Archive for March, 2015

For the Love of Ramen (and Where Are they Finding the Duck?)

Monday, March 9th, 2015

First things first, Bay Area: If you are a living human being with a functioning sensory system and an appreciation of deeply layered flavors, get yourself over to this place. I’m not an expert in ramen or anything else, really, but OMG OMG OMG, GREAT BROTH OF SENSUAL WONDER! It was basically a (very large) (quite beautiful) (appealingly imperfectly hand-made ceramic) bowl of salty, earthy, smoky, umami-y liquid fat, with chewy noodles to soak it all up, plus various chopped items (cauliflower, cabbage) to hold the globules of deliquesced pork belly in their cruciferous crevices.

Deep bog of aromatic unction, when will I next experience you?

(Answer: I ate some of the broth, with newly cooked noodles, for lunch just now. It was but a sliver  of an intimation of a suggestion of la chose même, but oh, adipose cauldron of slippery saltiness!)

Fin.

Début.

Suddenly, apropos of pretty much nothing, I realized that there must be iPad apps to learn/remember/re-learn languages. As is probably evident from the above, I really love French, even though my experiences with it throughout school were mixed. (Spanish, which I also took all the way through, was for some reason taught by far more competent people, resulting in a far more competent level of fluency.) Anyway, so, I tested into a beginnerish level of French and began running my lessons.

Almost immediately, I was reminded both of how delightful it is to learn to say very basic things in other languages, and also how random those basic things so frequently are. Sample sentence #1, translated from French to English:

“Where are they finding the duck?”

Which raises so many questions. First, why is more than one person looking for the duck? Is the duck that important? It seems like one person could potentially cover that job, given that there’s generally a lot of other stuff to do in life. Also, they haven’t already found the duck, I see, so much as that they are currently in the process of finding it, which limits the use of this sentence quite dramatically. What are the chances, after all, that I will one day need to ask one person about a group of other people who are currently not simply looking for a duck but in the very act of finding it?

Or are we perhaps talking about dead duck? At the market? At the fourth cart on the left? Is that where they’re finding the duck?

I’ll never know.

Why?

“It’s my first cow.”

Yup, that’s another sentence that I had to translate from French to English in one of my initial lessons. This one also seems fairly limited in usage potential, given that I would have to come to own a cow. Of course, the minute I did come to own a cow, it would be my first cow. And I suppose it would remain my first cow, no matter how many other cows I would later come to own, or not. (Newsflash: “My second cow is young.”)

Sure, I understand that I’m not literally learning, Suzuki-like, to parrot existing constructions but instead to make sense of subjects and verbs and objects, to which extent meaning is not entirely relevant. And yet! It seems possible that someone could have rethought “Where are they finding the duck?”

For about a week after I began these lessons, John and I kept having the following discussion:

Me: Where are they finding the duck?

J: I don’t know. It’s my first cow.

M: Of course! How could you know? It’s only your first cow!

J: My second cow is young!

And so on*.

Fwiw, I’ve now switched to Spanish, since it’s far more useful and also since I read in a NYTimes article about Japanese AirBnB hosts that, at least según Japanese AirBnB hosts, the French are the very worst house guests. (Random, I know. And unfair. And yet, it soured me, a little, on the duck-loving French.) The Spanish lessons have yet to charm me as fully, but I did place much higher up the chain, so perhaps they feel they have to be sensible with us higher-level learners. Or perhaps it’s all waiting for me in the subjunctive!

*Our sewer lateral replacement guy is French, and he arrived this morning (before, very shortly thereafter, departing—I’ve not seen him since!). When I was greeting him I asked him how he was in French, and he very quickly launched us into a French conversation; after a couple of volleys, I very quickly choked. Nevertheless, I did manage to ask him where they were finding the duck! And he told me that “La Canard” is not merely a duck but a newspaper, or perhaps what they call the newspaper? Either way, good to know!**

**And then there’s the “joke”/”trick”/”ruse” connotation of “canard.”

Duck’s got legs!