Friday, March 30, 2012


I just arrived in Budapest, and am killing time before my old friend Victor Wang arrives. Both are relatively new. Never been to Budapest, and haven’t hung out with King Victorious in over ten years. Then, he was a lab tech and I was a PhD student. Now, he’s an MD/PhD starting a neurology residency, and I am a senior postdoc. At least until tomorrow. Ah, change.

Can anyone suggest a new title for me? I am, technically, soon to become a Visiting Scientist at UCSD. It is a fine title. But a more accurate one would be freelance consultant, or writer. The problem is that both of these are well-known euphemisms for “unemployed and bullshitting about it”, and if I really am a writer, I should be able to think of something better. “Neuronaut” requires explanation. So does “mad scientist”, and it also scares the humorless. And they don’t laugh when I say I was kidding. Cause they’re humorless.

Since I have no new pictures for this blog post, I’ll explain some ones from my last Barcelona trip. Believe it or not, I didn’t go there planning to photograph protestors wearing California shirts. My plans included some lounging in the hotel and using various spa facilities. Sadly, the hotel had British tourists there, further reaffirming why so many Europeans hate them. All day, they were drunk, loud, and thoroughly unconcerned with anyone else. Most of the day, ten of them sat in a Jacuzzi, which should be a health violation or at least the start of a joke. (What do you call ten limeys in a jacuzzi? Heisse Zitrone! Well, Germanspeaking readers think it’s funny. Or would, were they not humorless by definition.)

Or how ‘bout this one? How many British people does it take to fill a jacuzzi? Ten!

(Pause for laughter.)

But the main goal was not anything specific to Barcelona, a magnificent city I’d already seen aplenty, but to hang out with Sam, an even older friend than Vic. It was an epic trip, including the most expensive meal I’ve ever eaten, at Gorria, a restaurant whose wine menu covers are made of cork. Too cool.

We got in to the VIP party for the World Congress at the Museum of Rock. There, I saw the next evolution of karaoke, called jameoke. This differs in that the band is live. No other difference. Still, people from the audience come up to sing. Still, they’re usually drunk and amusing. Another difference became apparent when a drunk audience member asked to grab the bass guitar. They let him. So audience members have the freedom to not just sing badly, but also play instruments badly. With not one but two bad performers, the jameoke session was on the verge of collapse. The drummer and guitarist, both obviously professional, tried to keep up. Egad. Then someone from the crowd emerged and took the guitar. I saw audience members wince, as I would have had I not known that Sam was a master guitarist. It was fun watching the audience figure this out, slowly, drunkenly, joyfully. I managed to contribute by grabbing the mike just after the lyrical part of “Hotel California” ended, which is the perfect time for me to sing.

We also had a fitting amount of Guell tourism, as Americans must.

My last day in BCN, I walked along the beach pretty much all day. Odd to get sentimental over missing a city I never saw until 2009, but then, I saw it quite a lot since then. Surfers tried comically to surf tiny waves, and I hung out with some Mexicans on the beach. That's about it. Some things never change. Not so different from SoCal in many ways, except for the waves.

Monday, March 5, 2012


I was sitting in my hotel in Barcelona, working on some revised documents as per the dicta of the European Commission, when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a mob. The chanting was pretty loud, and I went down to see what the local Calalunyans were protesting. It was a fairly big protest against cutting funds for the universities. In typical Spanish style, it just went on and on. It was sunny and pleasant, with nothing to really discourage the crown from meandering indefinitely.

Two pictures of protesting Spaniards.

With the climate and ample spoken Spanish, it looked and sounded a lot like protests against the funding cuts that gouged universities in California. Two things were different here. More people wore Catalan flags and California shirts.

In fact, I noticed so many California shirts among the crowd in BCN that I started photographing them. Within 20 minutes, I had the following:

Why, he's wearing the flag of my home state! Good fashion sense.

Someone in the left of the picture the flag of their home state! And another guy with wearing Laguna Beach, California.

This shirt represents the San Francisco Giants.

See? I told you.
Not familiar with this group.

The grey sweatshirt says "Hollister", like 10% of all shirts I see in Europe. Hollister is near Gilroy, which is east of Monterey.

The guy on the left is wearing a sweatshirt for the university where I will speak next month. The guy on the right is wearing a shirt with the Los Angeles Police Dept. What a coincidence! I will be in LA next month too, though I plan on avoiding their police.

True, there is a large American population here, and maybe they were just wearing their colors. Two problems. First, as mentioned, Californians never wear California shirts. Second, I talked to these guys. In Spanish. Quickly. They're locals (from BCN) or from other regions of Spain.

This parallels other comments I made during my five year Euro-adventure, which is soon to end. They may complain about American politics, militarism, economy, etc, but they sure do follow our culture. Music, movies, TV, fashion, still heavily influenced by America, and especially California. In Spain, the weather, too.