09 March 2008

The Result of, and the Source of, Procrastination

I've been meaning to blog about several things this week, and just never got around to it. So this post is the result of that procrastination. However, another thing that never made it past the to-do list stage is my homework, which I should start since it's Sunday evening. Therefore, this post is the source of some more procrastination. I'll try to keep it short, for your sake and for my own!

Phrase I Never Thought I Would Hear:
In downtown Dublin, a small boy, about four years old, has a disagreement with his dad. The father says in a firm voice (this is a direct quote, I jotted it down right after I heard it):
"Oliver... Oliver! We'll go to the church on the way back, the park is gonna close."
"No! No..." the son protested.

Also from the mouths of babes...
On the flight from Paris to Budapest, there were two cute French kids in the row in front of me. They were having fun pointing out airport things like "Ooh, a plane!" "Another plane!" "A big plane!" "Neat truck!" and so on. (Naturally, this was all in French and I'm translating for you.) They were pretty excited during takeoff, but had cooled down by the descent and landing. When we had almost finished the taxi, the girl said in a completely dismayed voice, "Another airport??" And I nearly snorted. What was she expecting?

Recent Weather
March in France is a mixture of sunshine and rain. Five minutes of sunshine, ten of rain, repeat. Most rain here is half-hearted drizzle, but this month there have been a few decent showers. No good downpours until today, but I'll talk about that later. Still no thunderstorms though!
Here are some pictures of the beautiful clouds we get during the sunny spells:

Really Cool Poem
Pangur Bán, by an ninth-century Irish monk

I and Pangur Bán my cat
'Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.

Better far than praise of men
'Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill will
He too plies his simple skill

Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur's way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.

'Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
'Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.

Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.

I often count my steps without really noticing that I'm doing it. I'll start consciously, but then it'll trail off into my subconscious and I won't even notice until I realize that I'm still counting, even after thinking about something else for a while. Anyway, I can tell you that it's 14 steps fewer to the northern door of my main university building than to the southern door. However, that route is slightly uphill, so I'm not sure if it's worth the "shorter" journey since it's a bit more tiring than jogging up eleven steps at the end of the other route. The two ways to get to the supermarket are within five steps of each other, so the traffic lights are the deciding factor.

What's the difference between snigger and snicker? The first seems more English to me, and the second more American. I looked them up and it seems that the difference is even more nit-picky than that. My computer's built-in Oxford Dictionary of American English says that snigger is a noun, and is a "smothered of half-suppressed laugh." However, it gives a second meaning, which is the related verb. It's an 18th century variant of snicker. Strangely, though, snicker is listed first as a verb, with the meaning "give a smothered or half-suppressed laugh." Then comes the noun form. Weird, n'est-ce pas?

I bought two scented candles at the grocery store, since they're pretty and make me feel fancy. Even if they're sitting on a desk strewn with paper (mostly to-do lists and post-it notes telling me bus times and things to write on my blog) with two mugs that should be emptied of their dried-up tea bags and washed. But that's beside the point. The candles are pretty. What I thought was interesting about them, though, was how they were marketed. The store had plain candles, and they had "anti-tobacco" candles. I got two anti-tobacco candles, in cinnamon/vanilla and in apple. I suppose the French wouldn't imagine people buying scented candles purely because they're scented!
The problem, however, is that I have a slight tendency towards pyromania. I'm a pyromaniac without the mania. I just really enjoy playing with fire when I have some handy. So it's a good thing that the candles are scented, since every time I found a hair on my desk or shirt I burned it, and that smells nasty. And it's a good thing that I have a lot of matches, because it really is fun to light ten at once in your candle (watch what happens to the nearby wax!). And it's a good thing that I have a trashcan nearby, since then when I pour wax onto my palms and play with my fingerprints, I can easily throw away the result. It's not such a good thing that I have an artistic mind, because I discovered that it's possible to burn snowflakes. You know, when you fold paper and cut out little triangles to make a snowflake when you open it up... you can do that with fire instead of scissors, and it's quite pretty. Not Recommended, of course. And don't hold me responsible if you hurt yourself trying these activities which I don't recommend.

Remember how an Irish breakfast includes a weird kind of sausage called a pudding? They're delicious meat/starch mixtures that come in white and black, the black ones being seasoned with blood. They inspired me to buy some sausages at my grocery store, and I got some cheap ones called boudins blancs, and they're quite good.
But that's (for the moment) beside the point. Pudding has, that I'm aware of, four meanings: one is the creamy dessert Americans like. One is the English usage, where a pudding can be pretty much any dessert. Many are cake-like. One is a bread-like side dish, such as Yorkshire pudding. And then there's the sausage? How did that happen?
According to the dictionary, the word pudding comes from the Old French word boudin which means blood pudding, which they stole from the Latin botellus meaning sausage! So it seems that our creamy dessert is about as far from the original meaning as it's possible to be, and the Irish have been right all along.

Thursday my landlord invited me to dinner. We had an international dinner, since Riza the Japanese girl headed back to Japan this weekend. She and the new Chinese girl (whose name is something like Sh[vowel]n Y[vowel]n) prepared main dishes, and I was asked to bring dessert. I was going to make caramel apples, but didn't have enough sugar, so I just brought a box of cookies and made a big pot of Russian tea (one third orange juice, one third pineapple juice, one third tea/infusion, plus cinnamon, ginger, and vanilla, served hot). It was a fun dinner, Anne invited a few of her friends and they were interesting people to talk to. I had a fun conversation with one about strangeness in the French language, including words like "gens" which is sort of masculine and sort of feminine: Les heureuses gens but Ces gens sont heureux.

Soup Recipe
Put some spinach and mushrooms (frozen or otherwise) in a pot with some water. Add chicken bouillon and your favorite spices. Then add a can of peeled tomatoes in their own juice. Then slap yourself on the forehead and fish out the tomatoes. Slice them. Put them back in the pot. [Note: feel free to change the order of these instructions, and omit others if you do so.] Bring this to a boil. Boil some water in another pot, and cook a bunch of tortellini in it. Any flavor is good.
Spoon some tortellini into your dish, then spoon vegetables and broth over it. Yum!
If you have leftovers, store them separately. Storing noodles in broth will take away their al-denteness.

1. When drinking orange juice out of the carton, turn it sideways so the triangular top won't interfere with your nose.
2. Unless you live alone, never drink orange juice out of the carton.
3. If you do live alone, only drink orange juice out of the carton if you're late and just need a quick drink before you run out the door.

Today was busy enough to get a whole category, rather than just little points.
• I got up really early to go to a gourmet expo with my landlord and the Chinese girl, whose name I'll tell you once I find out what vowels are in it. The expo was part of a set of demonstrations, tours, expositions, etc. which showcase artisans of all kinds from the region. Anne goes to this one every year, which costs two Euros and offers demonstrations of cooking techniques from the chic restaurants, tastings of everything from bread to desserts to meat to beer, and an opportunity to learn a bit more about where food comes from. It's in a really neat old building, as well:

I found the caramel exhibit quite interesting, although I don't like caramel very much. Too sweet. The culinary school's table was neat as well, although if they spend an hour making a dessert I don't understand how these people will ever be able to work in a real restaurant. My favorite samples were of various French meat delicacies, including foie gras, pig feet with fruit and nuts, and boudin noir, the puddings with blood in them. I'm sure that the noses of my readers are uniformly wrinkled at this point :) There were also local mushrooms to taste, and the best bread I've eaten in France. It was fun, and two Euros for an eclectic gourmet lunch is a good deal!
The best part of the morning wasn't related to the food, though! I spotted my friend Mika, who is a Japanese girl who was in my French as a foreign language and comparative linguistics classes last semester. I went over to say hi, and we kissed each other's cheeks in a French fashion, and she introduced me to her host mom. When Mika said that we had taken French together, her host mom was confused, and asked, "You're not French?" I said no, and she said, "You certainly look French. Sound French, too." I thanked her, and Mika said that I was American. That seemed to surprise her (typical reaction here, honestly) and I invited Mika to go to the movies, and etc. etc. The rest is trivial. But she thought I looked French!! And sounded French!! Having people tell me I speak good French after knowing that I'm foreign is nice, but having someone actually think I was French by sight and sound... that's a landmark. I was quite flattered.

• In the afternoon, I went to see "Be Kind, Rewind" with Kelsey from Truman and Cat and Becca from England. There were two problems with the afternoon: first, it started to pour (hardest rain I've seen in France) when I was twenty feet away from the door, but I didn't have time to go back for an umbrella. In French I was "soaked to the bones," but I assure you that I was only soaked to the skin. My epidermis isn't porous. Second was the creepy homeless man who was hanging around the theatre. He was trying to sell a book on France, which according to posters comes free when you buy a certain magazine this week. He was clearly drunk, and stuck around the area even after being threatened by the theatre manager. But once we got into the nice, warm theater, all turned better. The heating was on, so I started to dry out. The seats were cozy. And the movie was superb. I haven't laughed so much in a long time, and it was a feel-good movie as well as being a good comedy. It's one of those movies that anybody would enjoy.

• My post-it note says "today- 3: food, movie, etc." I don't remember what the et cetera was supposed to be, so it must not have been very important. That I'm getting a cold from being soaked to the bone/skin frequently these past few days? That I got an apple tart at the bakery? That I made Chinese mushrooms? No idea. It must not have been important!

Finally, for your viewing pleasure...
... Here are some video podcasts I've stumbled upon lately.
• The first is called "Things You Ought to Know," and this is my favorite episode, linked here. It's a funny take at the types of ungrammatical grammatical rules American English has. (What I mean by that is that we don't talk like books, but although our spoken grammar isn't textbook-correct, it's accepted and understood and correct in that sense. Anyway, you'll like the segment.)
• The second is a podcast of performances from a conference called TED, and some are quite spectacular. I have three favorites:
- These two jugglers are both the most amazing jugglers you'll ever see and some of the funniest performers you'll ever see.
- This speaker does a great presentation on the ever-strange time that is four in the morning. Highly enjoyable, and very funny.
- This performance is an excerpt from a one-woman-show, and it's laugh-out-loud funny. Especially if you're not Mormon.
• The third is called "Stump the Chef" and is a funny cooking podcast. Not the type where you'll learn a recipe and you can go make it, unless you particularly want to cook with chocolate and sardines in the same recipe or know where to get yak meat. But it's lots of fun to watch, and the sports-style commentary is really funny. You'll even learn something about an ingredient during the "tangent" segment.

All of these can be found on iTunes, or on podcast-finding-programs like Miro (which is open source), or just on the internet. Have fun!

Now I should probably do some homework... although, I should also go wash the dishes, and maybe read a novel and organize my Q-tips... there's gotta be another way to procrastinate!

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