Safely home now from the SBL meeting in New Orleans. No doubt Tommy will be blogging individual papers for several months. So this is just a brief reflection and some highlights. I realise that it is extremely costly to go to SBL: money, time, consumption of resources, time away from family and teaching (and feeling crumby for a couple of days after I get back). I often find it a rather strange and even unsettling experience which raises fundamental questions about what I am doing with my life. But I also enjoy the whole experience, even if one has to extrovert for four days in a row.
I enjoyed giving one paper this year. In previous years I have often done two (or last year even three), which is invariably stressful no matter how far in advance I prepare them. I put a bit more thought into the one presentation as a presentation, and even managed to rehearse it twice at home, and I think this helped with the clarity and focus of the presentation (although the final version of the powerpoint was prepared in the 'plane while waiting on the tarmac at Heathrow).
I majored on sessions relevant to my research interests in "NT Textual Criticism" and "Papyrology and Early Christianity" with various other things more connected with teaching (Mark, NT Theology etc.). Probably the highlight was the new text of Mark 1.1-2 from Oxyrhynchus, but lots of these were interesting and may be blogged in more detail in coming days. There were some odd schedule conflicts and it was noticeable that attendance at some sessions (esp. papyrology) was pretty low.
I had great room-mates and was able to spend time with lots of people (although it is striking how many people who were in New Orleans I didn't meet); I got plenty of exercise in the hotel gym, walking about, and one longer ride; enjoyed some jazz (on the street and in Preservation Hall); enjoyed some good food on a budget (breakfast buffet meant a banana generally could suffice for lunch which left some great dinners). I had several helpful discussions about publishing matters (while managing to buy only three books), and have some ideas for future projects of various sorts (this section deliberately vague). I also met with some students thinking about coming to Cambridge. It was also noticeable that several friends are struggling with job hunting in a difficult economic environment.
Initially I found New Orleans a bit grim (not helped by a delayed flight which meant I didn't arrive until 1AM on Saturday morning, the rain, the smell, the sights on Bourbon Street at 5AM on Sunday morning). Monday afternoon was lovely and sunny and I hired a bicycle for an enjoyable tootle around in the sun covering the French Quarter, the Garden District, Audubon Park and the bike path on top of the levee upstream along the Mississippi (I arrived back a little late to the final TC session and sat in the back sweating and rehydrating!).
On Tuesday a friend with a car meant we could head south for a two mile nature trail in the Barataria Nature Preserve (unfortunately no alligators, but plenty of interest as it follows a lovely bayou through a range of different habitats - we did see egrets, vultures, squirrels, lizards, snakes and fish leaping); followed by a trip to the end of the road at Lafitte where we had lunch looking out on shrimp boats coming in and a large flock of pelicans while feasting on the Shrimp Special (shrimp cocktail, followed by shrimp gumbo, fried shrimp, and stuffed shrimp with shrimp salad). Getting out and about helped me to appreciate the natural environment of the area, as well as something of its fascinating history.