Life [en]

In Switzerland, I would go simply everywhere with Cali. In rare cases, she would wait for me in the car, or tied up in front of the library. I took her in restaurants, went shopping for clothes with her, and she was even accepted in two of my university classes.

In England, you aren’t expected to go into town with your dog. The only ones around are those which inevitably accompany marginal people. I understood this yesterday when we went out for a walk/shop/coffee in Birmingham New Street.

We were asked to take her out of the coffee shop we had sat in, after our drinks had arrived. We were asked to take her out of the shopping mall, after we had been in there for an hour. No where did I see a sign forbidding dogs – I really had to look for it. Dogs aren’t allowed loose in the park. They aren’t really supposed to be on the university grounds, either.

Switzerland must be dog-owner’s paradise.

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Life [en]

I spent an hour or so chatting with the very nice couple who live just upstairs of me. They are going to “adopt” Bagha during my various trips this summer – which will not be a really big deal for him, as he already tends to “invade” their flat quite a lot.

Cali is getting ready for the big ride to the UK – she’s going back to live with Aleika, after having spent her quarantine time with me in Switzerland. I’ll miss her, but I’m also happy that she’ll be with Aleika again.

We’ll be driving there on Thursday, as the plane for Cali turned out to be prohibitely expensive (she has to travel as manifest freight to enter the UK).

I’ll be coming back to Switzerland around August 1, and leaving again – for India this time! – on the 13th (for six weeks). I’m starting to be excited about all this. After having Somak and Aleika on the phone last night, I realized how much I miss not having them around. I’m really looking forward to seeing them!

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A day in my life [en]

Before going for my last French exam this afternoon, I half-heartedly revised a few texts in the company of an over-excited cat (hungry and kept inside so I could monitor his tummy troubles).

I arrived at university early. My pre-exam nightmares usually have to do with having forgotten to prepare for the exam, or turning up late. So I usually arrive rather in advance. I waited in the sofas of the French department for an hour, feeling adrenalin accumulate in my body and my heart rate going steadily up.

My teacher greeted me with a sly grin: “So, we’ve picked a difficult subject for you – because if we give you a normal one, you’re going to be bored during the preparation time…” I winced and groaned of course, but in the same time felt quite relieved. She wouldn’t be doing that if there was the slightest chance of me failing my exams – and she had most certainly already had a look at Monday’s written performance (which, of course, I wasn’t happy about at all, as always).

After eating out with my brother to rejoice about the “end” of my exams, I went to listen to Eve Angeli’s free concert near the lake. The supporting act was a very young girl, eleven or twelve years old, with a very beautiful voice. At the end of the show, I went to buy Eve Angeli’s CD (it was on my “to buy” list, anyway, and I’ve finished my exams, haven’t I?) and queued for an autograph.

I was really astonished at how aggressive some people can become for a name on a postcard or a CD. I waited patiently while the crowd around me got more and more compact, and ended up carrying the weight of a fair amount of people on my right side. One woman was encouraging her children to push and squeeze to get in front. I finally gave my bag and umbrella to the mother next to me while I kept an eye on her young daughter and she left the crowd which was becoming frankly oppressing.

I got my autograph rather easily, as it was on a CD. Young Joanna was not so lucky, and I found myself doing something that makes me want to shrink into the earth in embarrassment when I think of it now.

I noticed that one of the bodyguards had picked up a dropped poster and told the owner he would get it back after. My misinterpretation of the situation made a bright idea flash through my head. I grabbed my protégée‘s poster and prodded the bodyguard: “Er, could you get this signed for Joanna, please?” The look he gave me as he answered “no” made me want to vanish on the spot and wish I hadn’t opened my mouth. My only consolation is that I would never have made such an inconsiderate request for myself, or anybody else than the nine-year-old girl whose head barely made it above the safety barrier, and who was desperately clutching a poster of her idol as she was trying to make her voice heard above the din.

I took the bus home. I usually go around by car, but tonight was an exception. I used to take the bus a lot before going to India, and I hadn’t realized how estranged I had got from the public transport system in my own town. A year ago already, when I had just landed home after a year abroad, little plastic cards had made their appearance in people’s wallets. You could use them to pay at the ticket machine instead of cash.

So this evening, I learnt that ticket machines do not return change anymore. I learnt that bus drivers no longer can sell you a ticket if you do not have change for the machine. And I chatted with the bus driver all the way home. About his job, about India and the strange time that country lives in. About being on time and buying tickets before getting on the bus. About 40-hour train journeys. About getting chastized for being one minute late on his schedule.

I got off the bus, took off my chappal (indian sandals, made of leather, do not like pouring rain) and walked home barefoot, to be greeted by a phone call from my brother telling me that the long-awaited contract from orange had arrived in his mailbox. Good news!

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Violence [en]

On my walks with Cali, I meet a lot of other dog-owners. I’m often shocked at how many dog owners will actually hit their pets when they disobey. I mean, isn’t it an established fact for everybody here that praise-training works 100 times better than stick-training?

I was already appalled at the number of dogs I saw in Chennai which had most obviously been stick-raised, but I kept thinking “this is India, in Switzerland nobody would ever dream of hitting a dog – or in any case, those who do it are badly violent people”. Not so.

There is a double absurdity in stick-training. First, it is the “punishment” vs. “reward” thing. You will do something better if it is for a reward than if it is to avoid punishment. That goes for human beings as well as animals. Second, people who hit their dogs often do it after the dog has disobeyed and they have caught it. The poor dog doesn’t associate the punishment with the wrongdoing, because it is delayed. It will more probably be associated with the owner himself. Just think of how that must damage the relationship.

And somewhere, I suspect that people who find it right, or even “good” to hit a dog when he has done something wrong will be more prone to hitting children too. I mean, it’s just a question of education philosophy, isn’t it?

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Trèfles [en]

Je crois que je vais bientôt arriver à  la conclusion que les trèfles à  quatre feuilles ne sont pas rares – ou du moins qu’ils ne le sont pas dans le champ au bout de ma promenade quotidienne avec Cali.

Je viens encore d’en trouver trois durant les deux derniers jours. Et qu’on se le dise, je n’ai pas passé des heures à  les chercher. Juste un coup d’oeil distrait, alors que Cali creusait comme une taupe, en me disant: “Tiens, ça serait marrant si…” Et pof! ils me sautent aux yeux.

Soit ce sont simplement les gens qui ne savent pas regarder et moi qui ai l’oeil, soit il y a véritablement une concentration incroyable de trèfles à  quatre dans le champ au bout du bois, soit… je devrais suivre les conseils de mon concierge et jouer au loto.

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Meeting [en]

Cali and I just came nose-to-nose with the fox cub.

Opposite the entrance of my building, there is a big bush. Behind the big bush, there is storage building of some kind. Under the storage building, hidden by the big bush, is a hole.

Coming back from our (not so early) morning walk, just aroud the corner, I suddenly saw Cali just a metre away of a very defensive brown little thing. Something between a very small dog (for the way it bounced back towards the bush) and a young cat (for the size, the arched back and the hissing – actually, it was closer to clicking).

I sent Cali away and stayed to have a better look at the little creature. Well, I guess you’ve seen pictures of fox cubs – but in real they are even much cuter. Small beady eyes, a not-yet-bushy tail with a white tip, and the overall fluff which makes baby animals so irresistible.

After staring at me for a few minutes from under the bush, it retreated into the hole. And from the noise I heard then, I guess it was not alone in there. Was it just mummy fox, or siblings too?

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HTML et linguistique [en]

Dans un éclair vengeur de lucidité, je viens de comprendre la différence fondamentale entre <cite> et <q>. Que ne l’ai-je compris plus tôt, cela m’aurait évité de me trouver à  présent face à  des dizaines de pages truffées de <cite> employés à  mauvais escient.

Je m’explique. Autrement dit, faisons un peu de linguistique. Je me permets en passant de vous recommander l’excellent ouvrage de Anne Herschberg Pierrot: Stylistique de la prose (Belin), qui explique dans un langage clair et à  grand renfort d’illustrations bon nombre de subtilités de la langue française. Un livre à  avoir dans sa bibliothèque si l’on écrit un tant soit peu.

Ma confusion vient, je le soupçonne, de l’existence d’un seul mot en français (citer) pour rendre compte de to cite et to quote en anglais. Eclaircissons.

Dans tous les cas, lorsque l’on cite, on intègre dans son propre discours des paroles qui ne sont pas les notres. Une signalisation typographique comme l’italique ou les guillemets indique dans ce cas au lecteur une frontière entre “mes mots” et “les mots de quelqu’un d’autre”. (Ce n’est bien sûr pas le seul rôle des italiques et des guillemets – on en parlera un autre fois, si ça vous intéresse…)

On peut distinguer deux façons principales d’employer les mots de la langue:

  • en usage: “mon chat s’appelle Bagha”
  • en mention: “chat est un mot de quatre lettres”

Le plus souvent, lorsque l’on cite le discours d’autrui, on se trouve dans un cas hybride que les linguistes appellent la connotation autonymique. Sous ce terme barbare (je vous l’accorde) se cache le phénomène suivant: en rapportant le discours en question, on vise à  la fois ce dont il parle, ce qu’il dit, et sa qualité de discours prononcé par autrui, sa matérialité de paroles étrangères. En même temps on dit avec lui (usage) et on le montre (mention ou autonymie).

Lorsqu’un mot, une expression ou un discours fait entendre ainsi deux voix (ou plus!), on parle de polysémie (“plusieurs sens”). La polysémie est très répandue dans tous les niveaux de discours, du bavardage quotidien (mais oui, ne serait-ce que dans les fameux sous-entendus) à  la poésie. Et c’est elle qui donne au langage une grande partie de sa richesse.

Maintenant que j’ai fini mon petit cours de linguistique, je me rends compte que la différence entre <cite> et <q> n’est pas la même que celle entre mention et usage, comme je croyais tout d’abord l’avoir compris. Quel dommange! Disons que ça aura servi de prétexte, je ne vais pas du coup vous priver de ce petit étalage de culture linguistique. A ma décharge, je crois qu’on peut néanmoins voir une parenté entre les deux. Enfin, si on veut vraiment.

Revenons-en donc à  notre préoccupation première. <cite> sert à  indiquer une référence de type bibliographique, comme le nom d’un auteur, le titre d’un livre ou d’un magazine. <q> sert à  rapporter les paroles d’autrui. C’est donc le lieu privilégié de la connotation autonymique… euh oui, ok, je vous lâche avec la linguistique! ; )

Remarquons en passant qu’une fois compris cette nuance, les explications du W3C pour <cite> et <q> sont parfaitement claires. Disons tout de même que c’est mon fidèle HTML, The Definitive Guide qui m’a permis de trancher avec certitude.

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Funny [en]

If you have a cat (even if you don’t), you’ll probably appreciate this Mapping of a Cat’s Brain. Bagha fits the portrait perfectly.

I first saw this brain map in India. There is a similar one for the dog – but unfortunately I was unable to find it online. Side-by-side, they’re hilarious, trust me!

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Snow [en]

Finally. Winter is paying its dues. The grey, the cold, the wind and the rain are forgotten. Lausanne is white at last.

I arrived home safely after an exciting drive from my sister’s place. First, a narrow squeeze between two lorries: one of them was on the road-side, the other was backing up in the middle of the road to line up behind it, and I was gathering speed to climb up the hill. Then, a long slow ride on the snow-white motorway. I had never imagined that driving at 60 km/h would one day give me the feeling I was speeding.

Bagha set his indian paws in snow for the first time of his life. And I daresay he didn’t like it. Even though he is truly amazing in some respects, he’s still just a cat.

I went for a walk with Cali in the woods near my home. I didn’t get any winter last year (no, it doesn’t snow in Pune!) and I had forgotten how magical it is to be surrounded by silent white trees with not another human soul in sight.
Snow muffles everything. It makes silence thick. It also makes places look smaller. It makes your shoes wet and your feet cold when you walk in it with your town shoes instead of the winter boots which are down in the cellar.

I love white walks. Especially when all this white seems to be Nature greeting me back into the world of the living: I’m finally feeling up to life again : )

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Grandma and Bagha [en]

Each time I sit down to write one of these Life entries, I think of my Grandma. She lives in England – not that far off but still quite far.
My Grandma is over 70 now, and she logs onto the Internet regularly to visit my website. I know that what she looks for are these little (rare) Life entries.

So today I had two rather long phone calls with England. One with my Grandma – who will hopefully soon be fit to fly over and meet my animals – and one with Somak.

Speaking of animals, Somak told me he received an email from IUCAA with a rather intriguing signature:

When you find life is coming down on you, think of Bagha.

Well, Bagha was quite well known in IUCAA – particularly for breaking into people’s fridges and hanging around the canteen. And obviously, the word has spread that he emigrated from India and is now a lucky Swiss citizen. I’m sure he’ll be glad to learn that his fate helps members of the IUCAA staff lift their spirits during the hard times.

I should be going back to India beginning of August. I’m actually starting to miss India. I have cravings for dreadfully hot Marathi food (the kind of stuff I found simply dreadful when I first tasted it).
I will have a Hindi course in Rishikesh again, and I hope to be able to spend a couple of weeks in Pune before that. That means I’m going to have to work hard to get my October exams ready before I leave ; )

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