rire & sourire

adorable smile

It occurred to me the other day that sourire (smile) literally means ‘under-laugh’ (sous-rire). Something about that is so lovely.

I looked up the etymology and here’s what I found:

“Parce qu’il vient autant du cœur que de la raison, le sourire dit tout et son contraire. Première forme de langage non verbal, il crée instantanément du lien lorsqu’il est authentique, génère de l’inquiétude lorsqu’il est rictus ou provoque un malaise lorsqu’il est forcé.  …

Son étymologie est mal définie: du latin subridere, il viendrait ‘avant le rire,’ dont il serait un avatar inachevé et silencieux, esquissé et contenu. Le sourire ne serait-il qu’un sous-rire, un rire au rabais?

Avant de rire, nous avons souri. Le bébé sourit dès la naissance, alors que les premiers éclats de rire ne commencent qu’entre 4 et 8 mois. Sourire est un comportement inné, et non un apprentissage culturel. …

Le sourire est donc loin d’être une forme affaiblie du rire. … ‘Le sourire est la perfection du rire,’ écrit le philosophe Alain à propos de la plus subtile des expressions humaines.”

My butchery of an interpretation (corrections welcome!):

“Because it comes as much from the heart as from the mind, the smile tells us everything and nothing. The first form of non-verbal language, it instantly creates a connection when it is authentic, generates uneasiness when it is a grin, or provokes malaise when it is forced.

Its etymology is badly defined: from the latin subridere, it would come ‘before the laugh,” which would make it an unfinished and silent transformation, sketchy and contained. [Editor’s note: Wtf??] The smile would be but an under-laugh, a cheap laugh.

Before laughing, we smiled. The baby smiles from birth, while the first peels of laughter don’t occur until sometime between 4 and 8 months. To smile is something that happens on the inside, and not culturally learned behaviour.

The smile is therefore far from being a weakened form of laughter. ‘The smile is the perfection of laughter,’ writes philospher Alain about the most subtle of human expressions.”

Those French and their poetic way with language. (But, oh, what a mockery my translation makes of it.)

(Photo: My niece’s loveliest of smiles, surpassed only by her laughter.)

Clovis’ show

Clovis Pareiko's show
So, Clovis’ opening. It was delightful. His paintings blew me away. I had seen them online but that did not at all prepare me for the punch they packed in person. The color, texture, depth and luminosity were all so brilliant. Photos don’t do them justice, but here goes anyway.
Clovis Pareiko's show
Clovis Pareiko's show
Clovis at his show
The show was at Clovis’ studio in Bushwick, a neighborhood where I haven’t spent much time but have been wanting to explore lately. The studio space at first felt like it was in the middle of nowhere, an industrial wasteland, but actually it turned out to be a couple of blocks from what may be my new favorite spot in the entire city. I wish I had thought to take a picture but I didn’t and it was probably too dark anyway. But this one intersection where five streets met reminded me so much of Buenos Aires where the neighborhood of Colegiales borders Palermo Hollywood. First of all there was so much space that it didn’t feel like New York at all. Individual buildings seemed to have been constructed and/or renovated by the people who owned them to suit their particular needs and take advantage of all that space, rather than by developers working to create a certain style. There was art covering the walls of several buildings, and the non-gridded streets came together in a way that resembled B.A.’s many airy plazas. Plus we sat on a bench outside a chill but classy bar to eat sausages that tasted not unlike the chorizo I had at Miranda in Palermo. And then some guy walked by speaking Spanish, so the fantasy projection was complete.
Google street view saves the day! Bushwick:bushwick
meets Buenos Aires:
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires
Between the energy of the opening and the thrill of finding Argentina in the most unlikely corner of Brooklyn, last Tuesday night was quite an adventure. Bushwick, I will be back…

i forgot to give this post a title

angry white cat

Remember how Jordan described her language exchange experience as akin to online dating? Well…

I was cleaning out my email inbox, which is full of unread messages I’ve received from people who found me on conversationexchange.com, the site that connects people who want to learn the other’s language. I’ve been ignoring the message notifications for awhile now, since I’m happy with my current situation Skyping once a week with Philippe. I don’t have the time or inclination to do it more often than that, and we always have stuff to talk about, so there’s no point being in touch with other people.

I was curious, though, about who had contacted me. I didn’t want to delete the message notifications without first reading their actual messages, so I logged in to Conversation Exchange for the first time in months.

I worked my way backwards through my inbox, reading everyone’s message and then looking at their profile. I was happy to confirm that I wasn’t missing out on anything. When I got near the bottom I saw my initial emails with Philippe. I re-read them and looked at his profile, wondering whether the way he presented himself would align with my current impression of him. I was amused to see that his profile picture is of a very fat angry-looking cat that he has never once mentioned.

I was less amused to notice that his last log-in date was that very day. Despite acknowledging my own ridiculousness, I felt slightly wounded. Philippe is Skyping with other people? How does he find the time? What does he talk to them about? Are they better at French than me? Do they know about his pissed-off cat?

It had crossed my mind before then that Philippe might have more than one conversation partner since he speaks much better English than I speak French. He’s got to be practicing a whole lot more than me. But seeing such open evidence of his philandering took me aback.

Not being completely removed from reality, I quickly recovered and reasoned that if I’m not fully satisfying Philippe (linguistically!), it’s perfectly fine for him to look elsewhere to meet his needs. I’m OK with polyamory in this particular relationship. Especially because if we’re going to take the dating analogy to its logical extreme, I basically attend swingers orgies every Monday night.

(Photo of a cat that resembles but is definitely not Philippe’s actual cat: Craig / Tjflex2)

have a good weekend!

people's climate march

People! It’s the weekend. (Yet I’m still at work. But leaving soon!)

This week was my best ever for French conversation – I am practically thinking in French by now. On Sunday I Skyped with Philippe. On Monday I went to the French conversation Meetup and talked to a guy from Togo for like two hours about all things West African. Yesterday at Clovis’ art opening (which I will write about later) the cinematographer for Thomas’ documentary was filming and he spoke about ten words of English so I talked to him in French for an hour. And then today I Skyped with Philippe again before running the Central Park loop for National Run at Work Day. Which is why I’m now working late…

But I’m minutes away from leaving and I’m so excited about this weekend. On Saturday I will show up at a doll hospital that has already told me they’re not interested in me doing a short film about them. I will show up with my beloved doll Cindy, who is now in six parts held together by a little hooded onesie my mother sewed to keep her arms, legs and head quasi-intact. I will see what they can do for Cindy and in the process hope to charm them into letting me make the film.

On Sunday I will join the People’s Climate March. I was torn about which section to walk in. I really wanted to be with the anti-corporate people, where my allegiance lies. But they are in the only really blamey, negative section of the march; the others are all hopeful and solutions-based and I think I want to spend my day surrounded by positivity. Plus I will be wearing enough branded apparel that I’ll feel a little silly being all anti-capitalist with evidence of hypocrisy all over my body.

What does this have to do with French or Spanish or Hebrew? Well, apparently there are concurrent events all around the world. Plus an environmental apocalypse would wipe all humans and thus all languages off the face of the earth. So there’s that tenuous link, if you need one.

Allons-y! Le week-end commence maintenant!


Youssou N'Dour at BAM

Over the weekend I saw Youssou N’Dour perform in Brooklyn. I don’t say this lightly: it was transportive. The music is so overwhelmingly life-affirming, and I’m chomping at the bit to go to Senegal. So I spent the entire show alternately blissing out in the moment and imagining myself living in Dakar in the near future, making a weekend routine of going out to dance to West African music.

The band kept announcing him as the “minister of the people” but I would more aptly call N’Dour the minister of tourism because within minutes of his arrival onstage I was ready to pack up and go.* Lo and behold, I just looked up his discography and he is indeed Senegal’s minister of tourism and culture as of 2012! That is both hilarious and entirely appropriate.

Sometimes I think I’m going to wimp out on my language sabbatical but then a night like Saturday’s reminds me of how much fun I will have and eradicates the fear. In fact, I spent a good part of the show wallowing in fantasy-land “logistics” planning: I’d move to Senegal next November and spend the winter months learning French eight hours a day, then visit every country in West Africa after becoming proficient, next head south to Zimbabwe and South Africa just because, then cut back up to Rwanda, then turn east into Tanzania and Kenya, and finally somehow end up in the south of France in time for summer. Oh, and there’d also magically be time and money for Mozambique and Madagascar. And then I’d move to South America for Spanish immersion.

It’s good to dream… And eventually, when the time is ripe, I will become a bit more realistic about my dreams and turn them into reality. (With God as my witness.)

* pending Ebola neutralization

I leave you with a clip from the show, taken by someone with a much better seat than mine!

why learn Spanish, part 2

Isabel Allende's Eva Luna

Because Isabel Allende’s “Eva Luna” must be even more beautiful in its original language.

I’m reading it in English now on the recommendation of several people who told me that if I love Gabriel Garcia Marquez I’ll love her, too. They were right. I’m halfway through and absorbed in the story in a way I haven’t been since grade school. I read it every day on the subway to and from work and am amazed when I find myself at my destination seemingly without commuting.

On Monday I skipped French conversation to go to a filmmakers’ gathering at a bar instead. When the bartender saw me carrying “Eva Luna” she broke into the hugest smile and just gushed and gushed about how much she loves Allende and how halfway through “The House of the Spirits” (which I’m planning to read next) she put the book down because she never wanted it to end.

Can you imagine if something is that powerful in translation what it must be like in the original?

One day! One day I will know, because I WILL learn enough Spanish to at least take a clumsy stab at it. Con Dios como mi testigo. I should learn that phrase in every language, I seem to use it far more here than, “Where are the toilets?”

P.S. Why learn Spanish, Part 1.

the slow decline

star wars lego man sisyphusI don’t know why I’m so discouraged. I have been going to French conversation Meetups every Monday, and this past Monday I even Skyped with Philippe from home and then immediately hopped on a train to talk French some more and then caught myself talking to myself in French on the way home.

But I originally committed to a half hour a day of French and a half hour of Spanish, and I have now all but abandoned Spanish and reduced French to conversation alone. I’m afraid all the progress I made through the hundreds of hours of work I put in at the outset are going to disappear.

So, I need a new plan. I am thinking about signing up for a Spanish class, maybe through Fluent City. I also think my company may have renewed its Rosetta Stone license in which case I can try to do a Spanish course that way. I’ll try to watch one episode of Destinos every weekend because I do wonder whatever happened to Raquel and whatshisface (sure sign it’s been too long). Oh yeah, Arturo! I wonder what happened with Raquel & Arturo’s overwrought romance.

And maybe I will start reading French books as a way to jog my memory about verb forms and vocab I keep forgetting. I need to bug Thomas for one of his novels. Thomas, if you’re reading… bring on the books!

I guess I was overambitious and need to lower my expectations for myself. There have been other things I’ve become interested in doing that I wouldn’t have time for if I kept up the hour-a-day routine. It’s not because I’m lazy, it’s because I lead such a jam-packed, engaging life. Yeah, that’s what I’ll tell myself…

(Photo: Kristina Alexanderson)