Language as connective tissue

I am SO glad today is almost over. What didn't we do?! We made a 24x36 felt board with the mouse and the houses (do y'all know or remember this? you can hide the mouse behind different colored houses? I've never met a 3 yo who didn't love it, so we made one) and yes, I made the darn board and cut out the houses and mouse; we gardened; we went for frozen yogurt and painted pottery for my in-laws anniversary tomorrow; we went to the gym where mercifully the boys decided they loooved the kids' club- amen; we went out for pizza; I just made mujaddara for 20; and then a nice but rather underwhelming dinner for me: fresh mozz with tomatoes, basil, good bread and EVOO and a small bit of avocado. During dinner, however, I sat down to finally catch up on email, and I found this marvelous link from my sister. I'd never seen this before- it's the concluding act of the Nagano 1998 Olympics opening ceremony, and it will give you goosebumps and chills, especially if you, as do I, adore Beethoven's Ode to Joy, specifically the Hallelujah chorus. This took place concurrently on stages around the world: in the Nagano prefecture concert hall; in Beijing; in Sydney; at the U.N.; at Tanglewood. WOW! Take ten minutes for yourself and watch it.

As I watched people from all around the world, of all ages, cultures, languages, races and creeds, I was struck anew by the incredible connective power of language. Verbal, musical, theatrical and otherwise. Like watching my kids play in Italy with other children, possible even without a common tongue because of the power of play- Legos and soccer as equalizers if you will. Like the summer Tom and I lived in Amsterdam where everyone except the tourists is bi- or tri-lingual. One day at the Cuyp market, waiting my turn at the cheese stall, I overheard some Spaniards trying to ascertain what knoflook kaas was. They couldn't speak Dutch nor the purveyor Spanish and thusly were at an impasse. I piped in and said "knoflook es ajo", translating garlic in Dutch to garlic in Spanish. I've never forgotten that simple, brief moment because, like the Legos, the Ode and so forth, it was a deeper connection than any of us would have had otherwise (about the garlic cheese). I've always really, really wanted to be a polyglot, and this was about the closest I'd come to it.

Like the weeks I spent in Kenya with someone fluent in Kiswahili and the experiences I wouldn't have had otherwise (like flying to the island of Lamu, meeting Hosna and wearing one of her burqas around town; a very surreal experience as only my ankles were showing). Like meeting vintners at tiny agro-turismos in the Loire and Chianti and being able to talk with them about the nuances in their wines because of an elementary knowledge of French and Italian. Like heading south from Paris to Bilbao, Spain, but getting off one stop too early, and pleading, again in extremely elementary French, with a train-station worker to help me purchase a ticket for my final leg. Even like needing to buy a laxante in Spain, being mortified to ask but simultaneously glad I could.

These experiences broadened me, they broaden all those who have them. They are humbling yet liberating, scary yet thrilling. There is much wrong with education in America, but the lack of serious extra-linguistic study, no- mastery, is shameful and short-sighted. In any case, click on the link above, sit back and let yourself be enraptured by the coming together of hundreds of individuals, of many languages but also in just one.