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Tuesday, September 28, 2010



Despite the ever colder mornings and crisp sunshine that does not warm you up, the change of seasons has not quite registered with me. When I look out from my office window, I still see only green, even though the mountain peaks in the distance are getting a bit foggy.

But as I walked around Basel with my friend P., trying to ignore the biting cold and rain, I noticed a street vendor selling roasted chestnuts. That's when I knew that autumn is here for real, there is no mistaking the fact. The season of short days and comfort food is creeping in.

I love the smell and taste of roasted chestnuts. Somehow, when you roast them at home they are never as tasty as those you buy on the street, in a newspaper cone, but they are still delicious. Friends have told me that people here go to the forests and collect chestnuts at this time of the year, and that's something I would really like to do, especially with the boys.

We used to collect horse chestnuts in the Varosmajor park, on our way home from the kindergarten--bag after bag of them. The entire park was covered with conkers and Boris was keen not to leave a single one behind. We had tons of horse chestnuts all over our house, and there was nothing we could do with them, except make jewelry and toys, but I am a very very talentless person in handicraft department. Which is why this year I am looking forward to collecting something that is both aesthetically pleasing and edible. A winning combination.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wives and lenses

This summer I finally bought my first DSLR, a second-hand Nikon (it had to be Nikon after so much peer press persuasion) D70. I didn't mind a second-hand camera, but I wanted to have a new lens, the only problem was that I didn't know which one. To find an optimal ratio between price and functionality is not easy, especially when you are a beginner with so much to learn, but a fussy beginner who does not want a standard kit either.

Dozens of reviews and much consultation with friends later, I set my mind on a 50mm f.1.8. This is a fixed-length lens, also known as prime lens. It has no zoom, something I thought would be hard to get used to, especially when graduating from a point&shoot--you get so used to pressing that button for zooming in and out. In practice, it just means that you have to get closer if you want to get a close-up, or step back if you want to get everyone and everything in the picture. So it is a little bit more hard work inasmuch as you have to walk back and forth a little bit more.


It is an excellent portrait lens, though, and it has a 1.8 maximum aperture (standard lens kits usually have 3.5-5.6) which allows you to experiment with depth of field, and also to shoot in low light conditions without flash. Since I'm in love with apertures and the whole appeal of having a DSLR lies exactly in being able to play with depth of field, this lens has been a true love.

Ethnographic museum, Zlatograd


Jet d'eau behind flowers

I am definitely having fun with this lens. But, of course, at some point you start thinking that maybe you need something for nature photography and landscapes, and zoom has its advantages as well. And so it begins again, the lens searching bug.

One of my new colleagues is a fantastic photographer, so we had a little chat recently about all things photo, including--inevitably--lenses. He warned me to choose wisely, because, as he said, lenses are like wives, they tend to stick around.

I have little experience with lenses and even less with wives, so I asked a friend--an amateur photographer himself--whether the same would apply to husbands.

His answer?

"Husbands are like bodies, they get out of fashion and outdated..."

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Andrej's boats

When I broached the subject of moving to Geneva with Andrej (clever Boris had figured it all by himself much earlier), in an attempt to sell Geneva's advantages over Budapest I told him it had a big and beautiful lake. The conversation went something like this:

"Are there boats in it?"
"Lots of boats and you will really like them."
"Big boats?"
"Big boats as well."
"It's okay then."
So the other day I went for a stroll by the lake, just to check if the boats I had promised to Andrej were still there.

And so they were, in many different sizes.

And colors. But then I spotted the winner:

For the boy who likes big boats...

Sunday, September 19, 2010

What's in a name?

"...That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

Before I got married I considered changing my family name to that of my husband, but the consideration was brief. Even if the thought of administrative hassle would not have been enough of a deterrent, my new name would simply not sound good and, given how my husband's family name was spelled at the time, it would have given rise to awful mispronunciation.

My decision did not mean that I didn't care about marriage as such (I certainly did more than my spouse), or that somehow I cared about my husband less than if I had taken his name. Nobody around me raised an eyebrow, except, typically, my best friend M., who said that he would not have tolerated something like that. Luckily--as he had been told countless times--I am not married to him.

I remember having a conversation with my grandfather (my father's father) back when I was in high school and marriage was a very abstract issue. I told him that I intend to remain Jelica V if and when I get married, and he said that would be the right thing to do. And although he did not live to see me marry, I thought of him when I was signing at the registry, knowing he would be proud.

I am also sure he would have been just as bemused as I was the other day, when Credit Agricole repeatedly tried to make me put my husband's family name as my prenom, on the grounds that this is how it was done in France.

My interview for opening a bank account was going swell, I was managing the conversation in French and was very proud of myself, when the lady noticed that my lease agreement lists me and Ruslan under different family names. That's where she started fretting. In France, apparently, you are supposed to take your husband's name.

"I know that in some northern countries there is a choice and, obviously, it is the same chez vous (her face at this point reflecting the effort of someone trying to place chez vous on a mental map, but alas it all gets fuzzy to the east of Germany) but here in France it is not like that."

At first, I am amused and I smile at this unexpected cultural difference, thinking to myself that at least chez nous is more progressive in something, which is rare. But unfortunately she starts trying to make me change my name on the bank account, so that it doesn't say Madam V but Madam Z.

"Excusez-moi, mais Madam Z n'existe pas!"

At this point I would like to give her a lecture about democracy, progress and women's rights, as well as to remind her that we are in France and not Saudi Arabia, but my brain is slow in French and a tirade ridden with grammatical errors would surely loose punch. Besides, she notices that I am getting annoyed so she drops the subject. After another half an hour of talk she mentions the "name issue" again (I swear this is how she refers to it) at which point I look at her menacingly and say very slowly, and with emphasis.

"Madam, this is my bank account and this is my name. Let us leave my husband out of this."

And so we do, but I still don't have my bank account. I would like to think that is because I am yet to submit proof of address (justificatif de domicile) and not because my name is problematic. But I am preparing my lecture (see above) just in case. The next person who dares suggest I change my name has no idea what's coming at them...

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My blonde life

My one-year blond phase is now officially over. I had enough of very blond and wanted something more subtle, along the lines of strawberry or ash blond, but my hairdresser had other ideas, so I ended up with the color of expired chocolate. Enough said.

It has been a fun year, though. I could finally verify for myself whether gentlemen prefer blondes (they do). I felt a certain lightness of being which is not characteristic of my true brunette self. I took myself a little bit less seriously and I think I was also taken a bit less seriously by others, which was a welcome change.

When you are blond, people tend to smile to you more and generally have a more positive predisposition. Beats me as to why it should be so. Maybe I just looked less intimidating than usual?

There seems to be, apparently, an evolutionary explanation for why men prefer blonds:

A blue-eyed male with a brown-eyed mate would not have the same assurance the resulting brown-eyed infant was his child and therefore worthy of a slice of the mammoth he risked his life trapping and slaughtering and then spent days dragging back across miles of icy tundra.
Now it dawns on me that the origin of that fantastic Bulgarian proverb, which says that there is no hungry blonde ("ruso gladno niama") probably date back to those mammoth-hunting times.

In retrospect, I did enjoy it. I also think I was a pretty convincing blonde, attitude and all. So there might be a second phase to this experiment. In the meantime I am sticking with chocolate.

Monday, September 6, 2010

An afternoon in Luzern

On Saturday I hopped on the train to Luzern to see my friend Dana and her husband, who drove down from Strasbourg for the weekend. Exactly two hours and fifty minutes later I was there, surprised to discover a town much more beautiful and lively than I had imagined.

Just like many Swiss towns, Luzern is also situated on a lake and a river, Reuss. When I arrived, it was early Saturday afternoon on a mild and sunny day, and the cafes and restaurants on the river bank were overflowing with people. There is nothing like a combination of sun and body of water to create a holiday feeling--must be some sensor in the brain, especially for us who come from a bit more South European latitudes.

After briefly consulting our various guidebooks, we decided to walk in the vague direction of the old town. There were certain things we wanted to see but I always found so much more pleasure in accidental discoveries. At some point we ditched the map, too, and relied on (mostly Radu's) intuition, which is how we ended up on a small, arty street, just off a major boulevard. Whether it was the pastel colors of the facades, Gothic looking types on the street, or the murals, but that short street felt like some isolated, parallel reality.

Brief break in the small park, by the famous lion statue--commemorating Swiss mercenaries at the service of Louis XIV, killed at the beginning of the French revolution. Dana and I got a free chocolate each just by agreeing to fill in a questionnaire for the tourist office--now, that's what I call an incentive.

It occurred to me that Luzern was my first venture outside of Suisse Romande, or French-speaking part of Switzerland. It was definitely a good starting point. Now that I am armed with two guidebooks, one book about history of Switzerland and a half-fare railway card, I can't wait to continue my explorations.