Ferdinandus Taurus – Munro Leaf

“Olim in Hispania erat taurulus nomine Ferdinandus.”

Well, right away I must confess that my Latin is not nearly good enough to read this book unaided.  I can read short paragraphs about Caesar fighting barbarians and Roman generals, but that’s about it.  However, the dictionary at the back of this book came to my aid as did other resources.  Honestly, I confess though, it took me ages to read this.

Almost everyone, I think, knows the Story of Ferdinand, the young bull who lives in Spain and would like nothing better than to sit in his meadow and to smell the flowers.  Yet when a bumblebee inopportunely stings him, just as some matadors are checking out bulls to take to Madrid to the fights, things go terribly wrong.  Ferdinand is mistaken for a magnificent fighter and is dragged off to the bullfights.  But our intrepid hero will not give in, no matter how many banderillos or picadores or matadores taunt him to fight. No, Ferdinand stays true to his placid nature and simply sits and smells the flowers. Finally he is sent back to his meadow and he is free.

And since this book is set in Spain, what better tribute than to read it in Spanish?  So that’s what I did after my foray into it in Latin.  “Había una vez en España un torito que se llamaba Ferdinando.”

This book was published in 1936, nine months before the civil war broke out in Spain, and was seen as a promotion of pacifism.  Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator condemned it as propaganda, as did Hitler, who banned the book in Nazi Germany.  In contrast, the book was lauded by the political left; Gandhi claimed it was his favourite book, and it was the only non-communist book allowed in Poland by Joseph Stalin.

I did a comprehensive analysis of The Story of Ferdinand in English on my children’s book blog.  The depth of this book is astounding.  You can find my review here.

Okay, I squeaked in one more book (well, actually two if you count both the languages) for my Language Freak Summer Challenge.  Yippee!

La Parure (The Necklace) par Guy de Maupassant

“C’etait une de ces jolies et charmantes filles, nées, comme par une erreur du destin, dans une famille d’employés.”

Yes, she certainly was a pretty and charming girl who was born by a mistake of destiny into a family of office workers.  Mathilde would dream of riches and fame and jewels, covering her life of drudgery in a tapestry of fantasies and longings.  Finally, one day, her husband arrives with an invitation to a party.  Mathilde manipulates this honest, hard-working man into purchasing a new elegant dress for her, but when she complains of a lack of jewels, he has the answer: borrow some from her wealthy friend Madame Forestier!  A lovely diamond necklace of Madame’s catches Mathilde’s eye and she must have it.  Her friend, generous to the end, gladly loans it and the evening of her dreams begins.  She is admired, she is catered to, she is wrapped in a heavenly realm of blissful wealth and prestige.  Late do she and her husband return home, reluctant to leave the party until the end but, oh no!  The necklace has disappeared and she is sure that she left it in the taxi.  Days of searching yield nothing and finally there is only one thing to do.  Withdrawing their life savings and taking out a loan, they replace the necklace, hoping that Madame will not notice.  But this painful action causes them ten years of needless toil and suffering.  Why is it needless?  Well, you will have to read the tale to find out!

This short story was really a gem and, in spite of having an inkling of the final twist, it still held my attention to end.  In fact, I had expected to get fatigued by reading such a long (for me) story in French and I had planned to take a break, but instead, I was held rapt until the end.

I did wonder at the title of this story.  In the tale, the necklace is mostly referred to as “la rivière“, yet the title is “la parure“.  When I looked up “la rivière” in my French dictionary it says “river“, and “la parure“means “finery” or “jewelry“.  So then I looked up necklace and it had “le collier“.  What?  Do any of you Francophiles understand the distinction between these terms? Help!

In any case, this story has definitely been a huge incentive to read more of Maupassant.  His short stories are very readable and a good way to keep improving my French.  I certainly struggled here and there in parts of it and learned a number of new words, yet I was also pleased with my progress.

This will probably be the last book for my Summer Freak Language Challenge, unless I can squeak in a short children’s book before the end. Thanks Ekaterina, for holding this wonderful challenge.  It’s given me a chance to practice languages that I wouldn’t normally read in.  I’m already looking forward to next year’s challenge!

Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) by The Brothers Grimm

Little Red Riding Hood
George Frederic Watts
source Wikipedia

“Es war einmal eine kleine süße Dirne, die hatte jedermann lieb, der sie nur ansah, am allerliebsten aber ihre Großmutter ……….”

German is not the best of my multiple basic languages, but for this month, I decided to tackle Little Red Riding Hood.  I was hoping that my familiarity with the story would help my stumbling reading and I was right! The story begins with: There once was a sweet little girl who was loved by everyone who saw her, but was most of all loved by her grandmother, … … ”  

Even though this story is a version by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, the tale of Little Red Riding Hood has existed possibly since before the 10th century, and no one knows definitively where it originated.  There is evidence of it appearing in France in the 10th century, and Italy in the 14th century.  Not only do numerous versions exist but they occur in widely different areas:  La finta nonna (The False Grandmother) in Italy, The Story of Grandmother and even in Oriental tales like Grandaunt Tiger.  Although the first written version appeared in the 17th century (by Charles Perrault), scholars surmise that the tale did indeed originate in the 10th or 11th century in Europe and somehow spread to Asia.

Little Red Riding Hood (1881)
Carl Larsson
source Wikipedia

This German version, was somewhat different from the anglicized versions that I’d read as a child.  In this version, the wolf eats both the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood, whereupon a huntsman arrives, cuts open the wolf’s stomach to free them and puts stones inside him before he sews him up.  The wolf awakes and dies from the weight of the stones.  This was similar to the versions that I read as a child, yet this present version ended with a slight twist:  Little Red Riding Hood meets another Wolf one day, who tries to lure her off the path but, with the wisdom of her first experience, she refuses and arrives at Grandmother’s house in one piece.  The wolf follows, climbs on the roof of the cottage, and plans to eat Little Red Riding Hood when she emerges to make her journey home.  Slyly the Grandmother instructs Little Red Riding Hood to put the water she had used to boil sausages in the trough outside.  The wolf, attracted by the wonderful smell, slides off the roof and drowns in the trough.

Little Red Riding Hood (1883)
Gustave Doré
source Wikipedia

Other tidier versions I’ve read as an adult, have Grandmother merely hiding in the closet to escape the wolf, or the huntsman rescuing Little Red Riding Hood before she is eaten.  Call me bloodthirsty, but I don’t care much for these sanitized versions.   These stories were meant to inculcate caution in children and the thought of being eaten would be much more effective than the possibility of having a little scare before you are rescued.  I imagine, during these times, a properly instilled caution could be the difference between life and death.

What fun to read Little Red Riding Hood in German!  Now I won’t be so intimidated to tackle another German tale!

Further reading:

Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai by Heinrich Heine

Rolf Armstrong
source Wikiart

Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
Als alle Knospen sprangen
Da ist in meinem Herzen
Die Liebe aufgegangen
Im wunderschönen Monat Mai
Als alle Vögel sangen,
Da hab’ ich ihr gestanden
Mein Sehnen und Verlangen.


In The Wondrously Beautiful Month of May
In the wondrously beautiful month of May
When all the buds sprang open
Then in my heart
Love sprouted.
In the wondrously beautiful month of May
When all the birds were singing
Then I confessed to her
My longing and desire.

This poem has long been one of my favourites.  And what a better time to share it than the month of May and for my Language Freak Summer Challenge.  After reading the English translation, I was left somewhat disconsolate ……… works in translation really do not do justice to the original.

Heinrich Heine was a German poet, journalist, essayist and literary critic, born in Düsseldorf in 1797 and died in Paris in 1856.  His lyric poetry was set to music by composing greats such as Robert Schumann and Franz Schubert.  The government did not take kindly to his radical political views; many of his works were banned in Germany and he spent the last 25 years of his life in exile.  

Corre, Perro, Corre – P.D. Eastman

Hay perros grandes, perros pequeños, perros amarillos, perros verdes, perros azules, perros rojos y una fiesta al fin del libro. Este libro es divertirse por los niños.

Phew!  That’s about all for my rusty Spanish as I have about 10 reviews that I’m trying to work on.  I remember this book from my childhood.  It reads pretty simply now, even in Spanish, but I can see the value of repetition when children are learning to read or learning another language.  Prepositions and opposites are sprinkled throughout the story, adding another aspect of learning.  And after all, what child could resist rainbow-coloured dogs, dogs driving cars, a party and the repeated silly question, “¿Te gusta mi sombrero? (Do you like my hat?)” 

If anyone knows of some easy Spanish books, I’d really appreciate any recommendations.  For some reason I’m struggling with coming up with any.  It’s very sad when you can think of more Latin books to read than Spanish ……

Language Freak Summer Challenge

Ekaterina at In My Book is hosting a Language Freak Summer Challenge. Since I continually profess that I am going to attempt a book in French, but as yet have had little inspiration, I thought a challenge would be a good shove forward.

How to Participate:

Read books in a foreign language this summer.  The challenge runs from May 1st to August 31st.

The Levels of the Challenge:

Beginner: read 1 book in any foreign language
Intermediate: read 2 books in any foreign language
Advanced: read 3+ books in any foreign language

The books can be in one or in several different foreign languages. You choose what you want to practice! But for really crazy linguists I have a special offer, which is called accordingly:

Crazy Linguist: read at least 1 book in EACH foreign language you know. Of course, this one is additional to the above listed three levels!

Bonus level is for films:

Subs Fan: watch any number of films in a foreign language (Why is it called so? Because subs are allowed, of course!)

After you read your book (or watch a movie), you are encouraged to post about your experience! It can be a review, or a reflection, or a rant, whatever! If the book’s language affected your experience, write about it! Is it easy or difficult? Does it have crazy grammar or so many rare words that you couldn’t put down your dictionary? Share!

For the hardcore language freaks I have another optional task! Try to write about the book in the language you read it in! Just a few phrases, to practice your writing! Last year native speakers were known to friendly explain the mistakes in the reviews, so don’t be afraid to make them! It’s all for your benefit, you know. 

Introductory Post Questions:

1.  What languages do you know?  I know basic French and Spanish (although my Spanish is very rusty), less than basic German with a smattering of Latin and ancient Greek.  

2.  What is your history with these languages?  I studied French for seven years in school but with sub-par instruction, so my French is embarrassingly weak when you consider the study time.  I studied both Spanish and German in school for one semester, but my German teacher was amazing so the German I learned in one semester was comparable to about three years of French class. Latin and Greek I’ve learned alongside my daughter while homeschooling her, but she has surpassed me now.  I wish I had more time to devote to learning these languages.

3.  Do you use them or are you out of practice?  I was very fortunate to be able to travel to France about 5 years ago, twice, for about 6 weeks each time.  Initially my French was woefully inadequate (I had to use Spanish to find my hotel), but gradually it came back and when I left the last time, I was able to understand conversations, although my speaking skills still needed much practice.  I’ve tried to keep it up since then.  My Spanish used to be pretty good, but needs a tune-up.  In German, I’d be lucky if I could read children’s books —- I need more instruction.  As for Latin & Greek, I have glorious dreams of being able to read Homer or Xenephon in Greek and the Aeneid in Latin ……… sadly I have a loooong way to go to reach that point but I can read a short story about the Gallic wars in Latin.  Such is my pitiful claim to fame. 😉

4.  Have you read some books in these languages?  Did you like it (them)?  I’ve read a number of children’s books in both French and Spanish.  I also started both Candide and Alice in Wonderland in French but didn’t finish them.  I tried reading The Cat in the Hat in Latin but crashed and burned. 

5.  What are your plans for the challenge?  I plan to try to read either Le Petit Nicolas, Le Tour de la France par Deux Enfants or Les Malheurs de Sophie as a main book.  Otherwise I would like to read some Fables de Fontaine, a Martine book, some German fairy tales, Ferdinand in Latin and a Spanish book, perhaps Corre, Perro, Corre, or another choice.  It’s nice to have four months for this challenge ~~ there are so many possibilities to explore and I will certainly have the time to investigate them!

Does it sound like fun?  Do you want to join in?  Then write an introductory post and then go to Ekaterina’s blog and link it to the linky there.  Please see her blog for other details about this exciting challenge.  Thanks for hosting, Ekaterina!

What Did I Read?

  1.  Corre, Perro, Corre – P.D. Eastman (Spanish)
  2.  Im Wunderschönen Monat Mai – Heinrich Heine
  3.  Rotkäppchen (Little Red Riding Hood) – Brothers Grimm
  4.  Nuits de Juin – Victor Hugo
  5.  Desiderata (en Français) – Max Ehrmann