Sunday, May 4, 2014

Home Improvements

Now that I know I'm staying in Basel a bit longer, it's time to spruce things up around here. That means planting flowers in my window boxes and rethinking some decorating problems in my room. Sometimes I think I'll start a decorating and lifestyle magazine called Graduate Student Homes. You may think that would be a catalog of what not do, but I think you'd be surprised. There's no better time to decorate than when you have a 250 page paper to write (also: no better time to write a blog!).

Basically there are two things that drive me slightly nuts in my room. One is all this empty wall space combined with the straight line from my "closet" to my bed. Unfortunately, there is not enough deep space where the clothes rack is to put in a wardrobe; I wouldn't be able to open my door. As it is, my door is already inhibited a bit by my closet. I realize this looks messy, but I haven't thought of any great solutions for the clothes storage part of this situation. It's kinda my only spot. If you have an idea, I'm open to hearing it.

But the wall space...I've been thinking about what do do about that. Do I want to add some shelves, extending my closet area north and making it look more on purpose? Do I want to hang a couple big pictures? or do a gallery wall? For a long time I wanted to draw the st. John's bridge and the Wettsteinbrücke in pencil and hang them up. I still like that idea, but...that would require drawing them first, and that hasn't happened in the last three years. So then, more recently, I've been thinking about doing some word art on canvas, similar to this one below. I think these things are...ok...but a little overdone. However, they're easy, and one big canvas would fill up a lot of my North Closet area. Then I would add a couple small pictures towards my bed, and voila! But I'm not sure I'd like it, and one reason is that I have a lot of other pictures on other walls in my room. I don't have a lot of quiet wall space at the moment, and I think that's probably important to maintain. But then, I often sit on my bed when I'm in room, and that wall would be behind me anyway, and I would only be bothered about the lack of quiet wall space if I thought about it. See my problem?

 I really like this chair. It costs too much. I'm thinking about painting my chair.

Yesterday I decided to try to paint my mirror, which has been irritating me for a long time as the only black thing in my room. Decided to try a distressed pale green. I've had all evening and all morning to look at it, and while I like the color, I don't think I like it here, in my room, on a mirror. My new plan is to paint it off white. :)

Look how inspiring the neighborhood looks!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Roommate Swiss Birthday Dinner

Sara and Andreas shut me out of the kitchen this week while they cooked an all-Swiss birthday dinner surprise. They picked Capuns--a Graubünden specialty that they guessed I'd never had before, served with salad, Graubünden wine, and Meringue dessert. We sat around for an hour, chatting half in English, half in Swiss German, and I learned a lot of new vocabulary...though it happens that it's mostly words I should be careful to not say, or not say in particular contexts. :) 
I love having roommates who can cook, who explain potentially embarrassing vocabulary to me, and who are kind!

I'll never be a homeowner! But I will do this PhD

This semester I've been teaching a writing class at the university for the second time. I designed the course for our African Studies MA students, and there are a couple of them in there. But there are also people from other programs who want to improve their writing. This year I have an older, more advanced group that includes an oral surgeon (I imagine her running up the street to class from the hospital, straight from surgery each week), a speech therapist, a former geriatric nurse, and a couple economists. Half the class already have PhDs or master degrees in other subjects. I find it flattering that all these interesting, accomplished people have come to my class all semester and bothered writing the the things I ask them to. I try to not think about it too much lest it become intimidating.

Except for one, the class is all non-Swiss. Several of them have been writing recently about what it feels like to be foreign--the feeling that even when you're well-connected in Basel, have a job and friends and things are going well, there are still situations when something feels slightly out of sync on the inside.  They're writing about re-learning who we are in a different culture, the geography of the city and the geography of our own hearts, and one of the younger ones is writing about making choices that seem to be taking her off the normal progression for a woman her age. She's doing what interests her, but seems concerned about where it's taking her. I'm doing stuff that interests me, but I'm also concerned about where it's taking me. Or rather, why it hasn't taken me back to Oregon yet.

I wonder sometimes if so much questioning what we're doing and where we belong is just a normal thing that most people experience, or if it is condensed in the experience of living abroad. I notice that when my friends in the US are thinking about making a change in job or house, "What continent should I live on?" and "What countries should I send applications to?" aren't questions they're generally asking. Those have been my main questions for years, it feels like. We're probably all a little lost, but we're lost in different registers.

When I was visiting Gregg before Christmas we went to a comedy club with a line-up of comedians around our age. Almost all of them had jokes about not feeling like adults, not feeling like their lives are pulled together yet and having no real game plan to accomplish that. One of them said any time he clumsily spills something or knocks something off a table, before it hits the ground he has re-visited every failure of adulthood and it invariably ends with "...and I'll never be a homeowner." :) I could relate, although for me it's set off by things like misplacing jewelry, ruining silk shirts, forgetting to return my library books, or painting my nails. As I was procrastinating this week, searching the internet for the courage to read a stack of my students' essays, I watched a Buzzfeed video called "12 signs being ladylike isn't your forte." One of those signs is that "trying to paint your nails makes you wonder why anyone trusts you with anything," and the woman has painted not just her nail but the entire end of her finger red. 

I think about this sometimes when I go in to teach my writing class and I see my name and my class details blinking on the wall in the main university building, indicating we're up. This announcement in English stands out among the German class announcements. Ahh, it makes me feel so...grown up and far away. Except when I'm slightly underprepared for class. Then it's all: have they seen my nails? Do they know I've hardly written anything lately? What am I doing here? Should I even still live in Switzerland? If I keep this foreign thing up, I'm never going to be a homeowner. 

And that's my long way of telling you that the University of Basel Forschungsfonds committee decided to give me money to finish my PhD, and I will thus remain employed (yay!), and in Basel (hmmm....), until around the middle of next year. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Atlas. No Shrugging allowed.

Alright, I blame Facebook. I've already posted photos from my trip to Morocco there, so I'm considerably less motivated to say much about it here. But, since I know a few of you don't have facebook's a few pictures from Morocco. There were waterfalls, green fields and sunlit valleys, quiet mountains with herds of sheep and lady shepherds leading them up the hillsides to water. There were market squares, including a pink one, and a lot of donkeys on the path. There were children on the paths, back and forth to classes, and--while we were there--art easels on the paths. Or off the paths, perched on the edges of the bright green fields. Then men I was painting with seemed particularly interested in the igherms--the granary/civic buildings in the valley. Igherms are...ok. They're big and brown and dusty. These in the areas where we were have been restored recently by the Atlas Cultural Foundation, and I saw a postcard with before and after photos. The difference impressed me. But given the choice between flowering fruit trees, sheep out to pasture, the gentle quiet of rural neighbors in the late afternoon watering their plants and laughing together, or a big brown dirt building...I'm gonna want to draw the former. Or at least sit and soak it in, and that's what I liked most about Zawiya Ahansal in Morocco.

Oh, and I like my Berber carpet souvenir, too.