“Life is too short to learn German.”

I don’t blame the French for recalling their ambassador over the loss of their submarine sales. It was a huge deal for them with their fragile economy during the Covid epidemic not that I begrudge America shoring up the defenses against
China’s new Emperor Xi.

I’ll find out how the ordinary French think in six days when I land in France for a month-long sojourn through the nation’s south. I can report to my readers who have heard dribs and drabs from me about my attempt to learn French since I put up the category France on the blog. As of now it has 63 posts including this one.

After almost four years at two hours a day I have finally gotten fluent in bad French. I have been eager to pick words up faster and to do that I need to read but until very recently reading has been a great obstacle. I found myself looking up two to three words in each sentence. With automatic translation it can be done fairly quickly but because words often have several meanings in a sophisticated language like French and are used differently in different contexts this requires learning much more than some stationary isolated word. That’s a lot of verbiage to say reading French is hard. In fact, in the past many English speakers learned to read French very well after years of study but speaking it was a lost cause. That was true of Thomas Jefferson. When I set out in December of 2017 after losing my re-lection for the School Board I was intent on both reading and speaking this new language. I did it for the challenge. I did it to explore more history. I did it to honor my grandfather who fought in France in the First world war. I did it to stave off Alzheimer’s.

Last night after getting up with an upset stomach I spent three hours reading a fifth graders story of that war for the second time. Suddenly on the eve of my visit fluent reading was happening. Fluent hearing is also making an appearance. For over a year but especially over the last sixth months my wife has indulged my desire by watching English subtitled French Detective series with me in the evening. We often watch 10 a week. We started a new one called Family Detective/s or something like that. I have to admit I’ve found them very drole even if the French listening is hidden behind by reading them translated into English that makes sense but which uses different words and lays them out in reverse order of the French sentence structure.

But le hier avant dernier (night before last) it was different. I found myself following about half of the conversation pretty easily. And this series too was intelligent. Here’s once scene and its background at the beginning of the series.

The Father of a rowdy, jolly family of detectives makes an executive decision to keep the agency alive by merging it with another agency that has very top drawer clientele as opposed to the ordinary people with problems the family has typically helped. The oldest son who is divorced from a wife for reasons yet to be revealed is very unhappy about this. They will be moving into the upscale office of the new agency which turns out to have one detective who worked for France’s equivalent of the CIA. One of her clients is a huge nuclear energy company. There is an immediate conflict because the oldest son of the family agency has been helping bereaved parents to find out how their son fell to his death from the top of a construction site for the Energy company.

So the well connected ex-CIA/DSGA owner of the fancy new office is black and very pretty. She and the son are immediately suspicious if not outright hostile to the other……good chemistry for a change in attitude. As they are driving around and chatting he learns that she is fluent in German. She asks him if he can speak it and he tells her, “Life is too short to learn German.” She is impressed. “Oscar Wilde!” she says. He obviously knows classic authors. It happens that his mother who was visiting from England fell in love with his father as they started their detective work.

This is lively stuff and by God I could understand much of it over the darned English subtitles.

I am also putting this in the Education file because this language work is one of the most concentrated studies I’ve ever attempted. I know a lot about a lot of subjects but this has accumulated over 70 years of learning, most of it on my own in books and the news. Our Duluth Schools lost their French classes as one of many unfortunate consequences of paying off the Red Plan with teachers. I’d like to think my example offers some hope for a quarantine related alternative for kids eager to learn.

Oh by the way as I thought about all this I thought of Ayn Rand whose anti-christiany books lauded the great white superman that sprang from the mind of the German author/philosopher Frederich Nietzsche – his Ubermensch.

That led me to thinking about the American “patriots” who are coming to the nation’s capitol today to protest our treatment of traitors. I would like to tie them into my long thinking about how their racism is not so much anti-American as it is Christian heresy. As someone once said “Racism is as American as apple pie.” Our democracy doesn’t forbid fascist ideas. To its credit the much loathed by conservative’s ACLU has defended Nazis right to free speech in the past just as it has other despised minorities. I’ve always agreed with this a little nervously.

I think the way to attack racism is through religious channels. Already Evangelical racism is discovering that its children are leaving the theological wreckage of the ultra-rich mega churches. The sooner they shrink back to the size of a small scab rather than the metastasizing blob they are now the sooner America can recover from the Trump cancer.

Life is also too short to proof read…Sorry. I have a lot more writing to do today to hand six columns over to the Duluth Reader by next Wednesday for the time I’ll be in France.

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