Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Portugal - Math Art Meeting

Yesterday concluded a week in Coimbra, Portugal at another incredible Bridges conference. This is the conference I look forward to the most every year, a cerebral explosion of mathematical beauty that fills my head with amazing ideas for years to come.

Too much happened to tell all, but here's a few pictures and comments...

PEOPLE: Met lots of old friends and make lots of new friends. There are some good opportunities for collaborations on projects which is something I love to do. Here's Nick, who with the help of friends tessellated his head with rhombuses. Extra credit for that!

 COIMBRA: The city was charming. It took a little getting used to getting around - much of the town is twisty alleyways that go up and down steps and make little sense. But it was easy to remember that the university was on top of the hill and the hotel was at the bottom, so as long you remember whether you were going up or down, you could get there. It was hot all week, 35°C, but it was dry. Here's a picture of a an old woman who sold me a bag of salty beans for one euro, and a picture of the fado band at a restaurant near our hotel.


Fado is a style of Portuguese music with two guitars and a singer who sings sad and beautiful songs. Our fado experience was fantastic. The first night I went out with my colleagues from Norway to find something to eat. We went into the first restaurant we came to and had a great meal. I ordered beef steak, and it came to the table as bowl of raw steak strips and a very very hot stone that I used to cook the meat. After the meal, the waitress asked us quietly if we'd like to hear some music. She led us out of the crowded eating area to a staircase and took us downstairs to a basement pub that was filled mostly with old men. "Oh, there isn't a seat," we told us. "No problem!" she said and she proceeded to push some men over at a long table. Ah! Shortly afterwards the band came on. It was absolutely beautiful and we felt extremely lucky to stumble upon this our first night!

THE GALLERY: The math-art gallery was especially impressive this year. I got to share gallery space with some very high quailty work and top artists. I exhibited three pieces of printed art (see some of my art at nakedgeometry.com).

SCENES: Here's a few picturesque scenes - a mansion near town, a view of Coimbra from up the hill, and the art museum all decked out and ready for our math art banquet.

HUMAN GEOMETRY: I did a workshop with Vi Hart on Human Geometry where we made all kinds of shapes and played games using our bodies. It was incredibly fun and the group of 25 participants were all both creative and enthusiastic. Vi and I came ready with a program of things to try and explore, and the group far exceeded our expectations with ideas and creations. I came out of there with a dozen new activities. Yes!

I also presented a paper in the regular sessions (my Abacaba stuff, always a good time!).

DRAMA: I was asked to participate in the drama production and I accepted. I was hesitant at first because we were to receive our scripts on Thursday, rehearse for 4 hours on Friday, and perform on Saturday. That was a lot to do in a short time when there was already a lot going at the conference. But wow was I glad I did it! It was incredibly fun and I made some very good friends in the process.

The performance was The Physicists, a 1961 play by Friedrich Dürrenmat. It was supposed to be just a dramatic reading, but we wanted costumes, props, and to move around the stage. I played the part of Sir Isaac Newton, one of three patients in a mental hospital. The play hit on the theme of the responsibility of scientists for their creations, especially when those creations can be used as weapons. We played to a full house on Saturday and were critically acclaimed.

After the play, I gave a reading of one of my poems for poetry open mike, and then later that evening I sand a song in Norwegian at informal music night.

THE SANDWICH: I found my dream sandwich, the Franceshino. It is from bottom to top: a bed of french fries, a slice of french toast, a slice of ham, a pork cutlet, sausages, another slice of french toast, cheese, a fried egg, and covered in hot sauce. Oh was I ever happy with this!

ZOME TOOL SCULPTURE: Every year at Bridges the owners of the Zome Tool company bring thousands of pieces of plastic construction components and enlist the aid of all they can to build a huge sculpture. This year the sculpture was designed by a famous sculpter, last name of Fabien. I participated in the final construction phase... it was exciting and stressful, not knowing if it would collapse under its own weight or not. It was supposed to be done by 8 pm Sunday night, but it wasn't. We took a time out for a concert of classical music then hurried back to get it together. At 1:20 a.m. we declared success! It was a brilliant way to end an amazing week.

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