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March 19th, 2012

Faith is an island in the setting sun

The conference "Infinita-mente" (an Italian pun on "infinitely" and "infinite mind") opened on Sunday with a pair of absolutely wonderful talks.

Marco Bersanelli, who works on the Planck satellite, talking about the origin of the universe, was spectacular. He was so clear that even though he spoke in Italian I could follow everything he said. At the end of the talk, he got a trick question from someone about Hawking's Grand Design and I wanted to say, "ooh, ooh, call on me, I know that one!" (having just given the Nash Lecture on that very topic) but in fact he handled it perfectly. 

Gian Francesco Giudice, another local physicist, gave a delightful talk about "Time between Science and Science Fiction" that was also very well done, illustrated with appropriate movie clips; again, a great job of covering material I have covered in the past, doing it all better than I could have done, and in Italian to boot! (He also had a lot of topical Italian jokes, which of course I could never have pulled off.)

The last talk of the evening, however, was tedious, pedantic, and presented by a guy whose Italian was just dreadful. I know. I recorded it. I never realized that my accent was that awful. Many people walked out about halfway through; I would have, too, except that I was the one giving the talk.

But then... after the talk, as I was attempting to slink away, a local amateur astronomer showed up with a copy of every book I have ever written, for me to sign. And a bunch of his friends. And an invitation to join them for a pizza... at the home of friends of theirs, about a quarter of an hour outside Verona. They have a wood-burning oven in their basement. It turned into a party of a number of local families (all the "kids", now in their thirties, were childhood friends), including friends who had moved there from Liverpool and France, the best pizza I have ever had, a dessert called a "chocolate salami", and conversation that went all over the place and which I now can't remember what was in Italian, and what was in English. Oh, and the family who were making the pizza also make their own olive oil. And their own wine.

That is what I will always remember about Verona. What a wonderful evening!

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