Archive for September, 2008

Sep 29 2008

Shana tova!

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To a good and sweet year.

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Sep 26 2008

I’m in a choir!

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This week, I auditioned for and was accepted into the Choeur des Jeunes de Lausanne.  This mixed choir is rather new in the Vaud choir scene (only 6 years old!), small (maybe about 40 members?), young (ages 18-30 and led by a young conductor), conveniently located (except for the fact that this semester I have to rush from a late class in Geneva to make it to the center of Lausanne for rehearsal on time).  They perform several concerts a year and do smaller songs, not just big choral masterworks, while most choirs in Switzerland seem to only have a set of concerts featuring a huge masterwork in the late spring.  At the first rehearsal, we were singing through a bunch of 20th century French/Swiss pieces, which were really cool.  It was funny, because for everyone else the words were the easiest part to sight-sing, but not for me!  Anyway, everyone seemed really nice, and I have hopes that this is a pretty high-quality choir (the recordings sound good, at least) and will also be a good social experience.  Yay.

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Sep 22 2008

Updated contact info

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I just sent out a mass e-mail with my mailing address, phone number, Skype name, and so on. I don’t have an up-to-date address book, so I’m sure I missed people inadvertently. Don’t be offended! I want to hear from you—head on over to the contact page, leave a comment, or send me an e-mail and I’ll get you the info. (I’ll also probably update my facebook profile one of these days.)

First visit to SwissWatching? Checkout:

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Sep 22 2008

Surprise! It’s a cantonal holiday today…

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The metro was unusually empty this morning. When I got to campus, there were very few people around. And when I tried to get into my building, it was locked and my temporary ID wasn’t working. I piggybacked in eventually, only to find the lab totally empty.

Turns out, it’s le Jeûne fédéral here in the Canton of Vaud (rhymes with “woah”) and much of the country. Literally the “Federal Fast,” I’m pretty sure it’s nothing like a Swiss version of Yom Kippur, though it was originally a religious fast day. In Geneva they already had le Jeûne genevois (“the Genevan Fast”) and don’t do the federal one, for some reason—so no surprise day off for Jackie. To be fair, I wasn’t caught totally unaware: I knew the library and stores in town were going to be closed. In fact, I was misled by an automated e-mail announcing the start this week of the French classes I enrolled in at EPFL. First class was supposed to be today. But apparently some other e-mail said classes don’t start until tomorrow. Oh well.

From what I could piece together from the English Wikipedia entry for Jeûne genevois and the French Wikipedia entry for Jeûne fédéral, the day has something to do with the Reformation, Protestant solidarity, and eating prune tarts. I’ll do some more research later. In the meantime, no work! I’m off to purchase a used microwave from some ex-pats. 

Tarte aux pruneaux devenue le symbole de cette journée

Prune Tart from Wikipedia’s entry for Jeûne fédéral

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Sep 18 2008

Chocolatey chocolate chip cookies in Switzerland

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Jackie wanted chocolate chip cookies. I got home late, making her late for the choir she was going to check out. So I made her cookies. This recipe is here for other ex-pats craving chocolate chip cookies, not those of you in the U.S. with access to high-quality chocolate chips (speaking of which—bring us some, please?)

Recipe preparation

Buy baking soda. (French: bicarbonate de soud.) This is harder than it sounds. Jackie managed to find it in the grocery store, in little 50g packets, but if that’s not a go, we’re told you can definitely find it behind the counter in pharmacies. Go figure.

Buy vanilla sugar powder. (French: sucre vanillé.) I used this in place of vanilla extract, which seems to not exist. Like baking soda (and baking powder), this comes in packets. And it’s partially sugar. Weird.

Buy chocolate bars. No chocolate chips in Switzerland (as I’ve noted many times here.) If you’re going for dairy-free, look for dark chocolate bars, and check the ingredients.

[Note #1: 10g of baking powder is a bit more than 1 tablespoon. Note #2: we have non-metric measuring cups and measuring spoons, but has good conversions; cup to grams told me that 1 cup chocolate chips = 152 g.]

A chocolately chocolate chip cookie poses

The recipe is adapted (copied almost verbatim) from Darbyanne’s Chocophiles on


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened [dairy-free: substitute margarine]
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ~20 squares of chocolate, to be melted
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla sugar powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 200 g of chocolate (= 2 chocolate bars), chilled in a fridge or freezer


  1. Preheat oven to 175 degrees Celsius. Lightly grease cookie sheet.
  2. Melt squares of chocolate and butter (or margarine) in a saucepan. Use low heat and stir constantly so nothing burns.
  3. Cream butter and sugar. Stir in eggs and vanilla sugar powder; beat until smooth. Sprinkle baking soda over mixture. Slowly blend in the flour
  4. Chop up chilled chocolate with a hammer or cut into pieces with a knife. (I haven’t perfected this step. I read somewhere that chilling helps, but YMMV.) Chunks a bit larger than chocolate chips are okay. Stir chunks, shavings, and shards in.
  5. Drop the dough by tablespoons onto cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Make sure to use an optimal packing.
  6. Bake 10 to 12 minutes. Be careful not to overbake! Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet for about 10 minutes, then place them on a wire rack to finish cooling.

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Sep 14 2008

Di Yidn in Schweiz

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I decided, particularly after my summer of research in Belgium, that the Jewish diaspora is wonderful for Jewish travelers.  The Jewish network has seen me far more comfortably through a summer in Belgium and moving to Switzerland than I would have been on my own.  It’s an instant community, welcoming to Americans such as us, and immediately more familiar than anything else in this country.  So, Seth and I have tried our hardest in the last couple of weeks, to find out what the Jews of Geneva (there aren’t so many in the Lausanne area) are like.  We are still missing most of the nuance, such as which synagogues have grudges against others and why, Israeli integration (we’ve heard there are many Israelis here but so far have found them only as security guards for synagogues), and what Ashkenazi-Sephardi relations are like.  However, after a kabbalat “chabbat” service, a celebration of Jewish music, and a choir rehearsal, our major impression is that this Jewish community is much like our own, but smaller, less influential on the outside culture, and Francophone.

We went to services at the liberal synagogue here, GIL.  It was strange to be in a synagogue that seemed to resemble ours so closely and not recognize a single person.  Services, or “offices” in French, were short and to the point; the whole thing was an hour.  The Rabbi was great, and he even did all the cantorial work with an accompanying pianist.  The congregational readings went by like lightning (this was not the belabored congregational reading of every American Reform service I’ve been to), and Seth and I found it rather difficult to keep up.  Plus we kept laughing at how strange these familiar readings were to say in French and at how hard it is to read transliteration made for French speakers.  The d’var was also a bit difficult to understand, but Seth was trying so hard to comprehend that he actually stayed awake!  He NEVER stays awake during d’vars.  Afterwards, we were approached by a woman who looked about our age asking if we were students and we wanted to join the Swiss organization for Jewish students.  We happily said we’d love to find out more, but speaking of that…we haven’t heard anything more.  Hmm.

Jewish Music Day
The Sunday after we went to offices (a week ago today), we went back to Geneva for its celebration of the European day of Jewish culture, which took the form of music.  Seth and I went to a class on Yiddish dance, and Seth did marvelously.  We met a professor from UMich Law who is on Sabbatical in Geneva and his family there.  We also met a French Klezmer accordianist and the guy who seems to be in know of all things Klezmer in this part of Switzerland (I’m starting to picture him as the Hankus Netsky of Suisse Romande) and plays saxophone for Hotegezugt.  We emailed him since and he has been informing us of everything going on in the next couple months in Geneva, including places where I might be able to practice Yiddish!  Then, the community had rented a mini train thing that was actually an automobile (the kind you might ride as a kid at a zoo or amusement park), and we took it to the next stop for the day, which was a lecture on Jewish music and a concert performed by a local cantor.  We didn’t actually attempt to understand the lecture and we left at the beginning of the concert, but the way over was great.  But the way over on the train was great–Seth and I had a somewhat-out-of-tune jam session with the accordianist, and other people on the train joined in, too!

From Switzerland videos

Choir Rehearsal
GIL has a volunteer choir.  It reminds me of the volunteer choir I was in when I was in middle school at my synagogue, when I was 12 and everyone else was at least 30 years my senior.  They freely admitted that they aren’t the best choir out there, but that they really enjoyed it.  Rehearsal was pretty fun, and I felt pretty useful, too.  The other sopranos quickly figured out that I was a really good person to follow.  I’m not sure I’ll stay in past high holidays, because there are definitely other choirs around here that will help me grow more, but this is a great way to meet some people so that next time we go to offices, there are some familiar faces!  In fact, many of them had been to music day and already seemed familiar to me.

So that’s that.  It’s a little disappointing that we have to go to Geneva every time we want to see a Klezmer concert or go to services, but so far, the trips we’ve made have been worth it.

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