Archive for October, 2010

One of the reasons why I got involved with CERN in the first place was my former work at the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) near Dallas, TX, where I was group leader for one of the pre-accelerators for the big machine. That project—which would have dwarfed the CERN LHC—was cancelled when the US Congress stopped funding for the project (after $2billon had already been sunk into it). Now, with the LHC beam commissioning proceeding quite nicely CERN is thinking about possible upgrades to the machine; one avenue being to raise the beam energy by maybe a factor 2.5. The machine we wanted to build in Texas would have had even higher energy so I was asked by CERN to recall the specific issues we faced when designing that machine and to present such recollections at an upgrade workshop they had organized in Malta. Wohoo! Pack bathing trunks and camera and off we go! Malta is not so far from Africa and promised to be warmer than already-becoming-chilly Geneva. As it turns out my talk was quite well received (good), but we were holed up in “Villa Bighi” all-day long (not so good). The Villa—where our conference was—was about 45 min by bus away from the hotel so no chance to sneak out over a lunch break, and the bathing trunks remained dry.

Our hopefully aptly named conference location, in the Villa Bighi on Malta

Well, CERN paid so I guess I should not complain. We did have very good food indeed, and a nice lunch cruise along Malta’s coast line showing off its fortifications and other buildings, all yellow (build from the yellow rock making up the island), and mostly more “blast from the past” as there are a lot of historic buildings. An intense but also satisfying two days.

Hard at work during the lunch cruise... (Photo by a workshop participant)

The reason this workshop was in Malta is noteworthy: The local organizer was a young physicist who had written his thesis at CERN on the LHC and now had a job with the Maltesian government and also is managing the conference venue (if I understood this all correctly). Fun for him and us as many CERN people knew him quite well. Maybe more relevant though is that Malta is lining up to become a member of CERN.

Read Full Post »

On Sunday (Oct. 10) I was ready to do a small outing and practise walking on my crutches. There was a small fall market advertised here in Ferney Voltaire so I wanted to go.

It was a bit gloomy but not rainy outside. Uli drove me to the beginning of the stands. From there I could walk and browse along the market stalls. We tasted some good chutneys (the one with potimarron being especially nice) and bought some other local products.

We even sat down and had a wonderful leek crêpe and cidre. That cheered me up!

Enjoying local food & cidre. (Photo: Uli)


Read Full Post »

Just as Uli was leaving for Malta, I was very happy to see that the cows have come back from the mountains to keep me company. I just love the bell sound and to watch them slowly grazing. A meditative fall landscape.

Our friends as they are marchin' in.

Read Full Post »

Well, while Sylvia was attacking the sights in Rome, I was attending our SuperB workshop at the Laboratori Nationale di Frascati. This time we had relatively high expectations of a decision re. funding of the project… even if it was a negative one. Alas, even though the President of the Italian INFN (the agency that would distribute the funds) came and spoke, he did not have a decision to offer us. He did indicate a significant increase in support for our studies, which was announced in a press release and which was gratefully received, but at some point we need a full go-ahead. An interesting event was a video link-up with the director of “IIT” (all these acronyms become really too long when spelled out) which is engaging in and supporting applied research. They are supporting the SuperB project as it potentially also offers first-class synchrotron-light facilities for Italian industry and material science. For once the workshop was not overloaded with talks and allowed us some time for real work and discussions. One of the nice byproducts was that I got into discussions with a colleague about other research I would like to do when back at SLAC (the crystal work I have been mentioning before) as his detector expertise may be helpful there, while he can also potentially test out new things. So I hope this will lead to something.

Did I mention that I was sitting at the table with him when I received Sylvia’s phone call about the her accident in Rome (which turned out to be the broken foot)?

Read Full Post »

After I returned from the visit to my parents it was time to get ready for our Italy holiday. First Uli had a conference in Frascati near Rome and I could explore Rome, then Uli and I planned a holiday in Florence and Cinque Terre, We took the car down to Rome. On our drive there we first stayed in the Aosta valley, a route by now familiar to us. To spend the night I had chosen a small hotel at Pont-St.-Martin. It is a pleasant town to explore with narrow streets and the Roman bridge which gave the town its name and was next to our hotel.

The next day I was looking forward to seeing the coast. Surprisingly little, however, was seen due to the many tunnels near Genova and beyond. Since we made good progress I made the suggestion to stop at a peninsula near the island of Giglio. It turned out that we could enjoy seeing  nice sparkling turquoise water from a cafe where we lingered overlooking the harbor where ferries were docked and leaving.

We walked along the shore with lots of tourist stands trying to sell glittering jewelry and other kitschy things. At the end of the promenade we had some delicious ice cream and went back on the upper town through narrow streets. We continued on the highway and then left to go along the shore again. The atmosphere changed totally-suddenly it was cloudy, windy and the ocean was gray. Traffic around Rome was heavy but we did find everything well. We were tired so we ate at the hotel. On Monday I took the train in to Rome. I started by looking at the Forum Romanum where I had been for the last time when I was 16 with my grandmother. I was just as impressed with it as when I had been a teenager.  The Via Sacra had great views to all sides and I loved the pink marble leftover columns of the Basilica Aemilia.

The weather was great with some dramatic clouds for the background. It was a very inviting atmosphere to take lots of pictures. Once I explored most of the buildings on the ground I mounted some steps and had a great panoramic view.

The statues in the Vestal Virgins courtyard were especially striking from the top. After a tourist-trap lunch (but I was hungry!) I explored the Colosseum. It was quite impressive and I enjoyed walking around on the different levels.

Uli picked me up from the railroad station and we had a great dinner. We found a small restaurant (5 tables) called “Una Bella Storia” (A beautiful story). The menu was made like an album to open up and the bill  came in a bag made of handmade paper. The food and service were very good. On Tuesday I decided to follow a “Bernini” walk my guidebook suggested and  it was very adventurous to find some of the sights and  streets. I started at Santa Maria della Victoria, which houses Bernini’s controversial Ecstasy of St Theresa.

It really was a very dramatic church setting and I enjoyed the contrast to the “Roman day” yesterday.   It was still a bit gray outside but the next stop at the fountain del Tritone and the small fountain dell Api (bees) got more interesting when some rays of sun managed to hit them. I then passed the Barberini Palace and decided to go inside. It has a nice collection of art but the stunning thing for me were the ceilings—gorgeous stucco and allegorical paintings. At the Vicolo Scanderbeg  I found a cute little restaurant on the tiny plaza away from the bustle of the famous landmarks. It was a pleasant rest and a good home cooked meal. The Trevi fountain nearby was a zoo—one could not even get near it so I just took a photo from afar! I was taken to the column of Marcus Aurelius next, amazing, these thousands of soldiers that are depicted on it.

The Palazzo di Montecitorio was in the neighborhood, an elegant palace with a curved facade. Another highlight of the walk was the Pantheon—the architecture gives such an astonishing atmosphere of harmony. Near the Pantheon is a funny obelisk supported by an elephant—the children there loved it. The last stop was the Piazza Navona. The weather allowed for more sun to peak through so I got some highlights on the statues, especially the horses.

Getting back to Frascati was in crowded buses and trains. I avoided the metro since in the morning I let two cars go by and could not even shove myself in! I had a fun dinner with some of Uli’s colleagues and him in Frascati. The next day I decided to do the hop-on hop-off bus after all that walking the last two days and Emma, a wife of Uli’s colleagues joined me. It was very crowded and things  happened fast. There was a whole tile missing in the sidewalk and I tripped and fell and as it turns out later broke a bone in my foot. I still could walk so we did the tour and I went to emergency in Frascati since my ankle swelled up. Emma was a great moral and practical support, and she quickly got me crutches before the shop closed as the hospital had none to give me at discharge. I was so upset and mad our holidays ended here. On the other hand luckily I got competent care right away and for free (emergency care is free in Italy). We stayed until Uli’s conference was over and then went back. We spend the night in Ivrea and on Sunday still had a nice drive back through the Aosta Valley. It was foggy and the castles looked magical . We decided to take a different way home and went over the Gd. St. Bernard Pass—cold, foggy, windy.

So I walk on crutches, which I find very hard, instead of exploring Florence and Cinque Terre.

Read Full Post »

Uli having his work behind him could now enjoy Paris and surroundings with me. In the morning—we still had great weather—we decided to do a walking tour through the Jardin des Plantes Quarter. This meant going down Rue Mouffetard, along which were quaint shops and an open air market. The pastry shops were especially interesting so we bought two tarts for the afternoon. A stop at a cafe is always in order, and there on the plaza we saw him. Le Negre Joyeux. The black servant, happy to serve his white mistress tea! Oh the good old days!

Later we walked on more time along the Seine, passing Notre Dame and visiting a market along the banks. We had a delicious goat cheese sandwich. Then we picked up our bags and took the Metro out to Fontenay-aux-Roses to visit Elizabeth and her children. The town turned out to be lovely and we enjoyed Elizabeth’ house with its different corners and old European charm. It was also nice to meet her teenagers.

We visited Chateau de Sceaux, situated in a lovely park:  well-groomed gardens with colorful fall flowers and on the side cascading broad rivers and a big pond with a fountain at the end. A big area with charming paths!

In the evening we got treated to a wonderful French restaurant, where Elizabeth knew the cook. We had champagne to celebrate our getting together again and then a splendid meal. We stayed up long chatting.

On Sunday we had a long breakfast, a short walk, and at 3:00 p.m. Uli and I went on via different railroad stations: he back to Ferney, I to Cologne to visit my parents once again for a few days.

Read Full Post »

Paris in Fall

We arrived on Tuesday, the 16th September leisurely by train which only takes a bit over 3 hours. Braving the metro, even just a few stations was less pleasant at around 6 p.m. and I almost got stuck in one of the turnstiles entering the metro with my backpack! The hotel (Hotel Parc St. Severin) was located in the Quartier Latin next to the St. Severin church. We enjoyed a nice meal in one of the side streets (my favorite: rabbit in mustard sauce) and then walked around. We were surprised to find Notre Dame open and found out that there was a new movie about the art in Notre Dame being shown. It was great, a big screen in the dark church.

Wednesday morning Uli walked up with me to the Pantheon where we first looked at a small church called St-Etienne-du-Mont, which had a magnificent rod screen. Uli left to work on his talks while I viewed the Pantheon. This patriotic building is huge and impressive, if overdone.

Underneath in the crypt are stone graves of famous people like Viktor Hugo, Dumas and Voltaire. Finding my way through French narrow streets I then visited the Institute du Monde Arabe , a modern architecture with interesting features on one of their facades: 1600 metal screens that filter the light—their design is based on wooden screens found outside buildings in the Arab world.  Uli and I met for lunch and took the opportunity to look at the St. Severin church. It had  a very beautiful twisted pillar in flamboyant gothic style inside. Spotlights on it made for a dramatic effect. Modern glass windows in various hues (e.g.blue dominance for Baptism) were a striking contrast to the naked stone pillars.

The afternoon was reserved for the Louvre. The lines were tolerable and I went to see the Egyptian displays this time. I especially enjoyed the sacred animals and the exquisitely painted sarcophagi.

"Plisch und Plum" (Apologies to Wilhelm Busch).

The Grand Gallery housing the Italian painters and others is always a treat and the Flemish painters on the second floor was a refuge place from the crowds. “Roads of Arabia: Archaeology and History of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” was a special exhibit at the Louvre showing art objects never seen in the Western world or even in Saudi Arabia. There were about 3oo piece shown: In the first part they were displayed according to various civilizations which once thrived throughout the Arabian Peninsula. In the second section of the exhibition the role of Arabia as the cradle of Islam with Al-Rabadha being  one of the principal stopping places was highlighted.

Thursday I had a special treat in store: a cooking class. Julie, the chef, met us at the market and we looked at different stands: foie gras, cheese and vegetables. We looked at what is in season (Julie in her talk highlighted a dark orange sweet pumpkin, chanterelle, and light green zuchini) and then we went back to the La Cuisine Paris overlocking the Seine. We had the honor to be their first group in these pristine premises, and all ten of us enjoyed our work stations. Our meal consisted of roasted pumpkin, herb butter spread with black radish, sting-ray with purple onions and potato and chanterelle as well as delicious cheeses.

Oh that cheese! (Photo by a participant)

For dessert a tarte tatin with apples, a rather complicated affair. I am looking forward to trying the recipes at home. In the afternoon I met my long term “lost” friend Elizabeth. We sat in a cafe and caught up with our lives. Uli joined us in the evening at a small wine bar near our hotel.

Friday I went to St. Germain-les-Pres, a dark and solemn church.

Then I went to the Orsay Museum, which had an interesting architecture with its light-flooded hall (it is a former train station). The flow of the exhibit I found a bit confusing but it was exciting to discover familiar paintings in the small side rooms of the hall, especially some works of famous Impressionists. The weather was fine so I bought a ticket for the hop-on hop-off bus and went by all the famous sights, comfortable on top of the double-decker.

In the afternoon Uli and I were together again and enjoyed the Centre Pompidou elevators on the outside of the building, having a fantastic clear view of Paris from the top.

Sacre Coeur as seen from the Centre Pompidou.

Afterwards we still had some time and went to St. Eustache, where we were in for a surprise. Acrobats on bouncing ropes were doing “dances in the air” with dizzying falls and crawling up the columns. We were not sure what they had planned (a show?) but the movements (quite impressive) were done to organ music on a tape (less impressive). In the evening we went to a typical French restaurant where we skipped the inner parts of animals and had pork rack with great spices as well as a divine dessert (campari cream).

About the weekend we will write in our next entry.

Read Full Post »

On to Paris

Finally, the day of our Paris trip had come. I had been invited quite some time ago to present accelerator talks—one on the LHC, one on the proposed Super B-Factories (the one in Italy SLAC being a major partner in) and one on the FACET facility at SLAC I will run next year—at the Université de Paris and at the Laboratoire Accelerateur Lineaire in Orsay, just south of Paris.

Would you believe anything said by this man ?? Photo:Sylvia.

These talks actually took quite some time to prepare as of course I wanted them to be nice, and also these were new talks (except for the B-Factories talk) that I had to write more-or-less from scratch. So lots of preparation in the run-up to this trip. I’ll have to leave it to the audiences to judge whether I did well, but at least the timing worked out nicely (meaning I finished before getting booed out or drowned out by the snoring of the audience:-).

Attendance was not stellar, but  that is kind-of normal for accelerator talks esp. in a place like the university where there is no accelerator group. Nevertheless I got good and numerous questions and people were appreciative. In fact, with Orsay there is a lot of common interest between us (SLAC-FACET) and a new effort they are working on to use high-power lasers to produce and accelerate electrons with high gradients. So we decided to intensify the contacts between us and hopefully we can forge a collaboration to our mutual benefit. So all in all this was potentially a very successful visit.

When not talking or preparing we visited Paris (d’oh!) and enjoyed strolling around in the Quartier Latin, where my host had put us up in a nice hotel right next to St. Severin. Sylvia used the days to visit museums and will report in a separate entry. We ate well and too much: Couscous and quite authentic French cuisine, and enjoyed the odd cafe in a street restaurant given that we had overall very agreeable weather. And I finally got my French béret!

Photo: Sylvia

We then visited Elizabeth, one of our friends from the early Vancouver days. She and her husband Pierre (a fellow Postdoc at TRIUMF) were the witnesses at our wedding (together with Michael Mazuel of Cologne) and put up a splendid party for us. Sadly, Pierre passed away a few years back (which we learned a few months ago), way too soon, leaving Elizabeth behind with two teenagers. So our visit was bittersweet but we did have a good time and caught up on our lives but also shared memories form the Vancouver days (which she cherishes as much as we are still doing). Again, we hope we’ll stay in touch more than up to now and have more chances to get together. Her hospitality was outstanding and we left charmed, if sad of Pierre’s passing. More about this part of our trip in a following entry.

Read Full Post »