Tag Archives: word tasting

Something about me

I have lately had the very flattering experience of being “interviewed” by email by  Rebecca Findley of Capioca, a site that features interviews of people someone there has found interesting. For those who are curious about the route I took to this point and have 15 minutes to read something that would probably have been better expressed in 4 or 5, the interview is here:

TASTING WORDS LIKE FINE WINE

 

Brugge

Where Brugge is:

  1. Belgium.
  2. Get a map.

How to get into and out of and around Belgium:

  1. Thalys. The Belgian high-speed train. Belgium is too small to need high-speed to get around it. The trains exist to get you in and out. Book first class in advance and save money. First class comes with food and beverage that, outside the train, would cost up to half your ticket price.

    Lunch with Thalys

    Lunch with Thalys

  2. Any other train, if you like moving slowly and don’t feel like eating or drinking for some reason. Or the Thalys doesn’t go there when you want to go there.
  3. Well, it’s not that big a country anyway.
  4. I really don’t see why you’d want to drive. What’s relaxing about that? Also, beer. This is Belgium.

Things to do in Brugge:

  1. Beer. Germans made beer pure; Belgians made beer interesting.
  2. Chocolate.
  3. Beer.
  4. Look around.
  5. Beer.
  6. Take photos.
  7. Beer.

    Beer

    Beer

  8. Chocolate.
  9. Some other food who cares French fries or something with one of the eighty-three sauces you can put on it maybe a sausage too if you must.
  10. Beer.

How to get around in Brugge:

  1. Walk. The old cute part is not very large. The streets are medieval-style: stone, not all that wide, pedestrians and vehicles often mixed together watch where you’re walking and what’s coming at you there are cars and they go fast
  2. Local bus. Good to get to and from the train station. Goes on the same streets as you walk on. Somehow manages to go in both directions on a street not quite wide enough for one.
  3. Bike. Stay at a hotel that has bikes. Bike in the park along the canal that rings the oval heart of town. Bike up and down the streets. Pro tip: when a sign says Uitgezonderd it means “excepted” – so if the sign is a No Entry or One Way sign and it has a picture of a bike and it says Uitgezonderd, that means you can go that way even though the cars can’t. Oh, by the way, watch out for the cars holy cow.

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

    Follow that woman. She will lead you to beer

  4. Take a horse carriage if that sort of thing turns you on and you have the money flopping around and you forgot you were going to buy beer and chocolate with it.
  5. Drive? Not. Don’t do it. Locals blast through in their cars. You are not local. There are canals and stone walls and people. And you will be drinking a lot of beer.

What to see in Brugge:

  1. Brugge.
  2. Look, dude, it’s an outrageously cute medieval town. Bring a camera. You’ll only be taking the same pictures as one hundred sixty-five other people today, but you’ll want pictures to remember it by, especially if you drink all that beer, and to prove to other people that it exists.

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

    Congratulations! You are the 5,783,624th person to take this picture. The slight tilt gives an authentic impression of squiffiness

  3. Bruges.
  4. Yes, Brugge and Bruges are the same place. We call it Bruges but that’s the French name and they all speak Flemish (Dutch) there so I prefer to call it Brugge, which also allows me to surreptitiously clear my throat on the gg, because that’s how you say the gg. But if you say Bruges people think of that movie.

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

    They only take the plastic off when company is coming over

  5. OK, you want specifics? See the churches. See the streets. See the canals. See the bridges over the canals. That’s what the name of the place comes from, the Flemish word for “bridges.” Walk walk walk walk. Bring a map or you are doomed, even though you can see the Belfort tower on the market square from many places in town. Seeing it and getting to it are different things.

    Brugge is canal retentive

    Brugge is canal retentive

  6. The inside of a brasserie.
  7. Chocolate shops. These are easy to find. Simply start walking. You will see several soon enough. If you don’t succeed, go to the market square and follow a horse-drawn carriage. You will pass some. Watch where you step, these are real horses, with asses behind them… sitting on the carriage, driving.
  8. The inside of another brasserie.

What to eat in Brugge:

  1. Beer.
  2. The little dish of cheese they bring with the beer.

    Food

    Food

  3. Chocolate.
  4. Frites, maybe from a truck in the market square, doused with a sauce you would never have thought of putting on French fries but is good. Curryketchup? Samurai? Andalouse? All of the above? 50 cents each.
  5. Seriously, did you skip the part about beer? Have a sausage. Whatever.
  6. Yes, of course they have restaurants. Are you there to eat or are you there to drink beer?
  7. Beer.

What beer to drink in Brugge:

  1. Tripel Van de Garre. This is the house beer of Brasserie van de Garre. It is sweet with lemon notes and a lasting ring of bitterness around the back of the tongue. It comes with a big head. It is 11% alcohol. They limit customers to three each. You get to Brasserie van de Garre by going along Breidelstraat just off the market square, through a little doorway off the south side, and down a rough cobbled alley. This alley is a sobriety test. If you can’t make it to the brasserie, you’re done for the evening. If you’re in the brasserie and can’t make it out, well, shucks.

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

    Abandon all sobriety, ye who enter here

  2. Anything by Gulden Draak. Nice, caramelly, and strong.
  3. Anything by Boon if you like sweet fruity beers. Kriek means “cherry,” by the way. Do not expect the fruity beers to be strong.
  4. Definitely have a lambic. Anyone’s lambic. Lambic is made by sticking the wort (liquid) up in the attic and throwing open the window and letting the local airborne yeast get it going. Look, you’re not in Germany. Belgian beer is Saturnalia for your mouth.
  5. Gueuze. Heh heh.
  6. Oh, did I mention that gueuze is really sour? I gueuze I forgot. Well, it is. And super interesting. You just ordered one and you can’t finish it? Fine, give it to me, I’ll finish it for you.
  7. Literally anything else that looks interesting. Especially if it’s on tap. Unless the bartender makes a little face when you ask about it.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

    Tripel van de garrulous.

What to buy in Brugge:

  1. Seriously?
  2. Don’t bother with clothing unless you have a pressing need. It’s the same as everywhere else and no cheaper.
  3. Don’t bother with trite souvenirs unless you have friends who really like them, in which case go ahead, there’s plenty to be found.
  4. …um…
  5. Chocolate, obviously! Some for you, some for your friends, and some for you.
  6. Yes, beer. Buy some bottles in a store too, for when you get back to your hotel.

    Our hotel room

    Our hotel room

Where to stay in Brugge:

  1. Well, we stayed at the Adornes Hotel, and it was nice, we would go back. Good breakfast too. Yes, yes, OK, we had real food at breakfast, cold cuts and fruit and cheese and pastries and muesli and tea and juice. Then we went cycling on free hotel bikes and then we went beering.

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

    Before beer and bike, breakfast

  2. If you want to look at other options, go on TripAdvisor. Look at the reviews. Make sure to look at the pictures. If many of the guest pictures of a hotel feature a steep, narrow, long staircase, that means you will have to drag your bags up and down it. Our hotel had an elevator, although you had to cower at the back as though hiding from a hitman or you would interrupt an electric eye by the door and it would stop.

Whether Brugge (Bruges) is like that movie:

  1. Yes.
  2. Minus the hitmen. I think.
  3. And the dwarf.
  4. Have another beer, you might see them anyway.

attention

Pay attention.

Give attention.

Take attention?

I have just seen the movie Finding Vivian Maier. Vivian Maier was a nanny and housekeeper. She was a very guarded person who collected things and kept them. Trinkets, buttons, receipts, transfers. Newspapers, piles and piles of newspapers. And photographs.

Not other people’s photographs. Hers. Always, everywhere, she had her camera slung around her neck. Taking her young charges out for walks, or out on the street by herself, she would take pictures. People. People in places. People in moods. People with things, people doing things, people looking at her. She used – for her younger years, up to about age 50 – a twin-lens Rolleiflex, a nice camera and perfect for taking pictures of strangers on the street, because it hung low, and you looked down at the ground glass screen. It was not up at your eye level. It was not an obvious ocular prosthetic. Looking up, it gave majesty, and it looked at the lowly at their level. And the shutter was quiet. So she could walk up, stop, take, go.

Look at her photos. Look at them. Give them your attention. You can see many of them on the website John Maloof made for them.

John Maloof is the man who made the film. He is the man who bought her photos. Her negatives. Her hundred thousand negatives and transparencies. Her hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. You must pay to develop, and she did not have a lot of money. It was all in boxes, boxes stored with all the other boxes of her things. No one had seen them. Almost no one: a few photo processors. This great photographic genius – I have thought so since I first saw her work a couple of years ago, and many others who have seen it agree – did not show her pictures. For many of them, she did not show them even to herself. She took.

She took attention. She did not pay attention. For her, attention was something that took. She did not want other people’s attention; she did not like the idea that anyone might see into her room. She kept the door locked, kept her life guarded. Gave false names to stores she shopped at. She did think of having her pictures printed by a processer in the small town in France where she grew up, but she was in America and it didn’t happen. Perhaps she didn’t talk much to processers in Chicago or New York, the cities where she lived, because that would have come with a risk of its actually happening. Oh, she printed a few, but not a lot. She accumulated and did not let go. Stacks of hundreds of newspapers. Tchotchkes, receipts, transfers, hats, the little things of life. The thousand items and moments that pass our eyes. Most of us discard them, or file them into the far cabinets of our memories where they simply age unlooked at and inaccessible. Vivian Maier kept them. She kept them, all these moments of attention. She pressed the shutter release and she advanced the film. And she put them away. Not into the little corners of her mind, or not just there. Into boxes.

When you look at her work, it is attention, a soft flick of the shutter at a time. Every person in a photo is the centre of its attention. The world is a performance, every moment of it is people performing themselves, and Vivian Maier attended it. The attainments, the attempts, the attenuations. The photos find the human. There is a tenderness. And a tension, a tension of attention. Her camera so low-slung, looking but not looking like looking. Some subjects felt the pull, felt that when she was taking the picture she was taking from them. Others were glad to give, because her attention gave to them. She was paying them attention. Even if that was not her intention. She was there to take, and keep, and not let go.

John Maloof – the filmmaker, the man who bought her photographs – describes himself as the sort of person who can spot a thing of value at a distance. He has a history of buying at flea markets and auctions. Things cross his attention, and something sometimes attracts. He has bought unclaimed storage lockers and found things of value, and he has tossed out negatives by the boxfull. When he was working on a project for which he needed historical pictures, he went to an auction near where he lived, and for a few hundred dollars he got thousands of negatives taken by someone unknown to him. They turned out not to be what he needed for his project, but they caught his attention and held it. He had to find out who the artist was.

And he found out that she had died, only just. Leaving no family, no heirs. When a person dies, it is, as Laurie Anderson has said, like a whole library has burned down. All those moments, all the perfect things that pass the eyes, the crossings and stops of day-to-day existence, a myriad million perfect flowers of time and space and emotion, all like rain in the rain, now running to the gutter. But Vivian Maier’s moments, so many of them, so perfectly framed, so perfectly composed, were not running away. They were pressed flat in perfect flakes, ready to be flicked through again. Attention taken, attention kept, attention available for your attention, unattenuated.

Your attention is your attention, of course. Your eyes are not mirrors. They are hands of the mind that reach out and grab what the mind wants; they are fingers that stroke reality, and tongues that taste it. They stretch out towards what they want, they extend you towards it: ad+tendere, ‘stretch to’, source of attend, source of attention. The reaching eyes mould life as they grasp it, and they select what they will seize. You keep what you want. So did Vivian Maier. She didn’t keep every last sixtieth of a second of her life. Just the moments she wanted. Seen her way, judged her way, framed her way.

The people she knew knew little about her. They might know her for a decade and yet not know what family she had, if any, or where she was from. She had that slight French accent, Americanized but perceptible. I listened – she made recordings of herself, and occasional movies of her with the children she cared for – and I thought, perhaps near the German border. Alsace? Different people who had spoken to her had different opinions. One whom she had nannied was quite sure she was French: the intonation in particular was characteristic. Another, who met her when she was at a university language lab, was entirely sure she was not French, the accent was a put-on. He had a PhD in linguistics and had done a thesis on vowel length in French and her vowels were not French vowels. He knew. He was paying attention.

To one thing. Vowel length. And which kind of French did he study, I wondered? So many dialects. Not all the same. But he was paying – or taking – his kind of attention.

In fact, she was born in New York City.

And spent much of her childhood with her mother in a small village in the French alps near the border. The Italian border. Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur.

And moved back to the US as a young adult.

She took many pictures in France, especially when she returned there as an adult for visits. It was unusual. Normal people would take pictures at first communion and at weddings. She was taking pictures of all sorts of people all the time. It was taking something. They were not sure what to make of her. But they tolerated her attention.

And now John Maloof has brought back her photos of them, and hung them on the wall, and they can see again how their village was, how they were if they’re old enough; they have those moments of attention back. It was taken, but it is paying back. Or forwards.

And this is what Vivan Maier has left. Myriads of flakes of attention, a sixtieth of a second each more or less, pressed flat, taken from their subjects and now waiting to catch your attention and give attention back.

A Word Taster’s Companion: Let’s get started

Starting today, I will be posting in installments, intermingled with my word tasting notes, a how-to guide for word tasting: A Word Taster’s Companion.

Let’s get started

Welcome to the world of word tasting.

Oh, you aren’t new to it, not really. It’s possible for a person who is a novice in wine tasting truly never to have tasted wine before, but we all use words, we all run them through our minds, nearly all of us form them with our mouths. We can’t not taste them, at least a little. We choose one word over another for reasons that go beyond the dictionary definitions. We have all looked on sentences where the wrong word was used. It sets the teeth on edge.

But our daily usage is so much guzzling compared with what we can truly get from words. Just as, when you actually set out to taste a wine, you discover things that simply wouldn’t have been there for you had you merely swigged it, so too in tasting words you will not only put your finger on the nuances that had passed so lightly across your tongue – you will create a world of delight that hadn’t existed before, just through your interaction with it. And you will become a much better user of words as well.

Let’s get going and shake the cobwebs out. You’ll be better at tasting words, and will get more enjoyment out of it, when you are an expert (i.e., when I’m finished with you), but this isn’t Zen archery or contract bridge: you don’t spend forever thinking and talking about it before doing it. But you already have at least a developed sense, to a greater or lesser degree conscious. So here we go.

Here are some uncommon words. You might not be familiar with all of them.

thixotropic

fleer

pinguid

mumpsimus

For each of these words, write down the first ten things you can think of. Try the sounds, the things they sound like, the way they feel in your mouth. What do they make you think of? If you want to look them up, do. If you don’t, don’t – though ultimately finding out the meaning of unfamiliar words will be an important part of a word tasting.

Now do the same with the following words, but go for 20 things:

morning

cake

shampoo

dog

hound

Include the words you tend to use them with (phrases, expressions, whatever other words they bring to mind), places they would be appropriate or inappropriate, and whatever else comes to your mind. Anything that you know about them or think about them or that they make you think of.

Congratulations. You have just attained the first degree of word tasting. You have planted the seeds; the rest will follow as roots and branches.

Next: What words are made of.