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Wednesday, December 31 2014

2014: A Year in Travels


Lens. From Greek antiques to Art Deco.

Amsterdam. A room full of girls on the top floor of a very narrow house. Rembrandt, Chagall and Constant. Canals shining under the sun. Hot mint.

Toulouse. So much rain. Giving a talk in my wet socks. Cake and tea. Books, books, books, so many books. The whirlwind of an evening from here to there, chatting freely with people I had just met, having fun. Breakfast in the sun.


Germanland. A room that hasn't changed over the years. Work. Schubert on the piano. Aperol-Spritz on the main square. A long theater rehearsal. A party, me in my striped dress, stories, confessions, hugs, and love. Ice cream alongside the river. Feeling at home.

Southern France. I didn't know it, but this was to be the last time I saw my grandmother.

Germanland, again. More work. Feeling warm and loved as an old friend fusses around me, feeding me food, coffee, music and books. A ride on the river. An evening at the theater. Hugs.

Porto. Music, food, sunshine, a ride on the river, the decaying beauty of an old town, photos of that same town taken from behind windows. A crown of flowers on my head. Port. All of it in great company.

London. Canals, water, pubs, sunshine, Indian food with a Californian friend.

Cambridge. Beers near the water. The best little girl in the entire world. Photo shoots. Indian food with a lots of people I never met before and a few I've loved for what feels like forever. More sunshine, pubs and water.


Southern France. Meeting the most fantastic puppy in the entire world. Swimming outside. Managing to neither melt nor burn in the sun. Thinking, fleetingly, about running away from it all and write absurd novels.

Picardie. Fires and shooting stars.

Stockholm. Science. Great science, awesome science, terrible science. Science in hallways, science at breakfast tables, science around beers, science in rooms where we sneaked in. Some of the best conversations around food and beer I've ever had. The fantastic Scandinavian light at sunset. Reindeer and sea lions. Telling stories.

Southern France. Two round trips in one week to see my grandmother die and bury her. A warm puppy licking the tears off my face. Hugging my cousin for the first time ever and wondering whether we'll ever let go.


San Diego. Sunshine, water, good food and beers. And cool science and friends. I'm starting to see a theme here.

Tunisia. No Internet. No decisions to make. The Mediterranean, sunshine, desert sand, oases, palm trees, camels, Roman ruins, and dates. Probably what saved me from burning out.

Germanland. Curling up with my feet under myself, liters of tea, a few beers, theater, boardgames, and good friends wrapping me in their arms.

Southern France. Family, minus one. Mixing traditions from Provence, Morocco, and Germany. The sun on my face and a warm puppy on my belly.

You know, I could convince myself it was a good year.

Saturday, December 15 2012


A long, if very incomplete, list of things that happened to me in the past two weeks. Suggested soundtrack: Surf Rock.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, November 27 2012

California Bound

Boing, boing, boing, boing, boing!

November is almost over, and once I've survived the next 60 hours[1], I'll be in a plane to London, shortly followed by a plane to Los Angeles.

There will be sun, the ocean, great friends, and my favorite lady in all of America; then my favorite conference, set in a location I'm not sure I trust but as long as it features a beautiful lake and a hotel sauna and swimming pool, I'm pretty sure we'll be alright; and more sun, ocean, and my favorite physicists as a finale before flying back to Germanlandia. And yes, there's a reason "favorite" was featured three times in the same sentence.

Plock-plock, my dears, and fare thee well!


[1] Let's see... proofread a very important, 18-pages document; finish putting a research project together, and other shenanigans related to the first phase of my application to faculty positions in France; three meetings; three talks to attend; a goodbye dinner; an orchestra rehearsal; pack; clean the flat for some insurance visit; finish reviewing a 30-page paper; consolidate my code with that of a colleague who still hasn't send anything; ensure my poster is printed and in the appropriate poster tube; a gazillion administrative things; pick up a package at the post office; get my hair cut. Yeah, I'm almost there. Good thing I'm amped up.

Sunday, September 9 2012


I am back.

I am back in a place where the nights are chilly, the sky not really blue and sunscreen unnecessary.

Here no road smells like fig leaves, no cicadas nor crickets chirp so loudly that conversation is useless, no fields of olive trees adorn the flanks of otherwise bare mountains, no tree bends under the weight of lemons or oranges, no one uses donkeys to carry heavy loads.

No one has lunch at 2pm, no one sells watermelons from the back of an old truck, the fish does not come to the market still alive in large buckets of water, peaches are imported, pastry shops don't smell like honey and almonds and cinnamon and don't remind me of my great-grand-mother saying mange, c'est bon pour le mariage, ma fille.

There are neighborhood parties, where no one comes to with their own musical instrument, where nobody grills meat, where no one drinks coffee, and where the longest food line is always at the tried-and-tested wurst place.

Old men aren't playing cards or backgammon in the streets; old women don't gather on the benches in front of churches or mosques; men don't wear silver bracelets.

Cars are well maintained, the streets are clean and there are rules and schedules to follow, failing which someone will get red in the face and complain loudly.

Cats and dogs don't go far from their home and owners and none of them are strays. Nobody pets an animal that's not theirs before asking for permission first. The permission is not always granted.

Music never departs from the minor and major scales.

There are no impossibly blue waters, no palm trees, no bougainvillea, no pomegranates, no oleander, no pine trees. Little here reminds me of my hometown, of the Riviera backcountry, of the streets of Tel-Aviv or Casablanca, of the mountains of Andalusia, of the bazaars in Istanbul, of the sea shore in Tangier.

I am back from Greece, where I felt, through a concentrated exposure to a startling number of elements of what I consider my culture, more at home than in my hometown itself, and I weep.


P.S. I'm actually much better today than I was a few days ago, when I was alternatively crying and positively fuming at being back in Germanland. I have, however, confirmed that one of the best answer I can give to the "Where are you from" question is "the Mediterranean".

Saturday, May 5 2012

Exciting times

Many people, knowing me well (or having had a glimpse at my schedule the previous year), wished me "many travels" for 2012.

The year started a bit slow, with eight or so weeks in a row spent here in Germanland, fighting the cold and darkness with music, hot chocolate, and budding friendships. I enjoyed the homeliness of it, enjoyed anchoring myself in this place, making it mine as I had never taken the time to do it before.

Still, as early as mid-January, I was already starting to plan a few trips, and by the time the end of February came, with its few days in Paris and holiday in Rome, I was feeling antsy and more than ready to travel again.

Then somehow things precipitated.

At the end of March I was in London, via Paris once more. Two weeks later I was back in Paris, on a stopover to spending Easter with family in the South of France. Less than a week after I was back, I was out of the door again, heading this time to Munich, where I have spent the last three weeks (minus a weekend back here in the place I do laundry, cook dinner with and for friends, and can cast a vote in the French elections) visiting colleagues.

Munich was good, work-wise and after work. We had a few days of excellent weather that made the parks so much better; I got to see a friend who is living there for a year (and hang out with Brazilian law students at the same time), visit the zoo, see some modern art, walk around a city big enough to do so for hours without getting bored. I can't say I really love it, though, in spite of what the raging comments from my German lab mates, most of whom either grew up or studied there, could have let me expect. In spite of its long tradition of SPD mayors and high rate of inhabitants non affiliated with any religion, the capital of beer is also that of Bavaria, with its deeply ingrained conservatism, catholicism, and Bayrisch-speaking, Lederhose- or Dirndl-wearing patriotism; as a result it feels too clean, and the life that a hundred thousand students (walking in the path, for instance, of the White Rose movement) could give it just isn't... there.

I am back just long enough for a few loads of laundry, careful repacking, and a final say in the presidential run before boarding the plane that will take me back to America. This is a long awaited trip, one that I have imagined almost since the minute I left Los Angeles eighteen months ago, one that I have planned for months, and that I am so excited to take that I sometimes have a hard time falling asleep at night.

I will stay there three weeks, visiting first good old Southern California, then Boston, the Chicago area, D.C., and New York. (The traveling does not look optimal, especially the part where I head back West a thousand miles or so just a few days after flying from the West Coast to New England, but it had strong constraints. I don't think you could find a better solution.) I will see dear friends, good people, and places I have missed so much despite the unshakable confidence I have that they are not what I want for myself, long-term. I will do science, talk science, breathe science in great settings where to do so. I will mix the old and the new, as I discuss new projects, visit my current boss in the institute that is welcoming him for a few months, hang out with people I met in Germany, meet with collaborators I have gained since leaving the U.S. I will go to the beach, have a barbecue or three, go out dancing. I will walk the path down memory lane and make more memories as I so do, and I will love every single minute of it.

Then I'll be back, at the end of May, most likely with an aching smile on my face. And instead of cooling my heels off and incurring the risk of wallowing in the pain of leaving, once more, some amazing people thousands of miles behind me, I'll fly out to Barcelona for a week of friends, sun, and music at Primavera Sound.

I don't think it too daringly ambitious to claim that this is going to rock my socks.

Wednesday, March 7 2012

Things I Did Last Week — 6

Hugged my grandma.

Met with a guy I hadn't seen in eight years. It was fun. We share a similar "and then I decided to try research, and then I loved it, and then I got my PhD, and six months later I started a postdoc, and I love it, but I still don't know what I want to do when I grow up" story, as well as a love of the Magnetic Fields. Many people share that story (probably more than people who even know of the Magnetic Fields).

Hugged my mom.

Flew to Rome.

Walked arm in arm with my mom. Ate cassatta ice cream. Watched a left-wing protest, with friendly people who smiled a lot and tried to explain to me what this was all about, and a right-wing demonstration for some obscure reason, with very organized, closed-off people. Laughed gently at a museum guard who tried to flirt with me. Got very, very excited at unexpected modern art[1] and at Etruscan antiques[2]. Got my mind blown by La Traviata, played in a church[3], by musicians of the Rome Opera. Bought incredibly pink shoes. Drank cappuccino in the sun.

Flew to Paris.


[1] Chagall! Matisse! Dali! Braque! Munch! on the way to the Sistine Chapel! Mom, mom, come here, there's a Klimt!

[2] Lookhereanowl! Lookatthelion! Thehorse!

[3] yep, that Traviata, the story of a courtesan -- they used the altar as a table for the parties, it was amazing

Monday, December 19 2011


Dear Padawan,

I know. It must have felt very lonely last week, with most of us gone. I know Chef and I have barely been answering your emails for the past two weeks, and that I was only able to meet up with you once in the previous week. I know it must have felt like neither of us was giving a shit about your project nor about the degree you are completing it for.

I am sorry it did. And in spite of the fact that I had warned you weeks before that this was going to happen (I have the email that proves it), let me explain you why.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, July 6 2011

International Week

Snapshot #1 — Monday afternoon. I am in Berlin and sit in a bus and chat for half an hour, in German, with a Russian philosopher (a Kant scholar, unfortunately).

Snapshot #2 — Monday afternoon. A glass of sparkling water in hand, I catch up with a Chinese anthropologist, in English.

Snapshot #3 — Monday evening. I am in Berlin, drinking wine with two Australians, one Canadian, one American and one extremely funny British lady, all scientists in various domains, laughing in the warm evening.

Snapshot #4 — Tuesday morning, too early. I sit in a bus and talk with a linguist from Malta, first in German then in French. We discuss manuscript dating, French texts from the Middle Age written in Hebrew, classical music from the nineteenth century, and European politics.

Snapshot #5 — Tuesday morning. I am in Berlin on a hot, sunny day. A glass of sparkling water in hand, I discuss scientific careers in French with a young Canadian physicist and a French professor who has been teaching microbiology in Germany for twenty years.

Snapshot #6 — Tuesday lunch. I sit with two Australians (a chemist and a geneticist) and a German linguist onboard a boat that cruises the Spree. We chat away in English, with a little bit of German here and there.

Snapshot #7 — Tuesday afternoon. I lay down in the grass by the Spree, beer in hand, with the two aforementioned Australians. We talk about science, feminism, and a lot of other topics. Later, we move to a "beach bar".

Snapshot #8 — Wednesday afternoon. I am on the phone, complaining about the suddenly cold weather and having spent hours and hours in a train making stupid slides about projects I do not know anything about[1]. "Wait," I am cut off, "you spent the best of 12 hours yesterday chattering away on your favorite issues[2] with two Australian guys in bloody Berlin." This is a valid point.

Snapshot #9 — Thursday, early afternoon. I am in the middle of nowhere, Swabian Alps, and check into my hotel room with my Georgian[3] roommate. We speak German with the woman at the front desk and a mix of English and French together.

Snapshot #10 — Thursday evening. I am outside in the cold Swabian night, sitting crossed-legs between two German scientists. The one at my right speaks with a heavy Californian accent, the one at my left has an almost perfect British intonation. A dozen of other scientists, coming from China, Argentina, Spain, Luxembourg, Japan, Northern America, Australia, and, for a minority, Germany, complete the circle. We talk about science and academic careers and America.

Snapshot #11 — Friday afternoon. I am sitting in a bus, talking about French literature with the Georgian roommate, again in a mixture of English and French. Behind us, a colleague says a few words in Greek in his cellphone before leaning towards us and asking in German who it is we are talking about[4].

Snapshot #12 — Monday morning. I am in Paris, boarding a train back to Germany, pestering against rude people made ruder by the abandoned-luggage alert that delayed us. My chest is tight as I remember the lovely weekend spent, somewhat oddly, speaking French with French people in France (well, mostly). If there's anywhere I belong, this could well be it; but I might have attained a state of permanent déracinement[5].

Nevertheless, the above is about 29.7% of why I love my job.


[1] It indeed turned out that I managed to mix two models in one, and so artfully that only the person whose models it actually was noticed anything. "It is not a gross mistake, it is a new paper!'' I declared, actually mortified.

[2] We spent at least half an hour discussing cricket. Croquet. Cracker? Whichever it is that lasts forever and vaguely resemble baseball except that if you even think about saying that a cute wallaby dies, or something. Oh, and by the way I discovered it reading HHGTTG and actually didn't for a second imagine that it was a real thing. Actually I was also convinced for the longest time that croquet only existed in Alice in Wonderland. So, yeah, cricket. Not my topic of choice. But a fun conversation, still.

[3] The country, not the state. I am tired of repeating it and I've only known her for two years. I cannot imagine how tired she is of it.

[4] It is, of course, Duras, because I am unable to speak for any length of time of French books without mentioning her, my undying love for her, and how bad I find Un Barrage contre le Pacifique.

[5] Sorry, but there is no way "uprooting" is cutting it.

Saturday, April 9 2011

I Can't Believe I'm Being Payed for This

Here's what Friday (that is to say, yesterday) looked like for me:

6:00 The problem of waking up to a classical music radio station is that sometimes they wake you up with trumpets. In the middle of the night. Still beats the time (back when I lived in France) when I was woken up by the voice of Jean-Marie Le Pen (leader of the French extreme-right). I still shudder at the though of it.

6:10 Get up. Put water to boil. Put clothes on. Wash face. Make coffee. Breakfast.

6:30 Suddenly realize the bus comes in five minutes. Run around the apartment packing my bag with my left hand while brushing my teeth with the right one.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, February 1 2011

Outside World

The first of my two months of German classes has ended. The last day was a sad affair (most students stay only for a month); gloomy, antsy, overtired, somewhat teary-eyed, and with what I can only call a certain dampness to it. The weather was gray and humid. Our goodbyes were quiet and there was none of the rolls of laughter one could usually hear pouring into the corridor when more than four people are gathered in the kitchen from my housing unit. There were hugs and exchanged gifts and pressed hands and promises to keep in touch and try to visit one another — we're not fool enough not to realize how hard these promises can be to hold when some live in South America and others in Australia.

All that to say I had a great time and met people I truly get along really well with. (Also, my German has improved ten-folds and I'm well on my way to my 2004 level.)

Continue reading...

- 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