Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kafka writing “in einem Zug”: not “on a train” but “at a stretch” or “in one go"

On 23 September 1912, Franz Kafka wrote in his diary about writing "Das Urteil" the night before "in einem Zug". In Ross Benjamin's new English translation of Hans-Gerd Koch's 1990 edition of Kafka's diaries, the passage reads (as quoted by Frances Wilson in "The New York Review of Books"): "This story 'The Judgment' I wrote at one stretch [in einem zug—literally: 'on one train'] on the night of the 22 to 23 from 10 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning." But that's no train: doing something "in einem Zug" is like swallowing a drink in one go – just as Kafka wrote the story "at one stretch." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2023) 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Subscribing to Offbeat Jazz in Basel for the first time this millennium

On 27 April 1995, the day of my job interview in Basel, I saw a poster for the Jazz Festival happening at the time, so I ended up at a John Scofield concert that night at Atlantis (which I didn't yet know was a legendary club). After attending many concerts put on by Offbeat Jazz in the following years, I had a subscription for their events in 1997-1998 and 1998-1999. But with Andrea pregnant in summer 1999, I didn't renew my subscription. But today, after I noticed that it would cost less than all the concerts I want to attend in the coming year, I bought an Offbeat subscription for 2023-2024. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Martín Espada’s poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100” and Juan Antonio Corretjer’s poem and Roy Brown’s song “Oubao Moin"

Martín Espada's 9/11 poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100" was the title poem of his 2003 "New and Selected Poems", a collection I first read in 2004. Over the years, I've used "Alabanza" in many courses. In preparing my forthcoming course on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico", I read poems by Juan Antonio Corretjer and discovered Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Roy Brown's songs based on Corretjer's poems, including "Oubao Moin", whose coda repeats "alabanza" with a joyous melody. I wondered if Espada was thinking of Corretjer's poem and/or Brown's song when he wrote "Alabanza", and today, in Espada's book, I saw that his epigraph is from the end of Corretjer's poem. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2023)

Monday, August 28, 2023

On Charles Dickens as “sentimental, theatrical, moralistic, and controlling” (Zadie Smith) — and the end of “Our Mutual Friend"

In "Killing Dickens", in "The New Yorker", Zadie Smith writes that, after a childhood reading "far too much" Dickens, she developed "the usual doubts and caveats about him—too sentimental, too theatrical, too moralistic, too controlling." In my three years of reading Dickens, I saw the sentimentality of the early novels disappear, enjoyed the theatricality, and ignored moralizing. But I found the ending of the otherwise wonderful "Our Mutual Friend" (1865) "controlling": when Bella Wilfer's story ends with her discovery that John Rokesmith/Harmon's courtship of her was staged by him and her benefactors the Boffins, I wondered why she didn't become paranoid but instead appreciated how her friends had manipulated her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2023)


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Bassist Romy Brauteseth with two bands at the Bird’s Eye in Basel

At the two concerts I saw by bassist Romy Brauteseth at the Bird's Eye in Basel on Thursday and Friday, she presented two projects (in her debuts as a bandleader): a quintet with Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Lukas Wyss (trombone), Ewout Pierreux (piano), and Siphiwe Shiburi (drums), and a two-bass quaret with Wyatt, Shiburi, and bassist Raffaele Bossard. The music for the quintet peaked in several codas with polyphony from Wyatt, Wyss, and Pierreux over the driving rhythms of Brauteseth and Shiburi; the music for the quartet was "spacy" (as Brauteseth once put it) and full of textures, with one highlight being Shiburi adding the wall behind him to a drum solo. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2023)

Friday, August 25, 2023

Three years of reading Charles Dickens’s novels in chronological order

Yesterday, I finished reading all of Charles Dickens's completed novels in chronological order (I started about September 2020): "The Pickwick Papers" (1837); "Oliver Twist" (1838); "Nicholas Nickleby" (1839); "The Old Curiosity Shop" (1841); "Barnaby Rudge" (1841); "Martin Chuzzlewit" (1844); "Dombey and Son" (1848); "David Copperfield" (1850); "Bleak House" (1853); "Hard Times" (1854); "Little Dorrit" (1857); "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859); "Great Expectations" (1861); and "Our Mutual Friend" (1865). (I also read the five Christmas novellas.) If pressed to recommend a starter, I'd still fall back on my favorite from before I started this reading project: "A Tale of Two Cities", with "Hard Times" and "Little Dorrit" tied for second place. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2023)

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Suddenly nervous when the time comes to deliver the message

When he was on his way down to carry the message to her, he felt confident that he could deliver it without any difficulty, but after he knocked and heard her saying that he could come in, the soft tone of her voice made him hesitant, and when he saw her as he stepped in, her beautiful face framed by her hair pulled back tight behind her ears left him speechless. As she welcomed him, he did not know what to do with his hands and stepped back and forth from one foot to the other. Only when his wings stopped fluttering could he deliver his annunciation to the young woman. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2023)


Jost Haller, Annunciation, ca. 1450/1460, Kunstmuseum Basel

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The whiteness of Google search results

To make Spanish vocabulary flashcards with Anki, I look up images using Google Mexico ( When I need images of people, as I did today for the word "subir" (to go up, as in up the stairs), it strikes me again and again how the people in the pictures are overwhelmingly white. The effective (but unintended?) default of a web search using the world's main search engine gives me images of white people going down stairs (or, with another word I searched for this morning, "viuda", images of white widows). If for some reason you doubt the world's biases, pay attention to your search results: they'll reveal those biases to you. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August 2023)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Forty years ago, 20 and 21 August 1983: The Grateful Dead at Frost Amphitheater, plus Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Keystone Palo Alto on Sunday evening

Forty years ago yesterday and today, I went to the two Grateful Dead concerts at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The Saturday show was the first time I heard "Shakedown Street" live, while the Sunday show was the first I heard "Let It Grow" live, which went on to become one of my favorite songs by Bob Weir. That Sunday evening, I then also went down to the Keystone Palo Alto to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, who were touring on their debut, "Texas Flood", which had come out in June. I don't think I've ever gone to two different concerts on one day again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 August 2023)


Sunday, August 20, 2023

West Virginia University will drop language teaching even though 2,700 students are taking language classes

With West Virginia University planning to eliminate its Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, students there who want to learn languages will be offered “alternative methods of delivery such as a partnership with an online language app or online partnership with a fellow Big 12 university.” In other words, they'll be outsourcing language learning to other institutions or to private companies like Duolingo (who will surely add this to their claims about having more learners than there are in public educational institutions in the United States). Yet the department "is teaching more than 2700 students this semester", over ten percent of the students at the university's main campus in Morgantown. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 August 2023)


Saturday, August 19, 2023

Fatigue, a heatwave, a fan, a thought for those experiencing even higher temperatures

I wasn't actually exhausted when I wrote yesterday about words for "exhausted" in English. I'd just noticed how many such words I've learned in Spanish, which made me ponder the English words. But later yesterday afternoon, the heat really got to me, so I didn't go to the free music festival in downtown Basel last night (Em Bebby si Jazz). And the only reason I went out today into the heatwave was to buy another fan for the apartment, as we were one short. But though 35 Celsius is high for Basel, it would surely seem like a cold snap for many of the other regions currently experiencing record high temperatures. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 August 2023)

Friday, August 18, 2023

The English language has (at least) thirty-two words (or phrases) for “tired"

The idea that the Inuit languages have "fifty words for snow" is assumed to mean that the Inuit need to distinguish types of snow because of the physical environment they live in. If this were true, then the large number of words in English for "tired" would also mean that English speakers are tired in so many ways that they need many words to distinguish types of fatigue: all in, beat, bushed, clapped out, cream-crackered, dead (on your feet), dog-tired, done in, drained, drowsy, enervated, exhausted, fagged, fatigued, flagging, jaded, jiggered, knackered, lethargic, sapped, shagged out, sleepy, sluggish, spent, tired (out), tuckered out, wasted, weary, whacked, wiped out, worn out, zonked. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 August 2023)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Robert Lakatos, Raffaele Bossard, and Dominic Egli at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 17 August 2023

From the first moments of tonight's concert at the Bird's Eye in Basel by Robert Lakatos (piano), Raffaele Bossard (bass), and Dominic Egli (drums), I could relax into the music and hear the musicians interacting with each other. One peak moment came late in the frist set at the end of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston's 1956 tune "Never Let Me Go", in a coda with cascades of sound from Lakatos, vigorous and ominous bowing from Bossard, and thundering mallet rolls from Egli. The first set then closed with a superb performance of Keith Jarrett's 1978 tune "Bop-Be", and the second set continued with more beautiful playing from the whole trio. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The first night of Rá’s journey in Laura Mora’s “Los Reyes del Mundo” (2022)

On the first night of his 350-kilometer trip with four friends from Medellin to Nechí to claim the land he inherited from his grandmother, nineteen-year-old Rá (Carlos Andrés Castañeda) enters a truck stop, goes to the counter, and orders two bags of chips and a soda. The man behind the counter opens two bottles of beer and takes them to customers sitting across the room. When he returns, Rá places his order again, but the man continues to ignore him. From this point on in Laura Mora's Colombian movie "Los Reyes del Mundo" (2022), the five travellers confront a world where they never can tell whether they will be listened to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Writers Guild of America strike and the absence of late-night comedians

The Writers Guild of America strike started on 2 May 2023. For me, its primary effect has been that I don't spend time every morning watching excerpts from "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", "Late Night with Seth Meyers", and "The Daily Show." In the absence of their overviews of major news in the United States (such as Trump indictments), I can still get information from other sources. But I miss their takes on other things, such as the brawl on the dock in Montgomery, Alabama, last week. I can read about it online, but I would have loved to hear Roy Wood, Jr., respond to it on "The Daily Show." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 August 2023)

Monday, August 14, 2023

“Sonora”, a 2019 movie from Mexico by Alejandro Springall

Alejandro Springall's movie "Sonora" (2019), which I watched on Netflix last night, is set in Mexico in 1931 when the United States closed its borders because of the Great Depression. The movie gradually gathers characters who are trying to get to Mexicali for one reason or another, including Lee Wong (Jason Tobin), a Mexican butcher of Chinese origin, and his wife Maria (Patricia Ortiz) and daughter Anita (Abbie del Villar Chi), who are leaving their home because of Mexican racism against the Chinese. It's a road movie, but most of it is off the road, as the characters cross the Sonoran Desert where there is no paved road to be found. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 August 2023)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

On the number of people in the United States learning languages in schools or with Duolingo

There are always brief statements when a Duolingo exercise is loading on the app. One says something to the effect that there are more people in the United States learning foreign languages with Duolingo than in schools. My second thought was that that's not very surprising: Duolingo is used by people of all ages, while schools teach foreign languages only to those eighteen and under. But my first thought was that it is also an effect of the underfunding or elimination of the public teaching of foreign languages in the United States, which is part of the ongoing drive for the privatization of public goods there (and in other countries, too).  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 August 2023)

Saturday, August 12, 2023

My first concert, 11 August 1978, Linda Ronstadt and Livingston Taylor, Centennial Hall, Toledo, Ohio

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the house party in the Bronx where DJ Kool Herc laid the foundations for hip-hop when he selected instrumental breaks from funk and soul songs, strung them together with two turnables, and did some improvised rhyming to encourage the dancers. I was eight years old at the time, and lived in Palo Alto, so of course I wasn't there! But yesterday was also the forty-fifth anniversary of the first live concert I attended: Linda Ronstadt, with Livingston Taylor opening. By then I lived in Ottawa Hills, Ohio, and the venue was just under a mile away: Centennial Hall (now Savage Arena, as I've just learned). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 August 2023)

Friday, August 11, 2023

Heidi and the Sesemann family move from Frankfurt to Florida

When the Sesemann family moved from Frankfurt to Florida, Miss Rottenmeier moved with them, and Klara insisted on taking Heidi with her and having her go to school in their new city of Orlando. One day, Heidi came home from school with a form to be filled out by her parents to allow her to be called "Heidi" rather than "Adelheid" at school. It turned out, though, that Miss Rottenmeier was acting as Heidi's guardian, and just as she herself refused to call Heidi by her preferred name, she refused to sign the form to authorize her teachers to call her Heidi. Already homesick, Heidi grew increasingly depressed and even suicidal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 August 2023)


Thursday, August 10, 2023

My early assumption that “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was an old folk song

In October 1971, when I was seven years old, Joan Baez released her version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". Although I had grown up surrounded by the music my parents were listening to (Bob Dylan, Baez, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors), I must have never listened to The Band until I was in my mid-to-late teens, because for many years I assumed that Baez had recorded an old folk song from the nineteenth century. When I finally listened to The Band's eponymous 1969 album that features the song, I was surprised to discover that it had only been written by Robbie Robertson (1943-2023) for that album. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Florian Arbenz’s “Conversations #9 – Targeted” with Arno Kryger and Greg Osby

I briefly noted the concert in June by drummer Florian Arbenz's Truth, with Arno Kryger (Hammond) and Percy Pursglove (flugelhorn), during the Bird's Eye Jazz Club's Hammond week. I didn't mention the wonderful arrangements of Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance", Victor Feldman and Miles Davis's "Seven Steps to Heaven", and George and Ira Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy". Along with three Arbenz originals, the three tunes feature on Arbenz's excellent album "Conversations #9 – Targeted", with Kryger on Hammond and Greg Osby on saxophones, which came out in April this year. "I Loves You, Porgy" is particularly haunting as it hovers with shimmering organ chords and Osby's slow and beautiful melody lines. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Dreaming a chapter of “Don Quijote"

In early 1983, I read selections from Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quijote" (1605-1615) for a course (in English). I read chapter VIII with great pleasure one afternoon – the adventure with the windmills. I hadn't planned to keep reading, but I did. But while reading chapter IX, I fell asleep, and when I woke up and started chapter X, I was confused. I started paging back through chapter IX to find where I had fallen asleep, and discovered I had dreamed an entire chapter of the book, and even turned the pages while dreaming. By the time I figured out what had happened, I had forgotten that imaginary chapter of the Quijote. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 August 2023)

Monday, August 07, 2023

Remembering Professor Karl Pestalozzi (1929-2023)

In the Winter Semester of 1998-99, his last semester at the German Department at the University of Basel, Professor Karl Pestalozzi (1929-2023) taught a seminar on Contemporary German Poetry that concluded with a live reading by the poets discussed during the term, including Peter Waterhouse, Michael Donhauser, Brigitte Oleschinski, and Durs Grünbein. Each poet was introduced by students from the seminar. As part of our group's Grünbein introduction, I read a German translation of my "Waves of Clear Water", whose title comes from a Grünbein poem, and which recounts how I first read his work. After a long and productive retirement, Professor Pestalozzi died last week at the age of 94. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 August 2023)

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Immortality and Mortality in Duolingo

At first, I didn't come across any of the odd sentences that Duolingo is famous for, but then for several lessons in a row there were many sentences about how the horses closed the windows, the cows opened the doors, and the pig or the dog cooked dinner at the farm. Then those sentences disappeared, and everything seemed normal for a while, until the other day one sentence was that Duo (the owl in the Duolingo logo) is never going to die. That swaggering sentence made me laugh, but this morning a new sentence took an unexpectedly grim (if realistic) turn: "Todo el mundo tiene que morir" — "Everybody has to die." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 August 2023)

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Don Quixote in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

I've commented already during my reading of Charles Dickens's novels on his references to Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel and character Robinson Crusoe. One such reference is in a list of characters from David Copperfield's childhood reading that also includes Don Quixote. Just now, I found another reference to Quixote in "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), when the newly-wealthy Mr. Boffin becomes obsessed with books about misers: "[He] pursued the acquisition of those dismal records with the ardour of Don Quixote for his books of chivalry." My personal twist here is that I have also just read the passage in Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quijote" (1605-1615) when his neighbors burn those chivarly books. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 August 2023)

Friday, August 04, 2023

Discovering the riveting poems of Manuel Ramos Otero

One anthology for the course on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico" includes Spanish-language poems from Puerto Rico and four Central American countries. I was already familiar with Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) before I began preparing the course and found the two anthologies in libraries at the University of Basel. I've previously noted my further appreciation for Juan Antonio Corretjer (1908-1995) and Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959). Today, I finally read the poems by Manuel Ramos Otero (1948-1990), a poet who died of AIDS in San Juan in 1990 after living in New York for many years. They are powerful and riveting, especially the work from his posthumous collection "Invitación a polvo" (1991). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 August 2023)


Three poems from the anthology are here, with Portuguese translations. 

Thursday, August 03, 2023

A sisterly scene on the tram in Basel

On the tram, several sisters, aged about eight to eighteen, were talking both Turkish and German to each other. The youngest then said something that was clearly in English, though I didn't catch the words at first. The oldest reached out her hands to the youngest, reminded her how to hold them, and asked her in German if she was ready. Then they began chanting and clapping: "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can." I realized then that the girl had said "Pat-a-cake". When they finished, she squealed with delight and shouted something in Turkish that must have meant "again" — and they did it again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A new sense of “drain the swamp” in a statement by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

The expression "drain the swamp" goes back to President Ronald Reagan, who used the figure to refer to Washington DC as a swamp of corruption and bureaucracy. Even former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke of "draining the swamp" in 2006. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's statement in response to the latest indictment of former President Donald Trump implies something else: "Washington DC is a 'swamp' and it it unfair to have to stand trial before a jury that is reflective of the swamp mentality." DeSantis is counting on his listeners' understanding that a DC jury might be "swamped" by African Americans, like the whole city is known to be. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 August 2023)


See this piece by Kevin Kruse for the DeSantis statement. 

A long list of "drain the swamp" references can be found here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

“The property of strangers” in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865) and “the kindness of strangers” in Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947)

In Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), in a conversation with John Rokesmith, the Secretary for her benefactors the Boffins, Bella Wilfer says what it felt like to have almost been married off to a man she'd never met, John Harmon, and then to suspect after Harmon's death that Rokesmith himself was interested in her: "Am I for ever to be made the property of strangers?" (She does not know that Rokesmith is actually the still-alive Harmon.) When I read that line, I thought of Blanche DuBois's final words in Tenneessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947) as an inversion of Dickens: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 August 2023)