Thursday, February 19, 2015

doubt in English versus Spanish / the subjunctive

I am trying to understand the many uses of the subjunctive in Spanish. I'm familiar with the verb mode since I had to learn it once upon a time in French and in German.
In English we tend to avoid using the subjunctive in the rare instances when it can still be used.
Examples would be...
"We advise that he try to talk to her."
"If she were to buy apples, he would make a pie." Most people would say, "If she bought apples, he would make a pie."
There are other examples, but I'm not writing about the mothy use of the subjunctive in English.
I'm studying for a Spanish exam, specifically the subjunctive, which is used frequently and with great variety. I had hoped to learn it just enough to recognize it when reading. I didn't actually want to learn how to use it. Of course, I didn't realize how often it's used.
I went to the Spanish bookstore, Las Americas, on St-Laurent to find a book I could read comfortably. I ended up in the YA section and bought a book for 10-yr-olds and up. I can read it without a dictionary, and more or less understand the words I don't already know from the context. It's called Luna de Senegal, by Agustín Fernández Paz, and is the story of girl who emigrates from Senegal with her family to Spain. The illustrations by Marina Seoane are lovely.

However, I was astounded by the range of verb modes in a simple story for children. The present, the futuro perfecto, the conditional, the pretérito, the imperfecto--and the subjunctive.
In Spanish the subjunctive must be used for any number of expressions. Some examples: It is necessary that, I want that, I hope that, Maybe, Hopefully, As soon as, In order that, How great that, How awful that, There is no one who...
Rather than memorize lists, I would sooner try to understand the rationale. Our teacher, Alicia, says that the instance there's a nuance of doubt or subjectivity the subjunctive must be used. I understand the concept.
But here's my problem: "I don't think that he's coming" obviously signifies doubt. But to my way of thinking, "I think that he's coming", equally implies doubt. If I were sure, I would say, "He's coming." I wouldn't add the hesitation or uncertainty that my Anglo ears hear in "I think that". Ditto for "I believe that". "I believe that" sounds entirely subjective to me. A rhetorical flourish that intimates an awareness I might be wrong. ???
And now we get into the even foggier realm of "It appears that..." Appearance is not real. Appearance is what you imagine or think or suppose or is likely. It might end up being real, but in the moment a person says, "It appears that...", that person has a reason for not saying, "It is..."

And yet, in Spanish, "it appears that" does not take the subjunctive!
I don't get it.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

bye bye door (1902 - 2015)

The windows needed to be changed. This winter especially. The house was leaking heat at a speed that was only beat by the wind chill seeping in. I dreamed of swivel-clean, repels dust, Energy Star, NFRC* windows with U-Factor, Solar Heat Gain, Visible Trasmittance numbers of the highest order. If we were going to embark on this project, let's do it right.
Knocking out the old windows during the coldest February in Montreal in 20 yrs wasn't the ideal start, but we had a date. Bye bye windows, no regrets.

However, I will miss the carved wooden door that was as old as the house. Here and there, when walking through Pointe St-Charles, you occasionally see one or two of the original doors.

They are darling, aren't they? But you can see how much cold they let in. The owner here at 1057 has put plastic inside the glass.
When we bought our house in 2001, I spent the first summer stripping the entrance of the beige and chocolate paint the previous owner had found attractive. R went through a tub of wood putty to repair the cracks and chips in the door. I mixed and matched various stains to get the different woods more or less the same hue. We loved the look of the door, but even with weather stripping, in the winter we always had a snowdrift inside the house.
So... there goes the door. 1902 - 2015. We haven't decided what we'll do with it now that it's been retired from the top the steps. We might hang it on a wall. I was thinking it would make an interesting headboard.

*National Fenestration Council Rating

Sunday, February 15, 2015


I'm getting tired of the snow. I know it's colder elsewhere in Canada, but here in Montreal it's been cold bloody long enough.
Can't anyone else hear how nooooooo resounds in the word snow?
Sure, the steep angle of the sunlight at this time of year is so golden along the carved cornices, the sky so blue, the snow so squeaky cold.
I wanted to write something here and balked just seeing the photo of snow on tree branches Rapunzel posted in November when winter seemed do-able.
I started looking through my photos for somewhere lush and green, but instead chose this cat taking sun in an old cabinet in Tunisia.

Later in the day the cabinet was used to sell tube socks, batteries, packets of wafer cookies.

 March, 2006. No snow.

Monday, February 9, 2015

what to wear to your book launch

I was looking through some old pictures and found the ones from the launch of my first book in 2009. I was so excited--too excited maybe. For a month I was muttering everywhere I walked. I was still in the mental realm of editing, reading galleys, deadlines. Words, words, words. What did they all mean? Last-minute regrets?

Sure, I was ready to stand in front of people and talk about my writing, but I still mostly prefer being in a room by myself writing. I wasn't sure how to concoct a public persona. I worried about what to wear. Clothes of all things! Jewellery I could do. I have lots of big chunky pieces. Makeup? Nah. Whenever I put on lipstick, I smudge it. And I like my blond eyelashes. I don't want them black.

All that silly worry and then five days before the launch I slipped on a patch of ice, fell on my face and broke my glasses.

For five days I watched my eye go from midnight blue to aubergine to green to pomegranate. I forgot about what to wear because who was going to notice the suede piping on my pockets when I had that alien eye?

It's become a life lesson. Doesn't matter what you wear. Try to keep yourself intact.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Grimms' fairy tale for vegetarians / Straw, Coal, Bean / Strohhalm, Kohle und Bohne

It's been a while since I translated a Grimms' fairy tale. Of course, I'm referring to the book my grandfather sent when I was a child to help keep my German in shape. (Big joke on me: red-hot iron shoes, severed noses, grumbling cauldrons, devils breathing soot. Learn the language, learn what you come from.)

Here's a Grimms' for vegetarians: Straw, Coal and Bean.

In a village there lived an old woman who had gathered some beans and wanted to cook them. She made fire in her stove and so that it would burn more quickly, lit it with a handful of straw.
As she poured the beans in a pot, one fell out. It lay on the floor next to a piece of straw.
Soon after a piece of coal sparked from the stove and fell beside them.
The straw began by saying, "Dear friends, where do you come from?"
The coal answered, "With luck I sprang free from the fire, and if I hadn't been so strong, I would be dead for sure. I would be ash by now."
The bean said, "I just escaped by my skin too. Had the old woman kept me in her pot, I would be mercilessly cooked to mash by now--like my comrades."
"Would my future have been any different?" asked the straw. "The old woman let all my brothers go up in smoke, sixty in one handful--murdered. Fortunately I slipped between her fingers."
"So what shall we do now?" asked the coal.
"Right," said the straw. "Since we all escaped death together, we should stick together, and so that we don't get into any more danger in this perilous place, we should emigrate to a foreign land."

--I kid you not. The words are auswandern--emigrate--and fremdes Land--foreign land.

The suggestion pleased the others and they set out. Soon, though, they came to a small stream, and since there was no bridge or path, they didn't know how to get across.
The straw had a good idea and said, "I will lie down and you can cross on me as if I were a bridge."
The straw stretched itself from one bank to the other, and the coal with its fiery nature scampered across, except that when it got to the middle and heard the water rushing beneath, it became afraid, stopped, and couldn't go farther.
The straw began to burn, broke in two, and fell in the stream. The coal slipped after it, hissed when it hit the water, and gave up the ghost.
The bean had carefully stayed on the bank, but couldn't stop laughing when it saw what had happened, and laughed so hard that it finally burst.
Now, as it happened--perhaps with luck too--a tailor, who was also travelling, had also been resting by the stream and saw what had happened. Since he had a compassionate heart, he took out his needle and thread and sewed the bean together again and the bean thanked him most beautifully.
However, since the tailor had used black thread, that explains why since then some beans have a black stitch.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

hey guy, nice scarf

I was on the metro today--which in Montreal means the subway--standing next to a guy who had a nice scarf. Heathery green. Soft.
Probably because I was on the way to Spanish class I looked at his scarf and thought bufanda.
Then, since I live in Montreal, I thought écharpe.
And while I was playing with words anyhow, I tried to remember what the German was.
Halstuch. Hals = neck. Tuch = cloth.
I'm an etymology geek and I grew up speaking a language that can't give me anything more interesting than neckcloth?

Here, to console me, is a painting by one of my favourite German painters, Gabriele Münter. I saw the painting in Munich in 1986. It was painted in 1911. The man in the painting--maybe Wassily Kandinsky--is not wearing a neckcloth.

Monday, January 12, 2015

mechanical heart valves 3 years ago

Three years ago today my heart was stopped and the surgeons were doing wizardry in my chest cavity. It still somewhat freaks me out.
We, as humans, tend to believe we are what we feel and think. Fact is: we are mired in sacks of flesh, slosh, organs, muscles and bones. Take that away and what happens to all the fine ideals and quintessential perceptions? They don't get far.

For anyone else who has had mechanical valves installed and wants to compare notes: yeah, they make one heck of racket. My chest sounds like a clock ticking inside a cabinet, which you might call a grandfather clock, but I call a grandmother clock since I'm a woman. The tick has a pitch like a porcelain castanet. Since I have two valves--one that opens, one that closes--I get two clicks per minute. I've had to get used to what sounds like very rapid beating of the heart. Sometimes it annoys me. It is so INCESSANT. I'm trying to read and I have this constant click, click, click, click, click, click, click... I tell it to shut up. Except I don't want that either.

In terms of cardiac fitness--again, for anyone else who's going to have or has had the surgery--I think I'm doing all right. I walk approx 2 hrs/day at a reasonably brisk pace. Ideally I'd like to go swimming but I don't like the aggressive swimmers in the community pool, the upheaval of swimsuits, bathing caps, chlorine stink, wet towels. I had thought I might start jogging after the surgery but the beta blockers don't allow that. In the summer I cycle.

I continue to be grateful I live at a time when the technology has been developed to help people like myself, and in a country where medicare extends to all and I did not have to pay for the hospitalization, the surgery nor the fancy porcelain castanets.