Monday, October 8, 2007
I hadn’t been to any conferences since I left my day job some twenty years ago. It was one of the benefits of retirement. However, a symposium devoted to T E Lawrence, held at the Huntington Library in Southern California tempted me, despite the fact it was only two days before I was to take off for three weeks in Africa. I am really a Lawrence “nut” - have read several dozen books by/about him and, for years, lugged a paperback edition of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom when traveling. (Recently, I gave it to a Kyrgyzstani guide who wanted to improve her English - figured she could do no better. )
The symposium was fine: two speakers were exceptional while with several others, the topics were much more interesting than the speakers. I had just finished Frank Sterling’s autobiography, Safety Last - he had served with Lawrence - and found it fascinating. So it was rewarding to talk with people who appreciated my enthusiasm.
It was an Interesting bunch of people: academics, Huntington Museum members, collectors, retirees and travelers. Most were local though one man, a retired actuary, was from Colorado (he travels to all sorts of conferences be it Churchill or , Sherlock Holmes both in the States and in the UK. Another was a retired curator from Texas. The woman sitting in front of me had just returned from six years in Abu Dabai. I did introduce myself to Jeremy Wilson, The Official Biographer of TE Lawrence (he and my favorite biographer, Michael Asher, have an online feud. Probably, Wilson is more correct but Asher is a better writer - and actually retraced Lawrence’s desert journeys.)
Topics ranged from a discussion of the Lawrence of Arabia screen play to contrasting TE and DH Lawrence to the comics treatment of Lawrence to a comparison of Lawrence and Churchill. with several bits and pieces inbtween. Best talk was a presentation of Lawrence’s precepts as they applied to present/future conflicts, e.g.: Iraq and China. Seems General Praetorius is a Lawrence fan and has a copy of SPW nearby, which gives me some hope.
The included lunches were excellent with a wine and cheese selection at the end of the first day. I stayed at a rather inexpensive but comfortable motel some two miles away. Wasn’t too sure at first for as I was registering, a street person came in to book a room. Dark with a rather squashed face that looked like he had been someone’s sparring partner - and lost! His belonging were in half a dozen small plastic bags, his clothing was well worn and he obviously needed a bath. I was curious how the young Asian girl at the motel desk would handle it. She didn’t for a bit: told him the price, hoping he couldn't’ afford it. He nodded and began digging various bills out of his pocket . She retreated from the desk, calling out for backup but no one came. Finally, she plead no vacancies, which he accepted, put his money back in his pocket,picked up his various sacks and trundled off. As it turned out, the motel was in the auto row section of Pasadena where there were several other street people . In my walk to and from the Museum, I became familiar with them.
At the other end of the spectrum was the setting for the sessions: the Huntington Library, Museum and Gardens are most spectacular. Over a hundred acres. II walked around the Gardens - a Zen garden, a bonsai garden, a desert garden, a rose garden and much, much more. Magnificent. I didn’t get into either the library or museum but that will be on the list when/if I return.
The conference and Garden: a worthwhile two days in Southern California.
Now off to Africa.