Another great strength of Chéri is its domestic accuracy, especially about the shifting sands between two people alone in a room, the vanity and careless cruelty, the weird dance between love and clarity – “You never laugh except unkindly – at people,” Léa tells Chéri, “and that makes you ugly”. There is also the way in which people behave, so often counterintuitively and according to urges they did not suspect they possessed.

(Aida Edemariam, “Wild, controversial and free: Colette, a life too big for film,” The Guardian, 1-7-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

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Draw It, Remember It

In other words, drawing out the things we want to remember can be a powerful technique to combat our natural declines in memory, better even than repeatedly writing them down or listing characteristics and descriptors.

(Tim Herrera, “A Simple Way to Better Remember Things: Draw a Picture,” NYTimes, 1-6-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

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My Spanish grandson, a computer science student, reads novels in English by authors such as Ken Follett to sharpen his skills in that language. He wrestles with colloquialisms and slang expressions that he encounters. The one he mentioned specifically was “It’s not my cup of tea.” He asked me recently to provide him a random list of such expressions off the top of my head for him to ponder and possibly recognize should he encounter them. I’ve free-associated thus far the following hodgepodge for him. (Nagging question: Is all slang this weighted toward the derogatory and snide? Or is it me?)

-a He’s… She’s… You’re… They’re…

-b I… You… He… She… They…

-c It’s…

Not my cup of tea.

Pulling my leg.

Took me for a ride.

Let sleeping dogs lie.

Make hay while the sun shines.

Lie with dogs, rise with fleas.

On it like a duck on a junebug.

Not a bowl of cherries.

Not all hats and horns.

Has a burr in his blanket.

Has a bee in her bonnet.

Old as the hills.

Wild and woolly.

High on the hog.

In high cotton.

High as a kite.

Free as a breeze.

There’s a new bull in the pasture.

All hat and no ranch.

Too far over his skis.

Under the weather.

Ugly as a mud fence.

Open a can of whup-up on him.

Long in the tooth.

Living on borrowed time.

Speaks with a forked tongue.

Over the moon.

Pencil-neck geek.

Straight arrow.

In over his head.

The sky’s the limit.

Butter my butt and call me a biscuit!

His cheese done slid right off his cracker.

Crazy as a loon.

Up a creek without a paddle.

Oil field trash and proud.

Busy as a bee.

Just got skunked.

One brick shy of a load.

Not playing with a full deck.

Not rowing with both oars.

A loose cannon.

(Cc) 2019 JMN.

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Traduced in Translation

In the film, set in Mexico City in the 1970s, the actors speak Mexican Spanish and the indigenous Mixtec language. For that Spanish, Netflix added subtitles in Castilian, Spain’s main dialect, for the release in that country. On Wednesday, Netflix removed those Castilian subtitles after Cuarón told El País, a Spanish newspaper, that they were “parochial, ignorant and offensive to Spaniards themselves.”

“It’s like if you have an American film showing in the U.K. and the character says he’s going to the washroom, but the subtitles say he’s going to the loo,” [Jordi] Soler [Mexican author living in Barcelona] said in a telephone interview. “It’s ridiculous. They’re treating the people of Spain like they’re idiots.”

(Alex Marshall, “Mama to Madre? ‘Roma’ Subtitles in Spain Anger Alfonso Cuaron,” NYTimes, 1-12-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

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Thank you for asking

“How many Likes?” It behooves me not to get fouled up in the stats. This blog is a self-pleasuring diary with benefits. I intend to let it spurt beyond my passing for a beat, then go poof with me into the Great Naught.

(c) 2019 JMN.

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Old English “Kennings”

There are ways of expressing feeling in the Old English kennings that do not exist in the formal English of today. Even if I were to dream up some delicious new portmanteau here — some melding of “history,” “poignant” and “solitude,” say — I still would not be creating a true kenning. That’s because, in our tongue, words get their meaning from the order we put them in: “Poignant” would end up modifying “solitude,” instead of the words just hovering next to each other in figurative space. We who speak contemporary English are so reliant on word order that we are no longer as able as our forebears to create lyrical, associative, figurative meaning in poetry. We just can’t do the same things with our vocabulary. Old English speakers can treat metaphor as an occasion to innovate; Modern English simply tries to describe. Their poetry can turn skeletons into exploding nation-states; we have to focus on keeping our adjectives in the right places. But to our immense good fortune, Old English poetry has survived, and we know how to read it. The kennings are out there waiting for you — so beautiful, so different and so very, very old.

(Josephine Livingstone, “Letter of Recommendation: Old English,” NYTimes, 1-4-19)

(c) 2019 JMN.

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Language and Music

THE SONG BEGINS with a great resonating shout of joy and pain that resolves into the word “Well,” swooping down from a soaring A flat to E flat. “I can’t quit you, baby,” the singer continues, the band entering with a crashing seventh chord, “but I got to put you down for a while.” … The guitar responds with a six-note phrase, played twice. An ideal match for the voice, the guitar’s sound is stingingly incisive, rich with vibrato and its own exhilarating bends and sustains, at once lush and restrained.

(Carlo Rotella, “Otis Rush,” NYTimes Magazine, 12-2018)

I’m persuaded that painting enters our senses visually, and music enters them audibly, and that language is not involved in conveying what each medium conveys. I’m also convinced that the viewer or listener benefits from repeated encounters with a great work via the pertinent sensory faculty — eye or ear — scrubbed of the intrusion of narrative or doctrine. However, I confess that, be it a crutch or an illusion, I feel that sometimes a piece of good descriptive writing seems to enhance my apprehension of a work, especially with music. Afterwards, I can listen to it with greater esthetic rapture. In a sense, I can be taught to hear a work slightly better with the assistance of language.

(c) 2019 JMN.

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