Usually, food isn’t the first thing you think of at a conference.
A quick breakfast as you finish writing your paper, gallons of coffee at the break, some fast food crap for lunch. Hors d’oeuvres at receptions, gulped back while schmoozing. One conference I was at, dinner consisted of takeout that I brought to my hotel room.
But here in Amsterdam, at The Ends of Television Conference, they feed us.
At lunch, after papers on such topics as “Televisual Phantoms in the Built Environment: Sensate Publics and Acoustic Architectures,” and “Cultural Broadcasting in the Age of Digital Reproduction,” we sit at long wooden tables and eat delicious sandwiches on good Dutch bread, with salad and fruit. It’s here that I meet The Cypriot and The Polish Sophisticate, and The British Theorist, who becomes my friend.
At the end of the day we are invited out to a beautiful courtyard, with tall tables covered with white linen and rows of wine glasses. We eat caprese salad kebabs, and pickled herring rolled around olives, and small spicy red peppers stuffed with goat cheese.
The communal eating (which I notice is also a fixture of many of the outdoor cafes in the city) humanizes us. The astringent competitiveness, so often present at academic events, is neutralized by the flavours of smoked salmon, Gouda cheese, the fresh pungency of an orange.
I give a talk on the last day, “Girly Men and Mannish Technologies: Social Discourses of HDTV”. There are five of us on a 11/2 hr long panel. It could easily be a site of tension and irritability. But we all co-operate as we set up, help one another. The Austrian Industry Guy cues up my Youtube clips for me as I talk. I promise to send him an article I wrote on television and mobility, which he might find useful for his work.
It’s all because of the food.
The Eccentric Grad Student tells British Theorist about her dissertation, he listens intently. I tell The UK Guys about my film, and they nod, solemnly, ask questions.
A band of Roma musicians serenades us, we dig in our pockets for Euros. A cat brushes against my feet, the waiter tells me the cat is pregnant, I give her the last of the sardines.