Kathi and Masha headed off down the western slope of the mountain to explore the city some more and I drove back to the apartment to get some reading and writing done in preparation for the work-week. By the time they got in at around 9:30 that evening, the day had been well-spent by everyone and a mellow evening ensued.
On Monday, we packed up the car fairly early and Masha, Kathi, and I (along the Gogol and Frances, the dogs) made the two-hour drive down to Potsdam, where we had managed to get quite a busy schedule of talks and readings set up for both of them, thanks to the goodness and curiosity of several of my SUNY Potsdam colleagues. We arrived around 1 and had some lunch before I went off to walk the dogs and Masha and Kathi put the finishing touches on their first pair of presentations.
Around 3:00, we left for campus and I dropped them off with my wonderful colleague, Christine Doran, who heads up the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at SUNY Potsdam, while I took care of some business around the department. At 4:00, we made our way over to the Center for Diversity, where Kathi gave an hour-long talk on her book to a group of students and faculty before taking questions and comments for another thirty minutes.
After a ninety-minute break for dinner and mental restoration, we were at it again at 7:00 in the same space. This time, Masha and Kathi gave a joint presentation about a forthcoming article in which they discuss a 2005 song entitled “Люди Инвалиды” (“Disabled People” in literal English translation, but “Dangerous and Moving” on the English version of the album) by the Russian musical duo t.A.T.u. in the context of comparative disability studies.
Although the crowd for this talk was smaller — Monday night in September is a tough gig anywhere, but especially in Potsdam — but still very engaged and they gave a great, nuanced presentation that generated some excellent discussion afterwards.
By the time they were done, it had been a pretty long day, so we went back to the house and called it a night fairly early, especially with an early start planned for a busy Tuesday.
I had three classes to teach on Tuesday, so I left for campus around 9:00 in the morning, having given Kathi and Masha directions to campus. it was a lovely, unseasonably warm day, so the fifteen-minute walk from my house to campus was a nice preamble to their joint presentation in Christine’s Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course at 11:00. They presented some of their experiences as academics, activists, and researchers for a group of about twenty-five students in that class, in the process presenting them with a very different and very compelling model of how one can walk the walk in a variety of environments that are still not as welcoming to the putative “other” (whether in terms of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, race, etc.) as they believe themselves to be.
They headed back out in the wild world of Potsdam, NY after their presentation and I headed back into the classroom for my two afternoon courses. The last obligation of theirs on campus was a talk by Kathi at 7:00 p.m. on the subject of the Marvel Comics character of the Black Widow, and how her changing representation through the years is indicative of certain attitudes about Russian/Soviet identity in American culture.
I had specifically requested this talk after seeing Kathi give an earlier version of it at NYI this summer…
…and the reprise did not disappoint in the least.
An eager group of students representing several departments showed up, as did a number of faculty, and Kathi’s one-hour talk stimulated a discussion afterwards that could have gone on well into the evening had we not had to cut it off after about forty-five minutes. Kathi, Masha, and I went out to a local watering-hole afterwards, accompanied by my friend and colleague, Jim Donahue, where we continued the conversation until about 11:00 p.m.
On Wednesday morning, Masha and Kathi got a small taste of Adriondack living as we went to the beach in Hannawa Falls (just south of Potsdam) for a morning swim with the dogs…
…prior to taking them to Cornwall, Ontario to catch the train back to Toronto. The absurdly warm September we’ve had meant that the water was still quite tolerable, even in late September (long after swimming season has usually ended for those not graced will full-body fur…). After the swim, we packed up the car for the thirty-minute drive to just across the border, where we said our goodbyes (for now) and put them on the train heading west.
All in all, it was a nice chance to spend some time with a couple of very bright, very interesting, very kind people and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who participated to make it possible for them to interact with students and faculty at SUNY Potsdam. A little taste-spoon of NYI in September can certainly help make the long stretch until it’s July again tolerable. Hopefully, there are some more such moments in the offing…