Back in Lausanne

I am back in Lausanne and I have finally made it through the 400+ emails and several crises that were waiting for me upon my return. Toward the end of the week I started coming down with a cold but, through rest, fresh fruits/vegetables, and lots and lots of garlic, I seem to be beating it.

The rest of my Amalfi trip was wonderful. On Monday we went into Sorrento and walked around. The weather was nice and it was very pleasant just people watching. In the evening I made dinner for the whole clan: caprese with tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella from just down the road; roasted peppers, eggplant, and zucchini from a small fruit/vegetable stand in town; bolognese sauce with fresh, local pasta; and an assortment of desserts prepared by the bakery in town. Actually it would have taken an inordinate amount of time if I had been the only one cooking, so I enlisted the help of some willing volunteers. Many thanks go out to our team of sous-chefs, who proved that "too many cooks in the kitchen" can actually be a good thing!

Tuesday we spent on the isle of Capri. "Isle of Capri" was the title of one my dad's pinball machines. I also grew up with a painting of Capri's Faraglioni just outside my bedroom (My mom brought it back from a space industry conference that was held there.). I had been to Capri once before but the weather was cold and rainy so I turned back after just one day. This time we couldn't have asked for better weather.

We split up and each subgroup wandered off in its own direction. Mom and took the funiculare up to Capri (the town) and spent the day wandering along the cliffside paths in search of lunch. We finally found the right place, an open-air restaurant built into the side of a cave and overlooking the sea. We sat back and enjoyed local seafood, wine, pasta, and--of course--insalata caprese. We returned to the mainland as the sun was setting but it was a glorious day of quality time, just my mom and I.

The evening featured what was--for me--one of the highlights of the trip. Naturally it involved food. The caretaker of the villa, Anna Maria, and her daughter (who both live just down the road) spent all day cooking for us. We gave them a broad mandate (The only criterion was to stay away from hearty red sauces since we had had that the night before.) and we were not disappointed with what they turned out.

For antipasti we had roasted, sauteed, and fried vegetables, spinach pie, artichoke pie, olives, fried balls of prosciutto, and provolone. As a primo piatto we had pasta with a light tomato-basil sauce. As a secondo we had two kinds of fish, both marinated and baked to perfection. And finally, for dessert, we had traditional Napolitana pastiera. Oh what a meal!

Wednesday morning I arose before the rest of the group and hopped on the bus to the Naples airport. I was excited to have arrived on time until I learned that my flight to Rome had been canceled. Alitalia: strike 2.

As one may imagine, this caused a great deal of consternation with all the passengers and I stood witness to classic examples of Italian "non-queueing." Italians seem to believe that lines are made to be broken. Anyone who has ever set a toe in Italy will understand what I am talking about. At the airport, with rope-defined lines up to the ticket counter, I thought perhaps I would find an exception to this rule.

Oh how mistaken I was. The passengers in line seemed to think that roped line boundaries were meant to be deconstructed and that the louder they yelled at the poor customer rep who was trying to help the one person at the front of the line at a time, the better/faster service they would receive. Oy. This spectacle was repeated when it came time to load our baggage into the bus, almost crushing the poor driver in the process. Oy.

The bus ride was nice, though, and I met a nice Napolitana girl who was on her way to London. She asured me that Alitalia wasn't all bad and that they had recently acquired Air One, which was actually quite good. It turned out that my flight from Rome to Geneva was operated by Air One and, sure enough, it was great. So I suppose the lesson learned is that, if flying Alitalia, make sure to choose Air One-operated flights. Good to know!

Although this trip to the Amalfi Coast was short, it was great. It was a little surreal hanging out with the friends of my parents/parents of my friends from back when I was in preschool/kindergarten but it was a lot of fun. Many thanks to them for organizing the trip and for welcoming me along.

I have fond memories of living in Huntsville. It was a good time in my life; I had a mother who took great care of me, I had great friends, and my father was still alive. So I suppose what made Huntsville so great was its people. 40 years ago this year Huntsville's people put a man on the moon. I'm glad to see that, even now, the city's greatest assets are its people.


Auburn Engineering In Italy

It’s fun being around the Huntsville crowd. It’s my first time in a while being around southern accents. Some words have extra syllables added (“Now” becomes “Nay-ow.”) while some have syllables taken away (“Bry-an” becomes “Brine”). They’re good people and the people, places, and activities they talk about remind of good memories growing up in HSV.

This morning Mom and I went into the town center for some provisions. We bought up necessary staples (wine) and nice-to-haves (water and food) and brought them back to the villa. Despite our noontime return, everyone was only just getting up—don’t they know that the siesta is supposed to be in the afternoon??

engineering won major street cred today. Except for one Hokie and this Rice Owl, all of the men on our trip are Auburn engineers. After much levering, bracing, pushing, and discussing, our fearless Tigers got the sliding door to one of our grandevans back on track. While walking back to our villa, the engineers detected another cry for help. A group of French tourists could not start their car—Auburn engineers to the rescue! After a few minutes they had isolated the problem to a fault in the car’s CPU but were able to bypass it with some “creative” modifications to the battery cabling system. War Eagle!

After a leisurely afternoon, the evening was something really special. We went to dinner at Don Alfonso, the best restaurant in Italy south of Rome or one of the top three restaurants in all of Italy, depending on which guide book you consulted. Either way it has two Michelin stars and it earned them both!

Most of our group ordered the prix fixe’ tasting menu but I just stuck with a few appetizers (asparagus, deep fried lobster, and roast duck in cacao/orange/sweet wine reduction). Even still I found myself incredibly full after all the breads, cheeses, and other inter-course palette cleansers that were brought out. One of our group captured it aptly when he said, “I’m so full I can’t even swallow.”

Fortunately we had 5+ hours of dinner so plenty of time to digest. The service was excellent, including choreographed presentation of entrees and coordinated removal of their silver covers. Despite their 25,000-bottle wine list of the best of the best of Italian and French wines, we kept it simple. We began with a rose’ champagne, moved on to a Rhone mix from Liguria, and wrapped up with Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove 2000 (the second wine of this Super Tuscan), which was superb. I will have try the Ornellaia 2000!

Some of us also had the opportunity to visit the restaurant’s cantina, which is an underground system of caves and tunnels dating back to the 1500s. Disguised as a well, these passages were used for nobles escaping Sorrento (I was never clear on what exactly they were fleeing.) but now house Don Alfonso’s wines and aging cheeses at naturally perfect temperature and humidity.

What a great day! Hopefully the weather will clear up tomorrow so that we can explore the coast.



Today I hopped on an Alitalia flight to Rome and met up with Mom and many of our old friends from Huntsville, AL. Long ago I decided that, although Alitalia typically provided attractive flight attendants and good food, I didn’t trust its maintenance and engineering. This flight validated my mistrust! My armrest literally fell off and pieces of plastic were hanging down from the ceiling—I hope at least the wings were in better shape! We arrived late of course but I finally met up with our travel group.

We rented two HUGE vans, the likes of which are not commonly seen in Europe, for the 12 of us and made our way down to the Amalfi Coast. We stopped in Latina for lunch but just about everything was closed for pre-Easter Saturday. We did find a little bread/cheese/other shop, though, where they sold freshly made ricotta and mozzarella. They got a big kick out of the random Americans dropping in and they loaded us up with lots of extra food for free despite our attempts to compensate them. They insisted that we needed nourishment for our drive and I think it all would have gone bad anyway over the holiday weekend. Grazie!

It’s a good thing we had extra food too, because we didn’t arrive at our villa in Sant’Agata sui Due Golfi until nearly midnight. On our way we missed several turns due to poor signage and were stuck in an hour of traffic due to an overturned potato truck. Driving these huge vans (nicknamed by the locals “grandevans” insead of “minivans!”) through windy coastal and mountain roads turned out to be no small feat either! Finally, though, we made it, dined on wine, bread, and cheese, then collapsed around 2 AM.

Benritornato in Italia!



I finished up Jimi Hendrix and have moved onto my favorite discography to work through chronologically: Jimmy Buffett! While I'm working on rewriting some of Poken's legal paperwork I have A1A playing in the background. What an album! Not only does it feature some of my favorite Buffett songs of all time (A Pirate Looks At Forty, Migration), almost every other song on the album is good too: Makin' Music For Money, Life Is Just a Tire Swing, Trying To Reason With Hurricane Season, etc.

Normally (Am I becoming more Swiss?! "Normally" is one of their favorite words!) an artist that peaked in 1974 wouldn't have too much more to recommend him. However, Buffett's subsequent 3.5 decades of music have continued to please through and through (except for a brief dearth in the late 80s) and I look forward to continuing the journey. It does make me miss back home, though. After all, "I've got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Texas hidden here in my heart!"


Sand and Snow

Friday afternoon we had an all-hands meeting at the Poken offices. Stephane regaled us with his vision for the future of the company and the product; I followed up with new initiaves we will be taking to ensure realization of that vision. We then partook in Romanian wine and chocolate courtesy of one of our software engineers, who is from Romania.

As we wound down the day, the sun shone ever more brightly and it warmed up into the 60s. That meant only one thing--the official start of Lausanne's beach volleyball season! After work I changed into board shorts, hopped a bus down to Vidy, and--sure enough--there were people playing. I only squeezed in a couple of games before it was time to head to dinner, but it felt great. My hitting timing was way off but my hand sets were surprisingly on. After the games I took a dip in the freeeeeeeeeezing lake to rinse off the sand then returned back up the mountain. There I was treated to make-your-own pizza courtesy of one of my coworkers and her flatmates. Thanks, Asena!

Saturday was another story altogether. The entire company traveled to Crans-Montana for the last weekend of the ski season. There was a survival of the fittest competition going on and the athletes were using pokens so we had to be there. Some of us chose skis, some snowboards, and some--especially those with small children--just hiking boots. For a whole day we forgot about the mountains of work piling up and focused instead on a very different kind of mountain!

In that I haven't skied since high school, I figured that I would probably have to re-learn from scratch. And if I was going to have to re-learn from scratch, I figured I might as well try something different--so I rented a snowboard instead of skis.

The Swiss version of a bunny slope is much, much steeper than what you would find on the east coast of the US (or maybe they just don't even have bunny slopes?) so my first trip down featured many, many falls. Fortunately, Guillaume, one of our investors and a certified snowboard instructor, swooped in to teach me the basics. After a few more runs I was making it down decently--if not quickly--and steering intentionally.

I must have become giddy in my excitement about not falling, though, because somehow I lost my phone on the slopes. I retraced my path a couple of times but was unsurprisingly unable to relocate it. Oh well, it usually takes me forever and a day to respond to voicemails--now at least I have an excuse!

Saturday night we were treated to real Swiss fondue and raclette courtesy of Le Chalet. After a day in the sun practicing a new sport and an evening of heavy cheese and wine, I was wiped. Most of the company went out to an afterparty, but I called it a night--I really AM old now!
What a great weekend, though. My traps are sore from volleyball, every other muscle is sore from stabilizing on the snowboard (Real snowboarders probably don't contract every muscle in their bodies simultaneously but I never claimed to be a real snowboarder!), my butt is sore from lots of falling down, and my skin is sore from sunburn. I wouldn't have it any other way! :-)

The juxtaposition of sun, sand, and snow this weekend was cool, but I'm honestly most excited about the increasing availability of sun and sand!