Random Travel Matters

Well, I’m sorry if things have been a bit quiet around here for a bit. I’ve been very busy, and also eight hours out of sync with my usual cycle. Couple this to also being disconnected from the web in the second hotel I was staying in because of me being too cheap to pay the extortionate amount that they were asking for a connection (the other place had a free connection in certain public lounges, and luckily the signal leaked into my room enough to get me a good connection a lot of the time) and you get quite a bit of quiet.

merrion square and st stephen's church

I was in Dublin and London again. Dublin mainly on a work mission, London on the way back for non-work. I was having panel deliberations once again on a range of physics topics pertaining to reviewing and recommending (sometimes) grant proposals for one of Ireland’s funding agencies. As I mentioned before (here and here), it is a truly fascinating process, and one that I think works very well overall. I come back from these things having learned a lot of interesting physics issues, and on balance am energized about physics on the whole due to the excellent discussions and arguments we have. Some of the panel members return to the task a number of times, and its rather nice to meet them again in exactly the same circumstances. It’s like we’ve been through some major experience together (a hostage-taking, prisoners of war, lost in space, trapped on desert island….) and this point of commonality makes us pleased to see each other. Everything is set up the same way every time, we know what our job is and we come in, lock ourselves away early in the morning, and brainstorm solidly until almost dinner time, pausing only to have a short lunch together in a nearby room, and for two brief coffee breaks.

Amusingly, the organizers remembered that last time I requested that the coffee not be as remarkably weak, and they asked half-jokingly (?) if the coffee was strong enough this time. I’m the one who always has the most jet-lag, you see, having only arrived the night before from California. Our 8:30am start is a 12:30am equivalent start for me – my body is set on going to sleep at that time. The mid-morning coffee break could not come too soon as far as I’m concerned. The coffee and sugar I consumed after the lunch break could do nothing whatsoever against the combined effect of the huge time skip and the hearty lunch they supply us with, however: I did in fact doze off a few times in the afternoon sessions, but happily missing a bit of discussion on projects on which I had little or no detailed expertise, and where colleagues more experienced than I were (rightly) dominating the process.

A random digression:- My journey was a bit unusual in some respects. The details are minor, but nonetheless significant to my overall quality of life on the trip. Three notable ones (to me!!) spring to mind immediately. The first is that I did not sit in my usual seats on the plane. I always sit in certain seats on long United (Boeing 777 planes) flights because I like them and they have a lot of room. I know the configuration of the plane well enough to know to request them every time. In fact, they are so familiar, and the flights that I use are so regular, I sometimes get the same flight crew and the same section of it serving me, to the point that some of them remember me. This time an overzealous United flight reservations agent decided to change my seats to some in the Premier seating, probably thinking they were doing me a big favour (this was reported to me after the fact, and they were reported to have said “these would be considered preferable”). I’ll admit that they were right that the leg room for much of that whole section is comparable to that of the seats that I like, but the problem is that the Premier section is entirely over the wings of the 777, and therefore you can’t see a blessed thing as you fly over the wonderful vistas of London on the approach to Heathrow, the California/Utah/Nevada deserts and the following approach to Los Angeles, various shots of the city, etc. I pick a great view over fancier-named seating sections every time, although I might use them more in the future for better uninterrupted sleep, I’ll admit:- The ones I usually use are a bit too close to the part where people come to stretch their legs, queue for the bathrooms after movies, walk their babies, etc., because (of course) there’s a lot of room there. The second is that United seem to have stopped using Canada Dry ginger ale. This is a disaster. Schweppes ginger ale tastes simply awful. The third is that United seem to have started serving mini-pretzels again. Hurrah! They used to a long time ago, and then started giving out little bags of crushed gravel instead (they did not call it that though, but some sort of “mix” of stupid pieces of junk all crushed together – I had to endure that for several years), which just was awful. Welcome back mini-pretzels!

I did not have any guinness this Dublin visit. Remarkable, I know. Criminal, some may say, and perhaps not without justification. Why? Not for lack of opportunity, of course (there’s almost always a pub within sight), but because I was treating my stomach rather gently on the one hand (it seemed a bit sensitive on this trip), and because I knew that any alcohol would completely wipe out the final shreds of my ability to stay awake. So I won’t be sharing a picture of a pint (or pints) with you this time.

Instead, above is a shot of one of the things I love most about Dublin – a stretch of beautiful Georgian architecture of the type that you can see in several places throughout the city. (It would be better without the cars, but that’s modern Europe for you.) It is simple, it takes the eye by the hand and gently pulls it along its lines off into the distance. This particular shot is of the Southern stretch of the famous Merrion Square, going off to Upper Mount Street, and with the eye alighting at the end upon St. Stephen’s Church of Ireland on Mount Street Crescent. I went back there to see if I was correct in recalling that many years ago, on a different mission, I stayed in accommodation on the Northern part of the square. It seems that I was right. My mission then was as an external examiner for a PhD thesis of a student at Trinity, together with giving a seminar on my work at the time, if I recall. It was my first time in Dublin, and I did not know much about where things were, or how they connected together, at the time.

One thing I like doing is coming back to a place that I’d visited a while before when it was unfamiliar, recalling the feeling in my head of the shape of things then, and clicking that shape into the larger more detailed shape that is currently in my head. It is a very satisfying feeling for me, almost physical in its vividness.

-cvj

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