Friday, 30 August 2013

Confessions of a conference attendee

Day 8: 30th August

Up early and off to a ticket office for entry to the Duomo dome, Campanile etc.

There are 465 steps to the top of the dome so important to get there early rather than being stuck behind slow moving tourists. I was there for 8.15 and was about 15th in the queue. To my mind the Duomo dome was more impressive than the pictures in the Uffizi – you can’t beat the solidity of bricks and mortar and there is a joy, for me at any rate, of climbing up winding stairways behind walls, a little like walking through secret passages. Initially the route takes you out to the walk way around the inside of the cupola, just below the level of the massive fresco that covers the inside of the dome. This is slightly vertiginous, the walk way is about 50 cm wide and projects out from the wall but the close up of the fresco is incredible, particularly fun are the depictions of hell and damnation - various people being eaten or prodded by people with pointy horns and tails and a few skeletons prancing about as well. Then it is onwards and upwards. The cupola has a double dome design, one inside the other and the stairs lead you up between the two. Towards the top the stairs are steep and curved and I was reminded of some of the routes up holy mountains I’ve experienced in China. At the top the view of course was fantastic with all of Florence laid out before you.

Then it was back to the conference in time for an excellent talk on B incorporation into  forams (important for climate reconstruction). I also attended a good talk that suggests that oxygen isotope fractionation in soil solution is not significant in temperate climates (sorry, a bit technical but important for the well being of our embryonic earthworm-poo based thermometer). Finally on the way out I bumped into Don Porcelli from Oxford for a quick chat about earthworms and Ben Harte from Edinburgh. Ben Harte organised the Goldschmidt conference in Edinburgh in 1994 in which I was a slide projectionist - do we miss slides and jammed projectors? No we don't.
I bought some lunch in the covered market, popped up the Duomo campanile for another good view of Florence and then went into the  octagonal shaped building next to the Duomo - officially the Battistero di San Giovanni. The unpromising outside (though the doors are rather splendid) gives way to a simply stunning interior - a fantastic Byzantine mosaic covering the dome. This is incredible and far outshines the Uffizi.
The end of conferences are often sad, there are the thoughts of missed opportunities: did you miss the best talks? Should you have gone to more talks? Did you convince people that the science you were doing is fantastic? (possibly is the answer!). There is also a slow drift of people away from the conference, numbers in talks get fewer and fewer as the day goes on. Pity the scientist giving a talk at 5 pm on the last day of a conference.
All told it has been good. Florence is a great city to visit. I attended some good talks. I met up with friends and made new acquaintances.  Now there is a day of travelling to get back home, two days at work then off to Diamond for a two day course on Infrared spectroscopy.

The main mystery remaining is why is Florence also called Firenze? I have difficulty understanding why a city has two different names, perhaps one for best?

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