Monday, September 27, 2010

National anthems

When I was at the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, during WWII, I used to hear the band play a national anthem every weekday morning, as we assembled for the regular morning assembly (known as "Divisions") on the parade ground. We played the anthems of our allies, even if some of the nations were occupied by German forces. After Pearl Harbor, we added "The Star Spangled Banner". I liked the tune, although the words were hard to sing - not a requirement at Divisions.

In recent times, there have been suggestions that we should change our National Anthem, and that would be fine by me, but I should be surprised if it happens during the remaining years of my lifetime. The US Senate is far too busy filibustering to take up such a controversial topic.

What I most abhor is the "rendition" of our "Anthem" by pop singers, who give it their own "interpretation". I was heartened when a friend sent me an email, attaching a link to an excellent "straight" version, by the assembled cadet choirs of the Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

I think you will like the recording, made at the start of a professional football game. It is here:

I'll admit that what is left of my taste for triumphalism in the Armed Services was stirred by this performance.

Until towards the end, when that terrible bane of premature cheering began. I just wish that stadium crowds would allow the singers to finish the anthem, before starting to applaud.

Barbara and I attended another concert by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra last night. It was an all-Mozart program, and the civilized audience avoided applauding the individual movements, and allowed the conductor a second or two of respite, as he brought Symphony #41 ("Jupiter") to its rapturous conclusion. Happily, no premature applause marred our appreciative enjoyment.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mangled French

Despite the heading, let's start with German.

Americans can't do umlauts, so today I read that the prominent Presbyterian theologian Frederick Buechner pronounces his name "Beekner". That triggered thoughts of American pronunciation of some other languages, especially French.

In my early days, I didn't care much about French, although I studied it at my British-style prep school (typically age 8 through 13). I continued to study it without enthusiasm, when I moved to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, where Naval training shared class time with a general secondary school curriculum. We were "streamed" for academic subjects into four groups, according to our ability. I was always placed in the "A" group--with one exception. At the start of one term, I was initially placed in the "B" group for French, but one of the masters (teachers) who taught French was either called up, or possibly suffered a long-term disability. The classes were reduced from four to three, and I found myself back in group A. That seemed to communicate a message! From that day forward, I have learned to appreciate French, and I can still speak enough to find my way around France.

The secret for English speakers in France is to start to communicate in French; if the person to whom you are speaking has better English than French, she or he will soon switch languages.

Particularly in California, French is not widely spoken or understood, because we have an unofficial "second language": Spanish. The French that I see and hear is mangled in several ways:

1. There are certain sounds, common in French, which Californians cannot pronounce. A particularly egregious example is the feminine of masseur. This is pronounced "massoose", instead of something like "masserz".

2. Usage. The main course (and this is true generally in the US) is called an entree. (This is usually pronounced with an approximation of correctness, as "ontray".) As the meaning of the word ("entry") suggests, an entrée is the course preceding the main course.

3. Pronunciation. Good pronunciation of French requires care with the stress. The phrase "Gay Paree" illustrates this point. Stress in French requires a light and delicate touch, not a heavy emphasis on the final syllable.

What does one do when using French words in California? If I pronounce the words correctly, I risk being identified as the linguistic snob I am. To "dumb down" my French risks being considered an ignoramus by those who know better. In defense of my amour propre, I have developed a middle way.

Perhaps this just makes me sound like an ignorant snob...

P.S. To my readers: I am going to mark a time close to my anniversary of blogging, by asking Jane to copy and publish, in two long(ish) episodes, something I wrote in 1993. Normal blogging service will be resumed thereafter..

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Clean Plate league

We recently bought dinner for two of our best friends. Let's call them "Bill" and "Mary". The food at the restaurant was excellent, but Bill left a little on his plate. Mary, Barbara, and I did everything short of picking up the plates and licking them. We used some of the excellent bread to mop up the last drops of superb sauce.

Later, Mary told me that Bill had been brought up in the US always to leave some food on the plate. She had given up trying to change that.

I told Mary that I had heard an expression "leave something on your plate for Lady Manners" when I lived in England. The justification (if you can call it that) given to me was that if you ate everything on the plate, the hostess might feel that she had not fed you enough. I told Mary that I thought that this was ridiculous, and she agreed.

An omnivore, I have always been a member of the "clean plate league", which sometimes causes some dismay to Barbara - not because I want to eat everything, but because I am so slow about eating such food as cracked crab.

Those of us who lived in the UK during WW II knew that it was unpatriotic to waste food. German submarines sank many ships bringing food to the British Isles. Many hundreds of merchant seamen lost their lives as a result.

Americans waste a lot of food. I was incensed at a recent question in a survey, asking which of the following leftover foods from a holiday meal did we throw away: Turkey, Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Pumpkin, or Cranberry Sauce? There was no option for "None of the above".

We don't throw food away at our house. Leftovers are refrigerated and eaten within a few days.

WW II is long over, but I still consider wasting food to be sinful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Turn off that light!

Seventy years ago, in wartime Britain, one might hear those words, probably from an Air Raid Warden, during the blackout. The words go through my mind unspoken these days for another reason. Well, yes, I do understand that we as a nation need to save energy, but that's not my main concern. It's not just because I pay our electricity bill, although that is certainly a consideration. It is because I abhor waste in any form.

Watching a British TV show on a local PBS channel, I recently learned the meaning of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). Yeah, there's a touch of this in my personality, but my limited vision gives me an excuse: I do believe there should be "a place for everything and everything in its place"--especially in the kitchen, to help me make our daily breakfast.

But there's more to it than that. I almost always try to be generous with others, but I am "economical" with myself--some would say "cheap" or even "miserly". I remember being offended when a very good friend--a fellow native of the UK--pulled out a handful of tissues--maybe 6--when one would have done. I long ago learned that one doesn't need toothpaste to brush one's teeth. But mint or other pleasant flavor makes the chore more agreeable, so I do still use toothpaste. All the illustrations in the advertisements show an inch or more of toothpaste: i use about a quarter of an inch.

A while back, when there was a shortage of water in much of California, and it became patriotic to limit usage of this precious resource. Barbara even went so far to collect dishwater, etc., in a large bucket, which she would take outside to sprinkle on flowerbeds.
Wit her cooperation, I instituted a "limited flush" routine ("Yellow is mellow, but brown goes down" was my mantra).

Barbara replaced two perfectly good toilets with "low flow" models, at significant expense, but in a couple of hundred years or so, if our 1909 house is still standing, future inhabitants may have recovered the cost....

With all the rain this year, months ago the restrictions on use of water were lifted, but I cling to my routine. (After all, limiting the use of water is still environmentally desirable--and we save a little money, too!)

I am at my chintziest with food. Although my relatively affluent parents didn't suffer deprivation in the Depression, my father's business suffered, and millions of Brits lost their jobs, just as in the USA. When WWll began, it was a sin to waste food. I still feel that way. When no-one is looking, I even eat the edible rind on cheeses and stale bread. We do our best to keep milk from going sour, but on the rare occasions (once a year?) that this happens, I usually have a cup of coffee in which the milk has curdled before the rest id discarded. Many years ago, I tried (with limited success) to make cheese when half a quart carton went sour.

Do I suffer from OCD? I leave it to my readers to decide.