Friday, July 22, 2011

L'École d'été de Probabilités de Saint-Flour II

The next day in Saint-Flour, the summer school started. The routine for the next two weeks was to get up, eat breakfast, go to a one and a half hour lecture, take a break, go to another lecture, and then eat lunch. After lunch, there were usually two shorter talks by students about their research. Nothing was scheduled until dinner, after which was another student talk. This was usually the worst-attended talk.

After the lectures were over on my first day, I took a walk to look around and buy some postcards.

The upper town, from outside the train station.

Saint-Flour has an upper and a lower town. The upper town is the older part, and it's where I was walking. It has narrow streets that cars drive through at ridiculous speeds.

A street in the upper town.

Walking around that first day, I managed to get lost. The upper town is so small that this is a real feat. I blame it on the jetlag--I woke up at 5am that morning and was really confused about what time it was. I ended up wandering through the main square:

The main square.

Eventually, I found my way back to the abbey, establishing that a random walk in Saint-Flour is recurrent (parents and grandparents: this is an extremely bad math joke).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

L'École d'été de Probabilités de Saint-Flour I

I spent the last two weeks in Saint-Flour, France. We're not talking about Paris: I was in the Massif Central of France, the massive middle.

Sunflowers from a train window.

I left my apartment at 6am for a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth. From there I flew to Paris. I arrived at 9am and took the commuter rail to the Gare de Lyon, where I got on a train to Clermont-Ferrand. Four hours later, I discovered that my next train was actually a bus, and after a lot of miming and attempts at communication (my one year of high school French was not that helpful), I got on one of the six buses that was waiting. When the bus sat around and didn't leave when it was scheduled, I started to worry. When about twenty young children got on the bus, I really didn't know what was going on. We left, and we did seem to be going towards Saint-Flour, according to the highway signs. The person sitting behind me spoke some English to me, and then two people sitting nearby told me that I must be a probabilist, and that I was going in the right direction. This was not to last: our bus kept going down the highway right past the exit for Saint-Flour, and we all watched the town at the top of a hill, receding into the distance. This was because the bus route involved going 40 kilometers south of Saint-Flour, stopping for fifteen minutes, and then turning around and going back to Saint-Flour. And so I arrived around 7pm, after 26 hours of constant travel. The director of the summer school, Jean Picard, picked up the three of us who were on the bus and drove us to the hotel where the summer school is held. It's an old abbey. The doors are all shorter than I am.

Then was dinner: potato salad with olives, pickles, ham, and lots of mayonnaise, cucumber and tomato salad, couscous, cold meat with pickles and mustard, baguettes and four kinds of cheese with which I would soon become very familiar, and pastries with layers of cake and cream. This was all washed down with carafes of very drinkable red wine. I ate, climbed up to my room, and fell asleep.

My room.