Dum spiro, spero

Way back when I, at the tender age of 12, was choosing subjects that would decide what I was going to be when I grew up, I could have opted to take Latin. Instead I went for French. There are few things I regret in life, but if I had to dredge the memory bank for just one, that would be it. I should have taken Latin.

A good friend of mine, the inimitable BA, who lives down by the Balaton, is fond of quoting in Latin. I particularly like his prayer before drinking:

Ex humore merum cui fecit diva potestas
Christe, refecturis humilibus benedic

Christ, for whom divine power made wine from water,
bless the humble ones about to turn some back

I have a love/hate relationship with the language – I hate the fact that I feel so stupid when I don’t understand what’s being said and yet I love when I discover the meaning. His latest contribution to my ever-expanding Latin vocabulary was dum spiro, spero – where there’s life, there’s hope.

latinI’ve been flitting around the idea of learning the language, but then remind myself that  I might be better served learning Hungarian. Yet there is a host of free resources available online and I could learn from the comfort of my own flat, at a time I chose. Learning Hungarian would be of more use, though, and my brain power is limited.

[I was surprised to see that a couple of the Harry Potter books have been translated into Latin, as has Rebilius Crusoe (Robinson Crusoe). Who’d have thought it? ]

latin2But there are dangers in taking up Latin – especially for someone who has been known to make the occasional (ahem) incorrect assumption. Apparently, in Latin, one word can have many meanings, which gives rise to many idiomatic phrases. Translating individual words from Hungarian usually adds up to a semi-coherent message in English (not the other way around, though). But not so in Latin. The dangers of making false assumptions about a word’s meaning, or, worse still, seeing it as a single word and not part of a phrase, can wreak all sorts of havoc. Take the phrase hominem e medio tollere – to kill a person. My painstaking effort to translate resulted in ‘to remove a man from the middle’.

I’m tempted to replace my usual greeting of ‘What’s up?’ to ‘quid agis?’ Sounds classier, no? And what about these for conversational accessories?

  • docendo disco, scribendo cogito (I learn by teaching, think by writing)
  • in omnia paratus (ready for anything)
  • memento vivere (remember to live)
  • de gustibus non est disputandum (in matters of taste, there can be no disputes)

Mind you, Latin does have a certain pretentiousness about it, which lends itself beautifully to those (meí?) wanting to sound more intelligent than they actually are. Cue the phenomenon of dog Latin – dropping any vowels from the end of an English word and adding  -us, -icus, or -ium. Remember The Vicar of Dibley, and the Horton family motto Veni, vidi, brutus spearium gloriosus, which is Dog Latin for (in David Horton’s words) ‘I came, I saw, I tore the thick bastard limb from limb.’

The Art of Manliness has a great blog post on Latin, if you’re interested in reading more.


2013 Grateful 46

‘I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world’ – Socrates

I get to cross yet another ‘thing to do in Budapest’ off my list this week – attend a citizenship ceremony.  My good friend, who shall from now on be known as MGJ, took the oath and is now officially a Hungarian citizen. Along with eight others, (one Austrian, one Szerb, and six Romanians/Transylvanians), and presided over by the district Mayor, MGJ was given the keys to EU kingdom with Hungary as a portal.

It reminded me of the day I became a card-carrying American. There were 80 or so in the room and, to my shame, I was the only one doing it to get out of the country rather than to stay there! I had won a Green Card in a lottery some five years before, under the terms of which I couldn’t leave the States for longer than 364 days at a time. And this bothered me. Not that I had anywhere to go for longer than 364 days, but that I simply wasn’t allowed to.

Once I’d clarified that I would NOT have to give up my Irish citizenship, I decided to take the plunge. There are very fews times in my life that I look back on with shame. I’ve long since realised that the key to an easy conscience is not to screw up in the first place, so I have few regrets. But this ranks up there.

US flagIt’s not that I’m ashamed to have a US passport – far from it. Uncle Sam and his family have been extremely good to me; I have second homes in many states where I know I will always be welcome. I enjoy the country, its accents, its idiosyncracies.  I even like country music, jalepeno poppers, and digging for clams on the Kenai. On my list of things to do before I die (which I intend crossing off this summer) is to sip a mint julep while a swingin’ on a porch in the South. I also want to stick my feet in  the Rio Grande and go to a real, live, rodeo. But those might have to wait.

Back to my swearing-in. An old Korean woman in her 90s with what seemed like a string of 90 relatives cried with happiness when she took the oath. Some young Asian families announced their new easier-to-pronounce American names with pride. Everyone but me had an army of well wishers; and everyone but me saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime.

citizenshipI can’t change the fact that, at the time, it didn’t matter to me.  As I watched it all from the fringes of fervour, I mentally chastised myself for treating such an important occasion with what bordered on disdain. What had come so easily to me, others had had to work hard for. What I was treating as yet another piece of identification, others saw as the Holy Grail. I was ashamed of the fact that I had failed to recognise the true meaning of taking another country as one’s own. Although I was there, in body, I missed out on the whole ‘welcome to the brave new world’ experience – and looked on those celebrating with some degree of pity. How arrogant of me. In my smug Irishness, I failed to recognise that not everyone has had it as good as I have had it. Not every country has made its people proud enough for them to want to remain citizens.  And not everyone has had the same chances, opportunities, and good fortune.

I was humbled then and I am humbled now. Citizenship is a big deal, bigger for some than for others, admittedly. But it’s not something to be taken for granted or treated lightly. I’m glad that I was there to see MGJ take that step.

At the end of what’s been a good week for me, I’m grateful that I’ve been reminded not to take for granted those things that make me proud to be Irish. I’m grateful, too, that I’ve been reminded of all I’ve gained since Uncle Sam gave me the key to his front door. To my American friends – at home and abroad – ta much for the experience. And to my Irish friends for keeping me grounded – go raibh mile maith agaibh.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out Grateful 52

Grateful 33

I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move. So said Robert Louis Stevenson light years ago and methinks the man has a point. I like to drive. My hand is first up when volunteers are sought to drive from A to B. I have fond memories of driving over 300 miles to play 36 holes of golf while living in Valdez, Alaska. When I’m in Ireland and have access to a car, I’d happily spend the time chauffeuring just about anyone. No reason necessary. I had high ambitions as a teen to be a long-distance trucker and crossing the States on Route 66 is on my bucket list.

I like to travel by train.  I can get up, move around, choose whether or not to engage in conversation. Looking out the window is like watching a giant movie screen – no better example of life imitating art. I like to travel by plane, too, and would like it even more if it wasn’t for the baggage-related angst and the heightened sense of loneliness that occasionaly hits when it seems that everyone else is being met off the plane but me.

I wonder though, if the best bit about travel is coming home. Putting my key in the front door. Dumping my bags. Hoping the fridge fairy has been to stock up. Checking on my girls and being glad that they’re all still alive. Making a cuppa. And looking forward to getting between the sheets of my bed.

This week, as so many people the world over face another night on a cardboard mattress wondering when and if they’ll see another cup of coffee,  I give silent and fervent thanks for having some place to come home to. I realise that home is a state of mind  and that part of me still qualifies Ireland as ‘home home’… yet this is serious: I’m actually thinking of a Hungarian Christmas tree this year (and it’s only May!)

(Note: to read the concept behind the Grateful Series – check out Grateful 52)

Mistaken identity

There are days when I wake up and wonder who I am. What I’m doing here. It usually takes just a couple of seconds for my life to come flooding back and for that sense of contentment that I’m enjoying lately to flood through my veins. On good days, when everything is going to plan (even though I didn’t have a plan to begin with), life is better than good – it’s great. And on days like these, I don’t have an identity crisis. I know my name, where I live, and although still not too clear on my purpose in life, I know who I am.
So when I get an email that starts off with:
Jo napot, Jiang Yi vagyok Yuan, a befektetesi menedzser dolgozik egy neves bank Hong Kongban. en vagyok a kapcsolatot, az uzleti tranzakciok tekinteteben azt akarjak vegrehajtani, azt illetoen, hogy egy alvo szamla, amely osszege tizenegy millio otszazezer dollar tartozo nehai ugyfelnek. Meg kell felelniuk a meglevo ultimatumot a bank, hogy egy csaladtagja, es minden olyan erofeszitest, hogy keresse meg a mar bizonyitott sikerrel. Szeretnem bemutatni onnek, mint a tъlelo csaladtag lehetove teszi hogy egy allitas, hogy az alapok. Kerjuk szives jelezze erdeklodeset tovabbi informacioert azaltal, hogy valaszol az en privat e-mail cim: [email protected] Koszonom, Jiang Yuan Yi
… I start to wonder. I know one person in Hong Kong and it’s not Jiang Yuan Li. I am wary of anything that has to do with banks or business transactions with strangers and I detest ultimatums. But I know I’m not Hungarian and I know that my Hungarian isn’t up to a correct translation. So I read on. And, as if sensing that I might be confused about my identity, Jiang Yuan Yi tries out my German.
Hallo,Ich bin Jiang Yi Yuan, Investment Manager, die fuer eine seriose Bank in Hong Kong. Ich kontaktiere Sie in Bezug auf Geschaeftsgang Ich mochte, dass wir ausfuehren, ist es in Bezug auf ein ruhendes Konto, die elf Millionen, fuenfhunderttausend Dollar Zugehorigkeit zu meinem verstorbenen Kunden Mengen. Ich habe eine bestehende Ultimatum von der Bank treffen, um ein Mitglied seiner Familie und allen Bemuehungen zum Auffinden jeder bewaehrt hat erfolglos sind. Ich mochte Ihnen als ueberlebende Familienmitglied praesentieren, damit Sie stellen einen Anspruch auf die Mittel. Wir bitten Sie zeigen Ihr Interesse fuer weitere Informationen durch die Reaktion auf meine private E-Mail-Adresse: [email protected] Danke, Jiang Yi Yuan
No better. However much Hungarian I might have gleaned over the last few years, my German could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Yet for whatever reason, Jiang Yi Yuan seems to think that if I am not Hungarian, I might be German  – why else would I be living in Hungary. This is where it gets interesting – this email was sent to an old UK hotmail account. And just in case I wasn’t German, my new friend Jiang Yi Yuan decided to be sure that I’d get the message.
Good Day, I am Jiang Yi Yuan, an Investment Manager working for a reputable Bank in Hong Kong. I am contacting you with regards to business transaction I want us to execute, it is in respect to a dormant account which amounts to Eleven Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars belonging to my late client.
I have to meet an existing ultimatum from the Bank to provide a member of his family and all efforts to locate any has been proven unsuccessful. I want to present you as a surviving family member to enable you put a claim to the funds. Please kindly indicate your interest for more information by responding to my private email address: [email protected] Thank you, Jiang Yi Yuan
I’ve had lots of these but never one in three languages. Does anyone ever really fall for them? Are there people in the world who would actually believe Jiang Yi Yuan? Thank God I know who I am – and that I am in no danger of mistaking myself for a gullible, senseless, trilingual cretin who fails to notice that it’s not possible to be reputable while at the same time asking complete strangers to impersonate a relative of a dead man. What is the world coming to eh?

Coincidence or progress?

I don’t get many callers. Hardly ever has anyone passed by my flat and just decided to call in because they were in the neighbourhood. This isn’t Ireland. People generally phone ahead to see if I will be home and to gauge my mood before venturing forth. Last week, I had a delivery and the chap was complaining that my buzzer wasn’t working (or at least that’s what I thought he said). Yesterday, I was expecting a visitor. I checked my intercom and it was dead to the world. So I did something I usually don’t do unless in dire emergency – and this hardly qualified: I picked up the phone and called the Management Company.

Deep breath. They answered. I asked, hopefully, in Hungarian, if they spoke English. Nem! And a very loud NEM at that. Usually at this stage, I’d hang up and then call one of my Hungarian-speaking mates to do the work for me. But this time, I perservered. In very halting Hungarian, I told her who I was, where I was living, and why I was calling. I had to be a little creative about the doorbell and the telephone as I couldn’t remember the word for intercom.I hung up hoping I wouldn’t get back from the Clinic to find my front door painted a bright shade of purple.

Three hours later, I came back. And my intercom was working. Coincidence or progress? I know which one I’m going for 🙂