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Utah 2015: wildlife

So while I am in Iceland, hopefully collecting a lot of new experiences and amazing nature impressions, here another round of thematic Utah-pictures, this time of the wildlife we encountered. Now, you don't go to Utah for wildlife, you go there fore the---incredible, mindblowing, magic, not-from-this-Earth---landscape (see my previous posts on Utah panoramas and my on absolute highlight of the trip, the Island in the Sky portion of Canyonlands National Park). But if you are me, you are still going to enjoy the wildlife the desert has to offer - perhaps even more, given how it is much harder to survive there then in the lushness of (some parts of) California or the Everglades.

Bighorn sheep! But they were actually the (almost) last (new) wildlife we've seen on this trip. And while I am not quite posting in the order the photos were taken, I want to keep a rough order following when we've first seen the first of one or other group of animals

It all started out with Bison:

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before I leave for Iceland ...

... which will be Friday 17th to Sunday 3rd. Knowing myself and not going camping, I may end up stopping by here during my trip. In fact, I have a few entry drafts that I may work on in the airport or on the plane. But I will definitely be less active and comment less. Anyway, here some last (?) thoughts (I really do seem to like the bullet point format for entries lately):

  • nanila wrote an amazing entry about The Five Worst Things About Being an Immigrant and courteously allowed me to link to it. Because yes, every one of them resonated with me SO much - to repeat something I wrote in my comment to her actual post: both in my role as culturally-Jewish-German-citizen-who-has-been-born-in-former-SU and in my role as German-living-in-the-USA.
  • I have been having several conversation, both here and even more so in RL, about friendships and romantic relationship and compromises and the way they shape us and then almost (almost because I failed to sit down for a few hours on time) took part in a scientific study about long-term relationships. But, in the usual moment of l'esprit d'escalier, the epiphany came much later, in the context of some other train of thought, shortly before that intersection before actually entering Central Square, when nobody was there to listed to me:

      to me, relationships, both in terms of romantic relationships and friendships, are about opening possibilities.

    So I do not feel like (almost) anything in a relationship is a compromise because some doors indeed close (the most obvious being being in a monogamous partnership; but friendships close some too - let alone because I know that I can only be enough for a limited amount of people), but so, so, so many moor open themselves. I really don't feel like it would work if I felt otherwise about it.
  • Saturday night (that was before Orlando), I was going to a colleague for dinner, right after the Boston Pride. The green T line was full - the green is more of a small, very old tram, not really a train, and there was this girl sitting at the window. 16? 17? Something like this. A guy flopped down next to her, sitting in the classic man-spreading fashion, his back half to her - with his giant backpack, taking up half the space of her seat.
    I did not dare to ask the guy to actually take down the backpack (I find the USA hard to navigate in this regard, especially when there is a race component to it), but after two stops of not feeling good about it, I tapped the girl on the shoulder and asked whether she would like my seat (I got lucky and the person I was standing next to had to leave so I got theirs), because it looked as if the backpack was all in her way. She declined (she *was* very slender and did still fit in there, in spite of the backpack and being squeezed into half the space she should have had) and the guy did not overhear me or did not react (which was mainly my intention). But at least I've done something.
  • Do you remember me freaking out about talking about science to a bunch of kids in English? The one where I could not remember the word "bucket" in the middle of an explanation of how big and empty our galaxy is? Well, I got an award for it. OK, OK, I did not get it because I braved it in spite of not being a native speaker and I am pretty sure everyone who contributed to the whole Open Day got one, but who cares? It's really, really nice to be appreciated (some pocket money, a pretty cup with the name of the award - I got the same award two years ago for another thing I did and back then it was a simple cup from the overall department, some chocolate - not only Hershey's kisses this time, so something I can actually eat!) for something I did volunteer to do without expecting to get anything back.
  • Somebody on my list (can I name you, hon? I am not sure, so I don't) teagues_veil posted an amazing entry yesterday: Triumph Tuesday - listing five random triumphs from their life. Loved reading it. I feel like I talk about things that work out and are amazing and all that all the time here. Well, when I am not whining that is. And I would love to hear more of the triumphs of my friends. So what do you think, friendslist? Do you want to indulge me and make it a Triumph Thursday on your own LJ? Or if you read it this entry too late for it, a Triumph Tuesday next week? Or the week after the next. [Eda: So what I suggest is for everyone to post in their LJ :)]
-- take away the card & make her find a new one. (From this tweet by Darren Saunders)

  • I have the feeling that I start every second entry with: I am grumpy today. Which is not quite true, but it happens often enough that even I realize that it does repeat itself. This time it's a lot of small things - or big things but given how they are so many I have to see them as small. Also for some reason anxious about the Iceland trip - we are flying over on Friday and suddenly the weather forecast does not look good, starting Saturday. Sighs. And now I am worried whether my rain jacket really holds what it promises (10000 mm waterproof, sealed seams). And whether my shoes hold what they promise (never had them on in really wet areas - last year was Utah, as unwet at it gets). And, and, and ... You know the story, I guess.
  • But also: traveling is fun! Like when you read a NYT article on the "green caviar" (spoiler: it's not actual caviar, it's peas!) in Spain and realize that yes, you've eaten it! More than that, it was actually your favorite dish (proof here - I did not edit this entry).
  • It is also that doing anything means dragging myself by the ears to do it. (Of all the things I wanted to do this weekend, the only one I've actually done is some tax-related stuff that did not take much time but cause me a ton of anxiety. No job application I wanted to write. No science. No preliminary packing. No working though my open LJ-tabs.)
    And in the same breath: I sometimes wish my job was the normal kind of job, the one where you go to work, know what you will be doing this day, go home and don't think about it anymore. But yeah, I also know that any job that I like doing would not be like this. Stupid "Sinnhaftigkeit" (one of those untranslateable German words, a mixture of "meaningfulness" and "sense of purpose"). Knowing that this is what I am looking for does not make it easier.
    Anyway, the last week was a ton of good stuff but also a ton of really hard communication. And a lot of not getting done what I needed to do because more urgent things came up. Ugh. And now I don't know what of the many places where it is burning to address first in the one week that remains before I go to Iceland. And have tickets for two theater shows that I do not want to skip.
  • I more or less purposefully let my book-buying get out of hand, hunting down quiet a few out of print books, now that I know that the time to do so is limited. Bye-bye two years of buying only as many books as I read. But I don't feel bad about it because I am getting a lot of awesome books, mainly by women and a lot of it science fiction. A lot of authors I never heard of because they were not translated into German when my formative science fiction reading happened and likely aren't now.
  • On the other hand, I did stop myself from buying those booties, even though they were on some 75% sale (down from unaffordable to reasonable for leather shoes). Because yes, no clothes this year. Except I did order some leggings and tights (plus a pair of earrings) from Macy's because the friends who visited over Memorial day weekend left me $100 in gift cards that could only be used within one given week when they could not use them anymore. And I am not letting $100 go to waste just because I decided not to buy stuff this year. And I always need leggings + tights (the leggings will actually go to Iceland with me, they are cotton and will be a good change from my usual jeans for the flight and allow me to look OK while wandering Reykjavik on the first day - I arrive at 5 AM and ♥ 11 hours later and of course I can't check in and go to my room that early). And earrings are small enough to not make much trouble. (I also got an Anthropologie cardigan and what, I think, is quite a high end linen blazer for free, but that's a different story.)
First day: Friends arriving in the evening on Friday. Small MIT tour. Great fancy dinner at Catalyst (cocktails, one of the best lamp dishes I ever had - lamb with beets and turnip, good bread, a somewhat meh dessert, but mainly because the main was so great).

Second Day: buying some weekend essentials in the drugstore around the corner: Read more...Collapse ), followed by a breakfast at a tiny Brazilian place around the corner with the greatest passion fruit (!!! passion fruit !!!) smoothie ever. A tour through the TAZA chocolate factory Read more...Collapse ) (machines used to cover nuts - or chocolate nibs, my favorites - with chocolates; chocolate rounds; chocolate round packing machine; storage room and big roasting machine for chocolate beans.) Factory, shop, of course: Read more...Collapse ) (a dried coffee cocoa pod for my brother-out-of-law, cocoa nibs for my own enjoyment - think 100% dark chocolate, they are not sweet at all but intensely chocolate -, single-source chocolates to try with my friends; photo clearly made after the trip). MIT museum, including my favorite exhibits on kinetic art: Read more...Collapse ) (I could sit for hours in front of there two. Videos here (Beholding the Big Bang) and here (Machine with 11 Scraps of Paper) - but the videos are nothing but shadows of the real thing.) Museum-shop where I indulged my newly discovered interest in architecture Read more...Collapse ) Then off to the white mountains, almost getting lost on the way, dinner late in a random restaurant on the high-way, very American, the way one imagines it.

Third day: breakfast in a sugar shack, the owner coming over to tell my friend about how he married his wife before she could speak English while on deployment (he seems now at least 80, his wife's English is still shaky). I got myself a granola (still did not have time to actually try it out) and convinced my friends to get maple candy (that they disliked - yes, I like them even though their taste is strange): Read more...Collapse ) On to driving the scenic byways, including hiking the Arethusa Falls and Frankenstein Cliff Trail. Hiking along bridgesRead more...Collapse ) to the waterfall Read more...Collapse ) to spectacular views over the incredibly green White Mountains Read more...Collapse ) across/through a smaller waterfall Read more...Collapse ) and along some very adventurous paths Read more...Collapse ) (made extra adventurous by the fact that my hiking shoes are in Germany, waiting to be taken to Iceland) with a spectacular final of an old raised railroad in the middle of the forest Read more...Collapse ) Back along the Kancamagus Scenic Byway where we mostly drove through the clouds. Food, conversation, trying the from above chocolate, sleep.

Fourth Day: along the Kancamagus again in the early morning, more clouds to drive through, spectacular views the few moments that they half-lifted: Read more...Collapse ) Slow traffic (it's Memorial Day and the weather is bad, people are heading home), still taking time for a detour to Rockport Read more...Collapse ) ( el_moofo: do you remember? We did not go into the German bakery this time, though. advdiaboli: I kind of get why one would stay there for four days, just relaxing) where the weather steadily improved. Driving 127 along the almost-palaces in Manchester-by-the-sea. Boston airport, good-byes, home. (Next time, I will sleep with mosquito spray on but that was a different story and it was still worth it.)
  • Talking to the new people on my list made me realize that I did not give a proper introduction to myself, but I feel utterly uninspired writing one and somehow linking to the old ones seems off. I know that I did so just a months or so ago, but somehow it does not feel right right now. Blame my brain on being cranky for no obvious but a lot of small reasons right now once again.

    Anyway, if you want to read back (no force, don't worry! and questions are always welcome), there is the keys tag that also contains at least two "this is me" intros I wrote over the years and otherwise entries I consider to be, well, keys to ... me? My life? This place? Something like this. Anyway, those are entries I myself often go back to and re-read.
    (I also get notifications about all LJ comments, so if you want to talk about anything anywhere.)
  • ♥ had cows trying to nib on his mountain bike atop of one of the Chiemgau Alps mountains.

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    I spent yesterday morning with waffles and wine and kick-ass science ladies talking orthotic shoes that do not look like it, military service, art, and visa issues:

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    You do not see the waffles themselves because we were eating them up too quickly. Also almost no wine for me - don't get bitten by mosquitos in New Hampshire or you may end on antibiotics (and antihistamines and a prescription steroid ointment) for a week. Or just don't get old and allergic to mosquitos, I suppose. (Also don't have crisises over life and future on skype over 6000 km and 6 time zones. But that's a different story.)
  • Of course summer means not only mosquitos, but also fruit! So many great fruit at the moment. I got all fruit at the grocery store on Thursday (some of which I contributed to the waffles): 4 small packages of blackberries, two bigger ones of blueberries, 2 somewhat sad quinces (they were on sale because of some brown spots - I do not mind cutting them out given how long I haven't had any quinces at all!), two pomegranates, and a package of pears, mainly to go into a salad. And I still have/had apples and peaches and a mango at home. Nom.
  • On the way to waffles and wine (I walked there, it's about 45 minutes, the same whether you walk or take the T), someone was moving out and had "for free" boxes in front of their house. Cue a water jug (I wanted one for a while but could not justify actually spending the money given my limited tenure on this side of the Atlantic) and a bracelet (red accessories are just *my* thing and I love the way bracelets look on me, but I do not wear bracelets often enough - since I type too much - to justify bying a lot of them):

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  • I am still reading Christa Wolf's "City of Angels or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud" (the one I cited from in this post). It's shaping up as one of those books which I will have a lot of trouble rating. So worth reading, but so incredibly slow-going. (Definitely not the book of hers I would recommend to read first, but one that is by now full of my markings and even some notes in the margins.)

    One of the most interesting things about reading such fictionalized-autobiographical books is that you stumble over things you did not know, go looking them up trying to find out whether they are real or what the real prompt between the fictionalized version is and learn stuff. Like the extent of Thomas Mann's own homosexuality. I had no idea - did you? Well, I do not like Thomas anyway - but I do love the books of both Heinrich and Klaus, unsurprisingly, and just recommended "The Loyal Subject" ("Der Untertan") and "Mephisto" to someone on goodreads yesterday.
    And in more sad bits of information: in the English translation of Christa Wolf's own "Pattern of Childhood", they have edited out her criticism of the Vietnam war (source). I ... my mind is blown. It is such, such a great, important book. But yeah, I will not be able to recommend it. (Read "Cassandra" and "Medea", though. I guess they can't screw up mythology re-tellings.).

    Also look at the German vs. the Chinese cover for the book itself. Is this some very nifty cover design that the Chinese did?! (I am confused that this particular book was translated at all into Chinese, especially given the above Vietnam thing.)

turtles /// students

On our first free night in Florida this April, we walked along one of the hiking trails - not in the Everglades themselves, in one of the parks outside the actual National Park. "We" being a group of seven people who all spent the last four days attending the conference. It was one of those typical trails for the area, not long - a mile perhaps? or even shorter - and the only dry land, surrounded by marsh and ponds.

Perhaps three quarters into the trail we stopped close to a bench overlooking a pond, taking stupid photos, laughing, when a a group (three? I think it was three) guys joined us. Are people around 18 old teenagers or young adults? Something like this. I may also be wrong about the age - they can drive when 16 here and out of my vintage point its sometimes hard to tell a difference between a 22 and a 18 year young student. (Says the postdoc who has been asked what she is majoring in the last time she hurried across Harvard campus, trying not to come late to an invited (!) seminar talk she was giving.)

In any case: the guys were carrying around a turtle. They weren't necessarily mean or so, they seemed just to have found an amazing animal and be fascinated by him. I hope. Because I did not exactly cover myself in glory in my reaction.

They asked whether we wanted to touch him. Some did. They set the turtle on the ground and to prevent him from running away pressed down on his back before picking him up again, talking about how big and cool he was. They said he was sitting next to the trail further up.

We walked on along the trail. They walked back towards the parking lot. I fought with myself over whether I should ask them to leave the turtle here not further down the trail. Whether, even better, I should tell them to bring him back where they picked him up. (I know it's an "it" in English; I use "him" on purpose. The human pronoun.) I did not. I did stay back a few seconds and tell them not to press down on the turtle to prevent him from crawling away - there were big scratches on the underside of the shell, clearly from the stones on the ground. But I did not tell them to let him go immediately.

Of course nobody else also did. We were seven people. Not all of us were small women with a strange German accent. But it is on my conscience that *I* did not tell them.


My friend the almost-postdoc A got a student B that she did not want. Nor does have the time to take care of him. That's one of those stupid things that just happen if you don't have enough money to pay enough faculty to actually supervise students and students who do need supervision, some of them needing more supervision than others, as in this case. More supervision that you cannot usually get from a different continent - but this was the only topic that for administrative reasons was working out for this student.

It's not my friends fault - she is overworked, she had a bureaucratic catastrophe come down on her head and she is perhaps not the most patient person to bad students. And B is not exactly one of the bright ones. It is maybe her supervisor C's fault but then he also tried his best being faced with a student who needed a thesis topic yesterday.

It's just - she (A) did not clearly communicate the problems she had with the student, her supervisor (C) (who is also the students supervisor) is overworked and will not recognize if one student gets lost. But A has been pouring her heart out to me over the last months. And I do mean months.

And this time - perhaps because I did not save this turtle (I do not even know if he needed saving, perhaps they let him go a few meters on, they did not seem actively mean), at least the story kept coming back to my mind - I did listen to my conscience and wrote an e-mail to A and her supervisor C raising red flags. Saying that from outside it looks like the arrangement is not working out and that this is not my friend A's fault but just an overall shitty situation but that someone should take care of it as to not make the student B suffer. Even though A clearly told me not to intervene when I, repeatedly, told that I felt like they (A and C) should talk to each other and that I would force it if they did not.

I think this may have been betrayal as seen from A's side. And to be honest: if I confide into someone I would not want this to happen. I would feel betrayed. But yeah ... I still think it was right. I have been a student without good supervision. I have seen friends breaking and leaving science because the PhD candidate or postdoc who was actually responsible for them did not work out and the actual supervisor did not realize or did not care. I wished people would have spoken up.

But I may have just destroyed - or at least heavily undermined - a friendship. But I don't think I could have lived with my conscience if I did not.
(I should have told them to let that turtle go.)

((Sorry for not giving more details. That's as far as I'm willing to go. And yes, I also talked to some mutual friends/colleagues about this to whom I can disclose some more details.))

keeping books[*]

[*] any ambiguity in title very much on purpose. This is me ;)

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So this is what's left of my bookshelf. It makes me sad. It amazing books - or at least books I am very much looking forward to reading - and it's more than I can possibly read until I leave, but still ... So few of them! Most of the Tiptree one will fly home over Iceland with ♥ very soon. I know I should send quite a few others home, too, but how am I to decide *now* what I want to read in September? Or November? Even in a week? (And if you say "kindle" I am going to explode, so please don't. I am clearly an old snob, who needs to touch her books, caress them and smell them, have one pre-defined font for the story and, sometimes, remember not only what the book was about but also how it was too heavy to easily read in this or that position or how the pages would not stay open if I tried to eat cherries while reading.)

Anyway, books. I am good reading-wise right now. Given the slump last year, this makes me very happy. Not so many outstanding wow books so far this year, but many enjoyable ones. And some recommendations:

For everyone - to become upset and to decide to change: "Lean In" by Sheryl Sandberg (with Nell Scovell) [5/5]

Seriously - don't make the mistake that I did and hesitate to read the book because of its media coverage. Read more...Collapse )

For fantasy- and comic-book readers who want to relax with a good glass of wine or a bowl of sweet strawberries: "Vicious" by V.E. Schwab [4/5]

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For those who read science fiction because it's a magnifying glass for the human condition: "Warchild" by Karin Lowachee [4/5]

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For anybody who ever had to rely on or had to write academic reference letters: "Dear Committee Members" by Julie Schumacher [4/5]

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For everyone interested in American politics: "Dark Money" by Jane Meyer [5/5]

Yes, I thought this was one sensational name for what was supposed to be a well researched book - before I actually looked it up and realized that this is the actual term used for certain money flows. Whuuut.

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new people?

More for the German crowd, but still: misjah is organizing a friending meme (not a "fiending meme" - typos, typos ...).

Go ahead, participate and enjoy!


Sergi Arola, Madrid

We've been to Sergi Arola yesterday - two Michelin stars. And yes, once again, very much worth it. I will fully admit that my knowledge of alcohol and cocktails is limited but when I ask for a fruity cocktail and get exactly what I asked for, something indeed fruity (but not in a sweet way!) that complements a meal in the most perfect way, I know that *they* do understand their drinks. Also the very fact that they did not blink an eye on my request (I was somewhat overwhelmed by having to decide what to drink from the top of my head - but as always, the guest is the king! At least as long as the guest is not mean-spirited.). They have also been wonderfully accommodating to my friend, who cannot eat fish, including when it came to amuse-bouches.

I was in general somewhat nervous because I invited a friend along where I would have felt really bad if he had felt that he wasted the money. He very much did not feel this way - and, photography being his hobby, actually made much better photos than me, but I am still showing you my crappy ones :P

They do serve ala carte, but we did go for the tasting menu - not the most extensive one, though. I would do it next time, but this we did not quite have the time or the stamina.

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Would I recommend it? Yes, yes, yes! Perhaps not if this is your only evening in Madrid (I really think you need to try one of the more down to Earth typical Spanish places), but very much so if you want something very fancy with wonderful service and if you have the right company to spend three and a half hours talking (we did!).

coffee o'clock

  • I did send quite some books back to Germany with N. (who had to go there because of visa idiocies - over one and a half thousand dollars for one signature, yay! Not.) And of course my brain went into the "omg, I don't have enough books" mode. Which is ridiculous, given that I still have more books here than I can read until end of November, but I also know that I need books around me (as in: more books than I can read) to feel home somewhere, but that's not the topic here. Anyway: So I went on a shopping spree that I wanted to do for a while: all the James Tiptree Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon) books. I don't think I've ever ordered that many second hand books online: 10 books. And - I was aware that some of her work has been re-issued in Germany (thanks to a recommendation by Denis Scheck in Druckfrisch - yes, there still are great TV shows about books!), but what I did not know that all of her short-fiction are published in a new translation and that her novels are forthcoming. How cool is that? And how sad is the fact hat I have to hunt for her books second hand in English.
    (There is a well-regarded award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award that focusses on gender in speculative fiction - she is not a half-forgotten author, a big part of the sf/fantasy community knows her.).
  • Speaking of community: does someone happen to know a good academic work in the concept of community, especially with a focus on contemporary USA and in contrast to other parts of the world? Yes, historically it comes from German "Gemeinschaft", but the thing is ... the concept as such is almost non-existent, while "community" is ever present here: scientific community, Indian community (that my roommate is a member of), the Somerville community (referring to my little town), etc. The only context where something alike exists in Germany is religion/individual churches. Anyway, I'm not good at explaining what I mean, I just have a hunch and there is good chance that what I think to be is not true but merely a function of the different, well, communities I am in in the two countries and googling things up did not seem to help. But who knows, perhaps one of you did stumble over something alike at some point?
  • I am getting one of those people - not really hipster, but ... opinionated people on random things? Like: dark roast coffee is the most vile thing ever. But of course it's what you get most places. No way I can convince people that coffee is something amazing and yummy if all that they get tastes bitter and sour.
    Also, first person narrators. So many books would be so much better with a close third person. A first person narrator is really hard to pull off a) convincingly b) interestingly. But yeah, I know that I am not the intended audience for most books that go first person narrator.
  • I (very much on purpose) spoiled myself for Civil War. I was, to be honest, hoping for a clear cut "nope, not for me" reaction. But I am still in the limbo of not knowing whether I want to watch this movie. It's easy to ignore it when DC screws up because I can get back to the comics I love (they may not be what everyone likes, but I love them - yes, Hush, is one of them), but I never managed to get into Marvel on the comics side. That said - it may even be great storytelling choices in movie, but I am not sure they will not be soul-crushing for me in the way that stories with the wrong agenda are.
    Anyway, there is a reason why I try not to start any series before they have finished. Understanding how popular storytelling works and having a bit of a feeling for the markets makes it actually more frustrating. (I bet at least one decision in the movie was because of actor costs / time constraints.)
  • I booked Cirque du Soleil for July! I'm not sure why I hesitated before (not sure about whether I would travel somewhere and when?) and yes, the tickets are not cheap but I do love the shows and who knows when I have a chance again.
  • Also, it looks like I've been more to the theatre than to the cinema this year and that it will stay so. How sad it is: I finally found *my* theater, a year before I leave Boston?
    Anyway, seen "Arcadia" a few weeks ago and forthcoming after Madrid but before my Munich friends visit are two plays interpreting Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night, or What You Will" in different ways - same director, same actors, same play, but the promise it that it will be very different. I've seen this director's "Copenhagen" last year (amazing production that made me go to all the other play in Central Square Theater), so I have high hopes.
  • And to return to books and community and all that. There is that other little free library on the way to the supermarket that usually never has anything interesting, except for yesterday:

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    And there were other four or five books I'v been considering, but ultimately decided not to take. I hope that will be enough to hold my "not enough books" anxiety down.
  • Also: hiiii new people! Welcome! I hope I don't disappoint. If you want to know more about who I am, here is my last attempt to write an intro (and older intro is here). Generally, I have the "keys"-tag, that I use for what I consider to be keys to who I am. And there is also the "101 things I like in fiction"-entry, that may tell you more about me than my rambling about myself ever will. [No obligation to read anything, don't worry! And questions are always absolutely welcome!]

Somerville little libraries

I do not necessarily have a bucket list of things to do in Boston before I leave, but visiting all the little free libraries in Somerville was something I wanted to do for a while, actually since I've seen an article on the fact that there are (at least) seven in this one small city (I myself live in Somerville, two houses away from the Cambridge border). Only it's quite a bit of walking and doing it alone sounds boring. Enter N. and this Sunday:

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  • The marshmallow update seems to have broken all the third party alarm clocks on android, including my trusted one. This causes me a disproportionate amount of anxiety. I just hate change, especially when forced onto me, OK? I also really dislike the standard android alarm. And getting up on time is a big thing for me because I really struggle with it. (Btw., the song I wake up to is "Space Girl".) I may have spend a lot of time whining about it lately.
  • I went to the Harvard Coop bookstore last weekend to check on some popular books on astrophysics I was going to recommend to reisezeit (yeah, I kind of hate it that I can't just look into my own bookshelves and have all the books handy) and almost bought five other books. I did not. Only I came back with N. on Thursday, and bought 7. And another two yesterday in Pandemonium, the scifi bookstore. I should feel bad, but I don't - N. can bring up to one and a half suitcases of stuff for me to Germany and that was not quite planned for. Well, actually just one suitcase given how many books she bought herself.
  • One public outreach even on Tuesday (a live version of "Ask me anything ..." but in the form of "Ask me about black holes") and another yesterday ("How do we actually see black holes?" - talk). Both went really well. I just wish people would acknowledge how hard it actually is not being a native speaker - I stood there trying to explain the size of the galaxy by an analogy and could not remember the word "bucket". I don't in which point I want the acknowledgement - something like extra points in the CV? "I did all this public outreach in English, in a country that I still do not fully understand". I am whiny, sorry. It was a ton of fun. I usually don't like working with kids, but with things like these they are the best audience that you get most back from.
  • N. and I have made Greek salad. Nomnomnom. I should really remember how great it is and make it more often! I love Greek salad. Even though buying a whole baguette for one person is quite a commitment - it's a ton of meals for me and baguette does not freeze well. Except that I now have that microwave bread pudding recipe that may work with frozen baguette. Hmmm ... I see more Greek salad in my future!
  • We've (we being N. and me) been bowling yesterday with some colleagues - and than for Korean food with two of them who came late enough that we already had finished playing :D They did have a very good excuse, though, and I got some bibimbap and some Strawberry lime cider (imported, but the only local they had was the Downeast maple blend, which is great but which I also still have a can of in my own pantry). We also walked to the bowling place - it's pretty much an hour walk, but I needed the exercise, the weather was nice (t-shirt weather on the sunny side of the street) and the T was not running: it would have taken an hour to get there with the Replacement buses. Although to be honest, it would have been some 40 minutes with the T itself, too, because one first need to get to the T. from my place and that's a 15 minutes walk.
    Anyway, I had a nice time bowling and I ate bibimbap - I wanted some for a while but did not get a chance to eat some. It should not be too hard to prepare, but it's so many different ingredients, seems not really worth it for one person ...
  • And yeah, the title and sharing cookies? Because when you have friends visiting, this happens (half of each cookie for N., half for me):

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Utah 2015: Canyonlands

I can only repeat what I said before - Utah was amazing. Magic. Incredible. Each part we've been to.

But the place that just blew my mind was Canyonlands. We spent a day in the "Island is the Sky" district and one of my aims in life is to go back there and do a backlands tours. Yes, they are incredibly expensive. Yes, you need to bring everything out again because it is so dry that nothing (and I do mean nothing) decays. But it would be so worth it.

Photos do not give this landscape justice. Even standing there, I can't comprehend the sheer sizes of it. The sheer alieness. But if I don't show you the photos, I will miss the chance to perhaps make you go there - and I can't do that. So: here we go. None of the photos were in any way altered. The colors are the way they are. The desert has the most amazing colors that change depending on the light and the time of the day:

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So yeah, I will be back. For longer. And will get to explore the other parts of the park. Above is "Island in the Sky", but there is also "The Maze" (not reachable by normal car at all) and "The Needles" ...

random Thursday bits

  • Did I mention that I stayed in Florida for two and a half extra days? It was amazing: warm, but not yet hot. A ton of nature - alligators and manatees and birds and spiders and a forest that looked like just out of Jurassic park. But now my legs itch - even though I used a ton of deet-rich anti-mosquito spray and even though it's now four days since I'm back.
  • Aren't Harper Perennial's Olive Edition books the prettiest? I almost wish I didn't own "The Dispossessed" already. I did buy "Alas, Babylon", though. And yes, I love it, that "The Dispossessed" appeared in the same edition as "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (which I read) and "Bell Jar" and "Crying of Lot 40" (which I still need both to read).
  • Did you know that neither Tom Stoppard (born Tomáš Straussler) nor Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) had English as their first language? Duhduh. Just saying. And at least Conrad is said to have had a heavy accent. I wonder whether they have heard things like "oh, your English [in my case: German] is really good" with an implied "for a foreigner" often, too.
  • Wholefood's dried mango are only slightly more expensive than the ones I did buy in bulk (a 5 pounds package - and yes, I did eat it all up, embarrassingly quickly) online. They are actually cheaper compared to the ones not bought in bulk. In short: I am not allowed to go to Wholefoods again. Ever. Dried mango is quickly turning into my personal cryptonite.
  • thistleingrey recommended Prune, the mobile phone game. I ... may have almost played it in full. Ooops? The only problem is that none of the screenshots have enough quality to use them as backgrounds, I would love them, just my aesthetics.
  • It's mid April and I still haven't bought any new clothes this year. I am pretty proud. Although in Florida I realized that my everyday ballet flats are almost falling apart, so I am not sure whether I will be able to sustain the not-shopping.

Boston --> Naples, FL

I'm sorry that I haven't answered all the comments to the last entry yet - quite a number of comments are longer than the entry itself and while I *love* it, it takes time, that I don't quiet have right now. I will, however, I promise. Same for not commenting atm.

Why? Well, because my Sunday starting this way:


and proceeded this way:


The second pic is, however, a lie. Those are indeed my feet. And there is a pool and palms. That photo was, however, the only thing I actually got to do before diving headfirst into conference madness half an hour later. Just to give you a feeling: Monday started at 8:30 AM and ended at 7:30 PM (and then we went to dinner and talked some more about science), with only 20 minutes in between, because one session ran over and the biggest part of the lunch break had a splinter meeting I wanted to attend. Tuesday was somewhat alike, including a talk by yours truly. And then we came back from dinner at 10:30 PM, realized that all the nice things the hotel offers close at 10 PM and proceeded to sit around until 1 AM with various people talking things like open science policies, software projects, statistics of variability analysis, and behavior of X-ray detectors under extreme conditions.

things we assume people know

There are so many things that we assume that people know, but they don't.

It was not until my own very early twenties that I actually understood what "homoeopathic" means. I kind of assumed "herbal" before that, along the lines of assuming that homoeopathic cold medicine meant a lot of natural vitamin C. My GP was quiet a bit into homoeopathic cold medicines, you see. I wish someone would have told me as I never bothered to look up. (But than again, my early twens were before smartphones and before "to google" became a verb, at least in German.)

Something that is part of the natural knowledge to me but is not for most other people are the discriminations of Jews in the former Sovjet Union; the fact that Sovjet passports listed your ethnicity (wikipedia in Russian; the only other entry seems to be in French - as said, people don't know; trying to google for it brings ... stuff onto the top of the google search results that makes me want to vomit; I am rather desensitized to the past, I am not to rampant antisemitism today - it is, as a matter of birth, something that directly affects me, something I cannot escape as I cannot escape my skin) and that whether you were allowed into certain schools and jobs would highly depends on what was written in (being Russian was good, being Moldovan was OK in Moldova, but bad everywhere else; being a Jew ... well, there was no place where it was good). Or that being Caucasian in the sense of belonging to an ethnicity from the Caucasian region still means belonging to one one of the most discriminated against ethnic groups in what is now Russian. I guess this is not something that is important knowledge for most people but it does define a lot of trouble I have with the American concept of "race" and checking off ethnicity/race on any kind of paperwork.
(I did know about slavery from really early on; it took a while to find out about the Internment of Japanese Americans - this is a part of WWII that has been too far from where I ever was to make it into the curricula; I don't blame them, there is a limited amount of time, merely pointing out that this is something I did not know at a point of my life.)

Basic astronomical and astrophysical knowledge is, on the other hand, something so mind-changing that I think most people would benefit from it: the sheer number of stars in our own Milky Way. The truthfulness of the "we are stardust" declaration. The vastness of the universe - already the distance to the Andromeda nebula, our neighboring galaxy. It's like flying above the cities, looking down onto New York from the cruising height of am everyday Boeing 737. But in your mind. And bigger. So much bigger. Earth is beautiful and vulnerable and incredible from this vantage point. But I forget that most people don't have the same image in their minds that I do. But this one is where I can contribute to people understanding it better (this is why I did sign that petition against removing astronomy from the school curricula; this is why I keep doing public outreach).
Yesterday, I made enough kale, potato & bean soup for six meals with the aim to freeze at least three portions. After eating one, the rest went down the drain because the idea of eating another bowl sounded less appealing than frantically cooking during the week.

Today, I turned up my computer to this news from the Japanese space agency: Communication failure of X-ray Astronomy Satellite “Hitomi” (ASTRO-H) (a less technical article here) and a few other gory bits that people posted on twitter. In short: it does not look good. (This was supposed to bridge the time until the next X-ray mission from Europe, in 2028 ... Not to mention friends whose jobs depend on it. And some of my own employment hopes.)

Also, neither did I apply for the job I wanted to apply for nor did my taxes. This one I am myself to blame for - and it's not even winter, but I don't seem able to care about doing stuff. WTF.

In short: can we please re-wind this weekend?! And then start anew on a different course?
-- Terry Pratchett, "Thief of Time" --

  • I've packed the first load of unread books (and a few sweaters) into a bag that my friend is going to take with him to B. My books are no longer in two rows, but they are still a lot. Still, the bookshelf feels a lot more naked.
  • I've been eating out every day for dinner Tue to Fr. OK, Thursday was ice-cream (the amazing Toscanini gelato) for dinner, but still. There was also a lunch on Thursday, a pizza seminar on Friday and dim sum yesterday. I've had great conversations, but now I feel overfed and socially drained.
  • There is soup (roasted kabocha squash and carrot again) in the making for the rest of the week and I may finish a part of my cross stitch today. Not sure that I want to push for it, but it's a nice feeling to see the end in sight.
  • I have three more cans of Downeast Maple Blend hard apple cider. One of them in the fridge.
  • It is supposed to snow today night and tomorrow during the whole day. Yes, we had days with t-shirt weather just a week ago. That's Boston.
  • It looks like September may be roadtrip time: Ithaca, Niagara Falls (the Canadian side), Chicago, Madison in three/four days. And then flying back from Milwaukee. My friend is moving - there may be tears in the end. But that's the good side of science (if we all stay in science, but right now things are good, all of us three have next offers) - you don't fall out of touch with people so easily if you see them every second conference and keep working together.
  • I've got a lot of generall grumpiness: about collaborators not properly communicating (twice in different context, one will be a hell to fix because student involvement and I don't want a conversation in front of the student), about people listing the German non-prof positions as "assistant professors" on their English-language CVs (don't google up people asking questions in mailing lists, although that's not the first time I run into it so maybe its subject specific, who knows, but I seriously don't think that even "akademischer Rat auf Zeit" is equivalent to a prof), about me not doing enough ... Speaking of which: I better go and take care of that soup. And then clean up a bit. The room does not clean itself and I may feel better with less chaos around me.
I'm reading Christa Wolf's "Stadt der Engel oder The Overcoat of Dr. Freud" (City of Angels or the Overcoat of Dr. Freud) and this passage trapped me, oscillating: past and present (than and now, repeating patterns), Jewish and German (and because it seem not to be as clear from my posts as I thought it was: yes, I am both), USA and Germany (I've been on both sides of this conversation, foreigner in Germany, German in the USA). This tendency to fool oneself. But they are weak. Yes, of course. No question about it. What else should I do?

Typing it down also brought me back into thinking about the translations: does the English really express what the German does? Especially with Wolf, where every word weights so much. But also the cultural context: can this be translated? I've not lived through the German history of the early 90ies myself, but I know it, I feel it. I spent my - late - teens listening to Die Ärzte and know "Schrei nach Liebe" (of English translations the second is better but neither gets all the symbolism right, that's one very clever song; see also the wikipedia entry for the song including of the fact that it was #1 in the charts 22 years after the it first went live.) by heart. And there is of course all of Christa Wolf's personal background, the mistakes made, the controversies. So much reverberating behind the text, so much context ... And of course the context of my own reading of this particular passage right now, one deeply rooted in the current discussion in German media that is not reflected on this side of the pond, too busy navel-gazing their own election, barely interested in the happening on the other side of the globe even when not distracted by internal trouble.

Anyway, Christa Wolf:

-- Christa Wolf: "Stadt der Engel oder The Overcoat of Dr. Freud" (City of Angels or the Overcoat of Dr. Freud) --

your body is a battlefield

The German insurance system is still much better as a system but it fails at contraception compared to the good American one I have right now. (The thing of course is that should I get unemployed here I would not get to keep the good one, at least not if not paying crazy amounts of money - and not every job comes with one at all and with one as good as mine, proven once again by the fact that the student nurse who gave me my vaccine shot yesterday had hers not covered by her insurance.)
Anyway, I was lucky enough not to need the insurance much, but I did get a new Mirena IUD this fall - and got an amazing OB/GYN with whom I spent time gushing about how Mirena is literally life-changing. That one did save ♥ and me a ton of money. And yesterday I got first of the three shots of the HPV vaccine (the 9-valent one) - those are covered for kids in Germany but I was out of that age-range by the time they were introduced.

So there is this student working with the folks on the other floor - I meet her in the kitchen pretty often and try to follow the unwritten rule of being nice to students even though I am usually one of those grumpy people who just want their tea or coffee and not a conversation. But yeah, students, making them feel welcome and so. Until at some point you have a look at their laptop and realize that there is a giant "pro life" sticker covering half the back of the 15" machbook pro.
And just ... no. I want to take back the nice conversation we had about her Avengers-t-shirt. I want to take back my recommendation to talk to another colleague who is a big comics fan.
At a point in my life, when I was happy about any friendly word and about anyone who did not resort to xenophobic slurs, a lot of my little circle of loser-friends were kids from Bavarian suburbs/villages around A. So I am not a foreigner to people with opinions very different from my own, including on this topic. But having an opinion is one thing, bringing it to work this way is another one (I also do not wear my flying spaghetti monster t-shirt to work). She can decide whatever she wants about her body, but she is not going to decide about mine. And if she wants to - well, than I just want to have my tea, without a conversation.

Did you know that OB/GYNs are not allowed to list whether they are performing abortions on their websites in Germany? Well, they don't. Which means the next time I need an OB/GYN there, I will be asking questions first and making appointments later.


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