His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

Archive for the month “March, 2013”

Recent photos, mostly snow

This is on a very frozen lake. I like it because there is a focus on the children (all on the left side), but that it also gives a hint as to how huge the sky can seem in Minnesota.

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Pre-de-corking of some French wine. Nothing particularly meaningful about 2006 as opposed to its neighboring years, but I thought it would make a cool shot.

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I took this a few days ago for my mother, who lives in a place where snow rarely falls. It doesn’t quite show how the snow sparkled like glitter, both in the air and on the ground, but there is some of it. The morning sun is just peeking in at the top of the photo, and the tree casts its spreading shadow all the way to the viewer’s feet.

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This ice-hole — be careful how you pronounce that — forms several times every winter at a place where melting snow and ice from the roof drip onto the inches of snow on the ground, itself too thick to be easily erased. This one, here full deep and reaching to the rocks below, even shows the no-longer-frozen snow giving in to gravity, a drop at a time.

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A couple of large books, so large that they must rest supinely. If this doesn’t make you love old-style numerals, I don’t know what will.

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This is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken in the past year or so. Again on the frozen lake. He has stopped and seems to look at the chapel ahead, and he’s surrounded by snow, ice, cold. He stands out in his yellow mantle. No one else is near. Is he wondering what’s in the chapel, why it’s there, whether to go on ahead? Is he tired, glad, surprised, disappointed? Is he on a pilgrimage to this place, or does the planned end of his road lie elsewhere, this building in the woods an unexpected find? Is he the first one to come to it, or does he know there are others there?

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Nullus locus dulcior

To begin with, for those that care, the title is a paraphrase of Cicero, “Nunc vero nec locus tibi ullus dulcior esse debet patria…” (Epist. Fam. IV.9.3, “Now, indeed, no place should be sweeter to you than your homeland…”). I borrow those fine words to talk about my homeland.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

What it looks like in Minn. now.

I’m a native of Alabama, but I’ve lived in Minnesota for the past two and a half years. On the morning that I write this, at my northern residence, I saw, the temperature was 1°F. Snow has been on the ground since November and all of the water seen out-of-doors, most obviously Minnesota’s myriad lakes, have been solidly slick and frozen, and with Minnesota’s winter comes a cold unknown in Alabama, a coldness that the clichéd “bitter cold” doesn’t even ably describe. Lest, dear readers, you imagine that Minnesota’s charms, even in winter, have been lost on this writer, know well that I’ve found much to like there that will not easily escape my memory, but for now I dwell on things Alabam(i)an. Incidentally, being unable to avoid citing another line in Latin, there are occasions in Minnesota when I have empathy for Ovid, whose words

Barbarus hic ego sum, quia non intelligor ulli (Tristia V.10.37)

Here, I’m a barbarian, because I’m understood by no one.

fit well my placement in a sometimes strange land, and I’m sure the feeling would be found mutual, if those Minnesotans with whom I have regular contact were asked. (I purposely do not quote the following line, lest I give the impression that I consider my current fellow-citizens of Minnesota are stolidi!)

I went back to my patria for a brief sojourn, the direct cause itself not being a welcome one, but one attended by a number of benefits, some foreseen, some unforeseen. It always lends refreshment to return home, and neither did this trip fail to refresh. The time spent with family members, the freedom from regular structured work, the blue — as opposed to gray, as commonly this time of year in Minnesota — sky, against which the bright clouds are sharply set, the more flavorful food; all these things made it a fine and needed trip for me, but not only for me, since my wife and children also reckon it a definite refuge of safety, sweetness, and deep recognition, even though they do not have the years of experience spent there that I have, years polished in a way that only childhood can. This solidarity makes visits there all the better.

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Some IPA I like, hitherto not seen in Minn., but readily drinkable in Ala.!

Lunch with my mother.

Lunch with my mother.

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I enjoyed several cigars and my pipe in the relatively warm weather, including one cigar with my grandfather, eighty-seven years old and whom I’ve not seen in too long a time. He is retired now, but worked most of his life as a carpenter. He went to school only through the eighth grade, and had to begin working all the time at a young age to provide for his family. I always enjoy talking with him, not only because of our shared familial history, but to hear of his experiences, and that in his accent and idiolect, which I appreciate both as his grandson and as a linguist. I confess that I was surprised to hear him use the word “brogue”, a word I don’t think I’ve heard anyone in my family use before, and a word rarely heard from the mouth of someone that reached only the eighth grade.

Talking with my grandfather.

Talking with my grandfather.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

A giant cow spotted on the way through Wisc.

Because the number in our traveling party was large, we traveled by road rather than air. As you can imagine, the road from central Minnesota to central Alabama is no short road. My children, fortunately, are usually hardy travelers who only rarely complain overmuch. The way down wasn’t eventful, but on the way back, we met some nasty roads in Illinois and Wisconsin, thanks to an assault of snow, which led to de-roaded cars left and right and a truck pulling two trailers on its side and blocking traffic south.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

Snowy travel on the return trip.

I’m now back in Minnesota, but my eyes are patiently turned southward, looking forward to the next stay there, where there will surely again be more meetings of this and that person, of south and midwest, and of experiences all around of different ages and memories.

Here’s a post I wrote a few weeks ago that I thought might interest other readers: it’s on a short Arabic text (written in Syriac letters, a phenomenon known as Garshuni) that lists the effects of wine on the body and soul; English translation provided, along with images from the manuscript. Enjoy! Comments welcome.

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Well-known are the biblical praises of wine from the Psalter, “wine that maketh glad the heart of man” (Ps 104:15, ויין ישׂמח לבב אנוש, καὶ οἶνος εὐφραίνει καρδίαν ἀνθρώπου) and from the line in a parable, where a vine says, “Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man?” (Judges 9:13, החדלתי את תירושי המשׂמח אלהים ואנשים, B Μὴ ἀπολείψασα τὸν οἶνόν μου τὸν εὐφραίνοντα θεὸν καὶ ἀνθρώπους, but Α differently, Ἀφεῖσα τὸν οἶνόν μου, τὴν εὐφροσύνην τὴν παρὰ τοῦ θεοῦ τῶν ἀνθρώπων). I was pleased and surprised recently to find a few lines in Arabic (Garšūnī) from a fifteenth-century Psalter (parallel Syriac and Garšūnī) in the collection of Saint Mark’s Monastery in Jerusalem (no. 10, dated 1474/5) that list wine’s effects: five for the body and five for the soul. These lines are written at a ninety degree angle to the rest of the text, but they do…

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Casting language into the atmosphere

While perusing the latest National Geographic this morning, I came across a notable photograph. Here it is from the website:

These two students, surrounded around and above by open air and light, project their voices out into this openness, their lungs, breath, throat, and mouth muscles, all eye- and brain-directed, catapult words of another language, a language becoming their own, right into the universe, not the least part of which is their own ears.

Two things struck me when I saw the photograph. First, I was reminded of the possibly legendary rhetorico-athletic exercises that Demosthenes supposedly practiced to overcome his natural difficulties in speaking:

…τὴν μὲν ἀσάφειαν καὶ τραυλότητα τῆς γλώττης ἐκβιάζεσθαι καὶ διαρθροῦν εἰς τὸ στόμα ψήφους λαμβάνοντα καὶ ῥήσεις ἅμα λέγοντα, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν ἐν τοῖς δρόμοις γυμνάζεσθαι καὶ ταῖς πρὸς τὰ σιμὰ προσβάσεσι διαλεγόμενον καὶ λόγους τινὰς ἢ στίχους ἅμα τῷ πνεύματι πυκνουμένῳ προφερόμενον· εἶναι δ᾽ αὐτῷ μέγα κάτοπτρον οἴκοι, καὶ πρὸς τοῦτο τὰς μελέτας ἐξ ἐναντίας ἱστάμενον περαίνειν.

He used to correct and drive away his mumbling and his speech disorder by putting pebbles in his mouth and then reciting speeches. He used to exercise his voice by discoursing while running or going up steep places, and by reciting sentences or verses at a single breath. Moreover, he had in his house a large mirror, and in front of this he used to stand and go through his speech-exercises. (Plutarch, Life of Demosthenes 11.1-2; translation adapted from that of Bernadotte Perrin)

Secondly, I was visually reminded of how important, not to mention fun, it is to read aloud, with care to the text’s meaning and even forcefully, both as regular practice in languages you know well, even your own, and also for languages you’re learning; in the second case, it is naturally needful to have some standard against which to compare your fledgling pronunciation and fluency of sound, granted the variety of voice that may occur even across the spectrum of one language. This vocal shadow-boxing, whether in your native language or another, really can be enlivening and helpful in knitting together eyes, brain, and ears.

Rather than writing anything more, I’m off to do some reading aloud.

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