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October 31, 2020


I too decided to focus my language study. For me that takes a multi-directional approach: immersion in other people speaking it, a tutor to focus on •me• speaking, classes (where I am amused that crappy French speakers can understand one another perfectly while the teacher has her face screwed up in misapprehension), videos and podcasts. But I don't think much of Duolingo because I need that grammar: language is a climbing wall on which I need to bang mental pitons.

At eighty-five learning singing is enough, especially since it gets harder as you become more and more appreciative of your shortcomings. The aim is to interpret; the non-aim is to avoid becoming mannered. For pity's sake!

My (instructed) repertoire is about eighty songs and/or arias. Only one has Italian lyrics. So V says, "Let's go back to Vaga Luna which you rejected on the grounds that it looked sentimental." So here I am, trying to accommodate a superfluity of syllables which the score does not acknowledge. The French for "to swallow" is avaler but you knew that.

For me writing is writing fiction. And by fiction I mean a product of the imagination, not the tarting up of historical reality. Oh what a flirt imagination is, while I am sere and withered - I'd pay to make myself more attractive to her, and yes, she is feminine. But she asks to be indulged. Her rewards get more and more grudging but occasionally there is a frisson:

Gayle laughed loudly and happily, causing others to turn in their seats. “Kid, you slay me. You’ve been earning big money for how long? A couple of years. Money that seems almost undeserved, that makes you feel guilty when you take the tube or drop in for a bottle of cognac at a supermarket. You buy a flat in the Barbican and the balance in your current account drops a few thou. Eighteen months later it’s up again. You attend a charity auction and bid big bucks for three uninteresting letters hand-written by Trollope; then secretly, and hating yourself, you start reading one of the Palliser novels.

But beyond that, 50,000 words remain to be written.

Best of luck with language viewed through an entirely different periscope.

I know a lot of people have excess time, but I don't have much extra time as I'm working from home (although lucky I can do so). Even though I cut back my hours to the 30/week minimum required to have health insurance from my company, I'm having a hard time keeping up with all the work since we're short-handed as some of my colleagues have also cut back (eg, parents working from home with kids schooling from home). Modern capitalism means ever increasing productivity demands, higher goals to meet every year, pandemic notwithstanding. So the work is more exhausting on top of the extra anxieties of everything we're dealing with. My partner had some worrying health issues late spring/early summer that took time to resolve. Even our summer vacation, a week away at the Cape, was accompanied by the stress of deciding what's safe and what's not. Last month I took a week off at home, alone, minimizing news and social media, took walks in the neighborhood and a couple of times at the wildlife sanctuary nearby, did some much needed house cleaning/sorting, tried to get some sleep, read a bit, crocheted. It was lovely and restful. But one week was not nearly enough. I'll get some more time during the holidays, although we will be more confined to home than we were able to be in warmer weather. I will try to still get outside for fresh air and we'll make the best of it.

I'm fortunate to live in a country (Aotearoa New Zealand) where life is now carrying on more or less the way it did before the pandemic (not necessarily good in all respects, but that's another matter). I did enjoy our month-long lockdown earlier this year but it wasn't as easy for some others. What I missed most was not being able to spend time among mountains — even the track just 15 minutes from my door was out of bounds — and the idea that a return to India and Nepal will be impossible for the foreseeable future saddens me. But I'd pretty much resigned myself to that even before the pandemic.

I supplemented my Spanish lessons with Duolingo and found it well worthwhile. I also used it to learn some basic Hindi and made a little progress before leaving for India; however, at a couple of points the Hindi lessons took a major jump in difficulty that almost led me to give up. I thought Duolingo was supposed to tailor the lessons to whatever progress you're making, but the algorithm obviously needed some refinement for me.

If I resumed learning a language, I'd be sure to set up vocab flashcards in Anki (https://apps.ankiweb.net), which is a brilliant app based on solid principles of effective learning (for example, spaced repetition).

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.