Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 23  |  Friday, September 15, 2000  |  Number 16
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Around the World via DZero

by Mike Perricone

 The Bernardi family gather around their mobile home, from left, Jeremy,Greg,Sonia and Marie. At home, in their own part of the world, they saw themselves as an ordinary, busy family with two jobs, two children, and not enough time to enjoy all they worked to achieve.

But in less-familiar realms of the world, they often found themselves regarded as something very special, indeed:

  • a symbol of the privileged enemy, arriving in Iran amidst a national celebration of the 20th anniversary of the 1980 hostage episode;

  • potential candidates for hostage-taking themselves, during an attempted political coup in Fiji which, fortunately, evaporated before they were entangled;

  • a target for bandits, needing an armed military escort on an anxious desert crossing into Pakistan;

  • an object of assaults by comically oblivious kangaroos, who caromed off the front fender of their camper as they were jouncing along in the Australian outback at night;

    DZero physicist Gergorio Bernardi, his wife Marie, and their children, Jeremy, 13, and Sonia, 10, are now back in France after a year-long trek around the world by camper, an experience unreplicated by theme park or "reality-based" TV.

    "We left France a year ago with two kids," said Greg Bernardi, "and now we come home with two almost-adults. It's amazing to see how they changed, how they matured in a year."

    Greg, a physicist at the University of Paris, had been participating in experiments at DESY, in Hamburg, Germany, as well as DZero. In early 1999, he was presented with the opportunity to join DZero full-time in software and analysis for Run II in March 2001. He and Marie, who teaches English at the 10 to 14-year-old age level, decided to seize another opportunity: in France, a professional can take a year off without pay.

    They had rented a motor home in the U.S. and driven through the Rocky Mountains when Jeremy was about three, and often said they'd like to take another trip like it.

    "Now the kids were getting older, and I was making a shift to Fermilab," Greg said. "We decided, now's the time to make the trip."

    They spent three months getting ready, planning their route, obtaining visas, borrowing to buy the camper, tying up loose ends. Then they set outónot west, by way of the U.S., as many family members and friends advised: but east, toward Asia. Starting their drive through Italy and Greece, they journeyed through Iran and Pakistan, Nepal and Tibet, India and Malaysia, before driving across Australia, where they saw the Olympic Torch complete its own round-the-world journey.

    "Our ambition was to go to India by the classic road taken centuries ago by European explorers and traders," Greg said. "We also wanted to do the hard part of the trip first."

    Jeremy and Sonia had an additional agenda: a year off from school. It turned out quite differently from what they expected. Greg and Marie set aside three hours a day for tutoring (Greg in science, Marie in everything else), with monthly status reports mailed back to the schools.

    "It's tough to teach your own children," Marie admitted. "You don't have the same patience you have in a classroom. It was OK at the beginning, but after a while they said they wanted to go back to school. I told them when they do go back, I don't want to hear complaining about school."

    Geography was a constant part of their education, but cultural differences made indelible impacts.

    Marie found that she and Sonia were required to be covered in dark clothing from head to foot while traveling in Iran, viewing the world through a narrow gap in the veils over their faces. Jeremy and Sonia despaired over the poverty they witnessed, especially the numbers of impoverished and disabled children in India.

    "It was very hard for them," Marie said. "But they also learned how little many people have."

    The camper itself was an education. The good news was being together as a family 24 hours a day, for an entire year. The bad news was being in a space some 20 feet long by five feet wide.

    "Four people, four different temperaments, not used to being together all the time, crossing difficult countriesóat the beginning it was very tough, but then it was nice," Marie said. "It drew us together."

    On August 9, the Bernardis pulled in to the parking lot at DZero. After stopping at Fermilab for a brief stay on site, they drove to New York, where they shipped the camper across the Atlantic before flying home.

    Heading home also offered an easier connection with some of their experiences. Time and distance provided a larger context for their memories and impressions. They were surprised to find that, as difficult as they had found the deprivations they saw in India, the splendors they had witnessed there now became foremost in their minds and in their conversations.

    "Now we all think India was fascinating, and we'd like to go back," Marie said. "But for now, we'd like to go back to normal life, back to the routine. A year is enough."


  • last modified 9/15/2000   email Fermilab