Monday, March 07, 2005

"Ein Stein"

Great weather for today's funeral; huge turnout with standees at the back of the church; mile-long cortege to the cemetary couldn't be kept together, one segment turning back to the church after getting lost and another showing up after 20 minutes of waiting and lots of cell-phone prompting (we were the last car in the first segment, fortunately for us). At the cemetary broad-winged birds circled in the warm gusts over a nearby stand of wood. I mentioned this to the pastor, calling them hawks; turkey buzzards, he corrected. Yes, I said, but seems more tactful at an interment to call them hawks. He agreed.

The graphic at left has nothing to with Chapel Hill; it's one of the names the deceased went by. He was "Unc" to neices and nephews, "DD" to his grandchildren, and "Major" to just about everyone else -- except the Army who insisted on his baptismal name, Charles, since, they reasoned, it wouldn't do for a Private to receive mail as "Major." His sister says their mother started calling him Major while still in womb, just as a way to gently refer to the impending birth ("We're waiting for Major" rather than "You're going to have a new brother or sister.") Why Major, she doesn't know.

The service included singing by two grand daughters and brief reminiscences by one daughter, the decedant's partner in business, and a bunch of guys he worked with. One of the speakers sang an Irish dirge acapella, adapted to honor Major by name. Others told stories illustrating Major's positive outlook, work ethic, and commitment to his metier. Maybe the best involved "the last man on the sales board." This refers to the monthly tally of sales volume giving each salesperson's name in rank order. At one point while he was sales manager early in his business career, Major had to report to the general manager each month. The sales manager asked Major why the same guy ended up on the bottom month after month. Major pointed out that the dealership was one of many thousands in the country and that its rank was at the top of the heap. So, Major said, "you have to realize that our last-man is the best last-man in the country." The story-teller added that the last-man had a hugely successful month within the same year.

I attended another funeral last week -- one for the wife of a co-worker -- and couldn't help thinking about what it takes to make a funeral service work. Both that one and this were intensely personal. The pastor knew the deceased well and spoke in both cases about the person in detail. In both cases the pastor was MC as well as celebrant of the ritual. In both cases there was no obvious conflict between the two functions. I don't think that's easy, but they both made it look so. You could say, well of couse they do it all the time, but it also seemed to me that they made the event appear fresh and poinant, not canned and formalistic.

In both cases, I enjoyed the reliance on the tried-and-true, as least so far as music is concerned: Amazing Grace sung in both as well as other simple, heart-felt Protestant stand-bys; for example, "Abide With Me" last week.

This day's warm gusts reminded me of last week's cold winds out of the northwest and west, doubling the effort that it takes me to pedal home each day. but today, soft harbingers of spring. (I try to avoid exclamation marks so imagine one at the end of that last sentence.) The eastern horizon is bright red these mornings, letting me know how soon I'll be able to take a (preferred) unlit back route to work; and then again reminding me how much I dislike the arrival, soon after, of Daylight Saving Time.

I'm calling this post "Ein Stein" but it's taking me a while to introduce that subject.

Here's the start of the introduction:

I participated in a ceremony of another type last week: secular, work-related; but still with a tried-and-true piece of music -- in this case "Climb Every Mountain" -- sung by a musical staff member as introductory entertainment.

I attended because four staff members were to receive awards and I wanted to be present to help honor them. Formerly I would introduce each one and give them the praise they were due, but the new format for the ceremony deals with awardees in groups and the director (my boss's boss in this instance) does all the speaking for staff members in each directorate. [Aside: This is better than the old format which took too long and bored many people almost beyond endurance.]

Well.... As usual, I didn't realize the ceremony was on my schedule until the day it occurred. No problem there, but as it happens my wardrobe for the day was not quite tuned to the event. You see I rotate clothing in a way that makes it unnecessary to bring in fresh shirt and trousers every day. Generally I alternate between a blue shirt with grey trousers and a white shirt with blue trousers. I keep a sport coat that matches both outfits pretty well. I rotate my many ties one after the other. This day, most unusually, my shirt choice was not between white and blue, but between greenish-blue and bluish-green; in addition, my tie of the day was a rich purple with green markings. It's shown on the left. The outfit looked ok, but I wasn't quite as unnoticeable as I like to be at ceremonies like this one.

Then, I found, none of my four awardees could or wished to be present. And further, I found, I was an award recipient myself. I might have quietly disappeared -- since I find this kind of thing embarassing -- but the woman who runs the show was delighted to see me and voiced her delight in such a way that I couldn't simply go away. So, I stood to be honored; and -- I must say -- didn't mind a bit since I was standing near people I like and respect and there were quite a few of us on our feet at once, myself blessedly just one of the crowd.

Now -- Ein Stein --

One more thing making me self-conscious at the ceremony was a bout of flyaway hair. This doesn't happen more than a few times a year, always at about the time I realize that I should have gotten a haircut at least a week before. I thought to myself "just what I need: Einstein hair." And that led me to think about a new weblog that Arts & Letters Daily put me on to.

You'll see the connection in a minute.

The blog is called Sight and Sound and it's at

Its home page currently has the following interesting graphic which gave me my subject line:

Strangely, the pun doesn't seem to be intentional since the link from the text below the graphic is a straightforward appreciation connected with Germany's Federal Cultural Foundation. Still, the pun is there whether acknowledged or not and, I think, it's appropriate to the sightandsound webpage. Here's why:

It's an English-language German site with a nice introductory essay on the two languages, English and German. I think Allen will particularly appreciate this so I hope he reads my blog and has gotten this far down this entry. Here are parts of the essay:

Four Words are Better than Two On the new website By John Lambert

Some webreaders may inadvertently take the name of our new website for one word. "signandsight" may indeed look like one of those long, difficult to pronounce words so commonly associated with the German language, like "Panzerkampfwagen" for the English "tank", "Lebkuchenherz" for "cookie" or "Dampfbügeleisen" for "iron". But although these readers should be commended for associating our sitename with German, they should know that "signandsight" is English, not even Dinglish ("Dinglish", as it is widely spoken in Berlin and elsewhere, is formed by mixing German words into your English, English words into your German, and der Reste just how es kommt).

The majority of our webreaders will not take signandsight for one German word, but for two English ones (leaving aside the copula "and"). And yet, a closer look will reveal that while of course there are only two words in English, there are also two in Deutsch.

... [lots of text left out] ...

[T]ake "sign and sight" and pronounce them in Deutsch. By pronouncing the first "s" in "sign" as a long "z", like in "snooze" you get the German word "to be" – "sein". And if you do the same with "sight" but this time give the "s" a hard "ts" as in "tsetse fly", you get the German word "Zeit" – meaning "time". If you string these two words together, you get the title of one of the most famous books of 20th century German philosophy, namely Martin Heidegger's "Sein und Zeit" – "Being and Time". So as you can imagine, we're proud of our webname.

But I'll be frank. In choosing our name signandsight, we also played with other names like "sink and feel", "in-kraut" and "Herman's accent" and hesitated between three English words for the German "Zeit": "sight", "cite" and "site". Why, you ask, go for such a mediocre pun? Why don't we just say what we mean? My answer is: first, our pun is not mediocre, and second, we do say what we mean. We decide what we want to say, then we make it mean what we want it to mean. If this strikes you as abstruse, give it a try. You may well find you've been doing it all along.

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