Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Do You Think About the Alignment of the Planets?: Unseasonably Warm in Fredricton, New Brunswick

It was dark and cold when I arrived in the tiny Fredricton airport, walking off a little cigar-tube plane onto the tarmac. This was Thursday, about a quarter after midnight. I was tired. It had taken three plane flights and well over 12 hours to get to New Brunswick. I was excited about the conference and the days ahead-- not knowing at all what my first classics conference would be like. The power shut on an off a couple of times when I was waiting for my bag-- although the emergency lights did not go off, just the main lights. Anyway, when I finally got my bag, I got into a taxi and told them I needed to go to the Best Western. I asked if there was only one in town, and the cab driver confirmed that there was, which signaled to me how small New Brunswick was, and my first conference experience began.

In the cab on the way to the hotel, the cab driver made a little bit of conversation, asking why I was in town and that sort of thing. I explained that I was there to present at a classics conference. The cab driver did not seem to know what classics was, so explained that I studied Greek and Latin. He did not seem particularly impressed by this. After a long silence, he asked me what I thought about the planets aligning on December 12, 2012. My first reaction was, "well, I only know a little bit about Maya mythology." I remembered reading that their callender was more astronomically accurate than ours and that it predicted the world to end in 2012 and be reborn. This long cycle is known as the "great year" in many cultures and is often divided into four mythological ages. As it turns out, I'm going to do a presentation for Latin on the stoic conception of ekpyrosis, which explains that at the end of the four ages, the world will die in fire and be reborn.

Despite all of my mostly-useless and very surface-level mythological knowledge, I still had no idea what to say to the questioning cabby. He told me that astronomers have different conceptions of the phenomena. For example, some believe that it might cause more earthquakes here on earth as well as shifting tides. I remarked that this was plausible (I'm not entirely sure, but gravitational forces shifting might be reasonable). He explained that the last time that it happened was 26,000 years ago. Then he asked me if I had heard of a book series called the Earth Chronicles. When I said that I had not, he told me that he was not religious, but he found them very interesting and that I should read them. I paid, left the cab, and decided that these New Brunswick people were rather strange. Friendly, certainly, but definitely strange.

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