The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece!
Where burning Sappho loved and sung,
here grew the arts of war and peace,
Where Delos rose, and Phoebus sprung!
A beautiful poem that shows among other things that Lord Byron was not entirely straight on the past participle and the preterit. Last week my darling wife confirmed that we’re going to Greece over Spring Break: two days in Athens, three days in Crete. The Isles of Greece! The Isles of Greece!
In preparation for the trip, Nancy and I are studying Greek. There’s a line from Julius Caesar; Casca says, of a remark by Cinna overheard but not understood, “It was Greek to me.” This puzzles me, because the point is Cinna was speaking Greek, so it’s not much of a metaphor to say something was “Greek to me” if it actually was Greek. Hell, it was Greek to everybody. Anyway. Mine is not to question Shakespeare.
Greek, it turns out, is a tough language. It does not bear much similarity to, say, English. Or Spanish. Nor is fluency in Pig Latin much help. For example, “yes,” is something like “nay.” This is the sort of thing that makes me and Casca shrug our shoulders.
I’ve had spotty success in the language department. By “spotty” I mean uniformly disastrous.
Years ago, we went to Paris, and learned a little French. Very little. I often make snide remarks about the French, but only out of a deep abiding sense of inferiority. French is a musical language. This is no hyperbole, it is literally music. The French equivalent of “okay” is “d’accord,” but the way the French say it, it’s two notes, low and then high, like a bird song. In the shops, on the street, “d’accord,” “d’accord.” It’s like a little melody.
My utter inadequacy was brought home to me when I had to ask directions from a truck driver. The address I was looking for was 1 Quay Street. I had mastered the somewhat baby-talk sounding “ous est” opening for “where is” questions and “Rue de Quai” wasn’t that hard, because, hell, I was standing on the dang Rue de Quai. The stickler was “one.” “One” is easy. It’s “une.” “Une.” How hard is that?
“Ou est une?” I asked. “Uhne?” he asked. Evidently I could not even say “one.” “Oohn,” I repeated. “Uhhhne?” he asked. “Ooohn?” “Uhhhn?” Then he stuck out his thumb, and I was confronted by a deranged Fonzie, with his thumb out, saying “Uhhhn?” It took me about three more iterations of “Uhhhn,” a thumb waved in my face, to realize he wasn’t sticking out his thumb, he was counting! When the French count, they start with the thumb instead of the index finger. I didn’t know that.
So anyway, over Spring Break I’m going to Greece.
Pray for me.
Pray for Greece.