11/22/10

A good book brought me back to

Original image source http://sxc.hu • photographer
Ryan Aréstegui
A good book brought me back to the English language. When I started my university studies, what with the Political Science and French and Spanish lessons, I let go of twelve years of learning, reading but the odd book in English (about political philosophy and similar, rather dull topics), watching only occasionally a British underground movie in its original version. But my good friend Franck brought me back to my first love, so to say. After we had met, he lent me a novel that would change my reading habits.

At that time, I was rather attracted by South American literature. Those were the years when Gabriel Garcia Marquez became world-famous; when Isabel Allende published her 'Casa de los espíritus'; when I discovered Carlos Fuentes, Jorge Luis Borges, and many others. Then, I had my coming-out, I met Franck, and he insisted I read 'The Lost Language of Cranes' by David Leavitt.
A literary revelation, for me, and in more than one sense. First, I discovered there was that thing people now call 'gay literature'. All I had stumbled upon so far were cautious, discreet hints and suggestions in German literary highlights dating back to the early 20th century like 'The Confusions of Young Törless' or 'Death In Venise'. Leavitt's novel opened a whole new area to me. I discovered there were books and stories that not only spoke directly to me but more or less about me, about a very important part of who and what I was.
I became a fan of the 'Men On Men' series, almost yearly compilations of gay short stories. I read all the rest of Leavitt's literary production. I read Armistead Maupin's six 'Tales of the City'. More than once, I have to admit; books had already become like my best friends. I've read 'The Lord of the Rings' at least ten times; the same is true for the 'Narnia' books, B.E. Ellis' 'Glamorama', Felice Picano's 'Like People in History', the three hilarious Joe Keenan-novels and Edmund White's 'Farewell Symphony'.
Anyway. Back to Leavitt. Besides being the first openly gay novel I read, this book was very well written, the language young and direct yet with real literary merits. I discovered that the contemporary literary production in English was rich and interesting and worth being looked into. I discovered at the same time how much I loved the English language, so simple and straightforward on the surface, but containing so many layers and hues and meanings.
It's a real love that hasn't left me ever since. I've read so many English and American books that it seems to me as natural as reading something in German, which is after all my mother tongue. This is a sensation I've never succeeded in feeling with works written in French, although I speak it fluently and without a trace of an accent, people say. Why, I even dream in French most of the time. My colleagues ask me when they have a doubt about French grammar or spelling. I love the French language. I've written my other novel first in German, then in French.
So, yes, it would be natural, logical for me to write in French or German. Yet, I write in English. And, to be honest, I don't know why. I really don't. When I suddenly had the idea to write and publish something new, something speaking of me and my present and past, the first sentences formed in my mind, as if by magic, in English. You remember? Episode 1, 'this morning while riding the Paris métro…' These were the first words that my brain spat out, and they were in English.
And I'm very glad about that. I have noticed that I can share my writing with much more people. I have realized that I can maintain the necessary, essential distance to the main object of my novel – me – precisely because I have to really look twice at how I want to say things. I have to structure my thoughts. I have to chisel my sentences. I have to search for the right words. And I love it.
So, Heddi and all you others who read me, I hope I have answered some of your questions. If no, please accept my apologies. I can't do better, I'm afraid.

11/21/10

‘Hi Dieter, one thing that’s missing from

Original image source http://sxc.hu • photographer
Ryan Aréstegui
Hi Dieter, one thing that’s missing from your profile is how in the world you manage to write in such amazing English! It just blows my mind (and I know what I’m talking about not only because I’m a native-English speaker but also because I’m an English teacher!). Tell us your secret! Also, why did you choose to write a blog in English and not in French or German? Apparently German is the second most used language on the internet.

This is what I discovered, amazed and flattered and hrm, rather embarrassed, this morning underneath the conclusion of my Etampes-tale. My friend Heddi from New Zealand asking these questions. Of course, it’s not her questions that make my cheeks turn a crimson shade, but her extremely nice compliments. I’m not used to that; I haven’t blushed for, oh my, I don’t even remember how long!
Well, for a starter, to explain my ‘amazing English’ (it really makes me uneasy to repeat Heddi’s phrasing), I will have to go far back to my school years. It will be a long, long explanation, I reckon. It’ll need more than the few sentences I could use to beef up my profile text, see. I’m not even sure I can cram it all into one single episode. You’ll have to be patient, Heddi. First part today, second part tomorrow, if it’s alright with you.
I don’t have any secret. There, it is said. Most of the time, I use such handy devices as ‘Google translation’ when I’m looking desperately for a word that won’t pop up in my mind otherwise. There’s an online ‘Conjugator’ where I check if ‘lay’ really is the past tense of ‘lie’, for instance. Another useful online help is the synonym-dictionary I stumbled upon. I didn’t know that German was the second most used language on the internet, by the way, to start with something simple. Can it be true? I would have guessed Spanish. I wanted to learn Russian, you know, when I started my university studies. But a conscious look on a world map made me change my mind. I counted the Spanish-speaking countries and decided that Spanish would be so much more useful. I enjoyed my Spanish lessons. And never used my knowledge, my Spanish vocabulary being buried under tons of other, much less interesting stuff since I’ve started to work as a graphic designer. All I managed to do was to make my Spanish friend C. laugh out loud each time I said a thing in Spanish. ‘It’s so weird,’ he’d always giggle, ‘to listen to a tío austríaco pronounce Spanish words without an accent!’
Anyway. I really don’t have any secret. I’ve never thought my writing to be so amazing, either. It just comes from my heart, is typed hurriedly on an empty word processor page, corrected and checked and double-checked (with several mistakes slipping through the double-check, alas) and then published.
Maybe I should thank the Austrian National Education? I’ve started to study the English language at the age of six. I remember us kids sitting in a circle, each one holding a card with an English name the teacher had distributed. We had to say simple sentences like ‘My name is David’ (this was my name because the teacher hadn’t found a proper English first name into which Dieter could be transformed) or ‘How do you do?’ or ‘My mother is in the kitchen.’ Funny, isn’t it, that our real-life mothers have fought to bring about a change of attitudes towards women, and quite successfully so, but that in almost all foreign language teaching, the mother will still be in the kitchen, and the father come home from work.
Drifting off course, boy; concentrate. So, from the age of six to eighteen, I had English lessons. Only the last years were spoiled by the writing of dull essays on Pinter plays or lengthy discussions of Caulfield’s character in ‘The Catcher In the Rye’ or the weighing of arguments on topics like alcoholism, environment, drug abuse. During the first years, it was playful learning. We were asked to invent stories. I remember that Scottish assistant teacher we had one year. Our main English teacher asked us to form small groups and to invent the assistant’s life-story. Many a haunted castle was thrown into those tales; kilt-wearing, fierce-looking bearded men braving the howling winds of the Highlands to pay a farewell-visit to the ‘gal who’s sent abroad’. Single-malt flew in streams throughout the stories. My group, I recall, invented a mystery pregnancy because our assistant teacher was a heavy-set, radiant girl. Except that she wasn’t pregnant; imagine the stony silence setting in on an innocent class when we had read out loud our invention. Fortunately, the assistant teacher had a healthy sense of humour, she laughed away our teacher’s deep confusion and said with her strange accent, ‘It’s not with your Austrian sausages and Knödel that I will lose weight, I guess. As for my pregnancy,’ there she winked at us, ‘well, it’s not done yet. That’ll come maybe. I’ve seen more than one handsome Austrian guy since I’ve arrived…’