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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Provincial Hipsters: The Halifax Report Day 4

So Wednesday was J's turn in the barrel. Although he'd been passionate about the possibility of another Tim Horton's breakfast sandwich in the afterglow of the donair, we skipped morning food and went straight to sessions, which turned out to be a poor decision, as fortification was definitely needed.

The earlier set of sessions was on primate populations genetics. It was not as exciting as I had hoped, although that speaks more to the fact that, by now, my standards were pretty high: If this had been at ASHG, with the exception of the one truly pointless, wrong, and terrible paper in this session (boy was the rage building for those horrible 15 minutes), I would have wept for joy. The final paper in this session was the exception to the rule of mediocrity. Rather than being about primates, per se, it was a very elegant experimental design to identify the sources of human food-borne infections. Furthermore, it actually had implications for public policy. Imagine, as Vince Noir would say, that!

Fortified with coffee and danish (Have I mentioned that the danish and other pastry things were, like, not just edible but actually good? All hail the SMBE organizers!), we headed for the very first time into the Ondaatje Auditorium for the all-math, all-the-time session (hiding under the guise of the Methods in Population Genetics session and fooling no one). This was pretty much the return to Texarkana for J and myself. We made it through the whole thing, but we were whimpering "Math hammer, don't hurt us!" by the end.

Oh! I've just remembered something that I think began on Tuesday. You see, Halifax is smoke free indoors, and that includes Dalhousie, of course. So, you have the usual ashtrays down by the street and the usual folks pushing the limits of the 15-feet-from-the-door rules. On Tuesday, when we were in the Methods in Comparative Genomics Session (and I was still in my suit and feeling cranky), I suddenly realized that my lungs were seizing up like mad. Before I'd even registered that I was having trouble breathing, I was in a state where it was an extremely bad idea to try to walk, particularly up the treacherous stairs of the theater in which the session was held. I realized the source of my trouble was the woman sitting in front of me: She was wearing this hideous multicolored sweater and she smelled like she'd been smoking inside a telephone booth for the last 25 years. For the rest of the conference, she was everywhere, wearing that same sweater and smelling and aggravating my asthma from incredible distances. Anyway, she was at the math!fest, so my brain AND my lungs were going all French on me.

We headed back to the hotel for lunch and decided that we'd neglected the Victory Arms Pub for far too long. You're probably thinking that this was just around the corner from the Lord Nelson, but you'd be tragically wrong in this instance: It's actually in the Lord Nelson. Neener. I had these sinfully good quesadillas, and I think J had a shepherd's pie. It was all so delicious and comforting that I didn't even care that I was being forced to watch tennis the whole while.

But we had to shake off the food coma, because it was show time for J. The session was a very good one, although it's probably inevitable that there will be some "does not, does too-ism" on the subject of selection on synonymous sites, how much difference it makes in the grand scheme of things, and other issues. Time ran a bit short on J, but he got to explain thoroughly the all-important multicolored quadrant slide.

The paper right after his was a very good one, and it was delivered by our aforementioned Gaius Baltar. He joined us along with the young woman from the previous day at the bar in the student union after the session. M (said young woman) showed us her presentation, which was quite good and, best of all, has some interesting jumping-off points for future research, should one desire to spend the rest of one's life buried in the Y chromosome.

After she departed for the banquet, J revealed to me Baltar's deep secret: He'd been working with the data from our paper and had managed to replicate the results. That might sound like no big deal, but given that it took us, 5 years of jumping through hoops to get that published, it was pretty freaking exciting for us. We had a fine time trying to decide how much Castle Dementedness we could comfortably reveal to Baltar in trying to communicate how pleased we were to hear about his results. This dance, of course, was enhanced greatly by the pitcher of beer we were consuming.

J and I learned our lesson about attending conference social events a few years back, so we were definitely skipping the banquet. In fact, we were dead set (so to speak) on doing the Haunted Hike that evening. Accordingly, we decided to have a drink and a snack before heading to the Burns statue. And, really, there was only so long that we could avoid a restaurant called Deco (we sat right under the Charnay poster), which was not just around the corner from the Lord Nelson. Goodness, it must have been at least a block and a half from there!

We had some dangerously cracklicious drinks and shared the mussels (a fabulous Thai-esque take on them, completely different from those at Tizi Melloul, but just as good) and the crab cakes. I still don't know how I had the willpower to walk out of there without the better part of their furnishings.

We dutifully arrived at the Burns statue around 8:15. There were various people waiting around, enjoying the goods from the Dairy Queen on the corner. These included an extremely cute greyhound (a rescued racer) named Samson, who must have been a very good dog indeed, because every single person there with ice cream shared some with him. He was a total sweetie pie, and I had to laugh when his person revealed that when she first adopted him, he used to shoulder check her when they were walking. She couldn't figure out why he was doing this until she looked into his racing history and realized that this is why he'd been a big winner.

We waited until about 8:45, but sadly, the square remained pirateless. We walked back over to Your Father's Moustache and checked the poster, which assured us that we had not been high in reading the specs. J put in a call and left a message. We then walked across to the gate to the gardens and asked the attendant if he knew anything about the Haunted Hike. He said that he knew the pirate well and, unfortunately, said pirate had been quite sick recently. Saddened by the lack of pirates and ghosts, we traveled water-ward again.

We made our stop in at Cows to obtain gifts for our loved ones and began to wander in search of a place to sit and have a drink. Our main requirement for said place was, basically, dark. In walking down the street we thought would contain the Economy Shoe Shop , we found that it did not, in fact, contain it. It did, however, contain The Argyle, which met our undemanding criterion. I had a G&T and noted that the Blue Jays have finally caught up with the hideous and tragic uniform trends of the 1980s.
Go Jays!

After glancing at a food menu and finding nothing especially promising (and not even a hint of oysters), we moved on, once again, in search of the ESS. Naturally, we wound up at The Press Gang. But we decided not to let it be the boss of us just yet. We turned back and really, really did try to find the Shoe Shop. But first we stumbled across Seven, a wine bar that was most definitely dark.

We had a very nice chat with the bartender, who turned out to have worked in seafood brokering for much of her life. She knew and spoke highly of DiCola's, my preferred seafood procurement facility. I had a New Zealand pinot noir that I can't really recommend, although it was drinkable enough to raise it well above the level of the best pinot noir to come out of MIchigan. J had some kind of vodka that might or might not have been blue.

There were some food items on Seven's menu that looked highly intriguing, but the kitchen was sadly closed. This was the first and most gentle chastisement we received for slutting around on the Press Gang. The worst was yet to come. In a final attempt to wind up at the ESS, we got lured into a basement bar called The Seahorse Tavern.
We really should have known better when we were charged a cover, but we pressed on. I was having trouble making up my mind on a drink and finally settled on a Black Russian. Oh, tragic, tragic mistake. The infant bartender dutifully mixed kahlua and vodka and then FILLED UP THE REST OF THE ROCKS GLASS WITH PEPSI AND ADDED A LIME WEDGE.

Thank the evil spirits that I hadn't ordered a White Russian. J was comparatively safe with his tequila, and we sequestered ourselves in the nook with the large round table that bore incredible and eerie resemblance to the book with the large round table at The Pub. Once ensconced in the nook, we had a chance to appreciate how very dire this place was. There was incredibly dire hip hop being "created" by very, very white Canadians with equipment far more expensive and sophisticated than their skill level merited. The space is absolutely fantastic (the pictures on their web page don't do it justice) and it was utterly wasted on . . . whatever it was trying to be.

We finished up our drinks but quick and dragged back into the Press Gang with our tails between our legs. S, the bartender, laughed at our travails. The owner of the PG's property also owns the ESS and The Seahorse. Apparently at the Seahorse, they deliberately mix drinks wrong so that people will stop ordering things that are more complicated than beer or wine. Aiyeeee! Someone might have mentioned that, you know!

To comfort ourselves, we asked S if he would allow us to experiment with making a sazerac on our own. Initially dubious, he eventually poured us two shots of rye, a shot of absinthe, and provided us with lemon, sugar and the bottle of bitters. We eventually managed to mix something that was a pretty passable rendition of the sazerac and patted ourselves on the back for it. Having done so (and J having consumed the balance of the absinthe), it became a good idea to have some more food in our stomachs (you may have noticed that we'd neglected to have any dinner). And so we were forced to have another half dozen oysters, prompting S to tell us that he had 12 steps he'd like to introduce us to.

We managed (narrowly) to make it back to the Lord Nelson without indulging in donair. And so we retired, the last half-day of the conference and our departure looming large.

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