I arrived in Rome on last Sunday evening, which happened to be my birthday, just in time to head to the train station to meet two fellow scientists coming here from Prague to attend the European Planetary Sciences Conference, whom we were putting up in our guest apartment.
Monday was spent preparing the public lecture I gave in Rome on Astrobiology. (Last week I was told I would be giving this lecture in Italian; the final compromise was that all my slides were translated into Italian but I spoke English.)
Tuesday I spent the day preparing the two papers that I then presented on Wednesday, one on measuring meteorite physical properties to help modelers of meteors, the other on the physical structure of meteoroids under 100 m diameter.
Thursday I slept.
Friday was my last trip to the meeting, where I chaired a session on public outreach centering on Year of Astronomy activities -- among them a talk from the people who run the Mars habitat in Utah (hi davidlevine !) -- and filming an interview with The History Channel at the meeting site.
Today I gave a tour of our labs to a couple of visitors from the meeting, and had pranzo with a wonderful family who live near the Observatory in Frascati.
So finally tonight I have a moment to brag about the wonderful and unexpected birthday presents I got. My visiting scientist friends found out I was celebrating, and brought me a couple of CDs of Dvořák from Prague (Stabat Mater and From the New World). I did not know the first piece (where have I been all these years?) and the second is a lifelong favorite.
I am the kind of music geek who enjoys having more than one CD, more than one interpretation, of classical pieces... which also applies to my second gift. Last spring, visiting friends outside Boston, I had mentioned how I was curious to hear the remastered Beatles set. I didn't think anything of it when they wrote me later to ask, casually, what my favorite Beatles album was. So I was completely unprepared to find a copy of the remastered Sgt. Pepper waiting for me on my desk when I arrived last week! (Yes, itis clearly better than the previous CD version, but I still need to do some serious side-by-side listening.)
The last gift was the most unexpected: a small box awaiting me in my mail that turns out to be from Fan friends in the Boston area who bought, and shipped me, a rosary made by Teresa Nielsen Hayden out of fossils (with a piece of the Sikhote-Alin meteorite tossed in)! It is now on public display in our meteorite display case here at the Specola Vaticana.