Now that I'm home from my Canadian expedition, I can say with security that the biggest difference on the whole trip from my previous attendance at the same event three years ago was the Calgary airport. Partly the arriving - last time I was grilled by Customs on my reason for visiting Canada, and they didn't believe I didn't have confirmatory e-mails stored on my phone, but this time I filled out the questions on the automated terminal and then they waved me straight through - but mostly the return. Last time I stood in long lines at both US Customs (which has a station there) and then security, so that even though I arrived 2 hours in advance I still missed my flight, and then had to sit around in the secure area of the airport for the rest of the afternoon, with nothing available to eat except grotty packaged salads. Now they've built an entire new international terminal, and my it's efficient. Through security and Customs (in that order this time) in less than half an hour, and then finding myself in an enormous hall with, among other things, purveyors of genuine hot meals, with plenty of time to eat lunch, which I'd expected to have to miss. Nothing great, but edible. Only problem is: not much seating by the gate areas, though there's plenty of room for it.
Back at the Banff Arts Centre, meals were served cafeteria style, and though one got a little tired of repackagings of the same basic materials over and over again over the course of a week, the food was both good and vastly plentiful. Then comes the question of where to sit. The dining room - with huge plate glass windows overlooking a stunning view of mountains and woods - has both long and round tables. At Mythcon meals, I've no trouble finding old friends to sit with and, as a senior member, am comfortable welcoming new people. But at Banff I'm one of the junior attendees, I have to be cautious about how well I fit in socially, and I don't want to impose my company on the same people too often. As a result I ate a lot of meals alone, especially as I tended to come in very early. The time it feels easiest to take a seat at a mostly-occupied table is later on in the meal, when it's busy, and it's recognized that new arrivals will have to squeeze in somewhere.
Regardless, whenever I did sit with people I had good conversations. Banff audiences tend to be divided into those who really know their chamber music (many of whom are administrators of chamber music series in their home towns) and those who just like to listen to the music and profess no ability to judge it. I'm in the lower division of the first group (though I didn't meet anyone else there who professed to be an active reviewer) and I found that a number from the second would actively seek me out for my opinion of the latest concert. Even some of the more learned seemed to find my thoughts interesting, as I did theirs, and a couple of those shook my hand in farewell as we were leaving. So did even one of the competing performers, with whom I'd had a couple of post-performance chats. His group didn't win anything, but I wished him best of luck and said that if his group ever got out to Stanford, I'd be sure to come and hear them.
One thing I could do better than most in the table conversations, and that was make puns. I remember one of them. At breakfast one day, the talk was mostly on Wagner, though other topics interjected, including the food itself. I wasn't eating all of my melon bowl, and I explained that the pieces had a lot of rind in them. Maybe they were cut by the Rind-Maidens, I said.