Priceless. More, please.
Priceless. More, please.
Happy Easter. A tale from David Sedaris (listen to him read it here), who casts all holidays in ridiculous and appropriate light.
Jesus Shaves by David Sedaris
“And what does one do on the fourteenth of July? Does one celebrate Bastille Day?”
It was my second month of French class, and the teacher was leading us in an exercise designed to promote the use of one, our latest personal pronoun.
“Might one sing on Bastille Day?” she asked. “Might one dance in the street? Somebody give me an answer.”
Printed in our textbooks was a list of major holidays alongside a scattered arrangement of photos depicting French people in the act of celebration. The object was to match the holiday with the corresponding picture. It was simple enough but seemed an exercise better suited to the use of the word they. I didn’t know about the rest of the class, but when Bastille Day eventually rolled around, I planned to stay home and clean my oven.
Normally, when working from the book, it was my habit to tune out my fellow students and scout ahead, concentrating on the question I’d calculated might fall to me, but this afternoon, we were veering from the usual format. Questions were answered on a volunteer basis, and I was able to sit back, confident that the same few students would do the talking. Today’s discussion was dominated by an Italian nanny, two chatty Poles, and a pouty, plump Moroccan woman who had grown up speaking French and had enrolled in the class to improve her spelling. She’d covered these lessons back in the third grade and took every opportunity to demonstrate her superiority. A question would be asked and she’d give the answer, behaving as though this were a game show and, if quick enough, she might go home with a tropical vacation or a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer. By the end of her first day, she’d raised her hand so many times, her shoulder had given out. Now she just leaned back in her seat and shouted the answers, her bronzed arms folded across her chest like some great grammar genie.
We finished discussing Bastille Day, and the teacher moved on to Easter, which was represented in our textbook by a black-and-white photograph of a chocolate bell lying upon a bed of palm fronds.
“And what does one do on Easter? Would anyone like to tell us?”
The Italian nanny was attempting to answer the question when the Moroccan student interrupted, shouting, “Excuse me, but what’s an Easter?”
Despite her having grown up in a Muslim country, it seemed she might have heard it mentioned once or twice, but no. “I mean it,” she said. “I have no idea what you people are talking about.”
The teacher then called upon the rest of us to explain.
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. “It is,” said one, “a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and … oh, shit.”
She faltered, and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
“He call his self Jesus, and then he be die one day on two … morsels of … lumber.”
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
“He die one day, and then he go above of my head to live with your father.”
“He weared the long hair, and after he died, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.”
“He nice, the Jesus.”
“He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.”
Part of the problem had to do with grammar. Simple nouns such as cross and resurrection were beyond our grasp, let alone such complicated reflexive phrases as “To give of yourself your only begotten son.” Faced with the challenge of explaining the cornerstone of Christianity, we did what any self-respecting group of people might do. We talked about food instead.
“Easter is a party for to eat of the lamb,” the Italian nanny explained. “One, too, may eat of the chocolate.”
“And who brings the chocolate?” the teacher asked.
I knew the word, and so I raised my hand, saying, “The Rabbit of Easter. He bring of the chocolate.”
My classmates reacted as though I’d attributed the delivery to the Antichrist. They were mortified.
“A rabbit?” The teacher, assuming I’d used the wrong word, positioned her index fingers on top of her head, wiggling them as though they were ears. “You mean one of these? A rabbit rabbit?”
“Well, sure,” I said. “He come in the night when one sleep on a bed. With a hand he have the basket and foods.”
The teacher sadly shook her head, as if this explained everything that was wrong with my country. “No, no,” she said. “Here in France the chocolate is brought by the big bell that flies in from Rome.”
I called for a time-out. “But how do the bell know where you live?”
“Well,” she said, “how does a rabbit?”
It was a decent point, but at least a rabbit has eyes. That’s a start. Rabbits move from place to place, while most bells can only go back and forth—and they can’t even do that on their own power. On top of that, the Easter Bunny has character; he’s someone you’d like to meet and shake hands with. A bell has all the personality of a cast-iron skillet. It’s like saying that come Christmas, a magic dustpan flies in from the North Pole, led by eight flying cinder blocks. Who wants to stay up all night so they can see a bell? And why fly one in from Rome when they’ve got more bells than they know what to do with right here in Paris? That’s the most implausible aspect of the whole story, as there’s no way the bells of France would allow a foreign worker to fly in and take their jobs. That Roman bell would be lucky to get work cleaning up after a French bell’s dog -and even then he’d need papers. It just didn’t add up.
Nothing we said was of any help to the Moroccan student. A dead man with long hair supposedly living with her father, a leg of lamb served with palm fronds and chocolate. Confused and disgusted, she shrugged her massive shoulders and turned her attention back to the comic book she kept hidden beneath her binder. I wondered then if, without the language barrier, my classmates and I could have done a better job making sense of Christianity, an idea that sounds pretty far-fetched to begin with.
In communicating any religious belief, the operative word is faith, a concept illustrated by our very presence in that classroom. Why bother struggling with the grammar lessons of a six- year-old if each of us didn’t believe that, against all reason, we might eventually improve? If I could hope to one day carry on a fluent conversation, it was a relatively short leap to believing that a rabbit might visit my home in the middle of the night, leaving behind a handful of chocolate kisses and a carton of menthol cigarettes. So why stop there? If I could believe in myself, why not give other improbabilities the benefit of the doubt? I accepted the idea that an omniscient God had cast me in his own image and that he watched over me and guided me from one place to the next. The virgin birth, the resurrection, and the countless miracles -my heart expanded to encompass all the wonders and possibilities of the universe.
A bell, though, that’s fucked up.
I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies: 1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
Google marked the birthday of Douglas Adams, raconteur supreme and creator of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, today with a pretty fun doodle. Beyond his comedic creations, Adams was a technologist-futurist and a conservationist. The doodle’s awesome — a fitting little tribute to DNA.
thanks to Dr. CLK for pointing the doodle out!
From kottke.org and our pal Pat:
Bill Murray’s been in the news a bit the last few weeks. First, he was featured in GQ’s January 2013 issue (excerpted below). More recently, he participated in the Pebble Beach Nation Pro-Am celebrity golf tournament, in which he was rocking some outstanding facial hair, making angels in bunker sand, and getting patted on the arse by Kenny G.
… He talks about the original reason for the trip, where he went first: to see the recently completed FDR Four Freedoms memorial, located on the tip of the island (where, he mentions, an unfilmed scene in Ghostbusters was meant to be set). He had seen a documentary about the project on PBS and, having recently channeled the president, decided to take his sons and their friends for a look.
“It was designed by Louis Kahn, and it’s got some moves,” he says, flipping through photos on his phone and shaking his head, impressed. “This is what they call The Room,” he says, passing the phone. “There’s six-by-six-by-twelve-foot granite blocks with a tiny bit of space between them that’s polished on the inside, so the light actually kicks through the whole thing. The Room is pretty boss.”
The only problem was that the memorial was in the final stages of construction and not yet open, so they crept around the edges, looking for a way in. A perfect setup for a little of that Murray magic.
“I waved to the people driving in and out in their itty-bitty cars, and eventually I saw one of the guys walking back, saying, ‘They said you were out here.’ ” Murray seems suddenly sheepish, as if hearing how it sounds: just another celebrity getting through doors on the strength of his face—not with wit and charm and guile, not with sand.
“It wasn’t like they were like, ‘Hey, you’re the guy from What About Bob?’ or anything. One guy didn’t speak very much English, and they obviously weren’t really movie buffs…,” he says, rubbing those legs gingerly. A mere guard, he’ll have you know, is still no match for the power of the Murricane. He’d have made it through the gate.
“I had that,” he says with perfect confidence. “If I had a little more time, I could have gotten it done.”
From a show with zefrank:
Stumbled upon this on accident earlier today. Hilarious. One sample below, more available here.
I made little cheese cracker sandwiches as I watched Bon Iver make perfect blocks of butter that he’d just finished churning. The candle light found a home in his eyes as he took off his apron.
“Its amazing how one thing becomes another with just a little effort”, I purred as I kissed his forehead. I barely noticed him tremble as my lips touched his cool skin.
“It’s amazing how something becomes nothing without any effort at all”, was all he said before walking off into the rain. Now all I have left is butter. Until it spoils.
Metroid: You have killed a mosquito with hairspray.
The Legend of Zelda: You have carried a piece of string cheese behind your ear for a whole day.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link: You have used an oversized licorice whip as a jumprope.
Castlevania: You have killed a fly with an algebra test.
Super Mario Bros.: You have hit a wiffle ball with a skateboard deck.
Super Mario Bros. 2: You have hit a moth with a tennis racquet.
Super Mario Bros. 3: You have attempted to carbonate milk.
Tecmo Bowl: You have attempted to skateboard while wearing roller skates.
Duck Hunt: You have injured yourself trying to drink out of a sprinkler.
Obama’s twitter feed just posted this. Hilarious!
There was a recent thread at Quora titled, “What are some English phrases and terms commonly heard in India but rarely used elsewhere?” It is really, really priceless.
I find this kind of thing fascinating, and know many of the smarter out there know more about the academic and intellectual underpinnings of adaptation of a language to local culture, circumstance, region. Fascinating, though, how a foreign language, once adopted, grows to become something unique, evolving, unto itself. I can’t help but think that part of the unique change that occurs during this adoption process is just bootstrapping words and phrases — say in Hindi — to an approximate equivalent in English. Throw out some of the confusing conventions that English speakers take for granted, and it can feel you’re speaking two distinct languages.
The quora discussion explores unique vagrancies of the English language in India. A few of my favorite excerpts follow:
That reminds me, I should get my pre-paid converted to post-paid to make sure there is no hassle with roaming. The operator tells me that under the current scheme roaming is free but always the possibility for screwup is there. But the paperwork for updation is too great. Every time wanting same to same KYC. Limited timings, phones always engaged, very much difficult. They trouble you like anything but never answer any of your doubts. Tell me, what is one to do yaar? They are like that only.
I need to prepone some meetings to arrange for the trip so I need to rush due to the same, but not to worry, I will keep you initimated of my progress. Will give you a missed call when I deplane upon returning back.
Indian : Too much stuff in dicky
American : Too much junk in trunk
Gymming: In-house version of ‘Working out’. Have you been gymming lately?
Hope your head is not paining, I didn’t mean to eat your brains. I will offer a translation in a few days. Now it’s time to slow the volume, increase the AC, and off the light because sleep is coming. Kindly to stay in tune.
Paining always gets me. Eating brains evokes the zombie apocalypse.
Everything is lost — and found again — in translation.