Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Don't touch that

Look at this picture of the new CERN Control Center and see if you can find someone familiar. Yep, that’s me looking very important (kind of) as I point out something on the monitor. Reality: We needed a new photo of the control room, but it needed to show diversity. i.e. a room full of the guys normally on shift wouldn't cut it. So insert my coworker, Christine, and me, pretending to look busy and trying my best not to touch anything and accidentally blow up the LHC.
In other news, I got a care package from my parents the other day, filled with all kinds of things I miss from American stores. In the heavy box: Two tubs of natural peanut butter, two boxes of my favorite cereal, Kashi Go Lean Crunch, a bunch of fashion magazines (English-language magazines cost about 14 francs here), and a box of instant couscous among other goodies.
I sent them a box of Swiss chocolate Easter bunnies, but I’m afraid they might not get it until the holiday is over.

Monday, March 27, 2006


I love Florence. I don’t know if it was the good weather, the Italian hospitality or just the beauty of the city, but this past weekend was my favorite trip so far.
The beginning of the trip didn’t start so well. It was raining, as it usually is in Geneva, when I got on the bus to the train station. My train left at 10:30 p.m. and I reserved a bed in one of the couchettes earlier in the week. Each couchette, or at least the cheapest one like I reserved, is filled with six beds: two on the bottom, two on top and two in the middle. It was hard to fall asleep in a room full of strangers (both guys and girls) and every time I finally did nod off, the train would stop and I’d wake to the sound of people climbing in and out of the beds around me. I also was scared that I’d sleep through my stop. All those things combined equaled one night of fitful sleep. On the plus side, I didn’t miss my stop, they served each person a light breakfast (which I wasn’t expecting) and I arrived in Florence bright and early, just before 8 a.m.
My first stop once in the city was at the Uffizi Gallery, the home of works by Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael, among many others. (Almost all the Ninja Turtles) The building itself was a work of art, with tall, domed, painting ceilings and windows overlooking the Arno river and the plaza below. After a couple hours in the museum, I searched for my Hotel, which was pretty reasonable and in a good location close to the river. I finally found the front door but couldn’t figure out how to get in. Eventually I realized that you have to push a button on the hotel’s address sign to buzz yourself in and then climb four flights of stairs to get to the actual lobby. I spent the rest of the day walking around the city. I window-shopped in the jewelry stores that line Florence’s most famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, took in an aerial view of the city from the top of the Duomo, a dome atop a pink, green and white marble cathedral. It was quite a hike up 460 stairs. I loved Piazza Signora, a huge square by the Uffizi filled with tons of people, tourist stands, outdoor restaurants, all kinds of statues (including a replica of David) and sidewalk performers acting like statues. I got my picture taken with one. I shopped at an outdoor market and bought this bag of stuff called Brigidini, these flattened yellow chip-like flakes that are flavored with anise. They remind me of pazelles my mom used to make, they even have pretty flower designs pressed on them. In late afternoon, slews of sidewalk vendors laid out their fake collections of designer sunglasses and purses. The best part was watching them simply fold up their cardboard stands and casually walk away when a police officer turned down the street. My brother would have got a kick out of that. For dinner I ate at this restaurant overlooking the river. I had a great meal: salad, fresh pasta with mushrooms and a glass of Chianti, which is the trademark of Florence. Afterward I couldn’t resist a cup of gelato. That stuff is sold every 20 feet or so. My favorite flavors so far: coconut and pistachio.
On Sunday, I went to the Accademia Gallery, where Michelangelo’s statue of David stands. It’s much bigger than I imagined. I had thought it was the size of an actual person, but it’s really very impressive. The museum also has this wing filled with the plaster molds for famous and not-so famous statues. There are hundreds of busts there lined up on shelves, which kind of creeped me out, like the heads of hunted animals on the wall. My last stop before heading back to the train station was the Boboli Gardens, a huge area with fountains and all kind of pretty greenery.
It was a great weekend, and if you’re ever in Italy, I highly suggest you stop there.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

By request

At the request of Abbey, who lately has become a blogging superstar, I’m going to give a bit of mid-week update. There doesn’t seem like there’s much to talk about, but one person’s trash is another’s treasure, or something like that, so maybe you’ll find my mundane weekday life and observations interesting.
I usually don’t do much after leaving the lab. If the weather is nice, I walk or run around an outdoor track next to my apartment building, then make dinner (sometimes a challenge without a microwave), flip through the entire set of TV channels wishing that I’ll stumble across a previously undiscovered English-speaking channel, and then maybe I’ll read. My roommate makes fun of me for reading so much, but I’ve made good progress on a set of books that piled up in my bedroom at home. I just finished “Invisible Monsters” by Chuck Palahniuk (the guy who wrote “Fight Club”) and as expected, it was definitely a disturbing story with lots of plot twists. Other books read since I’ve been here: “Wicked,” “A Million Little Pieces,” “My Sister’s Keeper,” “Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason,” and I think a couple others I can’t remember.
I think one of the most exciting parts of my day is the bus ride. Mostly because of the people-watching. Every day, I walk to the same stop. And every day, this elderly guy waits there, too. He looks the same each morning: blue velvety textured pants, blue coat, brown briefcase and a blue baseball cat over his white hair. Every morning I stand at the stop, watching, as he does the same routine. He emerges from an apartment building across the street, crossing the road while looking anxiously in both directions and stands about 10 feet away from the stop. I usually smile to acknowledge him, I mean we see each other every day, but he avoids eye contact or smiles and then quickly looks away. Still standing a bit away from me, he waves his hand in the direction of the apartment building. Each time he does that, I try to spot the person he’s waving to. But after more than a month of this, I still can’t find her, or him, or maybe it’s not a person but just a cat or a plant. After the initial wave, we wait. And as soon as the no. 9 bus pulls around the circle, he waves again, blows a long kiss and waves once more. Then he walks quickly toward the stop, passes me and boards the front of the bus, never the back. I’ve never talked with the man, mostly because I’m afraid he won’t speak English. And besides, my main reason to talk with him would be to find out who he’s waving to, and asking flat-out might be intrusive. So each day I hope that I’ll spot the person I couldn’t the day before.
Today was pretty average. Like clockwork, I saw waving guy on my ride in. Then I interviewed a physicist about crystals. Not Swarovski, or any other brand you might find in jewelry, candlestick holders or those little figurines that cost a truckload, but the kind of crystals used in a particle accelerator detector. They’re kind of pretty, rectangular-shaped and extremely clear, not something I would associate with the rest of the detector, which looks like a huge mass of brightly colored metal and wires. Energy from electrons and photons in the particle collisions are deposited in the crystals, which then turn into light. I won’t get much more technical, but the physicists want to know the energy of these particles passing through the crystals so they can identify anything new made from the collision. To do this you need lots of crystals, about 76,000 in all.
Not much more after that. This weekend I’m going to Florence, so as usual, you can expect a Monday update.

Monday, March 20, 2006

St. Pat in France

When someone asks “What are you?” I never used to answer with “I’m American.” Not before coming here. It just seems so simple, because in America, you’re hardly ever just American. You’re a mix of things, or you identify with one particular nationality. You’re Korean or Filipino or Mexican. You’re hyphenated, like African-American (now more politically correct without the hyphen). We’re supposedly a melting pot, but one that doesn’t really want to melt. Myself, I usually give a breakdown: I’m Italian, Irish, English, Austrian and God knows what else. But here, when you say you’re Irish, you mean that you, not just your great-grandparents, are actually from Ireland.
So did I consider myself Irish on this St. Patrick’s Day? Of course. Everyone’s a little bit Irish, right? I quickly discovered, however, that “Irish by association” is definitely an American way of thought. It’s a wonder to me how people thousands of miles away celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with so much more enthusiasm than those who are just a quick plane ride from the Emerald Isle. I love St. Patrick’s Day. So I wore my green and went to an Irish pub just across the border in France with my friend Carolyn (also an Irish-American). We found others like us, an Irish band and good beer. But not the craziness I’m used to. So next year, as ridiculous as the festivities can be, I’ll be happy to celebrate St. Pat in the American way, with parades, dyed rivers, “Kiss me, I’m Irish” buttons and lots of green beer.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Even though I’m a mutt of nationalities, I’ve always felt especially proud of my Italian heritage. Maybe it’s because of how my mom used to talk about her relatives with their dramatic gestures, plates filled with food and welcoming arms. My brother and I grew up knowing that “manga!” meant it was time to eat. Italians seemed warm and friendly, and Jesse and I talked often about visiting Italy with our cousins and trying to track down some of our roots. Unfortunately my family wasn't with me during my first visit to the country, but I still had a great time in Milan this weekend.
I took the train on Saturday with Raven, a new girl here from California. The weather was ideal, bright sun and the first blue skies I’ve seen in a week. After some initial hotel difficulties, we found one for a pretty good price in the center of town.
As Tyra Banks would tell you on “America’s Next Top Model,” Milan is the fashion capital of the world. It was evident as we walked along streets filled with Gucci, Prada, D&G, Armani, and any other big designer you can think of. We mostly window-shopped, too scared to walk inside and deal with the intimidating salespeople. Armani took up an entire block, with a whole floor dedicated to furniture and another to a café. We also found stores dedicated to Mercedes and Ferrari, which sold everything from bicycles to clothing.
But more than checking out the newest fashions, I liked watching the people wearing them. We definitely saw many stereotypical Italian fashionistas. Nice shoes, designer clothes, hip hairstyles and more aviator sunglasses than I’ve ever seen. I felt pretty grungy in my jeans and tennis shoes.
Milan in general is a very industrial and business-based city, but it also has a lot of history. We walked around Castello Sforzesco, a pretty castle first built in the 1400s. My favorite attraction was Duomo, a huge, and I mean huge, gothic cathedral that we visited on Sunday. We took the stairs to the roof and walked all the way around, looking at the surrounding city and the details on the building, which is the second biggest cathedral in the world (St. Peter’s in Rome is first). I think it looks like a giant sandcastle; there are thousands of statues in the design, each one different. We also went to an art museum that had mostly religious paintings, some pretty, some pretty gruesome.
I really enjoyed my first Italian experience. It was nice to hear a different language spoken other than French, the people were very friendly and the food was great. We had gelato (twice), traditional Milanese risotto and pizza.
One odd event: There was a political riot while we were there. See link:,,13509-2083030,00.html
On Saturday afternoon, police had blocked off a lot of the streets, but everything seemed quiet. Later we saw a bunch of the protestors walking with a caravan of police cars following them. But once again, everything seemed peaceful. Apparently not.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Oui, Paris

I have a lot of duplicated artwork. Paintings I hung in my dorm room and apartment at college. Things I bought at poster stores or the gift shop at the DIA. So it was really strange to see the actual versions of my copies, brush stokes and all, and remind myself that they are the real deal. The Musée d’Orsay, which I visited in Paris on Saturday, has lots of these classics, from Van Gogh’s self portrait to Monet’s water lilies. The museum is housed in a converted train station, with a big clock at one end and an open gallery running down the center with many sculptures. It also has a huge collection of one of my favorite artists, Degas. All of the ballet scenes and sculptures I can recall are held there.
From there, I took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower. Paris’ subway system reminds me of the tube in London. It’s relatively easy to navigate as long as you have a route map, and pretty clean. However, like any subway system, it also has it share of crazies. One man sitting across from me would mumble something in French and then break out into flow-blown cackling. I think everyone sighed in relief after he exited. Anyway, I made it to the tower safely and after waiting in a long line, I took in the view from the tower’s second platform. It was somewhat cloudy, but still a stunning sight. I could see up and down the Seine river and make out Notre Dame in the distance. Unfortunately, that’s about all I had time for. The latest train out of the city was booked by the time I made my reservation on Thursday night, leaving me with just six hours to wander around. I’ll definitely be back, because there’s so much more I want to see.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Don't forget

This sign is posted in my apartment bathroom. And no, we don't share the facility with a Subway restaurant. It's just a gentle reminder from my roommate.