I wrote this while on sabbatical from the University of New Mexico (Albuquerque) at the IAEA in Vienna. I wrote nine of these reports, as well as a few others. They are semi-truthful.
by Michael E. Campana
(being a semi-fictional account of my sabbatical adventures, designed to amuse, and to be read with a dose of skepticism)
21 August 2002
It's a beautiful day in Vienna drizzly and about 65. Most everyone else is complaining, but not I. They don't understand.
I landed here on 16 August, and as we touched down, the sun broke through (it had been raining for about eight days). The flight on Austrian Airlines (motto: "Like a smile in the sky - but don't push it.") from Dulles was uneventful and up to their usual high standards (seriously). As I went through immigration, I commented on the glorious sunshine to the inspector. He looked at me forlornly and replied "Yes, but it is still raining in my heart." I decided to pass on that one and departed his desk quickly. Willkommen!
Vienna avoided much damage from the recent floods. When I landed, I saw little standing water. There was some flooding, but a floodway built on the Danube by the city over 40 years ago sent most of the flood wave downstream to Budapest (which fared better than expected). Prague, on the Vltava, and Dresden, on the Elbe, were hit quite hard. The damage in Dresden may set back the Germans' efforts to rebuild the once-beautiful city, famous for its Baroque architecture. The Allies destroyed Dresden in 1945 for no good reason, except to test a theory about the sustainability of bombing-induced firestorms. (For some reason, I'm reminded of Paul Rodriguez's line: "War is God's way of teaching us geography.")
I have been at work (so to speak) since 19 August, ensconced in the offices of the Isotope Hydrology Section of the International Atomic Energy Agency, a semi-autonomous division of the UN (all of whose divisions are semi-autonomous). I checked in with the HR folks that morning and after I introduced myself, the first thing the HR czarina said to me was "You're a week late" - for some reason, she had me down as starting on 12 August. I replied "Hello to you, too, and when I'm donating my time, I can be a week late." Having dispensed with the pleasantries, I was soon dispatched to the badge office to get photographed. The pass people were very nice (Gary Larson cartoons all over the place) and within a few minutes I was badged and ready to go. I asked one of the security guards what kind of access the badge gave me, and he smiled, saying "You have the same privileges as Kofi Annan", at which point I asked him to carry my bag. His well-developed Austrian sense of humor quickly dissipated. Seriously, though, I have 24/7 access to all buildings (I am not sure "sabbatical" translates well into German).
I was a little surprised by the security at the main gate. I have not been here since 9/11, but things have not changed - no metal detectors, for one thing.
I was then advised to go to the Commissary to get on the access list, which seemed to be rather important. The Commissary is in the basement (so visitors can't see what a great deal we have) and is a place where UN employees (or hangers-on, like me) can buy duty-free and tax-free food and other things. So now I can buy cheap cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate, etc., but I have sworn not to purchase these for any use but my personal use. So don't ask. No chocolate for you!
I am on the 23rd floor of the Vienna International Centre, overlooking the Danube and the city. The Section has but eight full-time professional staff, so it's a cozy group - mostly isotope geochemists, but still okay.
We had a staff meeting yesterday, and it reminded me of an E&PS faculty meeting: meticulous adherence to the agenda, no extraneous conversation or wisecracks from those in the back. The fellow who runs the isotope lab asked me if I was interested in tritium-helium dating, and I responded that I thought it was against the law. Again, so much for humor.
The Section wants me to work on their ground water sustainability project, which is fine with me. They thought my superb background was tailor-made for it, and besides, the only fellow who was working on it left last spring. I immediately thought of posing David Brookshire's question "Which of the 25 definitions of 'sustainability' are you using?" but decided that would destroy the moment, leaving me with either nothing to do or 25 things to do.
The IAEA does a lot of neat things: research, establishment of analytical standards, nuclear facilities inspections, documentation of nuclear/radioactive incidents (they have a heartwarming series 'The Radiological Accident at ______'), etc. One task they are doing that is of great interest to me is a search for two lost nuclear power plants (little ones - port-a-nukes) in the Republic of Georgia. Since I am about to start work there, I am anxious that these things be found. They have streaming videos of the search on their WWW site. The guys don't look happy.
I am living in a hotel about a 25-minute walk from the VIC, in a hotel by the Prater, a huge park in the eastern part of the city. The Prater has an impressive amusement park, dominated by the Riesenrad, a gargantuan (greater than 200 feet in diameter) Ferris wheel built in the 1890s by a British engineer. If you saw the film "The Third Man", the Riesenrad was the only thing in the film larger than Orson Welles would eventually become. (Seriously, that film, like Graham Greene's novel, gives a stark picture of what Vienna was like right after World War II -- not a pretty sight at all.)
The housing office at the VIC is great -- they have given me some leads and I start visiting places tomorrow. If this doesn't provide me with fodder for future stories, I'm going home.
I have to go now - it is time for a "torte break" (required by law). Auf wiedersehen!
"An ox remains an ox, even if driven to Vienna." - Hungarian saying