9 September 2008
Carefully Documenting Unimportant Things
It is still quiet in the Center. Classes will not begin until the following week. We are slow and lazy in our summer minds. The days are warm, long and sunny and there is still plenty of time to prepare.
And then there was not. Our first fellow, Chris Pincock arrived. That day I found Joyce standing at our Wall of Fame carefully making space for the new year's Visiting Fellows. She had an empty row of push pins confidently labeled "Visiting 2008-2009."
Next to arrive was Erik Curiel. He stood in my door, a beaming raconteur, relating the hilarious adventures of the past day. He had arrived the previous night with a truck packed full of everything and began a slow pilgrimage from hotel to hotel until finally he found the first free room 40 miles out of town. He was now unloading books and needed a dolly, which he borrowed from the Philosophy Department.
He did not realize until too late on the elevator that its tires were quite flat. As the elevator door closed, an elderly lady was trying to enter. Ever the gentleman, he blocked the door so she could pass and broke it. In concert, as this tale of woe unfolded and expanded to slapstick, our grimaces had turned to sheepish grins and then to embarrassed laughter.
At least there was one problem we could fix. We have a bicycle pump in the Center, which we handed over to Erik.
Our Wall of Fame began to fill. Next came Hanne Anderson and then Jeremy Butterfield, who is visiting in the Department of HPS. Jeremy is such a grand addition to any group that we just had to induct him into our Wall. He found his place in the row of pins.
I began fielding the usual questions? "Where's a good place to get lunch?" "Well, I like the trucks. Go out onto Bigelow, turn right and they are lined up in the next block. Good Indian food in the first few. The last one is Thai. It's my favorite."
By the end of the following week all but two of the seven Fellows had arrived. Claus Beisbart and Hanne were standing in the hall negotiating who would get the Center bicycle for the weekend. That seemed unnecessary, I thought. We have quite a few bicycles that have accumulated as relics of past visitors who bought them and decided that they were too big for cabin luggage.
"We don't have a pump," Claus explained. "We have one." Moments later, Peter Gildenhuys was fiddling with the pump and tires of our stately 1950s style cruiser. A little crowd formed around him. Claus observed as I squatted taking photos, mumbling that 1/3 sec exposures are unlikely to work well.
The door to the Center opened and in walked Ulrich Krohs, arriving in the Center for the first time. Now there are six! Claus immediately knew who he was and the introductions began. Peter now asked Ulrich the same question he'd asked Claus moments before. "Do you play soccer? We need more players." It seemed also that I should explain what I was doing, photographing the inflation of a tire in a dark corner of the hallway. "We like to document carefully unimportant happenings here at the Center." He smiled with complete understanding at this piece of intelligence. He's going to fit in very well here, I thought.
A few hours later, it was time for our first plate of cookies in our little lunch room. Hanne was already eating lunch by the time I arrived to set them up. Over the next few minutes, one fellow after another wandered in. Claus arrived with an elegant savory tart that, I found, he had bought at Prandtl's bakery on the way in. Then Ulrich arrived with his ciabatta sandwich from the Cathedral's basement cafeteria. And finally Dan arrived clutching a copy of Tolman's Principle of Statistical Mechanics. It was instantly recognizable from a distance by its distinctive yellow cover of the Dover edition.
While the weather outside did not know it, we had made the transition from summer to fall. When shortly after Flavia Padovani arrived, our Wall of Fame was complete.
John D. Norton