Cecilia’s hospitality and the feeling of home (Eagle River, Alaska)

Today we woke up in Alaska for the first time. With four hours time change and the quality and length of light, it was like waking up in another country (what the lower 48 does not know, at least experientially). I believe there are only about 3 or 4 hours of darkness this time of year. And the enjoyment of the light has to make up for the rest of the year a little bit. I cannot fully describe how this day went, its quality and textures, the ‘nature center’ of Eagle River (see the post for August 4) where we stepped into and crossed a cold river, but what I can describe is the food and welcoming of Cecilia. She welcomed me, as she had 20 years earlier in Austria, to a home of delicious food. Two friends of hers also gave us a bed for the night and a breakfast of eggs and toast and coffee. A true kind of homecoming. The evening meal though was an example of hospitality. Right now, I read about the troubles in the ‘hospitality industry’: a lack of workers, many restaurants and hotels have closed (see this article by William Davies). Hospitals have become over-crowded, and nurses and doctors have been superheroes. So much has changed during COVID, and it is not over. But here is a traditional form of hospitality. Instead of it being a business or an industry (like tourism), it is a home – the feeling of home, being welcomed, invited in, nourished. The meal consisted of spätzl, which I love, dumplings, Moose goulash, salmon, and halibut. How inviting! I must become a food writer to begin to describe the tastes and smells. I cannot forget the dessert. Tomorrow we better go for a hike in order to work off some of these calories.

Being Mindful

In March 2021, I will be giving a talk and an interview at the ACIS (American Conference of Irish Studies). The theme is “Walk on Air: The Politics and Poetics of Transcendence and Terror.” This is a kind of return to origins. Back when I was a junior in college I studied in Maynooth, Ireland for a year (see picture above). Before that I had written to a professor who taught in Maynooth, William Desmond, and he had written back encouraging me to study there — though he was not there when I went there. The last time I saw Professor Desmond was at a celebration of a life a couple of years ago (see my post about it here). How life revolves and changes. There in 1995-1996 at the National University of Ireland, I had many courses on literature and philosophy (and geography, sociology, history, etc.). We read Yeats and Joyce and Edgworth. We read Camus and Bergson and Descartes. I remember one course on Camus that met at 8:00 in the morning. I still have my notes from that course where my writing would peter out and slobber fell on the page from often falling asleep during class (truly from too much partying the night before). My mind has never worked very well at that time of the morning. The priest-professor had written his PhD on Camus and would speak in a monotone voice reading out his lecture. I was excited by the content but bored by the delivery. About 8 years after studying in Maynooth, one of my first publications was a review of Desmond’s book, Art, Origins, Otherness.

As I prepare my talk today on Desmond on the sublime (and the interview with Colm Toíbín), I am reminded of that year in Maynooth when I was 21-years old. One of my most recent blog posts (see here) was on Camus, and I hope to include some highlights here of the presentation. For now I will just leave you a couple quotes that refer to the conference theme:

Satan is sublime—Milton’s Satan—sublime in revolt—and revolting, even if sublime.

Satan: the sublime evil of the erotics of selving, in the usurped sovereignty that counterfeits God.

Ahab is sublime—Melville’s Ahab—erotics of selving bordering the infernal in Ahab’s monomaniacal hatred of the hunted Moby Dick—Moby Dick, the white monster, the blank Leviathan,also hyperbolic and sublime, but whether in evil or innocence remains in mystery.

William Desmond Reader