Tuesday, July 27, 2010

That last post really worked.

In the last two days, I've been called "sweetie" and "baby." Both better than "ma'am."

Today I have been listening to Zoltan and his Gypsy Ensemble. There is a real struggle in this music, and a brief triumph before the next struggle. My heart definitely identifies with it.

Zoltan and his Gypsy Ensemble - Dve Gitari

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just Don't Call Me "Ma'am"

A List Compiled by Melissa and Amilynne

Terms of address preferable to "Ma'am":

1. Miss
2. Lady
3. Love
4. Hon (especially from a waitress)
5. Bella (and I don't mean Twilight)
6. Doll
7. Poppet
8. Yo
9. Chica
10. Y'all
11. Doc
12. Your Excellency
13. Toots
14. Sis, Sista, even Sister
15. Babe
16. Dear
17. Darlin'
18. Sweetheart / Sweetie
19. Sug (like Nancy Gribble says it)
20. The bread, the knife, the crystal goblet, and the wine
21. The wind in the orchard
22. Teacher lady
23. Missy
24. Hey you
25. Number 37, Number 37 to the counter please...

The Pretenders - Angel of the Morning

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

And summer starts to feel frenetic...

We are on week four of summer vacation, and I am starting to feel like it is running out. I even received an email from one of my high school students who is getting started on her summer assignments - if the students are prepping for back to school, time is getting short. To point, I bought school supplies today: a billion 2-pocket folders. Because if you give the students something in a folder, they know it's important. Obviously you can't use this trick every time, but for something that absolutely must not be lost (like summer assignments) it's essential. I'm also stocked up on kleenex.

Anyway, the clock is ticking. And I'm looking around the apartment I have been so dedicated to organizing this summer and I am wondering if it will happen. And I am looking at the crates of books to read this summer and I don't know who is going to read them, but it probably won't be me for a while. Progress is being made, but nothing is close to completion.

So would you like to read an oh-so-funny blog? Here it is: Catalog Living. The idea is that Elaine and Gary live in the catalog rooms, and their story unfolds. It definitely made me laugh.

How about a song that makes me laugh?

Gogol Bordello - American Wedding

Saturday, July 17, 2010

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders

*********SPOILER ALERT*********
I'm going to write about the book I read today. This means spoilers. Don't read this post if you don't want to know.

I feel like I should sit down and write a formal English paper with a thesis and backing arguments. It's just what it feels like you should do after reading a book like this.

But I won't.

Let me tell you why I think In Other Rooms, Other Windows is important. As well-written and alive as it is, I think the themes that come to light upon examining the meta-structure of the narrative are an indictment on the (Western, and especially American) reader.

The book begins with stories of the servant classes. The first story, Nawabdin Electrician, describes the robbing of a servant whose creative on-the-side enterprises fall outside the law. He is a father who has a hard time providing for his wife and twelve children. Next, Saleema recounts the life of the "underprivileged" in Pakistan - generations affected by drug abuse, and a girl who appears to step up, only to be dragged backward in the end.

The next two stories tell of the poor who make claims, successful and otherwise, of reaching the upper reaches of society.

The only story narrated in the first person is About a Burning Girl, told by a judge. Amilynne pointed out to me that the judge being in the first person opens the way for interpretation that judgement would be made on the other characters in the book. Additionally, as the judge and his family do not appear to be relations of characters in other stories, they are uniquely qualified to judge the other characters, although a certain level of self-interest (although not really corruption) is present in that the judge's wife is very attached to her servant and does not want to see him punished for murder. That the only "I" of the whole book is a judge, though, makes the judge the only character to interact directly with the reader, and opens up the possibility of the reader being judged by him (or by the book) as well.

The reader should take this as a warning, but foolishly continues along, enjoying one more story of a servant who tries to find happiness beyond her station.

And then the book shifts gears, and Our Lady of Paris, the story of Sohail and his American girlfriend Helen unfolds not in Pakistan, but in Paris. In Our Lady of Paris, Sohail's mother, who believes firmly that Helen and Sohail have cultural incompatibilities that would make for a miserable marriage, masterfully breaks them up.

Then comes the emotional tour-de-force. Lily is told in two parts, each as long or longer than the other stories in the novel. The first half is an exhilarating account of a party girl (educated in the West) who, after a serious car crash, believes she has a chance at a clean slate. She falls in love with the most manly (also Western-educated) man (who takes her on a romantic picnic in his manly jeep, carrying his manly pistol and binoculars, takes a manly swim in a dangerous river, and then quotes her poetry in a manly way - remind you of someone else you may have seen recently?)

Yeah. So at any rate, in the first half of the story, they fall in true love and get married. And I am not a girl who likes chick lit, but let me tell you, I about had an estrogen overload by the time we hit the mid point. And, not knowing that this was a story in two parts, and knowing the average length of the stories leading up to this one, I was actually ready for this story to end happily ever after and mark a sea change in the direction these narratives had been heading.

I was so naïve, and so ripe for an emotional devastation. Maybe I have been watching too much of the Old Spice channel on youtube. Let me tell you, I think that Mueenuddin, as author, judge, and executioner, had me right where he wanted me.

Of course the party girl resents her newly antiseptic married life. Of course she wants to party it up with her pals from her wild single days. And of course she has meaningless sex with the first party guy to walk in.

But that's not all. She then goes and reads what her new husband (who in normal life seems a little less manly and a little more boring) wrote in the journal he showed her but asked her never to read.

And *BLAM*! There go some more lives down the toilet.

Pearls Before Swine

Yeah. That's the American version of lives down the toilet. Let me remind you that even though both Lily and her new husband had lived in the West, their marriage fell apart in Pakistan. No Vegas.

I had to put the book down. My reaction was visceral - as described in my previous post on the book. I had to go away for a couple of hours because I could not face whatever would come next.

And it ended with the story of another low person raised up to be a servant. But this time, he was not a trickster. He had chosen to beg in order to be free of the infighting and bullying he had been subjected to by his stepbrothers. He had left behind disappointment and was living life on his own terms. He expected nothing, lived simply, and had only a box of a shack that he moved from place to place. This story also has an American - Sonya, who had eventually married Sohail from the story of Helen in Paris. Sonya is well suited for life in Pakistan, although that does not make it easy. She is disturbed by the everyday corruption that she sees everywhere, and she has to escape to her own little world from time to time when it becomes too much. There is never a real explanation, though, of why Sonya was better for Sohail than Helen would have been.

At any rate, Sonya the American winds up giving Rezak the former independent a position as a servant, and she pays pretty well too. And this ruins Rezak's life.

The end.

So at this point, we are only left to ask why: Why these stories? Why these characters? Why in this order?

And at least for me, I had a bit of a light bulb go off.

I loved reading the stories at the beginning. In my mind, the characters were caricatures of foreign people doing foreign things. I got to see a big feudal farm and how the people attached to it survived. Some got shot, others slept their way to a position, but they were people I didn't have much in common with, interesting, and subjects of some good stories, but that's that.

But the more western these characters became, the more I felt what they felt. I could see myself in the Loire valley. I could sympathize with the westernized party girl who wanted to reform herself but found habits stronger than will. These are characters I've met before - characters I am trained to understand.

But then, when I feel the most attached, one more foreign protagonist appears. My life is nothing like Rezak's, although I do like to avoid conflict. But I do not understand living in a box - in fact, I am peering in, much like the people at the party who make a little trip to see the box. How am I going to experience his story?

Most naturally, from eyes like Sonya's. Which means that I did not feel sick after reading Rezak's story, even though I recognized the tragedy in it.

What Mueenuddin appears to be saying is that no matter how sympathetic we may feel we are to another person or group - no matter how many experiences we share or cultural practices we adopt - we are still judging and judged as outsiders. We still respond most sympathetically to people who are like us. We still see people unlike us as a "wonder" - or an other - in another room. Even the use of the word "other" in the title signals us to the realities of cross-cultural relations in a multi-caste world.

And in vein with the tone of the stories, there is not much hope for any one group to dissolve the barriers and see the lives of the people surrounding them. Much more impossible, and here is the book's inherent paradox, is understanding the lives of anyone half a world away, especially through a story. We are left with metaphors and empathetic feelings, but we will always, always, see the world through our own culture and experiences. And I just don't know exactly what to make of that.

Book Day

I had been up about ten minutes this morning when Amilynne called me. Which was pretty funny, since I always worry about calling too early and waking her up. I thought it was pretty good that she figured I would be awake before 9am on a Saturday.

After greetings, she quickly got down to business. She had gotten up at some unholy hour of the early morning (2am? 3am? - hours when it is appropriate to go to bed, not to get up) because she was reading a book and she was dying to have someone with whom to discuss it. The book is In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin. All Amilynne had to say was that it is Jhumpa Lahiri-good (if you haven't read her yet, start with Interpreter of Maladies), and I downloaded it to my Kindle (my awesome new Kindle 2.0!) and have spent the day reading.

Oh, it has been lovely, lovely prose, delightful characterization, rich descriptions, entertaining allusions. But it has been sad. The book is an interlocking series of short stories set in Pakistan, and no one is very happy, and those that do become very happy then become devistatingly, destructively unhappy, and everyone seems to be either a manipulator or a manipulated. And the first few stories, that was great, but every story like this, and all stories different, portraying different views of a multilayer society, and it is very overwhelming.

And that's where I am now. A couple of hours ago, I finished Lily, the penultimate story, and it has absolutely shredded me up. My brain feels dead and I don't want to breathe. I had to stop. And there's one more to go, and I just don't know whether it will also kill me a little inside, or what my state will be when I am done with it.

Here is a song for Lily.

Dave Matthews Band - The Dreaming Tree

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A busy, busy day, so now let's dance.

It was a very busy, very satisfying day.

Here is some gypsy-flamenco type music, just because it feels like a let-loose type of evening.

Gypsy Kings - Baila Me

Monday, July 12, 2010

Another Case of Mistaken Identity

I don't know if you've noticed, but I am absolutely inept when it comes to remembering names. I seriously have to meet someone as many as six times before I can put face and name together. The base of it is a difficulty in remembering people's faces. Some faces stand out, of course, and I remember them even without meeting the person, but more often I can't form a picture of someone until we have met several times. At that point, I can start putting a name to the face.

And all of this can all add up to painful social situations.

Today I was in the bookstore, and a woman and I were about to cross paths. I stood back to let her pass, but instead, she asked me how I was and how my classes were going.

Cue the spinning world. I could not identify the woman; I had no idea that I knew her. And what was worse, my brain simply could not find any reference point for her. I was floored.

I feebly tried to come to and ask her how she was, but by this time, she had seen that I was lost and she had moved far enough away that chasing after her to say, "Hey! Wait! Who are you?" would not have worked.

And so I left the bookstore and went back to my car.

And my brain was still churning. And after a while, it found a possible match: the new professor who will start teaching Italian with us in the fall. But the match didn't fit easily - I tried to think about the woman's face, her haircut and the color of her skin, the fact that she was wearing glasses - and it was only a weak match with the new professor. So then the self-doubt did the rest of the work and made a fit.

By early evening, I had convinced myself enough, and I decided to call the new professor and apologize for my brutta figura - the bad impression I had made.

So I tried to call. And after I asked for the professor, the call dropped. I tried to call again, but no one picked up. I called my dad to tell him about the huge mistake I had made. And then a miracle - the professor was calling on the other line. And you know that when I apologized for my behavior in the bookstore, she told me that it couldn't have been her - she had been home all day.

The positive twist to the story is that the new professor and I will be going to lunch tomorrow. That will be fun, and this will be meeting number four, so hopefully I will not make any more identity mistakes about her.

But I still don't know who the woman in the bookstore was. My brain has hit on another possible match, a woman with whom I took many classes in grad school, but I am not listening to my brain try to fit the puzzle together this time. I can't believe I wouldn't have known this woman if I had seen her. And besides, I don't have her phone number to call and apologize.

Merz - My Name is Sad and At Sea

Sunday, July 11, 2010

How to wake up a sleeping bear without getting caught in its teeth

I'm putting together a new playlist to put in the alarm clock CD player - music that will be good for waking up to. This is tricky. If it is too harsh, even if it's a song I like, I will be grumpy by it and soon I will hate it. If it is too slow, I'll get introspective and I won't get out the door on time. If it's aggressive, I will be aggressive.

Here is a song that will almost certainly make it to the final cut. You knew Sir Paul could come up with something worth waking up to.

The Fireman - Sing the Changes

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Crash

There is a little story to tell. I have committed to a major purging in the house. I've lived here for quite a while, and to say that stuff has started to accumulate might not be strong enough to put it lightly. So there have been several trips to the dumpster, and yesterday I loaded my car up with things to take to Goodwill.

I had parked behind the apartment for easier access to haul everything up to the car. As I was walking up, two little boys were riding their bikes, and one hit the back of my car. The other boy spun around to see what had happened, saw me approaching with my arms full, and started taunting the smaller boy, who had been knocked from his much-too-big-for-him bike, "You hit her car! You hit her car!" He was pointing wildly at me to make sure the little boy knew he wouldn't escape. I got to the car and the little boy said, "I hit your car with my bike." I asked him if he was all right, since I had seen him fall over. He seemed none the worse. We talked for a minute, and he told me that the day before he had been in a car accident, which sounded pretty nasty, with his aunt. He kept saying that he was sorry and I kept trying to reassure him that I knew it was an accident. He walked me around to show me right where he hit and to show me that there weren't any dents. I honestly can't imagine that a little guy like that would have the power to do more than what a door ding would do. He showed me my tail light, and it was unscathed, and suggested that we check his bike and make sure it was ok too. So we looked at his bike, which was also fine. So he started to get back onto it, promising me that he would be careful. I said, "I know you will. Just keep your eyes open." At that point I about split laughing - he opened his eyes so so wide! He wanted to show me that he would not close them. The other little boy had his eyes wide wide open too, and away they went up the parking lot, circling each other to make sure they were both keeping their eyes open... too cute.

I just keep thinking about how big and scary cars were when I was a kid on a bike. I remember one time distinctly refusing to cross the street on my bike until a car had gone by, while the car was stopped waiting for me to go. The driver got out of the car and told me that she could see me and she would not hit me. I wasn't taking any chances. I knew she wouldn't hit me on purpose, but... they're not called accidents for nothing. The woman finally went on her way and then I did too.

Anyway. Stories and whatnot. I guess I'll go back to cleaning.

How to have a spectacular day

This may or may not be my favorite song. If it isn't my favorite song, I would be hard pressed to name for you a song that I absolutely like better. There are a few songs that I like as much.

One day in Genova, we were in a store that had a lot of stores connected to it. This fantastic world beat music came across the way from a music store. It wasn't this song - it was the first song on the disc with this song. I beat a quick path to the music store to ask what it was. Before long, I owned the disc. I'll admit that, contrary to mission rules, I listened to it before I left Genova.

I cannot sit still listening to this song. The words are of a fisherman trying to catch sardines, dreaming of his life if he could pull in the elusive golden fish. It's about the rhythm of the sea, and the traditional trying to make its way in the modern.

And it ends with a flute party.

And it's one way to set the tone for a spectacular day.

Fabrizio De André - Le accigughe fanno il pallone

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Update on Italian class

Today class finally settled into a pattern that I like. We've been so busy reviewing everything from 101 that we have done work work work every day. Today we were able to stretch out and do some enrichment work and some reading and some watching of a video clip, not to mention some good interactive practice of many of the topics we're learning now. Afterward, two of the students stayed back and we worked on making sense of some pronouns.

The fascinating thing is that no matter how many times you use a particular video clip or read a particular section of the book, no two classes will treat the activity the same. Teaching is a lot of planning and then a lot of curve balls thrown into those plans. I really love teaching these summer classes. I get my best ideas in the summer, and since the class meets so frequently the students maintain an elasticity from day-to-day that allows for a lot more experimentation.

Today we were reading about the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia. What a beautiful part of the world. The countryside is so green, with the Alps so unbroken and massive in the background. Most of what I've seen I've seen through a train window, but it is beautiful. And Venice, of course, casts a spell on you that never rubs off. I would love to be in Venice right now. It would be great to have a little apartment there for the summer. To wake up and read for a while with Venice outside the window, then to walk around and explore for a while, then to take a nap in the warmest part of the afternoon, wake up, and start the reading/wandering cycle again. If that were my life, I might die of contentedness.

Wow. I might die of contentedness right here and now just contemplating that life.

Pretend that the bridge below is the bridge that carries you across the lagoon to Venice. It so totally isn't, but it's ok to pretend anyway.

Toad the Wet Sprocket - Walk On the Ocean

Tuesday, July 06, 2010


The great thing about adding music to these posts has been the realization that I could blog for a LONG time and never mention everything that is good. Because here I am, posting one good thing in one category each time I post, and there is a whole world of great things beyond music that I am not posting.

Today one of my students brought in a stack of CDs to class for me to hear. I know it's quasi-lunacy, but two of the discs were of Jovanotti, whom I recognize in passing, but whose discs I've never really sat down and listened to. I was enjoying the two borrowed discs so much that I went online and downloaded Safari, which came out in 2008.

So here are some things to love about the Italian language. If you just hear it, it is beautiful. To me, it's the most beautiful language to listen to on earth. It can be smooth or staccato, it has a beautiful rhythm, and it lacks the hissing "s" sound at the end of every plural word. Then there is the understanding side of it, the technical, logical side that surprises completely and yet makes so much sense. And the flipside of the technical - the precise honesty of sentiment that sounds so cheesy in English but is just how it is in Italian. Italian is like Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch. Do you think he didn't know what he was doing? He did - he just did it in a country that pooh-poohs honest exuberance.

Ok. I know that the above was just the worst paragraph ever written, but the simple truth is that Italian blows my mind and brings my deep layers to the surface.

Here is a good song from the newly-purchased disc. Please notice the view of the Tetons from Oxbow Bend 41 seconds into the song. There aren't very many places in the world that can compare with that view.

Jovanotti - Fango

Saturday, July 03, 2010

♫ I still owe money, owe money, to the money I owe...♫

I noticed this morning that with my next post, The National would disappear from my page. Which is not permissible, as they are still the band I am listening to the most these days. So I had to decide which song to post today, and as the lyric which is the title to this post describes my life now and forever, choosing a song was not hard. To my brother in Ohio, no, I am not posting this as a threat against your state.

The National - Bloodbuzz Ohio

Thursday, July 01, 2010

No, Animal Lovers, I Did Not Have the Schiacciata.

Last night I went out for pizza. When we got there and were seated, the server brought us our menus, and I almost died laughing. Please see the description of the schiacciata:

Yeah. I apologize for the fuzziness of the photo, but I was shaking with laughter as I took it.

(Just what is a pizza doe? Is it a pizza-cooking deer, or some strange new genus wherein the yeast gains consciousness, takes control, and prances off into the moonlit forest glen? If there is a pizza doe, is there a pizza buck and a pizza fawn named Bambizza? Is a flattened pizza doe roadkill?)

It was all too much. With images of a flattened and halved pizza doe dancing in my head, I went vegetarian and got a mushroom pizza. It came out normal and round. And tasty.

Here is a forest song. If I became a wolf, I would definitely hunt pizza does.

Blitzen Trapper - Fur

And as a bonus, here is an Italian song that the Blitzen Trapper song brings to mind. Although its tone is much more cynical.

Fabrizio de André - Coda di Lupo