Thursday, May 25, 2006

What if it's me?

I made a comment at Institute last night.

I'll pause while you all reel from shock. Yes, I know this presupposes that I went to Institute. Yes, I know this is out of character, but my roommate wanted to go, and I wanted to spend time with her, so there we are. (It's out of character for my roommate, too, but you'll have to ask her about that, not me.)

Usually, though, I've stayed firmly in character by letting my mind wander during our undeservedly-praised lessons. (Everyone seems to think the teacher is "just wonderful!" I wonder, would they admit it if she weren't? How much can a recommendation from the stake institute leader be trusted?) During our first institute class, my roommate (who has no online moniker) leaned over to me roughly five minutes into the lesson and said, "Tell me your entire romantic history." With that, neither of us listened to the teacher again. (It was no big loss. She was talking about how hard Isaiah is, an attitude I detest.)

During our second class, my roommate whispered with Kaneeneenie, who--also out of character!--had decided to join us for the night. Left in the lurch, I spent the class period formulating a simple alphabetic substitution code based on the International Phonetic Alphabet. (It's not too bad, I think--there's a few little twists that make it difficult to deciper, yet still easy to encode.)

Last night was the third class. I spent most of the period working on my honors thesis--a task I'm diligently avoiding right now, with only 14 hours left in which I could possibly work on it--but managed to zone into the lesson for just long enough to start experiencing some inner Sturm und Drang at the divisive, judgmental, utterly stupid "us vs. them" mentality that seemed to be general all over the class. (Name that allusion, Tolkien Boy!)

So I made my comment. I meant to stir up a bit of trouble, but the teacher misinterpreted what I was saying into a much milder point, and, alas, no brouhaha ensued.

I'm following in a grand family tradition of riling up church lessons, though, and now I can get to my actual point, my favorite of many family stories which feature my dad in one of his favorite roles, "Sunday School Provocateur."

This was in the Boston area, roughly 20 years ago. (I give you a place and time because if you ever run in to anyone who was there, they'll remember this.) The topic in Sunday School that day was the Antichrist, and the discussion, as such discussions often do, had degenerated into speculation about who the Antichrist might be--Hitler, the Pope, the Secretary General of the U.N., insert your least favorite public figure here--and my dad got frustrated and raised his hand.

"This is all well and good," he said, "but I think the real question is this: what if it's me?"

Now, he had a valid doctrinal point here: the word, after all, can be applied to anyone who fights against Christ. We are all in danger of becoming an antichrist, and so we must all constantly watch ourselves, our thoughts, and our words to prevent it.

My dad had been in this ward for a while, though, and had a reputation. The way my mom tells the story, about half the people in the room pondered the actual doctrinal implications, while the other half, she could tell, were thinking, "Yeah! What if it is him?"

So I leave you to ponder that question: what if my father is the Antichrist?

Sunday, May 14, 2006

I Am Petra's Upset Stomach

I spent this weekend sick as a dog. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration: "sick as a relatively healthy dog" might be a better way of putting it.

In any case, those who are squeamish about stomach ailments may want to stop reading this post sometime about now. In fact, you may want to stop reading my blog for good, since I anticipate many more stomach-centered posts come the end of the summer, when I go to Indonesia.

Stomach ailments have been par for the course for me my entire life. "Par for the course" means, roughly, once a week. I've always been convinced that I picked up a nasty little parasite of some kind in Indonesia, and that, in addition to the hereditary gift of carrying stress in my stomach, has left me with perpetual stomach-related episodes. I can tell any number of amusing and completely disgusting stories: throwing up on the platform at a train station in Cairo, sneaking up and down the aisles of an airplane late at night to collect extra barf bags, spending forty-five minutes in the bathroom at the Taj Mahal, each and every time I've eaten Indian or Thai food--at this point, nearly anything can trigger a story beginning, "so this one time, I was really sick..."

(My mom has a story that can destroy all comers, though--an incident that literally knocked her socks off. And trust me when I tell you that I know the difference between "literally" and "figuratively.")

In any case, this weekend's episode--Season 21, Episode 138, "Petra vs. Pasta"--was worse than expected, and I decided to take action, in the form of a little detective work. Narrowing down the list of ingredients in the pasta, curry, and taco salad that have most recently emptied my intenstines, I have reached this conclusion: it's a food allergy.

So I'll open it up for a vote. Get your mouse-clicking fingers ready, kids: am I allergic to onions, or am I allergic to garlic?

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thoughts, Alone On Campus At Midnight

Never adopt the old-lady habit of turning your headlights on at daylight. You will forget them when you turn off the car, guaranteed. Also, Petra, you are stupid.

Why was it necessary to drive to campus, anyway? Doesn’t the idea of walking sound so much more appealing?

Thank heaven for cell phones.

Hi there, Tolkien Boy. Hi there, Optimistic. Hi there, Roommate’s Boyfriend. Hi there, Roommate’s Fiance. Hi there, Friend From Old Ward. Does no one have jumper cables?

What could the University Police possibly be doing right now that they can't help me?

Never be caught anywhere without a book. Drat.

Why, oh why, won’t the internet work? Oh, please, technological powers that be, smile upon me!

iFilm is one cool program.

Actually, Macs are just cool in general. I’m a fan.

Desert climates get rather chilly in the evening. I should have brought a sweater.

Be polite to the police, even when they make you wait for forty-five minutes in the middle of the night. All can be forgiven, as long as they come bearing jumper cables and a working car as a peace offering.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mister Cream

So, while I was in Egypt last year my roommates and I walked to school every day through downtown Alexandria. On our way, we passed a park, where every morning without fail the Egyptian gardener greeted us.

Greetings are a big deal in Egypt. The standard morning greeting in Egypt is "sabah ilxiir," or "good morning." It is then standard for the other person to respond with "sabah innur," or "morning of light." The two participants then, if time and mood oblige, engage in a friendly battle of greetings. The aim is to think up good things--jasmine flowers, the sun, cream; anything pretty and, preferably, white will do--and wish the other person a morning full of them.

This old man tried to do this with us every single morning we passed, and most mornings we failed miserably. Our vocabulary just wasn't that good, after all, and we couldn't get much further than "light" or, at best, "jasmine." He would typically chuckle at our ineptitude and wave us on our merry way.

One morning, though, I bested him, completely unexpectedly.

"Good morning," he called.

"Morning of light!" I responded.

"Morning of roses!"

"Morning of jasmine!"

"Morning of cream!" He was grinning, sure that this would be his triumph. He was almost right: I was at a loss for words, but, determined to say something, I said the first freely-associated phrase I could think of:

"Morning of Mister Cream!" I countered. For those who don't speak Arabic, "Mister Cream," or "sa'eed ishta," is the slangy Egyptian colloquial Arabic word for "hippopotamus." (The Modern Standard Arabic term, as one would expect, translates literally to "river horse.")

Yes, that's right: I wished him a morning full of happy hippos, and he reacted just like you might think: his mouth hung open in pure confusion for a few minutes, and then started to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. He nearly sprayed himself with the hose he was holding, and then he actually had to sit down, he was laughing so hard.

I won that one for sure. Every morning thereafter, he watched for my approach with a twinkle in his eye, and skipped through all the standard ceremony to greet me with a cheery, "Morning of the hippopotamus!"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Miss Pronunciation

So. It's time to confess a rather embarrassing linguistic habit. (Other than, of course, my habit of starting nearly all my sentences with "so.") For the necessary background, let me state this: I'm usually quite good with language. I'm a marvelous English speaker, actually--what a good vocabulary! Without a strong accent! And so fluent! It's almost like I've been speaking it all my life or something.

The problem, though, is that I learn nearly all my new words from books. I read quite a bit, and often encounter words in print that I've never heard before. This leads, of course, to me knowing a giant corpus of erudite and impressive words...without the faintest idea how to pronounce them. What with the vagaries of English spelling and all, I sometimes--frequently--miss the mark.

This tends to fluster even the strongest of my friends; expecting my facility with language to carry over into the basics of English pronunciation, they goggle in shock and, sometimes, slight panic when I flub even a syllable. This habit noticeably bothered Optimistic while we were playing Trivial Pursuit the other night. Although at first he gently corrected me, after 5 or 6 such errors I could see him getting frustrated: "Did you just say a-MIC-a-ble? Everyone knows it's A-mic-a-ble! What's the matter with you?"

So, in honor of Optimistic's recent frustration, I present to you the Top 5 Petra Pronunciation Errors.

(One small warning: despite my linguistics undergrad, I'm almost as bad with phonetic transcription as with pronunciation. Sorry if you can't read it, and sorry if you think it's wrong. They're all based on the OED's system, though, not always the IPA, so if you try to argue with me, I'll just tell you that I do, in fact, pronounce it like the BBC.)

5. /l{schwa}{sm}v{shti}sk{schwa}s/ Yes, that's right: "lascivious" pronounced like "viscous" with a "la" on the front. I misread it once when I was a kid and it stuck. This one's pretty normal, actually, in that there's a genuine reason for it. I was shocked, at 17, to learn the actual pronunciation, although I admit that, while there's a certain charm to my own--I always imagined a slow-moving, gelatinous sort of lust--the correct pronunciation matches the word's meaning much better.

4. /'kæpri/ Like the pants, or the sunny juice drink. I put the em'phasis on the wrong sy'llable. I'm not sure where I picked this up--but now I stick to it with my habitual tenacity. Every time I compliment someone's pedal pushers, or offer them a delicious CapriSonne, I make sure to emphasize that first syllable, awkward as can be. It gets a few raised eyebrows, sure, but it also lends me a certain distinguished air, or so I tell myself. Since I also claim that I picked up this pronunciation in Indonesia, my strange pronunciation has a faint aura of the exotic about it.

(I also, if you hadn't noticed, insist on spelling the drink name CapriSonne. I first encountered CapriSonnes in Jakarta, where they were all imported from Germany, or made in Indonesia by a German company, or something. That too will never change; don't bother trying to persuade me otherwise.)

3. /k{schwa}'r{shti}k{schwa}t{sh}{schwa}r/ Again, the emphasis in the wrong place. I made fun a friend once during my freshman year for her strange Utah accent, which caused her to say that word differently from me. She dragged me to an online dictionary to prove to me that her way was, in fact, correct. Abashed and slightly confused, I called my parents, guessing that maybe they were to blame.

"Dad, how do you say the word that describes those really exaggerated drawings of people?"

"/'kær{shti}k{schwa}t{sh}{shtu}{schwa}r/, of course." Hm. Not him.

I asked my mom next. She took a minute to think, and then said, satisfied with herself for passing whatever strange test this was, "/k{schwa}'r{shti}k{schwa}t{sh}{schwa}r/. Definitely."

So, that's it, you see. This be the verse: I blame my mother for all my articulatory failings.

2. Let's start this one off with another confession: I heard of David Bowie for the first time when I was 15. Yes, yes, I have my head in the sand. Now, of course, my first encounter with his name was in print. One day in my junior year of high school, I let slip some comment about Mr. Bowie to a friend, who has still not stopped laughing at this incident. I pronounced his name /'buwi/, like to rhyme with "kablooey" or "hooey." In my defense, this is the way "Bowie Knife" is often pronounced, at least in Bob Dylan's song "I Shall Be Free No. 10." If you can't trust Bob Dylan, who can you trust?

Apparently, though, this didn't matter to my friend. I'm sure that someone, somewhere, has mentioned "Ziggy Stardust" to her and been slightly taken aback when she bursts into a fit of the giggles.

1. Finally, the number one mispronunciation of my whole entire life. When I was a kid, I had a box of crayons with a bunch of fancy colors--cerulean, periwinkle, cerise, and other such--and one of the crayon names, a dark pink, really stymied me. One fateful evening, while my parents were having a dinner party with some friends from church, I lost that crayon and wandered all over the house looking for it, including into the dining room, where our guests sat chatting.

"Mom," I whined, "have you seen my fuchsia crayon?"

Except I didn't say it /'fju{lm}{sh}{shti}{schwa}/. My preferred pronunciation at the time was something more like /'f{revv}k{sh}{schwa}/, rhyming nicely with "ducksha" or "lucksha," which was probably--judging by the stifled gasps I got--not a good way to say it. I learned the right way to say that color fast.

Thank you, Crayola.