Monday, July 31, 2006
So I'm now having classes with the young and presumably flighty Ms. Ivanka who so far seems rather enthusiastic about trendy, fashionable, "young" things like conversation and so on. All of which hurtles me smack-bang into the granite-hard wall that is my lack of everything in this language (vocab, grammar, syntax, accent, cheese).
Anyhow, to get acquainted, we had an intense discussion about my weekend this morning.
Ms.I. "So what did you do this weekend?"
Me. "I go up hill."
Ms.I. "You went up a hill."
Me. "You went up a hill."
Ms.I. "No. Yooouuuu..." points finger at me "...went up a hill."
Me. lightbulb pops on "Ohhh… I went up hill."
Ms.I. sighs "Something like that." deep breath "What did you do there?"
Me "I eat."
Ms.I. "You ate."
Me "You ate."
Ms.I. "No…incomprehensible string of syllables...Youuuuuu…" points finger at me, with slightly more emphasis.
Me "I eat salad."
Thank heavens Ms. Ivanka's extreme youth means she has the mental energy to sustain such conversations.
Friday, July 28, 2006
In honour (again) of the wondrous day that is Friday, here is a small photo essay on my plans for this weekend, incorporating the usual escape committee celebratory subject matter for Mel. (Although by this point she may have developed the ability to survive on one brazil nut a day, supplemented only by the occasional sip of water.)
Thursday, July 27, 2006
At the moment, the weather and tourists being what they are (hot, crowded and sweaty), seven to eight-thirty is probably the best time to wander around downtown. So off we went: me with my special sheet of architecture vocabulary, and Mrs. Jana with a grim determination to demonstrate the use of as many types of verbs of motion as humanly possible.
I learned a new word without vowels (“trh” – it means market). This will come in very handy for Scrabble games or filling in the rest of crosswords as long as I remain relaxed about the more trivial rules on language use.
Ahh… I hear you say. But how many types of verbs of motion can there possibly be?
Well, apparently we run, we go-by-feet, we go-by-transport-including-dogsled and we fly but we also carry and drive (including the management of companies). Extra fantastic variety can be created by tacking on assorted prefixes that give more information about the direction of motion. You know, like English prepositional verbs but the other way ‘round.
So we went-by-feet-from a meeting-point in front of the main railway station, then went-by-feet-over the road, went-by-feet-through a passageway and went-by-feet-to the newest synagogue. Then we went-by-feet-on lots of squares while other people went-by-car-to work and carried-to work their lunch.
Czech being what it is, there are a few extra ones that don’t quite match up with English, so we also met by going-together-by-transport-but-this-time-the-more-mundane-metro-rather-than-say-a-camel-drawn-caravan, and we parted company at the end of the tour by going-apart-by-transport.
But it seems that in a further stunning plot twist, while verbs of motion are always perfective (see below), it has now been revealed that they can be either indeterminate or determinate. Shock! Horror! Gasp! Of course this is NOthing like perfective and imperfective aspects, and I should not even THINK about such ridiculous things while displacing myself in Czech. Deep sigh.
[Digression: I got very excited when looking this up online because one of the top search results was one for Hittite. Hooray! I thought. Once I have mastered this pesky bit of grammar, I shall learn to speak like an ancient Anatolian. But alas, this was a false search result created by the proximity of the expressions “verbs of motion” and “indeterminate” and “determinate” on the same page. I wish they’d organise their sites better. But at least there’s always Old Church Slavonic.]
This differentiation depends on whether the action is repeated regularly (indeterminate) or not (the other one). And of course, the distinction is made by using completely different words. As if I didn't have enough problems with all that architecture vocabulary. The former includes such thorny issues as “Do you like to run marathons?” whereas the latter is more like, “Last year I ran the Marathon des Sables in a furry duck costume.”
However (and here comes the annoying, not-like-imperfective-perfective bit) “I was running the Marathon des Sables disguised as a Giant South American Anteater when I tripped over my long and sticky velcro tongue," is determinate. Because certainly that’s the kind of action no one would wish to undertake in a half-hearted or indeterminate manner. Imagine the consequences: all those poor idiots running about in the desert in silly animal costumes with no sense of direction or purpose until they pass out from heat exhaustion.
Speaking of which, the latter is apparently why verbs of motion are perfective. Because it is understood they must all ultimately come to an end. Of course, the same could even be said of breathing, but Mrs. J. got a funny look in her eye when I brought this up, and my comment dwindled away into nervous silence. So I never had the chance to ask her if the failure to create a perpetual motion machine is due to more sinister reasons than I had previously suspected. Another mystery for the ages solved, methinks.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Look, the summer vibe still fills me with delight and wonder. But for some reason it appears to have gone to some people's heads in a remarkably, ummm, heady way. So just a personal appeal here.
In very public places that aren't the beach (maybe we could think of them as places that don't sell ice cream or something), and especially these nifty air-conditioned offices we have, please, I am begging you on my knees, PUT SOME BLOODY CLOTHES ON. Just some. I'm not picky. A shirt, a pair of long shorts or a skirt that is closer to your knees than your nether regions. Note that I am not requesting a ban on knees. Or shoulders. Or sandals. Even if you insist on wearing them with socks.
But enough with the midriff baring, low-cut, backless tops and short shorts. A tan, real or otherwise, is not part of an outfit. It's more like an accessory.
Anyhow, otherwise I might have to start pointing out that what looks really good in front of the mirror with carefully controlled, upright posture is less-than-successful at communicating a professional and elegant demeanour when slumped in front of a computer in a desk chair.
Besides the obvious health and safety implications, there is a reason why glossy mags tend to feature models wearing such outfits in glorious outdoor scenes and/or glamorous designed interiors, rather than frolicking among ergonomic modular workstations, prefab filing cabinets and mold-injected "easy-clean" plastic desk furniture. Even if you put a great big poster of the beach on your office partition wall and stand in front of it all day long, it's just not the same thing. Trust me. The lighting's all wrong.
If it's really that hot, let me know and I'll buy you a fan. 'Kay?
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
Long story short, someone wrote a letter to a magazine stating that gay romance has no place in the biggest association of writers of romantic fiction. Usual oh-so-concerned tone about slippery slopes and so on.
Letter, links and comments at SBTB inspired a poem, so I posted it over there. After brief consultation with rpc I thought I'd make it today's post as well - it stands alone pretty well. Anyone who had the same 6th grade English teacher might find it rings a bell or two...
O, Buck Morningstar rode out of the West
On a quest for revenge in a fringed leather vest
His trousers bulged oddly, his holster, low-slung
Pulled down by the weight of a six-shooter gun
A saturnine sheikh, with a 'tache and a scar
Planned to wed his foe's daughter, heard Buck Morningstar.
He rode in a fury, burst into the hall
'Mongst kilt-wearing dancers and pirates and all
Then spake the dark bridegroom, a gleam in his eye
(That caused Buck to feel unaccountably shy)
"I'm not going mad, though this may sound bizarre,
"Don't I know you from somewhere, buff Buck Morningstar?"
Those husky tones lifted the veil from Buck's mind
His mem'ries returned in a rush to remind
Him of near-fatal head wound and dastardly plot
To take him away from the love he'd forgot.
"It's you, Ram!" breathed Buck, "Whom I loved from afar!"
Grammar brought back Ram's feelings for Buck Morningstar.
"Buck, when they hit you, I thought you were dead!
"The trauma then wiped you right out of my head!
"Look, we've read the guidelines, and know this should end
"With burned biscuits, and handcrafts* for me and my friends
"Are too studly to kill off - dames like my scar.
"Can you stick endless sequels, brave Buck Morningstar?"
And with that the sheikh called his Zeta Force chums
They summoned a 'copter, black, bristling with guns
And flew through the sunset to Buck's secret den,
While the bride put her comfortable shoes on again,
Leaving jeans that must zip by aid of crowbar
To the sheikh and his cowboy, buff Buck Morningstar.
*redemptive ones, of course. But it didn't scan.
Monday, July 24, 2006
I can also remember strings of numbers pretty well, which apparently is linked to the ability to learn foreign words. Who'd have thought there were so many hidden benefits to learning Czech?
Anyhow, the BBC are collecting data for memory research. Lots of quizzes, tips, articles and so on. They also want people to submit their own memories of specific types (first memory, memories of significant/life-changing events). Once you're registered you can also look up what other people have written under keywords.
Of course, as with participation in all scientific research, before doing this it's worth reading the consent details. Who knows what nefarious purpose may be hidden under the seemingly innocent facade of a nifty website with pictures of elephants? Unfortunately I failed to notice the one that says, "The BBC reserves the right to edit your memories" until it was too late. Eeek.
Note to self - better check for amnesia tomorrow. Who am I?
Friday, July 21, 2006
One thing that astonishes me is that some patrons, in a display of extreme gastric fortitude and daring, will actually be eating cake at 7:30 am when I pop in for my cheese and tomato rohliček or egg brioška. This morning, there was a gentleman eating an ice cream sundae with his coffee.
I must be descended from a long line of breakfast puritans, because the first time I saw it, I blinked in disbelief. I don't even like sugar on my cereal. To my mind, sweet, yeast-based morning goods are acceptable on weekends and holy days but cake and ice cream before 10 am feels insanely decadent.
So photo below in honour of:
1. The above-mentioned gentleman and his challenge to my dietary preconceptions.
2. Freedom for Mel.
3. Freedom from a long-term project for me.
4. The humdinger of a thunderstorm currently brewing outside (pleasepleasepleaserain).
5. Friday and pre-weekend giddiness.
(credit to here as still no camera batteries)
Thursday, July 20, 2006
But please don't blame her. And I did start to respond in the comments. I really did. But the whole thing is weird. (To me, that is. It's completely normal to the millions of native-slavic-language speakers who instead think the whole latin/germanic language system of tenses* is a bizarre perversion of the time-space continuum, or whatever. At least, that's what Mrs. Jana thinks. Tenses make her angry.) And because it's weird, it refuses to be confined to a brief comment.
So first of all, I may be making a gross generalisation. But friends who studied Russian used to complain about perfectives and imperfectives in that language. And now, here I am, learning a bit of Czech and lo and behold we hit chapter 12 (skinny chapters, btw) and they leap out to bite me in my linguistic hindquarters. So I googled, and it seems that verb aspects crop up in Bulgarian and Ukrainian in a big and important way too.
Anyhow, Sara-wearing-her-Rosina-hat could do this way better than me, but here's my amateur take on the matter after a couple of lessons:
Perfective and imperfective are two different aspects of verbs. "Aspect" kind of means how you look at/think about the action that's being described, regardless of when it takes place. So if you picture it from outside the action, in a linguistic out-of-body experience, it could be seen as a single, complete action. This is perfective (as in perfectly complete). If you picture it somehow from within the action (in other words, are more interested in the process as it's going on), it's imperfective.
Aspects are different from tenses, however, which is where it becomes confusing because I've definitely come across verbs in the past being called "perfect". So I've had to chuck that notion out of the window for the moment. In Czech, you can have past and present perfective (it has a future meaning), and past, present and future imperfectives.
So far, we're only dabbling in the past, which basically means deciding if you're interested in the fact that an action has been completed or in the action itself, which could sometimes give it a continous sense, but not always. It's not really like the imparfait/passé composé distinction beloved of French tests of yore which can usually be translated as "was/were yodelling" (imp.) or "used to yodel" (imp.)vs. "he yodelled" (pc). It also communicates things in ways that are expressed in English completely differently.
For example, you could say "Last Saturday that pudgy and over-familiar chimpanzee [shopped for] a new blouson leather jacket." If you used the perfective [shopped for] you could mean either:
1. He'd found and bought the jacket or...
2. He'd checked out all the jackets and decided that he'd rather get something in padded gingham and chains and spend the change on a cheap fedora.
But if you used the imperfective aspect of [shopped for], you could:
1. Be setting the backdrop for another action in the sense of "was shopping for…when he was attacked by a vengeful Confucius impersonator", or…
2. Mean that he'd shopped, not bought anything, and would probably go back and look at the discounts in the sales next week. Or not. You just don't care if the chimpanzee is stuck forever in limbo, still shopping. Given his taste in outfits that may be a good thing.
This is about as far as I've come. And the way Mrs. Jana nervously changes the subject whenever I mention the present tense gives me the feeling we're just skimming the surface. Basically it's just weird and depends on point of view and probably just getting a feeling for it.
But here's where it gets more weird. Because instead of just taking your average verb and twisting it in devious but ultimately classifiable ways (stick a bit on the end/the beginning/in the middle, oh but here's an exception) those wacky Czechs decided instead to use a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT WORD. Admittedly it's one that often appears distantly related, but only in the sense that some of the letters or the odd syllable are the same.
There are no rules about how it works on this frontier, kids. And I bet that as a beginner I'm getting the easy ones. Some verbs get longer, some get shorter. Some add a prefix or suffix, some change letters or syllables or any combination of these things. So you just have to learn them. Except there can be more than one perfective verb for an imperfective one. Not always pairs of verbs tromping along two-by-two in a metaphorical crocodile for the Czechs. Oh no.
Oh. And all verbs of motion, such as "going-by-feet" and "going-by-transport-including-roller-skates" are exceptions and are always imperfective, but it's okay because they form the future tense in a TOTALLY DIFFERENT WAY.
All of which makes me suspect that those Czech grammarians had a lot of repressed anger.
Sorry Beth. You give me garlic-browning tips, I give you rants on linguistics. Life is very cruel.
Edited to add: Aaaarrrgggghhhh. Verbs of motion are all perfective. Not imperfective. Aaaaarrrrgggghhhh.
*By this I mean things like, "I will wankle-rotate", "I will be wankle-rotating", "I will have wankle-rotated", "I'm going to wankle-rotate", the nuances of which I am woefully ill-equipped to explain. I just wankle-rotate away. Or is it off?
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
In addition to the mystery of the floating "e" at the end, Czech also does the weird Slavic perfective/imperfective verb thing. How cruel. Do you know how they tell time? It's unspeakable. No really. The word for "quarter" has no vowels. Clearly, some ancient Czech grammarians had far too little to do on those long dark winter nights.
I'd go on holiday but it takes the accusative case and I've already forgotten that one.
In other news, we went to a botanical garden over the weekend for a bit of green and cool. 'Twas lovely, although we provided a great deal of fodder for amusement for all the tall, elegantly dressed model-types who have emerged from their winter hibernation. They stalked about the pebbled paths on slim golden legs, feet strapped into delicate confections of lace and air with heels slimmer still.
By contrast, our more sensible flip-flops and dog-chew trainers were a tad erm... earthy? But at least after three or so hours of walking, our feet still managed to carry us to the local micro-brewery's restaurant for some beer-battered comestibles. Balm for the weary soul.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Witnesses will testify that my karaoke party-piece is a weirdly thin and squeaky version of Son of a Preacher Man. But then, karaoke is more about the singer’s pleasure than the unadulterated musical delight of their hapless
But something is rotten in the state of Empty Orchestra. Note how the lady above appears to be taking advantage of my temporary absence from the scene to muscle in and steal some of my karaoke glory. That is no innocent beehive she is flaunting, the brazen hussy. Oh no. Look past the trivial detail of its colour. It’s a blatant “Dusty” ‘do.
Well let me tell you, you lacquered-up floozy, that no one, I repeat, NO ONE does that Dusty song but ME. I am Son of a Preacher Man. Don’t you even think about coming over here with your silly pouffy hair howling into the mic with big eyes and a voice like breaking hearts over ground glass.
I’m giving you one friendly warning. (This one). Stuff thy ridiculous coiffure (clearly a perruque) in a basket, get thee hence and find thyself another karaoke box. And take your stupid friend and his Michael “The Man With Two Haircuts” Bolton hair with you. You’ll only make yourself look silly when it comes to your inevitable defeat at my hands.
Karaoke Domination Will Be Mine.
Do I really need to do a maniacal cackle with the echo on now?
No. Didn't think so.
Monday, July 17, 2006
PS. Someone told me this weekend that 'Allo 'Allo was experiencing a resurgence in popularity, retro-comedy styleeee, via the student population of fair Blighty. Is this true? If I can remember it from the first time, does that make me an old fuddy-duddy (not necessarily a bad thing)? Should I just retire quietly to my corner muttering about knockwurst and a mantra of catchphrases?
Friday, July 14, 2006
On the other hand, I'm slowly grinding my chakras into the dust, but at least I'm still buying my (all-vegan, karmically-superior) pastries from the Hare Krishna bakery. That's gotta help? Right? What do you mean eating twelve of their almond cookies will not necessarily bring twelve-fold spiritual benefits?
*tries to do a downward dog, achieves collapsed lung pose*
Thursday, July 13, 2006
They also say things like, "Evil Auntie Peril, as someone who possesses the most marvellous and beautiful red shoes (new ones for summer) and striped hot pink happy kneesocks, you are clearly something of a fashion maven. Tell me, oh guru of the second-hand clothing rails, what is the well-dressed man wearing this season?"
Ummm… well actually the latter was something of a lie. Most people would probably prefer to waltz down the High St. clad in nowt but a teeny-weeny Burberry thong and matching puce Wellington boots, partnered by said ugly naked neighbour (and he looks rather heavy to be treading on one's dainty toes) than say something so patently nonsensical. Maybe it's the layering and "DangerMouse" t-shirt with fizzing bomb on the back? It could never be the delightful footwear.
Until last Sunday, I would have been stumped by such a question, and replied with pathetic hesitation, "Err… hipster jeans? Converse? Some kind of retro thingy?" Luckily, once again, the producers of Kapesní Slovník s vý slovností have ridden to the rescue on their snow-white dictionary with little Czech flags a-flying. I can only defer to their greater wisdom.
Since there is only one page of male clothes compared with four for the beautiful lay-deez (including she of the stretch dress), I can only conclude that men are supposed to wear fewer clothes than women, something our neighbour opposite appears to have taken to heart.
So anyhow, if a picture paints a thousand words, here are sixteen of mine. Most of them aren't even real ones that a person could look up in the dictionary. Maybe that's why they gave us pictures instead:
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
I have vowed to never, ever do review-y type things here. Mainly because I'm not good at leaving them alone and would end up doing stuff like this, but worse, and the whole process would drive me nuts.
What follows is an addendum to an earlier post, so please keep in mind through the rest of this that I truly enjoyed Cooking With Fernet Branca. This is more in the nature of a quibble, and it might not even be the book that's caused it. CWFB is a very funny, hugely entertaining book and my memory of certain passages still makes me grin like this at odd moments, but with marginally greater overtones of the sinister kind (my teeth are pointier):
But it's now been six days since I finished the book, and its ending is beginning to bother me a tad.
Perhaps it's because I had to stop reading about 30 pages from the end? Then I made the fatal error of picking it up after a long, tiring day and so didn't have enough book left for the momentum to kick in. I really hope so.
It's not really a crash, bang, wallop ending. There's a bish, bash, bosh and the whirring of machinery (again) and this was the point where I had to break off. It left me wondering all day about The End. Then I picked it up, and the rest of the story meandered on to a fairly decent resolution. But over the last couple of days I've started to have the nagging feeling that after an attempt to move on, things looked as if they were heading for a slide back into the former status quo.
Maybe that's the point? Truthfully, this would suit the characters. They aren't exactly on a quest for personal growth. Also I've read other books with similar endings and not had any problem with them at all. I've liked some of them quite a lot. And I don't require every loose end tied up in a neat bow. So I just can't put my finger on what bugs me about this one. Maybe I'm turning into a bit of a drama queen. Or maybe it was only a question of my unfortunate timing.
Anyhow, I've been hunting around online to see what other people thought but haven't found anything that chimes yet. The Amazon reviews are either glowing or bitterly disappointed because the book's not H-P's usual style. It is a big change for him, apparently, which oddly makes me more inclined to find some of his other stuff and make the comparison. There's also this interview with the writer, which is interesting (great magazine title *koffkoff*) but doesn't help my dilemma.
I think I need to re-read, but can't quite face it yet because I don't want this nagging feeling to spoil the fun of the the book. So if anyone's read it or has had a similar experience with another book, any thoughts? Related to this, can breaking off at the wrong moment affect your enjoyment of a book? Or is it down to the writing? Are books meant to be read in one sitting or should a reader be able to put them down at any point and pick them up again later? Or is it just that certain books are more enjoyable when gobbled up in one sitting and others are better savoured in delicious bits over an extended period of time?
Monday, July 10, 2006
Of course, communication isn’t just about language. Subtle things like tone of voice, context, gesture and facial expression are critical to human interaction. It’s vitally important to be sensitive to these little details and gestures as they can make such a critical difference to meaning. Blank, staring DeSalvo may be DeSirable on a romance novel cover but in real life it’s essential to understand the visual clues that indicate what’s going on inside a person’s mind.
Luckily the creators of Kapesní Slovník s vý slovností are not ones to shirk their duty, however tricky. They've included in their fine dictionary a handy one-page guide to the specific nuances of facial expression. Since I've found them very useful already this morning (especially scared/frightened/fearful) I’ve reproduced the images below. Much as the delicate twitch of an eyelash in a "Noh" drama can convey so much, the following masterful depictions of human emotion demonstrate the importance of the smallest detail when it comes to the portrayal of mood.
Edited to mess about with photo sizes and layout and so on. This blog design stuff is all a bit beyond my ken. Or even my barbie. Sorry as always if it causes hassle, but wouldn't you rather have the enhanced viewing experience?
Friday, July 07, 2006
More importantly, this gave me the notion that there may be aspects of the Czech psyche with which I am One. The goat thing in particular. For although it is a fairly recent enmity, I hate, loathe and despise the vile beasts. I am emphatically not the goat fan. I am the rabid and irrational goat anti-fan. I take great delight in eating vast quantities of chèvre cheese on the grounds that somewhere, somehow, I may be depriving a runty baby goat of its mother's milk. If I went carnivorous, goat would be on the menu every night.
The origins of this sentiment aren't hard to discover. For a period of time I looked after a small child who had a pet goatlet (not my idea). Child was an early-morning type. I was not. Child was hugely amused by my pre-dawn incoherence. I was not.
It's probably obvious where this was headed, but at 5:00 am my thought processes aren't up to much.
Clip-clop of goaty hooves.
Wet tug on hair.
Reflex tug back.
Loud BLEAT of offended ruminant.
Left ear deafened.
Goaty teeth chomp.
Howls of pain.
Feet land in sticky puddle of goat effluvia.
Howls of rage.
Rinse and repeat.
Thursday, July 06, 2006
By the way, if you're someone for whom I buy books as presents and it doesn't appeal or you've got it already, speak now or forever after… 'Cos otherwise you'll probably be getting a copy for Christmas or the next big festive event. It's a fast, light read and quite pick-up-able, so even though there's no audio book, those with sprogs should be okay. If you're still in Abuja, I'm gonna need that mailing address…
That is all.
Wednesday, July 05, 2006
*typing very quietly*
Beautiful Moravian Whitney wakes up. She is on a magnificent stallion thundering through the forest-jungle. She looks down with her beautiful brown princess eyes to see a pair of handsome gorilla warrior hairy arms. She is in the firmly-muscled hairy arms of the handsome gorilla warrior! She is riding on a stallion thundering through the leafy forest-jungle! Sheer drama and excitement of the moment overwhelms the beautiful Moravian princess Whitney and she swoons, gracefully.
Beautiful Moravian princess Whitney wakes up. She is in a soft bed and her beautiful princess shape lies on silken sheets. Her beautiful brown eyes open like big brown pools. They look arou-
Whitney saw she was in a beautiful room. It had big windows and a big door. In the room were a bed, two chairs and two night tables. The bed was performing? ten inches? icicles? ohh… covered with a silk thingy. The silk thingamajig was somethingorother with a toaster and a gold lobster? labrador? (Oh soddit, I'll skip this bit. It's only boring description.)
Whitney special-verb-for-walked (woo-hoo!) to the window. Looking out, she saw an enormous and beautiful courtyard filled with happy peasants in picturesque national dress. Some smiled and waved at her. A woman started to sing a joyful song of welcome.
At that moment, Whitney sensed a dark and brooding presence behind her and turned, ready to face her unknown captor...
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
But of course, this is a ridiculous idea.
Of course, my command of Czech isn’t quite up to the required level either,
Since a synopsis of the Czech version might be helpful for students of translation theory, without much more ado,
The greedy father of the beautiful Moravian princess, Whitney, has sold her to a secret outer-space technology program run by a mysterious and wealthy benefactor. He tells Whitney she has a new job as an astronaut and she takes off in a strange rocketship.
Big bang. No, not that big bang, the other one.
There are noises of crashing. Horses come through the
Edited a lot to mess around with fonts to make this more legible. Sorry for any hassle caused.