The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, April 27, 2012

SAA Memphis Part 3 - Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

This here is Part 3, you dig?  Part 2 is here, and Part 1 is here.

So, that night I got to bed, fell asleep quickly, and, due to exhaustion, managed to sleep solidly the full night despite the immature pilots of Boeing 747s buzzing my hotel all night long*.  This also despite the fact that the hotel began to fill up with the rather rowdy attendees of a party for 15-year-clean members of Cocaine Anonymous**.

The next morning, I took the shuttle over to the convention center again, knowing that I would only have a partial day in which to see what I could at the conference, as well as to take a quick look around Memphis in the daylight.

So, I started by going to the poster session at the conference.  Posters, for those unaware, are a way for researchers to present their work without getting up and giving a talk.  Although some posters could easily be turned into a 15 or 20 minute talk, most are not quite sufficient material for such a talk, and as a result are better served by the static display of the poster.  A great advantage of posters is that the person who did the research is free to talk about it in a way that the people giving papers are not.  As a result, the poster presenters are often quite busy discussing results and answering questions with the other conference attendees.

Several of the posters were quite good, but two in particular struck me.  The first was from a  graduate student at the University of Washington who was presenting on her work at Dutch colonies in the Spice Islands.  Her work was interesting in its own right, but struck me especially because her findings (roughly - the Dutch were more acculturated by the people that they forced to work on their plantations than the people of the plantations were enculturated by the Dutch, and there was little effort to eliminate or alter the culture of the workers) held some interesting contrasts and parallels to the history of Spanish and later Mexican colonization of California.

The second noteworthy poster was from a young man whose institution I don't remember, but he was presenting on the work he is doing with sling stones.  Sling stones are precisely what they sound like - rocks used in a sling (think of the weapon with which David is said to have killed Goliath).  Slings were used throughout North America, but are rarely discussed by archaeologists, who generally focus on other projectile weapons - mostly arrows, darts, and spears.  What struck me is that one of the sling stones that the presenter had made looked suspiciously like a common bi-conical stone found in Californian sites usually thought to have been a religious item and called a charm stone.  Now, I am not saying that all, or even most, of these items were sling stones, but it is worth noting the similarities, and considering whether or not we may be routinely mistaking one artifact type for another.

After a bit, I went out to wander Memphis just a little bit more.  I wandered over to Beale Street, where I found myself in the middle of a Corvette enthusiast gathering.  It was quite a site to see, but my time was short, and I couldn't dawdle.

I then moved on to get some photographs of the Mississippi River, which is, it must be said, one hell of a river.   It was interesting, it must be said, to look across a river and know that I was seeing Arkansas - there are few places in my home state of California where you can know where one state ends and another begins just by looking at a natural boundary.

Finally, though, I headed back to the shuttle's stop, and got back to the hotel.  I found myself Sitting in the shuttle with the wonderfully named Professor Paine. If only my friend Myrtle shock (aka Dr. Shock, on account of her Ph.D.) were there to meet him.  Once at the hotel, I collected my belongings, and boarded another shuttle for the airport.  However, as I boarded the shuttle back to the airport, I was happy to see that one of the Cocaine Anonymous folks was a dead ringer for Liam Neeson, were Liam Neeson a bearded, long-haired redneck.

Anyway, I got the the airport, and realized that I had not yet purchased a gift for Kaylia, so I got promptly on that, settling on a box of Moon Pies (I have always found them nasty, but Kaylia likes marshmallow more than I do).  While doing this, I encountered a man who kept inadvertently knocking things off of shelves with his backpack.  He and I got to talking, and it turned out that he was a film distributor from San Francisco who had been traveling the country to attend meetings with possible outlets for a film on the history of Timbuktu that had fallen into his company's hands.  He had been in Memphis meeting with people in no way related to archaeology, when he heard that the SAA was there.  However, he had no knowledge of how to reach anyone...and then he ran into an SAA member who also had no idea how to reach anyone at the SAA, so there's irony for you.

One pulled prok sandwich later, I had to move to get onto my plane.  I was delighted to discover that there were only two people in my row - myself, and a fellow who looked for all of the world like John McCain.  As the plane was loading, the honorable senator from Arizona pulled out a large, hardcover sex advice book, and began reading intently, which he continued doing until we touched down in Atlanta (our layover stop).  Unlike the flight out, this one was uneventful, and I was able to finish reading my own book (Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley - I highly recommend it). 

After we landed, and as we disembarked, it became clear that the former Republican nominee for president had to literally run to catch his connecting flight (perhaps to Wasilla Alaska?).  And so he closed up his sex book and took off running as soon as we were off the plane (it was quite a sight to see, I assure you).  I strolled at a leisurely towards my plane.

On my way to the plane, I was passed by a family of three - a mother and her two children (a boy of about ten years, and a girl in her early teens).  The mother, a very attractive woman with an accent that I have to admit I found quite pleasant, said, rather loudly "well, all of this walking around is making my skirt ride up just ever so much!"  Prompting the teenage daughter to say "Ma!  What have I told you about too much information!"  The son just giggled, whether because he thought it was funny, or out of embarrassment, I could not tell.

You know, it's a shame that sexy John McCain had to take off...I could have introduced the mother to him.

As I kept towards my plane's gate, I also saw a rather corpulent middle-aged white woman being pushed in a wheelchair by a young African American man.  The young man had a bored look on his face, as the woman lectured on about how it is necessary to know your place in order to fit in and be happy.  While the conversation may very well have had nothing to do with race, I must admit that the scene as I saw it seemed to conform to stereotypes.  This, in turn, led me to wonder how often visitors to California see scenes that are not quite what they at first appear, and yet seem to conform to existing stereotypes.

Upon reaching my gate, I realized that I had an hour to kill before boarding.  I was not yet hungry, but I realized that I had a four-to-five hour flight ahead of me, and therefore should probably eat.  I made my way towards a nearby airport sandwich shop, and found myself at a table next to one filled by a group of female undergrad archaeology students, whose conversation was mostly gossip about who was dating who in their department, peppered with talk of good come-on lines for archaeologists. My favorite line: 'I have a recreated Navajo bow for projectile experimentation,would you like to come shoot it?'"

I am ashamed to admit that it took me about an hour before I realized the true potential for "bow job" jokes.

Finally, I got on my plane, and was on my way to San Francisco.  Unlike my previous flights, I had little to report on this one.  I was the only person in my row until the last hour or so of the flight, when a Peruvian archaeologist came over in order to work without being harassed by the person in the seat next to her.  I finally arrived in San Francisco around 11:30, and got easily to my car, and then off to a friend's place for the night, heading back to Fresno in the morning.

And there ended what is likely my last SAA trip for quite a long time.

*It's like they're just 13-year-olds with jet engines.

**No, I'm not making this up.

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