Fly down to Rio. Images of dancers strapped to plane wings come to mind. Reality different. No Fred Astaire, it is raining in Rio and small son, aged seven, throws up. He recovers when allowed to press the "Random Search" customs button. I am here for "Neo-realism: Page, Stage and Screen", the biennial conference of the Brazilian Association of Professors of English, to deliver plenary lecture, a "minicurso" (three lectures) and attend some of 90 research papers, roundtables, plays, films, videos and book launches. Join speakers from North Carolina, Wayne State, Alberta and Moravian universities and after three hours in van in thick fog on perpendicular hairpin bends, enjoy ferocious rum caipirinhas in Juiz de Fora.
First lecture (on John Updike) is at seven in the evening, nearly midnight by my body clock. Small son, patient through opening speeches, convulses at the coffee stage. He mistakes the table decoration for a breadstick and chews manfully on plastic. Visit local museum (skulls, reptiles, Indian weaponry) - a big hit. My "seminar" has 60 people at it.
Updike is big in Brazil. Liaise with a postgraduate student working on his postcolonial novels for one of the "Coloquios de Pesquisa" - timetabled individual discussions. With a dozen research papers, roundtables and lectures, friend Jim (demonstrating web Updikiana) calculates that there are more people working on Updike in Brazil than the whole of Europe and most of North America put together. Titles at book launch include The University in Crisis, On Fire and In Ruins. Big thrill for small son: he spots two monkeys in the park and, even better, one is eating a small snake.
Continue "minicurso" on politics of the visual. While I inveigh against dominance of ocular discourse, small son is stuck into his Gameboy in front row. Resourceful postgraduate explains how she funded a doctorate in "rural development" by constructing an "author trail" in the southern Mato Grosso. In Banco do Brasil, Swiss army knife sets off alarms.
Deliver plenary lecture on Alison Lurie and sociobiology. Third seminar (Nadine Gordimer and the oral tale) chimes with audience - the race is on to collect similar tales up Amazon tributaries. Tired small son is rejuvenated by discovery that eminent American speaker knows how to do Tae-Kwon-Do. The two of them demonstrate.
We are warned that 600 charismatic Christians now occupy conference centre. They interrupt a colleague's lecture on Albee with bursts of ecstatic religio-rock. Christians agree to pray that befogged airport reopens. Final roundtable, then tyranny of visual reasserts itself. Everyone is taking everybody's photograph. Ascend local hillshrine for breathtaking view of mountain ranges in front, charismatic Christians behind - who were fundraising by selling chocolate cakes. Emperor's former summer house, reached via nightclub called Privilege, has good Fragonard, though not as striking as small table of slave shackles.
Up at 5am for bus to Rio, the rainforest and fun with son. Ahead lie sandcastles on Copacabana beach, coatimundis (small hairy beasties) galore, and an unexpectedly close encounter with a puma.
Judie Newman is professor of American studies, University of Nottingham.