Friday, 6 September 2013

a week in Taormina

I’ve had a glorious week in Taormina, Sicily, at the European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL).  Great weather (apart from a rain storm on Monday), superb food, and a marvelously stimulating, thought-provoking set of keynotes and presentations.  My head is buzzing with all the stuff I’ve been hearing about.

a complex fungus, spotted
halfway down one staircase
The town, the gardens, and the scenery were excellent, too.  The town is built on the side of a mountain, which makes for an interesting geography.  On the Monday morning, the hotel provided a map to help us find our way to the conference venue. Unfortunately the map had a tenuous relationship with reality. The geography mostly comprises a parallel bunch of roads running along contours, linked by an amazing array of staircases, of all widths and types.  The hotel map didn’t distinguish these, and everything from a main street to a three foot wide staircase had the same representation.  I got a better map, and navigation became rather easier.

Tuesday evening: a view down to the middle road from part way up one of the many staircases...
... and the view up the rest of the staircase.
There was another flight like this to get to the top road, then a shorter flight up to the hotel, then more stairs once inside up to my 4th floor room: I took the lift by this stage.

Evenings were spent in a variety of great restaurants, squeezed into little gap, some even laid out on the staircases.  Eating marvellous Italian food outdoors on a warm summer evening, having stimulating conversations with colleagues, is a great way to end each conference day. There were also wandering bands of musicians, who would play a few tunes, then send a collection jug round.  I’m not sure what the message was supposed to be the evening they played the jug around to the theme from The Godfather...

The walk down from the hotel to the conference each day was through the splendid public gardens.

Wednesday morning : the pagoda
Magnificent displays, from bougainvillea hedges...
... to cacti collections

Although the weather was warm and sunny, the skies were rather hazy at the start.  They cleared enough later in the week to see Etna, the summit obscured not by clouds, but by a faint trickle of smoke:

Thursday: the view at breakfast
Thursday: Taormina by night

A great conference, at a great venue.  Now it’s time to go home to cooler, cloudier England. Next year’s ALife conference is in New York, which will have a somewhat different vibe, I suspect.

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