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On diplomats

Quizz: who wrote

Il a publié il y a deux ans (…) un ouvrage relatif au sentiment de l’Infini sur la rive occidentale du lac Victoria-Nyanza et cette année un opuscule moins important, mais conduit d’une plume alerte, parfois même acérée, sur le fusil à répétition dans l’armée bulgare, qui l’ont mis tout à fait hors de pair.

or, in translation:

He has published two years ago (…) a book concerning the feeling of Infinity on the occidental shore of the Victoria-Nyanza lake, and this year another booklet, less important but written with a lively, and even piercing, pen, on the repeating rifle in the bulgarian army, which have made him rather peerless.

This reminds of the curiously little-known hilarious “Antrobus stories” of diplomatic mishaps:

It was during one of those long unaccountable huffs between ourselves and the Italians. You know the obscure vendettas which break out between Missions? Often they linger on long after the people who threw the first knife have been posted away. I have no idea how this huff arose. I simply inherited it from bygone dips whose bones were now dust. It was in full swing when I arrived — everyone applying freezing-mixture to the Italians and getting the Retort Direct in exchange. (…) So while bows were still exchanged for protocol reasons they were only, so to speak, from above the waist. A mere contortion of the dickey, if you take me, as a tribute to manners. A slight Inclination, accompanied by a moue. Savage work, old lad, savage work!

(from “The game’s the thing”, where a soccer game between the English and Italian embassies rather degenerates.)

More things of the day(s)

(1) Today’s Word of The Day in the OED: afanc, which we learn is

In Welsh mythology: an aquatic monster. Also: an otter or beaver identified as such a monster.

Maybe the Welsh otters, like their rugbymen, are particularly fierce?

(2) Yesterday’s Google doodle, in Switzerland at least, celebrated the 57th birthday of Gaston Lagaffe

Gaston

I’ve heard that Gaston

Billard

Billard

is mostly unknown to the US or English, leaving many people with no reaction to the mention of the contrats de Mesmaeker

Contrats

Contrats

or to the interjection Rogntudju!.

Rogntudju

This lack of enlightenment is a clear illustration of the superiority of the continental mind.

The many ways of affineness

Last Saturday, the OED Word of the Day was affineur. Now, I know very well what an affineur is (my favorite is Jean d’Alos, and I especially like his renowned Tome de Bordeaux, the excellence of which can probably be confirmed by Mr. Quomodocumque), but for a few seconds I had in mind the picture of a fearsome algebraic geometer busily transforming all projective varieties into affine ones.

I looked at the adjacent words in the OED; there is quite a list of them involving affine-ness in some way (listed here with dates of first use, as recorded in the OED); actually, affineness is not in the list:

  • affinage 1656
  • affinal 1609
  • affine 1509
  • affine v 1473
  • affined 1586, 1907
  • affineur 1976
  • affining 1606
  • affinitative 1855
  • affinitatively 1825
  • affinition 1824
  • affinitive 1579
  • affinity 1325

It is interesting to think of an algebraico-geometric meaning for each of them (especially the tongue twister affinitatively, and affinition)…

Conferences

Here are two forthcoming conferences that I am co-organizing with Philippe Michel this year:

(1) Quite soon, the traditional Number Theory Days (the eleventh edition of this yearly two-day meeting that alternates between EPF Zürich and ETH Lausanne), will be held in Zürich on March 7 and 8; the web page is available, with the schedule and the titles of the talks; the speakers this year are Raf Cluckers (who is also giving a Nachdiplomvorlesung at FIM on the topic of motivic integration and applications), Lillian Pierce, Trevor Wooley, Tamar Ziegler and (Tamar is probably happily surprised not to come last in alphabetical order!) David Zywina.
Anyone interested in participating should send an email to Mrs Waldburger as soon as possible (see the web page for the address).

(2) In July, intersecting neatly the last stages of the soccer world cup, and beginning in the middle of a week to avoid (thanks to some fancy footwork) starting on the 14th of July, we organize a summer school on analytic number theory at I.H.É.S; people interested in participating should follow the instructions on the web site. The detailed programme will soon be available.

This will be counting but

For the first time ever, I have temporarily reached the top of the culture pecking order in France, since I was able to go see “Einstein on the Beach” during its run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in January. This was clearly “the” évènement to attend (even two months or so before, buying two good contiguous seats was almost impossible), and the reactions of the audience suggested that many people were there because of the “the” instead of their desire to see the évènement, and were correspondingly a bit nonplussed by the work. Thus the two people sitting on my right left after a bit more than a third of the opera. (It was clearly indicated that, during the performance, which is a bit longer than four hours and has no intermission, it was allowed to leave and come back as desired, but they did not reappear).

Personally, I knew the music extremely well and it was a great pleasure to finally see the full spectacle. I had already attended two other Robert Wilson stagings, and I like his style (i.e., I have no objection to watching a light pillar move from horizontal to vertical in the space of twenty minutes or so), but it was the first time I saw a full-length Glass opera live, and I’d have paid gladly quite a bit more than I did.

The full staging certainly answers a few of the puzzled questions one might get from the music alone. In particular, the scenes entitled “Dance 1″ and “Dance 2″ felt more alive when seen as, well, dances. In fact, I arbitrarily decided that the first represents electromagnetism (it begins with a voice saying “Bern, Switzerland, 1905″), and the second nuclear forces (a sinister character crosses the stage and I see it as representing the potential for evil arising from nuclear physics). Einstein would have appreciated that, despite the random-looking evolutions of the dancers, these were certainly not the result of dice throws, since collisions would certainly have been unavoidable otherwise.

One of the Paris representations was filmed, and shown on French television, so that it can be found on the internet. However, I watched it a bit, and the fact that there are many cameras giving different angles of view seems to diminish the full immersive effect of the live show. But that’s certainly better than nothing…