In 2009, my parents visited us here in Vancouver. Somewhat unexpectedly I realized an issue that had bothered Yohanan, my dad, for years. In one of our morning walks he mentioned the advantage we’d had over him. Being Israeli born to immigrant parents, he always felt that his exposure to language was compromised. He expressed awareness to the fact that we, his children, grew up in a Hebrew speaking household. That confession provoked layers of thought in me. I could sense the frustration in him, the envy as well as appreciation and respect. We are sometimes blind to the complex reality we live in until the person with us shares their own. My drive to improve and distil my own process of expression and writing is already established. However, my skills are deemed futile without an audience.
As I am writing these words, the irony in my dad’s state of mind has not escaped me. I have never considered his level of expression as missing much. But our chat in which he managed to express his awareness to that perceived fault, keeps me alert in my encounters with other people. From those I appreciate the level of expression as superior to mine I try to learn. With the ones whose level might be lower I try to be careful, on the one hand with patience and on the other - support; being patient in listening and supportive of the effort to try.
This memory came back to me as the thirty days from my dad's passing away (on 21 November 2015) approached. I was just about to complete a piece of commentary following a few days of commuting on bus to work. The link between the opening above and my commentary seems natural to me if not immediately obvious.
Bus Ride Reading (Ignorance is bliss)
What do we occupy ourselves with? I am reading a book, named ‘Non-required Reading’ (initially introduced to me in Hebrew as ‘Optional Reading’). One day I might remember its author’s name and manage to pronounce it. The question above rolls in my head as I am reading and beyond. I wonder what it is that attracts me to it and what turns me off.
Later I read snippets of information about Wislawa Szymborska. This quick exploration throws me back to the first ‘Campers’ I have purchased.
In the streets of Milan, 1999, I passed by a window where a pair of shoes made me stop. It was as if I found something I had been looking for my whole life. They were beautiful in an almost unnoticeable way. And yet they were waiting for me. When I tried them on, their comfort was only surprising in light of past experiences, where what looks comfortable turns out to be less so or even not at all.
Szymborska’s writing, translated into English, feels familiar yet still foreign. Maybe because of the translation, maybe due to its syntax. She “sounds” a bit like a new comer from Russia who’s already been away from homeland for many years. The language is fluent and flawless with a screech here and there in its music. When I speak English, occasionally my vocabulary fails me. I invent expressions that explain my ideas in combinations that are new to my listeners. From the reader’s point of view, my impression of Szymborska’s language is probably similar to that of my audience, in the place where I am. From where I am, I re-connect with Wislawa.
When I returned from Italy to Israel with my new Campers, I realized that they had been a hot Spanish brand in the European fashion world including that of Israel. I was wondering how I would have treated the shoes had I known about that in advance. Not that I am worried about being dressed in a brand name. I am simply averse to buying a brand name just because of it. Oded, my friend who introduced ‘optional reading’ to me, read one of the book’s pieces in Hebrew. He had spared me the irrelevant knowledge of Scymborska’s being a Nobel prize for literature winner. Still, when I considered buying the book I asked myself whether I was buying it just because of my meeting with Oded or thanks truly to the strength of the book’s text.
Wislawa, who died at 89 in 2012, was a well known Polish poet. She was asked once how come she hadn’t published more poems. Her response draws me back to her “non-required” essays: “My room already has a recycling bin.”