Saturday 9 January 2016

Californian Rubicon

Having agreed months ago to attend my profession’s biggest annual convention, for the first time since 1993, I've spent most of this week in San Francisco regretting it. Despite knowing hundreds of people, I feel isolated and out place and guilty about flying unnecessarily. I’ve never enjoyed conferences, believing that most of them are attended by men anxious to get away from childcare duties or to have affairs. But this time I have crossed my personal Rubicon. I have promised myself never to agree to attend an overseas conference again. Skype is fine!

Rubicons have been on my mind since I was nearly knocked down by a speeding Rubicon Jeep at the airport the night I arrived.  They shouldn’t be allowed on real roads, since that is not what they are designed for: ‘It's the hammer, and every trail looks like a nail’ is the product strapline; ‘the most off-road oriented jeep of all time’.

For $45,000 you can pick one up at a dealer and pretend to be Julius Caesar himself. You can burn a gallon of gas every 19 miles and plunge the Roman Republic into Civil War; you can ponder the terrifying ramifications for the future of your civilisation.

The reddish shallows of the Rubicon
This manly vehicle would scarcely register the waters or red (ruber) stones of the tiny river which marked the border with Cisalpine Gaul, negotiated jeeplessly by Caesar exactly 2065 years ago on 10 January 49 BCE.  

He had just been declared Enemy of the State by the Senate. Plutarch tells us that after a night in which he dreamt that he slept with his own mother (a dream many ancient Greek and Roman men experienced), J.C. set out in the evening for the Rubicon. Plutarch is charitable enough to grant him a psychological crisis at the last minute, fearing that this irretrievable step would mean ‘evil for all mankind’. 

But he finally plunged in, declaring ‘the die is cast!’ The Rubicon has ever since been a metaphor for what pilots call the PNR (point of no return), when the amount of fuel consumed means a plane is no longer capable of returning to the airfield from which it took off--the moment when you leave your other half, hand in your notice, or finally tell someone who misuses their power over you what you really think of them.  

I'm in the Tower (11th Floor)
Outside Hilton Fantasyland
Will you cross a 2016 Personal Rubicon? The vast impersonal spaces, overwhelming din, exorbitant food prices and bizarre academic life forms in the San Francisco Hilton, along with the desperate poverty and homelessness in the streets outside, have brought mine on much earlier than expected.  

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