Monday, August 06, 2007

New York, New York

Sorry about the deathly silence, folks. The truth is, my blog has been going through some growing pains this summer.
The whole purpose of it had been to provide my family with an easy way to see what I was up to when we were scattered all over the world (my parents in Madagascar, my sister in Senegal and Congo, my brother in Saudi). But now that I'm living at home again, and that my sister is back in D.C., I find my self at a bit of a loss of what I should write here (my brother is irrelevant because he never reads this anyway!).
Add to that the fact that my life this summer hasn't been anything to write home about (work, eat, sleep, repeat), and, well, you get a blog that isn't ever updated. I'm sorry.

I did end up going to New York city this weekend, which was wonderfully refreshing. I could really see myself living there at some point in my life. I'll put up some pictures when I get 'em (my camera died, as usual).
Until then, this blog is probably not going to be very exciting until I move out of D.C.. This may happen next year; I have vague plans to move out to South America, but as with everything else in my life at the moment, nothing is set in stone.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Wow. This may come as no surprise to anyone, but my job has completely monopolized my life. As my mother is fond of saying: T'as plus une vie d'étudiante, hein!, which roughly translated means: "You foolish girl, you're a working woman now. You can't have your cake and eat it too."

Which, naturally, is what I've been trying to do: work during the day, and not necessarily pass out once I come home at night, exhausted. So far I've managed to discover a few nice areas in Washington D.C., but I have to admit that my mother is right; I'm going to have to compromise. I can't do as much as I used to!

I'm going to miss showering!

Just kidding.

Part of the reason I've been so exhausted is because I've been trying to make the most of where I work. I haven't mentioned this before, but I managed to score a summer internship at the National Institutes of Health. Although my job is a standard Lab Bitch position, I've been going early (and leaving late!) trying to absorb every opportunity I can. So far, I've attended a plethora of talks, I've shadowed doctors on rounds, and I've ingratiated myself (or tried to) with the nurses so they'd let me sit through procedures. Recently, I attended an autopsy.

I'm not sure how interesting anyone who isn't medically inclined would find an autopsy description, so I'll gloss over the details. I found that, basically, the entire experience was reminiscent of Body Worlds, just juicier.
The hardest part was before the morticians got started, as there was little way of ignoring the fact that the body laid out before me was a corpse, and not just some extremely graphic learning tool. I was really shocked at how roughly they handled the body, but I suppose that this is their job, after all, and that the corpses don't feel anything. Still...
The man being autopsied was a 48 year old cancer patient. He suffered from multiple myelomas, and it was fascinating to be able to see the lesions first hand, rather than just as a dark blotch on a CT scans.
The mortician did his job very efficiently (apart from when he dropped his glasses in the chest cavity!), but eventually warmed up to me and started explaining what he was doing, and why. He showed me how to remove the spinal cord, how to cut out the intestines, how to check whether or not there are tumors in the lungs (see if they float in water), how to remove the testicles (the hardest part, according to him), and even explained how bodies are embalmed in funeral homes.

It was a very interesting experience, but not necessarily one I'd get up at 5:30 again for!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Don't eat the doughnuts!

Last week, as my boss John and I were walking past our lunch room, I noticed that lab next to ours must have had a meeting there earlier: delicious doughnut smells wafted out. I peeked in and saw that they'd left several glistening doughnuts. My mouth filled with water.

"Oh wow... they just left doughnuts there..." I murmured, very tempted to pick at the leftovers.

John hears this and stops in his tracks.

"Never eat doughnuts lying around here!" I looked at him with confusion. He went to tell me a (true?) story that happened right here at the NIH.

Apparently a post-doctorate student has worked for years without any recognition. When his supervisor decided to publish his results--without acknowledging him--that was the last straw. The next time his lab had a coffee & doughnuts meeting, he sneaked out and sprinkled the doughnuts with sodium fluoride, a toxic powder which looks very much like sugar. Pretty soon the researchers started suffering from stomach cramps and bouts of vomiting, and where admitted to the hospital.

There wasn't enough evidence to detain the wronged post-doc, but apparently his contract wasn't renewed!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Field trip! Hains Point

Yesterday I organized a picnic at this really cool statue called "The Awakening" that I wanted to see before it gets moved (it's been at Hains Point--an peninsula near the monuments which overlooks the Potomac--for 27 years now and has just been sold).

It was your classic good idea, bad idea scenario.
Good idea: organizing a picnic at a wickedly cool statue with friends and coworkers.

Bad idea: realizing that getting there involves an hour and a half walk in the sun. Each way.
Holy sunstroke, batman! I spent the rest of my Saturday night shivering with a migraine, feeling pukey, and cursing my English genes.

The coworkers didn't show (unsurprisingly), but I did end up having a splendid time with friends Emma and Andrew, and Vianney.

Here are a few pictures before I get the rest (most of them were taken with Vianney's camera; I'll add 'em when I get 'em):

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

On proper concert attire (or: How to be Cool*)

I explained the Unspoken Rules of Concert Attire to my sister the other day, in anticipation of the Feist concert we will be going to tonight.

Do you also want to maximize your indie cred at the next concert you go to? Here's what you do.

The first rule is to wear a band t-shirt. This boosts your indie cred automatically, because it showcases that:
1) You like music.
2) You like good music (note: the more obscure the band, the better, as demonstrated by the Theory of Hipster Relativity).
3) You like good music enough to support it by buying merchandise--thus providing the artist with revenue, rather than paying off evil music corporations.

However, one thing that you do want to avoid is wearing the artist's t-shirt at their own concert. This is a faux-pas (caveat: if you're wearing a t-shirt which has since been discontinued, you're OK).

If you really want to hit the indie-cool nirvana however, you're going to have to put in a little bit more effort.
The trick is to wear a t-shirt which, to the unknowing observing, appears totally unrelated to the artist in question, but to the knowledgeable indie rock fan, is clearly related.

A good example would be to, say, wear an Alexisonfire t-shirt at a City and Colour concert. There's the link? The front man for City and Colour is also a band member of Alexisonfire.
An even better example would be to wear an Arcade Fire t-shirt to a Final Fantasy concert. Owen Pallet (who is, essentially, Final Fantasy) co-wrote some of the songs on the Arcade Fire album Funeral, and toured with them for a while. By wearing the t-shirt, you're showcasing the fact that you are nerdy enough about your musical tastes to research them: you know who wrote them, who played the songs, who produced them, who toured with whom, and when. Congratulations: you are an indie rock god.

As for me? I will be wearing my Broken Social Scene t-shirt tonight, because Feist contributed to their second album, You Forgot it in People (actually, I'm wearing it because I like it).

*Note: by "How to be Cool", I mean how to be cool in the eyes of a very limited subset of the population. I am by no means suggesting you try these rules in everyday situations. But if you do and they work, please let me know!

Monday, June 11, 2007


Ok, I was going to wait until I got some pictures of the actual event before posting about graduation, but I think it's been long enough already! I'll add photos when (if?) I get them.

Graduation was, surprisingly, really nice.

It rained almost constantly the entire time I was in Montreal, with the exception of May 28th, my graduation. The sun was shinning, the birds were singing, the temperature was just right. All around campus, scores of beaming undergrads were posing in their cap and gowns.

As for me, well, I was nervous!
When I graduated from high school, I forgot to shake our speaker's hand, and instead grabbed my diploma and made a mad dash across the stage. My only thought was to get off the stage as quickly as possible, but I soon realised that I made a faux-pas when I heard the snickers behind me.
So the night before my McGill grad, I tossed and turned. I don't think I got much sleep, but when I did, they were awful nightmares involving DNA gels that wouldn't cast properly (I think we'd already established that I'm a nerd, correct?).

Amazingly, my whole family turned up, on time, at the correct location. Organizing anything with my family is like herding cats, so I really have to hand it to them this time. I donned my gown, my cape, and my cap, and wandered off to join my fellow graduating students. They lined us up according to number (I was #186), according to McGill's long standing tradition of assigning students a number rather than a name. We were told a few encouraging words from the chancellor ("Stay in line! You'll be told where to go!"), and off we went!

The McGill get-up is awful. Our capes were ridiculously impractical, consisting of a hood which strangles you as you wear it, with satin a shade of yellow that looks like the satanic love-child between glow-in-the-dark and snot yellow.

Grad itself was much shorter than anticipated; we marched in to the sound of bag pipes, Daniel Dennett gave us a speech (which was rather dissapointing, actually), and they read off our names at a fair clip (6 seconds a name). We trotted on stage, shook hands with various Important Figures (and, in the case of biology students, got a vigorous hug from our counselor and guru Anne Comeau), threw up our caps and, voila! We were officially overgrads!

Afterwards, we all milled around awkwardly. There was too much confusion to be able to track down friends, but I managed to find a few (and naturally, we posed for pictures). It was really interesting to meet friends' families and think: so that's where they get that from.

In retrospect, I still can't really believe that it happened.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Back in the Distirict

Augh, I am so sorry I have been neglecting this blog. It's been an action-packed few days!

Because my supervisor granted me some extra time off, I decided to take the bus up to Boston for a few days, then spend a week in Montreal before enduring the grueling 15 hour bus ride back down to D.C.

Surprisingly though, I decided to bus down a day or two two earlier than I had anticipated.

As amazing as Montreal was, I no longer live there. And to be honest, having to drift from couch to couch and eat out all the time weighed down on me. As much as I'd like it to be, Montreal is no longer my home, and I'm going to have to face that fact. It isn't easy.

I still check the weather in Montreal every day (it still sucks). And scan for interesting concerts (of which there are many). And receive news-letters on where the hot spots to swing dance are.

And I certainly still feel far more at home there than I do here. When I walk in the streets of Montreal, people react to me. I can smile at a stranger, and they will smile right back. Or sometimes even start a conversation. I have 'mojo' in Montreal, which is pretty much non existent here. In D.C., people are so engrossed in themselves that they don't even seem to notice people around them. It's easy to feel isolated.

But I've got to start making an effort. I didn't last month, and was miserable. Things are already starting to look up; I'm going to start helping out at this horse farm I used to work at in high school, I've (tentatively) contacted a few acquaintances from high school, and I've even started scanning for interesting concerts here (of which there are few).

Hey, it's a start, right?

Monday, May 28, 2007


Hey, I'm graduating today! I slept horribly last night, so I guess I must be nervous.

It's good to be back in Montreal, and be able to walk to my grocery store. People are so good looking here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Lab moment

So I seem to have this habit of having one truly mortifying lab moment in every lab I start working in.

I think this one may take the cake, but I'm going to let you, gentle readers, be the judge of that.

My friend Chris and I have a bit of a bet going on. Each of us claims that the lab we're working in now is messier than the other's. A few days ago, he upped the ante by actually snapping pictures of the mess. Not to be shown up, I naturally grabbed my camera with the intention of proving to him that my lab was, in fact, messier than his lab.

So here I am, surrepticiously snapping photos while my co-worker Jason has stepped out for a few minutes. But I wasn't fast enough-- and he walks in on me taking pictures of the mess! For a second, we both freeze: I look like a 4 year old who's been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and Jason just has this striken look, still clutching the door knob, as though he's contemplating just leaving the lab and pretending this never happened. Then he grins.

Him (with a wicked Australian accent): Ah, so you're taking pictures of the mess, are you?
Me (voice high-pitched with embarassement): Ahahaha! No no of course not! I always take pictures of the labs I work in!
Him: ...Right. 'What a good lab should not look like'.

We had ourselves a good laugh. But since then, I haven't brought my camera to work, and he's started cleaning up.

Here are the pictures.
First, Chris' lab:

I have to admit that he's got a point. It's a total mess.

Now mine:

This is a picture of the fume hood I work in. Everything is meant to be sterile, but as it is, I'm terrifyed of knocking over the precarious tower of nasty looking tubes.

Why so many chairs? There are only two of us in the lab, and Jason has his own office! Maybe it's because the pink chairs are too crusty to actually be used. At this point, Jason walked in before I could take truly incriminating pictures. But note the scary-looking fridge in the back. Good luck finding anything in there!

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Being home is one heck of an adjustment, and how I feel about it seems to shift from day to day. Some days are good, some days are not so good.

Rather than post about it, I'm going to cop-out and post this instead:

It's good to know that someone, out there, has exactly the sense of humour that I do.