Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thoughts during a trip to a conference

The Rostock main train station (Hauptbahnhof, Hbf) is an easy walk from our building, even when bedangled with a laptop bag, poster tube and backpack. I was amused to see that three other passengers getting on my same train also had the black plastic tubes which announce that one is going to or from a conference. None of them looked like ecologists, so I figured it wasn't the same conference. I tried to eavesdrop to figure out what topic two of them were discussing, but it was rapid and in French, and so instead I fell asleep as the train pulled out.

It took 34 minutes from the time we arrived at Hamburg Hbf until I was sitting in my gate at the Hamburg airport waiting for my flight to Manchester. This without any running, pushing or hurrying, and the airport is not particularly near the Hbf. A single S-Bahn trip stops directly under the security check, so up two escalators I got on one of the many very short lines, and didn't have to remove my shoes or belt, nor get molested. I like to complain about the fact that you can't get a flight from Rostock's small airport to anywhere, but if door to gate takes only two and half hours, this is still better than many trips to JFK I've made. It is frankly slightly disorienting for an American for a transit system to work this smoothly.

As I sat in the gate, two English gentlemen sitting just behind me recognized each other and began to make small talk. The one is the occasional patient of the other, and has an appointment to see him in late December. They kept up a lively conversation about not much of anything, without a single pause, for about 45 minutes. I have heard the English talent for small talk described before, but I must say this was really impressive. They moved purposefully from one genial topic to the next, always with a smooth transition. Football, Christmas Markets, vacation destinations, and so forth. I felt like congratulating them.

As the bus took us from our gate to the plane, we passed a taxiing airplane from Air Tunis. It wonder if flights to Tunis are cheep these days? I've heard they have trouble filling their hotels since the revolution.

As we pass up then down through layers of clouds, I notice how closely defined their surfaces are. The top of my window can be mostly in the cloud, and the bottom mostly out. I wonder vaguely what sort of fluid dynamics allow for such a sharp transition to be stable.

I hope I have the right ticket for this train.

An hour and a half into wandering around Sheffield looking for my accommodation, I'm standing on a corner with three young guys with tattoos on their massive biceps as one of them looks up Edgecliffe Crescent on his iPhone. The guy resting in front of the closed Pakistani restaurant next door says go to the roundabout, take a right, and straight to the top.

Breakfast in the cafeteria is much what you would expect from breakfast in an English University's dormitory cafeteria. The orange juice and eggs are from concentrate, but the sausage is fresh squeezed. I sit across from a young woman who has never been to a conference before. I briefly consider teasing her about the fact that she is nervous despite not having to do anything but listen to other people's presentations. She gives me good directions to the conference hall.

"You can't really understand anything in ecology without thinking about soil biodiversity," says the plenary speaker. I guess what I do isn't ecology.

A couple of people come up to question me further after my talk. One of them is a guy I once emailed for advice on keeping rotifers. I can't remember what the question was, but thank him for how quickly he responded.

There is no way I am going to stay awake through the whole poster session. I get slightly lost on my way back to my room and end up in an OxFam thrift store. I get lost again carrying some used books. I spot an expidition of ecologists and follow them home.

Waking up cold I pass by the Greek place and have peas panner with garlic nann. I happily chew the hard chunks of spices in the sauce. "I'm a womanizer!" announces the old, obese, bald and drunk puddle of English gentleman at the corner table with the off duty waiters. "Yes, Sir, you are!" one of them reassures him.

I consider rehearsing my poster spiel for tomorrow, but instead prepare by sleeping more.

We are joined at breakfast by a conference of dentists (there may be a better term of venery for dentists, but I don't know it). They are easily distinguished by their unecologist-like formalwear.

Lost of people ask questions about my poster, and most of them tell me that while interesting, it has nothing to do with anything they will ever work on. This interesting but not directly relevant feeling is largely mutual.

No comments: