Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Occupy Microphone

To all my fellow artists, I give you Occupy Microphone.


When I returned to university for my masters degree, I suddenly found myself quietly, politely, and firmly silenced.  As a Christian in the arts, I was perceived as a danger.  No one was ever rude, but there was simply no room for debate, no desire to consider an issue: only the unspoken injunction to conform or remain silent. 

I hadn't realized how much this silencing was affecting me until one day in class my professor brought in an array of items for us to choose and use in a theatrical exercise.  I was immediately drawn to a set of delicate windchimes which I let jangle while we all waited for further instruction.

When, suddenly, from somewhere in the circle a fellow student called out irritably: "Will whoever has the windchimes SHUT THEM UP?"

Immediately, I grasped the windchimes, closing them in my hand and hiding them.  A moment before they had been making beautiful, communal, chaotic music - now they were deadened.  And by my hand.

I realized at that instant that I felt like those windchimes.  Particularly as a theatre artist who depends upon the harmony of chaos and control in creating live performances, who had previously spent her days debating the deeper, harder issues with her students in theology class where everything was discussed - I now was silenced.

And I had silenced myself.

Art does not need to be directly confrontational.  But it does need to open up debate.  Art does not need to fully, philosophically point to all answers, but it needs to open up the path to them.  An artist who is silent has nothing to say, and does no one any good.  An artist must speak up: speak hope, speak truth, speak beauty.

Speak up, artists.  Debate.  Converse.  Challenge.

Occupy Microphone.

Man will be saved by beauty. ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity.  Coraggio! ~ Pope John Paul II, First speech as Pope 1978

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. ~ St. Paul, Philippians 4:8

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Light Princess: Not All Who Wander are Lost

I'm adapting The Light Princess by George MacDonald for Festival Competition play this year, and I ran across this gorgeous quote:

These forests are very useful in delivering princes from their courtiers, then the princes get away to follow their fortunes. In this way they have the advantage over the princesses, who are forced to marry before they have had a bit of fun. I wish our princesses got lost in a forest sometimes.

I love George MacDonald.  And I love chamber theatre.  The opportunity to put these two together means that the Prince who is - in the fairy tale - one of those hopeless romantics, in my version of the play is the one who speaks those lines, while the Princess (floating unnoticed behind him) overhears it.

If you don't know The Light Princess, run to read it (or amble to the synopsis).  It's a beautiful fairy tale, with terrible (and wonderful) puns on what it means to be light; what it means to have no gravity.  George MacDonald is a dream-like fantasist, who greatly influenced C. S. Lewis.  

His books are all worth reading...and since he wrote in the 1850's, they're also all free!  Next to The Light Princess, his novel The Princess and Curdie (the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin) is my favorite.

Happy reading!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Free Friday: House of Strangeways (Pt. 2)

Welcome to Black Friday here at O Beauty Unattempted!  In case you're waiting in those pesky lines up to the counter, or whether you're at home avoiding crowds, we've got you covered with this week's installment of The House of Strangeways.  (You can read Part 1 here.  And yes, it was previously known as Confessions of a Gothic Governess)

Reader beware, though, don't read this alone at night.  Or do.

Since the text formatting seemed to give some people some trouble, I've reverted back to normal typeface.  Let me know what you prefer, please!

And enjoy!  If you dare.  *cue thunder*

Notes: You can read Part 2 by clicking the fly-out button below or clicking here.  If you're in the mood for something more spoofy, take a look at Nachtsturm Castle...and at the Action!Henry scene, available for a few more days.  (Each Free Friday is available for 30 days.)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Teatime Ten: Maria Grazia

Many of you know Maria Grazia as the editrix of My Jane Austen Fan Club (wherein I recently got to Talk Austen with her!) and The Everything Austen Daily.  But did you also know that she teaches English in Italy?  And is an avid fan of Richard Armitage?  (Clearly, a woman of taste!)
Well, now it's time for the interviewer to be interviewed!  So sweeten that tea, break out the clotted cream, and join us for the Teatime Ten (now in a monthly edition) with Maria Grazia! 

Hello Maria!  Thanks so much for joining us for the Teatime Ten.  Tell us a little bit about how you came to love Jane Austen.

Oh! The first time I read her Pride and Prejudice, an entire new world was revealed to my  young-teen-living-in-the-provinces-and-knowing-nothing-of-the-world inexperienced mind. I was so naive I even liked Wickham as much as Elizabeth and disliked Darcy as much as her! Never been caught in that trap again. ;-) 

But I only read the rest of her work when I was at university and beyond - so as  an adult. Actually, a revival of my fondness came after watching P&P 2005 at the cinema. Yes, I know, I know, it is not the most faithful adaptation but it was my first one (**blushes** ) Darcy/Firth only came... second. I’ve started collecting adaptations of classics after P&P 2005. So it was then when  my period drama mania had its start. But that’s another story.

How did you come to start your blog?  What did you want to focus on? 

I started blogging in 2008 for my students at  Learnonline and I still regularly add audio/video/didactic  materials there. So, after discovering the blogosphere was such fun, I wished I had  a special corner for my passions and started FLY HIGH! where I write about literature, books, art, journeys and trips, school, period drama, movies, TV series, theatre and, of course, "my one weakness," that is my favourite actor, Richard Armitage. 

I noticed that many of my posts tended to be Austen-related, so when one day at the local public library they asked me to organize and moderate a “Jane Austen Book Club,” I decided to start a third site to support and report about that experience. I wanted it to be  “A friendly meeting place to discuss everything Austen...” - hence My Jane Austen Book Club. 

I have met so many interesting people and learnt so much since I’ve started blogging. Believe it or not, but my life has radically changed!

I love the Everything Austen Daily!  How do you find your articles?  What prompted you to start it?  

That’s a very easy task. Anybody could start his/her own daily paper. You must set the tags or key words you’re interested in and then the paper is automatically done. As an editor,  I check what they have picked up from twitter and delete what is not actually Austen-related. A piece of cake, isn’t it?

Wow.  It really is.  Can you give six tips to those interested in starting their own paper or blog?

Tips? I’m not that expert, you know? I’m always asking for tips myself from bloggers I “virtually” meet online. But I’ll try to find something useful to say, let’s see...

  1. Write about things you really like
  2. Make your blog a friendly place
  3. Try to create a net of mates/ friends taking part in blog events, hops, meme.
  4. Try to use twitter/facebook  to publicize what you write about
  5. Don’t write a blog copying another very popular one. If it already exists and is popular, why should people read a similar less popular one? So try to be original, create your own style.
  6. Last but not least, be politically and intellectually correct/honest/coherent
I'm amazed that you teach ESL in Italy to high school students...and find time for everything else.  How do you balance your days?

Ehm, first of all my days are not ... balanced at all,  they are frantic! But my answer is:  to manage everything, I’ve  had to become a multi-tasker, just  like my teenage students. Something like...correcting tests and papers with music and twitter on?  Or I sleep less.  I answer e-mails very early in the morning (when my American mates/friends are still up) while having my first cappuccino or write posts/interviews at night (until 1 / 2 a.m.) after finishing correcting or preparing notes or power point slides for my lessons. 
What is really difficult is that with my different class-groups I have to cover all English literature from the origins to nowadays: pills (only one hour a week) of literature for my youngest students (16) from the origins to Shakespeare the poet; a bit more when they are in the 4th year (and 17) from the Elizabethan Drama to the Early Romantic Age;  and, finally, in their last year at school,  they study the 19th, 20th, 21st  centuries. I select authors, texts and themes but it is, however, pretty much to deal with. 

Do you find there's a difference in how Americans vs. Europeans approach literature? 
That’s a tough one, first of all because I know very little about Americans’ approach to literature. And if I must be honest, I don’t even follow any official methodology  for the teaching of language and literature. But, being the daughter of a very boring/dull/ uninteresting/formal approach to literature both at high school and at university, I’ve tried to find my own way. What I can say about us in Italy is that we are still totally free to pick up the authors and texts we like as well as the methodology we prefer. 

As for myself, I use the language as much as I can to communicate (English is a foreign language to them, not a second one), I use literature to make my students recognize/discover  themselves or connections to their own world and needs (a humanistic approach?), I support my lessons with audio/visual/interactive tools as often as I can. 

Sounds great to me!  What do you look for in a good book?

I’m rather schizophrenic (but not dangerous!) as for my attitude to books. I read and manage to appreciate very different stuff. Anyhow, my attitude depends if I'm reading  fanfiction, a best-seller (I tend to be very hard on those!) or literature. I switch my “criticism button” right or left (but never OFF), according to what kind of book I’m reading. If it is a light, escape read,  it must be intelligent and well-written but I can suspend disbelief for a while.

If it is literature or a classic, I turn into the teacher I am and start noticing, analyzing, comparing. But in order to like a classic also, it must be thought-provoking and well-written. 

Did you notice any type of book I can’t renounce? 

So let's talk books!  You've been locked in your room by a nefarious villain, who's only given you two novels for comfort.  What are those novels and why?

Mind you, I like villains. Is “my nefarious villain” here more like a wicked libertine (Robert Lovelace? John Willoughby?) or a gothic monster? Well, I hope he is one of the first type. I love them! And if he even let me keep my two favourite novels with me...awwww...he’s a darling!  I’ll keep Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” and Mrs Gaskell’s “North and South” with me, thank you. 

Why? Simply because I love them both, differently, but very much.
Now for a little Austen fun: if you could pair up any two characters from different Austen novels, who would you pair up and why are they perfect for each other?

I hope Mr Darcy would not be angry with me, it’s just a game, isn’t it? And I apologize with Catherine, but she mustn’t feel offended. I’d love to see Henry Tilney interacting with Elizabeth Bennet. They are both brilliant minds, so witty and  smart, while Mr Darcy and Catherine Morland totally  lack humour and wit. Wouldn’t Henry and Lizzie be an extraordinarily well-matched couple? 
Actually...that does sound fantastic.  (With all apologies to their respective others.)  Then what's next for Maria Grazia? 
More teaching, more blogging, more reading,  more period drama, more art exhibitions, more good movies, more theatre, more trips to the UK. Fingers crossed!  
Ooops... I forgot more housework, laundry, ironing, driving sons, cooking meals... :-/  Did you think my life was all Jane Austen and Shakespeare? 

Thank you so much for joining us, Maria!

 Maria Grazia is the editrix of My Jane Austen Bookclub and the Everything Austen Daily, as well as Learn On-Line and Fly High!  She lives in Italy.  

You can follow her via Twitter and Facebook (Fly High) or Facebook (Jane Austen).  You can also find her on YouTube and Vimeo, Paperblog and Blogworld (Tumblr)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Free Friday Tempest-Tossed!

I'm afraid that there's no Free Friday this week, because Tempest performs this weekend...but we'll be back in time for Thanksgiving!

EDIT: The reading period for Disarming Mr Darcy is now concluded, but you can catch up on all the Free Fridays!

And if you liked Disarming Mr Darcy, take a look at the last short story of Letters of Love & Deception - wherein Mr Darcy Does Not Sparkle.

EDIT: In further good news, the Teatime Ten will return this week with Maria Grazia from My Jane Austen Bookclub!

Enjoy and see you this Friday for the next installment of Confessions of a Gothic Governess, wherein our heroine's luggage is lost, leaving her with nothing but a flimsy nightdress.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Macbeth on the Beach

To make a living as a director, sometimes you have to have lots and lots and lots of projects going at once.  I'm not quite finished with Tempest - and already I have to think about the next few projects!  I'll be doing:

  • The Light Princess with Hudson High School (from the George MacDonald story, adapted by me...over Thanksgiving Break!).  This is the same group I'm doing Tempest with...and with whom I've done A Comedy of Murders, Tartuffe, Curses! (and No Boys Allowed and Crying Wolf), The Romancers, Little Women, Pink Noir, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, Our Town, and Wallace's Will.

  • Civil War Stories with the Framingham Community Theater, with whom I did Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, and my original dinner theatre, Heirs & Errors.  CWS is written by FCT, taken from actual source documents.

  • And, last but certainly not least, Macbeth in Concord, MA, with Theater 906.  It's Mackers on the Beach, Murder on the Boardwalk, castles of sand, rivers of blood, and I'm terribly excited.  The idea is that we tend to go to Mackers thinking only of how well we know the lines, and not how terrible and tragic the loss of life is.  We recite the deaths, we look on Macbeth's rise and fall with a literary eye, we smile and applaud.  And then we do the same in real life.  I want, by softening the look of the show, to stab the audience's nerves awake.  Here's the poster.  I'm rather proud of it!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Surviving Seventy-Two Munchkins

This is my brief bio for my application to Columbia's MFA in Theatre Directing.  I think it says it all!

I became a theatre major on a dare. 

A friend in undergraduate college bet me that acting was all about unbridled emotion—that sort of theatre which involves a lot of scarf-flinging and little else, and precisely that sort of theatre which I hated—while I maintained that there must be some order in acting, and interest in the well-being of others.

I took that theatre course—fully intending to roll my eyes—and instead, I fell in love.  Here was a place to challenge me; here was freedom in discipline; here was all the world in miniature; here, simply, was home.

Immediately, I changed my major from Creative Writing to Theatre, with an emphasis in Directing.  My muddled thinking was: “Theatre is such a ridiculous and impractical profession.  I’ll take it in college, because clearly no one actually makes a living in the arts!”

Which only goes to prove that God loves good dramatic irony.

  Salome at Anathan Theatre in 1999
My Senior Thesis Project at Franciscan University of Steubenville

My first teaching position out of college was for a K-8 private school.  There I taught both music and art, and was informed that I would direct and produce The Wizard of Oz, with no budget, no script, no support, and all 425 students participating.  I had 72 Munchkins.  (And 64 cornstalks, 64 poppies, and the fifth grade boys were typecast as flying monkeys.)  At one point, while making poppy headbands out of wire, red paper, and glue, I was watching a documentary on the making of Riverdance.  A voice over in a posh British accent drawled: “At one point I had ninety actors!  NINETY!  I had never worked with a cast that large.”  I threw my glue sticks at the TV and cried that I would kill for ninety actors!  I went each day to tech, chanting to myself: “If you can survive this, Emily, you can survive anything!”

I guess I did. 

A few of the sixty-four poppies!

More than ten years later, I am still a professional director, educator, author and playwright.  I have taught theatre to students ranging from ages seven to seventy, in formal classrooms, seminars, and rehearsals.  I’ve directed almost fifty productions, founded three unique drama programs (two in schools, one independently), and expanded a fourth.  I have written and had produced over fifty plays, four of which are published with Playscripts, Inc., and which have played from Chicago, Illinois, to Dublin, Ireland, to Christchurch, New Zealand. 

In 2000, I studied Shakespearean verse acting with former members of the Royal Shakespeare Company in London and Stratford-upon-Avon, England.  In 2006, I founded my own summer Shakespeare company, Gaudete Academy, for adolescents and young adults.  In 2009, my first five act iambic pentameter play, Cupid and Psyche, premiered in Boston.

Grumio, Lucentio and Petruchio brave the crazy wedding party
in Gaudete Academy's 2010 production of The Taming of the Shrew

I have yet to be saddled with another cast of hundreds, but I have had the transformer blow half an hour before show and the show still go on with audience members holding flashlights (French Butler).  I’ve had my cast plagued by walking pneumonia (King of Fools), performed despite African weddings dancing loudly above our heads (Taming of the Shrew AND As You Like It), and created rules for rowdy adolescents, such as: “The furniture is not for fun" (Tempest).

I’ve also had the privilege of putting on some damn fine plays—plays that still live vibrantly in my soul, and which to return to is the essence of ‘bittersweet.’  It’s a strange thing to create a world and then destroy it.  But beautiful, too.   And I wouldn’t dare change it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Free Friday: House of Strangeways (Pt. 1)

Hello, dear readers!  Today's Free Friday treats you to the first of a serial, The House of Strangeways.  (Previously known as Confessions of a Gothic Governess.)

For more Gothic fun, check out the Very Gothic Travelogues, or How to Write Your Own Gothic Novel at IndieJane.org, and of course getchor copy of Nachtsturm Castle today!

Please remember, each Free Friday is only available for 30 days! Enjoy!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tempest: This is the Way the World Ends

As Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, nears the end of his life, he reflects on his life—his regrets and his revenges—and he brings to life through writing and his imagination a tempest which shipwrecks his enemies with him on his island. However, his assistant, Miranda, whom he regards as a daughter, chastises Prospero for his hatred.  He explains that he has just cause: his sister Antonia, along with help from Alonso, the King of Naples, and his sister, Sebastian, overthrew and exiled Prospero.
Miranda remains unconvinced of Prospero’s right to revenge himself upon the dead, so Prospero summons his muse, Ariel, and her sprites, and commands them to bring to him Ferdinand, the illegitimate son of Antonia and Alonso, as a present for Miranda. Ariel tries to barter for her freedom, which angers Prospero.  He sends out Ariel and her sprites, and waking Miranda, he summons up his demon, Caliban, into whom Prospero has put every wicked thought he’s ever had. Caliban curses Prospero and also demands release; but Prospero beats Caliban and puts him back into his box.

Just then, Ariel returns with Ferdinand. Miranda is immediately entranced by him, raising feelings of jealousy and resentment in Prospero.  He decides to make their wooing difficult, and writes in obstacles to their courtship…but Miranda counter-writes, imagining the romance to have a happy ending.

Frustrated, Prospero summons on the nobles to exact his revenge. They have been searching for Ferdinand, sure that he is dead by Prospero’s storm.  Gonzalo, a good lord, attempts to lift their spirits, to no avail. At Prospero’s command, Ariel puts everyone to sleep, except Antonia and Sebastian—who quickly conspire to kill Alonso. Before they can, Gonzalo wakes and warns them all to act more virtuously.

Meanwhile, Caliban plots his revolution. He meets two drunks, Stephano, Alonso’s butler, and Trinculo, a lady of the night, whom he declares he will worship…if they will help him kill Prospero.


Despite his efforts, Prospero begins to lose control of his creations and memories, as they take on lives of their own. Miranda declares her undying love for Ferdinand, and he returns it in kind, marking Miranda with a word and drawing her away from Prospero. Caliban turns many of the sprites against Ariel and Prospero, promising Stephano that he can marry Miranda and become king of the island if they destroy Prospero and his books. So when the nobles enter, unbidden, Prospero takes out his fear and madness upon them—setting Ariel and her sprites upon them like a harpy, while Prospero threatens to kill his sister.

Just then, Prospero realizes how close to a terrible edge he’s come—and he flees. His memories and imaginations dissolve, except for Ariel who waits for Prospero to return. Her faith is rewarded, as Prospero takes up his power one last time, but now to forgive and beg forgiveness. He gives his blessing to Miranda and Ferdinand’s marriage. He only scares away the drunks when they come to rob him before he’s in his grave. And he calls on all his wayward sprites and all his worst enemies to reconcile.

One by one, his memories, his imaginations, his devil, and his daughter leave him—until he is only left with Ariel. Sadly, he gives his angel freedom. Turning to us, Prospero begs us for our prayers as he leaves his exile and the storm departs in dawn.

For more photos, please see here or hereIf you're near Hudson, MA on November 17, 18, or 19 at 7 p.m., please come out and see us at Hudson High School!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tempest: A World of Pure Imagination

You know how you always wish you could just put a plug into your brain and what you're creating so amazingly in your cranium will just magically write/draw/compose itself?  Directing is kind of like that.

It's always a thrill to see the images in your head spring to life at the hands of talented actors and actresses.  Naturally, there are changes, modifications, betterments - since theatre is a communal art - but I thought you might get a kick out of seeing the side-by-sides of how I imagined something and how it's turning out

You can see all of last night's rehearsal photos here and here.

Prospero, Miranda and Caliban

Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo

Ferdinand and Miranda
Sorry, I don't have a great pic of the 
"writing pretty" moment, but it does happen! 

Antonia, Sebastian and Prospero
Over the Sleeping Bodies

Prospero and the Sprites
Gonzalo on the Throne of Sprites, too!

All photos courtesy of the lovely Olivia Mitchell!  Thank you!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Tempest: Memories of Those We Killed

In most versions of the Tempest, the nobles seem to be the most "random" group of refugees on the island.  They arrive, often they're all male and all dressed/bearded similarly, their names sound alike, two of them are scheming but not against Prospero, the sprites keep making them impotent and then going weird on them....  And yet, this is the group against whom Prospero's vengeance should work the most.

So, in rehearsal, we worked out our backstory for who these people are, and what especial "wrongs" these "men of sin" did against Prospero.

Or, as we learnt, Prospero also perpetrated against them.

I'll sketch out at another time the nobles' convoluted story.  But what I'd like to remind you, is that we're placing our Tempest almost entirely in Prospero's mind: his memory, his imagination.  In reality, the nobles are long dead; they can neither forgive nor change anymore.

But Prospero remembers them as he last knew them, before his banishment.  (Think of someone you haven't seen in forever - they look like how you last left them, although you know they're much older, or no longer on this earth).

He animates them, sometimes according to how he remembers they were, sometimes according to his anger, or according to his love.  (Think of all the imaginary conversations you've had with someone - especially someone you'd really like to verbally beat up...or reconcile with.  It's not happening except in your brain, but you still invest all of yourself into something that isn't happening.  Except, within you, it really is.)

And sometimes, they take control and are simply who they were in the last moments before they died.

When I taught theology, and we got to the Ten Commandments, the students would often scoff at the "Thou shalt not murder" and congratulate themselves that they'd gotten that one right.  (Well, that, and they were pretty sure they'd never coveted an ox in their life.)  But sometimes we murder people in our hearts; we're too judgmental, too unwilling to forgive.  We hold grudges.  We say of our own siblings: "Oh, I haven't spoken to them in years."  We murder all our memories.

So, no, it's not as bad as actually plunging a dagger in someone (like Prospero tries to force his sister Antonia to do in the above picture), but it's a living death.  It's a death of a part of you.

But, what I love about the Tempest is that things don't stop just there.  Prospero does go wild: he tries repeatedly to murder, frighten, madden the ghosts of those he's killed, the memories of those who wronged him...but something keeps him back from carving these people he once loved out of his heart forever.  And by the end of the play, Prospero forgives each of them in turn.

Some accept his forgiveness.  Some reject it.  Some forgive him in turn.  Some wish him damned.

This also is true.  We can only control our own hearts; not those around us.

November is a month of remembrance.  We have the feast of All Saints (those in Heaven) and All Souls (those who've passed away, those whom we need to forgive).  I hope that this November you, and I, can choose to reach out to someone whom we've put beyond our reach: through good thoughts, good prayer, good words, and good actions.

And may the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God, rest in peace.


To see the whole album, click here.  Or to see other posts on the Tempest, click here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Very Gothic Travelogue: F*(% Off and Other Actually Useful Phrases

When travelling abroad, it's helpful to bring along a dictionary of some sort (particularly if one is forced to threaten over-amorous suitors at gunpoint).  However, it's even more helpful to pick up key phrases in the various languages of the countries you plan to visit, which I learnt quickly when I spent some time travelling through Europe in the Autumn of 1997 - and which helped me out when writing Nachtsturm Castle, which travels through so many European countries!

The semester I spent abroad, my home base was in the little town of Gaming, Austria, at a converted Carthusian Monastery (the Kartause, see below), which is owned by my Alma Mater.  My room faced the foothills of the Alps, where mountain goats regularly frolicked a few feet out my window!  If ever you get a chance to go to Europe, don't neglect Austria!

What I didn't realize before I lived in Austria was just how central that nation is to the whole of Europe.  I had originally wanted to study in France (the language I'd studied) or England (the nation I -philed).  I was terribly snobby.  Even though I knew, thanks to my mother, the brilliant genealogist and resident historian, that the heart of the Holy Roman Empire post-Charlemagne had been situtated in Austria, all I ever thought it was good for was being overrun by the Nazis in The Sound of Music.

However, if you're in Austria, you can reach pretty much every nation in just an overnight train trip.  We would study for four days and then have three day weekends, which meant that I travelled all over Austria, to Poland, France, Italy, and a quick stop in Germany - while others on the campus added Romania, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and Belgium to their passports.  We also had a ten-day trip, wherein I went to France (where I met gypsies and was not abducted in Paris - full story on that forthcoming!) while many others went to Spain, Portugal, Greece...and some considered going to Moscow, which they reckoned they could just make in ten days, if they spent five days travelling by train, got off on Russian soil, and turned right around to catch that same train back to Austria!

As a consequence, it's a good idea to pick up various phrases in various languages, since while most everyone speaks English now, it's a good idea to greet a shopkeeper in his native tongue to get anything approximating decent service.  (And not look like a boorish American, which you look like anyway because you're loud, enthusiatsic, and have a backpack the size of China.)

So, I'd like to present you with a List of Helpful Phrases for your own jaunt through Europe!  And if you pass by the Kartause, wave for me! (Most words spelt phonetically.)

  • I only know one word in Estonian, from my roommate, and that word is DEH-gle-dah.  Which means freckles.  This is actually not helpful.  But it's fun to say!

  • Djen-KEE-ya (Thank you)
  • Djen-DOH-breh (Good morning)
We learned these two phrases on our first trip that wasn't sponsored by the school.  For whatever reason, the train was absolutely packed.  Everyone who was anyone was going to Poland that weekend!  Somewhere around two a.m., two Polish students took pity on two of my companions and gave them space in their compartment, where they also taught them the above phrases.  They in turn taught us, and we used those two phrases to speak to everyone in Poland, meaning, variously:

  • Djen-DOH-breh!  Djen-DOH-breh!  Djen-DOH-breh! While pointing repeatedly to an item for sale and a pad of paper and your wallet, to mean, "How much does this cost?" 
  • Djen-KEEEEEEE-ya? While pointing at the picture of the Divine Mercy that we just bought, while sidling up to a likely looking family and meaning, "Can you give us directions to where Sister Faustina had visions of the Divine Mercy, please?"

  • Toilet.  (Meaning "Toilet.")
This last one is the most helpful phrase I can give to you, because it means the same everywhere.  Also, word to the wise: seek out McDonald's toilets.  They're clean, they're free, they're not weirdly-fangled.  It's like stepping into the universal American embassy.  The only better toilets are in the Vatican.  Seriously.  Beautiful.  But I digress.

  • Bitte/Danke (variations, add -schoene or -sehr to the end) This means "If you please/I'm being nice and polite" and "Thank you!"  Always learn how to say please and thank you in any language first.
  • GruB Gott! Pronounced Groos Got! or 'Scot for short, it literally means "God is Great!" which is the way you say "Hello" in Austria.  Which is another reason why Austria kicks butt.  :)
  • Entschuldigung Which sounds like Ent-SHUL-dih-gung. Which is a fancy way to say "Excuse me," which is also a very helpful phrase, since you'll need to shove your way through places a lot.  Word to the wise, though!  I got so used to saying "Entschuldigung" that when I returned to America, I couldn't remember how to say "Excuse me!"  I remember being in JFK at the very crowded baggage, and cycling through all the ways I'd learnt to say "Entschuldigung" in Europe and not being able to remember the blasted words in English!
  • Auf weidersehen Obviously, this is "Good bye!"  Curiously, you can also say Ciao everywhere.
  • Ich weiB nicht Which means "I dunno" and is pronounced (with the Austrian dialect) Ichhhhh VYSSE neekt.  Very helpful.  Especially since, usually, you won't know.  Likewise,
  • Ein bichen which means "a little bit" and sounds like ein BEESH-ehn.  This is the quick way to say "I don't really know much at all, but I'm trying!"  However, you should probably also know,
  • Ich sprache kein Deutch which means, in German, "I don't speak any German."  Along with,
  • Ich bin Americanerin which means, "I'm an American woman."  I don't recommend men using this phrase, except as a means of last resort!
  • Sprachen Sie Anglish? You guessed it! "Do you speak English?"  A wicked helpful phrase.  And the Germans and Austrians generally take pity pretty quickly on you.
  • Selbstverstandlich Which sounds like SELBST-verr-SCHTAND-leeechhhhhh, and means "Self-understoodly."  This isn't really a helpful phrase, except that our German teacher told us that it was the way to say "Yes" to a young gentleman if we were asked to dance.  He advised us to fall on the floor twitching if we wanted to say "no."
  • Mein freunds! and Mein mann!  Now, be careful here.  The first means "my friends!" the second means "my husband!" both of which can be great excuses to (respectively) 1. leave the persistent train conductor and join your friends or 2. get the nice Austrian couple to also give a lift to the guy you're travelling with.  
Fortunately in the latter case, the nice Austrian couple (who had given me a lift because I looked really Austrian - I've got one of those universally northern European faces - and I was wearing a kerchief) realized as soon as I got in the car that I was not Austrian.  They had begun chatting at me, and I said, "Entschuldigung.  Ich bin Americanerin.  Ich sprache ein bichen Deutch.  Danke danke. [Pointing at my guy friend.] Mein mann!  Danke!"  They were very nice and 1) didn't kick me out and 2) picked up my guy friend and 3) didn't laugh at the fact that I'd just apparently called my guy friend - who was studying for the priesthood and is now ordained! - "my husband" when he clearly wasn't.  God bless that Austrian couple!

Having a generally European-looking face and a fair ear for accents can be helpful, but it can also pay to have a very American look and thicker American accent.  Because on that first trip to Poland, when the six of us were looking for compartments, I got stopped by this very Prussian looking train conductor and asked something that sounded to me like, "What's going on here?  There's a compartment with a few open spaces there!"  I panicked, and said, while fleeing, "Ich weiB nicht.  Oh!  Mein freunds!  Entschuldingung!  Danke!"

A little later, while we were all crowded into a hallway (well, the guys and myself - the other two girls were chatting up the Polish students!), the German Trainconductor of the Cheekbones that could Chisel Glass, caught up with me and let off a long stream of German about Heavens knows what.  I listened blank-faced, and then said, in English, "I'm so sorry.  I don't speak actually speak German."

It's not politically correct to do so, but the Look he gave me afterwards made me almost positive that this Arian Adonis was going to go all Third Reich on me, but instead he just clenched his Square Jaw of the Gods, and left.

For the record, I've decided that he was hitting on me and I broke his heart.

Because, if not, I'm pretty sure that he was inviting me to wear the swastika.

In either case, sometimes you should throw the dictionary out the window to begin with.


Mostly, I know how to sing in Italian.  Which isn't very helpful, except when you're actually in Florence by the River Arno and the Ponte Vecchio and you can belt out O mio babbino caro which references both places...even if your aria is interrupted by (no joke) a Hari Krishna parade.  (Oh, the wacky world of travelling!)

However, here are some helpful phrases!

  • Prego like the tomatoe sauce.  It means "Please" and everything else.  Similar to "Bitte" in German, or how we used our two phrases in Polish!
  • Grazie means "Thank you" and is wicked fun to say.
  • Scuzi means "Excuse me" and is a lot shorter to say in Italian than in German!
  • Bon giorno means "Good day" and is a good way to get someone's attention.  Although you should follow it up almost immediately with "Prego."
  • Ciao means "Ta" but also "Hey...." but also "I'm wicked cool."  I can't say this without thinking either of Eddie Izzard's take on why Italians can't be fascists, or  Spike and Drucilla from Angel.  (The video for Angel is awful on YouTube, you can see it about 5:30 on Netflix or Hulu.)
  • Quento coste? (or however one spells it) means "How much is this?"  Make sure you jiggle the thing you want to buy a lot while pushing your way through so the vendor can see that you really want to buy it.  Repeating phrases often also helps.
  • Libre? Which means "Is this free?"  Very helpful for when you're on trains and asking whether a seat is free...or the bathroom is free.  Interesting story, so I was on the train back from one of my trips to Italy (I liked Italy), and was headed to the bathroom at the back of car.  Standing there was a bunch of soldiers from some country.  I was very tired at this point (it was a late train) and I asked them "Excuse me?  Is this free?" but by this point I was so tired, I wasn't sure quite what language I was speaking.  All I remember, as they said (in whatever language I'd just spoken), "Yup!  No one's in there.  Go ahead," and I went in and shut the door behind me, was one of the men turning to the other man and saying in some language, "She speaks [whatever bloody language it was]!"  Sleep-deprivation: the universal translator.
  • Sinestre "To the left." Helpful when you're pointing at a map to a local and repeating a name place.  If you hear "sinestre" it means "to the left."  I forget what "to the right" means.  Regardless, you should know that many people in Italy think it's rude not to give directions to someone who asks for them...even if the person giving directions doesn't know how to get you there.  As a consequence, you're probably better off with a map, a compass, and a sense of adventure.

My French accent is apparently very Parisian, which brings with it a whole adventure - that I'll get to next week - but in the meantime, I'll give you some basic phrases that will help you out quite a bit:

  • Bonjour! "Hello" (lit. Good Day!)  Say this to shopkeepers as you enter.  Otherwise they won't help you out at all.  Unless you're in central France.  All is forgiven in central France.
  • Auvoir! "Good-bye."  Less necessary to say, but easy enough, so use it!
  • Ou est-ce que la/le/les "Where are the...?" fill in the blank.  I know French looks funky written down, so Ooooh ESS-eh-kuh la/le/le.  Typically, you can also draw pictures, use mime, or just the English word to fill in the blank!
  • Merci (beaucoup) "Thank you (very much)."  Do not pronounce this as "mercy."  You will get the Gallic death-stare.  Try mair-SEE!  In general, the more you try to sound like Pepe LePeu, the more accurate your accent.
  • S'il vous plait "If you please," pronounced SEAL voo play.  It's like prego and bitte, but not used as much.  If you would want to say "please" in English, use this phrase instead.  (In Italian and German you're well off if you surround whole phrases with prego's and bitte's.)
  • De rien "It's nothing" said, Deh REE-ehn.  It's a quick way to say "You're welcome."  However, I prefer the almost never-used ultra-formal, Je vous en prie! (Dje VOOZ-ehn PREE!).  Again, really only use it in central France.  Central France is the best.  And their cows are pretty.
  • QUOI?!?!?! "What?" Pronounced QUAAH?  A great way to express outrage.  Or just to ask someone to repeat something.
  • Parlez vous Anglais? "Do you speak English?" Pronounced Pahrl-ay VOOZ ahn-GLAY?  Make sure you don't say this as an opening line!  Then the French will be very French to you!
  • Combien coute? (Actually, I forget out how spell this!) It means, "How much?" and try not to be floored by the price they show you.  Bring money to Paris.  Lots of money.
And now, because the men of France are amorous.  Do not say "Oui" to "Voulez vous couche avec moi ce soir" but rather say:

  • Non. No.
  • Pas de tout.  Not at all.  (Pah deh TOOT!)
  • Regard!  La singe est sur la branche!  Look!  A monkey is on the branch!  (Regard!  La SING ay sir la branch!) Courtesy of Eddie Izzard.  A lovely opportunity to point at something and run away!
  • Ich sprache kein Deutch.  Good for confusing the hell out of 'em.
  • Vive la revolution!  More convincing when wielding a weapon.
  • Vous avez la tete du couchon et la derierre du chien! You have the head of a pig and the bum of a dog!  VOOZ-avay la teht doo coo-SHON ay la DARE-ee-yair doo SHEE-ehn.
And, what every delicate young woman should know:
  • And, what I ought to have said to the fellow who didn't quite abduct me: Va te faire foudre.  Pronounced Va teh fair FOO-druh.  Which means, as one might expect, "Go f*(% yourself"  A very useful phrase.  That every woman of sense who travels to Paris ought to know.
So what other phrases should we add to our lexicon!  Leave a comment and let us know!