Saturday, September 12, 2009

A fragment

     Getting to the Faculty of Art from the dormitory by tram is a little complicated. A few clarifications: I am (technically) a trained linguist (degree and all, I’m afraid) and, as I assume most people to be, somewhat obsessive-compulsive about particular things. Therefore, the perceptive reader (read: not blind) will be forewarned of the three following themes: (1) My exceeding height. (2) My love/lust for etymology, the compulsion I have to examine words for meaningful components. (3) In spite of (1) and fueled by (2), my love of the tram network of DPMB (Dopravní podnik města Brna, the Brno municipal transportation authority).

     Sure, it’s relatively easy, even at seven-thirty in the morning, with a few hours of sleep under your belt, to make your way down to the nearest No.1 stop. This is Výstaviště, the Exhibition Center, though “center” is perhaps not the best rendering. The word itself is immediately from výstava “exhibition,” and the suffix –iště “place, location.” Výstava is from the root /stav/, an old suffixed causative of the verb /sta/ “to stand”, prefixed with vy- “outwards/up,” with the prefix vowel lengthening in nominalization, a process I believe is peculiar to Czech and Slovak in the Slavic languages. The amusing thing (well, amusing to me) is that the suffix - iště is also originally a derivative of the verbal root /sta/, cognate to the Indo-Iranian suffix –stān “place of.” So, the whole thing is the set-up place, the made-to-stānd-up-place-of-standing, or, to torture the metaphor, the Upbuiltistān of southwest Brno.

     “Exhibition Center” it is then.

     However, that line one stop, with its eminently mineable name, is but the first step and the first tram line, unless you want to stay on the one and go to the main station or all the way to the other end of town and its hinted-at suburbs, in this case, Řečkovice. Even four, five, six months in, the end-points of any given line remain nebulous, hypothetical, existing only in electronic letters, and, more prosaically, on placards and maps. A single stop in the direction of Řečkovice gets us to Mendlovo náměstí ([Monk/geneticist Johan Gregor] Mendel Square.) Note the fairly common placename náměstí “square”—a long-i neuter noun originally from the prepositional phrase na městě “in the city” (there’s some funny initial vowel lengthening again) and also note the Czech possessive adjective suffix –ovo (neuter). At Mendlovo, Mendlák in the slang of the town, you must exit the one, cross the street, and pick up a five, six, or seven heading north and east, conjoined for the upcoming stretch of track. The three stops here: Nemocnice u Svaté Anny, (the hospital at/by St. Anne) Šilingrovo náměstí (should be parsable as Šilingr Square) and then down a street that used to be the walls around the old town to Česká (Czech [street]), the transport hub at the north end of the city center.

     From there, off the second tram line of the day, it’s about a three-block walk, if you remember where we were going in the first place, but the lazy step is to transfer one more time to the twelve or thirteen, up one step to Grohova (ulice “street” is implied, which is feminine, hence the feminine ending –ova); Groh Street. From there the faculty of Art is half a block away, and you can stagger to class, if you bothered going in the first place.


This is from a handwritten fragment from the winter of 2004-2005, probably written in my dorm room in Vinařská or at the Yellow Bar. It brought back some associations, although this whole process was already becoming obsolete when I started walking up the hill, not down, and either walking the whole way or just taking the bus (the 20? 21?) the back way. I've made some minor emendations, including the last sentence, which was an attempt to give a bit of closure to the whole thing. Its incompleteness aside, I thought I'd rescue it from its spot folded up inside some Slavic book on my shelf and see if it triggered anyone else's associations.


Plaid Avenger said...

Oh, reading this made me feel like I was late to the film class Jef and Jess and I never went to.

Wonderful piece! Makes me wistful, but also happy.

Lilyiris said...

I remember you reading this to me...or at least reading the first sentence or so to me somewhere...who knows where. I had forgotten almost everything about the commute there (except for Nemocnice) and it was amazing and nostalgic and more than a little sad to read. Cheers!

Andrew said...

God, remember the weird little statue garden by the hospital?