I am on a trip to CIRM, Luminy which is a research institute in the town of Marseille in France, for a conference in mathematics. CIRM seems to be a wonderful place for Mathematics, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The campus is on a mountainous terrain which meets the Mediterranean sea at stone’s throw. The result is a beautiful trail leading to what the French call a “calanque“.

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Since this has been my first visit to France, I couldn’t help but observe a few quirks about the place. At the train station, there was a mobile charger which you needed to pedal, to charge your phone; can’t imagine this in the US! I traveled from Paris to Marseille, which is a distance of 800 km in 4 hours in the famous TGV train. Bullet trains are also unusual in the US.

CIRM is a purely research institute and in fact, is purely for conferences. Every week there is a conference in some area of Mathematics and researchers around the world in specific areas gather here to attend it. The lunch and dinner at the institute are elaborate and methodical and indicate to me that the French take their food seriously. Every meal is a five-course meal : entrée –> main dish –> bread + cheese (baguette et la fromage) –> dessert –> café. One of the days, we were served the famous Bouillabaise of Marseille, which is a popular local fish dish. It was served with white wine, customized to pique the mathematicians’ taste buds (read the description).

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The Mathematician’s wine

Today I went to the local supermarket to buy fruits and other groceries. It was amusing to see the number of aisles reserved for cheeses and vin (wine). Language has been a problem because only youngsters seem to know English. But politeness and the willingness to learn their culture and language go a long way in making good conversations.

Umm… what else? Well, cars park on sidewalks, cats roam freely. Roads seem narrower and cigarettes are longer. But my sample-space of a part of a small town may be too small to generalize. Tomorrow I hope to conquer Mont Puget which might offer an excellent view of the Mediterranean. More later, au revoir!

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