Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Goethe memories

The readings at the Goethe Institut were relaxed and great fun. As each author read from their books--limited to five minutes--I found myself immersed in different and exciting worlds I wouldn't have encountered ever in my life. In the space of an hour, I was transported from a park somewhere near Providence Rhode Island by Gary Zebrun in his mystery novel Someone You Know to a gondola in Venice by Colm Toibin in The Master. As I listened, I thought to myself that perhaps bookstore readings would be more enriching for an audience if two or three authors appeared together and read short sections from their works. Of course, I realize that's not going to happen anytime soon, given the logistics involved and that fact that the store's objective is to sell books.

One thing I love about the Goethe Institut--and I think this is perhaps an exclusively German language school concept--is that they have a gallery incorporated into their premises. After the reading, authors and the public repaired to the gallery and sipped wine or strolled about the place taking in an exhibition about the city of Berlin, many of the places I instantly recognized because I'd lived there.

Being at the Goethe brought back memories of people I'd studied with over in Germany. There was the infamous Isabel aus Paris (Isabel from Paris). Isabel was eighteen and the archetypical French woman seen in many movies--long, raven black hair, curvaceous, and outrageously flirty with the teacher. She drove around town in an old Citroen Diane--many students drive these in Europe--and was forever tardy, always entering the classroom twenty minutes after it had begun with profuse apologies delivered in grammatically terrible German, though rendered entirely acceptable because of her purring French accent. She considered herself Parisian--which she pronounced emphatically as 'Parii' and categorically refused to add the 's' at the end to accommodate the correct German pronunciation--not French and was at great pains to tell us and the teacher this everytime the conversation swung to our countries of origin. There were also the two Chinese gentlemen, very high up in the Chinese Embassy--who had terrible phonetic difficulties and could not say one German word correctly. And we European, Canadian and American students would burst into peals of laughter (Isabel braying the loudest) as they tried to say "Ich bin" and it would come out "Eeshey bin" until the German teacher ordered us to stop. And not to forget the girl from Brooklyn (I've forgotten her name but she was very bright and interesting) who was an artist and did pot; she'd stroll into the classroom quite late with her dangerous covered in multi-colored paint and simply announce, "Sorry I'm late but I was up late last night painting Berlin scenes" in what I now know is a Brooklyn accent. At the time, I just loved the accent because it sounded like Rhoda from The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I wonder if she's painting in a studio in Brooklyn now--probably is represented by a gallery now. Wish I could remember her name.

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