I just came back from a week on the Italian island of Ventotene, where I participated in a very nice conference on “Manifolds and groups”. This is of course not my usual topic, and besides giving a minicourse on expanders and coverings (with a focus on geometric applications of expanders having to do with coverings…), I learnt a lot of interesting things. I particularly enjoyed the other two minicourses, by T. Gelander on invariant random subgroups and by R. Sauer on Lücks’s Approximation Theorem. (For both of these, as well as for a number of other talks, the slides are available on the conference web page; my own — handwritten — notes on my course should appear there soon, after I scan them).
Being an island, Ventotene is reached by boat. One of the interesting things about the trip to Ventotene was to observe how birds
would follow us until a very definite point, and then suddenly disappear.
Also, the instructions to launch a lifeboat are rather daunting…
The organizers had scheduled a lot of free time during the conference besides the scientific programme. I was therefore able to take a few pictures, such as some of the local lizards,
and some of the wonderful local cats.
The end of the week also coincided with the beginning of the ten-day long celebration of the island’s patron saint, Santa Candida. Among the festivities were the evening launches
(over a week) of huge hot-air balloons (“Mongolfieri”), with some fireworks
I only had time to participate in one of the excursions, to the Forbidden City,
were I took many pictures of Chinese Dragons…
That same evening, with F. Rodriguez Villegas and C. Hall, I explored a small part of the Beijing subway,
trying to interpret and recognize various Chinese characters, before spending a fair amount of time in a huge bookstore
(where I got some comic books in Chinese for fun).
Upon coming back on Thursday, I first found in my office the two volumes of the letters between Serre and Tate that the SMF has just published, and which I had ordered a few days before taking the plane. Reading the beginning of the first volume was very enjoyable in the train on Friday morning from Zürich to Lausanne, where the traditional Number Theory Days were organized this year. All talks were excellent again — we’re now looking forward to next year’s edition, which will be back in Zürich! And I’ll write later some more comments about the Serre-Tate letters…
And then, from last Monday to Friday, we had in Zürich the conference “Analytic Aspects of Number Theory”, organized by H. Iwaniec, Ph. Michel and myself with the help of FIM. It was great fun, and there were really superb and impressive talks. One interesting experience was the talk by J. Bellaïche : for health reasons, he couldn’t travel to Zürich, but we organized his talk by video (using a software called Scopia), watching it from a teleconference room at ETH. This went rather well.
When I was reading Proust, I noted with some amusement the character named simply “Ski” in the first volume of his appearance, a sculptor and amateur musician who is later revealed to be properly called “Viradobetski”, an actual name which was too complicated for the dear Madame Verdurin to try to remember. I just learnt from my better educated brother that
Proust s’est inspiré d’Henri Kowalski né en 1841, fils d’un officier polonais émigré en Bretagne. Il était à la fois compositeur de musique et concertiste.
Proust used as model Henri Kowalski, born in 1841, son of a Polish officer who emigrated to Brittany. He was a composer as well as a concert player.
That Henri Kowalski is, it turns out, the son of Nepomus Adam Louis Kowalski, whose brother was Joachim Gabriel Kowalski, one of whose sons was Eugène Joseph Ange Kowalski, one of whose sons was Louis André Marie Joseph Kowalski, the fourth son of whom was my father. This puts me at genealogical distance (at most) six to a character from Proust. (Of course, rumors that Viradobetski was inspired by someone else can be safely discarded).
Wikipedia has a small page on Henri Kowalski, who was quite active and successful as a musician, and a rather impressive traveller. He spent thirteen years in Australia, leaving enough traces to be the subject of public lectures at the university of Melbourne. There are a few of his pieces on Youtube, for instance here. He also wrote a travel book which I now intend to read…