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The last Days

Well, our “9” months in Europe (which became about 10 1/2) are racing towards their end now. I was treated to a nice lunch in the “Glass Box” of CERN’s of one of CERN’s restaurants in appreciation for the work I have done on the UA9 crystal collimation experiment; Sylvia was invited, too. This was a very nice thing. A week before I drove to Grenoble to have one last meeting with a student I have been working with on the SuperB project. It looks like I’ll become one of his “official” supervisors, assuming SLAC lets me do this. They treated me to a very nice lunch as well. We had farewell dinner with Sarah whom we met fairly early on at the Lutheran Church in Geneva. Sylvia had a farewell tea in our flat with three women she has gotten close to. I have had one last talk to give, in Chavannes de Bogis, about the work I did on a proposed addition to the LHC accelerator (called LHeC). Luckily, Chavannes is just about 20 min. away from us so no difficulty driving there. Due to the closeness I was able to pick Sylvia up for the workshop dinner, our last and maybe best sample of perche—the small fish that also lives in Lac Leman. This was actually moving day… the movers showed up as planned about 6:15 in the morning and by 9:30 they were gone and the flat empty.

The last weekend we cleaned up the place. Fortunately we had already done some notoriously tough things like the bathtub & the stove before so the job was manageable. In between a quick tea at “La Truite” and farewell to them all. They have become a staple esp. for Sylvia. We even could fit in a dinner at a restaurant called “Chez Vous” on the street to Gex that we had passed by often and always said we wanted to try out as it looked so cozy. We were not diappointed: “Sangle de Jura”, a cheese dish to die for and very warm and friendly hosts. Should have tried it earlier, but better late than never.

Now we are sitting one last time in the Cafe du Soleil about to be picked up by Andrea for our last evening, which we will spend with Andrea & Pat (they were our neighbors and friends below).

One more night & it’s flying day. Luggage is already checked & a wheelchair for Sylvia arranged for (with the crutches she just isn’t mobile enough and the cleaning hasn’t helped her state).



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Leafing through the broschure from the caves ouvertes of Mont-sur-Rolle in May of this year I chose to call a winery to arrange for a wine tasting as we wanted to take some Chasselas along back home to San Carlos. An older women opened the door when  we arrived at the place and led us into the kitchen with a small cozy corner—their tasting area—with a big painting of Bacchus with grapes and photos from the long-standing wine business. She poured generously, and later her son joined us. Soon we were deeply involved in conversation about the wine and the life here on the north side of Lac Leman. Not only did we come home to our apartment quite a number of bottles richer, but also with a reaffirmed appreciation for the hospitality of the people living in the area. We will think about this outing whenever we open one of these bottles.

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Due to me needing to walk on crutches I have been mainly enjoying the view from our balcony which has been stunning in the fall with clear weather, pink sunset and sunrises and the fall foliage.

I did long to see more of the fall colors so when Friday turned out to be a glorious day and rain was in the forecast for the next week, Uli and I took off for lunch in the countryside in direction of  Abbaye d’Hautecombe. We first had a great country inn lunch: pate with salad and mustard vinegrette, tartiflette, cheese, tarte citon and coffee. Even the red wine was included in the Euro 13 each!

The drive through the countryside displayed wonderful fall colors: flaxen mowed meadows, yellow-leaved vineyards, fall foliage in all colors and a sparkling blue lake as well as high hills shrouded in fog.  We circled the Lac du Bourget and in the late afternoon had a stunning view of it and its towns, in the distance the Alps.

After enjoying this scenery we went down the hill to the abbaye, the hills opposite glowing in golden afternoon colors. The abbaye itself was on the lake but perched on a rock. The interiour was mysteriously dark and the ceiling ornate in Gothic patterns. The marble statue by Albertoni of Queen Marie-Christine was very lifelike and the fabric was rendered in such a manner that the texture  looked real and  not like stone.

L'abbaye d'Hautecombe (Photo: Uli)

We drove back as the sun set, in glorious full Technicolor, happy to have taken the time for this outing in this busy time to prepare to leave this place.

Lac du Bourget

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Last visitor

The last weekend in October, Manni from Hamburg visited us for one last time (with 3 visits he holds the record, followed by sister Susanne & Andreas with two). While the weather was somewhat mixed we had a great time and on a whim decided to go to Chamonix, taking advantage of some attractive hotel rates during the off season. Manni & I went up the Aiguille du Midi. We got a few glimpses on the top, and an impressive dose of icy cold wind. To strenghten the impression we were stranded up there for over 1/2 hour while the lift operator was sitting in his cozy, warm machine room reading a novel.


At the Plan du Midi we walked around for more than half an hour, here we had great views and it was a pity we did not have more time. Sylvia preferred to stay in the village; her foot just isn’t up to any mountaineering yet. In exchange she went for massage and facial in the hotel. More good food of the Savoy variety (heavenly cheese and meats!).

The wild landscape on the Plan du Midi, in early winter.

We parted with some sadness. Manni won’t see us over Christmas this year, and for us it’ll be all travel preparations from now on.

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Visitors from Germany

While Uli was attending his conference in Malta, my brother Thomas and his wife Claudia came to visit us on Friday (the 15th October). I could by now hobble with my crutches to the neighborhood restaurant where I also only had one step to conquer. We had a French dinner at L’Imprevu where we have already taken other guests. They were as good and innovative as usual in their quality and presentation.

On Saturday it was raining so I suggested to visit the castle Chillon. In spite of the gloomy weather we had a nice drive along the lake and through the vineyards which were changing color and glowed bright yellow.

In Montreux I stayed in a nice restaurant near the lake and read, while my relatives enjoyed the castle. Uli arrived back from Malta just in time to join us for a Raclette at home.

On Sunday the weather cleared up a bit so we dared to drive to the mountains. Claudia, Thomas and Uli went up the gondola to Aiguille du Midi and had a beautiful view with fog and sun.

They told me it was freezing cold but they were excited about this adventure. I sat in a restaurant, family owned, where everyone was very nice to me so I did not mind passing my time there reading. In the evening I was glad to watch the countryside from the car again.

The next morning Thomas and Claudia had to leave. It was a short visit but I was very happy that they came and we caught up with life the times we were in the car, cafes, restaurants or at home.

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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.

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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)


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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.

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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)?

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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.

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