Friday, July 23, 2010

A Mediterranean "tour de feu"

After finally arriving in Venice on June 13 and welcoming the arrival of Ben Lichtner (the Brown intern from Santa Fe I mentioned in a recent post), Nick and I quickly departed again for a whirlwind (working) journey around the Mare Nostrum.
But first we spent some time with the nonni (Wilma and Cino), the zii (Barbara and Alberto) and the cuginetti (Barnaba and Samuele), met some friends and business associates, moved into our semi-habitable house and enjoyed some homemade nonna meals.
It was a brief but welcomed respite before Nick and I embarked on another epic coast-to-coast voyage, this time from the Western coast of the Mediterranean (Barcelona) to the Eastern one (Istanbul), and across the Aegean from Kos (Greece) to Athens (after navigating our way through Santorini and Ios).  Barcelona was wonderful, as was Istanbul, in different ways.  Nick and I were in Barcelona alone, then were joined by Laura Sabbadin in Turkey with whom we drove through Thrace and the Aegean coast of Anatolia down to Bodrum (ancient Halicarnassus, an ok place, hence yellow on map), hitting Troy (disappointing: red on map), Pergamon (good: green) and Ephesus (very good).  We were all positively impressed by the hospitality of Turkish people. Nice!
Ben Lichtner caught up with us in Kos (not so good = yellow) and tracked back with us all the way to Athens (disappointing/red), by way of Santorini (good) and Ios (even better).  The markers with a black dot on the map signify overnight stopovers. We had fun adjusting to each culture, language and food, at times feeling like real tourists (i.e. slightly overcharged for inferior food or taken advantage of by suspicious taxi drivers), but generally adapting to the local mores with unexpected ease.  The trip had three work-related stops, each of which will be the subject of future posts .
  1. In Barcelona, I finally met Prof. David Comas of the Unitat de Biologia Evolutiva of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra whose research group has analyzed the 166 DNA samples of Venetians we collected in 2008 and 2009 for the Genographic project.  We discussed a joint research project.
  2. In Istanbul, we met Jeremy Chapman, a recent WPI graduate and friend of Kyle's, a turcophile who has been living in Constantinople for a while and will be helping us organize future DNA collections in the Trebizond area of northern Turkey -- formerly known as Paphlagonia -- where the Veneti (or enetoi) are supposed to be coming from, according to authoritative, albeit not-necessarily-reliable, sources such as Homer, Titus Livius and Strabo.
  3. In Kos, Greece, Ben and I were the last (dulcis in fundo or cherry-on-the-cake) presentation at the second annual WIT conference on the Modelling, Monitoring and Management of Forest Fires. The sandtable demo that Ben put together on the fly (after learning that Steve couldn't make the trip) awed and inspired the audience several of whom may follow-up with Simtable.
Since our flight back to Venice left from Athens, we were forced to visit the disappointing capital of Greece, whose only redeeming qualities, besides the Acropolis and the Archelogical Museum, is the absolute must-see of any Athenian tourist: the changing of the guards (every half hour or so) in front of the Greek υπουργείο of ανόητος  περιπάτους, which probably inspired the eponymous Monty Python's skit (or viceversa)...

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