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Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Harry Potter et Moi

 

I finished reading one of the Harry Potter books in French! I started with book three, the Prisoner of Azkaban, because it’s my favorite of the series. I thought I’d be struggling through each page, with a French/English dictionary at the ready, but I read it like, well, like a novel. It’s not that I understood every word, but a lot of the words that were unfamiliar could be figured out by the context, and having read the book a number of times in English didn’t hurt either. There were some oddities in the translation, though. Like, Neville Longbottom’s last name was translated as Londubat, and Severus Snape’s last name was translated to Rogue. Muggles are Moldus, and Hogwarts is Poudlard. Diagon Alley is Le Chemin De Traverse (The crossroad), and Dementors are Detraqueurs (possibly because the word dementir is in there, as a French word, meaning “to deny.”

Unforgivably, they changed the names of the OW.L.s and the N.E.W.T.s, the school-wide tests, and gave them non-funny names to make the initials work in French.

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“What’s that about?”

One big discovery. I thought ennui was always translated as boredom; that’s certainly how we use the word in the United States. But it was used over and over in the book to mean “trouble,” and that was the alternate definition given on Google Translate as well. For one word to mean both “boredom” and “trouble,” suggests what the French think of feeling bored: that it’s the gateway for getting into trouble.

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“Trouble? I don’t see trouble.”

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“Look Mommy, I found trouble!”

There were some words that were fun to say, like hululement for the hooting of owls, haletante for panting, and chuchotta for whisper.

I think I’ve become addicted. I’m just not sure to what.

Coincidentally, one of the family-friendly cable channels decided to run seven of the eight Harry Potter movies this past weekend, as an ad for the upcoming Beauty and the Beast movie, starring Hermione (or the actress who played Hermione, Emma Watson, whatever). Oddly, they left out movie number five, the Order of the Phoenix, and therefore I felt obligated to order it On Demand to see why, because I didn’t remember what could have been so objectionable as to make them leave it out.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist by nature, but it bothers me, why was this the only movie left out, of the eight? Certainly other movies in the series were equally dark. The Order of the Phoenix is, basically, about the danger of pretending that everything is fine, when everything is clearly not fine and about to get much worse. There’s also an ultra-feminine aide to the minister of magic, with a penchant for alternative facts; and the minister himself, who’s afraid to see what’s right in front of him, looks suspiciously like Mitch McConnell (Majority leader in the U.S. senate). Ralph Fiennes, as Voldemort, though, is a whole other level of evil from what’s currently in the white house. We have more of a Wormtail as president (including the crazy hair), with a dark lord as advisor, whispering in his ear.

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I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Harry Potter is in the air right now in the United States. It’s been on my mind all year, and it’s been coming up more and more in comparisons in the news, and in tweets from J.K. Rowling, wondering if people actually got the message of her books.

I need the comfort of knowing that Harry Potter was able to prevail, though he had magic on his side, and, as far as I know, we don’t. I’m going to read through all of the HP books again, in French and maybe in Hebrew, both to practice my language skills and to give myself a chance to fill up on hope, because my tank has been getting dangerously low.

One of the most powerful lines in the Order of the Phoenix movie comes from Hermione, trying to make Harry understand that his isolating behaviors are playing into Voldemort’s hands: “If it’s just you alone, you’re not as much of a threat.”

I always have to fight against my own isolationist tendencies, to remember that I’m not alone, and that it’s the people who have hurt me who have made me feel so alone, and unsafe, not my friends. The Harry Potter message, over and over, is that you can’t do it alone. The flip side of that message being, you can do almost anything, if you have help.

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Learning Spanish

 

I have been trying to teach myself Spanish. As an aspiring social worker on Long Island, I have belatedly come to realize that knowing some Spanish would be a good idea. Of course, I have unreasonable expectations of myself. I expect to be fluent (by, say, next Fall), to the point where I won’t need a translator to help me understand a client who speaks no English, and I will be able to catch every nuance of the different variations of Spanish spoken by Mexicans, Dominicans, Salvadorans, and maybe I’ll pick up some Portuguese while I’m at it. The fact that I can barely say Hello and How are you, at this point, is irrelevant.

I’ve been using a basic Spanish language learning program through my local library, online, and I learn a few new words each day. Ayuda (Help!) looks like it will come in handy. The thing is, I love languages. I’m still trying to work on my French and Hebrew (since childhood) without much success, but with endless effort and enthusiasm. I am currently reading the Harry Potter books in French, and have a Hebrew copy en route.

There’s something wonderful about learning a new language. It gives you an automatic sympathy for the people who speak it that you may not have had any other way. There’s been great joy in discovering that I can pronounce a lot of Spanish words exactly as they are spelled (as opposed to French, where letters drop out without warning). I was thrilled, until Y’s and double L’s started to sound like G’s out of nowhere.

I have tried to practice my Spanish on the dogs, but they are not interested in learning a new language at this point. Cricket is used to some French (un, deux, trois, Jump!) and Butterfly doesn’t mind a few questions in broken Hebrew (Aypho ha kibble? Where is the kibble?) But there’s a limit to their tolerance for my insistence on learning every language but theirs. How have I not learned to woof, bark, arf, yip correctly after all this time? It’s obscene!

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Un, deux, trois…

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“Yum!”

Certain words seem to impress them more than others, though, like empanada, tres leches, and el queso. I think I must say the food words with a particular tone to my voice that marks them out as special. We are a family that is very food motivated.

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“Mmm, stairs taste good!”

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“Is it worth it?”

As I try to build my Spanish vocabulary, some phrases seem especially important, like: No Hablo Espanol (I do not speak Spanish), and No Comprendo (I don’t understand); and Lo siento (I am sorry) will also come in handy.

I was interested to see that To Write, in Spanish, is escribir. I guess it’s the same root as Scribe, but it makes me think of scribble. I love the idea of being a scribbler. It makes being a writer seem less stuffy and more playful. Then there’s una pregunta (a question), which makes me think of a pregnant woman, as if every question is filled with a sense of possibility and new birth, which it is, isn’t it?

Eventually, I will have to learn more grammar and sentence structure, but for now I’m satisfied with certain phrases that I can make use of right away: Como esta usted? (How are you?), Me llamo Rachel (My name is Rachel), tengo dos perros (I have two dogs), and Gracias (Thank you).

         

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“A bientot! Oops, wait that’s French.”

Hillary is Hermione

 

Sometime over the past few weeks, after the twentieth or twenty-first media expert complained about how careful and studied Hillary Clinton is, how she plans and researches everything, and she’s so boring compared to Trump’s constant impulsiveness, I started to think that Hillary is Hermione, from the Harry Potter books, all grown up.

I was a Hermione as a kid: the smartest girl in the class, asking for extra homework, and hated for it. We have a lot of nasty, derogatory terms for kids who study a lot: grind, swot, egghead, drudge, etc. My classmates wanted less homework and more recess. I found recess, and the freedom to make endless social mistakes, unbearable. Even J.K. Rowling, clearly a Hermione herself, did not believe the world was ready for a smart girl as a protagonist. She guessed, and she was right, that people would prefer to believe that Harry, a boy, and an average student who never tried very hard, was the ultimate hero.

Even when Bill Clinton told their love story, on Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, he focused on Hillary’s oversized glasses and too-big hair, her intelligence and her off putting attitude, instead of her beauty. He was the cool kid, and she was the swot. He didn’t want to work any harder than he had to, and she spent summers volunteering to help those less fortunate. He was more Ron Weasley than Harry Potter, the way he tells it, just without the red hair.

On Monday night, on The Late Show, Steven Colbert finally trotted out a cartoon version of Hillary Clinton to match the cartoon Trump he’s had on staff for months. And his team’s guiding principle in how to create that character seemed to be to assume that she was on the autism spectrum. They may have meant to say that she was two-faced and out of touch, but they managed to portray her as unable to read other people’s emotions, and robotic in her portrayal of her own emotions. It’s an interesting idea. Hillary clearly has had issues fitting in with her peers. She never quite gets the joke. She tries very hard to get social things right and always gets something wrong.

Bill Clinton could be forgiven for having affairs, but Hillary could not be forgiven for having thick ankles, or “cankles.” And then when she wore pants suits to cover those offending ankles, she was criticized for her outfits. She could never find the right hair-do to avoid criticism, or the right clothes, or the right words. And people wonder why she is so private. No, they call it secretive, not private. A man could be private and reserved, but Hillary is secretive and suspicious. A man who thinks he’s qualified to be president is called ambitious and confident. Hillary, for the sin of thinking that she can be a good president, is considered power hungry and out for herself.

Bill Clinton is Teflon. He has had real, proven, character issues and yet people still love him and believe in him. And yet all of his flaws and mistakes stick to Hillary like she’s fly paper. Instead of believing that Hillary loves her husband despite his flaws, people believe that she married him for political gain, and remains married to him for political gain, despite the fact that she would have actually gotten a lot more public praise for divorcing him instead of sticking with him through the Lewinsky scandal. And by the way, why do we call it the Monica Lewinsky scandal and not the Bill Clinton’s penis scandal?

My sense is that, with her awkward social skills, someone like Bill Clinton offers a relief. He does the reaching out. He teaches her how to fit in better; he helps her to relax. No wonder she chose Tim Kaine as a running mate – he does the exact same thing.         But if I had any doubts about Hillary Clinton’s heart, watching Chelsea Clinton’s speech on Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention squashed them. Chelsea loves her Mom, and she is, clearly, deeply loved by her mother.

The question is, can we as a country tolerate a president who is smarter than she is cool? Can we tolerate having a president who has to work at being socially confident? Because there’s no question that she will work her ass off to get things done, and that she has the brain power to do the job. But she’s not Obama, with his soaring rhetoric and self-confidence, and she’s not folksy like Bill or like George W. Bush. Hillary is more like the female version of George H.W. Bush: very serious, studied, hardworking and bright, stiff and careful.

Cricket and Butterfly have not been thrilled with all of the television coverage of the conventions, if only because it keeps them up too late at night. Though, Cricket seemed to be intrigued by Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday night. She was certain she heard him say “go,” or “out,” or “pee.” She can pick these sounds out of any speech, or just imagine them. But he was talking during prime pee trip time, so that could explain her confusion. Butterfly slept through all of it. She has no interest in speeches or elections or conflict, unless the stress leads me into the kitchen for snacks, and then she’s wide awake and eager to participate. We all have our priorities.

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“Did he say ‘pee’?”

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Butterfly didn’t hear a thing.

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Until there were snacks.

By the way, Butterfly, if she had a chance would be a loyal Hufflepuff, through and through, and Cricket would feel comfortable in Ravenclaw, because she’s very bright, but not especially brave. I’d like to believe that I could be in Gryffindor, like Hermione, and like Hillary, being brave even when it’s the hardest thing to do.

I’m working on it.

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Loyal Butterfly likes to keep Platypus company when he’s on edge.

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“I do have claws, Mommy. You will see them very soon.”

Talking in Circles

 

As a child, I was taught in my Jewish school that we are not allowed to write the name of God (G-d) full out, or else we are taking God’s name in vain. You can’t even spell the Hebrew version of Yahweh out loud; you have to replace some of the letters with safer letters. Often, orthodox Jews will replace any name of God with “Hashem,” which means “The Name.” It’s similar to the He-who-must-not-be-named business in the Harry Potter books, except that we were avoiding saying the name of the ultimate good rather than the ultimate evil. Part of it is an attempt to retain the power, the specialness, of the name of God. Just like in Harry Potter, the fear is that if you say the name of He-who-must-not-be-named (Voldemort, ahem) too frequently, you’ll forget to be afraid of him.

All of this makes me think about how hard it is for humans to say what we mean. In our intention to avoid hurting someone else’s feelings, or to avoid criticism, we often end up being polite, or vague, and therefore, being misunderstood. I love that dogs are direct. I may not always like what they have to say (or when they choose to say it), but at least I know what’s going on with them. Cricket is very clear when she is angry at me for withholding the extra treats she demands. Butterfly is also very direct, and never uses big words. If she barks, it either means she wants to eat what you are eating (and is convinced that Cricket, because she can jump up onto the couch, will have first dibs), or she needs to go outside. If she flattens herself on the ground, she wants to be picked up. If she smiles, it’s because she is actually happy (most likely because food is anticipated). If she licks your hand, she wants to be scratched. If she’s wary, she backs away. If she’s really scared, she shivers (at the vet’s office or during a storm, usually). She’s not vague, or blurry, or sly. And because she’s so clear, her needs are easy to meet.

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Butterfly wants scratchies!

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Cricket is grumpy.

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Those are my shoes Butterfly is sitting on. I can’t imagine what she’s trying to say.

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“Feed me!”

A lot of the time, though, people are vague because they really don’t know what they are feeling, or how to express it clearly. I find myself asking question after question of people who think they’ve been clear and clearly were not. I’m often in the position of wanting to scream, “What the @#$% are you trying to say?!” But I rein myself in. Mostly. I will try to ask a question or two, or ten, to help them get to their point. Sometimes they do not realize that they are wandering, or being unclear. Sometimes they are as frustrated as I am, and believe that I should just understand them without their help. Sometimes they know exactly what they mean, but English is their second language, behind the jargon of their profession, and we both remain un-elucidated.

My rabbi, at times, throws in a word that he assumes everyone knows, like Hapax legamenon – which means, a word that appears only once in a text, like the Bible. He momentarily forgets that we were not all in rabbinical school with him, where that word came up all the time and was so useful! I have an automatic allergy to words like that, because I hated sitting at the dinner table as a kid and being the only one who didn’t understand what was being said, especially after my brother started to study vocabulary words for the SATs. But my rabbi thinks each one of these words is like a jewel, a gift! And he tosses them into conversation with glee. I am considering preparing a glossary for new members of the synagogue with words he uses often, like: prolegomenon, apotropaic, apocopation, merism, inclusio, and, of course, hapax legamenon. He is, in most ways, exceedingly down to earth, but those particular words of his profession just make him delusionally happy.

But, some people use jargon intentionally to keep others out of the club. In certain professions (academics, medicine, and law come to mind), you spend a great deal of your time learning the language of the profession before you can ever be trusted to think your own thoughts. This bothers me. I mean, sure, it’s good to be precise, and when you go into more depth on a particular subject it helps to have vocabulary with you to light up the dark, but does it have to be so alienating to outsiders? To what end?

Cricket understands every word I say, or do not say. She has especially become a master of the ellipsis, so that I can’t even leave the important words unsaid, because she knows I was going to say them anyway. I wonder what she would do with the rabbi’s rabbinical school jargon. She probably wouldn’t let him off the hook, the way the humans do. She would have at least a few more questions for him. He says that dogs can’t come to Bible Study because some congregants may have allergies, or deep-seated fears of canines, but I wonder. Maybe he’s just afraid that Cricket will stand on the table, barking insistently, “but why?!” And he won’t have a handy dandy hapax legamenon with which to answer her.

 

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“But why?”