Where You Been?

Looking for a job, interviewing for jobs, getting a job, and moving to job.

And settling in. The first semester is almost over, and I finally have caught my breath.

I reckon I won't have tons of time to blog, but I am working on my Best of 2008: music, movies, shows, food, and all the rest of things that make life worth living.


Tibetans Rise Up

You might have seen on the news that there are riots in Tibet. The best source that I know of personally to comment on this is the entry "Lhasa Burns" by Jason Sangster. I met him and his wife, Leigh, in Kathmandu several years ago, and they lived in Lhasa for a year and a half. They have friends there and sources of information.

The situation is extremely grave because it appears that Tibetans are attempting to protest this year because of the Olympics in Beijing. I have one good friend in Lhasa that I am very worried about. Let's hope for the best and that the government of the PRC becomes wise and compassionate.


Made in the Shade

So those nice boys in the Red Stick Ramblers from Lafayette and Baton Rouge are asking folks to check out their latest video, "Made in the Shade." I think they'd like you to mosey over on to CMT.com and request it as well.

I unfortunately missed them recently when they made a pass through the Northeast. Only by a day because I was out of town and then went through New York City the day after they played at Joe's Pub. I hope they had a good show. I'll catch them next time 'round or when I go to Louisiana to visit friends.


Where's My Southern Accent?

I often get asked why I don't have an accent: Texan, Southern, or otherwise. Tibetans have even asked me this question, and nobody likes to disappoint Tibetans, nor get suspicious looks about whether or not they are really from Southeast Texas. I reckon nobody in this case means me, but I never had an answer that made any kind of sense.

That is until now, and it's courtesy of Dr. Megan E. Melançon, sociolinguist and Cajun. From the webpage for Cajun English from the PBS series, "Do You Speak American?", Dr. Melançon states:

"Although there are many dialectal oddities in Cajun English, five features strike the listener right away: vowel pronunciation, stress changes, the lack of the /th/ phonemes, non-aspiration of /p/ , /t/, and /k/, and lexical differences. The use of these features has resulted in no southern drawl at all in Cajun English. Cajuns talk extremely fast, their vowels are clipped, and French terms abound in their speech."

Finally, an explanation!

No Southern drawl at all in Cajun English. Since I spent a lot of time growing up around both sets of my Cajun grandparents from Louisiana, I must've developed a Cajun English dialect. I have been told, not by sociolinguists, however, that I do have more of what has been vaguely described as a "Louisiana" accent, especially when I'm tired or tired in that special way when I have had a drink or two.

I'd also add that not only do Cajuns talk extremely fast, but they do so with their hands. The old joke that if you tied a coonass's hands behind her back, she couldn't talk ain't too much of an exaggeration.

I was starting to think that it was because I'm adopted that I didn't have a noticeable accent, but I vastly prefer this explanation. I was adopted at 6 weeks and moved to Texas when I was 3 so I don't think my genetics no matter how Yankee they are (and they are very Yankee indeed) can resist the juggernaut that is a Southeast Texas drawl without a good reason.

No drawl, no foul, right?


Best of 2007 - Bonne Année!

I haven't posted in such a long time because of various commitments, some more pleasant than others. The job search is going well, it seems, but it is time-consuming so I thought I'd do a quick (or not so quick) Best of 2007 list.


Anselm Kiefer - Heaven and Earth. Massive, brooding, and now I want to visit his estate/compound in France.

Hiroshi Sugimoto. So nice I went twice.

Graphic Modernism from the Baltic to the Balkans, 1910-1935. An unexpected pleasure from a recent visit to the New York Public Library. Modernism reigns supreme in this tiny yet delicious exhibit.


My music comes achronologically so these are not necessarily releases from 2007.

Max Richter - Memoryhouse. Maria, The Poet (1913) I found incredibly compelling.

Lonely China Day - Sorrow. Fascinating post-rock glittering with Chinese folk influences from what will soon be again The Middle Kingdom if the Han can beat the demographic clock.

Sawako - Hum. The process is that of a precocious child, limpid field recordings mixed with softly chanted vocals.

Lily Allen - Alright, Still. Allen's song Knock 'em Out reworking of the New Orleans' classic Big Chief is either genius or heresy, but this album is such an exuberant slice of summery pop that I don't care.

The Red Stick Ramblers - The Red Stick Ramblers. Cajun fiddle tunes, Western swing, and traditional jazz? Grand Tasso gives me shivers.

The Associates - Sulk. Startling production. A lusher New Wave/New Romanticism reimagining of Bowie's Low.


Shane K. Bernard - The Cajuns: Americanization of a People. Very informative about the cultural damage done to Cajuns, particularly as a result of World War II.

William Gibson- Spook Country. Bill never disappoints. Ever.

Simon Reynolds - Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984. I am behind the times as usual. Educational, eye-opening, and essential if only to figure out who's getting ripped off at the moment by the flavor de jour over at pitchforkmedia.com.


Control. Ian Curtis biopic that revived my interest in Joy Division. A careful and extensive reevaluation of their corpus made me realize that Martin Hannett was so perfect for them that it had to be Fate.

Yojimbo. Again, I'm late to the party as usual.

The Color of the Pomegranates (Sayat Nova). Visually stunning.


M. Ward with Victoria Williams at Bimbo's 365 Club, San Francisco, February 7th, 2007. I can't say that I exactly enjoyed Victoria's set, but I was intrigued. M. Ward was amazing, even without a supporting band. I can't believe I hadn't seen him before since I've been into him ever since I heard Carolina long, long ago.

Jordi Savall - First Congregational Church, Berkeley, May 4th, 2007. Many thanks to Dex who had an extra ticket. Savall performed Suite d'un goût étranger by Marin Marais, which was such a treat. It was wonderful to see and hear Savall in his flowing black caftan.


Cajun French Language Tutorials

If you're looking for some help with your Cajun French, I'd advise you to click on over to Cajun French Language Tutorials. This site is run by James Leger who used to teach at Lamar University in Port Arthur, which is my hometown more or less. He helpfully provides the audio so you can hear just how all that Cajun French is pronounced. You can subscribe so that when he updates the site, you'll get a notification via email, a very useful feature.


Créole Cajun and -neaux to -no and Back Again

I was pleasantly surprised today that my blog was linked to by Michael Hébert in Evangeline Parish, writer of the blog CreoleCajun and that I got a subsequent bump in visitors from Louisiana, visitors that took a considerable and gratifying amount of time to read through my blog. Thanks for stopping by, y'all, and as Michael said, if you can help me out with Cajun French, I'd appreciate it.

Just to let folks know, both sides of my family were from Houma and those parts, but because of the stigma attached to speaking Cajun French in 1940s, my parents weren't taught by their parents. In fact, my maternal grandfather went so far as to change the spelling of his name from Babineaux to Babino in an effort to make his name seem less Cajun. My aunt had her name changed back to the original spelling some time ago in an effort to reclaim her heritage, a gesture I fully support.

It is extremely unfortunate that I didn't learn Cajun French from my grandparents, especially since I was lucky enough to spend a lot of time around them as a kid. They of course used it as a language to secretly communicate in around the grandchildren, although my grandfather did try and teach me some choice obscenities to say to my grandmother when I was about 5. I quickly forgot all those phrases since my grandmother would get so shocked.

Anyway, once I get done wrasslin' these dissertation, I plan on studying Cajun French when I can. I actually minored in French in college, but most of it didn't stick since I focused on reading. Now that I've learned a fair bit of spoken Tibetan by having a tutor for 2 hours a day while I was in Nepal, I realize that the only way to learn to speak a language is a lot of practice so if anyone hears of a teaching job for someone to teach Buddhism and Hinduism in Louisiana, I'd gladly take the opportunity to take speaking lessons in Cajun French while teaching.


Valse de Port Arthur, Part II

It's time to clear up a vocabulary item in a previous post, and it'll be about Port Arthur, since it was about the far edge of the Western frontier for Cajuns. But also especially since it got hit by Hurricane Humberto this past week quite suddenly and unexpectedly. No damage to my father's home, but it was a surprise: go to bed and wake up to a Category I hurricane.

I'm revisiting Valse de Port Arthur, and thanks to Yé Yaille, Chère!, Traditional Cajun Dance Music, by Raymond E. François, I now know what was transcribed as 'tit mom'.

Here's Mr. François' full transcription:
Verse 1
Eh, 'tite fille, j'va' m'en aller
Oh 'tite monde, aujourd'hui tu veux p'us m'voir.
Eh yé yaille! Toi tu m'as dit que tu m'aimer!
Oh, 'tit monde, aujourd'hui tu m'tourne le dos!

Verse 2
Eh, 'tite fille, t'as trouvé tu m'aimer p'us!
Oh, 'tite monde, aujourd'hui tu veux p'us m'voir,
Eh yé yaille! Ca fait d'la peine mais c'est te voir,
Ouais, tout l'temps j'va m'en aller au Port Arthur!

If you compare these verses with the other version that I discussed previously, you can see that verse 1 is vastly different. This doesn't really matter, for variance in Cajun songs is pretty standard, and the point I wish to discuss is the phrase 'tit' mom'. I wrote:
I suspect that this might be le môme which is a derogatory term meaning 'lad, kid'.

I couldn't have been more wrong. It's 'tit monde, and there is in fact another Cajun song by that very title.

Mr. François translates the above verses like this:
Verse 1
Oh, little girl, I'll go to Port Arthur! Oh, little one, today you don't want to see me anymore!
Oh, it hurts! You said that you love me! Oh, little one, today you turn your back on me!

Verse 2
Oh, little girl, you decided that you no longer love me! Oh, little one, today you don't want to see me anymore!
Oh, it hurts! It's sad to see you, yes, all the time! I'll go to Port Arthur!

So I suppose 'tit monde literally means, 'little everything', but Mr. François chose to translate it as 'little one' and leaves it untranslated in other transcriptions of songs in his book. Note that the narrator in this song is threatening to go to Port Arthur which was at this time a place to make money and the far edge of the Cajun diaspora.


Valse de Balfa, Part II

In an earlier post about the Balfa Brothers song, Valse de Balfa, I posted the lyrics and translation, and I made note of an idiomatic phrase, où mourir au bout de mon sang at the end of the first verse. Ann Savoy translates this as "or to end my own life", but I have come across another translation that sounds more accurate to my admittedly untutored ears.

It's from the wonderful book, Yé Yaille, Chère!, Traditional Cajun Dance Music, by Raymond E. François.
Here is the first verse again:
Quand j´ai parti de la maison
J´avais fait mon idée
J´étais parti pour te chercher, cher,
Où mourir au bout de mon sang.

Mr. François translates this verse thusly:
When I left from my house, I had made up my mind.
I was going to get you or die bleeding.

Although theoretically I have access to my good French dictionary, it is now in a box somewhere in the basement because of lack of space in my tiny room so I can't check it. However, it's more literal and implies violence of some sort which suits the theme of the song so I favor it.

Ah the joys of translation.


My Birthday

Since today is my birthday, I thought I'd share with you, the gentle reader, some art produced by others as well as the year of their birth who share this auspicious day as their natal day.

1524 Pierre de Ronsard
Je te salue...
Je te salue, ô vermeillette fente
Qui vivement entre ces flancs reluis;
Je te salue, ô bienheuré pertuis,
Qui rend ma vie heureusement contente !
C'est toi qui fais que plus ne me tourmente
L'archer volant qui causait mes ennuis;
T'ayant tenu seulement quatre nuits,
Je sens ma force en moi déjà plus lente.
ô petit trou, trou mignard, trou velu,
D'un poil follet mollement crêpelu,
Qui à ton gré domptes les plus rebelles:
Tous verts galants devraient, pour t'honnorer,
à beaux genoux te venir adorer,
Tenant au poing leurs flambantes chandelles!

1862 O. Henry
O Henry - Biography and Works

1885 D. H. Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover

1903 Theodor Adorno
Frankfurt School: The Theodor Adorno Internet Archive

1935 Arvo Pärt
The Arvo Part Mp3 Page


Cantabridgean Again

Say hello to my little friends.

That's Heraclitus on the left, Euclid on the right.

I'm finally somewhat settled into my new apartment in Cambridge, although it's become an exercise in minimalism since the room I occupy is 9' by 10', and that includes the closet that was built into that space. There is some storage space in the basement, but I had to clear out old broken chairs and lots of bottles and cans that were laying around down there. Old tenants move out and leave the most ridiculous things such as boxes of old college catalogs and tampons, and this eats up the space for us new tenants.

The weather has been lovely, and this has certainly eased the transition and the exploration of my new 'hood. Close to MIT, I've been discovering the restaurants and shopping so I don't starve nor go about in tattered rags. Embarrassingly, I've been fighting a spot of jet lag.

Thanks to lots of help from Shawn, I got everything out of my old storage space yesterday, although I had forgotten some of the things I had and do not have. I have a great poster of Man Ray's The Observatory Time - The Lovers that I had picked up at a sidewalk sale in my former 'hood. I, however, left all my kitchen things with my former roommate, and he left them at his old apartment so I'm missing my old pots, pans, and tea kettle, as well as my French press, but perhaps I'll be able to recover some of these things sometime soon.

At least Heraclitus and Euclid, my two stuffed octopi, survived the two years of storage, although I lost two wool sweaters to moths. It's amazing how much clothes I actually own, so a stiff purge of clothes is necessary. I still await 9 boxes of books from Berkeley, but there should be space in the basement for the overflow.

I'm thinking of purchasing a loft bed from IKEA since my ceiling is 9' high. I'm comfortably ensconced on my full bed that I missed, and if I can get up up up, then there will be space for all. Fortunately, my department has secured me a cubicle at the Asia Center to work in, so a modicum of office space will make working in my room full-time not necessary.



Valse de Balfa

Another song that's been haunting me recently is Valse de Balfa, another song written by the Balfa Brothers. I was first struck by its plaintive power while listening to the Red Stick Ramblers' version from their eponymous debut. Their version, which unfortunately is not available online for listening, is driven by big propulsive drums. In contrast, the Balfa Brothers version from The Balfa Brothers Play Traditional Cajun Music lacks drums, not uncommon at the time, but carries that droning fiddle lines and more of an urgency in the vocals.

Here are the lyrics in French and the translation, again by Ann Savoy. Most poignant is verse 2, a common experience for most of us, I think.

Valse de Balfa (Balfa Waltz)
1. Quand j´ai parti de la maison
J´avais fait mon idée
J´étais parti pour te chercher, cher,
Où mourir au bout de mon sang.
When I left the house
I had made up my mind
I left to go find you, dear,
Or to end my own life.

2. Quand j´ai arrivé à ta maison
J´en ai trouvé -z-un autre avec toi
Ça, ça a cassé mon cœur, cher,
J´aimerais mieux mourir que voir ça.
2. When I got to your house
I found you with another.
that broke my heart.
I would rather die than see that.

3. Si j´aurais cinq jours dans ma vie
J´en donnerais trois dans les cinq
Pour passer las deux autres avec toi
J´aimerais mourir dans tes bras.
3. If I had five days in my life
I’d give three of the five
To stay the other two with you
I would like to die in your arms.

I had never seen the idiomatic phrase Où mourir au bout de mon sang but the construction with the verb mortir + au bout de mon sang is pretty well attested in Standard French, although I am sans my good French dictionary.

Another Cajun classic that goes a long way in explaining certain Cajun attitudes.


Port Arthur Blues

Since I haven't been able to resolve some of the vocabulary issues of Valse de Port Arthur, I thought I'd give the lyrics and translation of another Cajun song about Port Arthur, Port Arthur Blues. This one was written originally by the Balfa Brothers, and it's short but poignant. Transcription and translation is courtesy of Ann Allen Savoy from her wonderful book, Cajun Music: A Reflection of the People, Vol. I.

1. Tu m'as dit hier au soir / tu pouvais plus rev'nir
plus t'en revenir pour me rejoindre à la maison
ô ya-yaïe!
1. You told me last night
You couldn't love me anymore
You couldn't come back to meet me
At the house anymore, oh
it hurts!

2. Mon, je vois pas / Qui je t'ai fait
Quo' faire donc, tu veux pas / T'en revenir au Port Arthur?
2. Me, I don't see what I did
So why don't you want to anymore
Come home to Port Arthur?
Oh, it hurts!

Not much to comment on, 'cept that
quo' faire is Cajun French for 'Why?'. I do believe the translation of the first verse is a bit off since it looks like it should read:
You told me last night
You couldn't come back
You couldn't come back to meet me
At the house anymore, oh


Valse de Port Arthur, Part I

Since my last entry ended up being about Port Arthur, I present to you one of the Cajun songs about Port Arthur. It is a waltz called Valse de Port Arthur:

1. Oh, bébé, moi j'm'en vais au Port Arthur,
Oui, 'tit' fill', c'est toi la seul' qu'moi j'aimerai,
Oh, 'tit' fill', tu es si loin de moi,
J'reviendrai pour te r'joindr' au Port Arthur.

2. Eh, 'tit' fill', t'as trouvé qu' tu m'aimais plus,
Ouais, 'tit' mom', aujourd'hui tu veux plus m'voir,
Oh, ya-yaïe, ça fait d'la pein' de te voir,
Ouais, tout l'temps j'vais m'en aller au Port Arthur.
*Transcription of the lyrics is courtesy of http://membres.lycos.fr/breric/cajun.htm.

As you can see, there is quite a bit of slurring which utterly defeats my French transcription skills so I must rely on the kindness of les étrangers. I won't offer a translation now, but I will comment on a few peculiarly Cajun French lexical items.
'tit' fill' = 'tit' is a common abbreviation for petite, sometimes shortened all the way just to 't', especially in nicknames. My cousin Anthony was referred to by my grandfather as 'T-Ton'. Somewhat obscurely, my other cousin (and we ran long on cousins, thank you) Robert was termed 'Boscoe'. This is a long-winded way of saying that 'tit' fill' is 'little girl', a term of endearment.
ya-yaïe = "oh it hurts", a very common exclamation of pain in Cajun music. Sometimes spelled yaille. Cajun French transcription can be non-standardized.
'tit' mom' = I suspect that this might be le môme which is a derogatory term meaning 'lad, kid'. I'll have to check and discuss it further in Part II.


Buddhism in Southeast Texas

Here's a recent article about a Vietnamese Buddhist temple in my hometown, Port Arthur. I visited this temple many years ago, and the lotus ponds were beautiful then. Next time I go home I'll have to take pictures.

I really like this.
"Buu Mon" means priceless gate and sounds similar to Beaumont, which is why it was chosen, according to the archives.

Here is their homepage. I wonder how large the Vietnamese population is in Port Arthur? There is also a large garden with statue of the Virgin Mary on the other side of Port Arthur that was sponsored by a Vietnamese association. I didn't have a camera the last time I visited, but I suspect she bore a striking resemblance to Kuan-yin. Ah, there was one picture of it via google images but the link was broken. There is this image from flickr. Not like Kuan-yin at all.

It is called Hoa Binh Park and was built by the parishioners of the Queen of Vietnamese Martyr's Catholic Church in gratitude to the city that welcomed them upon their arrival from Asia. Here is another nice photo.

That's my hometown. A smidge of cultural diversity.