30 October 2009
Any research institute that takes itself seriously has Germans. And that's a good thing. Imagine life without them. That would be boring and difficult! And so far everywhere I went there always has been a steady supply. In Amsterdam, on the Marion Dufresne, in Cambridge, in Tromsø... but here things looked bleak. We had Veit, but he went off to become a serious ogling-the-EU-from-the-outside scientist in Germany. And theoretically we had Till, some private-security-scientist, but he was abroad. People spoke highly of his cultural interests. And his readiness to share these with likeminded folks! So I looked forward to his return.
And return he did. The first thing I did was invite him along to Hiroshima Mon Amour. And he accepted! So on a warm october night we did not have to go far to enjoy this icon. It was shown on the campus. Free of charge to those affiliated with the university. The newest flashiest building here houses what is called "peninsula arts", and they provide movies, music, dance, lectures, whatnot... lots of interesting stuff! My job requires me to restlessly run all around Europe, and soon enough also beyond, but in the intervals I have here I don't have to be bored.
And I also discovered a psychological German in the restaurant. Who knows, maybe he could be convinced to lighten up life when Till runs away to his faraway field area, which is rather imminent.
And here I know there's some long distance Germans with whom I can share my thoughts! Maybe some even have seen the movie too. It's one of those that has to sink in! A strange blend of petty human weakness and greater thoughts. And a portrait of a time that for me already is history.
28 October 2009
26 October 2009
The brass skull simply must pose for all pile-of-books still lifes, here with the last few books I read, except the library specimens...
I read myself silly from the beginning. I read Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad), Joe Speedboot (Tommy Wieringa), the politics of international crisis escalation - decision making under pressure (Stuart Robinson), Shalimar the Clown (Salman Rushdie), the House of Borgia (Christopher Hibbert), Atomised (Michel Houellebecq), and I'm reading War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy).
I'm a bit of a self-centred xenophobe, and I tend to not be overly interested in warm, distant cultures, but Shalimar the Clown grabbed me. I can recommend it to anyone! Houellebecq I had to read as he, sort of, is the Michael Haneke of literature. The Borgia book left not much intact of the general myth of the poisoning murderous Lucrezia Borgia, but it was interesting too. But the book revealed that the author had also written about the English: I should get my hands on some of that! Maybe then I may start to understand the people that surround me. And then my attack of reading addiction would really pay off!
PS I realised later I had also read Ray Mears' Bushcraft Survival, but that book has so many pictures you read it in no time at all...
Today I've been invited to Louise's for tea. Does that mean she'll make me tea? Probably, though that's not really the point. Tea is dinner. That's one of these things in which the Dutch are above average sensible on a European scale: we invite people over for food. And then we give them food. The English invite them for tea, and then they mean food. The Norwegians invite them for "midday", but it won't be at the middle of the day, and they, again, mean food. Confusing!
What I had for "tea" yesterday: brussels sprouts! Sold in a way I had never seen in the Netherlands. And that while we identify with them (or their smell) so much!
Louise by the way is a strange Brit: she does not drink tea. At all. Rob and Wil were more classic Brits: when all the local supermarkets only sold fruit tea and green tea and herbal tea and all sorts of things a Brit does not recognise as tea you could see them get restless...
So far I havent't been thrown out of the country for drinking most of my hot water without having put a tea bag in... but who knows, maybe two years is enough to convert from hot water to a proper brew! And maybe by then I'll also routinely refer do dinner as "tea"...
25 October 2009
Kayakking - everything is different
I launched myself, and faffed around for a bit, getting familiar with the kayak. Impossible! These river things go all over the place. A stroke on the right and you swerve off to the left, a stroke on the left and you swerve off to the right.
Kayakking against the wind was much easier! It is not such an issue to go straight. This made it also easier to chat up with people; with the wind in the back I was a difficult conversation partner as I lurched into all kinds of unforeseen directions all the time, and that was solved now. It's a nice bunch of chatty people! There was no adventure in this trip, but it was much more social than any trip I'd ever done in Norway.
19 October 2009
Portugal: post fieldwork
Impenetrable and scorched
18 October 2009
Portugal part III
The morning was trying everything to improve my mood
We were going to take some more surface samples along Transect I, some bonus samples (don’t ask), and somewhere when it was convenient we were going to fill up the pit made for the monoliths. Somewhere along the line, synchronous with scorching sun and rapidly rising water, we encountered an evidently ill-timed communication problem, but we managed to solve it.
With the water already being so high it was a challenge to move about on the marsh we completed Transect II. It had been a long field day. And it may have been the last! A proper evaluation would decide on that, but with a bit of luck we had done all there was to do.
Rob posing as Camel man
The marsh was seriously flooded, and we were positively boiling, by the time we were done, so we again jumped in the river, that by now flowed right over our entire marsh. That enabled me as well to retrieve all the flags marking our surface samples. Wading, jumping, and sloshing would also do the trick, but swimming is more fun. This time I did not have to restrict myself to the channels; I could swim right over most of our marsh. Fun!
Then we retired. Home, to get somewhat freshed up. The men wanted to go to the beach, and I had had enough or blazing heat, but it would be antisocial to not join them, and they promised me a deckchair and a parasol, and with that promise I agreed on going. I got a cool beer with it! And I planned to extract a kilo of bramble thorns from my skin, but it turned out that Rob liked such amateur-surgical activities, so I had them removed for me, and even by a charming young men. In that way a beach is quite acceptable.
On the way back we had to do some shopping. Wil thought it was a good idea to let me drive. I was, in my general state of exhaustion, not looking forward to it, but I acknowledged that as an independent swamp scientist you also have to be able to drive in unfavourable circumstances. And good drivers can park large cars that have the steering wheel on the wrong side, in busy shopping streets, after only a few hours of sleep, and many more of charring fieldwork, so I tried. It was not going very smooth, so I ended up having Wil scream angrily at me to make it even more trying, but in the end the car was parked, and later we got home with all the groceries we needed.
I was very tired, so I sat down to process the data of the day, saved it on a memory stick, gave it to Wil, and slapped my laptop shut, hoping to not have to deal with these data again. Rob had made excellent chilli, and after I had wrestled myself through the dishes I settled on the couch with a whisky. For the first time! So far it had generally been directly to bed after dinner, as we did not eat especially early, but had to rise early anyway. And I did not manage more than one snifter, but now the relaxing could start.
16 October 2009
Portugal part II
Processing our achievements from the field
Our beds called early, due to the early hour at which we run into the field. I woke up due to Wil scurrying through the house in the precious pre-dawn minutes that were ticking away. When Rob didn’t I tried to wake him up by calling to him from the open stairs to his attic room. Twice! No effect. Later we resorted to playing punk, switching on the light in his room, and shouting again. Now it worked! This time the sun was up by the time we parked but well, one cannot be snappy early in the morning every day.
Rob and I cored in some areas that were soon to be flooded while Wil started with the pit. When we were done coring he already had a pit the size of a DDR open cast brown coal mine. The plan then was that he would just carry on while we cored in higher areas. That did not go as smoothly as it had done on lower ground. This involved a lot of twisted faces, flexing muscles, and jumping up and down on the attachable core handles. When we had one more core to go we had a look at how Wil was doing. Now he had extended the pit to the size of Meteor Crater. It was enough. We hammered in the tins, took them out, and retreated for elevenses.
At more than 30 degrees, mind you!
Refreshed, Wil dedicated himself to properly wrapping up the tins, and carrying them through the rising water (high water this day was going to be damn high!) to the beginning of the path, while we tried our last core. For this one we had to jump up and down for practically every centimetre down. We did not core deep. We had fun though. And then it was a wrap!
Wil was overheated due to the digging, so before climbing back to the car he jumped in the river. And I of course joined. Just for the heck of it I swam to the tidal channel that runs through our marsh. And I saw no reason not to swim in. Deep enough! I happily swam right through our transect. Because I could!
After some necessary shopping we set off for the beach. I mainly stayed in the shadows, reading about medieval popes and the likes, but I have to admit it was a nice beach.
Does this need a caption?
The evening was for logging, profiling, planning, eating amazing curry, and retiring ever earlier. Another, possibly decisive day to come...
Of course it was Rob producing this culinary highlight
13 October 2009
Portugal part I
Rooting around to get a first impression
The GPS standing there like an alien space craft
And it worked! We got up in the dark, had breakfast, and parked the car while the sun peeped over the hills. We started in the blissful cool! And we worked well. We drilled the marsh into smithereens to find a good place for taking the monolith. Not easy! At many places disconcerting sand showed up. But we were not discouraged. And drilled and drilled while the sun rose in tune with the water. We had elevenses under the trees, drilled some more, surveyed our new transect and called it a day. Wisely so. The surveyor turns out to have a thermometer embedded. It indicated 30 degrees immediately after we had pulled it out of its insulated case that had been standing in the shadow. We were glad to go home.