A Bionic Language Nerd watches les Oympiques d’hiver à Ϲочи

Having studied some Russian, I would have loved to attend the Olympics in Sochi.  Well, except for a few minor issues like the threat of terrorist attack and the ridiculous construction issues at the hotels.  Why go to Russia for that?  We have cyber attacks at Target, shootings at the mall, and construction road blockages along every commuter route.  We even have snow and ice with power outages, lack of heat and water, and a hole in the roof.  I’ll just stay home and watch on television.

Does anyone besides me love listening to the languages spoken during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics?  This year the Olympics are announced in three languages: English, French, and Russian.  Yes!  Woo hoo!  Except that broadcasters talk over them.

“Mesdames et messieurs…”  I strain to hear what they are announcing, but my auditory filter can’t block out the broadcaster’s comments about how cold it is.  Really?  The Idiot Alarm is dinging in my head, “You are in Russia and wearing a V-neck dress with no coat? Of course it’s cold! Wear layers!  Now let me listen to French!”

Mercifully, they do not talk over the introduction to the ceremony itself.  The countdown begins…пять, четыре, три, два, один.  Hey, I know those words..5,4,3,2,1!  And I know the alphabet, so I appreciated the alphabetical introduction to Russian culture.  It was a little weird that the word for each letter did not actually begin with the letter, but I don’t think you can start a Russian word with Ъ  or  й.

The Parade of Nations holds my interest for awhile because I like listening to and reading the names of the countries in English, French, and Russian.  Yes, I can read Russian.  I don’t know what I’m reading, but I can sound it out (kind of like my intermediate French students).  Tri-lingual reading keeps me awake for awhile, along with the neon green that several nations chose to wear, but, face it, the parade is boring and I zone out for a lot of it.

The next night my husband is forced to sit with me through the women’s figure skating short program and mogul skiing.  I am prepared to be entertained; he is prepared to be bored by gorgeous music and ladies leaping and twirling.  But holy cannoli, how do they get themselves in such contorted positions?  How do you do a split while standing up?  On skates?  And then spin like a whirling dervish?  And then, while still spinning, change to another extreme-yoga-like stance?  My hips want to pop out of their sockets just watching them.  The fifteen year old Russian skater is freakishly fabulous.  The announcers point out that her age gives her the advantage of flexibility.  Yeah, that just means that the former skate star announcers are feeling old looking at her, too.

And I can’t help wondering, because all that spinning would really get me off kilter, how do they manage to skate backward without hitting the wall?  They come sooooo close.  Just once, instead of seeing a skater fall doing a triple/quadruple/quintuple axel, I’d like to see them bang into the wall.

There is no irony that a television sponsor for the Olympics is an orthopedic practice.  In women’s moguls, two athletes blew out their knees in practice runs.  Well, no joke.  I tore my meniscus just taking a walk last month.  I can feel knees crunching just watching these young women pound around mounds of snow while also doing flips in the air.  I wonder whether my orthopedist is watching and if he winces in pain at the abuse to the knees or whether he sees dollar signs ka-changing.  (What do athletes and aging baby boomers have in common?   Orthopedic surgeons.)

This evening, I won’t be watching the Olympics.  I’ll be preparing for my own Olympic event…dodging snowflakes and traffic accidents and aiming for a full week of school.  Trois, deux, un…allons-y!

Gouttières and Dutch boys’ suits

Lemon verbena by a goutière

This is transition week.  Next Monday teachers report back to work.  This is the week I’m torn by what to do.  Do I sit and relax?  Do I frantically finish summer projects?  Do I “set my face toward Jerusalem” and dig into school work?  All of the above?  None of the above?  (None of the above involves emotional paralysis from the inability to choose.)

So far I’ve been combining tasks.  All summer I’ve been soaking up books.  The past couple of weeks I’ve been priming my brain for the classroom by soaking them up in French.  I’ve finished two novels and am currently working through Suite Française.  I had read it in English a few years ago.  It affirms me to be able to just pick it up and enjoy it in French.

Last night I had a linguistic “ah-hah” while reading.  In the book, a cat had exited a bedroom and was walking along the gouttière.  Being a good lazy reader (don’t pull out a dictionary unless you really, really have to), it wasn’t hard to figure out that a gouttière was a gutter.  And if you know that a goutte is a drop, then it’s even easier.  Hah!  Who needs a dictionary for that?  But just because I’m now curious and want to prove myself right, I look it up.  Voilà!  The English word dates to the 13th century, coming by way of Anglo-Norman which came from the Old French goute which got started way, way back with the Latin gutta which, interestingly enough, is how they pronounce it today in New England.  (Part of my back to school transition involves thinking of my colleagues, especially my buddy from Maine who is mad at me because I am being relocated into his spacious classroom and he is being put into my closet of a room.)

This morning we awoke to gouttières whooshing with rainwater.  We drove down to Towson, our arrival at daughter and son-in-law’s house coinciding with a deluge.   One of their goutières, experiencing a leaf cloggage, spilled rivers of water out front, flooding the front walk.  I should have just removed my sandals, but I deluded myself into thinking that my umbrella would keep me dry.  We all pondered the weather.  What to do?  Enjoy a cup of tea or brave the rain?  Sit it front of Doppler radar all day?  Is it worth going out in to go to the library–with a baby?  Will I be able to plant my fall seeds?

Enough blue to make a Dutch boy's suit

We did have a cup of tea.  On my way home the rain had stopped, the sun was trying to shine, and there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Back in the day, my grandmother Noona didn’t need Doppler radar to make her plans.  She always said that the weather would clear if there was enough blue to make a Dutch boy’s suit.  Admittedly, that’s a little vague.  How much blue do you need to make this suit?  And how big is the Dutch boy?  Is he, to use another Noona-ism, “the size of a minute”?  That boy wouldn’t need a very big suit.  But that’s the charm of it.  If you are sure you have enough blue, then the weather is surely clearing.

There is definitely enough blue.  I can now safely harvest some lemon verbena without floating through the yard.   Then I’ll make the lemon verbena sherbet that my mouth has been watering for and I will savor some while I continue with Suite Française.  Planting seeds can wait ’til tomorrow, along with a trip out to purchase school supplies.

Lemon Verbena Yogurt Sherbet

I found this recipe, from Jerry Traunfeld, at www.herbcompanion.com.  It is amazingly delicious.  And easy!

2 cups lemon verbena leaves

2 cups whole-milk yogurt

1 and 1/2 cups sugar

1 and 1/2 cups lemon juice

1 and 1/2 cups water

Purée lemon verbena, sugar, and water in blender on high speed.  Whisk together yogurt and lemon juice in a mixing bowl.  Strain lemon verbena mixture into the yogurt mixture through a sieve.  Whisk until smooth.  Process in ice cream maker until slushy.  Transfer to storage container and freeze until scoopably firm.