The Casual Blog

Tag: German

Lost and found, Hawking, Churchill, Feldman, German, Brewery Bhavana, and Bolero (the ballet)

Durant Nature Preserve on Saturday morning

It’s been a big week for domestic lost and found drama.  I lost, and eventually found, my smartphone, a glove, the battery for my camera, my wireless headphones, the front page of the New York Times, and probably some other stuff I’ve already forgotten about.  I hate that uh-oh feeling, that this-could-be-serious feeling, that tightness in the stomach as you try to stay calm and think carefully, where did I last have that thing?

Some of the losses could be attributable to task overload.  An example: on Friday morning, I drove back from a spin class listening to an audiobook, and as I started to parallel park I saw a friend and her baby on the sidewalk.  So I hurried to park, get out, and say hello. Then back in the apartment, I needed to check my schedule for the day with the phone, and realized I must have left it in the car.  

We had some cardboard boxes flattened and ready to go down to the recycling area, so I carried them along when I went to get the phone, and brought the Times to read while I waited for the elevator.  When the elevator came, inside was a young woman with a dog, and we chatted about her dog. Then I went to the recycling room and tossed the cardboard into a huge bin — along with the Times.

The bin came up almost to my shoulders, and was empty except for my cardboard and the Times.  I couldn’t reach the bottom. To get the newspaper out, I had to do some experimenting, but eventually I figured out how to hoist myself up on the front of the bin, lower myself in, grab the Times, and get back out without injuring myself or the bin.

Last week we lost Stephen Hawking, the great British astrophysicist who was paralyzed for most of his life.  He was one of my heroes. Back in the day, I read his A Brief History of Time, of which I understood not a lot.  It was Hawking’s curiosity and courage that really moved me. I always thought that his life must be as purely intellectual as any human being’s has ever been.  

But I heard an interview with one of his scientific collaborators who said that he was always accompanied by nurses, who frequently needed to help him with bodily issues.  That is, he also was a physical person. According to the interview, it was fun hanging out with him.  

We finally saw The Darkest Hour, the Winston Churchill biopic, on Amazon Prime this weekend.  Gary Oldman certainly deserved his recent best actor Oscar for his Churchill, and so did Kazuhiro Tsuji, his makeup artist.  

Churchill was in many respects a terrible person, accountable for racist imperialism and mass murder, but he also did one truly heroic thing of lasting value:  standing almost alone to rally Britain to fight Nazism. The film conveys both his ego and his understated courage. It shows the importance and potential power of public speaking.  Churchill could orate! The film made me feel gratitude for the English language and all the ancestors who created it.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having another go at learning German, using the Babbel app.  I like the Babbel system, which is well-organized, and also, at least at the beginning, free.  I’ve long been curious about German, the language of many of the great musical minds that have been a big part of my life, like Bach, Haydn, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner, and Mahler.  

But it’s way harder than French, Spanish, and Italian. I’m finding that getting vocabulary is not too difficult, since there are lots of cognates with English, and most of the spoken sounds are similar to English. But the German case system is for me really challenging.  Add that to having three genders for nouns and lots of rules on word order, and it can be densely frustrating. But I’m starting to see some blue sky through the clouds.

Speaking of brain work, I’ve been listening to an audiobook of How Emotions are Made, The Secret Life of the Brain, by Lisa Feldman Barrett, a psychologist and neuroscientist at Northeastern University.  In recent years I’ve read a fair bit about evolutionary psychology and neurobiology, hoping to understand more about how humans work. Barrett’s book has opened some new doors for me.

She challenges the orthodox understanding of emotions as inborn, universal, and readily identifiable.  She contends that emotions are best viewed as interpretations of perceptions from inside and outside the body that are dependent on learning, context, and culture. In other words, they are fundamentally social constructions, and vary substantially from culture to culture. This understanding has a lot of implications for how to think of individuals and societies.  

We finally managed to get a reservation at Brewery Bhavana for Saturday night.  It’s a fairly new restaurant in downtown Raleigh that features dim sum and noodles, along with craft beers.  The space also has a small bookstore and flower shop. It seems an unlikely combination, but it’s been a smashing success, sold out for months. Anyhow, we tried the vegetarian dishes and found them delicious, and were happy with our beers.  

Afterwards, we walked over to the Carolina Ballet’s Bolero program.  I slightly dreaded once again hearing Ravel’s Bolero, a great composer’s most repetitious work, but Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s new ballet turned out to be a treat.  It features a couple having a day at the beach, and addresses the reality of global warming with another unlikely combination — humor and horror.

The first ballet on the program, Zalman Raffael’s latest work, was  set to Ravel’s Piano Concerto.  It was highly kinetic, angular and energizing. The last piece was Robert Weiss’s Des Images, which was a meditation on the ballet choreographer’s art.  I found some of it a bit languid, but Alyssa Pilger’s solo in the pizzicato second movement was electrifying.

I took these pictures yesterday at Durant Nature Preserve in north Raleigh while testing out a new lens.  The weather was on the chilly side, so I brought along my photography gloves, which have cut off fingers and mitton tops that can be folded back.  I put the gloves in my jacket pockets, but ended up not using them. After walking part way around the lake and most of the way back, I noticed one glove was gone.  I really liked that glove, so I did the walk a second time, and found it.  The clouds were starting to lift at that point, and that’s when I got the shot at the top of this blog Read the rest of this entry »

Our ice storm, Eugene Onegin, getting ready to ski Lech, and learning some German

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On Friday much of the East Coast was walloped by a big snowstorm, but here in Raleigh, we got mostly sleet and freezing rain. It left a treacherous coating of ice on the roads. Sally ventured out once in the Subaru for groceries, but otherwise we hunkered down till Sunday, when it warmed up and most of the ice melted.

That afternoon we went to the N.C. Opera’s concert production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. It was really good! I was particularly struck by Joyce El-Khoury as Tatiana, a brilliant young singer, with amazing dynamic range, subtlety, and feeling. Eric Barry’s Linsky was also very fine. Indeed, all the principals were excellent, and the chorus and orchestra sounded good, too. Hats off to maestro Timothy Myers! I’m happy to say that Red Hat is sponsoring a broadcast/webcast of this performance on WCPE on May 5.
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Next Saturday we’re headed to Lech am Arlberg, Austria for a week. Skiing the beautiful and challenging Alps, in the birthplace of the exhilarating sport of alpine skiing, has been a long time dream, and we’re finally going to do it. I settled on Lech based on recommendations of friends and data indicating that it is one of the snowiest places in Europe. The snow reports haven’t been looking great, but in the last few days coverage seems to be improving. As of today, they claim 55 inches, with 93 of 97 lifts open, and 193 miles of pistes. And close by is St. Anton, with lots more. With mother nature, you never know, but I’m optimistic.

In happy anticipation, I’ve been learning some German with the Rosetta Stone program. I’ve gotten my basic greetings, numbers, colors, days of the week, basic types of housing, furnishings, appliances, food and drink, transportation methods, payment methods (e.g. Kreditkarte!), body states (e.g. ich habe Hunger!), and a other very practical words and phrases.
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It helps that there are a lot of cognate cousins with English, and the vocal sounds correspond closely. But there are also a lot of little, intense puzzles. Whoever thought of the devilish declension system? And irregular pluralization? Etc. But it is quietly absorbing, much like learning music. As with music, you work as your own programmer, becoming something a little different, expanding.

But I’m under no illusion that I’ll be a fluent German conversationalist by next week, or even next year. For possible language emergencies in Austria, I downloaded Google Translate onto my smartphone, and practiced with it a bit. It receives spoken messages in English and broadcasts them back in German (or other languages), and vice versa. In my tests, it was quite accurate. Amazing!