An American in Berlin

An American in Berlin
10 June, 2022

“You haven’t written anything in quite some time,” remarked my friend Esma to me over dinner.  “Sure I have,” I replied.  “I just haven’t posted any of it.”  I forget exactly what she said after that, but I think it was along the lines of, “Asshole, that’s my point.”  Well, fair enough, Esma.  But also, fair enough, Dave.  So I’m going to try and get back on track here by slapping together some previously unpublished shit along with some newer thoughts and updates.  And I think I’m going to break it down into two or three posts.  This post, I’m mostly going to focus on music.  In the next post (or two), I actually want to spend some time talking about sports, of all things.  Anyway, here we go…

From March 20th:

>> Clearly it’s been a while since I’ve written, though not for lack of trying.  There’s been a couple of draft posts since the last one, but I haven’t been satisfied with any of them.  So here we are.  Again.  Or, well, here I am again, anyway.

Speaking of being here again, I had a birthday this month.  Forty-fucking-one.  And all I have to say about that is, the ceaseless march of time can fuck right the fuck off.  I didn’t plan anything this year, but I wound up having an accidental dinner with my boss and the husband-wife of the French musicians.

I say accidental because what happened was, the French guy – Philippe – whatsapped me and asked if I wanted to meet for beers one of these days.  So I said sure, how about Thursday, since I was off Friday.  And then, like two days later, I realized Thursday was my birthday.  But I didn’t tell him that on account of I didn’t want to make a thing of it.

Then a couple of days later, he messages me again and tells me that Knut – my boss – had asked him if they were free Thursday for drinks as well and would it be alright if Knut came along.  And then Knut emailed me to ask if I would mind terribly if he crashed our little get together.  Of course I was happy to have him along.  So that’s how that all came about, my accidental birthday outing.

Anyway, we had a lovely time of things.  How could we not?  They’re all lovely people.  And the whole vibe of it is cool.  I mean, it fits my Accidental narrative quite neatly.  You know the one, where I keep meeting great people by accident.  Like, I know the French people because they’re properly friends of Deb, who I only know because Knut asked me to teach him and her some Yiddish.  And I only know Knut because Paul, who I did my teacher training with, had already gotten a job with him and suggested my name when Knut needed a teacher.  So yeah, good people just keep falling into my lap.  How about that?

Back to dinner, and Philippe mentioned that Pauline – the daughter – would be in Berlin for just like three or four days the following week.  So I asked if maybe they’d have time to come over and record the new song they’d recently sent me.  And he’s like, yeah, that’s why I’m telling you.  Sweet.

So he and his wife came over that Sunday for him to record his guitar parts.  It took a bit of time, but we got it down in the end.  And then they came back with Pauline on Monday and Tuesday to do the vocals.  And man, that was great.

We got on really well the first time, but there was still a get-to-know-you period involved.  Now, though, having established a good rapport, a good comfort level the last time, we were able to dive right into things this time around.  And what’s really nice is, you can tell we all just really enjoy working with each other.  I mean, you can imagine that it might be somewhat difficult to show up at a stranger’s house and just start singing, you know?  And not just singing, but singing into a mic with headphones on.  But for whatever reason, she seems to be really comfortable working with me.  Which is great for two reasons.  First, she needs to be comfortable if she’s going to make good music.  But also, it makes me feel good as a producer and, uh, proprietor of my little studio, that a person can come in and feel good working in my space, with me.

And I’m sure I said this last time around, but I just love working with this kid.  I mean, for starters, she’s just so talented.  But beyond that she’s really receptive to criticism and to trying out new things.  And she’s creative in her own right.  So I can tell her, go try this specific thing.  But I can also tell her to just go in and experiment.  And in that way, we hit on some really nice stuff.

Like, she hit on this really pretty little harmony, just a little ah-ah thing, which I then elaborated into a 3-part harmony with different lyrics/phrasings for each verse.  And it really swings, you know?  I love the collaborative process.  Also, she’s not afraid to disagree with me, which is super important. 

One thing I’m learning this time around is, all the extra takes we do, all the ideas we try that don’t quite work, they wind up being a veritable gold mine of extra usable material.  Like, I asked for some more freestyle-type takes and some add-libby kinda stuff.  And in the context of putting down the song, they wound up not really working.  But now, going back and mixing, I’m finding that in all those extra takes, there’s little snippets everywhere that I can cut out and add in for color and makes the whole thing so much richer.

But even if I couldn’t use any of it, it’s still a valuable part of the process.  Because both times they’ve come over so far, the songs were pretty new for her, she hadn’t made them her own yet.  So doing all these various takes and experiments and whatnot, I’m finding that it helps her to really discover the song, to find her own voice, her own interpretation.  And man, it’s a lot of fun to midwife that process.

And it’s great too because her read on the song is not necessarily my read.  I should back up here and say that Philippe writes the songs, he writes the music and the lyrics.  And he’s good.  Good hooks, good melodies, good chord progressions.  The guy does nice work is what I’m saying.  But anyway, I read the lyrics and I get a certain impression, a certain emotion.  But that’s just my take.

So after a couple of runs through, I asked Pauline to sit with me and go through the lyrics.  Have you had an experience in your own life like what’s happening in the song?  How did it make you feel?  Can you make me feel that?  What’s your emotion on this verse?  Can you bring that out in your singing?  And wear those emotions on your face when you’re singing, because I’ll be able to hear your smile or your frown or whatever.  So there was some of that involved, beyond the regular, try this-try that.  And in the end, she really found something, she really connected with the text, really made it her own.  So that now, I’ve got some really killer vocal material to work with. 

And it gets better.  So as we were working, trying to find our way in this song, I hit on the idea of dropping in a bit of cello.  Midi cello, obviously.  And I didn’t do much either, just a really simple line in a few strategic places.  And immediately, she was like, I love this!  And I was happy with it too, or at least the concept of it.  The actual lines needed some work, and also I kinda hated the fake midi sound.

So I asked Justin if he knew anybody that played violin/cello who could either record decent quality on their own or else come to his house and record.  He had a colleague in mind.  And when he asked the guy, the dude was like, are you kidding me, I live for this shit!  I think those were actually his words.  Anyway, turns out, not only is he a trained violinist, but he’s even studied French folk fiddle.  I mean, how much more perfect can you get? 

So I passed on the track along with my basic cello lines and some general guidelines.  I’m waiting to hear back now with what he comes up with.  But I’m super excited about this.  I mean, if it works out, it’s gonna add something really special to the track.  You guys, this is gonna be a banger.  Is that right?  Do the kids say ‘banger’?  It’s going to be good, is the point. 

On the last night they were here, I offered to cook dinner.  In the end, the mom wasn’t feeling so well, so I wound up not actually cooking.  But we did like an apéro – wine, cheese, some fresh veggies, that kind of thing.  And it was really nice.  I mean, beyond being so much fun to record with, they’re also just good people to spend time with.  Smart, funny, French.  It was great.<<

Well, in the end, it never worked out with the violin guy.  It seems he had too many work and family commitments to find the time.  Oh well.  So I finished the song using midi instruments.  It actually worked out fine.  The French people didn’t even realize it was a midi cello and even Justin wasn’t sure.  Which means it passed muster.  Fine by me. 

And actually, it worked out for the best.  Because waiting for the guy, it wound up forcing me to take like a two-month hiatus from the song.  Which meant I was able to come back to it with fresh ears.  And I finished it in an afternoon.  All I really had to do was rebalance a few things in the mix and work out the cello part to completion.  Like I said above, super simple.  One line under the chorus and one line under a vocal breakdown in the middle.  Really satisfying, if I do say so myself. 

I’m really quite pleased with the final product, actually.  I want to say it’s my best work yet.  Which is as should be.  I should be making progress with each new mix.  I sent it, as I always do now, to Rob for feedback.  I told him that I was pretty pleased with the result but that of course I’d love any feedback he had to offer.  He wrote back saying emphatically that I should be pleased with it and that nothing really jumped out at him as needing attention.

He then said that if there was one thing, it was maybe the sibilance.  In other words, how sharp the letter ‘s’ can sound in places.  And I was glad he said that actually.  Because per my own diagnostic, that was also the one thing that I felt could still be better.  But I didn’t want to tell him that, because I didn’t want to draw his attention to it.  So the fact that this was the only thing he pointed to acts as a sort of confirmation that I should feel more comfortable trusting my own ears; that we’re both hearing the same thing.

He then gave me some advice on how to handle that particular issue going forward, which of course I appreciate.  Indeed, I had gone in and attacked some particularly strong sibilants at the waveform level.  But that’s surgery.  Rob’s feedback will help me to improve that on a more global level without having to break out the scalpel, as it were.  After the last track, he gave me that tip on sidechaining the reverb, which was I able to apply this time around.  Next time, I’ll be able to apply his tips to the sibilants.  Good stuff.

Anyway, it’s one thing for me to be satisfied with my own work, which of course is important.  But at the end of the day, even though this is an exercise in my own development as a producer, I’m really serving the artists and their vision for their own song.  So what matters in the end is that they’re satisfied with it.

To that end, I’m happy to report that they were not just satisfied but positively delighted.  Pauline and Philippe, both of them just love it.  I mean, you can tell, even through Whatsapp, that the enthusiasm is genuine.  So that’s already gratifying.  But what really makes me happy is how they appreciate what I bring to the music.  What I mean is, it’s not just, “You make my voice or my guitar sound great.”  They love the cello that I added, what I did with the harmonies, all the extra stuff.  To put it another way, they appreciate not just my technical work at the mixing board, but what I bring as an actual producer.  And that means a great deal to me.  Because even though it’s their music, at the end of the day, I put a lot of myself into it as well. 

I know I said it above, but I love this collaborative process.  The process of working with the artists to get more out of themselves than they knew the had, to get more out of the song than they knew it had.  And that’s something that we do together.  I fucking love that process, you know?

I’ve mentioned before how valuable I find Rob’s input and support.  But I want to come back to that for a second.  I was talking to Jared recently, and he brought this up himself.  He told me that Rob had told him about my work and that Rob was really positive about it.  From Jared’s perspective, he was just really happy to see his two friends connecting in this way.  And that’s important to me too.  Obviously I don’t get to see Rob very often.  Rob, whom I’ve known since we’re teenagers.  Rob, in whose basement I spent a gazillion hours, whose whole family I know forever.  So yeah, the feedback he provides is invaluable.  The positivity and support he offers give me confidence that I need.  But beyond all that, it means a lot to me to able to stay connected – and indeed to forge this new particular connection – after all these years.

You know, for as long as I’ve known Jared, he’s had this line about friendships: They either grow or they die.  Well, for almost six years now I’ve been living in Germany.  We see each other twice a year (lockdowns notwithstanding) and we text periodically.  But under those circumstances, can a friendship really be said to be “growing”?  And if it’s not growing, is it dying?

So I asked him about it.  I asked him as we were getting drunk one night in Paris.  And by the way, I can think of few things better than getting drunk with a lifelong friend in Paris.  I highly recommend it.  Anyway, I asked him.  And in answer, he introduced a new category.  Sometimes, he said, friendships endure.  And that seemed right to me.  I mean, for my part, I do not notice the least bit of drift.  Because for all the time and distance between us, things seem to be as they always ever have been.  So this is a friendship that endures.  Despite.  And this new connection with Rob now, over music, is something that allows our friendship to endure as well.  And for that I am grateful.

Anyway, back to the music.  This, from April 8th:

>> Let’s see, what else?  I had Bibi over today to start recording another song for the band.  I’m happy to report my real-time production skills are showing some improvement.  That’s surely a result of the work I’ve done with Pauline and Philippe.  What do I mean?

Well, one thing about doing songs for the band is, they’re songs we’ve been playing for ages.  Everybody already knows their parts, how they sing them, how they play them.  In the beginning, this felt like an advantage.  Now I see it’s the opposite.  Because I already had a preconceived notion of how the performances should sound, I think it blocked me from getting the best out of them vocally.  I was basically expecting them to go in and sing what I always hear them sing.  I wouldn’t really ask for much unless I heard something egregiously wrong or wanted a very specific harmony. 

Whereas working with Pauline, the songs were basically new for both of us.  So I felt like I had a freer hand not only in asking for experimentation, but also to try and mold her performance to a degree with respect to phrasing, pronunciation and emotional expression.  Going through that process with her really opened me up to how I might try and get a bit more out of Bibi.

Anyway, we did a few rough takes of this song we’re doing now.  I guess it’s called Redemption Song, by Bob Marley; I dunno, never heard the original.  But I know our version through-and-through, obvi.  So we lay down a couple of rough takes, and while they were fine, I felt like something was missing.  So I ask her what the point of the song was.  And she says something to the effect of, “It’s about freedom and also somehow like a religious experience.”  And I’m like, “OK, you think you can convince me of that with your vocal?”  She shrugged and agreed to try.

Well, sure enough, she goes in and all of a sudden there’s this power in her voice that just wasn’t there before.  I knew we had something just listening to her lay it down.  But when she finished, she came out and we listened back to it.  Yeah, it was good.  And you could see her whole face light up.  She was like, “Wow, it’s totally different!  It’s so much more powerful!”  So we did a couple of more takes with that in mind and honestly, it was so much better than what we’d had before.

And once I saw that I could push her a bit and get more out of her, I decided there were some pronunciation things I wanted to work on.  There were a couple of phrases that ended with the pronoun “I,” and they were sounding kind of week.  Knowing that her background is in theatre, I decided to try and tap into that.  I said she must know from the stage that although it’s only one letter, “I” is properly a diphthong, a combination of ‘ah-ee.’  So I asked her to close the syllable with a touch of emphasis on the ‘ee’.  She found it pretty quickly and the results were tangible.  Again, we listened back, and again, you could just see her face light up when she heard the difference, how much stronger it sounded.  We took a similar approach to a phrase ending with the word “strong.”  Originally, the ‘g’ was getting lost.  But we spent a few minutes on it and, again, got a much improved result. 

And I’ll tellya something.  It’s one thing when you ask for something and you yourself can hear the difference.  But when the performer can hear the difference, and not only hear it but actually recognize the marked improvement, that’s really gratifying.  And gratifying is the word.  I mean, I’m really pleased with my work as a producer today.  Not only for having learned from my experiences with Pauline, but for getting better at spotting problems in real time.  And then, not just spotting them, but addressing them and getting an improved result.  One of my goals as a producer is to get the best possible performance out of my artists.  Now, did I get the very best performance possible?  Maybe not.  But I got a better performance than the one we started with.  And that’s real progress.

Tellya what also was really nice ((What was also really nice?  Fuck, German is playing hell with my adverb placement.  I literally don’t know which word order sounds better.)).  At the end of our session, Bibi turns to me with this big ol’ smile on her face.  And she’s like, “Wow, Dave.  You’re like a really good vocal coach!”  Or words to that effect.  It was hours ago and in German, so I’m paraphrasing.  But the point is, it was pretty cool to get that little bit of recognition.  It’s kind of a big step, actually.  To go from the artist being like basically, “Well, my work is done, I trust you to make something nice of it,” to the artist genuinely feeling like I helped them to find something nice within themselves that they wouldn’t have found without me.  It’s shit like this that makes producing a helluva lotta fun. 

The next step is to get Ralf down to do his guitars and vocals.  It was kinda funny, Bibi’s thoughts on that part of the process.  Because she found something new today, not only in herself, but in the song too.  And she was basically like, “Do you think you can get this across to Ralf, get him to match what I’m doing?”  It’s an important question, because they trade off lines during the verses, so the intensity and emotion definitely need to match.  And I was like, “Pretty sure it won’t be a problem.  Ralf’s actually pretty open minded when it comes to recording.”  She was of course pleased to hear that.

But it’s true.  Ralf is actually great about that kind of stuff.  I’ve asked him to do all kinds of stuff on the other songs.  Playing the chords with different voicings, singing new harmonies he’s never sung before, doing extra takes when he thinks we’ve already done enough.  And he’s always game, always happy to try anything.  So based on my past experiences with Pauline and my work with Bibi today, I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to get some good stuff from Ralph.

And I’m pretty excited about it too.  Because I really like this song.  It’s one of the first songs we played together.  I don’t sing on it, but I really enjoy my guitar parts.  I think they add some really nice color to the whole thing.  And when you put it all together, I think it’s one of the better tracks we do.  So yeah, I’m looking forward to doing up a nice studio version of it.  I feel good about this one.  So far, anyway.<<

So that was that.  The next week, I got Ralf down to do his parts.  Not just vox and guitars but also the cajón.  We started with the guitars, and that went more or less pretty smoothly.  We had to do a couple of takes to get him acclimated to the metronome.  But once we’d done that, he was good to go.  Here’s a nice thing though.  Once we got a really nice take down, he actually asked if we could double-track it.  In other words, he wanted to lay down a second guitar track to accompany the first. 

Now, this is something I was always going to ask him for.  But the fact that he volunteered to do it, even before I asked, was a most pleasant surprise.  It made me happy for two reasons.  First, it means he was coming prepared with more of his own vision for what he wanted for the guitars.  This is, on its face, a good thing.  But second, it means that he’s growing as a musician, that he’s becoming more comfortable and familiar with the recording process.  And that’s great for him as an artist, great for me as a producer and great for us as a band.

Next, the vocals.  As always, we started by just laying down a couple of rough takes, the way he always sings his parts.  From there, I took the same approach as with Pauline and Bibi.  I sat down with him and we went through the lyrics, line by line, translating them into German.  And you could just see, with each line, he was gaining this new and deeper understanding of the song.  When we’d gone through the whole thing, we talked about the meaning of the text in a big picture kind of way. 

That done, we were ready to record again.  This time, he sang the song according to his new and deeper understanding.  The thing was, he was singing it as if it were this deeply personal and private revelation.  And objectively, it was very good.  But it didn’t quite jive with what Bibi had done.  So I asked him to try singing it as if he had discovered this great truth and his job now was to convince a crowd of a thousand people.  “Like I’m on stage at the Mercedes Benz Arena!”  He liked this idea.  And so that’s how he sung it.  And I’ll tell you something.  It worked.  He really did some nice work, no joke.  Then, same as with Bibi, we went back and attacked a handful of particular syllables.  And same as with Bibi, he lit up when heard the difference.

Then it was on to the cajón.  We worked out the parts together.  We both had ideas and in the end, we hit on something that I think really serves the song.  This time around, we had a better instrument to work with.  Combine that with the fact that I think I did a better technical job of mic’ing the thing, and I believe we’re gonna have a really nice percussive sound for this track. 

In the end, Ralf too was really pleased with the whole process.  He also complimented me on my work guiding him through the lyrics and nudging his performance in the direction I did.  So yeah, again – and at the risk of over-tooting my own horn – it was really gratifying.  Not only to get that kind of positive feedback, but to have done a better job getting the best performance out of my artist.

I haven’t done any more work on the song since then.  I still need to put down my own guitar parts.  I have decisions to make about whether or not to add my own vocal harmonies as well as what I’m hearing for the song, big-picture.  And that’s all before I can even think about mixing it.  So there’s a lot of work to do yet.  But I think we’ll wind up with a nice track in the end.

Well, I guess that’s enough for today on the music front.  One last update before I close.  This also from the 8th of April:

>> I’ve decided it’s time I learned some Aramaic.  The people who put out the Hebrew book I learned from also have a textbook on this subject, so naturally that’s the one I bought.  After all, I was quite pleased with that Hebrew book and with how far it brought me.

That said, they’re both super goyish.  I mean, they’re published by Christian theologians, and right there in the forward, they’re like, “If you’re going to be a good Christian preacher, you need to know your Aramaic.”  Uh, OK.   I mean, that’s not a bad thing per se.  But it’s limiting.  Their entire purpose, it seems, is just to be able to read the handful of verses in the Old Testament that are written in Aramaic.  And yeah, I’d like to be able to do that.  But it’s not my main purpose.

My main purpose is, well, more Jewish.  There are a bunch of prayers that are written not in Hebrew, but Aramaic; the kaddish – the prayer for the dead – to give but one example.  And the most important translation of the Hebrew Bible (from the Jewish perspective) is the Onkelos translation, in Aramaic.  But more than that even, Talmud.  The Talmud (or, the gemara anyway) is in Aaramic, and I’d like to be able to handle that, if only on a superficial level.  Because right now, if I want to look at a page of Talmud, I need to look at in English.  And we all know that’s not how I roll. 

The question, then, is how far will this particular textbook bring me in that direction?  I don’t know.  I just don’t know enough about the language.  But since I know literally nothing about the language – apart from the fact that it’s already quite similar to Hebrew – an introductory text like this seems like a good place to start.  I can always build out from here.

Anyway, I’ve only just started.  If I can work at a good pace, it’ll take me at least a couple of months to slog through this book.  And then I’ll see where I’m at.  But I’m kind of excited about it.  It’s been a while since I’ve tackled a new language.  Gotta keep those neurons in shape, yo!

And speaking of learning new languages, I have another project in mind.  Although this one has the distinct air of biting off more than I can chew.  See, I’ve asked Bartek to recommend a good textbook on Polish.  Polish?  Why Polish?

The reasons are twofold.  One is professional.  See, we get a fair number of Polish speaking students at our school, and even more Slavic speakers in general (mostly Russians, but some Ukrainians and assorted other as well).  And the Slavic languages are a blind spot for me.  Maybe I’ve discussed this before.  But with native speakers of German and French – and for that matter, Spanish and Italian – when they say weird shit, I know where it’s coming from.  I can see what they’re thinking in their native tongue and how that gets manifested into English.  It’s a useful tool, actually, when you want to explain why and how things are different in English.  But with the Slavic speakers, when they say weird shit, I can only shrug my shoulders and assume, “Welp, that’s probably makes some kind of Slavic sense what you just said, but uh, don’t say that.  Because.”  And that’s weak tea.  So if I can gain even some small insight into the workings of the Slavic languages, that figures to make me a better teacher.  So that’s one reason.

The other reason is Yiddish.  Yes, there are a ton of Polish loan-words in Yiddish – yarmulke, balagan, shmata, papiros, bupkis, just to give a few – but that’s vocabulary, that’s kindergarten shit.  The real shit is found in the organization of thoughts, the construction of whole sentences, the expression of ideas via idioms.  I can’t begin to count how many times Bartek and I have read a sentence in the memorial book we’re translating where my reaction to said sentence was either, “Well, that’s fucking weird and I don’t get it,” or “I suppose this means x but I could just as easily imagine it meaning y.”  And then Bartek will say, “Well, it makes perfect sense to me actually, because that’s exactly how you’d express this in Polish.  To me, it’s literally like reading a Polish sentence with Yiddish words.”  And while I’ll never have his native-speaker feel for that sort of thing, I rather desperately want to at least be able to grasp it.  I very much want to be able to look at a Yiddish sentence and have my reaction be, “Well, a year ago this would have boggled my mind, but now that I understand some basic Polish it’s actually quite clear.”  And that, friends, is reason enough to at least try and make an effort at learning some Polish.

In any case, I’m still waiting for him to get back to me with a recommendation on a text.  And then we’ll see if I can find the time and muster the energy to make any kind of real progress on that front.  But I certainly need to try.  It doesn’t do the brain any good to be idle.  One must always find new mental challenges.  One must always be learning. 

But it’s nice to know that if I do make the effort, I’ve got a built in advantage.  I know that Bartek is quite keen to help me.  Every time I’ve mentioned in the past that I really ought to learn some Polish, he just lights up and very eagerly lets me know he’s more than happy to help.  The risk is not that he won’t have time or interest to help.  If there’s any risk at all, it’s in abusing his generosity.  And I intend to be mindful of that, if indeed I can get this going.

It’s good to have friends who speak other languages that are enthusiastic about helping you.  Most of you know I’ve had this long running love-affair-from-afar with Finnish.  It started with Tolkien and the influence of Finnish on his creation of Elvish.  It progressed to my personal discovery of the epic poem Kalevala (the Finnish version of Homer, to be crude) and my journey to Finland to meet the last living oral singer of that work.  And finally, the whole milieu of Finnish folk-metal.  But of all the languages one can learn, Finnish is way down the list in terms of practicality.  So few people speak it, it’s notorious for being difficult, and most Finnish speakers you’re likely to meet speak excellent English anyway.

Point is, I’ve got a Finnish friend here, Marcus.  Lovely guy.  Drinks like a fish, loves hockey, produces (electronic) music, language nerd (we sometimes speak French together) and is also friends with Joschka.  Anyway, he’s also supportive of my interest in Finnish and is teaching me phrases here and there.  He’s enthusiastic about it too.  Says things like, “I think you’d be a good person to teach some Finnish to.  I like the way you think about languages and you’re good at them.”  I sometimes wonder if he mistakes experience and practice with native ability or if that’s just me being self-conscious, but the sentiment is real and appreciated. 

In any case, I’m a long way from buying a Finnish textbook.  It’s not related to any language I know, which means I don’t have even the most elementary vocabulary to hang my hat on.  I men, even with Hebrew, which is not a part of the Indo-European family – like English, French, German, Spanish, Yiddish, etc. – I had a basic starting vocabulary which had the effect of making the language anything but alien.  But man, Finnish?  I’d really be starting from zero.  I’m not saying I couldn’t do it.  But the amount of time and effort that would be required to make a proper go of it is, at present, beyond me.  Nevertheless, I do hope to make some small inroads this year. 

Because I gotta tell you guys, to my ears, when it comes to listening to a language where you can’t pick out a single word, nothing sounds more beautiful, more musical, to my ears than Finnish.  I mean, at a recent party, Marcus taught me how to count to four in Finnish.  Well, five, really, but I seem to have forgotten the word for five.  And I gotta say, not only does it sound sooo cool, but just making those sounds with your mouth is a stupid amount of fun.  Sounds that we just don’t get in any of the languages I know.  Yksi, kaksi, kolme, neljä.  It looks weird on the page.  But go find a video of someone speaking it.  Just gorgeous.  So we’ll see what happens with that.  I’ll tellya, though.  If I live long enough, I’d love to get even some basic skills with Finnish.  It’s a real party for the mouth!  OK, yeah, I heard it.<<

So that was on the 8th of May.  Since then, I’ve been making steady progress with the Aramaic.  I mean, it’s basically just weird Hebrew, so it’s not all that taxing.  But you still gotta do the work.  And I’m doing it.  At this rate, I should be finished with the book well before the end of the year.  Then we’ll see to what extent I can apply it to Talmud.  But one step at a time.

As for the Polish, that’s naturally on hold til I finish with the Aramaic.  But it is still very much the plan.  And Bartek has recommended a plethora of resources.  So whenever I do get started with it, I should have some good tools at hand.  But that’s for another day.

Well, that’s surely enough for tonight.  I hope you’ll forgive this post being longer than usual in light of my not having posted since January.  I’ll try not to be so long before the next post.  Until then…

זײַ געזונט

2 thoughts on “An American in Berlin

  1. What a joy to see you shared again. I can feel you following your bliss. I can feel how happy you are in the way you share your stories.
    ?? Be happy, healthy and safe. Music is a big part of our family.

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