Archive for March, 2009

Mar 17 2009

Come back with that fork!

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My parents were in town again this weekend for two and a half days. We spent my twenty-third birthday enjoying the sunshine on a ferry and then across the lake in Evian-les-Bains, France, of bottled-water fame, where locals waited in line to fill up bottles of water at a public fountain sourced by the same spring as Evian bottled water. Also, since it was France, things were cheaper and there were some stores open on Sunday. This included a wonderful little liquor store, where Bordeaux 2005 wines went for 8.50 Euros (cheap!) and the proprietors were willing to let us try several kinds of pear brandy on a Sunday afternoon. But now we have a huge bottle of pear brandy and I have no idea when we are going to drink it. Come help us. Monday we spent in Geneva on my parents’ insistence, sitting along the lake and wandering through the old city. I prefer reserving that particular route for class days only, but oh well, at least it was sunny again.

A visit from my parents means the opportunity to eat out in Switzerland, which is very nice. There was our initial brunch mishap, wherein we went to a restaurant for brunch, conceded after much hesitation to sit in the almost-empty smoking section since the small non-smoking section was packed (hello, voluntary non-smoking rules and non-smoking sections obviously gain you customers, especially during the day, so make them broader and bigger!), then looked at the menu and realized it wasn’t brunch and thus walked out embarrassed, in search of brunch elsewhere. For dinner, we ended up at traditional-Swiss type of restaurant, Cafe du Grutli, complete with traditional-Swiss type of service. So begins the story, “come back with that fork!”

Swiss restaurants often don’t really have service to speak of. But if you are paying enough, they find waiters who act like it is their job and actually do what all waiters in the US do. But these waiters also stick to their Swiss rules. This was the same place where Seth and I got fondue for dinner with our visiting friend, Emily, after we tried to get there 10 minutes before lunch service was over and were told it was not possible to have fondue at the late hour of 2:20 and we would have to come back no sooner than 6:30 for dinner.

Although we are all fairly well-traveled and wise in the ways of European and Swiss dining, there are a few American practices we can’t give up. My mom needs ketchup with her fries. We will not pay for bottled water. And, most confusingly for Swiss restaurants, we like to share our food with one another. Swiss waiters do not know how to react to this, and they either just bring two of the same thing or ask you many shocked clarify questions to make sure you just want one. There is thus no point in telling them you are sharing, so Seth and I have learned that if we want to share something, one of us orders it, the other says he/she does not want anything, and once it arrives, we discretely put it between us and share away. The one problem with this strategy: it requires that both people have silverware. Usually, both people have silverware anyway, but if someone is ordering fondue, silverware disappears to be replaced by a single very long fondue fork.  The other odd thing about our party in particular is that only Seth and I speak French, and thus we order for my parents, which never ceases to confuse waiters about who is getting what and how many of each item we want.

At Grutli, my dad ordered fondue.  My mom wanted to try his fondue and he wanted some of my Mom’s chicken.  There are several waiters who are all taking care of different stages of our dining experience.  The first comes, and she tries to clear my dad’s silverware and replace it with a fondue fork.  “Wait, I want to hold on to that fork!” he says.  Confused, she gives it back.  I ask for a fondue fork for my mom, and a moment later, we are all presented with fondue forks.  She must have thought something like, “Aha, the Americans are doing that thing they call sharing one person’s food and they must ALL want forks because if one wants to try it, they all want to try it!  Also, even though I think that one girl just said ‘one fondue fork,’ since she pointed towards her mother but she said it herself, and since her French isn’t perfect, she probably meant she and her mother both want a fondue fork, and that other young man must also therefore want one as well.”   The next guy comes a few minutes later with the food.  He looks at the table.  He looks at his order.  He looks at the fondue.  He looks at the table.  How can he possible know where to put the fondue for one person if each person has silverware and fondue forks?  Did someone mess up our order or did someone forget to clear the silverware as they were supposed to?  He asks, “Who gets the fondue?” and gives it to my father upon my response.  Then he tries to take my father’s silverware, looking angrily in the direction of the waiter who was supposed to have taken it, to which my dad says, “Wait, no, I want that fork!”  He leaves our table in a huff.  A few minutes later, another waiter also inquires after my dad’s silverware, which he continued to insist upon keeping.

The food was good, and the dessert was spectacular.  Seriously, this is THE place to go for dessert in Lausanne. See my mom’s flaming liqueur poured over chocolate-covered coffee ice cream ball.  So all in all, a good restaurant.  It was just amazing, though, how our food-sharing practices completely discombobulated the usually highly-coordinated wait service of that restaurant.  Any other expats in Switzerland or visitors to elsewhere who have caused similar “disruption?”

5 responses so far

Mar 09 2009

Haupt Mayn Homentashen!

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It’s the most freylekher time of the year!  In Jewish time, not school time.  Purim, we realized, is an awfully difficult holiday to celebrate without a surrounding Jewish community of peers.  There were youth Purim parties in Geneva, Basel, and Zurich, but not Lausanne.  So, instead, this is what we did:

Step 1.  Forget homework and bake homentashen!  A challenging task with so little counter space.  Ours are filled with: plum jam (kind of approximates lekvar), sour cherry jam, apricot jam, and melted swiss chocolate bar.  Also, since we don’t really have many people in Switzerland eligible for receiving mishloakh manos, and they probably won’t fare so well in airmail, we have a lot of them to eat!

Smiling at baking homentashen
Are they done yet?  My reflected stare at the bubbling cookies in the oven.

Freshly Baked Homentashen!
Mmm, hot homentashen, just out of the oven!

Bouncy Homentash
Seth eats a homentash while bouncing on his new exercise ball!

Step 2.  Go to Yiddish class as usual at the Lausanne Jewish community center, read a few poems from Itzik Manger’s Di Megile together, and listen to Yiddish Purim songs!  Seth came for the song part.

Step 3.  Head downstairs to the Purim seude (meal), and have lots of parve, sweet desserts with people from Yiddish class.  The teacher, on a mission to find us friends, introduced us to a very nice woman about our age, who proceeded to introduce us to everyone at her table.  And now, we have officially met just about all the observant, young, and newly married members of the Lausanne Jewish community.  They were very nice, and now we have people our age to sit next to when we finally go to services there (which we will now do!) and hopefully they will invite us for Shabes dinners or something.  It’s perhaps a bit awkward that they are more observant than we are, but I am hopeful they’ll be ok with us liberal Jews and we’ll get along just fine.

A gutn Purim!

5 responses so far

Mar 09 2009

Seth skis

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For the first time in Switzerland and the second time in my life, I went skiing this weekend!  I returned to the chalet where Jackie and I spent our first week and where Jackie and Michelle recently went snowshoeing without me.

My first ski encounter was over spring break last year, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  Finding myself in one of the most visited skiing destinations in the world entailed a fair bit of peer pressure from my ski-crazed friends we were staying with, and I spent one day falling, slipping, and crashing through a beginner’s class.  Jackie, not a really a beginner, joined me for the class and watched me fall.  Facing a similar set of conditions—world-famous skiing close by and ski fanatics relentlessly pushing their bone-crushing, ankle-spraining sport—I gave in.  Plus, Jackie had a choir retreat all weekend and I hadn’t done that badly in Wyoming, at least the way the day was recorded in my memory.

Saturday morning, instead of a group class for beginners, I opted for one hour of private instruction.  My instructor refreshed me on the basics as we descended a bunny slop over and over, dodging the 5 year olds whose parents felt fine plopping them on skis and entrusting them to strangers who get their kicks speeding down icy slopes.  Needless to say, the children were fearless and plenty capable.  Maybe it’s because they’re closer to the ground?  Thankfully, I graduated to a somewhat more-real practice slope after half an hour, and I actually felt confident when the lesson ended.  I had not even wiped out once at that point.  I took this as a sign that something was up.  At least the way I learn, if I’m not failing and I’m feeling confident then I am definitely deluding myself (at the beginning, not in general!).

Full of false confidence and my lesson completed, I set out solo on the same practice slope and promptly plowed into a snow bank.  Progress!  Relieved, I spent the rest of the morning quickly descending the slope and practicing my turns, then slowly ascending tugged by the button hook—a high moving cable with dangling poles connected to metal discs meant to be placed between one’s legs—a surprisingly effective way to be tugged, at least while on skis!

On the second day I set back out for the same slope, feeling a tad uneasy.  I was warming up for another lesson with a different instructor.  She promptly tave me lots of instructions which did not seem related to what I had learned the day before!  Uh oh!  Also, I was immediately promoted to a real slope, which was steeper and busy with skiers using it to reach the chair lift at the bottom.  Offhandedly, my instructor mentioned the correct maneuver for stopping—30 minutes into my lesson!  At this point, my brain gave up on trying to reconcile the two sets of instructions, and I just did my best.  From what I could gather, the natural instinct when skiing is to lean uphill when you’re going too fast on a turn.  Naturally, this is wrong: don’t trust your instincts!

My lesson over, I did a bit more practicing and then headed out with Dave, one of my gracious hosts for the weekend.  Dave was particularly conscientious, since he was feeling guilty for taking Mary (his wife) on a challenging run that left her limping after a crash.  He observed my progress down the slope that led to the chairlift, pronounced it “not bad,” and asked if I wanted to try a blue run (“no steeper or narrower than what you’ve just done!”).  I consented and we lined up for what is for me and my fear of heights one of the scarier parts of skiing: the lift, aka being whisked 30 or 50 feet into the air in a metal frame, only a metal bar of the roller coaster variety holding me in place.  And it’s not just the ride; my biggest trouble is always the dismount.  Last year my skis weren’t straight and I crossed them, angling into Jackie’s “lane” and tripping her.  This time I tried to push myself off and lost my balance.  Fortunately, a generous Brit hooked his arm under mine and helped me regain my footing.  Thanks, British guy!  After that I caught my balance and off we went! I fell, of course, multiple times, but I made it down mostly unscathed.  Or at least cautiously ready for another go.  Back up on the chair lift, and off, with Dave helping me this time.  As I’d learned in my lesson, I did my best not to trust my instincts.  Multiple falls later (but no collisions with anything moving!), I called it a day.

Discussion questions (inspired by a certain comment, as well as by my dysfunctional book group):

  1. What prompted Seth’s skiing trip?  How would you describe his feelings about skiing before the weekend?
  2. What do you think of his theory about learning and failure?  Was it expressed better by JK Rowling?
  3. Was the ending satisfying?  What questions do you still have?
  4. Why is Seth blogging about skiing and not about Hillary Clinton’s visit to Geneva nor about baking hamentashen?
  5. Was this post too long?  Seriously, did you just skim it?

4 responses so far

Mar 02 2009

Come visit!

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Flights through Paris to Zurich from $149/one way! Or to other destinations in Europe.

Also, since otherwise we’d be writing such a short post, we might as well include a little more stuff:

Google Analytics has informed us that we have many lurkers on this blog.  Lurkers are people who read, but do not comment.  Since we’re putting in time to keep you all updated, we would really appreciate your feedback.  If you have been lurking, it is time to announce yourself!  You can comment on specific posts or tell us general things on our wall.  Also, you can always email or skype us, but that doesn’t encourage other people to comment.  We’re looking forward to hearing from you!

9 responses so far

Mar 02 2009

Published by under Status updates

I always forget to put socks on after I shower if I don’t have to leave the apartment soon after.  In conclusion: my toes are cooold.

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Mar 01 2009

No crying over spilt coffee

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On Twitter, Lisa tells the world “enough”—stop apologizing for the lack of blog posts.  So no apologies.  An explanation, though: extended hours in front of a computer at work haven’t made my neck and back happy, so I’ve cut back on computer use, especially at home.  That means if you haven’t heard from me in awhile, pick up the Skype!  Or email me with a good time to call you—and remember Switzerland is 6 hours ahead of EST.

And some updates:

  • A paper based on my project at EPFL was accepted at a data visualization conference in Paris!  Well, the abstract was accepted.  The paper (and project) still have a way to go to completion.  The conference is after the one in Dresden in June.
  • I don’t want to jump the gun, but as Jackie gloated in her post, it’s feeling more and more like spring here in Lausanne, Switzerland.  And no, we still haven’t been skiing!
  • I’ve been Twittering (or check the left side bar of SwissWatching should you not want to click on that link) and though I’ve given it a fair chance, I’ve come to the conclusion that, as Margaret tweets, my timezone is something of an obstacle to actually enjoying the experience.  I’ve been on the lookout for English-speaking Twitterers in Lausanne/Geneva, but so far I haven’t located many.
  • Since my last post on the blog, I have spilled a cup of coffee to varying effects once a week on average.  Twice in our foyer, once at work, and once in a coffee bar in Rome.  I only broke cups twice.  I’d say I should switch to decaf, but the one I just poured all over the floor was decaf.  I’d also say I shouldn’t have coffee before I have any caffeine in the morning…but that doesn’t seem possible.
  • I signed up for the gym at EPFL.  So far, I’ve wandered through it trying to decipher the signs with instructions in French.  I’m now working under the assumption that I need to purchase special indoor gym shoes (where will I get these?), attend a class before I can use the weight room (conducted no doubt in French), and carry at least 2 towels at all times (mine?  theirs?  how do they get dry?  what is each for?).

Update: while collecting dishes to wash, I spilled another cup of coffee. Unfortunately, it was mostly empty, i.e. sludge. Gross.

3 responses so far

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