On the inside of the door of my room over at the university, there’s a poster. It’s for a mathematics conference that was my first. Not the first I spoke at; that came later; not the first I was at, because all manner of minor mathematicists and mathematicettes get involved in helping with the ones our own university organizes; but the first that I actually had to (got to?) travel to.
It was in Poland; in the mathematicians’ conference center of Bedlewo outside Poznan. If you ever under any excuse whatsoever get a chance to go there, go; go, even if it’s a meeting of the Tedious and Unpleasant Lemma Society. Bedlewo used to be a noble mansion of some kind, and it shows; and by my (rosy?) memories it is more or less the kind of a quiet, idyllic, well-provisioned, bar-equipped, climate-blessed, forest-shaded place of casual beauty you could drop mathematicians into and never have any of them come back. (The joke among us Finns was we didn’t quite know if we were “Bedlewossa” (in Bedlewo) or “petilevossa” (in bed rest). Not that we were lazy; but we were well taken care of.)
That’s not why I like the poster so much, though.
I like it because it has this line: “Mathematicians who responded positively to our invitation include” — and then a list of names.
What exactly does it mean if a mathematician does not “respond positively” to your invitation?
“Hives! Allergic reaction to Polishness argh gurgle nhaar—”
“Well, no. This is a new variant of the Nigerian spam emails, right? You pay for my tickets and, whoops, on the airport they’re not paid, right? Ha-ha! I am not a dunce! I shall not go!”
“A conference? Again with the traveling and the meeting of people and the eating and the drinking? Again, I ask you, again with this?”
“You little gimp again, asking if I’ll go to your little conference? My foot’s gonna be the fucking plenary speaker in a fucking conference three feet up your ass, and your nuts’re gonna give the fucking opening remarks!”
“Let me think… no. And you can quote me on the conference poster. Professor Baise Moncul of Universite XVII de Paris, he said, ‘no’.”
“So you pay the expenses, right? Okay, good. Does that include the hookers? What do you mean, you don’t include the hookers? You think it’s easy, being a plenary speaker? How about the whiskey? I need Ardbeg. Get me Ardbeg and a few Russian girls and I’ll give you function theory like you’ve never seen before, a talk that would give Stefan fucking Banach a fucking coronary if he heard it!”