Friday, April 26, 2013


Up until recently, all I knew about Napoleon was what I learned from watching Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

Then I read Napoleon: A Life by Paul Johnson.  One thing's for sure; Bill and Ted's casting department came up with an actor who looks just like the real Napoleon.

This is the picture on the front of my book.  What a grumpleface.

Johnson is not a fawning biographer.  He presents the young Napoleon as an emo teenager, sallow, skinny, and not very popular with the ladies.  If he were alive today, I bet he would be one of those kids who wears a long, black trench coat, doesn't talk to anyone, and then one day shows up at school with an automatic weapon and kills a pile of innocent people.

Granted, he was a military genius.  It seems that he was the first commander who used math to actually calculate things like the quantities of supplies that would be required by his troops, and how long transportation would take, in order to keep his war efforts working efficiently.  He also knew how to read a map, which apparently wasn't a common talent, even among officers in the military.  I guess armies used to just head out in the approximate direction of the enemy with a random amount of supplies and hope for the best?

Unfortunately, once a war was won, Napoleon was not a natural at governing his conquered territories.  Being a sociopath and a narcissist (Dr. Spark's diagnoses) kind of got in the way of his understanding of human nature.  Many of the countries he conquered initially welcomed him as a potential reformer.  He thanked them by looting their wealth and artistic treasures, and disrespecting all cultures other than that of France.  The conquered peoples figured out pretty quickly that he was a jerk, and this diminished his popularity.  Thusly, his empire crumbled as quickly as it was built.

Napoleon could have learned a thing or two from Bill and Ted.  I guess no one had told him "Be excellent to each other!"

I'm glad that I'm finished reading this book, so that I can put it away and not have to see Napoleon's grumpy face anymore.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Speaka da Eengleesh?

Thanks to everyone who left encouraging comments after my last post.  Sunday turned out to be a good day, so on the whole last weekend was more than satisfactory.  I hope folks don't mind that I don't always respond to every individual comment.  I would if I felt that I had something of value to say, but oftentimes I just don't feel like I could say anything other than ":-) Thanks!" to everyone.  Not that there's anything wrong with ":-) Thanks!"  I guess I just feel that if I can't come up with something personalized or clever, I may as well just let it be.

I had to have a word with one of my employees this week, about appropriate comments.  English is not her first language.  She was calling a series of clients to reschedule them.  What she meant to say to each of them was "I'm sorry to bug you, but..."  What she actually said was "I'm sorry to be a bugger..."  I heard her say this to two clients in a row.  When she got off the second phone call, I explained to her that "bugger" has, shall we say, other implications.  How I put it to her: bugger is when a man has sex with someone in their rear end.  She giggled and turned pink, and assured me that she would not be discussing buggery with any of our clients in the future.

Lately I find that I spend a lot of my time at work translating.  Not between languages, although I do speak passable French.  I have to translate from person A's English to person B's English.  I once heard that each of us speaks in a unique idiolect: the individual's version of a dialect.  Experience has proven this to be true, and despite some commonalities, messages often are lost from one idiolect to the next.  I can't tell you how many times, after A has spoken to B about something, A and B come away with completely different understandings of the outcome of their discussion.

I work with one person whose first language is English, and yet she has desperately bad communication skills.  Whenever I need to speak with her I gird my loins, as it were, because I know I need to expend quite a bit of effort in order to a) understand her and b) make sure she understands me.  She speaks very quickly, and tends to use pronouns without antecedents.  In other words, for example, she'll start talking about "he" or "him" without first specifying which of our many male co-workers she's referring to.  I need to stop her every couple of sentences to ask her to be more specific.  It gets irritating pretty quickly.  Understanding her is hard work.

She also infuriates people by failing to listen.  Her mind is always whirring away, thinking about what she's going to say next.  She has insisted to me more than once that I have not said something which I specifically remember saying to her.  By now I know the way to avoid trouble; if it's important, put it in writing.  Even if I have already given her a verbal heads up, she's also going to get an e-mail from me.  She's great at her job, and is genuinely good-natured.  I remind myself of this often when I start running out of patience.

Which failures of communication bug you the most?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Friday was the best day ever!  I met a girlfriend who I've known since grade school and we went to the Green Living Show.  I wasn't sure exactly what we'd see there, but I'd gotten my hands on some free entry coupons, and that was reason enough for us.

The show consisted of a giant conference hall filled with exhibitors relating to health food and environmental friendliness.  A random list of some of the exhibitors:  vegan shoes (no leather); products made from recycled tiles (mulch, roofing, flooring); recycling businesses; aromatherapy oils; "green" cars; and lots and lots of healthy/organic food.  Also, a wildlife conservation group was there with some live birds, to remind us why living green is important.  I fell in love with this beautiful owl.

My friend and I made the rounds, and free-sampled about a quazillion different kinds of chips, cheeses, teas, sorbets, nut bars, juices, etc.  Then we paid money to participate in the official tasting zone, where the attractions included fish tacos, organic wine, and bacon butter tarts.  My friend and I shared a tiny bacon butter tart (basically one bite each) and it wasn't all that.  It was just like a regular butter tart, but saltier.  Her fish taco was good.  My pulled pork on potato medallions was disappointing, as the mini potatoes were leathery.  I topped it all off with a cone of dandelion ice cream.  No, it wasn't green, or yellow.  It was made from dandelion root, and tasted like coffee.  I am definitely a fan of dandelion ice cream.

Maybe because I had so much fun yesterday, today wasn't my day.  Among other things:

  • Someone I had plans to meet with was 45 minutes late.  I stuck around because she did text me at the actual meeting time, to let me know she'd gotten wrapped up in her reading and was just leaving the house.  This is why I always plan to meet people in bookstores.  At least I had something to read while I was waiting.
  • For no reason at all a salesperson in a store started asking me really annoying questions in an obnoxious tone of voice.  "Did you buy that purse to match your sweater?  Haha, just kidding!"  "Do you always look like you're smiling?"  Well, not anymore.  Now shut your wordhole and go away.
  • I bought a really tasty-looking fruity soda, but I couldn't get the top off the bottle.  It wasn't a twist-top.  I went back to the store, but they had misplaced their bottle opener.  I ended up trading the soda for a water, which was disappointing, and it was going to be such a hassle to get the $ 1.79 difference refunded that I just walked away from the hopelessly unhelpful woman on cash. Her suggestion was that I take a second bottle of water as part of my refund, but who wants to carry an extra half-litre of water around all day?  Nay, not I.
  • I went to another store to buy some groceries on my way home.  There were some girls paying with small change, and they were taking forever.  I left that till, where no one was waiting behind me, and went to the next one.  The guy at that counter told me his till was closed, and I should go back to the other one.  A woman who had been hovering in the area and had seen this whole chain of events turned around and walked ahead of me to the next till, and then stood in line in front of me, even though clearly I should have been in front. On a normal day I wouldn't have cared, but today I almost said something to her.  Like, really?  You're just going to shove in front of me like that?  However, one never knows when one is dealing with a psycho, so I thought I wouldn't make my day any worse by confronting her.  I'm such a typical mild-mannered Canadian!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Grandmother Update

My mother called me a few weeks ago and told me "At lunchtime today, all of Bubbe's teeth fell out."

Oh?  You don't say.

I correctly assumed that there was more to the story.  These teeth were attached to an ancient bridge, which finally gave up and broke. 

Bubbe's paid caregiver popped her into a taxi and took her straight to the dentist.  Bubbe, being semi-demented, gave the dentist a hard time.  She resisted even climbing into the dentist chair, however eventually the dentist was able to examine her mouth.  Then she refused to consent to any procedures.  Stymied, the caregiver brought her back home.  Later, she told my aunt that the dentist had never even looked in her mouth - because she didn't remember that part.

The long and the short of it is that Bubbe has also not remembered to care for her teeth for quite some time.  They are a proper mess, and she's got a series of appointments to have most of them extracted.  She showed up at the family Passover ceder without her top front teeth, and was very embarrassed by this.  She held her hand up over her mouth every time she spoke or laughed.  Poor Bubbe.  She's having a hard time of it.   On the other hand, she seemed to be in high spirits at the ceder, and other than being slightly bonkers and having a hunched spine, her health is quite good, for a 92-year-old.

Now my other Bubbe, my dad's mother, isn't demented at all, at 96, bless her.  I swear her memory is better than mine.  She has obviously lost some bone mass, however instead of curling forward her spine has pancaked straight down.  So even though I need to lean down a little to rest my chin on the top of her head (I'm 5'4"), she stands up quite straight.  She's stiff and slow, but again, has mainly good health.

The last time I visited other Bubbe, she showed me something she'd made in an arts-and-crafts class: a cedar plate.  (During a Passover cedar, five symbolic foods are displayed on a special plate during the ceremonies.  You can use an ordinary plate, but some people keep plates made specially for this purpose.)  She told me she had made it out of mud.  She meant clay, but throughout the conversation she kept referring to it as mud.  I mean, I suppose that's not exactly wrong, but something about it tickled my funny bone.  "Then they gave us this mud, and as you can see we didn't have a lot of time to work with it.  That's why the edges of the mud aren't smooth."  :-)  Funny Bubbe.

So there you have it.  I will have to save up a lot of money for retirement, because if my genes have anything to say about it I'll live to see 100.