Thursday, May 17, 2012

maïs, je t'aime

Which translates: "Corn, I love you." When I typed it, though, I realized that if you omitted the umlaut over the "i" in the initial word (hence altering its pronunciation slightly), you would have this sentence instead: "But, I love you." Ah, the knotty and fascinating problems of translation.

I've always studied French as my foreign language. This, I think, is a perfect example of the wide impractical streak that, à la Pepé Le Pew, runs the entire length of an otherwise fairly down-to-earth person. (Maybe it's my Pisces moon?) If I had really set out to navigate the actual linguistic terrain of the modern United States, I should have studied Chinese, and certainly way more Spanish than the bare-minimum, single semester of "Reading for Spanish Knowledge" required by my doctoral program. (We had to have "familiarity" with two foreign languages—i.e. just enough to be able to grasp the gist of an academic article or, more likely, just enough to get us into trouble abroad.)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

a bouquet of cauliflowers for mother bear

It's Mother's Day. Today I'm reminded of Billy Collins's poem "The Lanyard." Go on, click play and listen. I'll wait right here for you:

I had the pleasure of hearing him read this live a couple of years ago, and I was struck both by how funny and how heartbreaking the poem was. Collins calls it an "archaic truth: that we can never repay our mothers." All right, it may be archaic - but it's still the truth. 

I mention my mom so often that when she said, "Well, are you writing a post about me for Mother's Day?" I sputtered, "Mo-om! I have to work hard not to quote you every other sentence." 

But she's right, as usual. There are still some things to say.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

the superannuated woman + white bean dip

This morning, out of habit, I woke up early. Then I remembered what day it was. Lazily, I picked up my phone, checked Facebook and email, and then rolled over and went back to sleep for another two whole hours. When I woke up, I ambled into the kitchen, made a cup of coffee, and piled some egg salad on top of a toasted English muffin. Sitting at the computer, I nibbled at breakfast as I reread Charles Lamb's essay "The Superannuated Man."

In this brief and delightful work, Lamb's narrator describes the effects of his working life, his astonishment at his employers' insistence that he finally retire (with an annual pension worth two-thirds of his salary), and the sudden, unaccustomed experience of now being at liberty to do whatever he wants. He sees his retirement as a seemingly endless vista of days that all run gloriously together. He wanders through gardens and book stalls and museums, sauntering here and there, led only by impulse and whimsy. It feels to him as though his professional career, though it only ended the day before, transpired an eternity ago.