I've said it before and I'll say it again – one of the perks of academia is the exotic locations chosen for conferences. No-one ever says “Hey, yeah, woah, let's have the 34th International Symposium on Body Lice in Ringwood East”. In fact, organising committees collude to go to the most interesting places (for them) that they can. For example, the 2010 International Nuclear Physics conference was in Vancouver. Awesome. The 2013 edition was in Florence. Awesome. As the ethos is to go from continent to continent, the next was to be in Asia, and with three submissions from countries in the region, the committee decided on... Australia, because the committee saw it is more exotic than China or Japan. Even though there are 3 tenured professors of nuclear physics in Australia, as compared to the giant labs in Japan teaming with professors. They committee did, however, stuff up slightly – it will be in Adelaide, which may as well be Ringwood East.
But I digress. The point I was coming too was that the 13th International Conference on Nuclear Reaction Mechanisms (as with, I believe the 1st to 12th) was in a villa at the tiny lakeside town of Varenna, where that lake is Lake Como, from June 11 to 15 in 2012.
Luciano, my boss, his son, Matteo, and I drove there and were put up across the lake at a Bed and Breakfast in a slightly less tiny town called Vignola, which belonged to friends of Luciano's cousin, who lived in another of the little towns dotted along the shore. Each morning Luciano and I would drive from Vignola to Menaggio and then catch the ferry to work, while Matteo went out on the lake with the the B&B owners on their boat (indeed, Luciano skipped a day of the conference to join them).
In a free afternoon we marched up to the Castello de Vezio at the top of the hill overlooking the town, which housed medieval weapons and armour, plaster 'ghosts', various tethered birds of prey, physics professors with limited social skills (which, I've been rightly, is a problem that isn't 'going to go away') and fossils of a type of small dinosaur unique to the lake, whose progenitors were trapped when an avalanche originally turned the river into a lake. Good times. One of the professors with social skills, who happens to be the leader in the field, met us on the way down and we went through the usual routine of her trying to remember where I'm from – the first guess is that I'm a New Zealander, because that is where we first met. It's somewhat like the younger kids at school knowing the older kids, but not vice-versa.
The most interesting part of this trip, however, was not a location, however, but a person; a person I shall write about in the next instalment.