Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Rusticatio 2017

I tried and failed at a Latin-immersion program called "Rusticatio" this week. Or maybe the program failed me. Or maybe it was mutual.

The program's website does not give the public much information about what to expect except total immersion. When I got there, the venue, the Claymont Mansion, felt like a fire trap. There was furniture blocking a door on the second floor which apparently led to open air. While there were fire extinguishers, when I checked out the fire exit indicated by the floor plan in my room, all I saw was a rusty-looking escape ladder haphazardly thrown in a box by a window at the end of the hall.

My room contained no privacy, but five of us were expected to sleep in twin beds all in one large room with little furniture and no closets. The bathroom (a sink, two stalls each containing a toilet and a shower) was shared by our room, a room adjoining the other side, and anyone (hopefully female) who walked in from the front hall. This seemed fine during the day, but mornings were unpleasant when everyone needed the limited facilities at once. There was no exercise to be had other than strolling around the grounds, which we were assured were tick-infested.

After arrival time on our first evening, a Friday, we were given the rules to start the next day. I expected no conversation in any other language except Latin. Considering how old and dry the building was and the poor quality of the fire exits, the no-smoking rule made sense, although it surprised me no one told potential in smokers advance.

Other rules disturbed me: no leaving the campus, no driving into town, no use of electronic devices, and if we needed to make a phone call due to a family emergency back home, we needed to leave the building (no matter the weather) and walk past the parking lot outside, at least 75 feet, in order to converse (perhaps with the smokers, who were also banished there). Even pictures and video were discouraged except by the group's official photographer-- we were all required to sign a release when we checked in. Selfies and pictures of the facilities were okay.

What was this I signed up for? Some kind of cult? For me, unplugging was the most uncomfortable part. I had even purchased and intended to use a terrific app, SPQR, specifically for this event.

Then there was the writing issue. I had brought my lap top. I am a writer, finishing my second novel. I'm also under pressure to finish at least a draft before an upcoming trip to a national conference. I will be pitching my work to agents and editors. I figured I could squeeze in an hour of work on my manuscript a day, working around my other obligations. I even received permission--albeit reluctant-- to do so after I checked in on Friday.

But I was wrong. When I brought out my laptop, working apart from other participants and more than an hour before breakfast was scheduled in the common area. I was told my writing in English was jeopardizing not only my own experience, but everyone's in the program. Perhaps the organizers were correct, but I was unwilling to cede them that deep a level of control.

I was unable to find a suitable compromise-- a more private space was suggested, but one roommate was still sleeping, and there was no furniture in the bedroom or any other room in the house suitable for writing.  After my wrists were painfully grabbed (twice!) by Nancy Llewellyn, the lead instructor, in an effort to prevent my departure, I broke away from her and left in tears. I even abandoned some of my belongings in my haste to escape. At least I was promised a refund.

Rusticatio is one Latin experience I will be in no hurry to repeat. I suppose the program's intentions are good, and I've heard great things about the teaching methods, which I'd looked forward to experiencing, but organizers are in the wrong not to make their expectations clear up front.

Cavete! Please consider yourselves forewarned.