Sep 16 2015

Apples in the Garden


When I think England in the fall, I definitely think apples. Not just apples, but apples are somewhere in the mix. I’m not sure what else is in that mix…rain, pies, wool, um? Imagine my surprise when on our way to Oxford, we stopped at a mini grocery in the autoroute “services” (rest stop) and found only New Zealand and South African apples on sale, and the same, curious situation prevailing at our local Marks and Spencer supermarket. Does England not have its own apples? From whence does that tradition of hard cider come, then? Apples had to be in season…they were already in Switzerland and France.

And, curiously, in our “garden” (backyard), the first thing to greet me was a half-eaten apple on our back steps. Who has been throwing half-eaten apples into our garden before we had a chance to move in, anyway? I don’t want to live in a place where people toss half-eaten apples into my yard!

But THEN! THEN! We found an apple tree in our garden. It is tiny, just Seth’s height, but has at least 5 apples, a couple gnawed like the one on our steps. It has a tag that says it is a Jonagold tree. Undamaged, ripe apples are crisp and fresh, and from our own backyard!!! This is magical. What a greeting. How appropriate for Rosh Hashanah.

Then I remembered that at one house viewing back in July, the current owners told us that they had two apples trees in the garden, one for cooking and one for eating. And so far, everyone (sample size = small) who has a garden seems to have their own apple tree, sometimes more than one, and they trade apples with one another and cook them into applesauce and apple crumbles and apple pies and have special long-handled applepickers they share with neighbors to reach the high ones and altogether eat tons and tons of apples, so local they didn’t have to travel through the supermarket or even the farmers’ market. I asked one local what she does to tend her apple trees–“nothing,” she answered. Well. Um, why again do Americans love to plant ornamental fruit trees, lacking in fruit? This is so much better!!!

Our garden also has some brambly blackberries, a nice tree with a baby doll stuck high in its branches (can apple pickers pick dolls out of trees, too???), a little tree covered with something that might be crabapples and I don’t know if we can eat/cook them, and a shed. In-between, there is high grass that will soon need mowing (…um, how do we do this?). The fence is sealed and high, keeping Ruben in, and nosy neighbors out. Except, of course, that from the windows upstairs, it is quite easy to peer directly into all of our neighbors’ gardens. Can’t wait to spy on all the professors’ children and apple-picking habits and see them spying back. It would be nice to have a suke back here.

Now, our 5 apples are awesome but are going to only last a few days. I better make friends with some neighbors who have more apples than they can eat, and soon!

Oh, and now we have Internet. I just had to test it out, you see.

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Sep 14 2015

For the New Year: GVA—>OXON


Leaving the US, again. Packing, packing. Electronics waiting to rust in my parents’ basement. Farewell to our things (my books!) for 2 months…see you on the other side. Frantic driving around and hours on the internet spent working out more paperwork than can possibly be imagined. Doctor’s visits and last appointments. Trying to tire-out Ruben. Last-minute raspberry picking and eating. Saying goodbye—I miss you already. A largely empty overnight flight with Ruben on the alert for fidgety snoozers, agreeing to snooze himself only after arrival.

Switzerland. Beautiful blue and golden early fall weather. A wild hedgehog hanging out on the sidewalk. Ruben enjoying his homeland, remembering it all, including the vet, our old apartment, how to walk off-leash in the countryside, how to behave in train stations and snooze on trains. A serene park on a hillside overlooking the lake between an art museum in an old mansion and the Olympic museum, with several packs of teenage boys rebelling against life by listening to techno music together and practicing their party tricks. A sign in the train station saying in English that “composting”of tickets is not obligatory. Three francs for 2 deci-liters of hot milk in a cafe, but successfully poured directly into my travel mug on top of my coffee. A village post office open from 7am to 10am and not a minute longer. A wonderful week spent with friends Adar, Horesh, and growing boys G and N, who are Ruben’s new favorite playmates. A graduation ceremony that verges on a graduation parody, one lucky prize recipient, and so little food at the following reception that it is gone within 10 minutes. One beautiful, restored carriage house in Nyon. Fresh fall apples, plums, squash, and grapes. Where “self salade” (e.g. “pick your own lettuce”) is more convenient for dinner than a trip to the grocery store. A potluck dinner for kids and parents where the options are limited to green salad, ham quiche, ham pizza, slices of ham on hand-sliced bread, popcorn, plain potato chips dispensed meagerly on small plates, grapes, several versions of apple tart, wine grown and fermented down the street, and apple juice. A public bus packed with teens on the way home from school…because why have separate school buses? Sheepsmilk ice cream in “raisinee” flavor (syrup of reduced pear/apple), perfect for the lactose sensitive among us.
France. One day, traveling across it on the express train. The Jura mountains and rain over the fields, demarcated by trees, dotted with French country villages with a church at the center. Seth: “This looks like the MidWest.” Right, except for the hills, the trees, the fast train, and the villages. Feeling grateful that we have the papers to cross its borders. Seth got everything right on this account.
Oxford. We are moving here, to North Oxford, dog and all. Together, wherever we go. We are both doing postdocs in our respective disciplines. Since I last wrote, we both defended our doctoral dissertations and are each just a few administrative steps away from our PhD diplomas. Relief, for the time being. We know it will be ok, because we can buy good bagels in London and drink a lot of tea, even if we are arriving to an unfurnished house, no internet or telephones, a non-existent bank account, and streets that are all backward. Bring on the rain! Check back for OxFording rather than SwissWatching.
Thank you to everyone who has made our last year ultimately so sweet. Shana tova. To a sweet and gebentsht year.
Written September 12.

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May 23 2015

The Bodleian and otherwise Oxford


Well, I heard once again that there was a long and terrible winter, but I barely noticed. It was pretty cold in the attic of the Yiddish Hoyz. It is already shvues and Memorial Day Weekend! So, I wrote. I submitted. Now, I wait. My defense is June 30, Maison de la Paix, as planned. Seth will be finishing his PhD and defending his dissertation by the end of this summer, amazingly, too. There were will be no graduations, which doesn’t bother me except for at this time of year, when I see friends hooded and robed and pompously processing for their mere 2-year master’s degrees or 3 year JDs or whatnot. Grmph. I should stay off of facebook nowabouts.

By the end of summer, it looks like Swiss Watching is going to become Oxford Watching, now from a postdoc instead of a PhD perspective. We’ll be making another trans-Atlantic move, older and grumpier this time around, and we’ll get to live down the road from the Bodleian Library. Swoon. When did I turn into someone who loved libraries? Moving again will be another enormous challenge (don’t even say adventure; we are not going on a safari here), but this time I’m insisting on traveling with my kitchen pots and the dog is going to have to enter England via France. Today, a friend went to look at a flat for us in Oxford while he was there, and the owner in response to his questions about heating, insulation, dampness, etc., described the windows as “English windows,” which he took to mean not such great windows in terms of keeping in the heat, perhaps single-paned. My friends, do any of you know what English windows are? Googling it turns up information about Microsoft Windows, no thank you. Oh, I will miss New York, where the things that don’t make sense still make sense to me. I guess you blog readers will have the opportunity to decode Britain along with me.

In honor of our upcoming move, we tried to watch an episode of Inspector Morse, a British detective drama from the 90s set largely in Oxford. That episode, as all episodes are, was 2 hours long and we only made it halfway through before falling asleep! And I still don’t like murder mysteries as a form of entertainment. Ghastly.


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Nov 06 2014

A Helluva Town


New York, New York, a helluva town. The Bronx is up but the Battery’s down. The people ride in a hole in the groun’.

I have been involved with various Leonard Bernstein musical activities in New York in celebration of the publication of Carol Oja’s book on Bernstein’s work during WWII. And so, I have had the above lyrics from On the Town (excellent revival now on Broadway!) circling through my head. They seem very relevant to life, especially since I actually live in the Bronx, and I spent a lot of time riding in a hole in the ground, approximately 2 hours per day. A helluva town.

Yiddish Hoyz has indeed been an interesting experience so far. After fighting an almost-winning battle against fleas, we have lost all energy to do anything else, for example, trimming the crazily overgrown weeds in the front yard. Argh. Hopefully it will be winter soon and the weeds will disappear under snow?! It is extremely nice to be in a place where I can speak Yiddish regularly and do Jewish things that I like without having to organize a single thing. All I gotta do is show up, and sometimes it even happens in my house. It’s great. Yesterday we went to a Yiddish dance workshop/party, to live klezmer music with a room full of people who actually knew the basics of Yiddish dance, and all I had to do was GO.

I joined a choir, Essential Voices USA, which is great. Same deal…I am not paid for it, but on the other hand, all I have to do is learn music and show up! I get to sing with amazing musicians, and it is awesome. No choosing repertoire, making cue sheets, etc. We did said Bernstein things and we are singing with the NY Pops during their holiday concerts in Carnegie Hall! Come if you’d like and if you can find tickets! Oh, and consider listening to the beautiful, totally absorbing, magical combination of contemporary choral and Jewish music on the choir’s new CD.

Once the High Holidays ended, I breathed a huge sigh of relief (although also instantly I began to miss my role as a cantorial soloist) and got back to the work of being a PhD student and a CJH Fellow. For those of you who would like to hear the fruits of a small part of that labor or learn about Jews during World War I, I have just the conference for you coming up this Sunday. =) I am writing, writing, writing. My dissertation defense has been schedule for 10am on June 30 at the Maison de la Paix in Geneva–it is public, so, mark your calendars! With a real deadline ahead of me I feel more or less like I have a major paper deadline about two days away, and this is a constant feeling. It is not great, but, so far, I am still able to write. I am also looking for an academic employment for next year, an experience I do not recommend.

What else? My sister got married, mazl tov, which means I now know the sheva brachot and am available for hire (anyone?). I no longer have to drive anywhere and can instead return to my old routines of shleping heavy bags everywhere. My dog has decided our armchair will have to do as a couch and he has been experimenting with the best positions for armchair snoozing utilizing different combinations of sweaters and blankets for support. Seth has busily been providing said sweaters to said dog, and also working on his PhD and hanging out at Columbia. It takes the same amount of time to drive to New Haven as to subway to Brooklyn, where everyone we know practically lives. I bought fresh ginger at the Union Square greenmarket. Yesterday I ate lunch outside on a bench in the unseasonably warm sun, and a passing shih-tzu pooped right in front of me on the park path…and even closer to my open mug of tea standing by my feet. Did I drink my tea? Yes, i did. New York, ladies and gentlemen, a helluva town!!!! Catch me if you can, during the rare moments when I am not dissertating up in the Bronx, in the hole in the ground. Or, you know, at Carnegie Hall, the CJH, Geneva, or Yiddish dance parties.

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Jul 05 2014

to New York for 2014-2015


Announcement: I will be a graduate research fellow in New York this coming academic year, at the Center for Jewish History! You can find me in the Big Apple starting in August, but you’re going to have to come to the Bronx.

In other news, I just launched my new website, Seth took that home page photo, which features an SBB train in the foreground and hints of the Maison de la Paix, the new campus at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in the back.

We were recently on a three-week trip to a combination of Geneva, Norwegian Fjords, London, Leipzig, and Berlin. Returning to Switzerland feels like returning to Boston. A place I love, and hate, and which feels like an old home. It is familiar, but the changes are bewildering. Just to make sure we knew we were in Switzerland, we got to experience:

  • Bagels, my friends, are taking over Western Europe. But they are all wrong. In Geneva Cointrin (airport) is a “bagels and beer” stand, and EPFL now has a cafe advertising “soft” bagels. SOFT?!!! Blech. I think I prefer no bagels. Well, London has some real bagels, still.
  • A helicopter lowering a boat into Lac Leman. Rich people these days, can’t afford to live on the lake and have their own boathouse…
  • Geneva Cornavin, the newly remodeled train station. It is like a shiny, ugly mall with train tracks in it. So, not much improvement there. The SBB seems to have transitioned to almost totally accessible train cars, though. Nice. There is also now a new station between Lausanne and Renens. And Geneva ticket machines (TPG) still require you to have so much change in your pocket that I missed my abonnement generale desperately.
  • Strawberry picking, the best, reddest, juiciest!!! And then we returned to Pittsburgh, where fresh, local strawberries were small, sour, or rotten.
  • Getting lost in the Maison de la Paix. You know it is going to happen when you get told you have a meeting in room 501, in petal 1, on the 5th floor, which is actually the 3rd floor. There is much good to be said about this new building, like a nice library, a cafeteria which exists, a general information desk, fizzy water that comes out of all drinking taps, and walls you can write on. Also, I really like how the toilets are in the stairwells. ;) I hear some people have complaints, though.
  • We walked into France from Mies to Grilly. We got told at a restaurant in Grilly that at 1:20 pm, the kitchen was closed for lunch. We found another place, in a horse showring, willing to feed us at such a late hour. We then found two old men hanging out by the Versoix river who were astounded, simply astounded, that we could have possibly walked in from Switzerland. Which was just on the other side of the river, which you might also call a creek…
  • We finally went to the Bains des Paquis for dinner. And we couldn’t eat fondue, because fondue is not allowed in the summer. No fondue, all trip!!! But we were expecting that, because we know Switzerland has a fondue ban in summer. We still ate plenty of cheese, because I knew just when and where to be at the Lausanne market.
  • I ran into a student from the history master’s program at the Graduate Institute in, of course, the train station. She recognized me, but not my name. =/ I needed my regular reminder that Switzerland is small. We had an awkward conversation in which I spoke French while having an internal mental battle to shut out the Yiddish that wanted to come out.
  • That referendum, the immigration one, is creating mayhem in the Swiss academic and research worlds. If I had hoped to go back some day, that chance seems slimmer than ever. =(

Did you want to hear about fjords, London, or Leipzig? Hope not. This is SwissWatching, after all. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear about New York. We will be living in something of a reality-show setup, in a Yiddish-speaking coop in the Bronx. That should provide some fodder. On the other hand, I am going to be finishing my dissertation, so maybe not.

Happy July 4! It is not raining in Pittsburgh!



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Feb 09 2014

Swiss vote against immigration


And….Switzerland has just narrowly voted for xenophobia. What might it mean for Swiss higher education and research, where there are lots of non-Swiss? What does it mean for non-EU potential immigrants? What will the EU when quotas are re-instituted, and how should it react? What does it mean that Suisse Romande is more welcoming to immigration and the European idea than the rest of the country? What about the urban/rural divide? So many questions.

Swiss immigration in the BBC: “This goes against the principle of free movement of persons between the EU and Switzerland. The EU will examine the implications of this initiative on EU-Swiss relations as a whole. In this context, the Federal Council’s position on the result will also be taken into account.”

Swiss curb immigration in Swiss news in English: “Voters in Switzerland have narrowly approved a rightwing proposal to curb immigration. It imposes limits on the number of foreigners allowed in and may signal an end to the country’s free movement accord with the European Union.”

I’m watching this closely…and glad I’m not there for this vote.

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