The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-2

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-2
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

 

12 January, 01 E.C.
Just as Director Krennic had foreshadowed, The Project was fraught with cost overruns.  And just as he had boasted, I could trace none of them to his office.  None of the cost overruns were explained.  They were simply initialed “DV.”  Darth Vader.  My predecessor had warned me against questioning Vader’s authorized expenditures.  And fairly enough.  Certainly Lord Vader had a reputation throughout the Republic, even if nobody seemed to know exactly what his job was.

Well, I decided it was time somebody got to the bottom of that.  And that somebody would have to be me.  And so it was that I contacted his home office on the homogenously volcanic world of Mustafar.  I had assumed that being the Emperor’s right-hand man, and generally a big macher, he would have a rather full schedule.  So I was surprised when my conversation with his secretary went something like this:

Me: Hi, yes, I’d like to make an appointment with Lord Vader?  This is the AEIOU.

Sec’y: Certainly, sir.  When would be convenient for you?

Me: Well, when might His Lordship be free?

Sec’y: Let me check the book.  Hmm…yes, just as I suspected.  Lord Vader has exactly zero appointments for the next three months.  So you may swing by whenever you like.

Me: I’m sorry, did you say “zero appointments”?

Sec’y: That’s right, sir.  You sound surprised.

Me: Well, it’s just…he’s awfully important.  I’d assumed he’s quite a busy man.

Sec’y: He’s more machine, now, then man.

Me: How’s that again?

Sec’y: Nothing, sir.  It’s just that he’s quite terrifying actually.  And short tempered.  People tend to avoid meeting with him if at all possible.  Which reminds me.  You’re absolutely sure you’d like to come here to see him?  In person?

Me: Indeed I would.  Could you pencil me in for Thursday?  Say, 3:00 PM?

Sec’y: Certainly, sir.  And would that be local time, Coruscant Time, or Imperial Central Time?

Me: Aren’t CT and ICT the same thing now?

Sec’y: So they are.

Me: Right.  Well, what would 3pm local time be in ICT for this Thursday?

Sec’y: I’ll just check the planetary alignments…hold please….Ah yes, I have it now.  3pm local would be 11am ICT this Thursday.

Me: And is Lord Vader usually in a good mood in the afternoons?

Sec’y: Between you and me, sir?  Lord Vader is never in a good mood.  It’s part of his mystique, you see.

Me: Is it?

Sec’y: Yes?  I mean, I think so.  Well, that and the all-black.  And his disdain for riding pants.  Second highest player in the whole bloody Empire already and he doesn’t give a whit for riding pants.  It’s quite off-putting actually.  But I imagine it’s all just a part of his branding, so to speak.

Me: I wouldn’t have thought Lord Vader concerns himself with things like branding.

Sec’y: Well that’s just it, sir.  He doesn’t.  Not consciously, anyway.  That’s what’s so impressive about him.  He just does what he wants.  Doesn’t give a toss what anybody else thinks.  Well, except for the Emperor, of course.

Me: Of course.  So you’ve put me down for 3pm local time on Thursday then?

Sec’y: Certainly, sir.  It’s as bad a time as any.

Me: Don’t you mean, as good a time as any?

Sec’y: No, sir.  I’m afraid not.

Me: I see.

Sec’y: With all due respect, I highly doubt that you do, sir.  But you will.  Oh, you will.

Me: Indeed.  In any case, you may expect my prompt arrival at 3pm local time, this Thursday.

Sec’y: And would that be Coruscant’s Thursday or Thursday on Mustafar?

Me: I’m sorry?

Sec’y: Oh, did I not mention that?  Because of our orbit, Mustafar has a nine-day week.  Thursday here will be Saturday on Coruscant.  This week, anyway.

Me: 3pm, Thursday, Mustafar time.

Sec’y: And you’re sure about that?

Me: Would there be a better time?

Sec’y: Most assuredly not, sir.  I meant, you’re sure you actually want to come here?

Me: Quite sure.

Sec’y: Very good, sir.  The appointment is fixed.  And if I could make one suggestion?

Me: Go ahead.

Sec’y: Wear something with a stiff collar.

Me: Quite.  Thank you for your help.

Sec’y: It’s been a pleasure, sir.  Good day.

And he disconnected.  What a strange man, I remember thinking to myself.  In any case, I now had my appointment with Lord Vader.  I would soon get to the bottom of these budgetary shenanigans.  Or my name isn’t Starrkin.

 

15 January, 01 E.C.
My predecessor was not shy about chartering private shuttles for official business.  And certainly we have that right.  However, because our business expenditures are funded by the Imperial taxpayer, I’ve always felt it my duty to take commercial flights whenever possible.  This was my intention as I approached the ticket desk for Imperial Spaceways (formerly Republic Spaceways).

“One to Mustafar, please,” I said politely.

“I’m sorry, sir,” said the clerk.  “Did you say…Mustafar?”  He nearly whispered the name.

“That’s right,” I said confidently.  He looked at me with a confused astonishment.

“One does not simply fly into Mustafar,” he cautioned.

“I see,” I said slowly.  “Then what do you recommend?”

“Well, sir, you’ll have to charter a private shuttle.”

“Make it so,” I sighed.  After a moment, he printed me out a boarding pass and directed me towards Platform VII.  There I found a rough looking pilot, leaning against the landing strut of his shuttle, smoking a cigarette.

“Boarding pass,” he grunted at me.  I showed it to him.  “Mustafar, eh?”  He looked me up and down.  “You in some kinda trouble, gov?”

“Hardly,” I said dismissively.  “And I’m ready to leave when you are, stout fellow.”

“Mustn’t keep Lord Vader waiting, eh?” he winked.  “I get it.  Right, let’s go.”  He tossed his cigarette to the ground and stamped out with his boot.  I followed him into the shuttle.  A few moments later, we were breaking orbit.  I left him alone as he plotted the course.  But once we’d entered hyperspace, he turned to me.

“Well, gov, may as well make yourself at ‘ome.  It’s a bit of a ride, all the way out to Mustafar.”  He swiveled his chair to face me.  “And what’s your business with the Dark Lord, if I may be so bold?”

“I’m an accountant,” I said somewhat proudly.  He raised an eyebrow.

“A count, eh?  I’ve ‘ad senators before.  Even a Moff or two.  But never a count.”  He looked me over a second time.  “Funny, you don’t look like a count.”

“Not a count,” I said with a wry smile.  “An accountant.  I deal with numbers, taxes, money, finances.  That sort of thing.”  I tried to make it sound important.  He looked disappointed.

“Well, everybody’s got to be into sumfin, I reckon.”  And he swiveled his chair forward again.

I’ve always felt there are two sorts of people.  Those who like to chat up their taxi drivers and those who don’t.  I’ve always fancied myself amongst the former.

“What’s your name, pilot?”

“’Oo, me?”  He didn’t turn around.

“You are the only pilot aboard, are you not?”

“So I am, so I am,” he mused.  “Name’s Simon, gov.  Simon the pilot.  That’s me.”

“Well, Simon,” I pressed.  “Have you ever been to Mustafar before?”  Now he swiveled his chair to face me again.

“Just the once, gov.”  He offered no further information.  I’d have to work a bit harder.

“And what was that like?” I asked.  He whistled.

“Well, gov, it was the strangest thing.  My passenger was…sorry, you don’t mind if I?”  And he pulled a pack of cigarettes from his his breast pocket.

“It’s your ship,” I nodded.

“Technically she’s a boat sir,” he said, as he lit up.

“I’m sorry?”

“Don’t be,” he smiled.  “Nothin’ I’d expect a desk-jockey such as yourself to know about.  But shuttles, like this here, they’re boats not ships.”

“Forgive me,” I said, bowing slightly in my seat.  “But you were saying?  About your previous trip to Mustafar?”

“Ah, that, yeah.”  He took a deep drag.  “Well, you see, my passenger was this young bloke.  Just made Moff, actually.  Never seen somebody so proud of ‘is riding pants.  Kept patting at the flairs.  To get ‘em just right, you know?  ‘Perfectly smooth.’  That’s what ‘e kept sayin to ‘isself.”

“I know the type,” I said, crossing my legs, hoping to emphasize that I was not wearing riding pants; though my rank certainly would have allowed me to.

“I reckon you do, gov.”  He blew out a cloud of smoke.  “Anyway, ‘e never did tell me what ‘is business with ‘Is Blackness was.  Jus’, he seemed sor’ of nervous.  Didn’t say much.  Well, we touch down on Mustafar, and ‘e strides ou’ of the shu’le in all his Moff-ness.  ‘Keep the engine running,’ ‘e says.”  And he attempted a posh accent when he quoted the young Moff.

“Then what happened?”

“Well, ‘e wasn’t gone but twenty minutes when a call comes in over the radio.  It was Vader’s secretary, it was.  And ‘e says to me…get this, ‘e says: ‘I regret to inform you that our young Moff will not be making the return voyage.  Of course, you will be paid in full for your efforts.  You are cleared for takeoff.’  ‘Onest, that’s what ‘e said.  Just like that.”

“Well?” I pressed.  “What did you do?”

“Whadya think, mate?” he asked, rubbing out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray.  “I took off.  I mean, we’re talking about Darth bloody Vader ‘ere.  I wasn’t about to ask questions.”

“And what happened to the Moff?” I inquired

“Nobody knows,” he said softly.  “Rumor ‘as it though, ‘is wife received a package in the post not long after.”

“And what was in the package?”  I was trying to sound nonchalant, but in truth, I had goose-bumps.

“Well, and mind you, this is just rumor, gov, pure ‘earsay.  But they say, it was a pair of perfectly pressed riding pants.  And according to the rumor, they smelled faintly of Bacta.”  I could no longer hide my shock.  He smiled at me.  “But, as I say, gov, that’s just a rumor, innit.”

“And you believe it?” I asked, tugging at my tight, stiff collar.

“Force knows, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, gov.” he mused.  “But you’re sure you’re not in any sor’ of trouble?”

“Quite sure, Simon.”  And I re-crossed my legs in the other direction.

“I ‘ope so, gov.  For your sake.  Cigarette?”  He was offering his pack to me.

“I don’t smoke.”

“Course not, gov.  Course not.”  And he swiveled his chair back around to face the control panel.

“Simon?” I asked after a long pause.

“Hey?”

“Could I trouble you for something to drink?”

“Certainly, gov.”  And he waved towards a small refrigeration unit towards the aft of the shuttle’s cockpit.  “I’ve got beer, water, bantha-juice and blue-milk.  ‘Elp yourself.”

“Actually, would a cup of tea be possible?” I asked with dignity.

“Sure thing, gov.  Kettle’s in the galley, aft starboard.  There’s a decent selection, if I do say so meself.”

“Lovely,” I said.  “I expect you have Earl Gray then?”

“Of course, gov.  Though they’re calling it Earl Tarkin, now.”

“Are they?”

“Officially, yes.  ‘Asn’t caught on, though.  Doesn’t quite ‘ave the same ring, if you ask me.”

“Thank you, Simon.”

With that, I headed aft.  There I made myself a cup of tea and sat down to update my journal.  Which is where I am now…

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) (Cont’d…)

The Adventures of Col. Starrkin (ret.) #-1
A Vaguely Star-Wars-ish Kinda Thing
Mostly for Dale

The following documents are a series of journal entries found among the papers of the late Dr. Starrkin, CPA.  Starrkin was the last Undersecretary for the Office of Accounting for Extraordinary Imperial Operations in the waning days of the Old Republic and in the first of the Galactic Empire.  He was also the father of Wing Commander Colonel Starrkin, who discovered these papers upon the death of his father.  (For the convenience of the reader, all dates have been converted to the Terran Gregorian Calndear.  B.E. = Before Empire; E.C. = Empire Calendar).

25 May, 03 B.E.

I do not wish to sound over-proud.  But today is a big day for me.  After years of dedicated service in the name of the Republic, I have finally been promoted to the position of Undersecretary for the Office of Accounting for Extraordinary Republican Operations.  It is a great honor.

What I could never say publicly, I feel compelled to write here.  It is clear to me that the days of our great Republic are coming to an end.  His Majesty the Chancellor consolidates more and more power by the day.  Soon, we will be a republic in name only.  The reach of our government stretches throughout all commercial and economic sectors of the galaxy.  Those within the government know it is only a matter of time before he declares himself emperor.

But that is a political question.  And I do not concern myself with politics.  I do, however, concern myself with matters of economy and, by extension, matters of fairness.  Even when Chancellor Palpatine becomes emperor – which, as any careful observer will tell you, is inevitable – we will still have the Senate.  And the Senate will still be answerable to the people.  My job, the job of the Undersecretary, is to make sure that there is a fair accounting of the expenditure of all duly levied taxes.

We may soon find ourselves in a situation where the Emperor alone can make policy decisions.  He alone may decide war and peace.  He alone may decide the way forward.  But so long as there is a Senate, the people will still have a voice.  And it will fall to me to make sure that the people are not cheated.

In these tumultuous times of change, my office is perhaps more important than it has ever been.  Though we shall soon find ourselves with an emperor, yet there is no one amongst us who thinks he will be a dictator.  The Senate will have its say.  It will be my job to see that that say is an informed one.  I will treat this job with all the honor and reverence that it deserves, or my name isn’t Starrkin.

 

23 December, 01. B.E.

The inevitable has happened.  Chancellor Palpatine has seized power and declared himself Emperor.  But the Senate remains, as it must.  And if the transition from Republic to Empire is to proceed fairly and justly, it falls to me to make sure that our tax monies are appropriated in a fair and transparent manner.

It won’t be easy, to be sure.  But perhaps no accountant in the history of the Republic has ever been charged with so solemn a task.  It becomes now not only a question of patriotism, but indeed of personal honor.  I cannot fail.  I shall not fail.

 

24 December, 01 B.E.

I had a meeting with the Secretary this afternoon.  He does little more then delegate, if we are honest.  The hard work falls upon the Undersecretary, and that is me.  I record here a brief accounting of our meeting…

“Ah, come in, Dr. Starrkin,” he said warmly as he gestured for me towards the chair in front of his desk.  “As you know, we will reset the calendar on January first.  It will be year 01 E.C., Empire Calendar.”

“Yes, sir, I’m aware,” I said as a took my seat.

“Very good, very good,” he mused almost to himself as he lit an old fashioned pipe.  “As you know, Dr. Starrkin, the greatest strength of the Republic was its bureaucracy.  And if the Office of Accounting for Extraordinary Imperial Operations has anything to say about it, this will be the greatest strength of our new Empire as well.”

“Surely you mean,” I said calmly, “The Office of Accounting for Extraordinary Republican Operations.”

“Imperial Operations,” he said, puffing his pipe.  And he opened a box of Huttese cigars.  I took one and he lit it for me as I held it to my lips

“Of course,” I nodded, as I puffed the cigar.

“Glad to see you’re on board, old chap,” he said, rising from his chair.  He began to pace back and forth behind his desk.  “These are new and interesting times, you see.  We must strike a balance.  Of course we owe it to the Senate to see that all Imperial tax dollars are allocated fairly and transparently…”

“And yet?” I asked.

“And yet,” he said, patting the flares of his riding pants, “we must dutifully serve our new Imperial master.”

“I see,” I said, puffing on the cigar.

“Do you?” he asked.

“I think?”

“Then tell me what you think.”

“I think…We must strike a balance.  We owe it to the Senate to see that all Imperial tax dollars are allocated fairly and transparently.  Yet we must also dutifully serve our new Imperial master.”

“Quite,” he said softly.  He seemed to be looking out the window.  But I’m not entirely sure he wasn’t simply looking at the reflection of his riding pants in the glass.

I knew my boss.  He wanted to hear what he wanted to hear.  But numbers were sacred to me.  Personally, I didn’t much care if we would be a Republic or an Empire.  What I cared about was that the people wouldn’t be cheated out of their tax dollars.  But I kept my ideals to myself.  Finally, he turned to face me.

“Well, that’s just what I wanted to hear.”  He puffed his pipe.  “Therefore, effective immediately, I’m assigning you to a new project.  It’s highly classified, so I won’t give you any details now.  But it’s being overseen by Director Krennic.  You’ll work directly with him to make sure the Senate has a full accounting of The Project.  Our goal here is to keep cost over-runs to a minimum.”

“I understand, sir,” I said as I tapped out the ash end of my cigar into his Bantha-shaped ashtray.

“See that you do,” he said, stiffly flattening the flairs of his riding pants for effect.

And that’s how I first learned about The Project.

 

5 January, 01 E.C.

I confidently strode into Director Krennic’s waiting room, leather attaché case under my arm.  I approached the secretary.

“Do you have an appointment?” he asked me coldly.

“I do,” I said equally coldly.  “The name is Starrkin.  Undersecretary for the Office of Accounting for Extraordinary Imperial Operations.”  I tried to sound like a big deal.  He was not impressed.

“Identification,” he said simply.  Trying to look annoyed, I fished out a business card and laid it flat upon his desk.  It read: ‘Accounting for Extraordinary Imperial Operations – Undersecretary.’  He looked at the card.  He looked at me.  He spoke.

“So,” he said disinterestedly, “You’re the new AEIOU.  The Director is expecting you.  Go right in.”  Without another look at the underling, I strode into the director’s office.  It was my first time meeting Krennic.  When I entered, he was standing before a full length mirror, throwing his white cape first over one shoulder, then the other.

“Director Krennic,” I said professionally.  He didn’t turn around to answer me.

“Ah, Dr. Starrkin.  The new Vowel Man.”  He shifted his white cape back over the other shoulder.

“Sir?”

“You are the new Undersecretary of Accounting of Extraordinary Imperial Operations, are you not?”

“I am, sir,” I answered dryly.

“The new AEIOU,” he said, turning to face me at last.  “The new Vowel Man.”

“I suppose I am, sir.”  He was not exactly what I was expecting.

“What do you see, when you look at me, Dr. Starrkin?”  His question was cold, hard.

“Sir?”  I paused.  “Sir, I see the director of…”  He cut me off.“You see a white cape.”  He stared at me.  “Don’t you?”

“Well, I suppose I do, sir.”  I was agreeing, but I didn’t know why.  I mean, yes, I saw the white cape.  But I didn’t know why we were talking about this.

“All Tarkin’s doing,” he sighed dejectedly.  “Nearly 30 years I’ve served the Republic, and now the Empire.  I worked hard to earn my riding pants.”  And he patted the flares of his black riding pants emphatically.  “But Tarkin is determined to keep me playing second fiddle.  The white cape was his idea.  I know he only wants me to wear it to distract from my hard-earned riding pants.  I suppose he thinks it makes his flares seem…grander.”

“Well, sir,” I hesitated.  “He is a grand moff, after all.”

“So he is, Mr. Starrkin.  So he is.”  And as he said this, he dramatically draped his cape over the back of his chair as he sat down behind his desk.  “And yet, it is I…NOT HE…it is I, who has been charged with directing the greatest project in the history of our Rep…er, Empire!”

“Indeed, sir.”  I laid my leather portfolio upon his desk.  “And that’s just what I’m here about, sir.”  I opened the portfolio and began rifling through the papers.  “The Senate is more than a little interested to know how the Imperial tax dollars are being spent with respect to this…Project.”

“The Senate!” he hissed.  “They have enough money to build schools, do they not?  They have enough money to provide healthcare even to the Rim Systems, do they not?”

“With all due respect, Mr. Director, that is hardly at issue.”  I spoke calmly, professionally.  “The Senate wishes to be sure that its tax dollars are not being misused with respect to…The Project.  Whatever that may be,” I added coldly, hoping to show that I didn’t appreciate being left in the dark as to the nature of this grand affair.

“Indeed, Mr. Starrkin,” he smiled icily.  “And so you shall have access to all of our records.  My secretary will make them available to you.”

“That is all I ask, Mr. Director.”  I smiled as I closed my portfolio.

“However,” he said, rising from his chair.  “When you find cost over-runs; and I do say when, I can assure you that it will not owe to any mismanagement by this office.”  And he raised a black-gloved hand to his mouth.

“I will?” I asked with surprise.  I wasn’t expecting such an admission.  “And to whom will they owe?”  At this question, he did a half turn, pulling his cape across his chest for dramatic effect.

“That,” he said with a wicked grin, “is a question for Lord Vader.”  And at the name Vader, he let the cape fall, as his right hand came to rest under the decorations garnishing his left breast.

“Then I shall take it up with Lord Vader,” I said casually.

“One does not simply take up matters of economy with Lord Vader!” he whispered.

“Even Lord Vader must answer to the people,” I replied confidently.

“Lord Vader answers to no one, save the Emperor,” he groaned as he gripped his riding pants flares uncomfortably.

“We’ll see about that,” I said as a I stood, grabbing up my papers.  And with that, I strode confidently out of his office.  Yet, even as I did so, I could not resist throwing one last glance over my shoulder at the Director.  And when I did, I saw him pinching the bridge of his nose between black-begloved forefinger and thumb.

It sent a chill down my spine.  I remember thinking, either he is too afraid, or else, I am not nearly afraid enough.  I would soon find out which of us was right…

 

 

 

An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
19 January, 2017

So I was talking to Charlotte yesterday, and she was all, “What’s up with your blog?  How come you haven’t written in a while?  Well, you know what?  She’s right.  I haven’t written in a while.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to, it’s just that I’ve been allocating my energies elsewhere.  It’s been full steam ahead on Project Hebrew, leaving little time for other ventures.  Not that I’m complaining.  In fact, I’m feeling pretty good about it.  That’s just the way things have been lately.

That, and writing takes a long time and requires rather a bit more alcohol than the ol’ language studies.  And since I, you know, work now, I’m not exactly keen to stumble into bed half-drunk at 3:30 in the morning.  Which is how this blogging thing often works, if you must know.

But yeah, anyway, I figured – after a bit of a reminder – that I probably should knock something out, even if it’s short.  That said, this will be a bit of a hodgepodge; trying to catch up on the last few weeks in one go while also trying to achieve Bed at a reasonable (for me) hour.

So a while back, I mentioned to Jared that I was feeling a bit “tight” lately, a bit stressed.  This may have been in the midst of the whole visa-Anmeldung-bank-health insurance saga.1  Anyway, he says to me, and I paraphrase, “Dude, why don’t you read some fucking Aurelius?”2  This was a mighty fine suggestion.  After all, the down-to-earth thoughts of the down-to-earth Philosopher King have often helped to calm me down in the past, and to keep things in perspective.

I first encountered Aurelius in a survey of Western lit3 during my senior year of college.  Indeed, so taken was I with this text that it became one of the three great motivating factors behind my desire to learn Greek, coming in third behind Homer and the great Thucydides.  The one brought me to Daitz and remains at the center of everything Dave.  On the other, I wrote my Master’s thesis.

But to this day, Aurelius – in Greek4 – has eluded me.  Which isn’t to say that Aurelius has eluded me.  Years and years ago I had an English copy of the text, which I shared with Jared.  He too was taken with it.  And, I think, this is how he knows it in the first place.  Anyway, he was right to suggest it.  The only thing was, I was determined that the next time I read this thing, it would be in Greek.

And there’s the rub.  I never took any classes on Stoicism, and as a result, I’m not familiar with the vocabulary.  To give but one example: In Greek, the word δύναμιϲ (dynamis) means first ability (as in, the ability to do something), and then, by extension, power.  From this we get all sorts of cool English words, like “dynamo,” “dynamic,” and “dynasty.”  But it seems that in a Stoic context, it takes on a new meaning of something like “arts” and/or “faculties (mental or otherwise).”  What I mean to say is, the hard part is not so much the words you’ve never seen before, but rather the words you already know but which now mean something totally new.  Δύναμιϲ is one example, but others abound.

So there’s that.  And then there’s the fact that MA draws heavily on the slave5 -philosopher Epictetus.  Owing, then, to these two factors, I decided that as much as I might want to read Aurelius, really the place to start was with Epictetus.  Fortunately, I already had the text, albeit in the cheater’s Loeb edition.  By which I mean, all the left-side pages are the original Greek, but all the right-side pages are an English translation; hence “cheater’s” edition.

Normally, I’m not a fan of using Loeb’s.  In fact, I had a professor once who wouldn’t allow them in his classroom.6  But in this case, the Loeb is what I had, and so that’s what I decided to use.  But returning to the question of vocabulary, having the English crutch has been quite helpful insofar as it’s a fast and accurate way to understand how Epictetus is repurposing older words.

But alright, let me be honest.  After three years of reading basically nothing but Homer, my skill-set as pertains to reading philosophy-prose is somewhat atrophied.  Yes, I could fight my way through it.  But having the English (and my iPhone Great Scott app) allows me to work through the text on the subway; which has really cut into my French reading-time; but that’s a whole ‘nother story.7

Right, the point was, so I’ve started reading Epictetus.  And you know what, Jared?  It’s really helping.  In more ways than you anticipated.  Obviously the philosophy is generally helping me to calm my shit down.  Which was the point.  But the funny thing is, just reading Greek puts me in a very calm state.  Even though it’s hard.  Even though it’s slow going at times.  But when I’m reading Greek, I enter this very chill and happy place.  Even in the midst of a crowded subway car where – and I cannot for the life of me understand this – people don’t know to take their backpacks off!  I mean, what the actual fuck people?! How did you not get this memo??  In a crowded subway car, take off your big-ass backpack and put it between your feet.  Also, move all the way into the car!  Do I need to teach you everything??  So you see, I can benefit from a bit of calming down.  And as I say, when I’m reading Greek, I don’t even notice this bullshit.

In this way, and others, it’s served to remind me how much I fucking love Greek.  It really is my fucking favorite.  As beautiful as French is, as fascinating as German is, as illuminating as Hebrew is, Greek is just the best.  It’s so precise.  So perfect.  And yet, so free.

So much for Epictetus; though surely more to come in future posts.  I mentioned French, and how I’m reading less of it.  As I indicated, I normally read French on the subway.  Sure, in the summer, I might take my boy Jules Verne to the park.  But in this arschkalt weather, it’s subway or bust.  And so, if I’m reading Greek, I’m not reading French.  Which is kind of not OK.  Because I do kinda love French, even if not as much as the Hellenic tongue.

Fortunately, just as I’m finding less time for la langue française in book form, I seem to have found a new conversation partner.  I may have, in the past, mentioned my friends Annett and Jan, who are just fantastic and who have done so much to help me get settled here.  In fact, it’s probably not an exaggeration to say I likely wouldn’t have been able to score my visa without their help.

They are also my “artist” friends.  In the past, I’ve spoken of my friends Zibs and Jan and how they are my “political” friends.  But Annett and (her) Jan are my artist friends.  Annett does (or did?  And will do again?) open mics with me.  Their friends are artists too.  So when we all hang out, it’s very much an artist crowd, which is very cool.

Now, Annett and Jan are German, as are most of their friends.  But when I met them, my German wasn’t at a great level.  So I know them as English speakers, and when it’s just the three of us, we mostly speak English.  But one thing I love about them, is when there’s a party, they don’t do the whole “Dave’s here, I guess we need to speak English” thing.  It’s sink or swim.  And lately I’ve been swimming.  Like, I actually go to parties where people only speak German and I speak (admittedly quite flawed) German with them.  It’s fantastic.

Anyway, they’ve got this friend, who is French, and obviously an artist.  Anyway, she is the first person I’ve met here for whom German is her second language but also doesn’t really speak a lot of English.  In other words, she’s the only person I know here where we only talk to each other in our second language.  Because normally, I’m either talking to native English speakers or native German speakers, right?

Well, we were drunkenly chatting at Annett’s birthday party and we hit upon the idea that we should meet up for a French-English conversation exchange.  Especially since her English and my French seem to be in roughly the same ballpark.  So that’s what we did on Monday afternoon.  And it was kinda funny.  We meet up at Potzdamer Platz for convenience, but not knowing where to actually go.  Whereupon we proceeded to decide on a café in German, because I can’t walk and talk French at the same time and likewise her with English.  Quickly – because it was so cold – we settled on the nearest bar/restaurant/café thingy.

I have to admit, I was a bit nervous.  I hadn’t done a proper French conversation exchange since I first met Charlotte, which was February of 2013.  And she’s not shy about telling me that I was pretty useless back then.  My only other experiences, then, with spoken French had been when visiting Charlotte in France and my two courses at the Alliance Française in New York.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself.  It’s not that I cared about making mistakes; that would be unavoidable.  But I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation or understand what was being said to me.  I mean, as well as I can read French – and I can read it pretty well, I think – I have a very hard time hearing the language.

Well, I’m please to report that I did quite well, actually.  I had no problem holding a conversation, and I was able to understand her quite well.  Not to say I didn’t make a ton of mistakes, or make long pauses while I searched for a word.  Not to say I didn’t have to ask her to repeat things from time to time or occasionally ask what a word meant.  But the fact is, we chatted together in French for a solid 45+ minutes.  I ain’t gonna lie, I was pretty pleased with myself.

Then we switched to English and did that for another 45+ minutes.  And you know what?  Her English was also full of mistakes.  But she expressed herself just fine.  So I don’t actually think it’s a stretch to say we’re more or less at the same level with each other’s language.  Which is really nice.  Because I know what it feels like when your partner is great at English and you suck at German or French.  But when you’re at the same place, it takes away a lot of the pressure.

Two other funny things from this I want to mention.  With German speakers, when I need a word, I’m very used to asking for the English.  For example, “Wie sagt man rude” – how do you say “rude?”  But here, when either of us needed a word, we’d turn to the German.  “Comment on dit einladen?” for example; How do you say “invite.”  Of course, the French word for “invite” is “inviter.”  And she did the same.  But the funny thing was, if I didn’t know a French word, or she didn’t know an English one, and we’d ask in German how to say it, and it always turned out to be the same word in English or French, like invite/inviter.

The other funny thing was – OK, I don’t know if it’s funny, ὠϲ ἔποϲ εἱπεῖν.  But when we were speaking French, she was totally at ease, totally herself, confident, in command.  And the moment we switched to English, her entire demeanor changed.  She became a bit shy, and her body language was much less confident.  She got better as we went along.  But there was this instantaneous change, where she almost became a different person.  It was fascinating to watch.  But it also made me think, what must I have looked like?  Who was I when I was struggling along in French?  Who did I become when we switched to English?  And who were we both when we were speaking German?  “Fascinating,” he said, raising a Spokean eyebrow.  All told, the plan is to meet up again next Monday.  Which I’m quite happy about.  It’s nice to have some actual French in my life.

So much for that.  But speaking of Potsdamer Platz, the Sunday before last, I went to go see Rogue One with my old CELTA mate Paul and his partner Lars, of whom I’d heard much but never actually met.  Rogue One.  Star Wars.  Gah!  So much to say!  Look, Star Wars was my absolute favorite movie growing up.  I still adore it.  But the prequels took a lot of the wind out of my sails.  And Episode VII was so disappointing that I’d resolved to just be done with the new movies and hereafter only ever watch the original three.

But Paul asked me if I wanted to go see Rogue One in IMAX 3D, and well, did I really have a good reason not to?  And oh my gawd you guys, I fucking loved it!  Star Wars is back, bitches!  I mean, I loved everything about it.  The characters, the story, the darkness.  And I know not everybody feels this way, but holy shit did I love the CG Peter Cushing Grand Moff Tarkin!  I mean, out of all of Star Wars, he is hands down one of the best characters they ever had.  And I loved seeing him again.  And, for me, he was spot-fucking-on.  Also, after watching three seasons of Hannibal,8 I now officially adore Mads Mikkelson.9  And he killed it!

And look, it’s not like everything was perfect.  For instance, why does Vader live in Mordor?  By which I mean, a) why did they poach the Mordor aesthetic but also b) why would a guy whose physical deformities result from being dropped into a volcano wish to live in a volcanic hellscape?  And it also left me feeling like, “Hang on, what exactly is Vader’s job anyway?”  Like, how do they justify this guy’s salary in the Imperial ledger?  And even if he doesn’t take a salary per se, what’s the line item on his Tower of Mordor or his Bacta tank?  And where does he fit in the Imperial org-chart?  Also, for that matter, what’s a Moff, much less a Grand Moff?  And are there other Grand Moffs?  And what’s Tarkin’s backstory anyway?  I’m sure it’s hella interesting.  I’d much rather watch that movie than The Han Solo Story: The Great Disney Moneygrab, tbh.

But all that is secondary.  The movie was so much FUN.  Which episodes I-III, VII definitely were not.  It captured the feel of the original SW.  Even if there was no Screen Crawl.  Even if the music wasn’t John Williams.  It felt right.  And oh my god, you guys, who came up with the idea of the Force Monks?  That was fucking brilliant.  They were fucking brilliant.

And they got the aesthetics right.  Everything looked like it should have.  Everything sounded like it should have.  And yet – apart from the Force homeworld of “Jeddah” – all the easter-eggy references where there, but never too on the nose.  None of this JJ Abrams fanboy shit.  This movie really brought me back to my childhood and my deep-down love for Star Wars.

One last thing about the movie I want to mention, and it’s another thing I know not everybody agrees with me on.  But I have to say, that scene where Vader just demolished everybody in his path was…do we even have words for how badass-amazing this was?  I could have untied my shoelaces with my bottom teeth, so wide open was my jaw during this scene.

I spoke to my brother about this, and he wasn’t feeling it.  He was all, “I dunno, man, it seemed kinda out of character for him.  We never saw Vader move like that.  And he shouldn’t need to.  It was almost like the stupid shit they did with Yoda in the prequels (which I agree was travestic, btw).”  And look, those aren’t unfair points.  And maybe I just wanted to justify it because I loved it so much.  But my attitude was this.

Vader needed to get those plans back, by any means necessary.  If that meant busting out every last one of his Force powers and going balls-out, so be it.  The reason we never saw it before is because Vader never needed to move like that before.  This was the most extenuating of circumstances.  “But in Ep.IV,” he said, “he had the stormtroopers board the ship first and do the dirty work.  He had the stormtroopers search for the plans.”  True, but at that point, they had the ship in their hold.  It wasn’t going anywhere.10  Whereas here, he had to get those plans before the Corellian Corvette could escape.  And we could go on.  But my point is, I thought that scene was incredible, and watching Darth Vader go medieval was breathtaking.

One thing I do regret, in hindsight, is that we didn’t get any Vader/Tarkin interactions in this movie.  I didn’t notice it at the time.  But of course I had to talk to Dale about the movie after the fact, because Dale is the biggest Star Wars fan I know.  And he pointed out that one thing which worked so well in the original film was the way in which Tarkin and Vader humanized each other with their banter.  And he’s right.  I can’t help but feel like that was a missed opportunity in Rogue One.  But that’s as may be.  When all is said and done, I adored this movie.  It made me love Star Wars again.

I honestly don’t know if I’ll bother with the other movies that are to come.  I really don’t hold out much hope for Episodes VIII & IX.  And the Han Solo movie does feel like little more than a moneygrab.  But I do know this.  I will watch Rogue One over and over.  And I’ll watch it together with the originals.  Where it belongs.

Welp, that’s all for now.
זיי געסונט

  1. Oh yeah, I have health insurance now.  And if they gut Obama care, I may be forced to stay here.  Forever. []
  2. That’d be the Roman Emperor/Philosopher King Marcus Aurelius, who wrote a journal that we call “Meditations” but which he simply called “τῶν εἰϲ ἑαυτόν” or “To Himself.”  Anyway, it’s essentially a tract of Stoic philosophy, which among other things, has been known to lie at the bedsides of some of our best presidents. []
  3. In the course of an Ancient History class, actually.  And credit where credit is due, Professor Hunt probably did more than anybody else to point me on my current path, not that he’d know.  In fact, I don’t think he’d remember me, even if I won a Nobel prize.  But he was certainly one of the most influential teachers I’ve ever had. []
  4. Despite being a Roman emperor, he wrote this work in Greek, which for the Romans was the language of learning, philosophy and scholarship.  As it well fucking ought to be.  And probably would be, if not for a) The Catholic Church and b) the fact that it’s a far sight harder than Latin. []
  5. There was this phenomenon in Rome where it was very common to have Greek slaves.  But the Greek slaves could well be more educated than their masters.  And in the case of Epictetus, they could be full-on philosophers. []
  6. Jacob Stern, rockin’ it old school! []
  7. Two semicola in the same sentence?  That can’t be good form.  And yet… []
  8. Have you watched it?  No?  Go watch it!  Now! []
  9. Forget Anthony Hopkins, this man is fucking Hannibal.  (Clearly “fucking” is adverbial, modifying Hannibal and not joined with “is” which would be a very strange present progressive.  Hashtag sorry I’m an English teacher now. []
  10. Though obviously he never considered the escape pods, which I mean, yeah, that’s a yuuuge oversight from a guy who just moments ago said “tear this ship apart.”  But I’m sure the officer who decided not to fire on the escape pod got a nice choking for his non-efforts.  Anyway. []