Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saint Blanche’s Day?

I’m thinking about snakes. Snakes, and Ireland, and St Patrick, since his big day is coming up.  I was amazed to learn that post-glacial Ireland is indeed free of snakes. I confess to some disbelief, but if Wikipedia says it, it must be true--or at least 'truthy', and who doesn’t love a good miracle? I’m especially fond of the banishing variety. There’s a lot of stuff in this world I’d like to see us get rid of somehow.

I wanted to go to a nearby mall today to pick up some overdue necessities, but a local river has foiled my plan after a week of nearly Biblical rains. I’m now wishing we had a special saint around here who could send the rivers back down within their banks. I’m picturing him now, in his glorious golden, waterproof boiler suit, brandishing his sacred Shop-Vac, as he sucks the Passaic River to within an inch of its existence (No half-measures here. Saint Shop-Vac wouldn’t be canonized for nothing, after all), then with the flick of a switch, goes on to clean up the mud and debris left behind. It’s a wet-dry vac, you know, and it doesn’t take any nonsense, even from Mother Nature. I suspect he’s going to be tied up in Japan for the foreseeable future, however. Certainly a good reminder that there are far worse things than not going to the mall.

Here in Jersey, I have to say there are some saints and their miracles I would welcome. For example, if there was a Saint Joey, or a Saint Vinny (no, not Joseph or Vincent. This is Jersey), who could lead all the Hummers and SUVs out of the state, I would be leading the charge to get him his own holiday just like Patrick. I’m sure there’d be plenty of beer involved in this one, too, don’t you worry. It’s partly because of the vehicles themselves, their waste of valuable resources and their taking up of more space than their fair allotment in parking lots, sure, but I confess it’s also the douchebags and douchebagettes (baguettes?) who drive them—usually so close that you can’t even see their headlights in your rear-view—that have made me weary. If Saint Joey (who carries not a shillelagh, but a Louisville Slugger emblazoned with the NY Yankees logo) could just magically lead them out of the state to, say, the edge of a cliff or an isolated nightclub somewhere, that would be just fine by me. They could even continue talking and texting on their phones as they go, since they’re propelled by Joey’s miraculous powers and the thumping of their stereo systems. Henceforth, I’d never be without my plastic Saint Joey on my dashboard, with his ripped abs and Axe body spray doubling as an air . . . uh . . . freshener, I guess? Beloved Saint Joey, look favorably upon we humble drivers of compact cars, we the downtrodden commuters, and do your thing. Amen.

I think I could also embrace a saint who could banish cellulite forever. Yes, yes, again I realize that this is New Jersey, no longer the Garden State but rather the Cosmetic Surgery State. But one of the cool things about saints is that they do this stuff magically and for free—no arguing with your insurance company about the medical necessity of sleek thighs and a shapely rump, and no swelling or scar tissue, or looking like an expensive and freakish version of your former self. Just instant fabulousness. What would she be called? Hmmmm . . well, as mentioned, this is Jersey, so probably something like Saint Nicky (and you dot the 'i' with a heart) or Saint Vicky. I considered Saint Snookie, but that just seemed wrong on so many levels. Either way, though, this will be the first saint depicted in mosaics with a fake tan. Artisans, prepare your orange tiles.

Some of the above mentioned issues in need of saintly attention are exactly the reasons why I find myself fairly confused on a daily basis about why I’m in NJ. I never expected to find myself here in my adult life (having had enough in childhood, thanks), but here I am. Admittedly, I don’t intend to remain here, but I have lived in other locations, and know that every place has its good points and its bad points. In Vermont, I wished for a saint who could magically make the trip to the grocery store last only 5 minutes, instead of 40 (and that’s without any traffic jams), and who could take away the Blue Jays trying to eat the paint off the house during extreme cold spells—but I’d want them back in Spring. I’m sure in winter most Vermonters would appreciate a patron saint of pipes, who keeps them from bursting. I know when I lived there I would have also appreciated a saint—probably something like Saint Moonflower or Saint Birkenstock—who could lead all (or at least a great deal) of the patchouli oil out of the state for a while, just to give my nose and lungs a little break. I really do miss Vermont, though, especially when I’m reminded that it already has its own patron saint, a living one; Saint Bernie. Now that’s a statue I want for my dashboard, when one day it will surely lead me safely back to those Green Mountains.

I recall Boulder, Colorado could have used a saint to lead at least half of its massage therapists and yoga instructors out to other places. Really, the town was as saturated with those as the ground by my local mall is with water. I mean, for heaven’s sake, how damned emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy do we have to be, already?


This is all a bit of silliness, of course. At least, for me it is, since I’m not a Catholic. I’m a Buddhist. We have gurus and teachers, and even some stories of miraculous occurrences, but mostly, we’re left to find our own way out of suffering. We’re told this is possible, and we’re taught the manner in which to do it, but it can take lifetimes to master. It is simple, but not easy. Control that monkey-mind of yours, the teachings tell me.
Stop. Breathe. Clear your head. See what’s before you.
Find compassion for the Hummer driver, the speeding text-messager who might kill you. Learn to appreciate your body and its gifts, cellulite or not.
Accept with equanimity the long drive, or the river that overflows its banks sometimes. They are as they are; all of them.
Chase the snakes from your Ireland, or learn to love even the snakes?
This is the miracle you must work.
Work at it. Be awake. Be the miracle, Blanche.

And good luck with that, ‘cause you still need to drive to the store today.

Tell me, readers--what miracles would you like to see?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

. . .Ma Sto Imparando Ancora,
or “How to Butcher a Beautiful Language”

Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images

Don’t be jealous of my mastery of Pig Latin.
There’s no need.
Really. I had an unfair advantage since, as a child, in our home we spoke it almost exclusively. That, and Ubbi Dubbi (but only on high holidays).
I know you’re thinking ‘Is she talking about the language spoken by members of the genus Sus and other precocious even-toed ungulates under the Roman Empire’?
Yes. Yes I am. As you’re probably aware, that language nearly died out pretty soon after some blessed genius discovered prosciutto. But within our family and others who worshipped bacon religiously (with masses conducted in Pig Latin, of course), there was a valiant effort to keep it alive. We are seriously cultured people, I realize . . .and what a beautiful legacy, no?

OK, maybe we didn’t speak it exclusively.
I think what I meant was that my parents spoke it exclusively when they didn’t want me and my brothers to understand what they were saying. But what can I say? Some of us just have an ear for languages, I guess, and I picked it up quickly.

. . .Or maybe it was because, as a youngster, when I asked my mother and father if I could stay up late to watch my favorite TV program, I heard among their chatter “Ionic-bay Oman-way”, and it wasn’t hard to figure out that they were talking about none other than Miss Jaime Sommers. I excitedly and foolishly blurted out something like, “Hey, I know what you’re talking about! You can’t fool me!”, and thus had to go to bed without my Bionic Woman fix. The use of Pig Latin tapered off in our house after that.

But the bacon-worship is kind of true.

I’m reflecting upon (or you could say "grasping at’’) my Pig Latin skills as a means of soothing my seriously bruised ego. This particular contusion arises courtesy of the Italian language. And just now, as I write this sentence, it occurs to me that when Americans try to do their stereotypical imitation of an Italian speaking English, it bears some resemblance to the hauntingly musical rhythms of Pig Latin. That is, if you’re doing it right—which is to say, doing it so very, very wrong. Mi dispiace, Italia.

I’ve been trying to learn Italian for a few years now, though admittedly I’ve only been devoting serious time to it over the last year-and-a-half or so. It’s getting to where I can sort of imitate an Italian Tarzan (Tarzano?). I’m frequently complimented on my accent, but I’m guessing that might be because the listener is trying to find something--anything--positive to say. My partner, who is Italian, says this isn’t so. He says my accent is really quite good, and getting better all the time. According to him, I used to read Italian like Pope John Paul II who, while fluent, had a tendency to put his em-PHA-sis on all the wrong syll-A-bles. But now, this only hap-PENS with me some-TIMES. But this praise worries me, as the accent is really all I’ve got going for me when it comes to Italian.

The anxiety arises from the realization that, if I spoke with a heavy American accent, people would understand that I’m just a beginner with Italian, and might even give me a little bit of a break, cut me some slack. But without anything resembling a developed vocabulary and some understanding of grammar, a good Italian accent might make it appear that I’m just a really dumb Italian person. I can picture their beautiful Roman faces staring at me as they flip back their chin-length, dark, wavy hair (sorry, but whenever freely picturing Italians, I choose soccer player images, for reasons that will be obvious to the ladies if they’ve ever watched a game), seeming bewildered and a wee bit frustrated.

Of course, this can have its advantages. When you’re dumb, people maybe don’t expect much from you. It might go something like this (in English equivalent, for the benefit of the majority of my readers):

Italian person: Ah, scusi, Blanche [they would pronounce Blan-kay].

Me: Yes?

Italian Person: Coulda you please stir this pot of sauce slowly while I tend to something else?

Me: You want me that I am for you tomato stirred that thing?

Italian Person: Uh . . . never mind.

See what I mean? Stupidity has its charms. Of course, there’s a flip side when, in an extreme emergency I need to tell someone something and I end up like Lassie, whimpering unintelligibly while they say, “What is it, girl!? What is it? Enrico fell off a cliff? No? What is it girl? Antonia has been hit by a Vespa? Giuseppe is choking on his pici? No? Madonna, Girl!! What the hell is it!?”

So, yes, clearly I will continue with the studying. This ain’t no Pig Latin, I’ll tell you that. I’m sure I’ll write more on the subject, as I continue to embarrass myself, as in the weeks when my partner’s family visited from Italy, and I kept offering them pomeriggi [afternoons] from my garden, instead of pomodori [tomatoes]. The only up-side (besides getting to keep more of my tomatoes) is that over those weeks I learned quite well the phrase non ho capito [I didn’t understand] and the proper facial expression to use when someone says something crazy.

So, as they say in my family, “Ay-stay uned-tay” for more. This could get really entertaining.

Image credit: Timm Schamberger/AFP/Getty Images