March 1 No classes today. U.S. history canceled because the professor is ill. So had plenty of time to practice for tomorrow's concert. Also finished up "Dreams of Trespass" for my North African history course. Enjoyed it, but felt somewhat at a loss for the response paper. Lastly, finished Walter Lafeber's "History of the Cold War: American-Russian Relations 1945-2002." The conclusion, as expected, was that the Cold War was merely an extended great power rivalry, and the actual importance of ideology was negligible. I mostly agree. Ideology was important, only inasmuch as politicians pretended it was, convincing themselves and others of this view.
March 2 While I have nothing particular against noon concerts, this one severely tried my patients. For one thing, we started late (as always). For another, I had to rush back from math lecture. Finally I played as usual: worse than most of my practices. Kind of irritating, all things considered. The best part about it is that it's now over. In the afternoon, my meeting with a professor in the Jewish studies department went quite well. Unfortunately, it also started late, and ran over, so I missed my North African history class for the second week running. This despite having spent most of last night working on a response paper.
March 3 U.S. History class wasn't canceled today. Good. First though, needed to do some flute practice. Feel like I've done enough for a bit. History lecture was given by a youngish fellow whose powerpoint presentation is the first occasion I can think of of effective overhead projector use. Bravo. His examination of Reagan and Iran-Contra was both useful and highly entertaining. Whoever thought to give Khomeini an autographed bible from Reagan as a conciliation gift obviously had a wonderful sense of tact. So did the folks who sold missiles with Israeli insignia to the Ayatollahs, not to mention the chocolate cake from a kosher Tel Aviv deli that somehow also became a gift. Good stuff. In the evening, finally got moving on math homework and my grant proposal paper. Both due tomorrow. Neither quite finished.
March 4 Finished my grant proposal for my history seminar in the morning. Also finished my math homework. We spent most of history class after lunch discussing writing grant proposals. The whole thing sounded rather akin to advertising. While I'm sure my proposal wasn't great, I've some reason to hope my next one will be better. Went out to dinner at Hobees for the first time in ages with my dad and cousin. Later decided (well, realized) that I was terribly behind on work, so going home (to HMB), where there are still fewer distractions, would be a good idea. So I did.
March 5 Being at home is nice. First there's the full night's sleep, which meant I got up around 10AM. Then there's the advantage of working by a nice warm fire. It was a bit disturbing to have water start seeping through the work while reading about the H-bomb, but I survived. I also survived a lengthy look at Alephs in the math book, and a much lengthier examination of the beginning of the Cold War in my U.S. history course reader. I always get a kick out of the fact that most Americans think the U.S. won the Cold War because it had the right morals. Actually the U.S. won because the Soviets didn't want a Cold War, and the U.S. had an enormous industrial and economic advantage at the beginning.
March 6 Still at home studying. Went through almost the entirety of Nixon through Bush as well as the second 5 years of the Cold War in the course readers. Unsurprisingly (given the professor's lectures), the Cold War received an enormous majority of the coverage. Reading transcripts of Reagan lying about Iran-Contra was reasonably entertaining, as was Nixon's resignation. I read an obituary for Nixon on Counterpunch a few weeks back, by Hunter S. Thompson, and I still think it definitely applies.
March 7 Continued my journey through History 172A Course Reader 1, after coming back to campus. Making sense first of Eisenhower's nuclear diplomacy, and then of Kennedy's took some doing. Probably because it was all based on the premise that it was better to risk nuclear annihilation than look weak. Thank heavens both Khrushchev and Zhou Enlai had more sense. The U.S. history professor was back, slightly the worse for the pneumonia that had kept him out last week, but quite alert and prepared. Topic was Bush I and the causes of the Gulf War.
March 8 Finished. With my U.S. history readings. Let's hear it for 2,500 pages in 2 weeks! Only history class met today, and we continued discussing the (first) Gulf War. Interestingly, the viewpoint presented was roughly 90% identical to the one I received last quarter in History of the Modern Middle East.
March 9 Well occupied with the 3 courses of the day. Math: we're dealing with the "Apple game." Just don't ask. U.S. History: anybody rememember the Lewinsky scandal? Actually, it was a good topic, for, as the professor said, it gives one an interesting view into the changes undergone by American culture. JFK's "Fiddle and Faddle" are still a mystery to most. At the final meeting of the North African history course, we had presentations of all the research papers that folks were busy on. I discovered afterwards that not everybody was on track to finish on time. Guess I'm not the only one who's slow.
March 10 The first half of the day was flute practice. The second half was writing my history paper. I hope the paper turns out better than my flute lesson did. We also had our final history lecture. Ending with George W. Bush, Sept. 11, and the invasion of Iraq. Interesting topics all, though I must say I preferred the slightly less recent ones.
March 11 Up early to finish my history essay. Managed to print it and put my backpack together barely in time to make it to my final math lecture of the year. This one wasn't especially enlightening, but the professor did manage to overstay his time by a solid 20 minutes, as well as receiving 3 cell-phone calls in the process (one of which he actually took!). Peculiar. His math joke that ended the course was as follows:
Professor (of set theory): Some mathematicians don't believe in the Axiom of Infinity.
Student: But you do, don't you?
Professor: Heck no. I don't even believe in large finite numbers.
A little dry, but it gives you the flavor of what we've been dealing with. Met with a bunch of friends for lunch in back of the history building. It was a positively beautiful day. The last meeting of Junior Honors seminar was a combination of sharing different artifacts and how they could be examined to answer certain questions, as well as general research tips. Just afterwards, I met with another student in my Cold War history class to take a look at the questions for the final that had been given out in yesterday's class. Left feeling a bit unhappy. Neither of us have a good grasp of what's going on.
March 12 Strained my way through the first 5 questions on the Cold War history list of potential final exam questions. Whew. In the evening, the North African history course went out for dinner at a Moroccan place. The food and the company were quite enjoyable. I also gained a new sense of perspective on grad-student life. Discovered that half the class is more than 3 years older than me. So I've still got a little time...
March 13 Continued working on the daunting set of Cold War history questions for pretty much the full day, both at the library and in my room. While the questions are all interesting, they are quite involved, and I have a very hard time keeping the various viewpoints of different issues straight. Keeping the orthodox, liberal and revisionist versions of every story can be challenging. Still, I have a much better grasp of the Cuban missile crisis than I did this morning.
March 14 Up bright and early for my Cold War history final. Miraculously, all the questions I'd studied extensively were on the test. Not that I'm sure it helped. I'm turning into an absolutely terrible writer, especially under time pressures. Celebrated the end of the final by doing very little all afternoon, and going to bed early.
March 15 The euphoria from yesterday's exam is more or less gone. Time to start studying for the next one. And play Crystal Caves 2. On DosBox. Occasionally. Shades of my elementary after-school days. In the evening, went out with the draw group for dinner at a Jamaican restaurant. A bit weird, but the food was okay. Learned one of our members has been busy playing The Sims for the last 28/48 hours. Hopefully he'll find time for studying and finals somewhere in there!
March 16 Finished going through the first 7 chapters of the Set Theory book. Around 6PM. Leaving time to spend the evening looking at past homework problems. Including the ones I didn't understand the first time. Some of those are starting to make sense. Others (particularly involving a certain Axiom of Choice) are not.
March 17 Thursday means... flute lesson. So I had a lovely morning playing the same 10 measures of Muczynski over and over again. They're still not all the great, but they've improved a bit. Days like this make me wonder why I still play flute. I mean, it's not like I'm actually good at it or anything. Stubborness I guess. Which is what I'll need for tomorrow's math exam. Back to studying...
March 18 The Mother of All Fridays is upon us. Complete with a 3 hour set theory final in the morning that I emerged from with a general feeling of "ouch." I probably found every possible wrong proof of Cantor's Theorem in the process. Thankfully, everybody else who'd had 8:30AM final exams were similarly unexcited. I heard a lot of "this is the hardest test I've ever seen, let alone, taken" regarding the physical chemistry one.
We had a nice communal lunch, after which I went back to my room and packed. The packing worked out pretty well. It took less than two hours to get everything I had into a suitcase or a bag. Despite the fact that most of my stuff had been sent home earlier in the week, there were plenty of bags. Of course, when my father arrives to take me home, he's brought the small car, so the amount that we could bring back was limited anyways.
Oh, and before I forget, bye bye Mirlo 210. I'll be in Paris in 10 days so my time as a WestFlo resident is over. Not that I'm all that sentimental about them. Especially about the stairs leading to the 3rd floor (where I fell and dislocated my shoulder).
March 19 A very exciting day of running here and their. Norooz Mubarak to all those of like parentage out there. Went with my cousin to another relative's Norooz celebration in the afternoon. Then met my uncle from LA at Stanford. Somehow our discussion turned into a summary of Jewish history, but no matter. A good time was had by all. Then went back to Stanford to clear out the rest of my stuff from my room, not to mention do a full load of laundry. All told, a long day resulting in the conversation of my room into a bonified disaster area, littered with suitcases, bags, boxes, and other stuff I have no place to put. Choices are currently less stuff or more room. Care to place bets on which will prevail?
March 20 Pretty much spent all day wrestling with 2 computer issues. The first was trying to get the Linksys WRT54G router I'd bought while at school to work. All I wanted to do was use it as a wireless access point. Apparently, that can't be done with firmware upgrades. Boo Linksys.
March 21 My main order of business today was a trip to Fry's Electronics and campus to handle outstanding odds and ends. At Fry's I found the necessary power plug adapters for Europe. I also found a 1GB flash card, which will be serving backup duty from now on. Then it was off to Stanford to return the 14 books I still had checked out from my research. If I do this again, I'll need a bigger backpack. I also picked up a rail pass for Europe, which should in theory make getting around a lot easier, photocopied various important documents, dismantled my bike (to put on the back seat) and dropped off next quarter's depressingly large university bill.
At home, I spent the evening trying to make sense of the collection of stuff brought back from campus on Friday. Still not finished with that. Also sent off some necessary e-mails. Reconstituted my e-mail archive too (going back to 1998). That's a lot of mail.
March 22 Still raining. Not exactly a surprise, I know, but it's best to start with the facts. Avoided the nightmare (or expense) of trying to park in the city (S.F.) by taking BART up. From there, it was 5 blocks and less than an hour in line at the French Consulate to get my visa for France. The weather precluded further exploration of the area, so I returned home, via the Hillsdale shopping mall. My side-trip in search of clothes was woefully unsuccessful: apparently shirts simply aren't made in my size. Ditto for shorts.
So instead, I had a nice afternoon at home listening to the drumming of rain on the roof. I did make a brief effort to try to convince the river that was flowing down the road to remain in the ditch, but my shoveling skills and the quantity of water weren't up to the task. So I had a fun afternoon of packing, organizing, and listening to the radio.
March 23 A nice quiet day at home. I was initially going to make a trip to Stanford, but as I have a doctor's appointment there tomorrow, I decided not to. So I read, reconstituted my 6 year-span e-mail archive (almost everything in that time period), and tried to back up the important bits of data on my machine. Continued to pack for the trip to France. This mainly consisted of deciding what clothes I'd bring. In the evening, my father and I decided to go to Yosemite for Friday and Saturday, so as to get a little hiking in. True, we didn't have much time to plan. But hopefully 2 day trips don't need planning.
March 24 A busy day made busier by last night's last minute decision to make a last hiking trip before I leave for France. Enough last's in one sentence? Day begun by going to the eye doctor's for a new prescription. My eyes have deteriorated a fair bit since last time. Oh well, not much of a surprise there. I also have some astigmatism now. Whatever that is.
Then I went to Stanford to visit my friends. Well, only one actually showed up. But that's okay. He'll be in Chile next quarter, so we had plenty to discuss. At lunch at the Clark Center for old times' sake. Also while at Stanford, I picked up a few gifts for folks I expect to meet on my trip to France. I don't enjoy gift-shopping. Particularly not when I know I'm being ripped off (by buying at the Stanford bookstore). I also dropped by Kepler's, and found an illustrated book entitled: "Big Sur to Big Basin." Guess our section of coast is popular. Also went to Trader Joe's for hiking food, and Mervyn's (again) to find dressier clothes for France. I'm told T-shirts and shorts don't really cut it there. A pity.
Back at home, I took custody of a friend's extra stuff (on condition that he picks it up himself, when he returns from overseas), and tried to find and organize all the hiking stuff. Also, since my cousin is spending the night, I had to clear a large quantity of dark room equipment from the guest room. Busy, busy.
March 25 Off to Yosemite today. Impromptu trips being what they are, we all arose at separate points. I was up around 7AM, moving food and clothes to the car, and trying to make sure there was enough room for everything. My father and cousin were up slightly later, and in pretty short order, all the necessary trip items were in the car, and we were on our way. A last minute check on the car revealed that everything was in order.
Around 9AM, we left Half Moon Bay. We took 92 east, through San Mateo, over the San Mateo bridge, and into Hayward. The weather was the best it had been in quite a few days. From Hayward, we took 580 east. For once the terminally overburdened eastern route out of the bay area lacked any massive tie-ups, and around 10:30AM, we reached 120 east. We stopped in Oakdale for gas, and after another 60 miles, stopped in Moccasin (next to the Don Pedro Reservoir) for lunch. Unfortunately, Moccasin lacked parks or other good picnic spots, so we ended up going up the steep Old Priest Road, and stopping by a closed hotel at the top.
The weather was positively gorgeous as we sat by the roadside eating miscellaneous bread, cheese and carrots. However, some 20 minutes after we recommenced going east on 120, I noticed the car's radiator temperature gauge read perilously close to overheating. When I pulled over a minute later, it was completely in the red. Uh-oh. Opened the hood to the audible sound of the radiator's water boiling. After waiting a while for it to cool a bit we cautiously opened the tank. Empty.
So we waited some more, and eventually added about a gallon of
water. Seems that the morning's check of things car-related
resulted in a cap on the water tank that wasn't closed all
the way. At least that's what we hoped. Miraculously, the car
started fine after we added the water, although it sucked it all
in, requiring another infusion a few miles later.
Reaching the park's entrance at 3PM, we took Big Oak Flat Road down toward the valley, making frequent stops at turnouts to capture the scenery on film err... CCD. The amount of snow was amazing. At 6,000 feet, the drifts on both sides of the road were never less than 3 feet tall. At the bottom of Yosemite valley, there were considerable patches of snow in shady areas.
For the afternoon, we decided on a brief hike to Vernal Falls. This was complicated by our late start and the fact that one member of our party (no names) was carrying far too much stuff (of the 20-25 pound pack in question, 10-15 pounds were simply dead weight, useless on the hike). We hit snow shockingly early on the trail, and the trail after the footbridge was entirely submerged in it. When we reached the steps for the Mist trail, we were climbing our way up on a nice thin layer of ice. We did not go all the way to the top. For all that, the waterfall was as imposing as ever, and the ice-covered steps gave the scene a sense of edginess.
Coming back wasn't too straightforward. Between cold, ice that had just formed because of the cold, and the fact that it was getting dark, we took our time. We arrived back at the parking wet, cold, and reasonably tired. After checking-in for our cabin for the night, we went first to the lodge, and then the village, in search of something warm to eat. Being slightly late in both cases insured we returned emptyhanded.
So we moved into the cabin. Which was really about the size and configuration of a hotel room, save for the fact that there was no hallway leading to the door. Still, it was dry, and relatively warm. And since we had the propane stove, we had hot soup for dinner. Details not provided as we were probably in violation of some of the cabin rules. It wasn't long before I'd fallen asleep.
March 26 The night was cold, to the point that when I woke up at 6AM, I preferred to get warm, rather than try and sleep again. It took another two hours before we were all up and packed. I found part of the reason for the cold night while staring at the windows: the window frame had holes of considerable size.
We set off for Yosemite falls from the trailhead around 8:30AM. Cold rapidly ceased to be a problem as we headed up. It took us about 2 1/2 hours to complete the section of trail to the base of the upper falls. Especially toward the end there was a lot of snow on the trail. Continuing a little further, the snow gave way to ice. The whole time, the views were magnificent. Although the sky varied between light blue and white, the mountains all sported white coverings that made them quite forbidding. I've never seen so much snow in Yosemite before.
On a large flat rock, with a decent view of Half Dome, we had breakfast. This was frequently interrupted by clumps of snow that were blown out of surrounding trees and fell near or on us. As usual, the amount of food carried was more than strictly necessary, but my pack lightened a lot during the meal. Afterwards, we continued going up, driven primarily by my cousin's desire for a better view of the waterfall. The switchbacks became short, and completely white. We finally stopped, about 1/3 of the way up the little ravine the trail uses to reach the top. The views were quite extraordinary as were the occasional small avalanches of snow rolling away from the base of the cliffs.
The descent was uneventful but difficult. Snow and especially ice are bad going up, and worse coming down. So going down, there were a lot of nearly twisted ankles, a heavy beating on the knees, and by the end, very wet feet. We ended our hike around 2:30PM, and made a stop in Yosemite village to purchase miscellaneous gifts. To leave the park, we took the southern route (41) and so could stop at what was evidently a very popular overlook with a view of Bridalveil falls and Half Dome. My cousin counted 6 Canon EOS D20 cameras, not to mention two medium format ones and a fellow who was using a telescope.
We continued south from there, stopping at the historic Wawona hotel for the final photo break of the day. By the time we left, it was almost 6PM, and beginning to get dark. We left the park via 41, taking 49 north from Oakhurst to Mariposa. We had some grand views of the post-sunset landscape as 49 made its way along a series of rolling hills. At Mariposa, we returned to going west, this time on 140. We arrived in Merced around 8PM.
I was having difficulty reading road signs by then, so we switched drivers, and I dozed on and off for the rest of the drive. We took 99 north to 132 west. That road ended, merging into 580 west after about 30 miles. We stuck to 580 until we reached 880, headed south, took the Dumbarton bridge into Palo Alto, and around 10PM, stopped at Stanford. My cousin said goodbye (I am after all leaving for France for a few months), and we continued home. There I had a very late dinner, followed by the continuation of my packing ordeal. Still so much to organize/fit.
March 27 and 28
And off to France I go. Arose at 7AM California time. Trying to squeeze all my stuff into the final bag proved a bigger challenge than I had hoped. All manner of small things, from maps to hats, proved resistant to my efforts. I received a home haircut shortly thereafter, and had just about enough time to eat a decent breakfast before we left for the airport.
While we did not arrive with the full 2 hours to spare, luck was on my side. Getting to the airport took 35 minutes, getting to the terminal another 10, and checking in my bags was a half hour affair. Once that was over and done with, security was quick and simple, and I had an unexciting 40 minutes wait to board the plane.
Ten hours is rather long for a flight, even a nonstop one to Paris. Still, it had some advantages. One was that it had many channels worth of movies and music. The other was that food is still served. After takeoff I alternated between movies and reading. I found "The Incredibles" surprisingly enjoyable, no doubt in part due to its silliness. I had low hopes for "The Princess Diaries 2" and they proved justified. The term "formulaic" kept coming to mind as I watched. "Taxi" was also not exciting. I did make my way through Arthur Koestler's classic, "Darkness at Noon." It was the first piece of real literature I'd read since freshman year and I appreciated it immensely.
Landing in Paris at 10:30AM local time, I spent the requisite amount of time searching for luggage at the baggage claim. All black bags tend to look alike. I was greeted by my uncle who lives in Paris right outside customs. Rather than going directly to his place, we zig-zagged through most of Paris's more famous sections and I received a lightning tour of the city I'll be living in for 10 weeks.
At his house, we had lunch, and I met the exchange student
from Berkeley that my uncle is hosting. Turns out one of the
girls in Stanford's Paris program this quarter is from the
same high school! Petit monde. There was a musical celebration of
the Persian New Year nearby, so we visited that in the evening.
The music was traditional, but performed for a very excited (and
Iranian) audience, most of whom my uncle knew personally. I also
met a second cousin for the first time there. I have relatives I
didn't even know existed.
The audience was so enthusiastic that after the second encore we returned home. We had a quick dinner, and I collapsed, 32 hours after I'd first gotten up the day before.
March 29 Had a series of peculiar dreams that merged uneasily with reality as I was woken up at half past 7. Twenty minutes later and I was on my way with my uncle to Paris's Gare de Lyon where the TGV (high-speed train) departs for Geneva. Unfortunately, I'd remembered my ticket, but forgotten my seat reservation. Miraculously, we were able to purchase another one, in time for me to get on the 8:40AM train. This I did.
The problem with the TGV is that it is too quiet. Not only is the soundproofing excellent, but the car I was in was virtually devoid of conversation or other noises. Consequently, it was almost impossible to discover how fast we were going, and equally difficult to remain alert and awake. After leaving Paris, we passed through many kilometers of green countryside, full of open fields, and very occasional roads and villages. Somewhere along the route I fell asleep briefly, and by the time I reconnected with reality we were in a collection of low, but steep, mountains.
There was only a single stop, and that barely 20 minutes before our arrival in Geneva. After a couple minutes in the station at Bellgarde, we continued, only to stop again this time in Geneva. While there is no doubt a border between France and Switzerland, I certainly was unaware of crossing it. Leaving the Geneva train station there was a brief reminder as I had to go through passport control. Immediately on the other side was my uncle from Geneva, much to my astonishment, as I had not yet talked with him. Fortunately it seems my uncle in Paris had called him before my arrival.
We took the bus to his apartment, a pleasant 6th floor one with a balcony that surveyed the street. Then came a delicious lunch. On account of my attempt to speak only French, conversation was slow, but not nonexistent. Lunch was followed by a walk through the old city into the downtown. We dropped by a couple of places, and generally managed to pass by most of the more notable buildings. When we returned shortly before dinnertime, I was sufficiently tired to be sleepy again.
The last major task of the day consisted of connecting with a series of folk. First came my host family in Paris, then my relatives near Lucerne, and finally home. At any rate, I more or less managed to figure out how one dials phone numbers in Europe, which will no doubt prove useful in the future.
March 30 Woke up, on my own accord, at 7AM. Still not sure exactly how or why. Residual jetlag? Took a quick shower, and was served a good solid breakfast. It's amazing what a difference a cup of tea makes in one's outlook.
For the morning we went to a museum, the Museum of Art History. In it we found an admirable collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. The visit proved somewhat fatiguing though, for the museum tired my legs, and the French descriptions tired my head. We also took a look at an exhibit of Genevan painters, including Agasse, Saint Ours, and one other whose name now escapes me. Also featured was Ferdinand Hodler, who dabbled a bit in the weird, especially when it came to colors.
We had lunch in the cafeteria of the medical school nearby. Delis are apparently even more expensive in Switzerland than at Stanford. Enjoyed it nonetheless.
When we returned, it was to find the two daughters of my cousin (ages 2 and 4) having a grand time of it. This they proceeded to do for most of the afternoon, occupying it quite well. We all went on a walk to the park, which proved quite lengthy, on account of the playground, but this miraculously exhausted the young ones not at all. Now me on the other hand...
Dinner was complicated by the fact that it was nearly impossible to keep them away from the television, and their bedtime by the fact that "Sleeping Beauty" had not yet finished. At any event, by the time they'd gone to bed, I was ready to as well. I did manage to take a look at my photos from Yosemite, to discover them all either poorly focused, poorly exposed or both. I was irritated to say the least. A little experimentation showed that if the camera was set to ISO 200+ the noise level was unnacceptable. But if it was set lower, the images usually ended up blurry. Furthermore, the exposure was usually not even close to correct in "Aperature Priority" mode. Oddly enough, the only decent pictures I could get out of the camera in testing was in the "Automatic" mode. Well if that's what it takes (though I must say I've found Canon's G5 quite a disappointment on account of that)...
March 31 The two youngsters were up before I was. So we had a longish sort of breakfast (they were very absorbed with cartoons) eventually making our way out for walk to the park, just at the same time that it began to rain in earnest. Rain it did, but that didn't phase them, at least until we left the playground. I discovered that with an umbrella, I can take pictures even if it is raining. We visited a little coffee shop, where I watched an excellent display of sibling rivalry, centered on a shared cup of hot chocolate, and once the rain stopped made our way back to the house.
After a lunch interrupted also by cartoons, my uncle and I went for a visit to Tevel House, a restored 17th century residence that became a museum of life in Geneva in the 19th and 20th century. One exhibit contained black and white photographs of various important events. These included elections, festivals and parades dating back over 100 years. It was at some level amazing how little life had changed. We also received some flavor of how daily life in an upper-class 19th century house was. We saw all sorts of curious artifacts, plus a large number of scale maps of the city.
When we returned, it was to take the youngsters home. First, however, we went to their preschool, where the swings and other devices received a good bit of use. We returned later in the evening, partly by bus and partly by foot, leaving tired feet, and well-exercised limbs for the day. For the evening I made a valiant effort to finish the introduction of Orientalism, failed, and tried to bring this journal back up to date. The results should speak pretty much for themselves.