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April 30th, 2014

After the talks...

My weekend in the UK was a delight. I had a chance to visit with many old friends, my talks went well (in a constructive way), and I ate too much curry!

Before my ET talk at Leeds Trinity I was briefly interviewed for BBC Leeds Radio, and radio is always fun. I pointed out to the producer that the thing Leeds is most famous for, to Americans of my generation, is the Who's Life in Leeds album, arguably the best live rock album of all times. He laughed, and said that the amazing thing is that he's heard concerts in the venue where it was recorded, and the acoustics there are famously awful!

My own "live at Leeds" event was recorded and is supposed to go "live" on the internet in the next week or so. Like the Who album, it was a combination of old stuff, old stuff reworked, and new material. I will be giving a talk like this a lot in the next year, to promote the book of the same name, so it was instructive to see which bits played well with that audience. I already have ideas of what to move, what to add, and what to drop from the talk.

The next day I went to the Society for the History of Astronomy, heard a couple of great talks, and gave my own talk on Angelo Secchi. My friend and fellow Jesuit Tim was shocked at the way I introduced religion into the subject – something that I would have thought was unavoidable when speaking about a priest who was an astronomer and forced into exile because of his religion; as they say in Perry Mason, that line of questioning goes to explaining the motivation behind the subject's actions. However it is apparently a topic introduced in academic circles in the UK safely, only if one has an American accent.

The too-much-curry occurred on Oxford Road, Manchester, that evening. Wonderful time! And a humbling moment... walking back to the U of Manchester RC Chaplaincy, where I was staying, one of the priests with our group suddenly stopped, waved us on, and then went over to speak with a homeless guy sitting on the sidewalk... apparently that is part of his ministry, and he knows all these folks by name. That's work that I admire and wish I had the courage to do. (The ability to do it well would help, too. I did try working with the urban poor when I was a grad student in Boston, and saw first hand how hopeless I was at it.)

Finally returning to Rome on Monday, I was in the airport at Fiumicino buying a train ticket back into Rome when an African fellow came up to me and started saying, insistently, "Pardon me sir, pardon me sir!" Finally I could ignore him no longer, and I turned to shoo him away. He was a fellow Jesuit, at the airport to pick up someone else, who recognized me and just wanted to come up and say hi.

Humbling moment number two.

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