It’s September: the rentrée — when everyone goes back to work, including me even though I am retreated –– looms. I had a very nice summer, thank you, sitting in my garden for possibly the last time, enjoying being visited by daughters and grandchildren, and not having to go anywhere, except occasionally down the shops to buy a newspaper or some more mushrooms. And in particular not having to get up in the morning. It couldnt last. The leaves on my conker tree are brown and as I write the conkers are already starting to fall. Time for some quick blog entries rapidly surveying the first series of displacements I undertook this month: five talks at four different venues in 12 days.
September 8th. I am sitting once more on the eurostar, waiting for the closure of the doors, when my phone rings. The expensive hotel in the Marais where I am booked in for the night wants to cancel my reservation. I am delighted to discover that lack of usage has not impaired my ability to remonstrate in French, so I remonstrate. How very dare they. Then I spend the journey feverishly correcting the first of the four different talks I have to give on this trip (the others will come in due course) and not thinking about hotels any more. Which seems to work, since when I arrive at gare de nord and switch on my French phone, the hotel meekly apologises for deranging me and assures me that everything has been regulated. Good. For 200 euro a night I expect a bit of servility. Luxury would be nice, but is not (it becomes apparent when I actually get to La Turenne du Marais) on the menu today. Never mind: all I need now is some dinner, which (I am pleased to report) was available from a quite acceptable Italian trattoria just across the street. I wolf down a good tricolour salad, some creamy pasta, some wine, and (a mistake this last) an allegedly sicilian cannoli before retiring to my absurdly over-crowded hotel room.
Next morning, after a typical hotel breakfast, it’s a five minute stroll to Les Archives Nationales, which are apparently on strike despite the sunshine. The lovely Anais Wion appears and kindly carries my suitcase up hundreds of stairs, along dozens of corridors, and through all sorts of winding twisty passages which eventually lead me, puffing along behind, to the attic in which Denise Ogilvie hangs out. It boasts splendid views over the rooftops, and its own bathroom. The three of us then spend an agreeable morning debating how to mark up postcards in TEI and gossiping about the other ANGD trainers who haven’t apparently made much progress either. I realise that I still havent done the work I should have done on revising the workplan for the “structurer” session ; in particular I haven’t written to tell the nice lady from INIST that I think there is too much Dublin Core in her proposed scenario.
No time for lunch. A not very quick taxi ride across town through the traffic to rue Lhomond, where I pop into the office to say hello, pop out again to get a sandwich, pop in again for a meeting with the neighbours at ITEM to discuss the possibility of a TEI-compliant version of their legendary Optima program. I form the doubtless incorrect impression that someone has told P-M de Biaisi that he won’t get another round of funding for this software unless it can export TEI. He impresses on me how different it is to everything else I may have seen of the kind, and I assure him it would be utterly delightful to collaborate on such a project and Daniel Ferrer who organized the meeting blinks a bit in a mildly donnish way. Anyway, PM dashes off to his next meeting, and I dash off to mine, which is actually just a brief teabreak with Florence outside her office in the place de l’université. We exchange gossip, and drink what passes for tea in France. And then it’s back to the sweaty metro ligne 4 and off to the Gare de l’Est, for the 1809 train to Nancy, on which I continue to work on that wretched talk. Except for the bit where the train achieves its maximum vitesse, appearing determined to shake itself (and me) into pieces in the process.
Bertrand meets me off the train, walks me to my hotel, buys me a beer, and makes sure we get to the right restaurant for dinner not too late. He’s a pal. The hotel, the Akena, is a French take on the American motel — lacking in frills, but actually offering slightly more space than the one in the Marais, with functioning free wifi and a third the price.Dinner is upstairs at Grand Cafe Foy in the Place Stan’, of course. I go for the obligatory quiche lorraine, followed by entrecote and chips, and truly delicious tarte de rhubarbe. Service is very slow, but the food is worth waiting for: so maybe not nickel (can this word be applied to food?) but definitely correct. I slowly warm up to academic discourse in French again : its been a while.
Next morning infeasibly early, I accompany my fellow plenary speaker, a distinguished lady called Catherine Kerbrat-Orecchioni, down to Nancy’s remarkably ugly Palais des Congres (it looks like a carpark) in good time to observe my hosts of last night doing conference organiser panicky things for a while, get some coffee, get my very own conference bag, check my email, and give my intervention on linguistic annotation (Is it A Good Thing?) yet another final polish. And so eventually to this talk’s first outing, as opening keynote for the annual conference of the Association of French Language Studies which seems to go down better than it has any right to. I can spend the rest of the day graciously accepting compliments on the clarity of my french and re-acquainting myself with applied corpus linguistics, a field which (had I forgotten) seems characterised as much by some really very nice people as much as by any methodology. After lunch, I listen with interest to various presentations about dozens of small oral corpora, and wonder if the time is really ripe for the TEI to be adopted as an interchange format for them. The closing plenary is from a grand homme de corpus linguistique, Bernard Combettes, who extemporizes with no visible visual aids or notes in the impressive way that only French grands hommes can. At the end of the day, we form a disputacious crocodile and trek across town down to the University Library’s vast salle d’honneur in the cours Léopold, which I distinctly recognise from the time back in 2008 when the TEI annual meeting was hosted at ATILF. As on that occasion, there are speeches, (largely content free) lots of champagne, and lots of amuse-gueules I realise after a while that I am very tired, as well as pleasantly drunk, and stagger back to le motel, missing out the son et lumiere.
Next day, being Monday, I feel I can justifiably skip some sessions in order to deal with some of the minor crises which have popped up in my email, notably a panic about a deliverable for the Agora project. I have a long and interesting discussion with Carol Etienne about the CLAPI project, which seems to have accumulated and (more usefully) makes available lot of information about the various oral transcription formats currently in use. And I listen to another plenary, this time in English, from a Canadian called Tom Cobb, largely advertising his wonderful teaching software: he apparently runs a company called Linguasoft which (in BNC days) I had occasion to speak to rather sternly.
After lunch, I attend a session largely devoted to people talking about something called “la langue des jeunes” which is seemingly the politically correct term for the language of the banlieus, aka banlieusart, many of the presenters taking a curiously anthropological approach to the task of collecting and reporting linguistic evidence. After lunch, Jenny Cheshire’s plenary reported some results from her ongoing English (well, Hackney) based project on innovation in “Multicultural London English” : an impressive talk for its methodological rigour and thought provoking analysis: see further this earlier report though that one doesn’t talk about pronominal “man”.
The evening was rounded off by a celebratory dinner in the downstairs dining room at Nancy’s gloriously art nouveau restaurant Flo during which I spent a fair amount of time chatting with the ladies who run AFLS, partly because they seemed to like it, partly in the hope they might invite me back. some time.