Monday, October 16, 2006

chez nous part 3

On Friday night, the night before I left for Ithaca, we hosted our first party in our Marseillais apartment. We invited as many of the the grad students as we currently know. Four showed up, plus the Hubbards, which was about the right number to have in the grande salle for just sitting around chatting. We can have more next time, but this was a nice first number.

True to form, I wasn’t even ready when the first guest arrived (just a titch before 8:00, which was the official starting time); I was still shaving. I had bought a variety of wines earlier in the day (much easier to do affordably in France than in the States, or at least Ithaca; the average price for a good bottle in Marseille is perhaps a third or a fourth that of Ithaca stores), and Sarah got cheeses, bread, and grapes. Two guests—the first arrival, then later the Hubbards—brought more wine, and one brought more grapes. Sarah had purchased a nearly absurd amount of cheese, but a vast amount was consumed. (It reminded me of the snack times before general seminars at Cornell: the cheese is always the first item to go, well before the cookies, perhaps even with the cider.) Once we had two people, we discussed card games. I proposed playing spades (les piques), because I love it; our Marseillais guests described a local game which bears some resemblance. We had gotten about as far as describing the games before another guest arrived, so that shelved the card game idea. We drew maps on the tablecloth of where we’re all from. Most amusing were my attempt to sketch the shape of New York State (it’s much more complicated that the Tennessean parallelogram or Minnesotan rectangle with a wedge removed) and the German’s blocky portrayal of Deutchland (he claimed it was because Germans are always supposed to think in boxes and straight lines). Sarah and I showed off all the work we’d done in the apartment. It really is a nice place to live, even though a few touch-ups remain.

When the Hubbards arrived, the discussion broke into the life of a mathematician, stories of particular mathematicians, how different sectors in France hire different kinds of scientifically-trained folk (apparently there are some industries that should be hiring mathematicians, but neglect to do so; I wasn’t entirely listening to this section of the conversation), and the curriculum of post-doctoral studies in France and the U.S. All four of the students who came are in Dr. Hubbard’s Teichmüller theory course, and I think he’s the sort of professor that it helps to know outside of class in order to feel more comfortable and get more benefit in class.

Later in the evening, after the Hubbards had left, we began discussing Teichmüller theory (since, if we follow order of the textbook, Teichmüller space won’t be defined for another three or four chapters). I explained a bit about flat surfaces, moduli of surfaces, and how differential geometry comes into play via the Gauss–Bonnet theorem. We talked until a little past midnight. Sarah and I cleaned and talked until 2 or so. Then it was time to make sure everything was packed for my travels this morning. A successful evening. It’s good to be getting to know some of our colleagues better. (There are also the Friday lunches for doing that, which I’ll cover another time.)

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