I think this is by far the most exciting part of my PhD, not that I haven’t found all of it exciting, but compared, say, to the Literature Review, my trip to Lexington to speak Latin for a week is certainly likely to be filled with more thrills and spills. The idea behind the trip is that I investigate the effect of conversational Latin on Latin learning and, in particular, on the learner’s ability to engage with ancient texts. This will help me assess the utility of a communicative approach in Latin pedagogy, and the applicability of social-constructivist and interactional language learning theories, to ancient languages.
Surprisingly, in view of my adventuring history, the journey out was reasonably uneventful. I made it onto both planes with time to spare though the plane from Heathrow into Chicago was quite late so American Airlines printed me an emergency boarding pass and gave me an orange piece of card to wave as I passed through the airport. Both these gestures made me feel a lot better and I was really very impressed by their thoughtfulness and efficiency. The orange card was particularly reassuring and did sometimes attract helpful attention from airline staff, though, more often, quizzical looks from fellow travelers. The plane from Chicago to Lexington was alarmingly small, but it flew nicely and consistently all the way to Blue Grass airport (named for the deep colour of the grass here, encouraged by frequent rain and sun and high calcium content in the soil).
I first visited the USA about thirty-five years ago and I remember thinking it was like going forward in time. There were drive-in movies, drive-through MacDonalds, all-night stores and hash browns, things I had never seen before, and although it is probably too rainy for drive-in movies to catch on in the UK, all the other novelties are now commonplace here. I haven’t been back to America since then, so I was curious to see what innovations I would find this time round. My first discovery was in a toilet in O’Hare airport. They have the most marvelous mechanism that rotates a kind of clingfilm wrap on the toilet seat and you advance it before you use the loo by waving your hand imperiously at a green symbol above the bowl. Delightful! I look forward to their arrival in UK motorway service stations. I also met some water imported from Fiji, which is the best in the world, apparently, though it just tasted like water really, and a drink called Cranapple Juice (Cranberry and Apple) which was very nice.
When I finally got to my student-room in Blandings Tower, I was hungry and there were no food outlets open on campus, so I asked the reception staff for advice. They recommended I get a take-away delivered or take a taxi to a restaurant and they wrote this advice down for me, lest I forget! When I failed to get my phone to work (it is so old it doesn’t pick up the American networks at all) or to understand the online ordering procedure, they phoned for a pizza for me. They really were very helpful, but when they asked whether I had thought to bring any American money with me, I realised that they had made a reasonable assessment of my knowing-which-way-is-up skills too!
Anyway, the pizza (in fact just one third of the pizza) certainly solved my hunger problem and the marvelous aircon meant I was more comfortable than I had been in England. Despite all the adrenalin of the day, I slept like a baby …