Sep 10 2009

As summer wanes

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With my choir, I get to see Switzerland.  Also, when people come visit us!  In the last week, I have been to Appenzell, Solothurn, Payerne, Zurich, Chur, and Vals.  The waning days of summer are such a beautiful time of year here.  But I always feel slightly panicked around now because I know it is about to end and school is about to start.

My choir, as you know, sang at the Payerne Schubertiade this year.  On our way (in fact, very much NOT on our way) our bus went to Appenzell.  This region is known for its rural beauty and traditional way of life, as well as its infamous nude hikers.  It is so stunning that my fellow choir members, most of them Swiss, who have spent their lives gazing at Lake Geneva and the alps across it, remarked upon it and exclaimed that this place looks like the Switzerland in Heidi.  Unfortunately, we did not get to see much of it.  The usual 3 hour ride took more like 5.5 hours due to the huge amounts of traffic in central Switzerland (Appenzell is far to the northeast).  In fact, 3 hours into the trip, when we were very much realizing we were going to pressed for time, our bus driver announced that he was stopping at a rest stop for a half an hour, as per his contract.  Our panicked president tried to reason with him, to no avail.  So we got dinner to go and used the toilets, and the rest of the bus trip was spent eating, changing clothes, practicing some music, and going over concert logistics.  We arrived 5 minutes before the concert was due to start, so we all were very flustered and felt unprepared, but it went ok.  The building where we sang was a gorgeously restored brick-making workshop which is now an art center.

After the concert we arrived late in a hostel in Solothurn, a beautiful baroque city built on the banks of a river.  The hostel where we stayed was incredibly nice and clean, with a surprisingly good breakfast.  And it was trusting enough to leave our keys at the front desk since we arrived after it was closed for the night.  I somewhat awkwardly had to sleep in the same room as our conductor, one guy I kinda know, and a couple I completely don’t know, but I survived.  We were told to be outside by 9:45 am to meet the bus; at 9:40, me and a French girl were the last ones out and the group had already left.  Thus we got to make a fun dash in our concert clothes with suitcases through the Saturday market.  I want to go back for that Saturday market sometime.  The Payerne concerts went pretty well as well.  The festival was crowded, and the small town was soon wiped clean of food.  I had been warned that this would likely happen, but said warning didn’t do much good; Seth and I spent about two hours looking for lunch for me, when I finally decided to eat some of the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted for lunch.  We thus only got to see one concert (contemporary classic music played by piano, bassoon, and saxophone) other than mine.  Cara F, former president of the Radcliffe Choral Society, came to my second concert on her Germany-Switzerland-Italy tour, and spent the night with us, to our delight.

The next morning, it was off to Zurich to meet Joel and Rachel, Seth’s brother and sister-in-law.  They were starting out their vacation to Germany with a short detour in German-speaking Switzerland.  We stayed in a basic, but clean, hotel in the red light (and still very much seedy) district of Zurich for the low (hah!) cost of 137chf per night.  For this price, we got to witness many gentlemen’s clubs with explicit photos posted outside, prostitutes standing on street corners, and a couple of what looked like drug-related searches by the police.

Iconic Valser Mountain
The iconic mountain of Vals, scattered with little chalets and boulders

On Monday we rented a car and Joel drove us all on the windy roads to Vals, the site of the mineral spring which sources Valser Water and Peter Zumthor‘s architecturally award winning Therme Vals spa.  We went more for the spa, based on Michelle’s enthused recommendation.  It was pretty great for a series of swimming pools—but no pictures allowed, so you’ll have too look at photos on their own website.  By the way, if you are going there, take along a towel, pool shoes, and shampoo/soap.  Vals happens to be in the Romansch-speaking area of Switzerland, so once we exited the highway to climb up the mountain roads, the signs and names were a fascinating mix of German and something resembling Italian or Latin.  On our way back, we stopped at the very old city of Chur, with an old town full of restaurants and boutiques.  We dined at Rebleuten, a wonderful restaurant with an innovative take on Swiss food.  Seth and I agree that it is the best food we’ve eaten in Switzerland, and made even better by the fact that it is actually Swiss food and is no more expensive than any of the ethnic eateries or typical fondue restaurants we generally find ourselves in.  Before Rachel and Joel took off for Munich, we made it to the Freitag flagship store, built in an industrial/highway/train tracks area of Zurich out of stacked shipping containers.  Everything about Freitag but the prices of its products fits this store and location.

View from Freitag Containers
Jackie and the “beautiful” view from the top of the Freitag Flagship Shop storage containers

And now I’ve got the about-to-be-back-to-school blues.

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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 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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