Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The Dispute About The Pronunciation (After listening to “Let's Call The Whole Thing Off”)

Let's Call the Whole Thing Off is a song from the movie ‘Shall We Dance’ (1937). The main characters - Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are dancing on roller skates and they are singing...not only singing but having a dispute about everything that is going wrong.

This is a link to the video on Youtube:

Basically, the song is about misunderstanding and how it may be overcome.

Things have come to a pretty pass
Our romance is growing flat
For you like this and the other
While I go for this and that

But it has also a linguistic context. The song presents a difference in the pronunciation of the words:

You like potato and I like potahto
You like tomato and I like tomahto
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto
Let's call the whole thing off

According to the Wikipedia about this song, the difference in pronunciation reflects not a regional difference in spoken English, it identifies a class difference.

Being a learner of English, I remember that teachers said that either and neither were pronounced differently, but it’s up for discussion. It is a case when spelling the same words could read differently:

You say either and I say either
You say neither and I say neither
Either, either, neither, neither
Let's call the whole thing off

The song has different variations. One of the famous version is here:

The video clip with background sounds from the voices of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong also includes pictures related to the words in the text.

The conclusion of the song is that the most opposite people become close to each other if they have Love.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

On the Rainy River by Tim O'Brien Review

On the Rainy River by Tim O'Brien is a short story from the book The Things They Carried published in 1990. The main subject is American society’s attitude toward the Vietnam War.

The narrator tells a story from the perspective of a 21-year-old young man whose name is also Tim O'Brien. It must be a real story about life experiences which the author had.

Young Tim O'Brien got drafted into the military, which means he had to fight in the Vietnam war, a war he hated. He couldn't believe that it happened to him. Here is a description of his thoughts:

"I remember opening up the letter, scanning the first few lines, feeling the blood go thick behind my eyes. I remember a sound in my head. It wasn't thinking, it was just a silent howl. A million things all at once—I was too good for this war. Too smart, too compassionate, too everything. It couldn't happen. I was above it. ... A mistake, maybe—a foul-up in the paperwork."

The father asked Tim what his plans were. He answered “Nothing. Wait.” The small town where Tim lived was near the Canadian border, and he was plagued with tempting thoughts to escape the draft. The thoughts were abstract and vague in the beginning. But they appeared in his mind again and again.

"I could see particular shapes and images, the sorry details of my own future— a hotel room in Winnipeg, a battered old suitcase, my father's eyes as I tried to explain myself over the telephone. I could almost hear his voice, and my mother's. Run, I'd think. Then I'd think, Impossible. Then a second later I'd think, Run."

That was a moral dilemma. Tim feared the war, but he also feared exile. He feared to lose the respect of his parents. The people in his hometown were conservative. Tim imagined how his neighbors would sit in the cafe talking about "the young O'Brien kid, how the damned sissy had taken off for Canada."

Being in a state of despair, Tim would drive for hours in his father's car without any destination in mind. In one morning he "began looking for a place to lie low for a day or two." He randomly found an old fishing resort on "the Rainy River, which separates Minnesota from Canada, and which for me separated one life from another."

Tim arrived at the fishing resort. It was a turning point of the story. He wrote, that "The man who opened the door that day is the hero of my life. How do I say this without sounding sappy? Blurt it out—the man saved me." He was eighty-one years old, Elroy Berdahl.

If we followed the plot we would see little actions. The next six days Tim and Elroy spent fishing at a resort, hiking into the woods. The tourist season ended, the place was empty. The old man "never asked the obvious questions: Why was I there? Why alone? Why so preoccupied? If Elroy was curious about any of this, he was careful never to put it into words."

It was obvious that the old man knew about the harsh choice which young men faced receiving the draft. Escaping to Canada was one of the possible options for conscripts who didn't want to go to the War.

There are two episodes which exposed the attitude of the old Elroy to his guest.

The first occurred when Tim paid for staying in the resort, Elroy in contrary to the usual price suggested to take into account Tim's work in the fishing resort (Tim helped Elroy in the same little chores to "get the place ready for winter, sweeping down the cabins and hauling in the boats"). Elroy offered a higher wage than Tim's obligations. As a result, Elroy returned the money back adding some money over. Tim refused to take the money. Elroy was persistent: “Pick it up. Get yourself a haircut.” The money lay on the table for the rest of the evening. It was still there when I went back to my cabin. In the morning though, I found an envelope tacked to my door. Inside were the four fifties and a two-word note that said EMERGENCY FUND. The man knew."

The second episode occurred when the old man took Tim out for fishing on the Rainy River. Elroy turned the boat straight north. The feeling of being in Canadian waters was described by the author as an existence of a parallel reality where there was no war, where everything was different.

Why did they come here? - Tim thought. "I think he meant to bring me up against the realities, to guide me across the river and to take me to the edge and to stand a kind of vigil as I chose a life for myself ... And what was so sad, I realized, was that Canada had become a pitiful fantasy. Silly and hopeless. It was no longer a possibility. Right then, with the shore so close, I understood that I would not do what I should do. I would not swim away from my hometown and my country and my life."

When we stand in front of our biggest choices, thoughts, feelings, predictions may line up and become tangible. This is what Tim was thinking:

"I saw faces from my distant past and distant future. My wife was there. My unborn daughter waved at me, and my two sons hopped up and down, and a drill sergeant named Blyton sneered and shot up a finger and shook his head. ... There was a slim young man I would one day kill with a hand grenade along a red clay trail outside the village of My Khe."

Eventually, Tim left the resort, he followed his fate. This is the last line of the story: "I was a coward. I went to the war."

It is important to understand the significance of events described in the story for one particular person. The old man was the only one who provided Tim with the choice. Tim felt a terrible pressure from his parents, relatives, acquaintances. Elroy remained neutral, and moreover, he sympathized with Tim's troubles.

The dilemma described in the story reminds the famous monologue of Prince Hamlet:

"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
... to take arms against a sea of troubles

Here is a link to the text of the story:
It is an audio-record on Youtube:

Friday, March 16, 2018

Woodsong by Gary Paulsen Review

'Woodsong' is the memory written by American author, Gary Paulsen. It is about the author’s experience of living in the wild.

Gary Paulsen described the years when he and his family lived in the woods in the northern part of Minnesota, the USA. The forest had plenty of wild animals such as wolves, deers and black bears. They also held domestic animals like cats, dogs, chickens, ducks and geese.

It was strange that the bears would steal meat put out for dogs in the kennel, but they never attacked the yard animals. The author admitted that it must be a rule, a part of the bears’ natural instinct.

There was a large bear, who wandered around the house. It had a white streak across his head. It would be a result of wounding him by some hunter. Gary Paulsen called him Scarhead.

One day the narrator went for to burn a heap of trash and upon returning he saw Scarhead trying to catch something near the fire. This is how the narrator described this episode in his memoirs:

'"I was standing across the burning fire from him, and without thinking—because I was so used to him—I picked up a stick, threw it at him, and yelled, “Get out of here.

It was a terrible, fatal mistake. Gary was awarded it instantly when Scarhead jumped at him stopping very close to Gary.

"Close. I could smell his breath and see the red around the sides of his eyes. Close on me he stopped and raised on his back legs and hung over me, his forelegs and paws hanging down, weaving back and forth gently as he took his time and decided whether or not to tear my head off."

The bear stood above Gary and after that, he lowered himself down and he turned back to the trash. The narrator described how the anger grew inside of him, how he ran to the house and took a rifle, coming back to the yard and pointing to the bear ready to kill him. But awareness of what would happen came to Gary.

"Kill him for what? That thought crept in. Kill him for what? For not killing me? For letting me know it is wrong to throw sticks at four-hundred-pound bears? For not hurting me, for not killing me, I should kill him? I lowered the rifle and ejected the shell and put the gun away."

The story introduces the idea of living in peace with nature. The wildlife is severe, we need to understand and respect its rules. The author wished this bear a long life and concluded: "I am nothing more and nothing less than any other animal in the woods."

This is a link to the text of the part of the story:


Friday, March 9, 2018

Surprising Things about Namibia

This was the first time I had a conversation with a Namibian. We had an English class through an online school called ‘engoo.com’. Kiki, who is a trainer in the school, gave me the general characteristics of her country.

Namibia is located on the Southern-Western coast of Africa. The country shares its border with South Africa. These two countries have an agreement that their citizens can visit the neighboring country without a visa.

The country Namibia was colonized by Germany in the past. It was once a colony of South Africa. Unlike South Africa, European civilization didn’t have much influence on Namibia. Hence, we cannot conclude if that is a good or a bad point. “We are our own”, said Kiki.

Before 1990, the country was under the control of the South African government. These two countries even shared the National Anthem. Namibia gained its independence in the year of 1990.

Except the official language (English), there are some recognized national languages like Afrikaans, German and others.

Portuguese is also a widely spoken language because there are many Angolans in the country (they speak Portuguese).

Using the screen sharing option on Skype and Google Maps, we looked for a random place in the middle of the country. 

It was surprising to see greenery instead of a desert.

Kiki said that the Namibian deserts often appear in Hollywood movies. We chose the place near the coast on the South and Google Maps opened for us the next panoramic view.

This picture is a perfect representation of isolation. What an impressive, magical view!

As we observe in the picture, there are a few houses located in the desert which have a very sandy color shade. The temperature during the day could be above 50 degrees Celsius.

Eventually, we decided to go to the capital city - Windhoek. The place was chosen randomly on Google Maps.

The landscape of the city was very pleasant. Kiki proudly said that her country differs from other African countries with regard to cleanliness and safety on the streets.

The country of Namibia is quite wealthy. The main business that contributes to the wealth of the country is the export of diamonds.

The country exports a third of the world’s output of these gems. The essential part of the business in that circuit belongs to the foreign companies.

One of the most important advantages of this country is that tourists find holidaying in Namibia much cheaper as compared to holidaying in South Africa.

Kiki also mentioned that people from Namibia are not generally "open books". You have to be very open-minded in order to survive there.

What we know about Namibia allows us to conclude that Namibia could be a new perfect destination for tourists in the near future.

A Wagner Matinee by Willa Cather Analysis

The majority of literary works of American author Willa Cather were linked with the place where she had passed her youth: Nebraska, the USA. A Wagner Matinee is a story about the perception of the classical music by the woman who kept her passion for music through severe life in the prairies.

The narrator, whose name was Clark, studied music in Boston. He had got a letter from his uncle reading that his aunt Georgiana from Nebraska was arriving the next day. He hardly recognized her in the train because her harsh life in Nebraska had changed her appearance dramatically. Before she moved to Nebraska, she was a music teacher at Boston Conservatory. During her vacation in Nebraska, where her ancestors had lived for generations, she met a boy who became her friend. He followed her to Boston and eventually they got married and moved to Nebraska.

They had no money. Their life hardships in the prairies were described in this paragraph:

"They built a dugout in the red hillside, one of those cave dwellings whose inmates so often reverted to primitive conditions. Their water they got from the lagoons where the buffalo drank and their slender stock of provisions was always at the mercy of bands of roving Indians. For thirty years my aunt had not been further than fifty miles from the homestead. "

The current appearance of Mrs. Georgiana didn’t have much in common with young Mrs. Georgiana who taught little Clark literature and arts. She avoided talking about music. The reason was explained by the narrator in this episode:

"I had found among her music books, she came up to me and, putting her hands over my eyes, gently drew my head back upon her shoulder, saying tremulously, “Don't love it so well, Clark, or it may be taken from you. Oh! dear boy, pray that whatever your sacrifice may be, it be not that.

Now the Aunt Georgiana came to Boston and Clark decided to invite her to a concert of classical music, to Wagner Matinee. It seemed that the thoughts of Mrs. Georgiana were far away from the concert hall, "she had forgotten to leave instructions about feeding half-skimmed milk to a certain weakling calf ... She was further troubled because she had neglected to tell her daughter about the freshly-opened kit of mackerel in the cellar, which would spoil if it were not used directly."

Clark thought that the invitation to the concert might have been a mistake, this world of classical music was dead for her forever. After the first music composition passed, her attitude to that event changed dramatically. "The first number was the Tannhauser overture. When the horns drew out the first strain of the Pilgrim's chorus, my Aunt Georgiana clutched my coat sleeve. Then it was I first realized that for her this broke a silence of thirty years; the inconceivable silence of the plains."

Not everyone is capable of appreciating the beauty of the classical music.

An ear for music is a gift of nature which some people get at birth. The writers, journalists who write about classical music often describe it using images of beautiful nature, recollections of something pleasant. Willa Cather used another method, she described the perception of music by a person who sincerely loves it. 

Willa Cather conveyed to readers the awareness of the beauty of music. That is a wonderful feature of reading: people who stand far away from the area which is described in literary works could get immersed in unfamiliar settings and situations. Severe life in prairies, a gentle feeling of music, the perception of beauty are the subjects of the exploration in this story.

Here is the link to the text of the story:

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Put the Blame on Mame - Song Analysis

Put the Blame on Mame is the song from the movie "Gilda" (1946). The song is available for listening on Youtube. Here is the link:

The song reflects the conflict which was described in the plot of the movie. The main female character refused to be guilty for everything. She expressed it telling (singing) story of the lady (Mame) who was blamed for everything.

When they had the earthquake in San Francisco
Back in nineteen-six
They said that Mother Nature
Was up to her old tricks
That's the story that went around
But here's the real low-down
Put the blame on Mame, boys
Put the blame on Mame
One night she started to shim and shake
That brought on the Frisco quake
So you can put the blame on Mame, boys
Put the blame on Mame

The song represented the style of music - jazz with easy to remember rhythm. The actress - Rita Hayworth used a very brave for that time elements like taking away glove during the dance.

Some believe (I read it in the comments about the video clip on Youtube) that the meaning of the song is quite close to the idea of feminism. I don't think that put that kind of the blame on the song is a good idea. More appropriate would be to connect the meaning with a timeless interaction between men and women. This song is also about love, it is hidden between the lines. Putting the blame on somebody means the advice for gentlemen to pay more attention to ladies and then their flaws become the things of adoration.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bora Bora in Literature (Ghost of the Lagoon by Armstrong Sperry Review)

The story "Ghost of the Lagoon" by Armstrong Sperry takes place on the island Bora Bora in French Polynesia in the southern Pacific Ocean. This place is well known for its crystal clear water, beautiful coral reefs, and lush tropical vegetation. The main plotline is about courage and friendship.

The main characters of the story are the boy Mako and his little dog Aho. Mako's grandfather told the story about Tupa, who was a mysterious monster - the ghost of the lagoon. The old man said that he saw the monster once. Three fishermen were in the boat when Tupa destroyed it. One of them who found his death in that boat was Mako's father.

Next day the mother asked Mako to bring some bananas and oranges from the little island which was located half a mile offshore. Mako liked such kind of errands. He called his dog Aho, picked up his longed-bladed knife and seized his spear.

The island Bora Bora is known as a fabulous location for tourists who like being alone with nature. That kind of vacation is exclusively expensive. Reading this story we have a great opportunity to look at the natural sightseeings of this place. Some quotes from the text combining with pictures would be appropriate.

"The canoe shot ahead. Its sharp bow cut through the green water of the lagoon like a knife through cheese. And so clear was the water that Mako could see the coral gardens, forty feet below him, growing in the sand. The shadow of the canoe moved over them."

While a canoe drew away from the shore, Mako saw a white coral reef. Its upper part could be seen above the surface of the water like the fin of a shark. Mako imagined that it was enigmatic Tupa. He enjoyed feeling that he wasn't afraid of Tupa, he "shook his fist and called, “Ho, Mister Tupa! Just wait till I get my bananas. When I come back, I'll make short work of you!

Marko reached the desired island, "the boy saw the broad green blades of a banana tree. A bunch of bananas, golden ripe, was growing out of the top."

The boy accomplished his task and on the boat, filled with bananas and oranges, started his way home. Sailing past the coral reef, Mako remembered Tupa imagining himself a courageous hero who was able to fight the monster and suddenly ... Instead of a fin-like spine of the coral reef, Mako saw something different. It was a shark which was moving towards the canoe.

It was a real peril. "Here was Tupa—the real Tupa— the ghost of the lagoon! His knees felt weak. He tried to cry out, but his voice died in his throat. The great shark was circling slowly around the canoe." Mako grabbed Aho but the dog happened to fall over into the dark water. "Swiftly the boy seized his spear. Bracing himself, he stood upright. There was no weakness in him now. His dog, his companion, was in danger of instant death... The spear drove straight and true, right into the great shark's eye."

This story finished with a good ending. Mako with his dog and the dead shark came back to Bora Bora. He was honored like a hero. 

The writer, Armstrong Sperry, grew up in Connecticut, the USA. As a child, he loved listening to the tales of his grandfather about adventures of inhabitants and travelers in the Pacific Ocean. After he graduated from an art college, he spent some time on the island Bora Bora which was beautifully described in this story.

The story is some kind of advertising of the island Bora Bora.

Here is the link for those who'd like to have an imaginary trip to the fabulous island of Bora Bora: