Friday, November 1, 2013

Trip to Missouri

I'm on a short trip to Columbia, MO to see Katie in a couple of musical performances. Tonight she'll be doing a scene from Christoph Gluck's Orfeo et Euridice, singing the role of Orfeo (which is usually sung by a mezzo soprano), and Sunday afternoon she'll be in a choral concert with the University Singers. Tonight's concert is in the restored Missouri Theater. It will consist of a series of scenes from several operas, rather than one full opera. Katie will have minor roles in two or three other scenes. Rob, Betsey and I are meeting for supper before the concert.

So, I came out on the train, leaving Albany at 7:05p.m. Wednesday evening. I traveled coach - a roommette would have cost an additional $380 - but I had the full seat to myself and actually slept two-three hours, I think, which is not too different from having a sleeper. We arrived in Chicago only about a half-hour behind schedule Thursday a.m., which is about the best time yet for that trip. I had supper and breakfast in the dining car. They had run out of the best option for supper by the time I got there, and what I settled for was ok but not great food-wise (a chunk of chicken, wild rice and vegetable medley). I supplemented this meal later with the snacks Ellen had prepared for me (thank you Ellen!).

However, in the dining car,  I sat across from two women who turned out to be very good conversationalists. The older one had graduated from Stephens College (where Betsey works here in Columbia!) back in the 1960's and had gone on to get a PhD from UofC Santa Cruz in a program called The History of Consciousness, which allowed her to do work in feminist history, and in particular to research the life of Matilda Joslyn Gage (March 24, 1826 – March 18, 1898) who was a suffragist and an abolitionist, and a prolific author. Gage was also a severe critic of the Christian Church, and laid out her views in her best-known book, Woman, Church and State, which "was one of the first books to draw the conclusion that Christianity is a primary impediment to the progress of women, as well as civilization. Then, as now, religious doctrine was used as a justification for the dehumanization of women, depriving them of civil, human, economic and political rights, even denying them the right to worship alongside men. Gage reviews extensive evidence of this complex. From a 21st Century perspective it is both astounding how far we have progressed, and dismaying how little has changed." (quote from the introduction to the on-line Google edition of the book). We had a lively and animated conversation, and when I mentioned my interest in the life of John Brown, found her to be very knowledgeable of his life and his impact on U.S. history.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

Then at breakfast in the dining car, I again sat across from a woman academic - this time a member of the faculty at the Bloustein School of Public Policy at Rutgers University. When she learned that I was going to visit Katie and hear her in an opera, she recommended that Katie look at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers, as a place for graduate study in voice. I don't know if I just got lucky or what, but these were both high-level dining car conversations. This is one of the reasons I enjoy train travel!

I talked with Maggie & Jerry on my cell phone as we approached Chicago, but they were going to be hosting their monthly "coffee klatch" group so could not come in to meet me during my 5-hour layover in Chicago.  (They are going to try to come to the station on my way back Monday afternoon).

I had hoped to get out and walk a bit in Chicago but (1) it was raining, (2) the rental lockers cost $6 an hour, which seems a bit excessive,  and (3) there were no empty lockers anyway. So I walked around the Great Hall several times just to get some exercise (pushing my rolling suitcase). I worked some on my computer in the waiting-room (no WiFi available, unfortunately), but then later I discovered a restaurant near the Great Hall which did have free WiFi and where I could get a chicken Caesar salad, so I was able to download email.

During my layover, I also read in what has proven to be a fascinating book I brought with me, which I just sort of picked off the shelf at home at the last minute: The Jesuit and the Skull, by Amir D. Aczel. It is the story of Teilhard de Chardin, and his contribution to the field of paleontology, his experiences in China (where he was "banished" by his order because of his unorthodox views) and in particular his involvement in the discovery of "Peking Man", in 1929 - the fossilized remains of an example of homo erectus  who lived some 500,000 years ago, widely regarded as establishing the "missing link" between the apes and the modern human. Teilhard is a fascinating figure, someone I would like to know more about. And if you have been following this blog, you know that I have an on-going interest in fossils, in the theory of evolution, in the relation of science and theology, etc. So this book is "right down the line" and is well-written. (Aczel has written several books that look very interesting).

The train ride from Chicago to La Plata, MO was very nice, and it goes through some of the finest farm land in the country, so it was very pleasant just looking out the window. I read a bit more about Teilhard, worked a bit on one of the "Shirley letters from Wellesley" for Katie, and had supper in the dining car. No more women academics, but an interesting conversation nonetheless - a woman who commutes from between Topeka, KS and Naperville, IL by train!  I think she makes the trip once a week, lives in a hotel in Naperville and has a home in Topeka. Wow!  She works in security for SAP, a multinational software corporation which produces software for managing the manufacturing process and customer relations. I asked her to describe her work, but I had difficulty understanding her description!

I got into La Plata a bit after 8p.m., only about fifteen minutes late, and Rob was there to meet me. I caught up on Shay family news in the ride back to Columbia, then had a nice talk with Rob and Betsey before turning into bed.

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