Cote d’Ivoire: Korhogo and vicinity

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I had never heard of Korhogo, the fourth biggest city in Cote d’Ivoire, prior to a few months before my work trip. It is a city full of artisans, in a region full of artisans, and I’m excited to show you some of the beautiful handicrafts I saw while there. Continue reading

speaking of kennings…

windowweather

…I was deleting some photos from my laptop yesterday and found one that I took of a page from Iceland Air’s in-flight magazine on the way to Reykjavik. On the page were a bunch of facts about the Icelandic language. At the time, I thought I would share some of them when I posted my Iceland pictures, but by the time I got around to that, I had forgotten about it.

With the passage of almost a year, there’s only one fact on the page that I still find interesting. And I just realized that coincidentally, it is a fact about a kenning, whose definition — a compound word with a metaphorical meaning — I just learned.

“Icelanders have selected their favorite word in a national referendum: Ljósmóðir (literally, ‘mother of light’) is the Icelandic word for midwife.”

Isn’t that such a beautiful word and a beautiful sentiment? It reminds me of the Spanish phrase for “to give birth”: dar a luz (give to light), which I only know because I spotted it on a sign in a hospital waiting room.

It would make sense that Icelandic would be kenning-heavy, since kennings originated in Old Norse (and Old English), a precursor to Icelandic. And according to Wikipedia, “Since the written language has not changed much, Icelanders are able to read classic Old Norse literature created in the 10th through 13th centuries with relative ease.”

I’m not sure whether this counts as a kenning, but I also just discovered this Icelandic word that I love: gluggaveður, which means window-weather (weather = glugga; window = veður). It refers to “weather that is nice to look at through a window, but not nice to be out in.”

Oh words, you delightful poetic things!

Cote d’Ivoire: Abidjan

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It’s been so long since I was in Cote d’Ivoire that I need the photos to jog my memory. I went in late November / early December and spent most of my time in Korhogo, bookended on either side by a few days in Abidjan, as well as a day trip to Grand Bassam. Here are some brief Abidjan highlights…

Continue reading

making my way back

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It’s been awhile (again). I’ve been busy in the non-virtual world with things that felt much more timely and urgent than writing blog posts. But today, for the first time in months, the day stretched out ahead of me with nothing in particular calling for my attention. So I’m using the time to share just a few things I’ve found particularly entertaining, fascinating, and/or inspiring over the past few months of being homebound. (I’m working back up to speed before sharing, at long last, my pix from Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal in December and from Austrai-Slovenia-Italy in February.)

“Mysteries of Vernacular” is a beautifully animated short video series that explains the etymology of interesting words from A to Z.

I learned the word “kenning” from the Mysteries of Vernacular video about the origin of “window,” which led me to search for a list of kennings, some of which are exceptionally beautiful.

Resources for learning a new language from home.

Six virtual train rides you can take from home.

Window Swap invites you to “open a new window, somewhere in the world.” It is so meditative, life-expanding, and wonderful. And it also helped me to realize that my geographical sweet spot is grassy alpine mountains. (I would move to the spot in the window above in a heartbeat.)

Finally, a nonsense-English song that is so catchy, I had it in my head for WEEKS after listening to it.

I found it via Atlas Obscura, which delves into the fascinating history of writing in nonsensical languages.

 

new and untranslatable words, for a new and untranslatable time

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I’ve been thinking a lot about how the Portugeuse word, “saudade,” encapsulates my emotional state during the COVID-19 pandemic — even though it is technically untranslatable. But, so is this surreal period we are living through. The fact that it defies easy English translation seems somewhat appropriate.

Wikipedia’s definition:

Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for or loves… Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again… It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations.

If that doesn’t perfectly describe life in the time of coronavirus, I don’t know what does.

The Welsh word, hiraeth, is similar to saudade, I recently learned. One person describes it as:

…a combination of homesickness, longing, nostalgia, and yearning, for a home that you cannot return to, no longer exists, or maybe never was. It can also include grief or sadness for who or what you have lost, losses which make your “home” not the same as the one you remember.

Yup. I’m a bundle of saudade and hiraeth these days for sure.

Meanwhile, according to CNN, the Dutch have been fast and furiously coining new words to make sense of their novel (coronavirus) circumstances. The neologisms include huidhonger (skin-hunger) to describe a longing for human contact while in isolation, and hoestschaamte (cough shame) for a particular COVID-era genre of anxiety provoked by coughing in public and setting off a panic. The new lexicon is being collected in a coronawoordenboek — itself a new word.

Too bad I don’t know any Dutch. I’m sure that dictionary is a cathartic read.

P.S. I just looked through my Portugal pictures from 2016 to pick an image for the top of this post, and now my heart actually hurts, the saudade is overwhelming, and I’m going to bed.

Iceland

IMG_6445Writing about past travels during stay-at-home time may cheer me up or it may make me even more angsty… We shall see.

Onward! Onward backward, I should say.

This past October, I went abroad with six of my oldest, dearest friends, to enter middle age in a land where more than half of the people believe in elves. It was exactly what I needed. Continue reading

D.C. blues

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Hello from the end of another long, sad, scary week in lock-down. My brain feels like it has spent too much time in a milk frother, and that simile probably came to me because I spent the last hour going down an internet rabbit hole comparing moka pots for no discernible reason. Just before that, I wrote a group text to my sister, brother, and father to tell them we should have a surprise virtual party for my mom’s 75th birthday next week. Only I wrote the text to my sister, brother, and mother. For three days in a row this week, I didn’t feel like leaving the house even to get a few minutes of fresh air, so I didn’t. And I almost forgot to eat dinner yesterday. When I finally remembered, I boiled some spaghetti in boxed chicken broth and called it a night.

I am, of course, certain that I am not alone in my malaise and agitation. I know that I am alone together, as it were. That only makes me sadder. The weight of the world’s pain, and the sheer number of variations on that pain, is crushing. Continue reading

hello from D.C.

foggy new yorkI’m not in Washington. It’s just that COVID-19 seems so globally significant, so life-altering, so biblical, that the years ought to be ordered according to their relationship with the disease. Now we are in the D.C. era: During COVID-19. Everything that came before this novel coronavirus is B.C.; everything that will come after is A.C. Continue reading

My French was all over the map

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During my last work trip, I did a lot of bouncing around:

⁃1 week in Dakar
⁃3 days in Abidjan
⁃Nearly 2 weeks in Korhogo, northern Côte d’Ivoire
⁃1 week in Abidjan
⁃1 day in Dakar
⁃1 week in Saint-Louis, Senegal
⁃2 days in Dakar

 

Like my body, my brain also bounced around a lot – especially when it came to French. In a relatively short period – 5 weeks – my speaking and comprehension skills flailed about on a continuum between nearly nonexistent and reasonably proficient. My French was so inconsistent, and my brain’s see-sawing (in)ability  to speak it was so bewildering, that I spent much of my free time pondering what it all meant. A few thoughts, as haphazardly assembled as my French:

Continue reading

Taking stock of 2019

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The Good

  • Paid off my student loans, totaling nearly 6 figures over almost ten years, right before my 40th birthday. 
  • One of my best friends had a much-awaited and adorable baby in December. Baby L is my newest NYC buddy.
  • Returned to Senegal, two times!
  • Experienced the height of awe-inspiring culture at the Fête du Vodoun in Benin.
  • Visited seven new-to-me countries (Togo, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Kenya, Iceland, and Côte d’Ivoire).
  • Visited one new-to-me state (Michigan).
  • Turned 40 without major depressive incident (this was a real fear/possibility).
  • Went to a lot of delightful shows including my second opera ever (Porgy and Bess), a musical (Kinky Boots), theatre (Swan Lake/Loch na hEala), concerts (big: Phil Collins; small: ESG), museum exhibits (Leonard Cohen at the Jewish Museum, Egungun at the Brooklyn Museum, Camp at the Met), new museums (Poster House), and new-to-me museums (Cooper-Hewitt).
  • Got in lots of good French practice so my speaking skills didn’t erode too badly.
  • Got excited about a documentary project for the first time in a looong time (ultimately it didn’t work out but I now know the fire is still alive, and I needed that confirmation).
  • Saw lots of amazing movies in movie theaters, which ranks among my favorite pastimes (new: Atlantics, the Farewell, Booksmart, Letter to the Editor; old: Friday Night, Daisies, Boys N the Hood, Crooklyn).
  • Read some wonderful books (Washington Black, Thich Nhat Hanh’s How to Love, The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing, very belatedly I know).
  • Experienced the mystical magical quirky amazingness of Iceland and stored up months’ worth of peaceful feelings.
  • Spent lots of quality time with my niblings and visited my sister and brother-in-law in Portland.
  • Solidified some new friendships, caught up in person with friends I hadn’t seen in years, and in general spent lots of quality time with amazing people that I’m thankful to know and love.
  • Started running again after an almost yearlong lapse.

Bad

  • Shit my pants.
  • Attempted to pee in a plastic bag, unsuccessfully.
  • Spent 45% of the year bouncing around abroad, and it was unexpectedly neither a fun nor a good thing.
  • Continued to question life’s meaning and my purpose.
  • Panicked about how I am going to fill 25 more years of my working life before retirement.
  • Various body parts started to malfunction and I realized that post-40 is just a slow march towards death.

Not sure that anything can really outweigh shitting one’s pants and enduring debilitating existential angst, but on the whole, I feel like the good at least balanced out the bad in 2019. I’ll call that a fairly good year. And I’m aiming for an excellent 2020.

Happy new year! May all your 2020 visions be realized.