This is a look back over my October-November tour of talks, now that I'm home again in the southwest of France.

I gave talks on BOB DYLAN & THE HISTORY OF ROCK'N'ROLL at Cape Breton University, Nova Scotia, Canada; at the University of Texas at Austin; at Arkansas State University at Jonesboro AR; and at the University of Oslo. And I gave talks on BOB DYLAN & THE POETRY OF THE BLUES at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada; at the University of Chicago; at Southwestern University, Georgetown TX; at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln NE; at the University of Nebraska at Kearney; and at Goldsmiths College, London.
The quirky, surprisingly classy-roomed Royal Hotel, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Aside from the talks themselves, and the people who made up my audiences and hosts, and others met along the way, the most memorable episodes for me were encountering US Customs & Immigration on the way in  to Chicago from Canada, and the 29-hour train ride I took out  of Chicago all the way down south to Austin Texas.

I'd expected to meet US Customs & Immigration when I reached  Chicago, but no, they occupy a whole portion of the main airport in Montreal - and a vast acreage of corridors and checkpoints it is too. And instead of granting me the Visa Waiver Business stamp for my passport straight away, as always in the past, they made me wait, and then pulled me aside - "Is there a problem?" "No, no problem: just go and take a seat over there, sir, please"... and so I had to sit and fret in a special waiting area while a gathering of these officers discussed me. None seemed able to dare be responsible for simply letting me in. Time passed. Then one of them, who looked more like a lapsed Amish in fancy dress than an immigration officer, called me over to his small cubicle ("Michael, just step in here a moment...") and grilled me for the longest time, making me show him all the university letters of invitation I had with me, peering through my 7-page printed itinerary like a man who could hardly read, and then sending me back to the forlorn and deserted waiting area while he went off once more to consult . . . while I sweated away and the time ticked by right up to my the gate-closing time for my flight - and beyond. Then he called me back int one more time (and it was "Mr Gray" now, which sounded worse) - and finally gave me the passport stamp thtree minutes before my flight was leaving from a long way away down the airport. "There are plenty of flights to Chicago," he smirked. Mine, of course, was of the cheap, non-transferable type, valid for that flight only. Luckily, Air Canada were kind and gave me a boarding pass for the flight a couple of hours later. Not my favourite part of the trip.

But ah, Chicago. The parts of the university I saw - the music department lecture theatre and the quadrangle you reach it from -  are elegant Victoriana, with ivy climbing stone walls and mullioned gothic windows: all this in sharp contrast to the soaring drama of the city's skyscrapers, which cluster together gleam with far more panache than New York's. I didn't have enough time here, really, to enjoy the zing of the city, before I set off in a cab to Union Station.

The train was just great. 29 hours with no wifi available (and in my case no American mobile phone): 29 hours throughout which no-one could demand anything from me. So rare a thing today. Just the innate glamour of the epic ride, the dining-car sociability - they put you together with strangers at shared tables - the changing landscape, the sleeping compartment, and the sheer olde worlde physicality of it: all iron and steel and rattling tracks and big old bridges taking you high up over muddy rivers and through woods with little wooden houses and mules and rusting 1940s pick-up trucks. We'd pulled out of Chicago at 1.45pm, and rolled on through the afternoon and evening, and all through the night. When I woke in the early morning we were crossing into Texas, and it took all that second day to clatter down through that enormous state; and after I disembarked at Austin, at 6.35pm, it was going to go head on further south, still in Texas, for a number of hours more.

And then at the end of my trip, the flight back to France from Montreal, and a quick side trip to London for an especially enjoyable talk at Goldsmiths College in New Cross (where I used to live, not especially happily, once upon a time) and on to Oslo on Norwegian Air, which had wi-fi on the flight (!).
flying out of Montreal, November 1st
flying in towards Paris next morning

My first visit to Norway, and an unexpected pleasure from first to last - from the elegant airport with its beautiful wood-floored corridors and the highly congenial, efficient train into the good-looking city centre to the university and my reception there. Texas is well over twice the size of Norway, but a good deal less civilised.

Back again via London, and home to beautiful weather: days of 25+ degrees Celsius (77+ Fahrenheit), and the keen anticipation of receiving Bob Dylan's most essential Bootleg Series issue, The Cutting Edge. Altogether this trip I was away for 26 days.

I calculated my mileage totals this morning:

By road: 891
By rail: 1,780
By air: 15,829

TOTAL = 18,500 miles.


No comments:

Post a Comment