As simply as Defoe did

beinecke.library.yale.edupierre-marteau.comAm reading, thanks to the Gutenberg Project, “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas”, which was in actual fact written by Gertrude Stein.

This is indicative of the Miscellany that is my “life of the mind”.

Gertrude Stein was well outside it, until I happened upon a quote from her on the website of someone who wants a book translating. No idea whether it’s a project I’ll be or wish to be involved in, but off my  mind went, reading and reflecting and sympathising with the fact that GS’s transcription of her stream of consciousness was enticing as a style to her at earlier stages of her writing (shall I ever tackle her “Making of Americans”?). But I have to stop this non-sentence here – “Alice B.” was only the book that brought commercial success. It was written “as simply as Defoe did”.

The reflections that arise are not simple, however. With Amnesty last month I wrote to the Bulgarian Prime Minister to ask for better judicial attention in the case of a medical student beaten to death in 2008 in Sofia murdered for his homosexual appearance. Gertrude Stein had lost both her parents by the age of 17 and seems to have felt freer as a result, at least not to marry. The young man in Bulgaria had a mother (Hristina Stoyanova) who mourns him and loved him as he was – listen to what she says: “What is really needed is for children in schools to be taught about difference and that difference is okay – that it does not matter whether someone is gay or not gay.”

To go back to Defoe… there is a current BBC report on Robinson Crusoe Island which reveals that it is off the coast of Chile, 24 hours away by boat from there. Defoe situates the shipwreck in the Caribbean and reveals much of the colonial mind. The man who spent four years alone on Robinson Crusoe Island seems to have done so after an act of moral courage interpreted by his ship’s captain as mutiny. My modern mind likes this story better, of a man who pleaded for the lives of himself and his fellow-sailors to be spared in their sickness and exhaustion.

de.wikipedia.orgLinks I followed on this trail:

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Pregnant camels





Maybe you think that they have little to do with panning for gold in Katzhütte, the place we again took the grandchildren to on Saturday, 22.09.2012.  As with a lot of my life, there’s method in the madness, however.

If I recite
“Pregnant camels ordinarily sit down carefully, perhaps their joints creak”
I can manage    

Precambrian            Cambrian             Ordovician                 Silurian                Devonian
Präkambrium          Kambrium             Ordovizium               Silur                      Devon         

Carboniferous          Permian                Triassic                      Jurassic                 Cretaceous
Carbon                      Perm                       Trias                          Jura                       Kreide

The earliest crushing and pushing and boiling and twisting processes that have gone on in the rocks of the area have been dated to about 570 million years ago, as pregnant (sorry, Precambrian) was nearing camel (i.e. Cambrian). And humps are not a bad description of the amazing geological processes which then went on, for these wooded hills seem once to have been the fringes of Gondwana. Plate tectonics explains that this was a huge landmass parting from the original great single continent of Pangea. The land that now underlies Katzhütte was a subduction zone, it is thought. It seems to have been in the southern tropics at the time and in the Cambrian period to have had long spells of being upthrust so that when another ten or so million years have passed and the basement was heaved under the water level again the layers of rock deposit we now find to be missing (particularly in drillings) are described as an unconformity.  But near the goldwashing site there are places where the very oldest rocks are actually at the surface, there to touch and walk on.

Above them, fringing the path, is the Frauenbach series, ancient enough… thin friable slate, metamorphosed from shale deposited once as muddy sediment season by season… “ordinarily” in the Ordovician… they are now,however,  either steeply angled or exactly vertical. We walked by them with the sense of the unalterable that a hilly, moss-lined, bracken-fringed path conveys on a September afternoon in mid-Germany. But what must have been the earthquakes that turned them on their edge.

Such forces raise the temperature in rock and in the cracks there can be crystallization of minerals from the hot steamy suspensions as things cool down. So on Saturday we walked over a cross-bar of quartz in the path we took.  Quartz that when it was crystallizing out might well have had particles of gold or other minerals mixed in it.

The gentler forces of wind and rain, frost and sun, and the ever downward flow of water have worked away, getting the gold into the gravel bed of the streams now flowing over the ancient rocks where enthusiasts last Saturday panned for the tiny specks, the Kubitz family walked and its youngest member would have stayed for ever like a sprite under the bridge.

I do hope there are people out there reading this. To get my mind round the geological ages took me – well, ages! Many thanks to Dr Donau, who will, I hope, hear from me personally one day as it was his website, that helped me on my trail. All sorts of exciting facts presented themselves – like the fact that the Cadomian unconformity is named after Caen in Northern France and that Cadomia and Florida must have been connected as one series of strata in the “pregnant” Precambrian period.

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Naked Ladies

No – nothing to do with the naughty Irish Daily Star and the nasty paparazzi. Just another instance of how you can see too much (this time online) and be given the wrong idea….

Don’t believe everything you read on the web!  If you go around looking for “Autumn Crocus” (one English name for the German Herbstzeitlose, colchicum autumnale), especially in association with saffron (DE: Safran) you will find a hotch-potch of information. One thing that seems to be true (from my books) is that both the names – Naked Lady and Autumn Crocus – are applied to two amazingly similar plants from different flower families. Mine is from the lily family.

I carried on with my searching because the day after my last blog I saw more of my “naked ladies” to my great surprise in a garden about six houses along from our house in the Naumannstrasse. It all made me get clear about the stigma (the Stempel in German) which in this case is threefold and, joined into the style (Griffel), extends deep into the ground where the ovary is below the level the frost will reach so that the “fruit” can then come up with the leaves in spring. There are six stamens (made up of filament and anther, see photo) and it is from the anther that pollen gets to the stigma with the help of insects.

The whole plant is poisonous. Do not be misled by its main name in English, Meadow Saffron. And if you are a hunter-gatherer, looking for free food and fresh vitamins in spring, be very careful not to confuse its leaves with those of ramsons (Bärlauch) – I found a website for apothecaries that pointed out that fatalities are not unknown.

The autumn crocus that is a true crocus, from the iris family, is crocus sativus, and if anybody is growing it in Ilmenau I’ve yet to hear. Blogging seems to take up time! This week the time was easier to find than when all the teaching and translation is afoot. I did have to steel myself to using the bit of spare time for some tidying of teaching notes and bookshelves… a slow process if you start reading, as I always do! I found Stanley Varo’s monograph on Little Germany, in Bradford (which you could call my home town). Think it may be my next bit of the miscellany…TTFN

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Miscellany 002

Well, there’s something I’ve learned from coming to live in Ilmenau! Last night we had a walk on the Heyda side as it was nearer our work than the Kickelhahn to the south. And as I predicted, we found cow-wheat (melampyrum) – in fact wood cow-wheat (Hainwachtelweizen, m. nemorosum) – along a fence where I had seen it in the past

Even more wonderful, the autumn crocuses were to be found, too, on the fringe of a reed bed where I had had such difficulty in the spring of 2005 working out what the strange plump seed capsules could be. Haven’t got a camera organised yet in support of this blog but here are some “commons” photos.

As you get older it’s probably less likely you’ll discover new plants on exploratory walks. Last night reconciled me (how I need to be reconciled!) a little to the fact of my “anno domini”, reminding me that the years have at least brought some accumulated if very miscellaneous knowledge!

When the Wachtelweizen and the Herbstzeitlose had delivered the satisfaction of a prediction fulfilled, there was an additional delight in store for us. A lone gentian! Before I came to Ilmenau I would have never recognised one on sight.

I think I saw my first on a return visit from here to Poole in Dorset… and as the Dorset coast is fossiliferous and the Veronikaberg’s limestone rock bears the special name “Muschelkalk” I am reminded again of the expression “indicative weed”. That term I learned many years ago in relation to Pennine landscapes (Bradford WEA courses – I throw in the detail in case there are people out there who want to share their memories…).

I haven’t “borrowed” a picture of a blue gentian as I felt obliged to research the name and so found out that it could have been gentianella germanica or ciliata. Thinks: should I be less obsessive so that miscellanising takes less time? Answers self: probably not if you want to keep up your reputation as a translator! TTFN

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At last!

First, the usual British apology for what has probably not been seen by anybody as remiss… but if you have previously clicked on the link that brings you here and found no entries – “I’m sorry!” (says Susan Kubitz, in case you’ve already forgotten whose website brought you here…)

I’m not sure whether “web-log” and the shortened form, blog, is really what this will be. Logging is recording, usually at frequent intervals, so that the current position (originally the speed of the ship at sea, found by the length of a rope run out in a certain time attached to a ship’s log which was thrown overboard) and thus the reasons for any alteration in course can always be found written down.

Boring, I imagine, for most readers! At least as far as the log of a small-time working linguist’s life is concerned. Over the summer my log would have been of a series of thoughts about non-existence of holidays and how to reorganise so that I could act my age a bit more without giving up the linguist’s life. One long holiday, i.e. retirement, still does not appeal! So to show that the thoughts led somewhere the first blog entry now appears – but it comes under the old Guardian (in fact, Manchester Guardian) title.


The Lebkuchen (gingerbread biscuits, traditional Advent fare) are already laid out in our local Aldi, so here first is a thought for the Advent Season: an entry aimed at teachers of German in Britain or other English-speaking places. Read on also if you are a Christmas market aficionado.

Erfurt Weihnachtsmarkt is something special, a really Christmassy market.  Erfurt itself is special, too (seat of Thüringen parliament, recent rediscovery of Old Synagogue and treasure hidden at the time of scapegoating of Jews for the Plague, buildings dating likewise back to 14th century…). So if you visit you will find things educational as well as beautiful – not to mention all the adjectives that attach to a Weihnachtsmarkt with hot roasted almonds, glühwein, bratwurst,  fairytale tableaux, woodcarving stalls, the dodgems and a big wheel.

There is (of course) a commercial angle – my small staff (Kirsten Recke and Thomas Birth) are keen to help on all projects that would help them continue my small business with less admin input from me as I get older and want just to do the things for which I’m sine qua non. If you’re interested in coming to the Weihnachtsmarkt ask them for any little language services. If you would like to have a trip to this part of the woods and learn some more German while you’re here – again, just ask. If your German comprehension is up to it, they could write in German (for speed) and you could write in English (ditto). If you need them to write to you in English, that’s fine.

Now back to my blogging – or, rather, miscellanising. If you are visiting the website as an advanced but non-native speaker of English in the Ilmenau area, here is a nugget of information for you… on Sept 22nd you can go panning for gold at Katzhütte. Did you get the pun?

On Sept 8th I met the man who found a real nugget, almost 10 grams in weight, a few years ago. And here is a video I’ve found with a description in English of the technique I tried to learn from him – – TTFN.

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