Friday, May 28, 2010

My new campus

The campus where I now work is very, very pretty. My previous campus had great columned brick buildings, lots of green space, and trees galore. It felt like exactly what a campus should be: elegant, serious, and a bit ponderous. The feeling at my new campus can be summed up in one word: lush. There are a dozen small ponds, many with fountains. There are gazebos and winding paths, shaded study areas and plant life everywhere.
It's also filled with wildlife. Ducks and ducklings are most noticeable right now, but I've also seen turtles, dragonflies, geckos, and birds of all sorts.
Sometimes, as the golf carts zip by me, I think this must be what it feels like when you stay at a tropical resort. But hopefully such resorts have a few more slushy drinks and a few fewer meetings.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


Yesterday it was really hammered home to me that I no longer live in DC. We were running around to thrift stores looking for furniture, when we stopped at a random Greek place for lunch. (My current eating-out rule is "No Cuban." This eliminates half of the options, but I haven't yet figured out which Cuban places, if any, are going to have vegetarian menu choices.) In spite of the fact that half the restaurant was filled up with a private party, we still had a nice lunch while looking out over the river that ran along the back of the restaurant. The two-for-one drink special helped a bit too. (A second, free glass of prosecco? Why, yes, I think I will.) Then the birthday party started getting going, and that's when we realized that the guests really were Greek. The cranked up the music and started yelling "Opa." There was a group dance, a la "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and dishes were smashed on the tile floor. The waitress helped lead the dancing and smashing, so I assume the restaurant didn't mind. It was an unforgettable lunch.

This may be stating the obvious, but Miami feels like a foreign country sometimes. Our neighborhood, built in the 1920's, is filled with small-ish houses set close together. Most have an enclosed yard, and the plant life is verdant. It feels very green here. When I step outside, I always disturb geckos, which seem to have a prolific population here. Our neighborhood is known for two things: great restaurants and art galleries that are so posh that you might need an appointment to get in. I won't need any of those appointments, as my postdoc salary does not cover the purchase of $4000 vases. If you walk a few blocks in the other direction, though, it's a wasteland where boarded-up buildings and convenience stores proliferate. As we drive around, I notice that it's common for the atmosphere to cycle rapidly from yuppie-ish to not-quite-ghetto and back again. There are huge numbers of boarded-up businesses around. I don't know if this is due to the current economic crisis, which hit Florida especially hard, or if it's always been like this.

The cat thinks she has died and gone to heaven. She's a little old lady who has retired and moved to Florida, and it's everything she ever wanted. She'd happily spend all day in the garden, sitting under a bush and napping. She watches the geckos, and the big tropical plants provide some protection from the regular rainstorms.

My commute to work is longer than I'd like: Google maps predicted a 20 minute drive, which I thought would realistically take 30. It's taking closer to 45 minutes, which is mostly done on freeways with four or five lanes of traffic in each direction. For someone who dislikes driving it's quite exhausting, but I'm hoping it'll get better. I need to experiment with different routes and different timing. Unfortunately, buses aren't an option at this university - only one route goes from downtown Miami to the university, and it would take me over an hour each way. The whole university is really geared towards commuters, whether those commuters are faculty or students.

Andrew will be here staying here in Miami for five more days, so we're using that time setting up the house. He can put up pictures and curtain rods faster than I can, so I'd like to get that all done before he leaves. Then I'll start exploring Miami. I can tell there's a lot to see here, as soon as I get settled.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A week in the UK

Our new apartment is full up to the top with boxes. Clearly some stuff will have to go. While I deal with all the unpacking, I have a guest post of sorts: my mother-in-law chronicled our week in England and Wales. Check out the pictures and excellent commentary at The Stochastic Gardener. Note how many pictures show me I walking in the great outdoors. Even my mother-in-law knows what a rare event this is, so documentary evidence was collected.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Coming and going

I'm typing this post in an empty house: it contains a computer, the few boxes of things Andrew will be keeping in Maryland, and an unsuspecting cat who will soon be inside a pillowcase, riding on my lap for three days. The upcoming trip seems straight forward enough. We get on I-95 in DC, and then we just keep driving on I-95 until it deadends at the bottom of Florida. Then we're there.

I'm happy (and pleasantly surprised) that everything has gone so smoothly up to this point. Sunday night we were returning from a day trip to see castles in the Alps foothills (the tourist must-see Neuschwanstein, for those who know your castles) when I read a message board at the central train station announcing the closure of the Munich airport. The volcano again. My heart sunk and I immediately started mapping out all the things we would need to do if we were stuck in Munich for the next week. Luckily, the airport reopened the next morning. Airplanes were flying, but much of the airspace over the Atlantic had been closed, so our flight was rerouted to go up over Iceland and then down Canada. This lengthened our trip considerably, so we arrived in DC six hours later than expected. I will forever have a special place in my heart for the friend (aka Mr D. the pig butcherer) who drove up to the airport twice - once for the flight we weren't on, and once to pick us up on the midnight flight.

The last two days in Munich were perfect. We had sunny afternoons, and we took full advantage of them. The first day we rented bikes, which allowed us to cycle to a palace for a tour and then to the English Gardens, Munich's version of Central Park. We had lunch in a huge Biergarten, where Andrew discovered that a liter mug of beer really is a great deal of beer. The next day we took the train two hours south to visit Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau, the castles inhabited and built by Mad King Ludwig. These castles are visited by every tourist that enters Germany, and thus I have now visited them three times. I hope and pray that was my last time. But they are an interesting part of history, Neuschwanstein is the fairytale version of a castle (it's the one copied by Walt Disney) and the surroundings, in the foothills of the Alps, are gorgeous. Plus, it was an excuse to eat apple strudel and drink beer while enjoying the sunshine in the mountains, so I can't complain too much.

Now, the next trip begins. Next stop, Miami.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Wir haben München erreiccht.

The good news is that I can still understand almost everything that I read or hear in German. This was a nice surprise, because I hadn't spoken the language in over ten years. The bad news is that my grammar, when speaking, is atrocious. Andrew is continually impressed that I can lead us around, and hold conversations with shopkeepers, and translate the television shows we watch. And I'm glad I can do those things too, but I with I didn't sound quite so much like a blithering idiot when I talk to people.

We have been lucky enough to time our trip so that we are here during asparagus season. Asparagus season is a nig deal in Germany, because the white asparagus (considered the most delectable) is only available for a week or two. I let the vegetable seller talk me into buying two kilos of white asparagus (that's about five pouds for two people), so we've been eating it almost every night. Each stalk is more than an inch thick - they are so big that Andrew can only eat three for dinner. But with potatoes and Hollandaise sauce it's a meal fit for a king (or a PhD).

The weather has been cold and rainy, so we've been spending a lot of time in museums and coffeeshops. That's not all bad, as there's a lot of cake I want to eat while I'm here. I've made a resolution to learn how to make the multi-layer fruit and cream cakes that are popular here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

We made it to Europe!

I hope my radio silence made it obvious - we arrived in England last week with no problems. It appeared that our flight was one of the first out of the U.S.; it was filled with people who were beyond grateful to make it back home. The airline offered free cocktails on the international flight, to help all the stranded passengers forget their woes, but I needed no alcohol to celebrate. The completion of my dissertation filled me with sufficient joy.

We spent our week in England taking day trips with Andrew's family. His family often visits Wales, which is the western part of the United Kingdom. I am realizing that Andrew's family has a theme to their excursions, just as my family does, but the themes are quite different. When my family takes trips, it always centers around machinery. For example, if we were to visit a historical village, my father would spend most of his time looking at the old mining machinery or explaining how the farming equipment works. In the same way, Andrew's family focuses their attention on animals. We visited an alternative technologies center, a sort of outdoor showcase of alternative energies, conservation, etc. What I remember most about the visit, though, is how much time we spent looking at the birds that were flying around and admiring the sheep and goats grazing nearby.

Our next destination was Amsterdam. The plan was to take the train to Hull, a port on the East coast of the U.K., where we would catch an overnight ferry to the Netherlands. The train trip was uneventful right up to the point where (an hour from our destination) the train conductor announced that the power cable on the next stretch of train track had been stolen. I do not know why one steals a train cable, but it was rather inconvenient for us. We had to get off at the next station and take a bus the rest of the way. As we waited for the bus ("Sorry, there's traffic, we're not quite sure when the buses will arrive.") and the drove through a series of small towns, I worried continuously about whether we'd make the ferry. While we had left lots of extra time, I hadn't allowed time for a leisurely bus tour through rural England. In the end we made it, and the ferry was every thing I hoped it would be.

I wanted to take an overnight ferry because Andrew and I spend too much time watching old black and white movies where the stars cruise across the Atlantic, taking plenty of time to dance in their evening dress and exchange witty reparte over drinks. I'm sad to report that our fellow passengers did not include Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, although there were some Hell's Angels. I lived the old movie fantasy as much as possible by having a meal, sharing a drink at the bar, and then retiring to our cabin, which was larger than most New York hotel rooms.

The next day we arrived in Rotterdam, a port south of Amsterdam, and took a bus to Amsterdam. April 30th is Queen's Day, a national holiday seemingly devoted to wearing orange, holding city-wide yard sales, drinking, and blowing airhorns. I'm not precisely clear on how these activities became tradition, but it makes for a rollicking city-wide party. We joined in the yard sale browsing and drinking, but couldn't keep up with the hardiest of partiers.

We're here to visit my cousin, the redoubtable Alexis in Amsterdam, with whom I share a love of good food and drink. We took a day trip to Delft, the city famous for blue ceramics and the burial place of the royal family of the Netherlands. We toured churches, drank coffee at cafe tables next to canals, and generally lived a picture postcard of European travel. I have also rediscovered some dishes that I love - my cousin makes a mean green pea and mint risottos, and we had some excellent pumpkin soup. One of the things I love about travel is that it always re-ignites my desire to cook.

Tomorrow we're off to Munich. I don't know when I'll next get to a computer, but I'll update as soon as I can.