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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Flowering provincial love: The Halifax Report, Day 3

I've been a dork about writing this up, mostly because I'm pretty busy at the moment. However, Halifax was such a great trip that I don't want it to get away from me. And so onward. Here, fishy fishy.


Tuesday was mostly about my poster, which means that it was rather fraught. I'd been in denial about it to the point that I had no idea when my session was, other than "Tuesday." So when Og awoke on Tuesday, sie dutifully climbed into pantyhose, makeup, and a suit. Og then rampaged quietly and internally as sie realized that the poster session was many, many cups of coffee away at 7:30 (?!??!!) PM and there was no reason in the world to be in stupid grown-up clothes.

So there was some crankiness during the morning sessions that not even a tasty Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich and surprisingly drinkable coffee could banish entirely. (Seriously, I made up for a lifetime of never having had Tim Horton's in the space of 4 days.) Crankiness was furthered by the fact that there seemed to be more presentations of interest with overlapping time slots. It's still not a bad problem to have (ASHG, for example, has precious little worth seeing, and they seem to scheduled everything one might reasonably want to see in the same 15-minute window at the far ends of the earth from one another), but we did have to make the tough decisions and the pantyhose weren't helping.

They were so egregiously not helping that I was seriously entertaining the idea of wearing my newly acquired (courtesy of the superawesome Dalhousie University Bookstore) jammie pants, which proclaim me to be both female and a goddess. However, we instead opted to dash back to the hotel so I could change into compromise clothes. We also obtained panini as big as our heads at a cafe, once again, around the corner from the Lord Nelson.

I have my suspicions that there there is some serious applied wormhole research going on at Dalhousie. This is based on: (1) the existence of an impossible number of amenities within spitting distance of that hotel and (2) the fact that no matter what street we walked down, we passed the Press Gang. When I have time to explore further, I fully expect to learn that Cheyenne Mountain is simply the coverstory location for the Stargate Project, which is really located beneath the Citadel.

Back to the campus after lunch, we headed into the bookstore building to hang the dread poster. I think it was around then that we realized just how marked for residency we really had been by Halifax. I'm not at all sure how we had missed the signs for the Annual Zombie Walk up until then. I am forced to conclude that we had, at this point, cleared some initial vetting and the Halifax Relocation SWAT team got the go-ahead to create this complicated back story for our benefit.

Poster hung, we headed to the afternoon sessions, which were sadly rather trying. Codon models are, apparently, a hot topic at the moment. Paradoxically, that makes it a particularly bad time to be someone who has been living and breathing codon models for, like, a decade. Because it's frustrating as hell to sit through presentations purporting to have done novel research when in fact that research has been pretty well-sounded out over the last, like, decade. But again, there were still some interesting papers, so it wasn't a total loss. In fact, it wasn't even really much of a loss at all. The whole day was just colored by crankiness.

We had the early evening to ourselves, and once I'd wrangled Og back into the grown-up clothes, we headed to Luxx for dinner. Luxx is, you guessed it, right around the corner from the Lord Nelson. (By now, I am sure that my gentle reader is picturing the Lord Nelson as existing on some kind of polyhedral island with nothing but corners. I'm telling you: WORMHOLES.) Luxx had a beautiful room and a nice outdoor patio overlooking Spring Garden Road, but we opted to sit inside.

The service was slightly odd. In part, this was because our server was a total newbie, but there were other strange elements, including the fact that when J ordered a kir royale, they'd only make it for him if I ordered one, too, so that the split champagne didn't go flat. Twist my arm, why don't you? We had more than decent Oysters Rockefeller to share (not a patch on Frank's, you understand, or any that I've had in the Big Easy, but tasty).

For my entree, I had pecan-crusted haddock filet in a fantastic red curry sauce. The fish was fabulously fresh and well prepared. Sadly the rice pilaf accompany was dry and rather pathetic. J had the gnocchi with shrimp, and we had the "erm?" moment again when he realized that the very saucy shrimp still had the tails on. There wasn't much on the dessert menu to tempt, and we thought we might seek out ice cream or something else on the waterfront later that evening, so we bid adieu to Luxx and headed to the dread poster session.

"Whyfore dread?" you might ask.

Under the best of circumstances, doing a poster is pretty bad: You stand there, hoping that you're successfully faking professionalism, people come by and try not to make eye contact with you as you strive to make eye contact with them in the hopes of gauging whether they'd like to just quietly take in the poster on their own or if they'd like a walk through. It's awful and uncomfortable for all concerned. Under the circumstances observed in the first poster session, that metaphorical discomfort would also be manifest in literal discomfort born of too many people in not enough space.

And then there was the fact that I hated my poster for the very good reason that is was the least visually interesting piece of crap ever. For a variety of reasons that I won't belabor, my poster was not at all what I wanted it to be. Even if it had been, the project was just something much better suited to a talk than a poster. When you mix in the fact that I have no art brain, well, you have a crappy poster.

In this case, happily, it was a crappy poster that inexplicably received quite a lot of attention. After the first 15 minutes or so, during which I radiated waves of hate at the dorks across from me who were offering people Turkish Freaking Delight.

This was the Halifax synchronicity going somewhat horribly wrong, as J and I had had a rather extended conversation about how repulsive Turkish Delight is earlier in the trip. But this does not take one iota of the bloom off the rose that is Halfiax. It's like when your TiVo is first trying to learn your tastes in order to make suggestions.

To borrow liberally from Patton Oswalt, it goes like this: Your TiVo observes that you have recorded a Western, and your TiVo wants nothing more than to make you happy. Unfortunately, your TiVo's lateral leap is in entirely the wrong direction. It has inferred from this recording that you, in fact, love horses, and you wake up one morning to find your "Suggestions" folder filled with reruns of My Little Pony and "Mustardfart Station" (© Patton Oswalt). (I'm leaving aside, for the moment, the fact that my freakishly intelligent TiVo immediately started recording things that happened to star people from Twin Peaks, just after I had finished watching the series for the first time.) Anyway, Halfax overheard us talking about Turkish Delight and it damned well produced some Turkish Delight.

Just as my poster neighbor (a very pleasant woman from Dublin who endeared herself to me early on by measuring the evening in chunks of time until pub time) and I started to commiserate about how we hate doing posters, we both started to get busy . . . ahem . . . many people began showing up at our respective posters. One of my first visitors was a fellow anthropologist who'd stopped by in anthropologist solidarity. Being someone swamped in immune genes, most of which scream with the evolutionary signature of diversification and selection, she was appreciative of attempts to identify genes (or subgenic regions) of interest with an independent variable.

Another early arrival was a woman who was actually looking for J. She's a Penn State grad student, and her opening line to J was: "I have read your paper so many times. I sleep with it under my pillow." It's good to know that the professor's 5up3r 533kr1t identity as Man!Ho is well guarded. In all seriousness, she's smart and doing good work that builds directly on J's previous research. We'd chosen poorly in the morning and missed her paper, but fortunately we would have a chance for an encore during which her secret identity as Number 6 would be revealed only when we had discovered a completely different ally in the unlikely shape of Gaius Baltar. Other drop ins included the author of the chimp paper, and a physics misfit. Almost before I knew it it, it was 40 minutes after the time we'd said we'd be bugging out of there.

But bug out of there we ultimately did, and once again into the comfy clothing before heading, inevitably, to the Press Gang. We had a different bartender on this occasion, and we decided that the presence of actual absinthe (well, the closest one can get in these degenerate times) was too tempting. We asked him if he'd give a sazerac a go and he was game enough not only to try it, but to give us a half shot of the absinthe itself to sample.

The sazerac was not a rousing success the first time out, although it's possible that the clarity of our explanation was not all it might have been. I declared the absinthe "not nearly as disgusting as I thought it would be," whereas J actively liked it. The reason for this only became clear the next night: Absinthe is, in fact, blue.

In addition to the sazerac and another drink or two, we also shared a half dozen oysters on the half shell. These were absolutely required from the moment that we realized that he was grating fresh horseradish on to them. I've already mentioned that we can stop the oyster thing any time we want to right? Right then. Normally I'm not much for adulterating my oysters, but I'm a sucker for fresh horseradish. These also game with a garlic laden balsamic that is just a fantastic idea with the horseradish and the oh-so-delicious oysters.

I don't put much stock in the nonsense about oysters being aphrodisiac. However, I suspect that they might have been implicated in the sudden literal hunger that overtook us as we left the Press Gang and wandered back Wormholeward. When that appetite met with our strong intellectual curiosity regarding what the hell a donair was and why there were 4 late-night places on the 4 corners of a single intersection, like some kind of weathervane of spiced meat, purporting to be various ranks of donair royalty. (Again, much would become clear on the next night when we realized that we were on the same street as "Mary Jane's Smoke Shoppe." [Although why people congregate at the Halifax Public Library to get decriminally baked remains a mystery.])

As J prefers to go straight to the top, we went to the King of Donair. I was not, at the time, open to experimenting with unknown spiced meats, but I was suddenly seized with a desire for a slice of pepperoni pizza the size of Smart Car. J waxed rhapsodic about the donair all the way back to the Lord Nelson. Thus endeth the second day.

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