Saturday, May 2, 2009

Post 13: The Boy from New York City

Oo ah oo ah oo oo, Kitty
Tell us about the boyFrom New York City
Oo ah oo ah come on, Kitty
Tell us about the boyFrom New York City

It’s been a long time since you could show your face in Europe, especially in liberal academic crowds, and not feel venom, pure hatred, for everything American. Enter the age of Obama.

Just had dinner at Trvinity College, Cambridge. My host was none other than Horace Barlow, great grandson of Charles Darwin. More significant, Horace helped usher in the modern study of vision, one of the most important areas of research in neuroscience. He had been at my lecture last Tuesday, and so I emailed him to ask if he had time to meet before I left. He invited me to dinner, rendezvousing at the Great Gate, the entrance to Trinity, at 7:45 for 8 (a British expression meaning dinner starts at 8 promptly so be there at 7:45; there's no being fashionably late to formal hall). We walked over to the cocktail room, had a glass of champagne, and then moved into the gigantic dining hall, a room King Arthur would have been proud of. The Camelot ref is not idle, since Horace told me he got a work visa to come to the US the day JFK was shot. Though in the states for 10 years (he left just as Nixo was impeached) he's spent most of his academic career, which goes back to the 1940s, at Cambridge. We discuss lots of interesting things, such as how his mother had to reprint some of Darwin's works to keem his memory going, how the right question aobut consciousness is not what it is but what it's good for (social interaction, in his view), and about how the greatest acheivement he's seen in scince has been in science is the revolution in moleuclar biology and genetics. We also talk about another connection—his daughter and my son Milo are both "freshers" at Oxford, and Milo and his friends Mark and Shea entertained her when she visited NY last spring.

High table dinner speeds by since the main event is what happens after you down the fish and potatoes, and head to the back room. First comes the vote, and the rules. You have to raise your hand if you want Sauterne or Claret (port is also available, but is automatic and doesn't need a vote). At least 3 people must vote for one of the choices for it to be available. If the one you vote for is chosen , you must drink it first. The Sauterne and Claert both made it through the vote. Each was passed around, along with a vat of very potent, but very tasty, cheese. After the first glass of wine, you could drink any of the others left.

Private (left right) conversations dominated most of the evening. Then, at some point, the floor was taken by one of the senior fellows, and the discussion opened up around the table. Oo ah oo ah oo oo Kitty, Tell us about the both from New York City. The Italian lingquist across from me says, New York is such a wonderful place. So safe. So nice to vist. Americans are so open minded. Europeans are so traditional and stiff. Do I agree? The historian over to the left says Obama is quiet good, and he must proscecute Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rummy, and give them the death penalty. What do I t hink? The economist says the we've seen the last of Sarah Palin, wouldn't I agree. On and on, in a similar vein, from others. What a difference a year makes. Barack has really changed things.

OK. It's late. Yes, I had the Claret, Sauterne and port, not to mention the champagne before dinner and the red and white with dinner. So maybe I'm just in a wine induced state of delusional euphoria. But I don't think so. Things have really changed. We've exported a lot of bad sutff over the years (MacDonalds, Coke, right wing values). The world is now hungy for the export intelligent, wise, compassionate government: Obamaism.

Well, that’s it for the night. Off to Valencia in the morning. Will report from there, or shortly there after.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like academia is seriously bad for your liver, maybe you should try not to drink in Valencia!