Thursday, June 2, 2011

Voyez mes epinards

When the kitchen starts to sound more like a translation booth at the U.N. General Assembly than a humble domicile, then I know that finals season is in full swing. In addition to the melodious soundtrack provided by the oft-Skyping Italian exchange student, Mary Katherine has been slamming the books for a seventh-grade Spanish final, and Emma has been tossing in a Chinese phrase or two, just to keep things lively.

I discovered in high school that I have a limited facility for languages, especially for speaking them. It turns out the same tone deafness which renders me unable to detect if the cellos are out of tune is also a contributing factor in my hopelessness at accents and dialects. I remember trying to get through a recitation of Middle English from The Canterbury Tales in graduate school, and I swear I could hear Chaucer spinning in his grave, all the way from the Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey to my claustrophobic lecture hall.

Mary Katherine, undeterred by a lack of contributed genetic vigor, is undeterred, and she spent a large chunk of Memorial Day weekend practicing vocabulary that would allow her to order someone to cut the grass (cutar el cesped) or take out the garbage (sacar la basura).

I refrained from wondering aloud what good any of this would ever do her, short of managing a household staff in Southern California. Questioning the usefulness of any school-based activity has caused me to become hoisted with my own petard, so I'm naturally skittish. After I made a comment along the lines of “what earthly use is this knowledge” to Emma, when she was showing me some impossible math problem, she pointed out that, a week earlier, I had been happy to dissect the finer points of the witches’ speeches in Macbeth, with no comments at all about how useful such information would be someday. (Well, of course not.  Everyone knows how handy Shakespeare is for daily living.  See that petard reference at the start of this paragraph, for example. Thanks, Hamlet.)

During this study season, I’ve found myself learning some Spanish in spite of myself, and I’ve also found quite a bit of high school French resurfacing from deep in my brain. I keep saying “deh” instead of “day,” for example, and I try to drop all the “s” sounds from the end of words. I haven’t begun acting haughty, or surrendering quickly, but it’s only a matter of time.

Even with my limited recollection, I still recall one line from The Little Prince, which we had to read in French, “vous n'ĂȘtes pas un home, vous ĂȘtes un champignon.” (You’re not a man, you’re a mushroom).  And, most memorably, I recall this gem from some "At the Market" lesson :  “Allons, Mesdames, voyez mes epinards,” which translates to, “Hey ladies, look at my spinach.”

I’ve yet to find occasion to use this sparkling bon mot, but perhaps if I start acting haughty enough, or running away from gunfire, it will come to me.

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