Archive for December, 2009

Dec 18 2009

Hanoucca oy Khanike

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On the 7th day, looking back at the last week:

We lit the nifty Chanukiah we’d picked up at the flea market in Jaffo last April with imported candles.

O ir kleyne liktelekh

We made latkes of all flavors: potato (when in Switzerland, request the roesti kind of potatoes), beet, parsnip, and carrot.  We stored some in the fridge for infinite Seth-snacking and brought others to the Atelier Yiddish of Lausanne’s Khanike celebration, which involved a lot of discussion about the food we were eating (an odd mix of Yiddish, Swiss, and Israeli, so think latkes accompanied by mayo-coated beet salad with hummus on the side) and Jewish life in Lausanne.  Somehow I was also cajoled into a offering up an a capella Khanike tune, “oh ir kleyne likhtelekh.”

We made apple cider donuts and brought them to Mary and co’s, where we were invited for a celebration along with the family (Liz and co) who lives in Borex. Well, actually, Seth made the donut batter while I was taking a final exam. Once we discovered that donuts have holes for a reason (no hole=uncooked center and burnt outside), they came out very tasty.  We ate latkes, drank Champagne, and then ate donuts, while discussing human rights and the state of Michigan.

I also could have gone to the Lausanne student party last night, but I was too tired.  So much fried food, so many celebrations with people other than each other, so many different spellings! And off to Israel on Monday, the land (nearly) free of mistletoe.  Anyone going to be there who we haven’t heard from?

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Dec 11 2009

Overheard in CH

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In a small church in the boonies, Suisse Romande, pre choir concert:

(translated by yours truly)

“Excuse me, ma’am, where is the toilet?”

“This is a Protestant church; there is no toilet.  You can walk into the village center and use the public one across from the inn.”

“Ok…thank you!”

And panic commenced among the choristers.

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Dec 06 2009

Thanksgiving on the Border

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Clearly, Thanksgiving is more than way over, but a certain minaret debate has sort of taken over our blog.  It’s looking a lot more like Christmas these days. (Speaking of which, if you live in Switzerland, come hear Jackie in the Choeur des Jeunes de Lausanne sing Bach, Poulenc, and other Christmas-themed music this week in Lutry on Thursday, La Chaux (Cossonay) on Friday, and La-Tour-de-Peilz (Vevey) on Sunday.  More information at  Anyway, our Turkey-less weekend in November deserves at least a short write-up.

We’ve recently met another family of  American-Jewish expats. They went home for Thanksgiving and needed someone to watch their cat (and house) for a few days. We’re suckers for pets, and we thought spending time in a rural village near Geneva might be a nice change. We were hoping for a cute cat, a home with DVDs we could watch, and that Jackie’s commute would be shortened (it was, slightly, but this turned out to be useless because the UN happened to be closed for a Muslim holiday on the Friday anyway). We also invited a few people for Thanksgiving on Thursday night. The house was in a small village above Nyon. There’s a bus once an hour which is a pretty short ride, and the walk to and from the bus isn’t so bad. Having a car would have made our lives a lot easier, but for the most part it wasn’t so bad.

Of course, there’s no Thanksgiving in Europe, but we weren’t going to let that stop us from the essentials: a big dinner with autumn harvest-based dishes. It did stop us from having a full day to prepare. Instead, we went to school as usual, and headed home after, rushing to pick up vegetables at a farm stand on the walk from the bus and then cook dinner before our guests had to leave.  It was difficult, and there were 5 of us packed into a small kitchen frantically cooking a vegetarian, autumn harvest feast, but everyone managed to stuff at least some pumpkin pie in before catching the last bus down the mountain.

What was more exciting was our Saturday walk to France.  Yes, that’s right.   The house was in the Jura, incredibly close to the French border, so we walked there because we could.  We saw on google maps a fairly sizable town, Divonne-les-Bains, on the other side of the border, so we aimed for that.  The walk to the border was about 20 minutes through sunny, windy, fields of cabbages and apple orchards, with sidewalks.  We passed a small sign announcing our arrival into France, and the difference was immediately noticeable.  Aside from the fact that the town became “Crassy” instead of “Crassier,” it was not as shiny-clean as Switzerland, the design of roadsigns was different, and the sidewalk ended.  Urgh.  After a half hour trek or so down this two lane, sidewalkless, shoulderless road, we arrived in Div0nne.  It was like the French version of a California suburb.  Small suburban housing developments of identical houses and little lawns; strip malls; the works.  It wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.  Since when has France gone suburban? We didn’t take any pictures, as it wasn’t particularly picturesque.  On the other hand, the boulangeries were way better.  Jackie enjoyed a chocolate croissant and we bought a bread and a tarte tatin (which is not even available in Switzerland!) for later.  Mmmm.  It doesn’t make sense why pastries and breads are so much less good in Switzerland.

French/Swiss border!

Border Crossing!

As we were sitting in a tea room, drinking tea, we decided we didn’t really want to walk back as the sun was going down, with cars whizzing by us.  So we hitchhiked across the border.  We figured there were two of us, and, come on, cars were going to Switzerland, it had to be safe.  Anyway, after several rejections of our stuck-out thumbs, a very nice guy who looked around 30 picked us up, drove us 2 minutes to the Swiss border (aggghhh it was unbelievable how painless it was in a car!!!), and we took the sidewalk from there.

Sunset over the Jura

Sunset after our walk back to the house

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Dec 05 2009

Daily Show on minarets; in case you missed Jackie’s comment

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In case you missed it in comments, Jackie posted some insights on the ban from her international law class.

And here’s the clip (hilarious! thanks Aviva):

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Oliver’s Travels – Switzerland
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

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Dec 01 2009

Grappling with Swiss politics (more on the minaret ban)

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Since our last post, there have been protests all over Switzerland, yesterday and tonight, and I went to the one in Lausanne:

Lausanne march against the minaret ban

We marched from the Cathedral of Lausanne to the mosque of the Islamic Centre of Lausanne (which doesn’t have a minaret). Representatives of the Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim communities spoke.

Radio Suisse Romande has coverage (in French, but there’s good video of the protests in Geneva and Lausanne).

The answer to Margaret’s question of how progressive Switzerland is isn’t at all simple. Jackie addressed it some a few weeks ago. Regarding immigrants specifically, I just read an article about work by a professor at the University of Neuchâtel who uses the term “semi-openness” to characterize the last 60 years of immigration to Switzerland, which seems about right, and more generally there’s a contradictory nature to many parts of Swiss society: there’s a strong social safety net and welfare state, but taxes are very low compared to the rest of Europe. Switzerland hosts many international organizations, but didn’t join the UN until 2002. Parts of Switzerland are very urban and cosmopolitan—Geneva is 38% foreign—while other mountainous cantons are very rural and isolated. Regarding what it means to be progressive, the contentious issues are just different than in the US: gay rights and abortion and health-care aren’t really issues here, but milk subsidies for farmers are.

Blogging at, Renard Sexton has more thoughts along exactly these lines, with more specific insights into the minaret issue, and some nice graphs and statistics, too:

This is all to say that the politics of culture in a country that is multi-cultural/lingual, yet insular (that is, not prone to being pushed by international or regional friends or foes) and isolated are very complicated politics indeed. The vote against minarets was perhaps a symbol of a wider vote against the growing international engagement that has ocurred in the last 20 years (a period during which, remember, Swiss voters twice rejected EU overtures).

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