30 novembro 2009

Les Bienveillantes / The Kindly Ones is the gift that keeps on giving

Bad sex award goes to Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones

The American winner of the Prix Goncourt, Jonathan Littell, has added another feather to his cap. His novel, The Kindly Ones, was tonight announced as the winner of the Literary Review's 2009 bax sex in fiction award.
The Kindly Ones, which tells the story of the Holocaust through the eyes of one of the executioners, beat off stiff competition from a stellar shortlist that included entries from Philip Roth, John Banville, Paul Theroux and the literary rock star Nick Cave.
The judges paid tribute to the novel's breadth and ambition, calling it "in part, a work of genius".
"However," the citation continued, "a mythologically inspired passage and lines such as 'I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg' clinched the award for The Kindly Ones. We hope he takes it in good humour."
According to Jonathan Beckman at the Literary Review, The Kindly Ones is the first work in translation to win the award, set up by Auberon Waugh in 1993 to "draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it".
The Kindly Ones was originally written in French, where it was published as Les bienveillantes in 2006, and went on to sell more than 1m copies across the continent and win the Prix Goncourt, France's highest literary honour.
The Goncourt judges were clearly unconcerned by the section which caught the Bad Sex judges' eye, in which Littell draws a comparison between a woman's genitalia and "a Gorgon's head ... a motionless Cyclops whose single eye never blinks".
"If only I could still get hard, I thought," the winning passage continues, "I could use my prick like a stake hardened in the fire, and blind this Polyphemus who made me Nobody. But my cock remained inert, I seemed turned to stone."
According to Beckman, Littell has no plans to attend the award ceremony. Last year's winner was Rachel Johnson for her novel Shire Hell. Previous winners of the famous plaster foot include Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and Sebastian Faulks.


Pink Floyd, The Wall, 30 anos volvidos

Esta semana no Sound + Vision ;)

Humping the Letters?

Against Camel Case

As you probably know, the California-based company Apple makes a portable communication device — a device that an acquaintance of mine whose first language is not English distinguishes as a “self” phone. Though proper nouns conventionally begin with a capital letter, Apple spells the device’s trademark with an initial lowercase i, followed by an uppercase P. Thus styled, the word has a hump in the middle. I could print it here to show you, but I refuse to allow my prose to be so disfigured.
On account of the hump, midword capitals are sometimes called “camel case.” Other terms include “intercaps” and “incapping.” There is some precedent for the unsightliness. Dictionaries list a variety of apple known as a McIntosh, for example, and the language has long tolerated such identities as Ian McEwan, Louis MacNeice and even Myles na gCopaleen. In my considered opinion, the juxtaposition of majuscule and minuscule in a personal name may be safely indulged as a prerogative of the human being, with all his individual strangeness, but to extend the same license to the fruits, literal and figurative, of human labor is another matter. Steep is the descent into orthographic antinomianism.
It’s hard to say when the humps began to multiply, but in the 1950s, Bank of America dropped its “of” and crushed the remaining two words of its name together, as William Safire recollected in this column some decades later. (The bank has since thought better of the experiment.) In 1979 the credit card formerly known as Master Charge changed its last name and relinquished its interstice. In the 1980s and ’90s, word spacing became seriously endangered, probably because, as the magazine New Scientist has noted, the most charismatic capitalists of those decades came from Silicon Valley, where software languages often required them to omit word spaces. To save their eyesight, programmers injected capitals into their compounds, and as they ascended to cultural hegemony, “Word” was sealed to “Perfect,” “Quick” soldered to “Time” and “Power” married to “Point.”
Camel case even infiltrated literature. “Deviance or innovation?” Ron Silliman asked in his 1996 poem “Under,” before imagining himself living the erotic life of the insertive capital: “How sweetly, smoothly I slip inside of you where I belong.” Copy editors, meanwhile, were overwhelmed. At first, sentries at The New York Times allowed interior capitals only when the second element of a compound was a proper noun — when the word crammed next to “Bank” was “America,” for example. But in November 1999, the newspaper capitulated (as it were). Thereafter every brand name was permitted up to three idiosyncratic majuscules. Three! And why not let the dog sleep on the sofa? “Traditionalists,” admitted the magazine Copyediting in January 2008, “have lost the battle.” Most authorities now instruct writers to capitalize whatever the corporations tell them to. Writers of the world, fight back!
Word spaces should not be taken for granted. Ancient Greek, the first alphabet to feature vowels, could be deciphered without word spaces if you sounded it out, and did without them. Spaces or centered points divide words on early Roman monuments, but Latin, too, ceased to separate words by the second century. The loss is puzzling, because the eye has to work much harder to read unseparated text. But as the paleographer Paul Saenger has explained, the ancient world did not desire “to make reading easier and swifter.” There were then few books, and they were read by few people, who expected to read aloud and aspired to commit the words to memory. Reading was a public act, and the lack of word spacing forced it to stay that way for centuries. Medieval monks had to be put in stone-walled carrels so they could read aloud the books that they were copying without disturbing one another.
Word spacing returned, Saenger theorizes, more or less by accident. In Ireland and England during the seventh and eighth centuries, local priests had so much trouble with Latin that spaces were added to their liturgical texts as a crutch. Clerics discovered that reading became more fluent for everyone, because the eye can recognize separated words as distinctive shapes. Monks were able to copy manuscripts in silence, in accordance with many of their vows, and privacy intensified the experience of devotional reading. The innovation flourished and by the 13th century was standard in Latin everywhere. Angels in manuscript illustrations used to speak into the ears of scribes; now they presented them with books to read for themselves. Clerics tackled more complex texts, in greater numbers, and Saenger argues that silent reading seeded the flowering of medieval theology known as scholasticism.
It had side effects. “Psychologically, silent reading emboldened the reader,” Saenger explains, “because it placed the source of his curiosity completely under his personal control.” Heresy became easier to communicate, and Saenger postulates that word spacing eventually made possible phenomena like irony, pornography and freedom of conscience.
In other words, though camel case may have been spurred by recent technology, its effect is regressive — in fact, medieval. It harks back to an era when reading was effortful, public and loud — like a visit to a contemporary shopping mall. Perhaps camel case, like intrusive music, baffling floor plans and aggressive fragrances, is deployed to weary and bewilder us, to render us so addled that we have to say corporations’ trademarks aloud to be sure of what we’re looking at. It doesn’t have to be this way. Put some distance between you and your Master Card; don’t let your Iphone make the rules. You don’t have to buy their language. It already belongs to you.

29 novembro 2009

I miss my Cat

FlashForward - Portugal ;)

Some nations -- Portugal and Poland among them -- argued for delaying replication for at least a year. Three compelling counterarguments were presented. First, as Lloyd pointed out, the more time that elapsed, the more likely some external factor would change sufficiently to prevent replication. Second, the need for absolute safety during a replication was clear in the public's mind right now; the more the severity of the accidents that occurred last time faded into memory, the more likely that people would be cavalier in their preparations. Third, people wanted new visions that confirmed or denied the events portrayed in their first visions, letting those with disturbing insights see if they were indeed now on track to avoiding those futures. If the new visions would also be of a time twenty-one years, six months, two days, and two hours ahead of the moment at which the replicated experiment began, each passing day diminished the chances that the second vision would be sufficiently related to the first to make a comparison between the two possible.

Robert J. Sawyer

26 novembro 2009

Where Books Come To Life - Hail New Zealand ;)

Thanx to JC ;)

Similar, if we like, to this short film posted some time ago:

This Is Where We Live from 4th Estate on Vimeo.

25 novembro 2009

Me and Orson Welles, a Richard Linklater film

This week Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles is finally making its way to the big screen. It's not a big buzzed-about film, but it is, indeed, one worthy of your time. The movie offers a peek at Efron's possible future (which the abysmal 17 Again completely failed to do), a delightful look into creating art in the '30s, and it recreates the nuances of theater on the big screen. And hey, it's a Linklater film, which seems to be painfully rare these days.

But none of those reasons are why I urge you to see it. It all rests on the shoulders of actor Christian McKay, who plays Orson Welles. I missed the film at TIFF, and spent the next year listening to raves over McKay's performance before I finally got the chance to make it to a screening. Even with the rave reviews and raised expectations, it was quite easy to get mesmerized by McKay, who not only bears an uncanny resemblance to the iconic actor and filmmaker, but also adeptly embodies the man's larger-than-life ways.

To get the full experience, you must be familiar with Welles, and if you're not, well, good lord, now's the time to change that. What follows are some of Welles' essential work, as well as glimpses into the man's real life so you can see just how good McKay's performance is.

War of the Worlds
In 1938, Welles directed and narrated The War of the Worlds as part of Mercury Theatre on the Air -- the radio segment of the New York-based theater company in which the film is based (that Orson co-founded). This infamous broadcast included a series of fake news bulletins that made a number of listeners think that there was actually a Martian invasion plaguing the planet. There has been disagreement about the supposed panic the performance inspired, but the radio episode remains one of Welles' most notable pieces of work. Download and listen to the broadcast for free over at Archive.org.


In Me and Orson Welles, there is some talk about Welles' work with William Shakespeare's Hamlet while preparing for the opening night of a fascist-themed Julius Caesar. Welles narrated the former for The Columbia Workshop. This performance is also available at Archive.org as part of a trio of episodes.

Citizen Kane

Considered by many (including AFI) to be the best film of all time, Citizen Kane is clearly Welles' masterpiece. The film follows Charles Foster Kane (modeled after William Randolph Hearst), an American newspaper magnate who had an insatiable need for power before dying and uttering the mysterious word: "Rosebud."

Touch of Evil
While a pretty pulpy film overall -- one that dares to fashion Charlton Heston as a Hispanic man named Miguel -- Touch of Evil allowed Welles the fun of playing the corrupt cop Captain Hank Quinlan. The noir is best known for its opening scene -- a ridiculously impressive and continuous 3-minute, 30-second tracking shot, (...). It's not really surprising that it's so epically cinematic -- Welles adapted Whit Masterson's novel and directed the film.

The Third Man
You must be patient with The Third Man. For a good deal of the movie, Welles is nowhere to be found until, suddenly, he's there in the kind of scene-stealing perfection that only a larger-than-life man like Welles could pull off. The actor plays Harry Lime, a man who has led one Holly Martins to Vienna, only to be killed before his friend gets there under very mysterious circumstances. The film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography -- Black & White ... no doubt for the scene below.

The Tragedy of Othello
Not quite the man you'd expect to play the Moor prince, Welles' Othello, which he directed and starred in, was plagued with a myriad of cash problems and a three-year shooting schedule due to repeated financial woes. Welles used his earnings from a variety of gigs to finance and finish the film. While it was never a hit in the U.S., the film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes.


23 novembro 2009

Big Cats posing

Aslan, 14, arrives in a convertible car ;)

Parvati, 3, does some yoga

Radha, a two-month-old female Golden Tabby Tiger
there are only 30 thirty 30 left in the world
(I have no words worthy of such beauty...)

Bija, 2, or my cat in a magnifying glass ;)

Barry Bland, this most talented - and patient - of photographers

click to buy at Amazon

More from a Telegraph Gallery

Ancient Pyramids Around the World

More from the Smithsonian's Mag

Teotihuacan, Mexico: The Pyramid of the Sun

Meroe, Sudan: The Nubian Pyramids

Ur, Iraq: Ziggurat of Ur

Peten, Guatemala: Mayan Pyramids of Tikal

Rome, Italy: Pyramid of Cestius

Aerial photographs taken during reconnaissance missions in World War 2

See them all at the Telegraph Gallery

 Craters surround a site at Peenemunde in Mecklenburg-Vorpommem, Germany on 2 September 1944 following an Allied bombing raid on the site where the V weapons were designed and tested
Central Caen in Normandy in France. This oblique image was taken by the Royal Air Force on 2 October 1944

An unidentified urban part of Germany, pictured on May 7, 1945

A picture taken on D-Day, 6 June 1944, of the Allied invasion. In the picture vehicles can be seen at the moment they disembark from landing craft

22 novembro 2009

Wishlist: George Carlin's Last Words

I was conceived in a damp, sand-flecked room of Curley's Hotel in Rockaway Beach, New York. August 1936. A headline in that Saturday's New York Post said "Hot, sticky, rainy weekend begins. High humidity and temperatures in the 90s send millions to the beaches."
At the Paramount Theater in Times Square, Bing Crosby and Frances Farmer starred in Rhythm on the Range. Meanwhile at Curley's Hotel on Beach 116th Street, Mary and Patrick Carlin starred in yet another doomed Catholic remake of Rhythm in the Sack.
For several generations Rockaway Beach had been a favorite weekend retreat for New York's alcohol-crazed Irish youth in search of sex and sun. Popular ethnic slurs to the contrary, the Irish do enjoy sex — at least the last ten seconds or so. But we must admit that Irish foreplay consists of little more than "You awake?" Or the more caring, sensitive "Brace yourself, Agnes!"
Not that my conception was the tale of two young lovers, carried away by passion and strong wine. By the time my father's eager, whiskey-fueled sperm forced its way into my mother's egg-of-the-month club, she was forty and he was forty-eight — certainly old enough to be carrying rubbers. The odds against my future existence were even longer: this particular weekend was a single isolated sex-fest during a marital separation that had lasted more than a year. In fact the preceding six years of my parents' marriage had consisted entirely of long separations, punctuated by sudden brief reconciliations and occasional sex-fests.
The separations were long because my father had trouble metabolizing alcohol. He drank, he got drunk, he hit people. My mother told me that my father hit her only once. (My older brother, Patrick, can't say the same.) His first marriage ended disastrously when his first wife died of a heart attack not long after one of his beatings. My mother's theory was that while my father had been very free with his hands where his first family and Patrick were concerned, he didn't abuse her, because she had four brothers and her dad was a policeman.
Their reconciliations were sudden because my father had a terrific line of bullshit. And because my mother really loved him. The two of them were crazy about one another. According to those who knew them they were one of the great pairings of all time. So while I sprang from something good and positive, by the time I showed up I was a distinct inconvenience. This marriage had gone south long before. As in Tierra del Fuego.
Getting conceived had been hard enough. Staying conceived literally required a miracle.

Apokalips ;D

Thanx to PR on FB ;)

Recibos Verdes!

Much ado about nothing ou a Bíblia segundo Saramago

No JL, de 3 de Novembro, Miguel Real, entre muitas outras coisas, escreve: “Em Caim permanece o estilo tradicional de Saramago (já amiúde anali­sado), tanto barroquizante (…) (uma floresta de palavras (subli­nhado meu) ilustra­dora de uma ideia) e anarquizante (uma espécie de every­thing goes), isto é, a con­fluência de um léxico antigo e ver­nacular – avonde (pp.16 – com um voca­bulá­rio moderno, dese­nhando um melting pot semântico, aparente­mente espontâ­neo, pelo qual a lógica do texto cria as suas pró­prias hierarquias gra­maticais e ideológicas (…)".

O estilo enxuto, descarnado, nunca foi dom de Saramago. O escritor explica tudo até à exaustão, o que não raro se torna enfa­donho. Dir-se-ia que há uma inundação de palavras, grande parte delas inúteis, como se tivesse ocorrido uma séria avaria na canali­zação provinda da nas­cente criadora. Por esta e outras razões, muita boa gente letrada costuma(va) afir­mar, em surdina (o politica­mente correcto vigora com força), que se a certos livros de Saramago fos­sem retiradas cem ou cento e cin­quenta páginas, não perderiam nada: pelo contrário, fica­riam mais claros, exac­tos, sucin­tos…
Quando assim acontece, alguma coisa está podre no reino da literatura. A arte de dizer muito em poucas palavras é difícil, dura, requer muito esforço, muita lima, muita monda… Escrever é cortar! Veja-se Miguel Torga, um dos mais elevados expoentes de concisão de escrita! Se lhe fosse reti­rada uma só pala­vra de uma frase ou de um verso, logo fica­riam man­cos…
Não posso acreditar numa arte literária em que palavra menos palavra vai tudo dar ao mesmo
Os lugares-comuns sempre ocuparam uma posição de relevo na obra roma­nesca de Sara­mago. Só do romance Caim extraí uma caterva deles: máqui­nas de encher chou­riços; do pé para a mão; dar tempo ao tempo; para aí virado; fazendo das tripas coração; carta branca; mal se podia ter nas pernas; dois coelhos de uma cajadada; a carne é supi­na­mente fraca (genial, o acrescento do advérbio); chorar o leite derra­mado  (expressão traduzida, à letra, do inglês: em português de lei seria: depois de o mal feito, chorar não é proveito; mas, veja-se a frase completa, para aquila­tarmos da genialidade de quem a engendrou: “Cho­rar o leite derramado não é tão inútil quanto se diz, é de alguma maneira instrutivo porque nos mostra a verdadeira dimensão da frivo­lidade de certos procedimentos humanos, por­quanto se o leite se der­ramou, der­ramado está e só há que limpá-lo, e se abel foi morto de morte mal­vada é porque alguém lhe tirou a vida (…)” (Lili Caneças não diria melhor!) …
E por aqui me quedo, que agora me não apetece fustigar mais. Uma nota ainda: durante a leitura do livro, ouvi deze­nas de vezes, a matraquear-me no pensamento, o diálogo do Ambrósio com a Senhora, tantos são os algos que o escritor utiliza ao longo do livro: “O que eu queria era algo, Ambrósio, algo de bom, entende, Ambrósio?!” “Entendo, sim, Mylady”… 
Analise-se alguma da tão autoproclamada ironia saramaguiana, asso­ciada a um humor do mais fino recorte. Examinemo-los, contextualiza­dos, em alguns passos de Caim:
“Falaste como um livro aberto, disse o querubim, e adão ficou contente por ter falado como um livro aberto, ele que nunca havia feito estudos. (…)”, pp. 30;
“(…) Esta espada de fogo, para alguma coisa servirá finalmente, basta chegar-lhe a ponta em brasa aos cardos secos e à palha e tereis aí uma fogueira capaz de ser vista desde a lua (…) acabaria por pegar fogo ao jardim do éden, e eu ficaria sem emprego (…)”, pp. 31;
“O velho das ovelhas não estava ali, o senhor, se era ele, dava-lhe carta-branca (hífen da minha respon­sabilidade), mas nem mapa de estradas, nem passa­porte, nem recomendações de hotéis e restaurantes (…)”, pp. 78;
“Há que levar em consi­deração o facto de caim estar mal infor­mado sobre questões cartográficas (…)”, pp. 80;
Acerca do jerico em que caim percorria o mundo através do espaço e do tempo: “Pena não haver ali alguém que soubesse interpretar os movimentos das suas orelhas, essa espécie de telégrafo de ban­deiras com que a natureza o dotara, sem pensar o afortu­nado bicho que chega­ria o dia em que quereria expressar o inefável, e o inefá­vel, como sabe­mos, é precisamente o que está para lá de qualquer possibili­dade de expressão (…), pp.81 (uma das mais pro­fundas definições de inefável jamais proferidas);
“O anjo fez cara de contrição, Sinto muito ter chegado atrasado, mas a culpa não foi minha, quando vinha para cá surgiu-me um problema mecânico na asa direita, não sincronizava com a esquerda, o resultado foram contínuas mudan­ças de rumo que me desorientavam, na ver­dade vi-me em papos-de-aranha (palpos-de-aranha?) para chegar aqui (…)”, pp. 88… etc., etc.
A conjugação verbal da segunda pessoa do plural é tão vulgar no Norte do País e em Trás-os-Montes, que toda a gente a sabe utilizar de olhos fechados. Ao invés, no romance Caim, as misturadas são frequentes. Do mesmo modo, o descaso votado à dife­renciação de tempos verbais não é despicienda. Apenas um exemplo dos muitos que poderiam ser dados “[Eva] ia, como alguém dirá, decentezinha, embora não pudesse evitar que os seios, sol­tos, sem amparo, se movessem ao ritmo dos passos. Não podia impedi-los, nem em tal pensou (pensara, tinha ou havia pensado), pp. 26.No tocante à conjugação verbal da segunda pessoa do plural, analisemos ape­nas algumas em que o autor se ensa­rilha e ninguém dos seus acólitos lhe acu­diu: “(…) Depois é convosco, aí já não posso nada, arranjem (arranjai) maneira de se juntarem (vos juntardes) à caravana, peçam (pedi) que os con­tratem (vos contratem) só pela comida, estou conven­cido de que quatro braços por um prato de lentilhas será bom negócio para todos, tanto para a parte con­tratada, quando isso acontecer não se esqueçam (vos esqueçais) de apagar a fogueira, assim saberei que já se foram (vos fostes) (…)”, pp. 31.
Poderia continuar o massacre, mas não vale a pena: a um Nobel todos os pecados lhe são per­doados. Os estudiosos que o dissecam, como as beatas o Missal Romano, lá se encarregam de lhe transformar os erros em virtudes e em novas regras… Que­rem continuar sentados ao redor da fogueira, soprando em sustenido as trom­betas da louvaminhice, rindo às gargalhadas quando o patrono conta ou escreve uma frase humorística, sem piada nenhuma, na espe­rança de conse­guir, pela devoção que lhe dedicam, a sua migalhinha de fama e prestígio, no universo globalizado da litera­tura! É tempo de proclamar: O rei vai mesmo nu… Nuinho em folha!
Outra das pechas que enxameiam o livro e a Língua Portuguesa: não tenho a menor dúvida, a menor ideia! Menor do que quê? Trata-se de um comparativo de inferioridade. Melhor seria escrever ou dizer não tenho a mais pequena dúvida ou a mínima ideia!
Sobre o tempo dos verbos, no discurso indirecto, há também pouca segurança ou mesmo ignorância: em pano nobelizado também chovem nódoas negras… Que dizer desta frase de Eva, no Éden, em resposta a Deus passeando pela brisa da tarde (título do livro do mesmo nome, de Mário de Carvalho, retirado do Génesis: “A serpente enganou-me e eu comi, Falsa, mentirosa, não há ser­pentes no paraíso, Senhor, eu não disse que haja serpentes no paraíso (…)”, pp.19.
Haja Deus! Nem um simples discurso indirecto Eva consegue encarrei­rar… “Não disse que haja. Não disse que havia, assim é que está certo, D. Eva Sara­mago del Rio! A mesma sábia que escreveu: “Se Deus existisse, já tinha vindo falar com Voltaire e Saramago”. Ó prosápia das prosá­pias, tudo é pro­sápia e vaidade!
Tempo de fechar a tenda desta escrita. Vou já arrumar o livro na estante, junto dos irmãos colaços. Tenho a esperança de que no futuro um dos meus trinetos ou tetranetos o tire da prateleira para o ler e possa, depois, atestar, com a segu­rança que o tempo costuma reiterar, ou retirar, às grandiosidades fabricadas no presente, nessa altura já pretérito muito perfeito: “Foi este o primeiro Nobel da Literatura de Portugal? De cer­teza?"
Quanto a mim, não insisto: desisto. Não sei se perdi ou ganhei tempo. Quando o embaixador de Espanha, Porras & Porras, apresentou as credenciais ao Rei D. Carlos para encetar as suas funções diplomáticas no nosso País, El-Rei terá comentado com um dos ministros do reino: “Não é pelo nome, é pela insistência”… Eu também não insisto mais. Nem que me caiam pedaços de céu velho em cima da cabeça. Mais não ponho na carta, já vai mui longa.

The Girl Who Hated Books

Antes de Caim - os trabalhos forçados das traduções, o Evangelho, e aqueles que leram «aquele código da treta»

"É um caso notável e exemplar a vários níveis: a origem humilde e a formação académica reduzida e de natureza técnica; a tarimba de longos anos numa, digamos, segunda linha literária, como revisor tipográfico, tradutor e consultor editorial; o ter começado tarde, ou melhor, sido arrancando para a fama quase na velhice, é caso para admirar. E o saber assumir não só a fama mas também as canseiras que acarreta: viagens, entrevistas, colóquios, discursos, cerimónias, autógrafos, revela um sentido de dever que se deve realçar.

Os trabalhos forçados das traduções e revisões deram-lhe muita leitura, experiência e estofo que ele soube aproveitar. O tempo de maturação é sábio, mas quem o compreende hoje? Saramago entendeu-o e aprendeu por si muita coisa, e servindo-se do talento que andou muitos anos escondido, a ganhar força, projectou-se subitamente de uma forma esplendorosa. De repente, com toda a gente a olhar para outros lado, isto é, para outros autores, um nome até aí muito discreto surge na ribalta, feérico sob uma imensa onda de aplausos.

Já ouvi muitas explicações para o fenómeno: a máquina de propaganda que foi montada, a grande influência de Pilar del Rio (e por que não também de Isabel da Nóbrega?); a militância comunista e o apoio que representa, etc. Tudo boas razões, talvez determinantes. Seja como for, a obra aí está.

Antes de tudo ele impôs um estilo original, algo difícil a princípio, mas envolvente e logo depois atraente. Foi, e é sedutor ir atrás daquela toada, aceitar os diálogos no meio da narração (coisa agora já corrente) reconhecer as vírgulas como pontos finais, eliminar muita pontuação e coisas assim. Ousadias que não se recomendam a um aprendiz, é certo, mas que um mestre pode fazer. Se souber. E que na sua obra são coisas menores face à efabulação que vai tecendo, ao visual, à cor da sequência narrativa que pega, larga e retoma, e onde as palavras têm um papel senhorial porque nos prendem, seduzem e gloriosamente nos subjugam e encantam. E uma vez que a sintaxe é segura, como não reconhecer que estamos perante obra de grande valor?

Partindo quase sempre de uma ideia forte e original, Saramago, com um discurso envolvente e contínuo, vai ao encontro do leitor – do bom leitor, entenda-se – e do seu desejo de sentir o sabor das palavras, o seu peso específico. Mas na força maior da sua própria natureza que é a frase: longas e contínuas relações de ideias, problemas, enredos e ressonâncias, umas vezes poéticas, outras vezes irónicas, de vez em quando sarcásticas, que se vão desenvolvendo sem cessar e por onde a história e a moralidade inerente passam, sem pressas.

Desaconselhável para atrair públicos novos, dir-se-ia. Mas o interessante é que isto, que a muitos ainda desagrada, a muitos mais já agrada e muito, e parece que cada vez mais, mostrando que o sentido estético das pessoas para a literatura está bastante à superfície. E que alguma educação literária seria suficiente para pôr milhões a exigir, e a usufruir, a grande literatura. Como interpretar o seu rápido e consistente sucesso, o número extraordinário de traduções de todos os seus livros e a aceitação quase universal da sua obra? Para nós, portugueses, é muito bom que tenhamos o mais falado, lido e celebrado Nobel dos últimos tempos. E mais reconfortante é sentir que não é um Nobel dado por engano e que boa parte da sua obra se vai aguentar bem.

Agora note-se a vingança da história face ao triste episódio Sousa Lara. O Evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo pode incomodar aqui ou acolá, mas tem páginas magníficas de tal sensibilidade e beleza que tudo transfiguram, dando profundidade estética e afectiva à própria problemática que levanta. Muitos ficaram a odiar Saramago por este belo livro, mas anos depois leram, aos milhões, com entusiasmo e sem reclamar O Código Da Vinci, que, literariamente, nem de longe lhe chega aos calcanhares. Ironias do destino.

João Boavida, As Beiras, graças a De Rerum Natura

Uma associação secreta de viajantes

Dizem-nos em De Rerum Natura:

Suponhamos, por um momento, que o empregado comercial Fernando Pessoa, o mestre Alberto Caeiro, os dois discípulos, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, e ainda o ajudante de guarda -livros Bernardo Soares eram membros da mesma associação secreta de viajantes. Será que o lema da associação, a senha passe-partout dos seus membros, poderia ser outra que não esta? Para que precisa de viajar com o corpo quem tão bem viaja com a alma?

Ilustrado com pintura e fotografia, este livro é um claro exemplo da filosofia da Guerra e Paz Editores cujo motto é “inventar os seus próprios livros”. Neste Livro de Viagem o editor reuniu textos de Fernando Pessoa, Álvaro de Campos, Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis e Bernardo Soares, oferecendo aos leitores uma visão sistemática da viagem na obra pessoana. Com toda a certeza, nunca nenhum leitor viajou com Fernando Pessoa “ele mesmo” e com os heterónimos, “outros que talvez sejam ele”, como nesta peculiar publicação que o editor, em posfácio, justifica.

O Livro de Viagem chega às livrarias a 23 de Novembro, numa edição cartonada, colecção Três Sinais. Uma edição Guerra e Paz, porque é preciso virar a página.

21 novembro 2009

a "twenty-page sex scene featuring the two principals, with Mr. Darcy, furthermore, acquitting himself uncommonly well."

so says Martin Amis. Writers on Jane Austen's enduring appeal:

Jane Austen– born a year before the American Revolution– remains a hot literary property. ATruth Universally Acknowledged: 33 Great Writers on Why We Read Jane Austen (Random House, $25), edited by Susannah Carson, explains her eternal appeal.
• Lamenting Austen's death at 41, Virginia Woolf reflects on how Austen's work might have evolved had she lived longer, perhaps becoming "the forerunner of Henry James and of Proust." Woolf calls Austen "the most perfect artist among women, the writer whose books are immortal."
• Writing about Pride and Prejudice, Martin Amis confesses that, having read the novel five or six times, he would perhaps relish a more detailed conclusion involving a "twenty-page sex scene featuring the two principals, with Mr. Darcy, furthermore, acquitting himself uncommonly well."
• Amy Heckerling explains why she set Austen's 1815 Emma in 1990s Beverly Hills in her 1995 movie, Clueless. "The book has the pace of youth ... fast, restless, and exuberant."
• Calling Pride and Prejudice "a pure joy to read," Anna Quindlen writes of her emotional identification with its heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, who is "so alive, so riveting, so much one of us, only better."

An In-Depth Look At the Waldseemüller map

Click to access Smithsonian.com:

20 novembro 2009

Nosferatu (1922) + M83's Skin Of The Night

Love Song for a Vampire

Rock stars storm the movie soundtrack world

'When you're writing a song, it's like you're the director, scriptwriter, cinematographer, everything. You're trying to create this little world, and although that's liberating, it's also a real head scratch. When you're just coming up with one part of the process, it's liberating in another way."
Alison Goldfrapp is trying to explain, I suspect to herself as much as anyone else, why she and her musical partner, Will Gregory, spent most of the summer frantically writing the score for Nowhere Boy, Sam Taylor-Wood's biopic of the young John Lennon, when every shred of common sense suggested they should have been finishing the next Goldfrapp record instead. "It's enjoyable and fascinating to try and complement something that already exists," she continues. "You're doing something in parallel. It's a weird space to get into, but really interesting."
Not only is the space "weird", it's increasingly full of pop stars taking a busman's holiday. Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O composed the music for Spike Jonze's forthcoming adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have composed the score for the film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road, while Badly Drawn Boy (Damon Gough) has written the soundtrack to Caroline Aherne's new full-length feature The Fattest Man in Britain, which airs on ITV over Christmas. Even Jarvis Cocker made a humble offering to Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr Fox.
The duo behind Goldfrapp initially got involved in Nowhere Boy as a favour. "Sam asked if we could help," says Gregory. "They were tearing their hair out trying to get the edit right, so we gave them a scattering of little things on the proviso that if it worked, great, if not, no problem." Their involvement grew until they found themselves completely committed to the film: "We were slightly freaking out because we were in the middle of our own album, but it seemed too good an opportunity to miss." Karen O, meanwhile, used to go out with Jonze, and the two remain friends, but "in the end I was there for one reason," she says. "To make music for a beautiful movie based on a seminal children's book."
Gough – who was specifically targeted by Aherne and her collaborator, Jeff Pope – says he was "chuffed" to be asked to contribute to the story of a tragically obese man who hasn't left the house for 22 years. He recognised an affinity with Aherne's work. "Sad but uplifting is my genre, too ... I cried halfway through the script. I stopped, picked up my guitar and wrote the first theme."
Although there's next to no money to be made in writing for film, and all along the line the musician's vision is subordinate to that of directors, editors and producers, the chance to be a mere cog in a much larger machine seems to offer welcome relief from the essentially solipsistic nature of songwriting. All that autonomy, freedom of expression and relentless self-analysis can be burdensome.
The call from Aherne rescued Gough from a three-year period of acute self-consciousness following his last record, Born in the UK, during which he had avoided the studio entirely. Writing for film was a way to escape the inside of his own head. "One of the hardest things as an artist or musician is that you're expressing yourself, and you sometimes feel you're not ready to do that," he says. "When something like this comes along, you can detach yourself from it emotionally. I felt attached in many ways, but when you're writing music for someone else, you can step back. Basically, it's not about me – that's what makes it easier. Trying to please other people is different and enjoyable."
The compositional process is often less about literally matching each note to the action on the screen, and more about capturing a sense of the underlying atmosphere and emotion. Karen O and her collaborators, a scattering of US indie-rock alumni, would convene each day in a "rundown studio in Echo Park, LA, and more or less improvise music based on my gut reaction to raw footage we were given by Spike", she says. "The process was all over the place, orchestrated in a free-form, very informal way. The best music came out of working towards a specific emotional theme – say, Max's longing and isolation – rather than a specific scene. It's the closest thing to method acting, getting to dangerous and vulnerable feelings."
Nowhere Boy, on the other hand, was "very much about understatement," says Goldfrapp. "It's an intense drama, and we tried to underscore the moods and tensions of this dysfunctional family in a way that didn't get in the way. My personality isn't present. There are vocals, but used to give femininity to the character of [Lennon's mother] Julia."
A vital aspect of getting the music right was pointedly ignoring the elephant – or rather, the walrus – in the room. In the case of Nowhere Boy, "we wanted to avoid [the Beatles] at all costs," says Gregory. "Some chord sequences came out and it was like, 'Oh no, that's All You Need Is Love, isn't it? We can't have that!' It's not about the Beatles, it's very much about an adolescent who is the young John Lennon but doesn't have that clear musical identity yet."
The democratic necessity of film-making may be a worthy and rewarding one, but it brings major creative compromises. "The most beautiful piece of music, if it doesn't fit the picture, bye bye," sighs Gregory. He recalls one memorable screening when "suddenly we were face-to-face with all the strange bods, executive producers, and they all had opinions".
"But they were all really bloody good opinions, and they really know their stuff," Goldfrapp chips in. "We heard some horrendous stories, about some guy who worked on a film for two years, slogging his guts out, and then got sacked. By comparison, we had an amazing time. They could hear what we were trying to do and trusted us."
Nowhere Boy is a low-budget, independent Brit-flick. Gough's experience writing the soundtrack for About a Boy, the 2002 adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel, starring Hugh Grant, was rather different. Packing his anorak and tea cosy hat and heading to Hollywood, he admits he was "nearly sacked four or five times. People were like, 'Who's this weird English guy doing our music? Lets get Hans Zimmer to do it.' But [directors] the Weitz brothers were so behind me and so helpful."
Even with Aherne – whom he regards as a kindred spirit and a "joy to work with" – things became tense. Near the end, "Caroline came in and criticised some of the stuff I'd done for scenes. We argued, and I won. The next day she texted me and said, 'I'm really sorry, you were right.' But it got to the point of me saying, 'Oh, let someone else do the music, then.'"
Clint Mansell, former frontman of Stourbridge "grebo" rock band Pop Will Eat Itself and once a Top of the Pops regular, is now an old hand at turning out elegant movie scores, working regularly with Darren Aronofsky (Pi, The Wrestler) and, most recently, on Duncan Jones's award-winning Moon. Based in LA for nearly a decade, he has experienced his fair share of tussles with the studios. "I worked on one film where the producer told me he wanted something more neutral," he says. "Neutral? They're frightened of emotion, basically. Compromise is a part of it, but my best work comes when it's a very close creative team. If you find the right person and project, you end up with something you could never have thought of on your own, and that's the kind of magic I'm looking for."
When pop musicians venture into this kind of territory, there's often a suspicion that it's because the humble three-minute symphony is no longer quite good enough. Mansell certainly regards writing music for movies as a clear step forward. "I was getting to an age where I found the format of verse-chorus-verse so dull, so nullifying," he says. "I'd been doing it for so long. Part of the thing about being in a band is: that's your sound, OK, stick with it. You keep regurgitating the same ideas. Scoring required a different impetus and a different set of requirements. After my third or fourth film I realised that, whilst you can have a style, it has to be different each time. What works on piano for one film might not work for another. It's very liberating."
For Gough, the freedom comes not from rejecting the conventions of song structure but from being forced to approach his music from various angles, dissecting it, changing tempos, styles and instrumentation. Film also offers the opportunity to reach beyond a musician's natural constituency. Go to Spotify and type in Badly Drawn Boy and by far the most popular track is Something to Talk About, the main theme from About a Boy. The album, too, is his most successful. "I've had more payback from that than anything else in terms of the music getting used on other films or on TV," he says. "You don't account for that when you're doing it, but it has an emotion that lives on."
The soundtrack album, however, can be a frustrating beast, neither fish nor fowl. Gough is releasing the music from The Fattest Man in Britain, but he emphasises that "it's no big deal, I'm not hoping for big things". Karen O, on the other hand, has also released the songs from Where the Wild Things Are and is convinced that it can be enjoyed on its own terms.
"I'm happy that there's a body of work that can be appreciated in and outside of the film," she says. "It was supposed to have some pop appeal that didn't pander to little kids alone but to everyone. If people like the music and it has a life of its own, I'm happy, because we put so much fucking heart into it. The song Hideaway is one of the best I've ever been a part  of writing."
There are no plans to release the Nowhere Boy score because, says Gregory, the music isn't song-based. "I'm not sure how relevant it is without the film. It's a lot of long, held notes and plinks on the piano." Instead, they're hoping to finish the new Goldfrapp record before Christmas, describing it as "a lot more up" than their last, Seventh Tree. They agree that working on the film brought fresh ideas and a new impetus to their day job.
Similarly, for Karen O the process of writing for her own project or for someone else's film ultimately "all blurs together. I'm never sure why I started writing music in the first place, and the mystery of that prevails through writing for a storyline and narrative. I leave it up to uncertain gut reactions and catalysts. I thought the only way to be even remotely successful in making empathic music for the movie was to make it as personal as possible. To make it ours."

What's in a name? More than you might think

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A London-based translation firm is offering parents-to-be the chance to check the meaning of prospective baby names in other languages to avoid inadvertently causing their offspring future embarrassment.
Celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes might have thought twice about naming their daughter Suri if they'd known that it means "pickpocket" in Japanese, "turned sour" in French, and "horse mackerels" in Italian, suggest Today Translations.
For 1,000 pounds ($1,678), the company's linguists will carry out a "basic name translation audit" of names, checking their meaning in 100 languages, or more for an additional cost.
While open to everyone, the firm said it expects the service is likely to attract celebrity clients, who are known for giving their babies unusual names.
Other celebrity baby names it has checked include Kai Rooney, the newborn son of English soccer player Wayne Rooney, whose name means "probably" in Finnish, "pier" in Estonian, and "stop it" in the west African language of Yoruba.
And while musicians Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale may have known Zuma meant "peace" in Arabic when choosing their son's name, they may not have been aware it also translates as "Lord frowns in anger" in the Aztec language of Nahuatl.
Some unusual celebrity baby name choices are beyond easy translation however, the company admits, such as Jermajesty -- the son of Michael Jackson's brother Jermaine.

Christopher Plummer as Tolstoi, Прекрасно!

Enjoying each other costs the planet much less than enjoying its resources.

1-with-leaf.jpgEAT YOUR VEGETABLES

All you have to do is stop eating beef. Worldwide, beef production contributes more to climate change than the ­entire transportation sector. The carbon footprint of the average meat eater is about 1.5 tons of CO2 larger than that of a vegetarian. Cutting beef out of your diet will reduce your CO2 emissions by 2,400 pounds annually.



You can save money and your environment by giving up bottled water. The production of plastic water bottles together with the privatization of our drinking water is an environmental and social catastrophe. Bottled water costs more per gallon than gasoline. The average American consumes 30 gallons of bottled water annually. Giving up one bottle of imported water means using up one less liter of fossil fuel and emitting 1.2 pounds less of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


For one day or afternoon or even one hour a week, don’t buy anything, don’t use any machines, don’t switch on anything electric, don’t cook, don’t answer your phone, and, in general, don’t use any resources. In other words, for this regular period, give yourself and the planet a break. Every hour per week that you live no impact cuts your carbon emissions by 0.6 percent annually. Commit to four hours per week, that’s 2.4 percent; do it for a whole day each week to cut your impact by 14.4 percent a year.


Tithe a fixed percentage of your income to non-profits of your choice. If an average U.S. family contributes 1 percent ($502.33) of its annual income ($50,233) to an environmental non-profit, they could offset 40.7 tons of carbon dioxide per year. Many of our public health and welfare services are tied to consumer spending which, in turn, depends upon planetary resources. If you want to help, don’t go shopping. Just help.

5-with-leaf.jpgBUILD A COMMUNITY

Have dinners with friends. Play charades. Sing together. Enjoying each other costs the planet much less than enjoying its resources.


Get around by bike or by foot a certain number of days a month. Not only does this mean using less fossil fuel and creating less greenhouse gases, it means you’ll get exercise and we’ll all breathe fewer fumes. If you can stay off the road just two days a week, you’ll reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 1,590 pounds per year.

7-with-leaf.jpgCOMMIT TO NOT WASTING

Wasting resources costs the planet and your wallet. Let your clothes hang-dry instead of using the dryer. Take half the trips but stay twice as long. Repair instead of rebuy. The list goes on. In the summer, for every degree above 72°F you set your thermostat, you save 120 pounds of CO2 emissions per year, and if you wash your clothes with cold water you can cut your laundry energy use by up to 90 percent.


We must act as though we care about the world at work as much as we do at home. Company CEOs or product designers have the power to make a gigantic difference through their business, and so do the rest of us. In commercial buildings, lighting accounts for more than 40 percent of electrical energy use, a huge cause of greenhouse gas production. Using motion and occupancy sensors can cut this use by 10 percent.


Take one day off from TV—the average American watches four and a half hours of TV a day—and try voluntary eco-service instead. Those four and a half hours a day watching TV add up to 825 pounds of carbon dioxide each year.


We are all interconnected. Every step toward living a conscious life provides support to everyone else who is trying to do the same thing—whether you’re aware of it or not. We are the masters of our destinies.

YES Magazine

What Makes a Real Vampire?

A Cinematical take :)

The Twilight Saga has whipped up a frantic fervor in fangirls, opening doors to female fandom while sticking incessant and neverending thorns in the folks who want Bella and Edward to go far, far away. But it's also brought up a pretty interesting argument: What makes a vampire? I teased about the notion yesterday when I wrote about the Daybreakers PSA; however, can we really define what makes a vampire beyond sharp teeth and a thirst for blood? And if we can, what is necessary and what can be finagled?

Vampires have been around forever in some shape or form, flying through the worlds of folklore and darkness before shuffling into their modern guise of pale, 19th century blood drinkers. In 1819, John William Polidori presented The Vampyre ushering in this idea of the mysterious man entering high society, seducing young women with vampiric charm. "In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a wanner tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection." From then on, no lady was ever safe.

Yet while Polidori helped set the stage, the fame belongs to Bram Stoker who, at the end of the century, released Dracula onto the world. From a world begetting Bathory and Vlad the Impaler, a web of vampiric abilities were born, bred from his own creative mind and the folklore that came before. The Count possessed eyes that would flame red with "triumph," and a body that would not reflect in mirror, one that was able to age or de-age, and couldn't pass a threshold uninvited. Dracula also possessed super strength, the ability to hypnotize and control the mind, being safe from death not delivered by beheading or stakes to the heart, gravitational defiance, weather control, and of course, shapeshifting. He doesn't like garlic and religious iconography like holy water and crucifixes, has a hard time with running water, and must rest in Transylvanian dirt.

Stoker created such a definitive view of the vampire that most of us think we know what makes a vamp, but it's still a game of pick and choose, just as it was to Bram. We don't see many vamps with hairy palms, and we love F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu, even though it rips the gothic lust away and leaves a husk of a man, hunch-backed and hideous, while simultaneously ushering in the idea of death by daylight. Bela Lugosi's Dracula brought on the iconic image. Christopher Lee's Dracula could not shapeshift nor grow younger. Hammer Films added the lesbian, same-sex element.

And by the late '70s, notions of vampirism, same-sex attraction, and intricate gothic romance were revitalized with Anne Rice. Garlic, stakes, and crosses went out the window. The aspects of the dangerous sun remained, although with great age and blood comes the ability to survive even that. There's no shape-shifting, only some powers of flight, and a sense of hard frailness was added to their bodies with reflective skin that loses its human qualities over the years.They read minds, some can bring on fire, kill through special powers... Her vampires became a yin yang between sensitivity and scares, softness and power. And they all came from an evil spirit entering the body of Queen Akasha of Kemet.

And then the '90s ushered in a new waves of vampire bred from Young Adult fiction. Christopher Pike's The Last Vampire series expanded on Rice's world, life in the daylight coming from thousands of years of life, and vampires bred from a spirit entering an unborn child. And with L.J. Smith and The Vampire Diaries, sun-acceptance became linked to the powers of lapis lazuli. Vampiric blood healed as well as ushered death, and true change took more than just a bite-bite lusty scenario. And of course, the idea of good and bad vampires -- strength coming from human blood, but life being possible from animals. Likewise, her Night World series brought up vampire lamia, that blood drinkers who could be born or made.

From this world came Joss Whedon's Buffy. Out of crazy demons came half-human demons. He merged the ideas of gothic beauty with Nosferatu horror, the sexy vampires turning into wrinkly-faced killers when the teeth elongated for attack. Sunlight was only harmful directly, and allowed vamps like Spike to avoid sizzles under battered blankets. Vampires had no souls, but could be given them back through hard trials and gypsy curses. Becoming the undead would also mean getting down to a basic part of one's inner make-up, which might not be realized, say, Vamp Willow's bisexual twist. And, one can't forget, the inevitable learning of Vamp Fu.

And with a new millennium comes Stephenie Meyer's vampires. Of course, her focus isn't on the vampire, but rather the romance, so her vampires are framed by her story. They sparkle, which might seem ridiculous, but definitely reflects Rice's translucent skin (as well, Meyer's older vamps have similar skin changes). They too can step out in the sunlight, and have no distaste for religious iconography or susperstition. Meyer's vamps have special gifts that are exacerbated when they're turned (mind-reading, electric shock, seeing the future), and they are much harder to kill -- it must be by dismemberment and fire. Like others before them, they can live off animals. And lastly, rather than vampiric blood, they have venom that will vampirize those who are not drained dead.

So what is it that makes a vampire? Does one need a certain number of the previously created vampiric aspects? Is sunlight really the definitive key? So many over the years have challenged that notion. I would say blood is key, but is anything else essential?

Speak Easy: The Simplest Languages to Learn

[my bold]

Many people have always wanted to learn a second language. Even though most of us have slogged our way through a few years of high school language classes, comparatively few are fluent in a language other than English, as opposed to countries in Europe where learning a second, third, or even fourth language is de rigueur. Speaking another language can be useful when traveling, it can enrich our cultural experience, and it can be fun to discover the quirks and peculiarities of another language.

But which language to choose? Many languages are useful for one reason or another, but regardless of the lyric beauty of Italian or utility of Mandarin, for most people, it comes down to what is the easiest to learn. Few people have time to take intensive language immersion courses, so we want to feel like we’re progressing quickly. No one likes endless staged classroom conversations about the weather—we want to be able to navigate a foreign city or read a newspaper as quickly as possible. There are almost 7,000 living languages in the world … so where to start?

It’s All Relative
Many language experts recommend that when choosing a second language to study, it’s important to consider other languages’ relation to your own. Languages based on entirely different grammar systems, or those that use another alphabet are definitely going to be more difficult to learn. For English speakers, learning to speak Russian would require learning the Cyrillic alphabet, and learning Hindi would require learning to read and write in Devanagari, besides learning the grammar and vocabulary.

Languages that use the Latin alphabet and are more closely related to English are a better bet. English is on the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, meaning that its closest living relatives are languages like German and Dutch. German syntax (sentence structure) is more regular than English’s, although it can be frustrating to learn to put verbs at the end of the sentence. Also, once a speaker learns the basic German phonemes (sounds made by each letter), the language is pronounced exactly as written—no silent letters or special pronunciation rules. Both languages use compound words and extensive prefixes and suffixes, making learning the vocabulary easy. Another bonus is that much of English vocabulary already comes from German, so the words easily relate to one another. It’s not hard to remember that haus = house and wilkommen = welcome.

Is Romance Effortless?
German vocabulary may be easy to grasp, but other languages are set up in ways that are slightly more similar to English, even if they’re further apart on the linguistic tree. Languages like Spanish, French, and Italian all have syntax that is very easy to understand, and when selecting a second language, most people choose one of the Romance languages (the languages that descend from Latin). Of these, Spanish is generally accepted to be the easiest to learn. One big hurdle for English speakers is learning that in other languages, verbs take many different forms, but once you learn how to conjugate the verbs based on tense and speaker, Spanish grammar is highly regular and logical. The spelling and pronunciation are also extremely easy—no silent letters, and each word is spoken exactly as written.

French and Italian may be closely related to Spanish, but these languages both have features that make them more difficult. French pronunciation and spelling are highly irregular, and contain many phonemes that are difficult to master. In fact, French is conserved by a national body that decides how the language will be written and spoken, and a single sound can be spelled multiple ways. Italian has its own share of frustrating intonations, and if the speaker can’t master the correct sound of each word, the meaning is totally lost. The good news is that Romance languages have a similar vocabulary—the Spanish, Italian, and French words for “cow” are vaca, vacca, and vache—so once you speak one of these languages, picking up another can be a breeze.

Use It or Lose It
Anyone can sign up for a language class or listen to Rosetta Stone tapes, but the bulk of language-learning is done in the real world. Doing conjugation exercises in a workbook can only take you part of the way, so when choosing a language, it’s important to choose one that you can practice regularly. In this respect, Spanish is a good choice, since it’s spoken by so many people in the United States and abroad. It’s easy to find strangers to converse with, which will expose your ear to different accents and dialects, and it will force you to broaden your vocabulary. Other languages leave fewer opportunities for regular practice, but anywhere in America, it’s possible to tune in to Spanish television and radio, find Spanish-language newspapers, or see Spanish signs to translate. Using the language regularly is the most important part of learning, and no language is more ubiquitous in our culture today than Spanish is.

Ultimately, being able to learn a second language depends on your relationship with English, which isn’t exactly known for being an easy language to learn. Although English has some easy characteristics, such as non-conjugated verbs, it has a vocabulary that surpasses most other languages of the world, and it is full of irregularities. It can be hard even to learn the simplest foreign language if your grasp of English isn’t complete. Also, more important than ease is how you’re going to use a language. Spanish is incredibly helpful in the Western Hemisphere, but if you desire to learn about classical music or philosophy, German is more important. If your future plans include traveling through Europe or Africa, French is a more important lingua franca. Most of all, regardless of other considerations, the easiest language is the one that you’re anxious to learn. If your lifelong goal has been to speak Polish and visit your ancestors’ homeland, you’ll find it an easy task, even if experts deem it the most difficult language in the world. The experts also have something else to say … the second language may be difficult, but the second one makes the third one even easier. 

Thanx to Mawalien