Friday, August 31, 2007

New Europe, etc. (updated)

Joseph M. Knippenberg, after years away, revisited the Europe of his youth. Only, of course, it wasn't the Europe of his youth anymore. He shares some of his observations in Rip van Knippenberg on the New Europe.

I found that article via this post at No Left Turns, wherein Peter Schramm says he'd like to have some conversations about it.

The ball's in your court...

P.S. What do you think of Knippenberg's suggestion in passing that since English is the new lingua franca, perhaps we should use the term lingua anglia? My first thought is that it might be more accurate for the present, but that I like the term lingua franca because it ties me to a world before my own time. (Several worlds, actually, since there have been, and are, several lingua francas, each with its own background and impact. But for me I always think of the founding of my country, and how if back then you wanted to be a major player internationally it really helped if you knew French.) Silly, I know. But there it is. I like words and phrases that keep history alive, or at least remind you of it.

I'm willing to be flexible, though. If lingua anglia caught on I'd use it, I think. ;)

Certainly I like it better than the clunky, if reasonably descriptive, “vehicular language," which reportedly means the same thing as lingua franca.

P.P.S. According to The Penguin English Dictionary, Second Edition, linga franca in the plural is either linga francas or linguae francae. I prefer the former, just because even folks like me can look at it and know that it's the plural form of linga franca. But, again, I'm willing to be flexible... :)

Update: Via Peter Lawler, this post by Patrick Deneen is also about impressions from a recent trip to Europe, and has generated some back and forth in the comments between Knippenberg and Deneen, among others.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Providing well for murderers

I certainly don't want England to go back to the days of drawing and quartering, but this is surely going too far in the other direction? (Via A Stern Punishment Awaits, at Expat Yank, which has some other links.)

The nuns and their vastly expanded monastery

I guess I kinda, sorta had it in my head that monks lived in monasteries and nuns lived in convents. I guess I was kinda, sorta wrong, as At A Hen's Pace explains in this post about her visit to a monastery she'd stayed at years ago.

A quote for today

From Demetrios Stratis, writing at Asbury Park Press:

No one is imposing religious beliefs on anyone else when a religious organization decides what may or may not take place on its private property. The imposition of dogma and the crushing of First Amendment rights come when a Christian ministry is forced to violate its own religious beliefs to appease a political agenda.
"Well, duh," you say?

Some folks in New Jersey need a reminder.

Some background.

hat tip: The Alliance Alert

"Obama Blames Katrina Survivors for Shattered Faith"

We have a liberal friend who fell all over himself getting himself active in Barack Obama's campaign for President of the United States.

This friend and I have canceled each other's votes from the time I started casting ballots. We both know this. I have been known to cast my vote with a remark to the effect that 'there, I've done my duty, canceling out So-and-so's vote.' I think he knows that, too. I suspect he's done the same thing back. But this is America, and we're both civilized, and there doesn't seem to be much of anything to do about it. We simply come down on different sides of the political fence, and we get there by entirely different reasoning techniques.

That doesn't mean that I'm above trying to point out to him, from time to time, what I don't like about today's Democrats and their faith in big government. Heh. (The linked post is satire, folks. Please, don't read it literally. Thank you.)

A different stance in France

France, whatever else you might say about it, has had a reputation for producing impressive and world-changing individuals from time to time. French President Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be shaping into that sort of Frenchman. Certainly he's doing an impressive overhaul of France's foreign policy.

For the record, overall I have a soft spot in my heart for France. Attempts to mindlessly French-bash in the comments here will be cheerfully stonewalled. That's not to say that I'm not appalled at some of what goes on over there. It is to say that I think the country has its pros as well as its cons, and also that I suspect that the agenda-driven media types too often try to boost the wrong people and policies at the expense of the more decent sorts. I could be wrong on that, of course.

Added: I didn't know this but the word stonewall is sometimes used in Britain in an altogether different way than I'm used to hearing it used. According to The Penguin English Dictionary, Second Edition, in addition to meaning 'to obstruct or delay parliamentary debate' or 'to be evasive or obstructive,' stonewall also can be used to mean "to bat excessively defensively and cautiously in cricket."

Classiness, then and now, American troops edition

Peggy Noonan has a nice column on American troops then and now, and what memories they tend to leave behind them.

I think she's on to something. I have met some individuals serving in the American military who lacked class, but it always surprises me. On the whole, the ones I've met are just the sort to inspire an old man to offer a toast decades afterward.

More good stuff through a straw

My husband has suffered from severe face pain off and on for twelve years. More on that later, but for now suffice it to say that there are periods, sometimes very long periods, when he cannot chew, indeed can barely manage to get liquid in his mouth and then swallow it. This presents a few challenges, to say the least. It's hard to keep him alive under such conditions, and harder still to provide a balanced diet, much less to provide one with enough substance and fiber to keep his digestive system from suffering along with his face. I've learned long since to not keep tallies on the bouts, but merely to dig in when I have to, and to refuse to let them beat us. It's the old one day at a time thang (except when it's the one hour at a time thang, except when it's the one minute at a time thang, except when...). Every time we get thrown back into this nightmare, I try to come up with more and better options for food through a straw. I am, alas for you, one of those by-guess-and-by-gosh cooks, who makes things up as she goes, and rarely keeps notes. I am thinking of changing that, by the way. I suspect there's a need for a cookbook for this type of specialty cooking.

Anyway, in rough form, here are some things I've concocted this last go-around...

=If you dump a can or two of fruit into the blender, juice and all, and puree it, you get a pretty good drink. We like mixing peaches with pears, and also experimenting with other combinations. Sometimes we add a bit of fruit juice to make it even thinner. Prune juice, to my surprise, mixes well with several types of canned fruit. We have joked about starting a business something along the lines of an espresso bar, but featuring pureed canned fruit. Honestly, it's pretty good stuff. Sometimes we add fresh fruit, but the canned is much easier and faster to work with, on the whole.

=We have been modifying our split pea soup recipes around here, making them lighter. I started out using ham, as per tradition, and then switched to carrot in lieu of ham, but since then I've skipped the carrots, too. I vary the recipe from time to time, but basically I put a bunch of water in a large saucepan, add a couple of chicken bouillon cubes, add dried split peas which I've rinsed under the faucet (usually two-thirds green peas to one-third yellow), some onion (dried, frozen or fresh, doesn't seem to matter), a pat or two of butter, some salt, some pepper, a few flakes of dried red pepper (I do mean just a few, five or six does for us, thanks), and maybe a sprinkle of garlic, and let the whole mess sit at a low boil until the peas fall apart. I stir from time to time, but I don't know if that's necessary or just for the fun of seeing how things are coming along. When it's done cooking, I let it cool slightly and then put it in the blender. Lately I've been adding a bit of pearl rice at the front end, and letting it cook along with everything else. It disappears during the pureeing, and I like to think it boosts the nutritional profile some. At any rate, I use more broth and less peas than I used to, which makes it easier to sip. This being split pea soup, it still manages to get thicker and somewhat solid on the bottom as it sits, but overall, if you use a fair amount of broth and then puree the soup, it works great through a straw.

=I have also been making various types of asparagus soup. In short, you add asparagus to water, cook it with whatever else suits your fancy, and puree the whole shebang before you eat it. My favorite so far was essentially a potato and onion and asparagus soup. I usually buy baking potatoes and use them for everything, but there was a sale on red potatoes, so I used those. I peeled and chopped a few potatoes, peeled and chopped half of a yellow onion, added half a bag of frozen asparagus bits, some chicken bouillon, butter, salt, pepper, a few flakes of red pepper, and... and I don't remember what else, if anything... and then boiled that at something between a low boil and a simmer until everything was soft, let it cool slightly, and then put it in the blender, etc. Asparagus by itself I'm not terribly fond of, but cooked up with potato moderates it to my taste.

=I also had good luck with a cauliflower soup: I dumped some frozen cauliflower in a pan, added about the same amount of chopped potatoes, a pat or two of butter, some salt and pepper, and enough water to cover, cooked until soft, added milk, pureed.

=I also made sip-able rice pudding. I put pearl rice into probably twice as much water you'd usually use to cook rice, added raisins, butter, sugar, cinnamon, a wee bit of vanilla and nutmeg, and cooked at something between a low boil and simmer until the rice was soft. Then I stirred in milk, and then pureed it. It's not the loveliest thing after it's pureed, but it tasted pretty good, and you could eat it through a straw. A side note: I made more than we could eat right away. You don't want to know what happens to drinkable rice pudding that sits too long in the fridge. Mercy.

By the way, when I say that I cooked something at between a low boil and a simmer, what that really means is that I spent much of the cooking time trying to find a setting that kept it at a low boil, and therefore what I cooked quite possibly seesawed between a high boil and something less than a simmer. Luckily, most soups are amazingly forgiving of such ineptness.

Previous related post. (Be sure and read the first comment. We haven't tried that yet. I'm pretty sure that if I were reduced to eating through a straw, I'd definitely try it, but my husband is balking... and I have to admit that I'm not keen on trying it as long as I can eat the food in question the usual way... :)

Wishing store-bought dish drainers were of better design

Yesterday I shelled out ten bucks for a new plastic drip tray [aka drain board] for my dish drainer. It is identical to the one I had to throw out because the feet of the rack dug holes into it.

The drip tray, you see, is built on numerous parallel slats. This is as fine as far as it goes, but if you put the rack in the center of the tray - where it looks like it belongs - the pointy little feet of the rack are smack dab between slats. Hence, unless you remember to keep the rack off-kilter when you're using it, the feet concentrate the weight of the dishes between the slats, and the plastic gives way, and you get wells, and the wells make themselves permanent. The wells collect water, so if you don't remember (or decide not to bother) to lift up the rack mid-drying and sop up the water, you get water deposits like mad in them. More to the point, when your dish rack is sitting in wells, it is sitting lower than it ought to, and thus any glasses you have on the outside prongs hit the tray, and so do the plates you have in the plate slots. This is not my idea of ideal air drying, thank you very much.

There is another problem with these rack and drip tray combos that are available around here. (It's a major brand, too. Go figure.) My drying rack has eight prongs on the outside, to put glasses over. Four are on the sink side, four on the side opposite that. If you put glasses on the sink side, you're OK, because the rim of each glass hangs out over the sink. If, however, you take a glass straight from rinsing and put it on the far side, the rim hangs over the counter instead of the drip tray. What is the point of a drip tray if not to catch drips, I ask you? So why in the world are they made too narrow to accommodate drips coming from glasses put on the prongs made for glasses?

As for the first problem, i.e., the pointy little feet digging wells between slats business, I have a theory that if I'm extremely careful to always move the tray to where the feet sit on top of a slat before I weigh the rack down with dishes, that I can make the tray last a lot longer. It looks funky, being off-kilter like that, but it's either that or having plates and glasses hitting the tray as time goes on. I also have a theory that furniture coasters placed under the feet might do the trick. Since I have a track record of forgetting to align the rack just so, I am seriously considering the furniture coaster route this time around. I really think that should work. I would, however, appreciate it if I weren't required to be ingenious to keep a product from going bad in short order.

As for the second problem, i.e., the design that puts drips on the counter, I've learned to put my glasses on the sink side first, and then move the mostly dry ones across if I have more glasses than will fit on the sink side. Again, though, why in the world should I have to be going to the extra work when simply making the drip trays big enough to accommodate dishes put on the rack would do the trick?

I am thinking of making my own drip tray, perhaps of painted wood? Something, at any rate, that is large enough, and also strong enough to not warp under ordinary use.

Have you had this problem? How did you solve it?

Monday, August 27, 2007

So, how's your August going?

I have been rather unwell, my husband has been very sick indeed, an aunt died, we couldn't make it to the funeral, one of our favorite bookstore customers died of a stroke, a few days later another longtime customer died in an accident, the computer I rely on to get on the Internet and to read e-mail has only been working when it feels like it, and for a few days there I couldn't post even when I tried because I kept getting kicked offline.

In the good news department, I'm feeling considerably better, and my husband has had several good days mixed in with the bad this last week, so I think he's on the mend, too. And we're still laughing. Some of the time, at least. Or perhaps I should say that we remain persons of good cheer. I wouldn't want you to think we've gone loopy, when we haven't.

I am, however, a bit behind in my work (not to mention totally uninformed about current events outside my community), so the blog break resumes now...

Monday, August 13, 2007

Conversation Ball, and learning from Olivia, etc.

Amanda Witt learned a few things from some young ladies at church camp this year. I don't think you can guess what.

Taking yourself off the map

Do you ever get the feeling that the fine folks at Google lead remarkably sheltered lives, and simply don't realize they could get somebody killed or kidnapped by making it easy for just anybody to find someone's house? Sigh. Apparently they've now made it so that if somebody types in your phone number, Google will provide a map to your house, unless you remove your number from the list.

I checked our business and residence numbers. The residence didn't show up (I suspect my husband got us off the list earlier and just didn't mention it). Our business number, on the other hand, had so many wrong addresses attached it wasn't even funny. Some of that is because we've moved the bookstore since we got the phone number. And some is because we've had some sort of phone book curse, that has had us listed wrong in multiple phone books in multiple ways over the past decade or so (including one phone book that put us in the wrong town altogether, which was really a cute mistake, I thought). A funny thing about phone book curses: the wrong listings seem not only to acquire a life of their own, but somehow seem capable of swamping the correct listings. Here's hoping you never get attached to a clerical error that doesn't ever seem to go away no matter what you do. We've reached the point that whenever a new phone book comes we make a game of seeing whether the most recent attempt at correction told hold, or if an old error came back from the dead, or what. (When you don't know whether to laugh or cry you should laugh, right?)

Open letter to present and future historians: Dear Historian, Phone books are another first draft of history. They do not necessarily prove that a business existed when and where the phone book says it did. Trust me on this. Besides the typos, there's the fact that old listings for defunct businesses have been known to hang around, advertising what have become phantoms. I'm sure you can verify this if you apply just a bit of effort. Sincerely, K. Judson.

Anyway, I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that what Google and others are doing, in effect placing international bulls'-eyes on people who only wanted local attention, will speed the demise of landlines altogether for private parties. At the very least, I expect fewer and fewer addresses to show up even in local phone books. In the meantime, you just might want to see if you can get yourself delisted.

In a slightly related vein, the other day while I was waiting in line at the bank I was treated to a bank official trying her best to get an ex-hippie to understand that these days it makes sense to not put the driver's license number on checks - that it used to be the in thing, but thanks to a spike in identity thefts it really isn't done anymore. The ex-hippie kept saying that it was so convenient to have it there in case a store clerk asked for it, and the bank official patiently kept trying different ways of explaining that she thought it was a very bad idea. They were still at it when I left, but I think the bank official was beginning to give up.

I can't remember the last time I wrote a check, to be honest with you. For what I do in the way of transactions, cash or plastic work just fine, thanks. Someday maybe I'll learn that newfangled all-electronic stuff... but I doubt I'll ever go back to checks. Time will tell.

Added: My husband says he did delist our personal number at Google maps. There was a several day lag between his filing for delisting, and the actual delisting, but eventually it worked.

What it costs to book speakers

The fact checking continues on some book manuscripts I'm proofing. One of the things I had to find out was how much it costs to book a middle tier motivational speaker these days. The ms said this character made four and sometimes five figures a speech. It looks like that guess turned out to be right on the money.

I spent more time than I probably should have this morning just scrolling through that list and others on that website, marveling at who charges what for a speech, and also at the sheer variety of speakers being advertised.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Saturday Review of Books... up at Semicolon.

Shooting stars galore this weekend

It's Perseid meteor shower time again.

Already? Where did the time go?

Alas, poor Yorick: Mule deer edition

People who lived here before us left behind some animal skulls as yard decorations. Not my thing.

But the deer that come through our yard from time to time are taking care of it. They are eating the skulls, bit by bit.

This is not a dainty procedure. When they want a better angle, they roll the skull around. They also whack it mightily with their hooves to crack it and break bits off.

I guess they want the minerals.

The first time I saw the fawn eating on it, it struck me as a bit strange, even creepy. I'm not sure why that is. I'm used to it now. More or less. Kind of.

I can't help wondering how many of our fossil finds were chewed out of all resemblance to their original state before they were fossilized. I presume paleontologists take this sort of thing into account? (I'm presuming ancient animals also needed minerals, and got them where they could.)

Picture note: Taken mid-July of this year, out a back window of our house.

Laundry safety

Part I

A few weeks ago, while hanging around at the laundromat, I was reading in a magazine (I can't remember which magazine), and in this magazine somebody claiming to be an expert was bemoaning that people washed and then tumbled dried towels and underwear in the same load of laundry. This person was claiming that we cause lots and lots of disease in this world by not sorting our laundry according to germs. This person seemed to think that it was especially bad that we put our underwear and towels in the same dryer loads, tumble dryers apparently (she claimed) being just world-class germ distributors.

If we killed germs as we washed, it would be different, she said. If we washed more germs away than we do, it would be different. But, she said, we don't kill them and we don't get rid of enough of them.

Her claims of how much disease we were causing this way struck me as probably a bit extravagant, but... then again, after I got home, I realized that I already do sort some of my laundry by germiness. For instance, I will not wash socks that came off of feet with athlete's foot with my dishcloths. OK, sometimes I won't even wash socks that came off healthy feet with my dishcloths. It grosses me out. Or, if someone's been really sick, I usually wash his or her clothes separately. Or, anything that comes in contact with manure gets special treatment, and isn't washed with other things. Or, cleaning rags don't go in with certain other things, because I don't want to risk having any residual chemicals getting into places they shouldn't. Etc.

I'm not hard and fast with these rules, but, when it's not too much trouble, I do tend to segregate loads to prevent cross contamination. I just hadn't thought about it, not really.

So, for what it's worth, some expert writing in some major magazine claims we'd be significantly healthier overall if we didn't distribute our germs throughout our laundry. I haven't the least idea how much weight to put to that. Ball's in your court.

Part II

A few weeks ago, I had another laundromat adventure. Somehow, for whatever reason, the post I wrote about it didn't get published. So... here it is, somewhat condensed:

So, I went to the laundromat, which is a nice, homey laundromat, with chairs and reading material, and I was all alone in there, reading, waiting for my clothes to dry, when some motorcycles pull up out front and the riders jump off. They look like the stereotype of bikers of the not-totally-wasted variety. A lot of people who dress like that and ride motorcycles are playing, of course. Dressing up. Trying on a role. Taking a break from being lawyers and dentists and postmasters and bank clerks, that sort of thing.

One biker came in. And another. And another. Middle-aged all, one graying. They notice me and say hello and look around and can't find a vending machine for detergent (for the very good reason that there isn't one). Sometimes I just let travelers use some of my detergent, but these men strike me as the sort that would be dismayed by such an offer. In fact, they are rather needlessly making a biggish deal about where they can buy some detergent (these are men with pride, obviously), so I point them to the Thriftway just down the street.

One guy hops on his bike and roars off to get soap, and the other two guys laughingly kid each other about who owns which shirt they're going to wash. Basic guy stuff, gently razzing one another. They get impatient for the other guy, and decide to put the clothes in the washer and get it started so they, can, like, get back out on the road three or four or five minutes sooner. Their clothes, they decide, will get clean enough if subjected to a prewash plus a few minutes of sudsy wash.

I am, by this point, pretty well convinced it's some business professionals out for a vacation, playing at being Steve McQueen or James Dean or Jack Kerouac or something like that. I mean, they were entirely proper in how they greeted me, and quite properly didn't get too close, and seemed to carry themselves fairly well in general. Habitually well-mannered, at a guess. Too well-mannered to talk trash to a lady or otherwise harass her at any rate.

So I hide my smile at their impatience and turn back to reading and they pitch their voices to hold a normal conversation halfway across the room from me. Not putting a show on for me, I mean, or I don't think so, at any rate. I've never liked loud music and so I have slightly better than average hearing for a Boomer, and sometimes a word or phrase would slip through. I didn't think anything of it when one of them told the other that somebody had shot him in the back. 'Shooting someone in the back' is a nice, common, everyday slang term, meaning betrayal. But when the other guy asked which caliber, and the other guy replied in what sounded like ammo terms...

Well, I began to doubt my ability to judge these guys.

And no, I didn't get the context. It didn't seem a good idea to appear to be eavesdropping just then...

Well, if they'd paid any more notice of me than they had, or projected any sense of menace, I'd have nonchalantly remembered an appointment somewhere or an errand I'd decided I had time to run just then. As it was, I pretended I hadn't heard, and ignored them until my dryer turned off (like all of one minute later), and then I took the clothes out normally, except for the fact that I was careful to put my husband's clothes in a stack on the folding table where I was sure they could see. See, here, fellows, I have a man who backs me up. See. Messing with this gal is courting a dedicated quest for justice that'll make you rue the day you messed with this gal. I tend to do that anyway when I'm with strangers in a laundromat, but this time I tried to nonchalantly make a point of it. (Now who was doing the person-of-unknown-depths-and-hidden-menace wannabe routine, I ask you? And you feminists can stop snickering now. I've seen you out walking with your big dogs and I've seen you put on matching t-shirts to emphasize that you belong to a group of easily enraged females. You pick your back-up, I'll pick mine...)

For all I know these bikers were police officers, or the one guy had had a violent wife who'd flipped out, or they were ER doctors, or, who knows? Maybe they were military guys, or ex-military. (Did I mention that they seemed to carry themselves fairly well in general?) Or maybe they were playing after all. I don't know. They pretty much ignored me, I pretty much ignored them, except, when I was halfway through getting my clothes folded they decided to go find a place to go eat, and gave me a friendly goodbye on their way out the door. A friendly goodbye which I returned, by the way. (Do I strike you as someone who would intentionally antagonize guys who treat bullet wounds as normal conversation?)

Rightly or wrongly, I wasn't really worried about them. Their attitude didn't seem to warrant being worried. But I did make a point of being gone before they could turn around and come back. It's not like I'm always one hundred percent right about people. (Speaking of that, this story about a famous rabbi and a 'holy man' is a pretty good illustration about getting the wrong impression from superficial things, and a reminder that what's hidden in human hearts can surprise you.)

Anyway, no harm done. Just another day at the laundromat.

[end old post]

Part III

The next trip to the laundromat I didn't have enough quarters to wash and dry all my clothes, because the washer rates had been raised 25%.

Part IV

I love my new washer. I dry the clothes on a drying rack in the same room. We're looking at putting up a clothesline out back. I'm like a kid with a new toy... :)

The proofreading project continues...

I'm nearly done with the proofreading and corrections on the second of the three books I'm trying to get wrapped up. Whew.

It's more or less down to a few fact checks that slipped through the cracks earlier... like... is the payroll and accounting department of a UK government agency called payroll and accounting? Or something else? If something else, what? I'm having a bit of trouble pinning this down to my satisfaction, so if you know, I'd appreciate it if you weighed in. If it matters any, the matter that's messed up is pensions. If it matters any, this is at a fictional British intelligence agency.

While we're on the subject, they do call accountants accountants in the UK, yes? No? Sometimes? Usually? Specifically, would that be what to call those folks who have messed up on the fictional pensions at that fictional government agency?

Next question: In the UK, what is the most likely way someone would refer to King George the Third during a conversation? Or, at least, what are likely ways? It's just in passing, but the storyline has one highly-placed government official saying he sometimes wishes he'd been born in a different era, and when asked if there's a specific era he has in mind, he jokes, "Anything pre-George-Third, I think." Is that acceptable usage in a private chat between good friends? If you're English, does it jar? Would it be better to say pre-George the Third? Or pre-George-Three? What? The gents are probably in their fifties, more or less, if that matters. I'm not interested in this case about how it's best done in written form or in formal circumstances. I'm looking for how people generally refer to that particular monarch in chats. (If you can keep it clean, how do you refer to him in conversation?)

Something else I'm still not sure on for the first book... is Ten Four - meaning Yes, sir!, more or less - an Americanism? More to the point, do Brits ever use the expression? British or not, is it a phrase you've known, or is this the first you've heard of it? For now, we've skirted the issue by replacing it with something else, but... well, it's exactly what I think this fellow would say right then, unless it's an Americanism. (He's trying to be slightly obnoxious, or cute, while giving his best friend a bad time.) Is there a British equivalent that I perhaps just don't know about?

I would like to note here that somebody else is helping check punctuation and grammar. (Just in case you were getting ulcers thinking of me heading up the punctuation and grammar department...)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Freeway bridge over Mississippi River collapses in Twin Cities

Ed Morrissey's doing yeoman work on covering the collapse of a major bridge in the Twin Cities. (Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota.)

He's asking for prayers. A lot of cars went down with the bridge, which went down during rush hour this evening.

Update: Some folks, trying to figure out why the bridge might have collapsed, have speculated that there might have been an earthquake. I don't think so. At least, there's no earthquake showing anywhere even remotely near Minnesota on the USGS's Recent Quakes map for the United States. (Updates continually.)

Lost in translation (updated)

The proofreading of the book I'm currently working on is down to the researching of various small details that didn't get nailed down in earlier drafts. For instance, when a Eurotunnel passenger goes through the Chunnel with his own car does he drive it onto the train himself or does staff do it? (Passenger.) Do you stay with your car for the journey? (Stay.) Do they sell duct tape in England? (They sell it on, which is good enough for me.) Do they call it duct tape? (It appears they have the same problem we do over here, sometimes calling it duct tape and sometimes calling it duck tape, or rather, Duck Tape, as in a brand name...) Would a somewhat-Protestant, mostly-secular English gentleman of good breeding be more likely to think of it as intercessory prayer or as intercessional prayer? (I'm still a bit stumped on that last one. From the dictionaries I've consulted so far, intercessory appears to be an adjective in the U.S., but not in the U.K.? At least technically? Research continues...)

I've had a few pleasant detours trying to nail down the spelling of a French word. I still haven't satisfied myself as to whether it's permissible to spell laicisme with vowels any English speaker would recognize, or if I need one of those specialized ones with a couple of dots above it for that first i. (*Updated: see below.) But in the meantime, I've read that lever (ler-VAY) means lift, and that lever du jour (ler-VAY-dew-zhoor) means daybreak, and that lever du soleil (ler-VAY-so-LEHY) means sunrise. Day lift. Sun lift. I like that, particularly the idea of sun lift. It also sounds beautiful. I like that, too.

From another phrase book comes the info that a traveler should refer to an intensive care unit at a hospital as service de réanimation. (This particular phrase book's pronunciation guides are impossible to reproduce with the keyboard I have. Sorry about that. For that matter, I don't understand its pronunciation guide. Not in the least. I'm pretty sure that service is something like sehr-VEES, if that's of any use to you.) At any rate, I really like that an intensive care unit is more or less called a reanimation center or reanimation service. It shows proper spirit or attitude or something. :)

But then there's that word spirituel (spee-ree-TWAYL), which sounds like 'spiritual,' yes? No. According to the dictionaries I have, it means witty. [see update at bottom of post]

'Now that sounds like a misunderstanding waiting to happen,' I told myself when I read that.

This made me think of a few lost in translation misunderstandings I've bumped into in the past...

For instance, when I was on a college trip to Central America, another co-ed and myself somehow got ourselves invited to a live theatrical performance in Costa Rica. The gentleman who invited us worked at a university there, and somehow managed to have good enough references. It was, if I remember correctly, a production of Volpone (I could be wrong about that). At any rate, this gentleman was on something of a mission to prove to foreigners that his country had a world class theater company, and he took us to a show. After the show, he asked how we liked it, and I said that I had loved the show and the acting was so good it almost made up for the fact that I didn't know but a few words of Spanish. This led to him warning me that if I didn't know a word in Spanish, I must not try to bluff my way through by taking an English word and trying to make it sound Spanish. He was very earnest about this. Surprisingly earnest. Finally, he explained why.

The worst trouble he'd ever gotten into in his life, he said, was when he'd tried to be nice to a visiting lady professor from America. The woman was homesick, and so he spent time with her, and then, one day, invited her to share a home cooked meal with his family. He lived with his mother, I think. At any rate, his mama was in charge of the meal. The visiting lady professor -- trying to express her gratitude for being invited into their home -- told Mama that, really, she was awfully embarrassed about all the attention being paid to her by Mama's son.

Mama's son -- full-grown and a respected professional, definitely a suit and tie sort of fellow -- found himself dragged by the ear into the next room, where an enraged and righteous mother lit into him for bringing shame on the family for getting a woman pregnant out of wedlock. I guess embarrass is pretty close to the Spanish word for pregnant. It apparently took quite a bit of explaining before that mess was cleared up.

So, he said, I should never try to bluff my way through by giving English words a more Spanish pronunciation. I should especially never, never, ever, tell a gentleman's mother that I was embarrassed about anything.

I could see his point. Can't you?

I ran into a similar misunderstanding at a school for the deaf that we visited in Canada while on tour with Up With People. One of the first things the kids asked me (I was serving as translator), was to tell them what a certain sign meant to me. The sign consisted of holding the hands near the belly, interlocked, palms in, fingers straight, and then moving the hands in a circle parallel to the ground. 'Why, that means America, or American,' I said. (It represents a split-rail fence, if you're wondering.) They were much relieved. They'd had, they told me, a team of girls from another school for the deaf come across the border for some event, and, excited to have been told that Americans were coming to visit, had rushed out and asked the girls if they were really American. Or that's what they thought they asked. They didn't understand the fury and face-slapping that resulted... until they found out that at that particular school, somehow that sign had come to mean (you guessed it) pregnant. Good girls on a field trip to Canada did not appreciate being called sluts right after they got off the bus...

I can't remember if it was at that school for a deaf or a different one up in Canada that I made my big, televised sign language gaffe. At any rate, the concert's directors thought that it would be cool to have me stand on stage translating during the concert. The songs, however, had never been translated into song sign, and so I was on my own. Not funny. I had taken one night course in sign language. I explained that one night course does not a translator make, which idea they initially poohed poohed on the grounds that song sign is notoriously full of artistic license, or so they understood. I finally prevailed upon them to let me take some time off and go visit a sign language instructor at a college we were near at the time. The instructor and I ran into a bit of a snag on one of the signature songs of Up With People, "What Color Is God's Skin?" What color is God's was easy enough, and fell wonderfully into place as to one sign moving into another. Very artistic. Very easy to read, even from the back of an auditorium. But skin? Neither of us knew a really standard sign for skin, and the one we both had seen used (pinching the back of a hand or the forearm) didn't go with the flow of the song, and wasn't pretty, and might not be easy to read from a distance. So we made up a sign. (She agreed with the show's producers, btw, that song sign traditionally allows for a fair amount of artistic license.) We decided to have me run a couple of fingers down my cheek in a specific way. We figured that if people didn't understand it as skin, they'd understand it as face, which was close enough to the right meaning, we thought...

Fast forward to the performance. We got to the school, and there was a television news crew standing by to share the event with Canadian viewers. No pressure there, right? The crew was delighted that there was a sign language translator on stage. (It wasn't so common in those days.) I found myself not only fighting stage jitters but camera fright, with a camera right. on. me. but I muddled through pretty well, I thought.

After the concert, I was mobbed by adoring fans. Rock star city. The mob was horribly disappointed when they found out I wasn't deaf. I guess a rumor had got around... Sigh. My biggest brush with being a superstar and I have to explain they're mistaken about me... Sigh...

At any rate, at some point, quite a few kids in the mob started asking me what in the world that song was about God and color? What, specifically, did I mean by that sign with the fingers on the face? I spelled out s.k.i.n. 'Well, that makes the song make sense, finally,' they said. 'Why?' says I. 'Does that sign mean something else to you?'

They nodded, and began to spell M.o.r.m - at which time I suddenly remembered that it was the sign for Mormon. (After a founder's trademark sideburns, as I understand it.)

I think I might have mentioned this before (is it a sign of getting old, or what, if you write the same story two years apart and don't remember that until you're finished with the newer one???), but there might be an archive TV tape up in eastern Canada somewhere showing a young lady dramatically enacting "What color is God's Mormon?" in sign language. That would be me.

It's a good thing I know how to laugh at myself, that's all I can say.

Go ahead, laugh. I don't mind being the cause of a few smiles. :)

*Added: OK, I guess I probably need laïcisme. (And, no, I don't mean laïcité. They're related, but this book has a French Catholic thinking about the troubles she's had from extreme secularists, those that are anti-religious and not just interested in 'separating church and state' -- and my research, or at least my research so far, indicates that the Catholic Church sees laïcité as milder than laïcisme. This isn't my field, though, not by a long shot. So correct me if I'm wrong.)

Update: A reader clarifies things in the comments, writing: "spirituel" = "witty" in the way we would say in English "full of spirits" or "high-spirited". Thanks, coffeemama!