Thursday, 24 January 2013

The Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

Work has blossomed like love - right when I'm in the middle of something else. My room plan is utterly complete with tables, shelves and other paraphernalia one finds in a library. It looks perfect and uncluttered, unlike my desk, which is straining under the repeated assault from translations in varying states of draft. Most of the actual resources one would expect to find have been moved to other parts of the building, and my office now needs a revolving door as students line up to ask the same question, apparently hoping that for them I shall leap out of my chair and say "YES! I sent everyone to another part of the building but YOU, random student whose acquaintance I have only just made! I have been waiting all day for YOU! Take the resources I have cunningly hidden! Go forth and learn!"

That does not happen very often.

However, I've also now got three translations to finish for tomorrow afternoon and two pieces of English work from students to check over, as well as learning some piece of theatre or sketch for my French class on Tuesday and writing a one-side piece on old people in Britain, which is going to be quite good fun now I think about it. Le boo and le hiss to the Tories.

I've also done all my laundry and met a chap from America who's come equipped with five sentences and assures me that it will be enough. The arrogance of anyone who goes to live in a foreign country and doesn't bother learning the language is so enormous that I never know whether to laugh or weep. Is getting by enough? I'd understand if he'd come for a week. But six months, on an English-only programme - what cultural benefit could he gain?

I don't know. Maybe a lot; maybe I'm being a language snob.

An urgent email punctuated an exciting 4.30 meeting; a friend of mine seeking help with revision who knows that flattery is the surest way to wrap me around son doigt. So at some point tomorrow I shall be dredging my brain for Economics information, which means tonight I'll need to go over my notes.

I'm still really energised from my French class, where I was helping the friendliest guy in the world. He struggles a bit with French but speaks fluent Spanish and English, so go figure, he's already way ahead of me. Class was huge fun, because we have a professor who, like me, loves tangents. We were reading a short article in which there was a Chinese name so I asked my friend Adeline how to pronounce it.

She did. We repeated it back. She shook her head and repeated it again. We tried it once more. Some of us got it, but the rest of us didn't, and it led to a good ten minute debate in very flowing French about languages and their roots and relative difficulties. The spelling rules of English (a phrase which is ironically demonstrative, as I had to rewrite it to avoid "English's"because I'm really not sure it's right) came up as a large hazard, but the Chinese way of writing a different character for every different word trumped it. Persian apparently lent the Arabic world their alphabet, but a few letters were lost on the way, and Russian, like its semi-automatic rifles, hasn't changed in years and sounds astonishing.

I also got the chance to share some very useless knowledge, courtesy of QI - we were discussing menu, a Middle-French word that cropped up in La Fontaine and in the article that we were reading today and means small or little. I have a theory that menu being a synonym for carte came from food served à la française - whereby every course would appear together as an enormous display of opulent and stupid power, since nobody could eat it all at once and so most of it would be cold before it could be eaten. Thus un menu, a little card displaying a smaller selection, could be offered to patrons who actually wanted to enjoy their meal.  Service à la française is no longer truly practiced because, as previously stated, wasteful and stupid. It still exists in the form of the buffet but is, hopefully, dying out.

It was surpassed by service à la Russe, which may be more familiar to you - I don't know how often you eat 14 course meals. At its most basic it is the form of service we know whereby food is served in courses, thus ensuring optimum temperature and avoiding melted ice cream and cold soup. In true Russian style, you are given an empty plate, and staff circulate and serve precisely as much as you wish - a host who serves you a full plate risks either seriously underestimating you, leaving you irritable, or overestimating you, leaving you insulted and unpleasantly bloated.

Bloating is acceptable among the upper classes, but insults - never.

Work - and love - is calling my name. I'll leave you with a beautiful Chinese poem.

Lion-Eating Poet in the Stone Den

In a stone den was a poet called Shi, who was a lion addict, and had resolved to eat ten lions.
He often went to the market to look for lions.
At ten o'clock, ten lions had just arrived at the market.
At that time, Shi had just arrived at the market.
He saw those ten lions, and using his trusty arrows, caused the ten lions to die.
He brought the corpses of the ten lions to the stone den.
The stone den was damp. He asked his servants to wipe it.
After the stone den was wiped, he tried to eat those ten lions.
When he ate, he realized that these ten lions were in fact ten stone lion corpses.
Try to explain this matter.

Or, in pinyin (the way of writing Chinese in Roman script):

Shī Shì shí shī shǐ

Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

And she tells me English is difficult.