Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Weekend in Paris

What would a year in Europe be without a weekend in Paris?  We had a wonderful extended May-day weekend of museums, masterpiece hunting, towers, monuments, food, and a visit with co-sabbaticaller Daniel Press and his family.  

The Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Pompidou, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Montparnasse Tower at night, Mass in Notre Dame, Montmartre, Sacré-Coeur, Champs-Élysées, steak tartar (for Eli), baguettes and cheese, and so many kilometers of walking. 

A sample of impressions from d'Orsay

Louis Pasteur - ScienceTechEngArtMath

Traffic from Arc de Triomphe

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Lisbon Portugal

I have just had a great visit to the National Institute for Agrarian and Veterinary Research, in Oeiras, Portugal, just west of Lisbon.  This is the main national research center for agricultural and forestry research in Portugal, and forest pathologist Helena Bragança arranged for a meeting with a number of their researchers about their work on cork oak decline, pine-wilt nematode, Phytophthora ramorum, and other emergent diseases.  I also gave a seminar on phylogenetic ecology and plant diseases, and made some great possible links for future work.  A great group of scientists doing great applied ecology, especially of pathogens and pests.

In honor of all the work they are doing on cork oak pathogens and pests, I had to buy a styling cork hat.  Sometime you just have to be the tourist, but this is also a reminder of some interesting possible future collaborations. 

But I really couldn't wait to share a non-work highlight; my dinner tonight at  Restaurante O Churrasco. Yesterday, walking across the city in the afternoon, I saw handwritten signs in a couple restaurant windows that said temos lampreia.   So today I really needed to try lamprey - blood-sucking, suction-mouthed, primitive vertebrates (think, alien).  For dinner I went back to one of the restaurants, and asked for lampreia.  It was one of the best -- and most different kinds of seafood I've ever tasted.  But you have to get past what it is - a fish parasite, cooked in its own blood, with a bit of rice.  The waiter checked in repeatedly, not believing I would eat it, since, he claimed, 95% of Portuguese wouldn't eat it.  It is only available for a few months in the early part of the year. The meat is unlike anything I've tasted -- not like fish, not like seafood, but not really like shark, or snake, or frog, or anything else, really.  Flaky, rich flavor.  And the blood sauce, a wonderful, rich gravy.   Really special, not to be missed.  Definitely one to try the next time here, as well. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Cooking in Sevilla

Food is big in Sevilla -- they are rightfully proud of their amazing array of tapas, and the markets are replete with fresh veggies, fruits, seafood, and just about any part of a vertebrate you could want.  Of course, there are many things missing here from our usual diet; for instance it has so far been impossible to get good Mexican flavors, because all the spices here are different.  
Mushroom caps stuffed with garlic snails

But one of my personal goals during this stay, with an abundance of cool new foods, was to be as adventurous in cooking as I could be.  Sometimes this was trying to learn to make something that we tried in a tapas bar, but most often it was finding something in the market that I couldn't identify, asking what it was and what to do with it, and searching the internet for how to prepare it.  Not everything has been a success or to our liking the first time (or in the case of pigeon, even the second), but there are some wonderful new foods that I will sorely miss back in California.

A few new things I've learned to cook:
Birds:  Quail, pigeon, pheasant, partridge
Eggs: Quail eggs, both pickled and in little baked cups, tortilla española (con cebolla)
Seafood: Hueva de merluza (hake ovary), huevos de choco (cuttlefish eggs), calamares (squid), choco (cuttlefish), caracoles (snails), percebes (goose-necked barnacles), cañaillas (Bolinus brandaris, purple-dye murex), a variety of species of clams, mussels, and shrimps, and a variety of fresh fish (hake, tuna, swordfish, bacalao, lenguado, boquerones).
Plants and fungi: Tagarninas (Scolymus hispanicus common golden thistle), canónigos (Valerianella locusta, corn salad), borraja (Borago officinalis), gurumelos (Amanita ponderosa), gazpacho and salmorejo (cold soups), cured and spiced olives, crushed tomato and olive oil on bread for breakfast

Of all these, I think what I like the most are the huevos de choco.  Kind of like scallops. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Semana Santa in Sevilla

Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the defining cultural root of Sevilla.  Each day, from Palm Sunday through Easter, more than 60 cofradías or hermandades (brotherhoods) that support individual chapels or churches, parade their life-like statues of the Passion of Christ and the grieving Mary, carried on ornate wooden floats (pasos), from their home chapel, through the city, through the Cathedral (Catedral de Sevilla, with la Giralda) and back, a round trip that takes up to 12 hours.  About a million visitors come to Sevilla for Semana Santa.  Among residents, it seems to be a split between those who anchor their years around Semana Santa, and those who find it amazing ("oh, you definitely must see it") but who have reached their lifetime quota ("but we are going to the beach for the week to escape all the bulla").  Schools are out all week, everything (except restaurants) is closed Thursday and Friday, and the city is transformed.  We spent Sunday and Monday in Sevilla, then went to Portugal for Tuesday-Thursday, then returned to joined  in the Semana Santa activities again beginning Thursday night -- or Friday morning -- at 2:00 a.m.

A hermandad might have several thousand cofrades (members, both men and now women in most hermandades) who parade the statues.  First comes the Cruz de Guía (Guiding Cross) and the estandarte (insignia flag), then most of the cofrades dressed as nazarenos with tall pointed hoods (capirotes), walking two-by-two, often barefoot.  The capirote is reminiscent of, but of distinct origin from, KKK hats.  The colors differ among the hermandades.  The origin is more of a dunce cap, symbolizing humility of the cofrades.  In a hermandad with 2000 members, there might easily be more than a thousand nazarenos in this first group; they are subdivided further, each subgroup with its own standard.  The nazarenos are followed by acolytes (acólitos), boys wearing church vestments and carrying candles and crosses and ornate staffs and incense.

Then comes the banda de musica (marching band), playing slow, usually minor-key marches, often with impressive cornet descants.  The bands come in two types; a drum-and-bugle corps style band with an assortment of brass and percussion, or a marching wind orchestra that includes flutes, clarinets, saxophones, oboes, and bassoons, in addition to the brass and percussion.  These are highly professional bands, hired by the cofradías, not just a collection of people from the hermandad who play instruments.

Cristo leaving La Estrella on San Jacinto, Triana
Paso del Cristo La Estrella
The band precedes (sometimes follows) the first paso, which carries the Cristo, in a scene from the last days of his life.  Sometimes Christ is already on the cross, or is praying, or is carrying the cross accompanied by a Roman soldier.  The paso is gilded in gold.  It is carried from below by a hidden team of costaleros, brawny men who wear a special headdress and support the paso on their shoulders and heads.  The capatáz walks in front of the paso and gives orders, often with thumps of a cane, to the costaleros to raise, lower, or turn the paso.  The costaleros take turns frequently, since the pasos generally weigh more than a ton. 

Paso del Cristo de la Esperanza de Triana
Seeing these pasos as an outsider provokes a mix of feelings.  Many of the gessoed and polychromed wooden sculptures date back to the 16th and 17th centuries and are spectacular works of art.  The designs of the pasos are baroque without compare.  They are, if nothing, spectacular.  At the same time, the pasos are covered in gold (or silver, in the case of the pasos de María), that was pillaged from the Americas at the expense of so many indigenous people, then shipped straight to Sevilla, the "puerto y puerta de Indias"

María Santísima from La Estrella
Then then whole thing repeats:  more nazarenos, more acólitos, another banda, and then the paso de María Santísima.  The paso de María, with the Virgin in mourning with tears on her cheeks, is gilded in silver and with a canopy and mountains of candles.  And some more nazarenos

Crowd watching María de La Estrella en Plaza Altozano

Paso de María leaving the chapel La Estrella on San Jacinto in Triana
On most days the processions start in the afternoon, visit the Cathedral, and return home at 2 or 3 in the morning.   Thousands of people line the way, especially at key corners with good views as the costaleros turn the paso, and there are a number of areas along the main path near the cathedral where people from the right families can rent chairs with special views of the processions.  Everyone is dressed up, from kids to grandparents. The solemnity is very palpable. 

Crown at the Madrugá procession from La Esperanza
On the night of Holy Thursday - Good Friday, the timing of the processions changes to the Madrugá (from madrugada, dawn), starting at 2-3 a.m., and returning in the early afternoon.  We took an evening nap after returning from Portugal, and then got up to watch La Esperanza de Triana pass through the Plaza de Altozano (just around the corner from our house), from 2:15-4:00 a.m.  The crowd was at least as big as during the day, and the candles really made everything spectacular.  When the Christ passes, all was silent, and if any of the many thousands of onlookers spoke too loudly there was a collective "shush" that brought the whole crowd back to silence.  When María passed, however, there were calls-and-responses extolling the virtues of María and neighborhood "¡Viva María, Madre de Dios! ¡Viva Triana!"

We stood to watch next to the ruins of La Castilla de San Jorge, which was the seat of the Spanish Inquisition at the time most of the Semana Santa pageantry was developing. We saw them return the next afternoon from our balcony as they processed down Pagés del Corro. 
Paso del Cristo de La Esperanza de Triana

María de La Esperanza de Triana

View from our balcony of María de La Esperanza returning on Pagés del Corro after the Madrugá
The "performance" of Semana Santa is impressively well orchestrated, with a pre-printed guide that gives the time that each procession will be at each key intersection for the whole week, and a million people peacefully moving throughout the city, day and night, for a week.  But to call it a "performance" isn't quite right, because this is so much a part of the Sevilla culture.   I happen to be reading an historical novel by Francisco Robles called El Aguador de Sevilla, which is about the painter Diego Velázquez and the imaginario (sculptor) Juan Martínez Montañés, both from Sevilla.  Montañés and the teacher of Velázquez (Francisco Pacheco) made some of the Cristos and Marías that are on the pasos in the 17th century.  A character in the book, a cynical 21st century British art historian, watching one of the Semana Santa processions, confided to his friend "I am feeling something I have never experienced before, something that can only be when what happens is true, and not theater...".  And so it is in Sevilla.  I often saw people with tear-streaked faces as the Christ or María emerged from the chapel or passed by.  People on smartphones in the crowd were sending and receiving photos and commentary among family and friends who were at other, simultaneous processions, so that everyone could experience as much of Semana Santa as possible, and stay in close contact with loved ones. This is real, and has been real for almost 500 years; an experience shared deeply across generations. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

A few days in the Algarve, southern Portugal

We took a few days during Semana Santa to leave the round-the clock pageantry in Sevilla (more about that later!) to enjoy the plants, birds, sand, food, and swamp of Faro and the Ria Formosa Natural Park in the Algarve in southern Portugal. It was an easy 3-h bus ride straight from Sevilla to Faro, where there was great air b-n-b, the Animaris Ihla Deserta guided boat trip (with exceptionally good naturalist guide) out through the marasma (estuary wetland) to the Ilha Barreta (aka. Desert Island), with 10 km of amazing shell-covered beaches, spectacular vegetation, and birds everywhere.  It was a spectacular 3 days of being naturalists and sand sculptors and enjoying the famous southern Portugal food.

Stumbled into a great fado concert 

View of the rooftops of Faro from our flat.  Lots of pedestrian areas.
The "marasma" -  huge estuary - separates Faro from the ocean.

Ilha Barreta has 2km of boardwalk and 10 km of beach
Ammophila in its natural habitat!
A wonderful vacation for naturalists
The famed Barreta Sand Crocodile

Crucianella maritima
Linaria caesia

Goldfinches singing everywhere

Little egret and Spoonbill buddies.

Razorbill swimming along side our catamaran

White storks in the city and marasma

Sardinian warbler on perch...

... and just after taking off.  Wings closed!

Piles of salt at the salt pans
The birds of Faro, Ilha Barreta, and the salt flats of Ria Formosa we ran into are:
House Martin, Feral pigeon, Yellow legged gull, Goldfinch, Barn swallow , Swift, White stork, House sparrow, Lesser black backed gull, Little egret, Razorbill, Crested lark, Great cormorant, Grey heron, Dunlin, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Bar-tailed godwit, Ruddy turnstone, Sandwich tern, Common redshank, Yellow wagtail, Sardinian warbler, Gannet, Common shelduck, Spoonbill, Flamingo, Collared dove, Kentish plover, Ringed plover, Wheatear, Grey plover, Greenshanks 
Our plant list (with a bunch of endemics and a number that are invasive in California) are: Spartina maritima, Salicornia ramosissima, Sarcocornia fruticosa, Sarcocornia perennis, Limoniastrum monopetalum, Cistanche phelypaea, Salsola vermiculata, Artemisia campestris, Helichrysum italicum, Otanthus maritimus, Malcolmia littorea, Calystegia soldanella, Paronychia argentea, Crucianella maritima, Silene nicaeensis, Anthemis maritima, Ammophila arenaria, Medicago marina, Lotus creticus, Corynephorus canescens, Cutandia maritima, Cyperus capitatus, Eryngium maritimum, Elymus farctus atlanticus, Plantago coronopus, Erodium cicutarium, Cakile maritima, Hypecoum procumbens, Leontodon taraxacoides, Linaria caesia, Linaria pedunculata, Linaria spartea, Ononis variegata, Pinus pinaster, Crithmum maritimum, Cladium mariscus, Genista hirsuta, Solanum nigrum, Genista triacanthos, Stauracanthus boivinii, Polycarpon tetraphyllum, Cistus libanotis, Arctotheca calendula, Oxalis pes-caprae, Pelargonium hortorum, Acacia longifolia, Agave americana, Carpobrotus edulis, Nerium oleander, Austrocylindropuntia subulata, Yucca aloifolia.  

Friday, January 29, 2016

Getting some work done

Been hard at work here, with some accomplishments to show for it.  Ingrid and I wrote and submitted a new pre-proposal for an NSF grant "Phylogenetic ecology of plant disease" that builds on work that we published in the Nature paper last year.  We are really excited about how those ideas developed, and the potential for that work, if it is funded.  It was great working together so intensely on developing the new ideas.  It was a ton of intense work over the last month - and then a server glitch made us start the long submission process over from scratch just a few hours before deadline.  But we made it, and I made brownies to celebrate the submission!  Now just need to forget it for a few months until it is reviewed. 

We each were also part of developing and submitting two other separate NSF pre-proposals, where we are senior personnel.  Fortunately our collaborators had the lead on those proposals, so that wasn't quite as much heavy lifting.

We heard that our Annual Review of Phytopathology chapter was accepted (although we still have some work on revising that), and now we are on to an article on invasions and disease for TREE with a couple new collaborators.    I've also be going back and forth over two articles with collaborators from China -- one submitted today, and another should be done in another round or two of revisions.   And I managed to submit the 120-page final report on my collaborative work with USDA APHIS. 

Right after we got back from Morocco I took the AVE to Barcelona to be part of a Doctoral Defense.  Quite a different process from what I'm used to.  The three of us on the Tribunal were not involved in his dissertation work except reading the final product.  He gave a 45 talk summarizing his work, with a public audience (including his family) while the Tribunal sat on a small elevated stage to the side.  After the talk, we each took about 30 min to grill him with questions about his dissertation (again, with mom, the aunts, and other family groupies listening in), then retreated to a separate room to discuss and write three separate reports while he waited.  Then back to the main room, read out the results, then head to a different place for a huge spread of food, cider, beer, and wine.  So glad he had done a really great job on the dissertation and the talk -- seems like a lot of potential for an uncomfortable situation.

After the exam I headed to Zaragoza to the Institute of Pyrenees Ecology, where Begoña García (the professor of the doctoral student) and her lab are doing great work in montane plant ecology and citizen science.  I gave a seminar there -- this time in Spanish -- about a combination of my work with Ingrid and the work in Panama.  Had a great time there and have continued conversations about potential collaborations.

Then the week after returning I gave a similar departmental seminar in Sevilla at the EBD, but this time in English because a number of visitors to the Estacíon don't speak Spanish.  It was fun giving the same talk in the two languages just a week apart.

Once we finish the TREE manuscript, due in a couple weeks, we'll be free of big deadlines and can get back to the data papers we really want to write! 

We've had some good personal things too.   The Danes came to visit -- for less than 24 h -- and we did some touristing and eating with them, including going back to the Flamenco Museum for another spectacular show.

We continue to explore new places to tapear;  Eli really loved his first frog legs at the Sol y Sombra!

We've made a few fun new foods at home, including the spiny predatory marine snails called cañaillas (Bolinus brandaris) (ok, but not as good as other mollusks) and roast partridges (definitely will do that again).  Eli and Ingrid also had venison patties (=bambi burgers).

For those following the Bartonella saga, I've reached a great milestone.  Thursday was my last day of mycobutin, and I'll be winding down the other antibiotic, enzymes, supplements, and meds over the coming 6 weeks -- and should be completely done with treatments then!  Long haul since first symptoms from the infection in April 2014...