J’en ai marre 3


PW had a recent article about supersymmetry theorists who refuse to concede that the idea is ill-conceived. I call it stupid, but that’s just me. Still, SUSY, although dead, continues to walk about like some sort of zombie theory eager to eat the brains of a new generation. In grad school my advisor, who once suggested I had a hotline to god, bless his soul, recognized it might prove interesting to just leave me alone to pursue my own weird ways. He and Marc Grisaru were dabbling eagerly in SUSY at the time, and Marc was so enamored with it, that my resistance to getting involved caused him much chagrin. He wanted me kicked out of grad school. He took steps to make it so. Sadly they failed.

Anyway, I get my PhD, postdoc for a bit, and am occasionally at a loose end. During one of these I earned my living working in a bookstore. While so engaged I ran into Marc in Harvard Square, a place in Massachusetts. He asked me what I was doing. I told him. He shook his head, and, sort of as an aside, said, “What a waste.”

And here we are some 40 years later. I’m still waiting for the world of theoretical physics to catch up with my ideas, and the ideas to which Marc surrendered himself for decades is now still walking around, but with no beating heart, one eyeball missing, and some bone visible beneath the fetid flesh. What a waste.

2021 Travels, Departure

The airlines, unable to cancel every plane, allow us finally to depart.

T minus 0 days

This morning I received an email from the Vogons at BA that they needed me to resend covid testing docs as my initial send confused them. Likely my fault, as I sent my and Francesca’s document pdfs together, causing their bureaucratic neurons to misfire. So I sent just mine – again – and just the test result and scan of proof of vaccination. I was delightfully surprised when 5 minutes later I got an email giving me a green light. Thunderbirds are go.

Meanwhile, five plus days of ceaseless effort to get our obstreperous ducks in a row has left me feeling unwell. Had a slight fever this morning, but hoping this will abate once everything is done. And everything seems to be done, actually. Boarding passes for BOS to LHR, and LHR to LIN (tomorrow), have been issued and printed. I will shower and shave an hour before departure.

It should be mentioned, if it has not already been, that we travel business or first class only. I’m too old to sit up for hours at a stretch, and I always buy tickets months in advance to get deals. And I’m dying, albeit slowly at the moment. My ten years working for Fidelity Investments left me with enough savings to easily last the rest of my life, so, what the hell. First class on this trip, which means free pajamas. Yay.

Now at Logan. BA first class lounge closed. Every other airline lounge is open, but not BA’s. And, insult to injury, my favorite travel trousers, 3 pair, no longer fit. This is likely a consequence of the cancer, and the hormone treatment that is keeping it at bay. (A known side effect is an accumulation of fat around the midsection.) Yeah, well, at least I’m alive, although no longer using my fourth belt loop.

T plus 1 day

Although I will not supply details, my impression, after the fact, of the covid inspired hoops to be leapt through at Heathrow was of frequent anal probes through all of the body’s orifices, and if that makes little sense, then you underestimate both the British, and the Vogons at Heathrow. Still, the 1st class BA lounge at Heathrow was open, and nice – the terrace room especially so. Next step, board flight to Italy. What horrors await us there?

No horrors, although we did not at first know this. And I would trade all of that 1st class lounge stuff at LHR had the Heathrow Vogons been as relaxed as the Italian customs when we arrived in Milan. Full of trepidation, in the 30 minutes leading up to our turn with a customs official, Francesca and I gathered every piece of paper we thought would expedite the process of allowing us into Italy. In the end, after a 30 minute nervous wait in line, we handed a guy a wad of paper each, and – or so it seems to me (this is just an impression) – he said, “Oh, si, paper. Grazie. Ciao.” And suddenly we were through and into Italy proper. Stunned. Moderately stunned.

A nice old taxi driver took us to our hotel, muttering frequently about Mother Mary and Luna, possibly in response to my suggestion that he was taking us in the wrong direction. And he was, according to the femmebot google maps, but weirdly you had to go a way wrong a fair distance to go eventually right.

You know, I had a feeling things would be easier getting into Italy. If you want to understand why, go watch Izzy Eddard’s hilarious take on the Italians becoming fascist prior to WWII.

T plus 2 days

First night in hotel at Linate airport in Milan, I drenched several cloth items with perspiration, following a bout of chills. Diminished covid variant (vaccinated: J&J)? My deeper disease? Inevitable effect of struggle to arrive in EU? Remember the perspiration floods that knocked me out in France a few years ago? Anyway …

Our drive to Fiumelatte took two hours instead of one because femmebot was on a mysterious break, and we had trouble using our rented VW’s navigation system. As the car originated in France, the system text was in French. I kept following signs to Como, which got us closer to George Clooney than Fiumelatte. She (femmebot – google maps female voice) finally came back once we wormed our way to Fiumelatte, and our Airbnb hosts, on the watch for a silver/grey VW containing two lost Americans, waved us down and, yeah. Femmebot really wasn’t the issue. Our on-the-go wifi pod didn’t get working until I got thoroughly lost. Francesca berated me for not trusting the navigation system. But I saw it wanted me to go south, and I wanted to go north. It was trying to get us unlost, and I stubbornly ignored both it, and Francesca. In extenuation I will just say I was exhausted. Brain said north, go north. Ah well.

As to Fiumelatte, Francesca, as is her wont, assumed the town could be meandered and shopped, transferring memories of past locales, where this was in fact true, into her hopes and assumptions for this spot. Unfortunately, Fiumelatte is really just the base of a very high cliff, with room enough for some dwellings, a restaurant or two, a sidewalk area (along a road busy with Italians and tourists) varying in width from 6 inches to 2 – rarely 3 – feet (the sidewalk, that is; the road is frequently wider). Exciting, but not suitable for passeggiata.

Fortunately, a not unpleasant 20 minute walk to the north is the bigger town of Varenna, and while brimming with blonder, taller, and frequently annoying folk from northern Europe, it is pleasant, has scenic places to meander, and shops. There are botanical gardens that we will get to, weather permitting (we did not). And it may not. But that’s ok; I’m still recovering from pre-trip schedule changing traumas.

As to Fiumelatte … well, was I lying?

The Pills

Neither of us are fans of the American pharmaceutical/medical industries, but we are now both deeply in their power, a thing that we would have found anathema and outlandish just two years ago. But Francesca now takes a battery of pills daily to help control an autoimmune condition affecting her thyroid; and I take a slew of pills to keep my cancer at bay and to reinforce bone density. Ok, so, it must be added that Francesca combined her Harvard PhD, with massive reading on the subject, to largely put together her own therapy, our GP being less than useless. Francesca’s therapy has worked extremely well, perplexing our GP, who may have stopped keeping up with medical advancements since leaving med school – if not earlier. But another medical professional she sees was deeply impressed. So, ok, ok, we both take prescription medications, and we both – we thought – acquired sufficient doses prior to flying overseas to cover our 4.5 week trip, and then some. But in Francesca’s case the pharmacy screwed up, and she had close to a week’s shortage.

Let’s get to the point. Our first day in Fiumelatte we walk to Varenna, spot a farmacia; we go in (masked; the rules here stricter than in SE NH), and she shows them her prescription bottle, indicating by word (Italian words) and gesture that she needs more. Pharmacist says not today, but he’ll order for tomorrow. She pays then, gets a receipt for a tenth the cost of same medication in USA, and no prescription necessary. Do you have any idea how aggravating … You know, a worry wart friend of mine suggested medical insurance for our trip. I sent him back a link to an online story of a similar case of an American in Europe needing medical care and paying a small fraction for it compared to the expected price in the states. My friend replied, ah, I see, and did not press the matter.

(During the rest of the trip Francesca acquired enough additional doses to see her to next Spring, all at a tenth the USA Big Pharm price. Assholes.)

A song

Years – nay, decades ago – when my stupid hormones caused me to spend lots of time in Switzerland, through a friend of my then inamorata I heard a song in Italian that I found very lovely – enchanting even. I learned the song by heart, without understanding – or at least thinking about – its meaning. I never forgot.

I wrote this email to Swiss friends who were responsible for me learning this Italian song: “Yesterday we walked home to Fiumelatte from Varenna and met the couple who let us into the apartment we are renting. They were standing outside a home looking up at their 96 year old great great aunt who was leaning out a window to chat. We stopped, Francesca used some of her Italian, and I mentioned I knew a song in Italian. I sang: tu sei la mia vita … The young wife, Sabrina, said that was a religious song, and I explained that I did not realize that at first; I just liked the tune. But later, when I thought about the lyrics, I realized it was religious. Then Sabrina and I sang a few lines together to the old lady in the window. It was very pleasant.”

We’re now in bed, this being the end of our first day of actual vacation during the 2020/2021 plague years.

Oops … is it Santa? Jumped to the window, threw up the sash, to discover Varenna was having a post 22:00 o’clock fireworks display visible from our window. We do not know why. I was just in the process of inserting earplugs to silence the snores of she who will remain nameless. Nice fireworks. Maybe a Friday evening tradition. A domani.