Tuesday, January 13, 2004

The Russians Are Coming! (IraqNow on Language) 
Well, I unexpectedly rendered my services as an interpreter today.

The Iraqi Police dropped a couple of Russian college kids off on our doorstep today. Word had gotten out that I spoke some Russian, and oops! Off I go! (our ops sergeant major had heard me flirting with a Russian waitress one day in a Longhorn Steakhouse in Tampa two years ago. Funny how the most innocuous things in my sexual history seem to come back to haunt me.)

I hadn't really spoken any of it in nearly a dozen years. I can do a reasonable conversation with only a slight American accent, I'm told. For about 12 seconds.

But any port in a storm.

Turns out these guys were chemistry students hitchhiking across Arabia. (And I thought I was adventurous hitchhiking around Modoc Co, California in college!)

The story just didn't quite add up to me, but they had no contraband--they weren't even from a heavily Muslim area--just two Russian guys with a deathwish, I guess. So we had no reason to detain them.

We got the Iraqi police to call them a cab, gave them 10 bucks to go to the Russian Embassy in Baghdad, a bit of food, and off they went.

It was more Russian than I'd spoken in a decade. I used to speak it some around the house, with my former fiancee, who majored in it in college. (I minored in Russian lit. What an idiot. No pun intended.) Its wide-eyed urgency makes it a wonderful language for petty but affectionate bickering. Or even not-so affectionate bickering, but that wasn't us.

I've been teaching myself German over the last year, but I probably blew the last three months of study today. I lhave a love/hate relationship with the German tongue. It has no parallels when it comes to the issuing of commands, orders, and the discussion of intangibles, while still associating even the most ethereal objects with gender-identifying articles that act like ballast to anchor the language to its thugish, barbaric roots.

A German doesn't speak of love. He capitalizes it. Even in its most general, most abstract, most Platonic form, he assigns it rock-solid specificity, akin to the English proper noun.

"And now abide the Faith, the Hope, and the Love--these three. But the greatest of these is The Love."

But even that's not enough: he imbues "The Love" with a gender. He chisels a vagina on it and calls it "The She Love"
("DIE Lieb.")

What could be more charmingly neolithic than that?

I love it.

Nevertheless, speaking Russian has a way of blowing out the German memory card in my brain. I probably lost three months of work inside of 15 minutes.

Splash, Out


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