A Sweet Friday Afternoon

Got a call from Amz this morning at 4:20; it was already getting light outside. At first I thought it must be later than that and I tried to work up some semblance of coherence, to no avail. I just couldn’t hold up my end of the conversation, no matter how much energy was coming over the wire. She quickly realized she was talking to a zombie and let me go back to sleep, after lamenting that we were not in the same city. I feel the same way.

If my fuzzy impressons were correct, Amz had just had a fight with her boyfriend. She had just moved the last of her stuff into his place, but apparently it was still not their place. A thought tip-toed across my less-than-nimble brain as I drifted back off to the land of nod. I am the only one who has crashed at her place for more than a day or two that she hasn’t wound up being angry with. Amz would be, I think, a very challenging roommate. She’ll patch things up with Cute Boy, and that’s good. Should things fall apart, though, my advice to her for her next relationship is this: “Sure, sure, marriage and all that, just don’t live together. Ever. Make sure there’s a short taxi ride between your house and your husband’s.”

One night, enjoying the lights reflecting off the still waters of Mission Bay as we walked along the deserted shore, we forged a pact that if we were both single January 1, 2012, we would get married.

Note to self: start saving up cab fare.

I woke up for real a few hours later, the morning sun blasting through my windows, my head clear and sharp, knowing I had a lot of cramming to do if I was not going to waste my czech lesson today. I got some studying in yesterday, but there’s a lot of shit in this language. I have another episode about that coming up soon, as soon as I get my head around do and na well enough to even ask the question.

It was a good lesson; my studies paid off, and I’m finally getting the concepts she’s been pounding into my head week after week. We were done ahead of schedule, and she took the opportunity to throw a new pile of vocabulary at me. Parts of the body. That was good; just the day before my landlord had been complaining of his knee, and for some reason I had wanted to know how to say “foot” this morning.

Otakar Ptáček talking about knees and Iveta discussing body parts are very different. My teacher is a very pretty czech girl who is dating a friend of my brother’s and now a friend of mine. But pretty she is, by gum, and a guy can’t help but think things. I can’t help it anyway, especially when she throws in the word for “kiss” after teaching me “lips”. They’re similar. It was all for linguistic interest. Not sure I can justify learning two ways to say “breasts” the same way, but over here breasts just aren’t the same deal. I was taken back to the line in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World when the english guy says “All you Americans are so fixated on bosoms.” (Actually, I doubt he used the word “fixated.” It was the 60’s, but ridiculous psychological theories were still not part of pop culture.)

Rose once said, (and this quote I do have right) “Boobs are man’s kryptonite.”

See that? And incident that lasted perhaps fifteen seconds, thirty at the outside, has now taken up a big chunk of a narrative that was supposed to just be about what nice day I’ve been having. So she taught me breasts. (All her indications of body parts were accompanied with unambiguous gestures.) And she also taught me boobs. And butt. Inspired by that, I had her teach me the phrase “I’ve been sitting on my ass all day.” After “stomach” we discussed Czech food. I told her that when all czechs drive they will be even fatter than Americans. Then I told her that Americans will drive around in circles until a parking space opens up so they don’t have to walk very far. She looked at me, incredulous.

“That’s horrible,” she said.

Czechs, speaking English, use that word a lot. Horrible. And they say it with feeling. One language or the other has a more nuanced way of expressing badness, and things don’t map across the void between the two quite right. I think it is English that has more shades of gray, which surprises me. The Czechs are to unpleasant like Eskimos are to snow. (That’s not really fair, but I like it too much to delete.) I think perhaps it is not in the czech nature to differentiate. There is that which is pleasant, and that which is to be survived. Last week Iveta misspoke in English, not her native tongue. “I’m horrible!” she exclaimed. “I’m so stupid!” She said this after she had listened to me massacre some ordinary phrase she had known before she had known what knowing was. I look forward in the future to comparing the different gradations, of “bad” and “stupid”. Perhaps if you were to graph them in czech and english you would discover that the axes are completely different. Now wouldn’t that be interesting? It’s stuff like that that keeps me going. Language as a window to the soul. The words people use, the phrases, the parts of life that language simplifies, show where that culture’s heads are.

It was a good lesson, and afterward I hustled over here, to the soulless free Internet bar in the mall. I won’t be here much longer; the day outside is completely perfect, I’ve got a great Hawaiian shirt on, and the people-watching is optimum. I’d be out in the day already, but they’re playing some old Rolling Stones and I’m feeling good. I’m feeling velmi dobře, and I don’t care who knows it.

11 thoughts on “A Sweet Friday Afternoon

  1. I gotta pitch another prop to Bill Bryson’s The Mother Tongue here. He mentions that in German and French they have about 100,000* words in common, everyday usage, while English has 600,000. English is, indeed, a very expressive and gradated language.

    * (i don’t rememb. exact num.)

  2. I have to disagree. I think the vagina is man’s kryptonite. It weakens even the strongest man with it’s power. Breasts, or pupper as we say in Norway, are simply the ‘damsel in distress’ that lures Superman to the kryptonite.

    Don’t believe me?! Touch some breasts. How do you feel? Now, spend some time in a vagina. You’ll feel weak and tired.

    Jeg også er veldig bra! Jeg drikker øl i kveld! Skål!

  3. As a female person, I humbly disagree with Herr Dr. Pants. Breasts are the true kryptonite. Why? Because you don’t have to actually touch kryptonite to be affected by it.

    (Incidentally, Pants, pupper is a fabulous word, and I am going to teach that one to my husband.)

    Re: parking lots, Bill Bryson also rags on that in one of his books. I forget which one, probably the one after he returned to the US. When you get into the neighborhood of malls and big box retailers, even though you can see your destination is just across the street, it is impossible to walk there.

  4. Ah, yes, I remember Bryson also said that English is the most complicated language on Earth — the hardest one for a non-native speaker to learn. Sure, Czech is complicated, with a huge variety of ways to decline words, but it is consistent within its rules. English isn’t. Some of this can be seen in the vocabulary, which English has adapted from many other languages and, especially in the U.S., combined languages, such as Greek and Latin (television) or Gambian and Anglo-Saxon (jukebox). Having such a huge vocabulary allows English to be very powerful, because different words have very subtle distinctions in meaning.

    On the other hand, the origin of English as a confluence of other languages also means the grammar rules are inconsistent. We get some rules from German, some from French and other Latinate languages, some from other sources, and of course, there are all sorts of exceptions to just about every rule. We have more irregular verbs than anyone else. Back in the Victorian Era, some pedants decided to try to correct this problem by making English behave in the same way as their paragon of a perfect language, Latin. Any grammatical form that appeared in Latin was good; any form that didn’t was bad. That resulted in some of the most meaningless grammar rules ever, such as the stricture against split infinitives — since Latin infinitives are a single word, it’s not possible to place a word in the middle of them. Worse, some people, including some newspaper editors I know and once worked for, extended that particular prohibition to any adverb placed within a verb phrase, which resulted in the adverbs coming awkwardly either before or after the verb phrase and not anywhere near the verb being modified.

    Even without the added complications of the Victorian pedants, whose myths I work daily to debunk, those of my students who have come here from some other country have a really difficult task. I have to admire them for what they’re doing, especially as many of them can’t afford to hire a private tutor, whether attractive or not. English really IS a hard language to learn, and these students give a totally new meaning to the phrase “hard work.”

    Yes, there are people who believe immigrants, especially the undocumented type, come here to sponge off the government because they’re selfish and lazy, but that description most definitely doesn’t apply to any of MY students.

  5. Oh, and speaking of the huge vocabulary English has, thanks to having satellite TV at Five O’Clock Somewhere, I caught the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee. While there wasn’t anything as dramatic as last year, when the kid fainted and had to be revived so he could complete his word, there was some action, when the “S” fell off the backdrop naming the sponsor, Scripps. Those tuning in to ESPN for the Masters Tournament, the coverage of which had been delayed by the spelling bee running overtime, might have been mystified by seeing trio of kids standing below a sign that appeared to be advertising an LA street gang.

    It was interesting that the winning word was actually Italian, and was a word I knew — like many Italian words, it arrived in English by way of music: appoggiatura.

    Another interesting tidbit: This year’s winner, and nearly all of this year’s finalists, and nearly all of the winners for the past decade or more, have been from families who immigrated here from India. Sure, we may be exporting telephone-support jobs to New Delhi, but we’re importing spelling-bee champions.

  6. Carol Anne, best wishes with your Victorian grammar debunking.

    Re: immigrants learning English – I have a friend who move to the US from the Phillipines as a child. While living in DC, he knew about the Potomac (poe-TOE-muck) River, and thus concluded that the large, thick-skinned animal that lived in rivers must be a hip-poe-poe-TOE-muss.

  7. Hye, just tuned in to find the counter at 17,010. You guys are lucky Jer got this place blaced out counter wise, ot pL would no longer be pervious! Damn that counter!

  8. Now it says 17,011 – not sure what to say since I don’t technically “Count.” Of course, one thing can be said – F-G-F is now among the pervious. Hey, what ever happened to the plan to build those statues?


  9. By the rule proposed and ratified in a vote where only his vote counted, pL himself created the policy that should an egg-fryer win, the MOH office remains with the previous (rather than pervious) MOH.

    17011 came to the side on a search for “how to cook eggs over-easy).

  10. All is weel Jer bear, but your still my backup. I don’t think there is a man crazy enough to want to marry me except. But hey I looked forward to coming home to you after two jobs and school and we had great conversation. And you must admit my couchs were very comfortable, hell I don’t know why you always let me have the big one, you should have taken the big couch after all I did have a bed I never slept in.. maybe you should have taken the bed..my stuffies would have been nice to you! I have to admit, I really miss my old place and I was the best hostess with the mostest. I cooked, it was always clean, and all booze of all kinds, but mostly red wine! Not to mention all the magizines my boss gave me so I could paint. I don’t think I ever had so many girlie mags. Cosmo, glamour, jane.. too bad the paintings never came out looking like any of them.. any who waiting until July I’ll drive to New Mexico or Zona or where ever you are!!! I can’t wait to go to Prague.. very soon, so tell Fuego and Marianne not to worry!

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