I suppose there may be one or two people who noticed that I was away for a week--I noticed it, for example, and that's one person right there. And given one's views about personal identity, since I am now a full week older than I was last time I blogged, I may be a different person today, and that makes two persons who've noticed. I doubt that anybody else did, though.
I was away attending the annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association in New York, and, yes, it was indeed every bit as exciting as it sounds. The main reason I went was because my department is trying to hire a new professor this year, someone who specializes in the philosophy of the social sciences, and I was on the team of interviewers who went to have a look at our candidates before inviting some of them to campus for more detailed interviews. But there were a couple of ancillary reasons for going.
First of all, the APA is a good place to run into old friends, folks you may have met in graduate school, other professors you may have met at other conferences, etc. Sadly, I didn't run into anyone I knew because I spent almost the whole time I was there interviewing people. We had nearly a hundred applications for the job, and we interviewed ten people at the convention, spending about an hour with each one. Given that we only arrived there on Tuesday afternoon and had to leave on Friday morning, that didn't leave a lot of time for schmoozing. Actually, it's not quite accurate to say that I didn't run into anyone that I know--I did run into a guy who was in graduate school with me, but he clearly did not have any idea who I was.
Another great reason to go was simply: it was in New York. What a great city! Every time I go there, I regret that I didn't grow up there. It's always fun, there's tons to do, and the people are unbelievably cool. The convention, of course, was in Manhattan, and of course there's no way I could afford to live there, but when I was teaching at Rutgers back in 1988-89 (what a nightmare that was--I think there may be some juicy blog topics there) I used to go into the city quite often just for the fun of it.
On this particular occasion there was an extra treat: the Metropolitan Museum has a once-in-a-lifetime installation of works by Fra Angelico. Now, Fra Angelico happens to be one of my very favorite artists, and for me this was like finding out that, although I had been exiled from my homeland, I was to spend my exile in Paris, or perhaps on Cheerleader Island. I did have a little time on Tuesday to go to the museum, so I hustled on up there and wiggled my way in--it was litterally jammed to the rafters with people who, I suppose, were in town in anticipation of New Year's celebrations. The Angelico exhibit was just as jammed as everything else which, in one sense is a good thing--it's nice to know that people are still excited by his work--but in another sense it's clearly a bad thing: his works are pretty small, and it's difficult to get a good view of them when there are a dozen people standing around in front of each painting. Nevertheless, the sense of excitement I had while viewing each one was not something that comes along very often. The only time, in fact, that I remember being that excited was the first time I went to Paris. I had been in London with my wife, and we took a train from London to the channel, then a hovercraft over the channel (this was before the tunnel existed), then another train into Paris. At some point our train merged into the metro system and we were underground. When we got off the train I had yet to actually see any of Paris itself. Well, as we went up the stair to the outside, I noticed a largish building dawning over the edge of the top step. As I got to the top I realized with something of a rush just what that building was: it was the Cathedral of Notre Dame! I had never seen it "in person" before, and here it was! It's that building that you've seen in pictures, movies--all sorts of places--and here it was in the flesh, or stone, or whatever. I suppose that would be a rush for any tourist, but for a believer, let me tell you, it was just amazing: a place of pilgrimage and worship that had been standing there for nearly a thousand years, with generation upon generation of fellow Christians coming there to worship God in his Sacraments in just the same places and in very nearly the same ways that I, myself, intended to do inside that very building.
And now, to see these works of Fra angelico, which have delighted I don't know how many other Christians, not only in museums but in their original places, to see them in their actual detail, with the vibrant colors, the delicate finesse of the lines, and, of course, the other people standing around gawking--I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
But then I had to walk back to my hotel. Not quite heaven any more. Along the way I passed by the now-(in)famous Menorah and Creche installations at the southern end of Central Park. Both looked rather tacky, but there were lots and lots of people standing around waiting for the lighting of one of the Menorah lights and I was happy that faith is alive and well in New York. And it was interesting to contrast that crowd, standing around singing Jewish songs in the cold night air, with the crowd of folks I saw two days later when I walked down to Times Square. Preparations were well under way for New Year's Rockin' Eve, and things were a bit more sordid at that end of town. (One thing I'll never understand: taking flash-pictures of huge neon signs with a cell-phone camera. But I must have seen a hundred people do just that.)
All in all a good trip. And to top it off, somebody is going to get a nice new job out of all of this, and I am happy to have helped them to get it. The last time I was in New York was in December of 1995, when I was myself on the job market, and I was interviewed by Ohio University for the job I have now.