Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Monday, December 01, 2003

Things we said today

This morning we were expecting a Twin Otter to arrive and whisk us off to Terra Nova Bay; this, however, did not happen. It appears that the storm that is creating the overcast and windy weather here has shut down both McMurdo and Terra Nova Bay, so we're stuck here for the foreseeable future.

This was a bit of an anticlimax, as we're all packed up ready to go. We therefore spent most of the morning writing up notes for the next AASTINO team, and burning CDs of our photos to share with people around the Station. There's still some useful things that we could be doing out at the AASTINO, and I promised myself I'd give it a quick run-over with the vacuum cleaner so it would be spick and span for the next team, but it's hard to work up the energy. The weather here is also not conducive to outside work - still miserably windy (though not particularly cold, being around -32 C).

Taking advantage of our extended stay, the Station Leader, Luigi, asked if we could give an evening talk about astronomy in Antarctica. This was a perfectly reasonable suggestion to which I readily agreed, having 100 Megabytes or so of PowerPoint presentations and slides already spinning merrily around on Ding-dong's hard disk. Even Luigi's idea that, if I gave him some of the slide titles in advance, he would have then translated into Italian, sounded eminently sensible.

Things then took a radical turn from the straight and narrow when I decided to give half the talk in French, and suggested to Anna, who is trying to learn Italian, that perhaps she could read the Italian notes at appropriate intervals. What followed was an afternoon of major hilarity, with Chiara preparing notes for Anna, and me attempting to retrieve my school-boy French from the catacombs of my mind. We received enthusiastic and willing advice from passing Francophones and Italian speakers, all of it well meaning but, I suspect, not all of it entirely accurate.

As the appointed time drew near I found myself surprisingly nervous. Typically I give a dozen or more public lectures a year, so I'm usually perfectly relaxed about it, but this one had me almost as stressed out as when I gave a talk a few years back to the Astronomical Society of Australia scientific meeting...in verse.

After dinner, Anna and I were so engaged in rehearsing our performance that we failed to notice the time, and arrived in the Free Time Tent to find most of the Station already gathered in eager anticipation. Unfortunately the computer projector decided, perhaps wisely, to dissociate itself from the proceedings and failed to switch on. There was a delay while a 17-inch monitor was borrowed from someone's computer and placed on a chair on a table, and we got underway with the audience tightly clustered around the display.

It all went reasonably well, in that not a single beer can was thrown and the French reacted very calmly to what was possibly the worst massacring of their language since Bill Wyman sang "Je suis un rock star". Anna received many compliments on her Italian accent, and I was pleased to be able to join in some discussions after the talk in French.

To be fair, speaking on a scientific topic in French is easier than it might be, as so many of the words are the same as or very similar to their English counterparts. "Instrument", "precipitation", "astronomie" sound like perfect French if you just say them in a funny voice. The hardest challenge are words like "construirer" (to construct) which, for anyone unable to pronounce the European "r", are a complete nightmare. Jean Louis sat in the front row and prompted me on words I got stuck on, which was very kind of him.

Emerging from the tent after the talk at around 10:30 pm (it was broad daylight of course; the sun does not set here at this time of year) it was a joy to see blue sky and bright sunshine. The weather now is perfectly OK for the Twin Otters to land and take off - the only question is when the storm on the coast will ease enough to allow us to land at McMurdo or Terra Nova Bay. It appears we may be here for some time.

John

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