When I left for the States in ’99, I did a farewell tour of my friends in Melbourne. One of the last was Russian Maria. (That’s what I called her behind her back, to differentiate her from my friend Croatian Marija, or my sister’s friend Greek Maria.)
(Maria was in fact from Kharkov, but she spoke Russian, so get off my back already. For those stalking my every word, she was Ekaterina’s best friend.)
It was a surprisingly emotive meeting. Then again, the Russians are a surprisingly emotive people. I tried to defuse it, by suggesting we make a clean cut at the end.
And Russian Maria turned, and went home, and did not look back once.
And I smiled.
I farewelled my home city of Melbourne one last time, by driving my trusty venerable old Datsun 120Y (just classed unroadworthy by the Victoria police) down to the intersection of Swanston and Flinders St, the gateway of the city. And I gazed out my window at the twin guardians of the gateway of my city, St Paul’s Cathedral, and Flinders St station.
As I told Russian Maria, the Turks have it right when it comes to farewells. Güle güle. “Smiling, smiling”.
I went to the States. I came back. The linguists did not give me a job; they were happy to string me along as a casual, but they had zero interest in any European languages I might find interesting.
So I dusted off my shoes, and spent three very happy years doing IT support in the Dept of European languages. And having as little as possible to do with the linguists who broke my heart.
The job was an indulgence and a luxury, and it couldn’t last. It didn’t; and just as it was going to become untenable, I got a better offer. Which is the career path I’ve followed this decade since.
I knew there was going to be a farewell function in the School of Languages and Linguistics. And I wrote a speech.
A scathing speech. A spiteful speech. A speech that summed up all the disappointment and disillusionment I’d had. A speech where I’d finally tell the linguists what I thought of them.
I have a dry run of the speech to my closest buddies, two Germans and an Italian. They were impressed. They had the erudition to appreciate my closing, straight out of Socrates’ Apologia:
And so, men of Athens, we go our separate ways. I to die, and you to live. And which of us ends up better off, only the Gods know.
The appointed day came. And I was dragged out of my office by a smiling French prof I’d known for a decade.
I looked around me in the meeting room; and all around me were the faces of people who were happy to see me. People who wished me well. People I’d come to think of as my family.
And mercifully, not a linguist among them.
One of the Germans sidled up to me.
“Aren’t you glad you wrote that speech?”
“And aren’t you glad you didn’t have to use it?”
And damn me, if I didn’t smile.