Posts Tagged ‘language’
June 5, 2014 | by Ted Scheinman
Mourning Pierre Capretz.
I carry vivid memories of a boy named Robert, who insisted on wearing his horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere—to Chartres, to La Closerie des Lilas, to that seedy little rental-car hub on the Boulevard Périphérique, even (sacré bleu!) under a white blazer. What tone-deaf Ivy League foolishness, I remember thinking. The corollary bummer was that Robert wasn’t a caricature of the average American exchange student; he was more or less the ideal version thereof. He bopped through France, always encountering the lovely Mireille, who seemed to appear—without explanation or apology, and often without a bra—around the country’s every corner. And most important, he took every conceivable opportunity to improve his French. Robert was in Paris not to chase tail but to learn the language, to become a citoyen du monde. And yet he insisted on wearing that horrible Yale T-shirt everywhere …
Such were my first high school impressions, in 1999 and 2000, of the video pedagogy of French in Action, the language course cum TV series that taught me (and millions of other Americans) the rudiments of the Francophone lifestyle.
French’s wild-haired emcee, Pierre Capretz, died earlier this year, in Aix-en-Provence, at eighty-nine. Capretz’s eyes always brimmed with mischievous possibility. He struck me as Henry Kissinger’s magnanimous French cousin, a man whom the world had weathered in the best possible way, imbuing him with wisdom and a philosophical cheer without which no one who teaches French in America can stay sane.
As I learned more about Capretz, I started to get the jokes, which, of course, included the Yale T-shirt that Robert seemed never to wash. My teacher-guru, Madame Demaray—a sanitization of de marais, “from the swamp”—had helped Capretz beta-test the program at Hotchkiss, a very swish prep school that had taken me in; it wasn’t terribly far from Yale, for which Hotchkiss’s founders hoped to groom their young men and eventually (thank God) their young women. Relations between the two schools were still cozy in the sixties, seventies, and eighties, and Mme. Demaray worked closely with Capretz as he developed his legendary regimen for the oral and aural teaching of French, imparting knowledge through a long-form video narrative that moved with the rhythms of a mystery novel. My teacher, with whom I was in half in love as one is with a glamorous great-aunt, told me in private about the million-plus dollars Capretz had gambled in making French in Action: about securing funding from the CPB and from WGBH in 1985, about the multiple heart attacks he suffered during the scripting, filming, and editing of part two. I saw my hispanoparlantes classmates toting Destinos and realized that the workbook/video/language-lab triad owed its current pedagogical vogue to Capretz, who believed, correctly, that the musical tools of language might succeed where 501 French Verbs had failed. Read More »
June 5, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Now on display at a German museum: a replica of one of Van Gogh’s ears. (Hint: it’s not the one he didn’t cut off.) “Created using 3D printers and genetic material from a living relative of van Gogh, it was shaped to be the exact size of the Dutch painter’s ear and is kept alive in a nourishing liquid.”
- Yesterday’s usage wars were every bit as fraught and irrational as today’s: “‘Dilapidated’ was frowned upon by some because it comes from a Latin root, lapis, meaning stone, so it was thought that you should only refer to a dilapidated building if it was actually made out of stone … And it was considered that luncheon was the proper noun and that lunch was really only to be used as a verb.”
- What chemical compounds produce the smells of new and old books? Vinyl acetate ethylene, alkyl ketene dimer, and 2-ethyl hexanol, of course!
- Tales from New York’s bookstores: “One day a woman asked us which Jennifer Egan book she should read … We recommended Look at Me, and then suggested, ‘If you’d like it signed, Jennifer Egan is right next to you and is quite nice.’”
- Centralia, Pennsylvania: still on fire. Has been since at least ’62.
June 4, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
The other day, having traveled to a midsize American city that shall remain nameless, my dining companion and I encountered the following description on an online restaurant menu:
Tender day boat scallops, lightly cajuned, pan seared with pancetta, caramelized leeks, sweet roasted red peppers, mint and pickled lentil medley, drizzled with a fava bean puree and organic pea shoots.
I was thrilled. I don’t mean that I wanted to eat it; there were like thirteen different components that I wouldn’t have wanted alone, let alone in combination. But I loved that the dish existed, in this moment in the world, in this place, and that, like a perfectly crafted poem, it managed to illuminate the human condition in a few deft strokes.
As the late Maya Angelou wrote, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” Certainly, this dish was ambition incarnate—it was like the Macbeth of restaurant dishes—and certainly that was a big part of its appeal. There were seven parts (not counting seasonings) used, some ten different techniques employed, with more adjectives than you’d find in an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Read More »
May 22, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Was Frank O’Hara the social-media whiz of his day? Well … “O’Hara’s Lunch Poems—like Facebook posts or tweets—shares, saves, and re-creates the poet’s experience of the world. He addresses others in order to combat a sense of loneliness, sharing his gossipy, sometimes snarky take of modern life, his unfiltered enthusiasm, and his boredom in a direct, conversational tone. In short, Lunch Poems, while fifty years old, is very a 21st-century book.”
- With apologies to Keats, beauty is likely not, in fact, truth; nor, by transitive property, is truth beauty. “The discourse about aesthetics in scientific ideas has never gone away … Today, popularizers such as Greene are keen to make beauty a selling point of physics … the quantum theorist Adrian Kent speculated that the very ugliness of certain modifications of quantum mechanics might count against their credibility. After all, he wrote, here was a field in which ‘elegance seems to be a surprisingly strong indicator of physical relevance’ … We have to ask: what is this beauty they keep talking about?”
- “The Chinese name diseases based on symptoms, so diabetes is known as ‘sugary pee.’” A few doctors wish to remedy this.
- “Beginning in the late 1930s, Richard Edes Harrison drew a series of elegant and gripping images of a world at war, and in the process persuaded the public that aviation and war really had fundamentally disrupted the nature of geography … Harrison dazzled readers of Fortune with artistic geo-visualizations of the political crises in Europe and Asia. The key decision he made was to reject the Mercator projection, which had outlived its purpose.”
- The anxiety (and ecstasy) of influence in Bob Dylan: “With the help of Google Books, Scott Warmuth, a fan from New Mexico, has been delving deeper into Dylan’s recent writing and finding all kinds of odd, uncredited borrowings. Passages from Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), were taken from disparate sources: from H. G. Wells, Jack London, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald; from Tony Horowitz’s nonfiction book “Confederates in the Attic,” a travel guide about New Orleans, and an issue of Time, from 1961 … Dylan’s ‘appropriations were not random. They were deliberate. When Scott delved into them, he found cleverness, wordplay, jokes, and subtexts.’”
April 23, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Will García Márquez’s unpublished manuscript ever see the light of day?
- The eagerly anticipated third edition of the OED won’t appear until 2034—and it probably won’t be available in print.
- “The ark is the first impressive man-made creation, the world’s first ambitious piece of technology. In the world of Genesis … a world of slick-talking snakes, cherubs with flaming swords, and guys who live to be eight hundred years old—the ark gives us something pragmatic, something with worldly dimensions. In other words, some literary realism.”
- Meanwhile, in 1895: What compelled Paul Gauguin to take off his pants and play the harmonium? Science may never know.
- Hey, hotshot: “the way we Americans casually, often unthinkingly, incorporate gun metaphors into our everyday slang says a lot about how deeply embedded guns are in our culture and our politics, and how difficult it is to control or extract them.”
April 18, 2014 | by Sadie Stein
Yesterday I made some Easter-themed cupcakes, topped with cream-cheese frosting and dusted with green-tinted coconut. Within each nest, I placed four jelly beans. Brand: Teeny-Been. They were, if I do say so myself, pretty cunning.
When I was asked to contribute a word to Let’s Bring Back: The Lost Language Edition, I was thrilled to have a chance to agitate for my favorite adjective. It’s not that the word has disappeared, exactly, but it has shed one of its meanings. While one usage always denoted craftiness, the other meaning was benign, even infantile. Something cunning was dear, precious, made with craft and care. Read More »