Written 9 May 2005, ca. 11:00 p.m.
Ifremer (written with initial capital only by official fiat) stands for "Institut Français de Recherche pour l'Exploitation de la Mer." Yes, that's "Exploitation," not "Exploration"—it's apparently entirely separate from CNRS (Centre National de Recherche Scientifique), to which the Villefranche labs belong. It has branches all over the country, but the largest is the Centre de Brest, where we are. It employs over 600 people and occupies a campus as large a respectable-sized college. The campus is part of a large industrial/research park called Technopole (Technopolis) in Plouzané, a little west of Brest. It's entirely fenced and gated; on day 1 we were issued cards that let us and our car in through the gate in the morning and out again in the evening. Inside, nobody bothers to lock anything. It's like a university campus between semesters, only more so. No undergrads, no grad students, no general public, no vagrants, thieves, salesmen, or riffraff —just faculty, techs, and support staff!
The attractive, modern buildings are set on a hill overlooking the inlet leading to Brest, separated by lawns and shrubbery, although "lawn" is too poor a term. They're more like short-grass meadows. The grass is densely strewn with marguerites (fingernail-sized white daisies) and shiny yellow buttercups, and the overall green, yellow, and white aspect is overlain by a haze of reddish from the taller, sparser sorrel blossoms. Only when you look a little more closely do you see the thick "understory" of thousands of violets, many Veronica blossoms, and a scattering of scarlet pimpernels nestling in the grass. It's gorgeous. Spring is well along, so the azaleas and rhododendrons are also in bloom. We're with the deep-sea group, in Peres building (shown in the photo), which occupies the privileged position at the top of the hill nearest the sea, so the view is sweeping.
Right next door is the University of Brest, and the IFREMER library is technically on its grounds, so to get in, you use your gate card to get through one of those tall, iron-maiden-type turnstyles in the IFREMER security fence. The library is just across the road from our building, but it's quite far from the middle of the university and is typically deserted, so it's a great place to go for peace and quiet if the IFREMER hallways are too busy to suit you. It's one large room (though the floor is on several different levels) with handsome wooden shelving and lots of glass wall providing a panoramic sea view. During our brief tour I spotted a terrific wall of reference books, so I plan to go over there tomorrow to check a bunch of geographical names—WebLUIS doesn't seem to provide a good geographical dictionary on line.
After our introductory tour on the first day, we were whisked through the registration process and issued access cards, then assigned to office space. I'm using a spare desk in the corner of a computer-tech's office, and David is using the office of a colleague who's at sea for three weeks. I actually prefer to use the desk only as a table, for my water bottle, a book or two, etc.—desks are always too high to use a laptop on—so we got ourselves a tube of French superglue, and David successfully glued the leg back onto my folding computer table. It held for two days, but when our host, David's colleague Daniel Désbruyère, admired the concept, and I picked it up to show him, the leg fell off again. "Never fear!" he cried (in French, of course), "Our techs can fix anything!" The tech in question turned out to be Phillipe, beside whom I had sat at lunch on Monday. He said glue would never hold at such an angle and asked if he could drill through the leg. I said sure, since the tripod was otherwise useless, and he brought it back in under 10 minutes with the leg strapped on with cable ties, but the dratted knob came off again while he was drilling the leg. It didn't stand quite level, and it couldn't be folded without the knob, but it held over the long weekend and until yesterday morning, when the cable ties broke. He replaced them, and they're holding still, but the newly ordered replacement arrived yesterday afternoon. We'll have to remove the cable ties and dismantle the whole thing to get the old tripod back to the states (it's under warranty, and the insTand people have promised to replace it if I return it to them for inspection in July), but I plan to photograph it first, so that I can send the manufacturer a picture of the tripod functioning with its arm in a sling!
Written 10 May 2005
The deep-sea group is very collegial. Everyone's office door stands open all day, even when the office is empty, and the hallways are full of people leaning on the wall comparing notes. Promptly at noon every day, the whole group—20 or 30 people— gathers in the lobby and sets off together for the cafeteria, a little way down the hill toward the sea. It works like the cafeteria at CNRS Montpellier—a meal ticket (1.75 euros for locals, 7.00 for us outsiders) covers a three "small dishes" (i.e., appetizer, cheese, and dessert, although I suppose you could take three cheeses if you wanted, or an appetizer and two desserts) and one "large dish" (i.e., hot main course and its vegetables). For a small supplemental fee, you can substitute the salad bar for one of the small dishes. The day we were there (last Monday, our first day at the lab), I had a salad of hard-cooked egg and diced cooked beets, a very good slice of rare roast beef with gravy and fries, a wedge of brie, and île flottant. The group sits together at a number of adjacent tables, as space permits. Someone goes off to the water station to bring back a couple of pitchers while everyone visits the condiment stations of their choice (I got mayo and vinaigrette for the beets). You help yourself to baguette chunks from a big basket. Wine is available, but I didn't notice whether it's included in the meal or entails a supplement.
When you've finished eating, you pass through a short hallway (where you leave your tray on a conveyer belt) to the coffee room, where you get your coffee, tea, or herb infusion from the bar and drink it either at the little standing-height café tables or sitting on the steps outside the big glass doors, overlooking the sea.
David and I agree that we can't possibly eat a four-course lunch every day (well, we could, easily, but we'd rapidly grow out of our clothes), and everyone else agrees that 7 euros is outrageously expensive (though you could in no way get that meal for that price in any restaurant in France), so we've gone back to packing our baguette sandwiches.
We were introduced around during our initial tour, but today is the day when everyone actually learns what we do. David is scheduled to give a lecture at 10 a.m., and I'm scheduled for two hours of demonstrating editing this afternoon. Should be fun.
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