American Rhapsody
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I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One

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Friday, April 24 2015

Science and Music, More Than Ever

April means flowers blooming, days growing to a decent length, the sun shining and the fog of a depressing winter lifting at last. Massacres keep happening, migrants die by the hundreds on the wide Mediterranean sea, and French politics are getting maddeningly scary, but spring is in the air and in my steps. It's also in the steps of the World's Best Baby, who is starting to walk with these little gleeful toddler shouts that melt all your troubles away.

Music

I go to most excellent concerts.

I've seen Vladimir Ashkenazy conduct an orchestra of young musicians. I've heard the most beautiful Haydn. I've shivered hearing the song of a clarinet mix with the voice of a viola. I've savored comments from members of the audience, remarking afterwards on how beautiful an instrument the viola is (well, duh). I've marveled at Beethoven's violin sonatas, along with an audience who brought forth three encores and concluded with a well-deserved standing ovation.

Tomorrow I'll see the New York Philharmonic. The New York Philharmonic! All this thanks to a bunch of generous people from the Internet. I met three of them face-to-face for the first time a couple of weeks ago. They're even better in person.

I prepare concerts with my orchestra.

I make the time to practice and play my instrument more often, almost daily.

I hang out with people who make music as a pastime; I hang out with people who breathe music in every minute in their spare time; I hang out with people who make music for a living.

Science

Young people with much more impressive resumes than mine at the time I was completing my masters degree are applying to do their PhD with me, sometimes even being ready to forgo guaranteed funding to "give themselves the means to do what they really want" even though none of the funding plans we have for them is guaranteed. A professor I almost did my own PhD with now asks me to co-advise a PhD student with her.

Colleagues are letting me know how much they appreciate me, both as a scientist and as a person, through the regular application of blush-inducing compliments. Thankfully I recently noticed that it doesn't always show when I feel the heat rising to my cheeks, allowing me to appear to keep my cool.

I went to a very geeky one-day event, got my programming groove back on, and relished hearing people getting passionate about low-level architecture. Attending said event with a guy I used to study with more than ten years ago was the perfect icing on that nerdy cake. After that, I got to spend a very nice evening drinking too much wine with British guys who at some point actually argued about tweed. And plaid. And emacs vs vim, of course.

I do math and write code and think about genetics and I keep being amazed that people pay me to do so.

Music + Science (h/t)

I argue about jazz with my colleagues.

I make plans to play a concerto with a woman I first met over a shared interest for graph theory and statistics.

I wonder about the piano, viola, violin trios that I could play with two people with whom I'm equally likely to discuss convex optimization as German romantic composers.

And old friend writes me about music I made him discover years ago and smoothly transitions to HIV research in the following paragraph.

I go out to orchestra parties. There's sometimes food, often wine, and always laughter, singing, and math jokes. Occasionally there's also dancing and the opportunity to verify empirically the stereotype that bassoonists are good with their lips and tongue.

There's no better morning-after talk than music and science.

And traveling too (h/t)

A childhood friend slowly introduces me to the people he met in the fifteen years we haven't seen each other. Invariably, we talk about music, and science, and travels. (And, well, politics.)

I buy plane and train tickets. To other places in France, to the Netherlands, to Scotland, to Iceland.

And because you can never make everything fit in nicely design little boxes, one of my closest friends wrote a novel that looks like it's going to be published for real and I'm way too excited about this for my own good.

Saturday, October 25 2014

That Blurry Fog

How did it start? I couldn't say. Do these things ever have a clear way of starting? The first time I laid my eyes on him I didn't think much of it and that kept happening for quite a number of times, until... until... When did it start? During this week where we spent a lot of time just the two of us together, I suppose, although of course we'd set the ground before—how else would we have gotten to spend a lot of time just the two of us together?

I can't even say exactly what started. Something dancing on the edge of a friendship meant to last. Paying attention when his eyes are twinkling. My heart sometimes beating a bit faster when I see him. Being able to draw comfort from his presence only.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, January 17 2012

Notice of Public Interest

Before giving in to the urge of writing an incendiary comment about irresponsible fuckers who deserve to die when you read an article online about a young motorcyclist who, changing lanes at high speed in an intersection, stroke a car that had the right of way, and passed away from his injuries at the scene, do take a minute to think about the fact that this young motorcyclist may have had redeeming qualities in the eyes of the family, friends, and acquaintances who will read what you write.

Even if you don't give a flying fuck about the fact that he was kind, generous, stubborn about things that really mattered, witty and personable ; a brilliant student, devoted to all sorts of humanitarian causes, who spent a good chunk of his free time teaching English to immigrants, helping poor people getting health care, or volunteering at the AIDS foundation.

Tommy, you're already sorely missed. Don't listen to the assholes on the Internet.

Thursday, November 24 2011

The Last Thursday of November

Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday; Thanksgiving is quite certainly the day of the year I miss California the most.

This year again, Thanksgiving came around and I didn't get to do any of the Thanksgiving things I used to do on Thanksgiving. I didn't go to the pub in the afternoon yesterday. I didn't sleep in this morning. I didn't have any eggnog. I didn't spend the day cooking, didn't move furniture around to set up a dining area, didn't made any pomegranate sangria, didn't ate too much delicious food, didn't play cards and didn't sing and didn't pretend to watch American football.

Nevertheless.

Today I did not celebrate Thanksgiving, but last Saturday I had two friends over at my place. The three of us pushed the furniture against the walls and put together a delicious Moroccan-inspired dinner, which we shared with nine other guests. There was laughter and music and quality conversation.

Today I did not celebrate Thanksgiving, but I wrote messages to my American friends. I thoroughly enjoyed my day at the office, from the quiet morning to the hours of fruitful meetings to the musical recommendations of my office mate to the 6pm chats in the hallway. And this evening I had to refuse an invitation to hang out and play poker so that I could attend my weekly orchestra rehearsal, laugh with the other violists, and make Haydn happen.

So, following the purest of Thanksgiving traditions, I put aside the long November nights, the hand-wringing reflections on the shortcomings of my character, and the heartbreak I gave myself once again while leaving Paris, and I raise my cup of orange blossom tea to my new European life; to my excellent friends on the other side of the ocean, to those across the Rhine river, and to the ones I am making here; to the lab I am so pleased to have joined; to the orchestra that made me realized how much I missed playing in one; and to the six or ten of you, dear readers, who are still haunting these pages.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all.

Tuesday, June 7 2011

When Will the Atlantic Ocean Shrug?

I thought the pain would ease at time would go by.

If the tears rolling on my cheeks are any indication, either eight months is too little time or I was wrong.

Continue reading...

Friday, November 26 2010

Is There a Word for Homesick When the Place You Miss Isn't Home?

Bertrand suggested "Theresick", but after all, the United States were home for five years, whether I liked it or not, so homesick probably applies.

I've been dealing fairly well with the move, I think, and keeping myself busy enough on this side of the ocean that I don't miss California much (even when I'm told about fabulous dancing events or the weather, which, in any case, is unusually cold these days). I haven't cried since I took the plane who brought me back to Europe. I've been having a fantastic time here with friends or family, and a visit of my future lab and city has comforted me in the idea that the decision to come back was a good one and there are many more fantastic times to come.

Continue reading...

Friday, October 15 2010

Back in Town

Or rather, back on the Internet, as I've been back in town for a week now.

It's been a fantastic month. My mind is still whirling with a constant stream of images and memories, from Portland's bars to Monument Valley's jeep ride, from Chicago's street sculptures (by none less than Picasso, Miró, Dubuffet, or Calder) to the helicopter diving into the Grand Canyon, from Boston's clam chowder to the beautiful arches of Utah, from Washington DC's National Gallery to driving the 17 miles of dirt road of the Valley of the Gods at the wheel of a Hyundai Accent, from walking one last time on the beach with a couple of friends to my last dances in Southern California, from the laughters and hugs at the pub this one last night to the last precious goodbye words spoken or written to me...

There's been the confusion, too, of not knowing whether I was happy to be back in France, sipping a very drinkable coffee in a random café while reading the newspaper, gently hugging my grandma in spite of her steadier and steadier nagging about when I'm going to give her a great-grand-daughter, taking care of my dog, seeing my mountains again, slowly starting to turn to the bright reds and oranges and yellows of autumn... or sad to leave so many good people and things behind. I've finally decided it was possible to be both, and it's actually easier and easier to focus on the future and the bright possibilities it holds. Especially given the fantastic fellowship I got: two years of funding for me and extra money for my lab, as well as two months of intensive German classes prior the beginning of my research project!

I feel suspended between both cultures at the moment. Being in my hometown, a place where, let's face it, I never really fit, and which is clearly provincial, makes the differences stand out more than a city like Paris would. Shops close at lunch time; deaths are announced by means of small posters tapped to the walls of the various neighborhoods; and here I am, dancing to the sound of the swing music in my headphones, thinking about maths and postdoctoral studies and bioinformatics and moving to Germany, feeling both at home and quite out of place.

More importantly, I still feel pretty good about it all.

Thursday, November 26 2009

Scratch That

Well, no, don't scratch it. All what I said there is true. But above all, I'm happy, and that's what I'm the most thankful for. So there.

Thanks.

Thanksgiving is upon us. This afternoon, I will gather with some of my dearest Californian friends (in which "Californian" is intended to mean "met in California" and not "born in California", as none of them is) to share what will no doubt be a delicious dinner (all I say is there will be a bird, and green beans, and mashed potatoes, and yams, and cornbread, and two cranberry sauces, and sangria, and mulled wine, and sparkling wine, and pumpkin pie, and apple pie, and cranberry cheesecake, and probably some other things as well) and many, many laughters. According to our tradition, we will all have a cup of champaign before desert and toast to all what we are thankful for.

However corny that might sound, it is an ideal time, what with the grumpiness the cold season brings upon us, to reflect on all our blessings. I tend to complain a lot — mostly because it makes for more interesting stories —, but now is the time to think about all what I am grateful for.

Continue reading...

Monday, September 21 2009

Back to School

I don't believe I am jet-lagged. It's more that I am a bit overwhelmed. I have spent a little over three months away from California. A lot has happened.

My stay in Israel was quite an experience. Discovering a new country, a different culture, a new type of work environment also; all that was very exciting. Then I traveled some more. I am only now fully realizing I was indeed in Jordan for a few days; the trip was that intense.

Emotionally speaking, the last two weeks have been draining; it was all about leaving or being reunited with people and places. The few days I spent in Paris made me feel more than ever how much I belong there, in these streets and among my friends. And then of course there's the family drama I vaguely mentioned here or there. I will not expose the details here for the world to read, but there were tears, and pain, and humiliation, and anger, and this terrible feeling of waste and destruction.

Things here are pretty much the same, although there are a few slight differences that constantly remind me that I was not here. E has a baby seat in his new car. The new building is finished. There is a new traffic light. K wears her engagement ring. And our new roommate is well settled in.

In a way, however, the best thing about being back is that I am taking a break from the unknown. I'm slipping into my old habits with delight; being tired from the trip doesn't matter much, because I can just get by automatically. I'm doing things before realizing I meant to do them. And I don't have to worry about people not understanding me anymore, which is really relaxing.

So yep, I am back. And you might have heard that I am scheduled to graduate in about a year (the final date will be decided of around Christmas). This prospect might be just what I need to move my butt and do some kick-ass research in the coming months!

- page 1 of 2

I read

Mostly detective stories. Occassionally, weird fantasy, theater, or Chinese literature in Italian (I have fantastic friends), real well-written books.

I listen to

Mof Montreal, Caravan Palace, the Ditty Bops, Dango Reinhardt, the National, Minor Majority, Léo Ferré, Beethoven, Sonny Rollins, Laura Marling, Erlend Øye, Hjaltalin, Sufjan Stevens, Yuri Bashmet. And others.

I am

late, I'm late, I'm late for a very important date, delighted by Oscar Wilde (One should always be a little improbable), a little improbable, still very much of a bloody leftist, heathen atheist, and a woman scientist.

Deep Thought

'To leave is to die a little. But to die is to leave a lot' (translated from French)
[Alphonse Allais]

(Almost) Legal Mentions

(Dammit this one joke only works in French. You're missing out.)
Not recommended for children under 36 months.
Please handle carefully.
Beware of the kitty.
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.*
 
* Strike out if inapplicable