Saturday, November 24, 2007

Germany, Thanksgiving, and Nellie Bly

I visited friends in Leipzig before going to a conference in Goslar, Germany. J&J are friends of mine first from Biopython and then from South Africa. They are the only people I've met on three continents, I think. No, that's wrong. There's a few bio* people I met in Singpore, Cape Town, Europe and the US. But J&J are the ones I know the best. I got caught up a bit on the gossip in bioinformatics, and in South Africa.

A problem of having travelled so much the last few years is that I've friends scattered all over. I love living in Sweden and right now don't want to live anywhere else. But I want to see so many people in the US, in South Africa, in England, and elsewhere. Who's going to invent teleport booths?!

I presented a poster at Goslar but it wasn't ready by the time I left Sweden. I finished it in Friday and went to a copy shop to print it out. The previous time I visited Leipzig it seemed that nearly everyone knew English well. The guy at the Apple store, the woman at the restaurant, and more. J&J were surprised because they rarely find English speakers. It must have been luck that time because this visit I found very few who spoke more than a few words. But it worked out. The two woman at the shop knew about as much English as I did German from many years ago. "Schwartz-vit" means "black and white", and "A0" is written "A0". "Which kind of paper?" was hard to get across, but I could ask "Was ist besser?" - "Which is better?".

I walked around a bit, bought some pastries (again in broken German) and decided to brave .. a haircut. Length? "Half". "Wet or dry?" Decided for wet, which included a nice scalp massage. It worked out pretty well, given the lack of mutual comprehension. But a short haircut for a guy isn't hard.

One of the nights I was there I made locro for the first course soup. Locro is a recipe my mom learned when we lived in Ecuador. The way I make it is: boil potatoes until soft. drain water. Add whole milk until almost covered. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add cheese (a medium hard white cheese that melts nicely) and bring to a simmer. Cool and serve. The trick is getting the right cheese. In Miami my mom used queso blanco - "white cheese." I've used jack. Swedish "priest bread" does not work well. I should keep track of which ones make a good substitute. You can have avocado, or green onions, or quite a bit of other things for flavor.

(I have this now faint memory of when we visited Cusco in the early '80s. My dad and I went to a local cafe and I ordered potato soup that was amazingly good. In grad school the taste popped up in my mind. I couldn't make it, but I wanted a potato soup, so I ended up making a potato/tomato soup that is now a common meal when I cook.)

After that was the German Chemoinformatics Conference. It took a bit by train to get there. Goslar is in the boondocks. An uneventful journey. I stayed at a hotel about 10 minutes walk from the conference, and almost next-door to an American restaurant. I didn't expect to see an American flag flying in a small town in Germany. It looked like it was trying to be a tex-mex western place, but I didn't step in to find out.

During the trip in Germany I decided to eat German. I had lots of sausages and beer, for example, and sauerkraut and beets. I drank more beer on that trip than I usually do in months. I still don't like beer, but I can drink it.

My first snow of this winter happened while I was there. It wasn't freezing so the snow didn't stick. I was glad that I had brought my light gloves, just in case.

I left on Wednesday. On Tuesday things were worrisome as the German transit workers were threatening to strike. They have low wages and wanted their own union, or so I understand it. About noon on Tuesday the news report was "no strike until Thursday." Whew!

Roger and I rode the train to the Frankfurt airport together. He was spending the night there, flying back to Santa Fe the next day. I was flying to San Francisco on the 2-something pm flight. It's really hard to get from Goslar to the US. The nearest airport is Hannover, but that has no flights to the US, so 4 hours by train to Frankfort airport was the easiest.

There were flight delays on American Airlines leaving Frankfurt and I got to Chicago a bit late. But that was okay - the flight out of ORD was also late. Got into SFO. Was going to rent a "surprise" car for the 10 days I'm here. "surprise" means "whatever we have left". It was $1 cheaper than renting a specific car, and I decided to go for what's behind door number 2. Turns out that all that was left was a minivan. Which I didn't want. "Why did you choose the 'surprise' option then?" "Because I thought I could get a *car*, not a minivan." Grrr. So I spent more money to get a convertible. It's a Sebring. I'm not that happy with it. I think I'm not old enough for it. Though it does have digital radio, which I've never had a chance to listen to before.

I've been visiting Craig and Rachel. And David. Because of jet lag I was waking up early and drove Craig along with David to the latter's school. We would pick up Benjamin from the House of Co. David and Benjamin are 7 years old. Walking back to the car one of the other elementary schools asks me "is that your car? I like it!". Hmmm....

First few days here I gorged on chips and salsa, and Craig made waffles with maple syrup, and I ate other things which are harder to get in Sweden.

Yesterday of course was the Big Event. The main reason I came here for this visit - Thanksgiving. Rachel makes a great Thanksgiving spread. 17.5 lb turkey, several pies, mashed potatoes, cranberries, gravy, baked potatoes and carrots, stuffing, and more. Friends of theirs came over and brought an Indian(as in Asia)-style green beans, yams with apple slices, and gingerbread cake. There was much food eaten by the 7 adults and 4 kids. As well as talking and laughing and partaking of the juice of the vine.

Today was leftover day. I had pumpkin pie for breakfast, and apple pie as the first course of lunch, followed by stuffing and turkey and other more yumminess. I didn't do much during the day. Did a lot of web browsing. From a Wired mention I found mention of Nellie Bly's journey around the earth.

In 1890 Nellie Bly, then a 25 year old journalist for the New York World, traveled around the world to beat Phileas Fogg's fictional journey "Around the World in Eighty Days." She wrote a book at about it, titled "Around the World in 72 Days" which I read this evening. PBS did a story about it, and have a map.

It was a very engaging story to read. Her only luggage was a single hand-bag! She makes comments about American customs that have obviously changed since then, like women kissing women on the lips, which I've only seen in South Africa. While other things haven't changed: "(our space is so limited and expensive in New York)". This is back in the time when Britain ruled the world. One line is: "I took some American gold and paper money to use at different ports as a test to see if American money was known outside of America." For the most part it wasn't, except for silver, treated as specie.

She visited Jules Verne in France, who tells her he did "Around the World" mostly because he wanted to make a story around the International Date Line (not quite literally-it wasn't agreed upon yet by then). When she got back to the US she received a hero's welcome. A single young professional woman who went around the world and beat Fogg's time.

On Monday I fly back to the great grey north. That means in the next couple of days I've got some shopping to do. Gloves and pants and chocolate chips and more. I should make a list. And check it twice.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

45 is cold?

I've officially been away from the US too long. I read "The same glass of wine tastes significantly different at 45 degrees than it does at 60 degrees. " and thought "why would you heat a glass of wine?" I had to read it again before I realized "ahh, F, not C."

Guess it's time to get a refresher in English units. I'll do that next week. I'm visiting Craig and Rachel for Thanksgiving, and will be in California for about 10 days. Miles and feet, ounces and pounds, gallons and Fahrenheit: here I come!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Göteborgs botaniska trädgård

This afternoon I went with Gudrun to Göteborgs botaniska trädgård; "Gothenburg's botanical garden." Very nice place. Despite this being late fall there were still a few flowers out. Stragglers hoping to the see the first snow. I was quite surpised to see a stand of bamboo! I didn't think it could grow this far north. I'll have to go back when things are green and wet. Gudrun mentioned one part of the garden set up so you can hear the water tricking through. There was also a rhododendron section and even a small tunnel through one of the hills.

You want pictures? Try searching on flikr. I had my camera but as I was thinking hard to hold a conversation in Swedish I didn't have much time for other things.

Yesterday I invited friends over for a small Halloween party. Johann and Niklas took pictures, and when I geet copies I'll probably post them. We made jack-o'-lanterns from 3 pumpkins, a squash, and a melon. The green of the last was a nice contrast to the other colors. I also made jambalaya, Niklas brought a cake, and Eva brought candy. After all, what's a Halloween party without candy?

The party alternated between English and Swedish. I am progressing in the language. It would be nice though to have more daily contact with Swedes, to help learn all these little words, like "spatula", "trivet", "toothpick" and "blinds."