Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Special Bonus Poetry Post

It's a rainy night here in Paris. Let's hear what our resident poet, sad-sack* Paul Verlaine, has to add to the mix:

Il Pleure dans mon Coeur by Paul Verlaine

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville.
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénêtre mon coeur ?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits !
Pour un coeur qui s’ennuie,
O le chant de la pluie !

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s’écoeure.
Quoi ! nulle trahison ?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C’est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine.

It Rains in My Heart (English translation)

It rains in my heart
As it rains on the town,
What languor so dark
That it soaks to my heart?

Oh sweet sound of the rain
On the earth and the roofs!
For the dull heart again,
Oh the song of the rain!

It rains for no reason
In this heart that lacks heart.
What? And no treason?
It’s grief without reason.

By far the worst pain,
Without hatred, or love,
Yet no way to explain
Why my heart feels such pain!

Thanks for that, Paul!

*: He really does appear to have been a miserable poor sod; of course his doomed affair with Rimbaud didn't help matters much.

I think we need a nice cat poem to counterbalance Paul's depressed and depressing omphaloskepsis (= "nombrilisme", en français)

Once a certain cat and cock,
Friendship founded on a rock,
Lived together in a house
In the land of Fledermaus.
Each loved music in his way,
And the cock, at break of day
Chanted: Cock-a-doodle-do!
While his cat friend, in the middle
Of the night, would play the fiddle.
Sometimes they would play together
--Handsome fur and fancy feather--
And the pair would dance and sing
While the house with joy would ring.

from Vikram Seth's "The Cat and the Cock"

Scenes from an Education

In general, I've been fairly happy with my progress with French to date. It's definitely harder than Spanish, but this trip, in particular, it seems as if I have been making noticeable progress. Correct pronunciation remains a major challenge, however, and in recent classes I have been focusing on phonetics, trying to minimize my accent.

Thus, Sunday brought a repeat of the all-too-familiar scene with Daniele -- I take the newspaper, stumble through reading a paragraph out loud, only to be greeted with the critique "C'est pas mal*, mais il y a quelques petites choses ...."  (Not bad*, there are just a few little things to work on ....)
What were these "petites choses" that constitute the main barrier to improving my pronunciation, according to Daniele? Easy enough -- my consonants are fine, I just need to work on my vowels.
That seems doable, right? I left, feeling moderately encouraged about my progress.

Switch to yesterday morning's class with Agnes. The other student had left with a migraine, so it was just one-on-one with Agnes. A perfect opportunity for some phonetics practice, right? I take the newspaper, stumble through reading a paragraph out loud, again to be greeted with the critique "C'est pas mal*, mais il y a quelques petites choses ...." And what, according to Agnes, were the "petites choses" that were holding me back, and needed extra work. Simple -- my vowels were just fine, I just need to work on my consonants!

But at least now I know what stands between me and full mastery of French pronunciation.



*: Note that this is the highest praise one can ever hope to receive from a French person; they all have a common gene that prevents them from ever expressing positive sentiments such as unmitigated approval, unstinting praise or admiration, or - Dieu forbid - actual unbridled enthusiasm. On the French evaluation scale "pas mal" represents high praise indeed.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Book Review : The Queen's Throat

Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality And The Mystery Of DesireQueen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality And The Mystery Of Desire by Wayne Koestenbaum
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Full disclosure: I am a gay man. I enjoy opera, find certain operas to be truly sublime. But I am not an opera queen

Koestenbaum writes with a kind of feverish elegance that is impressive. But this book - a set of highly idiosyncratic meditations on opera - just bristles with cringe-inducing stereotypes. In particular, his apparent willingness to embrace the 'gay man as ostracized outsider' role is distinctly unappealing.

I enjoyed two of the book's seven chapters - Koestenbaum's reflections on "The Callas Cult" and the final chapter, in which he singles out moments in opera which he finds particularly affecting, and attempts to explain why. (Though he's not always able to provide a particularly coherent explanation, his passion does shine through, and it's always interesting to hear about other people's favorite opera moments.)

I found the remaining five chapters to be a curious melange of the weirdly fetishistic and the worst kind of deconstructive excess. The following excerpt exemplifies these two problems:

"I've always been fascinated by the spindle hole. Everything on the record's face conspires to highlight it: the price circles it; the label and the round window in the protective paper envelope echo its shape....
The hole makes no single anatomical allusion. It makes many. It isn't reductively equal, even in the listener's unconscious, to any part of the human body. But it has always spoken to me of the emptiness at the center of a recorded voice and the emptiness at the center of a listener's life and the ambiguities in any sexual body, including a homosexual body, concerning the proper and improper function of orifices."

He goes on, I regret to report, to devote even more space to the contemplation of a record's label, its grooves, the turntable, and a myriad of other objects remotely associated with opera. I'd like to say that his passion for opera shines through, but for the most part I found his ruminations oddly detached. The musings of a collector, and not of a lover of opera. Had he focused more on the music itself, and not the trappings that surround opera, this would have been a better book.

But if you like the kind of drivel exemplified by the paragraph quoted earlier, then this is the book for you. I was disappointed.

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