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Day 8: Leaving on a Jet Plane. Or Are We? October 29, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in Extreme Farewell Tour, Uncategorized.
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Saturday, October 28, 2006
Somewhere over the Great Plains on American Airlines
7 PM

The way I know it’s time to go home from a long trip is when I hit the last pair of clean underwear, and that happened this morning. Fun as this has been, it will be great to get home to see what it looks like. Mary will probably have remodeled the house in the years I’ve been gone.

Judith picked the hotel for us for South Bend, and I’m sure she knew that the Hampton Inn was next door to…what, class? Did everybody get McDonalds?

Despite what I said about her all-natural compost bars yesterday, Marisa has really gotten into the spirit of the XFT and took one for the team this morning, eating parts of an Egg McMuffin with no cheese. Unfortunately at breakfast this morning we were shut out again. I’m trying to maintain faith. Hang in, Bill! Refuse to lose! Yeah, I know. Sounds a bit hollow to me too.

Today’s schedule has been a challenge from the very beginning. Originally, we were leaving from South Bend to Minneapolis-St.Paul, but we decided to add a stop at the Chicago Section’s event on Saturday morning, then fly out from O’Hare instead. Great plan…until a huge fire in downtown Chicago closed off the entire area where the event was to be held for four days. It was too late to move it, and nothing could be done, so it was cancelled earlier this week. I’m really sorry we missed it.

Ford ExplorerInstead, we decided to make a stop at the Science Spooktacular in Elkhart, which is about 15 miles further away from Chicago than South Bend. This put us under time pressure with a 12 noon flight. We were there right at 9, did a fly-by and hit the road. It was windy today, and piloting the Explorer was like driving a billboard. It fought me the whole way.

We drove safely, but there was no grass growing under the Queen Mary. Along the way, I saw a makeshift sign in a corn field: “Leprechaun Hunt, October 6.” It made me wonder: if you actually shot one, could you eat it? And if so, are they tough to clean? I thought it odd to be having a Leprechaun Hunt that close to Notre Dame. Probably a USC alum. And if I happened to be the Notre Dame mascot, I might make myself scarce that night.

What’s in the player: We changed the rules this morning and sampled three or four cuts of various things. The Best of Strawberry Alarm Clock, psychedelic music of 1967 and 1968; Love Riot’s “Killing Time;” “Birthday,” by the Association—once again from 1967—containing a couple of hits and a few really interesting songs and harmonies; some new songs from Jenny Bruce; the Carole King “Living Room Tour”, an acoustic retrospective recorded last year and “The Who Sell Out” a strange 1967 album—is there a theme here?—that contains “I Can See for Miles” and some licks that would eventually reappear on “Tommy” which was recorded the next year.

Trash in the TrunkWe had just barely managed to fill the Explorer’s back seat with trash as we pulled into O’Hare…only to discover that United had cancelled our flight, and they had rescheduled us on one that would have had us missing the event in St. Paul. We negotiated our way onto an American flight just an hour later, and went to security.

Remember the dreaded SSSSS on an airline ticket we discussed last Sunday? Marisa caught one of those in Chicago and got full scrutiny. Tear apart the luggage, x-rays, wands, ion mobility spectroscopy on a computer wipe sample, pat down…they didn’t bring out the dogs for a full sniff search, but that’s only because the dogs were on break having a smoke. At about this point I’m remembering that she told me on Friday that she’d been having bad travel luck lately, and with the number of events and flights cancelled the last two days, I’m starting to believe her.

Marisa at Chili’sNow it was lunch time, and while there is a McDonalds in Terminal 3, I saw the look on Marisa’s face and gave her a break. We both enjoyed the salad at Chili’s as a refreshing change. If the $5 Million is won at O’Hare, I’ll just have to shoot myself.

The only problem was: this later flight in ate up our time in MSP and put us right up against her outbound flight—we would have about 15 minutes at the event, then back to the airport. When we landed, we were prepared to run, but checked the departure board. Marisa’s flight out was delayed and we would thus have some time at the event at Concordia University.  Finally a glitch that worked our way.

And what an event it was. Ten universities developed ten displays summarizing chemistry in the ten decades of the Minnesota section. They dressed in period costumes and were quite versed on the science. There were about ten companies exhibiting, and lots of hands on activities for kids. Marilyn Duerst, who was the general chair, did a great job.

Concordia is an interesting place. While it has 1000 traditional students, it currently has only a chemistry minor, one chemistry professor—Dave Blackburn–and only one person majoring in chemistry. Nathan Burrows is a senior who augmented his Concordia coursework with transfer credits. He has been President, heart and soul of the Science Club, and will go to grad school next year.

Minnesota Local SectionNathan introduced me and I presented a Salutes to Excellence plaque to Section Chair Joanne Pfieffer of Century College in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Section.

By that time, we needed to move on and Dave whisked us back to the airport. I said goodbye to Dave and Marisa (who was going to a different terminal).  Just like that, the Extreme Farewell Tour was over.  Sitting on the airplane now, I can exhale and reflect.

Looking out the plane windowSome closing remarks are yet to come.

St. Petersburg: The Great One’s Window on Europe October 20, 2006

Posted by Bill Carroll in Russia, Uncategorized.
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Saturday, October 14, 2006
Grand Hotel Europe 11 PM

Today was kind of a deadhead day between meetings so the five of us toured St. Petersburg.  After saying good-bye to Aleksei, we started the city tour while it was still dark.  Couldn’t see much, but the traffic wasn’t bad.

stnicholas.jpgTwo cities could not be more different.  Moscow seems gray and dominated by high-rise 1950s architecture that is at best, antiseptic and at worst, threatening.  St. Petersburg is all low-rise, classic architecture, dominated by near-pastel yellow-orange, green and blue.  St. Petersburg looks like Venice or Amsterdam, cities that inspired its design.  Moscow is nearhermitage.jpgMetropolis.

Or maybe Beijing–the capital, more politically idealistic and uptight.  St. Petersburg is more like Shanghai; further away, more relaxed.  In St. Petersburg as in China, much of the beautiful art and artisan work done in the pre-Communist period in the name of royalty or religion was neglected or destroyed in the early and mid-part of the last century; it has since been restored and is incredible.

Anna, our tour guide made sure we bought souvenirs at a reputable place.  This is not trivial.  Russia seems to be one big negotiation.  You can stand on the street and flag any car as if it were a taxi and negotiate a price for a ride.  The taxis aren’t much different.  In this system, buying stuff on the street seems like guaranteed disaster.

band.jpgWe had lunch, at a very nice restaurant that tested my still touchy digestive system, but came complete with entertainment.  A band showed up and played a Russian song—Moscow Nights.  I recognized it because it had been remade by Kenny Ball as Dixieland jazz in 1962 and renamed “Midnight in Moscow“. I bought that single when I was in fourth grade.bird.jpg

I was sort of hoping they’d play the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR,” which might have been tasty with the accordion.  Instead to our surprise, they put down the instruments and took up the group’s “Yesterday” on ocarinas.

The ocarinas are designed so you blow air in a bird’s tail and music comes out.  I’ll pause here for you to insert your own metaphor.fivetourists.jpg

I was utterly not surprised when we were offered the “opportunity” to buy their cd’s and the ocarinas.  Yes, the theme from Dr. Zhivago is on there.  What, no 2006 World Tour t-shirts?

More sightseeing.  At the Fortress of St. Peter and Paul, we saw the tombs of all the Romanovs, and this interesting bronze statue of Peter the Great, advertised as being to scale.  Peter was over 2 meters tall, but had small feet, and apparently a very small head.  The head for this statue was taken from his death mask.  The real thing, by the way, is in the Hermitage, and a facial replica is also there, fitted with his actual hair.  His mustache as recreated in the replica looks a little cheesy though.  Presumably, it was not his original mustache.

peter.jpgYou’ll notice that his right forefinger is pretty shiny and rubbed smooth.  Local legend has it that if you rub his finger, your wish will come true.  I said, rub his finger, not pull it.  Be careful what you wish for.

Eventually I wound up at the Grand Hotel Europe, site of my next meeting.  It’s nice.  Most importantly, it has a fully functioning, understandable bathroom.  I cracked off the clothes I wore all day and all night and took what seemed like my first shower of the year.  Just to show St. Petersburg my technical savvy, however, I missed that the sleeping room curtains were on a rod with a drawstring and managed to pull them down instead of pulling them closed.  Sigh.

The five of us eventually regrouped for dinner at a restaurant called Demidov.  The concierge at the hotel said, “Oh. You mean the one with the Gypsy show.”  Note to self: One ocarina per trip is enough.

The specialty of the Demidov is bear filet.  I thought I misheard the waitress and asked if it was difficult to filet a pear.  No, she said, not Pear as in Bosc, Bear as in Yogi.  The filet was tempting, but at $90, a little pricey, so I went for second best–what amounted to bear sausage with fruit sauce.

Having bear for dinner is another pretty good metaphor opportunity so go ahead and take your best, ahem, shot.  My Cold War self thought, “Eating the Russian Bear…priceless.”  One grad school friend used to say, “Some days you eat the bear, and some days the bear eats you.”  Tonight we evened the score a little.

The standard culinary wisdom might be that everything tastes more or less like chicken; to my palate, everything wilder than, say, chicken, tastes pretty much like liver.  Don’t look for a McBear anytime soon.

I’ve been here three days and I’m still sleeping at odd times.  The good news is, at 4 in the morning I’m really productive.  The bad news is, 2 PM comes awfully early.

Welcome to the NCW Blog October 6, 2006

Posted by Dennis in Uncategorized.
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Welcome to the National Chemistry Week blog!  Once again, Bill Carroll will be criss-crossing the nation (at least the Midwest) and promoting the wonders of chemistry to America’s youth and prosletyzing to adults how they can help shape the future of the central science.

Bill, along with his trusty companions, will be posting their adventures on this blog as well as airing podcasts. Their journey begins in St. Louis on October 21 and ends in River Falls, Wisconsin, on October 28.