1.) What, specifically, is your field of study? And how does it relate to international issues?
I work in various areas of Russian culture, including literature, language, art, and cuisine. More broadly, I work in the relatively new field of food studies, which carries me all over the world. One of the best ways to begin to understand another culture is through its foodways. Perhaps even more important is that many of the most pressing global issues of the 21st century have to do with food and the politics that surround it.
2.) What brought you to Williams?
Believe it or not, I never officially went on the job market. I was hired right out of graduate school by Michael Katz, then chair of the Russian Department, whom I had met on a summer program in Leningrad. That was 28 years ago, and I’ve been here ever since!
3.) If you could travel to one place, right now, where would you go and why?
I’m planning a trip to Russia’s Far North. It has a rich and sad history as the site of many labor camps during the Stalin era. Yet thanks to its remoteness much of it is ecologically pure—the Barents Sea cod are the last sustainable wild stock anywhere. I have traveled through much of Russia but visited the Far North only fleetingly. Now I want to experience its distinctive culture, its sea-focused existence. If I travel there in the depths of winter, I will be illuminated by the northern lights.
4.) What were your first impressions of Williams when you arrived? Have they changed?
To me, coming from the open expanses of California, Williams—and Williamstown—seemed hemmed in by the mountains. I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate the considerable charms of the Purple Valley. When I got my class rosters each year, I could rattle off all the students’ names, they were that recognizable. Now the world has entered my classroom, and I sometimes stumble when first pronouncing a name. This pleases me no end, because it shows how far the College has come in opening up to all that lies beyond these hills. Williams is a much more interesting place now.
5.) What are you reading at the moment?
I just finished Edmund de Waal’s “The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Family’s Century of Art and Loss,” which traces his family history from its modest origins in Odessa to the creation of the Ephrussi banking dynasty in Paris and Vienna. Ultimately the family’s fantastic wealth was lost, and the family itself dispersed, when the Nazis occupied Austria. It’s a very affecting story.