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 He said troops should only be withdrawn once the mission in Iraq is completed.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.