Archive for July, 2009

Jul 24 2009

A screen with that window, please

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I don’t think I’ve spent  any time on this blog discussing the curiosity that are European windows.  Such a curiosity are they that many Americans, at least the ones who visit us, think they have irreparably damaged them when they try for the first time to open them.  Now I, upon coming to Switzerland, already knew this little secret due to my summer in Brussels—thought not yet how to work the blinds in our apartment.  Let me describe standard European windows:

  • They don’t have the hatched panes of American windows.  They are usually formed from two large sheets of uninterrupted glass, two panes thick for insulation, more like glass doors.
  • They don’t slide up and down; instead, they open inward, again more like doors.
  • If you are incredibly lucky, you get multifunctional opening windows: they can open either from the top, so that the window is cracked open a few inches and slanted, or they can open, well, like normal doors, inward, and all the way.

Our apartment in Renens has these awesome multifunctional windows.  But no, ignorant American, that window opening from the top is not broken, is not falling down on top of you.  That’s just how you open it a few inches rather than letting the whole thing blow around.  As an added bonus, our windows come with these blinds which are outside the windows and require pulling out and up on a cord to let down, not just pulling up and down, but are overall far easier to control.  The apartment in Paris that we’re subletting only has windows that open all the way inward like normal doors, which is a pity, because it rains a lot here, and all the rain blows in too, or a whole lot of hot or a whole lot of cold air can blow in at once.

What we have not missed until quite recently is the fact that no windows on this continent seem to have screens.  Not a one, even though they spend a whole lot more time being open than in the US, as air conditioning is rather rare here.  That means that when one opens up the windows at night to let in the cool night air, one also lets in all the bugs.  In Switzerland in June, Seth and I had been operating in close-to-total darkness, while awake, after dark, windows open, so as to deter bugs from entering.  But really, it was ok.  As one Swiss person told us, there are bugs in Switzerland, but there are no mosquitoes.  Somehow that actually seemed sort of true.  On the other hand, Paris seems full of mosquitoes, and every morning I have been waking up with at least one new itchy, unfortunate bite.  There is currently one even between my eyes.

This is an example of the kind of small differences that continue to exist between this continent and the one across the Atlantic, along with different-sized toilet paper rolls and less-than-real sandwiches bereft of mustard.  I wonder why no one in all of Europe has yet thought that it might be a good idea to place a screen on a window to keep out bugs and then been able to convince others of its utility, even though they’ve been able to create magical top-opening windows.  As for now…anyone know where I can get a mosquito net in Paris?

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Jul 21 2009

More like Yiddishland than Paris

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I have walked into several boulangeries, cafes, supermarkets, and asked the rude-ish person attending in rather broken Yiddish for something or other several times this last week.  What can I say, when I am in Yiddish immersion most of the day, and everyone around me speaks Yiddish, I forget that in Paris, people speak French.  Also, I forget how to speak French.  Hmm.  I wish I could learn one language without erasing parts of another.

So Seth and I (or should I say Shmul un Blime?) have plopped into Yiddishland, located in the Yiddish center in Paris.  This means 4 hours of Yiddish classes per day, another 4-6 hours of lectures, films, workshops, extra help sessions, museum visits, etc, as one desires to attend, and then a few hours worth of  homework.  It is a bit odd because everyone has such different backgrounds and there are so many people in each of the classes that despite immersion and fast-pacedness, I still feel like I am learning at a slower rate than I might be.  In particular, I am between levels 2 and 3, 2 being boring and 3 being too hard, so I, along with 2 other students, are going to 2 hours of each level every day.  Which thus makes it less coherent, but better paced.  Ah well.  And the advantage of their being too many other students is that there are actually OTHER people with whom to speak Yiddish, who have different accents, different dialects, different abilities, etc.

While we’ve been mostly Yiddishing, we did get to Harry Potter yesterday (with French subtitles, not dubbed), and we’ve been able to meet up with 2 different Harvard friends, one of whom we just ran into on the street and is visiting Paris during her half year in Barcelona, and the other of whom is working for Let’s Go.  Turns out there are far more people we know who pass through Paris than who pass through Lausanne or Geneva.  We also went to one of few hills in Paris on Bastille Day to picnic and watch the fireworks shooting off the Eiffel Tower with one of Seth’s freshman roommates and a bunch Harvard people we did not know.  We have been enjoying the cheap fruit available at open markets (apricots, cherries, peaches, plums!!!), and the not-so-cheap-but-at-least-good food we can find in restaurants.  At some point, hopefully soon, I will be reuniting with my exchange friend from high school; we’ve kept in touch for 8 years now, and we’ve seen each other every few.  Then again, I find myself with another cold, so maybe not so soon.

So, we’ve been busy.  In a good way, but let’s just say Seth and I have not been working as much on our research projects as we’d hoped to do.  And in less than two weeks, we will be in the states!  Please check your calendars and write us in; more detailed information for your city to come by email (if you don’t get said email, send us an email…we can’t remember where all of our friends are currently living.  And if you live in Philly, can you come meet us in another city?).  Our current plan, susceptible to slight modifications in the northeast corridor:

  • 1-4: Seth in Evanston/Chicago, Jackie in NJ/NYC
  • 5-11: Evanston/Chicago (both of us)
  • 12-15: Seattle
  • 16-19: Hilton Head, South Carolina
  • 20-21: Washington, DC
  • 22-26: NJ/NYC
  • 27-28: Boston/Cambridge (if you’re lucky…we may not make this one)
  • 29-30: attending a family friend’s wedding in upstate NY
  • 31: Back to Geneva!

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Jul 13 2009

FrenchWatching in Yiddish

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SwissWatching has temporarily become FrenchWatching, although the pun does not work nearly as well here.

Jackie and I have been in Paris for just over a week now. While she was being a tourist with her visiting family, I spent the last week at Klezmer Paris, which is a week-long program for klezmorim (klezmer musicians), dancers, and singers of all ages, from adorable seven year olds who don’t quite know what to do with their violins on up. Notably, there was a pretty large contingent of people my age and of accordion players and cellists.

I forgot all of my reeds in Switzerland, so on day one, I looked up instrument shops on the Internet and successfully located two closed shops before classes started.  At lunch, I took the metro across Paris to locate a woodwind shop recommended by a Parisian clarinetist.  Success; I had my own reeds!

Klezmer Paris, I was suprised to learn, was in French.  Well, sort of.  Some of the teachers did not speak French, so master classes were given in English with ad hoc, sometimes incorrect translations into French done by participants.  All administrative announcements, on the other hand, were given in French.  All socializing took place in French, too.  I wasn’t left out!  Every day at lunchtime, I went with other participants to find and eat lunch.  Topics of conversation in French included: what Jackie and I are doing in Switzerland, Jackie’s thesis topic, and making fun of Belgium.

Each day was divided into slots for ensemble playing, master classes, and instrument-specific instruction.  The ensemble class reminded me how good RecKlez’s coaches were, as I had heard most of the good advice already, even if I still needed to hear it again.  The master classes and clarinent classes all led me to the same conclusions that I get a lot better when I practice and that the sound of klezmer clarinet is really vital to the music and something I really need to work on.  In helping us work on that sound, New York-based musician Michael Winograd, who ran the clarinet workshops, taught us a number of different klezmer ornaments, which basically means squawks, chirps, or trills meant to imitate the human voice.  At least once per session, he would have us all try one of these ornaments at once, invariably in a high register, which is rather an indescribable sound; let’s just say it hurt my ears.

Klezmer legend David Krakauer came for the last two days of the week to give master classes.  He again demonstrated his French knowledge, as he had at his concert in Switzerland.  He played with the kids class at the final performance, filled out a postcard in French for someone’s friend who is a big fan of his, and came to a park after midnight to hear his students in an impromptu jam session the night it was all over.   Said final performance, incidentally, was on Shabbat and featured vodka shots at intermission (not that those two things are necessarily related).

Miniature Klezmer Madness

Jackie and I are doing a Yiddish program, which started today, for the rest of July.  So far, I’ve learned the alef-beys, and I can say “My name is…”  The only problem is I haven’t decided if my name should be Shes (shin-sof, rhymes with “mess”) or Shmul (“u” sound as in “fool”).  Thoughts?

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