Saturday, 28 August 2021

A tale of two cities

My latest discovery is Radio3's Inside Music. In it a leading musician discusses an eclectic range of music, and their approach to it. Ten days ago I was listening to Aylish Tynan's edition, and she was talking about the importance of text. She sang a Fauré piece, which I heard as Les roses disparantes. In her introduction there was no mention of the author of the poem, so in my subsequent search for the poem I drew a blank.

So, without being able to check the text I assumed that disparantes in the context  meant dying or fading, or just no longer being in season. There was the remote possibility that the piece was referring to shades of pink (as the masculine rose is not a flower but a colour) in which case the disparants would refer in context to fading or disappearing. But, as the only other word I could make out was jasmin, I felt safe enough to assume the piece was talking about flowers and bunged off this flippant tweet

Over the next few days there was no response, and I began to fear I might have got the tone wrong.


On Word of Mouth this week I heard an extraordinary statistic about misunderstood texts; the figure was "50%", but I don't see how they could measure it in any meaningful way.

This reminded me of a misunderstood mail I sent in the early '90s, involving the words 
I could be wrong; there are recorded instances. 

(I often used this line, so it may be familiar to some of you.)
I might have known that this wouldn't have the intended cheeky-chappy effect in a trans-atlantic mail, and it made for difficult professional relations over the following few months. The recipient probably still thinks I'm an arrogant prig (if she remembers the incident at all; she seemed to me to be a more or-less inveterate taker of umbrage at perceived male slights, so I imagine her memories of this sort of thing must be quite crowded).


But with relief I saw this response  The "thoughtful insights" might have been ironic, but anyway I deserved it 

In a further tweet she linked to this site. The poem in question starts:
Les roses d’Ispahan dans leur gaine de mousse,
Les jasmins de Mossoul, les fleurs de l’oranger
Ont un parfum moins frais, ont une odeur moins douce,
Ô blanche Leïlah! que ton souffle léger.

So my disparant was (not inappropriately) a fantasm. And to make matters worse, the poem I had misheard was one I had met...

(I wouldn't use the word "studied" – it was more a matter of scanning two or three poems by Leconte de Lisle (the author of Les roses d'Ispahan) and deciding that Baudelaire was more fun .)
... in my first year as a "gentleman in statu pupillari" (to use the local lingo).

So the first of my two cities is "Isfahan"...
(and the p of the French Ispahan  is a small mitigation of my invention of disparant. I suspect that the fricative in question is neither the French p (a bilabial plosive) nor the English (a labio-dental fricative) but /ɸ/ – a bit of both, a bilabial fricative ("you just put your lips together and blow")

(Nearly all the "ph" spellings in English words – probably all, in words that are pronounced with an /f/ sound – represent the Greek ɸ.)

My second is mentioned in Leconte's poem: Mossoul,  known in English as "Mosul".  Mossoul is the source of the fabric name mousseline, known in English as "muslin". So Mosul joins Genoa ("jean"), Nîmes ("denim"), Kolkata ("calico"), and presumably more cities that gave their name to a kind of cloth.

That's all for now, though I'm thinking about an update about Leconte's muse, Leilah – which'll take a bit of research.


Update: 2021.09.03.11:30 – Added <inline-ps />; and I suspect Leilah was just Leconte's latest squeeze rather than a reference to any of the dozens listed here.

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