I was taught to hate it, abhor it, detest it to the very depth of my need-to-put-it-on-paper soul. If I saw an adverb creep into my writing, I had been instructed to remove it immediately rub it out as if it were a prose snitch, informing everyone that a lazy bastard, a writer too inept to locate a powerful verb, was selling them crap composition. Faulkner forbid an adverb made it into my writing workshop, every budding sentence builder in the house would note the folly, giving the offender a pitying shun, something that suggested “fucking amateur”.
It’s been seven years since I was last in an MFA program, but still, every time I write a word ending with –ly, I gag a little—a little out of self-loathing, more so from a fear that some knowing soul will see it. It’s a hardship every aspiring wordsmith must endure: Finding out what you’re doing is all wrong. I would like to say it dissipates as the years progress, but I recently read an article citing ten words or phrases that should no longer appear in travel writing, at least three of which I knew were in recent pieces I’d sent out. What can you do but find-and-replace”, repent for your word choice, and vow never to see a “bustling thoroughfare” again.
Alas, despite whatever dreams I once had, I’m not a writing professor, still don’t have a well-received collection of short stories that were snapped up and anthologized, but what’s worse is that, as an EFL teacher, I push my students to—readily, regularly, proudly—make use of the dreaded adverb. Rather than teaching them to spit in the face of action descriptors, to learn, as my mentors had taught me, to seek the correct verb, I show my students the right place to put their adverb. I make them practice using –ly words to add life to their speech, how to know when to say tragically instead of tragic.
Ironically, it’s laboriously dragged me lumbering into a new phase with my own writing, and I’m not sure how I feel or, even, how to feel about it. I’ve been forced to spend time with adverbs, to really consider them as words, just like any other word: with purpose, semantics, and Latin-Saxon roots like those others we cherish so lovingly. My life, my craft, my somewhat fictional profession has somehow managed to become an afterschool special: If I just give Suzie Q. Interestingly a chance, I might see she’s no better or worse than my other friends, made of letters, in need of good, healthy relationships.
Then, god, like everything else, once I gave old Suzie Adverb some respect, regardless of what my professors or workshop compatriots had to say about it, I began to, at the very least, appreciate that she had her own verbose identity. She increasingly began to crop up in my paragraph parties, not bothering anyone, still not exactly blending in. She’s become that kooky acquaintance who my friends (adjectives) and family (nouns) are smugly waiting to see prove them right: Adverbs are bad. For me, however, I must admit that sometimes I prefer running quickly to darting, dashing, or scurrying because, often, those other verbs just seem pretentious, working too hard to get attention from the in-crowd.
For those of you who don’t know, OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in the US. I learned this because, for a short period of my life, between January and April of 2000, I worked construction. I was a pipefitter’s helper, a professional much less sexual than it sounds and one which lacks in glory. However, in my few short months, all spent building a toilet paper factory in Oklahoma, I managed to get my first taste of what it might feel like to piss on OSHA safety standards: I was the only natural-born US citizen on the all Mexican crew.
Only three of us (including me) spoke English; however, it wasn’t the language that indicated our Mexican-ness, Mexican-ity—it was the efficiency, the pace at which all tasks got done, and especially the way they were done with little-to-no regard for health or safety. In the world of construction, “tying off” (attaching a rope from your harness to something stable in case you fall) is of paramount importance, not only for your own well-being but more so to avoid OSHA violations, fines, and being fired. No one must have translated those standards to our crew.
It happened all the time, but on one particular day, we were working on a rack of pipes running along a high ceiling, fifteen to twenty feet up, when we hit a snag and were unable to get a pipe where it needed to be. We were using scissor lifts to raise us to working level, and the rules stated that, when on a scissor lift, a one must be tied off and b at least one foot had to be on the standing platform. However, one guy, the foreman’s little brother, actually untied himself so that he could climb on the top rail of the scissor lift in order to shake, yank, and all things unbalanced the offending pipe until it moved. Meanwhile, the other guys looked out for OSHA. Pipe fitted!
Living abroad feels much like being on the Mexican crew: The rules of safety are generally based on knowing (and probably not acting) better, and at best, they are disregarded as logical guidelines. Look at traffic for a clear example—the movies depict it fairly well as a sort of free-for-all in which one-way streets, stop signs, and crosswalks are more video game obstacles than steadfast laws. Over the past few years, since living the safe umbrella of OSHA, I’ve maintained a sort of mental tally of health and safety violations that either provided laughter or concern, usually both.
Korea, in particular, amazed. Of course, in a world where motorcycles legally zip along pedestrian walkways, the same thoroughfares where small children (barely walking) toddle around under “community” supervision, regulations are bound to be different. I remember sitting under a makeshift tent outside a Korean bar, watching a soccer game on a half-covered big screen TV in the middle of a rainstorm, only to notice the electrical power strip in a puddle on the ground had been daftly protected by being inserted into a plastic cola bottle. The air conditioner in the kindergarten classroom dripped for months (all summer) onto an electrical socket just about perfect height for the children to stick one of their metal chopsticks into.
I’ve seen things that would twist an OSHA man’s well-groomed, safety-measured moustache into a handlebar flamethrower. However, I’ve recently witnessed the most blatant undermining of personal and public safety that, perhaps, has ever graced this former pipefitter’s helper’s eyes: Looking out of our apartment window, on the roof of the building across the street, outside the guard rails, a man was standing on the slanted, icy overhang, sweeping newly fallen snow onto the sidewalk some five stories below, nothing—no rope, cord, or out-reached hand—more than balance and luck to keep the man from plummeting to his peril, no caution to prevent pedestrians from walking under debris falling from above. Enjoy these pictures:
Emma doesn’t get it because she isn’t from the Deep South, like me, where we’d just as soon do away with the word, live a life in which well never existed. Instead, she comes from the-Queen’s-English England, where people readily use well as an adverb, which, yes, is correct, but not when done so as a synonym for very, as seen in specimen such as, “That’s well good, mate.” However, as presumably good teachers, international agents of well-spoken English, we strive to do use our words good well and to be well very good examples, and so should you.
So, here we go, once again, this time without the tisking of a mother, grandma, or teacher, who probably corrected your error without any further explanation. The initial breakdown is as such, simply: Good is an adjective, as you may recall, whereas well is an adverb. Adjectives are used to describe nouns, i.e. people, places, and things. Adverbs, the trickier of the two parts of speech, can be used to describe verbs (as the name suggests) but, also, frequently accentuate adjectives or other adverbs.
For good, there are essentially two options. The easier option is when the adjective good precedes the noun its modifying, such as in that makes good sense or I have a good comprehension of what that means. Things get a tiny bit stickier when good doesn’t sit next to its noun like a good, little adjective but goes off gallivanting with a copular verb. Don’t get too concerned: A copular verb has nothing to do with copulation. Copular verbs are verbs that aren’t necessarily actions, like look or seem or feel, but rather link a subject to an idea.
So, let’s use the first of our three examples to further explain the copular verb-good combo pack: Look. There, of course, is look the action, like I looked at the hot chic over there, in which the “I” is looking; however, there is look the copulae, as seen in The chic over there looks hot, in which “the chic” isn’t doing or looking at all but is merely alluring to those who are. In the later case, we’d use good: That chic looks good. That chic looks well would be commenting on her ability to see or find things rather than her sultry appearance*.
*As with all English grammar, there is the exception: Well can be used as an adjective when referring to health, such as I don’t feel well, meaning I am sick. So, in actuality, That chic looks well would more likely be mistaken as commenting on her medical situation, as if perhaps she’d recently been ill.
So, that brings us to well, which can get a bit problematic due to its friendlier nature, that willingness to jump in the sack with both verbs and adjectives. (Luckily, and this is no homophobic slander, this adverb doesn’t bunk up with its own kind. That’s only for word sluts like very and really, as in He moved on to the next point very slowly.) The verb seems easy enough: If there is an action happening, we use well. Perhaps the hot chic struts her stuff well, which is what makes her hot, or I can’t see her well, so let’s get closer.
In the case of the well-adjective marriage, it’s usually hyphenated or a very familiar combination: This expression is well-known. To further expound, consider the example A well-endowed widower makes a good friend. It seems a bit counter to previous statements in this week’s blog because well seems part of the description of widower, which is certainly a person and, therefore, a noun. However, it is important to realize that, in this case, well is describing the adjective “endowed” and not widower, who, if poorly endowed, might not be as good a friend.
This most common mistake, at least for Americans, probably occurs when we do something good or can’t do something good, or we are asked how we are doing and respond with I’m doing good. Technically, in this instance, we are reporting being in the midst of doing good (deeds), as if we involved with some charitable act, say, helping an old lady cross the street. It’s more likely that we feel good and are doing well. It’s so fussy and minute, I know, but this is the very thing that teachers and moms and so on were so keen to correct not so long ago. I remember it well.
Well, that just about sums it up. Go forth, be well (in good health), and please be good (I’m not exactly sure what this good means—Well-behaved? Ethically sound? Talented? —Oh, damn.)
Wherever we are--Just can't avoid getting stuck.
I am almost—and I say almost so as to feign some remnants of dignity—ashamed of myself for how much the Internet means to my life, my general attitude and outlook on how things are going. I used to play outside. I used to travel for weeks without checking my email. I used to not even bother bringing my laptop. However, when we moved into our current flat, an Internet connection was the only demand I had. No TV, no bedroom…I hadn’t even checked what appliances were here. Just give me that broadband teat, the WiFi tickle, and I’ll find a way to make do.
There are some pretty viable excuses. I need the Internet to gather facts for articles I’m working on, to research travel sites and magazines that might publish them, to send out articles to make some attempt at a writing career. I communicate with virtually all of my friends and family—those who don’t live in Moscow, which entails every one I’ve ever known until six months ago—via email, Skype, or Face Time. I brag about not having had a TV for the last seven years, but that’s fairly deceptive when you download multiple seasons of whatever shows you want and stream all the LSU football games live. I sometimes do online yoga classes. Work, friends and family, communication, entertainment, exercise—is that too much?
Well, I thought I was done with the list until I reread it and remembered reading. Most of my reading is now done either online or via downloaded e-books. Granted, there isn’t an abundance of English-language magazines in Moscow, but I actually bring the iPad to the toilet with me, a little cyber-something to thumb through whilst doing business. I haven’t held an actual newspaper for months. Emma bought me three paperbacks for my birthday in October, had them shipped from England, and I still haven’t finished them. In the meantime, I’ve read at least three e-books and Rolf Potts’s entire website. What happened to reading what’s available?—everything became available.
Even teaching now, at least here, is centered around a SMART board, where I YouTube! (YouTube! has become a YouVerb!) cartoons and have my students (Yo)use them to practice new vocabulary, do listening comprehension, match the visual to the idea. I Yoused! to Youse! flashcards! Now, we play online language games (check out barryfunenglish.com) and look up stuff on Wikipedia. In any given class, fifty-percent of my lesson might be Internet-based, either active online learning or materials pulled from worldwide sources. There is neither a blackboard nor a once-technologically-advanced whiteboard in my classroom.
Nine years ago, in 2003, I finally broke down and got my first cell phone. I never really adapted to the idea, though I did relent, finding myself talking while grocery shopping, delaying orders at restaurants to answer calls, even drive-dialing old friends while traveling long stretches on road trips. I left the U.S. and my cell phone a couple of years later, living two-and-a-half years in Korea without one, spending the next five arguing with Emma about who has to carry our one, shared, usually nearly dead and out-of-credit “mobile”, which only exists because companies require we have it, ya know, for teaching emergencies. We are so phone dysfunctional that we’ve told work to email us for all emergencies—we are more likely to get it that way.
I don’t know where this leaves me. Torn, perhaps. I think you begin traveling, living abroad, in some sense, to escape these things, get out of the office cubicle, avoid spending your evening mind-numbing in front of the boob-tube. Suddenly, it’s beginning to feel like I’ve simply re-invented all of this, and more, for myself. But, there are blogs to write, fundraisers to conduct, meetings on Skype, courses to take, the newly discovered An Idiot Abroad to watch, an e-library full of classics, and it’s become that much more difficult to lose yourself in the world. Have I essentially made the same old home—virtually? How does one adventure out of a life you carry with you? Stop carrying it, I guess.
I’ve not said this often in the last few years, but I’m just not ready to take that step.
Look at the intensity! The passion!
As fluent English speakers, we have the reputation of not knowing what the hell we are doing. Sure, we can flawlessly form a sentence simultaneously utilizing the past perfect continuous verb tense* and the third conditional**, but well-over ninety percent of us have no idea what the past perfect continuous tense is, let alone that it is one of only a few options when making a third conditional, yet another spot of advanced grammar that falls out of our mouths without much consideration. In this respect, I admire my students and colleagues for their intricate knowledge of my language. They know why.
By a stroke of fairly charted destiny, I happened to be amongst the small percentage of native speakers that can (unfortunately, has to) identify the technical aspects of the everyday utterance. In some ways, it’s a blessing, being part of such an elite (at least in our minds) club, but how many people really strive to be one of the few sitting around discussing the differing semantics of certain verbs when followed by an infinitive versus a gerund***. In school, when we were being encouraged to express ourselves, I’m fairly certain this conversation wasn’t what our liberal arts teachers had in mind.
However, the big advantage of being a native speaker is that we can perform grammar anomalies without knowing at all why what we’re saying is correct, just that it is. The problem is that the better students become, the more complex the grammar becomes, and the less accepting they are of breaking the rules they’ve been adhering to for years. Recently, while conducting an advanced class, one of my top students wouldn’t accept an answer I had provided. “You can’t use will in an if-clause,” she decreed, which by rule is fairly knowledgeable; on the other hand, via a lifetime of speaking English, I knew it was wrong. Just not why.
Despite creating several sentences in which will was in the if-clause, she simply said the examples were wrong. How do you prove an exception to rule? The student argued so vehemently that, truthfully, I’d begun to doubt myself a little, and we had to break class agreeing to disagree. I was consumed with it. I thought about the if-will conundrum all the way home, talked with Emma about it, and as I was cooking dinner, she google-d around, finding sources to support if-will compatibility. It’s an odd moment rejoicing over a chopped onion because you now have the evidence to prove your student wrong.
Being an English teacher has, at times, made me cocky, maybe even dick-y. On many an occasion, I will find myself watching a sitcom, some humdinger of intellectual wit, say Friends, and I’ll be slighting the writers, performers, director, or producers for allowing horrible blights upon the English language. Then, I’m brought back down to level by some if-will moment, brought on by some second-hand English speaker who hasn’t graduated high school, and I realize either how much I don’t know about my own language or how much I wish I could forget. English, you are a bitch mother!
The Guts Behind the Grammar:
* The past perfect continuous tense is a construction like this: “had been paying” attention. It combines past simple tense “had” with the perfect tense, which requires “have” plus the third form (as in break/broke/broken) of a verb, e.g. “been”, with the continuous tense, calling for a be-verb followed by the present participle (or –ing) form of a verb): “paying”. The past perfect continuous tense is used to express a past event that began before the event in question and continued until that moment or beyond.
I had been paying close attention to the English lesson when my eyes went cross.
Note: (For those grammar nerds who are wondering about just using past continuous here)
· I was paying attention when my eyes went cross: This sentence emphasizes that when my eyes went cross, I was paying attention, at that exact moment.
· I had been paying attention when my eyes went cross: This sentence emphasizes that when my eyes went crossed, I had been paying attention, over a period of time. It is possible that I was still paying attention at that moment or that I had just finished.
** The third conditional is used to reference unreal situations in the past, and the results that would have been produced had the reality of the situation been otherwise. If I had been paying attention to my English lessons at school, of course, means that I hadn’t been paying attention, the “if” both signify that what follows--I had been paying attention to my English lessons at school—isn’t true but that we are imagining if it were true. So, that gets us halfway through the process.
Now we must follow the if-clause--If I had been paying attention to my English lessons at school-- with the presumed result of the imaginary past: If I had been paying attention to my English lessons at school, I wouldn’t have learned this much ridiculous grammar anyway. Now, we the audience to this utterance know that the speaker/writer didn’t pay attention during English lessons and that the result would have been the same as if he/she had done so.
Of course, as native speakers, we thoughtlessly make statements like this all the live, long day.
*** Gerunds and infinitives are two different forms a verbs, the gerund being formed with –ing, as in “Being or not being, that is the question”, the infinitive then formed with to and the base verb, as in the more familiar, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” These two can be the bane of an ESL teacher’s existence because it’s not always so clear which one to use.
First of all, some verbs can be followed by both, “I like walking” and “I like to walk”, while others require one or the other, “I want to stop, yet I can’t” but never “I want stopping, yet I can’t”. There is absolutely no standard to judge how verbs will behave, so you are forced to ask students to memorize lists rather than learn some sort of regular grammar rule.
Then, there are the tricky words like remember and stop. I remember kissing your sister every morning is very different than I remember to kiss your sister every morning, just as I stopped kissing your sister is equally different to I stopped to kiss your sister. So, as you can see, some words can use both, but the meaning completely changes as to which form is used.
So, feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.
I won’t say it sneaked up on me, how could it have, what with the date inscribed in my ring and a wife who loves a reason to celebrate, and I certainly won’t say that it’s been a long, hard road: Emma doesn’t like those sort of chauvinist jokes, and a wise husband genuinely understands that his wife is more knowledgeable about cross-gender etiquette than he is. So, suffice it to say that today marks two years of marital blissfulness. We’ve reached the fabled cotton anniversary, the official end to newlywed-hood, newlywed-dome, newlywed-dedness, and it is a cause for reflection:
First of all, I like the state of our relationship, how we embrace the conventional in our own unconventional way: Whereas I buy bags far too regularly, Emma fancies a good holey t-shirt and won’t give them up. I like to have a meal ready for Emma when she gets home, and she relishes a chance to clean, especially something that needs rubber gloves and bleach. As tradition would have dictated, we’ve approached this anniversary with very cotton-centric thoughts, longing to uphold the time-honored mores of giving your spouse the appropriate material for your time spent hitched.
This year Emma gave me a card with a q-tip in it, what Brits call “cotton buds” and which she lovingly left unused. Secondly, she gave me a pair of underpants with Russian dolls on them. Upon bestowing them, she informed that she had rigorously questioned the shopkeeper to ensure that they were, indeed, cotton. Moreover, she also noted that, despite having been married for two years, she knows neither my underpants size nor my shoe size, which some conventions say should be correlative. Lastly, within the underpants gift, there was a message stating that, if they didn’t fit me, she’d be happy to wear them around the house.
At first it seemed I’d been outdone, for I had not actually purchased a cotton product, or anything for that matter. But, quick on my feet, handy with a jingle, I immediately launched into a rousing—literally, she was roused and excited, not in a euphemistic way, literally—rendition of the American classic “Here Comes Peter Cottontail”. She thought I’d made it up but was actually even more moved by the fact that the gift came along with several animated YouTube! versions to enjoy. I also confessed to not knowing her underpants size either, though, due to our bowling night and her inability to say thirty-seven in Russian, I do know her shoe size.
Like our wedding day, and the paper anniversary that followed it a year later (I wrote Emma a poem on a sheet from my notebook; she wrote me a note on a beer mat), we will celebrate our union tonight with cheap beer and pizza, about which Emma is as excited as I am. That’s love. For breakfast, we had mimosas, which were technically meant for the day after, as happened in Vegas, but the champagne proved to enticing and did not last quite long enough. I enjoy the fact that this doesn’t matter to us, that Emma even considered just making pizza at home if it was too much of a pain-in-the-ass to go out. That’s why--
Two years, six countries, thirteen states, four homes (three in Russia alone), 8,000 miles of road trips, five months of visiting in-laws, two months of in-laws visiting, approximately 745 trips up the Earth Lodge hill, possibly 104 chips and mushy peas nights (on which I, the American, am chef), six visas, one snowman, four Christmases (three in Russia alone), zero diamonds, and who knows how many pizza-and-beer nights in between (if you know what I’ve mean—elbow nudge) later, we’ve finally reached maturity as a couple.
We made it to the cotton, baby!
I love teaching opposites. It’s such an easy way to increase a student’s vocabulary, provides such a rich bounty of games, and opens up so many avenues of self-expression, to create some impression of your subject. Unfortunately, opposites tend to congregate on the outer edges of language, the extremes of what it is we are trying to say, leaving an entire gray area, a more sensitive and accommodating place, in the lurch. Moreover, basic semantics never dictates that which we just shouldn’t say. So, here our story begins.
It starts with adjectives, usually a lesson not long after learning family members, when it seems appropriate to describe our moms: “beautiful”. Which means, as the rule of antonyms suggests, we must learn ugly, the list then continuing to provide standards like tall-short, old-young, smart/clever-stupid, big-small/little, funny-serious, and always fat-thin/slim. Herein lies the problem: By opening the box to all of these great terms and the activities they foster, we the teachers have equipped our students to call each other ugly, fat, and stupid.
Many cultures use these, what English-speaking cultures consider, offensive terms with a liberalness that just isn’t appropriate in our language. For example, in Guatemala, my colleagues didn’t hesitate to call me gordo (fat) or gordito (little fatty—add the “ito” and it becomes a term of endearment). I prefer to be thought of as in the average-height, medium-built, moderately attractive zone with a healthy sense of humor and maybe not top-notch but respectable academic prowess. Unfortunately, the clear-cut, easy-to-find, middle-of-the-road words aren’t so learner-friendly or defining. Even I can admit that medium-buildito doesn’t work as well.
So, for a while there, the “funny” students inevitably belittle their teacher’s ego by sighting his or her most unsightly characteristics with unfiltered brutality; however, the teacher soon gets his or her revenge. Soon the gods of opposites render interesting-boring, which is a plight on the interesting side and a blessing on the boring side. I’ll go ahead and admit that “interesting” is a well-trodden word. Speakers use it readily and plentifully, but I can’t think of a more boring word to describe something interesting. Hitler’s quirky eating habits are interesting (bizarre, unexpected, oddly compassionate), as is Angelina Jolie’s chest (plump, bouncy, bare).
So, for a while, everything is interesting, and that isn’t interesting at all; however, a beautiful thing happens with the word boring. Students tend to get it confused with the word bored, which they haven’t learned yet. So, as they tire of your constant black-and-whites, ups-and-downs, they—especially those funny ones who decimated your self-confidence a few weeks earlier—attempt to deliver the next blow and let you know how much your lesson, your stupid obsession with opposites, sucks. So, they hit you with: “I am boring.”
You could teach them the truth, and you will eventually, when the opposites bored-interested come up in a couple of months, but for a while, at least for me, you simply bask in one of the few great glories being a teacher provides. Sure, you love to see your kids grow, expand, reach their potential and beyond, but sometimes—especially those funny ones—you like to see them make asses of themselves, even if you’re the only one who knows. That, my friend, is the opposite intention.
Moscow has a park culture unlike anything, any city I’ve ever known. In our first couple of months here, Emma and I noticed a trend: Every time we’d ask a student what he or she was going to do, does, and did on the weekend, the answers was “walk in the park with my friends.” It was such a standard that Emma actually banned the response from her classes. Privately, we concluded that “walk(ing) in the park with friends” must be one of those drilled responses learned in state school English programs, a sort of slightly more advanced version of “How are you?” “I’m fine, thanks.” After all, who on earth goes to the park that often?
Muscovites do, that’s who, said little Suzie Who. Our theory soon went down like a submarine. When winter holidays rolled around, despite frigid temperatures, the two places our Russian gal pal, Dasha, recommended we go were parks: Tsaritsyno Park and Kolomenskoye Park. We went, and they were both respectively beautiful, Kolomenskoye dotted with beautiful wooden buildings and hilltop churches, Tsaritsyno with a sprawling maze of pathways that wiggle around a lake before leading to a massive palace. When Emma’s father visited, my student suggested Victory Park. A student whose grandmother lived in London cites Hyde Park, not Big Ben or The Millennium Wheel or The Tower Bridge, as her favorite vestige.
This is no judgment as we, too, are lovers of the stroll, that most directionless and exquisite of park behaviors. Visiting New York a couple of years ago, we spent over half of our time wandering through Central Park. We also have been to Hyde Park. I like to run in parks, contemplate life on park benches, or have a coffee, a chat, and smoke in the park. I like to write in parks, to picnic, watch live music, find shady spots, see peculiarities, discover hidden quirks that architects tossed in for the astute regular to enjoy. The fact is, though often an overlooked prize of the modern urban landscape, what with our lack of horses to hitch or wagons to pull, our thirst for free parking and expressways, a good park is something to appreciate. Still, I’ve never done it so regularly as now.
We’ve been to more parks in Moscow than months we’ve lived here, and Gorky Park, the queen mother of them all, which is at least half-an-hour metro excursion, has seen us half a dozen times. Gorky, originally built in 1928, includes 300 acres of prime riverside real estate in the city center. It used to be a bit of a withering carnival with out-of-date rides and junk food stalls, but as of 2011, the old swath got a makeover, doing away with rickety roller coasters and admission prices. The Gorky we know is full of trees, wonderful gardens, and a slew of cool attractions: an mock-up space shuttle from back in the day, a massive display of old communist statues, and an influx of seasonal happenings, such as ice sculptures, a field of hundreds of snowmen and an ice skating rink.
The ice rink, which is what prompted our last visit to Gorky Park, has taken over a large section of pavement and made it into a skating Mecca. Utilizing the rather infamous Russian cold and the tendency for sidewalks to ice over, Gorky’s rink, instead of being pond-like or ellipses, incorporates many of the pathways to create 15,000 square meters of skating trails, complete with refreshment stalls, resting coves and benches, a raised observation walkway, and an elite set of railing on which a novice can keep his or her balance. It’s a place of fantastic offerings, a candy shop for the blade-bound, and I honestly can’t imagine anywhere else swaying me into strapping on the skates for my first time. So, I did.
Moscow, like any great city, is full of the big things that define it: the Kremlin, Balshoi Theatre, St. Basil’s, Red Square…but, it’s really something special to live in a place and find bits of its true pulse, what the inhabitants, who are sick of Red Square already, get up to in their free time. Parks—What a concept! Every city has some version of them, big or small, dirty or dangerous, but Moscow, when you are inside it, boasts them, its citizens holding them in a reverence, using them with a practicality, that seems different than any place I’ve ever been. It's a piece of this city, which, from time to time, has left feeling chewed up and spit out worth taking with me: I'll never live somewhere again without exploring what parks are on offer, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
I've never been above toilet humor.
Good gods of English, why on earth or in this heavenly solar system does the universal language, any language for that matter, need such a fine-toothed comb to express events bygone and soon-to-be forgotten? At some time, between the capitalized first letter and the pointed period of fluency, English students must tackle the horrible past simple vs. present perfect fiasco, and in turn, the EFL teacher is forced to distill the mysteries of two closely related verb tenses that might not have been were the world a gentler, more understanding place.
For the layperson, simple past verbs are those which regularly end in –ed (of course, this species is rampant with exceptions, the was/were-s, did-s, broke-s, forgot-s and so on), and in the grammarians world, these feral creatures are designated for expressing past events that have been completed with said events having happened at a particular, known time. In other words, “I taught you the glories of simple past yesterday!” or, more negatively, “Some years ago, I didn’t care a jot about simple past or present perfect, which brings us to my next point...”
Continuing, the present perfect are those utterances beginning with have or has plus what the writers of EFL books have generously denoted as “the third form”, “verb three”, “participle form”, and/or “the past participle”, allowing for the utmost in clarity. So, was/were changes from was/were to have/has been, did to have/has done, broke to have/has broken, and…To the point, present perfect is used when events have occurred but without mentioning a particular time, when the event began in the past but has continued right up to the present, or if the event has just happened with visible results, such as “I’ve just alienated readers by getting far too grammatical.”
I hate when this happens, especially as folks from the US suffer as the butt of many linguistic gags, but Americans have the well-deserved reputation for completely disregarding the specified time vs. unspecified time section of the rule. We (I’m certainly one of these troublesome disregarders) tend to ask “Did you read this?” as opposed to the more correct “Have you read this?”. We exclaim “What the f- did you do!” instead of “What the f- have you done!” Okay, okay. I know, I know. I made my point. (Attention US citizens: That was a test: If you didn’t recognize* the grammar faux pas I’ve just committed, perhaps you should reread this paragraph.)
The Brits, on the other hand, fulfill their linguistic obligations, effectively and expertly using present perfect like little fairies of perfect diction. As a result, I often turn to Emma, my Queen’s English wife, for precariously impertinent cases of past simple vs. present perfect. However, the minute and unimportant (from a communicative standpoint) details sometime still leave us, seven-year veterans of teaching English grammar, lifelong speakers of English, in a tizzy, such as whether or not we use * “If you didn’t recognize the grammar faux pas I’ve just committed” or “If you haven’t recognized the grammar faux pas I’ve just committed”. I’m still not sure which is correct, and more unfortunately, I believe both are with slightly different meanings.
The reason such tizzies occur, in my humble yet piqued opinion, is that differentiating between past events with specified times and past events with unspecified times, as you too may have also concluded by now, is probably more aggravating than useful. “I took a poo.” “When?” “Five minutes ago.” seems to work just as well as “I have taken a poo.” “When?” “Oh, let me specify: I took a poo five minutes ago.” Such a proclamation might seem grammar lazy, ultra-Americano, but damn it, if all we want is to be understood, and if our wife knows not to go in the bathroom just yet, then can’t we just live in harmony.
Okay, I’ve said my piece, or I said it, whichever you prefer.