Thursday, October 30, 2008

apparently i'm not the only one who thinks it's cold

I saw what appeared to be either sleet or maybe even snow last night. But I was snug inside a cafe at the time, and by the time I left, the cold, drizzly rain was no longer sleet-ish. Apparently snow/sleet did happen, if not last night, then tonight. And apparently this is "highly unusual" in London this time of year, as this story attests: "Octobrrrr: London Hit By Flurries" This might beat the time I was in Brazil while it was the coldest it had been there in 25 years. Lovely vacation package for someone who uses a heater in the summer (that would be me). Anyway, we have continued to have a surprising amount of sunny skies here, so who can really complain about the chill when the sky is bright?

The reason I was in the cafe last night was to meet with my French friend Lauriane. About the time we saw the sleet-ish stuff out the window, she was correcting my pronunciation of one of the most basic words in the French language. Apparently I was pronouncing "un" (the masculine word for "a") like "en" (a word for something else). And apparently this mispronunciation will make me unintelligible to French speakers. And no matter how many times she said it, I could hear little more than a minute difference between what she was saying and what I was saying. And even when I could imagine I was hearing a difference, I couldn't figure out how to consistently say anything different than what I was saying. Which continued not to be the right thing to say.

And I think I appreciated this moment, and Lauriane's help, most because in September I was on the teacher side of the "un" "en" lesson. And Farah and Albay (in the ESL class I helped with for Somali Bantu refugees in Nashville) were immensely gracious in letting Shane and me try to help them distinguish the difference between the short sounds for all the vowels. I think their short "e" sound was coming out exactly the same as their short "o" sound or something like that. And the reality is that it makes a difference in how understandable their English is. So we spent part of the class trying to figure out and then describe what was going on in our mouths and our throats while we made the correct sounds. So, thanks to Farah and Albay's example, I accepted my lesson more appreciatively than I might have otherwise. Let me just say that it's much harder being on the student side of this lesson.

In other news, last night I also went to a science and religion lecture at St. Paul's Cathedral. It was nice to be inside the stunning cathedral (which you normally have to pay to enter but the lecture was free). To be honest, though, I was a bit bored with the lecture. I mean, they were trying to answer questions that can't really be answered anyway, and it sort of felt like all the panelists were basically saying that. And there were a lot of people who came all the way to hear them say that. I'm oversimplifying a bit, but that's how it seemed.

The night was redeemed for me, though, when I got up to leave just before the final statements (because I needed to go meet Lauriane) and asked the usher people where the bathroom was. I kind of wondered if there was one in such an old building but figured there was no way you could have so many people gathered in a place with no loo. I was right that there were bathrooms, but I didn't expect that I would be escorted down to the crypt to get to them. And the conversation with my escorter was pretty much the most interesting part of the lecture.

As he led me to the elevator, he said something to the effect of "Christopher Wren didn't think about this when he designed this building." He wondered aloud what they did for such facilities back in the day. Then he went on to explain that Wren also didn't think about heating--because he was a mathematician or something, not an architect--so someone used to have to pull a cart full of coal (I guess some sort of portable coal stove) up and down the cathedral floor to heat the place. I said something about "did he plan a way for the smoke to get out?" And usher man said that the walls, etc. had to be cleaned because everything was blackened by the smoke from the coal cart.

When we reached the crypt level, the security/usher person there told us the women's bathroom was closed. So I had to go into the small disabled person's bathroom that was just inside the door to the men's bathroom. (Apparently everyone else knows to visit a loo somewhere else before they come to free lectures at St. Paul's.) The usher man waited to escort me back to the main level. When I came out I asked something about what he and the usher lady were saying when I reached them. He said that he wasn't sure what he thought about the lecture (that's what they'd been talking about). He thought that he would rather sit down with all the panelists over dinner and ask them what they really think after they've had a couple glasses of wine. He felt like they were all being a little too polite and politically correct that night, and so weren't actually really saying much. As the elevator rose back up from the crypt, I asked if he worked at the cathedral all the time. He does. How long has he been there? Two years, he said, and it's a wonderful place to work.

As for me, I think I'd rather sit down with usher man over dinner than with the panelists. He strikes me as plenty interesting, and he could probably tell me some more things that Christopher Wren didn't think of. As for the panelists, I'm not convinced they'd really come up with any certainties about the relationship between the body and soul, even after a couple glasses of wine.


Anonymous said...

This is a good story-and the usher man sounds like the next chapter.

Anonymous said...

Hm... Did you get usher man's number? :D

Anonymous said...

By the way, it's been in the upper 60s / low 70s in East Tennessee this week! Sorry you're chilly!