not walking alone

Family weekend for the Priya household* included hanging out with LilSis who'd arrived after a 22-hour trip from Down Under. Since the upcoming AnotherBigNameConference-related post is on ethnography, I thought of getting a bit above myself, and trying to kill two birds with one stone (though, in practice, I think the actual killing of two birds with one stone would require a really big stone, quite possibly a boulder. Anyway...). So, linking family outings and work commitments, here are some ethnographic vignettes to prepare you for the actual ethnographic panel post:

Friday: the poster-that-never-was involved my going into a Kinko's, which was filled with loads of ABNC attendees, and in true "Third World" fashion, pushing my way in front of a line of about eight people, all frantically trying to get the Kinko's employees to do their thing. Apologising profusely and acting dithering helps, as academics (especially foreign academics, as these folks were) seemed to be quite sympathetic to a harrassed-looking and potentially-lost colleague trying to get last-minute things done. Or so I found as no one complained or even made sarcastic side-remarks (which would have been the least of what I'd have done) when I made my way to the front of the line in order to get E and mine files printed. Then came the frantic dash back in the rain to the Conference Centre, a place I later realised was connected to the Hotel where Kinko's was located by a (covered, of course) walkway.

Saturday: LilSis and I did the usual thing my family does when they get together--We went off to watch football (soccer). Trying to decide between Ireland-Germany (both of us being fond of Ireland and me trying to justify watching that match would count as research into how the Irish are described in the international arena) and Wales-Czech Republic was tough but we went with Wales since, ever since I can remember, we've been trying to get Wales into a major championship. It was also rather amusing to find that place that went all out for England during the World Cup (with people singing English footy songs and such), the Lucky Bar in Washington, was showing the Wales match. After all, Wales is hardly a glamourous or a "sexy" team like England with Beckham is (or, now, was, since Beckham's not in the team anymore). But, by the time we got there (about ten minutes after the match started), the match was up on the big screen, all the tables and chairs were taken (except one booth at the front, which we took) and people were already shouting. After a bit of confusion (the Czechs were in a red and white kit, which are Wales' usual colours), it was the usual story--Wales played all right, had a couple of great chances, and then lost to a rather easily-given goal at the end.

One thing about this experience was that LilSis and I were the only girls at this place, apart from one of the servers. At some point during the match, the owner came up to ask us (probably because we were making a fair amount of noise. After all, the whole point of watching football is to cheer/jeer teams) if we were Welsh. At that time, both of us replied "no". Later, when I was paying our bill, I ran into him again and had a discussion about why precisely we were there (see note on Wales above). I pointed out that we're (well, LilSis more than me) part of the "Ryan Giggs fan club" (and I did say this with a straight face) and that we'd really like him to play in a major championship before he retired. After that, the conversation got technical with the bloke pointing out "Gigg's not been here today, had he?" and me replying with the (many) times Giggs had carried the team. He issued an invite to "why don't you come watch Man Utd here then?". As we were on good terms by then, I didn't answer that I wouldn't spend time watching Man Utd unless they were getting thrashed by Liverpool! Once our credentials for watching Wales were established, we were invited to watch future matches and shown the little "Ryan Giggs alcove", where an autographed picture of Giggs resided.

Sunday: Afternoon visit to the Catholic University Theatre to catch an excellent production of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. Tom Stoppard's existential play is a favourite in our household and, of course, we had to go see it. The audience this time was composed of mainly older folks, the theatre was small and intimate and the actors worked well together. One of the highlights was a clearly improvised moment in which one of the actors roared about like a lion and the other one started laughing. The actors did a good job of delivering Stoppard's words on probability, life and death. Oh, and we stood out once more--this time, not as the only girls about but as the only non-white people there. In an audience of fifty or so people, that was quite a feat.

After the play, we went to explore the National Shrine, also located within the Uni's grounds. Despite my four years in this city, I'd never been there before. The crypt church, populated with people praying and with tourists walking around, had images of Jesus and his Mum. The good part in all this was that it was a working church (we--well, I actually--disturbed a bloke praying in the Filipino section) with duplicates of well-known Catholic shrines and images from all over the world. It was like taking a tour of famous Catholic places, ranging from India and the Philippines to Poland and Greece. The benefits of travel without leaving DC, yous might say.

Both the Kinko's, the pub and the shrine were different, to my usual places of visit, because they seemed like they weren't supposed to be in DC (or Philly) and yet the audience were there for something familiar. The Kinko's was full of ABNC people and I acted completely out of character and got away with it. The pub was full of Wales supporters--both Americans (the boys in the booth right behind us were American, one of whom was fairly clueless about soccer and the other one was explaining the game to him) and from overseas. The question of belonging, of being there was dependent on having an attachment to Wales (or, to a Welshman--Ryan Giggs in our case). In the case of the Shrine, the location was in the middle of DC and yet the place itself had images and idols from all over the world--Jesus and his Mum in different guises--and, for some of the attendees, there was probably a sense of home in the middle of DC as they prayed at their "local" areas. So, yes, there was no walking alone today.

* Does a grand total of 2 count as a household?

** Yes, I remain an idealist in this. It was just nice to see all the different versions of the same event--the Immaculate Conception and Jesus and Mary--spread around a common space.


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