Eurovision is the major event being discussed in all the tabloid newspapers this week. It is a huge song contest, among all of the countries of Europe, plus Israel, Turkey, and the nations of the Caucasus. For some reason Australia is also participating this year. Eventually it will be a worldwide Olympics of mediocre pop songs. You can read all about this year’s contest here. Last year’s winner Conchita Wurst, the bearded drag star from Austria, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Apparently Sweden has a good chance of winning this year, so on Saturday night, all eyes will be glued to the TV. Voting is generally in blocks, and the Scandinavians typically vote for Scandinavian acts. Russia also has a good chance of winning. It is as if people in Europe are saying “we are going to be politically correct and acknowledge that we like the people of Russia; just not Putin politics”. I much prefer to listen to the music of Sofia Gubaidulina.
I have been writing grant proposals to raise money for my research. It is a never ending process, and these days if a scientist doesn’t have two or three grant proposals submitted simultaneously, there will be no chance of funding. What I am learning about is CRISPR/Cas9 technology. This is a relatively new method in molecular biology that is already changing the world (watch this video). The technology stems from how bacteria protect themselves against viruses: they use small pieces of RNA to bind to the virus’ genes and cut them. Basically, it is a very simple way of modifying genes in cells. It means that, for example, if we know the gene in a malaria parasite that is causing it to be dangerous, we can simply knock it out. It also means that scientists can now add or subtract small sections of DNA to genes of interest. For medicine, it will be a way to disrupt cancer cells. In the not too far future, people will be able to modify their sperm or eggs to change the look of their children.
Spring in Sweden is full of flowers although Stockholm has been quite chilly. The exhibit of Emil Nolde at Waldemarsudde is bringing bright colors to the cloudy days. I took a couple photos before I was told that photography wasn’t allowed.
Spring is for riding my 24-year-old mountain bike around the city. The public transportation in Stockholm is probably one of the best systems in the world, but it is expensive. The price is now 790 SEK/month, which is almost $100 USD: and the new government is proposing to raise it to nearly 900/month. But it is worth it, because it is reliable and pleasant. I hear no one grumbling about the price too much, but it also means that people are walking more; not a bad thing.
Spring has exploded in Lithuania. The trees are a lettuce green; ready to eat. Dandelions cover the meadows and dominate the landscape with their yellowness. People are out enjoying the first few warm days riding their bicycles and canoeing on the Neris River. I have noticed that Vilnius over the years has become a more sporty city, and now, just like in Western Europe or the USA, there are joggers, people on tight ropes, boot camps in the park, and yoga studios.
Thanks to a close friend, I now have a bicycle here in Vilnius. It lets me explore new neighborhoods, and get out into the forests near the city center. Vilnius is a capital city of about half a million people, and there are some crowded areas, but the parks are thick with trees and nice paths along the river.
Now that the days are longer, it was my first time seeing the Friday evening academic sauna in the light, nestled among now rusted archeological instruments from former farmers, and a beautiful functional windmill; all within the city limits. Dominating the conversations are the actions by Putin in Russia, and the fear that he will invade the Baltic nations. I find this concept rather absurd, and if I were Putin and had to invade a country, I would prefer to take Uzbekistan, with its natural resources, and larger Russian population. I didn’t hear any fear of invasion from the Uzbeks. I am not a political scientist, and I grew up in a place not directly affected by war. Maybe that is why I am not fearful and believe that people my age and younger won’t be interested in fighting nationalistic wars in Europe.
Fountains are flowing, bands are playing at the unveiling of new statues, and I am writing new grant proposals in Vilnius.
Here is a photo of the May full moon over Stockholm. This marks the beginning of my 8th month of sabbatical. The Spring semester is nearly over, and summer will be starting soon.
Valborg is a major event in Sweden. It is the 30th of April, the day before the May 1st holiday. Throughout the country, people light bonfires and the choirs sing traditional songs. I went to Skansen to see the bonfire in Stockholm. It was a misty dark evening, but the bonfire lit the path to spring.
A few years ago, in 2012, I got to experience Valborg in Lund, in the south of Sweden. Lund and Uppsala are the University towns where students have big parties in the parks. It was a mess the next morning, but it was soon cleaned up, and fresh as always.
Flying back to Vilnius in a few hours. Spring is here in Northern Europe.