Web Exclusives: Raising Kate

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

October 22, 2003:

Fall and falling down
Classes, parties, and the Jewish new year


The Return of Ambassador Finn *78

Every Thursday at 1:30 p.m., the course Current Perspectives on Central Asia meets on the third floor of the Frist Campus Center. The three-hour seminar, held once a week, is taught by Professor Robert Finn *78, former ambassador to Afghanistan.

Current Perspectives was not in the course listings distributed last spring, and many students did not hear about it until the first week of classes this fall. Even so, almost 25 students enrolled in the class, enough that it had to be moved from the oak-paneled seminar room in Jones Hall to a larger location in Frist.

Most of the students in the seminar are from the Near Eastern studies department, although there are many MPA candidates, including a Canadian diplomat, from the Woodrow Wilson School. The MPA candidates have worked in places like Ashgabat and Tashkent, and converse intelligently about President Nursultan Nazarbaev's domination of the Kazakh media and about environmental problems in the Aral Sea. Predictably, there's a lot of shoptalk, prefaced with comments like "when I was swimming in the Caspian back in '98" and "that time I was mugged by a cabdriver in Bishkek."

Professor Finn, who peppers his speech with words like "irascible" and "assiduous" is, at first glance, entirely too tall and too well-dressed to be a Princeton professor. Additionally, he has made the almost-unheard of pledge that his seminar would be entertaining. He has promised to bring in boxes of photographs of his travels, and said that he would have brought in his collection of Central Asian hats if they had not been appropriated the year before by his son Ed '03.

"My son wanted them for a party at Terrace. I can't imagine what happened to them there," Finn said.


Terrace: Plus Ça Change

Terrace Club has changed a lot while remaining exactly the same.

First there was the taproom renovation, financed by an increase in dues to the Washington Road Fund — Terrace's slush fund for beer — from $100 to $200. The new taproom is just like the old one — fetid and dirty. Even the plastic torso is still hanging out by the bar. The officers say the taproom is more roomy, which could be true, but all the cigarette smoke makes it hard to tell.

Then came the Ivy Diaspora — the influx of five or so people who left Ivy Club because either the food was lousy or because no one there liked them, depending on who you talk to. The transition has been rough, with rumors flying that the former Ivy members, accustomed to having their meals ferried to them by the kitchen staff, were leaving their plates on the tables at Terrace rather than taking them to the window in the kitchen, scraping them clean, and dropping their utensils off in the sudsy water. Turns out those were rumors.

The only thing that stands out more than the new members is the new carpeting, which makes everything else in the club look shabby. I came to Terrace one afternoon to study when I ran into an alum who was inspecting the new carpet forlornly.

"It looks pretty good, doesn't it?" I asked.

"We'll see how long it stays that way. There were a lot of cigarette burns in the old one," he said.

And lots of chocolate syrup and Jello, I wanted to add.

Someone once told me that Terrace used to be the club for jocks and that the alumni board isn't happy with the club's current identity. I don't know if that's true, but I do know there's steady, sad trickle of alumni who, before heading off to watch Princeton blow another home football game, drop by to pay a visit to their old eating club. They don't look nostalgic so much as scared and slightly sick to their stomachs.

A week ago Terrace had one of its theme dinners for which its members go all-out. The theme was Wild Wild West, and standard attire for that night was holsters, cowboy hats, corsets, and fishnet stockings (there was a prize for best desperado and best whore). The food was corn on the cob, biscuits, and barbeque ribs. Because the theme dinner coincided with Cocktail Night — every Thursday is Cocktail Night — there was whiskey in addition to the standard fountain soda and pink-tinged water. Because there was whiskey, one of the club members was passed out on the front lawn wearing nothing but a cowboy hat. At one point I noticed a white-haired man in a suit pick his way up the front drive and, with visible trepidation, enter the club.


Shofar Factory

Lest one think that Terrace is all debauchery all the time, the arrival of the Tzivos Hashem Shofar Factory should prove otherwise. At noon on September 22, a large blue van pulled up on the front lawn of the club and discharged one Rabbi Michoel Albukurk and several taxidermied animal heads. Rabbi Albukurk had come from Brooklyn on a mission: to explain the mystical significance of the shofar and to show Princeton students how to craft their own.

The shofar is a curved musical instrument generally made from the horn of a ram, although any kosher animal with hollow horns is fair game. It is blown on Rosh Hashanah — or the day after if the holiday falls on Shabbat — in commemoration of God sparing Isaac and instructing Abraham to sacrifice a ram in his place. Jews are commanded to hear 100 blasts of the shofar on the Jewish New Year.

Rabbi Albukurk got to work with a power drill, mounting the animal heads on a large board of Astroturf that he leaned against the side of the van. A circle of students formed around him on the grass; more drifted out of Terrace and made their way over to the strange spectacle. Most were still eating their lunches.

"What do you think about my friends? You know, my dear friend over there who hangs around with me?" Albukurk asked, gesturing to one of the heads. "Is the deer a kosher animal? Can you make a shofar out of it?"

The deer is kosher — it has cloven hooves — but its horns are not hollow, and are therefore not suitable for shofars.

"For all you vegetarians out there, blowing a plastic horn on Rosh Hashanah won't cut it." Rabbi Albukurk continued. "God's not going to say, 'Oh look, he blew the shofar.' God's going to say something else."

Making a shofar is a messy business. It involves foul-smelling chemicals to soften the cartilage, metal tongs to pull it from the keratin sheath, and hacksaws to cut a mouthpiece at the tip of the horn. The hardest part is yet to come — blowing the shofar so that it produces a deep, sonorous blast.

You can reach Kate at kswearen@princeton.edu