Monday, January 28, 2008

The Return of Mrs. Jana. v.2.0 (The ReWenge)

Due to various complicated reasons, the most complicated of which was probably laziness on my part, and not much helped by the inherent difficulties of the conditional mood, I haven't had Czech lessons with Mrs. Jana for over a year now. (my very, very, very bad).

All that changed one rainy day a couple of weeks ago, when, propelled by one of my more feeble-minded and naïve New Year's resolutions, she relaunched herself and exploded smack-bang in the middle of my normally innocent weekly round of activities. Thunder would have probably rolled quite ominously, if I had not forgotten my words-for-discussing-the-weather in Czech and so pretended not to notice. Besides, I was mesmerised by her steely will (not steely wool - that's still in a cupboard under the sink for cleaning the oven) and savage glint in her eye.

The first lessons have concentrated on revision. They went a bit like this:

Mrs J.: (in Czech) "Today we are discussing nouns and adjectives. What are the 3 genders and how do they decline?"
Me: (in Czech) "Huh?"
Mrs. J.: (in Czech, but more slowly) "Today… we… talk… about… nouns… What… are… types… of… nouns?"
Draws three columns on a blank sheet of paper
Me: (in English, but with a fake Czech accent) "Ummm… Maskulin*? Feminin*? a Neutr-- Neutr-a-..."
Mrs. J. shakes head, ominously.
Me: "Neutraa--- uum??"
Mrs. J: "Good. Now, what are the endings of these nouns?"
Me: "Uhhh… Feminin* je (Czech for "he/she/it is") '-a'"

Bets firmly hedged at this point, on the grounds that many languages that have genders tend to consider words ending in '-a' to be feminine. Except those Italian Andreas, of course, on whose situation we shall briefly touch later, although probably not when their over-protective signifcant others and loved ones are looking.

Mrs. J.: "Good. Now, what are some other feminine endings?"
Me (weakly covering frantic thinking with awkward smile): "Ummm… -ka?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. But this is like -a. What other endings?"
Me: "Wait! Wait! I know this! -kyně!" (It's pronounced -keenyeh. Or somehow like a reverse "quinoa", but less posh, and not so much of the Karen Blixens/Happy Valley set.)
Mrs. J.: "Good."
Birdsong. The sun comes out.
Me: (now on a roll) "And maskulin* je… without "-a" and without vowel! Je konsonant*"
Angel choirs (theologically speaking, neutrum, I believe) bellow with joy.
Mrs. J.: "Except for?"
Me: "Errr.. Honza?"
Mrs. J.: "Yes. Honza je logicky maskulin. Logically masculine**."

Delirious cheers and rapturous applause all 'round. Big bunches of flowers in gratitude to the angel chorus, with regard to whom I refuse to embroil myself in a debate vis-a-vis masculinity, logical or otherwise. That is clearly a job for those men with beards, tonsures and well-polished pins.

Mrs. J. (cont'd): "Also maskulin are some words that end with -ska." (She writes this down with some emphasis.) "And for neutrum?"
Me: "Words with -e… and -o."
Angels faint with delight.
Mrs. J.: "Good. And what about adjectives?"
sccrreeechh… angels exit, genderstruck

And so the lesson rolls on…

Mrs. J's verdict at the end of my ordeal by revision? "You have remembered a lot. This is good. But it is nothing to do with you, of course. It is only because of my teaching that you have remembered well."

She's right of course. Mrs. Jana is always right.

PS. Other Mrs. Janas are also available. But that is another story, for another time.

*Note. These are not real Czech words, but they are real Czech endings. Handle with Care. Do not attempt to use in the comfort of your own home without the assistance of a specialist.

**Other note. Still making these grammatical words up. But Honza is quietly confident that he is far more than logically masculine, although of course this is always a rather nice option to exercise on alternate Tuesdays in the Fitness Centrum whirlpool.

ETA: another few words.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And now featuring one of my absolutest favoritest book series that I read last year

Don’t mind me – I’m just warming up my blogging muscles - such as they are.

I’m not the sort of person who deliberately catalogues what I read in any particular way. It’s more that the vast and growing-ever-more-mountainous-yet accretion of books in my room has a life (and a structure) of it's own. Regarding the first, flatmates have speculated on the leporine breeding habits of the common or garden liber fictionalis (sic[k] - and sorry to any latinists). At least in such close quarters. And doesn't all the noise keep me awake at nights?

But as regards the second, on the Great Paperback Mountain, if you know how to read the topology, patterns emerge... Duly extracted from the third pile of paperbacks in from the left (spines out) at the back on the top shelf of the Bower of Bliss that is my incarnation of A Well-Known-Swedish-Modular-Furniture-Flatpak-Company's birch-effect "Mötesplats"* model I offer for consideration Laurie R. King’s "Mary Russell" series.

Except anything that follows is going to be crap, because whenever I try to explain my adoration for this series, I am woefully ineloquent. I end up talking like this, “They're really, really good. Promise. Seriously. They're soooo goooood. Wait - please don’t read the back cover. It's much better than that, really. You’ll like it. You might love it. Please stop reading the back cover. It's not like that. I promise. Well, okay a little. Yes, it is Sherlock Holmes and yes, he is married. I've just made that sound really weird. But it’s not. Well, okay, he is a lot older than her, but I just sort of channel Sean Connery and it helps. But it's like all about their meeting of minds...

"Wait, wait a sec before you put it down. Please? Yes, that one has Kipling’s Kim in it. But he’s a great character she really makes him her own. Anyhow, they're all sort of inter-textual and each book is like a homage to these classic genres of popular fiction. You know the Gothic mystery, and the Locked Room mystery… And they’re really cool, because she’s a feminist, and there are these ideas about the outsider the observer and how she makes her own place, because she’s half English and half American and Jewish. And she’s a theologian. So she questions everything and doesn't accept the way society would try to limit her. Oh. Okay. Not really your thing. Try this Meg Cabot. A cheerleader has her head chopped off and put in a saucepan.”

But secretly? Secretly, I want to be Mary Russell when I grow up. Just like I want to be Harriet Vane when I grow up. Not for the events or the mysteries or the men in their lives, but for the thoughtful and even (ungrammatically) thinking way they live their lives.

Actually, I owe a huge thank you to Marianne McA who recommended this series to me, and hooked me by way of an extract from the first of the books, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. I can do no more, it seems. Alas. So don’t pay attention to my witterings – go read the extract.

*(koff) not a the name of the real product - their word means "shop assistant". This word doesn't and I like it better.

Edited to update links. My bad. Thanks Suisan for spotting this.