Easter is huge here, with the holiday beginning on Good Friday (a bank holiday) and running through Monday (another bank holiday). With the institute closed for four days, the other researchers either scattered or had their partners visit here. I took advantage of the free period -- and brilliant, sunny weather, with temps in the 70s -- to make three excursions, meet up with close friends of my cousins Caryl and David (from the days when David, who worked for the UN, was posted to Geneva), and further explore the city. The excursions were to the small French medieval walled village of Yviore (in France, just north of Hermance), which I reached by boat, to the also medieval city of Montreux at the opposite end of the lake from the city of Geneva, where I met with a psychologist colleague, Henriette, who lives there in a 16th-century farmhouse and has written a book on the local history of one of its villages (the photo to the right of the one with Henriette is the view through her front door), and to Sion, in the Southwestern canton of Valais, a city famous for its vineyards, irrigation canals, and impressive hilltop castles. Today (Monday), I finally made it to the junction of the Rhône and Arve rivers in Geneva: https://www.spottedbylocals.com/geneva/pointe-de-la-jonction/. It was so warm that there were several swimmers as well as kayakers and paddle-boarders in the water and, along the riverbank, many sunbathers and families picnicking. (I'm only wearing a jacket because I'd left the Brocher in the early morning when it was still cool and didn't want to carry it).
On Saturday, I took the train to Zurich to get together with Heidi Landry, who was spending a few days for work in nearby Zug. As this was a day trip, and Genève and Zurich are more or less at opposite sides of the country, this only gave us an afternoon -- but it was a magical, if slightly chilly, one. We had an excellent lunch, walked the old city, and visited the Fraumünster to see the Chagall windows -- and while there, did the interesting audio tour: https://www.fraumuenster.ch/en/
Pot-luck and singing
I was a busy weekend. Saturday was the trip to Zurich, and Sunday was a pot-luck (no meals are served on weekends here) followed by guitar-accompanied singing. The group that arrived at the beginning of April includes a Norwegian, Oddgeir Synnes, who brought his guitar, and several researchers with very fine voices. So we followed-up an impromptu song fest the week before with a more planned event, where we each chose a song in advance and also made a favorite dish (with our young French colleague Zöe making pasta from scratch).
I am spending March 4 - April 30 at the Fondation Brocher, a medical ethics and policy research institute in Hermance, a small, picturesque village (population ~1,000) on the left bank of Lake Geneva that dates back to the 13th century. (Ten researchers, who generally come for periods of one or two months, are in residence at any one time; members of the current group hail from Italy, Portugal, Germany, Australia, Eqypt, Israel, and the US).
[Update on April 7: Eight of the ten completed their one or two-month stays and departed on March 29. Michal Lavidor (from Israel) and I were the only researchers to stay on, and we were joined by a new group on April 3. (In between, we had the whole estate to ourselves, the staff having also temporarily departed, and felt very much like the lords of the manor). The very lively new group is on average considerably older than the one it replaced and more European. Two researchers are from the Netherlands, one is from the US, and the others are from Germany, France, Ireland, and Norway, (The Norwegian brought a guitar and he played and we all sang for hours last night after dinner).]
Returning to the original narrative:
The travel here was challenging. Although the originating flight (on TAP Portugal) was fine, the transfer at Lisbon airport was a disaster. A 2-hour long line to clear immigration was followed by a lengthy security rescreening. Although it should not have been a tight connection, I only made the Lisbon-Geneva flight because the latter had been delayed. Then on arriving in Geneva, I had to take two local buses to the institute. I found the right bus from the airport, managed the transfer, and was feeling pretty self-congratulatory – until I got off at the wrong stop for my destination! There I was, in the middle of nowhere, with luggage sufficient for a 2-months’ stay that crossed seasons and no idea of far I was from the Brocher or with any way to find out or to contact someone. But I eventually spotted a young woman across the road, and when I told her my sad story, she said not to worry, that she lived nearby and would retrieve her car and return in a few minutes, which she did! So I was driven to the door and not just dropped off at the Brocher gate (as with the bus), and what would have been a memorably awful travel experience was transformed into a memorably lovely one.
The Brocher estate, which consists of several structures and beautifully-landscaped grounds that slope down to the lake, is about a 5-minute walk along the road to the village. Here are some photos of the Brocher:buildings (Villa Brocher, Centre Brocher, and a belvedere on the lake) and the grounds. I have a sleeping room in the Villa Brocher, seen in the first photo, which is also where meals are served, and am very fortunate to have a separate office (sometimes shared with Maya the cat) overlooking the lake in the Centre Brocher, where the administrative offices and auditorium are located. The views from the office -- both daytime and at sunset -- are spectacular (and seriously distracting)!
Below are some photos of Hermance, which is on the French border. Apart from a lovely church, the village has a small grocery store, a pâtisserie/boulangerie, several restaurants, a pier, and a really nice beach (with outdoor dining).
The final photos were taken on a (hilly, muddy, winding) hike on a path through the woods to Hermance with colleagues Bahir (from Egypt) and Meredith (from Australia). On the left of the stream is Switzerland, on the right France.
Update on April 7: Due to explorations by one of the new Dutch researchers, we now know of an entire network of walking/hiking trails that branch out from Hermance (most crossing the French border). So the last photos were taken yesterday evening (it's now light til at least 7:30) when, inspired by the report of our Dutch colleague, Michal and I decided to explore new walking paths.
Today (24 March) our group made a communal raclette dinner under the guidance of Luca Chiapperino (an Italian at the University of Lausanne, who is married to a French woman). Luca ordered a half-round of cheese from a shop where they also loan the machine for holding, melting, and scraping the raclette cheese, and during the week, we picked up the cheese and machine and then drove to a supermarket in France (where food prices are much, much lower) to buy the accompanying potatoes, cornichons, charcuterie, veggies, etc.
The institute is about 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Geneva city -- a trip of about a half-hour on a bus that conveniently stops right at the Brocher gate. Here are some photos from multiple Geneva excursions. These include a visit with colleagues Luca and Melissa (who teaches at the University of Michigan) to the Patek-Philippe watch museum and several sights along the lake including colleague Brigida (from Portugal) at the iconic flower clock (l'horloge fleurie), the water-jet fountain (Jet d'Eau), and the little yellow mouettes ("seagull" boats) that criss-cross the lower lake as part of the public transport system.
Sign seen in UN bathroom (courtesy of Bahir Ibrahim) and a bottle of local wine.
Geneva - the old city
It is March 30, and Spring has definitely sprung in Geneva with the fruit trees in bloom, spring flowers abounding, and leaves beginning to appear on trees. It is very quiet at the Brocher since 8 of the 10 researchers in residence finished their 1 or 2 months terms and departed (in most cases, very reluctantly) yesterday morning. Until Wednesday, when the next group arrives, that just leaves the Israeli researcher Michal and me, and Michal left early this morning to meet her visiting brother-in-law in Zurich. But the weather is absolutely gorgeous, and I decided that it would be the perfect day -- as indeed it was -- to do an organized walking tour of the old city. which I didn't know at all. Here are a few photos from the 2-hour walk, including the Mur des réformateurs (Reformation Wall) overlooking the Parc des Bastions, a section of the old city wall (with cannons), and a replica of Geneva in 1850 at the Maison Tavel, the oldest house in Geneva and now a wonderful small museum of Geneva's history.
tÉLÉpherique du salèVE
Another gorgeous weekend day in the period between the departure of one group and arrival (on Wednesday) of another. I decided to make an excursion to Mont Salève, just across the border in France (about 20 km from the center of Geneva, and a very popular day-trip from the city). There's a cable car (téléphérique) to near the summit, and many trails that climb the rest of the way or to other observation points. I did only one of them and it nearly killed me!
The city of Lausanne is on the other side of the lake from Hermance -- not too far as the crow flies but in practice, at least a two-hour trip as one needs first to take buses into Geneva and then to the train station and a train to Lausanne -- and in my case, the metro the university, which is on the outskirts of the city. (There is a boat crossing to Lausanne, but it's either to/from Geneva, which is no savings in time) or to/from Evian in France, requiring a taxi from Evian to Hermance). So a rather long trip for such a short distance. But it was the last of a string of gorgeous days, and after my talk, I was taken for an informal tour of the city center and lakeside Lausanne is known for its steep hills -- the city climbs straight upward -- its medieval streets, and its 12th century cathedral.
snow in hermance (4 april 2019)!
The new group of researchers arrived yesterday, and then last night and continuing into this morning, it snowed -- finally providing an opportunity to wear the very smart galoshes that I bought with Alyssa Landry's help before leaving. Here's what it looked like from my bedroom and office windows.
about galvestion and its history
Galveston is a sand-barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles south of Houston. It's an offbeat kind of place, with a fascinating history (Indian, pirate, Jewish), lovely Victorian buildings, great seafood, gorgeous beaches with hard-packed sand that's excellent for walking, and unbelievably friendly residents. It's also a premier birding destination, especially during the migratory seasons. Galveston's population, at least in the highly-populated East End, is also unusually and interestingly mixed, with people of different races, ethnicities, and income levels living in the same neighborhoods. That's the good news.
But public transit, apart from the tourist-oriented trolleys, is something of a disaster, and many residents and enterprises are obviously struggling. In some respects, it seems that Galveston has never fully recovered from Hurricane Ike of Sept. 2008, when a massive storm surge that reached 20 feet in places swamped nearly the entire island (including UTMB, which was closed for a year). Many restaurants and shops have markers showing how high the flood waters rose. The photo below was taken at my favorite Galveston venue, the Mosquito Cafe. The flood marker reads "Hurricane Ike High Water" (above the blue arrow) and "September 13, 2008" (below it). Further damage accompanied Hurricane Harvey in Aug/Sept. 2017, though in respect to Harvey, Houston fared far worse.
Historically, the most famous storm was the Great Galveston Hurricane of September 1900, a category 4 hurricane with a 15-foot storm surge that flooded the city, which was then about 9 feet above sea level. Almost all existing structures were destroyed and about 8,000 lives lost -- it is still considered the worst natural disaster in U.S. history. (The deadliest industrial accident, a 1947 chain reaction of ship explosions resulting from the detonation of ammonium oxide, occurred in nearby Texas City and also affected Galveston). In the hurricane's aftermath, a massive seawall was constructed and the island also raised. Click here for online exhibits (from the Rosenberg Library's Galveston and Texas History Center) on Galveston's early hurricane history including the amazing grade raising and building of the Seawall following the 1900 storm.
Here are some images related to the Seawall, which is great for biking as well as walking and lined with mosaic benches on different themes, and of the adjacent beach, which stretches for 27 miles along the Gulf. The first photos are a melange of two late afternoon biking excursions with one of the UTMB graduate students, Rebecca Permar (shown in the first photo). We are resting in front of the "Pleasure Pier," one of the few structures that exist on the beach side of the Seawall. The second set of photos were taken in the evening from Benno's, a seafood shack overlooking the Seawall. The start of crawfish season coincided with a visit from my West Falmouth neighbor, Susan Garland, and for two nights running we we gorged on platters of the small, spicy, boiled crustaceans.
The Seawall: biking, beaches, benches
poretto beach and pier
Here are some photos taken at/near Poretto Beach and its pier, an area close to the small house that I have rented. (It is about 4-5 blocks east of the house). The first set of photos were taken during a visit by Evelyn Keller early in my stay.
But don't be fooled by the blue skies; in Jan. and Feb., it was often rainy and foggy, with the fog sometimes lasting for several days at a stretch.
This photo is of recent visitors Gerard Meehan and Clare Wynter (from Luxembourg), who are being given an informal lesson in kite-flying.
And here is my Cape neighbor and avid birder, Susan Garland.
On the other side of Galveston lies the bay -- a forest of oil rigs interspersed with cruise ships. Downtown, there are some nice seafood restaurants on the water. In the second photo, a neighbor (whom I met while admiring her Mardi Gras house-decorating) had generously invited me to dinner at the Olympia Grill at Pier 21. It was a lovely warm evening, and we were able to eat al fresco. Shirley Dannhaeuser is a 30-year combat-medic veteran, who also has a degree in cultural anthropology and is married to the retired former chair of the Anthropology Dept. at Texas A&M. She told me that she and her husband Norbert recently moved from College Station to Galveston (with two of their 10 grandchildren) because Galveston was the only place as quirky as they were. She also invited me to dinner again just before I left and presented me with the most wonderful book about Galveston's history.
I have had other lovely encounters with local folks here including a trolley driver who offered to drive me to a movie theatre (not on the route) if no one else were on the bus at that point and a city bus driver who stopped when she spotted me on the street one evening to yell out, "how is your friend?" (meaning Evelyn).
Below, pics of Shirley at the restaurant on Galveston Bay and nearby statue, and of a later visit to the same area with Gerard and Clare.
ferry trip to the Bolivar peninsula (crystal beach), and visit to Galveston's far east end
Other recent visitors include my old Chinese friend Ting Chen (now living in Richardson, Texas) and her daughter Karen and grandchildren Max and Fifi (a ka Vivian), who live just outside of LA. Karen rented a car at the Houston airport, and we took advantage of it to explore the Bolivar Peninsula (which had been completely destroyed by Ike; note how high the house sits on stilts) and Galveston's undeveloped far east end, with its lagoon, ponds, and estuaries. The first photo is of our trip on the free Galveston - Port Bolivar ferry, which runs continuously 7 days a week, 24 hours a day (in major contrast to the bus service, which has been reduced twice since I came and now stops at 7:30 pm).
Evelyn and I also took the Bolivar ferry (as foot passengers) one evening and lucked out with the weather. In the second photo, Seawolf Park is on the left.
the galveston tree sculptures
Another impact of Ike was the death (either outright or as a later result of salt poisoning) of about 80% of the trees, including nearly all of the majestic oaks that once lined many streets. In an effort to make lemonade from lemons, local artists carved sculptures from some of the trunks. These sculptures are primarily located in the East End Historical District, a 50-block area that is bounded on the east by 10th Street, which is only two blocks from "The Dinghy," my rented beach house. Here are just a few of my favorites.
Galveston has the third largest Mardi Gras celebration in the U.S., which this year ran from Feb. 2 through Feb. 13. On the first Saturday, my Airbnb host, who lives only a block and a half from the parade route, always throws a large party with homemade jambalaya. Unfortunately, it rained both Mardi Gras Saturdays -- as it does many days -- but spirits still ran high. It is traditional to throw bead necklaces, mostly in the Mardi Gras colors of aqua, purple, and gold, to those lining the streets. (Houses as well as people are often strung with beads).
Beautifully restored Victorians can be found on the same block with houses in serious disrepair, a reflection of the fact that Galveston neighborhoods, and especially the East End, are racially and economically mixed. Low-income blacks and Hispanics live in the same neighborhoods, and often on the same streets, as well-to-do whites, and mansions and tiny homes can be found side-by-side. There is lots of interesting architecture, both residential and commercial, especially in the East End and Strand Historic Districts.
This last photo of the house that I've rented, "The Dinghy," which is just a few blocks from UTMB and Galveston Bay in one direction and the Gulf in the other.
Carless in galveston
Wandering the neighborhoods would be easier if there were continuous sidewalks. Galveston is the most pedestrian-unfriendly city I have ever visited. Thus, every homeowner gets to decide whether to have (and mostly pay for) a sidewalk in front of their house, resulting in a crazy patchwork of sidewalk and grass. And even when sidewalks exist, cars sometimes park across them. Moreover, the crosswalk signals at intersections fail to provide even a fit pedestrian enough time to cross. Apart from downtown, one quickly learns both to walk in the street and to ignore the signals. Pedestrians are simply not on anyone's screen: even the huge medical school/hospital complex that is UTMB has a parking (not a parking and transportation) office, and no one there has a clue if asked about alternatives (apart from carpooling and other car-based options). There is a local bus system, which anyone with a hospital badge can ride for free, but as far as I can tell, I'm the only UTMB employee who uses -- or perhaps even knows about -- it. Although the buses may not provide an efficient way to get places given the infrequent service and unreliable schedule, riding them it is a great way to engage with locals, both drivers and passengers, and experience a very different slice of Galveston life. And there is an excellent trolley system; the trolleys run almost the length of the Seawall with a spur to the downtown. They are frequent, fun, and inexpensive, but oriented to tourists. (The middle photograph of a campaign poster for Mayes Middleton, President of Middleton Oil Company, perhaps offers a clue as to why the local bus system, which serves Galveston's poorer residents, is so starved for resources).
the strand and downtown wharves
The Strand Historic District ("downtown"), which borders Galveston Bay, is full of interesting buildings, restaurants, cafes,and other attractions such as the Tall Ship Elissa and oil rig museum, and is very lively on nice weekends. At one of edge of the district are the wharves, where one can always see lots of cormorants, pelicans, and other birds (and on one occasion, while Gerard and Clare visited, dolphins) and is the site of my favorite Galveston venue, Katie's Seafood (where one must literally shoo away the pelicans to view and purchase the fish). The busy cruise ship terminal is also located in the Strand.
birding: west end, matagorda, san luis pass
Galveston is a fantastic place for bird-watching, I have been on several birding tours with a small company, "BirdingForFun" (above).
The first trip was to Galveston's largely undeveloped West End (where there is no seawall, and the houses are on tall stilts), the second an all-day raptor tour to Matagorda, a town/bay/county about 100 miles down the coast from Galveston, and the third another all-day trip to the San Luis Pass, at the western tip of Galveston Island, and Surfside Beach in Brazoria County. The day after the San Luis Pass trip, and thanks to Kristine Rivers (owner of BirdingForFun and an excellent naturalist-guide) and her husband Bobby, Susan Garland and I were also able to join an outing of the Audubon Society group in Galveston.
After a few pathetic attempts with my cellphone camera, I left the bird photography on BirdingForFun trips to Kristine, who is also a talented photographer. Below are a few non-bird photos from the West End and Matagorda trips, and also links to Kristine's terrific photos of the birds we saw.
First, Galveston's West End on a rather grey day:
For Kristine's bird photos from the West End tour, click here. The next few photos were taken at Matagorda. For the Matagorda bird photos, click here.
Here are a few photos taken during the San Luis Pass/Surfside trip. In the first photo, taken at lunch, Susan is to my left and Kristine and Bobby to my right.
And from the Audubon Society outing in Galveston (taken at Moody Gardens)
The following photos of a few of the birds seen during the Audubon outing were taken by avid birder and excellent photographer Jackie Farrell, past secretary of the Galveston Country Audubon group (posted with her permission).
Departed (sadly) NZ the evening of 5 April and due to crossing the international dateline, landed in Los Angeles the afternoon of the same day. I stayed with friends Karen Guan and Holger Hellwig and their two kids in El Segundo and went hiking at Point Dune, just north of Malibu, with Alice Wexler. It was a gorgeous day and the cliff walk above Point Dune state beach was spectacular. (But it did not prepare me for the cold and sleet on arriving at Logan Airport)!
I had not been in Christchurch, NZ's second-largest city, since the earthquakes of Sept. 2010 and Feb. 2011 and numerous, sometimes large aftershocks essentially destroyed the city center. (A magnitude 6.0 quake occurred three weeks before I arrived in NZ, and two 3.8 ones in early April, just following my visit to conduct archival research). Recently, Christchurch has been widely touted as a tourist destination -- e.g. two years ago, the New York Times ranked it #2 in its list of 50 must-see places -- for its innovative city planning and focus on the arts, including many pop-up performance venues. The city is certainly colorful, with many brightly-painted shipping containers serving as banks, stores, and cafes, and there are upbeat posters everywhere. But I found it extremely depressing. The city seemed depopulated -- many former residents have decamped to Australia or other places in search of work -- the iconic ChristChurch Cathedral is in ruins and the entire downtown a vast construction site. The rebuild has been excruciatingly slow as it turned out that basically the entire infrastructure, including the sewer system, must be replaced (a task that will probably take 30+ years). Fortunately, the Canterbury Museum was almost unaffected along with the adjacent botanic gardens. And the Avon river, which meanders through the city and is lined with parks, remains lovely.
It was an event-filled week at Abbey, with something on every evening: lectures, films, a traditional Maori Hangi dinner, a heart-stopping semi-final NZ/South Africa Cricket World Cup match (won by NZ in the final minutes) on the big screen, a Persian New Year celebration hosted by Iranian students, and Whiskey Education Night. After six shots of single malts, I was barely able to stagger back to my room! (Tomorrow, I leave on a short trip to Christchurch).
I've included a link to a recent Abbey Update newsletter, where Charles Tustin (the head of college) explains the symbolism of the items on the table below and also a bit about the Hangi dinner. http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=4519c4a0c0cabde2cec5fa310&id=cddbb7d87c&e=2cbfd319f1
You wouldn't know it, but I am dancing! Below is Whiskey Education Night.
Hamish volunteered to take Caleb Irvine and I cockling, and as we were about to leave the area, spotted a difficult to identiy marine mammal on the beach. It turned out to be a rare leopard seal -- which occasioned great excitement. Later that evening, the cockles were steamed and turned (by Abby) into an appetizer and a fabulous chowder, which we had with lightly-seared tuna and local salmon.
The photos above are of fur seals.
A rare leopard seal resting at Aramoana beach.
The Mole is a 1,200m breakwater stretching out into the sea from Aramoana beach. Apart from many gulls/terns/shags, we saw albatross, fur seals, and even a few small blue penguins.
Tairoa Head and the Royal Albatross Colony (only land-based albatross colony in the world) directly across the mouth of the harbor from the Mole.
The birdwatchers (note telescope) spotting an albatross in flight.