Archive for ‘language’

November 11th, 2014

Thinking you can infer the meaning of new words: still eviling strong

There’s a certain amount of danger involved in living in a place while you’re a little short on the language’s vocabulary. And by danger, I mean hilarity, and an occasional healthy dose of humiliation. In my early days in Romania, this most famously manifested in my asking a fish vendor if he had any sidewalk for sale, as I wanted trout and figured that “trotuar” word I’d heard a couple of times and not picked up might’ve well been a cognate. I thought his dumbfounded look might’ve gone away if I pantomimed troutness and repeated the word emphatically, but alas, the eyebrows only inched higher.

Last week, and now en espaƱol, the dangerous word was “ciego,” which I hadn’t seen nor heard before reading it in the title of a local theatre. Some guy’s name, the unexamined idea went in my head. The description promised mystery theatre at midnight, with some sort of special effects. What could go wrong?

Finery was donned, tickets were bought, and it wasn’t until my companion and I were sitting in the theatre lobby waiting for the thing to get started in that inexplicably inescapable Argentine limbo of a quarter hour stuffed between the stated start and the actual start (I suspect it has something to do with consumption or manufacture of dulce de leche though, like everything else here) that the question was raised: did I know what “ciego” means?

Because it means blind. Blind theatre. I’d never heard of such a thing. “Who figures a theatre show’s going to be for blind people?! Do you know what the odds are on that?!,” I offered jokingly under the deadpan glare of companion, who had just translated a billplay schpiel about how the whole thing would be dark, with no visual component, and we would instead “smell” and “feel” the show. We would experience things long forgotten, it boasted warned.

I love theatre, but like loving anything, this doesn’t include necessarily enjoying every potential offering in the vein. Walking out is the proper response to a performance that isn’t up to scratch1. But what if you can’t walk out without actually stopping the show? That, much moreso than the thing dubbed “entertainment,” was the real experience on offer.

Entry to the theatre involved being lined up in brief, queued conga-lines that were led past heavy drapes into a pitch black room. Cannot-see-your-hand-an-inch-in-front-of-your-face, honest pitch black. My line progressed through the darkness what felt like fifty meters or so, stopped, and someone’s hands grasped my shoulders and pushed me down onto a chair. I heard a few other lines being brought to sit in a similar fashion while I screwed my head around in search of some sort of bearings (out of which I got nothing other than a sense that the ceiling was high), and then the show which did not show anything started.

The notion goes that they who lack a given sense are more perceptive with the faculties they do possess. This notion has not reached the Buenos Aires Theatre for the Blind. The first span (there were a total of five of these; I didn’t have much of a sense of time other than the whole thing seeming to take more than the half hour anticipated when going in –it turned out to be an hour and a half long) was composed principally of cacophany, brutal and jarring as fuck. Cessna engines grazed overhead with what sounded like a foot or so’s clearance. Marching bands entered from the right, proceeded in front of me, exeunt left.

Spans two through five included being surrounded by coffeehouse patrons excitedly spanking teacups with spoons while jets of steam tortured milk into foam and the room was painted with oil of cinnamon. Thrown in here and there: police sirens and someone by the sound of it recently impaled ass through mouth with a stake being dragged by my feet (grasping my shins desperately), a chinatown parade consisting of symbols and badly-cooked eggrolls, “rain” falling from plant misters to the face in a tumultuous storm of spray me with that shit again and I’ma show your crotch my six inch stilettos you motherfucker, and a stunted copulation between a woman who hadn’t been laid in decades and a man who interrogated mattress springs for a living, all punctuated with visits from the scalper-cessnas. There was a dialogue apparently fumbling at tying these together but the gulf between my Spanish and these folks’ sanity ne’er was cross’t.

A door was opened, light was thrown onto our unhappy little galley, the five-foot hole in the audience that’d served as a stage revealed. It was a blissful relief to see again, and to walk out of there, the warm conviction of needing to do better research washing over me. I’m fairly certain these people imagine what they offered was a night of entertainment2, but the real thing paid for here is persuasion: 1. it must suck being blind; 2. seriously, no really, look up those words you don’t know, smartass. Nature will find a way to piss on your face.

  1. Regardless of it supposedly being “impolite.” On the contrary, it’s beyond rude to suggest to the company that a stinkorama smells of roses by sitting through the whole thing and clapping on cue. You wanna perform? Get on stage. The audience ain’t the place. []
  2. Sure, some semblance of art could be pulled out of all this, the struggle to follow a story through unpolished means creating a change in the beholder etcetera, but I’d just as well argue the artistic merit of being hit with a bag of oranges. It could be done. This wasn’t it. []
July 29th, 2011

Life in Capslock

When I was a little girl, I’d sometimes come across a title or a proclamation in all caps, usually in the books of male relatives who had libraries and oversized chairs in which to nap and finger the fabric and leather binding of volumes that smelled like the men themselves. Such streams of important words, I thought, were likely to be read aloud by a page with trumpet and deliciously pointed shoes, should the book be read aloud at all.

Imagine my horror, then, when the capslock began to transcend the realm of secret reading scenes and enter into my everyday consciousness. You can, of course, because at some point it likely made a rude invasion into yours, as well; parading on the back of a breakfast cereal box or splattered across a contest entry form, marching onto your computer screen from the likes of unknown salesmen or following you around like a caffeinated chihuahua while you were smiting digital foes and fumbling over complicated in-game squelch commands.

Some forms of capslock seem to be more acceptable than others. While it’s easy to dismiss a not-so-casual chatterbox who types as though he were trying to look as big as possible in the presence of a grizzly bear, the ubiquitous over-sizing of the word “free” somehow fails to inspire as much ire. But the prospect of something being given freely should be enough to attract and excite on its own; decorating the word until it looks like something spelled out in the Cheshire Cat’s teeth is enough to make me suspect it’s entrapment, not altruism, the word wishes to convey.

What truly interests me about capslock, though, is whether it’s able to move past the written word. It’s been with us well before the world at large began to piddle its opinions onto keyboards, though it may not always be as easy to recognize. Certainly we’ve all seen, or worn, or both, a pair of BREASTS CAVORTING FORTH FROM BONDS OF SPANDEX, and many a capslocked utterance has escaped the lips of a righteous man and his FAITH AND GLORY IN THE LORD. But are there more subtle instances –perhaps even positive ones– possible? A drowsy morning suddenly made bright and crystalline with COFFEE or a SUNRISE, or the SMILE of a kid completely given over to some joyful initiation with the world. Is an orgasm experienced in capslock? If I could spell one out I’m sure not all the letters would be politely undercase.

Do you ever feel as though you’re living in capslock, or know someone who does? And is it just as annoying or comic as it is when written down, or can life in capslock be enjoyable?