Friday, April 11, 2008

I Laughed, I Cried, It Was Better than Katz

There is no picture of Donka Minkova on the internet.

I just looked, because I wanted to start my blog entry by mentioning Donka Minkova. Who, FYI, is the world's leading expert on the schwa.

Though devoid of images of Donka Minkova, the internet is loaded with pictures of schwas. This is, arguably, the oddest:





I am Cornholio! Give me phonetic symbols for my bunghole!









Back in the days when Beavis and Butthead ruled the MTV airways, I was a Ph.D. student at UCLA. The only required course in my entire program was Philology, taught by Donka Minkova.

Not about stamp collecting, that's philately. Philology is the history of the English language.

I loved that course. It was dripping with the sort of oddball facts you can milk for years of cocktail party chit chat. Not to mention the occasional blog entry.

And Donka Minkova loved me. I got an A+ in the course. Not quite as impressive as getting a ə+, but still pretty groovy.

Donka Minkova knew the subject was esoteric and that we all took the class because we had to, not because we wanted to. But she loved philology and wanted to make the course relevant. On the final exam, we had to give examples of how we would apply what we'd learned in real life.

Fortuitously, my friend Orit had come to visit me not long before the exam. Orit is Israeli, so Hebrew is her first language. Dutch is her second language (who the hell knows why, maybe she wanted to keep up on the latest news about Tori van Spelling). English is a somewhat distant third.

At the end of her stay, she hugged me good-bye and thanked me for my hostility. Very Israeli.

Luckily, as a pupil of philology, I knew that just about every word in English except sushi and tomahawk come from an ancient Indo-European root language. For no good reason, I happened to have learned from Donka Minkova that the words guest, host, hostility, and hospitality all derive from the Indo-European root word for stranger.

And what is stranger than a grad student hostess with the mostess quoting philological learnings to an Israeli guest?

I'll tell you what: an Egyptian police band (as in, dudes with trumpets and violins) who wander into a small Israeli town.

Which is the premise of The Band's Visit, the movie I saw tonight.
(See how crazy things get the moment we don't have Charlton Heston to set the Semites on our proper paths?)

One review suggested that The Band's Visit "may be too subtle and too reserved." I beg to differ. There is nothing subtle or reserved about Jews. And especially not about Israelis.

Suffice it to say, this is a film of pushy women, clueless men, and the greatest roller disco scene since Monster.

Take the stranger in a strange land plot, throw in a little linguistic confusion, add some hospitality mistaken for hostility. The result is both hilarious and poignant.

If Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat went out with Siskel and Eibert, this would be their perfect double date movie. Particularly if you could get nu a little tahini on the popcorn. One can only hope it wins a schwacademy award.

2 comments:

dragoncita said...

"There is nothing subtle or reserved about Jews."

I beg to differ.

M said...

and hey, that's Butt-Head.

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