Thursday, September 18, 2008

Love Under the Umbrella

L'amour sous le parapluie
is a strange thing
fresh, fragile
my fingers are ice
your lips are fire

L'amour sous le parapluie
idles with Chopin
on mirror streets
dances on stiletto heels
over borrowed dreams

I sink into you, my darling
you rush into me
while the sombre rain shelters,
l'amour sous le parapluie

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Of Atom-Smashers, “God Particles”, Black Holes, and the Large Hadron Rap

The stuff of my much beloved science fiction is coming to life. It’s been doing that continuously for a few years now, so much that, unfortunately, for many it has almost become trivial – just another title in the not-so-important news. (I remember 1997 when I was watching 3D-images of landscapes on Mars live on the Internet!)

Water on ancient Mars, talks of colonizing the Moon, close encounters with asteroids, the discovery of Earth-like planets around distant suns, NASA’s Gravity Probe B testing Einstein theory of General Relativity, etc., etc., etc.

I love all this! I almost cannot believe it is happening and I sometimes feel as if I’m living in a dream. I feel dizzy with pleasure only when I think about cosmology, astrophysics, particle physics, or space-time, to mention just a few.

So what is this all about?

It’s about the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) being switched on yesterday at CERN (the European Centre for Nuclear Research) underneath the French-Swiss border near Geneva.

The LHC is the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. In it, guided by superconducting electromagnets, two beams of subatomic particles – protons or lead ions – called “hadrons”, will travel in opposite directions at 99.999% of the speed of light before colliding with one another. According to the CERN website, “The particles are so tiny that the task of making them collide is akin to firing needles from two positions 10 km apart with such precision that they meet halfway!”

The purpose? To replicate the conditions at the beginning of the Universe, a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang. To further the study of the very fabric of the Universe; to reveal the nature of dark matter, an invisible hypothetical matter whose presence can be inferred from the gravitational effects on visible matter; to discover evidence of the hypothetical Higgs boson, popularised as “the God Particle”, the elementary particle that might give other particles their mass.

Obviously, there are voices that criticise the project and even battle it legally in courts of law. “It must be stopped,” they shout. Their fear is that a black hole will be formed in the process, and that this black hole could assume an orbit within Earth, consuming it in microscopic amounts until the whole planet is gone.

I don’t mind a good doomsday story but this is just not it. I am far more interested in this as an example of the heights the human minds are reaching and in the advancement of science. And although I generally believe that, most likely, we will never reach TRUE or ABSOLUTE knowledge, every little step towards it is a reason for hope and joy.

I’ll leave you with the video of Kate McAlpine, the 23-year-old Michigan State University graduate and science writer who raps about the LHC. I think it’s a great “science rap.”

Tuesday, September 09, 2008


Run, rain, run,

in my eyes
on my face
in my place

Drop, droplet, drop,

with a ring
on a string
of my heart

Blow, wind, blow,

through the leaves
in the wings
of my soul

Shine, sun, shine,

with a hope
at the height
of my life

(Photo from Smashing Magazine)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Problem

A dear friend, a philosopher of sorts, came to me this morning and said, “Do you know? I’ve discovered the problem of humanity.”

I let out a guffaw.

“I was stuck in traffic today,” he continued, smiling at my half-puzzled half-amused look, “for more than an hour and, while I sat in my car and listened to my music, I had this revelation. It explains everything. I know now. The humankind’s problem is the …brain.”

I laughed again but only in profound approval. Not only it made a lot of sense to me but also it was something that I often think about although I’ve never considered my friend’s vast, planetary scope.

For me it’s long been a personal observation and a source of mild astonishment especially at moments of deep physical fatigue when, rather than stop and allow my poor body to rest, my brain would command it to go forward. Go forward in doing things that I liked, things that I wanted, things that first and above all – even though I didn’t recognise them as such - stimulated the pleasure centres (I don’t know if they’re called like that, but you know what I mean) of my brain. And the reverse, if you want, the sedentariness, the chocolate, the taxing hours spent in front of a screen or of a piece of paper – same purpose, different damaging effects on the body.

So, I sometimes feel like a walking (or sitting) brain. A ruthless, merciless, selfish brain, an undeclared worshipper of god Epicurus. Epicurus was not a god but a Greek philosopher who lived around 300 B.C. and who held that the highest good is pleasure or freedom from pain.

I think we are most of the time endorphin seekers, that we try to do as much as possible the things that we like, those that give us pleasure. It doesn’t matter under which form, physical or intellectual, good or bad, selfish of selfless, legal or illegal, or even if we realise we’re doing them. Some will endanger their lives for the sake of thrills that will release the much-coveted adrenaline. I haven’t done jogging in many years but I remember the so-called “runner’s high” and I miss it. Right now, I (or should I say my brain?) treasure writing and reading above most other things. I get from them a “high” to which I return despite the obstacles and the disappointments, over and over again.

This is my interpretation. My friend, in his droll way, was thinking, among other aspects, of stupidity, to which he has a very low tolerance indeed, or any kind of madness. The solution? No brain.

Ha! Ha! Ha! I wonder…

Funny how powerful this “soft convoluted mass of nervous tissue within the skull of vertebrates that is the controlling and coordinating centre of the nervous system and the seat of thought, memory and emotion” (according to the Collins Concise English Dictionary) is. Funny, scary, and absolutely fascinating.

Monday, September 01, 2008

A Shadow on the Sand

Sometimes -
despite my petty arrogance
or my funny wailings -
I get this absolute
that I am
a shadow
on the sand.
I fear the wind then,
that caresses
the smallest cloud,
and a sunset,
instead of filling me
with beauty,
absolutely terrifies

Only sometimes…