Entries from March 2008
March 26th, 2008 · Comments Off
How times change! When I was little, NH houses all had an outdoor thermometer, much like the one in this Flickr photo by Églantine.
Neither the many hotels where we’ve stayed this month, nor the charming apartment in North Oxford that we are housesitting now has any such thing as an outdoor thermometer that you can check from inside before dressing to go outside. But that’s ok, because if I want to know the current outdoor temperature in Oxford, it’s on my Google homepage.
Our outdoor thermometer was a source of great joy when winter started ending. The very first morning that the mercury (remember mercury?) climbed above 32, my mother would let us four kids run outside in our woolly bathrobes and long flannel pjs! We had to wear boots but we did not have to wear our coats as we celebrated the family’s springtime ritual, jumping up and down on all the soon to be melted snow.
Tags: Sister Age · Wide wonderful world
March 21st, 2008 · Comments Off
… why Easter is so early this year, it’s the fault of this innocent-looking full moon, the first one of springtime.
Last night’s moon hovered over Vienna’s great opera house looking just a bit fuzzy at all the responsibility that natural science and religious tradition have pointed its way.
I am going to miss the loveliness of Vienna, despite the snow it has been showering down on all its Easter markets. But it is also wonderful to be back in Oxford again, with our own little kitchen and freezer and bathtub and washer and dryer.
Tags: Travel · Wide wonderful world
March 19th, 2008 · Comments Off
White clouds over white plaster cupids — it’s not just Viennese food that’s all meringue and whipped cream.
Not to mention the huge white ironed duvets and puffed-up down pillows (where I should now be sleeping)…
… the marble columns and statues and fetchingly draped caryatids (sculptured ladies who hold up buildings, both column and statue) …
and today, alas, falling from the sky, white flakes of snow just in time for Easter. Who ordered that?
Vienna is even so amazingly delightful.
Tags: Travel · Wide wonderful world
In 590 AD, the archangel Michael decided to sheath his sword and stop killing Romans with plague.
The expression on this statue by Raffaello da Montelupo (1504–1566) says so much. Immortal Michael can’t really understand why puny humans care so much about whether their lives end with plague or with some other horror.
I would like to see a new kind of Peace Corps created, even a short one, for politicians whose decisions shape people’s lives. Just for a week or two, I’d like these powerful guys to be assigned randomly to some not-prosperous neighborhood and given not quite enough money to meet all their needs.
Let them cope with public transportation and busted-up second-hand cars instead of a limousine, chauffeur, and police escort. Let them argue with tired emergency room personnel on behalf of a sick kid whose parents don’t have good insurance. Heck, let them stand in line to buy macaroni with food stamps.
I wish Democrats would move a little bit faster to shore up the American infrastructure of schools, streets, bridges, buses, and decent jobs that pay a decent wage to people who work hard–all things our parents took for granted but that the rich “archangels” of Team Bush have heartlessly plundered because none of these things mattered to their own lives and families.
Tags: Editorial · politics · Travel · Wide wonderful world
March 14th, 2008 · Comments Off
I spent hours today walking through the Forum Romanum and the Colosseum.
I love the way this picture captures some of the ambitious grandeur of the monuments left by ancient Rome–even after they had been plundered by time and their stones "recycled" by two millennia of later builders.
My feet are tired but my imagination is ready to run and run and run all night.
Tags: Travel · Wide wonderful world
This is my idea of a hotel lobby full of superstars–John Nash, Freeman Dyson, Shelley Glashow, and David Mumford have all turned up in “The Duke Hotel”, not far from Rome’s huge Festival della Matematica, which starts this morning.
Tonight, Umberto Eco is giving a talk about “Perverse Uses of Mathematics” — in Italian, which I speak badly but understand well. (This is in contrast to Spanish, where I can easily make myself understood but have to keep asking my children what other people just said. Very mysterious.)
The Duke seems an unlikely name for a hotel in Rome–then again, it seems like an unlikely nickname for a movie star born in Winterset, Iowa. But The Duke is indeed a very Roman hotel–big beautiful bathtub, bidet, and balcony.
My plan for today is to sit in the Piazza Navona drinking coffee and writing about Sidney Coleman. There’s a whole chapter in the book I’m writing that swirls around Sidney and the Erice physics summer schools. Black Italian espresso is the perfect inspiration!
Advice from The (John Wayne) Duke that I should work harder on following: “Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.”
Tags: Science · Travel
March 7th, 2008 · Comments Off
Last night in Oxford’s Martin Wood Theatre, Marc Abrahams kicked off the 11th annual Ig Nobel tour of the UK with a free Oxford show.
I think you can tell which cast member is the sword swallower (Dan Meyer)–to his right are Fiona Barclay (periodic table table) and Jim Gundlach (effects of country music on suicide.)
In the front row, Dan Meyer’s medical co-winner Brian Witcombe and
Caroline Richmond, who writes colorful obituaries for the BMJ. She told a questioner that she does get some protests, citing one doctor’s family who “took exception to my use of the phrase ‘snake-oil salesman’.”
John Hoyland, who writes funny stuff for the journal New Scientist, gave a great talk but left before the group photo–and Ig-Meister Marc Abrahams was with me taking photos instead of appearing in them.
Advice: if you attend any later show on the Ig tour, do not leave before the bank-robber promotional video.
Tags: Nobel · Science · Wide wonderful world
Swedish hedgehog experts send out a call for help!
Too-early spring wakes up hibernating hedgehoglets to find no breakfast. No insects or worms yet–but many hungry young hedgehogs!
Although we are in England now (where Flickr-ian Bollops recorded his own hedgehog rescue in this photo), I am still hooked on Sweden’s news in English at “The Local.” Where else would I learn about hedgehogs in springtime,
Not to mention telecommuting witches…some of whose magic might help out those Swedish hedgehogs!
Tags: Science · Sweden · Wide wonderful world
Pictured: the sheep on a local gentleman’s farm with wide view of the Isis. I nicknamed this flock the “bespoke” sheep because they are clearly not some farmer’s normal collection of uniform “off the peg” sheep for commercial purposes.
In other rural news from the Oxford area, everyone’s favorite Oxford Times newpaper says that a wandering sow has made a pig of herself in the gardens of Wantage. “Stray pig eats two tonnes of root vegetables from town allotment” was the hard-copy headline. From the story:
The stray sow, pictured, is believed to be living in an empty barn in a field close to the West Site of King Alfred’s Community and Sports College. She has eaten all the parsnips, carrots and cabbages growing in the 41 allotments….Sharon Chrisp, an RSPCA inspector, said: “The allotment holders are understandably upset about the damage to their crops to the extent that some people have suggested the pigs should be shot, which we are desperate to avoid…If the owner cannot be found, then we are looking for someone who has porcine experience who would be willing to offer these pigs a suitable home as pets.”
If the owner of these bespoke sheep has porcine experience, two furry legacy-breed pigs would probably fit right in with the springtime scenery.
Tags: England · Wide wonderful world
March 1st, 2008 · Comments Off
February 29 comes only once every four years–but in Oxford, it’s merely 7th week Friday of Hilary Term–and an exam day, to judge by all the black suits and commoners’ gowns I saw students wearing early that morning.
A commoners’ gown “is made of black material but with the style of a turned-over collar. It has no sleeves, but has a streamer on each side with square pleating and hanging to the full length of the gown, which covers the normal lounge coat, ” says Shepherd and Woodward Ltd. (Oxford student gowns since 1845.)
Oxford is famous for its many briliiant students–Tim Berners Lee, Stephen Hawking, and our own Bill Clinton, who didn’t inhale here. So I’m sure all these serious students will do quite well on their exams, although they did not look any happier about exam day than any other student from anywhere else.
Some things are pretty reliably universal.
Tags: Wide wonderful world