Monthly Archives: October 2010

Operation Kick Ass just went astronomical

Wednesday, Oct. 27… Day 23

That’s right, boys and girls. Claudia is a star pupil in Arabic class. I’m getting my name on the board. I’m winning points for my team. And I’m acing my exams.

That last one was an exaggeration. But the rest are 100% true, if not more.

After a slow and unsteady start, I’m gaining confidence in this class. I can ask quetions… in Arabic. I can write with the vowel markings. It’s taking less time to make out words and sounds. I’m correcting the teacher’s mistakes. Life is good again. I’m riding high on my language gravy train.

The one glitch in my giddy up is that I didn’t come out the gate at full sprint. I didn’t ace that first quiz like I said I would. It was a three-parter: 1. Dictation. 2. Translation Arabic to English vocabulary. 3. Translation Engligh to Arabic. I got what I deserved. I probably got more than I deserved since I totally slacked on the vocabulary. I still haven’t memorized about 20 adjectives for hot, cold, tired, exhausted, thirsty, hungry, etc… I ended up with a respectable 78 points out of 100. That includes 6 points in a bonus question. I’m a C+ student. LAME

It’s sad that I’m OK with my grade because I know people did absolutely worse than me. I beat out a handful of colloquial Arabic speakers. Sucks for them. Good for me. Schadenfreude.

But I also noticed the ringers. This one nice, quiet girl got a 110%. Another dude got 106%. I’ve got my sights on these fools. They won’t get in the way of Operation Kick Ass.

They may have taken Round 1, but I clawed back during the hard-fought Chalkboard Races from Hell, scoring the only point for my motley crew team. Also, I showed off my skill when I recited our homework… a short graph that had the dreaded “United Nations” in it. No problem. I’ll say الأمم المتحدة …until the cows come home!

And by the way, that’s how I earned my second cosmic kudo. I kindly asked the professor if he meant to put a fatha where there should have been a domma and, just like that, I got a crescent moon! I guess there’s a whole system… apparently there may be full moons and comets in my future.

Quiz No. 2 is next week. I will ace that sucka and beating Quiet Girl and Le Foo will be my reward.

PHOTOS: A shot of the chalkboard with my awesome name and star beside it. Leaping in front of my peers with a crescent moon. Can she keep up the momentum?


The morning after

I came. I ran. I conquered.

In less than three hours. That’s impressive considering the lack of training and injuries.

After a lazy Sunday, I woke up this morning and hit the gym. Insane or genius?… Still undecided. Nothing really hurts that much, if anything I’m still lagging on sleep and I’m sunburnt so that just zapped my energy levels.

I’m also sad to report that I hurt my left foot in the melee. Boo. Maybe now I’ll even out.

No limping, though, which is good for my body but bad for the sympathy/awestruck reactions one hopes for after a race. Guess those will just have to wait until the Big LA One.

PHOTOS: Official race logo and my medal hanging in the office. I’ll bring in some others so they don’t look so lonely.

I did it all for the glitter

Tomorrow’s the inaugural Los Angeles Rock ‘n’ Roll 1/2 Marathon. The route is mostly downhill starting at the Los Angeles Zoo in Griffith Park and ending at L.A. Live in downtown. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be sweating 13.1 miles. That’s the beauty that comes with tackling marathons. Once you survive those, your frame of mind for “long” mileage is warped. Thirteen miles is no longer “long.” It’s a maintenance run. It’s a couple hours of your Saturday or Sunday morning. It’s another errand or chore you must strike off the list before the weekend ends.

Under normal circumstances…

These aren’t normal times. These are unhealthy, painful times.

1. Right foot

I can’t stress enough how much pain I’m in. I can’t even walk around the house barefoot. My doctor, who I should be thanking for not peddling pills and other excesses, suggested I put inserts in my shoes to fix the problem. Done. Pain still there. For some background, I overpronate… a lot. I über-overpronate. The entire right side of my right foot feels terrible, and that has extended to my right heel. Full disclosure: I don’t have perfect running form. I land further back on my foot than I should so that doesn’t help.

2. Left big toe

Of course, the pain can’t be localized to one area. It hurts like a bruise hurts. Like a bruised toe before the nail falls off hurts. Eghh

3. Left knee

Decades ago I got a serious knee injury. It came back to haunt me in ’07 during my training for marathon #1. For a good month, my left knee was 1.5x bigger than the right. Of course, now that my foot hurts and is throwing everything off balance, my knee decided it didn’t want to be left out of the limelight.

4. Left hamstring

Pulled. Are you kidding me? Of course not. I pulled my left hamstring doing God only knows what. It’s not like I was sprinting. I wouldn’t be surprised if this happened during my cross-training in spin class. It’s like the world is just trying to pile anything on top. Like…

5. Party tonight

Carne asada, beer, margaritas and more. Yelling at the television with the Phillies and Giants or Cain v. Brock. It’s not going to be a tranquil night where I’m going to curl up in bed early and go over my running stuff, making sure everything’s in order. Nope. I’ll probably drink too much, sleep too little and wake up a hot mess at 5 a.m. *If I wake up at all!!

A more experienced runner would probably decide to sit this one out. Or they might quit whining, sacrifice the tequila and prepare for tomorrow. Since I’m neither more experienced nor more committed, I’m going to play this by ear. If I finish, then I get a new medal. If I don’t, then I’ll ask for it anyway.

PHOTO: Taken during the race expo, this is the shiny medal that beckons me.

jesus moses allah

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010… Day 17

This week in Arabic, my أستاذ (professor) said that success in the class requires eight (ثَمَانِيَه or ٨) hours of homework a week. That’s two (إِثْنَيْن or ٢) hours for every hour in class. A little more than an hour a day. Doable and Practical.

Last night, I took my Arabic on the road. On a boulevard. On Pico Boulevard.

I was on my way to a screening of a new comedy meant to build bridges and discuss complexities of identity. (More on this later.) It was sponsored by the Levantine Center and naturally, I was headed to their offices in the Pico-Robertson area. Driving down Pico, stuck in traffic, I had the opportunity to put my new skills in action.

Success! I could read all the signs!! I didn’t really know what they all meant, but I could definitely sound them out. This is HUGE! Arabic is no longer a series of squiggles to me. It’s a handwritten language where I can differentiate letters and sounds. Still can’t get over how awesome that is! Let me give you an example of one of the things that I saw and read.

Most Angelenos have heard of, driven by, stepped inside of or shopped at Elat Market on Pico. If you haven’t, it’s a must. Just make sure you go in ready to brave the crowds.

Yesterday, while I was twiddling my thumbs in traffic, I noticed the sign for the market in Arabic. I’m studying it. Starting. Then, I realize that the first word spells out “Elat.” Go figure. Now, I tackle the second word. Before my brain has time to process what I’m reading, I start laughing.

Here’s another sign. Can you tell why this is funny to me?

Done guessing?

Because it reads “Elat Market.” Seriously, ELAT MARKET. Not the Arabic for “market,” just plain old MARKET. Who knew they were cognates? hehehe


Anyway, the whole reason I was on Pico last night was to see a movie. A movie, it turns out, wasn’t even showing on Pico. Lame.

The Levantine Center was screening the latest in their New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, followed by a panel with the cast. Once I finally got to the right place, which meant going north on Fairfax from Pico to Sunset (ugh!), I was just in time for the movie.

This is what I was racing towards:  It’s called The Infidel. It includes funnyman Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff of West Wing fame, Archie Panjabi, the Emmy-winning Good Wife actress. It looks at being Jewish, being Muslim, being moderate, being fanatic. Jesus, Moses, Allah! It’s about a middle-aged man, who finds out after his mother passed away, that not only was he adopted, but he was Jewish and born Solly Shimshillewitz. Or as, Lenny says, “Why didn’t they just name you Jew JaJewJaJew?” All this while his son is trying to seek the approval to marry a fundamentalist cleric’s stepdaughter. Oi vey.

Emirates can do no wrong

For those of you who hadn’t yet noticed, I went to South Africa this summer/winter for FIFA World Cup 2010. WooHoo!

As much fun as the actual experience on the ground was, the trip had its own tinge of awesome that started and ended with the amazing flights from Emirates. No hyperbole. No exaggeration. No misplaced credit. I repeat, as I have since I’ve returned, flying 14 hours from New York to Dubai, sandwiched in a middle seat toward the back of the plane was one of the best flights of my life. Loads of leg room. My own personal entertainment system with loads of FREE music, movies, tv shows and live programming. A headset I DID NOT have to pay for or return at the end of the flight. My own personal travel case with socks, eye shades/face mask, toothbrush and stickers for my seat to let the flight attendants know if I should be woken for food or duty free. And, seriously, let’s talk about the food! Delicious and a full bar… except for champagne, you had to pay for that.

Yeah, that probably was The Best flight. That is until it was bested by the returning flight from Johannesburg to Dubai.

Forlorn, because the trip was ending and we had to return to a world that didn’t revolve around World Cup 24/7. Yuck! Mildly depressed in OR Tambo. But, then I perked up at the possibility of getting bumped up to business class. Whatup!! MexiCAN #2 and I flew in style. Access to the exclusive lounge before boarding, air “beds,” canapes, calamari, champagne cocktails before takeoff, screens that made you forget you were traveling with someone else. Even better food. And that wasn’t even the creme of Emirates flight crop. There was yet another level that I peeked at. For the few out there who saw Sex and the City 2, it looked a little like that.

Why post about something that happened almost four months ago?

Because my love of Emirates was diluted. I had been wronged by an otherwise perfect experience. I’m not even talking about the dejection of having to sit with the plebes in coach (right next to the bathroom!!) for the second leg of the trip back home.

I’m talking about the experience in the Emirates Lounge. I had decided to mail myself a postcard from South Africa. It would arrive in a few weeks. I’d get a nice reminder of my time there and it would act as a little pick-me-up. I was looking ahead. Who really wants to come back from vacation? Plus, it was an elephant postage stamp. Cute.

I asked the guy at the front desk where I could send it. He said he would take care of it. Amazing. Concierge service. More points for Emirates.

Fastforward. I’m home a week. No postcard. Two weeks. Nothing. A month. Still nada. You get the point.

Lame. Stupid concierge service. They can’t be trouble to put a freaking postcard in the mail.

This was the black eye on Emirates… until yesterday.

Fina-freaking-ly. And I can’t blame Emirates either. It’s stamped 6/25/2010, the day after I flew from Johannesburg.

I resume my unabated enthusiastic support for Emirates. I shall be taking it on a future trip to Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. I will probably take it if I’m ever planning to go to Austraila. A little out of the way, since it makes a stop in Dubai first, but worth it. I think.

PHOTOS: Emirates Airbus flying high. Three stickers for your seat. Exactly what I slept on when I got bumped up to business class. My postcard.

kayfa naquul… kick ass?!

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010… Day 8

After attending first class and being completely overwhelmed, I vowed to go home, study hard and come back to the next session and rock it out. Easier said than done.

Here’s how fast a week can go by:

TUESDAY—attend first Arabic class. Starts at 6 p.m. Ends at 10 p.m.!!!

WEDNESDAY—After previous night’s four-hour session, decide to take a mind break.

THURSDAY—Working late. Going to spin class after work. Packing for weekend conference.

FRIDAY—First night of Lake Arrowhead conference. Between sessions, dinner and other incidentals, no time was left for my studies.

SATURDAY—Full day planned. Sessions from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with lunch and dinner breaks. Can’t ditch. I’m Official Photographer. Eff, studying Arabic.

SUNDAY—Ok, let’s get serious. First quiz is coming up and haven’t even learned how to pronounce more than the first five letters. Drive home from Lake Arrowhead. Watch a couple episodes of BSG. Study FOR THE FIRST TIME!

MONDAY—After work, go home and glance at the book.

TUESDAY—Glance at book some more and hope teacher decides to quiz Chapters 1-3.

That last line was the plan for the evening. Now, let me tell you what really happened.

I made my peace with failing my first test. Out of 28 consonants and long vowels, I could recognize about 15. There were another five that I sorta new on sight, but could not differentiate. Like the “th” of three, that or THough (with a little bit of D). That would screw me on the dictation portion of the exam.

When I arrived in class, I found a room half full of students poring over books and cramming with flashcards. I started making my own flashcards, but stopped after 20. I hear two students talking about some random letter I hadn’t learned. Brief moment of panic disrupts my serenity.

Is that really going to be on the test?

I guess so. It’s in the book.

But it’s not in the first six chapters!

Yeah, but our test is on the whole book.

Frak me! (I said something else here)

Well, you have another week.


You have another week.

And that, my friends, is better than being Saved by the Bell.





Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010… Day 1

Here’s what I know. I know that I can pick up languages fairly easily. I know I have no troubles with enclitics. I know how to maintain the study of a language that no one seems to speak anymore and if they do, they do it wrong. (It’s pronounced weni, widi, wiki, people… not veni, vidi, vichi!!!)

And this is what I don’t know. I don’t know how to make guttural stops. I don’t know how to write Arabic. I don’t know how to read it. I don’t know how to do much other than pay attention, copy what homeboy is doing and pretend like I know what I’m doing.

I do that pretty well. There were two other newbies in the class and I won the chalkboard race. Don’t ask me what I spelled out or how to pronounce it. I remember it ended with an “n” sound and there were some floating 9s at the end.

I also seem to have picked up the first seven letters of the alphabet.

Now I have a week to learn the rest of the alphabet. Learn how to read it. Learn how to write it—elisions and all. Learn what an effing hamza is AND ace my first quiz next week.

I wasn’t a complete mess (as evidenced by my superior chalk skills and rote memorization). I did also pick up FOUR NEW SENTENCES. Since I’m expressly forbidden from transliterating, you’re going to get the English translation. There needs to be a level of trust that I am not lying when I suggest I can say the following in Arabic.

I am a student.
My name is Claudia.
I live in Los Angeles and am studying Arabic.

PHOTO: Charlie Brown, with head on desk, pen in the and look of defeat on face, resembling me last night.

Salam… bekam hada?

Drumroll, please.

I’m moving right along with my list and knocking things off left and right, right and left, left to right and, now, right to left.

I am officially enrolled (with UC staff discount) in Standard Elementary Arabic I. (For anyone counting out there, aside from me, that’s Language #5)

I missed the first week of class but I have been reassured by the maestro that I can join tonight. It won’t be easy missing the first FOUR hours (!!!), eek! Luckily, I have a good head for languages and am pretty nimble at grasping foreign concepts. Plus, I’m left-handed. Not quite sure how that figures into this, but I’m sure I’ll find a way to massage it into the “pro” list. I’m thinking it’ll come in handy during that whole reading right-to-left thingy.

If all goes well, soon I shall be serenading you all with my renditions of One Thousand and One Nights; delving deep into the scholarly study of the Quran; or just finding the nearest bathroom on a future trip to Jordan et al.

Check out my newest language textbooks: