Thursday, April 10, 2014

Gare du Nord, language and Üsküdara

At the Gare du Nord

The piano, a classic upright, was in the middle of the concourse, free to anyone to play.  The two little girls weren't playing anything properly, just tinkling around, but the acoustics were good and the sound floated out and all around the arches and ironwork and up the escalators, it was rather lovely.


  • Words that exist but I'm not sure I want to use them, and words that I'm not sure exist but I want them to:

A couple that have gained currency in this, the Age of Counselling:

Affirm, affirming, affirmation.

John: You have a girlfriend! ... care to elaborate?
Sherlock: Well, we're in a good place. It's um... very affirming.
John: You got that from a book!
Sherlock: Everyone got that from a book.

Maybe I quite like feeling affirmed.  Maybe I'm not sure I should.

Conflicted.  Conflict, as a verb, as in - this conflicts with that -  has been around forever and is fine; I'm quite easy with verbing nouns, on the whole, though 'impacts on' always grates a bit. It's the use of 'conflicted' as an adjective to describe a feeling that seems rather buzzy and uncomfortable. Yet it is a state of mind it's quite difficult to convey in other words, although 'torn' is perhaps as good as anything. I think I am somewhat conflicted about the word 'conflicted'.

But I'm difficult like that.  I try quite hard to avoid 'empathy', though I have sympathy with the sense of it.

I lived through too much of my life before knowing of the term 'straw man fallacy', so was more easily made a victim of it, or indeed more likely to practise it. What, though, is the expression, for when a person injures another, then makes such a show of their remorse and humiliation at having done so as to make themselves appear the injured party and have the tables of sympathy turned in their favour?  Heaven knows, we've all done it or had it done to us, there really ought to be a term for it.

  • Other reflections on language:

The perfect tense. I have spent much time trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to explain its nuances to French speakers who use it too much and wrongly, and often I have ended up advising them to avoid it and stay with the simple past, which isn't easy for them.  But lately I have noticed how helpful its graceful, two-part tying of the past to the present can be.

Grant me chastity and continence from the wilfully profligate over-use of adjectives and adverbs, but not yet.


Some of you might enjoy this, it's only ten minutes or so.  The song, Üsküdara, is Turkish in origin, from the days of the Ottomans, but has spread over all the Mediterranean and beyond, so there are Sephardic, Balkan, Greek and perhaps even Hungarian versions, it seems Eartha Kitt even sang it, though I've not heard that, and yes, there was a line of the melody in Boney M's Ra-ra-Rasputin.  This version, by beloved Hesperion XXI, is performed in a very fine Lutheran church in Copenhagen.  

About four minutes in, the singing moves to a recording of the late Montserrat Figueras, which the live musicians continue to accompany.  Hesperion do this quite a bit, I gather, I don't know how long they will continue to do so.  It's perhaps a little manipulative the way the camera closes on Jordi Savall as he listens to then joins his playing to his dead wife's voice, and of course he doesn't weep, he's heard and rehearsed it a thousand times and he's a professional, but the sorrow and love on his beautiful and expressive face is moving to see, nevertheless, and Montserrat's voice is sublime as ever. 

There's a very good article and interview about Savall here.

(I spent ages trying to work out how to embed the video, since Youtube no longer seem to show the HTML code to do so under the 'share' tab, in fact I don't really know why they still have a 'share' tab, as nothing comes up when you click it.  In fact you can embed any Youtube video by using the icon on the blogger toolbar thing. They really do make everything so easy, as long as you do everything on a Google subsidiary of course.) 


Pam said...

That's such a beautiful voice. You can see the temptation to keep it alive, to keep her alive. Gosh, life is sad, isn't it? Short, anyway. Hmm.

Lucy said...

Thanks Isabelle. Yes, even quite long lives are often still too short.

I don't quite know what to think about using Montserrat's recordings in live performances; there's clearly a huge amount of vitality in their work and playing, but Savall says her voice can't be replaced, and it's easy to see what he means. Yet she was, they say, mercurial and playful and sometimes unpredictable in her own live performances, a recording, however beautiful and integrated into live music can only be a frozen thing by comparison, it seems to me.

He is totally dedicated to her memory, but adding all the time to the already vast and unique body of work, and looking at his concert schedule and recording plans he would appear to be working himself into an early grave too. Getting to know their recorded repertoire could take the rest of my life - I've only quite lately discovered them - but I think I must try to get to hear him in concert one day while it's still possible.

There's a good interview and article from the FT I'll link to in the post.

Rouchswalwe said...

Oh! How I miss train stations!

And Sherlock! Waiting for season 4.

A term for a person who makes themselves appear the injured party? At base, I think of such a person as being annoying, so Nudnik comes to mind.

Francesca said...

Stephen King, in his brilliant memoir 'On Writing' says that the road to Hell is paved with adverbs, and I agree!

I love the image you give of the piano music rising to the roof of the station.

Lucy said...

Rouchswalwe - thank you. Yes, more train travel is something I look forward to in the next phase of life, perhaps to catch a train to Paris or London or another European city to go to a Jordi Savall performance. I love Sherlock, but fear we must wait awhile for series 4, the boys are busy playing hobbits and dragons and the writers with Doctor Who. Still, I think it's better that they keep us a bit hungry and don't flog it to death, and one can always rewatch, there's always something to pick up you missed the first time. Nudnik is a very pleasing word, it's true, but there are many ways of being annoying, and while this is annoying and controlling, I also know I can be as guilty of it as anyone. Identifying and naming flawed thinking and behaviour is a step toward correcting it, just calling it annoying or bad is less helpful. Though of course naming it can also lead to point scoring and psychobabble jargon. which is the kind of thing I don't like either!

Francesca - I know I know I know, but I just can't seem to give them up! At least I know I'm doing it I suppose. Adverbs are particularly bad in dialogue of course, an attempt to cover bad writing which should convey of itself how things are said and expressed, and leave something over for the reader's imagination to do. I also find I use them a lot as qualifiers for adjectives, which is to overload an already heavy part of speech, and risks gushing. It's 'ly' adverbs which are the most annoying, of course, necessary adverbs of time and place, today, tomorrow, here or there, don't count; I suppose one needs to look for an elegant adverbial clause to replace the 'ly' word, if one has to qualify at all.

Rouchswalwe said...

Lucy, that is a good point about correcting flawed thinking and behaviour by identifying and naming it. And you note the dark side one can slip into. But I would love to be able to name the particular behaviour you mention, for it has played a role in my workplace for too long. I'll keep thinking on this one.

Lucy said...

I suppose it might be an element of passive aggressive behaviour, which I've never been too sure about defining but which seems a popular label. It often is a product of genuine contrition, but it's the need to have one's contrition recognised, and, alas, applauded, whereas one of life's very hard lessons is that contrition is only contrition when you carry it alone, you don't get any bonbons for it.

Anyway, Rouchswalwe, come back when you've time and listen to the music, I think you'd like it.

Crafty Green Poet said...

How wonderful to have a public access piano in a station like that!

I notice that different languages use the different tenses in different ways, and that usually translates into how they use tenses in other languages. German seems to avoid the perfect tense at all in spoken language

the polish chick said...

a lovely break from schoolwork. love the music!

Zhoen said...

I consider myself a decent speaker of my one and only language, and I don't understand the perfect tense.

Have taken a distinct dislike to "selfie." Self portrait, self examination, are not the same as a selfish self-promotion.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ah, very nice. The music reminds me of Loreena McKennitt. I wonder if this was one of her inspirations.

Ellena said...

Oh Lucy - 45 minutes of my life well spent. Played it over and over again. When I finally decided to continue reading your post I had an aha moment. I had noticed that the countertenor's voice changed and sat here in awe of what I was hearing. Merci.

tristan said...

deeply grateful for that enriching and affirming musical experience

marja-leena said...

How we enjoyed train travel in Europe (except in the Czech Republic) and I remember this station well, arriving from London via the Chunnel. Just the other day we were chatting with a well-travelled friend about trains, bemoaning that Canada now has so few passenger trains and those are very expensive and very slow compared to Europe and Japan.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Thnks so much for the video, Lucy - so beautiful. I'm ashamed to say I didn't know of Hesperion but will now try and catch up.

As for language, I keep seeing something that I'm fairly sure is a recent anomaly: "I am sat". It looks completely wrong - surely it must be "I am sitting"?

There's a piano in St.Pancras Eurostar terminal too and someone is usually playing it. Nice idea.

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

CGP - I seem to remember the perfect in German was the first past tense we learned at school, perhaps following the same pattern as French. It's only since having to teach English tenses that I've become aware of how difficult it can be to explain the differences which we understand automatically. French people are surprised how difficult it is, they seem to thing that because we don't have to conjugate lots of different endings English verbs must be easier, so the subtleties of the tenses really confuse them.

PC - glad you like the music, I'm quite evangelical about them!

Zhoen - American English doesn't use it as much as British, nevertheless as a native speaker you doubtless do understand it automatically, it's explaining the difference, and the different uses of it, that is problematical. I gather 'selfie' does have that sense of narcissism, which indeed not all self-portraits do.

R - there are probably some crossover points in their repertoires, the Turkish and other Mediterranean rooted music they play isn't unlike some of her north African and Spanish inspired stuff on The Mask and the Mirror. I suppose in terms of categories she's Celtic/Folk/World, they're Early/ Classical/World. Her voice is earthier than Montserrat's, of course.

Ellena - so glad you liked it. There's a lot more of Savall's music on Youtube, it's worth sampling some more, his repertoire is enormous and varied and most of it's terrific.

Tristan - glad you are affirmed as well as enriched!

ML - trains here in France are pretty good, though some people complain a bit about how you always seem to have to go to Paris before you go anywhere else!

Natalie - I didn't really know much about them until quite recently, I'd seen their Istanbul album around without knowing who they were, and I kept hearing Montserrat Figueras' name mentioned, on the radio and elsewhere, but didn't follow it up until hearing her singing 'The Catalan Sybil' on Radio 3 around Christmas, and was utterly transfixed by it. There's much more to discover, including a lot on Youtube. Good when something new to discover comes along. 'I am/was sat' I seem to remember noticing creeping in 30 years or so ago, when I was a student, and rather associated it with northern English, I think. I quite like it, in fact, it sounds sort of static and sedentary!

Catalyst said...

Such a haunting piece of music and such talented musicians. Thank you, Lucy.

Anonymous said...

"What, though, is the expression, for when a person injures another, then makes such a show of their remorse and humiliation at having done so as to make themselves appear the injured party and have the tables of sympathy turned in their favour?"

Patrick O'Brian has his characters refer to a similar, broader concept as "the moral advantage." Stephen Maturin, for instance, is driven by another character to say something unkind to him, and the other character makes such a show of remorse that Stephen is struck with it, too. "Who has the moral advantage now?" he ruefully muses.

I think that O'Brian believes that most marriages involve struggles to gain and hold the moral advantage. I've seen it operate in my own, sadly, though less as we both age.