What Course Should I Teach? Please Give Suggestions

According to the arrangement at my department, each of us gets to teach a graduate course every two years. Last time, I taught a course on Golden Age Spanish literature. So now I have to decide what I will teach the next time around.

Here are the possibilities:

1. Contemporary Female Novel in Spain.

2. Spanish Short Story.

3. XIXth century Spanish Literature.

If you could take one of these courses, which one would you prefer? For now, number three is the weakest possibility because I taught this course before and I want more variety on my CV.

Your opinions will be welcome!

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They Never Learn, Do They?

I was walking by a bank on my street right now, and they have a huge flashing announcement: “100% mortgage financing!” They call themselves “Mortgage Makers.”

These people are incredible. And those who take the bait are even more incredible.

The Most Populated Country in the World: A Weird Teaching Story

This could have been a funny teaching story except for the fact I have no idea how to interpret it.

In class we started talking about the most widely spoken languages in the world.

“So which country has the largest population?” I asked as a way of getting students to name the language of that country.

“France!” many of them responded.

Does anybody have an explanation of why, of all possible places, they mentioned France? Is there some reason people would associate France and not, say, Germany or Italy (let alone China) with having such a huge population?

The Evaluations Debacle

I’m beyond annoyed, people. Here I was, posting cute pictures of food and enjoying my first free day this semester. And then I received a colleague’s email about a new round of problems with our student evaluations.

Initially, we had the kind of evaluations where students were asked questions and expected to provide actual responses. In their own sentences or even paragraphs. Imagine that, students writing paragraphs after taking courses in the Humanities. We’d ask them what they liked about a course, what they didn’t like, what they thought could be done to improve it, etc. The responses were fun to read, and I even posted excerpts from them here on the blog. Every batch of evaluations allowed me to hear my students’ voices, see what they had to say about my teaching, get feedback. This was both useful and inspiring.

Then, some. . . person in the . . . administration (dots stand for a string of expletives in a variety of languages) decided that the evaluations have to be quantifiable because, otherwise, you have no idea how to interpret them during tenure review. I have no idea what’s so hard about interpreting “Prof. Clarissa is the best teacher ever. I adore her and will recommend her fantastic course to everybody!!!”, but we all know that the administrators are not particularly smart. So maybe reading this kind of responses is, indeed, too intellectually challenging for them.

So now, instead of actual statements from my students, I get a bunch of Scantron sheets. I don’t even look at them because the kind of feedback that tells me I got 4.86 out of 5 is useless to me. Besides, the system takes into account students who weren’t in class as if they were there and gave you zeros for everything. So if there is even one student who was absent on the evaluation day, your ranking drops.

But this isn’t all. Apparently, there has been a problem with the Scantron sheets. Or the person interpreting the sheets got confused. Or the students got confused. Or the makers of the questionnaire did. I don’t know and I don’t care. All I know is that in several sections of the Scantron sheet 1 stands for excellent and 5 for poor, while in other sections it’s the opposite. So now we are all ranked really low because the system processed our high rankings as abysmally low. And we will now have to offer long and convoluted explanations to the Personnel committee during our tenure reviews for why our teaching sucked so much in the past year.

What the flying fuck, people? Until when will we keep allowing these brainless fucks of administrators to get between us and our students because these extremely highly paid jerks are too stupid to read a few sentences?

In case nobody has noticed, I’m very angry right now.

Shodan Restaurant in Montreal: A Review

Since I’m posting pictures of food today, I wanted to share these photos of the best sushi restaurant I have ever visited. I’m a passionate sushi lover (for the dirty-minded among us: in the gastronomic sense), so I’ve been to many Japanese restaurants in my life. Here in Edwardsville we have two fairly good ones. But Montreal’s Shodan on Metcalfe Street is on an entirely different level.

Their sushi look like little works of art and taste heavenly. They are also very light because the heavy globs of rice aren’t used like they are in many Japanese restaurants on this continent.

Here is an appetizer called pizza-sushi:

It looks beautiful but, to be honest, there are places in Montreal that serve a much better version of pizza sushi. For some reason, Japanese restaurants in the US seem to have no idea what a pizza sushi even is. Whenever I ask, people look at me with pity and say, “This isn’t a pizza place. Pizza is Italian. We don’t cook Italian here.” It isn’t a real pizza of course. It’s made entirely out of seafood, covered with fish roe and has spicy mayonnaise added. Yum! Shodan’s version was stingy on the spicy mayonnaise, so the appetizer tasted bland.

Of course, as you must have guessed, the restaurant is very expensive. I’m a simple American professor, so I couldn’t really afford it on my own. This is why my sister, a Canadian businesswoman, had to invite me. 🙂

As you can see, we ordered enough food for a platoon of hungry soldiers. Whenever my sister and I start ordering food at a Japanese restaurant, the waiters always ask how many more people will be joining us.

“Oh, this is just for us,” we say. “And please don’t take away the menu. We are just getting started here.”

A Ukrainian Alternative to a Barbecue

Since I just criticized the American barbecue parties in my previous post, I want to show you what we, the Ukrainians, do instead. We had this kind of garden party in Montreal a couple of weeks ago. Of course, the weather was pretty cool, otherwise we wouldn’t have done it.

The huge black pan you can see on the photo contains my favorite food ever. We call it “a soldier’s pottage” (the clumsy translation is all mine.) As I shared before, my maternal grandfather fought in World War II. He started the war as a teenage kid on the very first day of Hitler’s invasion of Ukraine and ended it in Berlin, on may 9, 1945 when he wrote his (and, eventually, mine) last name on the walls of the defeated Reichstag. This soldier’s pottage is what he and his comrades ate during the war.

The point of the pottage is that you place every kind of foodstuff you have available in the pot, add some water, and let it brew. Obviously, food is much easier to find in Montreal today than in the swamps of Polesie or the forests of Bayern during a war. So our soldier’s pottage ends up being far richer than the original.

This time, we added chicken, potatoes, carrots, millet, and poured in some eggs. In the past, we have used rabbit instead of chicken, canned meat (which made the pottage more like what it was originally), or no meat at all. Barley can be used instead of millet. After the pottage is left brewing for a couple of hours, you can eat it. It isn’t only delicious, it also offers us an opportunity to experience an emotional connection with the history of our family and of the entire world.

Through the Eyes of a Stranger: American Eating Habits

This post is inspired by one written by Z.

There are many eating habits shared by North Americans that I find to be very strange. Here are some of them:

1. Eating what looks like bird seed for breakfast and believing that this ultra-sugary dried up artificial rubbish is good for one’s health and is even fit to be fed to children.

2.Eating while walking around or, even worse, running from one appointment to another. For many people, it’s a point of a weird sort of pride that they never have time to sit down to eat and gobble down their dinner from a can while standing over a sink. The truth is, though, that not having time for a normal, sit-down meal doesn’t mean you are hard-working. It means you don’t know how to manage your time, and this is hardly anything to be proud of.

At the Atwater market in Montreal. Is there anything better than fresh fruit?

3. Feeding the worst, most unhealthy crap to little children. I was at a wedding recently, and the food was pretty great. We had a nice salad and a number of good, healthy food options. The kids, however, had a plate of chicken nuggets (a vile, disgusting thing that no kid should even know about) and French fries plopped in front of them. Why fries and nuggets should be considered appropriate food for kids is baffling to me. If anybody should be fed in a healthy way it’s children.

4. Giving kids juice that is made from concentrate, is extremely high in sugar content, and has been stuck on a shelf for God knows how long while thinking that this is somehow healthy. Buying an orange or an apple and squeezing your own juice or making your own apple puree takes no time whatsoever, so there is no excuse to give children the concentrate garbage instead. And then people look at these poor kids who are hopped-up on sugar and convince themselves they have ADD and have to be medicated.

5. Choosing the hottest possible weather to gather around a barbecue to grill stuff. If there is ever a time one can’t possible feel like a piece of grilled meat, it has to be high heat. Not so for the Americans.

This is just a tiny portion of the enormous sea food counter at my mother's favorite grocery store in Montreal. If only I had something similar where I live!

6. Smothering salads in heavy, very salty sauces. All a fresh salad needs is a teaspoon of olive oil and maybe a few drops of balsamic vinegar. Pouring a heavy sauce that has been stuck on a shelf for months or years on top of fresh vegetables simply kills the vegetables.

7. Thinking that huge chunks of barely shredded lettuce and a sad piece of cucumber here and there make a salad.

8. This is, of course, a matter of personal preference but there are some American foodstuffs that I find to be just bizarre. Peanut butter and beef jerky are my favorite examples. How can anybody eat that? I love both peanuts and beef with a passion, so it saddens me that these great foods should be tortured into such weird concoctions.

9. Hamburgers are delicious if made right. But they are never fit to be eaten in public. Unless, of course, you eat them with a fork and a knife like I do. 🙂

10. Thinking that if you combine the contents of a few cans together, you’ll come up with dinner. One’s main sources of nutrition should never come from cans or boxes. Even if it seems cheaper to make, say, mashed potatoes by using a box mix than real potatoes (actually, it isn’t cheaper at all), think of how much money you’ll spend on a doctor after you eat this crap for a while.

It isn’t surprising that nowhere else in the world are you going to meet nearly as many obese people as here in the US. If you have had a chance to spend any time at all traveling abroad, you can’t deny there is huge issue with obesity in this country that is non-existent in other places. And if you look at these eating habits,you can’t be very surprised. It’s fashionable nowadays to pretend that the high rates of obesity that plague this country have nothing to do with what and how people eat. Certain pseudo-liberals especially love to engage in this willful blindness.

Of course, the quality of food is also pretty abysmal everywhere in the US except, maybe, the really big cities on the East Coast. My sister and her family were recently on a trip to Florida and they simply couldn’t eat anything. They tried all kinds of restaurants but the food was uneatable for their Canadian palates and stomachs. When I compare farmers’ markets in Montreal with the farmer’s market here in Edwardsville, the land of farmers, I almost turn green with envy.