A Return

I’m in Lexington, Kentucky, for a couple of days to give three presentations at the University of Kentucky (or “UK” as everyone refers to it here – I hope that explains the previous post). I should be preparing two of them instead of blogging, but… you know how it is. Here’s how I got here:

lexington visit On Wednesday afternoon, after a class on magnetostatics, and an attendance of a lunchtime event where four of our faculty (Biology, Geology, Cosmology (our very own Elena Pierpaoli!), Biology) presented their research, I dashed for a plane. Some hours later, at 10:45pm local time, I touched down in Chicago, and 15 minutes later was on the highway in the company (and car) of Nick Halmagyi.

Our mission? To hang out for a few hours in an excellent bar or two of his acquaintance and catch up on what’s been going on with each other, workwise and otherwise. The Charleston was indeed excellent, and (after chortling a bit about the memory of my annoyance at being charged $29 for a serving of a single malt scotch in a bar in Aspen during the Summer) proceeded to order the same here (he the Macallan, me the Talisker). At about 1:00am, the music stops and a guy with a face full of character sits down at the upright piano, is introduced to a scattering of applause, and proceeds to play some Chopin. Everybody shuts up and turns to listen. Appropriately, the piano sounds like all upright pianos in all bars all around the world sound (the tuning is just a bit wobbly), and the guy is good – really good. He stops playing the piece, and there’s some more scattered applause; someone (jokingly?) offers his a dollar as he walks away which he waves away enthusiastically; the music comes back up, and everybody turns back to their conversations. Nick and I continue to chat about various aspects of life, and order a couple more whiskeys.

At 1:25am or so we wander over to another bar. Nick seems a bit surprised by my suggestion to do this (‘cos I’m supposed to be going to sleep), but I’m just enjoying walking for a bit in the cold, wearing a cozy hat and coat that normally get no use these days, and there’s something nice about a proper bar hop in a neighbourhood with good bars and in the company of someone who appreciates it. This bar has an excellent beer menu, and so I decide to finish the evening’s merriment with a Hoegaarden. By 2:15am we’ve set the world of theoretical physics to rights, compared the relative merits of Chicago and LA, discussed some future travel plans (including trying out Vélib in Paris some time soon), agreed that my personal life is borderline insane (!), and so forth. Since I’ve got to get up at 6:00am to fly to Lexington the next morning, we adjourn, heading back to Nick’s place where he’s kindly offered me the use of a futon from which, in a few hours, to propel myself (via the shower) toward the waiting taxi downstairs. Indeed, by 3:00am I’m settled down and thinking of falling asleep…

5:55am, while I’m getting ready, the phone rings. Taxi is here. I hate it that they come early! Why do taxis do that? That last five minutes is all so important, and the time you take to answer the call, to explain that you’ll be down in five minutes to get there at the time the car was ordered for, means that you’ve lost another minute, and now you’re likely to forget to put something vital into your bags.

10:30am (or so) later on. Lexington, Kentucky. It has been a hugely long time since I’ve been here, and it is great to see the rolling fields with white fences everywhere. It’s a bit chilly for the precious horses to be out and about (apparently) on these fields, but there’s no doubt that I’m back in horse country since (as usual) there are portraits of horses up in the buildings you go into (full body ones of course, but a surprising and amusing number of head and shoulders ones with the horse staring out at you haughtily like some elder statesman or former landowner). The taxi driver reminds me of (one of ) the local twangs with his “He was beatin’ me like a redheaded stepchild”, phrase to describe his losses at cards to the other taxi driver who was sitting in his cab as I’d approached. I’d interrupted their card game, and evidently saved him some money. (Turned out later on in the conversation that he was not entirely seriously using that turn of phrase, as he chucklingly added “He beat me like a rented mule at harvest time…” later on.)

It was great to see the campus again. There’s the Chemistry-Physics building that reminds one of going to work in a factory (the chimneys were added to the building long ago to help the chemistry fumes be expelled at the regulation height above the ground).

lexington visit

I was especially pleased to see the huge library building that was constructed and completed while I was a professor here.

lexington visit

I’d immediately adopted it as a great place to go and hide out, and in fact, it is the place where when Andrew Chamblin, Roberto Emparan, and Rob Myers visited, we went to hide in one of the swanky new conference rooms and brainstormed one of my favourite papers (of ones I’ve written, I mean) into existence.

Putting nostalgia away, I went into the CP building, found my host Sumit Das. Ran into lots of old friends and colleagues, and my first graduate student (Adel Awad). We had coffee, got me situated in my accommodation on campus, and chatted for a while.

The first of my three talks was for an hour and fifteen minutes to an undergraduate class of Sumit’s. My topic – the Big Bang. I’d been thinking about it between naps on the plane over, and so it went pretty seamlessly. All I needed was a piece of chalk and a blackboard, and occasional responses from the students to let me know they were following along as I charted the history of the idea, the evidence, the attempts at alternative explanations, the theories, the predictions, and the twists and turns of the tale of the development of some of our current state of knowledge. It was fun.

Today: Discovered that I’d left my hairbrush in Chicago – damned taxi driver!!! My mission today: Remaining two events are a seminar and a colloquium. These I won’t be able to do justice to off the top of my head. Better get back to preparing them. (Or should I try and find a place to buy something to comb my hair…?)


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6 Responses to A Return

  1. Mary Cole says:

    Disappointed! I thought you might be in the other UK. Sounds like you are having an interesting time with all your travels, though.

  2. Jude says:

    I love the photo of the library bulding. I read a posting on some listserv or other about a guy who collects counties–he tries to visit all the counties in each state. I think it would be more fun to “collect” libraries.

    Today in my library I was helping students choose science fair projects. One student wanted to do a science project to prove that evolution was wrong because, she said, if we had evolved from monkeys, then we should keep getting bigger all the time, and that isn’t happening. I didn’t refute that because I thought I’d have to start farther back than I had time to do in a casual encounter. I asked her what her hypothesis would be and how she’d set up an experiment, and when I swung by later, she’d written down three different ideas, leaving out the evolution vs. creation one. Her ignorance was a demonstration of why science education is critically important.

    Later, she asked me about Carbon-14 dating. I explained to her that Willard Libby, the guy who invented it, was born in this town and later won the Nobel Prize. I celebrate his birthday each year (December 17th) by passing out candy to greedy high school kids. I gave her a rough explanation of dating processes, throwing in tree-ring dating for the heck of it.

    Last week, I wore my glow-in-the-dark Periodic Table of the Elements t-shirt. One student asked, “Why are you wearing that?” I replied, “Because I like science.” She said, “But you’re a librarian!” Sheesh, I didn’t know that in the unpublished rule book it says that librarians can’t like science.

  3. Tommy says:

    Ah, should have told you to say hi to Nick for me, he just kicked my butt in chess online. How’s he doing these days?

  4. Clifford says:

    He’s doing very well! (I did not know he played online chess….)


  5. Pingback: My work here is done - Asymptotia

  6. Tommy says:

    Its via Facebook. We were about even and then I made a typical blunder.