Archive for February, 2009

Feb 24 2009

A Choral Kind of Week

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Now now, I know all of you readers out there have been just waiting to hear the nitty gritty on my new semester.  Sorry to have kept that from you.  The deal with school is that I am taking 5 classes again this semester, but this time, only 2 are required and they seem to have a better goodness potential than the 4 required classes last semester, I have a familiarity with the institution and see familiar faces when I walk around, and my outside-of-school life has settled down considerably since September.  I think my classes this semester will be more diverse and touch upon more subjects that are interesting to me, meaning they have a high possibility of leading towards a master’s thesis topic, plus they all seem to have clearer expectations of me than many did last semester.  However, I have one more day to commute each week, and it’s still going to be tons and tons of work, though this time coming in large part in the form of exams and short papers instead of long research papers (only 2 huge papers this semester instead of 4).  So I can’t say it’s been too enjoyable—I’m already feeling super stressed out.

Enough about school, for the moment.  It’s been a choral kind of week because over the weekend I had two concerts, one in Fribourg, one in Nyon, both of which went quite well, even if they were rather underattended, I have weekly rehearsal tonight, this coming weekend there is one more concert in Vevey, and the following weekend we have a retreat to get a jumpstart on the music we’ll be performing in May.  I bought the CD for this cycle of concerts—let me know if you would like to hear a sample.

The other reason it’s been a choral kind of week is because Liz and Jenny, both of whom I know because of our four years together in the Radcliffe Choral Society, visited from late Saturday night to this afternoon.  And as, with all guests, it was a hectic few days, but they saw plenty of Swiss oddities (i.e. experienced a fair bit of frustration, made up in part by eating good chocolate and cheese).  They came to my concert on Sunday, which made me really really happy, went up into the nearby alps yesterday, and today we spent a couple hours in Geneva before they had to catch their plane.  Liz, who just wrote a play set in an organization based on CERN, really wanted see it, so the two of us headed out there (Jenny wandered around the old city of Geneva instead), and a friend I know because she is also a Swiss federal scholarship student, who is doing particle physcis PhD research at CERN, gave us a whirlwind tour, because not only did we have limited time to start with, it took a really long time to get there from the center of Geneva.  Yikes.  But it was pretty cool to hear her talk about it and to see it, and even if it nearly caused Liz and Jenny to miss their flight to Barcelona, Liz did get in some good research!

The last reason it was a choral kind of week is because, well, if you put me and Liz and Jenny together in, say, a kitchen, we are a small choir.  Small in number, not in volume.  In fact, in terms of volume, Liz can pretty much be a choir in and of herself.  This includes speaking, not just singing.  For three evenings, the three of us, sometimes Seth included, chatted until late at night.  Yesterday evening, at about 10:45, when we were sitting around the kitchen table, talking, a Swiss neighbor rang our doorbell and asked us to please be quieter so late at night.  I mean, we were not exactly using our late-night inside voices, but we were likewise not having a party or anything.  There was 0 alcohol or music involved.  Like, this is something neighbors in college would not have noticed, neighbors in an apartment building in Boston or New York might have been slightly irritated about, and something annoying enough to make a Swiss person march over to our door and ask us to quiet down.  Seth and I have been wondering the last few months how much our neighbors hate or accept us, and whether our late night toilet-flushing and after-hours dryer usage has been ticking anyone off, and where their limits are, exactly.  Good to know, I guess, but we feel pretty guilty about it.  Before bed, Seth and I composed a very apologetic letter (or what we hope comes across as very apologetic despite the less-than-perfect French) which we plan to distribute this evening to our immediate neighbors on our floor and above and below.  In sum, that visit from our neighbor was both a hilarious and worrisome moment.

Finally, while I’m writing a post anyway, I thought I should gloat to all of you that I think spring is arriving in this valley of this part of the world!

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Feb 18 2009

Published by under Status updates

Pfellow Pfohosers of days past, have you seen that Jim and Sue are leaving Pfoho?

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Feb 16 2009

A week-long walking tour, Michelle-style

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I went on a week-long walk with my sister, Michelle.  No, we did not hike the Swiss alps nor did we walk from Rome back to Lausanne.  No camping included.  Instead, we rose early every morning, spent a day walking around in the cold (wet in Italy, snow in Switzerland), and on occasion, warmed up, but did not sit down in, restaurants and museums.  While walking, we did a lot of talking and catching up.  I basically was allowed one sit-down per day: dinner*.  We then returned to our apartment or hotel and collapsed into bed.  However, all this walking and trying to keep warm meant lots of calories getting burned up really quickly, thus making room for all of the food I stuffed in during this past week.  The food in Italy was so tasty, so reasonably priced (at least compared to Switzerland),  fairly vegetarian-friendly, and perhaps too often built on the model of take-away or stand-at-the-bar-and-eat.

First up was Rome.  I was suprised to discover that all of the Roman ruins were not outside of modern-day Rome, but everywhere, scattered all over, throughout the existing city!  Michelle took Seth and me to all of her favorite places from her semester abroad with Cornell architecture, and tried really hard to get us to cover what she viewed as the basics in three days.  Apparently, we fell well short of her aims, but did get to her favorite pizza and gelato spots, even if we did not make it to each museum and hill.  One thing the off-season and rain had going for it is we did not have to suffer the long lines and crowds of tourists.  We went to the Vatican (including the Sistine Chapel), to the Roman Forum, to the Colosseum, to Trevi Fountain, to the Spanish Steps, to the Pantheon, to the Borghese Gallery, to the big synagogue and through the old Jewish ghetto, across many piazzas, and into a few churches.  The funniest ordeal in Rome was trying to get to the Borghese Gallery on foot by 5 pm–Michelle had it in her head that it was about a 20 minute walk, but it was more like a 20 minute bus ride, I think.  It  involved power walking through a gigundo park.  Another memorable experience was eating Jewish-Roman specialties at a dairy/vegetarian restaurant in the Jewish area, next to a table of two hilarious elderly Italian-Jewish women who wanted to know all about us and tell us about themselves (even though they didn’t speak any English!), as well as give us their leftover wine.

Sisters in the Colosseum
Overlooking the Trajan Market

Seth then went back to Switzerland for work as Michelle and I continued on to Florence.  It was more orderly than Rome with the piazzas I’d always pictured as being central to Italian cities.  We saw the David (who was WAY taller than I’d imagined), climbed over the dome of the main church, ate amazing pasta, went to Palazzo Pitti, and walked around a lot.  Of course.  The dome was really cool, as it has two layers, and you climb OVER the inside dome and pop out on top of the outer layer.  Palazzo Pitti also featured a hilarious security guard who decided to give everyone who went through the rooms under his survey his commentary on the paintings, explaining excitedly to Michelle and me in Italian that they were of battles, of people, of a baby taking his first steps, of Florence.

Over the Dome On top of the Duomo
Climbing over and then out of the Dome of the Duomo

Then Michelle and I went to Switzerland, spending one day in Lausanne, the next snowshoeing up in the alps at the chalet Seth and I stayed in when we first arrived, and the last day in Bern.  This was less of an eating tour, although we did make a lunch stop on the mountain for tasty fondue and roesti.  Bern was pretty nice, but we were sort of underwhelmed by the Paul Klee Center, designed by Renzo Piano, considering the hefty price.

Snowshoeing by Lac le Chavonnes—it looked like this in August

Michelle landed yesterday afternoon back in the US, her bags stuffed with olive oil, wine, cheese, and chocolate.  So ends her vacation and mine, too.  Today was my first back in class.  It went ok.

*Michelle points out that this is a bit unfair, which is true.  There was only one day when we didn’t sit down whatsoever.  But it still felt like we did an awful lot of walking and very little resting!

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Feb 05 2009

Published by under Status updates

I’m eating elderberry flower yogurt right now.  It is one of the seasonal (spring?) flavors, and I had no idea what it was when I bought it because my French teachers never bothered to teach me the word for “elderberry tree” in French.  For shame.

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Feb 04 2009

Sweets and Legumes in Morocco

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Since I last posted from a hotel in Paris, I have

  • been in more of Paris than the hotel, coughing mightily the whole time and not actually getting to see much as a result (but I did see my parents and my friend Celine from Belgium summer ’07).
  • hung around our apartment attempting to get errands done but more often read stuff on the Internet and slept a lot.
  • gone to England, Oxford and London specifically, for 3 days to visit 3 friends, where I relished in the English language, enjoyed eating a more international and more vegetarian selection of food, drank lots of good tea, and squeezed in visits to several Oxford colleges and the National Portrait Gallery in London for an Annie Lebovitz exhibit.
  • been to many choir rehearsals, as we have a big concert tonight!  We are singing Antonin Dvórak’s mass in D Major and Felix Mendelssohn’s Christus in Lausanne’s main cathedral (of New Year’s burning fame).  We will be accompanied by the professional orchestra of Lausanne (OCL).  Too bad my voice is not quite recovered…

Seth and I will be taking our first overnight train from Thursday-Friday to Rome to meet Michelle (my sister) who will be visiting us for a week.  Michelle’s visit will mark the end of my vacation, sadly.  But before we go to Italy and itch to post about it, we’d better get ourselves over Morocco and soon.  So with that, in keeping with Seth’s photo-blog style on Morocco, here is a post about what we ate.  I actually wrote a nice chunk on this topic (it’s the last bullet point) already, so i will not repeat myself, but try to offer visual evidence.
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Feb 03 2009

Animals of Morocco

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(This continues my blogging about our trip to Morocco. First entry: the departed Jews of Fes, second entry: doors of Morocco.)

Once or twice I heard tourists remarking on the maltreatment and poor state of animals in Morocco. At first, I might agree: donkeys laden with goods pass through narrow streets, horses pull tourists, cats scrounge for food, and pigeons play a starring role in pastilla, a Moroccan delicacy. But on the other hand, donkeys are pack animals, horses are capable of pulling European tourists (who tend to be slim), cats became cats scrounging for food in places like the medina of Fes, and pigeons—well, they’re pigeons.

Or if that doesn’t convince you, take a step back and consider the maltreatment of animals on factory farms in the U.S., where they’re penned up, fed a steady diet of antibiotics, etc. Sure, I heard a few braying, unhappy donkeys and that didn’t make me happy, but I’d rather have that experience and then choose to eat at a delicious vegetarian restaurant like Earth Cafe Marrakech (amazing! fantastic! a reason to go to Marrakesh on its own!) than have the reality of the industrial exploitation of animals kept out of sight and penned up. OK, enough of that. Pictures!


These kittens were living the high life, having been adopted by the staff of the riad we stayed at in Fes. They’re CC licensed (the photos, not the cats), so have at ’em for Lolcats if the spirit moves you:

Cats waiting for meat (local and free range?):

“Wildlife” at the Islamic and Roman ruins of Chellah in Rabat:

Tannery in Fes: every piece of the animal gets used, plus pigeon droppings are used to soften the leather:

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