I've come to realize that, living where I do, I've inadvertently returned to the cartography of my childhood. Don't get me wrong: I live in another country (yet another post that's been on the potting bench for a while. . . I'll get to that request about "Canadianizing my vehicle," I promise). But just as I grew up in the exurbs of a small, prestigious university city, I now reside in a rural township east of Kingston and Queen's. Hop on I-95 in Connecticut, and you could head for Boston or New York City. Two hours either direction on 401, and I can be in Toronto or Montreal. I finally hit both in the past month or so, to two strikingly, and surprisingly, dissimilar experiences.
Sure, Toronto has the non-threatening, prosaic feel of a midwest American city, and Montreal is just so . . . French. In Toronto, I attended the annual meeting of the Canada Milton Seminar. In Montreal, I saw Arcade Fire in concert.
At one venue, the atmosphere was hot, the audience was on its feet, and you couldn't hear yourself for all the commotion. At the other, the attendees sat in stern and solemn silence, cool and reflective throughout the event.
You probably think the latter was the Milton conference, right?
Nooooo, mes amis, that seventeenth-century indie rocker John Milton has one serious, and spirited, fanbase.
While I "do early modern," I am not a "Miltonist"; I attended the Seminar to become more conversant in Milton studies, and to meet my new colleagues at the University of Toronto. I was nervous going in, as this gathering is a relatively intimate affair, and the in-jokes and asides traded over morning coffee confirmed that the Milton community is a pretty tight group. By the end of the day, however, these Renaissance scholars were dressing each other down in ways that would've made the fiercest Roman orator blanch.
Of course it's tempting to summon anti-academic truisms about battles fierce and stakes small, but it was captivating to see celebrated scholars so passionate about their subject that professorial politesse went the way of the Tudor bonnet. Given the way initial hugs and "how are you's" degenerated to finger-pointing and loud shouting across tables, I have come to call the event the "Milton Family Thanksgiving." (Which, as a staunch Puritan, Uncle John couldn't really mind, right? Of course, let's see if I'm ever invited back! Once a black sheep . . .).
As for the Arcade Fire show, I've never been so infuriated by a concert audience. While I feel critics did the band a disservice by overhyping them in ways that invited a backlash -- and I do think that Funeral is superior to Neon Bible -- the somber demeanour of this hometown, "neighborhood" crowd -- why I was determined to see this **particular show -- was, well, mystifying, verging on maddening. I confess that I abandoned all professorial politesse, trying to rouse at least a couple rows of Quebecois to their feet. (Maybe they sniffed out that I was American: they viewed me with cool and utter disdain.) Thankfully, my companion, though Canadian, was fully game and in good form: Stroke and I danced like fools to a tight and predictably talented set, as well as its -- sniff sniff, I'm still whimpering in disappointment -- sole encore.
Win, if you're listening: I don't blame you. I would've shoved that drumstick up 'is bleedin' arse. And the next time I make the drive (where "No Cars Go")?
I'm bringing some Miltonists.