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::: center home >> being here >> last donut? >> 4 september 2007

Tuesday, 4 September 2007
First Moments

There are moments in Center life that prove to be important. One is the moment that a Center fellow first arrives in our offices.

Sometimes the arriving fellow is an old hand who has visited before and knows the way around. More commonly, arriving fellows are quite new. All they know is that they have committed to spending a lot of time in this place and they are about to find out what it will be like. So we worry a lot about the first impressions they get when they walk through the door.

This morning is the Tuesday after Labor Day and we have four new visiting fellows scheduled to arrive. Karen, our Assistant Director, warned me with characteristic foresight not to expect much attention from her this week since she will be fully occupied settling in the fellows. In the course of the day, I would meet all four--Delphine Chapuis-Schmitz, Michael Baumgartner, Ed Slowik and Jim Woodward. I came in a little late and walked past Karen's door. There was Delphine in leisurely conversation with Karen.

Karen introduced me rather formally as "our director"--something that always makes me pause, since I still don't feel that I've properly made the transition from the irresponsible graduate student of old. I suppose it had to be done. How else would Delphine know who it was standing in the doorway, an unimpressive figure, carrying a tattered backpack and wearing a battered hat?

Preparations for the arriving fellows had long been underway. Their offices had been preened. Sand dunes that had formed on the windowsills from the summer's sandblasting of the Cathedral had been carefully vacuumed into oblivion. Carol had labored to get each Fellow's computer of choice cleaned off electronically and ready to run. The final touch was when the names were added to the frames next to the doors. Once the names were up, there was something of let down.

Everything is in place, excepting the people. It is a concert hall without music, a play without actors. The halls are quiet as the summer comes to a close and we wait for our new fellows to arrive.

How could I convey to Delphine in that first moment that we really are pleased to see her and that we've long been preparing for her visit? The best I could come up with was: "We're really pleased you are here! We've long been preparing for your visit!" Delphine, an elegant Frenchwoman, smiled warmly, although I feared she was a little embarrassed at my lack of European sophistication and distance.

The induction continued. Karen then took Delphine on a tour of the offices. "Here's Patrick Grim, who's also a visiting fellow this year." Patrick had arrived a week before, unexpectedly early.

Fortunately we had everything set up in his office already so he could move right in. Well, it was not quite so. Some "issues," as they say, remained to be resolved on his computer. At one moment I looked in his office and there were three of them huddled around the glowing screen in a little cabal. "Do you want to make our network printer your default printer," Carol intoned ritualistically from her seat at the keyboard.

The morning continued with new arrivals. I was in Karen's office plotting details of the upcoming &HPS1 conference with Karen and Joyce when a figure appeared in the door. "Oh, I said, here's Michael Baumgartner. Let me introduce Karen and Joyce. They will look after you." He was smiling the smile of someone who had begun a journey in Bern, Switzerland, for uncertain shores and now finally knew he had arrived safely.

John D. Norton

Revised 10/15/07 - Copyright 2006