HARK, I HAVE RETURNED

HARK, I HAVE RETURNED

Excuse me, but what is this portrait of the Queen doing hanging over the entryway to Skepchick HQ? And who filled the fridge with bannoffee pie? It looks like I got back just in time to stop Tracy’s reign of terror here at Skepchick.

Regardless, I’d like to thank Tracy for her service. I’d also like to thank all the wonderful people who came to the Women in Secularism Conference, the World Skeptics Congress in Berlin and the European Atheist Convention in Cologne.

My trip started by flying to Washington, DC for Women in Secularism, where I enjoyed the opening cocktail reception with people like Ophelia Benson, Greta Christina, Annie Laurie Gaylor, Jamila Bey, Jennifer McCreight, and tons of awesome women (and a few men!) who came out. The next day, I was on a panel with Ophelia, Jen, Annie, and Sikivu Hutchinson during which we discussed the intersection of feminism and secularism. I was particularly excited to hear from Sikivu, who I wish would be invited to more atheist and skeptic events. She speaks extemporaneously the way I wish I could write, and she provides an invaluable perspective, particularly on the issues facing women of color.

But anyway, everyone was very sharp and funny and insightful, and I look forward to the video going online.

Shortly after my panel I had to rush to the airport to hop a plane to Newark where I would then hop a plane to Berlin. Unfortunately for me but fortunately for him, blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng chose that day to make a daring escape to the United States, and Newark airport closed for several hours while his plane was landing. Despite arriving an hour or so late, I was able to run through the airport and slip onto my plane to Berlin just as the doors were closing. Hooray for everyone!

I arrived in Berlin the next morning and went straight to the World Skeptics Congress where I saw old friends like James Randi, Simons Singh and Perry, and Genie Scott, who very kindly insisted I use her hotel room to shower and freshen up before I went on stage for my talk. Genie is either very nice or I was very, very smelly. Possibly both.

I went on stage and talked a bit about “How Women Evolved to Shop,” which was basically an excuse to have fun mocking the very worst that evolutionary psychology has offered us over the years. I’m hoping to distill my talk down to a blog post some time soon that will give you some resources if you want to combat the bad science of evo psych.

Following my talk, I had planned to join the crowd at Skeptics in the Pub, but instead I fell asleep. So it goes. I’ll be honest – my memories of that day are hazy. I was a wee bit tired. But I do remember that the venue was very nice, the A/V worked beautifully, and the crowd was a lot of fun.

I spent the next several days cycling around Berlin alone because my hotel had a terrible internet connection. I saw bits of the border wall and the Checkpoint Charlie-memorial Tourist Trap, and I enjoyed drinks along canals, like the baby beer for babies you see at right. They had it in red and green and both were delicious.

I should say I was alone, that is, until I was having Thai one night and introduced myself to two Scottish travelers, Helen and Kevin. We went to the zoo and drank a good deal. It was a lot of fun. Thanks, Helen and Kevin!

Then I flew to Cologne, or Köln depending on what language you speak, I suppose. I checked in and immediately tried to get online because I have a serious addiction, but again the internet wouldn’t work. As I was in the lobby speaking to someone in tech support with impressively good English, I saw Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland. After giving up on tech support, I joined Michael on a walk to the Cologne Cathedral (Dom). It was beautiful and scary-looking, and perfectly ironic – several homeless men sat by the doors asking for change beneath the extravagant architecture and brilliant stained glass windows.

At the Cathedral I sneezed several times, and thus marked the onset of the worst allergies I’ve ever experienced. By the next day, I practically had to have tissues shoved up my nose. The allergy medicine Richard Honess kindly gave me did nothing, nor did the nasal spray I got at the pharmacy. Happily, several people on Twitter (I got the internet working on my iPad) suggested I find some pseudoephedrine, and that did the trick so long as I popped the pills, um, religiously.

Horrific allergies aside, I had a blast in Cologne thanks to my fellow conference-goers. It was a huge thrill to finally meet Taslima Nasrin, who was just as badass and funny and sweet as I could have hoped. I was also excited to finally meet Leo Igwe, who technically I met for a moment during my hazy day at the Skeptics Congress but who I finally got to chat to in Cologne. I spent most of my time in Cologne chatting with Taslima, Leo, Michael, PZ Myers, Tanya Smith, and a few other awesome people and the conversations were really fun. Even (especially?) when we were all shouting and disagreeing with one another, before getting distracted and then laughing over another beer. Ah, memories.

Possibly my favorite night was when we discovered that Taslima is a brilliant artist. She picked up my iPad for the first time and started drawing portraits of each of us, and her skills improved with each go. I was 1st (we tried to match our expressions in the picture) (oh and click through to see the larger pic):

Then Richard:

Then Stephen Duggan:

Then Michael:

Then Jane Donnelly:

The true highlight of the evening came when Michael Nugent took the iPad and spent 45 minutes drawing Taslima before he looked up, distraught, and informed us that the program had crashed, losing all his work. Somehow this is my fault for choosing a shitty, free app.

As for the actual European Atheist Convention, the talks I saw (PZ, Taslima, Leo, etc) were very enjoyable. Sadly, I missed the first morning due to allergies, and many of the talks throughout the weekend were in German with no translation available, so I wasn’t able to see them. The World Skeptics Conference, by contrast, was entirely in English with simultaneous translation to German for any audience members who wanted it, which was very, very cool. I highly recommend a format like that for any non-regional conference that is considered international and that includes a large percentage of English speakers on the roster.

Well, at least it provided plenty of time for we poor mono-linguists (?) to convene and chat.

On Monday I flew back to the US, though not before losing my iPhone in Cologne’s central train station, which kicked off just a truly awful trip back. Let’s not talk about it.

All in all, it was a great trip, but I’m very happy to be back in the land of working internet and respiratory systems. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change all the thermometers at Skepchick HQ back to Farenheit.

We have a lot of thermometers. Don’t ask.

Avatar of Rebecca Watson
Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and appears on the weekly Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

23 Comments

  1. Avatar of Masala Skeptic

    I TRIEUD TOU STOUP HEUR. WEU HAUVE TOU AUDD ‘U’s TOU AULL OUUR WOURDS NOUW.

  2. Avatar of portokali

    Welcome back! :)
    I’m looking forward to that blogpost on “How Women Evolved to Shop” — I’ve been desperate to read something decent on that subject for ages!

  3. Avatar of mrmisconception

    Sneezed at the cathedral huh? Well, I guess it’s official, you ARE allergic to bullshit.

  4. Avatar of FontyMMX

    Yes, Cologne was great. :) I somehow didn’t pluck up the courage to talk to you personally, but here is your talk (and Q&A):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q985XL7G1F8

    I have more, but it needs editing, which needs time and I don’t have much. Damn day job. But Taslima, PZ, Leo, and more talks coming. And IBKA taped everything as well, maybe they’ll put up stuff as well.

  5. Avatar of pentatomid

    I so wanted to come to Cologne (or Köln, or Keulen or whatever you want to call it), but hey exams and a thesis sort of got in the way.

  6. Avatar of Blakut

    Cologne was great, i got the chance to talk to Rebecca, PZ and other conference goers. It was my first convention, and it was great!

  7. Avatar of dr. dr. professor

    HARK!

  8. Avatar of kel

    Monolinguals ;)

  9. Avatar of Ophelia Benson

    I like to turn awful trips back into blog posts that make me laugh while I’m writing them. On the other hand they don’t start with losing an iPhone.

  10. Avatar of anon skeptic

    Rebecca, you report does not contain anything about sexual harassment. Therefore I would like to know whether you have not experienced or witnessed any sexual harassment or inappropriate behaviour at these events or if you just didn’t mention it. I don’t want to know any names or details but I think the community deserves a clarification. Cheers

  11. Avatar of Steve Duggan

    Don’t forget to e-mail us our portraits! :)

    • Avatar of Rebecca Watson

      I will! I’m planning to upload them to Facebook and tag you all….it’s just that I’ve been running around catching up on work so I’ve been a bit remiss. Coming soon I promise!

      • Avatar of Steve Duggan

        Coolaboola :)

        • Avatar of Steve Duggan

          BTW – The reason I was there was to provide German translations. It would have been great to have live translations but sadly it’s not feasible on a guerilla budget =(

  12. Avatar of Rei Malebario

    Look, it’s nice to have you back, but I think you should paint on a sweet moustache to ease the transition for us.

    Also: SketchClub for iPad is a sweet and very reasonably priced drawing/painting app.

  13. Avatar of Rikaja

    Cool hair, Rebecca!

    Now I am truly sad i missed this conference, since it was near my country (Slovakia). I hope you will visit in the future again somewhere near, so I can see you and other skeptics in person…
    And try to take cetirizine for your allergies :)

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