Where Am I?

Oh dear. I have been away for a while haven’t I? Technically, my last post was last year, and that is entirely my fault.

These past few days have been a whirlwind. I had a bunch of documents to sort out in Italy, and then I flew back to Germany on the 29th. That was just enough time to find out that there was a mass backing out of my New Years party, so spur of the moment found my boyfriend and I driving out to a massive Syrian New Years party instead. Two days later, I was up at 3am to drive down to Frankfurt for an embassy visit, and by lunch time I was back at work, discovering that the Xmas holidays are in fact far too short and I am massively behind on my work, including a review I need to finish, and that I also have to prepare for a workshop I need to teach at the end of the month in Bordeaux. I celebrated the 6th of January at home with my boyfriend, and am preparing for his birthday coming up very soon as well. Not to mention an extemporaneous 200km round-trip to pick up his new drivers license, online struggles with even more paperwork, and an ongoing battle with my phone.

So, um, Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a 2017 that I hope will shape up to be a better year than the previous one, and a valiant effort at getting back to regular posting. After a proper sleep, I think I’ll have my head on straight again and be able to get back to writing about all the things I wanted to write about during this time.

Here’s hoping.

Home Sweet Rome

Yesterday, I anxiously took a flight to come back to Rome for Xmas. I’m only staying one week, I’ll be back before New Years, and yet I had never wanted to go home less than I did this time around. I’m so busy, I said. I’ll have to work from home, I said. It’s just too stressful, I said.

And then I stepped off the plane into a balmy 18°C. One look at the cobble-stoned streets of my neighborhood and I sighed. There’s nothing for it, this place will always be home for me.

Sure, I have to work and squeeze an enormous number of things to do in the short time that I am here. But I can also take small breaks, amble around the streets of my childhood for a bit of shopping, buying clothes that are made in Italy sold in boutiques that are owned by Romans who are stubbornly and valiantly hanging on to their stores in a center which is being steadily overrun by massive chains and mafia run tourist trap restaurants. It is amazing how effortlessly I hit my 10,000 step fitbit goal, which I struggle with so much in Germany even when I bike my 10km to and from work.

Coming back is always stressful and wonderful and nostalgic and never enough time for me to get sick of it and ever want to leave. I think it will always be my home, no matter where I end up settling in life. And that thought always makes me so sad, so I’ll leave it at that.

That One Snuck Up On Me

I woke up Friday feeling a little queasy, but I figured it was just a little indigestion from the night before. A couple hours later, I realized that was wishful thinking. My fever spiked and down came Crys. Hello intestinal flu my old friend, it’s been a few years since I’ve had the unique displeasure of having to suffer through you.

24 hours of Hell followed, and then I was feeling better. So much better that, last night, I thought I could finally eat some vegetables, right?


So today I hobbled into work at 1pm, my eyes weighing a half a tonne each, after having nibbled my way through a plate of plain salty pasta. Luckily I had some at home, as I couldn’t get to the supermarket on Saturday, and needless to say my Sunday cooking was cancelled. My absence from the network was unexpected and unplanned, and I have a few discussions lined up that I wanted to get to over the weekend which I hope to start working on asap. I’m feeling a little better now, so hopefully I’ll manage soon.

So, yea, sorry about that.

Enough Earthquakes

If I were superstitious, I would say that Poseidon had a beef with Central Italy this year. You’ll remember the 6.0 earthquake that hit Amatrice in August, completely leveling it, and followed by very large aftershocks. A few days ago we had two seperate 5.5 and 6.1 earthquakes, both in the same general area, and both with their own significant aftershocks.

And now, this morning, the same area of Italy was hit with the largest earthquake since 1976, a 6.6 blowout 7km from Norcia that managed to shut down the Rome metro service, cause damage on both coasts, and level another handful of towns.

Unfortunately, this problem is not going to be resolved by burning half a cow in honor of Poseidon. In reality, Geologists tell us that we can only expect more of these kinds of earthquakes in the future, given how the tectonic plates are shifting under Italy right now. So, be prepared for a fierce battle going forward: How do we update our ancient and medieval treasures without making them ugly, and how do we pay for that, given the sheer number of artefacts to preserve and Italy’s massive debt? We simply can’t. On the other hand, if we don’t, we’re probably not going to have any left very soon, and thousands more will die for being in close proximity to pretty much any one of 80% of the buildings in Central Italy when the next inevitable earthquake hits.

To think I only just found out about it as my Grandmother started her Happy Birthday phone call to me with the phrase “we’re all fine, by the way”.

So, in light of that, I have a few more phone calls to make. More posts to follow.

Cultural Differences: How We Wedding

I’ve made it back from Ireland after an amazing time, plenty of travel and my first ever grown up wedding. Getting prepared for this wedding without making a total fool out of myself was interesting, as weddings around the world go down in very, very different ways. I found myself asking everyone I knew about the typical wedding in their countries, and trying to piece together common threads.

For example, do you give gifts, or cash, or both? Is it considered weird to give cash if you’re not a close relative, like it is at a birthday? In Greece the answer is yes, no cash in hand unless you’re an uncle, the couple will usually provide a bank account for any monetary gifts. In the States the answer is don’t just give cash, that’s a bit tacky, give a nice present along with it at least. In Italy the answer is hell no, and don’t go cluttering the couple up with useless presents they don’t need, just give them more cash.

What does one wear at a wedding? We can all agree on no white dresses, but is black also frowned upon? What about the length? In some places, anything above the knee is tacky. In others, no such modesty is expected outside of the church. And what about the men? In Romania, the answer is white shirt and black pants. Elsewhere, any dress shirt will suffice. For some, a tie is absolutely necessary, for others, not so much.

And how long do weddings normally last, seeing as we have to decide whether to take the 1:20AM or 4:20AM bus back? In Italy, they are usually late afternoon weddings which will most likely end around 11PM or midnight. In Romania and Greece, it is inconceivable that the party ends before 6AM. So, which is the Irish more likely to be?

In the end, there were only three things that all the cultures I questioned seemed to agree on: no white dresses, you should show up early rather than late, and you will eat far too much, so don’t wear anything that’s overly tight.

So we set off, not eating a thing, and took a nice early bus across the country which was to get us there a good 45 minutes early, time for me to change, fix myself up, and watch the bride and groom arrive.

Only the bus meandered, and brought us there a good hour late, so finding me getting changed in the bus toilet, trying desperately not to touch anything as I banged off the sides with the jolting. We scamper up to the wedding and luckily find the bride and groom still greeting guests in the foyer, phew we’re not that late, and so we sit at a random table and wait for the party to start.

And that’s when we realize there is no food at this wedding, beyond a tiny plate of canapes near the welcome prosecco, and cake. We pretended to go for a cigarette, and scoffed down a sneaky burger in the hotel pub instead. We popped back in having missed cake, but at least with something in our bellies to absorb the alcohol which, incidentally, you do have to pay for at Irish weddings, so good thing we saw someone do just that before walking away from the hotel bar and making someone chase after us!

In the end we had a great time, chatting and dancing and drinking until our 4:20AM bus. It looks like Irish weddings are somewhere in between the Italian and Romanian ones, which suited us just fine. We managed to not make total fools of ourselves, they were delighted we came, and our cash gift seems to have erred strongly on the side of generous rather than meager, which is the best kind of mistake to make.

So, where does your culture stand on things like black dresses, cash gifts, late night partying, free booze, overstuffing with food, and fun traditions? Let’s make this comments section the how-to-wedding guide across the world, so that the next time you go to a wedding in a different country, you have a reference guide!

I’m Spoiling Myself This Year

I’ve told you before that I spent a good two years at this job without taking virtually any vacation breaks. But this year, with a paper in the works, I’m spoiling myself. We’ve sent our revised manuscript back to the reviewers and now, as I wait for their reply, I’m on holidays again. For four weeks. I’m almost embarrassed to admit it. I haven’t had this much time off since Junior year in high school.

Unfortunately there will be no exotic or far distant travels in the cards this year. Today, I’m off to Italy to spend two weeks by the beach, which is just fine with me. Then I’m back to Germany, and it’s in the car to pop down to Romania to visit my boyfriend’s family in the countryside of Moldovia. I think I’ll be just fine.

And first on my relaxation list is this little beauty, that my colleague gave me as a submission/oh-my-god-youre-finally-going-on-vacation present. She knows me so well.



I’ve been telling people for years, since I was 17 actually, that coloring is one of the most relaxing and therapeutic things there is. The only problem is that coloring books for children are often far too easy for adults, so they can become understimulating, boring and thus the therapeutic quality of it turns into frustration. What we need, I would say, is a coloring book for grown ups. And here it is.

It’s a marine inspired one too, because she knows my pet passion is marine biology. Aw bless. I might have to dedicate this one to PZ Myers when I’m through with it.



But I’m definitely starting with this one.



So many tiny little shapes. I’m so excited.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered


That was pretty brutal. However, after many nights (mornings?) of leaving the lab at 3AM, I have managed to complete the experiments needed for my revision.



Now we just have to see if the reviewers accept it, and give it the green light to be published or not.

In the meantime, I’m back! Regular posting to recommence in 3… 2… 1…


I’ve Been Neglecting You

My humblest apologies. This is the last week of my revision, and I am behind on my work, and trying to do my best on just a few hours sleep a night. Once the paper is finally sent off, I will have much more breathing space, and I’ll be able to post regularly again. So, bear with me! The end of this period of intense stress cannot come soon enough.

What Makes A Brat Part II: Breaking Trust

In the ongoing discussion on how different cultures use different kinds of behavior to evaluate whether or not a child is a brat, I realized that there is another kind of behavior that causes contention between the two sides of my family over whether or not I was a brat. The frequency and intensity of tantrums are often used as a measure of a bratty child, and my case is no exception.

While I threw few tantrums as a child (at least, when I was old enough to speak and remember, I have no idea how many tantrums I threw as a toddler), they all seemed to be in the presence of my American family. While they admit that I did not throw many, and never because I wanted to have chocolate for dinner or a new toy in a shop window, the few I threw are legendary and still talked about, over 20 years later. One in particular is brought up every time I visit the States, and I just so happen to remember exactly why it happened.

[Read more…]

Laughing At Ignorance

I went to International schools my whole life, which meant that my teachers were from all over the world. My English teacher in middle school was Irish, and I’ll never forget a story he gleefully told me in front of the whole class about what supposedly happened to him on a train over the weekend.

Chatting in English with his wife, he caught the attention of a young married American couple. They got to talking, and the couple told them about how they had always wanted to visit Italy, particularly Florence. For years they had dreamed of taking this romantic trip, and now they had managed to save up enough money and they were riding the rails to see as much of the country as they could. As they were on a Southbound train heading towards Rome, my teacher assumed that they had already stopped in Florence. “So”, he asked them, “How did you like Florence? Was it all you hoped it would be?”

“Oh”, the woman replied, “We couldn’t find it! But we stayed in a lovely place called Firenze!”

My teacher told me that he simply did not have the heart to break it to her. We all laughed uproariously, many did so at my expense given that I was the only part-American in the class, and I still remember the story to this day.

Often I doubt the veracity of these stories, simply because I cannot imagine that people could be so dense. However, if they are true, I also believe that they are definitely not American-specific phenomena. Take, for instance, this little story, which I have seen reported on a few different news outlets



Let’s all just take a moment and laugh at ignorance. When we’re done, back to the thankless job of trying to educate people one step at a time.