Last Thursday morning my wife and I left Texas, leaving our children with grandpa and grandma, and headed for St Paul, MN, for our first American Chesterton Society conference. After our cabby took the "long way" from the airport to the St Thomas campus, earning himself at least an extra $17 (read as: one less book that I could buy), we arrived on the wrong side of campus. A kind college student directed us towards the opposite corner of the campus and we set off to join the conference.
After getting checked in and dropping off our luggage we went down to see the action and immediately started recognizing faces: hey there's Fr Jaki! and there's Dale Ahlquist! and there's Joseph Pearce! and look, there's a guy tapping a keg! Nathan Allen graciously provided his homebrew for the conference, brewed under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham; I was blessed with the opportunity to drink some of it while visiting with Nathan and with Joseph Pearce, and to talk about important things (like beer). And there was Stilton cheese and homemade wine.
The conference allowed me to put faces with a few names that I see online or in print. Many more writers were in attendance than I was able to meet, but a few people I met whose names you might recognise are: Kyro Lantsberger, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Battle With the Dragon) and one of the gang here at Chesterton & Friends; David Beresford, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Inn) of mushroom and mustard fame; Peter Floriani, Dr Thursday of GKC's Favourite, a man of enormous laughter (hee hee!); Nancy Brown, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Stars) and blogger at TBOTACS; Sean Dailey, editor of Gilbert Magazine, who comments here and there as Chestertonian; and Ted Olsen, of "Four Man Feast" fame, who gave me some tips on cooking the bacon and eggs just right.
A beautiful component of the conference were the book sellers. It was distributivism in practice as the small dealers of books set up their tables for business. Each vendor had his own flavor; I spent most of my book-browsing time in ecstasy at the Notting Hill Books table, which had a beautiful ChesterBelloc section containing many first editions. Gier Hasnes, Norwegian bibliographer of Jilbert [sic], said it succinctly when he asked during his presentation "Don't you want to run out there to the book tables and buy everything before anybody else can get to it?" My wife attended the conference with me possibly for this very reason: to temper my book purchasing. I did manage to take home a very fine hardback of Belloc's The Servile State, and a reading copy of Cruise of the Nona.
Nancy Brown, over at TBOTACS (TEE-bo-tacks ... I made that up; it's not official), made several posts during the conference about the various talks (which were all very well done -- both the talks and Nancy's posts). I won't do the same (but I will say that in The Surprise Dale Ahlquist played a drunk quite well). Instead of telling you about the conference I'll mention a little about the small area of St Paul that I visited. Just prior to the conference I read GKC's Charles Dickens, and this book mentions travel and noticing the "common" things that are different -- not the extravagant things that one might visit but the everyday things. So my senses were a little more attuned to noticing the little things of the St Thomas campus and of the little area of St Paul that I explored. Many things were, to me, surprisingly the same as home. I went North expecting cooler, dryer weather; but was greeted with a warm and humid day that make me think I was still back in Texas. And as I walked across the St Thomas campus there was the ridiculous artwork typical of an university campus. I expected something different and it was surprisingly, almost shockingly, the same. Everybody can notice the odd taste of tap water when visiting a place away from home. Here was something different; each time I took a sip of water it was a surprise, like the man of "artistic temperament" who drank from his water bottle and was surprised to find it filled with wine. Then there was the afternoon I took off for a jog along the Mississippi River Blvd path: a perfect asphalt trail along the river that the locals can take for granted, but I was able to appreciate it. Alongside the asphalt there typically was the dirt path which I and Mr Belloc prefer; in the gutter of the road I passed a dead beaver, victim of a passing car, and I smiled as I noticed that it was not the armadillo typical of Texas roads. The houses along this way were certainly something to look at: a kind of cottage style that were built in the early 1900s; in their yards, when a tree was cut down they were not removed or left as a stump, but instead they were cut six feet tall and carved into sculpture. And then there was the Ford Street bridge over the Mississippi River that I jogged: something used constantly by the locals in cars, but that I could experience as I rather slowly passed across it.
Our stay in St Paul ended with a 6:00 AM ride to the airport with Carl Olson, which was graciously given to us by John & Luba Hickey.
We hope to be back again in 2007.