Tuesday, February 24, 2009


It being Mardi Gras night and 1.50-euro cocktail night at the Bei Schlawinchen, I invited a couple of new friends to help me celebrate the wildest Catholic night of the year. The (German film) Director had loaned me a Kafka compilation as I couldn't think of any better motivation to learn German than to read Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis) in its original German. For some reason I'm having no luck finding it here in Berlin, so on a wild impulse, I bought Der Prozess (The Trial) the other day. For now, it will be enough to simply fondle it as I try to read a few sentences now and then. It reminds me of the book that was my inspiration and entré into Spanish, something that I'd also previously read in English and impulsively decided to try in Spanish. Omar Cabezas became, undoubtedly, the sexiest Sandinista after publishing the memoir of his guerrilla days in the jungles of central Nicaragua --La Montaña es Algo Más que una Imensa Estepa Verde (the English title is Fire from the Mountain).

It wasn't my first year living there, as my Spanish wasn't good enough to read literature. It was when I started going back in the second half of the 90s that I bought that book. And it was around the same time that I met another Cabezas brother (there were six of them, but three had died in the fight against Somoza). C., with whom I ended up working, was sharp as a tack and an unpredictable and fascinating conversationalist. He's the one who first clued me into the importance of double meanings in Spanish; he kept me constantly on my toes. So meeting Omar was doubly disillusioning. I remember him as a mass of neuroses, who at one point asked, effectively, didn't everyone worry about what other people thought of him? Those were the days when I was, with the unerringly instinct of the young, too cruel. "Well no, actually not", I remember responding, as I turned back to C. and a more interesting topic. The third brother, the one who ran the plaintain plantation, was there as well, taciturn to the point of withdrawal. What a strange mix they were: professor, neurotic revolutionary-cum-writer-cum-politician, and farmer.

But to circle back around to my original point, multi-national mixes of intellectuals typically make for interesting reflections on the vagaries of language, and this was no exception. The Director and I were well on our way to silliness when the Polish (theater) director arrived. Discussing Kafka had made me realize I don't know the word for awareness in German. Instinct told me it would be one of those long German words offering not even the slightest Latin-based or English-like hint. I focused mightily but the bar was noisy and I misunderstood the Director to say Bewurstsein. "Was ist das?" said I, delighted beyond belief, "BeWURSTsein?" Awareness in German has sausage in it?! Could anything possibly be more perfect, I asked the Pole?! She, having scored her German citizenship short days ago, merely tsk'ed.

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