After the battle, when the bombs quit falling, an American soldier in World War I takes a moment to entertain a little girl with the story of Cinderella. Even Hell has its tender moments, and in the midst of despair, there is hope.
Nous savons comment l’histoire va.
In a far, far away, long, long ago kingdom, Cinderella lived happily with her mother and father until her mother died. When Cinderella’s father remarries a cold, cruel woman who has two daughters, Drizella and Anastasia, Cinderella becomes a servant suffering in her own house.
One day the King announces that there will be a fancy dress ball…
Et si tu le fais bien et vite, tu comprends francais.
Has Oz mentioned that his grandmother was French? Oh, there is so little we know of each other, but then, very little we know of ourselves.
“Tout bien ou rien.”
I think I got this from John Muir in his dedication of the book On National Parks, 1901. He got it elsewhere, though where, I don’t know. The sentiment is surely an old one.
I translate it as all is well or nothing. That is literal. Somewhat like the English, All or nothing, but not quite.
Some translations give it as, Do your best or not at all. That works too. If that is the case it is like the Flemish, Als Ik Kan, literally, as I can, and figuratively, to the best of my abilities.
The French phrase, tout bien ou rien, contains opposites, all or nothing, polar extremes, it is good or it is not. Shakespeare likde this form of “simplespeak”. It is ambiguous and clear, depending on the intended purpose of the speaker. One is afraid to argue for seeming the fool.
Ambiguity is a fact of life. It puts one in trouble and keeps us out of trouble. Just ask any politician, who has to explain contrary positions to opposing sides.
Let us have a conversation, friend, on how to write a sentence, and if we do it right my friend, let it be a pleasure, not a penance.
The ancient Greek poet Homer knew that language needs to be sonorous to be remembered. Long lines of disconnected, harsh sounding words are hard to memorize. Words must make sense and should sound pleasing, language being music to the ears and food for the soul.
In her writing Gertrude Stein famously avoided commas as unnecessary interruptions in the flow of thought. One made up thought floating out there in the internet is this:
Commas are the slaves of the sentence, according to Stein, and we know that slavery is never a good thing. If the sentence can’t make sense without multiple commas, rewrite it.
We know it is made up because it has several commas and repeats. Wait, I take half that back since, “a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Stein did say this:
“A comma does nothing but make easy a thing that if you like it enough is easy enough without the comma.”
Now isn’t that nicely said without a pause or a comma?
So, should I say:
Let us have a conversation friend on how to write a sentence; and if we do it right my friend let it be a pleasure not a penance.
If you noticed the switch from comma to semi-colon, give yourself bonus points.
Disons nous une conversation mes amies sur la façon d’écrire une clause; Et si nous nous la faisons bien mes amis laisse faire plaisir et ne pas pénitentiaire.
Who has not spent an hour, a day, or a week searching for the right word, and having found one, will change it for another, then another. And daring to wax poetic we fail, like the child wanting to catch an elusive butterfly, flailing with net, coming up with empty air.
Ye knowe eek, that in forme of speche is chaunge
With-inne a thousand yeer, and wordes tho
That hadden prys, now wonder nyce and straunge
Us thinketh hem; and yet they spake hem so,
And spedde as wel in love as men now do;
Eek for to winne love in sondry ages,
In sondry londes, sondry ben usages.
Chaucer’s speech is Middle English, the language spoken after the Norman invasion, influenced by French, but connected to the language of the Saxons and Angles who came to the British Isles in the Middle Ages. With a little study the words and meaning become clear.
Following the rhetorical salutation “you know” we are greeted by the strange sounding word “eek” in line 22 (pronounced like “eck” and not the sound we make when we see a mouse) is derivative of the German “auch” meaning “also” or “besides”.
Third line, the word “prys” is “prize” which is a fair equivalent for value. Line 26, “spedde” is the past tense of “speed”. It is a word familiar even in Shakespeare’s time in the common salutation “Speed well” meaning may your trip go quickly and without mishap. “Fare” and “farewell” is a more modern adaptation. “Eek” appears again in the second to last line. Here it is better to substitute “besides”. The word “sondry” we spell “sundry” but the meaning is the same, “various”.
The last line repeats the word “sondry” twice, referring first to different lands, and second to the usage of speech. The verb “ben” is our “been” expressing a form of the verb “to be”. Today, one might more appropriately say “have been” to imply continuous usage, but “were” fills the bill nicely.
You know also that the form of speech changes
Within a thousand years, words though
That had value then, now seem wondrous nice and strange
We think them; and yet they spoke them so
And fared as well in love as now men do;
Besides, to win love in sundry ages,
in sundry lands, there were sundry usages.
In Chaucer’s day, French was the language of court and had been so for 300 years. Despite this, and the continuing marriages with French princess, and wars in France, England seems to have had an affinity for the language fiven it by the Saxon and Angles who invaded the island in the Middle Ages.
Were I to translate Chaucer’s English to courtly French, I might, without the correct rhyme or meter, have this:
Savez que la forme de la parole change
Dans mille ans, les mots si
Cela a eu une valeur, alors, semble maintenant belle merveilleuse et étrange
Nous les pensons, et ainsi ils les ont parlé
Et aussi bien réussi dans l’amour que maintenant les hommes;
D’ailleurs, pour gagner l’amour dans les âges divers,
dans les terres diverses, il y avait des usages divers.
[Another in a series of posts about World War I and the Battle of the Somme. This year marks the one hundredth year anniversary.]
September, 2016, Fields of Flanders.
I am in Europe on vacation with my two brothers-in-law. Adam, Andy, and Art, in case you were wondering. Three A’s. Three lawyers. At times, three assholes, some would say. Adam says I am contentious. What does that mean? Three of us in a car on our way to celebrate (is that the right word?) the one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The fields of Flanders are all about us. Beautiful, I think. The picturesque homes and farms, the flowers. The very image of peace and tranquility.
I am driving down the highway minding my own business, gawking at the scenery, driving slowly, but not so slow as the small truck in front of me. The one with the blue bike on the back and the box. Just in case.
Thinking, thinking about all those lost souls on the battlefields.
“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything.” Anne Lamott’s words, but they ring true for most of us. I remember being thirteen, reading books on faith, even Thomas Aquinas, which is a lot for a thirteen-year-old to tackle, in church and wanting to believe, but struggling. Waiting for a sign but seeing and hearing nothing. Faith is not in a book and not in a mass. Faith is in believing in the bottom of your heart when there is nothing else. As I said, I have a lot of faith, I trust it is all going to work out.
But wouldn’t it be nice have a Plan B?
Thoughts on reading Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
Faith is what you have when you cut and chop everything up. You pull it apart and look, deep into the inner recesses of what matters. So what if it is untouchable and unknowable. Lots of things are, but it is still felt, and felt all the more strongly because it comes from the heart.
[Second in a series of posts on a trip to the battlefields of WWI]
It’s not “the” New York brasserie Les Halles – the restaurant best known for being Anthony Bourdain’s former home – but this one in France was a nice place to have an evening dinner. And pretend.
The hell with pretend. Here we are, we three, in Reims (city of French kings and Jean d’Arc – Reims, pronounced “Rance, it rhymes with dance. Go figure.). Having a great time. Anthony, I love you and your show, but give me Belgian beer and pommes frites. These days a Belgian euro goes a lot further than a New York dollar. An evening meal is an evening, not dine and dash. Okay, so the terrorists blew up the Delta counter in Brussels a month before we were scheduled to arrive. Not so many tourists and we flew United.
We three, you are wondering, who? Three brother-in-laws off on a trip to Belgium, France, and Luxembourg without the wives, the three sisters who are the common denominator. What is remarkable is that each brother-in-law has a name that begins with an “A”. – Adam, Andy, Art. Go figure. Moreover, each one is an attorney. What are the odds? Astronomical. Not really, but unusual, yes.
Oh Captain, my Captain, who shall the captain of three be?
Shakespeare knew well the bickering of noble minds, and the inevitability of armed conflict. No less a play than Henry VI to suggest, that the first thing we do is kill all the lawyers. That is a revolutionary idea, although one prone to greater anarchy than before.
Henry VI, part 2, Act 4, Scene 2
Be brave, then; for your captain is brave, and vows reformation. There shall be in England seven halfpenny loaves sold for a penny: the three-hooped pot; shall have ten hoops and I will make it felony to drink small beer: all the realm shall be in common; and in Cheapside shall my palfrey go to grass: and when I am king, as king I will be,–
God save your majesty!
I thank you, good people: there shall be no money; all shall eat and drink on my score; and I will apparel them all in one livery, that they may agree like brothers and worship me their lord.
The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.
Unusual is the fact that we got along. Three is an odd number, usually given to pairings, pitting one brother-in-law against another. The white rose and the red. I am not going to say that it didn’t happen. It did. It is in the nature of things for men to disagree. Directions was the big thing. This way or that. To ask or to blindly go where no one knows. We’re lost.
Across the way at a table for two sit two ladies on a girl trip to France. We chance to speak. They are American. Their husbands accept that their wives travel unescorted. They amaze us by relating that their Audi does a 150 km on the highway. We are not so brave. The conversation turns to girl trips and they tell us that they get along, but it is impossible for men to do so.
Are they right?
Vegas put the odds of a meltdown at 11-2. But Vegas lost on that bet.
We had a great time. Home again and still married. That is the long shot.
“Vous êtes tous une génération perdue.”
“You are all a lost generation”
– Gertrude Stein in Conversation
What do I say today?
“You are all a lost generation.” A phrase credited to Gertrude Stein by Ernest Hemingway and meant to apply to his generation of the twenties and thirties. A generation whose inherited values were irrelevant to post war France and because modern society with its movies and travel created a spiritual alienation from a religiously conservative rural population. This was the Great Gatsby generation, hopelessly provincial, class conscious, materialistic, spiritually empty and emotionally barren.
Thirty years later, another generation, another war, another alienation from the reality of life. Ecclesiastes reminds us that generations come and generations go and only the earth abideth.