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.  

Monday, January 5, 2015

Alpine hats for babies

Still looking through old photos. This one was taken in 1934 or 35.
An adult's hat would have been adorned with a mountain goat's beard. The baby version gets a feather.
Diapers seem to have been bulkier too. Pre-Huggies.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

winter in Montreal / Alpine memories

Snow overnight followed by ice. Living here, you've got to love the four seasons. Otherwise this climate would depress you. I didn't get out till the afternoon and wouldn't have dared go out at all if a friend hadn't reminded me of spikes.
Somewhere in a closet I had spikes too--studded rubber thingies you wrestle over your boots. They're not pretty and every step grinds if you walk across a floor, but they keep you upright.  
The snow had a crust. The sidewalks were ice. The trees... poor trees. Sirens from one direction then another. People shovelling snow and trying to thump the ice off their car windows.

My Alpine forebears wore spikes to be able to scythe hay off steep mountain slopes. I've stayed in the old Zorn house that was built in the 1700s: timbered walls, built-in benches, a central stove for heating, barn attached--because animals give off heat and in the winter heat is more important than hygiene, which no one was thinking about back then.

The wood floors were pocked with holes my grandmother said had been made by the spikes her grandfather-in-law refused to take off when he walked into the house. Too much trouble.

Does he look like a man who gave a damn about floors?
I don't know when this picture was taken. He died in 1931. His mouth isn't sagged because he had a stroke. He had chronic Pipe-Mouth.  

Friday, January 2, 2015

red & green

I sometimes regret that orange and black have been claimed by Hallowe'en, but don't feel at all the same about green and red. Christmas can keep that combo. 

ps I did not take this picture. Our tree isn't as... thematic.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

tromp by the river jan 1, 2015

Had I brought my camera, I could have taken pictures of the river at dusk. Grey weather, grey sky, and the river in myriad shades of wet slate, mud, glassy black reflections, tea-stained chunks of ice scudding past. Ice broken from farther upriver--downriver?--by the swirling currents. Gnashed ice drifts at a stately pace. Looks quiet but farther downriver--upriver?--the frozen puzzle-pieces smash, pile, heave, cram together. I stand in the bleached cattails and swamp grass. A black dog lopes past, ignoring me: a mere human. The next dog shoves its snout where dogs like to shove their snouts to say hello. I dig through my shoulder bag. No notebook, no camera. I find a Postes Canada receipt in my wallet. What kind of writer goes for a walk without paper? Even on New Year's Day. Always carry paper.