Esperanto

Letter from Alisa’s archives

By Alisa Minykova

Alisa blogs at minyukova.com

My grandmother lived in a building for seniors in Jersey City across the river from World Trade Center. When she was healthier, she would come to visit me on the Lower East Side. After September 11th, the Path Train stopped running to Manhattan from her station. And, when they rebuilt everything, she was too scared of the way things would look on the other side, so she never left Jersey City again. The promenade near her house became her destination. It was there that she scouted for the latest trends, even though mostly office workers were passing by. She would have me sit with her on a bench as if we were in the first rows of fashion week and lecture me on the do’s and don’ts of pleating and pant lengths, using the unsuspecting passers-by in sensible attire.
Sometimes she would find a bag of clothes, belonging to someone who had died or moved to a nursing facility, in the trash compactor room of her building. She would examine every article with the eye of a tailor, looking at the stitching and the fabric. If the thing was as old as the person who it belonged to, she would exclaim “Look at the craftsmanship! Look at the work involved. Try it on!”

I would have to use my entire physiology to fight off a size sixteen dress coat or a woman’s business suit. “I can alter it!” she would insist. “I can hem the skirt!” Why did I resist these offers? After all, she was forward-thinking, claiming to have invented tights during WW2 by sewing wool stockings to her underwear. It’s not like I was un-eccentric, it would have cost me nothing to let her have her creative release. In fact we could have created a brand, but I didn’t believe in her vision and that is my loss.

Despite her inability to understand or speak English, my grandmother would talk to just about anyone. She used her own form of Esperanto, a jumble of Latin (which she learned at law school) Yiddish and Russian. If the person was remotely responsive she would really get going and throw in some Soviet slogans. Of course, in America her humor was rarely appreciated and her desire for even a passing soul to soul connection rarely met. This hunger to connect, coupled with a pathological hatred for human ignorance, created an impossible situation of disappointment and loneliness. Reading became her only true salvation, it was in biographies of epic men and women that she felt relevant, and in intricate novels that she had her affairs.
Two years after her death I recognize her characteristics in myself more than ever. Like her, I have an insatiable desire to connect with humanity, like her I fail. Although my antics and desire to impress others pale in comparison to hers, I find myself spastically striking up conversations with strangers, only to realize that they have no idea why I am talking to them. I myself do not know I am talking to them. Perhaps, I am looking for my grandmother.

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