Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Mission: Tongue Master

Today's mission was to learn Greek. Maybe you think, " Hell, Paige, you've been whining about trying to learn Greek since you got there. What's new about that?"

And my answer to you is... I don't know. But today I was overwhelmed with all of my various cookie jars. So overwhelmed that I could not quite figure out which one to go at first, nor oatmeal nor chocolate chip nor sprinkle, none of them seemed more important than the other, so I asked my deep, quiet voice, the one that speaks in a teenie, polite whisper, what would it like to do? And that's what she said. She said she wanted to learn the language.

She's been a bit more motivated lately after the night at Despina's house when out came a pile of children's books in Greek along with a proper dictionary that Cheapy  Ass Me hasn't made a priority to buy. The last three nights have been spent with "To nefo synefaki" or, the little cloud, sounding out each word, slowly slowly, laying on my bed with my knees in the air and the book in front of my nose. Just like the six year old version of myself, which made me think of something.

If you should ask yourself what the eighty year old version of yourself would do, you should also ask yourself would the six year old version of yourself be proud of who you've become.

It's delicate, isn't it? Could lead to a multiple personality disorder.

Based on how difficult To Nefo Synefaki is for me and that I have to stop every four sentences and look up a word to understand what's happening, my reading level is officially that of a four year old. How's that for a fine slice of humble pie? Reminds me of why I've been procrastinating this for so long. Who wants to go back there without the fringe benefits of being blissfully ignorant of, well, everything? Getting your sustenance on juice and crackers? Being tucked in and your closets inspected for monsters?

Today my soft little voice insisted that I continue the battle of To Nefo Synefaki. It's about a little cloud that is in love with Athens, but everyone in Athens hates it because he is a bit dirty, maybe a bit polluted, maybe blocking their light...but the little cloud is so unaware. He thinks the city is magic. In fact, the little cloud sings a little song:

Τι πόλη μαγικἠ
Πάντα εδὠ θα μεἰνω
αρκεἰ να μην εἰμαι μὀνο μου
να ᾽χω ἐνα φἰλο!

And it translates, to the best of my abilities, to:

What a magic city!
I'll always stay here
as long as I'm not alone,
and  I have a friend.

To be completely honest with you, most of what I understand about the plot is based on the pictures. They show the cloud getting dirtier and dirtier and the people getting angrier and angrier, and then the cloud bursting into a remorseful rain, unable to deal with his loneliness anymore.

Eventually one little girl gives him a good scrubbing and he's happy again.

But as far as "true to god" "I understand what I'm reading here", I haven't gotten much father than the song.

Fast forward a few hours from story time and Despina and I are standing on the fourth floor of Public (the coffee mug place, for my loyal readers) where the books are sold, Despina dilligently searching for a text book which met her approval. I was distractedly thumbing through a "Guidebook to Girlfriends" for no other reason than it had bright and pretty colors and Despina was not asking for any input on the matter at hand.

We bought four that met her requirements. Mosied back to the office on Voulis Street where she sat in the "boss" chair and I sat in the "stooge" chair. She had me read a few words. If I got the pronounciation slightly off, I was put into a melodic round of phonetics, scales of "ghhhhhhs" and "SKKKKKKS" that kept sending me in a fit of self conscience giggles, but this is a battle, right? I'm sharpening my sword. Despina kept the stern face of a general and I continued. "Ahhhhhhhhhhh." "Thhhhhhhhhhh."

She insisted that understanding the way my tongue moves when I pronounce a word is the key to adapting to any language. I nodded along but was privately wondering when someone would invent a real babelfish! How awesome would it be to be able to slip in and out of tongues like lacoste t shirts?

Now here comes a dirty confession. When things get tough, I start thinking, "Remember Spanish? That was a nice language. Really stayed in the brain..."

"Paige, you must be very determined."

Well, Despina, I really am. Because if I have to sit at many more four hour lunches where I can't follow the conversation, if I have one more angry grandmother shouting at me because I don't understand she doesn't want me to walk where she just swept, if I see another fascinating book on Greek monsters or dying village customs that I can't read because it's intimidating... and these are just the problems I'm encountering now, here, in the big city where the majority of people can communicate with me. What about when I finally arrive at the point in this journey when I get to travel to the remote villages and islands. When I want to sit down with the old timers, share a plate of olives and have a glass of ouzo while listening to their stories, it will be nice to know what they're saying.

Back to Spanish, I fully intend on learning that one too, damnit. I meant to do it a long time ago, but I don't think I've ever really known how to learn a language. Seems to me you need a few things:

*An alluring prospect of love or financial gain

*Being surrounded by people speaking it

*A deeply embedded curiosity of the culture

*Not being able to survive without it.

I got 3/4, and that ain't good enough. So I have to lean heavily on the alternatives which are:

*Study your happy ass off.

*Speak knowing you will goof up, you will sound young and ignorant, you might even sound like Nell. "Taaaaay in de Wiiiiin"

*Get one friend who is actually patient enough to help you succeed.

According to language experts I'm supposed to stick out one language until I can comfortably read and communicate. After that I can start picking up auxillary tongues. I'm going to wager that speeding through "To Nefo Synefaki" does not mean I get to start on "la nube pocita."

The six year old version of Paige, encircled by two dozen dolls and stuffed animals, informed that she will one day be reading a book in Greek about a little cloud.
"NO WAY!!!"

The eighty year old version of Paige, encircled by two dozen adopted children and live animals, will be sawing away at her fiddle in front of a roaring fire, singing a τραγούδακι: