On Monday I started work at the Laboratory Aime Cotton, which is located atop the tallest mountain in France.  It’s a twenty minute hike from the train station, Le Guichet, to the plateau where the lab is located, and should probably involve ropes and harnesses.  For those of you in Charlottesville, it’s akin to something twice as tall as O-Hill, but steeper.  For those of you in Chicago, IT’S LIKE NOTHING YOU HAVE EVER IMAGINED.    The lab itself (and really the whole research campus on the plateau) is that style of Sixties government architecture focused on “efficiency”.  Or maybe “modularity”.  Something far away from “visually pleasing”  The exteriors are a little run-down, but I think for the French that forty or fifty years old for a building is pretty new, all things considered.  But inside is filled with lots of toys, and in fact my lab got a new Ti:Saph and pump on Friday.  It looks like no one has ever successfully written a facilities grant, but there seems to be a lot of money flowing into the labs.

When I first arrived Daniel took me around the facility, which is three floors, laid out almost as a split-level ranch.  Labs are in the basement and first floor, and the top floor is mostly offices.  I received the whirlwind tour of labs and people in them and support facilities and support staff, quickly enough that I couldn’t tell you anyone’s name or where anything was.  I then met Pierre Pillet, the lab director and my boss’s boss.  He seems quiet and a little solemn, but I think he’s actually a pretty nice guy.  He told me to take some time to get settled, both at the lab and in France.  Today we had a group meeting and at the end he stopped to ask if I was getting settled.  Clearly settling is an important process.

Lunch is interesting here.  Since we lack a zip-line to return to the valley for lunch, there’s a cafeteria on the plateau for the research campus.  Labs are divided into groups (we’re in group midi) and there’s an intercom system that calls the groups to lunch.  Interestingly, group midi lunches around 12:30.  The cafeteria offers three entrees, a variety of salads, soups, bread, desserts, cheeses, and drinks, all semi-subsidized by CNRS.  I ate whitefish, potato dumplings, legumes, carrot salad, brie, and a baguette for 4.85EUR.  Lunch is clearly what I most need to speak French for.  In the laboratory people are happy to talk in English, even when not talking to me.  However, when lunchtime rolls around, it’s all French.

Lunch is followed immediately by coffee and tea time in the Lab cafeteria, stretching lunch into the full hour, hour and a half region.  But, everyone does it and it’s part of the culture, so I’m fine with it.  Plus I’ve had brie and a baguette every day since work started.

My greatest foe in France has not been the arduous hike to work in the morning, but instead the AZERTY keyboard.  Go on, look it up, I’ll wait.  Every time I try to type something on an AZERTY keyboard it comes out horrifically wrong.  Things auickly get qll ?essed up.
If anything, it may be my Waterloo.

Wednesday morning I opened up a bank account at Societe Generale, which let me finally sign my job contract.  Later on Wednesday, I received an email telling me a room was available at Cite Internationale, so on Wednesday night I GTFO of my hotel room.  My new apartment is a recently renovated small corner studio with attached bathroom, which seems to be a kinda big deal.  Utilities, internet and weekly maid service included, 640€.  I met my maid this morning, she looks like Tally from Kid Notorious.

The new lab has been a nice place so far, there are four others in the double-room I’m working in.  Daniel I don’t see all that often, I think he’s juggling a lot of different projects at the moment.  An Italian named Andrea, three syllables, who’s teaches high school in Pisa and takes off every few years to be a guest researcher here.  He’s something in between a Haruka and an Al in position.  There are two PhD students, a first year PhD student named Paul, and a second year student Leila.  My initial project is to help Paul build a MOT, in three weeks, from the ground up.  That’s two weeks for the machine shop to finish welding the feedthroughs, and a week for baking.  In other words, this is *way* overly ambitious.  We’ll see what happens.

My office is the unofficial “International student” office, with two Frenchmen (including Paul), Manu from India, and Beatrize, from Columbia.  It turns out both Manu and Beatrize live in Cite Internationale, which I think might be the local equivalent of C-Ville’s U-Heights.  It’s where all the international kids live because it’s on the transit line.  Manu was nice enough to show me where the local Franprix is after work!

Ok, time to make a first dinner in my new place!  I’ll upload a few pictures of the hotel and the lab when I get a chance, probably this weekend!

And for those of you who don’t get the title, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck_v._Eiland-Hall