The lab

posted 14 February 2005

Russian HouseDavid took this photo of the lab during one of our lunch-time walks. The large building nearest the camera is (for complicated historical reasons) called La Maison Russe (Russian House). It was built in 1597 and, among other uses, at one time housed galley slaves (convicts, I think). Inside, it originally had two levels, both structured like cathedrals, with a long, tall nave down the center flanked by slightly lower side galleries separated from the nave by a long row of arches. The upper level, whose windows you can see is perhaps 50 feet high in the center, the lower level (mostly below ground and hidden here by the sea wall) is about 20 feet high in the center. Now, the two side galleries on each level have been partitioned off (piecemeal and in different ways at different times) and divided into offices and labs--in places, two layers of offices. The little projection on the nearest corner of the building, mostly obscured by the bare tree, is (drum-roll please) the Director's Balcony, from which he can survey the harbor.

The smaller building to the right of La Maison Russe is La Vielle Forge (the old forge), so called because that's where all the leg irons for those convicts were made. That's where my office is. Finally, the lab's third major building is just barely visible--the patch of mustard-colored wall just above the seawall at the right-hand edge of the picture. That's "La Corderie" (The Ropeworks). The reason "cable" is a unit of measure in nautical parlance is that, in the 16th century, ropes were made in a standard length, defined by the length of the building in which they were made. Every major port had a long, straight, narrow building, open along its entire length inside, in which many thin strands of hemp could be laid out for twisting into ropes a "cable" long. Before 1960, part of La Corderie was occupied by Evelyn's beloved U.S. Navy PX, but now it's all part of the Observatoire Océanologique.

On the near side of the sea wall, just to the right of the flat, sunlit section of wall, you can see a few people standing on the ponton, where we eat lunch in good weather. Laurence lives in ones of those buildings about 2/3 of the way up the hill behind the lab. The upper courtyard runs the length of La Maison Russe on the side away from the camera. My window faces on the lower courtyard, which is between La Maison Russe and La Ville Forge and opens onto the ponton through a gate in the sea wall (the top of the gate is visible above the sunlit wall).

GateEach day, after dealing with the already haphazard world of French parking, made more complicated by the current roadwork, where they're finally cleaning up after a six-year-old landslide (the subject of a whole other story), we walk into the lab compound through this wonderfully quaint little gate. (A more modern and official brass plaque on one of the stout wooden doors gives fuller information about just what you are entering.) You can, from here, turn right into the upper courtyard (you can see light streaming in through that gate), go a little further in and turn left to go down crooked stone steps into the lower courtyard, or go straight ahead and enter La Maison Russe.

Lower courtyardHere's the view from the steps down into the lower courtyard, with its bitter-orange trees, tall persimmon trees (clinging to the last of the season's crop), date palms, purple irises, and other assorted, rather neglected plants. Laurence's office window is at the upper right. Mine is just out of sight at the upper left.

Now, you think we have problems in Conradi Building? You should see this place. Imagine, for example, all the wiring and retrofitting and lab renovations that we've had to do as the internet came in and as people came and left, but in a collection of 16th-century buildings with solid stone walls a foot thick, which are classified historic monuments and therefore cannot be changed -- that is, nothing can be glued, nailed, or so much as taped to (let alone embedded in) their walls without the equivalent of an act of Congress. Everything is always lightly covered in stone dust. Then, for the clutter and crampedness of the offices and library, picture Dr. Heard's or Dr. Mariscal's office before they moved out, and contrast it with areas with vaulted brick ceilings 50 feet overhead and room to refit a ship in, now equipped with rows of mismatched refrigerators, freezers, incubators, open-air carpentry shops, diving equipment, aquaria. And the ivy growing in the windows, the pigeons (several species) nesting in niches in the stone, the ancient plumbing facilities, the mixture of ancient and modern doors and partitions of wood, glass, sheetrock, tile, or whatever was in during that decade. It has to be seen to be believed. And there aren't enough keys to go around for all the shared rooms and offices, so every fourth drawer, book, tray, and jar has a key hidden under it. Offices open off labs, or other offices, or shared-equipment rooms. Getting back into the office where you left your computer after everyone has gone to a colloquium can involve three or four different locked doors -- it's like a scavenger hunt for the keys!

Room numbers? We don't need no stinkin' room numbers! Listening to Laurence telling the local computer guru how to get to David's office in the basement mezzanine of La Maison Russe (from his own office, two floors directly above, in the main-floor mezzanine) was a riot: "He's sharing Maëlle's office; you know, Maëlle the doctoral student. In the aquarium. No, no, in the same building you are, but downstairs and in through the lower courtyard. Yes, I assure you, there is an aquarium in it, back toward the back on the left--maybe you've never been back there. Anyway, you come in from the courtyard and then up the wooden stairs on the left--the first one, with the red railing--and through the office with those two Austrians who don't speak French yet. Yes, to the left through their office. See you soon."

Halle aux FiletsAquarium hallThe photo on the left is the "Halle aux Filets" (the Net Hall, so called because of the long, conical plankton nets hung from its ceiling for storage), the upper nave of La Maison Russe. You can see from the two layers of mezzanines at the far end that it's a generous three stories tall. The structures under the mezzenines are library stacks, overflowing out of the library, whose entrance is at the far end, behind the stairs. At the right, you can see some of the archways, once open to the nave but now walled off to make offices and labs. The ones on the left-hand wall are the choicest, because they have the lovely ocean view. The director's office--the only one with a balcony--is to the left at mezzanine level.

DT's officeThe photo on on the right is the Aquarium Hall, the lower nave of La Maison Russe. I looked farther back on the left, and yes, there is a large aquarium. It's full of eels, which somebody is using in his research. The wooden staircase with the red railing leads (through the office with the two Austrians who don't speak French yet) to David's office. In the photo looking up toward David's office, David is hidden behind the large square of poster board standing against the glass, but if you look closely, you can see Maëlle, David's officemate, peeking out between the various sheets of paper taped to the glass.

previous entry     List of Entries     next entry