Thursday, June 30, 2005

Women & the Divine

The first day was a long day, beginning with a 6am train up to Liverpool from London after a fun night out (more about that soon) and ending with an evening reception. The nice thing was that I was bumped up to first class on the trip, so like any good peasant, I had endless refills of tea and a free breakfast. I love train travel, especially across the beautiful English countryside. I saw fields of cows (and not just Holsteins!) and of sheep (black-faced with tiny lambs) and horses, ponies, a murder of crows, eruptions of daisies all along the tracks, swans sailing along tiny brooks, three hares, outside Tamworth the sudden appearance of orange poppies, a goat, a geodesic dome, a brace of trainspotters, a fluffy white cat in the middle of a deep green field. Here and there were gnarled trees, leafless, as if writhing in some secret pain. I noticed that from the back the Virgin staff's uniforms looked like Starfleet uniforms. We passed a pub called the Grazier's Arms and I wondered what a grazier was.

The cabby had no idea where the mystically titled Carnatic Halls were despite my handing him a map; he was equally amazed that I liked London which he thought a horrible (Southern) place. Nevertheless, we found ourselves eventually in the right place in time for me to drop my bag in my room and get a cup of tea before the first plenary session by Morny Joy. The hard part after that was choosing which panel to attend in the parallel sessions. I started out with the Indian Philosophies and Hindu Traditions, which was a delight if far too short (a problem throughout--but then any one of several panels could have been a whole day in itself). There was a fun pop culture panel after lunch (although I was disappointed the woman who had a paper on Kate Bush did not turn up), followed by a plenary by Regina Schwartz (author of Curse of Cain and more), who was a real energetic speaker. For the last session, I chose a panel on ecofeminism and environmentalism and ended up chatting with two of the speakers a great deal over the rest of the conference. After dinner there was a poetry reading, but I was too tired to stay up much later, and I did want to go over my presentation which I would give at 8.30 the next morning (eek).

Well, the presentation went okay, although the 30 minute slot really ended up compressing things a bit too much. We even went outside to hold it because the hot streak was in place even up north in Liverpool and oddly enough, the buildings were not equipped to cope with this kind of weather. The pagan/goddess panel followed immediately and turned out to be excellent and I distributed my card to all on the panel in hopes of getting their papers for my write up for the Beltane Papers.

Saturday was also the first day of Luce Irigaray, who was the inspiration for the conference and, quite often, its topic too, as many participants utilized, responded to, or critiqued her theory. I had a picture in my mind -- a Francophone literary and cultural theorist -- that did not match reality. Irigaray was no slinky, thin, cigarette-puffing icon of chic, but as a Finnish woman characteristically noted, rather like Moomin Mama. She was a delight, thoughtful but down to earth and everyone seemed to enjoy her immensely (with the exception of one guy who seemed to have come to the conference just to disagree with anything anyone said in a voice dripping with scorn). One of the few negative notes -- the other was the snooty reception poet Deborah Rasa got for (gasp!) reading her own poetry at a literature panel (a truly bizarre reaction from the panel chair).

There was a terrfic woman from Iceland who gave a presentation of a small part of a much larger project that I hope to get a copy of; I learned about wonderful medieval Indian mystic Lalla from a Pakistani woman who now lives in Atlanta, and about amazing speculative fiction by women (like Katharine Burdekin) in the late 19th and early 20th century from a Portuguese woman who teaches English literature. It was a wonderful time for conversations, the mix of women from around the world was really the best part. All too soon it was time to leave, but many of us exchanged cards and emails and hoped to keep in touch. There are plans for publications and projects and many were already talking about "next time"; may it come to pass!

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