The expanding moral circles and the possibility for moral universality

We are accustomed to assume reason drives human agency. We think we understand the difference between feelings and reason, firmly standing on the Enlightenment ideals that forged humanism, the relentless driving force towards progress. Through human history, our moral circles have expanded; today we bring to the spotlight moral issues that were invisible in the past. Take, for example, the ongoing debate on the pay gap between women and men at the workplace, or the intensive campaigning against bullying. Fifty years ago, women could not even vote in many countries (Switzerland was the last European country to extend the right to vote in 1971), today the right is seen as universal and a no-brainer even in developing countries. Similarly, bullying in schools was common practice in the 60s, seen as natural and unavoidable in every school playground. Then, it was normal to target the weaklings and make them endure being mocked, ostracized, and humiliated, it was just part of school life. Today, we are quick to denounce the abusers and exhibit bullies to show why is wrong. It makes perfect sense to us to watch news on bullying making the headlines, and we see fixing bullying at school as an urgent issue for which we cannot give in if we are to stand for sane and healthy children. Fifty years ago, news reports on bullying or the male-female pay gap would be considered nearly a joke, entirely absent from our moral sensitivity.

This moral evolution is undeniable and has made inroads everywhere we look around. Our moral compass has become increasingly sensitive, from championing animal rights to environmentalism. Today, we start to challenge the judgement passed by religion or tradition, when Human Rights are vulnerated or come in conflict with human flourishing. Yet, to be fair, the barrier today seems to be right there. For the most, we are still rooted in our respective cultures and assume ourselves not qualified to judge if practices within a given culture are questionable, in the spirit of the universality of cultures, cultural relativism, and the self-determination of states, much of it heritage of post-modernist thinking.

But nothing is static. The moral circle will likely continue to expand, trascending tradition and religion. The real underlying question is whether an universal morality will emerge. Several philosophers envisage such morality based on the simplest of principles: the minimisation of suffering of any being or entity, starting with Humankind as a whole, then extensible to all living beings and the environment we live in. How would that come to be? Imagine religions to universally decay (developed economies show a slow but steady decay in number of believers) and be superseded by the principle of human flourishing, naturally extensible to animals, plants, and the environment. For this to happen, a necessary condition is the forces of tradition, tribalism, and self-righteousness to be played down and conquered. These counteracting forces are part of our human nature, built in the deepest part of our minds by evolution to maximise our ability to pass on our gene pools to the next generation. To this end, an important variable to imagine moral universality is multiplying and sustaining our ability to flourish and decrease suffering, which shall allow for the rest of Humankind to see its benefits and move forward. History has shown that thinking about the wellness of others comes always after self and kin: you are not likely to care for others if you are starving or in distress.

It is hard to tell whether the process of universal moralisation will overcome the apparent permanence of the evolutive forces driving self-interest and tribalist thinking. Yet, the advance to recognize the rights of others in the last century has moved at a pace that allows for entertaining the conjecture of moral universality.

Recommended reading: 

The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now, both by S. Pinker
The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris
The Righteous Mind by J. Haidt

Rotterdam, April 2018


Short thought on running long distances

A very busy September. Not a chance to do much in the weekend other than preparing suitcases and rushing to Schiphol. A month that started in full recovery sleeping in a camping, after running the TDS and finishing in one piece. It’s a pity I don’t keep a written record of the races I do, because without a doubt I have learned something new every time, simply because every race comes with unique circumstances, in the given mental and physical state I happen to be when I get there. 

While I always feel deep respect for the ultras I run (I believe I never take them lightly), having completed in May the 120 km of Transylvania 100 right under 32 h felt like the real feat of the year, considering the difficulty of the race and the state of my preparation, which was far from what I originally intended. To be fair, the black bears groaning in the woods and my continuous concern for marauding wolves was also a factor to weigh in the motivation to move forward! Back to my point, I have little special and lasting memories of this TDS, the race itself, I mean. I recall the effort, I always do, yet this time it feels less persistent. The views, for example, a typical highlight for every race, were not especially memorable. If I try to use a single word to summarise the race, I would use fatigue. It’s fatigue what didn’t allow me to sustain the effort, feeling every time obliged to nap to recover the drive to continue (I napped three times!). It didn’t come as a surprise I finished with the back of the pack. Another important factor was starting in the back a race that only a few kilometres later goes on a demanding single track, creating instantaneous runner jams. But let us not be distracted by the race itself, which may (or not) get discussed elsewhere in the future. What I want to rescue from this race is meeting really good company. Two runners with the same name: Arnaud (what are the odds?). Much of the credit for allowing this fortuitous encounter goes to the little and mighty woman running the camping. A Swiss-French lady who after learning I was signed in for the race, immediately suggested to pair with other two runners who were planning to reach the start line using their own vehicle. Coincidentally, right after checking in, I came across the first Arnaud, a man I immediately felt spontaneous and affable, an original of Brittany, a region I always associate with good living and friendly people. We agreed to meet later in the evening to explore the possibility to get a ride to the start line (the car belonged to the other Arnaud, from Besançon). Initially I didn’t feel I wanted to be a burden and mess up their own planning, as I am very used to solve my own problems. The friendliness I was struck with made me reconsider their kind offer. We met briefly, I got introduced to the other Arnaud, then we agreed to depart 3:30 AM sharp. I won’t describe in detail the rest of the race, as I am more interested in exploring what I learned from them after it. 

Now the setting is the camping grounds, a few hours after the race. We all feel like rusty metal work: stiff and unnatural. It’s cloudy, soon rain will shower the camping, forcing us to group under the small space in the tent one could intuitively name the apéro zone. After realising the wasted effort setting a clothes’ line in this weather represents, Arnaud-Besancon announces he is likely to depart earlier than planned (we all had planned to stay over the weekend to follow the progress of UTMB). We sat squeezing in the tent, had a beer and shared a bag of cashews and some shattered chips that made it this far. I enjoy the spontaneous familiarity of their company. They went on to finish the race together, enjoying the pace, both are very experienced runners, they finished under 27 h without much of an effort. We share our impressions, everything is as familiar as it can get when one has gone through the same transformative experience of running 120 km of the same track, non-stop. The rain ceased and we made way to Chamonix to redeem our coupons for free beer and free dinner offered in the city centre. Dinner is enjoyable, sharing the table with other finishers and staff, although the typical sleepiness strikes every time the stomach receives food and proceeds to recover using the ingested nutrients. The day after one Arnaud departed and with the other Arnaud I resolved to go for lunch. He booked a table at a well-known Italian restaurant. Hélène, another finisher who had dinner with us the night before, joined us for lunch too. It is during this time that I learn from them and absorb their viewpoints, with the clarity of mind offered by a glass of cold beer followed by ruby red wine and a very decent pizza.

Simply put, I see ultra running as a personal endeavour, a goal one sets to complete with the time and circumstances that are given, in which a good component of impredictable luck and learning is always involved. I see it also as a journey of introspection where one sets his own limits and then systematically pushes them (or fails in the attempt).  This is not necessarily at odds with making contact with others, I do it myself often during the race, yet most of the times I tend to refrain from doing it. The idea of overwhelming others restrains my approach. I fear I may be disrupting their concentration and balance. This is more or less the opposite Arnaud feels. He is an interesting example of the exact opposite: he once discovered he needs to pair with another runner to picture each other crossing the finish line. An odd thought if you will, an honour and a responsibility in any case! He reportedly draws energy and motivation from pushing and supporting each other. He first identifies the runner, often by the random workings of chitchatting, other times by circumstance (being at the same impasse or experiencing similar feelings). So far, this special bonding has only happened to him with other men. The other Arnaud makes no distinction for this bonding, being able to connect with all people. I must say I like the idea, I feel it draws an irresistible parallelism with the definition of introvert/extrovert, one such dimension being whether you produce/process energy from the contact with others or by drawing from within your own self. I am yet to test finding the connection in the collective and drawing energy and motivation from the interaction with other runners. That is not something I am used to, even my training is solo, and I must say I like it that way, I like to think I find myself when I run long distances. Is this strange ‘finding the flow’ that kicks in and offers a different, refreshing perspective of the self. At least that is what I like to believe.

For the record: running a 127 km ultra trial and staying in a tent is probably not the most comfortable way to get to the start line fresh. I arrived late to the camp, walked 5 km under the scorching sun with 30 kg on the back, set the tent, went back to Chamonix to collect the number, cooked dinner back in the camp, prepared the kit, then went to bed. Needless to say it was very late by the time I went into the sleeping bag, and that I was more than exhausted and did not sleep well. Woke up 2:30 am knowing that was not going to make it for enough rest. After leaving to Chamonix at 3:30 to take the shuttle to Courmayeur, it was impossible to get some rest. Once in the Centre Sportif at Courmayeur I tried to get some rest, but the inminent departure and anxiety always makes it impossible, besides, good luck trying to sleep wearing all the gear and sleeping on the cold floor, surrounded by runners stumbling upon you every time. After only 12 h of race I was yawning, after 18 h I really needed a nap and started to see my performance plummet. I napped after 22 h and then again after 26 h, I really needed to rest. It’s a pity, I could have done better. Next time come one full day earlier to the camp to get everything together and have plenty of time to get installed. For the rest, I really enjoyed sleeping in a tent and using the camping grounds. I met interesting people and spent more time close to nature. It was not that difficult to recover after the race, despite sleeping on hard ground. I did not appreciate the terrible weather for three full days, but I still felt it was worth trying it again. Will try to come back soon! Chamonix, despite the tacky feeling it gets as soon as you step out of the train, can still lure you to come back every year... 

Rotterdam, September 2017



A raiz de escuchar con el rabo de la oreja una version del cuarteto de cuerdas numero 7 de Shostakovich en Radio 4 (la holandesa), tocada por el Cuarteto Ebonit, me entro la curiosidad y me puse a buscar otras cosas de onda similar. Me gustan las transcripciones, son refrescantes. Transmiten sonoridad nueva, ofrecen un ángulo distinto, casi siempre mas extenso. Es curioso que a pesar de ser reducciones --por ejemplo, una sinfonía reducida a una partitura para piano a cuatro manos-- siguen siendo expansivas. Supongo eso sucede porque se entienden desde una construccion conocida que inevitablemente se enriquece.

La busqueda me trajo a esta versión. Es un clip de un show dominguero holandes que me gusta y que a veces veo, cuando no estoy corriendo. Porque si hay un dia que corro religiosamente, es el domingo por la manana.

Otra version que me gusto fue esta del tercer movimiento de la primera sinfonia de Mahler, transcrita para cuarteto de clarinetes.y tocada por el Cuarteto de Clarinetes Amsterdam Nuevo (chafísima traducción de Nieuw Amsterdams Klarinet Kwartet). El clip viene de un festival muy cotorro donde tocan en lugares insospechados de Amsterdam. En este caso es la cocina de una antigua prision. Otras sedes pueden ser la habitacion de alguna casa o un parque o un subterráneo. Algun dia contare acerca de los conciertos en sedes inusuales que me ha tocado presenciar, creo que vale la pena.

Para terminar, el paseo por las transcripciones, un ejemplo mas. El YouTube me llevo a una version de la Rapsodia en blue de Gershwin y pues la tuve que escuchar. Escuchar la rapsodia tambien me recordo un poema de Jose Hierro, de su Cuaderno de Nueva York. Ese va si:

Con su video, la rapsodia es para orquesta, este es otra vez otro cuarteto de clarinetes.

Y mejor no nos metemos a las transcripciones para piano, porque empezamos tarde con la lista. En la coleccion de Naxos hay una seleccion de la musica de Brahms transcrita al piano a cuatro manos. Son diecisiete volúmenes. Creo que desde por ahi del 2010 ya no han sacado nuevos. Entre mis favoritos están el Requiem Aleman, la primera sinfonia y el primer concierto para piano. Lastima que no halle nada similar salvo la cuarta sinfonia enterita tocada por unas japonesas.

Visiblemente el tema da para mucho, asi que lo vamos a dejar de ese tamano por ahora.


Somewhere in the Atlantic, between the US and Mexico and Brussels, 2015

I left Brussels past week and came to the US for a work meeting. For the first time after four trips, I finally found a chance to go to Mexico, squeezing in some days to visit my parents. It's not much time what I ended up allocating, having so many people to see and things I wanted to do. Right now I'm in the plane and can't sleep. This thing is not even half full, yet Interjet managed to sell me a ticket at a hefty price. I must confess it also took me too long to buy it. But that's not what I wanted to write about. Later on I may write my impressions on coming for the first time on my own, predated by my own thoughts. Previous three times I came with Ester and even if we stayed three weeks each time, the feeling I get now is different. From the time I decided I would come, a lot of thinking went on realising how many things have changed and how I feel now about my home country. To begin with, I advert a bittersweet sensation and increasing indifference on what's going on in Mexico. I used to follow quite closely the political life and happenings. Now, from Brussels, I visit the webpages of one or two newspapers, skimming through the headlines, so to only get a rough impression of the situation. The elections just passed and rather than feeling enthusiasm or willingness to discuss the multiple developments, I went through a safe state of semi-denial; swiftly running through the headlines, trying to set a barrier to protect my own emotional integrity. I wonder if this will continue as time goes by (update from the future: in 2017 I feel the pain from my vantage point across the ocean, but it has become strangely familiar. Sad to realise I am rarely surprised every time I see the next horrendous story, the recurrence being so high that it has become predictable, every time reality surpasses fiction, as if we would be witnessing a descent into hell). I can't help wondering where this train goes, it all depends on a myriad of factors no one can even enumerate. For example, many have documented how 9/11 significantly changed the border security between the US and Mexico, disrupting the illegal trafficking, flooding the Mexican market with drugs. Or how globalisation took to Asia the easy money manufacturing from American companies outsourced in Mexico. This drove unemployment to record-highs and created in no time armies of uneducated unemployed people, ultimately contributing to create the ideal conditions to sprout the most violent periods the country has lived in the modern times. 

But that isn't either what I wanted to put in print. It's about a puzzling dream I had last night.

I don't seem to come back to this page but to describe odd dreams. I can't help it. I want this one to be examined in detail. There's a considerable amount of key symbols from my increasingly distant past that came to visit me last night. I woke up confused and with that odd feeling of not distinguishing truth from reality. It must have been around 5 am when I woke up, not being able to find the peace of mind required to get back to sleep.

I will try to describe it, not sure if the actual elements are in the right sequence. Now, how absurd is trying to refer to the 'actual' elements or sequence of the dream, being my fragmented memory the only source to those elements of what I am trying to reconstruct here. Memory is treacherous, the dream sits in my memory as loose fragments that some hidden editor has ruthlessly decided to order in a given way, completely beyond my control or contribution.

I am in a room, it's probably a party at which I landed by some work of randomness. I find myself talking to a guy in his mid-twenties. He discusses passionately about global warming and the role of big companies. I engage in the discussion, though not with the same passion he does. At some point I leave the room.

This transition is now fuzzy in my head, it was clearer this morning, now it's almost midnight and I have forgotten many details. 

Next thing I remember is a visit to the university in Mexico, not surprisingly one of the most distinctive places for me - the entry to the A building of my faculty (the side that faces the B building). This, for the record, happens to be one of my first views of the place where I went to spend many years of education, not surprising the dream borrows from this powerful memory. I access the building and see that there's people making trouble, probably associated to a celebration that is getting out of hand due to alcohol and/or drugs. I witness everything from a safe distance, while I talk to someone else, I can't remember who. At some point, things get rough and I hear shots and see smoke. Everyone's panicking and I resolve to hide from it behind an old desk or  piece of furniture. Suddenly, I understand it's some sort of terroristic attack and the squad that has just broke in plans to take hostages. I scape as quickly as I can, not without being worried about those that lie dead or badly injured. As I rush away I see others hiding, paralysed and looking at me with white faces. I sweat and run until I see an open door, although it seems that someone points it out at me rather than me spotting it first. That someone is Magda. She has a calm expression and with her broken english points at the door. I follow her and we disappear from the place, then an immediate feeling of relief ensues. 

Now, this is the strangest part of the dream. We walk to her place, through tortuous and run down buildings. Nothing seems familiar, the closest connection I can make is somewhere in Eastern Europe, probably a forgotten street in the outskirts of Budapest or some destroyed Ukrainian neighbourhood seen in the news days ago. We reach her studio and talk briefly about her situation, living in such a place. The walls are bright green, just like her room in Poznan. There are cluttered books here and there, but I specially distinguish a few volumes in Polish. As usual, I make the effort to understand what they are about with no success. One specific aspect in Magda's looks is distinct: she has chosen to dye her hair somewhere in between black and red. I observe her facial features closely and distinguish everything to the minute detail, her thin facial hair, following the different events of her face, in the same way a crop in a field follows the undulations of the terrain it is planted in. Because of this, I am immediately struck by the reflection Zizek does of Lynch's films, in which the exaggerated approach to the subject of interest reveals its intimacy, reaching the depths of the innermost - an ultimately perturbing nature. One such Lynchian sequence appears in Blue Velvet, in which the depiction of a perfectly peaceful, even boring, American town is interrupted by the sudden heart stroke of a man watering his garden. While the man agonises on the grass, the camera starts immersing into the grassland, making its way through the leaves and unraveling the wild and frightening kingdom of microscopic monsters lying underneath the placid garden. I continue my conversation with her, trying not to evoke too many things from the past and focusing on the talk. She leaves me in her place, can't remember the reason now, but I have the impression I will see her again. As soon as she departs, I feel embarrassed for not having asked her about Sara. I make a mental note not to forget it again. For some reason I leave the studio and start exploring the streets. It's not a friendly neighbourhood, it doesn't inspire me any trust. At some point I spot a street market and decide to explore it. The sky is overcast and I start feeling uncomfortable. By the time I come out and inspect my pockets, I realise my wallet is missing. I feel stupid and overwhelmed, and start feeling vulnerable again. All of a sudden I remember I have not a single document to allow my departure from this god forsaken place. I start zigzagging the streets and get lost. I have no way to communicate with anybody, I am left at my own devices.

That's all I remember. I will drop it there, I don't want to overdo the experience and bring up things from the dream  I'm not sure about (what recollections from a dream one can really be sure about?). Every time I put the pieces together, they fit differently. Needless to say there's no way of verifying what I'm describing is faithful to the dream's contents.

I believe these are the experiences that came to be the substance of my dream:

  1. The mid-twenties guy. Not a mid-twenties but at least mid-fourties entrepreneur from Israel with whom I happened to have a conversation with for a good hour before landing in JFK, in the flight from Brussels. He was wearing similar clothes and had vaguely familiar facial features to the guy from my dream. Our conversation went from what we do for living to global warming and my forecast of the most likely scenarios in the next 50 to 100 years. He was convinced there are some ruling powers, a superior elite in the world that is ultimately responsible for the state of things and our race towards chaos. In his view, citizens are unassuming entities that move with the tide and are not responsible for anything that has happened to the planet. Sheep. Of course I disagreed, not with the sheep but with the superior elite as a sort of conscious, single entity responsible for everything that happens around us.
  2. My recent visit to the faculty after a few years away is an obvious trigger to this evocation. Not sure about the hostages and shooting. A simple guess is the increasing violence in Mexico.
  3. The Eastern European neighbourhood and the feeling of alienation is most likely due to the conversation over dinner the night before (during this trip to the US, some of us gathered at Circa, in Clinton downtown). We talked about how distinct Hungarian and Finnish are from the rest of European languages, and the feeling of cluelessness one faces, even with the simplest of texts.
  4. Magda. I don't recall when was the last time the thought of her visited me in a dream. However, I am certain the trigger to the dream was to have come across a girl with a very similar face at JFK. I spotted her as soon as I stepped in the shuttle from Terminal 1 to the car rental zone. She was sitting near the door, holding in her hands the typical badge collection airport personnel sports. She looked at me (much in the way American women look at men, with that sort of rogue curiosity, partially to verify if one is looking), I returned the look a bit surprised by the striking similarity between her and Magda. She must have been in her early twenties, with a discrete piercing in the right side of the nose. She wore those ubiquitous yoga pants with ankle-high black and pointy boots and a black Michael Kors bag. And of course, her hair was dyed, somewhere between red and black. The bus was full and it was very hot, I was cramped against the back door, barely managing to fit my stuff, while helping a man with the looks of an orthodox Jewish, desperately trying to fit his bags into the racks. People rushed in and out the bus. With all that distraction, I didn't realise when she left, I thus missed a figure of her height to complete a basic screening.
  5. The market where I get stolen my wallet - It resembles more a market in Puno we visited last time in Peru (that was in April 2015). We bought there some fruit and took a few pictures, then we were told by a by-passer not to stay there and to be extra careful, the place being full of pickpockets). That surely created a lasting impression on me and I brought it this time. 

Note that having forgotten to set the air conditioning to 20 degrees may have had an influence. I woke up sweating, uncomfortable and confused. I went to the bathroom and despite my hideous appearance, I felt relieved of having being submerged in the confusing workings of a dream.

Every time I write time flies and I feel as if I were doing the right thing by rescuing my memories. I have probably written elsewhere how little one can remember when the reference points change all the time. Only the most persistent and deep memories linger in my head. So many others are gone. When I see acquaintances from previous places I lived there are always passages I have completely forgotten. That is a sad thing. I have enjoyed so much the way until here! I regret letting go so many memories. I had a similar reflection last time I visited Sofie in Brno. She says she forgets even more than I do. To exemplify it I brought up one or two passages from those Brno days. Indeed, she had almost forgotten most of what I recollected. These reasons are sufficient to keep writing, keep in mind they say we understand and discern from what our memory can tell us (at least when thinking logically).

Westerpaviljoen, September 2017.

Side trip to Vienna, Oct 2015

It's fun to write in trains. One gets the time to think and the continuously changing landscape helps the strolling of ideas. Free-range ideas to make up a little story. 

I'm coming back from Vienna, after having visited Paola. It's been a long time, last time I was here was some five years ago. I came at the time with the very specific purpose of showing my parents the wonderful city of Vienna. I didn't try to meet Paola, don't remember exactly why. What no one expected was to meet at the St. xxx cathedral (the one with the funny columns) by complete chance. The year after (2011), Paola came to visit me in Zurich, bringing along Ferenc and Vale, Bruno was not there yet. Now, after paying a visit to Sofie in good old Brno, I took a quick detour to Vienna, arriving Sunday night and staying less than 24 hours. I stayed at her place, which she shares with a mom-daughter duo that just moved in a month or so ago. There's also two cats, Carlos and Lua, who happen to be siblings and resemble Matias a tiny bit. Well, most generic cats resemble Matias. Wait, no, Matias had a white belly and at least one or two white paws, which always look like gloves in cats. One would expect those cats to suddenly take the gloves off, or just to stop the traffic and from any given broken light, start controlling the flow at busy streets. But that never happens, I haver never seen it at least.

Last night I came to Vienna, I landed at Paola's, had some chitchat with her flatmates and had pizza for dinner. Bruno was not doing well and threw up, which made me realise how unpredictable and full of little issues rearing children is. They bite each other, demand lots of attention and only think about themselves. I'm always fascinated and look at them very attentively, then I can't help thinking every person that has ever walked the Earth was exactly like that. After the incident we slowly went to sleep. I got the children's room, slept very well and woke up quite early. Should have gone for a run, but I'm lazy and it didn't happen. In the morning I witnessed the ritual to get the kids on their feet ready for the kindergarten, from convincing them to get to the table to finishing their breakfast. After dropping the kids, we went for a Wiener Frühstück and had a catch up talk as the morning sipped through. Then we went to Paola's shop and even had the chance to try some cider. I took some bottles back home, not to many, glass bottles are heavy! Afterwards, we got back to the flat and started to make the way back to the station. Once I got to the station I realised time allowed for a couple of hours of wandering in the city. I didn't miss the chance and drop the suitcases in a locker, then went straight to the centre by U-bahn, trying to do the best of the little spare time I had before starting the way back home. I'm quite satisfied from my two hours killing time in Vienna: I finally got my hands on the portrait of Brahms I gave to Prof. Cea years ago after I came back from Brno. I was pleased to witness the static nature of this sort of goods, in 8 years the price didn’t move a euro cent. Finding the antiquariat happened completely by chance, because first I went to the Aida for a mélange plus sacher, then got into thinking I could check out the TNF shop and buy a new pair of running shoes. I also thought about visiting Mahler in Grinzing. I resolved the only time-effective thing to do was to walk to Mitte and check out TNF (the consumerist drive is the most immediate of all, always). On the way to the shop I realised I was walking the ring, which immediately brought to my memory the antiquariat shop, but I had no idea where it was located, only remembered it was somewhere along the infinite Ringstrasse. By walking and carefully looking at the windows, first I spotted the Vienna star dedicated to Shostakovich, made a picture of it, then kept walking. I haven't done more than 250 m and suddenly came across the V.A. Heck,  exactly the place I was looking for. They had the Brahms I wanted, so I bought it and even got ten postcards designed in Jugendstill style. I also reached the TNF shop but they didn't have my shoe size. Nevermind. I realised I really like to walk around guided by randomness and sudden, almost harmless impulses. Guided by wide-open eyes one can get very far and memories come always along right when you need them. If I were a reviewer of my these two hours full of flashbacks, I’d give it five solid, pointy stars, like those perched on the banners of .


Mis pininos en holandés (con ayuda de la güera, desde luego)

Ik wil jullie vertellen over Mexico Stad, de hoofdstad van Mexico en één van de grootste steden ter wereld, met ruim 20 miljoen inwoners. Mexico Stad ligt in het centrum van Mexico, in een dal in het midden van heel hoge bergen. De stad is ook heel hoog gelegen, op 2240 meter boven de zeespiegel. Daarom kunnen vele buitenlanders (meestal uit Nederland) problemen hebben om goed te ademen en kunnen ze ook hoofdpijn krijgen. De stad werd in 1325 door de Azteken gesticht, oorspronkelijk over de Texcoco meer. Daarom was de stad over water gebouwd. Mexico Stad was het grootste rijk van het Amerikaanse continent tot dat de Spanjaarden kwamen. Na de Spaanse verovering in 1521, was de stad de eerste echte multiculturele metropolis, bewoond door Amerikanen, Europeanen, Aziaten, Afrikaanse slaven en alle de volgende combinaties. Het was ook de eerste stad waar ecologische uitwisselingen plaatsvonden: planten, dieren en mineralen uit Europa en Azië heen en weer. Samengevat, een interessante stad om te bezoeken, het beste in mei-juni of september-oktober, om de hitte en de regen te vermijden.


Cronica: The Norwegian Manhood Test, Compte Rendu

Rescatado de la bandeja de correos, la cronica de que fue lo que paso en Noruega. Con la pena, pero como se lo conté primero a mi colega ultramaratoniano Vincent, tendra que quedarse en este francés super chafa. Pero 'pos 'pior es nada.

La course en Norvège, c'était quelque chose.

On est arrivé (mon copain Fernando et sa copine colombienne, Monica) avec une voiture louée, assez tard pour le briefing de la course, donc on l'a raté et il n'a resté qu'aller se coucher en attendant de l'avoir le lendemain (on n'était même pas certain de l'heure du départ, vue que selon l'organisateur --un mec danois un peu fou-- il fallait attendre les prévisions de la météo jusqu'au la dernière minute). L'endroit était vraiment écarté de la civilisation, c'est une réserve au milieu de nulle part, et pour arriver jusqu'au refuge du départ, il fallait marcher encore 6 km avec les bagages. C'est un endroit très beau, un massif avec une quinzaine de sommets, dans son centre il y a un lac de montagne avec un bateau qui le traverse deux fois par jour, en ramenant les gens de retour au refuge sans devoir traverser le massif de nouveau. La course était conçue pour des équipes, l'assemblage était plutôt libre. Dans notre cas c'était mon copain et moi, et il y avait une dizaine d'équipes, plutôt des duos aussi. L'idée c'était de faire les dix sommets dans moins de 24 h. Le dénivelé dépasse bien les 5000 m, pour une distance de 50 km, c'est tout à fait presque de la escalade. La course est en autonome et même s'il y pas mal des lacs et des rivières, on peu passer facilement des heures sans les toucher, donc il fallait planifier assez bien à l'avance les goudrons.

Tout d'abord, mon ami mexicain et moi allions le faire en duo. On s'est preparé pour les 50 km. Fernando, mon copain fait des marathons en dessus de la barrière de 3 h, mais il n'avais jamais fait du trail running non plus des ultras, c'était du terra incognita pour lui. En tout cas, j'avais fait un peu de confiance vu qu'il était évidemment en forme (en plus il fait de l'escalade). En effet, notre erreur c'était de prendre la course très légèrement. Monica, qui est en train de se préparer pour le marathon d'Amsterdam, nous avait suggéré de nous joindre pour faire la moitié (il n'y avait qu'un checkpoint, pas loin du bateau) et puis rentrer avec le bateau.

On avait appris la veille que la course partait à 7h00 (quand nous sommes arrivés tout le monde était déjà couché, c'était les gens qui gèrent l'auberge qui ont nous informé), au moins on était prêts pour le départ le lendemain. Nous avons parlé avec l'organisateur (qui courrait aussi avec son équipe), qui a nous montré à peu près ce qu'il fallait traverser avec une carte plus ou moins détaillé. La route n'était pas du tout marquée, c'était plutôt suggérée et il fallait se repérer avec un GPS ou au moins avec un altimètre. Nous n'avions qu'une boussole et cette course demandait une vraie connaissance de l'orientation dans la montagne. En fin, nous sommes partis, et vue la route, nous avons pris Monica avec nous (l'organisateur a dit OK) en tant qu'accompagnant jusqu'à la moitié, comme convenu. La seule condition c'était d'arriver au checkpoint avant 16h30 pour pas rater le dernier bateau.

On a commencé la course assez bien, ça montait tout le temps, mais c'était très gerable. On marchait avec les autres équipes, ils avaient un matos très similaire à nous, tout le monde avait conçue une route plutôt pour faire la course à pieds, même s'il fallait savoir se repérer de temps en temps. Nos problèmes ont commencé assez tot, puisque il a commencé pleuvoir très fort. Le terrain n'aidait pas, c'était des pierres sur des pierres, des gros cailloux plats (sédimentaires) avec des coins aigus et couverts d'un sort de lichen qui glissait horriblement. Les pierres avaient des tailles diverses, pas bien tassés, donc dangereuses tout le temps. Parfois il y avait des gros trous qui faisaient un peu peur si jamais un pied faillit tomber dessus. En gros, c'était vraiment compliqué de marcher avec des chaussures pour la course é pieds généralement souples. Avec la pluie il est devenu encore plus compliqué de marcher, les pierres glissaient encore plus facilement, souvent il y avait des peintes dont il fallait attendre avoir le chemin libre au dessus de chaqu'un pour pouvoir avancer sans risquer se prendre une pierre glissante libérée par le coureur qui marchait au dessus. Au bout d'un moment on a croissait des endroits dont il fallait faire un peu d'escalade (sans blague, sans matos, sans avertissement). A partir de ce moment là, Monica a commencé paniquer un peu et puis beaucoup. Fernando a pas mal d'expérience, mais même lui avançait doucement. Depuis ce moment là j'ai pensé abandonner et rentrer, mais le retour me semblait encore plus dur (les peintes étaient vraiment méchantes). Pendant les descentes je le faisait avec un peu de peur, je n'était pas trop concentré par plusieurs raisons : mes copains s'avaient pris pas mal la tête, je sentait beaucoup de responsabilité d'avoir mis Monica dans cette situation risquée, bref, je voyait qu'on courrait vraiment un danger... Au bout d'un moment j'ai tombé et je m'ai frappé la tête. J'ai pris encore plus peur, même si c'était pas fort du tout, la pierre était tellement aiguisée qu'elle m'a coupé un peu. On avançait doucement, c'était déjà assez tard pour que Monica pourrait rentrer avec le bateau... on était tous un peu mécontents, je crois.

En descendent le troisième sommet, j'ai pris un grand caillou avec tout le bras pour passer entre deux pierres, j'ai glissé et le caillou est venu avec moi, j'ai essayé de le contenir, mais le cailloux plat est allé jusqu'au la jonction entre le bras et l'épaule, en poussant fortement... le mouvement a déboîté l'épaule. J'ai demandé mes copains de m'aider le remettre en place, mais on ne pouvait pas. Fernando est allé chercher de l'aide, on a pensé rester dans la montagne, mais il pleuvait tout le temps, il faisait froid (vers 5 °C) et on n'avait plus d'eau. Après quelques minutes le départ de mon copain, nous avons commencé la descente. Ca nous a pris plus de trois heures. Je marchait trop lentement, c'était plutôt de descendre en glissant entre les pierres, car je pouvais pas respirer bien non plus me mettre de bout tout droit (quand l'épaule est déboîté les poumons sont opprimés et on peu pas respirer comme il faut). A la fin on a réussi descendre et on a trouvé aussi un peu d'eau dans un lac. Nous étions vraiment cassés, mais il fallait encore trouver quelqu'un ou franchir le checkpoint. Il a commencé faire nuit (21h00) et on s'est perdu encore, on a commencé désespérer un peu. On hallucinait un peu aussi. J'entendais des voix et  je voyait parfois des gens dans la montagne, Monica aussi. Nous nous sommes rendu compte qu'il fallait trouver un endroit pour passer la nuit le plus vite possible. Juste avant avoir perdu toute visibilité du paysage, on a vu des lumières très loin vers le NE et on a décidé de les suivre. Après plus de trois heures de marche sous la pluie et dans un terrain inondé, on est arrivé à l'auberge. Bien sûr, personne restait réveillé pour nous aider. Heureusement, après quelques minutes quelqu'un est passé pour se brosser les dents, un monsieur qui venait avec un groupe dont il y avait un masseur. J'ai eu trop de la chance d'avoir pu me faire rentrer l'épaule avant de passer plus long temps (typiquement, après 18-20 heures il ne rentre plus et il faut faire une intervention plus sérieuse). Les gens ont nous offert des lits pour dormir et on a fini pour contacter Fernando (encore perdu au milieu de nulle part). Le lendemain on a tous pu se rencontrer, mais c'était assez traumatique.
La récup du bras va bien. Ca fait presque un mois et j'ai encore un peu du mal (le bras était tout coloré pendant deux semaines), surtout la nuit quand je dors de cette coté. En tout cas, j'ai commencé nager et bientôt je le ferait d'une façon plus normale. Je peux courir sans problème (j'ai pas encore tenté la longue distance) et je me sens bien. J'ai de la chance !

Voilà, c'est l'histoire du weekend en Norvège. 


Finding a PhD advisor, some of the first steps

After an e-mail exchange with a former colleague, I came with a small piece of advice for those who are looking for a PhD in science. This is it:

Find an active and competitive group, neither too small nor too big, where the professor is still young and will have time for you to discuss and work along the same lines. The distance to embark on a dialogue will be typically shorter and you will learn much more. Big groups with big professors are impressive: they have everything, they're authoritative, they publish like crazy, however, you will rarely receive direct coaching from your future boss and you're likely to be running one of the multiple projects somewhere in a corner. At such point, your social skills will be key to get your job done and your way though with the help of others, namely postdocs and veteran PhDs. There are exceptions to everything, of course.

Make a list with your favorite groups, work hard on your cover letters and spend time to come up with a tidy version of your CV (ask friends or mentors to give it a good, final polishing). It is optimal to customize your cover letter and CV for every group (don't lie!). Go look for options abroad, that'll give you a better perspective of the groups you're applying to. Apply to several places at the same time, in your home country and abroad, get used to make the difference between different groups and professors. Compare and be critical toward your decisions on which interviews to pick (in case you have the option to choose, of course!), remember it's pretty much like getting married, 4 to 5 years of your life entirely devoted to it and you will have to cope on that one way or another.

Prepare for the interviews like a professional, be ready to answer uncomfortable questions such as gaps of time in your CV or your relationship with your previous advisor. Be direct and concise in your answers, they know who they're looking for, and you should also know what your really want. Never hesitate to ask the group's work phylosophy to the utmost detail, it's better to be safe than sorry. Do not assume that not discussing the work policy will keep you safe from your future's advisor judging eyes. Money is a delicate issue rarely discussed (salaries are typically fixed in universities), but it's crucial to assure that the project you're about to embark in has it continuity guaranteed throughout your whole PhD. 

If you received an offer and an advance of the subject you'll be dealing with, be ethical and critical. This means do not diffuse the information with third parties (unless you're explicity told it's okay to do it) and ask yourself whether this is the kind of science you want to work in for the next years of your life.

Finally, be honest with yourself. Be conscious of the effort and input you might be required in the groups you apply, this is normally very straighforward. It's allowed to make extreme PhDs of 7-days-a-week, it's also allowed to do one of 36 hours per week, learn to play the clarinet and enjoy your weekends doing something else. That part it's all up to you. You should actually start there: what I'm ready to offer for a given PhD? Does the work suits my life style? Do you actually want to do a PhD? In your near future you will be surprised by how many people you meet are doing PhD and just found out it's not their stuff.