Posts Tagged “new home”
After a long, complex, and quantitative assessment, Adrian and I have decided to move to Belgium.
We will wake up to scenes like this:
And I will shop for my new iMac in stores like this:
We will be neighbours with The Netherlands, France, Luxembourg, England, and Germany. Living in the capital of the European Commission in a country with a rich history and fascinating customs. Every weekend will be an extraordinary adventure, and every weekday will be a fascinating experience.
Adrian will be a professor of immunology associated with the Flanders Institute of Biotechnology, and I will have excellent opportunities to find a interesting and challenging job in global health.
I am terrified and excited.
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On one of our last days in Belgium, we visited Leuven. On that day we discovered that many Europe-wide clinical trials are co-ordinated from here. If we had known earlier, I could have set up some interviews. Instead, I wandered through the the town and explored its parks and inhabitants.
It is the home of Stella Artois, as well at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the largest university in Benelux, and the oldest active Catholic university (though its Catholicness is in debate, as it chooses progressive measures over dogma, housing a hospital that conducts abortions and euthanasia as well as a research centre that uses stem cells). It is a university town, though during summer it is only those students who must resit their exams that were present, adding a sombre air to the city.
In various nooks and crannies, there are sculptures that reflect its position as a place of learning. Knowledge, communication, and contemplation are all epitomised in bronze throughout the town. The last sculpture is called “Renee”, but it reminded me of Sarah, lost in her thoughts as she waits for the bus.
It’s coming down to the line, and we still haven’t decided on our new home. One major mark against Belgium is its weather. If we look month by month, and compare the average temperature highs, lows, as well as the days with less than 0.1 mm rain, and the blue sky index (sunny=100, overcast =0), Montreal wins on most counts, apart from the appalling lows during winter:
It is amusing to think that for most of my life I have lived in Canberra, which according to Australian consensus, has terrible weather, and the “harsh climate” is often given as a reason for moving up north. Yet compared to Montreal, it is a paradise of sun and warmth (Canberra data shifted 6 months for comparison):
As a scientist, I make most of my judgements with numbers. I do experiments, collate the data, and conduct statistical analyses – t-tests, ANOVA, regressions – I can do them all. If it can be quantified, I will try to summarise it, graph it, compare it. If only the Euclidian distance of Brussels and Montreal could be calculated, and a definite number could be calculated.
Instead, we are left with pros and cons. Is it better to have sunny freezing days or warmer gloomy days? Lower wages in the center of Europe or higher wages on the other side of the Atlantic? English as an official language that seems unwanted or as an unofficial language that seems embraced? A costly plain apartment that is one hour from Paris, or a beautiful Victorian stone townhouse that we could pay off in five years? Living next to Brussels Central Station but working a long train ride away, or living in the tranquility of Plateau and working a short bicycle ride away? Superb education and cheap childcare in a bilingual city, or very good education and costly childcare in the capital of the European Commission? Biodome or Atomium?
How are we supposed to answer these questions?
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I love revisiting the site of old World Fairs, and Brussels hosted two great ones in 1935 and 1958. They built the Palais de Expositions for the 1935 expo, but covered the whole building with cloth for the 1958 event held on the same site because they felt that its art deco appearance was not futuristic enough.
The first World’s Fair after World War II occurred 13 years after the war, and was in Belgium in 1958. The theme was “technology for the progress of humankind”. The centerpiece of the expo was Atomium (atom plus aluminium). An iron crystal with nine atoms, magnified 165 billion times, and towering 105 metres above the ground, it is an imposing and spectacular structure. It took two years of a team of construction-acrobats to assemble, working day and night, rain and snow, with no helmets or harnesses. There were no deaths during its construction, only one broken leg.
Each atom is joined by a powered escalator, that at 39 metres were the longest in Europe in 1958, and the trip to the top atom is via what was the fastest lift in the world, designed by Schindler to travel 5 metres per second. One of the spheres is reserved for children between the ages of 6-12 years who can hire it overnight, and fall asleep inside the oxygen of water molecules that descend from the ceiling like rain. They still sell the same treats today at the Polka Dot Cafe that existed fifty years ago – the Cha Cha biscuit and Dessert 58.
The 186 days of the expo were not a success, they were a triumph. Over 41 million people visited the Worlds Fair, and at night they could look up and see the lights twinkling around each sphere of the Atomium, like electrons orbiting their nuclei. Walt Disney was in Brussels working on Peter Pan, and he was saddened that the expo was to disappear at the end of September. This inspired him to built the EPCOT center and theme parks that would never be torn down.
Like the Eiffel tower, the Atomium was intended to be a temporary structure. As such, its outer spheres were coated with aluminium sheets that were only 1.2 mm thick, which was showing its age by 2004. For its fiftieth birthday, the Atomium was given a complete makeover. It was completely stripped down to its skeleton, and then the aluminium and fiberglass spheres replaced with galvanized and stainless steel. Today, this structure should correctly be called Atosteel, as no trace of aluminium remains today.
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