The conference began with a kick-off reception tonight. These mix-and-mingle events can go in any number of directions, but Slayage is different from most academic conferences on a number of levels. First off, it really does have sort of a family reunion feel to it. Sure, so&so might be my German cousin and thatonethere might be my Israeli aunt, but what family doesn’t have its quirks? It’s good to see these folks again – Facebook and other such forms of communication are useful, but there’s nothing like actually seeing these people who share your passions and think deeply about the same things you spend your time pondering over.
We did a little exploring of St. Augustine earlier today, but it was too hot and humid to do as much as we had (over ambitiously) planned. However, we did take a tour of the main building of Flagler College, which was originally the Ponce de Leon Hotel built by Henry Flagler back in 1887. Talk about grand! Let’s see – since only the gentlemen could handle financial transactions, the genders were separated inside the lobby. The men went to the front desk to pay and the ladies were whisked away into the Grand Parlor – merely seeing business being transacted was thought to be a cause of blindness in the fairer sex. (Ah, the high Victorian age!) Ladies could not even go to the front desk to retrieve their jewels from the hotel safe; rather, they described what pieces they wanted in detail, then sent their husbands. Just imagine the squabbles – “You never listen to me! These are my day diamonds –how can I possibly wear these to dinner?”
Seriously, the hotel was the grandest of the grand hotels. It was the first building in Florida to be built from the ground up with electricity in mind, and was wired by Edison himself. Guests were “afeared” of the new-fangled notion, and servants were hired whose sole job it was to press the buttons to turn the lights on and off in the guests’ rooms. The hotel had hot and cold running water, but shared bathrooms. Yes, the Astors and Vanderbilts shared a sink. Louis Comfort Tiffany did the windows and the plasterwork in the Grand Parlor prominently features his distinctive “Tiffany blue.” The decorative details are just marvelous and feature nautical themes, mythology, and Spanish influence. It’s a bit overwhelming, to tell the truth. (And it’s telling that the four figures representing the Age of Spain are Adventure, Discovery, Conquest, and Civilization.)
The conference begins full-bore tomorrow morning and goes pretty much straight through until the banquet tomorrow night, which will be held in what had been the Grand Ballroom of the hotel. More on that later.