Dining with strangers

I travel a lot with work and stumbled on this great article in the Washington Post. Elissa Leibowitz offers dining alternatives when visiting other cities.



Another rant on languages

As AP reporter Ted Anthony so eloquently put it, "the dominant language of commerce, the internet, science and the skies, nearly a quarter of the human population uses what is fast becoming the world's first global language = English. Turn on the news almost anywhere on Earth and many stories are reported in English."

I'm not contesting the emergence of the English language on the global scene - but do find it interesting that Americans tend to overestimate the number of people who speak English.

In 1998, Humphrey Taylor conducted a Harris Poll that concluded that, "On average, adult Americans believe that just over half (52%) of the whole world's population speak English. The real number, according to The National Foreign Language Center in Washington DC, is probably closer to 20% at the most."

And whereas people have lost interest in real live languages, it's interesting to see an urban myth, like that of the Klingon Interpreter, grow to such proportions.

A quick surf through the internet reveals the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship (E.L.F.) - "an international organization devoted to the scholarly study of the invented languages of J.R.R. Tolkein.

Tolkein was a linguist. I wonder how he would have reacted to today's headlines.

Mass extinction: half of world's 6,000 languages in danger of disappearing by 2010

Some people may argue that extinction is a part of the natural order. That if future dialogues are destined to occur in one of only 5 languages, then so be it. It's survival of the fittest.

Linguists estimate that eventually all communication will be expressed in English, Chinese, Spanish, French or Arabic. Globalization has accelerated the rate of language extinction, while increasing the influence of the English language.

While only 350 million people (out of 6 billion worldwide) claim English as their first language, millions more use English as a second language and another billion are being taught the language. There's no stopping this phenomenon.

English is the language of computers and commerce.

So what's with the sudden onslaught of articles (here and here) crying out in alarm at the steady decline in the number of spoken languages? What's the problem?

According to the Worldwatch Institute, half of all languages accounted for are spoken by fewer than 2500 people. Languages need at least 100,000 speakers in order to pass from one generation to the next, claims the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

When a language disappears, an invaluable resource is lost to linguists and anthropologists. It becomes impossible to trace a group's cultural history or movements from one region to another because the stories passed through oral tradition die with the last speaker. Since language diversity often exists in locations of biological diversity, scientists lose valuable knowledge pertaining to the plants and animals native to the area.

I was blessed with the opportunity of growing up in a bilingual household. After I enrolled in American public schools, my teachers gently persuaded my parents to stop speaking their native language (Portuguese) at home and focus on English. "So as not to confuse her....."

The Portuguese language is the cornerstone of my culture. There are words that cannot be translated into English... words like "saudade." I lost much of my vocabulary and have struggled to improve upon what I still remember. And I know that if I forget the language and stories and songs, then a unique part of that culture will be lost. A different version might be passed on in a new language, but the original footprint will disappear.

But I'm fortunate. There are 5 million people who speak Portuguese around the globe. I can't imagine what it would be like to know I was one of the last to speak Maori or Eyak or Navajo.

How many people do you know who can speak a second language?



Disturbing Realizations

Over the past few months, my dearest friends have up and moved away. In the 8 years I’ve lived in the District, I’ve hosted many going away parties for people only to welcome them back a few years later. But never a best friend….

Disturbing Realization #1 – My social life revolved around the whims of three darling, but lackadaisical barflies.

It was a sad, sad day when I absorbed the fact that my *partner in crime* was gone. After work rant sessions weren’t the same without her. I was Norm without Cliff, peanut butter without jelly. The diatribes of those left behind weren't entertaining anymore. And although they are appreciated, they are not loved and lack a certain curiosity…

My hand trembled as I held my cell phone, scrolling through names and numbers of Washingtonians I hadn’t spoken to in months, if not years.

Disturbing Realization #2 – The day you turn 25, time accelerates by a rate of 50%. Once you pass the 30-year threshold, that rate increases to 75%.

If you’re inclined to have brunch with Jack and Jill, make plans TODAY! Before you know it – 18 months will have past since your last get together, making future contact more than a little awkward.

Disturbing Realization #3 – I am a fickle person.

A vague recollection - a few years ago I found myself exhausted, poor, and bored.

It all started off with *poor* - the excuses… I’d blow off friends and beg off plans because I found I couldn’t afford to go out for drinks every night, or to the theater four times a month, or continue hosting dinner parties, or whatever.

And so my schedule slowed down, allowing me to catch up on sleep and *me time* and concentrate on my career. I focused on photography and writing. I fretted over the quality of my relationships instead of the quantity.

Disturbing Realization #4 – You can never have too many friends.

So I learned too late that I had been blessed with diverse and interesting relationships. And I voluntarily let these individuals fade into the back story of who I am.

While I was searching for links, I stumbled onto some of my old friends online. Reading about their lives, I felt like I was intruding (which is ridiculous because the info is on the world wide web for all to read). And a melancholy washed over me as I learned of all that I had missed and was missing.

Because I was supremely lazy.

Disturbing Realization #5 – You’ve got to play nice if you want kids to share the sandbox with you.

Not that I regret the years I spent with J, K and P. I was privileged to connect with these people – individuals who truly see me as I am. How many people take off their masks, peal back the bravado and allow you to know them? How many people have you shown yourself to?

And in truth, I’ve been spoiled – having spent so much time in a realm where you call a spade a spade - and am having difficulty with the steps to the dance of social niceties.

So – how much of a faux pas is it to call someone (a lot of someones) you haven’t seen in two years to catch up over coffee or brunch or lunch?


Mark your calendars

For the first time in three years, a total lunar eclipse will be visible in the United States late Thursday night. Curious skywatchers in western Europe and western and southern Africa can view the eclipse just before dawn Friday.

In North America, the moon will remain totally eclipsed for 53 minutes, and should turn substantially darker and reddish in color. The eclipse will start at 8:13 PDT in Los Angeles, 11:13 p.m. EDT in New York.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth casts its shadow on the full moon, blocking the sunlight that otherwise reflects off the moon's surface. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to view with the naked eye.

If you miss this one, mark your calendars - a second lunar eclipse will be visible from North and South America on 8 November, 2003.