Alica Caterina

The days go by in a blur of tubes, pipettes, papers, code, administration, sun, heat, music.

I am trying to generate scientific data but various technical issues set me back seemingly with every experiment. I suppose this is the reality of doing science, still it can be hard to keep motivation levels high in such a climate.

Musical activities are thin on the ground this summer. I practice drumming every day but it is clear that I’ve lost a lot of skill in the year that I did not own a kit. Back to the basic rudiments, training each limb individually, working on accuracy. I am listening to more music this summer though. Now that I have long stretches of bench work to do, I can pop my headphones in and inhabit new and old musical landscapes. Have been listening to HCRM’s Rachmaninov concert recording a lot. It is such an incredible piece of music.

I have a new pet crayfish, whose name graces the title of this post. It is the name she had when I acquired her from another owner, and I have no reason to change it. She does have a baby though, which I should name at some stage. I am unsure what to choose and would welcome suggestions!


In May I spent almost every day in the lab, and by the end of it I was absolutely exhausted. I’ve been doing experiments that needed checking every day, plus I have a deadline looming in August so I’m trying to make that happen! (I’m enjoying the summer, though, it’s great actually spending all my time in the lab instead of going to classes and spending hours on homework. So don’t feel too sorry for me)

Anyway, on the 29th of May I was doing a spot of blog-reading in the morning before I headed into the lab. I looked at Stanley Donwood’s blog – he is the artist who has done all of Radiohead’s cover artwork and merchandise, and I like his stuff a lot (I’m thinking about purchasing a piece of his work, but I will have to save up for a really long time…). I hadn’t looked at his blog for a while, but there was a post showing one of his t-shirt designs for a Radiohead tour date (I hope it’s OK that I repost this here):

The larch.

I have spent a few jetlagged hours drawing some larch trees to form the background for the tshirt designs for the next leg of the Radiohead tour. For reasons which now escape me, I decided to do a different tshirt for each date on the tour. Anyway, this is the design for the first date on this part of the tour.
The larch is a strange tree; a conifer that is deciduous. Its needles fall in the autumn, while all the other conifers stay green all through the winter.

– 6th May 2012

My heart seriously stopped for a second – I was sure that Radiohead hadn’t had a tour date scheduled for Massachusetts, but I guess they must have added more dates since the last time I’d checked. And this Massachusetts concert was on the 29th of May… today.

For those of you who don’t know me well, you should know that Radiohead is easily my favourite band. I love Radiohead. It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about their music. In the words of New Zealand music blogger Simon Sweetman:

[…] so much of the music is astonishing – so buoyant, beautifully crafted, a world of ideas in one pop song. As time goes on you notice there are fewer and fewer acts capable of this longevity, subtle reinvention and (fairly consistently) brilliant music.

I also have never before seen Radiohead live – I was too young to go to their last concert in New Zealand (in 1998!), and had been eagerly awaiting my chance since I moved to the Northern Hemisphere. I had tried to get tickets earlier in the year to go to a show in NYC – but they sold out almost immediately, which is fairly standard for Radiohead concerts. It’s almost unheard of for tickets to be available for a Radiohead show on the day. I swiftly checked Radiohead’s website……. the tickets for 29th May were “ON SALE NOW”. So of course I bought one. In my mind it will forever be the best reward for what has been a long and tiring academic year.

My seat was excellent, and the concert was amazing. A lot of people say that Radiohead’s music is depressing, which is an association I literally cannot understand at all, if one actually listens to their music. I blame it all on Creep. Anyway, no-one who was at that concert could ever say that their music is depressing. The show was, to use Simon Sweetman’s word again, buoyant. The band were relaxed, they were enjoying themselves, and also they were very polite. By which I mean, even though they’re extremely famous and could easily double the number of shows they do on tour and still have most of them sell out within 20 minutes, they were very gracious and thanked the audience many times, doing so genuinely.

Anyway, I could definitely continue writing about how much I like Radiohead, for a very long time, but that will quickly become uninteresting. Thank you, Stanley Donwood, for posting that particular t-shirt design on your blog. I am seriously grateful.

I’ll finish up with some of my favourite performances from the concert (I took these vids).

Moving on.

After a long and busy semester, I had the pleasure of moving out of the dorm this week. While it was very very sad to say goodbye to some of the people there (some of whom are not returning to Cambridge, *sniff*), I was pretty happy to move into a real house again.

And moving into an unfurnished bedroom, I of course had to do a day trip to IKEA to buy a lot of shady quality, mass produced, flat-packed furniture. Accompanied by some lab peeps, I managed to get all of the things I wanted without having a nervous breakdown. IKEA has a reputation for being the scene of a large number of personal meltdowns in shoppers, and having now been there I can understand why. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a fairly easy store to navigate, and is laid out sensibly, but it’s just so HUGE, and when you’re buying a whole room of things and you can’t find that one storage box you’d noted down from the website and you keep getting distracted by picture frames and then everyone has split up and there’s no cellphone coverage so you have to wander around looking for them and where is that damn storage box anyway?!… 

But it was a very successful trip! And, one week later, I only have two more pieces of furniture to put together. I’m hilariously proud of building it all on my own, but it gets hard on the hands so I can only do so much in one day.

Just finished my two RAST dressers (to be stained/painted at a later date).

It’s so nice to live in a house again. And lucky for me, the rest of the house is already furnished by the other tenants. I can watch telly! I can cook a meal! I can have people over! I can bake a cake! So great. It makes your days very different when you can look forward to going home.

The rest of my England trip

Yeah I still haven’t shared the rest of my England trip. Soz.

Although this isn’t really the exciting stuff that people want to read on travel blog posts, I would just like to take the time to point out that British telly is excellent, especially compared with the awful drivel on American TV. When I was in London, Katie and I spent a lot of time just watching re-runs of QI and 8 Out of 10 Cats. I loved it. Anyway.

I did a ton of just wandering around central London, and it’s so fun. There’s so many historical and pretty and interesting places. Also: some quite spectacularly mis-spelled signage.

St Pancras station was a highlight. Also it was a beautiful day…

Such great colours

That’s all I can stay awake for today… (and it’s only two days of photos as well, whoops). Last night I performed in maybe my most favourite choir concert of all time (I’ll write more about that sooooooon I promissssse), and tonight I was taken out to dinner by my friend Miranda and her parents – we went to the North End and ate wonderful pasta and then went to Mike’s Pastry for cannoli. It really is completely shocking that I still find things in my life to complain about.

Singing in Cambridge and NYC

A couple of friends and I performed at an open mic night at the end of last semester. Here’s a clip from our performance. On the right are Anne and Marie – we met at the graduate student choir and decided to do an open mic night before Marie finished her course and moved back to France. We were all so busy with school schedules that we didn’t get to practice together until the afternoon right before this open mic night, but I think it went well nevertheless.

In other news, I’m singing with the Harvard Radcliffe Collegium Musicum tonight at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.


London, UK

The first semester at Harvard over (phew), I have been thoroughly enjoying my winter break. I cheekily booked two and a half weeks away without asking for permission, since I figured that I’m a newbie and am likely to be able to get away with it now, whereas in future I will have to have shorter holidays like a proper grown-up.

On Christmas eve in Boston I made my way to the airport to take the red-eye to London Heathrow for my Christmas break. On arrival in London at 6.45am Christmas day, I managed to locate my pre-booked taxi driver (no public transport on Christmas day) and then spent a rather uncomfortable hour trying to steer the conversation away from my personal life and failing miserably. My Sri Lankan taxi driver was in an unhappy arranged marriage, and was whinging about how he couldn’t go clubbing with his mates any more because his wife was a drag, or something. The WHOLE DAMN TIME he kept asking me about boyfriends, why I didn’t have a boyfriend, and whether I’ve ever been with black men, or asian men. I dodged most of them but stopped short of telling him to mind his own business, because I’d already paid for the cab and just really had to get to Katie’s flat. Anyway I got there safely, obviously, and now that public transport is back to normal I will never have to have an awkward taxi conversation again. Thank goodness.

Katie and I have been exploring London on the cheap, since we are both short of cash. And contrary to what I’ve heard previously, it’s actually very easy to get a fantastic experience without spending more than £10 per day. We buy a £36 seven-day public transport ticket, which gives us unlimited travel on zones 1-3 (all you would really ever need to see the majority of London!). We’ve mostly been eating at home, and occasionally buying coffee, hot chocolate, or fries to stave off hunger while we’re out.

On Christmas day we watched British telly and had a roast chook. It was great. On boxing day we ventured into the city and had a browse around while there weren’t too many tourists about:

The London Eye

Oxford Street

The following day, I caught up with my friend Nick, who by chance was in London for a few days on a travelling adventure before he moves to Dublin to work as a doctor. Being nerdy types we went to the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum. It was frightfully busy and the museums are huge, so it was hard to get good photos (too many children spoiling the shots) and we didn’t get through all the exhibits (too exhausted). I hope to head back to the Natural History museum before I leave, because it’s gorgeous and I’m sure I missed loads. Both of these museums are free, so a lot of entertainment for no money (just don’t buy food from the in-house cafes).

The fantastic entrance to the Science Museum

The beautiful Natural History Museum main hall

The next day Katie and I were too tired to leave the house so we slept a ridiculous number of hours and watched even more telly. After such a lazy day we were able to get up early the next day and go to Borough Market, which was operating at half-capacity but was still magical and fun and I loved the place. I did kind of regret not being able to afford the beautiful cheeses and veges on display, but we treated ourselves to a hot spiced apple cider and sat outside the Southwark Cathedral.

Freshly killed game being admired by this gentleman's dogs

Such pretty vegetables

Romanesque broccoli. I've never seen these before - I must go back and buy one to see what it tastes like!

More strolling through Southwark led us to The Clink Prison Museum, which wasn’t free but was worth a wee look anyway. We were supposed to get photographs in chains at the end but the camera mechanism wasn’t working so we didn’t quite get our money’s worth, but I was having too much fun to be bothered.

I can't remember exactly what this was but it was close to the Clink.

My only picture from the Clink Museum - it was a bit too dark to take any decent pictures.

The famous tourist trap The Anchor.

St Paul's Cathedral from the South Bank - it looked so beautiful in that light!

Enjoying chips with salt and vinegar at one of Katie's fave places - The Fishcotheque.

I have family near London who I had never met before – My Aunt Sarah had moved to London when I was a kid and I had never met her husband and three children. On the 30th of Dec I travelled out of town to spend the day with them, and I had such a lovely time. Sarah cooked me the most spectacular roast dinner (I reckon she could rival my mum in the roast-dinner-with-yorkshire-pudding skill, and that’s saying something). I was so glad to meet her family, and also sad that my own family couldn’t be there too, but hopefully I can drag Mum and Jess over here some time and go and visit together :). Sarah has the nice family photos of us so sadly I don’t have any to post right now. The train trip to their place (at Southend-on-Sea) took about an hour from Central London and on the way I spotted Hadleigh Castle – although we were travelling too fast for me to take a picture.

On New Year’s Eve we decided to forego the crazy partying in the city and stayed at home, since Katie lives at the base off the tallest hill in London. So we enjoyed some nice ciders and at about 11.45pm we ventured up the hill and watched the central city fireworks display from there.

more to come….


It’s been so long…


The semester is nearly over and I’ve done no updates for weeks and weeks. Shameful. So here are some bits and pieces.

1. We just had Thanksgiving break here in the US, and although I worked for most of it I also took some time to eat great food with great people. And I’ve had leftovers for days – perfection.

2. I keep thinking that winter has arrived, and it gets extremely cold, and then it warms up again. At the moment it’s in one of these warm (and by warm I mean I can tolerate two layers of clothing) patches but I expect that won’t last too much longer. I have had some snow experience here already:

Snow at Harvard Forest, where we had a class retreat.

3. Autumn here is as lovely as they say it is – I captured the progression of “the fall” outside my department during downtime at the lab bench. I think it’s interesting how the trees in the centre were first to change colour and lose their leaves, and it progressed outwards:

6th of October

15th of October

22nd of October

11th of November

4. I have settled into several favourite places here in Cambridge and Boston, most of which revolve around food. Two cafes with delightful baked goods and espresso coffee, with real ingredients in the food and none of this sugar-coated-sugar-laden Starbucks nonsense. The North End in Boston, which is a little Italy and is full of incredible food and naughty treats…

Cannoli from the legendary Mike's Pastry in the North End

Another new favourite haunt is a yarn and fabric store called “Gather Here”, where people sit on the couches and bring their knitting/crochet projects and chat or find help from the lovely people who work there. The store sells the most beautiful selection of quilting fabric I  have ever seen – all very cute and modern – and good quality wool and tools. (Good quality = not the cheapest, but I feel like it’s worth it). Also they have several solid Bernina sewing machines that you can spend time on for $10 an hour – luckily my lovely host family will let me use their sewing machine if I want to, but it’s nice to know the Berninas are there, anyway. I was so inspired the first time I stepped foot in Gather Here that I decided on the spot to make an Afghan blanket. My spare time is now often spent crocheting and I think I have made good progress:

My completed granny squares. The blue is actually more of a turquoise but it's hard to get a good picture in artificial light.

5. Work is very tiring and I am looking forward to Christmas break, when I head to London for two and a half weeks. I enjoy my classes and my lab work is fun, but trying to do it all at once is less than ideal. It’ll be great when I am done with classes (in a year or so)…

6. Choir is super great – I have one christmas concert with the Grad student choir, and in the undergrad choir we are rehearsing Rachmaninov’s All Night Vigil, which is over an hour of a capella singing. Amazing. In January the undergrad choir (“Collegium”) will be touring NYC and singing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Soooo excited.

It’s my bedtime now so that’s all folks, but I will try to set aside a bit more time in future to post more frequent updates. I miss everyone at home (and abroad-but-not-here). xo

Dreaded lurgy

Thursdays are totally awesome because I don’t have class or rehearsal or ANYTHING standing in the way of a full, undisturbed day in the lab.

But last night just happened to be the time that my immune system said “Screw you and your sleep patterns. I’m outies.”

Last night I had to skip out of my only decent class, where they give us beer and pizza every week while we chat with faculty members in the department, to go blow my nose for like 20 minutes. And to top it off, because my brain is clearly congested along with my sinuses, I apologized to this week’s faculty member by saying “I’m really sorry, I have a snotty nose”. Yeah for reals, that’s what came out of my mouth. Shame.

And today, instead of a day of pipetting like a champion followed by a hilarious evening at the Ig Nobel awards, I’m in bed surrounded by tissues. Hey, at least I have loads of math homework to distract myself, right?

Let’s not even talk about the fact that Radiohead are playing in NYC tonight. Sigh.