Tuesday, October 27, 2009

War, warst, warum?

Greetings, Agent Handler. You'll have to forgive me if I'm hard to understand, as I'm talking through a cold, one of the real drippy ones where one side of your head or the other feels heavier in the morning for having been the side you slept on, and until you get into the shower and just stand under water as hot and for as long as you can tolerate, it doesn't feel like your head is made of different tissues like bone and blood and cartilage, and certainly doesn't feel like you have discrete structures like sinus cavities in there, so much as it's all just one mess of coextensive jellied goo, harder on the outside surface for having crusted over perhaps, but essentially all the same stuff, your cheekbones crammed full of snot, what you thought was your brain just a three-pound booger having achieved a dim self-awareness since you last rousted yourself to use the toilets. Or in other words: I have nothing of real interest to report, really, or at least nothing you'd want to read more about. Language school proceeds. For the first time since before college I'm reading what I suppose qualifies as a "text" despite having more square meterage photos or cartoon illustrations than printed words. And those printed words ain't much to write home about, neither. The authors know that they're writing for an audience with exceedingly limited vocab and grammatical abilities and who accordingly can understand only basic sentences. It results in this weird Ray Carver-esque tone in a context where that dark tone seems a bit eerie.

A young man stands outside the gates to a school. If you were to see him, you'd think he were waiting for someone. But for whom; no one comes out of the gate. He watches a car as it passes. He sees his reflection in a window, pulls a comb from his pocket, and runs it through his hair. It's nice hair, shiny and thick still. He probably won't notice it thinning until he's nearly to forty. At least, it's nice to think so. A blond in winter clothes walks by. A pretty girl. He winks at her and grins, but she just walks by, the kind of girl that won't talk to you unless she knows you already. Well, how are you ever going to get to know someone if you won't say hi, he asks out loud, but low, growling to himself, really, and anyways she has walked on by already. He refuses to watch as she turns the corner and is gone. He waits more. The gates open, and a mousy little girl, dark hair tucked up underneath her an unfashionable hat comes out. She sees him before he turns to see her. She walks up to him and touches his arm. He turns and smiles. A polished smile; a convincing one. It's as though nothing of the in-between had happened.

There's also the revelation of the class fault lines within the class. Our instructor, I think, is genuinely sympathetic, but there's just a difference of experience that results in someone like her (someone like, say, me) not really getting it, not understanding just how different people's lives can be for the simple reason of them coming from, you know, like China or someplace. The Continentals and the residents of the former Commonwealth (just this Yank and an Aussie so far; I'm hoping for a Rhodesian soon, but I'll take a Canuck) take full advantage of the new vocabulary for frequency and durations of time, but the questions about how often someone goes out to dinner, on vacation, or to the spa turn one half of the class into the auslaenders who say ,,Nie." (Yeah, I know. Sorry.) It strikes me that this is a movie I've seen before. And how often do you eat candy bars? And how many do you eat? Oh, no, it's just that there's a funny---do you guys know "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" in Eritrea? No? Oh, well, it's a long story. Similarly, a exercise on the past tense that I'm quite sure was intended, at least, to be self-evident turns out instead as some combination of bizarre, hilarious, and vaguely cruel, as the Chinese and Koreans become puzzled what contrast there could be against a past where grandparents, parents, and children all live in the same dwelling, and one of the Middle Easterners insist that women don't really work outside the home today, do they? (Our Lehrerin insisted: Yes, we do. No doubt thinking: Some of us even teach German to clueless chauvinists.)

I still feel somewhat interstitial, though; I feel bad not really having down the technical points about which pronouns take which case (mit, dative; für, accusative, und so weiter), and don't think I'd feel right asking into the next class up, nor am I entirely sure I could hack it. At the same time, I suspect I'm not really being challenged sufficiently at this level, amusing as the malapropisms frequently become. During a bit of open dialogue on Sehenswerdigkeiten that tourists in our home country find berühmte, we learned that in Korea there is a place of indeterminate location where one can find many women, numerous rocks, and a lot of wind. I'm pretty sure that was the result of a mispronunciation, but under cross-examination the blushing witness just nodded in order to get the whole thing over with.

Then again, I've lingered with this cold for a week and a half and still don't know what I'm going to do for money in the future. I could just be grumpy.

Currently listening, watching, and obsessed with: This. (Downloadable here.)

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