Wednesday, December 2, 2009

,,Halt es mal nicht für Krebs. Halt es mal für Krebs-chen.''

Language courses continue. It seems that's the only verb the noun "language course" can take. It cannot "succeed" or "come to completion," only "continue." I still find it often difficult to say exactly what I want, or that when I believe I have succeeded I've in fact conveyed something quite different from what I intended, but I believe I'm getting better. The class does not seem to be moving as fast as it could. I missed a solid week with what could have been the flu or a bad cold, or even food poisoning. I'm insured but don't go to the doctor for the three days, and on the fourth I cannot find the right clinic at first, and on the fifth my symptoms seem to be on the decline. When I return to class the following Monday I appear not to have missed much that I can't recover immediately. I wonder how much I'm paying for this, but then set about relearning the subjunctive past tense. Ich hätte gerne, einen verschiedenen Kurs zu nehmen.

Full moons, or else the damp chills that these days seem permanent in the city, bring foul moods, and tempers don't flare but smolder beneath the surface during the section on interrogatories and statements of the form, Er/sie fragt, warum du ... hast. Our teacher asks the bubbly Spanish woman who always wears fashionable boots why she's incapable of punctuality. The Spanish woman in cute boots asks our fifty-something teacher why she has never been married.

The next subject is getting sick and seeking medical treatment. It comes a few days after I have returned from my own illness, and I brood over the ironies that the first immediately practical bit of language we have learned has come precisely when I can no longer use it. My own poor mood takes as its object our coursebook and its silly examples of patients who are incapable of sustaining a conversation any real human being is ever going to need. "Doc, you gotta help me---I get these terrible stomach pains after about my fifth cup of coffee that don't subside even if I have a second apfelkuchen." Du isst nie Frühstück, weil du musst zu früh nach Arbeit, täglich trinkst du nur Kaffee und isst selten Mittagessen, und manchmals du kommst nach Hause um neun oder später, und du weisst nicht, warum dein Magen dir weh tut? Meine Diagnose ist Schwachsinnig-heit.

We move on from the doctor's office to the workplace. We learn about jobs that are selbständig, autonomous, and those that offer Aufstiegmöglichkeiten, or opportunities for advancement. Our Lehrerin expresses her opinion that lawyers have excellent control over their working conditions, Arbeitsbedingungen, such as their hours, and have excellent prospects for advancement. I unwittingly am recalled to the four years I spent in those salt mines, the nights and weekends I was literally ordered to be in my office, and the dozens of associates who were fired or driven to quit before one was made partner. I chuckle bitterly to myself as I sip from my coffee, which I have dosed heavily with cream and sugar, but which is black again when it leaves my lips.

We are asked to list verbs that take the dative case, or the dative plus the accusative. I find the exercise very difficult, coming up with only the most obvious examples: "to be pleasing (to someone)" and "to seem (to someone)" in the former category, and "to give (someone) (something)" and "to show (someone) (something)" in the latter. The class lists off their entries, and I am apparently alone in having this trouble. After the fact I come up with schmecken, to taste good (to someone). Ja, says our Lehrerin. That is very important, wichtig. The next suggestion is winken, to wink. I think this has an exclusively flirtatious connotation, but I am not sure. Our Lehrerin responds Ja, but that dass ist nicht wichtig. The Spanish girl in cute boots begins to laugh and cannot stop herself. While she stifles the noise as best she can behind two hands, our teacher explains passen. "When I shop for clothes, I find, 'these pants are too small, these pants passt nicht.'" The Spanish girl in cute boots loses it completely.

I have now learned to translate the active voice to the passive, whether or not it makes the slightest bit of logical sense. "One is not permitted to beat children" becomes "children are not permitted to be beaten," which invites the question how to translate a Homer Simpsonic "...'cause if they do..." and accompanying shaken fist, into German (other than, of course, unwisely). Kinder dürfen nicht geschlogen werden, und wenn sie so tun, dann bekommen sie ein Schlagen!

My writing proceeds slowly, frustratingly. I have finished a draft of one short story and shown in to a few friends. One has returned a verdict (negative). It's entirely of my own making, but for the moment I'm trapped between two languages: I can't immerse myself in German while I'm devoting so much of the day to English, and I can't really get the work done in English while I spend half the day in German-mode. Each proceeds slowly, in its own way, for the time being, and I have decided (evidently) to let it be. Eventually I shall have to make a decision, I think. But for the time being I'm pretending I don't know that.

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