• Michel Mayor, Nobel Prize in Physics 2019: "In 10 years we will have candidate planets to seek life"

This Tuesday Michel Mayor was at the San Sebastian Airport , about to board a flight to Madrid, when he decided to browse his e-mail to see if he had received an interesting message.

The Swiss astronomer had spent the morning distracted, playing with his grandchildren , and when he opened his laptop he found hundreds of messages in his mailbox. At first he worried and thought that something terrible could have happened , but in a short time he found an email that had entered hours earlier, sent by a representative of the Royal Academy of Sciences of Sweden in Stockholm.

Major, his former PhD student Didier Queloz , and cosmologist James Peebles had won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his studies "to understand the evolution of the universe and the place that Earth occupies in it."

In subsequent statements to THE WORLD, Mayor explained that although the Academy had tried to call him, he had not spoken to them. " I have a mobile phone, but I hardly use it . With my computer and e-mail is enough." He received the news by surprise, while he was sitting in a cafe in the departures terminal of the San Sebastian airport. The official Nobel Prize Twitter account tweeted Mayor's photo at the airport.

Saramago, at Frankfurt Airport

The case of Mayor recalls that of the Portuguese writer José Saramago, who also received the news of his 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature at an airport , specifically that of Frankfurt. The author of Essay on Blindness and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ had moved there to participate in the city's famous Book Fair , and although his name always appeared on the Nobel list of papabiles , he was convinced that that year He didn't play , and that's why he booked a return flight that departed more or less at the time the winner was expected to announce.

In Lanzarote, his wife, Pilar del Río, had received a call in advance of her husband's victory; She refused to tell him, fearing that it could be a heavy joke , but she did try to persuade him to wait for the announcement in Frankfurt, so that the news would not catch him in the middle of the flight. Saramago refused: " If I stay and I don't win, I will have lost both the prize and the flight . Quiet; this year does not fall."

But in the end, it fell. The announcement reached the Portuguese delegation at the Book Fair a few minutes after Saramago had caught the taxi to the airport, where he was preparing to take a flight to Lanzarote with a stopover in Madrid.

If he embarked, the press would have to wait hours to interview him, and knowing that he would not arrive at the airport on time, a journalist called the airline to beg him to prevent the new Nobel from leaving on that flight.

The Portuguese learned of his victory when a flight attendant approached and, with utmost discretion, congratulated him and told him that he could not get on the plane . The writer had to wait for the arrival of his editor, who was heading to the airport to redirect him to the Book Fair, where journalists from around the world awaited his first statements.

The flight departed while Saramago waited, and the writer was left alone in the terminal. Years later, he confessed that "at no other time in my life did I feel such an aggressive solitude" like the one he lived in those moments, during which he was in a kind of shock, thinking about how he had changed his life forever. Upon arriving the entourage that was intended to take him back to the fairgrounds, however, things rejoiced, and Saramago returned to the Fair as a true winner, surrounded by fans waving carnations in honor of the first Portuguese Nobel.

The voice message on Munro's answering machine

Oddly enough, the cases of Mayor and Saramago are more common than it seems: the Swedish Academy likes to call the winners to give them the news personally shortly before the public announcement, and there are few graces that have been found away from home when that call has arrived.

This Thursday the Polish poet Olga Tokarczuk was driving through Germany when a representative of the Swedish Academy called her on the mobile to inform her that she had won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, an award that was postponed last year due to the sexual harassment scandal that broke into the Academy. The news struck him so much that he had to get off the road and spend a long time parked until he felt strong enough to continue on his way.

In 1991 the Swiss Richard Ernst was on a flight Moscow - New York when his Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced. The captain of the plane received an urgent message from the airline and it was he who went to where the scientist sat to tell him the news. After offering him a glass of champagne , he invited him to the cabin, from where Ernst was able to use the aircraft radio to talk to his family.

Canadian writer Alice Munro was not traveling, but taking a morning walk when the call of the Academy Literature Committee occurred in 2013. Upon returning home she discovered that someone with a marked Nordic accent had left a very long message of voice giving him the news. Shortly after they started calling the media, and for several days the phone in their house did not stop ringing.

Academy representatives usually call during the morning in Stockholm, but winners are often in parts of the world where it is still early in the morning . When they called the Indian Amartya Sen in 1998 he was asleep in the United States, where it was five in the morning. He woke up and felt panic in answering the call, thinking that he would be someone with very bad news . In 2010 something similar happened with the American chemist Martin Chalfie , who didn't even wake up when the call came in, finding out hours later when he saw a headline with his name in a digital newspaper.

The Russian-Russian physicist Konstantin Novoselo was awake when he called the Academy in 2010, but in the middle of a very complex project. He was greatly angered by the interruption , and with obvious frustration he asked the Swedish representative, "Now what, I suppose I will have to stop what I was doing, right?"

However, in terms of outbursts related to the Nobel news, no one surpasses the British writer Doris Lessing , who was confused upon arriving home after making the purchase and meeting the press gathered at her door.

"Do you know what happened?" Asked a journalist.

"Do not."

"He has won the Nobel Prize in Literature!"

"Oh Christ," replied the puzzled writer, summarizing the shock everyone feels when they win the most important prize in the world.

According to the criteria of The Trust Project

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