Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Friday mix

Original post: November 11.
Reposted with photo: December 5. (Cheap way of making it look like I’ve worked on the blog, huh?)

In the academic world, each semester brings its own rhythms, which depend on classes, seminars, who’s around, and numerous other small factors. Sometimes we feel the standard workweek tides, but more often we just get together whenever seems appropriate and settle down to work or socializing. (Contrary to popular stereotypes, most mathematicians really enjoy social activities. It’s possible that in a large fraction of cases they only know how to socialize with other mathematicians, however. It’s difficult to avoid making math jokes through an entire meal or party.)

This fall Friday is the fullest day of the week, normally. It begins at 9:00 in the morning with the course Dr. Hubbard is teaching on Teichmüller theory. This is aimed at a broad graduate student audience. It meets just once a week for two hours. From a review of the definitions of manifolds, differential forms, and cohomology, we have progressed through the proof of the uniformization theorem for Riemann surfaces and are now studying plane hyperbolic geometry (one of my favorite parts of the whole theory), which can be transported to Riemann surfaces (with only a few exceptions) via uniformization (most Riemann surfaces have the unit disk, i.e., the hyperbolic plane, as their universal cover). Most of the students seem to like Hubbard’s teaching overall; he almost certainly teaches in a way they’ve never seen before.

After the class we go to a seminar on Teichmüller theory (loosely speaking; other areas of interest to the participants pop up from time to time). This is where Douady and Roland spoke while visiting Marseille. The audience is quite active. It’s more or less a lecture format, but the peanut gallery is quite happy to interject with questions or points they feel should be clarified. I’ve spoken with some of the organizers, and they claim that they try to encourage an atmosphere where questioning is permitted, because it’s so incredibly frustrating to sit through an entire lecture and have no idea what the speaker said after the first couple of minutes. Apparently at some universities (especially in France, according to their accounts), questioning is actively discouraged. Only the most distinguished attendees may dare to make a remark before the end of the seminar. (In truth, it’s often helpful to younger or less bold audience members if one of the senior members asks a question, because it makes them feel more at ease—you mean there were others for whom that wasn’t totally clear? Oh, that’s a relief.)

If those morning activities weren’t enough fun, then just wait until lunch. We all hike over to a pizza restaurant called Le Racati. It’s run by a matronly woman who is known simply as “la patronne” (the boss). Various members of the seminar vie for her favor. She takes good care of “les garçons” (as the seminar members are called, since until this year it’s been almost exclusively men). There are usually ten or twelve of us, and we go through four or five pizzas, four or five carafes of wine, a bowl of salad, and whatever other gifts la patronne bestows (sometimes fruit, sometimes desserts). Conversation usually centers around upcoming seminar talks, current mathematical topics of interest, and cultural exchange. This week, following the U.S. elections, politics was a hot subject. Whether any more work gets done by any particular individual the rest of the day depends on how many glasses of wine he or she had. Friday lunch is a highlight of every week. Here’s a photo of la patronne with Prof. Hubbard:

I haven’t quite figured out Friday nights in Marseille. For the first few weeks, we were having dinner with the Hubbards. One week soon after we finally moved into our apartment I took a stroll by myself and treated myself to a nice couscous dinner. There was the party at our place the night before I left for Ithaca a month ago. Twice Sarah and I have gone out to the cinema. There’s nothing consistent, like the choir rehearsal / contradance combination I had in Ithaca. But it hasn’t been bad, for the most part. Movies are relatively inexpensive, fine restaurants are plentiful, and it’s a chance (as always, in any location) to break from the demands of work. I think we should have another party soon. And I should find someplace to dance.

Just to let you know that we do actually work around here, at least for four hours a week on Friday mornings. :-) Now we just need to work on finding folk in the office in the middle of the week, too …

No comments: