Thursday, December 02, 2010

Greetings from Queens

I'm giving a talk in about four hours at a college in Queens. My phone tells me that it's about four miles from here and that I should be able to walk it in a little over an hour. The directions that I have tell me that I should find an E train. My telephone tells me to take the bus to the J train. My current guess is that I'll probably end up walking because it is unclear to me where I would find either E or J. Partly because I'm not entirely sure where I am right now.

In a classic example of poor time management, I spent a SIX HOUR delay at the Charlotte airport yesterday getting nothing done. Didn't even make much progress on the sock that I was knitting. Did not get any real work done. Did not polish my talk. At first this was because the delay was all "Oh, it will be just a few more minutes. Oh, maybe just a bit after that. Air Traffic Control says that we might be able to board any time now. It'll be just a little bit longer." So I was in "wait" mode instead of "find a good place to sit down and get work done" mode. And it is one of my personal failings that it is very difficult for me to get into work-doing mode -- which is why I make a point to work from work and not from home (which some people do sometimes).

I did, however, eat a very delicious BBQ sandwich and some hazelnut gelato. Due to excellent food in both New Orleans and Germany, I am now up to around 112 pounds. I might need to add speckpfannkuchen to my cooking repertoire. A large fraction of the foods that I ate in Germany seemed to be culinary cousins of heavy southern breakfasts -- pan-fried potatoes with sausage, or pork in a cream gravy (but served with toast in Germany instead of the biscuit you would find in the south). The rest of what I ate was either poppyseed pastries (normally I can only find these at the White Eagle Bakery in Schenectady) or things involving marzipan.

As you might guess by my current location in Queens, I arrived home from Germany. But only to find that it will also schnee at home! I was also irritated and amused by the fact that I needed to go through security three times on my way home -- at the Bonn-Cologne airport, then again on my way to the H-gates in Munich, and then again after clearing customs in Philadelphia. Also amused and irritated by the number of people asking me questions and hassling me as I passed through various "so you're traveling to the USA" checkpoints. Further amused and irritated by the United States' customs paperwork and insane system for recording the entry of non-residents. Also amused by the "no cell phones / no cameras" rule at US Customs. This all makes the US seem like some sort of drama-queen country acting as if it's the center of the universe. Germany, by contrast, the process was something like: Wait in short line. Morgen. [STAMP!] Danke. No one asked -- or cared -- what I was doing in Germany, whether I was planning to leave, or what I was bringing. Nor did they care about possible dangers lurking in my shoes.

I am almost back on east coast time, as I now wake up around 4am but then can fall back asleep until 6am. This is awesome because I hate alarm clocks.

And in other news I heard from Secret-Crush's-Ex (SCX) somewhat out of the blue. It is unclear to me whether SCX is flirting with me or else is trying to be very charming to win me over in some sort of divvying up of the friends post-breakup.

And back to the topic of international travel, The Topologist is now trying to figure out the best way to bring thousands of Euros back from Germany. My suggestion is to have Deutchebank (where the Euros are) send them by some sort of magic electronic international money-sending method to our credit union (where the money needs to be -- as dollars) and to pay whatever fees it takes to make this happen in a way that involves financial institutions communicating with each other and shepherding through whatever paperwork needs to accompany this. As the other options seem to involve dealing with extra paperwork at the airport.

I managed to leave the airport with exactly zero Euros left, which means that our supply of Euros at home is now at zero (because we brought all the leftover Euros back to Europe with us). We still have a few bucks Canadian lying around which should not be that hard to re-patriate. Our non-US money pile will probably be hanging on to the złoty for a while because, really, how often do you get to spend złoty?

Finally, I will say that if the bathroom in The Topologist's apartment is typical of what is found in Europe, I can see why there may be an impression that Americans bathe more than Europeans. Instead of having a stand-up shower that enrobes you in a warm cloud of steam that makes a long shower a pleasure, he has a bathtub with a hand shower (and wimpy underpowered radiators, making the apartment very cold). There is no intrinsic pleasure to be had with his shower, only utilitarian (and cold) bathing.