Tag Archives: mother tongue

… Morocco adventure 2007, first part …

Marrakech airport, 16th Dec 2007 … new arrivals are greeted by hundreds of placards. I scan the display showing names of people, Hotels, and Riads, until I spot Dar Pangal, my Riad. In the rush my top heavy case topples and grazes a man’s toes. He shouts an avalanche of abuse, in French. I say, ‘Sorry,’ which raises his blood pressure even more. My understanding of French being embarrassingly basic, I do grasp the questions he hurls at me like projectiles. ‘Where do you come from? Why do you come here?’ His insolence finally riles me. ‘Why do you want to know?’ I ask. He snaps back in English, ‘Shut up.’ Young Saladin, who will bring me to my Riad in the Medina, casts his eyes to heaven and shrugs his shoulders, so do I.

Anything on wheels ages well here. Old bangers zip through the buzzing crowd. Some cars, and bikes, have well-fed goat tied up in the backseat. ‘Feasts are ahead,’ Saladin says, in perfect English. ‘Sacrificing goats for celebrations and sharing their mutton with family, friends and neighbours is an honoured tradition in these parts of the world.’

Turning into a narrow backstreet, we arrive at Dar Pangal. The inner courtyard is an island of peace. Julio offers a warm welcome. He’s South American, but spent years in Paris, working as a designer. He likes Werner Herzog films, and once met Klaus Kinsky. Eccentric people fascinate him. I reveal how I worked for some of these eccentric people in the past. On that wavelength we share reminiscences over mint tea. Using a mobile and texting is a new experience for me. Somewhat nervous, I practice sending messages to Ulla, Ruth and Zohra. Connections work well. A hot shower also works well, and helps me to sleep after a long day.

17th Dec. 2007 … A knock on the door. 7 am and pitch dark. Latifa opens the shutters and invites me to have breakfast. Later I explore Julio’s roof terrace, with sweeping views over the medina roofs, which carry a field of satellites. Seems Marrakech is well wired up through gold vision orbs.

I find an exchange office to buy dirham cash, and then stroll through the Souk, taking my time, feasting on spicy smells and deep colours. An exotic trance battles with my intention to look purposeful, to avoid harassment. Charmed by a timeworn caravanserai, I calculate the exchange rate in my head and bargain over a holdall made from a Berber saddle back. In the process I lose a knitted hat I’d bought for my son. His taste in clothing has become refined, so maybe I should find a different present. I notice that most people don’t like to be photographed without permission, which I respect. The plenty starved cats have no objection.

18th Dec. 2007 … Saladin learns there are no places on trains to Agadir on the Atlantic coast, where I am supposed to meet my friend, Ulla, with her VW bus and her two dogs. We manage to find a seat for me in a grand taxi, an old Mercedes already cramped with Moroccan men heading to Agadir for family gatherings. To ease their fare the men wedge me into the backseat. Pressure of time cancels choice, so I trust the arrangement. Magnificent white clouds over the Atlas Mountains compensate. A short cigarette stop provides a memorable photo. After an hour being cramped together, the men invite me to mint tea and pancakes. We communicate in made-up language, hand gestures and smiles.

I meet up with Ulla, her van and her dog family, a Dalmatian, Leila, and an adorable adopted Moroccan street dog, Ali, in the parking area of Marjane Shopping Mall. I had visited Ulla’s home a year earlier, refreshing a connection from eventful past decades that combined in our memory. Besides, there was our joint mother tongue. Mine had become rusty. Being challenged to speak German brought not only forgotten words to the surface, but also forgotten experiences. Where I can be hesitant and avoid conflict, she has a no-nonsense manner, often with an edge I admire. Shouting the name ‘Ali’ down the road for your dog to behave, is potentially asking for trouble, that is, in Morocco. The predictable raised eyebrows before the penny drops remind me of childhood pranks my mother used to censor. We make an interesting pair of travellers.

Two friends Ulla met on the road, Peter and his partner, have their camper parked nearby. Peter knows everything there is to know about Morocco, including where to find my rolling tobacco, and how to achieve reduced deals for lodgings. Useful, since Ulla’s dog friends own any spare space in her van.

19th Dec 2007 … We are en route through the Anti-Atlas Mountains and along steeply winding roads, with an almost invisible turnoff towards the hidden Berber oasis of Tafraoute. I sign in at Hotel Salama. We have a fabulous meal at a tiny Berber restaurant. The owner, I learn later, married an English Writer, and back in the UK, I discovered by chance a proof copy of her novel in a charity shop. I wrote a spontaneous review.

 

 

 

 

 

The landscape surrounding Tafraout is littered with spectacular rocks. In 1984, a Belgian artist, Jean Verame, painted a cluster of rocks blue. I prefer land-art created with earth materials, not tons of paint. Still, it was done, and these rocks look as if the sky dropped a spot of its blue on them.

Our next destination was Tiznit, and from there on all the way to Tan Tan, near Mauritania, and up again along the Atlantic coast to Essaouira. Given the present surreal lock downs, I may share more episodes of this adventure.

Photography fans may like my album on Morocco at  https://500px.com/p/ashen?view=galleries

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… 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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