Princeton talk & NYC fun

Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009
I spent last weekend in Princeton and NYC, and had a really good time. The point of the trip was that I was giving a brown-bag talk at my old department, Near Eastern Studies. But it was also great to catch up with some old friends. 

Everything started with a 5 a.m. wake-up and a snowy and dark drive to the airport, courtesy of my faculty mentor at MSU (I signed up for this mentorship program, which pairs new professors with more senior people in other departments, without knowing how much it would save me in taxi fare. Having a cool mentor is a really good thing). I flew into Newark, then took the train down to Princeton. 

Princeton was slushy and rainy and nasty when I arrived. I met up with my friend Farrell, whom I knew back when I was an MA student at Princeton, and who is spending the current semester at the Institute for Advanced Study.  We had dinner and drinks, and even though we had a good time it was difficult to escape the conclusion we'd made so many times nearly a decade ago: no matter what the weather, Princeton is a pretty crummy place to spend an evening. 

Princeton's Firestone Library under brighter skies Sunday morning

On Sunday I went into New York to meet up with Jake the Snake, a good friend from high school whom I hadn't seen in eighteen years. That's the thing about growing up in a college town like Ann Arbor--hardly anyone stays around, because there aren't a lot of jobs outside of the super-specialized (like being a professor at the university or doctor at the hospital) and the sandwich/coffee service sector. Jake's parents moved to Berkeley shortly after we both graduated from college, and in those pre-internet years we had lost track of one another entirely.  On Sunday, we ended up spending about five hours walking around Jake's neighborhood, having a great lunch, and then drinking tea in a Turkish pastane (pastry and coffee/tea shop), after which time I met a friend from my Columbia days at a Turkish restaurant closer to Penn Station. 

At noon on Monday I gave a talk at my old department, which brought a wave of nostalgia that I wasn't really expecting. A number of my old professors came to my talk, as well as some of the current graduate students. All in all, this was probably the most enjoyable experience I'd ever had at Jones Hall. Similarly, I probably had more fun over the course of this weekend than I did the entire time I lived in Princeton from 1999 to 2001. 

After the talk I spent a couple of hours chatting with old friends, so I unfortunately didn't get a chance to visit the Princeton Record Exchange, which I understand has one of the best vinyl collections in the region. When I was studying at Princeton I hadn't yet gotten back into listening to vinyl lps, so I had never really checked the place out very carefully. I had really been hoping to go there, but there just wasn't enough time. Hopefully I'll have the chance to go back before too much time passes. 

On the subject of records, I saw this story in the New York Times while returning to Bozeman on Monday. The story, which is on the revival of vinyl lp sales int he United States, is hardly news--record and turntable sales bounced back years ago. Still, it's nice to see some recognition of the trend. 

Back when I was in college I had about 300 lps and another 50 or so 45s. After graduating in 1991 I sold almost all of them--my plans were to seek my fortune overseas somewhere, and I was sure there would be no place for lps in the America I would return to years later. Indeed, that seemed to be the case when I arrived in Princeton in 1999; I visited the Princeton Record Exchange once or twice, but had no interest in buying vinyl. 

My mood towards vinyl started changing a few years ago. First, I bought an iPod in 2006, and this purchase awakened in me a real nostalgia for the album as a format.  I started listening more and more to entire albums that I'd taken from the web during the heyday of my downloading days in the early 2000s. Then, during visits back to Ann Arbor, I discovered that a number of the old record stores I used to frequent were still in business. Wazoo, PJ's, Encore, and Underground Sounds (owned and managed by Matty B., another friend from high school) all still sold a lot of vinyl (mostly vinyl, in the case of Underground Sounds), and I slowly started picking things up whenever I was in town. Indeed, when I was in graduate school I spent several weeks in Ann Arbor during the course of a number of summers (Mom and Dad were out of town!), and played these newly-purchased albums (along with the five or six that I'd never sold) on my old record player and receiver from high school, which my parents had appropriated for themselves during the course of my years in Istanbul. 

By the time I had finished graduate school and was living in New York (the Columbia year), I bought my own record player (a plastic thing I purchased online for about $75). When I got the job at Montana State, the idea was to give the plastic player to my parents in exchange for the equipment they had confiscated while I was in Turkey. However, when I saw the multitude of cables my father had, years before, plugged into the back of the receiver I was planning to take, I had a change of heart; I couldn't do this to whim. Unplugging all of my father's living room gadgets and forcing him to spend the rest of his retirement getting things organized again seemed more than a bit cruel--and in any case the plastic turntable (which plugs directly into speakers, and so doesn't need a receiver) is actually pretty good. And now I've got over 200 records in my reconstituted collection. 

Flying back to Bozeman, I found myself really excited to get 'home.' That's a term I haven't used very much lately. After all, from the time I left Turkey in 1999 until I moved out to Montana in August of this year, I'd lived in something like 19 different apartments in twelve different cities. At no time since I finished high school had all of my stuff been located in one zip code, let along a single apartment. Leaving for Turkey in 1992, I'd stored all kinds of stuff in my parents' basement, and even after I came back to the US in 1999 I'd still left most of it there (despite my mother's frequent pleas to get rid of it or take it with me somewhere). In graduate school, I was moving around too much and spending so much time abroad (almost three of the six years I spent at Brown were overseas) to get all of my belongings together, so every time I visited my parents during those years I'd have something to play with (records, old books, trinkets from Turkey) back in Ann Arbor. 

When I came out to Bozeman in August, though I brought everything with me--and it's really great to have it all here. Back in college, a friend of mine once told me that, for him, "home is where your records are." For me, at any rate, that's still the case. 

Returning to Bozeman late Monday night, it was very cold. On Tuesday, the temperature went down to minus 30 in the afternoon--but the sky was still bright blue and brilliantly illuminated. It was good to be back.
More links, info and analysis can be found at the Borderlands Lounge.

No comments:

Post a Comment