Text and pictures © 2005-2021 Guillaume Dargaud
Last updated on 2018/10/17
"Q: How many antarcticians does it take to change a light bulb ?
A: 13, but it's gonna stay dark for 3 months anyway."
Right: Pascal in awkward position to clean the top of the stairs.
April 30th — It's the end of autumn and the last week had pretty poor weather, all overcast, and we were beginning to wonder if we were ever going to see the sun again (that is, before september). Fortunately on saturday we get a stupendous clear sky. In the afternoon it's the now usual station cleaning day, but restricted today to the inside of the station where we continue cleaning the walls of all the soot accumulated during construction, the graffiti done by the construction workers computing their marks without a piece of paper and the various scrapes suffered by the walls. Late on Saturday evening I go keep company to Karim who's forgotten to plug a cable on some remote instrument inside his container. We spend a few minutes outside looking at the stars and at a faint aurora above Concordia. The next day Karim installs his camera to take a sequence of the sun barely pointing its nose above the horizon.
Left: Stephane and Emanuele choosing their military rations on May 1st.
May 1st — May 1st is "I'm on strike" day in France and the tradition in Antarctica is to eat some of the survival rations so that Jean-Louis can also take a break. They are military rations a couple years past their prime due to the time they spent frozen in some forgotten tent. Everyone has his box, cans, candy and mini-stove. Several cheat and heat their cans in the microwave instead of bothering with the sugar-cube-like stove. We leave scorch marks on the tables and plates but I don't think we would go very far is we had to use those 'stoves' outside...
Right: The last sun seen from the roof of the noisy building.
May 4th — It's the last time we see the sun. Today around 11:45 we saw a little bright line on the horizon for a few minutes. Next time will be in about 3 months on August 10th. It won't be permanently dark for a few more days. Right now there's a glow on the horizon from around 10 to 14:00, enough to walk outside without headlamp. There are some powerful lamps on the 4 entrances of Concordia, and we turn them on only when going outside for a stroll. Lamps are not necessary when the full moon is up, the moonlight reflected by the snow making for a very bright night; but when only the stars are out the sky is very deep dark. No light pollution here. And indeed getting away from light pollution is one of the reasons why astronomers want to come to this site. Once they install powerful telescope which can collect individual photons they will want Concordia to be as dark as possible, like at the American station of South Pole where all the windows are blinded in winter and people walk outside in the dark with only red headlamps to guide them. Right now Karim doesn't do astronomy imaging, he's only just qualifying the site with various instruments measuring the turbulence. But next winter they'll enforce an 'all dark' rule. In the meanwhile we can enjoy the view of the station in the darkness, its windows glowing like a ship on an ocean of darkness.
Left: Everyone at the videoconference with the minister of research.
The other main event of the day after the sun's last viewing is the videoconference with the ministry of research in Paris. Karim has been preparing this encounter for 3 weeks. First it was decided to change room, the normal radio-communication room being definitely too small to crowd everyone together. The room next door, used for storage, has been emptied of its boxes and trash, the two indoor communication antennas isolated behind steel curtains, chairs brought from an outside container, the communication equipment installed and connected, lights added (too many lights, I can't even open my eyes in there). There are several tests before the official connection: communication tests and preparatory speeches during which the boss outmaneuvers Claire by forcing her to take the front middle seat and deliver the official greetings. We rehearse our text. When the serious moment comes, it comes sputtering, requiring about 5 calls before the connection is finally established. Since it begins with several speeches by the minister and officials on the other side, we spend 30 minutes just looking at the screen, trying to recognize people on the other side: colleagues, government officials and, most important, family members invited for the occasion. It's the 1st time we actually 'see' our family for something like 6 months. The conference is interesting and lasts for more than an hour, we get to blurt out our prepared text. We smile as Emanuele reads the french text he's taped on the back of the chair in front of him. After the introductions, the minister asks us some questions and then passes the microphone to the rest of the crowd where some journalists try to pull the discussion in sensationalism by asking what is going wrong with the station. Claire's answer: "Everything is going better than expected" defuses nicely and gets the approval all around. Finally after the completion of the official videoconference only the families remain and get to talk to us for half an hour: grandmothers, parents, children and wives, some visibly quite moved.
Above: Panorama taken from the roof of the noisy building of Concordia at 12:00, the day after the sun disappeared for good, on April 5th.
Left: Jean-Louis laying down the fire hose to the end of the corridor leading down to the power plant.
May 8th — I have been wrestling with a mathematical system of 4 equations with 6 unknowns for a while. It's a planar transform and I couldn't figure out how the last 2 unknowns are linked to the rest. It's been a long time since I last did any kind of mathematics but I was pretty sure that this is solvable somehow. I spent saturday morning working on it. Then we did the saturday afternoon station cleaning, washing the walls of the corridor between the noisy building and the power plant while I was still thinking about it. Then I went back to my pen and paper and labored some more on it to no avail. We then had the traditional saturday evening dinner, all together on a long table eating 'fondue Bourguignone', that is meat deep fried directly on the table with fries and mayonnaise-based sauces. And I was still thinking about it. Then the entire station played pictionary, screaming their lungs out especially when the two italians were defying each others, and I was still thinking about it. I went back to the lab late at night and even with the inhibitions lifted by one too many drinks I still couldn't figure it out. I stayed at the lab working till 2 in the morning and went off to bed with Dan Simmon's intensely intriguing Illium. I woke up feeling that the solution was just within grasp, spent an hour in the lab before I even had breakfast, trying to figure out if I'd really had some mathematical insight during the night, but still came to naught. After breakfast with a barely out of the oven steaming chocolate croissant, I went to pass some nerves inside the gym room where I increased all my usual weight by 50 percents out of sheer frustration, and while I was rowing I had one of those 'Eureka' moments they talk about in science for dummies books. My matrix transform was laid out right in front of my eyes, a combination of translation, rotation and zooming, easy to separate in elementary components. I couldn't go back to the lab to write it down right away because there remained 3 things to do...
Right: Jean monitoring the motopump sending water through the fire hose during a drill. The input water comes directly from a tank outside.
The first thing is a radio communication with McMurdo station. A couple weeks ago I exchanged email with them where they gave me their specific radio frequency and time of contact: 11:00 local on sunday morning. The last two sundays I was either still in bed or busy working on other things and missed the appointment. Today I try at 11:00 but cannot reach anyone. Pascal showed me how to use the radio a couple weeks ago, it's not particularly complicated but it's been 25 years since my last attempt at using one. After 5 minutes I give up and head for the gym room. Back at 11:45 I decide to give it another shot, and walking all sweaty inside the radio room I hear the general call from McMurdo. My first words are to apologize that in 25 years I had the time to forget all the calling indicatives and abbreviations. A native from McMurdo, Mike, is at the other end of the line and has no problem communicating in plain english with me. I remember some other operators at other times who were not quite so friendly, their motto being something like: "if you don't know all the calling codes, get off the frequency !". It's good to talk with our close neighbors, be they 1200km away...
Left: Firemen spraying water outside the window, in other words an expensive snow-making device !
The 2nd thing to do before I can write down the solution to my math problem is take a shower. Like most people on station I take one every two days. With the very dry air and low amount of physical activity we don't sweat very much. I also suspect that the isolation killed off most of the germs that live on the surface of the skin and normally make some kind of smelly fermentation with skin flakes and sweat. The Mistacoba experiment is studying precisely that question. In other words we don't stink (or that's what we like to think). The only people who take more showers are those who do fuel transfers and often end up sprayed with smelly liquids. After that, refreshed, I'm off to lunch where the usual 7 course sunday meal awaits. Let's see what's for today: smoked salmon with caviar toasts, tortellini, Mirabelle sorbet 'trou normand', white sausage in brioche, duck à l'orange, cheese and coconut chocolate pie. Finally, free of all earthly trouble, I can head off to my lab and write down that formula which's been floating annoyingly in my brain for the last 4 hours.
Right: Michel (right, 120Kg) rolling a defenseless (?) Claire (left, 50Kg) in the snow right after a successful balloon launch.
May 15th — After the conference with the ministry of research comes another one with the Antarctic museum in Genova, Italy. The main problem is that it comes at 5 in the morning for us... After the usual trial connections the previous days I get up after a fairly poor and all too short night at 4:30. After crawling to the upper floor I connect the astro camera to see if we can transmit any aurora in real-time. That won't work, or a bit too in advanced as the huge auroras will come only the next night while everybody but Karim is asleep. Anyway, 10 minutes later we are connected to the museum and I'm all too happy to see Jenny on the front row. There's also Roberto's wife and young daughter Gaia. We do the now usual round of short introductions, short video movie and powerpoint presentation, only this time everybody present on our side (still about 8 of us) is yawning and having a hard time keeping the eyes open.
Left: Claire and Michel on the stairs of the quiet building after a balloon launch.
May 16th — Like every monday it's Jean-Louis' rest day. All the others rest on sunday, meaning it's actually the day where he works most to feed us a 7 (or more) course meal. So on monday he's off and we each take turns cooking. Today is my turn, after almost everybody else except Roberto who's all nervous about next week, his first time cooking ever. It's not like we have to do everything from scratch, Jean-Louis can prepare some dishes in advance which we just heat up and serve. I follow that option for the main dish at lunch, not trusting my ability to get up in time. As a first dish I prepare a real Pasta all'amatriciana, my father in law (who's from near Amatrice) would have been proud of me. Then Jean-Louis' already prepared roast veal with peas. I have scheduled a chocolate-pear cake for the evening based on Jenny's recipe, but since it's almost ready I finish it in a hurry while the others are eating to serve it just in time for the end of the lunch. And in the evening I don't make anything too complicated, cheese fondue for everyone (that is, everyone who drinks wine...). The cooking in addition to the usual service and cleaning day makes up for quite a full day.
Right: Claire performing chemical analysis of the recycled water.
May 17th — I lost communication with one of my acquisition PCs overnight, so I have to walk to my container to diagnose and restart it. It's 11:00 but there's barely more light than in full darkness, but well enough reflecting on the snow that I don't require a headlamp. The sky is dark, stars are visible, but there's a bright band of dark orange light on the horizon. With a windchill of about -90°C I'm dressed warmly for the 2km hike (read: a lot more than a bear ready for winter). I trip over a newly formed large windrift behind my container and step indoors to the warmth of the electronics. The room is barely large enough to turn around but it feels cozy compared to the endless cold space outside. So one computer BSOD during the night. I guess I was asking too much from Win98: 45 days without a reboot must be close to the world record ! The good surprise is that the Lidar is back to almost nominal power after months of acting like an Alzheimer victim... On the other hand the turbulence measurement system is down again. It works but only record 'failed' data. After a bit of fiddling with it I head back 'home' under a very dark noon. Probably just a few more days and it will be pitch black even during lunchtime.
Left: Jean-Louis and Christophe lifting weights in the gym room.
Now that Darkness [which I had originally spelled Dorkness !] is upon us what do we do to keep busy ? The old answer of 'we work' is still valid; I thought that with the coming winterover there would be less work, but that is not the case. With our small number of people there's always some common activity cropping up. Sometimes it can be 3 days before I can go back to my real work between the service turn, the fire drills, the medical lessons, helping others with their computer problems, preparing and holding the videoconferences and other activities. With the darkness there's one additional activity: accompanying people outside as the outings are strictly in groups of at least two. Karim and Emanuele go out daily, as far as one km from the station. I go out only briefly in the evening for the balloon launches, and to my container when there's something wrong. Something that has really caught on, with only 3 persons not going yet, is the gym room. Most people go after their official work hours at 17:00 but then the small room tends to get crowded. I go in the morning, while my body is still too sleepy to notice that I'm torturing it with weights.
Right: Emanuele and Roberto cleaning up the 3rd floor, where the laboratories are located.
May 19th — As I walk into the radio room I see Pascal behind the large radio, pulling cables and taking notes. What's up ? The radio's broken ! The radio setup is actually fairly complex. We have this large (70x70x70cm) box sitting in the room which we can operate for local (VHF) or remote (HF) radio calls, but it's actually connected to the real radio, which is sitting unattended in the summer camp radio room, since it's from there that the cables go to the main amplifier located in a small shelter and the antennas themselves about a km away. So there are several possible points of failure: here, the summer camp, the amplifier shelter or the antennas. Several times in the past breakers went off in the amplifier shelter and when the heating dropped below a critical point the amplifier would just stop working. This time the problem is different and Pascal puts it back in order after two days of figuring out wires without schematics.
Left: Concordia illuminated at night.
Another kind of operation is going on within the technical team: the inventory. There are stacks over stacks of boxes of all imaginable types of screws, small parts and other accessories I have no idea how to name. They spend time exploring the corners of Concordia where still remains discarded construction equipment, sort it out, write it down and then come up to the operation room, next to my lab, to prepare the lists of equipment to order for next year. Small parts like this are ordered 8 months in advance but that's a strict minimum, most of the large equipment needs to be bought, prepared and shipped a year or more in advance, making advanced planning an art in itself. Once the winter has started we can't just call FedEx for replacement parts...
Right: Dentist intervention with Roberto on the table and me playing dentist.
In the evening Roberto gathers Emanuele and me for a small dentistry operation. Normally he's the one supposed to do the intervention as he's received a quick formation in dentistry before coming, but the problem today is that he is the one with the tooth problem... No big deal, he lost a filling and needs a replacement, so he explains how it's supposed to be done. I volunteer to the dentist position, as some kind of vengeance for always being at the receiving end of the drill. Another issue is that the dentist's chair is not operational yet. It's mounted but there are power problems and we are still waiting to receive some suggestion on how to get it started from the company. So we'll use the surgery table as a chair, the surgery lamps to look 'inside' and only manual instruments (I guess Roberto would have been a lot more nervous if he'd seen me with the drill in hand...) He gives us a roundabout of the procedure: open mouth, clean the tooth, dry it with a large air-filled syringe, sterilize it with a cotton dipped in H2O2, place a tiny cotton with sterilizer at the bottom of the tooth, place a ball of cement on top and press hard. After 2 or 3 tries where something or other goes wrong (cement ball too small, too much time, licked tooth...) I finally manage to do a decent job while Emanuele surveys the operation and Roberto doesn't scream too much. Unfortunately 2 days later the filling already breaks loose and I have to do it again, more smoothly this time, and it does hold much longer, still holding after 2 weeks. That's one of the things I like about wintering over: you learn skills you wouldn't imagine in the rest of the world. Sure, I'll never claim to become a real dentist, but now I wouldn't be afraid to look into someone's mouth if a tooth breaks during an expedition.
Left: Progressive disappearance of fresh products, there's now only bad apples left...
Right: Yes, we eat penguins in Antarctica. Penguin biscuits.
May 30th — 6 months... It was 6 months ago to the day that I left home on a snowy morning to head for the Turin airport and off to Antarctica. 6 months for me, 7 and a half months for some, it seems quite long but time has passed surprisingly quickly. I expected this winter to be dragging on and on, with nowhere to go, but we've been so busy ever since arriving that time has flown. One way to check how long we've been on our own is with the progressive disappearance of fresh products: in order to find one good apple in the remaining stack, we now have to toss a good (!) 5 rotten ones, if not more. There are still a few potatoes, onions, quite a bit of oranges and grapefruits but not much else.
Another way to count time is how often I update this page. I notice for instance that it's been a good 10 days since I last wrote anything on this blog. I spent most of my time on the last few weeks coding in Matlab. The more I understand Matlab the less I like it; like every high-level interpreted language it's very efficient at doing the things you're supposed to be doing, like matrix computation, but if you try anything out of the ordinary it slows to a crawl. As an example, I have about 4000 binary files from one instrument to analyze; the binary format is not one that Matlab can recognize easily, so it takes about 5 minutes for Matlab to read one file, even on a PC full of extra 'ricer' CPUs. I spent a few days pondering the problem and finally wrote an external C interface for reading the files. It still took 41 seconds per file (that's two days of total CPU time). A final version with a different data exchange mode took less than a second per file, rendering the whole thing possible in under 2 hours. Just one of the many issues that a geek faces here, few of them actually related to the temperature as most people would imagine.
I was asked recently by the authorities that be when I want to leave. Good question. Fortunately the answer is not 'NOW!' (yet?). I guess that if I grow bored or restless I'd want to leave on the very first plane at the beginning of november. On the other hand the official inauguration of the station is scheduled to happen in early december, and it would be a shame to miss it after all the work we put into this first winterover. That would mean a total stay of just over a year on this forsaken land. The experiments I run for the CNR of Rome are meant to be shut down and shipped back at the end of the summer campaign but I doubt I'll want to stay an extra 3 months without a good incentive, so they'll probably want to send someone to replace me over that period. They actually pay less than half during the summer...
At the weekly information meeting we started planning the Midwinter celebration: choosing a theme for the decoration, choosing daily activities, imagining games. Two days after that Jean-Louis had already prepared pages upon pages of extended menu. We'll try to do 4 days of celebration, with a Miss Concordia election (hint: Claire is not a contestant...), a Gauls vs Roman evening (even though our romans are in a minority, unlike in Asterix), a pirate night (easy for me, I'll just dress in my usual attire of computer pirate), some games during the day and a couple more ideas floating around.
Left: Weak auroras as seen from Concordia's rooftop.
In the evening I receive an email from spacewatch.com about some ongoing geomagnetic storm possibly sparking auroras, unfortunately the sky is all hazy and we can't even see the stars. We'll have to make do with the previous night pictures of weak auroras, no big deal but better than nothing. I seem to always be in Antarctica at the wrong time (solar minimum), the wrong place (right here in the center of the auroral oval) or fast asleep when they happen...
Left: Looking at Claire and Christophe through the power plant door.
Right: A dark Claire (OK, that's a poor pun) sweeping the power plant exhaust.
June 1st — Going to my morning exercise in the gym room I meet Michel who gives me an interesting tip: "grab your camera and go to the power plant..." The show is indeed fascinating: Claire, the technical manager, and Christophe, the power plant manager, are cleaning up one of the generator exhausts. They are full of accumulated soot and difficult to clean because of the co-generation tubes criss-crossing the inside of the exhaust pipe. As they insert tangled cables inside to break the soot free they raise a dark cloud of acrid black powder. They look like chimney sweeps after a hard day's work. Claire has the nose totally black and they both have hands looking like they've been dipped in tar. Even after a shower they still leave black marks on whatever they touch, to the dismay of a horrified Jean-Louis who finds black palms all over his white kitchen walls and whoever is of cleaning service the next few days.
Right: Claire pushing the sweep through the exhaust.
Left: Christophe straightening the sweep in the power plant workshop.
Right: Christophe attending the after-lunch psychology session with fingers still dark as coal.
Left: Pascal checking on a computer inside the magnetism shelter.
June 2nd — It's friday morning with a planned test of the backup power generator. Each time this happens there are two brief power outages, about 2 seconds each. The various UPSes should be able to handle this without breaking a sweat but unfortunately this is not the case. The morning outages happen as planned and in the afternoon I walk with Pascal to my container to fix a minor issue on one of the computers. While we are inside the power suddenly goes off. Then back on, then off again, and like this for a good half hour. I see the equipment not on UPS react fairly poorly while the UPSes themselves discharge and die. From the confusion we can hear on the radio, inside Concordia must be a mess of action. Apparently there's a huge ground current between the neutral and ground lines. They first think it comes from the line powering the scientific shelters. The electricians have us turn all instruments off in turn. After many more outages the conclusion is that it's not our fault and the short is actually on a LED inside a power distribution box in the quiet building, totally on the opposite side... The 'funny' thing, when not having a reliable ground line (because we are sitting on so much insulating snow) is that short circuits can take strange routes and the breaker that finally goes off is not the one on the involved line... After the current comes back to normal, we walk in a triangle directly to the Seismology container to fix the computer there, then to the magnetism shelter close to Concordia for the same reason.
Left: Emanuele opening champaign bottles for his birthday.
Right: Emanuele with one of his birthday presents: a wig !
June 4th — June is traditionally a month of parties in Antarctica. Particularly true for us since there are an additional 3 birthdays during that period. We start today with Emanuele who's the first one of us to have a birthday during the winterover. Jean-Louis has been careful to kick him out of his kitchen in the past few days while he prepares the special dinner. We start at 19:00 with extended drinks, appetizers and a bit of decoration in the mess room. After several plates of pizza and sausage bits we move en masse to the dinner table where the true dinner starts. Asparagus in mousseline sauce, mushroom pasta, frog legs (heh!), chicken 'en croute' with several side dishes, split in the middle with an excellent grappa sorbet and an impressive final: a vesuvian omelet, a flaming volcano of ice cream and meringue that manages to not set fire to the station... Emanuele gets a wig and a model version of the Carterpillar as presents. Later on the party kicks up with Karim as a DJ and a lot of male bonding on the dance floor, maybe because Emanuele looks damn sexy with that wig on...
Left: A flaming 'vesuvian omelet': ice cream covered with hot baked meringue, flambé with rhum.
Right: Jean-Louis teaching Emanuele how to slice the omelet after the flames have ablated.
Left: Emanuele, the glaciologist, collecting a snow sample into a sealed plastic container, a km from the station.
Right: Emanuele changing a filter on the roof of the container housing the air pumps.
June 13th — Preparations for the Midwinter celebration are under way. Stocks of cardboard and spare wood have been brought out of the garbage containers. The workshop is transformed into a painting laboratory with spray cans, opened paint pots, dirty paintbrushes lay in every corner. I spend an afternoon working on my costumes, designing, building and painting. There's a brainstorming session with Michel to establish a list of about 200 Antarctic-related words on which to base a pictionary. With Pascal we write rules for a paranoid role game based on John W. Campbell's 'The Thing' which will unfold during the entire duration of the midwinter.
There's a little boom-box in the library which is also the room used as smoking room and dance floor. It's also there that we'll put up the midwinter decoration and have lunch and dinner for the duration of the midwinter. The problem is that this stereo has been used a couple times for parties and its speakers are already blown, although it's been used to barely half its max volume and it's supposedly a good brand. I guess most of the design money was spent on obnoxious gimmicks with plenty of buttons like megabass, DSS sound, super-surround and other stupidities instead of designing a proper set of speakers. I have some interesting 'scientific' equipment parts leftover: a spare 400W stereo amplifier meant for the Sodar which is an acoustic device, and 3 very powerful 1000W RMS speakers that were part of a RASS. The RASS is an acoustic system that sends low frequency soundwaves into the beam of a VHF radar. The radar can 'see' the standing wave created by the sound and thus integrate parameters such as temperature and pressure by looking at the speed of sound. I took apart and shipped the radar back in january, but RASS technology has evolved pretty quickly in recent years so the acoustic equipment has just been abandoned... Well, not abandoned for everyone as it'll make for a pretty impressive sound system after I hook it up with the sodar amplifier and a couple more wiring to get the high frequencies on the stereo loaned by Karim.
Left: Pascal salvaging computer equipment at the summer camp.
I already brought one speaker with me when we moved into Concordia in march, but the other one is still at the summer camp. Pascal also has to go to the summer camp to salvage equipment: there are a few computers left there and since we are out of power supplies he wants to go around the camp recovering them. We take an empty sled with us and walk the half km to the camp. I load the 60kg speaker onto the sled and we pull it to the old radio room. There we take apart all the available PCs to try to find some recent enough power supplies. Some of those computers are a good 15 years old and not suitable. The temperature in the radio room is barely above freezing, and the next room with the summer manager's computer is probably at about -20°C. But it gets a lot trickier in the office tent where the temperature is about -60°C. It's very delicate to take the computers apart, all the cables are hard and fragile as dry spaghetti and there's no light. We finally head back to Concordia dragging our heavy sled onto a snow too cold to slid properly, bringing back a meager catch of only 2 power supplies. Just enough for him to fix his computers and for me to start work on the midwinter stereo system.
Left: Stéphane, champion dart player without worthy opponent and alsacian beer drinker.
Right: Stephane filling Michel's glass with Champagne while he's making faces.
After Emanuele's birthday there are 2 more birthdays this month: first Stéphane in the middle of the week. He opens up a keg of beer he brought in his personal allotment, which when mixed with a bottle of Picon makes for a nice appetizer. But we keep the main party for saturday evening otherwise it's gonna be hard getting up in the morning.
Left: Stephane blowing his candles.
Right: Christophe slicing his birthday cake.
Then the following saturday it's Christophe's birthday and it's yet another opportunity to party, 3 days before the start of the midwinter.
Lately I've been watching a lot of peculiar movies. Not really out of direct choice since I had never heard of several of them, it just happened that most of those movies are related to another style of movies we watch here: porn. It all started with Bertolucci's 'The Dreamers', a fairly stylish movie of a bizarre love triangle between an american student who discovers sex in France (hah!) with a pretty girl who never leaves her twin brother for anything. Not even that. Ambiented during the May '68 revolution it is fairly watchable if a little slow and weird at times. Then I watched a movie on a similar theme, '3some' about a bully who loves a girl who only have eyes for a guy who happens to have homosexual tendencies for the first guy. The love triangle tightens until what had to happen finally happens (70 minutes for that) and suddenly dissolves into nothing much. A very politically correct movie, without even the benefit of the photography of the previous movie. So-so.
Left: Stéphane and Emanuele dancing off the dance floor, with Jean witnessing and Karim as a DJ (well, he's actually playing with Emanuele's hAterpillar)... hAterpillar and not Caterpillar as some internal joke referring to the weird accent they have near the city of Florence.
Also happening in an an american university campus, 'Not another teen movie' is a hands down parody of teen comedy and its fake sounding teen relationship, mostly based around sex, with all the usual stereotypes pushed to the max and hacked to pieces: the ugly girl who becomes prom queen with a little outside help, the sex goddess who initiates all the others (and whose sole remaining fantasy happens to be a virgin 70 year old), the mean dumb cheerleaders, the football bully who finds his own tender side... Alternating from yucky to hilarious. Another teen movie pushed to the max is the disgusting and mostly pointless 'Ken Park', featuring lots of teenage sex, some drugs and not even any rock'n'roll. The few interesting scenes, like the wedding stagged by the religious freak of a father after he finds his daughter in bed with a boy he knock out silly, are interspersed with a lot of plainly unwatchable ones. In the previous movie there was absolutely no humor, but there's plenty in 'Spun', another movie with a group of teenage punks whose universe revolve exclusively around drugs. There are many hilarious scenes like the guy who leaves his girlfriend handcuffed to the bed while he goes get some drugs and comes back stoned a day later only to leave right away again for another 3 days of deep drug trip. With a scraped CD skipping on the player for the entire duration. And the sex scenes are pretty funny too, on the phone with a sock on his intimate parts... Makes me think that us winteroverers are not the only ones not getting any !
Less about drugs and more about sex, the movie 'Boogie Nights' is an interesting take on the adult movie industry in the 70s. Interesting without being particularly insightful, it explains the origin of some of the movies that are moving about on the local network... A bunch of famous actors seem to have a better time playing in that movie than me watching it. And finally (?) an obscure artsy movie, 'Romance X' about a girl whose boyfriend refuses to touch but who nonetheless remains in love with him. Peculiar and pointless with a bunch of plain porn scenes. I don't know if I would have noticed those movies outside of Antarctica, maybe it's the conspicuous absence of sex here that made me notice this succession of weird movies in such a short time....
June 19th — Say, how do you use a fridge in Antarctica ? In DdU there's a whole building, heated to 4°C where the food is kept. Here we have a room on the 2nd floor of the noisy building. But there's no point in putting a cooling system, is there ? It would be a waste of electricity. So the solution adopted here is to punch a hole in the wall, put a fan to suck cold outside air in when the temperature inside goes above a regulated 4°C. This simple system worked well for a couple months but yesterday there was a strong wind coming from an unusual east direction, right in front of the fan. It force-spun the fan and blew way too much freezing air inside the room. In the morning the room was well below freezing, with some food beginning to freeze which Jean-Louis had to move in a hurry to a warmer room. About one quarter of the Perrier bottles which had already survived the freezing on the Traverse blew up. In the afternoon Michel did some modifications to the fan, adding an automated shutter to avoid repeating that incident.
If there aren't any more technical incidents like that, we'll now concentrate on the preparation of the midwinter...