After doing her best vulture impression in order to snag a table at the overly-crowded Temple of Zeus, 10 Questions columnist Alex Kuczynski-Brown ’12 sat down with fencing team co-captain and fellow Government major Rebecca Hirschfeld ‘12. Despite her best efforts, Alex was not able to solicit any gossip on the top U.S. Olympian fencers. That being said, she did manage to work in a few questions about reality T.V. guilty pleasures, personalized yoga, gypsies and the butter crisis in Norway.
1. So I was looking at your CornellBigRed.com profile and reading over that, and I saw that your father fenced for Yale, you have two uncles who fenced for Harvard, one who fenced for Trinity ... so instead of asking how you came to start fencing, I was wondering if you could talk about how your family came to become such a big fencing family?
I guess they tried it out and liked it and then once the older brother starts doing it, then the younger ones follow. My mom and her brother grew up on Long Island, and Long Island has really good fencing teams in its high schools and stuff, so I guess he did it as a P.E. and liked it as well. And then my cousins actually fenced when they were younger. It’s just kind of word-of-mouth, it’s a word-of-mouth sport I guess.
At what age did you pick it up?
I started really young — I was about seven when I started, and I actually had my first competition when I was eight or nine.
You went to Horace Mann — did you join their team as a freshman?
Yes, I did. I had already been fencing in national competitions, but they had a team, and I thought it would be a nice thing to do. ... I had never been on a fencing team before, so I thought it would be a cool experience, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I decided I wanted to join a fencing team.
What was it about Cornell’s fencing program that made you want to come here?
I really just liked the coach a lot. She’s a really, really amazing foil coach, and I’m a foil fencer. She seemed like someone who could really just help me improve a lot, and she definitely has — and it’s totally been everything I wanted. The team seemed like a nice group of girls, and I really liked Cornell, I liked the campus — and to get an Ivy League education at the same time seemed like a pretty good deal.
Do you and your dad ever exchange friendly banter over the fact that he went to Yale, you go to Cornell, and you’re both fencers?
Not really, actually. His coach is actually the same coach who is there today. He’s an old guy, but he looks really good — he looks really young. And he was actually pretty mean to my dad and he’s a pretty intense coach, so that was — I guess — one of the reasons why I didn’t want to go to Yale, because I didn’t want to deal with that.
2. Fair enough. So I understand you’re from New York City’s Upper East Side, but like many Upper East Siders that I know, you’re not a big fan of the show Gossip Girl?
I liked it in the beginning, but then it just got a little weird and crazy.
I agree. First two seasons were good, but then after that ... I don’t know why I keep watching.
Yeah, exactly. I’ve seen it being filmed a bunch of times by my house, and that’s cool to see the actors and stuff. But yeah, I lost track of it a little bit. But one of my roommates watches it; she keeps me updated on events that I need to know about.
Well that’s interesting, because one of your former teammates claims that you’re something of a gossip girl yourself, in that you always seem to have all the gossip on all the top fencers in the U.S. and abroad, including some Olympians.
I don’t know, I guess I’m friendly; I like to be friends with people, and they tell me stuff. But I don’t tell people anything. I just kind of like to know, but I don’t use my information for evil, so to speak. I just keep it to myself.
So no dirt you can share? Not that I know many fencers.
No, I never share ... most of it’s just I’m friendly with a lot of people and they feel comfortable telling me stuff, but I promise to keep it quiet.
3. I’m told that after a fencing tournament your hand resembles a dinosaur claw ... so if you could explain that?
[laughing] Well, basically, towards the beginning of the season, I guess my hand lost some muscle ... you have to have a very strong hand to be a fencer, and over the summer, it loses some of its strength, I guess. So especially towards the beginning of the season, it just kind of cramps up a lot after a tournament. You don’t really feel it when you’re in the tournament because you’re just fencing and all the adrenaline’s going, but then afterwards you try to change and take a shower or whatever and get dressed, and my hand just cramped up so much ... two years ago it was the worse, I couldn’t even brush my hair — it just got stuck in this claw.
That sounds so painful.
It was more frightening than anything because I’m a little bit of a hypochondriac ...
... so I was like “Oh my god — is it not going to go back to normal?!”
Is that where your pterodactyl noises came from?
I don’t do pterodactyl noises, as far as I know. My best friend, Christine Vlasic ’12, does pterodactyl noises.
Okay, I was told that you did some fantastic noises.
No, all of my noises are just imitations of her beautiful pterodactyl noise.
Is there any record of what a pterodactyl actually sounds like? Cause I would just be going off of Jurassic Park, or something.
Yeah, she does it pretty accurately. It’s literally like that. I’m not going to do it for you — I’m going to wait for you to hear the real thing one day.
4. Why do you consider yourself a gypsy?
[laughing] Well, I spent a good amount of time in Eastern Europe; I traveled a lot, and I guess a lot of my friends are from Eastern Europe, and they’re always talking about gypsies and how sneaky they are and stuff. And I guess I’m kind of sneaky sometimes — I like to finagle certain things my way, or try to get things to work out the best way they can, so I joke that I am a gypsy.
One of your friends was telling me this story about ... you studied abroad in Russia, was it last year? —
— And you were at a gypsy concert, and you witnessed an actual gypsy doing something?
That was the best thing ever. [laughing] Yeah, so we were in this weird place in south Russia, and we heard that there was this guy — a pretty famous gypsy — and my friends knew about it, so we bought tickets. We ended up sitting really close to the front, which was awesome. We were all having a good time ... and then I look over, and [this female gypsy] sitting in front of me has this envelope and I’m like “What — is she going to mail a letter right now? What’s she doing?” So she pulls out an envelope and then she opens it, and this butterfly comes out, and she just let a butterfly out of an envelope in the middle of a concert, and it was fluttering around the room for the remainder of the concert, and I was just in shock. I couldn’t believe what had happened. I texted so many people, I emailed people — I was like “You guys will never believe what just happened — gypsy concert, butterflies being let out, crazy times.”
I’m not too familiar with gypsies, so what do they do — is that similar to what a magician would do?
Gypsies are just ... I don’t know, it’s a very versatile word. It’s just kind of fun ... potentially shady people, but they’re very nice in general I would say ... I’ve gotten a very weird sense of the word. I probably use “gypsy” too much after hanging out with my friends from Eastern Europe.
5. I was looking at some pictures from all your European adventures, and I noticed you went to an ice bar in Stockholm. And I’m just fascinated by ice bars — I’ve never been to one — so I was wondering if you could tell me what that was like?
Yeah, they’re so cool. That was awesome. I went with my best friend from here; she was studying abroad in Spain, and I was in Moscow. So we decided I needed a break from Eastern Europe a little bit, and she had a holiday so we went to Stockholm and I had heard from my friends that there was this really cool ice bar there, and we went. It was awesome; it was totally cold — you had to wear fur coats and stuff. All the seats were ice, and all the walls were ice. Even cups and stuff were all ice. It was cool, but you could only stay in there for a little bit, I guess because it was too cold. ... I don’t even know how long it was, probably 20 minutes or a half hour, but it was totally worth it — you should try it.
6. How did you get the nickname “Pocket Elf”?
Basically, I hang out with two awesome girls. One’s on the basketball team, one’s on the volleyball team, so they’re pretty tall. One of them was just like “Oh my god, you’re so small — you could fit in my pocket.” So I guess I just turned out to be the pocket elf ... we always hang out with each other, but I’m very, very, very small in comparison.
How tall are you?
I don’t know, I’m not that short — I’m almost 5-5.
That’s about my height, too.
Which is totally normal, but when you’re hanging out with people who are 6-3ish, 6-2, you start to feel very, very small ... developing height issues.
7. Can you talk about your own personal style of yoga that you’ve developed, and how you’ve incorporated it into team practices?
Well, basically we tried doing Jillian Michaels’ [from The Biggest Loser] yoga video ... We tried doing it, but we don’t really have a T.V. to watch stuff on, so we watch it from a computer. It was really hard, so I was just like “How hard can this yoga business be? I kind of know these moves anyway.” So I just kind of make it up as I go along. I think it’s really good. Some people start laughing. I like it. It’s all about the breathing.
8. How do you feel about the butter crisis in Norway?
[laughing] There’s this really funny video on YouTube that one of my teammates showed us. I can imitate the guy. He has a funny accent — it’s very serious. He wants you to know that it’s a very, very serious crisis, but I think Jon Stewart has a good idea of what that crisis is actually like.
So there is a crisis?
Yeah, there is a serious crisis. It’s so easy to just make fun of that because why don’t you just use olive oil?
So is there not enough butter?
Yeah, there’s literally like zero butter there, apparently. I haven’t been there, but it’s serious.
Speaking of butter and olive oil and food and whatnot — is it true that you can’t taste salt?
Yeah — I don’t know. When I eat salt by itself I get a taste — there’s a taste there. But people are always like “Oh, this needs salt” or “There’s too much salt here,” and I’m definitely not one of those people; I can’t tell — and it scares me.
Apparently you and one of your roommates really enjoy Frank’s Red Hot Sauce?
Yes. SO good. Yeah, Caitlin, I live with her. I was always a fan of hot sauce, but I guess after she got back from Ireland she’s become a hot sauce/salsa fanatic, and I’m definitely kind of — you know when you live with someone you kind of start copying them? — that’s definitely something I’ve picked up from her. It’s so good.
And you put it on everything?
I don’t put it on everything yet, but it might be going in that direction ... we’ll see what happens.
Is there anything really weird that you put it on?
Not really ... I’ve started thinking about putting it on a lot of weird things, and I think that’s the first step in my becoming an addict.
What kind of weird things?
I’ve thought about putting it on pasta. I guess it’s not so weird, but you don’t ...
Yeah, I mean you put sauce on pasta ... but not hot sauce.
Right, I’ve thought it and I was like “Whoaa, I can’t do that — that’s too weird, that’s too weird.” But I’m sure that one day my curiosity will take over me.
9. I understand that you and your roommates watch a lot of trashy reality television — we’re all guilty there — but what are some of your favorite programs?
Oh man, we watched last night Undercover Princes. It’s a lot of TLC.
I’ve never heard of that one.
It’s awesome, it’s hilarious. It’s three princes: two of them are Indian/Middle Eastern, and the other one is a Zulu prince or something, and they go to England and try to get girlfriends without telling them they’re princes, but they’re so socially inept. It’s amazing — it’s so great. That’s going to be my new favorite, for sure. And then I like watching weird stuff — Toddlers and Tiaras ... basically any show that reminds me that I’m normal, I like. It’s always a good ego boost.
The Kardashian shows for me — big guilty pleasure.
Yeah I was working out at the gym in New York, and I could just stay on the treadmill for hours just watching them. It was good, you know — they helped me exercise. But oh my gosh, so addicting. The Kardashians, so good.
10. I’m supposed to ask you about your weirdly small hands, though apparently you are very sensitive about that.
They are very small, but when I came to Cornell my coach was freaking out, obviously, about my small hands. They’re really not that small, right?
Yeah, I wouldn’t have noticed unless your teammate said something.
Thank you, I guess it’s because I hang out with people with big hands or something, but even my coach — she has pretty big hands — and she shook my hand one time and she was like “Oh my gosh, your hands are so small — I had no idea that they were this small” ... But apparently they’re really, really strong and I can do actions that only guys can do in fencing because they’re so strong.
Yeah, I was wondering if it was an advantage ... ?
Yeah, my coach is confused by it. She doesn’t understand how it works. But every time she shakes my hand she’s all “Oh they’re so small, but so powerful.”
According to one of your former teammates, European men are drawn to you like a magnet.
I hope that’s true. I am drawn to them like a magnet, so I hope they are also drawn to me as well.
Apparently you wish you were British. Is there any particular reason for that other than the fact I feel like we all wish we were British?
See, I’m glad you appreciate that. Thank you. I guess life would be a little bit easier. You know, you get a nice accent, you can work anywhere in the EU basically.
I wasn’t even thinking about the practical reasons — I just want a British accent.
It’s cool, and practical — it would just be a little more convenient. And they’re a lot of fun. Everyone over there is so fun. They’re so nice; even when something bad happens, they just have a great sense of humor and just laugh it off, and it’s awesome.
Alex Kuczynski-Brown can be reached at akb@cornellsun. She is still extremely jealous that Rebecca has been to an ice bar in Stockholm à la Die Another Day.