or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, March 26, 2007


On Saturday, we went to the opera!

If you live in a dinky little cityette like Moncton (population 61K), that can be a big deal. The Metropolitan Opera has started broadcasting live performances on big movie-theatre screens, the way wrestling has been broadcast for a few years now. The theatre was packed, and although the average age was probably in the sixties, maybe even the seventies (and Jim figured some of these people hadn't been in a cinema since talkies were introduced), there were some younger people there, too: us, for starters (we're both in our forties) and an early-twentyish couple who decided to dress for the occasion, she in a black cocktail dress and he in a getup that looked as if a Gilbert and Sullivan pirate had stolen some wardrobe from "The Matrix". They get points for trying, though. (We dress for real opera, but when we're seeing what's essentially a movie, we just wear whatever we wear.)

The opera was The Barber of Seville, and it was delightful, if you're able to ignore the fact that Moncton audiences are simply the worst I've ever been among: they mostly seem to think that if nothing interesting is going on up there on the screen, they have license to talk as much and as loudly as they want. (Movies, live performances--it's all the same to them.) In the manner of the Saturday afternoon Texaco broadcasts, there were some interviews and featurettes before the show and during the intermission.

The staging included something I'd never seen before: a platform that extended from the stage and wrapped around the orchestra pit, allowing the performers to exit the action on stage and address the audience directly and intimately--a nice touch, especially when, at the curtain call, the Figaro handed out business cards. During one of the featurettes, this platform was commented on and named, and I tucked the name away in my head so I could look it up later. (I also found that I was determining how it must be spelled, based on its syllabification and possible provenance. It had never really occurred to me before at the time it was happening that this is what English speakers do all the time, unconsciously. I'm sure all halfways intelligent speakers of any language do something similar whenever they hear a new word. Speakers of French, say, file away other information: any stress pattern isn't particularly important to them, but the gender of a noun is, so their brains automatically make that part of the word.)

After the show, Jim said, "What was the name of that thing around the orchestra pit?", and I discovered that I couldn't quite remember. "Passerine" sounded like a possible candidate, but I was pretty sure that that wasn't a noun at all, but an adjective. "Passerette"? That sounded probable, so I said it out loud, and after thinking for a second, Jim said, "No, passerelle". And that's exactly what it was. It's the French word for "ramp".

"Passerine", by the way, is an adjective, but, so typically for English, it also acts as a noun: it refers to the perching birds, occasionally if not always accurately known as the songbirds, which, you may be as fascinated to learn as I was, make up more than half of all bird species. The name comes from the Latin name for the house sparrow, passer domesticus. Much more here.


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