We did it! (A short summary of the trip)

Most of us are back in Hungary now. It will take a long time to assemble thoughts about this extraordinary trip—to Yale for the ALSCW conference, and to NYC for music, sightseeing, and visits—but it happened and was beautiful.

A brief rundown: We went to the U.S. primarily for the literature conference but also for a few days in NYC. (This trip had been in the planning since March.) Several members of the group arrived in NYC a few days before the rest of us. (The group consisted of seven Hungarian adults, a baby, and me; six of them presented in my seminar on “Setting Poetry to Music.”) We all met at Grand Central Station on October 19, had dinner there, and took the train together to New Haven. I walked with them to their AirBnB apartment—a spacious, sunlit first floor of a house near Wooster Square—and headed off to my own lodgings. The next morning, I came by for breakfast, and then we headed off to campus to look around. We visited the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library with its translucent marble walls and its map exhibit.

Then we took different directions for a while (I had lunch with my friend Ron) and met later outside the Humanities Quadrangle, where the conference was to take place. An old friend of mine, Jenn, came by to lend Gergő and Sebő her husband’s guitar. Another friend would lend a second guitar the next day. The Platon Karataev duo concerts we had scheduled in New Haven and NYC had to be cancelled, because they are not permitted under a tourist visa or ESTA waiver, but we had scheduled a private session at Yale’s Dwight Chapel, and they were also to record in a studio in Brooklyn. We then entered the quadrangle for a genial, flavorful reception and an evening of fine readings. (More about all of this later.) Afterwards I went with my friend Claudia (from Dallas) to the former Viva Zapata, now VivaZ Cantina.

The next morning, I attended a panel on Eliot’s The Waste Land, then headed into our seminar room to set up for the first session of “Setting Poetry to Music.” We had a fairly large audience (for a seminar), an inspiring round of presentations, and a lively, too-short discussion. (Again, more about this later.) Then we headed out to the courtyard for lunch. During our lunch, Tim came by with his guitar and cheer. In the afternoon, I presented in the seminar on “General Education and the Idea of a Common Culture.” Then darted out the door and rushed to Dwight Chapel.

About a week before our trip, I had written to the Yale chaplain, Sharon Kugler, to ask whether we could visit the chapel, which holds many memories for me, and whether Gergő and Sebő could play music there. She not only welcomed us but put us in touch with Dwight Hall staff to work out the details. This was an unannounced, informal, unofficial session, completely acoustic, with only the group members and a few others in the audience. The sound filled the space but was also crisp; you could hear every guitar note.

The video I shot (of them playing “Ki viszi?” is visually grainy, with a few clumsy filming moments (particularly when I was walking backward), but the sound approximates what this was like. Many, many thanks to Chaplain Sharon Kugler, the Dwight Hall staff (especially Debra Rohr and Alexine Casanova), Tim, Jenn, and Tony, and of course Sebő and Gergő.

In the evening we had dinner at a pizzeria of well-earned fame (which offered vegan pizza, among other delights). We were joined by my friend Lara Allen, who would be presenting the following day in the second session of “Setting Poetry to Music.” Delicious pizza, lively conversation and laughter. After an hour or so, I left the group to attend the ALSCW readings—but was so tired that I fell asleep in the auditorium and woke up only when the readings were all over.

The next day was packed again: an outstanding Shakespeare panel, coffee with Martha, lunch in the courtyard, the second “Setting Poetry to Music” session, a panel on Japanese literature, and then an elegant, rousing banquet in the dining hall of the Yale Divinity School. To top off the night, some of us went to hear the Algerian band Imarhan at Cafe Nine. They were fanatastic; the room swayed and danced.

The next morning, I took part in the ALSCW Council meeting, then met up with the group at the train station.

Before I forget, I should say that the foliage was almost peaking. October is my favorite New England season, especially in New Haven. I love it not only for the leaves, but for the tones of light.

The New York part of the trip was just as momentous and moment-filled, but since it was more personal in nature, I’ll tell, just briefly, about my own part. We all stayed, for different lengths of time (some for one night, some for two, some for four) on the top floor of a legendary old stone home in Queens (known as “The Castle”). On October 24, Sebő and Gergő recorded at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings; I had the joy of listening to the session. Then I brought the guitars back to New Haven (my first chance in days to sit back and let my thoughts roam) and returned them to Tim and Jenn. In the evening some of us got together at an Irish pub with good music playing through the speakers. Long conversations, both jovial and serious—the kind I treasure. Then we more or less went our different ways, except that a few of us stayed at the “Castle” until Thursday, and I took a walk with them on Wednesday.

On Tuesday I saw my friend Tara, who came down from Troy (New York) to see me. On Wednesday I walked around a lot and had coffee with my friend Lizzie. On Thursday I moved to an apartment in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn; I also saw Godard’s Breathless (À bout de souffle) at Film Forum and had dinner with my friend Sharon (who was my freshman-year roommate at Yale and plays violin in the New York Philharmonic). On Friday I did laundry in the morning (I miss laundromats, of all things), then had lunch in Chinatown with a former colleague. In the afternoon I headed up to my storage space in Washington Heights and managed, in just two hours, to move my things into a smaller and cheaper unit. From there I headed to Queens for a lovely gathering at my friend Liz’s. On Saturday morning I attended the Shabbat service at B’nai Jeshurun. This was a joyous but extremely brief return—I got to talk with Jenny during kiddush lunch, with Harriet briefly, and with others just barely, but the service itself had a boundless quality. Then I bounded off to Williamsburg, where I heard Hannah Marcus (also an friend of many years) play and sing in her Cajun band The Red Aces. A delightful end to the trip. From there I sped back to the place in Flatbush, gathered my things, and took a cab to the airport. The plane took off close to midnight.

Such a stretch of time in NYC is an unpaid luxury for me. It happened because I originally assumed we would have autumn break in the last week of October, as we usually do. In addition, I originally wanted to leave some room for a possible literary/musical event that we would hold in NYC. (The event didn’t come together, which is just as well, given that it might have led to visa problems for members of the group. But it is an idea and possibility for the future.)

Then it turned out that our fall break would be in the first week of November, beginning on October 31. It seemed that I could leave NYC no sooner than October 26, arriving in Szolnok on the 27th—so I figured, why not call it a week and stay a few more days, insto the fall break? But even that changed; it was later decided that we would have no autumn break at all, just a long weekend—so I changed my return flight and came back a few days earlier than previously planned, just so that I wouldn’t be absent an additional Wednesday, which is my longest teaching day of the week. Still, these extra days gave the whole trip a sense of time and lingering, even though it all went by fast. I have much more in my memories than I have laid out here. Also, the friends I saw, both in New Haven and NYC, are some of my dearest friends anywhere, so there was a fullness to it all.

Next time I will describe the content of the conference itself. For now, a few more pictures—and a special thanks to Zalán and Marianna, who took care of Sziszi and Dominó while I was away.

I made a few edits to this piece after posting it.

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6 Comments

  1. Sounds like an amazing trip!

    Reply
  2. Michael in Seattle

     /  October 31, 2022

    Wow, Diana. It really DOES sound like an amazing visit. Thank you for the report. Glad you are safely back home …

    Reply
  1. A Few Days at Yale: ALSCW Conference Memories, Part 1 | Take Away the Takeaway
  2. A Few Days at Yale: ALSCW Conference Memories, Part 2 | Take Away the Takeaway

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  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

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    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

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