I have just attended the XV European Workshop on String Theory. It took place in Zürich, Switzerland. Here is the link to the conference information and the talk slides. The conference featured a lot of young speakers who I had not met before. I found it very entertaining. Curiously enough, I really got to feel for the first time that different countries have their own way of doing physics. I think this reflects a bit on the attitudes of different cultures on what constitutes good taste. There is nothing wrong per se with any such preferences, it’s just an observation that I have heard many times before, but it had not really made itself so obvious to me as this time around. The menu of topics covered was rather formal and the hospitality of the event was incredible. I’m very grateful to Matthias and Matthias for providing such a welcoming environment. Here is a picture of Zürich (the best of the ones I took while wandering aimlessly through the streets of the city).
The weather was absolutely perfect and the town is truly a lovely place to loose oneself into.
Now, I’ll tell you a few anecdotes that happen occasionally to us, poor saps, who travel across the globe and find ourselves fighting this mysterious ailment called jet-lag. In particular, this is a story about myself.
I arrived at my hotel at about seven in the evening, not having slept well from the transatlantic flight from Los Angeles to Europe. I register and manage to get one or two hours of sleep. I woke up to the sound of the bells of the near clock tower at about 10 pm. Here is a picture, with a lovely moon casting its light on it.
It was a lovely bell tower with a beautiful clock and a rather loud set of bells. It rang every fifteen minutes. At the hour and fifteen it gave a short cry. At the hour and thirty, the cry of the bells was twice as long, and at forty five minutes it was three times as long. When the full hour came, it went extra long, and it finished with a lower rounder bell sound counting the hours. The clock rang all… night… long… My room was facing it directly.
Needless to say, first day of the conference, I was not better than a walking zombie. I’m sure you could hear me saying brains… brains… branes…
The second night, it was the same again. I couldn’t hold it past four in the afternoon, and after taking a nap, I woke at 10 pm again and couldn’t sleep a wink at night. Fortunately, I used the time wisely to prepare my talk. By the third night, I forced myself to stay awake and after a nice dinner organized by the conference and a little bit of wine, I finally slept a whole night and was alert the next day. The bells never bothered me again.
Of course, we all laughed together at the episode and I received various pieces of advice on how to improve the success of a 9 hour change of schedule for my body.
Another interesting thing to notice is the price of items. Europe has become expensive, but Switzerland is much more so than other places in Europe. Fortunately, some items are much cheaper than in the US. Ordering wine at restaurants is much more common, and the markup is not as high as in the US. So if one is trying to have a good time, the food costs more, and the wine costs less, so one can balance the two against each other. There are also these coins of 5 CHF. Big coins at that. You get a lot of them in change. And one shouldn’t leave them behind. If one is not paying attention, it is a lot of money in coins. They have a nice solid weight to them, so your pockets notice the extra effort they have to make. This fact alone should give you an idea of the value of items. In the US, people don’t even like using one dollar coins. If they get them in change they collect them. I never understood why they don’t circulate much.
Finally, the Swiss train system is very nice, and dense. This made me think of all of Einstein’s special relativity trains running at great speeds in various directions and I can definitely see where his obsession with clocks and synchronization came from. I experienced them first hand: both the clocks, and the synchronization of events.