American Rhapsody

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Tuesday, February 3 2015

The Proposal

It sometimes feels like most of my scientific career is made of "why the fuck did I accept to do this?" moments.

The only thing that changes is that now I know they're going to happen at the moment I agree.

This time was no exception. Five-year research plan, one point five million euros, nine percent chance of success, all on my own, deadline in a little under two months? Sign me in. Well a few people whose opinion in these matters I respect say I oughta try it so. Sure! Why not. Great opportunity. Will give me a first experience. Thinking about my five-year plan can't be a bad idea anyway. What, Christmas vacation? Oh well, who needs Christmas vacation anyway, as long as one can spare a couple days to hang out with family.

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Monday, July 14 2014

Reasons I cried today

  1. My back was still hurting when I woke up.
  2. My back was hurting when I washed the dishes.
  3. I miss Germany.
  4. France celebrates its national day with a military parade. And fireworks and concerts and speeches. But mostly a military parade.
  5. My back hurt.
  6. Someone pushed me in the corridors of the metro even though I was limping my way through, feeling sorry for myself.
  7. Someone wrote on Twitter that Germans don't understand sarcasm. I miss my sarcastic German friends and their dry humour.
  8. I remembered that one time when my friend told me he was going to "leave science and become a lab administrator, or technician", and I enthusiastically told him this was great, that this wasn't leaving science at all, and that it made me happy to know he knew what he wanted to do after his PhD, and he told me I was the first person not to berate him for not wanting to become a professor.
  9. My back hurt and no one gave a shit.
  10. The war between Israel and Palestine.
  11. I still miss Tel Aviv even though I'm glad not to be there now.
  12. I can't configure Facebook to stop telling me about people's birthdays. It's written right here in the upper right corner, Facebook! I don't need an extra notification and I especially don't need to see all the meaningless messages other people left them. 12 people took 3.5 seconds each to type in "Happy Birthday!!" and 23 others only used one exclamation mark? Fascinating.
  13. I need Facebook like a fish needs a bicycle but I don't know how else to keep up with quite a few people I enjoy keeping up with.
  14. I'm tired and my. back. hurts.

Chronic (back) pain is emotionally exhausting, y'all.

Saturday, January 4 2014


So. 2014, eh.

Well the bathroom at work still smells like vomit and the sink is still clogged and I do not like to give too much thought about the possible correlation between those two events. And someone (me?) should tell my French male coworkers that in other countries, men clean up their messes in common areas and their dicks didn't fall out. Yes, I checked personally on a few selected subjects.

To tell the truth I am more relieved that 2013 is over than excited about 2014. It has been an extremely rewarding year (hello Paris, hello dream job, hello great friendships, hello dance and music) but mostly I need a vacation. In the sun. Near water with nothing else to do than read, swim, eat grilled fish and fresh salads, dance, and drink cocktails with friends. Someone should take me to Greece asap. Instead of that I am working on two deadlines for the end of next week.

So this is what I'm dreaming of for the coming year. Sun, relaxation, peacefulness. Laughing with like-minded people who won't question my life choices, won't prefer politics to solid science, won't lie to me ever. Dancing near the water with my feet in the sand.

And clean bathrooms.

Have a sweet, happy, delightful, fabulous year, y'all.

Oh, and yeah. I've redone the paint around here.

Monday, November 25 2013

It Takes an Ocean not to Break

Today was the day nothing worked out. My phone / Internet access is a tangled mess of technical services that keep asking me whether I've plugged the yellow cable in the yellow plug (it's called an Ethernet cable, and yes it is plugged in the Ethernet port for goodness sake). I can't reach the people who're supposed to deliver my bedroom closet and they don't call me back. I didn't have all the necessary documents to purchase a public transportation card. I went to a hairdresser at random and ended up looking like I'm wearing a bad quality wig. Also, the product she used itches and stinks.

Continue reading...

Saturday, November 3 2012

It's Hard to Hold a Candle in the Cold November Rain

Last week it snowed. The city turned cold, wet, slippery and gloomy. With wind blowing packs of snow in our legs and faces, crossing the bridge, once a highlight of the way to the old town, became an ordeal. Not twenty-four hours later Daylight Saving Time kicked in, and the sun, or whatever was left of it, started to set in the middle of the afternoon. The temperature rose a little, and the sun started shining again a few hours a day; but thus so royally announced, November started.

I don't know if it's the family tradition, my Mediterranean, sun-thirsty roots, or a more generic light sensitivity seasonal autumn blues funk, but my brain is definitely not impressed. Darkness has descended upon us? Let's get in a dark mood then.

Every day that I don't cry is a victory. Every few hours that I don't feel like crying are a victory. They don't come easy. Most of the time, I feel lonely, abandoned, not good enough, hopeless, and fighting off those emotions is a constant, harrowing battle. I write todo lists and check off items with rage-fueled strikes. I force myself to go out for walks when the sun is out, to go swimming every few days, to play my viola, to fight the urge to hide under the covers and be social instead. I've even joined #digiwrimo, to help kicking my writing muscles into gear. But it seems that as soon as I let my guard down, the negative feelings creep back.

I accept every opportunity to go out, from concerts to talks and glasses of wine to dinners. In the course of a few days, I've order Lebanese food to go after work and huddled up with a friend in her small kitchen, where we downed it with liters of hot tea while talking about the future and its uncertainties; I've shared one of the best pizzas in town with a concerned American right after Sandy stormed through the East Coast—and a mere days away from the presidential election; I've participated in a Scandinavian quest to find good German red wine; I've been to the pool twice, and of course to one orchestra rehearsal. Still I've had two meltdowns, have snapped at a colleague I never snap at, and have spent quite an inordinate amount of time solely focusing on quieting down the little inner voice which insists that I am worthless.

Yesterday, I saw Berlin Telegram. It tells the story of a woman's fight to reconstruct her life after a heartbreak, and it is beautiful. A few minutes in I had forgotten that I ended up alone at the theater, and how hard it was not to let my heart sink when friend after friend apologized for not coming—a downside of last minute plans. I joined a few people for drinks afterwards. We raised our glasses to winter. "It will be long and cold," said our impromptu toast master. "And dark," I added. We clinked glasses on that. He and I drank and danced late in the night, talking about the grace of Greece's light, the bitterness of love, the protective barriers we erect, his now ablated cancerous tumor. So misery loves company, but it was oddly beautiful, this conversation half drowned in music, through his half-hearted smiles and my bitten back tears.

I am well surrounded, in fact, and even if it's not easy, I have the tools to fight. So hear that, November? You won't get me. And on your last day I'll be off to California, and I won't even care if six of the days I'll spend there will be in a skiing (and casinos...) resort.

Sunday, March 11 2012

Things I've Done This Week — 6

I had Ethiopian food for the first time. In the train back to Germanland, I realized I do recognize some of the people who seem to commute between cities on either side of the border. I wrote and debugged a whole lotta code, and had a board marker fight with my officemate. I painted my nails yellow and orange. Colleagues outlined a new lead to explore for a project that was in stand-by. I listened to my recording of La Traviata, with Maria Callas in the leading role, a total of six times. A friend invited me to go see Barbara. We discovered with surprise that movie theaters can be full in our lovely city, and settled for drinks, a long, long walk along the rivers, and a conversation about religion and politics instead. I rediscovered Harper's magazine's Weekly Review[1] and started vaguely emulating its style in everything I wrote, including my radio chronicle for Je m'ennuie bien[2].

Sunday, February 26 2012

Things I've Done This Week — 5

Taught people some creative swearwords in French.

Listened to Louis Armstrong almost exclusively.

Made plans to go hike with some colleagues I like.

Worked real hard on a project I'm getting to really enjoy.

Crossed the Rhine.

Wondered why someone would call Concentric Circles a photo of some definitely non-concentric circles.

Had bread, cheese, ridiculously delicious beef bone marrow, lamb shanks, ramen, petit-fours, and White Russians.

Talked and talked and talked and sometimes just enjoyed sitting quietly there with someone I enjoy sitting quietly there with.


Sunday, February 19 2012

Things I've Done This Week — 4

Work Prepared. Lectured. Tutored. Graded. Wrote.

Social life Instant messenger chats, conversations about Tom Waits, science, or politics with your officemate, long emails and phone calls totally count.

Cooking Lemmethink. Baked apples ?

Travels Bought tickets to the Vatican (as much as giving money to the Catholic church pains me) and tickets for a classical music concert[1]. Started planning out my... wait for it... trip to the U.S. in May!

Others Mindlessly reading books of The Southern Vampires series. Because my brain was mush. Teaching is exhausting.


[1] "Well, we don't play Mozart in Italy. We play real music, like Verdi." ­— an Italian friend of mine

Sunday, February 12 2012

Things I've Done This Week — 3

Social life Painted myself as some sort of boring prude for refusing to see the point of entering a bar with in mind the goal of finding someone in there to bang. Felt my cheeks redden and my heart flutter at the mention of a friend's irredeemable flaws, which as far as I am concerned are somewhere between the most adorable quirks and solid qualities. Drank a lot of tea (including pretty unimpressive herbal teas, my politeness be damned) with various people.

Work Lectured for the first time ever. Two good things happened: it wasn't horrible, and I clearly have a lot of room for improvement. Failed at getting much else done, which (together with events of the past few months) sent me on a downward spiral of self-doubt and impostor feelings. Deliberately banned myself from working and having any kind of thoughts in that direction for an evening and a day. Mixed results so far.

Music Listened to so much Bach I've been whistling entire movements of his Cello Suites. Practiced my viola some (including Bach's first violin concerto, which I have a transcription of, but none of the Suites, although I do have transcriptions of those as well — a violist's world is full of transcriptions). Went to see Mozart's Requiem being played by an amateur choir and orchestra (as a friend pointed out, we're not certain that the orchestra isn't professional; as I replied, if the orchestra had been professional, the horn solo in the Tuba Mirum wouldn't have made us wince). It was, all in all, pretty good, but I nevertheless got annoyed at the thinness of the soloist voices, the lack of dynamics of the orchestra, the weird rhythm that appeared at least twice, and the uncomfortable haste that cropped up over and over again and killed the Rex Tremendae. I'm sure they had tremendous fun, and I enjoyed myself in spite of my pettiness, but I can't help thinking the people who got a ticket in the upper price bracket got ripped off — although admittedly, seeing more than the soloists' heads and a slice of the choir might have been worth a few bucks.

Soup of the week Green beans, small peas and broccoli, with a dash of olive oil. Thank goodness for frozen vegetables.

Sunday, February 5 2012

Things I've Done This Week — 2

Music Gave three concerts with my orchestra, each one better than the previous one. Thankfully, as venues were steeply increasing in prestige. The last concert was pretty good, in spite of the conductor almost starting off with the wrong piece at some point my instrument being so out of tune that I feared it would never stayed tune during the concert (it more or less did). Could have been better, but it was tremendous fun and my friends were still bright-eyed afterwards, so whatever.

Travels More or less decided on dates for a trip to Roma with la mia mamma. I'm ridiculously excited, as always.

Beverages Had an insane conversation about beers with German colleagues. Unfortunately didn't understand half of it and forgot the other half, but man was that long and complex. I still picked a bottle of Augustiner at the end. Also had somewhere around my volume equivalent of tea, to fight off both the cold weather and my increasing frustration.

Cooking Carrot-ginger soup with bitter orange peel. Apple Jewish cake.

Fashion Got slightly offended at colleagues remarking on the elegance of my all-black concert attire. "Wait, are you wearing eye make-up? It's nice." wins sentence of the week. Embarked on a whole lot of layering (stockings + socks + leg warmers, undershirt + shirt + sweater). Despaired at the blackness of my warmest coat (in spite of the orange scarf and hat I'm pairing it with).

Work Got insanely pissed off at some people's way of sloppily approaching science and wasting my time at the same occasion. Got even more pissed off it took me so long to realize said people were wasting my time. Prepared for my first lecture ever, mostly by screaming insanities at the slides that were helpfully provided by the person I'm covering for. And by helpfully provided I mean that next time you want me to cover a lecture for you please just provide me with a list of objectives and keep your slides to yourself unless they're self-sufficient and easy on the retina.

- page 1 of 5

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