Friday, April 24, 2009

The Word Nerd Sez: L is for ...


I know, I haven't written a Word Nerd post in a while. "L" just isn't that interesting a letter to me. It doesn't sound very unique—it's more of a default sound: la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la. "L" is a very utilitarian letter and I didn't feel like contemplating it, or even browsing through the "L" section in the dictionary. But I was feeling guilty about neglecting the blog, so I tried to think of an interesting "L" word. Then I remembered this one and I felt compelled to write about it.

Compelled, because I have a little confession to make. I can spell lagniappe with ease. I can even pronounce it without looking it up: LAN-yap. But ask me what it means? Um. Well. Is it that word I can never remember that means something about a earning a break from a job, or maybe a reward by chance, and it has a military origin and I read it in a series about a spaceship captain with an intelligent, six-legged telepathic cat?* Or was that a phrase? I can never remember.

So I decided to bring you lagniappe, because maybe this way I'll remember what it means. According to Merriam-Webster: "a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; or more broadly, something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure." Like an extra donut thrown into your dozen, or the little charm bracelet I got at the jeweler's when I bought TSU cufflinks for Christmas. Okay, I think I can remember that, especially when I consider this cool word origin: American French via American Spanish la ñapa, from the Quechua yapa, "something added." There aren't many English words that derive from Quechua, the language of the ancient Incas (and over 8 million present-day Andeans), only around 20 or so. Now that's memorable.

Great. Now I'll be able to define lagniappe any time I need to. Now if I can just remember that other word....

*David Weber's Honor Harrington series, great fun if you like space opera or strong heroines.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

"I look a lot like Narcissus...."

Two girls and two guitars (or sometimes a mandolin and a banjo): it's a simple recipe, but it makes some awesome music. Last night TSU and I went to see the Indigo Girls in concert; they're one of our favorites, and we've been buying their CDs for the past 20 years. With that kind of experience, you can imagine that they put on a pretty good live show. Their music focuses on acoustic guitar and beautiful harmonies, and with just one additional musician (a keyboard/accordion player) they played some wonderful live versions of many of our favorites.

One thing I enjoy about the Indigo Girls is their very literate lyrics. They tell stories; they use all sorts of interesting imagery; they refer to writers like Virginia Woolf and historical figures like Galileo and the mythical character cited in this entry's title. So, a long-term acoustic duo with artsy lyrics: you might assume that the average age of the crowd skewed older, and you'd be right. You might also assume that the crowd would be well-behaved and polite.

There you'd be wrong.

Lately I've been hearing a lot about how this new millenial generation is self-absorbed and proud of it, raised to believe they are the center of the universe and thus don't need to consider the feelings of others. Well, the people sitting in front of us last night seemed bent on proving that 40 is the new 20, if their behavior were any indication. Let's just take inventory of the ways they demonstrated their rudeness—and note, all these happened during songs, not guitar changes or other breaks:
  • talked LOUDLY through a soft song
  • texted and surfed using their glowing phones (one time three of them in a row, like tic-tac-toe in front of me)
  • passed a phone among six of them, so they could all read and giggle at a text message (twice)
  • tried to put lipstick on their neighbor/tried to fight off lipstick from their neighbor (with much pushing and arm waving)/accepted lipstick from their neighbor with a big hug
  • tried to give their neighbor a lollipop/tried to fight off lollipop from their neighbor (again with the pushing and arm waving)
  • talked even more LOUDLY through not-so-soft songs
Of course, when one of their favorite songs came on they didn't just sing along, they shouted the lyrics to each other, like they were singing karaoke in a bad romantic comedy. Normally I don't mind if people are inspired to sing or clap or stand or dance; they're just enjoying the music. These idiots looked like they were performing for some non-existent camera, the star of their own reality show, perhaps. Maybe it wouldn't have been so annoying if they had seemed interested in listening to the rest of the songs. Just because it's not your favorite doesn't mean I don't want to hear it.

It got so bad that the woman sitting next to me, who seemed a rather quiet, shy type, finally exploded with a loud "SSHHHHH!" during one bout of chatter. I have to admit she beat me to it because I was still trying to figure out the snappiest way to suggest that some of us paid money to listen to the singing, not chat with our buddies. Though the tickets weren't exorbitant, by the time you add in all the facility fees and service charges it's a hefty chunk of change. Why would you buy a ticket if you're not going to enjoy the show? If you want to chat with your friends, go to a bar, spend the money on several drinks, and then people expect you to behave like morons.

Sigh. Other than that, it was a great concert. And I can take comfort in the fact that if there's a special circle in hell for rude concert/theatergoers, those jerks are all headed straight there.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Janespotting: Pride and Prejudice (2005 film)

Here, to get you in the mood, play this and listen while you're reading (no need to watch it, just listen):

Before leaving P&P variations behind for a while, I thought I would refresh myself with the most recent film adaptation of Austen's classic. This version came out in 2005 and earned Keira Knightley an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Elizabeth Bennet. It also has Brenda Blethyn and Donald Sutherland as Elizabeth's parents, and the inestimable Dame Judi Dench as Lady Catherine de Bourgh. It has to condense much of the novel in order to fit into the feature-film length of just over two hours; strangely enough, it is the first feature film to attempt a faithful adaptation of the book. (I can't consider the 1940 version as "faithful," and all the other versions have been television productions.)

I know many purists despise this version of P&P: not only have many characters and scenes been cut out, but director Joe Wright opted to emphasize the "country" part of the Bennets' country home, with livestock wandering through the mud in the yard of this gentleman's estate. I saw this in the theater with a good friend who is also an Austenophile, and she fell asleep halfway through. And of course, many fans add, how could anyone hope to match Colin Firth's definitive portrayal of Mr. Darcy?

Well, I'm not hung up on purity, and Matthew Macfadyen does a creditable job as Mr. Darcy in the two hours given to the story. He's handsome and brooding, of course, and while he doesn't get much time to explore the depths of the character, you can see the pain in his eyes after Elizabeth rejects him. And yes, many of the other characters have been relegated to the background—we don't get to see Mr. Darcy's cutting rejoinders to Caroline Bingley's snarky remarks—but as a result the film is tightly focused on Darcy and especially Elizabeth. It's Keira Knightley's film; this was her first time headlining a movie, although in the two years leading up to P&P she had appeared in films with a total worldwide box office of over $1 billion.

Now, you might think it risky to rest a major motion picture on the shoulders of a 20-year-old actress, but Knightley (good Austenish name!) was actually the first actress to actually be the same age as the character. The star of the 1995 miniseries, Jennifer Ehle, was 26, while the lead of the 1940 film, Greer Garson, was actually 36! Both these actresses make Lizzy a confident, witty, mature woman who is an equal foil to Darcy. While this makes for a very appealing Lizzy, it doesn't cover all aspects of the character. After reading Mr. Darcy's letter and learning the truth of Wickham's past, Elizabeth has this reaction: "She grew absolutely ashamed of herself. Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd"; she then says, "Till this moment I never knew myself" (Vol. II, Chap. 13).

This is what I find fascinating about Knightley's performance in the role: the sense that Elizabeth has just as much of an emotional journey to make as Darcy does. In the book, we see Darcy's change through his behavior, but Elizabeth's changes are more subtle, affecting her sense of self and her attitude toward Darcy. These aren't the easiest things to show on film, but through closeups on Knightley's expressive face, we see this side of Elizabeth: with her wit and self-confidence undermined by the discovery that she has more to learn about the world, she reconsiders what she knows about herself and her feelings about love. It makes for a very big-R Romantic movie.

So I enjoyed this version of Austen's classic; it may not be as complex and detailed as the miniseries, but it has its own unique angle. (I found Blethyn & Sutherland's interpretation of the Bennets' marriage interesting as well, going beyond caricature.) In addition, it has some interesting direction with really wonderful cinematography. (I know, a sunrise proposal isn't proper, but it's so beautiful!) Adding to the atmosphere is the wonderful, Oscar-nominated score by Dario Marianelli (who would win the Oscar for his next film with Knightley and director Joe Wright, 2008's Atonement). If you played the embedded video at the top of this entry, you've heard the recurring theme on piano that is just lovely; in other parts it is rendered by a chamber orchestra, sounding entirely appropriate to the era. All in all, I've enjoyed watching (and rewatching) this version of P&P. But next week (finally!): I move on to Sense and Sensibility.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Photo of the Week--4/13/09

I can't find many details on this photo I took during our cruise of the Norwegian fjords in 2002. I noted that the waterfall was named "Tvinfoss," although nothing comes up when I Google that term, so I could be full of it. It doesn't matter; look at all the pretty water! It was just one of the many spectacular natural beauties we saw during this trip.