Feb 282011
 

OK, Tina Fey did not literally call me and I don’t recall whether the Germans are anything but literal with the verb anrufen. Nevertheless, Tina Fey spoke to me last week through 30Rock.

1) Like Jack Donaghy, I was going to be a marine biologist. That may be the only thing Donaghy and I have in common. (No, wait, he speaks German, too. Well-played.)

2) Liz Lemon, like Tina Fey, is smart enough to have placed out of first year German. Tina Fey and I studied German at UVa, albeit years apart. The German word for albeit is obwohl. I don’t normally take personally Tina Fey’s frequent use of German in 30 Rock. («Ich denke, daß sie die schönste Sprache in der Welt ist.» Ja, das stimmt!) However, with the first year reference plus the other items…

47 shirt3) This shirt made me gasp! Why would a character appear in a scene with a 47 on her shirt? Note the IMDB clip is 1 minute 47 seconds long – no lie. As far as I know, Tina Fey is not in that cult of screenwriters (such as J.J. Abrams) who refer to 47 as a sly inside joke to other cultists. (On the radio this morning there was a discussion of economic indicators based on a survey of 47 economists. Now that’s real stuff.)

Believing celebrities or gods are speaking directly to you is a sign of madness, except when you are face-to-face with them. However, this is no goofy Da Vinci code or The Secret. Still, Tina, if you’re really reaching out to me, use the phrase “that’s crazy” in an upcoming script. bis später. Dein, Mark

 Posted by at 4:47 pm on Mon 02/28/11
Jan 012009
 

Once upon a time, I lived in Germany. I studied German for four years and majored in German Language and Literature at UVa. I was even the President of the UVa German Club for a year or more. (Twenty years later, Tina Fey studied German at UVa.)

My thoughts today are sent back 31 years, when I was living in Eckel, Germany, a small town outside of Hamburg, in northern Germany. It was cold, dark, and snowy this time of year. Thanks to one of my favorite professors, Jens Rieckmann, by way of his brother-in-law, I had a job with Herr Gerhard Heitmann and lived with die Familia Heitmann (I don’t know if I have to use the dative article when the preposition is English; it would be required with the German preposition: “mit der Familie Heitmann.”). (Herr Rieckmann was one of the few people I told I wanted to be a poet. He wisely noted it wasn’t much of a living.) When I first arrived in the Heitmann’s lovely home, I announced I would only speak German. I had moved to Germany because I was a good student but not fluent. It was a long time before I realized Gerd und Inge had hoped I would help their two children, Gabi und Jens, improve their English. Sigh. I must have been a disappointment, though they either didn’t let on or I didn’t get it.

Instead, Gerd gave me a job in his Zimmerei. Gerd was an architect and had a sawmill in his backyard, where workers cut lumber for jobs they constructed. They did it all. And I worked as an unofficial apprentice. (There was an official apprentice, whose name I forget, though I can see his face.) Apprenticeship was alive and well in Germany. To become a master in a trade required leaving one’s home to work in a new location under a full Meister for a year. The Meister of the Zimmerei (other than Gerd), was Herr Wolf, a fiercely intimidating man who could have picked me up with one hand. As tradespeople, we had official craft uniforms, heavy black corduroy bib-overalls with bell bottoms to keep the sawdust out of your boots. And a broadbrimmed black hat to keep the sawdust out of your collar. We looked ready for an Amish high school disco dance. (I still have my measuring stick and pencil from those days.) I used to wonder if Gerd didn’t expect me to hate the labor and opt to be a tutor, instead. Too bad I didn’t realize that was an option — if it was one, in fact. As it was, I labored hard as a junior tradesman in rural Germany for about 6 months. I drank too much on occasion (before and after, as well). I ate pigs feet, eels, und Bienenstich. I danced and played ping-pong and Skat. I fell in love with a girl named Suzanna, who was wise enough not to fall in love with a mush-mouthed foreigner. Before I left town, Gerd — a giddy practical joker — and I hung a garden elf outside Zanni’s window. Something to remember me by.

German and my life in Germany are never that far from my consciousness. Today, they are even higher in my thoughts as I digitize a German folk album I bought while I was there: Ikarus, von Reinhard Mey. (Icarus has been a profound figure in my ideomythos since childhood. And, I have been the Minotaur on occasion.) The song, Ikarus, is full of gorgeous imagery from an airplane window. The singer asks what it is that drives him to leave home (even as the imagery suggests it is reason enough). Perhaps, to escape prison. Such a wonderful tune is immediately followed by my second favorite on the album: Es gibt Tage, da wünsch’ ich, ich wär mein Hund (There are days, I wish I were my dog.)

Gerd Heitmann is one of the few people I’ve ever sung to. He was delighted by Grandpa was a Carpenter, by John Prine, as sung by me. (“He built houses, stores, and banks. Chain-smoked Camel cigarettes and hammered nails in planks.”)

 Posted by at 5:26 pm on Thu 01/01/09
Jan 112008
 

Tina Fey and I have some things in common. We are both graduates of the University of Virginia — Mr. Jefferson’s university. (Tina Fey graduated 15 years after I did.) We both speak German, as well. Which leads me to wonder/assume that Tina Fey studied German at UVa, as I did. Was she even in the UVa German Club, of which I was president at one time? I still have my brown T-shirt (yes, arguable taste) with “Mehr Licht” on the back.

Die Tina Fey is ja ganz toll, sogar ‘super’. Sie ist eine heutigen Lucille Ball. Friede, mjh

PS: Until the early 1900’s, German was America’s second language, more widely spoken than any other. (I grant that everyone may have been ignoring Spanish speakers at that point.) There were many native German speakers, immigrants and their descendants, and German was the most popular language in school. It is understandable that two world wars changed that. Deutsch is aber eine schöne Sprache, die klinkt so schön. Leide, dass so viele Leute erkennen das nicht.

PPS: “Mind providing some context for this cavedweller?,” a friend asks. Tina Fey is a comedian, even a comedienne, and a comic writer. I learned of her through her position as writer and weekend news anchor on Saturday Night Live, a popular late-night sketch-comedy show on Saturdays. As I said above, Tina Fey is reminiscent of Lucy Ball: She is hilarious, wickedly clever and beautiful. She currently writes, produces and stars in 30Rock, a must-see comedy on NBC Thursday nights. She co-stars with Alec Baldwin, whom I love nearly as much as brilliantly funny. They are a dynamic duo — both are brilliantly funny. A recurring thread in the show is that, now and then, Liz Lemon (Tina) and Jack Dohnagy (Alec) speak German, with subtitles. (Now, we learn, Kenneth the Page also speaks German.) Last night’s episode involved 3 Germans. Part of the joke hinged on Fey misspeaking in German, selling NBC rather than buying the German cable network. I am so grateful that this twist was not translated as it happened. I feel it was a deep-inside joke. Vielen dank!

[tweaked 1/12/08]

 Posted by at 11:17 am on Fri 01/11/08