an interesting work conversation

This afternoon the woman who schedules training dates and locations for the company that hires me out called. She wanted to schedule a few courses for a major telecomm company. First we talked about Pretoria in September.

me (thinking): “Yay! I get to go back to South Africa! And nearer to Kruger National Park!”

Then she said, “I’ve got some dates in February 2009.”

me: “… these would be in Pretoria, too?”

her: “… uh, no. These would be in Islamabad, Pakistan.”

silence (I was trying to picture little ol’ me leading that course.)

me: “And we’re not co-leading?”

her: “Uh… no.”

me: “Huh. I wonder what it would be like for a youngish-looking woman to lead alone in Islamabad?”

her: “Well, I don’t know.”

The conversations in my life keep getting more and more interesting…

Things just keep getting better and better!

Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Today I put on my three-season black suit, black control-top pantyhose my Mom brought me from the US (Thank goodness for Hanes! This reminds me I need to tell of my recent pantyhose crisis in the Copenhagen train station — that’s another post.) and new black pumps. I took the 8:55 a.m. train to Zurich. Ho-hum. I had a job interview with a big, highly respected Swiss firm. BIG firm. Global presence. The pride of the Swiss.

I had downloaded the interviewer’s resume off the Internet and they put their photos in Europe, so I knew who he was as he came down the hall. I reacted like he was a buddy or something — that might’ve surprised him a bit. 😉 (Note to Self: if you Google the interviewer and find stuff that may be incriminating, don’t lead with it…)

We started off well, and it just kept getting better. He started off by telling me they’d interviewed somebody yesterday and my interviewer friend would make his decision by the end of the day. We started chatting; we chatted some more. We chatted about the hobbies he listed on his resume; we brainstormed about the work. It was fun! After about an hour, he leaned back and said, “I don’t need any more time. You want the job?” You betcha, I do!

And guess what they want me to do?! They bring in the company’s top 200 global executives, staggered in small groups, to a lovely lakeside villa for a week-long leadership training program. On Thursday and Friday they stage a simulation — a scenario that involves a crisis in the Chinese market and actors representing Greenpeace, Tibetan monks, a competitor’s company, etc. They want me to act like I’m a news producer, walk in with a camera crew and ask all kinds of tricky questions, get the execs to say things they shouldn’t on film and make a news cast! How FUN is that?! And I get to stay in the villa, they pay travel, and the daily rate is about what I made in a week as a professor. Yee haw!

Like I said, things just keep getting better!

Welcome to the neighborhood

I love the doors and gates along our morning walk. I wonder how old it all is, what stories they each could tell…

I thought I’d take you along today… it’s beautiful.

I just can’t get over that I live in a neighborhood with frescoed buildings. There’s more than one fresco like this along our walk, but this was the best photo.

The roses were especially beautiful today.

We are up on a hill over the lake. Can you see that there was mist and fog down on the lake rising behind these flowers?

I love the whimsy of the set of windows painted onto the side of this building. Mufasa doesn’t chase the cat painted sitting in one…

In other news:
I’ve bought my first shoes here. I think this is important, because you can totally tell a person by her shoes. Check these out.

This is my next door neighbor’s house. (I’m standing in my living room taking this photo.) I sit at my lovely new dining table drinking my morning coffee and wonder what they’re up to in the Balmelli Villa, as it’s called. I wonder what they watch on that satellite dish perched atop their mansion… oh to be a Balmelli. Actually, half of everybody in Gentilino is a Balmelli, and it’s been made clear to me that they don’t all live in such grand style.

Complete Chaos

I can’t take a picture of the way I feel. I’m juggling four classes I’ve never taught, creating the student newspaper, committee meetings beyond anything I could ever imagine, sleeping on a mattress on a floor (with dusty sheets that arrived from Idaho — even Mufasa was happy to see them — he curled right up on a comforter he knows he’s not allowed to sleep on). I can’t get my cell phone to receive calls. I don’t know how to get a phone in my house.

I returned the rental car today and bought another car last night. They’re delivering it today — only it’s a stick, so I’m going to have to get someone else to move it from in front of the school and teach me how to drive it. Hopefully tonight.

Life is going way too fast. I am more flustered than I’ve ever been. Soon, I know, this will all settle… my phones will work, I’ll drive my cute car around… I look good in my clothes that arrived, so at least there’s that!

Mufasa is totally fed up with me. Today I went out to clean the rental car, leaving him in the apartment for about five minutes. When I got back, he’d been up on the kitchen counter, gotten a long, intact baguette and carried the whole lovely loaf down to the downstairs entryway. He laid it, without leaving any marks in it, in the middle of the front hallway floor. I think he was about to eat it when I walked in.

This weekend I will take Sunday off and take him hiking up a mountain. I will cultivate calm and peace and papers graded ready to return.

Like art.

What I’m about to write really needs the photos that could accompany it, but for logistical reasons that will soon become clear I don’t have them.

There’s a man outside my office door. He’s digging a giant hole — some sort of phys plant improvement going on here. He’s waist-deep in the ground, just a navy blue t-shirt and the rest of his magnificent self sticking out of this giant hole, and I keep thinking about something my Mom and I would say when she was here. We decided the men here are beautiful… like art is beautiful. Not even like you really need to know them or talk to them or anything, but you can just appreciate them walking by or sitting in a cafe or eating breakfast… or digging a big hole outside your office.

We’d nudge and say to one another, “Like art…”

When I walked in just now with my hands full he said, “Buon giorno.” I was being my American self and was just going to walk into my office without saying anything even though I’d seen him over there. When I said, “Buon giorno” back, he smiled. It was a Patrick Dempsey, bankable, oh-my-goodness-look-at-the-miracle-of-that-mouth, made me weak in the knees and happy all over smile.

Then I walked into my office and here we are. Like art, I tell you. He’s absolutely beautiful. Black hair, blue eyes, Roman god gorgeous.

I couldn’t figure out how taking his photo to accompany this story would be in any way appropriate.

Things are looking up. I’m going to a fondue party tonight; I had lunch with a great group of women; my things will all arrive Tuesday afternoon. This is progress.

I can’t believe I live here.

It’s been raining and I’ve been so overwhelmed with school and life that partly it’s just been head-above-water time. Mufasa got his first tick and had an allergic reaction. We’ve been at the vet an awful lot in the last few weeks.

…Then the clouds parted yesterday and the sun shone and it was Saturday and I suddenly had a series of, “I can’t believe I live here” moments. Mufasa and I walked along the lido this afternoon. I love that the clouds do this thing they’re doing here… the little wisps half-way down the mountainside. If you click on the image you can see it larger. It was actually sunnier than it looks.

I’m designing a travel course for Spring semester (on the culture and history of the Deep South) that involves going to the National Civil Rights Museum, the Grand Ole Opry, and Dreamland Barbeque.

And so this is my life now. I love the students.

Chocolate and coffee are their own food groups. Here are three varieties of chocolate from my last shopping trip: a dark choclate bar that was on sale (It had over 70% cocoa and crushed cocoa beans inside, too. I ate the whole thing already. I still fit in my size 4 jeans, so it’s okay…), ever-present Nutella and crazy-yummy Swiss dark chocolate hot cocoa mix (YUM!).

I still can’t move in yet, but I’m loading furniture into the garage. Having a key is real progress. I go over just to walk around and imagine what it will look like in a couple of weeks. I’m buying furniture and test drove a funny, little bitty car yesterday.

There’s an old woman who lives in the building. She doesn’t speak any English, but I’ve understood that she wants to help with my laundry when I move in. I hope she can cook. I’d like for her to teach me how to make new Italian dishes…

What a mess!

I’d like for this blog to be all intellect and poetry… but what comes out these days is logistics, simple observation and, sometimes, complaint. I’m in this temporary apartment. It’s in a gated community called Parco Maraini. It’s part vacation condo, part apartments, part rehab and assisted living… all with tropical hiking paths and an unbelievable view of the lake.

I haven’t received any mail in weeks, but this apartment gets CNN and the BBC, so I am watching footage from New Orleans and feeling so far away from it all. What can be done?

Instead, my days are now filled with cultural adventures in grocery and furniture shopping. I got these gnocchi at a department/ grocery store in downtown Lugano. It’s called Manor and is huge and fabulous… cheese, chocolate, bread, alarm clock, computer, souvenirs, clothes — all can be had under one roof accessed via cobblestone square. Anyway, there’s nothing in these gnocchi except potato, water and salt and they are the lightest, fluffiest, tastiest little balls of goodness I’ve ever had. I’ve actually been snacking on them (raw) instead of chocolate. If you know me, you get how good these little gems really are. Few things in life trump chocolate.

School is chaos, but fun. I’m going to take pictures of my students this week. Classes are great — students are from 55 countries all over the world, so we get a Jordanian perspective on ethics in the ethics class, and a German student explained to the Americans the other day that there’s public discourse in her culture about the exportation of Hollywood films as a form of imperialism. One young kid went to a Quaker high school and shares how disagreements were handled there, and an African-American woman from Washington, D.C. was laughing with a young Saudi Arabian woman about how differently they’d get treated if their families didn’t approve of their dating behavior.

On the other hand, logistics are a problem. I was just informed that the ethics textbook isn’t going to arrive for a month and another textbook arrived with a 100% markup over US prices, making it virtually impossible for the students to buy. Now I have to figure out what to do without my texts and we’re starting the second week of school tomorro

One day this week we didn’t have power. No book, no computer, no lights… the cute Italian guy who helped me translate at my rental agreement signing said, “Wanna come play cards in my office?” If you know how tricky joking is with people who don’t speak the same native language, you get what a breakthrough this was. He and I had been joking for a while, but we’d have to explain the joke, sometimes repeatedly. This one I got right away. “How are we supposed to work like this?” he was saying, with that sweet Italian grin that hides the notorious Latin lover thing lurking underneath.

I keep reminding myself to use my training, to not engage in the culture of complaint here. I haven’t succeeded very well at that — but tomorrow is another day. Adventures abound!

Do, do, do…

I’m way behind. Finally got my rental contract signed today (Yahoo!). Can’t move in yet, but love the place. It’s big and looks out on a gorgeous villa. A cute Italian guy who works on campus took me to sign it — I wanted him to help me translate. He did. He smokes. I’m reminded of the quote, “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ashtray.” Yuck.

Mufasa sprung a nasty growth on his nose in the last few weeks and had something going on with his paw that wouldn’t heal with antibiotics. I found a great veterinary hospital nearby. I took him for an appointment yesterday and he ended up having two surgeries at once and now has stitches in his leg and nose! It was definitely a cultural experience!

They let (made) him go way before they would in the States. As in, he couldn’t stand up and they carried him out to the car on a giant doggie stretcher and dumped him in the back of our rented station wagon! It was harder on us than him — I’m not used to seeing him incapacitated. The anesthesia wore off by this morning. He’s showing his stitches and bandage here. Oh, the drama. I am so glad my Mom is here and we have the rental car.

These are my new advisees (I have more, but these are the new students). We had dinner tonight and got to meet for the first time. They are shiny happy new students, eager to be in school in Switzerland. They’re all from the U.S., but I believe one of them holds a Columbian passport. The tiramisu in the campus grotto was wonderful, Jen, as you said it would be! Note the wine on the table — so different from in the US.

I love this photo, and it’s only slightly alarming that it might be challenging to differentiate between the faculty member and the students.

It’s better now here on campus — I’m dealing more with faculty and academic issues, less with administration. I am happy this time of year; there’s so much promise that comes with a new school year.

I’ve been working, working, working and registration is first thing tomorrow morning, so I’ll be back here all day Saturday and Sunday, too. Classes start Monday. I am eager to get started. This is really beginning to feel like home. I love the combination of the city atmosphere, the American college and the lake.

Luna e lago (Moon and lake)

Now, more than ever, I’ve got to remind myself over and over to stay present to what I’m creating for my life.

It turns out this college is a mess. The culture that’s been created here is nasty – deceitful, gossipy and disrespectful.

I don’t want to just move across town and only come in for work; I came here to be a part of a small, liberal arts college community. Mom reminded me that most people don’t mix work and life so much, but commute to work and leave it there when they go home.

That would be a fine option here because I’ll be living in a beautiful town, in an equally lovely country. It reminds me so much of St. Lucia, in the Caribbean. ‘Went scuba diving there about five years ago. The mounatins, water, sunshine are all the same, but the cool thing is I’m smack dab in the middle of Europe!

I’m committed, though, to liberal arts education and creating a learning community here that’s rich, vibrant and fun. It’s why I came here. Well, that and the merlot and pizza on the lake at dusk. I’ve got to get some other folks excited about the possibilities at the College and see what we can do…

In the meantime, Monday was a holiday and Mom and I found a small restaurant, a grotto, in the woods. It was all locals but us. The ambience was unbelievable. It was warm and sunny outside and families and lots of old people were all sitting on big, concrete and wooden picnic tables. Maybe 30 of them. Big ones. Under towering trees.
There weren’t very many things on the menu and almost everything was, “polenta and…” Since I’m allergic to corn, I thought I’d order one of the two things that wasn’t with polenta. Lamb or some other word starting with a p that I didn’t know. It was horse. Foal, more precisely, I learned later… when the waiter whinnied like a small child after I asked as he served me a lovely little slab served with roasted potatoes.

When I was a child I was a voracious reader, and my favorite books were this series about a black horse… I’d read and read and read and pretended I had a horse like that. And here I was Monday eating a horse. In Italian culture, you just don’t NOT eat the food. It would be very, very bad form. Plus, it was expensive and actually kind-of tasty. Who knew? The adventures are just beginning!

Today I had my first solo phone conversation completely in Italian. I don’t know part of what was said, but I got my point across and heard most of the other party’s too. It’s clear I’ve got to enroll in Italian courses.

Finally, the moon over the lake is gorgeous as it’s getting bigger and brighter this time of the month. I couldn’t sleep last night (espresso after dinner tastes so good but keeps me up so long). After the local church bell tolled midnight I took this shot. It doesn’t at all capture the beauty of the night, but it’s a start.

And then there’s that question again, the big one I started with… “What AM I creating for my life? What am I up to here? Why NOT just go home (as Mom has suggested I do because the school is so poorly run)?”

Inspired by a student

I just read an essay by a former student of mine, Jessie Bonner. She’s had two prestigious fellowships recently, one in Washington, D.C. and one at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, FL. This final essay for the Poynter fellowship is beautiful, well-crafted, inspiring writing. Another reason I teach is that sometimes I run across students who inspire me as much as I try to inspire others.