Web Exclusives: Raising Kate
a PAW web exclusive column by Kate Swearengen '04 (kswearen@princeton.edu)

May 14, 2003:
Spring at Princeton

Lambs, grades, and SARS

Lamb Roast: Those members of the Princeton community who spurn the Gregorian calendar in favor of the Julian celebrated Pascha, or Eastern Orthodox Easter, on April 27, on the lawn of the Hellenic Studies building, at 43 Prospect Street.

It was a sunny day, slightly cool, but warmer than those that had preceded it — perfect weather for the traditional Easter lamb roast.

The crowd was not expected until early afternoon, but a handful of people — some Greek graduate students and professors, the bartender, and a lone Serbian — started straggling in around 8:30 a.m. Under the direction of Antonis-from-Olives, preparations were made for the lamb roast. Twin metal grates were placed on the ground, and piles of charcoal briquets were heaped on top. After some debate, the stakes that would form the supports of the spit were hammered into the ground. In these matters, precision is critical — too low to the flames, and the outside of the lamb will burn before the interior cooks properly; too far from the flames, and the meal won't be ready until midnight. The lambs themselves were placed over the coals at 9:00 a.m., and the ouzo made its debut not long after. Everyone took turns cooking the lamb — an average stay at the spit was 10 minutes, less if the wind was blowing hard, longer if the person at the crank had someone to ferry drinks to him. Those practiced in the art of lamb roasting turned the spit with a graceful, languid motion; the neophytes cranked with exuberance.

The lamb roasting was carried out in the side lawn, just across a low stone wall from Tiger Inn's horseshoe pit. In the past, T.I. members have been known to join the Pascha festivities when their own beer runs out. This year, the only marauders were an inquisitive Public Safety officer and a young couple who jogged by on the sidewalk with their baby carriage and peered, aghast, at the roasting lambs.

In the past, Pascha has coincided with Lawnparties, the Sunday before Reading Period when undergraduates don pastel frocks and flock to the Street for a champagne breakfast and an afternoon of live music. Lawnparties cap off Houseparties, the two nights of strenuous drinking and partying conducted at the eating clubs. By the time they hit the Street on Sunday, the undergraduates are blurry and hungover. The sight of skinned lambs, their heads intact and their legs bound to the spits with wire, unnerves them. This year, Lawnparties were scheduled for the following week, and so the day passed peacefully, without the squalls and frenetic drumming that used to emanate from the neighboring Eating Clubs. The crowd listened to Greek songs, played on a portable stereo that one of the graduate students had brought:

"The river has carried us away.

Take off the black clothes, take them off, my little Helen,

My desire has consumed me."

"I am not taking off the black clothes because they look nice on me.

I am young, I am dark-haired, and they become me."

"And this little ribbon you put in your hair, never put it on again, my Helen,

Because you make the boys wither."

"I will always wear this little black ribbon.

I am young, I am lovely, the most beautiful in the village."

The majority of the crowd was Greek, but there were many exceptions — the eclectic gathering included Professor Peter Brown of the history department, a French couple from New York City, and a graduate student from NYU, originally from Hong Kong, who makes a special trip to Princeton each spring for the lamb roast.

As the afternoon went on, the beasts browned nicely. From time to time, Antonis painted them with a mixture of olive oil and oregano that he had mixed in a plastic bucket. Although the lamb itself would not be ready until 4:00 p.m., long after this writer left, plates of pita bread, olives, and cheese were set out to tide the crowd over.

Professor Brown approached a tray of fried organ meat. I asked him if he knew what it was.

"As long as you don't tell me, I'll eat it," he said, grinning.


Out of the Doghouse: After a thorough spanking stemming from his recent diatribe against Princeton graduate students, English Professor John Fleming has come out in defense of Princeton's grading practices. In his April 28 Daily Princetonian column, Fleming made the oft — but not overly stated — point that there's no reason why Princeton students, who are the best in the country, should not be making A's. That is, maybe grade inflation doesn't really exist at Princeton.

"Forget the students for a moment, and turn your attention to the Princeton faculty. Is our dean, president, or provost willing to declare publicly that most professors at Princeton cannot be placed in the top category of ability and performance, that most of us are in fact "C" professors?"

Fleming went on to speculate as to the faculty reaction if the University administration decided that only a set number of professors were of "A" caliber, and then adjusted their salaries accordingly. Well done, Professor Fleming, well done.


SARS Scare: In addition to carrying regular updates on the Homeland Security status, the Princeton website is now providing information about the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic. The posting has generated some criticism and a great deal of amusement from Princeton students and faculty, for whom the greatest threat to Old Nassau had hitherto been the possibility that the Frist deli would run out of brie.

Nevertheless, the website posting has also generated some paranoia. Bertrand, a friend of mine in the Program in Applied and Computational Mathematics, panicked when his Chinese officemate, who had been sick, disappeared for a week.

"Min told me on Friday that he had a cold, and that I would probably catch it because the ventilation in the building is bad. I didn't say anything, because I thought he had caught my cold in the first place."

The next day, Min did not show up at the office. When Bertrand went home to the Butler Apartments, he found a medical team, wearing face masks and carrying a stretcher, waiting outside his colleague's unit. An ambulance was parked outside.

"It's SARS," Bertrand told me gloomily that evening.

"You'll be fine."

"Fine, except that I'm going to die."

Two days later, Min had still not returned to his office.

"He is definitely dead," said Bertrand, explaining that Min practically lived in the math building, and that only a mortal sickness could explain his absence.

I picked up a mug, still full of tea, sitting on Min's desk.

"Don't touch anything!"

But a few days later, Min reappeared at his office, sniffling and a little pale, but no worse for wear. It turns out that Min had called the Princeton Medical Center to request transport; when his phone battery died, midway through the call, he assumed that the hospital had not received the message, and drove himself to the emergency room. So much for the Princeton SARS epidemic.


You can reach Kate Swearengen at kswearen@princeton.edu