The economics of Neolithic ham

Spanish bellota ham, a profitable neolithic technology.

Many Spanish households keep a whole cured ham, taken out when they need a few slices for a tapa or a sandwich. We have joined them, and a shoulder (paleta) of Jabugo ham sits on a worktop in the utility room, its black cloven hoof sticking out of the tea-towel that is all we need to protect it for several months.

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Hallowe’en Grinch

I have had two good and, as a child, a few so-so ones. The first good one occurred when at about eight or nine, my friends and I read about trick-or-treating and decided to try it – in Manhattan. In a city of apartment houses, one can hit a lot of homes in an evening going up and down corridors. Most of the people we confronted had never seen trick-or-treaters and said “Oh, how cute! I don’t have any real treats, but…”, dropping some coins or even bills in the bag. We came home with almost two hundred dollars, and that in the days when a buck was a fin. My parents took a lot of the shine off the evening when they saw me dump out the bag and confiscated most of the loot for my college fund, though. Of course we made our own costumes and went out on our own, not chaperoned by parents lurking in the background.

The other good one was a couple of years ago with a visiting Italian family who had never carved pumpkins. They loved it and we had a great time.

That’s it; I really despise Hallowe’en in its present form. I hate the mass paranoia that has made people so afraid of razor blades in apples (something that as far as I know has never actually happened) that they deny their kids any healthy treats and one winds up giving away endless piles of awful little candies in sealed wrapping. I hate the complete vacuity of a holiday that now celebrates (and respects) nothing, except maybe sleazy sex for a slice of the young adult crowd and senseless, unsatisfying purchasing of junk at the drugstore seasonal aisle. I hate the kitschy and ugly commercial decorations, and I hate the Great Pumpkin, a completely nonsensical ersatz myth from a three-joke, two-emotion, weakly drawn comic strip. I hate the degree to which adults have taken over and programmed the kids’ experience of it, assuring that whatever it entails, it doesn’t include anything the slightest bit scary, and I really hate this.

Go play the Mephisto Waltz, or A Night on Bald Mountain, or the Symphonie Fantastique, and boycott this tepid, pallid, cheesy, forced orgy of plastic pumpkins and icky sweets. No-one else is actually having any fun either; you won’t miss a thing. Kids want to do Hallowe’en? Give them a room to make a haunted house in and leave them alone to enjoy their own imaginations.

Immigration and mangled names

I was planning to reflect on the French elections but distracted myself by the following peripheral issue (substance to follow in another post):

We need to figure out how to say the new president’s name. In the US media, it’s been accented on the second and third syllables or pronounced with no particular stress, and with an initial s as in soup. But the same reports repeatedly note his embrace of his Hungarian parentage, which indicates that his real name (language is what’s spoken; writing is a notation for it) would be written in English as Sharkozy, and with the accent firmly on the first syllable; “Charkozy” in French. (What we say as Sarkozy would be written as Szarkozy in Magyar; this hissifying of Hungarian names with s is a common occurrence, as is the displacement of the accent. (A little Googling indicates that the Sarkozy’s also lost a couple of accents in the train from Budapest, acute over the a and an umlaut over the o, which are phonemic in Magyar, but they indicate vowel sounds that don’t exist in French, so this is understandable.)

It’s a wry comment on the power of bureaucracy that the spelling of his name on his parents’ passports, in a language with its own conventions, should change his name to the point of causing it to be mispronounced; if Magyar were written in Cyrillic or Arabic characters, it would have been notated and said correctly (or close) in French (and English). French spelling is much more phonetic than English, but not perfectly. If we can say Worcester, Cholmondeley, and St. John correctly, the French can certainly learn to call their president by his right name, and I think he should start using it and suggesting others do the same. Surely the moral and intellectual authority of the RBC will effect this change, even across the ocean…and while I’m at it, as a reader reminds me, George Shorosh and Tom Lantosh, please take note and get with the program.

UPDATE: One reader points out correctly that Charkeuzy is quite manageable for a francophone and renders the รถ pretty well. He also points out that hissification afflicts lots of German names (those with st and sp beginning a syllable). A blogger notes(implicitly) that in Hungary, le président élu would be Sarkozy Nicolas but more interestingly, and I’m sure along with many others, says “Sarkozy’s real name is whatever he calls himself.”

This perfectly reasonable claim raises an interesting question, actually related to the philosophical puzzle of Theseus’ ship, because names (even first names) are usually shared by many people and carry a cloud of history and associations, sometimes literal meanings (Baker, Miller, etc.), and exist beyond the personality of any particular user. This is one reason why you normally need to go before a judge to change yours. While I may have the authority to declare that my personal name is Oueir, perhaps on relocation to Italy for the benefit of my Italian friends, I haven’t changed the reality of the name O’Hare, and while Charkeuzy may correct the spoken rendering, on paper it makes the ethnic origin of the name, and therefore of the person, invisible.

There’s no good solution in practice to the challenge facing an immigrant who knows the ‘real’ spelling of his name will indicate a mispronunciation in his new home (or worse, unpronounceability: it’s really hard for people to enounce or even hear sounds that are not present or phonemic in their native language), and who also knows that the written version in paper records, computer files, and on official documents may be more real for many purposes than his physical person. I can’t borrow a nickel from a bank on the basis of my physical self, but my virtual self, especially including my written name, can get stuff sent to it from people I never meet just by being typed in internet order forms.

As my name contains two dipthongs that are never rendered by one letter in Latin languages, and whose only real consonant is silent in Spanish and Italian (its sound doesn’t even exist in the latter), I have to spell it constantly as no Frenchman, Spaniard, or Italian can make even a close guess at what letters might denote such a collection of sounds. I also have to listen for really imaginative guesses in airport gate announcements. With tonal languages, pitch is phonemic, as though the see‘s in “See?” and “I see!” were completely different words. Heaven only knows what Chinese and Vietnamese names pronounced in countries of immigration sound like to their owners…