Padua – Part 2: Academia

That night was yet more confirming: I went to dinner with both of them, plus the director of Carla’s department, a garrulous professor / politician who is always glad-handing you – men in Italy are more physically affectionate than the women anyway – and ready to interrupt you with a funny story.  Serious people from southern Italy often move north to realise their ambitions, and he had done very well, but his role requires him to answer his phone as frequently as a teenager.

During the dinner it was easy to see the corner into which European academics back themselves – our Frenchman is the editor of a prominent anatomical journal.  His amour-propre and athletic competitiveness required him to be the best, which is a complicated formula of citations and downloads in this age where journals hardly see paper.

Most of their conversation – what I could follow in Italian, getting better each day – was about their standing, and the politics of various competing organisations – ah, wherever two or three are gathered together…  Again, I was glad not to have taken the academic route.  Academic arguments are so fierce because the prizes are so small.  Carla, I’m glad to say, swings clear of all this status monitoring.

My dander up a bit wth his self-induced superiority, I peppered the guy with my questions, starting with “What is pain?”  No denying he was smart – we parried and riposted and I was beaten back a few times, while the others watched the battle and intervened when they had a point or when we got too hot. Ach, it was one of those wonderful European conversations that just don’t happen enough in America – but I learned a tonne, and will incorporate it into my talks.
As I was walking back to my hotel, I realised I was the oldest person at the table, and had acted like the youngest, and was simultaneously ashamed and warmed by the thought.  I tackled him as a young man who takes on an icon, whereas by now I should be more gentle.

Our academicians conversing