Antarctic Astronomy Diaries 2003/04

   

   
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Wednesday, December 24, 2003

This is my first Christmas at Dome C. I didn't know what to expect. A couple of days earlier a ply-wood tree was set outside, between the "free time" tent and the main building. They wrapped the tree with plastic bands (the type the police uses to limit access to a crime scene) and let a hose slowly sprinkle hot water over the tree. After 24 hours, enough water had condensed to form stalactites all over the tree, making it look like a proper pine tree covered with snow. A person even had a pair of boots below its branches. I don't know what's the point of doing that. Everybody knows Santa lives in the North Pole.

Most of the day behaved as usual. Eric and I tried that idea of attaching a weather sonde at the end of a pulley and dragged it to the top of the tower. It worked like a beauty. It is a bit hard on the heart to pull it back though since the pulley has a lot of friction. If I do this everyday, I should be able to run a marathon when I get back to Sydney. At seven, we went back to the free-time tent where a buffet of toast, mini-quiches and other appetizers was waiting for us. There was enough to feed 100 persons. Five tables were aligned for the occasion and no one was late to celebrate Christmas Eve. The 40 litres of punch didn't last an hour but we all went easy on the food anticipating for the dinner that was to come. At 8:30, Jean-Louis clapped his hand and invited us across the street for the meal. We obeyed instantly, continuing our conversations on our way to the dinner table. We found the mess filled with candles and sparkling decorations and all the tables left on the camp were assembled together forming an "E" big enough to fit everyone in the same room. The menu was displayed in front of each plate and I couldn't help noticing the dropping jaws of our American colleagues when they realized they had to sit here for the length of the nine course meal. It would take too long to enumerate every dish we bravely conquered but I can tell you that the Italian population of Dome C didn't wait for the second dish before starting singing and toasting. Louder than anyone was "Fantomas". Let me say a few words about this Character:

It took about five days for me to learn his real name, Aldo. Fantomas is a nickname he borrowed from an old French-Italian movie (a classic) where the lead character, Fantomas, is a high-tech thief who wears an emotionless latex mask and spends 90% of the movie escaping the police usingtransformable cars and fancy toys after stealing some unique jewelry or a large amount of cash (there has been several sequels). As any other gentleman thief, Fantomas never gets caught and the credits start rolling over to the tune of his satanic laugh. So why did he pick that name? Because Aldo is also a thief. He collects the stickers you can sometime find on fruits and vegetables. So to save himself the cost of a whole bag of oranges (which according to this logic must cost a fortune), he simply steals the sticker (that must take a very well organized plan.). He is officially ranked number 7 in the world for this type of collection with over 7,000 stickers and he will remind it to you if you dare bring up the topic. This peculiar habit and the fact that he's always loud and full of energy made him the perfect pick to be the mascot of Dome C. He's very friendly and you can't help smile when he enters the room.

So right at the beginning of the dinner, Fantomas started bursting into songs and other loud discussions in Italian that I didn't understand. After the second dish the Italian side already had downed a fair amount of bottles of white wine. The French side, nowhere near as loud and keen to see the remaining bottles last until the end of the meal decided that to calm this horde of Romans; they had to strike at the head. Two of them sneaked behind Fantomas, grabbed him and started kissing him on the lips. This was a horrible spectacle for all of us but especially for the Italians who quieted down for at least two and a half minutes. Fantomas was never quite the same after this.

By the time we reached dessert, a 3m long Christmas log, the French side which had better managed the length of the meal started their own songs and offering Cognac to the reluctant Italians who started to fall asleep on thetables. By 1 am, the brave Gallic village that had stood alone against the armies of Caesar made its way toward the free-time tent (with the three surviving Roman soldiers) to continue the celebration with some dancing. French Rock'n Roll not being my type of music, I was one of the first people to call it a day and made my way to bed at around 3am. It felt funny to walk outside to be blinded by the sun at this time of the night (I mean day.). That was a very entertaining Christmas and I am not about to forget this very special occasion.

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