مع السلامة, بريطانيا, لمرةٍ أخرى

March 3, 2010

Syria, country housing the oldest city in the world, which will houses the Umayyad Mosque and me for the next 6 months. Other stuff you need to know: this is how the national anthem goes (lyrics here), language: Arabic, currency: Syrian pounds (only buyable in situ, recently learned), president: Bashar Al-Assad, population: about 21 million, time zone: GMT+2. All of this information (and more!) is available by a quick read through the wiki page for Syria. (I’m getting into linking).

Am I scared, you may well ask. The answer, ladies and gentlemen, is yes. Beyond belief. Completely unreasonably, as well. I know people who are out there, people who are surviving perfectly well and learning Arabic and embracing culture changes; Fay’s meeting me from the airport – what have I to fear? The massive, massive unknown. The fact that I’ve got to squish down the fat linguist in me who says “NEVER SPEAK TO A NATIVE IN YOUR OWN NATIVE. THAT’S NOT HOW WE DO THINGS.” The fact that I’m not going to understand things people say to me. Not even in the majority. The fact that I don’t know where things are, I don’t have accommodation, I don’t know where the university is. I keep turning the word, Syria, over and over in my mouth, saying it aloud, this way and that… Just wondering whether I should print out that wiki page for Damascus and take it with me.. Something to read on the 5 hour plane journey.

So here’s how I roll for the next 24 hours: 9.46am, a train will depart from Newark North Gate, carrying me, 25kg of my best and most Quentin Crisp-alike clothing (linen jackets and chinos with deck shoes, also linen, and some leather flats), a laptop bag and a hand luggage bag with something to read in it. Then I shall arrive at King’s X in London, wander purposefully and beladen across the street to St. P, choob it up an hour and wander into Heathrow at something like 12.30, whereupon I shall trudge up to some kind of check-in desk, sweaty profusely, and hand over all my worldlies to a woman with a fake smile and a lot of make-up. Then I’ll fight my way through Heathrow security, with a Syrian visa and a passport and, hopefully, some boarding pass or other, then sit and wait – with my books and bits of newspaper – until they call for “all passengers to Damascus.” When I hear that, I’ll up and do what the lady says – she’ll probably be robotic and forceful. Then, 3.35pm, I’ll be sitting on a plane, heading for Damascene skies, books in hand, heart beating at an unreasonable rate and, hopefully, surrounded by Arabs or equally petrified Brits. Then I’ll read and read and read until finally arriving at Damascus, 10.45pm local time. Give in some landing card and visa form, battle my way through the Syrian side of things and change about £1,000 into Syrian £. Then I’ll marvel at the massive numbers for a bit. Then I’ll meet Fay. Fay! Fay’s gunna be there! She’ll give me a huge hug and introduce me to her landlord and that’ll be the last English I speak that day. Off, off and away.

I want to go to bed and sleep, but I want to mention two things before I do that.

Firstly, a wiseman once said to me that being scared and still doing something is proof that one is alive. He was right, that man. So what, I’m scared? I can look back on myself, the one from the family who went to Syria for 6 months and learnt Arabic, in a few years’ time and be really proud of myself. Being scared is just my kick up the bum, forcing me to do stuff that I know is gunna be good.

Secondly, there’s this emotion that I get. It’s been documented quite closely in a number of sayings synonymous with Britishness over the years, but I’ll give a go at explaining what I mean from my angle. It’s the Sigh Theory.

I’m gunna be sitting there in Heathrow departure lounge. And when I have to get up and go, I’ll breathe in deeply, heave my stuff over my shoulders and off I’ll go. That breath, that almost-sigh, is the thing. It’s that “grin and bear it.” It’s that, “come on, lads, off we go.” Last chance to be scared now, cause it’s starting.

But I’m armed with my little Sony H20 cam, bought on Ami’s advice, ready to document all the goods and all the bads that come along with the experience. 6 months in Syria, ey. Who’da thunk it.

breathes in deeply.

Come on, Sony, it’s just me and you now.


The Time Between

February 18, 2010

There’s a reason I don’t like modern (non-serious) music.

I always sum it up in the sentence, “It moves me too quickly.” People puzzle at that, generally. But it’s true. I don’t like how the simplicity and the brevity both have this control over me – this stirring emotional quality which is over in a few minutes’ time. It’s mean.

So there’s me, standing in the kitchen of my dad’s house, with a cup of tea in my hand – something which I’d longed after and so highly praised when in Germany – rummaging around in my jeans. I slide out the campus card from Heidelberg university and read the words “Ruprecht-Karls-UNIVERSITÄT HEIDELBERG” and “Service für Studierende“. That, coupled with the crappy music radio 1’s pumping out in the background (needless to say, je ne suis pas un fan de radio un (… French is awful)), moves me. I’m standing there, thumbing this plastic card, slightly bluened by its being in my jeans’ pocket, but only on the one side. STUDENTENWERK HEIDELBERG. Anstalt des öffentlichen Rechts. The genitive. The capitals. The German.

I turn it over, some green advert for some local concern. The Studentenwerk. In allen Mensen & Cafés des Studentenwerks. Frischste Zutaten. Eigene Herstellung. Biologischer Anbau. Regionale Produkte. Dative plural (+n), genitive (+s). Superlative, plural adjective. Feminine noun, masculine noun. Plural adjective.

I thumb this side for a bit too. Bluer around the edges. The strong German print on the right.

English voices on the radio.

So it’s the Time Between. I’ve finished in Germany. Heidelberg flew past like a blur. 6 months, 7, I sometimes counted in my head. August the 10th, last year. February the 14th, Valentine’s Day, this year. That sounds like a long time. August’s in the middle of the year. February’s the other side of celebration. But it flew. Just like they said it would, it flew. I had a different attitude to the entire experience after Xmas and NY. Obviously. I was returning to something I so enjoyed, conscious of the fact that I had barely more than 2 months to make the most of it. To speak German without end. To get rid of everything English-thinking and English-speaking. And I pushed myself and I was successful. Almost without exception.

Exceptions would probably be something like Sophia. And other English speaking friends. But I spent most of my non-Germaning (or alone-ing) time with her. She went to Straßburg briefly, the end of a weekend spilling into the beginning of the week. In that time, I spoke almost nothing but German. But I love it. I love it. I love it totally and through and through.

That’s actually not all that true. And this is the part where the blog falters from the spontaneous part of me running from the in-the-kitchen-with-a-cup-of-tea-thumbing-my-mensa-card, into all the fragments of blog I’ve had in my head since whenever I last wrote that entry about the bakery.

Orchestra. Auftakt, the orchestra I joined in Germany.

This is one of the very, very best things I did in Germany. Joining an orchestra, while at the very beginning made me hugely conscious of the fact that I had a sizeable gap in my vocab which was to be focal part of language for those rehearsal hours, has firstly annihilated that – I learnt some wicked words in orchestra (list incoming: abkanzeln, anmotzen, to name just two. Schund, Ramsch, Habseeligkeit, zierlich, Beuteschema, zimperlich, Pfütze, da liegt der Hase im Pfeffer, flink, poofen, lauschen, Nachruf, Nachhall, gammeln and abprahlen to name a few more) – secondly, met some amazing people and had a huge self-confidence boost, when they were honestly saddened at the last concert. They bought me a post card on which is a scene of Heidelberg and then cut out our encore (Zugabe, in German, which was (and this is the reason I opened the brackets in the first place…) that famous Shostakovich waltz that everyone knows *sings*) and stuck it onto the front. On the back, in Dagmar’s very beautiful hand writing was a note about how they’d really come to appreciate me being in the group and how I’d been fun. And the feeling was mutual. It really was – they’re a lovely bunch of people and they accepted me wonderfully, grammatical mistakes and all. With this card came one of the largest chocolate bars I’ve ever seen in my life, which was filled with crunchies and yoghurt. And – by the by – was scrumptuous.


But it’s all over.

Oh yeah – just remembered how I got on to orchestra.

We had a Probenwochenende (rehearsal weekend) one weekend, during which time, obviously, very little English was spoken. There is another native in the orchestra, an American oboist, with whom I did chat on occasion in English (sentences with weird word order are, strangely, not the fault of German, but of Henry James, being that I’m reading The Turn of the Screw at the minute, having unearthed it from my laptop bag while pretending to pack at the weekend). But. The whole thing was residential, so we all woke up, early Sunday morning, ready to go into yet more rehearsals. And it was early. I was being addressed – in German – very early on a Sunday morning. Normally, fine, not a problem, but that day, there was something different. I couldn’t get my brain to make the switch – to jump over ever-eroding barrier (imagery copyright of Sophia Stavrinides, 2010) between German and English. I was staring people in the face, as they were talking to me, understanding what they were saying (comprehension’s the first ability to gain and last to lose in any situation, I find), but just not being able to put sensical (interesting link to research on whether that is indeed a word) units of language together in some kind of interesting or vaguely appropriate fashion. And being instead and consequently, hugely uninteresting.

So I got back into Heidelberg the Sunday evening and I was craving native speech. My thinking was all over – I was half in one language, clawing at the precipices of my native language, struggling to save myself from an otherwise certain descent into some kind of language purgatory and surely the logically-following social vacuity (wow, that is a word?). I satisfied that, but found that I was making all kinds of connections between words I hadn’t previously thought connected in my head (like wirken and work – they don’t mean the same thing at all). But, as I found at other points during my stay in Heidelberg, a sleep solves everything.


This is currently my desktop background. (language help here)

While I’m on the language rant: there’s something I’ve noticed while being back. I’m going to try and keep this succinct and short, but here it is.

Firstly, there’s an overwhelming feeling I get whenever I’m about to address a stranger (in shops or people in service roles (people who check train tickets, women I’m booking doctor appointments with and all that) to speak to them in German. You train yourself (and/or get excited about it that you have) to expect that everyone that isn’t you or a face you know speaks German. Obviously. And when you get back in your home country, you don’t make equal and reverse efforts – it’s England, you know you’re safe there – but it means you end up having consciously to switch (I hate you, split infinitive) in your head. It’s like a double bluff.

Secondly, a lot of German filler words have nestled themselves in parts of my English speech. I find myself wanting to say “also” and “genau” in places when they’d make sense in German and for which there’s no real equivalent that’s used as often in English (the first one sorta means ‘so’ and the second means ‘exactly,’ but Germans say it a lot of the time when they mean ‘anyway’ or sometimes just ‘yes’). There are also areas of expression which I’ve struggled with in German, overcome and since filtered back in to English. An example is “transition phase.” For which I (quite inaccurately) used zwischendrin Phase in German. And I got to the point t’other day, where I wanted to say “the stage in-between” in English, but, having trained myself into a way of expressing that in German, the German came to me first and I ended up saying it (having briefly paused because I’d realised what was about to happen).

What else has happened? I bought a new camera.


Sarah Austin and I accidentally bought the same one, so I photographed hers.

This is turning into a procrastination and off-topic fest. So I’ll get something more serious going.

All in all, Germany was fantastic. I loved it. I remember Fay saying that when she was leaving France, she’d just got to the point where she’d started to develop some real friendships with the people around her and leaving then was worse because of it. I was the exact same. There are so many people who I’d just started friendships with, with whom something really worthwhile could’ve developed, had I been staying longer (Doris, Annika Konstantin to name but 3). And regarding language, I was at a point where yeh, sure, I’d come on leaps and bounds and my command of spoken German was far higher than it was when I arrived, but I could’ve been so, so much more amazing. It was a slow development, followed by a rash and rapid development and then a sudden drop, as I left.

What have I taken away from Germany with me?

Better German. Many, many good friends. The strongest and closest friendship I’ve ever had with anyone ever. Lots of Germans willing to correct things for me in 4th year as well as Germans to Skype just before oral exams and the like. The knowledge that I am definitely going back at some point in my life for more than 6 months (but should probably limit myself to less than 2 years, just for the sake of coming back – I can easily see myself getting stuck out there (happily stuck, of course) and not coming back). The ability to watch scary movies and not completely fall to pieces. A great, big smile.


Sure, parts could’ve gone better. But parts could’ve gone far worse. I could’ve lived tidier, I could’ve lived in more German. I could’ve befriended people. I could’ve not ignored people (wholly by accident) who had made so much effort with me. I could’ve put less stress on “finding someone.” I could’ve knitted less and worked more.

But I did learn how to say “should have done” and “would have done.” Even though that grammatical point was my one and only Achilles’ heel.


And what’s next? Syria.

3rd of March. London Heathrow. Terminal 1. 3.35pm. 5 hours, 10 minutes later, Damascus, Syria.

Two weeks yesterday. Visa applied for. Train tickets to London booked and arrived in the post.

Packed? Barely unpacked.

What adventures. They await.

Remember “etwas Leckeres”

January 15, 2010

Daniel walks into Göbes, a bakery round the corner from his house. He stands looking at the counter, having previously been greeted by pretty much ever member of staff in the place.

“Was darf’s sein?” (What can I get you?)

“Hmmm. Ich möchte ‘was Leckeres.” (Hmm. I’d like something yummy)

“Dann sind Sie bei uns richtig! Wie lecker soll’s sein?” (Then you’re in the right place! How yummy?)

laughing “Am leckersten.” (The yummiest)

“Hmm. Persönlich denk ich dieses ist heute sehr lecker. Davon kann ich Ihnen ne Scheibe geben, wenn Sie möchten?” (Hmm, I think this is very tasty today. I can give you a slice of that, if you’d like?)

“Dann nehm ich den. Auf Ihre Empfehlung!” (Ok, then I’ll take that. On your recommendation!)

“Ja! Es ist lecker. Aber nur wenn man sowas mag.” … “Ein Euro sechzig.” (Yep. It’s delicious. But only if you like that kind of thing … €1.60)

Daniel leaves.

Banter with women in bakeries. Good work. Turns out, it wasn’t that delicious. It’s a nice bakery though. And only just around the corner.

In other news: I’m in waiting-for-a-camera hell. That’s all.


December 15, 2009

I’ve started thinking about blogging in the following way: get inspiration, write blog immediately. Otherwise I just get ideas for stuff I want to write and it never gets written down.

I was just now comparing myself to Enrica (who was an Italian student who did Arabic with us in Durham last year) and how this one time, right at the beginning of her stay with us, she and I went for a sneaky coffee in Brown Sugar (neighbouring coffee house to lecture place). Firstly, that shows how open Brits are to new students (in complete Gegensatz to the Germans, who are not very accommodating of their class mates – I’ve only managed to get the number out of one of my classmates, a girl in my Japanese class. I’ve only really developed a talking relationship with one girl in my Arabic class too – the others just treat me with suspicion. I could be wrong. I probs am wrong). But anyway.

Then I was just thinking about how I had no in-road at all into speaking to her in her mother tongue. I had very, very little knowledge of Italian. Very little. Still have that amount. It’s shameful, but, in this situation, and for her, a bit of a blessing. She and I had to speak English; that’s all we had to hand. It’s perfect for her. Speaking English is much, much more expected in England than speaking German is here. But that’s just because I’d never realised what kind of a profile English had outside the English-speaking world. It really is everyone’s second language. To the point where I feel like I’m denying people practise, even though I’m speaking pretty good German at them.

This is another thing. I’ve not got much time left here now, what with having to move on and the like. And I was thinking: if I don’t come back to Germany, my German’s as good now as it’ll ever, ever be. Which is really sad. Not because my German’s shit. Au contraire. I feel really, really confident. Yesterday, for example, I spent pretty much the whole day in German and the English was limited to my head (except for a telephone call and a random meeting with friends). I love it when that happens.

But yeah. I’m good, sure; but I definitely could be better. Sometimes, still, people say words and I don’t know what they mean. I understand everything everyone says, but sometimes only by context. Not every every-day word has its own image for me yet. 6 months is not enough for someone like me in somewhere like this.

In other news, I’ve been writing a Referat I have to give on Friday (like a presentation) about language acquisition and cognitive development. The text’s in English – when she was doling out the texts, she asked whether anyone had a preference to do the English text and I, of course, sorta bagsied doing it. Shame, cause it’s so, so academically written. And I’m so painfully un-used to reading such texts. But anyway. The point is, I’ve been writing the presentation (slash translation of some parts) in(to) German and I just feel so much easier with written German. I’m so much more confident than I was with the written word, even though (despite Mcardle’s advice) I’m not coming into that much contact with the written word, than I ever did in England. I read out what I had to Torben earlier and, except for the odd noun-choice and one word-order (rookiefail) thing, the rest of it was fine. Quite fine. Fine, in the old sense of the word. Which made me proud.

Remember the Kitchen Window – stand here, feel wind, feel beautiful

December 10, 2009

I’ve taken to a lot of things since I’ve been here.

Among other things, it’s thinking a lot more of the little things. A theory Sophia and I named the ‘angora’ theory. Just.. Being all filmic about things. And letting the little things speak to you in a bigger way.

Another thing I’ve taken to is opening the kitchen window while the kettle’s boiling and sticking my head in the wind.

The window in the kitchen’s very much like a velux one – all slanty with the roof. So I can easily open it, and stand in the breeze. It’s so refreshing. Fresh air in the house.

I grabbed my camera at this point and tried to take a photo of what I was staring out onto on this grey, German  Thursday morning, but the battery died with that awful early 90s squeak my camera gives and the instruction, “Change battery pack.” on the screen.

But having been influenced just now (pre-tea) by Nina Paley’s most recently blog entry (writer of Sita Sings the Blues, which I saw in Clermont with Fay in France and who’s blog I’ve been skimming since), I decided I’d try and make the day of my flatmates.

I took a piece of paper and wrote on it, in English:

1. Stand here.
2. Feel wind.
3. Feel beautiful.

Sure, it’s shit and over-arty, but I like to think that it’ll have made someone’s day. I like it when I get like this.

Tea to be supped.

Remember Ingrim Strasse, being hideously behind and ‘qualified’

November 23, 2009

Ingrim Strasse is one of those tiny, tiny streets up at the east end of Altstadt. Up there, they all get a bit complicated and go in all manner of different directions. But there’s something better about Ingrim Str. compared to the rest.

It’s a pretty narrow and high street, quite like all of them down that end of town. The windows are high as well, but some of the window and house-faces are large open windows, not unlike shop windows

But the special thing about Ingrim Strasse occurs to me every Friday when I’m walking home from my 9am Language Acquisition lecture in the germanistisches Seminar. It’s such a strange street. You walk down it and, just because of human curiosity, you move your head from side to side. You look in windows, because they’re at your eye-level. This is the good bit.

Every window has something odd and different in it. It’s so… oddly exotic and fun. It’s such a traditional street, though. All the wooden furniture in the weird rooms beyond the exciting frames. You walk past that show with the huge office right there on the street – huge glass window – the name of the shop written in some odd script that you can only guess is something like Armenian, even though the ‘first’ letter looks a bit like an M…

Ingrim Str.’s just one of those places you can’t quite believe you’ve finished walking down when you get to the end. It’s the kind of street you just want to walk down again. And again.

I’ll take Polly there when she comes on Thursday (!).

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Remember Dead Set and dejection

November 8, 2009

Aminata, Cynthie and I watched a 5-part TV series that showed in 2008, Dead Set.

Considering  I’m the most squeamish wuss I know, I absolutely loved it. Sure, some scenes in it where some of the most horrific scenes I’ve ever seen (I’m not going to give anything away cause everyone should see it), but maybe I’m just poorly experienced.

Anyway. The point is: it was amazing. I hadn’t realised before that zombie-type fiction often had a social comment type message in it – Cynthie informed me of this. It was so, so good. I managed to vent it all out to Jenny, which means I’m not going to write all the bits I enjoyed or all the comparisons that spoke to me. I would like to mention that I was nearly crying at one point, but the fact that mass peril and destruction makes me cry is not a new thing (cue scenes of my crying at Children of Men).

Dejection: I did a search on Ravelry for groups with “Middle East,” “Syria” or “Damascus” in the name and it yielded no result (except ‘Middle East’ gave some ‘Peace in the Middle East’ type groups). Looks like I’ll be knitting alone in the Middle East. If indeed I go.

Remembrance Sunday. The two minutes’ silence are officially happening right now. So I’ll be sure not to speak.

Remember: butter-pretzels, Mannheim, Plöck, cello, orchestra, European winter Zara, other things and to blog more often

November 5, 2009

This is another blog-post with a to-do list. A to-do list so out of date, that half of it’s in one pen and the other half’s in another.

It was originally going to be a post about Plöck, a post about cello and then another, more recent post about things innumerate that have happened in-between. But it’s getting shoved all into one now. Like it or not.

So. Here goes.

Some bikes whistle, some bikes squeek. Some bikes crackle and some rustle. Some click, some clack. That’s what it is to walk down Plöck at any time of day. Bike-riding culture is something I knew I’d have to expect. I’d heard that HD had a huge bike-riding culture, because of it’s annoyingly medium size. But I hadn’t expected this extent, quite so much. I’ve taken to walking down Plöck more often than not now, just because I like being zoomed past by people and their noisy metal. It’s so interesting to hear all the different songs they sing.

Bikes. Who’da thunk I’d ever spend that many words on writing about bikes? Those of you who know me a bit more intimately may be interested to learn that I rode Sophia’s back on Akademiestr. recently. If that doesn’t say anything to you – then you’re not going to find out. Yet anyway.

Sophia. Speaking of, Sophia’s been the agent of a discovery I’ve made about learning language here. With her, like few others, language is important. She plays with words in a way I don’t quite expect and manages somehow to humour-shock me with the way she sets things up (even if she does have a pre-funny face (like a sex face, but a bit more serious)). She’s the one who’s made me realise how important it is to have contact in your own language. German’s great and all that, but being able to know a language as thoroughly as you know your own, as deeply and as laterally, is unsurpassable (WordPress seems to think I’ve made a mistake with that word, but dictionary.com’s telling me I’m safe… All of this kinda goes against my point a bit, worryingly).

Which leads me onto another thing I’ve noted about deepening my German. Firstly, Sarah Marks was right when she said that your acknowledgement of a mistake moves slowly back in time, relating to the mistake itself: you start, when you get here, by making a mistake and either not realising or realising a few minutes after; then it gets to a point where you say something, and you realise a second after, that you were wrong; then it moves over (I have the image of a clock-face in my head, where the center is the problem and a finger is slowly going forward in time – at this point, the finger’s pointing at 12), so that you think about the potential mistake as you’re making it, then the finger swings forward (backwards, respectively), so that you think about it just before you make it (and are able to correct it), then it moves even further back, where you can feel yourself wanting to use that construction and pre-empting the mistakes, words before you get to the crucials, then it becomes automatic. My example of this is the construction “… should have done…”, which, unlike most German verb constructions, does not parallel the English as neatly as you might expect. I’ve always wanted to say “sollte gemacht haben” (“[should] [have] [done]”), but they actually say “hätte machen sollen” (“[would have] [should] [do]”). I constructed it without mistake (and without realising at first) the other day, which made my life. (on this topic: Aminata told me that she thinks my German is fluent, because I don’t think about what I’m saying and it just comes out, which is true, but I don’t want to define fluent like that. It was nice to be told that and it’s always nice when people question your nationality or parents’ nationality/language when you tell them you’re not a native speaker).

Secondly, and onto the thing I actually started this paragraph meaning to tackle, is that I’ve noticed that German is slowly moving closer to having an emotional connection with each of its words’ meanings. That sounds poncey, but I used to note that saying something sensitive (like “I’m gay”) in German was a lot easier than it was in English and figured it was because I’d grown up with those English words and had them bandied around me everyday in school or whatever. So that they were my first point of contact with the concept. With German, however, I’m finding that I have to inject more emotion into what I hear and what I say, because it’s still a little cold to me. The words are still a bit distant and don’t lie in my heart with the perfect connotation or whatever. I realised this because I’ve picked up a lot of slang words recently, (including, krass, gell?, voll, richtig, abgefahren, halt and so on). Halt‘s the one that made me realise this. It roughly translates as “just” into English, in a normal sentence. So you’d say something like, es ist halt so for that’s just how it is. My brain, constantly on the look-out to understand German as its first priority, picks out the words “es,” “ist” and “so” and pieces together that the speaker is drawing a comparison, but the ‘halt,’ in that flat interpretation gets lost. So I find myself having to listen to those kinds of words, just to pick up exactly what kind of an angle the speaker is taking towards their subject matter, or similar. Now I come to write about it, it’s actually pretty difficult to describe, but I hope I’ve done it at least a smidge successfully and not just ranted for ages.

From here on: it is less boring.

I felt that was necessary. The previous paragraphs have been really, really cold and linguistic. Unintentionally subject-specific. So massive soz about that (not really).

I woke up very early this morning because I have Arabic with Dr. Hug at 8am (read it… 8am) on Thursdays. I stumbled upon a couple of ’10 questions for an interpreter’ type videos on YouTube and eventually onto courses/colleges (one in America) for interpreting and translation study. Or was it last night?.. Can’t remember. In any case, it’s given me a new impetus and realistic approach towards actually becoming what I want to be. I’ve slowly been getting more and more despondent about my skills in Arabic and my interpreting skill as whole and worrying about what I’m going to do after, but those few videos have really kicked my motivation core and made me really want to pursue a Masters in Interpreting. For that, I’ve also had to realise my different approaches to my two languages. I really want to be able to exist as a native in German, whereas I know that’s nowhere near possible for Arabic (at least at this stage) and being an interpreter (or even translator) requires only (I say ‘only’) a 100% comprehension of the source language, which is something I can work on in the next 6 months in the Middle East and again in my 4th year in Durham, then again at my MA institution, if I indeed a) get onto one or b) do that in the first place.

I do, however, desperately want to stay in Germany for the whole of my YA. Every single German word I say is like a drop of enjoyment into a big pot of self-confidence and I can’t bear leaving it. I don’t feel like my German’s good enough now nor will it be good enough by the end of the Wintersemester for me to leave, but giving up on Arabic is just such a huge waste and I actually do enjoy it, even though it’s hideously like learning Latin at the minute (almost purely grammatical and less like actual communicative medium).

Anyway, the whole Masters story made me motivated and gave me hundreds of ideas for what I could do after my degree is finished (now that that’s a nearing doom I have to reckon with).

While I’m roughly in the same area as Arabic, two things occured to me. One good, one bad. The bad: the teacher I have on Thursday mornings (Dr. Verena Hug) is fantastically clever (that’s not the bad thing), but writes about the very fine details of the ins and outs of deepest Arabic grammar using Latin characters. Which is very, very frustrating, especially because it means she has to end up using apostrophes going one way for hamza and the other for ع. The good: I’m really proud of myself for being able to follow such a deep and face-close analysis of the Arabic grammatical system, even when it’s entirely in German. Sure, when she asks us to render something into German, I struggle and flail a bit and the others do it so quickly and easily that I miss what they say (and therefore a segment of the teaching, if it doesn’t get repeated), but I’m able to follow a very great deal, without having to worry. Relaxing into comprehension is an amazing feeling.

(I want to write about good days and bad days with German here, but I fear I’ve written enough about language for one blog post, even though it is massively, massively over-due. So I’ll write it in brackets here, for me to remember later, when I’m old and grey as well as Arabic verb forms being vaguely similar to the changes of meanings of German verbs when they undergo transition into zer- or ver- or be-).

— Language bant has really stopped now. Honest. —

In other news, I got my hands on a cello last Friday, because I’m going to play with a quartet with some friends. Reached the whole situation completely by accident. She and I were talking about music and she said she thought she might start a quartet & that she has everything, but a cellist. I play cello! So I started looking for one (luckily, Sophie rents hers and I just had to ask for details). Funny thing is, the guy who the cello belongs to is a) a Geigenbauer (violin-maker) and b) in the orchestra I’m playing in (also reached pretty ‘randomly’) on Horn! Quel surprise et quel coincidence dans mon life. French. Standard.

That actually reaches the bottom of my list. Which is depressing, non? I’ll start one of those iconic, one-phrase-here’s-other-stuff-I-did lists and see what happens:

bought, stored and ate a considerable amount of chocolate, bought, but am yet to eat, a pomegranate, knitted the back of a cardigan for myself in some beautiful green Noro, taught Ami how to knit lace (she’s making a hat), bought a beautifully blue woolly jumper from Zara, which, by the way, is fantastic at the minute (they had some dreamy leather shoes which I didn’t get (boo)), successfully joined and integrated into Heidelberg University’s Lesbian and Gay society (called LSBT Karl-und-Ruprecht AK ( … lol)), bought an Arabic textbook for €50 on a whim, received £1,000 from Durham Grant which I’ve yet to put to good use, continued to forget to hand in/post forms for even more money from ERASMUS, dropped “Deutsch und Englisch im Kontrast” and “Sprache und Emotion”, wished I’d taken Czech instead of Japanese (now that it actually does fit into my timetable), struggled learning the first of 3 Japanese alphabets (one of them is a series of thousands of characters, akin to Chinese and therefore can’t be counted as an alphabet, but I’m on the waa-waa, so you’ll do as your told), tried to convince myself I need lots of Ökowolle from Wolle Rödel, when in fact I don’t; continually failed to find enough time to practise cello, knit, play computer games with housemates and read (must work on a way of doing all at the same time); had some delightful email contact with Jane Gannaway, have boxed up but am yet to send boxes with small presents in for two of my nearest and dearest, continued eating a pretzel a day and, in fact, have had two on some days (including today), dropped the habit of sleeping in, agreed to play in a horn quartet recital at a Church mass a week on Wednesday, bought new jeans (again, on a whim), (this should be up there with Zara, but…) bought a really interestingly-shaped brown cardigan/jumper thing with a big necky neck cowl/scarf thingy thing, needed a wee the entire time I’ve been writing this blog, …, got massive pins and needles in my left leg whilst writing this bloody thing, bought a pair of test contact lenses from an opticians, only later to realise that I needed a stronger prescription than the glasses I’m wearing; given a girl I barely know from Japanese class break-up advice, seen a woman breast-feeding her young child in my Japanese class (betcha glad you read all the way through this list now, arencha!), shaved surprisingly regularly, urmm.. that’s like it. *bored*

Remember bright rain drops on Akademiestraße?

October 12, 2009


It’s raining.

And rain does funny things to me.

I love this kind of rain the most. It’s unashamedly heavy and real. Not like the pathetic drizzle you have to learn to appreciate in England. No no. Much better.

I’ve just sat with my window wide open and my head out, smelling the rain and getting my fringe wet. I noticed down on the street that a lamp which hangs across is collecting drops on its brim and then they fall, all the while illuminated by the street light. Quite the scene. I’m glad my camera managed to capture it; I really didn’t think it would.

I always want to go outside in rain like this. Just change into some oldish clothes and go for a walk somewhere and get completely drenched. To the point where it just doesn’t matter any more and there’s nothing you can do about it. Where you just end up embracing how wet everything is and enjoying the smell. The smell’s the best bit for definite.

Then those thoughts lead me on two ways. Firstly to the most recent memory of rain akin to this, which was in college in first year. When Sarah and I watched the final of The Apprentice, then went for a walk in the rain and up over the golf course, saw Grey fireworks and had to make a romantix out of it. It was really liberating. Sarah also laid down in a puddle. Which is all about the getting drenched thing.

Secondly to a time ages ago when I was a child. Jonathan, Jamie and I were at Jonathan’s great aunt’s house, Connie, and it started raining something awful. Her house had a massive, massive blue gate, which lead into a sort of courtyard to the left of her house. We came in after it had started raining, but I remember really wanting to go outside. I remember asking my mum whether she’d let us and, eventually, she did. So out we went. And we got soaked! It was fantastic. Being in that leafy, English garden, back then, with all the rain coming down. Makes you wonder how much your life changes in all that time.

Then I got thinking, maybe I should go out into the rain. I’m on my year abroad, after all, and things like that are dozen-a-penny on years abroad (year abroads). Then I thought, “What if I don’t come back? What if I just go and get lost out in the world? Out in the stars, out in Asia?” And got all fanciful and dreamy. I day-dreamed back-backing to India, with a cardboard sign that just reads ‘EAST’ in big black marker pen. In my coat, with my cards as a back-up, for when I finally want to buy my ticket home. Armed with only those as a lifeline. No mobile phone, no baggage. Just all the money in my account and my lifeline. And a hitch-hiking knowledge. Lordy. Imagine. I’d love to do that. But I’m just not ballsy enough. I’d just rather stick at home and worry about going to the Middle East and worrying about whether I’m speaking enough German every day to make my degree worth it in the long run. I pictured me on a dust road in Turkey, though. Definitely did that.

Today’s the first time that all 5 of us in the WG have been home at the same time. And tonight, in this rain, is the first time we’ve been altogether here – no-one thinking of jetting off tomorrow. But that’s because tomorrow is the beginning of lecture time for Heidelberg university. Fabian baked a cake for some friends and brought remains home. I’ve had two slices already. It has almonds on it and a vanilla cream layer in the middle and it’s yumatum. I ate it from an orange saucer.

There are multiple small ‘remember x?’ things I’ve thought I wanted to remember in the past day, but none of them have stuck with me. I haven’t remembered any of them. Which sucks. I’m just writing this now so as to stop me going outside and never coming back, with only my MasterCard as company.

It was my birthday yesterday. I reached a record high of facebook happy-birthday wishes (over last year’s 50 – not sure of this year’s exact date). Yes, that is how I measure how good my birthday is. I spent the day breakfasting with Aminata and Torben, being surprised by Sophia at home, meeting Sophie for a quick run around town before going to knitting (where Krokodil was hideously full and had screaming children in). Then I went home and met up with Marwood and Emir and Sarah and Nan for a wander around town, eating at ExtraBlatt (second time on my birthday) and then bumming around. I was pretty knackered from Friday night, when we ate at Pizza Hut then saw a fight on Untere Straße, before settling down in a (very, very smokey) bar for a drink (Sarah bought me a delicious pineapple cocktail), then meeting two randoms in the street (Marwood and I chatted to them and thereby lost the rest of the group), then went home. Not with the randoms, I hasten to add. Although one was quite a looker.

Today, I went to see Sophie in her home in Weinheim for lolz and knitz. Which was lovely as ever. We saw ‘ The Dom’ in the place we ate for lunch. A suited, very short chap, with a huge ‘squared-off afro’ (Sophie’s words). Quite the find, she reassured me. I fancied a massive, dirty take-away on the tram home, but managed to be sated by birthday chocolate and Fabian-baked cake on returning.

Then I was to be sighted on Akademiestrasse later this evening carrying an envelope, a shiny-silver bag of Tesco tea, a blue packet of posh Earl Grey and a large white/orange teapot, with elephants on it. At like 11pm at night. I did walk past a couple, who did laugh. Whether at me or not – we’ll never know.

There will be no list here.

Remember cornered beef?

October 9, 2009

Yeah, pictures are looking a bit sparse at the minute, right? Oh well. Deal with it. (I edited in this picture; it’s a close up of Banham’s socks).

So. I don’t want to be one of those annoying vegetarians who’s like, “UH-MY-GAWDDD LOOK HOW BLAH BLAH BLAH”, but I ate meat accidentally yesterday. And it was awful.

I went to Ana’s (she’s a Bosnian girl) birthday shindig last evening (is it me, or does everyone have their birthday in October? *points at self*). She’d cooked some pizzas, three types. I was trying to figure out what was what and also trying to avoid getting into the group’s spotlight by being like, “HELLO, I’M BRITISH. I DON’T DRINK. I DON’T MEAT.” But then a slice was thrust onto my ‘plate’ (it was Winnie the Pooh (!)). I saw a mushroom and thought, “A-ok.” Bit in and there was this.. texture. Lordy, I’m retching just thinking about it. Anyway, this horrible, horrible texture in my mouth.. And that taste, that taste I remember from all those years ago. It was horrible. I chewed and chewed and tried slowly to digest it and to move towards the table to exchange my slice. I managed to give the slice to Ana and mention the word vegetarian to her and she exchanged. But I had to swallow it. Lordy.. Retching or what. I managed to suppress all the retchings at the time, but now I come to write about it, it’s horrible. My word.

And yes, if you want to know: my body is reacting. And I don’t like it. My stomach hurts. (Again, please don’t take me for one of those “OMGGGGGG” vegetarians please k).

Yesterday was a big first too. A big first, in that I spent almost the entire day speaking German. I only spoke English on the phone with my dad for a few minutes, occasionally on the phone to Marwood, maybe a quick Skype with Fay. No full-length conversations in English – but at all. And a helluva lot of German. Aminata and I went on a small wool excursion, walking from our house up through Neuenheim and into Handschuhsheim. The woman in that wool shop in HSHeim is really really nice.. She’s really chatty and friendly (unlike those in Wolle Rödel… Hmph) and offered me a student discount on a large amount of wool that I was poking. She also has the perfect colours(!) for Kate’s Pikachu Jumper in there! So I can definitely go and get that thing sorted. The red and the yellow are just so perfect against each other. Looking forward to that. She had the perfect, perfect blue for my jumper and a grey to match, but the blue that she had was the last ball she had of a discontinued colour. It’s so annoying. That kind of thing happens in the wool industry far too often. They just change colour lines. She showed me another line of wool (different texture), which had a nice blue and a beautiful grey and a yellow too, but I just didn’t like the blue enough to buy the thing there and then. I may well go up and have another poke around today. Speaking of.. I should remember to ask whether she accepts credit card or not. Etc.

Anway! I was chatting about language then got all tangential. Yeah. So Aminata and I went up north in search of wool and had yums together in a little eatery round the corner. Then we came back and I milled around at home. She came back and we had a bit more wool bant, then Torben came back and we all went to the local super-market together to get some essentials. I had to borrow a 2€ coin from Torben, cause I’m well poor. Bloody transfers. Why can’t it be immediate? Anyway. We all three of us mocked Ami’s pronunciation of the words Kirche and Kirsche, because, for some reason, she can’t quite say ‘rch’ properly. Anyway. That was fun. Afterwards, we started talking about words that get borrowed from English or something and Torben mentioned that the Tschermans (lol) used to say “corn-ed” for “corned” as in, corned beef. Which sounds like ‘cornered.’ I broke out in extreme giggles, because the imagery of cornering a beef was just too much. They loved it too. That was fun. Fabian drank apple juice out of a bowl, too. That was fun. That was some yummy apple juice, even if I couldn’t open it and had to go back to the shop and ask the woman (this was a veg shop, so she was a bit of a beefy) to open it for me. I told her she was mächtig, she agreed. I felt thoroughly emasculated.

What else has happened? Probs nothing. I’ll start writing the big list, cause that gets me remembering things:

knitted one of the green mits for Emir (an asked-for production), got asked to knit a little laptop cover for Ana for her birthday (which reminds me, I should ask Kerstin how she did hers, cause hers is loooovely!), got gradually nearer and nearer my birthday (tomorrow…), got invited to play online games with Aminata and her Japanese friends (German-speaking banter and putting my amazing computer to good use once again, having stopped playing games..), got the heating in my house fixed, but still haven’t got the blind sorted, continually managed to avoid going to IKEA, rediscovered Elgar’s cello concerto, saved Aminata from multiple knitting catastrophes (affectionately named “knit-mergencies”), flicked through a magazine that came for Janni, watched the STEFANEL catwalk video and loved lots of the stuff (stefanel.it), realised how camp liking fashion is, struggled further with homosexuality, ran entirely out of money and asked a woman in Penny Markt which of my cards would work at the checkout, only to be told in pointy and grunty German that only my German card would, failed to arrange anything concrete for my birthday other than knitting, failed to find/send anything to Jono; OH YEH, met two cool knitting girls on a train on the way to Würzburg last week and meant to blog about it – that’ll do though; spooned with Sophia and later had her stay at my house – bed-sharing yum, failed to buy extra sheets/towels, managed to find some replacement face wash, managed to sort out my timetable for lectures and stuff here and put it into some kind of order, but I’m probably taking too many courses (this will probably be detailed in quite some detail in days/weeks to come), realised I should blog more often, enjoyed writing these huge, huge lists of stuff I’ve done way too much.

Finished writing this entry.