Well, hello from Cincinnati, where I am doing research at the remarkable American Jewish Archives as a fellow. It is on the campus of the Hebrew Union College, and I am staying in the spartan dorms with a peculiar set up for cooking…
Seth and I will be in Switzerland in mid December on our way to Jerusalem, and I will return on the way back in late January, so expect to see some Swiss posts, maybe even one by Seth, then.
I am compelled to write, for two reasons:
This month-long adventure in Cincinnati, remarkably, feels a little like our adventure in Switzerland. It’s all about work, in both cases, but on the side, exploring a completely new place. This city has much to recommend it…for one, it is gorgeous. Who knew? Including the University of Cincinnati campus, which is across the streets. It certainly helps that it is sunnier than Pittsburgh, the trees are tinged crimson and yellow, the food has been very vegetarian friendly and good so far, EVERYONE has been so nice, and it is an innovative center of Reform Judaism. I have never felt particularly curious or happy about Pittsburgh; I think it has to do with my utter lack of relationship to it, the cloudy skies, its lack of good connections to the closest major cities besides individual car travel, and the fact that I know I have to live there for a long time. This is unfortunate, because Pittsburgh does have plenty of things going for it overall and we are so fortunate with our housing, and there is even a good local bagel place, but I don’t know, I just can’t get into Pittsburgh, at least not yet.
There is one other fellow here with me, Rachel. For this, I am fortunate. She and I are both history PhD students working on American Jewish work in European Jewish communities, so we have a lot to talk about. (Typically, I am surrounded by people who haven’t a clue what I do or how I do it). It is nice to finally be able to compare notes! She has been traveling to archives for over a year, non-stop, including in Warsaw, Krakow, Prague, London, New York, and now here. I have had a chance to both reflect on the fact that I am supposed to be defending a dissertation less than two years from now, and that it will be a degree coming from a school in Switzerland. So, I am starting to panic, and also, I remain completely at a loss for what comes after PhD. What does an American academy, or otherwise institution/organization/museum/whatever, do with an American who got a doctorate from Switzerland? I’ll let you know in a couple years…
P.S. I have continued to update our flickr account with photos of summer, Pittsburgh, nephews, Ruben, etc., even if I do not often post here.
P.P.S. I am wondering if any of you dear readers would be interested in reading a blog about what it is like to be a history PhD student. I read some good history student blogs lately and feel inspired. Like this one. Alternatively, you can just go read that and already know what it is like to be a history PhD student.
How does Switzerland manage to be a place simultaneously serene/boring and where crazy things happen such that I have so much to blog about? I don’t understand it. More mini-stories:
I went on a hunt for a mushroom brush. My friend Quinnie knows what I’m talking about! They are these cute little brushes that look like a mushroom to be used for scrubbing mushrooms clean. They also come in potato, and I think carrot, form. I have regretted since we left that we gave away our mushroom brush instead of taking it back to the States. Switzerland apparently takes seasonality to a new level—when I finally found someone in Migros (amazing! friendly!) to ask about mushroom brushes, I was informed that she knew exactly what I was talking about, but that they were not in season. But…doesn’t mushroom season happen in spring and fall? Anyone?
Ran into one of of my favorite professors at the Nyon train station that I thought I wouldn’t have time to see! This place is so small!
On Monday night, I had dinner at Natalie’s in Renens, our old haunt. We talked late, and I was deciding whether or not I should take the train to Nyon for the night in Alex’s empty apartment, or sleep at Natalie’s. Good thing I chose to sleep at Natalie’s, because at the exact same time I would have gone to the station, there was a big fire there! When I went in the morning, however, I didn’t even notice that a big section of the station was charred…
Hm. Everyone is still white in all advertisements. But, whoa, so few advertisements, mostly for cultural activities or political referendums. Refreshing. Speaking of political ads, there is a vote coming up on childcare in Geneva, so there are lots of posters of babies, or, in one case, of a couple in bed working on baby production (it says, “Make love…we’ll take care of the rest. YES to the initiative on babyhood, NO to the counter project.”). Then there is another ad floating around for milk, with a mama cow on a bike with several bike trailers carrying baby cows…that’s the kind of product ads that exist in this country.
For the first time when I was visiting archives at the UN, I was apprehended by UN Security. They said (in French), “excuse me, but why are you in this staircase?” I answered, “Well, because if I took a different way to the library I’d have to go down a big hill and then climb all the way back up to the top of the building where the League of Nations archives are.” They said, “True,” looked at me hard, and then walked away.
Apparently, if you have a car in the countryside, you can buy insurance against these small, cute martens who chew the wires in the hood. This has actually happened to someone I know TWICE in just a few years!
My conference went well. I flew back through Dublin, which, as it turns out, has a full US Customs on site, meaning I did the whole agriculture and passport inspection thing in Dublin and landed in domestic arrivals upon reaching Boston Logan. How convenient, given the wedding I was rushing toward.
So here I am once again, running around the stretch of Lac Leman between Geneva and Lausanne for the week, still suffering from jetlag. I am here to present at a conference on the history of international organizations at my school on Friday. As it was in February, it is strange to be back. At least this time it is not frigidly, unbearably cold.
Events and observations so far, since Friday’s landing:
I got myself from a landed airplane through customs and my bag from the belt and onto a train in less than 30 minutes. I love Geneva Cointrin!
Geneva continues to mess with my mind by changing the whole public transit system and train station around. Gah.
Fresh peas! Fresh fava beans! Asparagus galore! The best tasting strawberries ever! Cheese! I miss these markets!!!
I found a coton de tulear wandering outside the thermal baths in Geneva, with a collar but no owner or tags. She was just like Ruben, and came running over to be pet when I called to her. Then I freaked out and called the ASPCA, then animal control, and was continually re-directed because of the lack of things being open on a Saturday, until I was finally told automatically to “take the lost dog to the local police station.” That would require knowing where the police station was. Instead, I picked up the Ruben doppelganger (albeit with a terrible haircut) and marched her around the nearby park until I found a bichon-frise owner who thought she recognized the dog and promised to care for her until Monday when things re-opened.
I stayed a night at a friend’s parents’ house in Lausanne. Their kitchen comes equipped with a built-in steamer. I was like, “What is that?!” She said, “What, I always assumed all kitchens in America had them! You don’t recognize it?” Um, nope. I think it is something along these lines.
A confiserie/chocolatier in Nyon was selling chocolates that looked like iPhones. They were remarkably accurate, but brown instead of black and not as shiny. They had a batch of them created to be children’s party favors, with each child getting an “iPhone” with his/her name on it.
Hi! It’s been awhile. We’re living in Pittsburgh, USA, now, but I’m still a student in Geneva. I will be back in Switzerland in a few weeks to defend my dissertation proposal (the proposal, not the actual dissertation) which, if I pass, will mean I am officially all-but-dissertation.
I will also happen to be back for my Swiss choir’s first of many celebrations of its 10 years of existence. Please consider supporting the choir by attending the banquet on Saturday, February 18th. See http://cjlausanne.ch/concerts.php for details about the banquet (“repas de soutien”) and upcoming anniversary concerts.
And, please watch this adorable, joyous little film they made for the occasion on YouTube, Hosanna, CJL a 10 Ans:
If you are wondering, I am not in a choir in Pittsburgh. I leave it too often for research to commit to a choir’s rehearsals. However, I am finding activities to do and still singing. Seth is working really hard as a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University. Here’s us in Pittsburgh:
Don’t worry, folks, I haven’t decided Switzerland is a perfect place because I’m already nostalgic…yesterday was one of those days where I was reminded that I am often dissatisfied:
This perfectly wonderful professor gave a guest lecture during the PhD seminar on religion and politics in European history, a subject which interests me greatly. It would have been really good, had not a middle-aged, communist-obsessed, anti-Semitic conspiracy-theorist managed to find out about it and show up. His comments and questions seemed to betray an informed, but confusing, alternative world view…until he suddenly started going on about Jews controlling 150% of the intelligentsia and state department of the US before WWII and using that “fact” to explain historical outcomes. The professors in the room shut it down effectively enough, but it did not feel good to be The American Jew who went to an Ivy League in the room at that moment.
On the tram ride back to the station, I watched as Geneva transport officials harassed a black women with two kids in a stroller on the tram for not having the right combination of tickets to be riding on the tram. They might have done it to anyone, but it was still painful. Then, once in the train station, a Swiss man yelled at me for “taking up the whole platform with my dog.” More precisely, Ruben was walking a few feet away and the leash made it more difficult for this man to rush past me. Nothing like the Swiss to correct your questionably-incorrect behavior in public.
I went with Ruben to the dog park to discover it was full of puppies! Actually, the current class of the same puppy school we attended, and one of the puppies in it is one of Ruben’s new best friends. I wanted to let Ruben play, since after all, that is why I went to the dog park, but I was sharply reprimanded by the teacher who told me that I am letting Ruben get away with too much and he has lost his obedience since he took the class. Not true, Seth and I have been continually working with him, we just refuse to scream at him and punish him, but I don’t like to be scolded that I have not been taking proper pains to train my dog or doing it effectively.
Seth and I took Ruben back to the park after dinner, where he sniffed around and studiously ignored the big dogs who were ignoring him. In came another dog, pooped before our and his owner’s eyes, and the owner didn’t even pretend to picking it up. Well, thank you sir, for leaving that poop for me to step in and then have to figure out how to clean off my shoes in my tiny apartment. I am just not Swiss enough to tell him off for his offense.
On the other hand, my, has the weather been gorgeous. And how frightening does a move to Pittsburgh seem, now that is just three months away. This week, we sent notice to our landlord that we’ll be ending our lease. In a few weeks, my parents will head to Pittsburgh to check out housing options for us. There’s so much I want to do before we leave, including:
Go biking in the countryside at least a few times. Hopefully Seth can work it out so as to take along Ruben in his carrier on his back.
Eat fondue. I think we might have missed our chance with this winter specialty, but we haven’t had any since Michelle visited in February, I think.
Go swimming with Ruben in the lake.
Go to Cave Ouvertes (open wine tastings) in new villages.
Take the Glacier Express and spend some time in Graubuenden.
Explore something in a surrounding country at least once more…trying to make this happen for spring break in two weeks. Northern Italy for a long weekend?
Go strawberry picking again.
Buy Seth some last items of good-fitting clothing.
Anything else that should be on that list, readers? Not that I’ll even manage to complete what I’ve already written, given incredible quantities of school work, moving logistics, wedding logistics, and the like…