iesus nah, des git as noed

I don’t think I’ve ever said much here about the years I lived in the Alps. It was a long time ago, so long it’s almost hard for me to imagine. In the summer of 1973 I went to Austria with the American Field Service exchange program (which still exists, and functions) and stayed with a family in the village of Andelsbuch in the middle Bregenz Forest in the northern part of Vorarlberg, Austria’s western most province. I was hoping there would be a high rez map of Vorarlberg at Google Earth but a huge swatch of central Europe, including all of Vorarlberg and the entire country of Liechtenstein are still low rez. So here’s a dopey little map instead.

The short version of this story is that I got so interested in the dialect spoken in the Bregenzerwald that I ended up studying linguistics, writing a dissertation on variation and change in a specific dialect of a specific village (Grossdorf), getting a PhD, and going off to teach linguistics and German at the university level. Eventually I ended up writing Homestead. I guess it must be clear that along the way I learned both (what I think of as) book German and various dialects of Swiss German. Swiss German is a bit of a misnomer as this group of dialects (which I’ll start calling Alemannic at this point, to warn you) is spoken in south-western Germany, western Austria, and all of German speaking Switzerland.

Why am I telling you all this. Because today I was listening to dialect stories recorded by a woman from Mellau, really gorgeous stuff that simply could not be translated either into book German or English, which always makes me a little sad. You will never hear the story of how the Mellauer and the Auer, in their endless inventive taunting of one another, ended up inventing yodeling. It’s a good story. So I was listening and feeling a little homesick for the Bregenz Forest. As a result I went to look up the author (Reinhilde Hager) to see if she had a website. Which she does not (unless she married since the recording was made, in which case I don’t know how to look her up). But I did find something that made my jaw drop, and that that there is a wiki for Alemannic.

If you go look at the Alemannic wiki, you probably won’t get very far because it is actually written in Alemannic. The equivalent might be if there were a wiki written entirely in Chaucerian English, which would also most probably give you severe pause.

I almost got teary, reading through the Alemannic Wiki. Of course the dialect represented there is not exactly the one I speak; if you’re going to write down a language, you’ve got to take some steps toward standardizing spelling, at least. But it’s very close, and it felt like running into an old friend on the street.

I don’t get the opportunity to speak Waelderisch (my particular variety of Alemannic) very often, and I’m a little rusty — but not very. I can read it without a problem and when I listen to the recorded stories, I’m right back there, thinking in it. If I got on a plane tomorrow it would take me maybe three days to get back where I was. Which leads me to a linguistics topic which may be of interest. Anybody ever hear of the black box, universal grammar, the critical period, and the distinction between language learning and language acquisition? Because it’s interesting stuff.

since that worked so well…

Thanks to everybody who let me know about The Trouble with Angels. It seems like people in their thirties or older have a pretty good chance of knowing it, so I’ll keep the reference. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is out on DVD.

It seems like they bring out another dozen old movies on DVD every week, but if there’s rhyme or reason in the order, I can’t figure it out. I was pleased to find TwA on DVD, but there’s a whole list of other movies I own on VHS and would like to buy on DVD, if only they were available. Two that come to mind right away are Yanks (1979) and Reds (1981).

Yanks-filmYanks was directed by John Schlesinger and had a stellar cast — a young Richard Gere as one of the thousands of soldiers sent to England for training before the Normandy invasion — Vanessa Redgrave, William Devane, Rachel Roberts, Tony Melody. My parents-in-law, who were in their early teens during the war in England and who have very high standards when it comes to films that deal with this period, loved this movie for the details. I liked pretty much everything about it, but especially the love story. Unfortunately it’s still not out on DVD, and my VHS tape has seen better days.

coverReds is also a movie I like a lot — in fact there are some elements of it that I adore — but some elements don’t work for me at all. It’s a fictionalized account of the life of John Reed, who was a radical American journalist and early member of the Communist party. He’s best known for his non-fictional account of the Russian revolution (Ten Days that Shook the World is available on-line as a free etext through Project Gutenberg, here). This film adaptation of his story stars (and was directed by) Warren Beatty at the height of his box office appeal. The rest of the cast is pretty spectacular, with the exception of Diane Keaton as Louise Bryant. But in spite of her performance (which reminded me of Annie Hall; all her performances do) the rest of the cast really did keep the movie well above water. In addition to
Edward Herrmann as

Max Eastman;

Jerzy Kosinski as

Grigory Zinoviev;

Jack Nicholson as

Eugene O’Neill;

Paul Sorvino as

Louis Fraina;

Maureen Stapleton as

Emma Goldman, the first hour of the movie really struck me for the short interviews with the people who actually knew John Reed and Louise Bryant and who were active during the period in question, in journalism or politics. henry-miller

These interviews really make the movie, in my opinion. They include everybody from an irrascible older

Henry Miller (People fucked back then just as much as they do now. We just didn’t talk about it as much),

Dora Russell,

Scott Nearing,

Rebecca West,

Will Durant,

George Seldes,

Dorothy Frooks, to the comic genius

George Jessel.

The movie is beautifully filmed and edited, the scenes in Russia during the revolution most especially well done, and the ending (highly fictionalized) moving.

Reds-filmWhen this was shown in the theaters in 1981, it was with an intermission. (They used to do that with long movies. I remember intermissions for The Sound of Music and My Fair Lady, for example.) I saw Reds in Evanston, Illinois when it came out. When the lights came up at intermission time, one old lady sitting right in front of me turned to her companion and said, “You know dear, I don’t think they’re Republicans or Democrats.” I had to bite my lip to keep from bursting into laughter.

I really liked this movie for many reasons (not least the fact that it made me learn more about the history of the time and events in question) but again, it’s not available on DVD.

books — by other people, too

I’ve posted some questions in the discussion forum about Fire Along the Sky, in case anybody would like to get involved in a more detailed discussion. These are just a few issues that interest me, for anybody who has the time and energy.

While I was in London I went into Foyle’s on Charing Cross Road. Foyle’s is one of the last big independent bookstores on Charing Cross — I’m sorry to say that Border’s has been on the rampage over there, too, eating up independents like so many bonbons. My great fear is that Border’s will insinuate itself into the lovely space across from Trinity College, Cambridge, where there is now a great bookstore called Heffer’s. The Mathematician was a fellow at Trinity, so we could have got married in the chapel if I hadn’t been too shy (which in retrospect I regret).

At Foyle’s (and Heffer’s) I spent a lot of time looking for historical fiction. For some reason the Brits like it more than Americans do, and I have never come home without a half dozen novels that look interesting, but are unlikely to be published over here. This time I got the sequel to Diana Norman’s A Catch of Consequence (which I reviewed ast year). The sequel is called Taking Liberties and it’s very good, but then everything of hers that I’ve come across really is worth reading.

[asa left]1410401731[/asa] I also got (but have barely started) a novel called Voyageurs by Margaret Elphinstone, which is about a young man who comes from England in the early 1800s to search for his sister who has been lost, and is now living among the Ottawa. While I was gone I also read James Lee Burke’s White Doves at Morning, which I liked tremendously. Burke normally writes contemporary mysteries (his Dave Robichoux series is highly regarded by critics and readers both), so this historical novel about the Civil War in Louisiana was a departure from him. It’s based in part on his own family story, and it’s extremely compelling. I’ll be posting a full review sometime soon. I hope.