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Published: July 12th 2014
angel in a box
Saw this naked angel in a glass box at the City Festival. She was rolling a joint. My students couldn't believe I didn't realize she was a man.
Getting there is half the fun
Every other July I take 10 students to Switzerland where they spend a month taking courses from me and a few other professors. I realize this makes no sense. Why not skip the going to Switzerland part? Call it a holistic approach to education. For many of them it's their first time travelling abroad. It's a pleasure for me to watch them have those Dorothy moments discovering that there are places not like home.
This year I purposefully booked a flight to Geneva that would match the itinerary of a large number of my students. I was a little surprised not to see any of them waiting at the gate in San Francisco. When they didn't show up in Toronto or Montreal my surprise turned to concern. Maybe they would be waiting for me in Geneva, I hoped. But this wasn't the case. No problem, we had a backup plan. They were to text me from the airport Starbucks. Sure enough, the airport had a Starbucks, but there were no students waiting, and no text messages on my phone.
I silently rehearsed my speech: "Hello, is this Mr./Mrs. X? This is
professor Pearce calling from Europe. I've lost your son/daughter. I'm pretty sure he/she is dead." As I began dialing the first parent my phone beeped faintly. A text message read "we in Munich b there in 6 hours."
Apparently the concept of a connecting flight was new to my students. As a result, they were scattered all over Europe—Munich, Zurich, London. One after another they trickled into the Geneva airport. The lucky ones still had their luggage. If I calculate correctly, it took 56 sleepless hours for me to get from San Francisco to Geneva, wait for my students, and escort them by train to our dorm in Lausanne. When I got there I peeled my wretched clothes from my wretched body and melted into my bed.
French Survival Camp
Before the program officially begins next week, our hosts insisted that my students and I take a one week crash course in French. It was fun. I sat next to my friend Chi. Her husband is one of the faculty members. They will be staying in Switzerland for the whole year after the program ends, so she really needed to learn some French. In class we teased
During the Lausanne CIty Festival there are performances around every corner.
each other constantly and got yelled at by the teachers, Julian and Silna. Fortunately, Julian, Silna, and I are friends from previous French courses. (I've taken this course many times!) We always pick up our friendship right where it left off. Julian is Swiss-British. He has a biting sense of humor and is very theatrical when he teaches. He and I go out for drinks while he has the other students running around Yverdon asking strangers about their hobbies in badly mangled French. There's a mental hospital next to the university, so I suppose these people think that someone simply forgot to lock a door.
Wha i American lef of th las lette whe the spea?
French pronunciation is easy, explains Julian. Just don't bother to pronounce the last letter. Apparently it's not a matter of laziness; it's more like disgust. When Julian comes to the end of a word like "parlez", he frowns and waves off the "z" like it's a gypsy begging for money. Or maybe the look is saying to the listener, "if you haven't figured out what word I'm saying before I get to the last letter, then the hell with you."
Punch and Judy
Without speaking a word these two actors had the audience roaring with laughter.
business of not pronouncing the last letter is dangerous. For example, I might ask a stranger, "where is Montreux," home of the famous jazz festival. "Montreux" is pronounced "montro," no "x" as in "sox" or "box." Unfortunately, "Mon trou," also pronounced "montro" means "My butthole". One can imagine all sorts of unfortunate constructions: "Are we in montro? I love montro, don't you? How do I get out of montro?" Julian assures me that they are not pronounced the same way. He repeats the pronunciation of each multiple times to demonstrate. I can't hear the difference.
Now assume this nice stranger figures out that I am not asking for anal sex. He gives me directions to the jazz festival. To thank him I say "Merci beau coup". "Coup" is pronounced "coo" not "coop". Similarly, the French word "cul," meaning "ass" is also pronounced "coo". So I might have said to my helpful stranger, "Thanks, big ass".
The Black Surprise
For the final project the class broke into small teams. Each team had to plan a dish to bring to a potluck lunch the next day. The teams then had to go to a grocery store, buy the ingredients
I liked the image of these two punks relaxing in the window of a centuries-old building watching a centuries-old art form.
(and any needed cooking supplies,) then return to their dorms to prepare the dish. I decided to team with the three girls who have the room next to mine. I figured this would give us two kitchens. Also, two of the girls were of Indian heritage, which I figured would give our team an edge. This turned out not to be true.
During our planning phase one of the girls suggested that we get a bag of frozen French fries and a bottle of ketchup. The other girls liked this idea. It had the word "French" right in the name of the dish and it would be within reach of their cooking skills. I vetoed the idea, suggesting eggplant parmesan instead. (We had just learned the French words for eggplant and grated cheese. Also, there's a competitive dimension to all potlucks that my teammates may have been unaware of.)
Back at the dorm I taught my girls how to chop onions. They wrinkled their noses. "This is gross," one said, "I'm not eating it." I assured her that the chopped onions were not the finished product. When everything was chopped one of them knocked on my door to
The girls sauteing stuff
tell me they were done. (I was busy browning eggplant slices.) I told her to start sautéing everything. She looked frightened. "Uh, I think you better supervise us," she said. I later learn that none of them had ever cooked anything that didn't involve pushing a button on a microwave. The stove might as well have been the cockpit of a jumbo jet. Don't they have mothers?
When the eggplant parmesan (three of them) came out of the oven the girls were amazed. They all agreed that they had fun making it. We called our dish "Lausane Lasagna avec le suprise noir." (Because eggplants are black and maybe it was a little burned.) The next day at the potluck our dish was set upon by the other students. All three casseroles were gone in minutes.
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