Well, yesterday I handed in my grade sheets for my courses, so I’ve finished all undergraduate teaching duties for the calendar year! Time now to turn to all those things that have been piling up waiting to be done. Eventually, this will mean research, but in between there are various tasks, from writing letters of recommendation to reviewing grants, fellowship applications, and more.
Mostly, I just want to disappear for a while. Leave the planet for a bit and go walkabout, like I did last year’s holiday season. That might happen, but I have to be partly available for a little while for a number of duties. Either way, I need to get out of the old mode, and into the more contemplative one. In order to begin the resetting, I decided to hide away from campus entirely and in the afternoon visit one of my other offices… the beach.
I had some errands to run out in Santa Monica, such as picking up my boots from that great boot repair place (where I’d dropped them off to get stretched a bit… the miracle repair I told you about before had resulted in them a bit stiff and slightly tighter on the slopes, and so I thought I’d try a stretching of a few days), and so this fit well. I figured I’d just stay there until the evening.
I have a love-hate relationship with Santa Monica. It sometimes annoys me a lot, and seems to be a place that is so squeaky clean that all the flavour of real life has been drained out of it, to be replaced by mostly smugness…. but at other times, I’m very happy with it, since it has a number of gems that I like a lot.
If the truth be told, one of the main reasons that I like to go over there is the tarts. Your eyebrows are raised, so I suppose I should explain. There’s an awful lot of English people in Santa Monica, and so one of course pretends not to be one when one is near another such person (and I am sure they do it too – I do not know why), but there are times when one blows one’s cover deliberately, and then you must blow it big time. One of these times is going into an English shop (yes, they have them in Santa Monica – full of overpriced Marmite, Cadbury’s Flake, Hobnobs, Ribena, Twiglets, Rich Teas, etc – priceless flavours that cannot be created here) to get some prized item. I don’t get the overpriced things except in an emergency (I’m either fine without, or pick up a few things on a trip over there, or someone visiting brings a few things), but then there is Tudor House (click left for larger).
Although it is a bit embarrassing to walk into a place with that name and with huge Union Jacks floating outside…. this is readily overcome since there is a little counter at the back with freshly made jam tarts. A little piece of England. There are other things too (variosu meat pies, for example), but I go for a lemon tart (for only $1.00 !!)… and always leave with three tarts in a neat little pink box. Sigh. Lemon, Apricot and Raspberry this time. Very tasty with tea. Or coffee. Or bits of sand that might inadvertently get in as you try to eat them along the beach (click for larger):
… and then it is off to the pier and the beach for a bit of a stroll and a think:
Oh, yes, you can tell it is Winter time (Northerners, please don’t get too angry at me) for at least two obvious reasons. There are wisps of Wintery cloud up there, and the sun is very low in the sky in the middle of the afternoon. It makes for nice photos, fewer people (I thought that the folks with the beach umbrella were either taking the mickey, or British tourists, for a moment, but they weren’t – it was indeed in the mid 70s not long before the sun set 45 minutes later. I think it is a bit warmer than normal. Not sure), and long stretches of beach with just you, the birds, and the unusually high number of bikini- or underwear-clad models being photographed for some reason.
Anyway, after my constitutional it was time to retire to a cafe and consume good coffee and work a bit. The plan was to go to a funky cafe down in Venice, the beach down the way:
…but the sun was setting fast, and I’d lost too much time to walk all that way before working. So I decided to stay in Santa Monica and visit the giant wedding cake that is Shutters on the Beach. At times, this hotel seems to be full of people discussing their tennis lessons and the like, but you can ignore it. The cafe downstairs (Pedals on the Beach) is great, but this time I went upstairs to the lobby and took a table looking out to the post-sunset red sky, listening to the chatter for a while, and working through a pot of satisfyingly excellent coffee.
I wish I could tell you what I was working on, but I cannot. I’m reviewing a newly written popular science book for a publisher, and it is just a delight to read. There were some points where I was truly and pleasantly overwhelemed by that warm feeling you get when someone appreciates and explains well to the public the sheer wonder of our world and what we’ve learned about it from deductive scientific reasonsing. This book is going to be fantastic, and it is a real honour to help bring it to you. I’m thinking I might base my course on it the next time I teach the general education course Physics 100 (I taught it this semester), which is supposed to be all about them appreciating scientific inquiry. It would be perfect, and a welcome break from working from a standard textbook for that level course.
I was expecting to breeze through it fairly quickly, but I’m going more slowly since although it is a page turner (oh boy it is!) I got into scribbling little notes and suggestions here and there because it is such a wonderful piece of writing, I want to help catch the little bits that might have been missed here and there due to copy editing errors or suggest a few improvements here and there. The author will probably mostly ignore me, but I don’t mind.
It is going to be a great book, and it was perfect timing to work on reading that subject matter just when I am trying to reset myself into contemplatative mode.
An excellent afternoon. Better get to bed now. I have two or more hours of preparation tomorrow morning for a three hour intense committee meeting with colleagues from all over the university. We are charged by our Provost to search for a new Dean of the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, one of the most crucial (and arguably one of the hardest) jobs in the University, with few equivalent positions in any other system. How to find the “right person” to do this is a formidable task. A lot of net casting and sifting to be done…. and a great deal of deliberations in the meetings to come. If only I could convince them to have the meetings on the beach…