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DECEMBER, 2005 → ← MARCH, 2006

Faust 72 … Word stress … „das Buch“ 7th of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 12:11

« Ce soir j’ai donné rendez-vous au diable pour faire un marché,
« et je l’attend assis près du comptoir, angoissé.
« Alors il entre et vient m’offrir à boire, il veut m’écouter.
« Je donnerais ma vie pour te revoir. Il le sait. »

Dynastie Crisis have a song, Faust 72,  on the Ocean’s Twelve soundtrack—I’ve never seen the film, but I’m a huge David Holmes fan, and I’m listening to the soundtrack obsessively—and it’s in French, it’s a rock song, and it works. This is an audio incarnation of a hen’s tooth.

So. In analysing why it works, we need to ask why rock songs normally don’t work in French. It’s not just a matter of the language not being the original of the form; rock songs in German work fine, and not just from Rammstein, „Wir Sind Helden“ produce perfectly respectable German-language indie. I love Manu Chao’s stuff, but it’s not good as rock music.

Rather, the same reason rock music doesn’t work in French is why French poetry doesn’t sound like poetry to lots of English speakers; the reason is that word stress normally doesn’t matter to the French speaker, they give syllables emphasis based on their position in the sentence rather than their position in the word. Try speaking an English sentence and giving equal emphasis to every syllable; you’ll sound French.

And that approach doesn’t work for something like, say, The Beatles’ Get Back :

“JOjo was a MAN who THOUGHT he was a LONer
BUT he knew it WOULDn’t LAST
JOjo left his HOME in TUCson, AriZONa
FOR some CaliFORnia GRASS [...]”

There, it matters that the stress pattern of the first two lines is repeated in the second two; it sounds better, and it’s probably more important than the rhyme.

So, why does Faust 72  work? I think that, as opposed to lots of Manu Chao, the song doesn’t try to fit the lyrical structures of the canon of English-language rock music; despite it being a pop song, the singer sounds like he’s been told to do a recitatif, and the beat is fast and frenetic enough that the listener doesn’t notice.

References: http://​del.​icio.​us/​aidan/​stress-timing gives links to various information on stress and syllable timing in sundry languages.

Word of the day: el libro  means “book” in Spanish; note that as in French, the English pound is a feminine version of the same word, here la libra.  Китоб, which I’m pretty sure is from Arabic, means the same thing in Tajik.

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 9th of March at 19:12
Hokay, I visited your website, and to my complete unsurprise, it was a waste of thirty seconds. Looks like I’ll have to do the moronic anti-spam thing after all.

[Three older comments for this entry.]

Algeria … Gladwell … Boarding schools 6th of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 12:10

The Poor Man linked yesterday to a piece on « l’Algérie française », http://​www.​algeria-watch.​org/​farticle/​analyse/​shatz_torture.​htm . It’s horrifying, and shocking; I’d been aware that France did terrible things in Algeria, but I hadn’t ever read up on the details. Northrup draws the parallel with the US in Iraq: Personally, while that’s interesting, my world view isn’t US-centric to a level necessary for that to be the main draw. Something it makes incidentally clearer to me, a decade and a bit later, is the plot of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal.  The OAS members plotting to kill de Gaulle in that were Algeria veterans, and, probably, as inhumane as one can imagine; not the sort of people you want to find yourself sympathising with.

In case you’ve missed it, you should be aware that Malcolm Gladwell of Blink and an archive of excellent New Yorker articles has a blog: http://​gladwell.​typepad.​com/​ . On his front page at the moment is a link to an interview he does with a sports writer from Boston, and speaking as someone who has no knowledge of or real interest in US sports, it’s great. Read him!

Word of the day: el internado  means “boarding school” in Spanish, интернат is the same thing in Tajik.

Last comment from Aidan Kehoe on the 7th of March at 1:18
Okay, I’ve looked into that particular issue, and I haven’t managed to resolve it just yet. (For the bored and interested; with the "strict" doctype, textareas don’t wrap. So, I considered accepting that, and saying "Type Enter to end a line." That doesn’t work, and Javascript refuses to trap the key. So. No solution yet. Also, the cookie is broken—as a commentator, your username and passport should be available again, but it isn’t necessarily. Tomorrow! :-)

[Two older comments for this entry.]

Wasabi … Perl and RFC2047. 5th of March, 2006 POST·MERIDIEM 03:32

I saw http://​www.​imdb.​com/​title/​tt0281364/​ (‘Wasabi—The Japanese Dip That Kicks Like a Mule’) last night, a Bittorrented copy on the recommendation of random internet people, and my, was the dubbing terrible. (“It’s not the former West?” Of course it’s not, Mr. Harry-Callahan’s-boss-transplanted-to-Paris) The film itself wasn’t bad; very kitsch, and Jean Reno wasn’t as sympathetic as I’ve found him in the past, but his daughter (in the film) is hot, and the occasional extremely ridiculous touch of the plot is diverting.

Here’s some Perl you can use with MIME::Parser to transform your email headers from the RFC 2047 inline-charset-plus-quoted-printable-or-base64 ugly mess, into UTF-8, praise be on its name. The MIME::Parser people just punted, bless their monolingual hearts.

use MIME::Words qw/decode_mimewords/;
use Text::Iconv;
use Carp;
my $iconv_cache_to_utf_8 = {};
sub decode_mime_to_utf_8 {
    my $enmimed = shift;
    my $concatted = "";
    my $from_charset = "";
    my @decoded = decode_mimewords $enmimed;
    for (@decoded) {
        if (defined $_->[1]) {
            $from_charset = lc $_->[1];
            # The MIME name for the character set isn't supported on my machine.
            $from_charset = "cp1252"  if $from_charset eq "windows-1252";
             unless (defined $iconv_cache_to_utf_8->{$from_charset}) {
                $iconv_cache_to_utf_8->{$from_charset} = 
                    Text::Iconv->new($from_charset, 'utf-8');
                Carp::carp "Couldn't get a Text::Iconv handle for $from_charset"
                        unless defined $iconv_cache_to_utf_8->{$from_charset};
            $concatted .= $iconv_cache_to_utf_8->{$from_charset}->
        } else {
            $concatted .= $_->[0];
    return $concatted;

Populärmusik från Vittula … Barcelona … Buenos Aires &c. 3rd of March, 2006 ANTE·MERIDIEM 01:37

Saw Populärmusik från Vittula a few Saturdays ago, in Swedish and Finnish with German subtitles. It’s really good, sort of a School of Rock  but set in a part of the world where the surrounding society is not a hackneyed theme—it’s a part of Sweden in the sixties and seventies above the Arctic Circle, where half of the families speak Finnish as a first language, where poverty (in Sweden!) is rampant, where a scarier Finnish version of the Janteloven is in force (c.f. […] Swedes […] are effeminate sissies who have enjoyed the blessings of peace while we have done all the fighting for them).

Also, and more interestingly, spent the last two weeks of January in Barcelona (three days) and Buenos Aires (the rest). The weather in Barcelona was perfect; light rain, occasional sun, temperature in the low teens. Food was good, and cheap. I heard almost no Catalan, I was surprised at how difficult it was sometimes to communicate through English or French, and managed to use my German like, twice. (I’m sure I weirded out, a little, the chica I addressed in German based on the language of her mobile phone display.) Must work on my Spanish.

Some fuсker stole my camera; this was in the course of stealing my whole bag, with my passport, from an internet café where I was sitting on the strap. He spent ages lying on the floor working the strap out as I was leaning forward; I know this because an onlooker came up and explained it to me, after looking on the whole time, bless her fresh-off-the-boat heart. (As I understand it, it was her first day in Barcelona, with the intention of learning Spanish—her English was certainly much better than her Spanish.) So, I went to the local police station to report it, and sat around for forty minutes swearing to myself about how long it was taking, because the (honorary!)  consulate was never  going to issue me replacement travel documents in time for the flight that evening. Eventually, a pair of be-sunglassèd police come in with my bag and I thanked them effusively once I saw the passport. But, fuсk!, I could have done without that.

Then to Buenos Aires and the land of an unbelievably hot January, of cheap beef, of good, cheap pizza, of minimally-belligerent neighbours, of vast natural resources, using the best available standard language (Spanish. Pros; very phonemic writing system, huge numbers of people speaking it, morphology an order of magnitude less annoying than Russian, vocabulary held in common with the rest of the West. Cons: inanimate objects have genders. Beats all the competition, insgesamt), where the invention of refrigerated shipping lead to, as my guidebook described it, „märchenhaftes Reichtum“ (yes, the translation of that is the boring phrase “fairytale riches,” but the „märchenhaftes“ brings an allusion to the Grimms in that it doesn’t in English), but where, despite all this opportunity, poverty is rife, and even the wealthy—who, materially and in the details, have among the best qualities of life on the planet, since if you’re wealthy in a rich country, the small things done by servants that are easily economic in a poor country with wealth become less of an option—the wealthy go to psychotherapists obsessively, they’re not happy. I had trouble liking the place.

But, that said, two weeks hanging out with my friend Jena, in a city I’d never been before, seeing some of the rest of the New World (vs. the US), having it reïnforced that learning Spanish is very worthwhile (my rustling-up-some-Spanish-by-means-of-cognates-from-French was by far the more effective side of lots of the conversations I had, and that rustling produces terrible Spanish)—in sum, I very much enjoyed it. That said, if you want info on more details of Argentina, read Maciej—he’s seen and he cares about more of the place. (Patagonia? Fuсk no!)

Since then I’ve been back in Berlin; getting more sleep, enjoying work more (a result of the sleep), reading more, learning more of foreign languages, liking German more (strange, though—even today, where I definitively prefer German-language culture to French-language culture, there are days where I’d really like to speak French, just for the sake of it; I still have an æsthetic preference for French over German), in general amusing myself well, thanks for your concern :-) .

Last comment from eileen on the 3rd of March at 18:51
no error message...it just doesn't appear on the front page once you reload. oh well - guess it's working now.

[Four older comments for this entry.]