Posts Tagged ‘margaritas’

Strange things about America

June 6, 2009

In which our heroine discovers that she may not be in Kansas anymore, Toto.

1. Most of the coffee is drip-filter (or ‘dripolator’, as Mum likes to call it), not espresso-based. At breakfast at my hotel in Santa Fe, waiters would wander around with jugs of filter coffee instead of taking orders for lattes. Incidentally, most of this filter coffee is pretty terrible. My room in the hotel has a drip filter machine (!)

drip filter

but doesn’t have a kettle, so I can’t make tea. (I’ve just checked in to my hotel in Albuquerque and it’s the same—drip filter, no kettle. Yet they’ve given me teabags…)

2. All the light switches I’ve seen are either upside down or sideways.


Not a huge problem, just a slightly amusing spectacle for any hidden watchers, as it usually takes me a few moments to figure out why the light’s not turning on.

3. This one is probably peculiar to regions with a lot of Mexican food, but they seem to like chilli with everything. I went to a pizzeria for lunch on Sunday and managed to get a beautifully made, authentic Italian-style pizza

pizza with chilli

which was served with a shaker of chilli flakes, just in case I couldn’t handle the thought of food without chilli. I mean, chilli has its place, but it’s not often you find it in Italian food.

4. Tipping. How much am I supposed to tip? Can I refuse to tip if the service wasn’t up to scratch? Should I tip more at a fancy restaurant? Is it truly voluntary if restaurants enforce a tip for parties over 6 people? WHY don’t they just up the prices of the food, and pay their staff a fair wage???

5. There is almost no fruit or veg. I’m staying in a hotel in the middle of town, so I’m eating out for every meal. Most places don’t serve fruit or veg at all where I’m used to finding it (e.g. salad on the side when you buy quiche for lunch), and when you do get it, it’s often a tiny serve. Heavily processed or seasoned or dressed. And there are no supermarkets, grocers or convenience stores within walking distance, so I can’t even stock up on apples for snacks. By contrast, in the middle of Sydney and Melbourne, every corner has an IGA that at least stocks apples.

Mind you, I’m probably getting enough vitamin C from the lime juice in all those margaritas I’ve been drinking. No scurvy here. If it worked for Captain Cook, it can work for me!

6. Salad is served before the meal. In Australia, salad is served as a side dish to a meal. In Europe, salad is apparently served after the main course. Here, salad is your entree. I guess we all have our different ways.

7. Speaking of entrees…every restaurant I’ve been to here calls the first course ‘Appetizers’ and the main course ‘Entrees’. In Australia, we call the first course ‘Entrees’ and the second course ‘Mains’ (or something similar). During my first few days in the US I was involved in several conversations with waiters where we managed to just confuse each other about what size meal I wanted. I started to wonder who had the terminology right, but a handy francophone assured me that entree does indeed mean ‘entry’, as in, the start of the meal. A useful thing to know, but I don’t think I’m going to be arguing the case with any waiters—the less confusion the better!

I guess this is the joy of discovering a new country. There’s lots of wonderful things, lots of interesting things, and a few things that just seem strange. But as I said—it’s all part of the fun!

Astronomy and knitting make a great combination

June 4, 2009

So far the conference has been great—we’ve just finished the third day so there’s lots to catch you up on.

The first day, Monday, started well despite a few technical hiccups. My talk was at 4pm, after afternoon tea, in the last session of the day. At most Astronomy conferences (including this one) the talks are divided into sessions with a common theme—so my talk was appropriately in the Red Giants session. The session chair was my supervisor Peter, a logical choice I guess, since he is rather well known in the pulsating red giants field.

The talk itself went off fairly well, no technical difficulties for me, and due to many hours of practise I didn’t forget what I wanted to say. I even got a few sympathetic giggles out of the audience, who appreciated the exasperation of trying to solve the Long Secondary Period mystery. No one asked any of the questions I was expecting, and there were a couple I felt I couldn’t answer very well, but nobody seemed to mind. In fact, after all the talks had finished I had people coming up to me to compliment me on what a good talk it was! Someone even asked for a copy of my thesis when it was done—I had to break it to him that it would probably be at least a year in coming. But hey, feeling pretty chuffed :) And in the two days since, I’ve had several more people tell me what a good talk they thought it was. I’m so pleased all my work paid off, and I attribute most of my success to the Science Communication workshop I attended in November.

After a fortifying gin and tonic (oh sweet gin! it solves all problems) I joined Peter and Margaret for dinner with a couple of professors from Los Alamos. We went to a lovely local restaurant which had both tex-mex and southwest cuisine, and sat on the balcony overlooking the plaza. And had some very tasty margaritas, of course. I feel it’s my duty to sample a good range of margaritas while I’m here, it being the local specialty and all. I didn’t even realise until I came to Santa Fe that there are different sorts of margaritas. But some places have (apparently) up to a hundred on their menu.

On Tuesday, the conference seemed so much more relaxed—having got the talk over and done with did wonders for the nerves. I took the opportunity to read as many of the posters as I could during the coffee breaks. At conferences the people who don’t get scheduled for a talk (or who don’t want to give one) make a poster about their research, and these are usually displayed just outside the conference room, usually where the coffee and snacks are served. So many people submitted posters for this conference that they’re having two sessions of them: the first lot are up for the first half of the week, then they get taken down and the second lot are put up.

Tuesday was great as I started to meet some more people my age (other students and postdocs) from different institutions. I had lunch with three girls from Texas A&M, and we had the best time chatting and laughing, so much so that we were late for the after-lunch talk session! That evening we went out with a whole bunch of other people, and found some great mexican food and awesome margaritas. Vicky (from Liverpool) and I were particularly excited by the frozen margaritas served in pint glasses. Pints! And later on we returned to the hotel bar to test more margaritas, unfrozen this time but nonetheless good.


At one point Vicky’s glass made a bid for freedom—neither of us are quite sure how it happened, but one moment it was sitting happily at least 10cm from the edge, then the next moment, without any help from us, it had tipped a good measure of margarita into her lap and over the floor. Weak with laughter, I managed to make it to the bar for a wodge of serviettes, which alerted the barman to our plight. And ten minutes later, he brings us both a free margarita! To make up for having spilled the first one, apparently. Talk about score. After that, it was probably a good thing that our rooms were just upstairs!

Today we had only a half day of talks, as the conference tour to Los Alamos was taking place this afternoon. I was among those who decided not to go, feeling that I didn’t really need to know more about the Manhattan Project, and that in any case I’d rather explore Santa Fe a bit more. I joined Catherine, a Canadian girl doing a postdoc in Paris, for the afternoon. Catherine is a fellow knitter (we’ve both been knitting away at socks during the talks) so after grabbing some freshly cooked carnitas for lunch from a street vendor, we checked out a few yarn stores.

We went first to the Needle’s Eye where, remembering the size of my suitcase, I managed to restrain myself to small and light (but nonetheless wonderful!) buttons:


those goose ones are actually different sorts of inlaid wood—amazing.

Next we visited Oodles Yarn and Bead Gallery, where we were greeted by a friendly little dog called Harry. His equally friendly owner, the proprietor Bev, showed us a skein of Harry-hair yarn, and assured us their website would be up soon. Somehow some yarn jumped into my bag, but I’m consoling myself that it’s only two small skeins, and anyway, I can just take another carry-on piece when I fly home, right?


Anyway, it reminds me of summertime and fairy floss.

Then we had to make another trip to Tutto, because we liked it so much. Catherine bought some yarn for a jumper she’s been wanting to make, and I found some cute buttons that managed to distract me from most of the yarn—but it was hard to resist the Koigu.


Don’t they look just like lollies? It’ll be hard enough for me not to put them in my mouth, so I don’t think these will be going on any childrens’ knits.

Anyway, now I’m off for some Thai with Peter and Margaret—it’ll be nice to have a reprieve from all that Mexican!