… mother tongue & other tongue …

Starnbergersee

Starnbergersee

 

 

Two languages, two rhythms, two patterns, two spheres, two perceptions … last week I attended a re-union of my primary school class in Bavaria. Around 20 of us turned up.  The event included a ship ride on the lake that marks the geography of my childhood – Starnbergersee – whose shores are garlanded with castles and grand villas. Once I’ve won the lottery I’ll snap up one of these dream places and invite all my readers to a prolonged party with performances of magic theatre. Yeah!

 

Das Vogelhäuserl

Das Vogelhäuserl

 

The tour added a refreshing breeze to the sweltering heat. Later in the day a smaller group gathered at a lakeside restaurant, the same spot where, as a child, I turned up in summer holidays, at sunrise, to assist the local fishermen bringing in their full nets, in return for the free use of a small sailing boat during afternoons.

A re-union

A re-union

The encounter with classmates I hadn’t seen for over half a century unfolded like a surreal dream as we cooled down with beer and wine and gossiped time away into the evening. I’m still trying to fit names to faces and places, and make sense of stories that cast stray beams on my memories of the village I grew up in, a village close to the Alps, set in landscapes whose ambiance morphed into the beginning of my first novel.

 

Schloss Berg

Schloss Berg

 

Among my class mates were a few women I quickly chimed with, not surprisingly, we were close friends during those early years, though we lost touch when we moved on to different schools. It’s deep and wondrous – the mystery of this precious resonance called friendship.

 

This is me, aged 6, on my first school day. I was a single child.

Erster Schultag

Erster Schultag

And I well remember the excitement. The Zuckertüte, the upside down magician’s hat filled with bonbons, chocolates and presents to sweeten the transition into the big world seems to grace my head in the photo my dad took. I can’t find the image right now, but I did receive a proper Zuckertüte on the day, filled to the rim.

My favourite teacher (in the group photo with the village poem post, link below) turned up at the re-union, slow on his legs but sharp witted. His eyes lit up when he recognised me, which gave me a warm feeling all over.

Living in England since several decades, I visit Germany periodically to see my grumpy late-artist-dad, and dear German friends, made during my later Sturm und Drang phase. What struck me about the school re-union was how the primary sensation of my childhood was brought to life through words tossed into the conversations, keywords from my mother-tongue, embedded in local dialect. My mother, who came from Berlin, never picked up the Bavarian dialect, neither did I, however, the term mother tongue incorporates for me my early environment, the village. https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/village-poem/

For the greater part of my life I thought by and spoke in the other tongue, which I first learned at school. Aged 18, unsure of my path, I spent a cultural year with a family friend in London. She cherished me. Our relationship was a healing experience for both of us, given her loss of friends and family members in the Holocaust, and my inherited burden of the atrocities having taken place in my country. Later, studying in Munich, English was the language connecting a multicultural student population. When 9 years on I married a Dutch man and we moved to England together, my German vocabulary gathered dust during further studies. The distance from my mother tongue freed up a wider perception. It also helped me overcome an encoded traumatic experience. At secondary school I had written an essay, freely based on a painting of my choice by Spitzweg – writing was then a blissful creative process. The teacher read the essay aloud, praising its brilliance, after which she informed the whole class that I could not have composed this myself – a screaming insult! And yet, I thank the stupid woman, it changed the course of my studies. I initially used photography to express myself, resuming poetry and imaginative writing later, finding that English allowed me the necessary wings.

Who knows what the dusted off layer of my mother tongue will bring round. Writing in the other language helped me to transcend the mere facts of my life to essential themes, universal metaphors. The divided kingdom of parents, the psychology of the single child, her assumed bridging function between patterns of seeing, like the rational and imaginative perception, the distorted mirrors of relationships, betrayals, the search for the real, and the meeting of soul families. Essential themes lifted like green islands from dark waters during my protagonist’s river journey west.

Course of Mirrors is a gripping adventure story, as well as a psycho mythical opus. In its sequel the teller of the story is revealed as the visionary myth-maker overtaken by her myth – in the way that we can re-arrange the past and postulate possible futures, explore different time-zones, and expand expectations.

I must leave it to my readers to judge the results of my experiment. The first book, Course of Mirrors, will be published next year, by a small but devoted publisher.

 

Are you a writer/artist who processes experience through two or more languages?

 

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “… mother tongue & other tongue …

  1. Wonderful article. Thanks for sharing this.

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  2. No way to quite plumb the depths to which this journey took me, because entirely familiar and shared; only child making a treadable path through conflict and shame; the place itself equally familiar (only mine was the ‘the other lake, the Ammersee, and a sort of Schloss to live in temporarily), but deeper than circumstance…the other tongue (Deutsche) shunned at the time by its native speakers (yes English the lingua franca then, and Scottish kilts and Arran sweaters) was a new delicious liberty with invention. You could string likely linkages…Das Lebensmittelhandelaar? and be understood. Life then was so inventive, and nothing to lose.

    I was attributed with a ‘searing’ honesty in a guest post this week, so searing is the week’s breed of candour! Welcome back. You were missed here, but I think I really sat like a parrot on your shoulder the while. SO LOVED THIS and equally the poem before we met.

    P.S. You were/are very beautiful!

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    • Awesome … to think us two mavericks were only miles apart during those intense times. I’m grateful I made contact with you, and your amazing story. What’s the guest post, was it on Ross’s site?

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  3. A beautiful pot with the most gorgeous overtones of leisure, acceptance and love. I don’t have the good fortuned to be fluent in two languages, indeed I often struggle with the one that is supposed to be my mother tongue and so I envy you the gift that you have received, even though you obviously had to work at at as something so very special can’t come without effort. How lovely to see your old teacher, I doubt many of mine are still alive 🙂 Thanks for this

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  4. of course that should have said “post” and not pot!!! 🙂

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    • Thanks, master of cliffhangers. Wars have been won and lost due to the spelling of words. ‘Pot’ is not only a vitally important object, it also conjures up (for me) the end of the rainbow, forever evading us, though the gold is there, of course 🙂

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  5. I’m really glad i stumbled across you on fb all those months ago … This (as usual) is wonderful

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  6. … and yes, i live my life in several languages for all that i choose, generally, to express myself in what, by a trick of history, was my mother’s tongue.

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  7. You are lucky. People we meet throughout life enrich us with their unique experiences and perceptions. The opportunity to explore other languages is tasting the ingredients other cultures absorbed through cycles of scarcity and plenty, adding, I think, a deeper understanding of a culture’s psychic story, and making us more tolerant of the human condition. Long live differences …

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  8. Beautiful images you paint, Ashen, with your words and photos…so magical revisiting the places of our youth and reconnecting to people and landscapes that meant so much to us. Thanks for sharing this sweetie.

    P.S. I can’t wait for Course of Mirrors to be available. 😀

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  9. Wonderful post, mixing memories and languages and making new memories. Looking forward to the book publication! The lake looks grand. Very cool paddle-board photo.

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    • Thanks, Joe. Thought you might enjoy the post Re: The paddle-boarders, the heat was so unusually excruciating, I wanted nothing more than to jump from the boat and join them. I did go swimming in the end.

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  10. I love this. As someone who processes things in more than one language, I can relate.

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  11. We’re lucky, Katia. Even visiting a country without being familiar with its language provides a marvellous enrichment – the food 🙂 the rituals, the melody of people’s voices, the artefacts and landscapes … to think that among the generations before us only a few select could travel … there’s hope for tolerance to increase.

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  12. What a beautiful story , Ashen. Being a bilingual writer I can understamd the transformation you have gone through.
    I am yet to have reunions with my class, my native town Korsakov is near Japan, so it’s the other side of the world, I don’t go there often. I keep in touch with a couple of my classmates, though they live in Russia. I haven’t met any of them in person for many years.
    I started writing in Russian to preserve my command of Russian, then switched to English to get more fluent in it and have a deeper connection to the British culture. Plus, it’s a way to internalise my talkativeness and humorous banter I often unleash on my unfortunate friends :))
    Congratulations on getting your book published, I look forward to reading it. What surprises me about you is that you are very spiritual. I know many Germans and none of them is anywhere close to spirituality. You remind me of Goethe, his poetry amd spirituality.

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    • Thanks for visiting again. I still have problems leaving comments on your blog. Your are indeed far away from your first environment. I found Korsakov on the map, near the Golf of Patience … did you ever drive these coastal roads? They must have magnificent views.
      Goethe’s work I admire. Surely the spirit is well alive in Germany. I looked up – spiritual – : mental – ghostly – sacred – unworldly – religious – and find the terms outmoded, in that they can be perceived as divisive. For me spirit is not set apart from matter and all ordinary things, and certainly not set apart from science 🙂 Thought some scientist like to set spirit apart from matter. Not you, I know 🙂

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      • Ashen, Korsakov is a port in the gulf of Aniva, I think the Cape of Patience is further North.
        Absolutely agree on spirituality with you, it’s inseparable from everything else. We don’t really knw what matter is, just trying to explain things around us and make them work for us.
        As for comments, you can do it via both facebook and disqus, I have two comment options there, just in case, no idea why it doesn’t work, Like here with your wordpress comments, disqus and facebook need to have you logged in before you can post a comment. I’m not very techie, so that’s how I understand it.

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        • Thing is, I don’t want all my platforms connected. I prefer to access them manually. My Gravatar should allow sites to check on my credentials. For now there’s a glitch with wordpress that doesn’t allow me making comments. I’m working on it.

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  13. Language, culture, they are so much of our make up that I think it is only when we have to live with several threads that we realise just how much they contribute to the way we are. The important thing is not to lose sight of where you come from, your roots if you like, what makes your experience a unique thread in a common weave.

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  14. I read your post with interest and recall the time I lived in Germany. I used to pick up the phone and depending on who was calling I didn’t know which language I had to fall into; German, Greek or English. I still float between the different languages and while I was writing my novel, I had to submerge my thoughts and feelings into Greek when creating the mother. The experiences we have, not only as adults, but as children too I believe influence our writing.
    Next week I will be surrounded by the breathtaking lakes in Allgau and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the language, culture and cuisine.

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  15. Thanks for visiting, Maria, resonating with the bilingual aspect of writing. WordPress UK has a glitch problem, so my comment on your blog did not appear. I’ll keep trying.
    I used to be on Harper Collins authonomy site with sample chapters of my first novel and was encouraged by the feedback. ‘Course of Mirrors’ is still listed on authonomy, whittled down to one sample chapter, with some short stories added to fulfil the word-count, since the novel will be published next year.

    I read some of your writing and liked it. You have a good ear for dialogue. Best success.

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  16. I have read with a great interest. Light memoirs…

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  17. Thank you. We all come from childhood …

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  18. Thank you, Ashen, for your ever insightful and insight-giving writing. In the midst of a family reunion myself (first time in over 30 years that the two daughters have been with our parents, at their home, without anyone else) that oscillates between pleasant, surreal and puzzling at the moment. The multi-layered language question is very much part of my life. You’ve made me think about it again, as well as about writing, which has been beyond my reach for a good while now. I miss it…

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    • Hi Anna, how lovely of you to visit …families, huh, pleasant, surreal and puzzling … yes, all of that. Please don’t ever stop writing. You’re a gifted poet ☼ Do your share your latest work some place?

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  19. Viv

    This was a delightful insight into your mind. Thank you.
    I shall look forward to Course of Mirrors. xx

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  20. Pingback: … surprise – blog tour interlude … | Course of Mirrors

  21. Thank you Ashen for your interesting thoughts on thinking / speaking / writing different languages. They reflect some thoughts of mine, as I use different languages in my life and writing.
    I hope I can share with you more on this subject in future.
    Good night!
    Maristella

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Pingback: … friends … | Course of Mirrors

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