Monday, August 13, 2007

A Reading List for the Down Trodden but Hopeful Hearted in All Matters of Love

Right now I am staring at the blank page. It has been a couple of weeks and just as I finished that piece on Marie Antoinette by Sophia Coppola, I started thinking about my writing in a much different way. I contacted old friends from the "industry" and started to hope for a lunch here and there. I also received word of a journal run out Paris, so I felt my writerly self and my concentration on French verbs congealing into a proper project -- a true transformation. Now after a couple of weeks of job preparation and learning how to navigate a bureaucracy that has to be one of the largest in the country, I am back to square one, so to speak.

That vision of my time and writing is different now. It is slowly starting to settle in on my psyche that I am in the New World, where I am not an ex-patriot. New York, for all of its international appeal is much different than the streets and avenues that cross each other like a dying matriarch below 14th street, and the perfectly kept bodies and mobility of Bloomberg's Mecca in the east 50's. That is the transient New World, rouged in new money and Hermes cologne. New York is its children I am starting to learn. All one million of them. Many of them multi-lingual and trapped in a world where cognitive linguistic communication stops on the surface level of all things. Solely spoken Spanish, half learned English from the streets, snippets from various advertisers and newspapers are creating a weird pidgin dish of French speaking West Africans, Mexicans, Dominicans and Chinese dialects. It is a world full of its own commerce, beliefs and norms. I am just starting to wonder how I am going to elevate my students' respect for their mother tongue and English so they are interested in learning the academic language required for them to master both languages. Right now I only see our American democracy concentrating on the pre-eminence of English with very little regard to the advantages and complexity of other languages. My assessment at this point is that we are producing adults who are functionally illiterate in 2 languages because of the neglect of our system to address children who may very well be the first in their families to received formalized education. It is evident in the number of teenagers who are unable to talk about language using the 8 parts of speech in very rudimentary descriptions of how they form a sentence.

So, I am wondering about this French lesson I started 7 weeks ago when I was 20 pounds heavier. It is already giving way to Spanish in the restaurants, in the bodegas, at the corner grocer and at my local dive where I enjoy 5 dollar plates of food and beer. French is already giving way to Hispaniola as a whole.

There was that night when I sat on a giant blanket in a Bronx park drinking a Heineken and a Dominican friend talked about crossing into Haiti on a truck and having to turn back. It was all to much. The way he paused, took off his hat and wiped his face of sweat made me embarrassed -- all this talk of the Creole world in the wake of a horror that defies all suffering. The difference between erudition and witnessing never was more apparent.

"We are all part Haitian. We are from the interior. We are near the border. We are the Dominicans with the most soul." the other friend added.

I remember the sky being so beautiful as twilight started to turn the green trees black and the drink of choice switched from beer to cognac.

5 comments:

Cero said...

I would love to go to Haiti.

Littlemilk said...

Yeah. A friend is going to Port-au-Prince this month. I could not make it, I had too many obligations before fall to really make it happen.

Maybe next year.

What are people saying about the OT scandal in New Orleans? I am really wigged out. I read the NY Times piece, but I have yet to get to the Times Picayune. I started, but just couldn't bring myself to read past the first paragraph.

Cero said...

"My assessment at this point is that we are producing adults who are functionally illiterate in 2 languages"

YES. It is really scandalous.

OT: I haven't figured it all out. Some say it will ruin our credibility - another corrupt politician. Others say it will improve it - we got him. Still other say there is a movement up to get rid of corrupt *Black* politicians so that the white ones can rake it all in again. I am slightly at sea as well...

Littlemilk said...

That really bothers me. In New York City politics run on this completely different parallel concerning money and management. It seems that we are voting in our mayoral elections for those with the best vision for the 5 disparaging boroughs and their ethnically divided component parts.

N.O. politics are really cut on some clear race lines – a tick for tack sort of game concerning pedigree and citizenry. And I really believe this hurricane has kicked up all that rhetoric concerning "blacks" managing themselves versus competency.
Blacks and Competency, Blacks and Competency go together like a horse and carriage in American politics.

Those that are designing the city do not want poor blacks to come back. There is a price out going on. I just wonder how the violence is going to play into equation. The true wild card.

It is all very suspenseful from a far; I just wonder what it is like to live there. The whole medical care debacle scares me tremendously. The educational system seems to be comatose. And the Southern political machine that I witnessed in Tennessee seems so much stronger the further south you go. It is a not only a good ole boy sort of world, it is also one that judges all of its players by that yardstick. The lack of confidence people have in the governor and the mayor have been whispered to me by free flowing well liquored white boy Confederate lips more than once. No kissing was involved Cero. I promise.

Cero said...

"The whole medical care debacle scares me tremendously. The educational system seems to be comatose."

Yes, c'est un vrai mess. And they took total advantage of this to whiten the place. It is as though it had been planned. They want to demolish the old French Quarter Woolworth's - the one that had the sit-ins for integrated lunch counters - and put in a parking structure with condos on top. Put 18 holes of golf on the old St. Bernard housing project, it seems.
Etc. How the h*** do they think N.O. got to be N.O.? Not like that.

But: Lafcadio Hearn in the 19th century said things were so bad, the government was so inept, that if he explained it nobody would believe it. This in the 19th century U.S. which I have heard was very uncomfortable generally. !

It is *hard* to live there now but you can still feel the city - not dead.