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Hat, Sarong



December 22nd, 2009

The Once and Future Blogger

Hat, Sarong
I know I haven't posted in a while. Good excuses abound as do promises to return.

Now is not the time, however. Just got back to my folks place and my mom went into the hospital. I'll try to keep everyone updated.

November 11th, 2009

I had a bad dream Sunday night.

Let me explain. I was chasing my Papa around the beach, through the tents and the recumbent chairs. He was dapperly dressed and riding an electric bicycle, never looking back. He died five years ago.

My mom's father was the one who escaped. By some miracle, his entire immediate family made it out of Germany right before they would have been sent to the death camps.

As survivors, my family's existential crises are somewhat different than most peoples. Most people, to stay sane, believe that if history had been slightly different then they themselves would be slightly different. I, however, know that if things had been a little off I would not exist. There would be no me to speak of. Survival is a lot hard work, the will to make it, and a little luck.

That last point is what was driven home this weekend. Papa and his older brother had always refused to talk about their experiences. "Why do you want to know that?! It's ancient history..." What we do know is that after they escaped, the two boys went back over to Germany as spies for the U.S. Army Air Force. To us children and grandchildren this means that we are of that rare breed of Jew that not only survived. We managed to actively fight back.

Several strange and unexplained artifacts were found when we cleaned out his place, post-mortum. But that is where the information ended.

Sunday, my mom spoke with my Great Uncle Kurt, my grandfather's brother. Apparently, November 8th 1933(?) is the anniversary of their escape. We were always told that they got on one of the last boats to leave in 1939. This is not quite true.

Uncle Kurt, on the same day decades later, told my mom that my Great Grandfather Gaston was friends with a member of the SS. The SS man was so fond of Gaston that a few days before my family was supposed to be rounded up, he told my Great Grandfather to get his family out of the country. His daughter, my now deceased Great Aunt Erica, was already living in Paris.

But more than this, this SS fellow let Gaston, his wife, and his sons hide out in his house for four days before they themselves made their escape to France. For now, the story ends there as Uncle Kurt did not want to go over any more on the phone.

That is it. My story is now more similar to the hundreds of others that managed to hide out. I owe my life, every day, to the kindness of a stranger. I owe it to the un-patriotism of someone who couldn't be more in the establishment. I owe it to the network. It is all about who you know, and when. I owe it to being likable.

We didn't just fight back, we were also supremely lucky. I don't know why my grandfather refused to look back at me in my dream. I don't know what that means. I just want to catch his memory.

October 27th, 2009

Hello Everyone!

Sorry that I missed Pallas. It sounds like those of you who went had a really great time! Normally, I would be completely jealous. But instead I was here...

...having an equally good time.

Basically, Madison rocks. Maybe not as hard nor as long as Austin does, but it is still damn cool. I understand that my experience may be atypical. I have many excellent friends here from several vectors. Also, it is an escape where I can dedicate my time to programming. Which is lovely. Most grad students spend the vast majority of their time doing tasks extraneous to their actual research. So when you get a chance to do what you are interested in you take it.

That has been my life here: 12-17 hours of research + 4 hours of hanging out (drinking and eating cheese) + 3- 8 hours of sleep. It has been bliss. I feel really at home here. A different home. It probably helps that my co-worker here is from Belleville and Nakia is from Madison.

Still, I am coming and staying home tomorrow. I'll get to be in one place for 6 weeks! I am excited. I am also pleased to be leaving their midwestern climes. I grew up with this and left it with purpose and dedication. California had my graces for a decade, as does Texas now.

More than anything, I am looking forward to seeing my main squeeze Anne. One more day and I promise I won't leave you anymore. This semester.

October 20th, 2009

What?! A Month?

Hat, Sarong
So I haven't updated in a WHOLE month. Even my "minimum once-a-week" rule has been shamelessly broken. My Google Reader is in a complete disarray. I have been busy.

Right now is the first night of a 10 day stint in Madison. It has involved, keys, bike rides, meeting people, citywide WiFi, bourbon on the rocks, and beer. Have I mentioned that I love this place yet? Fear not AustiKnights, you are still bigger and have better weather. I was really concerned that I would be completely burnt out by the time I got up here and come to resent this trip, but so far I love it.

Of course loving Madison requires leaving the Pumpkin Patch behind...

...though supposedly drunken corn mazes are all the rage up here. (1 liter of Cranberry Juice and 1 liter of Vodka in a Camelbak, seriously?! That is fantastic.)

But that has all been in the last 2 and a half days. Before that I was in the Bay Area. Someday I will live in my house. Can I hear it for November?

If there is one thing I have learned, there are a lot of fucking cool people in America. All distilled separately, it proves hard to mix them. Seems I'll just have to keep travelling and sampling.

September 30th, 2009

Swine Floozies

Hat, Sarong
So I realize I haven't updated in a while. Or really been out of the house.

Surprise! Guess who had Swine Flu?!

Well, at least now I am back in the swing of things. I no longer feel like death. Right well in time for me to run off to California and Wisconsin this month. Woo hoo...

The major event I more or less missed due to illness were High Holy Days this year. I sort of book-ended them. I went to the first day of Rosh Hashanah and the concluding services for Yom Kippur. I was not well enough to fast, sadly.

But more than this, I didn't really get out apologies this year. I sent out one email. To which I have yet to hear a response. Many of those whom have received them in the past were not slated for them this year. Which is good news. But a bunch of new people who didn't get them simply won't. For better or worse, I have turned.

So if you felt like I owe you an apology, consider it granted. On the other hand, if you feel like you have wronged me in the past, you are now forgiven.

It seems a bit antiseptic to do it in this blanket fashion, but hey! I was really fucking sick. And as my mom told me, Swine Flu isn't even Kosher!

September 18th, 2009

Well it seems like I can't please everyone. Some people think my posts are too long. Others feel they are too cryptic. Still others think that my 'musings on women' and my sexuality are 'annoying.'

Exciting News! So given the recent criticisms, I am going to tell you about it in a short, encoded, and peevish fashion.

So while I was in Paris, my adviser and I had a meeting where we decided that it would be good for me to spend some time north of the wall. It is known that it is quite a magical land up there. Which is good since previous attempts to befriend the majestic unicorn have been successful. So it looks like this expedition is going to take place. It took a lot of work to get this off the ground. After all, one does not simply jumping stilts into Mordor.

However, in the interim Super Secret Project 2 has come to a close. How this affects the northern climes (not to mention where everyone loves vagina) is unclear. It has also come to light that Duncan Idaho of House Atreides has a made a similar passage to the one I am about to embark upon. I expect an upset among expatriate Argentine cowboys.

Unlike K. D. Lang (not my brother), Super Secret Project 2 is not +5. Maybe it is -5. Maybe it is 0. Maybe it is +2.5. Still, I now have no desire for lollipops nor hats worn by old ladies. Despite what you believe, people change.

Sisyphus-like, we build. "Things fall apart; it's scientific."

September 13th, 2009

[Paris] Metal Burn

Hat, Sarong
It was the best of times, or some other Dickensian nonsense. Paris was much more enjoyable than I had anticipated. The city, if done right, can be quite pleasant. The conference was better than expected as well. I even enjoyed one of the plenary sessions. The first panel was my Nuclear Engineering dream team sans el Baradei.

My photos can be found here. But by far the best experience I had went as follows. Picture it, I had just had dinner with my co-worker, a two crepe and coffee course, at a little place near the backside of Notre Dame. She needed to get back to the hotel to prep for her talk the next day. I had seen on the map "Place Dauphine" on the other end of the island in the Seine on which that great cathedral sits. Being a Jeanne d'Arc fanatic, I was of course interested in a park dedicated to her liege-lord. Is it right for a Jew to have a patron saint all picked out (break glass in case of Catholicism)? Likely a topic that will take a separate discourse to answer. It was 9:30 pm.

On my way, I noticed at the rear of the church-under-remodel Cafe Esmeralda and I said to myself "Hah, you cannot trick me; I have read Victor Hugo and know your little game." Further on I stopped and took pictures of dramatically lit gargoyles. Then it happened.

Turning the corner to the front of Notre Dame there were people. A lot of people. A crowd. Even better this throng seemed to be dedicated to the noble task of blowing bubbles. Had I just wandered into the best flash mob ever?! Yes. Clearly, these were my people.

Eventually, a large man with short black hair, a large black satchel, wearing a black suit with a white shirt came by. He took a bubble vial out of his bag and handed it to me. I knew what to do.

White dots in sky are bubbles reflecting the camera flash.

But knowing only brings further questions. What was this all about? Right as I was about to leave, after the photographs, TV cameras, and inquisitive police, I saw her running around speaking perfect English.
"Can I have another bottle?"

After Carla got a second serving of the miracle stuff from our provider, she ran off blowing with reinvigorated enthusiasm. Carla was lithe and hyper-active. She wore classy black cargo pants, a black sleeveless top, and a simple gold cross necklace. Her hair was Red. Char Aznable
red. The kind of dark/bright red that is in no way natural but cannot be begrudged on those grounds. It was cropped short and tipped black.

Of course, I asked her what all the bubbles were about. "Who knows?! I was told it is a Celebration of Life!" Check. We wandered through the throng blowing bubbles for a bit longer. It turns out she is a Neurobiology PhD student in Bonn and was in Paris for, what else, but an international congress. Her English was so good because she had previously spent 10 months working at an equestrian hospital in Oakdale, CA (near Sacramento). "We should go see my co-workers." Mate.

I spent the next hour or so blowing bubbles and hanging out with these four awesome German biology PhD students. They were all pretty neat. At one point, they busted out beers from a small cooler they brought with them. So now my canonical view of France is sitting in front of Notre Dame, amongst babes and bubbles, complaining about Corona and the superiority of darker brews.

Is it a function of my personality that I get into these situations? Or is it my wacky life that has thoroughly skewed my persona? The chicken is cooking scrambled eggs, surely.

At one point Carla asked me what I did for fun. "This! Celebration of Life," I answered. By now I had put together the obvious similarities between the current situation and the Burner Community. Keeping it simple I said, "Have you hear of Burning Man?" Her excitement was palpable. She was unaware of any German burns, but her year in California taught her what she needed to about what happens in the desert. She wants to go, but it is that much more expensive with the intercontinental flight.

But what she does for fun is analogous. She, somewhat obviously, is into Metal. So she goes to all of the big European Metal concerts. So we start talking about metal bands we like or have seen. I've seen Tyr;
She has seen Dio; I am jealous.

This spawned a conversation between her and one of her co-workers about what was actually good. If you have never seen two passionate Germans argue about what 'real' metal is, then you have not lived. Their focus was only broken half-an-hour later when an androgynous French child in desperate need of Ritalin ran by. Her/His disengaged parents were on the other side of a shrubbery managing the one still in the cradle.

We supplied the kid with a bubble bottle. It's contents were quickly dumped onto the ground after the little lips failed to produce the desired soapy effect.

Somewhere in all of this the flash mob broke up. They were replaced by drummers and a girl in Arabian pants spinning poi on the steps of Notre Dame. The whirling balls of flame, naturally, attracted our ADHD adoptee. When mein klein homunculus ran straight for the fire was the only time I saw the mother step in and stop her ward.

Sitting there, I thought to myself, "Esmerelda lives!"

September 9th, 2009

[Paris] Gave My Talk

Hat, Sarong
I am enjoying Paris much more than I thought I would. Outside of the conference, life is very relaxed and my non-existent French is not as much of a barrier as I thought it would be.

Now, don't get me wrong. The city is still founded on imperial thuggery. And if anyone can lay claim to the copyright on Urban Sprawl it is the Parisians. But generally things are quite nice. Perhaps it is the excellent coffee that is lubricating my attitude.

I gave my first real presentation at an international scientific congress yesterday. And not completely blowing it equals success. When you are the youngest, least accomplished person in the room by 20 years (and all of the others present are DOE and foreign equivalent bigwigs), the audience can be quite imposing.

Also, in a fit of cosmic annoyance, my adviser missed my debut! He had to cover for a talk that was scheduled at the exact same time...

More to come, surely.

August 28th, 2009

So yes, I now have an excess of chocolate coffee cookies. Come and Get 'Em!

On A Totally Unrelated Note: Yesterday, my bicycle decided to launch me off of it. I am alright. Mostly.

This used to be my knee:

And this used to be my wrist:

On A Totally Unrelated Note: I heard a brand new Frank Zappa song I didn't even know existed today. Fabulous.

On A Totally Unrelated Note: Having spoken with my adviser, it doesn't look like I should plan on graduating until at least August 2010. I feel like it will probably be even longer. Good news for the Austin folks!

August 16th, 2009

This trip to Raleigh validates so many of my beliefs. Whatever started in Gainesville has been reinforced here. I don't want to leave; What a twist!

I do not have time to reiterate all of the lovely people here. But Austin, you get me back. I am coming for you.

I feel that I am now loved in every corner of this big nation. And that is important to me.
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