Friday, December 16, 2005

distant sounds

It is as if the chair underneath me had dissolved. I feel completely detatched from the material world. A dense envelope of sublime harmony engulfs me. The Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1, and Boris Berezovsky is caressing the instrument as if it were his muse. It's an evening to forget reality, to sit back, relax and let music elevate the spirit. My thoughts wander on their own volition.

Things I miss about Salt Lake come back to my mind. Endless months of sunshine with no rain that would spoil nights out. The Roasting Company serving the tastiest coffee within a few-hundred-mile radius. Walks at sunset when the last rays would soak green lawns and red brick in a intensly golden softness. Riding my mountain bike down the Original Trail on the other side of Big Mountain in summer, or dropping into four feet of powder the day Mineral Basin opened. Hearing Beethoven's Fourth symphony at Abravanel Hall.

Abruptly I awake. Is it possible to miss cultural sophistication after leaving Salt Lake, the city of Temple Square, rugged outdoors types, and endless suburbia? A few months ago I started to long for classical music. The desire became a craving, unfulfillable. Now I'm suffering badly from deprivation because Grenoble doesn't have a symphony hall. French cultivation is outclassed in the music department by a hick town out west. And Boris Berezovsky keeps visiting my CD player. Night after night.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

good bye, blue sky

About two weeks ago, it looked like winter was finally arriving. I awoke in the morning to a good 15 inches of snow on the ground and had to take the bus to lab. The snow started melting almost immediately and was only a wet memory two short days later. Since then, it has rained almost every day. The mountains had probably got a good amount of powder, but that was hard to tell from the valley. The clouds hang so low that the mountains were invisible for more than ten days.

This weekend brought change. Sunday was the second dry day in a row and for me the last day of the year going on a ride. It was pretty cold, but I was bundled up in five layers and not afraid of the frost. I really needed to move, especially since skiing season still hasn't started yet, despite all the precipitation.

So I grabbed my Cannondale and rode along the Isère to warm up. After about 15 miles I ventured into the Vercors. Since it's always arctic up there, I didn't plan on riding all the way to the top. I just wanted to give my legs a last little workout and see where the snow started. In the end I climbed quite high and was surrounded by nothing but white for a good while. Eventually, my frozen fingers made me turn around. They warmed up on the descent by some bizarre biological process all the while the wind sucked all heat from the rest of my body.

It ended up being a good two-and-a-half-hour ride without much pain or undue suffering. Still, I was amazed to see all the other riders out there. In summer I was wondering why so few are out on their bikes. Now it seems that about the same number (and probably the same people) ride in winter too. You might just have to be hard core to enjoy cycling around Grenoble where every other climb is a Cottonwood Canyon. I'm in good company.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

shoot to kill

You have to be stupid or drunk to claim, aboard a commercial airliner, to have a bomb in your backpack. Especially if you don't have one. You must expect to have guns pointed at you by those whose job it is to keep us safe. You will be neutralized. But how? In light of recent developments in the field of efficient interrogation and detainment techniques, what are your options?

If you are not a seasoned terrorist but a deranged fool or just an imbecile, you might think it's better to get killed by a rifle shot than being transported to an undisclosed location where Vice President Dick Cheney is personally going to pull you toe nails out. You would of course be wrong because the Vice President doesn't get his hands dirty, and dead.

All those who are still alive, and not being tortured, should take a few minutes to contemplate where our world is drifting to. This is the second time in a few months that a person has been killed in public space by law enforcers. Is shooting to kill at a slight suspicion the right response to the dangers that Western civilization faces? And what are the gravest dangers our civilization faces? Whose zeal is more worrying? And what are you going to do when the officer in black calls your name from behind you?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


It was exactly one year ago to this day that I defended my PhD. It's like a little birthday, in a way. I said good-bye to my lab, my home for five years - only to be welcomed in another lab. I'm a year older and supposed to be wiser. I'm not sure about the latter.

Instead of leading a purposeful life, I'm floating along serendipidously, following the strongest current one day and going against the tide the next, taking turns in a haphazard way, stopping here and there for no apparent reason, picking up jetsam and leaving my mark in the most random places.

If I was a college student, I'd be undecided. Maybe I should ditch the Ph.D. and stick a 'Senior, undecided' behind my name, eternalizing the glorious days when I was a student.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

recipe for disaster

On CNN, I just saw George W Bush, the person Americans elected president not just once but twice give a speech at Osan Air Base in South Corea. I doubt he was trying to be funny, but I had to laugh for a moment. That is, only until it struck me how dangerous he is, so completely detached from any reality but his own.

President Bush was referring to a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq that was rejected by Congress almost unanimously. He said troops should only be withdrawn once the mission in Iraq is completed. Here I was left wondering what happened to the mission in Iraq that Bush declared accomplished two and a half years ago when he, decked out in every kids dream, a full flight suit and helmet, spectacularly landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln. Who unaccomplished the mission? Was that a devious ploy by unpatriotric Democrats? Or was he talking about a different mission? Have missions changed in Iraq? How many have in fact been accomplished yet? Does anyone know what's actually going on in Iraq? Does this guy know where Iraq is?

My contemplations were rudely brought to an end when Bush added another memorable quote, truly one for the history book. He said that pulling troops out now would be, and I'm not making this up, "recipe for disaster". What is this fuck talking about? Has he watched the news lately? The question is not whether troops should stay or go. The question is how can any sort of normalcy be restored in this desperate country. Iraq is a disaster and has been one for a long time. The United States' waging of a war without any strategy, neither for war nor for peace, has created this nightmare, and we all live in more danger than before the war because of that. Bush should finally face up to it.

Friday, November 18, 2005

pissing the night away

This is an addition to the previous post with respect to piss drunk teenager roaming Place Victor Hugo. Turns out (TV is sometimes informative, who would have guessed) that I didn't even see half of what was going on in Grenoble that night. For one because I was only at the periphery of downtown, but also because I looked too early. Right after midnight is when the situtation downtown escalated. Kids vandalized the centre ville and welcomed the hastily summoned cops with freshly emptied bottles of the already mentioned Beaujolais nouveau.

More cops entered the scene, and the brawl developed into a riot that didn't end until four in the morning. How much more divided can a country be? You have the disenfranchised in the suburbs riot violently for three weeks, desperately crying for attention to their situation, and a week later, the sons and daughters of well-off families let their boredom erupt in scenes that look quite similar but couldn't be any more different.

Maybe that's all presented a little bit to harsh. Certainly one day and three weeks don't explain a country. But in my opinion they are signs of a certain malaise, to use the word that Jacques Chirac picked when he addressed the nation a few days ago. Let's hope that the discussions, round tables, brain storming, soul searching, and talk shows that this hot November trigged will lead to changes and improvements.

live differently

The riots that started in the north eastern suburbs of Paris twenty days ago are slowly dying down (although the dismal living conditions there haven't improved one bit). TV reported yesterday that the situation is back to normal - only about 100 cars had been burned that night. A hundred cars? Normal? Well, a look into the Economist reveals that in the first seven months of 2005, the staggering number of 21900 cars went up in flames. Divide that by the 212 days that made up these seven months, and you arrive at slightly more than 103 destroyed cars per night. This is normal in France. It doesn't sound normal to me, though.

Yesterday also marked the arrival of the 2005 Beaujolais noveau, a cheap wine that is expected to be consumed young and without any moderation or inhibition. I wasn't aware of that latter requirement, and didn't take my labmates seriously when they warned me of excessive parties and general chaos in town. In fact, by the time I left the movie theater around midnight I had forgotten that the Beaujolais was the night's star. Thus I was left wondering what all these drunk students were doing in the streets, certainly not a frequent sight in this quiet town. The party took place outside, the atmosphere was one of spring break in Cancùn, despite temperatures not much above freezing.

Monday, November 14, 2005

road rage

Traffic conditions in Grenoble are usually crazy, and one surely gets by faster on a bike than in a car. Maybe this explains the anger and aggression that takes hold of any local as soon as he gets into a car. Forcing one's way, ignoring zebra crossings, preventing pedestrians from crossing the road at green, not letting cars in from side roads, I see this kind of behavior all the time. What's more, drivers get extremely aggravated and yell at each other at red lights and when stuck in congestion. Most of the time, I zigzag my way through the assembled autoimmobiles and am gone before any commotion can reach me. Not so this time.

I'm riding back from work in what looks like the middle of the night. Darkness surrounds me, and the five-o'clock rush hour has long passed. Dinner and a glass of wine are waiting at home. I'm cycling down a one-way road against traffic, as I've done a hundred times before. This is my daily commute.

A minivan turns onto the road a little way up. Suddenly, it accelerates madly and swerves to the side where I'm trying to squeeze by. The van stops right next to me after doing everything possible to give the impression of wanting to hit me. I look into the vehicle in amazement. What's the hurry, dude, you're in a car?

The guys is about 60, despite behaving like a 19-year-old. I shine my headlight into his face and tell him, tranquille, and wave my hand. He is completely exasperated and screams something about my being in his way and all this blabla. My French is not good enough to engage him in a conversation on the merits of cycling and how much sooner he is going do die from a heart attack if he keeps going like that. All I can do is advise him to drive less aggressively and start acting his age. He sits in his metal box ready to explode, fuming, still shouting out his window while I'm already on my way. What happened to savoir vivre? Later tonight, over a glass of Corbière, I'll ponder this question.

Deutsch am Ende

Da ich von keinem Leser dieses Tagebuches weiß, der nur Deutsch, aber kein Englisch versteht, es aber mindestens eine Person gibt, für die das Umgekehrte gilt, habe ich mich entschlossen, nichts mehr auf Deutsch in diesen Blog zu schreiben. Sollten triftige Gründe dagegen sprechen, werde ich meine Entscheidung überdenken, aber nur wenn mir die Gründe zugetragen werden. Bis dahin English only.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

cliff bar paradise

Whenever I go to the US these days I make sure to come back with a few cases of Cliff bars. I dig these bars, they have again and again saved my life on long rides. In Europe you can get them hardly anywhere, and if you do you're charged three euros each. So for me it makes more sense to import them myself. Which is what I did when I was in Indiana in October. I came home with a dozen Black Cherry Almond and a dozen Carrot Cake bars.

This morning I went through my apartment in search of nothing in particular and, imagine my surprise, found a 24-bar box of old Cliff bars, still shrink-wrapped, hidden behind much crap under a layer of dust. I must have bought them at Costco way back when, but don't dare to ask when exactly. I ripped one open and it smelled ok. These things are pretty much indestructible unless you store them in New Orleans.

So now there were about 50 of them sitting there on my shelf nagging me to go, ride and eat them. Lucky me, this mid-November Sunday was as beautiful as mid-November Sundays can be. Through a layer of clouds that didn't look much like rain, a warm sun was peering every once in a while. Wind was at rest and temperatures safely in the double digits, Celsius scale.

Still, it's all too obvious that not many of the good days are left in the year. Most trees have shed their leaves, littering the bike path on the Isère. Grey dominates the landscape, except for a little white up towards the top of the Belledonne mountains.

Looking back I have to admit that it's been a good year. I have not quite done 4000km, but I've come close. I approached something like good shape this summer for the first time in years. (At least one person can attest to that, though he probably doesn't want to be reminded.) I'm looking forward to next year. More riding, more serious riding, and hopefully many nice stories to share.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

home is

My last entry dates from half a month and half a world away. Let me recap what happened. After my vacation in sunny Indiana I went to equally sunny Paris to attend a workshop in the vicinity of this most beautiful of cities. I had my brain stuffed with the intricacies of electron microscopy and x-ray crystallography and how to combine the two for personal gain. Sixteen hours of work interrupted only by lunch and dinner. This being France, however, lunch and dinner were both elaborate stagings. Two hours each and four courses. No kidding. Salad, main course, cheese, desert and coffee each time we sat down on the dining tables. Well, ok, it could have been worse, but by the end of the week I was looking forward to a slice of bread and a glass of beer.

Which is exactly what I got. The weekend the course ended had the kindness of supplying two holidays - one being All Saints, the other one good company, just to make it worth it. I flew to Dresden and had my parents treat me to austere German fare. Featuring prominently the beer I mentioned above. And still the sun was shining and fall was more Indian summer than grey November.

After 25 days away I set foot in my apartment again. One day later, the sun still shining like there were no end to summer this year, I grabbed my bike and started up the Col de Porte. I had not taken into account the recent demise of daylight savings time, thus could go only halfway up before darkness forced me to head back to town. I was out for just under an hour, but that was enough to remind me forcefully that for me home will always be where I hang my bike.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Viennese coffee

I'm sitting in Vienna, having a cup of Jamaican Me Crazy and a delicious little cheesecake brownie while pondering the virtues of a good old coffee shop where time passes slowly and a few bucks pay you hours of enjoyment. Vienna is a bustling coffee shop in West Lafayette, Indiana. It is only a few minutes from Purdue University and teems with students. In contrast to what one might think of the rednecked whitewashed Midwest, the clientele is very mixed. Besides Indians and Chinese, who are never far whenever knowledge is disseminated, there are Russians, Koreans, black and white Americans. I also hear Spanish from several tables but the provenience of the speakers remains obscure. The owners of Vienna are Turkish (finally winning 1683?), and many of the patrons are as well. In short, a very pleasant place to pass time.

As I'm finishing my brownie I'm wondering why there are no similar coffee shops in Grenoble where cafés abound and people like to sit and chat. Why is there no place to hang out for hours, sip copious amounts of coffee, surf the web, and even do the occassional snippet of work? Where people don't smoke but stare at their screens? Why do I have to stay at home in my own living room for all of this? And it occurs to me that the coffee shop in its American incarnation is something like a public living room where you can sit by yourself if you want, where you meet old friends and get to know new ones, where you feel home. And after only two days, I'm already feeling home at Vienna. Damn, I'm a regular alrady.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

the truth in music

The other day I went to the local fnac, the biggest chain for music in France. People tell me that fnac is expensive, but no one is required to buy 20-euro CDs. They have many good deals, and their selection amazes me every time, even in as small a store as in Grenoble. I went to snag another one of these fine Putumayo CDs, which have been on sale for 14 euros for a while.

I've appreciated Putumayo's ingenious way of putting together great music from all four corners of the world ever since Iccha gave me 'Congo to Cuba', a musical journey from the roots of son to its modern interpretations. Guaranteed to make you feel good, they say, and for me that's true. You can't go wrong with Putumayo. I now own ten covering a good part of the globe, from Cuba and Brazil over North Africa all the way to Asia. My latest addition is 'New Orleans', and it's easily the best.

This sampler has come as a revelation to me because I wasn't familiar with New Orleans jazz before. I had an idea of what sounds off a float at Mardi gras, but that's not the real deal. It's like comparing deep fried fish at Joe's Crab Shack to crawfish étouffée at Andrew Jaeger's. Now I can stuff New Orleans into my ears. Kermit Ruffins and Dr. Micheal White are fantastic. And I have more CDs lined up for me to purchase.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Konserve oder frisch

Heute stellte sie sich wieder. Sie drängte sich auf, versuchte, mich zu überwältigen. Die Frage, ob ich mir nicht doch ein Auto zulegen sollte. Ich mußte abends noch mal schnell ins Labor, um einen Ansatz für den nächsten Morgen zu starten. Nichts Ernstes, nichts, was man Arbeit nennen könnte, nur zehn Minuten hantieren. Das Problem war, daß es regnete, daß sich Gewitter mit Wolkenbrüchen abwechselten, ein wahrer Monsun ging über Grenoble nieder. Ich hatte nur mein Fahrrad. Das hat zwar feine Schutzbleche, aber nach einer Viertelstunde Fahrt war ich trotzdem völlig durchgeweicht. Und zurück war es nicht trockener, nur dunkler.

Also ein Auto. Oder doch nicht? Auf der einen Seite reizt es mich natürlich schon. Die Flexibilität ist verlockend, die Möglichkeit, mal paar hundert Kilometer weit zu fahren, weil es da auch schöne Radstrecken gibt. Außerdem könnte ich bißchen Öl verbrennen und dazu beitragen, daß sich Hinz und Kunz über steigende Spritpreise beklagen. Auf der anderen Seite bezweifle ich jedoch, daß ich wirklich so eine Kiste am Hals haben will, mich um Parken und Unterhalt kümmern. Außerdem bin ich mit Mietwagen und Zug natürlich immer billiger unterwegs.

Am Ende ist es für mich wohl eine Frage der Einstellung. Fahrrad oder Auto, anders oder gleich, naß werden oder dick. Und wenn, wie es der Fall war, mich selbst abendliche Ausflüge durch Gießkannenregen nicht irritieren können, ja sogar ein bißchen in eine gehobene Stimmung versetzen, sehe ich schwarz für meine motorisierte Zukunft. Zumindest solange es nicht jeden Tag regnet.


When I was a starting graduate student, fresh out of college, all these years ago, I discovered the greatest resource for pessimism and truth on the web. Despair was a startup back then and had just issued their first calender of demotivators. Over the years they have expanded on the original idea and now cover with sarcasm and bitter irony nearly any attribute you might hear praised in the Economist or Wall St Journal. I had the feeling, though, that they were running out of ideas and repeating themselves. Imagine my surprise and overboiling joy when I found the first image of their 2006 calendar, which seems to have been made for my current situation.

Should I say that I consider myself lucky? I work outside the fence. Thus, though the lab technically belongs to the French atomic energy commission, we are not subject to their suffocatingly strict rules in all their full oppressive force. We are not required to leave work by 8pm, it is just strongly encouraged. Security guards will enter your name into their black list if you're working after eight. The lights in the hallways are turned off automatically, darkness and silence pervade the institute. If you stick around, you might just fall asleep. If you're very strong-minded or absolutely have to get some work done, you certainly can, but you will feel the loneliness of the night weighing down on you.

On a similar note, this recent article from the BBC describes Paris in August. Grenoble was similar. Everything was shut down, people were absent from the streets, cafes, restaurants, stores were shuttered up. I was grateful that my bakery was only closed for three weeks. Even the small Arabic delis that are by definition open from eight to midnight and even on Sundays went on vacation. The institute was similarly deserted, there were days with only two or three people at work out of the regular 15 in my group. Now, everyone has returned, and life and work have recommenced. Only I am left shaking my head.

Sunday, September 18, 2005


Ein Tag für die Geschichtsbücher, spannend wie die Fußball-WM. Aus der Tiefe des Raumes kommt Schröder und schießt eine SPD, die er vor Monaten regierungsunfähig erklärt hatte, und die sich selbst schon aufgegeben hat, in der letzten Minute noch in die Verlängerung der Bundestagswahl. Der CDU und FDP wurde der sicher geglaubte Sieg entrissen und für Stunden regierte allgemeine, durchdringende, allumfassende Ratlosigkeit. Schröders Redekunst und Verrat an eigenen Ideen haben ihn noch einmal bis ganz nach vorn gebracht.

Mit Eloquenz und Populismus kann man auf Bauernfang gehen, mit Populismus kann man Stimmen gewinnen. Schröder hat das überzeugend demonstriert. Ganz sicher kann man damit aber keine Probleme lösen und sollte deshalb damit auch keine Wahlen gewinnen können, es sei, die Konkurrenz ist völlig unqualifiziert. Nun muß man zugeben, daß sich die Union im Wahlkampf dumm angestellt hat, daß sie die Quittung für unklare und widersprüchliche Aussagen und eine wirre Präsentation bekommen haben. Doch so, wie es aussieht, hat sie knapp gewonnen. Die SPD ist weg. Schröder ist weg. Eine Regierung mit ihm wird es nicht geben.

Denn es wird immer klarer, daß die SPD in der Tat regierungsunfähig ist, daß vor allem Schröder dringend Machtentzug benötigt. Er hat sich dermaßen an seinem Sieg über die Erwartungen berauscht, daß er völlig ignorierte, nicht der Gewinner der Wahl zu sein, und fortwährend von seiner fortgesetzten Kanzlerschaft fabulierte. Seine Aussagen vor versammelter Anhängerschaar und vor allem sein Verhalten während der Elefantenrunde im Fernsehen machen deutlich, daß er jeglichen Bezug zur Realität verloren hat.

Es wäre geradezu katastrophal, wenn dieser Politiker, ja wenn diese Partei wieder an der Regierung beteiligt würde. Auch fast sechs Stunden nach Ende der Wahl gibt es nur eine einzige Möglichkeit einer konstuktiven Koalition. Dies ist schwarz, gelb, grün. Die Indizien sind eindeutig. Schwarz will gern mit Gelb, braucht aber Unterstützung. Die Gelben, die Wirtschaft, haben längst erkannt, daß grüne Politik in Maßen wichtig ist. Grün weiß ganz genau, daß es ohne Wohlstand keinen effektiven Umweltschutz gibt. Und Rot ist raus.

who is the winner?

Germany voted today. The campains were intense and lasted up to the last minute. Polls had been predicting for months that the CDU, presently in opposition, would achieve a clear victory and be able to form a coalition with the FDP. The ruling SPD was expected to landslide lose. They were out before the election began. To everyone's surprise though, the SPD lost only marginally and is not much behind the CDU. A major upset, a huge surprise, a result that no one expected. No party did really what the polls had predicted. Voters didn't do what they were supposed to.

First to grab the mike and make an announcement was Franz Müntefering, the head of the SPD. He stood there with a frozen face and no hint of a smile. His party had lost the election, Schröder will not remain chancellor. What he said made my jaws drop - I couldn't believe my ears. This guy was celebrating victory. The SPD's victory. Did he misread the numbers? Did he change party affiliations? No, according to him, Chancellor Schröder got a clear mandate from voters, and he will stay chancellor. It wasn't a slip either. He repeated this statement several times to furious cheers. There was no trace of irony in his voice, he impersonated the smug victor. Still, he hadn't won.

In the CDU headquarters, Angela Merkel stepped to the mike just a couple of minutes later. She looking extremely frazzled. Hell, she looked devastated. She tried to convey optimism and a sense of victory but failed as miserably as she had in the polls this day. The earily muted "Angie Angie" calls surely didn't lift her spirits, nor did Stoiber towering over her with an blank face. Towards the end of her speech I was very afraid she would start crying. She did not at all look like the future chancellor.

But what is going to happen. Two options are circulating. Most obvious is a grand coalition between CDU and SPD. These two would have an absolute majority in both houses of parliament and the most experienced politicians to attempt to solve Germany's problems. They also have unreconcilable differences. Franz Müntefering's speech didn't help either. It's not going to happen. The second option is a so-called traffic light coalition between SPD (red), the Greens and the FPD (yellow). Not good because it wouldn't really lead to change, and change is the one thing that the country needs.

I know a better solution, in fact the only solution. CDU and FDP like to go together, but won't have the absolute majority. They have to ask the Greens into their boat. A heretic suggestion, maybe, as the Green have traditionally aligned themselves with the SPD. But programs of CDU and Greens are not so dramatically different. When I tested the parties on the web, the three that came out on top were CDU, Greens and FDP. Will anyone tell them please to get their act together.

Friday, September 16, 2005

la foire aux vins

The other day, Carrefour, the French Wal Mart, left in my mailbox one of their frequent advertisements. On its cover was a bottle of wine. On the next 55 pages were about a thousand more. The pages were almost dripping wet. Everything was in there, from Bordeaux over Loire to Rhône, Provence and Languedoc. Red, white, and bubbly. Wines from two euros all the way up to 110. Vins de pays and grand cru classé. Haut Médoc, St. Émilion, Mâcon, Alsace, Lubéron, Corbières, and a hundred more appelations. It seemed like the entire world of wine was assembled for my shopping pleasure.

The entire world of French wine, that is. Because out of the 56 six pages, a total of one was devoted to international wines. Which is, incidentally, the ratio one finds in any randomly picked grocery store. You can buy any wine you want, as long as it is French.

So I'll take the brochure as an inspiration. Maybe I'll find some wine I want to give a try. Then I'll go to the wine shop across the street and stock up. Carrefour won't see my money. I didn't shop at Wal Mart when I lived in the US, and I will certainly not start such a thing here.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

clouds over paradise

It rains a lot in Grenoble. That's what I think at least. But then again, after six years in the desert, most places will appear wet. Monday night when I came back from sunny Italy, Grenoble greeted me with grey skies and dark clouds. It looked like it was about to pour. The forecast predicted more of the same for the rest of the week. It didn't look like biking for the next few days.

But the bad weather is something of a spectacle here. Grenoble is surrounded by mountains that climb up between 4000 and 7000 feet. The valley is very narrow. When there are clouds, they get trapped by the mountains. They hover over the city, idle about and linger. The bad weather is long gone, but the clouds remain. There are puffy white ones high up, dark grey blobs closer to the ground, and layers of condensation that come sneaking around protruding cliffs. Sometimes color is added just to make the whole show more impressive. Violet patches here, purple spots there, sometimes even some green. Truly mindboggling.

That's what the sky looked like this afternoon. The week had been surprisingly calm and dry. A few showers, mostly at night, but nothing major. Now the sun was shining. I took my bike and double-dared the rain. For two hours I had to keep my eyes on the road because looking up would have meant to lose my optimism. No way it was not going to rain. But it wasn't. I arrived dry and happy right before the sun battered the clouds with one final explosion of light before they disappeared under the blanket of darkness of the approaching night.

Thursday, September 08, 2005


Ich fahre in Finanzdingen zweigleisig. Zum einen habe ich meine Bank um die Ecke, die mir in Alltagsdingen nützlich ist. Zum anderen erledige ich auch viel online, vor allem längerfristige Dinge. Was weiß ich, wo ich in ein paar Jahren bin. Ich will sicher sein, daß meine Bank dann noch bei mir ist. Um mir das zu erleichtern, habe ich bei einer großen deutschen Internetbank ein Konto eröffnet. Heute gab es die ersten Probleme, und ich mußte anrufen. In Deutschland kostet sowas.

In den USA ist das anders. Ich wollte meine Visakarte kündigen, weil ich sie nicht mehr nutze und die 60 Euro im Jahr lieber in ein paar Kisten Wein investiere. Hinten auf dem Kärtchen stehen allerlei Nummern. Natürlich die 800er, die innerhalb der USA nichts kostet, aber auch eine kostenlose Nummer für internationale Anrufer. Man stelle sich das vor! Ich bin als Kunde so gerne gesehen, daß mich Visa nicht mit den Telefongebühren belasten will.

Der nette Mitarbeiter konnte nicht verstehen, daß ich keine Kreditkarte mehr brauche, aber doch, daß ich nicht für sie zahlen will, wenn ich sie nicht nutze. Also schlug er vor, meine alte Karte zu sperren und mir dafür die kostenlose Einsteigerkarte zuzuschicken. Der Kunde ist König. Jetzt habe ich zwar keine Flugverspätungs- und Mitwagenversicherung mehr, aber eine Karte für eventuelle Notfälle.

In Deutschland wird gern die Bevölkerung für das Ausbleiben des Aufschwungs verantwortlich gemacht. Der Kunde verweigert sich dem Konsum. Das ist sicher so, hat aber seine Gründe. Mir scheint, daß sich die Wirtschaft dem Kunden verweigert, ihn nur als Belastung oder Ruhestörung sieht. Wenn man sich um mich bemüht, kaufe ich auch gerne. Aber zur Zeit eben nicht in Deutschland.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Da las ich also letzthin mal wieder Spiegel online, für mich (leider) die deutsche Nachrichtenquelle schlechthin. Nirgendwo sonst gibt es solch interessante Artikel, so viele Berichte am Puls der Zeit, ein so vielfältiges Angebot. Allerdings ist es sehr mühselig, den Weizen von der ganzen Spreu zu trennen. Ein Großteil der Artikel ist stark ideologisch geprägt. Glücklicherweise ist dabei keine klare Linie erkennbar, Parteinahme findet links wie rechts statt. Viele Artikel sind aber auch schlecht recherchiert, dahingeschludert wie bei einem drittklassigen Blog, und voller Fehler. Ich habe mich schon des öfteren gemüßigt gefühlt, meinem Ärger Luft zu verschaffen und Korrekturen einzusenden. Noch bin ich aber nicht als freier Mitarbeiter rekrutiert worden.

Wie gesagt, ich las Spiegel online. New Orleans versinkt in den Fluten, und Deutschland hat nichts besseres zu tun, als besserwisserisch Klimaschutz anzumahnen und den USA jegliche Hilfe vorzuenthalten. Der FDP-Politiker Otto Graf Lambsdorff, der auch schon mal bessere Zeiten erlebt hat, ging soweit, den Umweltminister Jürgen Trittin für seine Äußerungen zum Rücktritt aufzufordern. So geht es ja nun wirklich nicht.

Die andere Seite sah ich gestern live auf CNN. Scott McClellan, der Sprecher des US-Präsidenten, gab eine Pressenkonferenz. Er bedankte sich für die Hilfe fast der ganzen Welt, Deutschland wurde dreimal erwähnt, mehr als jedes andere Land. Der Bildschirm war während der Pressekonferenz geteilt, damit der CNN-Zuschauer auch ja nicht verpaßt, wie gerade Hilfsgüter von einer Maschine der Luftwaffe geladen werden.

Später höre ich, daß sich Bush bei Schröder persönlich für die Unterstützung bedankt hat. Was ich, mir unverständlich, nicht höre, ist, daß sich Lambsdorff endlich aus der Politik zurückzieht und uns seine Irrelevanz in Zukunft vorenthält. Aber so wie es ist, paßt er natürlich besser zur FDP.

Monday, September 05, 2005

the death of the European Union

I went to Milano this weekend. Both France and Italy ratified Schengen, there are no more border check points. No need for passport or ID, I thought. Had I not talked to Gian-Piero, a frequent traveler to Italy, I would have been ill-prepared for what I would experience, the trip would have been catastrophic.

At the last stop in France a bunch of border police enter the train, search luggage, check IDs. They held up the train like a posse in the wild west. We continue with a delay of one hour. No apologies from anyone. Hell, not even any explanations.

France is very similar to the US in that the government feels its the single most vulnerable country in the world, that general paranoia is actively encouraged, and that elaborate schemes are concocted to repel evil-doers. Nothing else but a scheme is the terrorization of train passengers, because checking old floppy cardboard IDs that Italians carry doesn't repel anyone. I could counterfeit one in an afternoon of hard work. Any takers?

And if my ingenious plan of attack included going from Milan to Paris, I could find two dozen ways that don't cross the border between Italy and France. Leave me alone with this crap.

Deutsche Gründlichkeit

Ich lebe wohl schon zu lange nicht mehr in Deutschland. Wie konnte ich an der korrekten Zustellung meiner Wahlunterlagen zweifeln? Daß das Internet meine Wahlscheinbeantragung nicht akzeptiert hatte, bedeutete nämlich letzten Endes gar nichts. Am Freitag hatte ich plötzlich Post von meiner Gemeinde, ein Brief, proppevoll mit Stimmzetteln, Umschlägen und Erklärungen. Jetzt muß ich mir doch noch mal richtig Gedanken machen. Und daß, wo ich doch die fernsehübertragene Schlacht einiger auserwählter Kanditaten verpaßt habe.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wahlbetrug und Wahl-o-Mat

Ich bin hauptwohnsitzlich in Deutschland ansässig.  Die Behörden wollen das soll, und mich stört es nicht.  So bin ich endlich mal wieder in den Genuß einer Wahlbenachrichtigung gekommen.  Um das Briefwählen mußte ich mich selbst kümmern, beim eBürgerdienst Sachsen, wo man online und unkompliziert die Unterlagen beantragen kann.  Wenn man Glück hat.  Mir erschien nach dem Ausfüllen des Formulares die folgende Mitteilung auf dem Bildschirm:  "Aus rechtlichen Gründen ist die Ausstellung eines Wahlscheines nicht möglich."  Keine Erklärung, keine Möglichkeit einer Anfrage, keine Hilfe.  Ich bin hier in Frankreich meines Wahlrechtes beraubt.

Und das, obwohl ich dieses Jahr wußte, für wen ich stimmen würde.  Ich hab den Wahl-o-Mat befragt, ein Service der Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, der online anhand von 30 Fragen die Vorlieben des potentiellen Wählers mit den Versprechen der Parteien abgleicht.  Ich war einigermaßen überrascht, daß für mich die CDU so viel besser abgeschnitten hat als der Rest der Bande - besserwisserische Katholiken würde ich trotzdem nicht wählen.  Aber die Grünen kamen auf Platz zwei und wären mir als geringstes Übel eine Stimme wert, und vielleicht auch die zweite.  Bei dem enormen Protestwählerpotential, das in Deutschland dieser Tage gibt, muß jeder sein Wahlrecht konstruktiv nutzen.  Es sei, es sprechen obskure "rechtliche Gründe" dagegen.

Sunday, August 28, 2005


Soeben habe ich den Col de Romeyere bezwungen, ein anstrengender Paß, aber wesentlich spektakulärer, als er steil ist. Ein in den Fels geschlagenes Wunder der Ingenieurskunst und der erste Teil meiner Vercorrunde. Von der Richtung, in die weiter will, ziehen bedrohlich schwarze Wolken hoch, die ersten Tropfen treffen mich. Mein Plan ist durchkreuzt, ich drehe um, trete, wie ich eben kann. Ich will so schnell wie möglich zurück, damit mein Rad nicht ungebührlich leiden muß. Unten im Tal drücke ich nach Zeitfahrmanier, die Augen auf dem Seitenstreifen, dem ich folge, und dem Tacho, der mich mit großen Zahlen motiviert, während dicke, aber angenehm warme Tropfen auf mich einprasseln, ein nicht enden wollender Gewitterguß.

Ich bin nicht böse, einmal im Jahr kann man naß werden, das gehört dazu. Trotzdem halte ich an, als mir Giovanni mit seinem Fiat Panda zuwinkt. Sein Fahrrad macht sich schon auf den Rücksitzen breit, meins soll auch noch rein. Unmöglich, in so eine Flohkiste? Nach gehörigem Schütteln und Rütteln sind wir schließlich alle vier im Auto und fahren warm und trocken Grenoble entgegen. Ich habe keine Ahnung, wer Giovanni ist, wie er dazu kommt, mich mitzunehmen. So ist er halt, denke ich mir, freundlich und gesellig, ein Sizilianer. Er erzählt mir, daß er früher viele Jahre in München arbeitete und jetzt hier lebt. Heute morgen hatte er ein Rennen im Vercors, nun kauderwelscht er mit mir mit trappatonischem Mut an Worten. Den Sätzen fehlt jede Grammatik, dafür sind die Sprachen reichlich vertreten. Auch ich trage zur linguistischen Verwirrung bei. Schließlich halten wir vor meiner Wohnung, es regnet immer noch. Ich winke ihm nach, mille grazie.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

advanced vinology

The other day I was walking through my grocery store when a bottle of wine caught my eye. A Corbière for one euro. One euro? Granted, wine is cheap in France, but that sounded a bit too cheap. But how could I let such an offer pass me by? I decided to buy the bottle and also a three euro bottle and a five euro bottle. All three from Corbière, about which my wine book says: good tasting red wine, usually an outstanding value. These bottles I kept until my mom and grandmother arrived here. I was wondering how these seasoned vinophiles would judge them.

When the day came, I pasted little numbers at the bottoms of three wine glasses so they would be invisible when drinking and filled each glass with wine corresponding to a number. I did this in complete darkness so I wouldn't later recognize the wine by its color. Then I shuffled the glasses like a second-rate magician and wrote big numbers at their sides using a permanent marker. Finally all three of us were sitting around the kitchen table with the glow of excited expectation on our faces.

To make a long story short - and long it took us indeed to come to a conclusion - all three wines were very drinkable and tasted remarkably alike. They were all Corbières, duh! I studied the color, trying to find differences in their profound redness. I sniffed their bouquets and started to pick favorites. One candidate tempted me very pleasantly, but I'm not sure I would have been able to identify it blindly, with my nose only. By this time my olfactory system was registering an overload of stimuli, and my palate was demanding its turn. Time to sip!

Again, the similarity of taste was striking. Fairly soon I declared one wine loser, but that was more a whim to make it easier to choose a winner than to really declare a loser. After a few more rounds, my taste bud were slowly giving up one me. I had to rank them - and so did mom and grandma.

Our picks didn't match. Experience counts. The older generations got it right. I was surprised to see that I had chosen the one euro wine as tastiest. It would certainly be good for my budget if I could find this wine again.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Schneller bergan

Heute bin ich mal wieder ins Vercors gefahren. Das ist einer der drei Gebirgszüge, die Grenoble umschließen, mit gewaltigen Schluchten, aber relativ moderaten Steigungen. Die Straße von Sassenage nach Lans war Ort meiner ersten Ausfahrt in Frankreich. 800 Höhenmeter auf 19 Kilometer, das haut keinen aus den Socken, strengte mich im April aber ungebührlich an. Heute war alles anders. Zum ersten Mal seit langer Zeit kämpfte ich an einer Steigung nicht mit dem Berg, sondern mit mir. Die Unterschiede sind gravierend.

Ist der Anstieg zu steil für die Kraft, muß man den Berg bekämpfen. Der Blick ist auf den Meter Asphalt vor dem Vorderrad geheftet. Quälend langsam kommt der Paß näher. Bei jeder Pedalumdrehung stellt sich die Frage, ob man es schafft. Das Vorankommen ist mühsam, die Beine schmerzen, die Motivation ist lau. Umdrehen und Ins-Tal-Rollen, die totale Kapitulation, ist sehr verlockend. Der Berg ist der Meister, dem Radler werden die Grenzen aufgezeigt.

Ganz anders, wenn es läuft, wenn die Kraft stimmt, die Beine gut sind. Nur der Kopf entscheidet jetzt über die Geschwindigkeit, der Körper muß mit. Ein großer Gang und runder Tritt bügeln die Steigung platt. Rad und Fahrer vereinigen sich, um gemeinsam dem Willen zu gehorchen. Runterschalten, es ruhiger angehen, hat als Alternative keinen Reiz. Der Berg als Prüfstein des Durchhaltevermögens, ein Element der Prüfung, die der Mensch sich selbst stellt.

So war es also heute, als ich während des ganzen letzten Drittels nur im großen Blatt fuhr. Jeder Blick auf den Tacho gab mir einen weiteren Schub und stärkte den Willen, das Brennen in Beinen und Lunge zu ignorieren. Ich fuhr ein Rennen. Aber nicht gegen den Berg, sondern gegen mich. Und ich triumphierte.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Closed doors

Here at the institute the work day goes from 6am to 8pm. Within these limits one is allowed to work, and that doesn't include weekends. This is France. So we're all trying our best to get our work done within these 14 hours. That's not always possible as science is notoriously unpredictable and experiments cannot always be planned to the point. Sometimes it is necessary to stay longer or, more rarely, come earlier. This is not forbidden, by no means, but it is strongly discouraged.

Sometime around 8pm, several things happen. First, a security guards does his round, checks that doors are locked and windows closed, turns off lights and gets everything ready for the night. Notably, he takes the names of those still working. What purpose this serves is not clear to me. There is no reward for working long, one is not given extra mandatory vacation, nor are there any penalties. I guess it is mostly symbolic, the first obvious sign that one is not welcome anymore. Go home, come back tomorrow.

The second sign is more direct. A voice so loud and with such authority that one instinctively stops and listens announces over the PA system that the institute will close its doors at 8pm. No reaction is advised, but the message is clear.

The third sign is the most insidious. After 8pm, all the lights in the hallways are controlled by a timer. Five minutes after switching them on they go black again. This strongly dampens any motivation and eagerness to get work done. By the end of the day, when the sun sets outside, everyone remaining in lab is tired and needs every possible source of light to stay performant. The dark hallways say louder than any announcement could that work is not tolerated at night.

I find this already highly irritating and scarcely compatible with my way of working. But imagine my surprise and later my anger when this evening the guard came through and took my name before 7:30pm and I went upstairs minutes later to discover that my office with all my keys inside had been locked. Someone here is clearly overly ambitious. Luck wanted it that the big boss was still around. He had a general key, opened my office and prevented me from having to sleep in the lab. To my complaints that if the guards need to do their work they should at least wait till it's time, he just laughed and said, this is the way it is.

At the end of it, this story is just one more example of how the institute is run by bureaucrats and science-illiterate rule makers who do not care if their decisions and procedures impede us scientists or slow our research. And the big boss does not raise hell to make sure science comes first and everything else has to be in its support. What a contrast to where I did my graduate work.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Die beste Mannschaft

Es sollte das Dreamteam sein, die beste Mannschaft, die es je gegeben hat, die Lance Armstrong den Weg zum siebten Toursieg in Folge ebnete. Bis zum Mannschaftszeitfahren ging das auch gut, doch dann zeigneten sich Risse. Was heißt Risse, die Mannschaft wurde am Col de la Schlucht im Elsaß komplett zerlegt und sah auch danach nicht immer souverän aus.

Eine andere Mannschaft, mit Vorschußlorbeer ebenso überhäuft, die Abteilung Mobilkommunikation der Telekom, startete weniger erfolgreich, steigerte sich aber immer mehr. Von Anfang an war Vino auf Angriff eingestellt. Er war dritter beim ersten Zeitfahren, zweiter in einer frühen Sprintetappe und riß in den Bergen immer wieder aus. Er wurde oft gestellt und manchmal abgehängt. Die Königsetappe in den Alpen gewann er trotzdem. Beim zweiten Zeitfahren wurde er wieder dritter und schnappte am Tag darauf der versammelten Sprintermeute den Sieg auf den Champs weg. Damit wurde er fünfter insgesamt.

Klödi entschied sich erst im Elsaß, an besagtem Col de la Schlucht, sein Können zu zeigen. Er beendete die Etappe als zweiter. Danach griff er immer wieder an und bereitete Attacken seiner Kapitäne vor. Leider erlitt er sich auf der letzten Pyrenäenetappe eine Fraktur des Handgelenkes und mußte aussteigen.

Und Ulle? Er startete trotz wenig Erwartungsdruck von seiten der Experten so richtig schlecht und wurde schon im ersten Zeitfahren von Lance deklassiert. Doch er ließ sich nicht unterkriegen, verlor zwar gegen weiter Zeit gegen den Dominator der Tour, aber griff auch immer mal an und machte gegen die meisten anderen Konkurrenten Plätze gut. Das zweite Zeitfahren war dann richtig schön anzuschauen. Mit der gewaltigen Kraft seiner dicken Beinen drückt die Menschmaschine Ullrich sein Giant durch die Menschenmassen, ohne auch nur einmal die Ideallinie oder den Sattel zu verlassen. Ulle fährt um den Tagessieg. Letztendlich war wieder einmal Lance schneller, aber der dritte Gesamtrang war Lohn der Mühen.

Der extrem kaltschnäuzige Etappenerfolg von Guerini und der Gewinn der Mannschaftwertung waren zusätzlicher Lohn für die harte Arbeit. Leider stimmte manchmal die Kommunikation zwischen den drei Topfahrern nicht so recht. Sie fuhren teilweise alleine am Berg mit nur wenigen Sekunden Abstand. Da wäre mehr möglich gewesen. Was nicht möglich gewesen wäre, war Lance den siebten Sieg zu nehmen. Die beste Mannschaft nutzt nichts, wenn der besten Fahrer so frei von Schwäche ist.

Guantanamo in England?

Two days ago, police in London shot and killed a 27-year-old terror suspect from Brazil. It turned out, rather quickly, that the guy was an innocent electrician just going about his business. The government of Brazil is outraged. The police in London are embarrassed and speak of a terrible mistake. The public in general is asking why suspects can be shot on the open street without trial or jury. Are the police allowed to act as a lynch mob?

The outrage is understandable, but for me the shooting is just another step on the frightening course of our civilization into anomie. The previous was the incarceration, for about three years now, of terror suspects in the United States off-shore penitentiary at Guantanamo Bay, an area deliberately chosen to be beyond the bounds of law. The prisoners are just as lacking of basic rights as the poor Brazilian electrician was. They are still alive, but their lives are suspended. They are locked up indefinitely with no idea why exactly and with no opportunity to address the charged because there aren’t any and no one is listening to them anyway.

Terror needs to be fought relentlessly but not with any means possible. The question that needs to be asked is what is possible, what is acceptable. It is intolerable that people are being killed because, well just because, for no reason whatsoever. It is also intolerable that because of the acts of lawless terrorist our society is itself becoming lawless. We are fighting terrorism not emulating it. Before you accept everything our governments cook up, ask yourself if you want to be the next entirely innocent person that is shot by police just because you are commuting to work. Is it any better than being killed by terrorists?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Good rides and bad beer

I’m sitting on my kitchen table suffused with the sweet juices of nostalgia. I’ve just returned from a great ride and am enjoying a second-rate beer. I’m thinking of my years in Utah. That’s what we used to do. Riding and beer. I thought this time behind me, I thought I had gained sophistication. Wine has become my beverage of choice. But the hotter it gets, the less enticing does a red wine seem. So the other day I went to get a twelve-pack, and now I’m looking back on my day.

I rode two cols in the Chartreuse that I had not done before. The first one, the Col de Coq, is impressive. Over an intensely steep 12.8km, the road climbs 1100 meters from the floor of the Grésivaudan valley, through two tunnels and later high above everything else. A beautiful ride, very quiet, and great road surface. Unfortunately, the descent on the other side can’t quite compete. The road is narrow, winding and covered with pot holes. Oncoming cars provide strong challenges. Suicide material. The road through the Gorges de Guiers Morts is much better, freshly repaved. Right before St Laurent du Pont at the end of the gorge is a sharp turnoff to the left, where the forest road to the Col de la Charmette starts. 700 meters of climbing over 10km shouldn’t be too challenging, but then it’s not only the average pitch that makes climbing hard. I had no idea what kind of epic I was in for.

While the noise from the main road was still fading away, the surface of the forest road already had. The climb was much steeper than the average seven percent, and I was left with ample time to contemplate the science of pot holes. It seems there are an infinite number of holes that can fill one square meter of road. Further up I added archeology to my studies. At least three layers of tarmac were visible on top of one another and sometimes next to each other. Some prehistoric Chartreusians must have built this road when no one was imagining cars. From there, more blacktop was added in fits and starts over the years. My bike was hopping over the bumpy surface like a horse in a military event. I had long stopped trying to avoid the holes. My goal, more sensible for sure, had become to navigate them sustaining as little damage as possible. With the state of roads here in general, and this pathetic example in particular, I’m really amazed I haven’t got a flat yet. 110psi in the tires is none too gentle to my backside, but it beats walking home after the second flat any day of the week.

After four kilometers of climbing the monastery of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Chartreuse rewarded me with a smooth surface and a very manageable gradient. Both lasted for half a kilometer, after which the gradient picked up again whereas the road surface simply disappeared. I was riding through gravel, over remaining bumps of tarmac and between rocks. Where the hell was my mountain bike?

Then came the tunnels, five of them, crudely carved into the rock before the advent of power tools. The fourth is about 200m long and completely dark. After ten meters, I saw nothing but a tiny bright circle in the distance that marked the end. I was going slowly, it was still steep, and I was hoping I wouldn’t hit a rock and fall off my bike, or fall into a hole. I didn’t see a thing. Riding completely blind, with no idea of pitch nor sense of surrondings or what was below me was one of my weirdest road biking experiences ever.

When I thought I had reached the top, after the gradient had leveled off anew and I was giving my big chain ring a workout for a change, the mountain hit back with a vengeance. The last kilometer and a half must have been quite a bit above 10%. It was a fight that I nearly lost. Nearly, but not quite. From the top at 1262m, it’s 20km back to my apartment, all downhill.

I’m taking another sip from this concoction the French call beer. It’s very similar to what Utahns called beer. Not only does it taste foul, it also leaves an offensive aftertaste in your mouth. To top it off, it has 4.2% alcohol, just like in Utah.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Fascination Tour

I’m sitting here with glass of Cote du Rhône and watch the Tour. For one week now, I’ve been shown daily what I have missed over the last six years. The Tour is rolling through France, and I’m vraiment a part of it, just sitting here in my chair. Not much beats French TV for watching the Tour. It starts with all mountain stages being shown in the full beauty. Even the flat days deserve three hours live. Barely any commercial interrupts the broadcast.

But time is only one aspect. Another is the dense atmosphere. No one else can be as close to the action as someone watching TV here. Laurent Jalabert is reporting the action of the day and after the stage, at least three racers join the spike-haired announcer, Gerard Holtz, in Velo Club to keep us glued to our screens even longer. The foolhardy guys that film the race from their motorcycles have a direct line to the studio, as has the camera man sitting in the helicopter. There is always someone right where something just happened. Moto 2 might be filming the pack while moto 1 is telling details about the break-away. Suddenly the dude in the helicopter screams something about a crash.

And since the language everyone speaks is French, it’s very easy to get interviews from truly everyone. Today, Bjarne Riis and Johan Bruyneel were both live on air during the race, giving interviews while navigating their team cars through the zoo that is the Tour caravan. Same goes for the managers of almost any other team. After a while I lost track. Lance is totally relaxed and quite happy to chat with the guys on the motorcycle. Vinokourov speaks French, Hushovd speaks French, Boonen speaks French. And I’m sitting here in my chair and listen.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Der Toursieger

Mit einem Glas Bordeaux habe ich es mir vor meinem Fernseher gemütlich gemacht. Wie jeden Tag zeigt France2 die Tour ausführlich und live. Draußen regnet es. Auf der Strecke ist das nicht anders. Christophe Mengin begeistert die Massen mit einer couragierten Fahrt. Er will dort, wo er zuhause ist, unbedingt gewinnen. Es sind nur nur fünf Kilometer, aber der Abstand wird nicht geringer. Sollten die Sprinter diesmal leer ausgehen? Ich genehmige mir noch einen Schluck.

Die ersten fünf Etappen der Tour sind Geschichte. Eine knappe Woche, in der viel passiert ist. Schon im ersten Zeitfahren hat Armstrong den dicken Jan in Grund und Boden gefahren. Für viele ist die Tour zu Ende, das Ergebnis klar. Für mich hat sie gerade erst angefangen. Lance ist stark und von Ullrich auch dieses Jahr nicht zu besiegen. Das heißt aber nicht automatisch, daß es wieder den gleichen Toursieger wie in den letzten sechs Jahren geben wird.

Vor zwei Wochen gab es ein großes Theater, weil Team Telekom den verdienten Frontkämpfer und Frankreichveteranen Erik Zabel zuhause gelassen hat, um das Team ganz auf Ulle auszurichten. Nach dem Einzelzeitfahren schien sich meine ursprünliche Meinung, daß Zabel der Mannschaft zehnmal dienlicher wäre als Andreas Klöden in seiner gegenwärtigen indiskutablen Form, auf breiter Front durchzusetzen. Da hatte ich aber schon längst erkannt, daß Ulle und Klödi fein aufeinander abgestimmt sind. Die können sich gegenseitig im Grupetto die Berge hochschieben. Nein, Ullrich gewinnt auch diese Tour nicht.

Er ist zwar der selbsternannte stärkste Rivale Armstrongs, aber objektiv gesehen nicht einmal die Nummer eins im eigenen Team. Der zweite Pfeil im Köcher und Cokapitän der Mannschaft heißt Alexander Winokurow. Er hat mit seinem Sieg bei Lüttich-Bastogne-Lüttich und mit starker Fahrweise bei der Dauphiné Libéré gezeigt, daß 2003 kein Zufall war. Damals hatte er an einem dramatischen Dreikampf mit Armstrong und Ullrich mitgewirkt und für die spannendste Tour seit langer Zeit gesorgt. Nun sagt er seit Monaten mit leiser und doch bestimmter Stimme, daß der stärkste Fahrer im Team alleiniger Kapitän sein wird und die Tour gewinnen kann. Er hat keinen Zweifel, daß er das sein wird, und sieht Ullrich inzwischen sicher als seinen Helfer. In der Mannschaft scheint das allerdings noch keiner verstanden zu haben, am allerwenigsten Ullrich selbst.

Inzwischen sind die Fahrer auf dem letzten Kilometer dieser sechsten Etappe angekommen. Es regnet immer noch in Strömen. Mengin führt immer noch. Jetzt die letzte Kurve, für die das Tempo mit Bedacht gewählt sein will. Mengin überreißt, will unbedingt gewinnen und verliert letztlich alles. Er schliddert über den nassen Asphalt in die Absperrung. Das Peloton folgt wenige Sekunden später, mehrheitlich auf demselben schmerzvollen Weg. Im allgemeinen Chaos, keiner weiß genau wie, sind zwei Rennfahrer losgestiefelt, haben den Sturz vermieden und machen jetzt den Sieg unter sich aus. Ein unwichtiger Italiener gewinnt, Alexander Winokurow wird zweiter.

Mit meinem zweiten Glas feiere ich Winos zweiten Platz. Jetzt ist alles klar. Es gibt im Feld nur einen einzigen Fahrer, der sich nicht mit Armstrongs Allmacht zumindest unterwußt abgefunden hat. Nach den Zeitfahren hat Lance einen beträchtlichen Vorsprung, doch Winokurow weiß, wie er zu besiegen ist. Er muß ihm Zeit abnehmen, bis der Vorsprung dahin ist. Der erste Schritt ist getan, 19 Sekunden sind verschwunden. Und die Bergen kommen erst noch. Der Weg nach Paris ist lang. Prosit.

the loser in the end

Yesterday, Paris lost its bid to host the Olympic Games 2012. Today, in a display of empathy with the loser, I came to lab sporting my "Leipzig 2012" T-shirt and a sad look on my face. My fine sense of humor didn't go entirely unnoticed but all lightheartedness vanished when we learned that, as the song goes, the winner takes it all. London will not only host the Olympic Games but an unpredictable bunch of psychopathic killers as well.

It is a truly frightening prospect that the attacks on London buses and subway stations might be a reaction to the city's winning the Olympic games. That the terrorists attacked the after the announcement means that they do not oppose the idea of London holding the Games. In fact, one could suspect that they rather like the idea. If I lived in London, I'd be very scared indeed and looking for opportunities elsewhere.

I don't live in London, though, but in Grenoble, and the reaction here reminds me very much of what I had to suffer through for more then three years in Salt Lake. A self-conciously provincial city is schizophrenically fearing an attack and priding itself in being the next potential target. In Salt Lake that was plain ridiculous. A city that can't even be identified on a map by half the US population is not more a target for terrorists than Ondorkhaan, Mongolia, or Grootfontein, Namibia.

I thought I had escaped that manically energized paranoia when I moved to France, but I was wrong. I should have known. France likes nothing more than competing with the US and proving that it's much better in any respect than the evil empire across the ocean. This oftentimes fruitless competetion is sometimes baffling and mostly ridiculous. Today, a audibly frazzled voice annouced via the PA system that the security level has been kicked up a notch at the center where I work. Colorful schemes as in the US aren't employed to make people more likely to buy into the general paranoia, nor was the brainless consumption of duct tape advocated. But the fact alone that someone in Grenoble thinks the terrorists might march into town any minute now has me scratching my head.

After London will be as after 9/11, as after Madrid, as after Istanbul have been. People will be scared for a short while. Governments will try their damndest to freak people out even more for immediate political gain or for lack of rational thought. A short while later, everything will go back to normal, everyone will go about their business as usual. We will remember that every year, every month, every week - and almost every day, more people die in car accidents, of the effects of smoking, of cancer, of malaria, and of AIDS than because of terrorist attacks. We know that the terrorists are the real losers. And no-one is going to wear a T-shirt to empathize with them.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

the zeroeth post

It was all Nate's fault. He got me started. He got his own little blog, aptly named thenateblog, that I find myself checking every once in a while. Thanks, Nate.