There and back again

Last day of august… The time to bus ourselves to Fiumicino airport had come again, for the next two weeks were to be spent in the US of A! A pretty straightforward venture at first glance, with a short presentation on Xenon to the DOE as central event. Gotta show those guys how well we spend their money by having the postdoc they’re providing salary for come over in person just to tell them. In the face of such rigorously scientific financial logic, what could have gone wrong?

I’m glad you asked… But let’s take this in order. Firstly, it was soon reflected that having me cross the atlantic just to give a 15 min talk did indeed look a little silly, once written down on paper. So we made it a solid two weeks, that I may socialize with my peers and enjoy the fruits of physics analysis teamwork and brainstorming in a highly motivating environment –namely, the Brown Physics and Engineering building, a true testament to the care scientists pay to the architecture of their workplace all around the country. Fair enough.

That still left three potential week-ends free. As Ruth was coming along, we decided to take the opportunity to have me meet the extended Bushnell-Toner family in Philadelphia. No doubt reports on that count will be best found on Ruth’s own blog, as in the midst of numerous phone conversations with the cat she does also get direct feedback on my various prestations. I will get to the events themselves later on. One week-end in the middle of the trip was also dedicated to a NYC visit.

All planned out, eh? That was counting without Brown’s Physics department and my own luck with US immigration services. As we arrived in New York Kennedy Airport and proceeded to pass through customs, I was politely shown to the office on the left, where I sat for about one hour. In the end, it turned out that my J-1 working visa, established almost two years ago, was not valid anymore. Calls were made to the university which ascertained that yes, indeed, I was working for them. They finally let me in the country under my J-1 visa, and although we had missed the conenction to Philadelphia by a fair margin we rallied with cab and train and eventually got there. But here I must break the continuity and tell of the visa situation all in one go. Bear with me, it ain’t pretty.

So customs officers let me in the country; turns out, they shouldn’t have. My J-1 had indeed expired, and the reason for this is that the Physics department never bothered to renew it once my first appointment ran out in November 2006. It should have been automatic… it wasn’t. Anyway, after a few days of talking with the Foreign Scholars Office, it became apparent that a) the US administration was unwilling to apply the visa status retroactively, b) it had been too long inactive to be renewed again for a new term and c) there was a mandatory 2-year waiting time before I could be considered for a similar visa status. Did I mention that I am scheduled to start working at Brown on LUX before the end of this year? Yeah. In the end, the “solution” came in the form of a new visa of another type codenamed H1-B which I should somehow endeavour to apply for and get before mid-november. Among other things, it involves letters of recommendations, translations of my PhD in English and a good $2000 in various fees, most of it charged to the University. Which, to be honest, seems just fair. That’s where we are now. More updates soon probably… hopefully.

End of parenthesis. Philadelphia! Or more accurately its wealthy academic suburb Chestnut Hill, where Ruth’s parents just moved into a new house. We stayed there a couple of nights before driving all the way to Providence on sunday, taking advantage of Emily’s moving up in her dorm room for the year. Live rear mirrors were favoured on the trip, and thai food. We ran a little bit after the key to our rented room but eventually got in there. Dinner was had in neighbouring Barrington at a couple of Ruth’s mother’s friends’, which was worth mentioning be it only for this incredible display of genitive. Monday was labor day so nobody worked (I’m told it actually makes perfect sense) and we got a day off walking around sunny Rhode Island and finishing with a burger and Stardust at the cinema. I also got asked for some ID when ordering a beer. Outstanding!

Both work weeks in Providence were pretty similar, with one major and indeed only difference being that Ruth was away on the first week and with me on the second one. Oh and that talk thing on wednesday the first week. Okay, so both weeks weren’t the same at all, but let’s say they were: Go to the lab in the morning, get a tea on the way, do some physicy stuff, get lunch on Thayer street at one of many exotic places, spend the afternoon either in the lab or running after paperwork, repeat lunch routine for dinner, albeit generally with more success. Great Indian, generous Greek, impressive Japanese… certainly a nice change from L’Aquila and its… well they just don’t have any.

Friday and saturday nights were spent on the 9th floor of a hotel on 42nd and 3rd street in Manhattan, one block away from the United Nations building. Although we woke up quite late, there was still enough time to tour a few museums including the Met and the Morgan Library, walk around the village and chinatown, go to more restaurants and watch harry Potter in 3D on Imax. That’s right. Also, got a sweet poster!

sweet poster!

Friday 14th, we took a 5 hour train back down to Philadelphia. barbecue was had in the evening, with your truly at the grill in a barely veiled test of my vaunted pyromaniac abilities as displayed in previous entries in this very blog. I think I passed. Saturday was Grandparents day, both sets one after the other. Here again, I will refer the reader to Ruth’s blog for first impressions, but I don’t think there were too many nasty surprises. For the record, it is my opinion that these folks are charming and well deserving of being her grandparents, which I am sure will come as a relief to all parties involved.

We may be back before Christmas! 🙂

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