Locuaciousness

There are three of us in my German class this semester. Vince is the teacher in this class, though one might forgive you for thinking that I’m the one that is giving the lectures. “We have something like Goldilocks and Three Bears”, Vince says.  “Quieter, just in the middle, and”, he says now turning to me, grin and all, “most loquacious”.

Loquacious is defined by Meriam-Webster as being:

  1.  :  full of excessive talk

  2.  :  given to fluent or excessive talk

This is the $20 SAT word that is most often been attributed to me; and not without good reason.  While I fancy myself a quiet and reflective person in private, those that know foot-in-mouthme, and those that I feel most comfortable around, have been victims of my loquaciousness. Even more so, I have often done my own self a laundry list of disservices usually finding my foot in my mouth more times than it’s in an actual shoe.

As to how I got like this, I think it goes back to my roots.

Picture this; it’s Sunday morning, you’re a child that has just sat through the Catholic Rite of Mass, fidgety and drained simultaneously, the only thing you want to do is head back to the sweet embrace of your home where you can lay down and relax or run around free (whatever you feel most up to). There is only one thing standing between you and this sweet Elysium of release; your mother.  My mother had//has the most wonderful habit of getting in lengthy post-mass discussions. My siblings and I understood, of course- just as we do now- she has friends, and with her sunny/open personality it was hard for her not to be so delightful and friendly. But, we were kids, so often we’d just ask for the keys to the car and sit there and wait- usually taking bets as to when she’d finish.

So maybe I got it from my mom? That Italian-American knack for conversing. Perhaps. But even that is not enough, honestly. I suppose it has only gotten worse over the years as I’ve gained more self-confidence and an obsession with English cadence; maximizing expression through sound and rhythm. But more recently, I have come to appreciate my use of language in a different way- how you might ask?

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Rene is sitting across from me; the both of us are sharing delicious ice cream desserts on the corner of Rotenturmstraße. In what has become almost commonplace for me, I mix German phrases in with my English from time to time.

 

“Ja, genau. Es ist selbstverständlich!”

René seems to pick up on something.

“You know, it’s funny”, he puts down his spoon for a moment. “When you speak German, it suddenly becomes so grounded, a bit slower, “Ich Spreche…” He trails off, but I nod my head in agreement. This very same point René has made is one that has been on my mind constantly since I have been back in Vienna.

My German, being still in need of work, often limits my ability to express myself. My speech becomes slower; I have to think about if I have the words I need to express my thoughts and then how to sort those words and thoughts grammatically.  I hesitate, and perhaps, give a bashful reply to someone, at best.

I try not to beat myself up over this that much- that was often my mistake last time. I am still learning, and that is okay. But, it does get frustrating sometimes. Trying to speak another language in a new place always promotes the temptation of wanting to directly translate your natural self-expression in your mother tongue to that of the new tongue you are learning. This does not seem to always work out. For me, the best way I can describe this experience is by way of a quote from Aladdin.

While I do not think I have some connection to Phenomenal cosmic power, I do think that when we speak our native language, we feel invincible to some extent. Our native tongue is what we know best, it is what we think in, what we feel in, what we live in. Connected to this native tongue is every experience we have ever had and every ability to express ourselves-  language is phenomenal cosmic power!

The itty bitty living space, however, comes with learning a new language. Unlike the geenie who is stuck in the tiny lamp, we can at least outgrow these first conditions. It takes time, but it can be done. Till then, however, the new language feels cramped and awkward. We would rather be free of it. We cringe and complain; speak slowly, and hope for the best.

But this is okay. This is the importance of learning a new language.  We are forced out of our most basic and immediate comfort zone. We are not only forced to confront a new language but the phenomena of language itself. In this way, every word becomes important, every thought becomes considered. Learning a language requires the recognition that it is not a 1 to 1 process. On our journey through the language learning desert, we may not enter the promised land the same way we came; change is necessary. Surrender to the language, rather than fighting it, is essential. Language learning is an examination and exploration of the reality of language, culture, and self.

America

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Being an English speaking American abroad is a privilege beyond words. Because of the role and interaction of English speaking countries throughout world history along with the economic driving of said countries, it is very hard to travel and not find someone that speaks English. This is okay and helpful if you are someone that is just a tourist visiting for a few days, or someone like me who is still in the process of learning. Though if you are also someone like me who is abroad for weeks, then this can also be a dangerous crutch.

The fact of the matter is that you can be a cozy English speaker abroad, maybe only requiring a few phrases here or there to get by. This only made worse by the fact that in America, a secondary language is often thought of unnecessary. Of course, this isn’t without good reason. As pointed out, most English speaking American could get along just fine with their native tongue abroad. But also, why would Americans need to learn a second language? Outside of traveling or international business, at home, there doesn’t seem much need. The only real linguistic variations nearby, speaking in terms of nations, is French Canadians to the north, and Mexico/Central America to the South. “America is not like the linguistic diversity of Europe”, some will say, and therefore “secondary language learning is not necessary.”

America’s lack of language learning is reflected well enough in research findings

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/07/13/learning-a-foreign-language-a-must-in-europe-not-so-in-america/

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/05/filling-americas-language-education-potholes/392876/

http://monitor.icef.com/2015/02/foreign-language-study-us-declines-first-time-20-years/

These articles are not hollow “Doom Sayers” either. At my own university, I have watched the Languages take hits and cuts left and right. People just do not view it as practical- especially languages which are not immediately translatable into dollar values or whose base of speakers do not live nearby (ie: like German). Outside of the school setting, however, linguistic diversity is stifled and suppressed. Not to dredge up a stereotype needlessly, but I have heard too many times in today’s world the same thing that was said to my own immigrant ancestors when they came to America: “You’re in America now, speak English.” Language, a connection to a culture and way of life, severed and decimated.

It is sometimes understandable why we so often push away language learning. As said earlier, it forces us to confront something new, and perhaps even the unknown. It reminds us that the way we look and perceive the world is not the only way, and this can shake one’s self to the core. And, again, it is hard. Most Americans don’t have time to sit down and learn a language in their spare time, and in their everyday life, they might not find a chance to even use it  (it might be hard to find someone who speaks the Igbo language of Nigeria, if you were learning it).  We must recognize the benefits that language learning can give us, those benefits that often stretch beyond the supremacy of so-called “practicality.”

Vienna, Today

Four Americans, a Ukranian,  a Russian, a Bulgarian, a Portuguese, and an Iranian all walk into a room. This is not the set up to some strange linguistic punchline, this is just how I spent my night last night. A dinner party, the modus operandi of everyone speaking was primarily English. But amid the usual wine infused banter and laughing, discussions of each person’s native language broke out. People spoke with each other about the quirks of their own languages, admired our ability to communicate with each other, and, of course, took pot shots at poor German.

It amazes and inspires me to see people so invested in language. Admittedly, it gets me antsy sometimes- like being at the base of the mountain and seeing the enlightened walk down its paths from their journey. But that is okay, I have to just keep trekking onward. I will get there one day soon.

….Anyways, I have done it once again- I have talked too much! Expect more from me in the coming weeks. For now, I have a cafe table with my name on it, a German learning book in my bag, and some hesitant German speaking. Slow and steady wins the race…

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Go Home, Young Man

It’s 7 a.m. when I wake up today. The sun is shining through the skylight in my room, Kevin is getting ready for work, the fish are swimming about in their tank and both cats take a turn at taking up all the space on my bed. I’m home.

I give myself some time for breakfast and to get myself oriented. It’s been nothing but hot and humid outside this week but despite all that I look outside and feel there is work that is needed to be done. When I left for Vienna my garden was really only just starting to kick into a growth streak. I normally spend the summer tending to it, cleaning it up, and adding more flowers as the summer goes along. It’s my way of keeping myself sane with any excess time in the summer and it makes for a pleasant place to sit and read or have friends hang out around.

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I left my garden in the capable care of my family. I have to give credit where credit is due and say that it continued to grow spectacularly while I was gone but it’s maybe grown a bit too much. Flowers have started spreading where they shouldn’t be, there’s some weeds scattered about larger plants, and the vines have left their trellis to dominate the rest of the area- it’s going to take some time to sort it all out.

***

I suppose that’s how I feel about Vienna. Or perhaps it’s how I feel about home. Home has been kind of a tricky word for me as of lately. While on my flight the other day I could not shake the feeling that I was not going home. Even when I landed I had to remark to my mom that I felt like I was only coming for a visit and that any moment I’d be on my way back to Vienna.
The dust has settled a bit more today and the old feelings and habits have started to rekindle, but the word home still alludes me.

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A view of Venediger Au/ the second district from The Riesenrad. If you look at the orangey house all the way to the left and the corner apartment next to it, you will see Ybstasse 🙂

For the past  six weeks, 2 Ybbstrasse has been my home. The sound of German weaving its way through the air has been my home. Walking back from the U1 at night to see the Prater all lit up has been my home. Exploring constructed languages in the Esperanto Museum or Lhotzkys literaturbuffet became my home. A fresh plate of Cordon Bleu became my home. Vienna became my home.

And yet, it didn’t always feel like that. When I first arrived in Vienna, the image of my family waiting at the security check of Philadelphia International and waving goodbye to me was still fresh in my mind. It was my first time leaving home to go outside of the states and I was doing it all on my own. I remember remarking to Vince when I first arrived in Vienna that I felt like the two angels from the German film ” Der Himmel über Berlin” (The Heaven over Berlin).

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The resemblance between Vince and I to the angels is just striking , isn’t it?

Like the angels in the film, I felt that I was just observing and that I was in almost my own bubble. Vince and I would walk down the streets of Vienna and he would point out an interesting fact about a person or place and we would talk about it among ourselves. The German at first especially through me off and made me feel more distant. It all felt kind of surreal, that’s not too say I didn’t love what I saw, within the first week I fell for Vienna but I still felt the distance. As time went by however, and much like the German film previously mentioned, I began to participate and any and all barriers began to break down. As the weeks passed it became less like I was visiting there and more apparent that I was really living in Vienna.

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At one of the Summer movie series (the film that night was in Hindi and the subtitles were german and French *insert nervous laughter here*)

Of course, as Vienna became more and more of a home a family of friends began to spring up with it. After all, what good is a home if it is not shared with others? Vince, of course, was my first friend and a familiar face in Vienna. In more than one way without Vince I never would have been in Vienna. To think it all started with a shared facebook article about constructed languages… I could write a whole book on the sheer amount of insightful conversations  we’ve had during my time in Vienna (to which I think Vince would happily probably respond “What’s that crap you’re dishing out blanch?!”) A true mentor and friend that I cannot ever fully describe with words (any attempt would be “from hunger”.)

Through Vince, I became introduced with a many more multitude of friends. I cannot talk about Vienna without mentioning René, who I’d proudly call a familiar friend from the beginning. There are only so many people you meet for the first time and feel as if you’re picking up a conversation with an old friend.  Being from Vienna, René always gave me the local perspective that was enhanced by his incredibly perceptive and sharp mind ( there is definitely no doubt in my mind that he was a detective in a past life). It always made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for liking Vienna when I would get the René seal of approval over any sort of experience I had in Vienna (as René would always make sure to remind me that Vienna was still a city like any other and had just as many problems! When René said I was really onto something about the city, it probably meant I really was)

Of course, it would be hard also to talk about the musical side of Vienna without mentioning Kaitrin either. Vince and I met Kaitrin (who sings for the Arnold Schoenberg choir and the operas in Vienna) through a mutual friend of a friend who did a radio show about literature who somehow knew Vince and then suggested to that mutual friend of a friend that… it’s a bit of  a tangled story honestly. Regardless, I could always relate to Kaitrins nerding out about music and singers despite my knowledge of Opera being relatively little. It was more so the passion for the subjects she was talking about that I could really jive with (as anyone who has heard me nerd out about Springsteen or philosophers will know, I can be quite the nerd). Of course, it was also always nice comparing notes about the differences and benefits in Vienna versus the States. Like comparing Vienna safe to American city “safe”.
(I must sadly admit that for such a great amount of time that I had with both René and Kaitrin, I completely forgot to get pictures with them ;_;)

***

I’ve spent a good bit of time talking about friends as one of the biggest anxieties and also wants I had coming into Vienna was the wish to make friends while I was over there. When you find yourself away in a new place you begin to realize how hard it is to make friends outside of social institutions or from being introduced to them. For a good bit it would seem like I would not make a friend on my own.

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Last night on the town! (and only a few moments before we got tricked into pushing a homeless man in a wheelchair up a steep hill @_@

 Well about halfway through my time in Vienna a Russian and fellow linguistic nerd (and all out fellow nerd in general!)  dropped out of the sky. There are not really many people that I can talk about the differences in gendering of words like Spring and Winter across languages one moment and then the next get lost in the Bermuda triangle of Vienna and find ourselves at the mercy of a Viennese bachelorette party. I’m happy to say, however, that I found that sort of friendship in the person of Nikita- a true Mensch, adventurer, and an absolutely spectacular friend.

It is weird to make a friend over seas and get used to hanging out with them and then have to leave. I certainly have no fear of keeping my new friendships going as I’ve been making and keeping international friends for years now. Growing up in South Jersey is nice- I’ve always loved it here. However, I have continually been a curious person and love to meet new people and learn about different cultures and places.

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If we look exhausted it’s because we just did a whole shit ton of climbing @_@

One such frien, I’ve made online I was lucky enough to meet while in Vienna. I was happily surprised when Yan messaged me saying he would be visiting the city. This was a wonderful experience for me for two reasons: 1. I had the opportunity to meet a good friend that would’ve been much harder to do back home
and 2. I could now use what I knew about the city to show someone else around. (I think I did alright! Even if I got us on the wrong train track once or twice… or three or four times >.>). The four days Yan spent in Vienna only go to prove the value of making friends even if they are from far away. You never know when you’ll meet them in person, but that doesn’t have to be a requirement for friendship, it’s more of a nice bonus if anything. 🙂

***

I could go on for pages about the people I’ve mentioned and how much they have added to my life. For the sake of brevity and making this post readable, I tried to keep it a bit more contained and to the point: a city and a home will always be lacking without someone else to share it with.

***

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After a good couple of hours or so out in the garden I have to take a break. The area has been in a heat wave these past few days and I’m really starting to feel it. All the while I’ve been pulling up weeds and cutting back overgrowth I kept thinking about this concept of home. It admittedly had me stuck for a while but in sorting out the garden, a place where I normally feel at home in, I think I have begun to sort out my own experience.

You always hear phrases like “home is where the heart is” or “you never can go back home”. To an extent, I think both of these phrases have truth to them. Home is Somerdale and the suburbs of Jersey, that much is so. It’s where I grew up. It’s where my family and friends are. Not to mention it’s also my main residence. But even then, for a time, I felt like I overgrew my home for a bit.
When I went off to college, Philly became my home. I got to know the city like the back of my hand. I proudly boasted about how I could navigate the transport system with little to no problem. I explored everything it had to offer.
But of course, even then, Philadelphia has it’s intimidating and foreboding side. As I’ve talked about with Vince, it’s a city I love, it’s a city I feel free in, but every now and then it’s nice to get out of it and go….home.

Vienna has affected me so much that the standard has been raised. I love my homes whether it be Philly or South Jersey- don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I have enjoyed them any less, on the contrary, I have just been so swept away by Vienna.
I didn’t merely visit Vienna, I started laying down roots without even realizing it. Surrounded by the safe feeling of the corridor-like streets, the aged churches, the street lamps that run on wires throughout the city, history’s ghosts walking among you, the clanking of the streetcar making its rounds, the thrilled screams coming from the amusements of the Prater at night, the never-ceasing flow of the Danube, the cradle around the city formed by the Berg’s and the Wiener Wald, the smell of sweets or meals drifting from cafe’s and restaurants- and the bells! When the bells ring to mark the hour and each church takes its turn in the chorus as it bounces off the walls of every surrounding building making the city sing! Among all that I rooted myself firmly within the city.IMG_3970.JPG

Like any place, of course, it has its problems and it has its faults. Much like here in the US, Austria’s political situation makes on a bit queasy. And as René would point out to me, I may have not wandered near some of the not so great sections of the city.
Who knows too, perhaps Vienna will get blown away by another place I visit somewhere down the line. Perhaps I haven’t seen enough yet. Perhaps I would have gotten bored with the city after a while. I cannot say for sure. For now, I will speak in certainties and say this is my love letter to Vienna and everyone who has made it so special. I may have physically come back to the states but I left my soul in Vienna and it’s taking its time coming back to me.
I already miss the city. I cannot lie about that. The more I think about it though, the more I realize my experience and time in Vienna has given me new insight and feelings over the Billy Joel song by the same name.

“When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?”

All things must end, that much is true. I close my chapter on Vienna for now but I know that one way or another, Fulbright scholarship or not, I will come home again to Vienna some day soon.

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Wandering and Pondering: A Reflection on Reflection

For the past few weeks my blog has been rather quiet! I have been so wrapped up in enjoying myself and taking in the experience of Vienna first hand that I have not found the time to sit and type. When I did have time to type I found myself berating myself for not sticking to at least two posts a week which led to me getting caught in a massive streak of writers block. All this combined with a big personal change and thoughts about problems at home had me wrapped up in a tizzy.

Now, I am certainly aware that no one is living or dying by my posting or not posting on here but I had wanted to keep this up as a way of sharing my experiences and recording them for later down the road when I miss Vienna. I can also already anticipate the onslaught of questions about my experiences and time over here. I really look forward to that and I think it presents itself as an interesting opportunity to show how the culture and experience over here has challenged me and my conceptions of the world but also show these kind of differences to friends and family at home who might not be aware of these kind of differences. One thing I am dreading is the question about any particular stories or instances that stood out.

It sounds a bit odd, I will admit that. I certainly have taken the time to think of some funny stories to tell or awe inspiring moments. But on the whole it has been hard to think of moments like these. Having been here so long and really feeling myself beginning to grow roots in Vienna it feels hard to dissect my time here. Dissect being the best word here. My time here has really flowed seamlessly. It has been one constant experience  for me and perhaps that is also why it has been hard for me to pick one thing out for blog posts. Anything I want to write about or talk about is so inherently connected with the other experiences I have had so far. It almost feels like no matter what I say or write it won’t quite come close what I’ve experienced. For most that’s perhaps a rather disappointing and negative observation. For me though, perhaps it is a positive. I can only try my best to tell about my time here and while it may not transfer as well as I want to capture the depth of the experience I have had at least that experience still happened and it is still uniquely mine.

Who knows though? Perhaps the difficulty I am having right now merely comes from still being here? Maybe with some distance the experiences will chunk up into more solid memories that will be more “dissect-able”. For now though, I’ve just been letting new experiences take me where they will. I keep notes of things that wow me but only when it feels organic, I don’t try to capture the moment with gun and cage. Pondering and wondering will always be an appropriate name for this blog. That is what I have been doing in Vienna. I’ve been walking with the city, not simply through it.

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Jes, Ni parolas fika Esperanto! (Yes we speak fucking Esperanto!)

After a week of acquainting myself with Vienna and beating jetlag, Vince and I finally made our way to the main purpose of this whole trip: The Esperanto Museum. To start off we had to stop by the National Library of Austria to get a membership card to get into the museum and take out books and articles. Yes, the majestic and wonderful library where Kaisers and others royals once walked and roamed, perusing the many different books of wisdom on their shelf!

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“Such majesty!”

Okay…so that is not the actual National library, it’s actually the former state room of the Hofburg (but it was too beautiful to not slip into this post somehow). The actual national library is quite beautiful and impressive though and actually a part of the Hofburg (which is the primary royal palace of the once Austrian Nobility).

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That’s Vince in the forefront! Beautiful library, though funny to think that in 1938, Hitler gave a well attended speech on that balcony

We got in, got our cards, and ordered an article from the Esperanto museum just as a test to make sure it all works. By the time we were done, the museum had closed for the day. Rather than just go home, however, the rest of the day was taken to enjoy the sights and sounds around the old beauty of a palace. While it was amazing walking around arguably the most beautiful part of Vienna (in a city that is already incredibly beautiful all around), both Vince and I could not help but be burdened by the same question: “What if we don’t find what we’re looking for at the museum?” We would have to wait for Monday to find out what lay before us.

Before going forward, it would probably help if I best described what the hell we are even researching…

***

The topic’s genesis came from a simple Facebook post on the part of Vince about constructed and fictional languages. When I told him that I was familiar with one of the languages on the list, Esperanto (a language I had learned about in High School Latin while we were working on making our own languages), a door opened almost immediately. With the goal in mind of working towards a Fulbright scholarship for me (a fully paid year abroad after graduation teaching and researching abroad), Vince and I set our sights on undergraduate research experience for me.  From square one the hope was to work at the Esperanto museum, it was only ever a question of what to research when there? Surprisingly there was almost too many broad research questions that one could think of in relation to constructed languages.

We were getting rather close to the deadline we had set for ourselves to hand in the research proposal and still had no set topic. I was rather frustrated with myself for not being able to think of something up or narrow down an idea. It really felt like a jumbled mess of thoughts and questions. It took an almost all too cliché epiphany moment for an idea to spring into my head. Nearly exhausted with frustration after looking up potential topics online, I heavily sighed “God fucking damn it!” under my breath. I continued searching for a few moments but then proceeded to pause.
“God fucking damn it…”

                                                  “fucking damn it…”

                                                            “fuck…damn…”

Profanity and obscenity had come to save the day. Vince and I formed the proposal from this basis. “Constructed languages and their use or non-use of profanity and obscenity”. On the surface it may seem like a rather silly topic (it is, and you are invited to laugh with us at it). However, there is some real depth to it. To help push the conversation, I’ll roughly quote the famed philosopher, George Carlin:

“There are some words you can say with no problem, like: ‘TOPOGRAPHY!’ And no one has ever gone to jail for screaming topography. But there are some words you can got to jail for! There are some words we’ve decided to not use all the time. You know if you’re chasing a criminal it’s okay if you say “you dirty fucking crook!” But if you’re having lunch with the Bishop it may be best to not ask for where the ‘god damn toilet’ is.”
(https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMkNsMMvrqk <— My Source)

In all natural languages (ie: languages that have developed and evolved naturally over time and have not been purposefully created), there are taboo words. Taboo words are different from something like “the” or “penguin”, these are words that are heavily charged words with real social effects. If a 7-year-old child calls his mother a “C#nt” chances are he may be in a good bit of trouble. In fact, just by the fact that I’ve chosen to even block out some of these curse words show how powerful some of them can be. So every natural language has these words, that cannot be denied. But what about constructed languages? These are languages that have been made purposefully by a person or set of people with some intent or driving vision behind the language.

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L.L. Zamenhhof                (1859-1917)

Take Esperanto for example. The language was created polish ophthalmologist  L. L. Zamenhof in the late 19th/early 20th century. The idea came about in a time of high tensions for Europe which would soon break out into World War I. Zamenhof grew up in a part of Poland that was surrounded by Polish Speakers, German speakers, Russian Speakers, Yiddish Speakers, and more. His thought behind Esperanto was that it could act as a simple and new international language of communication between peoples and bring people together under this one language. Esperanto continues to be one of the most popular and successful ConLangs (constructed languages) today. Despite never becoming an international language, it does boast a speaking community of about 2 million people worldwide and also a good couple thousand or so native speakers (children who were raised speaking the language as their first language!)

An international language of world peace and love is great and all, but what if you stub your toe while being an Esperanto speaker? I know that whenever I happen to injure myself usually the first thing anyone hears is a long and loud “FUCK!!” Some of the earliest critiques of Esperanto from the 1920’s beg this question. You see, from its original conception Esperanto had no profanity or obscenity in it. It reflected the decent nature of its original purpose. Can a language really be a language without these naughtier elements? Elements that the average person uses amongst people who they are comfortable with,  that are used to give weight to our other words, to insult, to incite, to describe the more saucier realities of life? It certainly would not be a complete language. As you can see, the intent of this project is to not only understand the reasons for adding or not adding taboo words into ConLangs, but it will hopefully also help us to understand the role and importance of them within our own natural languages.

***

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The Esperanto museum/ Department of Planned Languages- the worlds largest collection of ConLang resources (also housed here: The Globe museum and the Department of Music.

The weekend went and Monday came in it’s place. It was hard  to believe it had only been a week since I first arrived in Vienna. We found ourselves at Palais Mollard, a beautiful building by all definitions (Though some construction in front of it obscures the view a bit). The Esperanto Museum makes up the first floor of the museum. Contrary to the vast holdings it hides in it’s storage room, the museum itself is rather small. On display are several artifacts about Esperanto, videos on it and other ConLangs, and language samples of different ConLangs (such as Klingon). We make our way to the back where the research library/reading room rests.

The secretary at the desk was nothing but incredibly helpful and nice, getting us set up and providing the article we had ordered on Friday. Again the article had nothing to do with our topic, but was instead only a test of the system. Now began the real research…

Or well it would have if it were not for the incredibly kind and helpful staff finding stuff for us! Within 5 minutes of being there, we were greeted by the colleague of the woman who helped us. Vince, in introducing us to him also introduced the topic to this man. With a smile the man disappeared into the holdings room in the back and within 15 minutes came back with two items.

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The one article was a CD entitled “Taboo words in the world language”.  It included a lecture on the importance of the topic at a World Esperanto Congress in the 90’s (the talk given in Esperanto), a write up of the talk (also written in Esperanto), a copy of Sekretaj Sonetoj (Secret Sonnets- the original attempt at adding profane and obscene words to the Esperanto language in the form of some erotic poetry 😉 ), and a digital list of taboo words. This CD was incredibly helpful. In particular the write up of the speech about taboo words was a gold mine. The speaker highlighted a couple of problems that have come about through not making known the taboo words in Esperanto. Some highlights:

  • A Swiss speaker telling the author that “Ni trinkis in Puboj!” The person wanted to say “We drank in English pubs” but what they really said without knowing was “we drank in pubic regions!” (the real word for pub in esperanto is drinkejo)

  • Trying to teach words like “Fuko” (Sea weed), and having students giggle at it thinking it means “fuck” when actually the word for fuck is “fiki”.

  • Debates about what words should mean what in Esperanto. For instance a debate about the word “piĉo”, which one Esperantist wanted to mean “musical pitch” but others pointed out was derived from the Slavic word for C*nt. And wouldn’t it be best to know that when talking after a concert in Esperanto about the eloquence of a violinists piĉo in that performance?

The key problems that came up were conflicts of meaning in the “decent language of Esperanto” (ie: the naughty nature of taboo words contrasting the peace and love aspect of Esperanto) and often time the unfamiliarity with the norms, customs, cultures, and taboos of another speakers mother tongue and country (ex: the word gift in English is harmless.  But if you’re going through customs in Germany and put the word “gift” on the form, there is a possibility it could be confused with the German word of the same name that means “POISON”. Think that same problem but in Esperanto).

The other article was another attempt to introduce and familiarize the Esperanto speaking public about taboo words and also insults, metaphors, profanity, and even onomatopoeia! One of the problems that seems to come up is that there are these official Esperanto words for taboo words but most of the general Esperanto public do not know them (either because of Esperanto’s decent nature or other social norms against taboo words at the time). So to avoid Swedish people talking about drinking in English pubic regions, it may be best to make these words more well known. Right?

***

This is how I’ve been spending my summer so far and I love it. I’ve found a few more interesting tid bits on my own (like an Esperanto-English dictionary and vise versa that openly lists taboo words). The hope is to continue and move past Esperanto and look at other ConLangs and their response to the Taboo word question! Who the fuck knows what will happen next? 🙂

 

Venice in the Park: A Sunny Day in Venediger Au

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It’s Wednesday and I already feel like I’m getting acquainted with my surroundings. I’ve managed to beat jet lag and get plenty of rest (all this despite the constant sound of jackhammer working hard somewhere on the streets below). The day before I was able to go and explore a bit of the city (Which did not disappoint in the slightest). Vienna has such a wonderful mix of classic and modern architecture, it’s transit system is simply fantastic, and everyone is out and about but it’s not uncomfortably crowded. Vince and I had met up with a friend of his , Renee, at the Belvedere Manor also. The Manor was simply breathtaking, I continue to be wordless when it comes to describing it and can only help but feel clichéd! Renee joked with me telling me how he likes to call the Belvedere his backyard since he lives so close.

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While the Belvedere was incredible, I could not help but be struck by another public park. The park between the Prater and Vince’s apartment really grabbed me today. It’s a simple park by all means- well simple compared to the Belvedere. Definitely larger than most American public parks but in no way a tourist trap like Central Park (and certainly incredibly smaller). I decided I would find my way down to the park that day as Vince was running some errands and it was such a beautiful day to just sit outside and read. I found myself a spot and got to reading “Holy Sh*T:  A Brief history of Swearing” ( a fantastic book by the way, though probably wasn’t a great thing to read right near a children’s park).

I got so far into my book before having to put it down. I could not help but find myself getting lost in the atmosphere in the park. It struck me as strange to see so many people gathered around and just enjoying the day here. This kind of volume of people outside and about in a park is almost unseen at home. The feeling in the air was that of an open and relaxed celebration. Everyone was welcomed. There were of course plenty of kids running about the playgrounds, playing tag or kicking around a soccer ball (or a few actually running naked through the little watering hole at the edge of the park- I have been assured this is normal!). Across from me sat a group of three elderly Austrian women chatting about at what I can only assume was the usual gossip.  And it was not strictly homogenous to Austrians but also a bit of Slavic and middle eastern influence, and I believe I heard some English voices mixed in. I found the atmosphere to only add to an already beautiful day. It felt safe and fun.

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Now, don’t chalk me up quite yet as a full blown romanticist! As Vince had pointed out to me the first time walking through the park and while walking back from the Prater, the area around his apartment once had a reputation for being only a tad bit shady. And by a tad bit I mean that the area was frequently known to have prostitutes readily available and a hub of drug activity. In fact, it should be mentioned that my first time through the park I saw two different groups of police (about 4 in each) searching people.  Both seemed to be rather routine random checks, but naturally it caught my eye immediately. It should be mentioned that the area as of recently has become incredibly less a place of prostitution (especially since roadblocks were installed and scattered around the streets of the park. This keeps “customers” from driving around looking for someone to pick up). Likewise, with drugs, since the passage of a law that allows police to arrest people who do not have a record (prior to this you could not), it’s been a lot less frequent (or well has mostly moved out of the area).

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Still, it can’t help be noted that despite its former reputation for prostitution and drugs and also the giant spray-painted penis on one of its buildings (pictured next to this), people keep coming to the park at Venediger Au. Why? Perhaps it’s a rather Austrian attitude. Even in the height of all the shady activity the park was still highly used and enjoyed by families. “No one ever bothered them”, Vince told me, “They have a rather live and let live attitude towards things.” It’s certainly strikingly different from the way things are handled at home. I don’t mean to suggest that the Austrian way of doing things is the best thing anyone can do, but it is certainly interesting to ponder about.

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The rest of the day consisted of dinner followed by a trip to Heiling Ice Cream on Praterstrasse, a place that both Vince and I confirmed as THE best ice cream in the world. I still could not help but think of the park though. In particular, there was a sight that stuck with me. I didn’t mention it earlier, but across the way from me I saw a man simply sitting and staring at a tree. The tree was bare, no leaves to use for shade, and scarred all over. He wasn’t on the phone; he wasn’t talking to anyone nearby. It was just him and the tree for a good several minutes. I suppose I’ll never know the exact reason for it. Maybe he was just taking some time to himself? Perhaps the tree was special for some reason? Or maybe he saw something special in the tree much in the way I saw something special in seeing him look at it? The inner philosophy major in me wanted to know why this was happening and the inner English major wanted to fill in the unknown motives with a story. Regardless, I had to capture the moment. I suppose I’ll never know what was happening here but I suppose that is all a part of the magical strangeness of Venedigar Au. I can only say that it all felt strangely serene.

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Go Öst, Young Man!

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Waiting in the Wings: A Pre Flight Prologue

It’s a semi clouded day at Philadelphia International airport and I am on my own. I left my family  at the security gate and walked on through to a whole new world. Now for some this might not be a big feat in the slightest degree, I know my boyfriend has been through this process probably more times than I could count on my collective fingers and toes (and then some more). For me though,  crossing the Atlantic solo is a rather new experience. Crossing the Atlantic in General is a first in itself! Hell, it will be the first time that I even leave the country!

My dad always has a joke about why their are so many Fitzpatricks in South Jersey. As I’ve been told it’s because “the Fitzpatricks on their way from Ireland saw so much water on the way over that they were too sick of it to even cross the bridge into Pennsylvania!” Jokes aside, this Fitzpatrick is ready to cross all the water he has to.  This is the start of the story. I don’t know how it will be written- I’m leaving most of that up to life. My role is to simply fill in the blanks with my own actions and record it all on here. Who will Paul Fitzpatrick be in Europe? It may sound like a strange question to ask and you could just as easily say to me: “… well , yourself.” Yet it doesn’t feel that simple. When I was home I was used to my routines, the culture around me, and how I talked with my friends and family (not even mentioning the shared language!) Here however, all that is behind me. New customs, new routines, probably (and hopefully) new friends. So who will I be in the midst of all this newness? I may have to do some fine tuning. For now I am content with this assertion: I will be a wanderer embracing the wonder that is life.

***

I just got on the plane. Nearly missed boarding because I ran to the bathroom! I made my way back to coach, got myself situated, and was very happy to realize I had my row to myself. Not so happy to hear that there was no wifi or charging ports on the plane, so I am typing this all up to post later! The reality of things has not hit me yet. I speedily tap away at my keyboard as the plane begins to slip its way onto the tarmac. Updates and final farewells for family and friends.

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Up in the Air: Bis später Amerika!

It was about an hour or so into my flight when it really hit me.  The gravity of it all. Or perhaps even the hilarity of it all. I think if I could see myself from a third person view I would have a good laugh at myself. At no point before college had I ever thought I’d be on a plane alone headed across the sea to do research on constructed languages (and their use of profanity and obscenity- more on that to follow). Just the surreal feeling and randomness of it all struck me as funny. But it was indeed happening.

I guess that moment kind of put things in perspective for me. I would be going off to a place where only one person knows me (Dr. Kling, my professor and friend). Other than that I am a complete stranger to the rest of the world. For some reason it made me think of my Great Grandfather and his move to America. He was essentially an orphan and had managed to flee the orphanage he was in, find his way on a transatlantic ship, and make his way to some relatives who lived in Pennsylvania.He did that alone. I can’t even begin to imagine the journey he must have had. Such an incredible gamble, and not too uncommon for most immigrants of the early 20th century. Now here I was crossing the same ocean that probably took him weeks in a matter of hours.

The flight continued. I was lucky enough to get a row to myself on this long transatlantic flight. In fact, the plane itself was pretty empty. It didn’t take the attendants too long to reach my seat in the back when giving out food as there wasn’t too many people ahead of me. It felt solitary but relaxing. I looked out the window at the sun fading in the west as I tried to comprehend just how long this flight would be. I looked back to the in flight movie (Eddie the Eagle) and as soon as it was done looked back out the window to see only stars. With that as my last sight, I curled up on the two seats I had to myself and passed out. It was night…

 IMG_2463 <— You can just see the exhaustion

 

Layovers: The truest test of anyone’s patience

…only for a short while that is! In all my excitement I had forgotten that we were moving forward in time and because I  had no wifi, my phones time didn’t seem to adjust with it! I went to bed at what I thought was 10 o clock and then woke up to see the sun rise. In reality I had only gotten about 2 hours of sleep. Within the next hour of waking we landed in Zurich. The flight over the city was beautiful. All the little villages scattered about amongst friendly verdant hills. This was my first site of Europe and it did not fail to excite.

When the plane landed and as I departed I felt nothing short of exhaustion.  I felt like a puppet when the puppeteer loosens upn on the strings: close to collapse and looking like a mess. I trudged my way over to the tram to the terminal. It was all so clean, and kind of aware of the whole stereotype of Swiss people. In the tunnel on the way over there was an animated advertisement much like a flip book with a pig-tailed girl in lederhosen on top of the alps who smiled and waved at you as you moved past. When we made it to the next stop we were all greeted by the sound of a mountain horn! (You know, the one you hear in the Riccola commercials).

I will try my best now to sum up the next 4 and a half hours as quickly as possible (though they did in no way go as quick…). A whole lot of waiting. Straining to stay awake. Feeling not sure if I was hungry or just feeling sick from exhaustion. Feeling better! Nearly fell asleep on my luggage. Jammed to Hamilton and Springsteen to stay awake! Praised the lord when they called for boarding for Vienna. Passed out asleep while waiting for plane to take off. Passed out asleep again after it got in the air.  Saw the alps! Tried speaking German with the attendants but was so tired that I gave up halfway through. And the flight was only an hour so by the time we got up in the air it was just about time to land! Vienna lay ahead in the distance. I had arrived.

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Vienna

Compared to the flight to Zurich, Vienna felt like traveling  only a matter of seconds.  I walked through the airport with excitement (you couldn’t tell from the outside, but take my word for it I was excited on the inside). I picked up my bags from the luggage carousel and followed the same crowd of passengers that were on my airplane to the exit (I had no clue where I was going).

At the exact moment I exited the hallway I followed the crowd into, I saw my good friend and professor Vince Kling waiting for me. Needless to say it was like picking up where we left off in a previous conversation. I could now safely go on autopilot and just rely on him to get me where we needed to be.

The first thing we did was make sure to get me a transit ticket for the month (and good for all city transportation). Unlike my SEPTA riding days, Vienna transport didn’t require the constant use of coins or fare (though you could pay for an individual ride.  It is fairly easy though for a person to walk through the station and just hop on a bus or a train and not have to pay the fair. However, best of luck if the ticket person comes along. “Schwarzfaren” as it is called (black-traveling: which may or may not have racist undertones or could be like saying “the black market kind of thing”…kind of ambiguous) can get you paying 130 euros for something that may have only been 6 or so euros. Not really my cup of tea if you ask me.

The train that took us out to the city had some real character too it. Unlike the Broad Street line at home which usually just features a line of seats on either side and some poles to hold on to, this looked more like an older trolley car with seats, tables between them and of course poles for those forced to stand. It’s walls were a warm peach color that was contrasted to the purple and red that made up the poles and the seats. Vince and I caught up about the past few months as we moved through an industrial park like area before getting closer and closer to the city. When I had asked which stop would be ours, Vince just simply replied: “I’m expecting you to know which one it is when you see it.” He was certainly right. As the famed Ferris wheel from The Third Man came into view, I knew this must be it.

The area around where Vince had made his home is the second district. The second district was only one out of twenty three that comprised the city.  We made our way off of the train and into the Praterstern transportation hub. The Praterstern gets its name from the amusement park that houses the Ferris Wheel. It has been around for around 250 years.  It gets the “stern” part of it’s name from the star shape it creates from all the different transportation flowing from it. From there we walked through to Venediger Au (Venice Meadows), a park right outside the apartment that took us straight to Ybbstrasse. Ybbstrasse and the surrounding area is beautiful, that much cannot be doubted, however the graffiti within the area should be noted. I could not help but feel surprised by the amount of graffiti I saw on the train ride to the Praterstern and also the amount on the walls of Venediger Au and Ybbstrasse. It would seem that the city of Vienna must have a rather active Anarchist theme given the rather common appearance of the circled A and anti-state phrases (most of which seemed to be against the ever advancing political right).

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Walking into the halls of the apartment complex, it felt much like the train we had taken. It was old, and you can tell quite clearly, but it had character to it. While the plaster and paint could probably be well done, it seemed to fit in with the feel of the city. You could not help but look at some of the older wooden doors with tinted glass in them or the faces carved into the corners of  the halls and just appreciate them. Vince’s actual apartment blew it out of the water, however. I was immediately grabbed by shelves upon selves of books (and the shelves behind the shelves). Custom made tall book shelves that you could slide away and reaveal another shelve of books behind it. Each shelve homed a family of books belonging to the same author or a collection of knick knacks but all spaces were comfortably and happily filled. This would happily be my home for the next several weeks.

After some time for unpacking, still incredibly exhausted from the flight, we decided to head out to the Prater for dinner. I had only ever known of the Ferris Wheel so I was very surprised to see a whole amusement park around it. And it would seem the Austrians really liked their extreme rides. Sure their were fun houses, and simple kiddie rides like a merry-go-round or tiny car ride, but their were also things like Extacsy. A spinning ride that puts you in a pod that goes up and down while also spinning and then at one point stays upside down for a good minute and a half. All this while music blasts in the background to strobe lights and fog machines. Totally radical, dude.

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Dinner was cordon Bleu. A heavenly dish crafted by the gods that consisted of chicken schnitzel filled with ham and cheese.  The main course however, was trying to figure out how to step into German speaking mode.  My brain continued to be too tired to even begin stringing together English sentences let alone German ones. Despite that though, I was incredibly eager to try my hand at it. My German has yet to be the best as I have been constantly caught in a love/hate relationship with it (I assure you it is mostly love but boy are there things I hate!) I mustered up some energy to order in German, but it was incredibly shakey. After anoucning that I thought it was such, I received probably the best wake up I’ve had in a while. From across the table, Vince calmly reminded me that I’ve only been here for a few hours and that I was certainly in no rush to become an expert (as that wouldn’t just immediately happen also). “Just take your time, it’s all there and you can do it, but don’t constantly beat yourself up over it or else you’ll never progress.” He was right, and I suppose that conquering that self-critizing voice in you is the best thing anyone can do. Though they usually don’t teach that when they are talking about the difference between the past perfect and the imperfect.

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By the time we made our way through the Prater it was getting close to 10. It was hard to believe that time had flown by so fast but it came as a relief. I had made it to a regular time for sleep which means I could hopefully beat the jet lag.  I found myself to my bed and let sleep do the rest. Hallo und guten Nacht Wien.

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