31 August 2011
Giovanni Valente and I were sitting in the Center lounge in the quiet that settles on the Center when its offices are empty for the summer. I glimpsed an unfamiliar figure with a backpack dart past the door; and then dart back; and then again, this time wheeling a suitcase.
Our first visitor of the new year has arrived. It is Yuichi Amitani. I shake his hand and introduce him to Giovanni. Finally, we have a real body to attach to the someone who existed for us only in emails and files. When the introduction is over, he leaves quickly. He hasn't been to his apartment yet. He was just picking up keys.
The next day, Friday, I can hear Karen proceeding down the hall, identifying each of our offices. "...and this is the lounge, where you will find the coffee. This machine also makes hot water...." Moments later, she appears in my door with Yuichi Amitani and Adrian Wüthrich.
A little later I head off to the lounge for lunch. There they sit, with the table covered in papers. Karen is proceeding through her well-rehearsed orientation for new Fellows. She covers issues big and small. Here's the paperwork that puts Fellows on the payroll and gives them the magical ID card that opens the riches of the campus. Who gets the Center bicycle, visible through the window of one of the offices?
I try to sit with them at the table. But it becomes clear that my crossword will not thrive here, so I retreat.
A new week has come. It is Tuesday and I am a little late getting into the office. There are new faces to see. Anja Jauernig, newly appointed in the Philosophy Department, has just arrived. Giovanni takes me to her office, where she is surrounded by boxes of books and empty shelves. A work with KANT in big letters is splayed across an open box.
Back in the Center, I pass Gábor Hofer-Szabó's office. He's on the phone but waves to me. He will come into my office, two doors down, in a moment to chat.
It's Wednesday. I pass the lounge and there is Karen with the table covered with paperwork for Ari Duwell and Soazig LeBihan, who have just arrived.
Each term we have 7 or 8 people in residence. That is a small sample and fluctuations are common. This term the roll of the dice has brought a lot of quantum mechanics. Both Ari and Soazig work in that field.
A few moments later I pass Ari in the hall. Adrian Wüthrich and Gábor Hofer-Szabó are sitting in Gábor's office. "You should meet these guys," I say. We stand in the door and I quip "Quantum mechanics meet quantum mechanics meet quantum mechanics." The feeble joke is allowed to die in silence as the lights of recognition flicker on. "Didn't I meet you in Konstanz...?" "Er... Hi!" "And I met you too in Konstanz..."
An hour later, Adrian and Gábor are still talking. I can just hear their muffled voices drifting down the hall. "...causality conditions...determinism..." It feels good. The Center is waking from its summer sleep.
Friday: A little child appears in my door, followed by a concerned father. He peers in awkwardly, realizing that he's disturbed our meeting. We are facing the child and smiling. Who can resist a toddler's innocent stare? He coughs and pulls the child away. That, I infer, is the signal that Uljana Feest has arrived.
Tuesday again. We will have our first talk of the year in a few hours. I pass the lounge and there is Karen, with the table covered with papers. Our final two Fellows sit with her: Dana Tulodziecki and Nils-Eric Sahlin.
The pace has now returned. I hear Joyce introducing our new work study student to the ways of the Center. She's describing how to lay out the donuts and she points to the coffee pot. It needs to get underway early, she says. I see the percolator squirt a jet of hot coffee into the knob.
There is the fuel that will drive the day's event.