The Song of The Night I Couldn’t Hear

Blurry photograph of an amusement park with a big Ferris Wheel

Image: ©️ H.S

Author: H.S

1 Invited to a party I didn’t want to go to but went anyway because it was a girl who invited me:

Miserable numb dumb and drunk, standing still in a corner, stupid and silent – Drinking. Constantly silently unconsciously shivering for a sex dream. She has to work during the party – volunteering (that is to say she works for free) so of course she has no time for me. She invited me to this party and I know nobody except her so here I am – standing here stupid getting drunk on beer and sex dreams – Such assaulting sadness – the people here are not my style, no – they’re wearing fancy clothes – expensive but no style – A Great Gatsby of a party. She pleads, begs me to go dance and make friends while she works – “Go make friends” she says. And drunk I do! Some new overdue drunkard friends and despite everything they’re nice, cool and love to dance and Arab like me like I prefer. But I get carried away and truly crudely dance till two and then I see her again, but a guy is just all over her, arms around her – around her neck and all – So I confront her about it and really I just misunderstood this mysterious situation and she wasn’t interested in my body like I was in hers so too bad but hey at least I made drunk friends out of it all…

2 Trying to have a good time despite it all:

Rocks and blasted trees are those people! I walk amongst the lepers of the drunken night like Dante in the dark forest, music booming in my ears – I just nicely gently and softly push them aside to go to the toilet and get shoved and almost punched. Another guy interrupts us (me and my new drunk friends) dancing to strictly and stupidly insist I spilled his beer – which might as well be true. I didn’t fight him tonight but almost – I just wanted to have a good night a good girl a good life but now I have to play Jesus amongst brigands.

3 Coming home drunk:

The sad and sorrowful song of the night I couldn’t hear – tinnitus from the terrible tittle-tattle of speakers – the haloed aura of the réverbère, my only protection against misery, the failed night – “at least I tried!” but she didn’t want me so I left, not wanting her either. No cars on the soft sweet saintly concrete – A fox emerges from a garbage can and blesses me with intelligent eyes – He sees me and flees. I walk home, away from that katabatic catastrophe of a city – tortured by the streets, martyred by sidewalks. That night home in drunken fear and trembling I see the fox in my dreams: the fox was the Writer-Director of deranged Thought-Movies Fathered Angeled and Revered in Heaven (Hell).

I wake up weary and write these lines.

Written, Directed, Played, Watched, and Forgotten by H.S

Exam Confessions

An exam room with a superimposed image of a person putting their index over their mouth in a "shh" gesture

Image: ©️ Montage put together by Lex Rodriguez with “Day 23 – Exam hall” by jackhynes is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. and “(245/365) Mwah shhh ponder” by Sarah G… is marked with CC BY 2.0.

Ever (gasp!) cheated on an exam? Ever seen someone else cheat? Or did you ever fail miserably and dramatically at an exam? You’re not alone! UNIL students tell us all about their scandalous secrets and epic fails surrounding their past exams. Don’t tell anyone!


✍👀
“For some reason, when I was a kid, my classmates always thought I was really good at tests so they always wanted to copy my answers. However, growing up, I very quickly developed a very adult-looking and not always very legible hand-writing which prevented others from copying my answers and these kids had the AUDACITY to ask me to write more legibly so they could copy my answers. Shaking my head.”

🕵️‍♂️🎧🎥
“Not me but a friend, who cheated on a German written exam so hard that they got a team of friends to help them: They wore long, baggy clothes under which they had set up a receiver for an earpiece (FBI-style), as well as a concealed camera which could capture images of the test sheet. One friend would get a streamed video of the camera’s feed and work on answering the questions in German. Another friend worked with a microphone to transmit the answers to my friend who would then copy them out. Two other friends were there to stand watch and make sure that the relay team wasn’t found out by the examiners. They ended up passing their exam :)”

🙊
“To this day after years here I still put my name where I have to put my surname and vice versa. But worst of all I put my student number where the teachers should put my grade”

🧾🦵
“When i still was in middle/high school, the best strategy was always the post-it note on the chair, in between the thighs. Just slightly spread your legs, and poof, get all the knowledge you need.”

📝✔
“My high school math teacher was too lazy to give us test sheets, so she’d always just tell us to bring a pad of sheets of paper. A few times we had to learn proofs of theorems by heart, so just copied those demonstrations on the last pages of the pad, and discretly check those out. I even once directly used a sheet with the proof pre-written and turned that one in.”

📱👻
“I don’t know why, but during a preparation for my oral exam I found out that my phone was still in my pockets. I was prepared so I didn’t use it but I still sent snaps to all of my friends telling them about it. I was much more worried about hiding it once I entered the class LOL”

🚪🔒🥶
“I had my very first oral exam ever in 32 years of life this past exam session. I was really nervous for weeks leading up to it. The morning of the exam, about 10 minutes before go time, I stepped outside for a breath of fresh air on an Anthropole 5th floor balcony. I was nervous & distracted, & figured I should check to see if the door automatically locks from the outside after it was already closed. I locked myself out in the cold until the supervising prof came by and kindly let me back inside…. so beware of balconies with no ash trays!”

🎒🔊🎶
“I’m a nightowl, which means my alarms are set pretty late in the morning since I go to bed pretty late too. So, I had a written exam once starting at 8am. Around 10am I start hearing some Billy Joel music, and I was like ‘oh someone is listening to Billy Joel outside, NICE!’ and then it occured to me that it was my alarm coming from my phone in my backpack that was chilling against the wall x)”

😬📐🤦‍♂️
“I’ve always been terrible in maths. In high school the day I was going to pass my oral math exam I got to school early and ran into my maths teacher and the expert who was this little old man who seemed very kind. My teacher introduced us and told him that I was going to pass my exam with them later in the day, and I looked at the expert and told him ‘I’m really sorry for what you are about to witness.’ He laughed and with a sweet smile and look in his eyes answered that he was sure it was going to be okay and that I was just stressed out. I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t and that I simply already knew I was going to fail big time, and he wouldn’t believe me. Fast forward to my exam. It was going so bad, the little old man was growing more desperate and impatient and restless by the minute. He must have stood up 3 or 4 different times to come to the blackboard and correct everything I was doing wrong while growing frustrated at my lack of skills. My maths teacher was laughing the whole time. He knew how bad I was and I guess he was expecting this entertainement hahaha”

👀❓❔⁉🤔
“During a written exam I once noticed another student acting a bit sketchy. I couldn’t quite figure out what they were doing and to this day I’m still not sure. They had a bunch of small cheat sheets, and they also seemed to be filming or taking pictures of their paper with a small device (it looked too small to be a smartphone, might have been an old timey phone or an iPod), while holding their exam sheet upside down for some reason (?!). They also kept looking around them which made them look extra conspicuous. An invigilator eventually noticed their strange behaviour. When I got out of the exam and met up with classmates I asked them if they had noticed and if they had understood what the heck was happening, turns out they were just as confused as I was :’) It shall remain a mystery.”

🤭
“It’s always a kinda funny when you meet a classmate for the first time at a department-wide end-of-year exam, and you had never seen them at any of the compulsory courses in the department. How did they manage to get a better grade than I did when they hadn’t ever turned up at any lecture or class?”

🙊❌📚
“So I turn up at this written exam, super stressed out because I know I haven’t memorised everything well enough. When I walk in the class everyone but me has big binders on their desks, and I notice they’re not putting them away when the exam starts. Turns out it was an open-book exam and I managed to miss the information, so I turned up with nothing but my pencil case 🙃 (spoiler: I did not do well at that exam)”

😴💤
“So for the maturité end-of-year exams we had all the 4-hours written exams in the span of a week (maths, French, English, German, option spécifique) and they all started early, and that meant I had to get up at 6 am to get there on time. My sleep schedule being terrible I never managed to get more than 5 hours of sleep for the whole week, and sleep deprivation causes me to fall asleep anywhere.
Long story short I feel asleep face first right on my table at each and every one of my written exams. An invigilator once came to check up on me, they were scared I had fainted or something. But I was just taking an accidental power nap, oops.
I passed all my exams nonetheless, so next time you find yourself nodding off during a long written exam, consider taking a quick lil power nap ;)”

🍁🚬
“I fantasize about getting really, really high before an exam and acing it.”

💌🥰
“A cute anecdote: I was asked on a date after the exams in January by a guy I met once before and who was in the same exam room. He found my email address and emailed me right after the end of the exam. And now he is my boyfriend.”

*responses have been edited for clarity and length

I am the earth my mother walked on (Second-place winner of the poetry competition)

Man spreading arms looking at the sky

Image: ©️ “UP Turns 100” by ~MVI~ (warped) is licensed under CC BY 2.0. Source

Author: D.K.

I am the earth my mother walked on
The chalky snow on my young stripped shape
Her years of molding me
The shores of my memory, breaking like waves in the night

I am a body
Unknown scars, raw flesh, frozen bones
Legs that will turn to dust, hands that could hold the skies
I am a constant fading carcass, a peeling god
Made of oak and gold
My eyes are black stones in the long flood
Muster every muscle I must
To face the fear dwelling in my heart

I am a soul
That smells like rain and moves like smoke
The spirit of a herd of horses, the fervour of a crushing star
Violent, young, wild
It falls in the lands of the old stories
Where men fought death in the final red sunset

Note to Myself

Pine trees in the snow

Image: ©️ “Naked Winter Trees” by Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 51 Million views) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Source. 

Author: Valentin Jeanmonod

When anxious, don’t try to write alliterations: the sound of the pen on the page will not prove any pride.

Look at the sky every six hours, otherwise your eyes are worthless.

Don’t drink more than what knocks you off per day—or night—exception made for pregnant persons.

Look at the girl or at the boy next to you, fall in love with this person, then go back home and kiss your lover’s lips and fall in love again.

Think less about sex; more about texts.

Look at how sensual semicolons are.

Do follow some friend’s advice on fleeing fear. Then, the absurdity of life might lose its strong grip; smoke a Chest’–get some rest.

Smoke again, even though you really never should listen to written words…

However, you could try to write some words too, what about that train travel the other time:

“Great trees at great speed are gorgeous
I see through limbs the lighting sun
It shines and shadows enlighten
Our day whose closure is porous.”

Which English Department Staff Member are You Most Like?

Library

Image: © Lex Rodriguez

Authors: Oscar Jordan & Lex Rodriguez

 

 

I think all English students will agree when MUSE says that the English Department wins the “who has the best Unil staff?” competition ;) If you want to know which staff member’s tastes resemble yours the most, take this quiz to find out! If your curiosity still asks for more, fear not, you can always check our two previous quizzes with other fabulous staff members here: part 1 and part 2. Enjoy!

Sky Blue

Black-and-white silhouette of a person on a balcony in front of a tree

Image: “Depression #4 (standing at the window)” by ndanger is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Source

Author: Diane Kalms

Content warning: this text has light mentions of eating disorders, anxiety, and drugs.

you found Happiness
in Darkness
you found the Light
in the Night
you found Passion
in Starvation

 

what you didn’t know
is that you lost your Reason
long time ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

LOST MY TIME
LOST MY PLACE
IN SKY BLUE…

I’m wandering in this megalopolis; I’m feeling a little bit hazy, I don’t really know how I got here, but it does not bother me. A lot of people around me are walking with such conviction and determination, and it amazes me how much energy they put in their march. Confused and dazzled by their steel armor, Anxiety, until then calmly muffled in my chemical fleece, begins to seethe, threatening to erupt like a nasty bile and disintegrate my organs, my nerves, my brain, leaving my carnal envelope definitely empty and ready for a reboot. What a bitter place! I know I should have been more discrete. Now, I have been detected as an intruder. They are diluting my cocoon, slowly, the cotton is dripping with an icy liquid, almost like soldering iron and I can feel it invade and pervade every inch of my living body; I can hear a mechanical humming and I know they have sent their steel parasites to penetrate my mind. Their little legs, like metallic ants, are working for my absolute mutation: the annihilation of my deviant character.

At that moment, my mouth opens like a gaping hole. From this bottomless gash emerges a deafening shrill, the final cry of all humanity. Someone throws a grenade in it and it resorbs instantly, as I feel the red little pill going down my throat.
It has not always been like that. Before the Big Fall, remember? You were well at ease with other people. We’ve been stuck down here for a while. You pretend that nothing happened, but deep down you know she has taken possession of you. She loves to play with you: sometimes she cuts one string, and you end up dislocated like an obsolete puppet. She knows how to keep you close, because she often fastens a new chain to your head. She successfully tamed you, to the point that you’re afraid of the chains breaking. Afraid of being alone again. She made you believe that she was vital to you. And you know what worked best? She turned your world upside down, and made you believe that the Others are your enemies, and not her. Yet, you cannot understand this. But I can open your eyes.

I must escape, they’re blocking my way, I have to beat them, I have to go in the opposite direction of their infernal pace and find the light again. Yes, but first, find me.
 
I’m slowly regaining consciousness, after what seemed to be an eternity. A dreamless sleep. But the world around me is not fuzzy anymore. Instead, I can feel my heart beating like mad, the adrenaline is rushing through my veins. My body is going at full speed. How am I capable of such prowess? My bones and muscles have taken over my brain; impulsiveness becomes the master of my decisions. While the drug is violently waking up my aching limbs, I know She’s happy. I’m totally in sync with Her. How funny it is to be satisfied with that. You’re in harmony with her passion for self-destruction. She can rest, while I’m taking over. I’m looking up and as always, it’s a starless night; the moon is shining like the light at the end of a tunnel. The darkness of the streets seems impenetrable; from below the buildings are burnt trees without branches and their threatening shadow prevent me from going further. Still, as I don’t have any control over my corporeal movements, I’m stepping into this urban wood.
We have always liked this city. The rumors about its open-mindedness, the kindness of its residents but above all else, its particular nightlife. We had never seen that somewhere else. The city where you can be anyone, and at the same time no one. Humans spending time with other humans, free from any kind of social labels, the ones we always hated. We felt good there because sometimes it seemed like we did not belong anywhere. So maybe we needed this neutral environment to entirely reveal and celebrate peacefully our individuality.

Discretion has always been a specific trait of our personality; this is why anonymity has always been attractive. At that time, we knew that she was already there, yet she wasn’t strong enough to push us to the bottom of our reason. But she managed to do it. Now that we see the world from below, everything is terrifying. People have muted into malevolent titans with scorpions’ tails, ready to harpoon us so we will swell and swell and swell ever more and become as big as they are. You became afraid of them, and this was her greater accomplishment: she made you think that Others are out of reach and that you will never be as good as them. So, we sunk into the night, blinded by the thought that in the dark laid our light. At that moment, she knew she could invert right and wrong, just and unjust, reasonable and unreasonable, just as she pleased. Because you were scared about these giant devils, she made you think that the tinier you were, the more you’ll become invisible before their eyes. At first it was hard for her: we were a question mark in a universe that needs definitions, but we still felt that we deserved our material place one day or another. Insidious, she stripped us from our substantial attachments and of the few certitudes we had, imprisoned us on the other side of the mirror, where down is up and left is right, mutilating our last perception of reality. Because she did not like our body image, she persuaded you that you did not either. She dragged you down with her on the corporeal side too, extolling the virtues of drugs, singing their magical ability to transform your corrupt vision and manipulate your self-image. You felt sexy, mighty, but, above all, it numbed the pain. It’s like playing Russian roulette, and you like the taste of metal in your mouth. Drugs would falsely reverse your natural world, deceiving you while letting you think that you were on the upper side again, persisting in the treachery when you could feel them running in your blood, letting you glimpse what you still think to be the gates of heaven. But I now know for a fact that you entered hell a long time ago.
Like every night, I find myself in front of the reinforced door. It’s the only source of light for several kilometers around. I can hear the usual melodic throbbing, its sharp and rhythmed noises coming from the entrails of the machine, sometimes punctuated with guttural roars of infernal beasts burning with desire voluntarily entrapped down here. The siren call attracts other damned souls, springing from the deafening darkness and slowly coming near the entrance like zombies enticed by fresh meat. Inscribed in red letters along the ledge above the portal the words I AM THE WAY TO THE CITY OF THE DEPRAVED are shining timidly, as if they did not want to be seen, as if it was only a bad joke, but hopefully, it’s not. Hell is real and it is man-made. I know the drug has seriously kicked in, as I’m staring, aghast, at the countless snakes rising over the head of the bouncer: one move and I’m out. The more I stare at them, the more I’m realizing that they are either biting at impostors or charmed by genuine evil souls. At that moment, She knows that I’m in danger. She wakes up and hastily takes over, because only her viciousness will enchant these little demons. Their mouths twist in a vicious rictus.
And once again, I’m falling down the blazing rabbit-hole.

Come. You’ll find me eight floors below.
 
            The first time we heard about this club, we were really troubled and deeply disturbed at the thought of how it works. Eight floors, all built underground. No windows. No clocks. No mobile phones allowed. Time is the enemy down here; its power to change, the continuity of its movement are banished. Only eternity is allowed. It’s a one-way road going downards, you cannot come back to reality by the same stairs: to reach the surface, there is a hidden passage you have to find by yourself. Every level looks alike, if you’re not familiar with the place you lose count almost immediately. The air is heavy, foggy; the light sources are scattered and flashing at a rapid pace, meaning that you will never see the same thing even if you stand still. There is however a little particularity that only the regulars are aware of: if you take a look at the other living beings, you will notice that they are distinct from the previous floors.

First floor. I’m totally blinded by what seems to be a shower of sparks. Millions of light particles are dancing around me, enveloping me and penetrating my skin, muscles, nerves, until they reach the grey matter, and ultimately the core of my soul. Enchanted, I want to be one with the fire, let go of my carnal prison, dilute myself in this universe until I’m nowhere but at the same time everywhere, until I become an ubiquitous energy, ultimately freeing my conscience from any material and earthly obstacles; don’t you dare!!  We already tried that once see where it took us but oddly, I cannot let go of myself, I feel that there’s a war in me oh yes, it’s me against her and something stronger is attracting me from below. I’m hearing the thoughts of someone else IT’S ME! they are coming in successive waves and I’m scared. Maybe I swallowed too much. Again, Anxiety, normally sedated threatens to blow me up, everything is going really fast around me the rapid rhythm of the hard techno is synchronized with my heartbeat I feel the sweat running on my temples the stroboscope blurs everything around me focus please, focus, focus… Suddenly, a cold wave runs over me, from my toes to the top of my head. Anxiety puts its blade arms away, turns back into darkness. I feel sober again. I look around myself, and for the first time, I’m really aware of what’s happening here.

The people filling the room are all richly dressed. Their clothes sparkle in the obscurity; they look like bronze figures of deities. As I get closer, I notice that a mask of gold covers their faces entirely. Faceless statues of an ancient time eroded by excesses and by their lust. These are only women; I can see their breast underneath their armor. Like sorceresses, they turn everything they touch into gold. The room is filled with magnificent beds, sofas but no one lolls into them. In a small alcove in the left corner of the room, an altar; illuminated with candles, some writing: MANEATER. I hear laments, they crave for the feeling of kissing, stroking, licking. This is hell down here, I thought women were free to do whatever they wanted? Behind a glass wall, faces, grinning from ear to ear, watching libidinously the Chamber of Horrors. I had never been aware before of their suffering, I always thought it was a show. It’s strange, I feel like I’m more lucid. She’s not happy.

Oh, I know she’s not happy. I can feel her trying to fill up your veins with her dark viscous poison, the one that immobilizes your willingness, and keep me glued to the bottom of your mind. Me, your Reason, your Happiness, Your real Self.

Throughout the years, I observed. I observed her smallest deeds or gestures. I observed how she manipulated you, with what tools and what words in what order she used. I observed how she faked her pretended feelings for you no, I know she likes me, doesn’t she? Throughout all these years, she pretended that you’d love your body by destroying it. She reversed the mirror. By throwing up, the sensation of the empty stomach would be pleasing but the burning, oh, the burning; by over-exercising you’d feel lighter I couldn’t walk for days; by starving you’d feel powerful, above all these weak people the time I didn’t eat for a week and I fainted in front of everyone and everyone laughed and my father carried me and found out I was thumbing my nose at Newton’s laws; by being thin you would please anyone and all the boys who looked at me with disgust; by taking every kind of drugs you wouldn’t eat for days and I wouldn’t sleep either and all the demons came back at night; by taking drugs even more often you would look inaccessible and you could really feel alive oh yes we felt alive we loved that but we loved that too much and look where it got us? ; by rejecting the physical essence of life, what you loved since you were a child remember I even wanted to be a cook you thought she was the right choice to protect you from the hostile environment in which you evolved. See? It is all wrong: she wants to replace life with death itself. But I don’t want to be dead.

From all this observation, I learned. She doesn’t know, but she’s been teaching me how to beat her. We have to crush Her.
What floor? How much time have I been asleep? Doesn’t matter. I know what I have to do now. Quickly. I don’t know how long I can keep Her quiet me neither it’s now or never. Under a heavy amount of dope, certain floors terrify me, such as the sixth. On a podium, creatures writhe wearing a mask of historic celebrities, but every time they try to talk, blood and snakes spurt from their mouth; the reptiles inundate the floor and wind around my legs, climb up my back and whisper fine words on my physique in my ear. I realize that this surrealist situation might not be a hallucination and that it is really hell down here.

I consider what’s around me, and I understand I am at the seventh floor: one floor to go. It’s the worst one, a materialization of all the fears I internalized, the ones that I buried deep down so that they couldn’t scare me again you have to face them and get rid of them. Women. All extremely skinny, wearing sumptuous clothes, the ones you would expect on a fashion show; they are stunning and smile merrily. When they move too quickly, the fabric of their apparel moves and reveals a big, disgusting mouth in place of their stomach. There are tables of a never-ending length over which lie countless dishes, each one looking more succulent than the other. But I know by experience that they have no taste. They strut like proud peacocks and pretend to ignore what is on the tables; still, as soon as they approach the plates, their large mouths begin to yell in a senseless gibberish; the only words I can distinguish are ADDICTION and STARVATION. Their macabre stroll seems to be going on endlessly. I have to gather all my courage to pass through them and reach the last floor.

We’re almost there.

Eighth floor. It is freezing cold, whereas the previous rooms were rather overheated. I don’t remember ever being here. The room is of a blinding immaculate white, the walls are padded and there are no couches, except for dirty mattresses, stained with unidentified substances. On them, the remains of what were once human individuals: livid, they produce long vociferation like beasts in agony; their white eyes and their mouth half open give them a dazed and disillusioned look. Long hair hangs over their scraggy shoulders; they remind me of ghouls. These human shells move so slowly they seem to be numbed by the cold atmosphere that prevails in here and it’s sure the dope doesn’t help them to be vivid either, still they are begging for more. There is only one armchair at the center of this scene of devastation, where sits the owner of this whole crushing system. Happily grinning from ear to ear, she’s the one that distributes the drugs. At no point in time does she take any of these; but she takes a perverse pleasure in choosing who can get some, starving them until they’re on the verge of dying, and only at this moment she gives them a phenomenal quantity, so that their next withdrawal symptoms torture them always more. She’s exulting to see the vampires jostle weakly to get their dose, tearing each other apart to be the first to get it. She notices me, and I see in her look that she might know me; indeed, she extends her hand toward me. I see that it is full of appetizing little pills of all colors, the ones I’ve been taking for years now, the ones I love, the ones that make me feel so mighty and thin, the ones that make me feel like I’m in control of everything around me RESIST you have to resist otherwise she will win again and this time you will lose me forever yet, curiously, I feel at peace and I don’t want any. She’s trying to persuade me to take them, She does not understand why I’m not already swallowing them, and She begins to get angrier and angrier; at the same time, she becomes darker and darker while I’m seeing the light again! and tries to regain control over my body. I don’t let Her. I have a nameless force helping me to resist Her assaults, all of my muscles tense up, every inch of my body is on alert, my brain is throbbing in order to purge the venom can you feel that you’re coming back to your senses again? my body is going to blow up, lava is running down my ears, tears are flowing down my face, and a long hoarse howling escapes through my lips.

Little by little, the fog that permanently troubles my vision diminishes, while I see a black cloud slowly materializing itself at the corner of the room. A skeletal and slender silhouette is gradually outlined; it’s faceless and has no hair, I can only distinguish her small breasts, and the prominent bones of her chest, ribs, and hips. Her long and thin fingers try one last time to catch me, but I stay stoic. She knows it’s over. Gently, she curls up on the floor and begins to cry.
At the back of the room, a door opens. Behind, the sky is blue.

Open your eyes.
Life can go on.

Life as a Medievalist in the Zoom Era: an Interview with Dr. Juliette Vuille

A black and white picture of Dr Juliette Vuille

Image: © Juliette Vuille.

Author: Lex Rodriguez

Lex: How are you doing today?

Dr. Juliette Vuille: I’m fine, thank you. I’m moving house, so I’m just packing up my apartment, it’s pretty exciting. It’s Monday morning, I’ve just finished correcting mock midterm exams and now I’m seeing you so you are the highlight of my day! Last weekend my friends decided to have a barbecue to enjoy the nice weather but when we arrived it started raining so – oh well!

How did this very odd rentrée go for you?

I think it was a little bit depressing simply because when we moved everything online last semester, there seemed to be an end in sight. We’re now all in semi-confinement again, without much of an idea of when this is going to end. Last time, teaching on Zoom, transferring exactly the same type of teaching we had in person online, was not fun: it was a lot of work. It was ok because I thought, “Well, it’s going to end soon and next semester will be better.”

Since this is my last year at the University and I really like to teach, it was a little bit depressing to see that there’s no end in sight. But by now I think I’m getting into the groove of things! I think the first three weeks were hard, because we didn’t know for the longest time what would happen and how much we’d be able to teach, or how. I had this idea that if teaching was going to be online, I wanted to change what I was going to do, and especially how I was going to do it, because it’s not the same thing to teach online or “en présentiel.” So I thought there’s no point in trying to do a seminar on the same subject, and maybe it would be nice to take advantage of the possibilities of online teaching: my goal was to create a class for which the final project would be to update some Wikipedia entries about medieval English Women, which are so often overlooked, as well as female scholars who have focused on gender in the medieval period. Things like that would have been cool. But then the Décanat told us “you need to keep exactly the same thing because it might move en présentiel and then might be back online.”

I teach a class on Margery Kempe, a fifteenth-century mystic who is very drama-drama-drama! She has fourteen children, she tries to become a brewer and a miller, and then she has visions of God: she gets married to God in Rome and she goes on pilgrimages everywhere… She also cries all the time, which makes her a super annoying dinner guest. I was thinking it might be a good idea to use the component of being online for this class, even though we needed to keep the same subjects. So I created a Twitter handle for the class (@MargeryRocks), and all the students actually tweet out memes every week – and they’re really good! This woman lends herself particularly well to memes and it’s been pretty funny, but also a great didactic tool. Creating those memes is actually a good way for students to clarify for themselves key concepts, and really get the gist out of the reading. It’s been going pretty well.

What classes are you teaching this semester?

I am teaching that class on Margery Kempe, a woman who was accused of heresy and who represents very much the limits of acceptable behaviour in the Medieval Period, especially for women in the public space. That’s a third year class. I’m using her as a limit case for students to grasp the historical context of the time, such as notions of heresy, affective piety, and the practice of pilgrimage. Since she always skirts the unacceptable, she is a great tool to understand what, in fact, is! Besides this one, I have a second year class on the House of Fame by Chaucer, which focuses more on literary authority and intertextuality. I’m having students read bits of Virgil, Ovid, Dante or the Roman de la Rose, for example at the same time as they read the House, so they can gauge how Chaucer is using all of those sources and is referring to them time and again. In the “Discovery” class, you get to study Chaucer but you never get to see how intertextual he really is, how he’s bouncing off ideas that exist somewhere else. If you only have Chaucer to read, you don’t really understand what amazing things he’s doing to the dream vision genre. That’s been really cool. I don’t really know about the students, but I know I’ve really been enjoying myself! Those are the only two classes I’m teaching, only four hours this semester!

We only have one to two MA classes per semester in medieval now. We used to only have one, taught each semester by Professor Renevey, but I really wanted to teach some MA classes, so when Rory Critten and myself arrived three years ago, we lobbied to be able to teach one each every year. I love teaching MA seminars, and I allows us to have students who want to do their mémoires with us as well!

You had to take care of the timetables, so how did everything go in relation to the covid regulations?

Every person in the administrative department has their little hat on, so for example I take care, with other people, of the social media page on Facebook. My biggest job by far though, is the timetable, which I work on with Ana Gomes Correia, the doctoral assistant in American Literature, who is really good. Usually we start compiling the timetable every year, it’s about 120 different classes, and the goal is not to have any clashes between classes of the same level, especially MAs (because we don’t have many such seminars) but also second and third years. Once we removed as many clashes as we can, there’s one form per class that has to be filled, with a different code depending on what you can validate it in. So for example if you have a third year class that you can do as an option, in medieval, or in gender studies then it will have different codes for each of these validations. We then have to check all of those codes.

This year, things weren’t so different, because we had no choice over what was going to happen, and therefore prepared everything as usual. It was the Décanat dealing with the Rectorat – so between the University that wanted to keep a third of the teaching en présentiel with a token system, and the Décanat, which disagreed. It was also a back-and-forth with the Canton, because they had to validate it as well so we were all waiting to know what was going to happen. When we were told, there was a bit of work to deal with new “covid size” classroom occupancy, as each room was evaluated and its occupancy was reduced by about a third. Occupancy is always a problem even in normal times, as you probably have experienced by having to sit on the window-sill for some of your popular seminars! So we had to move a lot of classes around and then we realised it was all for nothing because most of those classes were not happening in person! Now a lot of people are teaching from 8:30 to 10 because we had to change that and everybody had already made their timetable. It was a little tricky, but not as much as you may think. The Décanat did the main part of the work and were key in the decision-making process. I think that their decision to keep as many of the first-year workshops en présentiel was a good one. The transition from high school to university can be tough, and last year I saw that a lot of first year students lost track of classes when it all moved online. It was a good idea, therefore, to keep as many first-year workshops as possible in person, I just wish I were teaching first-year classes this semester! At the same time, I think that in the next couple of weeks, everything is moving back online anyway. (Editor’s note: this interview was conducted on the 26th of October)

Do you have any classes en présence?

Lex: I have one class that is taught “en commodal” which means that the students who have the right colour token can physically go to uni, and the rest of the students follow online, which is a bit weird honestly.

Juliette: I’m part of the Conseil de Faculté and a lot of the students are saying “if you’re moving things back on campus (which is what has been happening in the past few weeks) only to move then back online again, it needs to be “commodal,” but this type of teaching is not ideal for teachers. And “commodal” is funny to me because “commode” is an old-fashioned word for toilet in English so it makes me laugh! I taught this MA seminar in the context of the SPEC MA in medieval studies (overseen by the CEMEP) (editor’s note: Juliette was in charge of organising this spécialisation programme last year), and we organised conferences and public lectures at the Palais the Rumine for this. The last time I taught in person was on the 13th of March, for one of the mini-conferences for this SPEC MA! It feels such a long time ago! Last semester, my MA seminar which was linked to this SPEC moved online, and the students only had my voice and a PowerPoint, which must have been really boring for them. This SPEC MA, however, is not only lectures, but is also intended to develop “professionalizing skills”, often involving practical work in archives or museums. So for example one of my students was scheduled to help Ramona Fritschi, the archivist of the BCU, in cataloguing the Special Collections’ medieval manuscripts – because there actually isn’t a catalogue of them yet. Since however everything closed, we had to find something else for the students who needed to do practical work. I managed to find images of an as-yet unedited Middle English text, which the student transcribed, and which we are now planning on publishing as an edition!

If we take an optimistic point of view, what are some positive aspects of this situation?

Well, all my students know my cat now! (We laugh) I think one positive aspect for me as a researcher is that in normal times we go to a lot of conferences overseas, especially during the Summer. Since most were cancelled this year, there was much more time for research and just to read. So that was nice, I managed to finish my first book! Holy Harlots in Medieval English Religious Literature: Authority, Exemplarity and Femininity. I also had time to do more work on my other project which is about messenger figures in Chaucer’s works, and how they act as metapoetic devices for the author to represent himself in his poems, as a poet transmitting stories just as messenger convey news. In other ways, the situation had a negative impact, because it gets really tiresome to communicate with other researchers via Zoom and Skype. But actually this type of communication also allowed me to get closer to my colleagues based in the US because I’m always home and we Skype every day. On the other hand, I communicate less with my colleagues in Lausanne. So there’s good and bad!

For teaching, I don’t know… Some teachers said that some students contribute more via Zoom than they used to in person. But the problem is that some students don’t have access to a good internet connection or a good microphone so they’re effectively silenced by technology, a real shame, and something that discriminates between well off students and others. That’s why I do my best to record my classes, but then there are legal problems with that as well, because one has to make sure that it’s alright to record the Zoom meeting with every student. Also, there’s the problem of students who have several classes at the same time. Sometimes they might choose to never go to the one class that is recorded, and as you may know, watching something that is recorded takes twice as much time than actually following it live. For example, you pause the recording because you didn’t understand something, and you can’t ask questions, and so on, so it’s not that great. This is a very unusual situation, and trying to pretend as though it’s the same as before, and that people can learn the same way they could in person, or that you can do the same amount of work is illusory. So I’ve been trying to adapt it. I tried to plan the same amount of work for my classes as usual, but I realised, “this is not going to happen” so I altered some readings because in class we don’t have time to discuss all the material. Everything takes more time: for instance, you start the class and you have to wait for everyone to connect, or you create a breakout room and people take time to leave, and come back.

Are you on campus sometimes or do you only work from home?

I try to go to campus once a week, but last week it’s been recommended that we don’t come. I have this very nice apartment, very medieval because it’s right next to the cathedral of Lausanne, but it’s been a bit claustrophobic: it doesn’t have a balcony or anything. Right now I’m talking to you from my kitchen table, which doubles as my office desk! This led me to decide to move to the mountains, near Sion in Valais where I’m going to rent a chalet with a garden, for the same price as this apartment! Right now, there’s no point being in town, really. I’m moving for a year. In the future I think I’m going to go on campus twice a week to have meetings and go to the library. Right now I usually just go to the library and come back home. I have the chance, unlike most people, to be able to work from home completely: I can do almost everything online, apart from going to the library. It’s just a little bit depressing to stay in my apartment, so I like going on campus but I don’t know for how long I’m going to be able to do that. The recommendation is “don’t go if you don’t have to” and sadly I don’t always have to.

Now for more personal quarantine-related questions. Do you have a favourite mask?

I have quite a few of the fabric ones, I wash them all the time. I do like to accessorize so if I’m wearing red, I wear a red mask.

We all talk about COVID-19 a lot and we all have different names to call it. Some people came up with creative names like “the Rona.” Do you have a favourite way to refer to it?

I guess I just use “the pandemic” but I feel everybody is always talking about it, so I mostly just try and avoid the subject.

What did you binge-watch during quarantine?

I think that, surprisingly, I watched less TV than usual! But to answer the question, well, there are stupid things I like to wath. There’s what I call “massage of the brain” TV series, like Brooklyn 99. What is cool about that show is that they develop a very specific language, and with my friends we speak like the characters and meet up on Zoom to watch the show together. We have private jokes about it, and even matching t-shirts (pineapple sluts, anyone?). Apart from that, I’ve been watching movies, French movies, Japanese movies, … I haven’t watched so many TV shows.

Now a few questions to get the readers to know you better! Do you have a favourite beverage at the moment?

Let me think about it… Well I have some friends who have a brewery called La Mine and their beers all have names with “mine” in it, like “La Parchemine,” which I of course love because I’m a medievalist geek (laughs). Otherwise, I’ve been drinking artisanal beer from local breweries in Suisse Romande. Ever since I’ve lived in England where there are so many artisanal beers from microbreweries, I’ve been interested in them and in ale. I also like gin and tonic and whiskey. Otherwise, I’m a big tea and coffee drinker. I always have my cup of tea when I’m teaching. Kevin Curran and I always have a cup when we teach, and we often teach in adjoining rooms, so we often run into each other while going to our respective classrooms each with our own cup! I have my special cup that I like to use for teaching. It’s all black but when you pour hot water into it, it reveals a manuscript page.

What’s the last book you’ve finished reading?

I’m always reading four or five books at the same time. Right now I’m reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, she’s an amazing author. It’s about an Indian scientist who immigrates to the US. I’m also reading the end of the Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel. She mostly writes historical novels. She won the Booker prize for the first two books in this trilogy. It’s about Thomas Cromwell and Henry the VIIIth. What impressed me about her is that, in my research I have studied an early XVIth century mystic, Elizabeth Barton, who is commonly referred to as the first martyr of Henry the VIIIth’s reformation. Barton only constitutes a quite insignificant character in Mantel’s book, but she had read all of the sources I had found on her for my research! That is very impressive for a fiction writer. However her last book is a bit too long, if I am honest, that’s why I read Lahiri at the same time.

Quickfire round!
Cats or dogs?

I’m usually a dog person but I got roped into adopting a cat and I love her!

Christmas or Halloween?

Christmas.

Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter?

Very good question! I would say Lord of the Rings because I read it as a child and I loved it. But Harry Potter is how I learned English. I had never done English at school (preferring the infinitely more useful Ancient Greek as an option), so when I was 17 and wanted to take English at Uni, I went to England and there read Harry Potter in English, as it was not too difficult for a beginner to read, so I associate it with one of the best discoveries of my life: the English language.

Chocolate: dark, milk or white?

Dark and milk chocolate, the ones that are real chocolate (laughs). White is too sugary.

So that was all for today! Thank you very much Juliette!

I really miss human contact so whenever I can get a bit of it through Zoom, I really appreciate it. Chatting with Juliette was really nice and enjoyable!

Prose texts by Lara Lambelet

Photograph of an old british-looking house façade seen through a window. A plant's silhouette is visible on the foreground.

Images: © Lara Lambelet.

Author: Lara Lambelet

Twilight

I see a meadow full of light. We wander here and there, hand in hand, tracing the course of our lives. Your smile pierces me. This apparent joy, covering your face with two small dimples, inspires me deeply. The moment was long overdue, but you are here now. I won’t let you go. My fingers close even tighter against your palm. I feel your pulse racing as my lips draw closer to your mouth. Your breath caresses my face. Our eyes are one; immersed in each other, I lose myself in the infinity of your soul. My tongue runs greedily through your lower lip, then my teeth take over and bite it. You abandon yourself to me, in full confidence, with equal power and filled with love. Then we lie down among budding daisies. An aroma that is no stranger to me gets me drunk.  I let myself be rocked in your arms and close my eyes. Your skin is warm, as I remember. It emanates a familiar and reassuring smell. I huddle up against your chest. My hair tickles the tip of your nose. My head rises and falls as you breathe. It’s peaceful. Our hands haven’t separated. No one knows where the key is to the invisible handcuffs of desire, love and respect that unite us. I observe this complicity, this unique bond that, despite the pain, continues to grow between us. “I am here now. “, you whisper in my ear. I know that. I’ve always known it even though you didn’t believe in it anymore. My eyelids are opening to the light again. The return breaks my heart. But there’s a spark of hope in me. I know, this twilight reverie is only the beginning of our story.

Writing exercise with words

  • love
  • hope
  • bitch
  • water
  • pneumothorax
  • architecture

Even if you wished it, you can’t touch me. I am as subtle as the calm water of a river that pours into its vast ocean; trading, inconspicuously, tranquillity for power. Hope will blossom in you once you get to know me. My presence could take your breath away, like the terrible pain of a pneumothorax. Some of you may have the architecture to contain me so I’ll be able to flourish harmoniously. But one day, whatever your predisposition, you’ll come to the conclusion that I’m a real bitch. Who am I? My name is Love.

Paradigm shift

The frenetic rush, like a continuous wave ending its race against the rocks, which had formed in the local supermarket, reflected the magnitude of the situation.

The population threw themselves on the disinfectant gel

CHF 400 per liter: the story of the merchant who made his fortune on the back of the panic that ensued.

The “man-made virus” or how some people always find a way to build conspiracy upon conspiracy…

Huang Yang: the Chinese restaurant that forbids the entry to Chinese people

I was tired of those headlines. Grotesque. Gargantuan. Such euphoria projected onto a world, which, as we all remember, once knew pandemics of greater scope and severity. I fold up the newspaper, put it on the seat next to me. An old lady, wearing heavy make-up, looks at me intensely. “Do you want my picture?” I think, stunned by this rudeness. To my left, a handful of women and men of all ages had donned the newest fashion accessory. In bluish tones, sometimes white and even green, for the most highly rated people, the mask had its charm. I didn’t wear one. In this pre-apocalyptic atmosphere, I felt a sense of disobedience, a deliberate and assertive non-conformism. The face of the crowd, as usual, was pale. “Virus or not, it’s crazy how demoralizing people are,” I thought. Lausanne station. I gather my things and get tired of getting off the train, crowded with students, workers, and other passengers in a hurry for whatever destiny. Lost in my morning ruminations (to tell the truth, I am no better than these people whom I despise, as far as I can see), I finally arrive in front of my building. It is, more or less, deserted. I push the door of the sanitary facilities and begin my daily ritual: washing my hands with soap, after applying and soaping for thirty seconds, drying and using my personal gel. It’s a small thing, but I’m getting on with it. After all, I’ve always been a stickler for hygiene. Maniac. That’s when my phone rings to notify me of a new notification. I read: “Dear students, this week’s classes and seminars are cancelled. This cessation is of indefinite duration. In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful quarantine”.

Photograph of a window whose panes are covered in condensation, with houses and trees visible in the distance.
Quarantine’s Introspection

Quarantine’s introspection

All by myself. Don’t wanna be. All by myself. Anymore…

The needle transmitting the vibrations of the 33 rpm emits a gentle humming sound. I had taken my father’s record player out, then dusted off the shiny surface with a cloth. With its aquamarine colour, I take pleasure in contemplating the beauty of this object from another time. Under a subdued light, I imagine the shy arms of lovers waddling on a slow dance. The trembling hand of the young man struggles to grasp the hip of his dance partner. “Ah… what a beautiful time. “, I meditate. The mere sight of two people, body against body, gives me goose bumps. Two metres apart. One of the recommendations that keeps running through my head.  By the way, this word “recommendation”, can we talk about it? A small disillusioned smile appears on my face. A grin maybe. I don’t know if I have the desire or even the strength to express myself on this confinement. The needle ends its course along the vinyl. Silence dominates my thoughts. It’s crazy how time seems to widen day by day. The minutes are hours and the hours are flowing drop by drop. There’s a knock on the door. “Yes, what do you want? “I ask my roommate as politely as I can. James, whose stubbornness seems to me to be accentuated by the confinement, interrupts my sudden contemplation with the intention of suggesting a game of chess. “A game of chess? No, but would he have taken a single second to get to know me? “. I answer no with my head and look away. The sound of footsteps leaving the room relieves me. I get up and walk towards the window. The sun is already hanging high in the sky. It must certainly be noon. But then, I have no idea. Since the first day, my watch has been resting in the drawer of my bedside table. In fact, since this new paradigm, I’m gradually listening to my body even more. My stomach is gurgling. Noon. Yes, it is. He’s right. “Oh, you can wait a little longer,” I ask him calmly. To paint. I hurry in giant steps towards the glass closet in the living room. Facing it, my reflection blinds me. My hair is a mess. I suddenly grab the handle, take the first tubes and brushes and close the door. A yo-yo, going up and down indefinitely. That’s how I would describe my moods. “What did I want to do again? “. I stare at the canvas. A memory crosses my mind and floods the thick paper with pigmentation. Pistachio, emerald and persimmon: the shades unite and oppose each other. With the tip of the brush, I trace a scarlet massif. Before my eyes, a bucolic landscape tells its story. As my painting is about to come to life, my sense of smell is seized by a delicate perfume. The perfect blend of ginger and lemongrass. The smoke from the cup of tea, sneakily deposited by my roommate, mists my glasses. I am as if magnetized by the enchanting scent. My lips test the temperature of the water. “I wonder what he’s doing. Certainly, paperwork or settling a thousand and one management problems with panache.” I smile and see his gaze plunged into mine. His lips touching mine. His last words resonate with me: don’t forget me.

Poems by Lara Lambelet

A black-and-white photography of a man and a woman in the nude standing with their back to the viewer, overlapping is the outline of a tree

Images: © Lara Lambelet.

Author: Lara Lambelet

Poems and short notes

Your bombastic way of showing off love made me giggle. I could not properly gage thy truth and had to shed my salty prejudices.

Wrapped in ivy, the intricacy of your heart pinched my lips.

I knew he loved me the moment he started looking at me so intensely with a soft smile and a deep silence that meant everything.

On the verge of joyfully exploding in a rain of sensations, let us live our absconding love.

Let me taste your lips as if they were my ultimate and everlasting meal.

We are endless books whose blank pages to blacken are added day after day in the libraries of our lives.

I gasped deeply, consumed by the sparkling feeling spreading inside me, as our sights met each other.

I cannot resent you for falling in love with me.
I wouldn’t blame myself for letting you steal my heart, either.

Photograph of sand dunes, with 2 silhouettes in the distance and the sea visible at the horizon.
To my darling

To my darling

I don’t know if your thoughts sometimes move slowly towards me, if your heart is in love with the same overflowing feeling as before, but I know that you will always be a person who has turned my life upside down and taught me what love is.

Should I?

Should one let oneself fall prey to love?
❤️
Isn’t it a genuinely perilous attempt?
❤️
I suspect I’m not alone in believing the answer is no.
❤️
An underrated emotion which has overwhelmed more than one.
❤️
“I love you”, these misused words which frightened the best of us, have been endlessly and secretly whispered.
❤️
From whom could I steal the credit for teaching me how to truly love?