Dienstag, 17. November 2009

looking up

I reached the age of 21 having never seen a shooting star. This isn't because I was a poor lil' city girl with too much light pollution. No; summer trips to Maine provided ample opportunity and my brother and sister both took advantage. Though I heard many breathless "there goes one!"s, I never saw one myself. I've concluded that it was a lack of patience.
I was an impatient child and nervous in general. I used to have these weird imaginings that I now describe as vertigo-like. I recently learned that vertigo is not just a fear of heights with accompanying dizziness and what not, but that it often affects people with a feeling that they may just jump. The feeling that I used to happen was a "what-if". I would run quickly across a street and see a flash in my mind of the "what if a truck had come barreling-down the road at that moment?" scenario. Add an untied shoe and the vision would entail skinned hands, faces, knees, etc. The severity of the "what if" was dependent on how nervous I'd been. This is the sort of girl who does not watch clouds pass and does not catch sight of shooting stars.
The first time that I DID see a shooting star was the first time I was living "alone". That is, it was the first time that I was not living with family or a boyfriend. I was living with one of those typical nightmare housemates. She had a proper job and stuck memos on my door concerning frozen waffels and I was in heaven. That summer my sister was getting married and as if she'd planned it, there was a meteor shower. She was living far away and had rented a beach house with a load of friends and the house was lively and full in the days before and after the wedding. Luckily we had some sisterly alone time, some of which took place in a life-gaurd chair with faces sky-word, our catching-up interrupted by "there's another one!"s.
I'm a bit nervous about my up-coming trip to the States. Sunday, I had a number of old familiar "what-if" flashes. I was crossing a train track with my husband and saw of a flash of Ivo alone as a train rushed by and me with it. Running down the steep staircase in the train station later I saw the trip and fall that could be my death .
Monday I had yoga and have not had a what-if since. Monday night there was a meteor shower and on my walk home I craned my neck and looked skyward. When crossing the street I looked left and right, but anything that might have made me trip on my path home went ignored as I searched through the light polution and high fog. I didn't see any meteors, but I know for certain that it wasn't for lack of patience and my mind isn't even wondering how it would be if I'd seen one.

Samstag, 14. November 2009

any day now, there will be fist-shaking

At the risk of sounding like a crotchety old lady, I wish that there was less spitting. There is a 60 Franc fine for it, but I don't think that it's strictly enforced, because in front of any bus bench or spot where teen aged boys are hanging out, the ground is slick with loogies.
I don't think that I'm a total stick-in-the-mud. I have a modicum of understanding. I side step vomit deftly on weekend mornings and shake my head "I've been there"-style. My real beef is the double-standard. Swiss children are being told not to kiss one another, in the traditional way of greeting, yet spitting goes unnoticed.
I agree that children should always be taught to wash their hands, not obsessively or excessively, but after using the toilet or more often when they're sick. I even know how to say "wash your hands" in Mandarin, thanks to the tri-lingual Kindergarten I worked at last year. But I love the kissing. I love friendly greetings. I love the Swiss culture of needing a half-hour to say hello or goodbye.
So here is what I think should happen: no more sidewalk-spitting, normal amount of kissing and good ol' fashioned hand-washing and sneezing in the elbow. 60 Francs may seem like a lot of money, but it helped with the plague.

Dienstag, 3. November 2009

train no go sorry.

In ASL, there is a saying "Train Go Sorry". I'm told that it's sort of like the equivalent of having "missed the boat", but it's especially used when a Deaf person has missed an announcement or something that a hearing person would take for granted.
When I learned sign, I used to use it now and again with my friend Marcus. He's a fantastic lip-reader and speaks beautifully, but I would use it to spell things he may have wanted clarify and when it was too loud for him to adjust his volume. I never translated for him in any sense of the word, but I certainly reinforce or acted as a back up now and again when I could or when he wanted. The first time that I ever did need to use sign to explain auditory things for a Deaf person was on a train.
I was headed home (to Philly) from DC and the train stopped. It stopped a long time. Eventually an announcement came through telling us that the stop was due to a suicide victim. A number of announcements followed and the delay dragged on. After using the WC I emerged to find a man gesticulating wildly with a notebook and being ignored by a train attendant. I realized that he was Deaf and told him "I sign". He was relieved and asked me to ask questions of the attendant for him. (Note: he did not ask me what I know, but to ask the questions for him.)
Now, I would be remiss not to explain that I was very upset at this point. I was in the WC splashing water on my face after having a good cry from feeling so helpless on this train which was ultimately usurped as an instrument of death. I was new to train travel at that point and had never had this experience before and I was shaken.
Translating provided a much needed distraction and I was glad for it. "How long will we be stopped for?" I asked, prompted by his signs.
"No one knows" I signed for him as the attendant spoke.
"Why are we stopped? What is the problem?" I asked with him.
"Someone jumped in front of the train and is stuck under the wheels." This had not been the announcement over the loudspeakers. This was far more disturbing. I didn't want to sign this. It was at this point that I realized that I had the power to protect him from this information. He would never need to know and would never be worse-off for not having known. I could spare this man from whatever guilt that I was feeling.
The thing about the people who are Deaf whom I know, (and what they confirm about other people who are Deaf) is that there is no mincing of words (or signs, I suppose). There is not the "compliment sandwich" or "talking out both sides of their mouths" of the hearing world. Clear communication is so important that there is probably no sign for "tact". I remember having a huge scratch on my nose, how my hearing friends would glance at it and look away and say nothing, how Marco saw it first thing and said "What happened?! Are you ok?" Or one of the MANY pregnant-teens who are Deaf who would be asked "Is it happy pregnant?" and would be expected to answer this honest (to a hearing person, probably offensive) question honestly.
I signed exactly what was said. Her explanation and his following (brutally honest) question of the status of the person.
"The person is stuck and dead or stuck and still alive?"
I translated until the translating was done and then went to my seat and wept until the next announcement. Another train had come for us and we would be exiting our train and entering the next train. We were to be careful to exit the first train, set both feet on the ground and only then, step up to the next train. Under no circumstances were we to touch both trains simultaneously. It would result in electrocution. Appropriately I was jolted from my seat and began searching the train for the man who is Deaf. I had my renewed purpose and was cursing the audio announcements and lack of visual cues. I found the man and clearly explained the announcement and had finished my first ever work of translation.
I think about this story a lot now while I'm doing my translation thing but I think of it as well when I'm commuting to my translation school. I commute with the train 4 times a week. I love it, actually. I know where my favorite cars are, I know which train I like best, I know how long I have between stations to use the loo if I need to. What I don't love is the far too frequent announcement that my train is delayed due to "Personenunfall" ("personal misfortune or accident"). I've never again been on a train that has actually caused a persons death, but the bong-bong-bong (there is an accompanying blue light to indicate that an announcement is being made) and following recorded message announcing the far too regular occurrence (Switzerland has the 19th highest suicide rate annually) is always jarring and I hope that it always remains jarring. I don't want to get used to pointless death. My train stops at the airport and I often hope that those people sighing in frustration at the announcement don't understand the German and they are not Swiss people feeling inconvenienced and nothing else. While all other announcements are made in German, French and English (Italian in the trains headed south) this announcement goes untranslated.