Saturday, April 3, 2010

Parlez-vous ... what?

Once, in a camping ground in Florence, we were approached by a couple of tall, athletic Euro-types. They spoke to us first in Italian, then seeing our looks of stupefaction they tried again in French, then Spanish, followed by several other languages which were wholly unrecognisable to us.

Finally, realising we were ignorant of not only the Romance languages and German but most likely Bothno-Ugaric tongues as well, they decided to try English.

While they actually said: "Do you speak English? Can we borrow your rubber mallet?" I'm sure what they wanted to say was:

"Do you poor idiotic types perhaps know a few words of English, the native tongue of poor idiotic types everywhere? And do you linguistic amoebas have a rubber mallet we could borrow for a few moments to complete the sturdy erection of our award-winning European-designed tent?"

It was the moment I realised just how impoverished we are not sharing borders with any other countries, and just what a good thing immigration is.

Since that humbling experience I have tried to learn a few bits and pieces of various languages and am happy to report that if someone ever says to me: "El cajero antomatico se ha tragado mi tarjeta de credito," I can answer, with all confidence, "Tengo un pinchazo."

But none of this European phrasebook readiness prepared me for reading Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, which I can describe, with all confidence, as vastly incomprehensible.

May I give you the opening sentences?

There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.

O...kay; I thought perhaps the second paragraph might make more sense:

Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood...

I did what I always do in situations of complete incomprehension: I quickly downed several glasses of wine and skipped to the end of the book.

Bugger, plenty of 'itty' and 'oddy knocky' and 'profound shooms of lip-music brrrrrr' there too.

For all I know A Clockwork Orange is a book about the rise and fall of rubber mallets in a post-apocalyptic Florentine camping ground. I only wish there was an Anthony Burgess phrasebook.


Catastrophe Waitress said...

I took up Spanish lessons once, years ago, in an effort to broaden my horizons and meet dark, swarthy Spaniards. I think I must have gone to about 4 lessons before my ex, dark, swarthy Spanish boyfriend decided that he'd had enough of missing me and that we should get back together.

Thank you Spanish Lessons.
Thank you.

haha - word verification:


Kettle said...

'Wingente' indeed. That would make a brilliant name for a dating agency (or else a line of ladies' sanitary products).

Having lowered the tone considerably, allow me to attempt to raise it again; dark, swarthy Spanish boyfriend, eh? Hubba hubba! No wait, that's done nothing at all for the tone, except possibly lowered it further. Oh dear.

So, where were we? Oh yes, dark, swarthy Spanish boyfriend, eh? Hubba hubba!

Catastrophe Waitress said...

I've sworn off the Spanish types now, Mme Kettle but I am the bees knees at ordering Spanish Tapas meals.

Kettle said...

A brilliant skill, Ms Waitress. Everyone needs, in their circle of friends: a cabinetmaker, a travel agent, a physiotherapist, and someone who can order Tapas. There's almost nothing you can't do with a circle of friends like that.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

Everyone needs, in their circle of friends: a cabinetmaker, a travel agent, a physiotherapist, and someone who can order Tapas.

And, of course, an expert in communist revolutions.

Kettle said...

Yes yes, Ramon! In fact, don't let a cabinetmaker hear you say this, but I think a communist revolutions expert could be more useful (in a practical sense) than he or she who turns the wood.

All that's missing is someone who's expert at Russian literature and the circle is finished. Anyone seen 'The Last Station'? Anyone feel like giving Russian Literary Expert a stab?

Kettle said...

(As opposed to stabbing a Russian Literary Expert.)

squib said...

I went to Spanish lessons when I married one (a Spaniard I mean)

Now I can say hola. Are you impressed?

I didn't see The Last Station. It looked a bit dreary and anyway I'd prefer not to see Tolstoy getting randy, thank you very much

Kettle said...

Very impressed, Squib. And when you said 'hello' that first time in Spanish did Mr Squib say "you had me at 'hola'"?

I've watched about 15 million hours of Dora the Explorer and can now confidently ask robot bicycles everywhere to stop so as not to tread on my birthday cake (in Spanish), which is more sad than impressive, don't you think?

I ended up seeing 'The Last Station' yesterday; I wish I knew beforehand that there would be Tolstoyan randiness of such a nature in it. Although, I'm not sure any warning could have actually prepared me for the sight of Helen Mirren calling out to 'Tolstoy' "come over here and let me make your cock crow!"

squib said...


Was it any good?

Kettle said...

I liked it but I'm a bit of a sucker for, well, movies. But for someone who whinges a lot on this blog I'm really not very discerning.

If you decide to see it, let me know what you think.

squib said...

Any movie is great when you've got your paws in a fat packet of salt and vinegar crisps, I always say

Kettle said...

Good point, Squib; chips can improve almost any experience, including prison, child-birth and playing chess.

squib said...

child-birth? REALLY??!

Kettle said...

No, not really. Although I'm certain chips would improve chess, considerably.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

What about "Salt and Pethidine" chips?

squib said...

Pethidine. Pffff. It just makes you scream louder