DISCLAIMER: This post has a lot more than the standard 200 words. I’m not sorry. It’s my own blog after all. Sticking to 200 words is difficult and probably the most challenging part of writing every day. Today I felt like deviating from the standard a little bit. Fuck it! From tomorrow I’ll resume with the 200-word format. Maybe.
In September and October 2019, we were taking advantage of my three weeks of accumulated holiday hours, as well as the end of my PhD contract rapidly approaching. This meant that I could almost take the full last month of my PhD off. Which I did.
Me and my wife had just become parents. The little one was only two months old and the past weeks had been a chaotic (but beautiful) time in our lives. The future was one big unknown. I had declined a postdoc offer in Sweden, and still had a couple of applications running, without any response at that point. The road ahead was empty, so we could do whatever we wanted. And I think we really needed a break!
We drove southeast ward to spend ten days or so in Austria to enjoy some time in the mountains. After this, we drove off to southern France, first of all to visit a dear friend who would be defending his PhD. However, we also took the opportunity to visit another Catalan friend in the Pyrenees. Finally, we also went there just to make sure Rafa would have seen two major European mountain ranges before his third month… I had not seen anything remotely resembling a mountain or hill until I was 23, when a whole new world unfolded in front of me.
On both of these trips I had brought my laptop. Not to work or anything, but, you know, just in case. That turned out quite necessary, as I was invited for a first job interview for my current job position. When I received that e-mail invitation, we were camping in a small igloo tent near a gorgeous little river in the Provence – without a stable internet connection anywhere close.
I had to get a bit creative to solve this issue, and searched the internet for local internet solutions. I ended up booking a place with supposedly solid internet connection on AirBnB. The place was located in a wind-swept ghost town on the western edge of the Côte d’Azur. To this day I wonder why people would rent a house or visit this town. It was completely drained of life. It was a whole lot worse than it looked in the pictures (although the windy beach was nice). This would be the place where I would meet my future boss on Skype. And I really meant it when I wrote wind-swept. It was literally like a hurricane had gone through the village just before we arrived. Karma is a bitch, and certainly was paying me back for my poor preparation for this interview. You guessed it already. This bloody hurricane had destroyed telephone lines throughout half the town, resulting in half the town having no internet. My French has gotten a bit rusty as a result of not speaking it for fifteen years or so, but I could very well understand the error messages in my browser. The signal was dead. Il n’y a pas d’Internet… It was quite evident that my interview was not going to happen in this place… Not so nice to find out late in the evening, the day before your early-morning job interview!
I begged the owner of the beach apartment for solutions. As luck would have it, she was also the owner of a small hotel right on the beach. She offered me to have my interview in the lobby.
Accompanied by the background noise of complaining French elderly folk checking out from their stays, the beats from flashy French pop music and the continuous sound of espresso machines and milk being frothed for cappuccinos, I had my job interview right there. The lady saved my ass, but I couldn’t help feel unprepared and an absolute moron for thinking I could pull this off. I had pretty much given up before I even went into the interview. The nerves were horrible.
I can’t remember much of the interview. When I am nervous, I just ramble on and blackout immediately after. I have vague memories of my future boss asking me about species knowledge, and whether I had worked with specific insects. Me mentioning Aulacorthum solani, Rhopalosiphum padi and Aphis fabae – these are three aphid species by the way – brought a faint smile to his otherwise quite emotionless face. I have since learned that he likes aphids quite a bit. I must have given the right answer there, as at the end of that day he invited me for an on-site interview for the next week. Writing this almost seems surreal, an on-site interview? Who still does that these days? Those certainly were different times that now seem like a distant memory.
The story of the on-site interview is for perhaps another time. To this day I wonder what my boss thought about my background noise and horrible taste in music in that first interview, or whether he was even vaguely aware that he was interviewing me completely freaked out and grossly unprepared from a windy empty beach town in southern France.
He also (albeit unknowingly) prematurely ended our Europe trip that had no end date.
I hope we can some day finish it at our own tempo.