I really enjoyed Antwerp. Sometimes, when you go places for conferences (especially academic ones), you can end up far away from the city you are in, or so insanely busy that you rarely see more than whatever happens to be in between the hotel and the venue.
Antwerp was a great location for a conference. The university it was held at is absolutely gorgeous (more pictures of that later), and the city itself is nicely navigable on foot, even for me (I can get lost on a straight line). There were also weird and wonderful things around nearly every corner from a printing museum (with the world’s oldest printing press!) to this bizarre combination of sculpture and science they had out on a side street. I couldn’t resist photographing it, but I really should have videoed. There was steam shooting out bits and propellers spinning and just generally a lot of movement that the still photo doesn’t really capture well. It does look like something out of Scott Westerfeld’s steampunk adventures doesn’t it? It is almost too easy to imagine that it’s just one moment away from lifting up one of those spidery legs and skittering off down the street.
I took the iPad to the conference, and it is becoming more and more my preferred piece of kit for note-taking on the fly. The only thing it seems to lack is a Freemind-esque mindmapping app. Well, a free one, anyway. “Pages” works for now (and I found myself on a sort of Pages/Papers/Safari loop as I went from note-taking to looking at a journal article to looking something up online), but I really prefer mindmapping as a notetaking medium, if only because then I can see the connections more quickly when I glance back later. The ability to leave the incredibly heavy proceedings at home was another bonus–I just loaded all of the PDFs into Papers and had the conference at my fingertips, with annotations and links and all.
After a full day of conferencing, though, I am highly unlikely to go back to my hotel room and keep reading academically oriented stuff. I’d just gotten a few books in the mail to review, including the new Craig Robertson *and* the newest Laurell K. Hamilton. I also brought Ken Robinson’s “The Element” and a biography of Caravaggio. You know, just in case I got stuck in Antwerp for 2 weeks instead of four days AND couldn’t get a signal to the iPad to download more books. (Which I could, bought one book while there…). In my defence, I read five books over the trip, so at least I wasn’t buying things and not reading them. Ahem.
I’m sure there will be reviews up on BookGeeks sometime soon, but I really enjoyed both the Robertson and the Hamilton books. The Ken Robinson book felt eerily well-timed as some of the research and concepts he mentioned were things that I and others were speaking about at the conference. He’s also an extremely reassuring writer (and speaker) with a lot of emphasis on getting out and doing things, and how possible it is to get out and do things. Flipping between that and the two mysteries was interesting, and I think sort of relaxing, as it let my brain get on with thinking about the deeper subjects but still allowed for some distracted time, so I didn’t get over-obsessed.
But the surprise of the week (well, the surprise that didn’t have anything to do with research in higher education) was the Caravaggio biography. Now, I like art history as a topic; I like biographies, but I usually find that they can read a bit slow (especially with the constant flipping to the middle of the book to check out the painting being discussed and etc), but, wow, this book, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane, is…well, nearly perfect. The author, Andrew Graham-Dixon, gets the balance exactly right with regards to describing or discussing paintings, and, when you do see the images of the paintings (often in colour!), later in the book, it’s like seeing an old friend, you already feel familiar with the work and the context it exists in. Of course, the fact that Caravaggio’s life was basically one long drama-fest also helps with the interest-level, but it is certainly deftly organized and very well-written.