Sunday, July 23, 2006

from: Enumerations

I take a break from translating the Complete Works of Tacitus into Estonian & go for a walk along the esplanade.

We are many miles from the sea. Probably sixty. It will be a long walk to the sea before I can walk beside it.

But then, I have never read Tacitus. I am learning Estonian to prepare myself for it. Then Tacitus. Then re-read him, with an English-Estonian dictionary becide me.

I am plagued by doubts. I know more Latin than Estonian. Perhaps it would be easier to translate directly from the original rather than put English in the middle.

It will be my life's work. My Life's Work. My meisterarbeit. I am reading the histories of the Roman Empire & the people Tacitus wrote about before reading him. I am learning Estonian.

I am walking towards the water. Halfway along the way Tacitus joins me. We converse in Latin. It sounds like a bad Mass. Conjugations confuse the radar cameras which means we can speed if we want to. I wonder what Estonian sounds like.

Tacitus tells me. Turns out he has relatives in the Baltic with whom he has always kept in touch, whom he talks to regularly on the phone, & that any one of the Finno-Ugric branch of the Uralic family of languages sounds similar to the others. I do not believe him, not about the language but about his relatives.

He begins to recite a poem in Latin. Then he recites it in the original Estonian. He tells me it is included in Heinrici Chronicon Livoniae which he had a hand in translating. Then he starts talking to me in Estonian.

I run away from him. I am pulled over by the Highway Patrol. By the time they let me go with a caution Tacitus has disappeared.

I continue walking towards the sea. An hour or so after dawn I reach it. It calls to me in English, says "Enter me, walk towards the islands." I go in. As my head goes beneath the water it starts cajoling me in Latin. The sea sounds remarkably like Tacitus.

I walk on. Coral & seashells cut my feet. The sea bathes them & wraps them in bandages so I can continue. Eventually my reticence fades. We begin to become more open with one another.

We talk in Estonian.


Blogger KK said...

What does Estonian sound like? Well, to Finnish ears, it sounds very funny, something of a language that children could come up with. This somewhat less honorable notion is based on the fact that we immeadiately recognize the relation between the two languages, only this is mostly because of frequently occuring words or phrases or constructions that sound familiar but are, um, a little off, out of joint, if you will. For a Finn, it is very hard to understand spoken Estonian, but he could pick up a newspaper and "get the news." The Estonians, however, or at least those living on the northern coast of Estonia, or those closely associated to Finns, have no trouble in either understanding or adapting their speach to Finnish. If this is because of linguistic reasons, I don't know. A more practical if not more reasonable explanation is historical: during the Soviet era, the Estonians were eager to listen to Finnish radio broadcasts and watch Finnish television. But this is nothing new to our beloved neighbors. Tallin, their capital city, is an old Hansa town, part of a string of ancient trade harbors all over the Baltic sea. Throughout the centuries, they've been ruled, and influenced, by all kinds of people and their languages. The name Tallin itself speaks this history: it's a city (linna) of the Danes (taani). Anyway, nice poem, Mark.

4:57 PM  
Blogger KK said...

associated with...

5:02 PM  
Blogger KK said...

...and Tallinn with two n's.

4:35 AM  

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