Mesopotamia

I missed most of the second week of the academic year, as I was away at the EAIE conference in Istanbul. The beginning of the week, however, saw the restart of one of my favourite classes in biomedical sciences: here are a group of exceptional, budding scientists; they all always turn up on time, and they all always submit all their work on time. What’s more, they are exciting people to work with. It’s a marvellous way to begin the week. Always uplifting, even if demanding. The sort of challenge any teacher should relish.

Then Istanbul. Well I didn’t see much of the city – too busy at the conference (giving three presentations on different platforms was quite demanding), and the receptions. The initial networking boat cruise on the Bosphorus was great, except the wine glasses were filled constantly, and there was no food. Starving at the end, but too late to eat. You can’t as easily get off a boat as you can a bus or train. The bridges were beautifully lit. Unfortunately some conference goers got caught in the tear gas fired against demonstrators by the police.Bosphorus Bridge from a moving boat

You meet all sorts of people at conferences, though the EAIE is different from my usual sort. This time it’s largely administrators, international officers, vice-rectors, and so on, all trying to make connections with other universities: partnerships, exchanges, collaboration, but you see too the intense undercurrent of fierce competition. Higher education is a global industry just like any other, except perhaps our malleable material is human brains. At the EAIE, the human brain market glows bright.

And what did I bring away from Istanbul? A wonderful discovery. At the airport waiting for the delayed flight, I wandered into a bookstore and discovered some CDs. I’d heard of Fazil Say before, as a pianist, not as a composer. But I bought two CDs of his symphonies. And what a delight! His second symphony Mesopotamia is absolutely brilliant. I’ve been listening ever since. The symphony was premiered last year, and the recording has only just been released. You can’t find much on YouTube yet. Sparkling! The story of Mesopotamia in a symphonic poem. Fazil Say & Patricia Kopatchinskaia

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