A Personal Odyssey

Copyright Notice

This material is copyright © 1995 by Donald J. Harlow. Hard copies may be made for personal use only. Any user may make one electronic copy for personal use only. All copies must contain this copyright notice, including the date given below. No electronic copy may be located elsewhere for public access. Links to this original copy on the World Wide Web are encouraged. Please respect the conditions of this copyright notice; I simply don't want to have various unofficial (and perhaps not up-to-date) copies floating around elsewhere. Date: 1995.09.16.

       "How could they [homeless Chinese] understand that we too had 
        not eaten since morning, and had no bed even for this night? ... 
        Late in the afternoon we at last dragged ourselves to the Shanghai 
        Esperanto League office.  Zamenhof looked down on us from the wall, 
        mildly and compassionately, through his eyeglasses.  But what 
        could he give to us two wanderers?  Had he himself not died 
        tragically under the cannon-thunder of the First World War?  
        But our saviour appeared from his living disciples.  He was 
        comrade Wang, a national-language poet, whom we now met for 
        the first time.  He said that he had two rooms, and he would let 
        us into one of them at once."

                                  --Teru Hasegawa and her husband Liu Ren 
                                    trying to find a place to stay in 
                                    Shanghai during the Japanese bombardment 
                                    of the city.  En C^inio Batalanta, p. 42.  
                                    Oosaka: Japana Esperanta Librokooperativo, 

I don't remember exactly where I first ran across mention of Esperanto, but it had to be in one of two places: the bookshelf over the fireplace mantel, or the night table beside my parents' bed.

My parents belonged to what today seems a dying breed: the inveterate and catholic reader. They kept their favorite "serious" books and novels on a shelf over the fireplace. These were mostly my mother's, and ranged from Dr. Faustus through Raintree County to Zotz! Among these popular hardbacks of the late '40's and early '50's sat, well-camouflaged in its dingy maroon dustcover, Mario Pei's The Story of Language.

I would occasionally leaf through the Pei book, not really enough to cure me of my ignorance of the linguistic map of the world as described in the first chapter, but enough to learn many interesting tidbits. Pei, a Romance linguist who spoke several languages with a thick Bronx accent, was a sort of linguistic Ripley. For instance, I learned from The Story of Language that in Australian English a "good-looking woman" is a "bonzer sheilah." The word "bonzer" is a corruption of our "bonanza." I also learned that in England a parking bay or roadside rest is a "lay-by," fresh gravel is "loose chippings," and "eggplant" is "aubergine" -- God alone knows why! These useless bits of information would stand me in good stead a decade and a half later.

Somewhere in that book I found two pages devoted to Esperanto. Pei was a supporter of Esperanto, though he himself did not speak the language. His description of Esperanto appealed to me -- only a few endings, not too many words, the ability to talk to people all over the world, choirs singing "Home on the Range" in the language: these were attractive features. Furthermore, it had been invented by a man who believed wholeheartedly in peace. Peace seemed to me a good idea, given that the alternative was getting shot or nuked by North Koreans, Chinese, Russians, or other international scofflaws. This was, after all, in the paranoid fifties, when mankind was at the crossroads -- where it still is, as usual.

My parents were also avid science-fiction readers, and S-F paperbacks and magazines were scattered all over the house. The best ones were kept in their night tables, and on those rare days when I would be sick and stay home from school, and my mother would fondly ensconce me in their bed for the day -- my own bed was an upper bunk, and she may have felt that those rarified heights were dangerous for my health, or that I might, in delirium, fall out -- I would spend many hours leafing through old pulp magazines and paperback books, rereading old friends like S. M. Tenneshaw's "Holey Land" or Craig Browning's "The Kid from Venus." I was particularly attracted to the pulps, with their nifty cover pictures of voluptuous blonde ladies dressed in metal skirts and the ubiquitous but uncomfortable brass bra, and their inside illustrations of voluptuous blonde ladies dressed in far less than that. But I also enjoyed the paperbacks, despite their less exuberant cover illustrations. At that time they were just coming into their own. Among these were the popular Future History stories of Robert Heinlein.

For those who are unfamiliar with the history of American science-fiction, Robert Anson Heinlein began writing in about 1940 and, during the subsequent decade, became the first science-fiction writer of his generation to break out of the pulps and into the slick magazines. Many of his stories of that period were written against a common background, and gradually, with the help of Astounding editor John W. Campbell, Heinlein developed a more-or-less consistent "history of the future." Heinlein was the Christopher Columbus of this concept; although others had been there before him, he was the one who made it stick, and it was Heinlein whom other authors would later imitate with their own future histories.

Heinlein's future, unlike (for instance) that of Poul Anderson's Nicholas van Rijn and Dominic Flandry, was not completely consistent, and among his inconsistencies was language. His characters all seemed to speak good colloquial Missouri English, but in various stories various languages were referred to as the language of common use (English, Basic -- not the later computer language! -- and others). In one short work, "The Green Hills of Earth," Heinlein tells the story of Rhysling, the Blind Bard of the Spaceways, and quotes in full the poem from which the story takes its name. The poem is doggerel, but it is supposed to tug at the heartstrings:

     We pray for one last landing
     On the world that gave us birth.
     Let us rest our eyes on the fleecy skies
     And the cool green hills of Earth.
And in what language would you "sing" this poem? asks Heinlein. Why, in any human language; it is a song for mankind. French, German, English -- "Or you may have sung it in Esperanto beneath Terra's rainbow banner."(1)

Heinlein at that time was producing what is in my opinion his best work, which was a series of juvenile novels published by Charles Scribners Sons. I was a juvenile. It was hardly surprising that Heinlein was my favorite author in my teens, nor that I was heavily influenced by what he wrote, though I never did go off and become a rebellious teen-ager on Mars or a Future Farmer of Ganymede. When I ran across his mention of Esperanto and Pei's description of the language almost simultaneously, it is hardly surprising that my interest was aroused.

And, at about the same time, a third factor fortuitously inserted itself into my personal equation.

At that time my parents belonged to the Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon. When I was in the eighth grade they enrolled me in the church choir, where I sang alto. Although I was not thrilled to spend two days a week warbling "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" -- my classical tastes ran to Ravel's Bolero, not a staple of the church-choir set -- I did appreciate the opportunity to be driven into Portland every Thursday afternoon for choir practice; it gave me a chance to visit the Portland Public Library and check out, over and over again, that finest and most interesting of books, Granville's antique Elements of the Differential and Integral Calculus.

Granville was to be found in the 500 section, according to the Dewey Decimal System. As some of you will remember, right next to the 500 section is the 400 section, a set of shelves which, in America, are often sparsely populated. The 400 section is devoted to language. So one day my eyes lit on the shelf just to the left of Granville and its small 408.96 section which contained about five books about Esperanto. With Pei and Heinlein in mind, I quickly seized them, and later managed to ferret out two or three others from the back stacks.

I don't remember all of those books now -- all are out of print, most of them happily so. But I do remember Green Star, a nineteen-thirties-vintage book by someone named Joseph Dubin, which was, like this work, a polemic for Esperanto rather than a textbook of the language; and I remember, with particular fondness, Esperanto: The World Interlanguage, written by a couple of people named Connor (about whom I would learn much, much more later on), with the help of a couple of other people named Solzbacher and K'ao.

Dubin told me that I ought to learn Esperanto; the Connor book purported to tell me how. Dubin was interesting -- chock full of anecdotes. I have always felt that this is how a book intended to convince someone of something ought to be written. Too much of the more recent material about Esperanto consists of nothing but vague generalities. Dubin selected anecdotes about genuine (or apocryphal!) occurrences that demonstrated something about something.

Dubin's book was devoted to the question: Why? I have not seen one like it since, and to some degree I hope that this work will fill the breach. The Connor book, on the other hand, attempted -- with limited success -- to plug several breaches at once. For all its small size, it was really intended to be six books in one: an informational work on the language problem and Esperanto; an Esperanto textbook; a guide to the Esperanto movement; a basic reader or chrestomathy; an Esperanto-English dictionary; and an English-Esperanto dictionary. It did indeed fill all of these roles, but with varying degrees of success.

The informational section was informational, and to me very interesting. The guide was also interesting, but far too topical in its descriptions of magazines, UEA delegates, and the like; the turnover in these fields caused it to become dated very quickly. The textbook section was done in conversational mode, with dialogs and notes, and did not address the real advantages of Esperanto. The reader was short and consisted of some of the most forgettable literature I have ever run across, in any language; the sociolinguist whose only introduction to Esperanto's literature has been through this work may easily be forgiven for assuming that a constructed language is incapable of handling the finer nuances.(2) The two vocabularies were short but to the point.

In 1956, knowing that I'd be taking up Latin the next year, I started learning Esperanto from the Connor book; after all, as Vergil said, facile descensus Latino. My studies, conditioned by the format of the textbook section, went nowhere fast. I started again in 1957, and yet again in 1958. In the meantime, a new Esperanto text appeared, also by the Connors, in Dover's popular "Say It..." series. The new book, which was basically nothing but a phrase book, and even more than the first book did nothing to address the advantages of Esperanto's unique structure, rapidly plunged to the bottom of the series in terms of sales, and disappeared a few years later.

Let me make a short detour here into the whole question of teaching languages. Traditional teaching methods, which concentrate on grammatical and syntactic rules, are often scoffed at, and with good reason; such rules are usually too numerous to memorize easily, and have enough exceptions that memorizing them won't do much good anyway. So many modern teaching methods make use of induction: the student is immersed in the language (through dialogs, skits, pattern practice, etc.), and his mind is supposed to induce the appropriate set of rules. Direct teaching of rules is often considered passé; the only reason the traditional method is still used is because it is so much easier for the teacher.

But Esperanto does not suffer from the same defects in its rule structure, and so, for it -- and especially for self-study -- the traditional system is still appropriate. The more modern systems are also applicable, as the success of Andreo Cseh's direct-method courses throughout Europe during the twenties and early thirties proves, but not in the absence of an instructor. This is why the approaches of the two Connor books were so inappropriate for this particular language.

In 1958 a new factor appeared. Two English Esperantists, John Cresswell and John Hartley, convinced the publishers of the popular British "Teach Yourself" series to add an Esperanto textbook to their growing set of Polish, Japanese, Swahili and Samoan texts. Possibly because of the price, the Portland Public Library quickly got a copy; and I quickly got the Public Library's copy (no longer a member of the church choir, I still made a point of using my allowance to visit Portland on Saturdays, to raid the library and buy old S-F magazines at Cameron's Book Store).

Teach Yourself Esperanto utilized a more traditional approach to teaching the language. TYE was divided into sixteen lessons, each of which contained: a description of several points of grammar, with numerous examples; a reading passage, illustrated; a lesson vocabulary; and two sets of exercises, one Esperanto to English and one in the other direction. By mid-1959, about the time I was to be shipped off to Denmark, I felt myself quite competent in Esperanto, and sent off dues for membership in the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association) to their headquarters in Rotterdam . My accompanying letter was in English, but fortunately no one remains at UEA today who remembers that fact.

After I arrived in Denmark, I spent one month out of my projected six in an intensive language training course in Copenhagen, and became acquainted with the difficulties of learning a foreign ethnic language -- in Latin class, nobody had, after all, ever asked me to actually speak the language. Yes, after I went to my new home in Randers I was able to communicate with those around me -- the course did that much for me! -- but the communication was certainly not on an equal basis. I felt myself at a continual disadvantage because of my very, very weak command of the local tongue. There were, of course, several English speakers in the family with which I lived -- most notably the oldest son, who had lived in Aberdeen, South Dakota, for a year, and the teen-age daughter, who had spent some time in Great Britain -- but I largely felt myself tongue-tied with the the two parents, the three younger sons, and various grandmothers, none of whom possessed any English (despite the "fact," mentioned in the first chapter, that "everybody in Scandinavia speaks English").

At about the same time my parents sent me several back issues of UEA's magazine esperanto and the annual Yearbook, available only to members. I was fascinated to discover that, with the exception of a few words not found in the back of my textbook(3), I was able to read the magazine without too many problems.

In October I found in the local newspaper a notice announcing a forthcoming meeting of the Randers Esperanto-Forening (Association), and I decided to attend.

Turnout was between ten and fifteen people -- about the same number who showed up at the meeting of the local chapter of the English-Speaking Union mentioned in the first chapter. The guest speaker was a gentleman named Eizo Itoo, a Japanese who was on his way back to Japan from the 1959 World Esperanto Congress in Warsaw, but by a rather roundabout route -- I met him at a meeting in Sacramento the next summer; he still hadn't reached home. Mr. Itoo spoke at some length, and to my surprise and delight I found that, although I was hardly able to speak the language, I could understand everything that he said, including one bad pun. My delight, when I approached him after the meeting and stammered out an enthusiastic Esperanto "thank you," was not feigned. I had studied Esperanto on my own, out of a book, and understood it better than I understood Danish, which I had been taught in an intensive course for a month, or Latin, which I had taken at school, one hour a day, for (at that time) two years.

I returned to the United States in the winter of 1960 and found my family in a difficult situation. There was a newspaper strike going on in Portland, and my father's union was honoring the picket line. It was apparent that the strike would be a long one and my father was casting around the West Coast for employment. Eventually he found work in Sacramento, and the day after my high school graduation we all moved there.

As far as I knew at that time, there were no Esperantists in the Portland area. I was wrong about this, but at least there was no organized Esperanto movement there. In Sacramento, however, there was a small but functioning society and, as in Randers, a delegate of UEA. I visited both the society and the delegate, and discovered, happily, that my conversational ability had developed, perhaps through wishful thinking and perhaps through periods I spent reading aloud to myself out of my magazine. Later that fall I went off to college at Caltech in Pasadena, where I met another Esperanto speaker in the incoming Freshman class; together we made the acquaintance of the U.S. chief delegate of UEA, who lived in Los Angeles, and joined the large and active Los Angeles Esperanto Club, a group that made me feel right at home in L.A.

During the same period I made my first acquaintance with Esperanto literature. I had been aware that there were books available in, not just about, Esperanto ever since I had received my first copies of the magazine Esperanto. Ads on the back had made me yearn for such new offerings as William Auld's Esperanta Antologio, a collection of poetry from the first seventy years of Esperanto, and Julio Baghy's Song^e sub Pomarbo, a three-act lyric drama (and who was Auld? And who was Baghy? As yet I had no way of knowing).(7)

My first Esperanto books, ordered by mail from UEA in Rotterdam and paid for with an international money order from my local post office, were the hardback Angla Antologio, a collection of poetry and prose from England during the period 1000-1800 A.D., and Pinta Krajono, a thin paperback containing original light poetry by an Esperantist named Reto Rossetti. The anthology was interesting, but the real revelation was the poetry by Rossetti; it was pleasant, amusing, unavailable anywhere in English translation, and totally understandable to me, the new-baked Esperantist. These two works were the beginning of a library that today overflows my bedroom and hallway.

During this period I remember being most impressed by two novels that were previously completely unknown to me. Both were translations into Esperanto from other languages. Both had been translated into English at one time or another, but neither was currently available, nor -- apparently -- had been since the end of the 19th century. Nobel Laureate Selma Lagerlöf's Gösta Berling was the story of a defrocked Swedish priest in the forest country of central Sweden, during the transitional period from medieval mysticism to industrial rationalism in the early 19th century; I was captivated not only by the story and its background, but by the style and lyricism of the translation, and by the very fact that I could be captivateed by style and lyricism in a foreign language.(4) And Bulgarian author Ivan Vazov's Sub la Jugo ("Under the Yoke") was a straightforward, hard-hitting account of people caught up in the events of the premature, failed rebellion of 1878 against the Turkish Empire.

This latter book, incidentally, was my first encounter with a phenomenon that I was to meet again and again through Esperanto: recognition on my part of the existence of a world, of history, of people's attitudes outside of the narrow boundaries imposed on me by my upbringing and education. Eastern Europe, once called the "cockpit of Europe," a region of tiny, independence-minded peoples ground between the millstones of mighty empires to the south, east and west, has often been the butt of jokes to those of us who have grown up in the Western tradition; only since the end of 1989 have we started to recognize that these little countries have their own traditions and cultures. Esperantists, who have some awareness through the medium of works such as Vazov's novel, of the trials and tribulations through which these people have passed in the last few centuries, have a much greater respect for them. "Bulgarian literature" to Westerners is often considered an oxymoron; but Under the Yoke, for instance, is only the tip of a major iceberg invisible to most Americans.(5)

I also had an encounter with a different, more interesting, and potentially more dangerous side of Esperanto reading material -- the political one. In the early sixties, the People's Republic of China was heavily into the publication of political pamphlets in Esperanto, and they would send them gratis to all Esperantists whose names and addresses they could find. Somehow they found mine. Every few weeks I would get from the post office one of those little cards telling me that I had received something from China, and if I really wanted it, sign my name here and return this card.

I collected quite a few of those little booklets in this way, happily unaware of the fact that by signing those little cards I was acquiescing in the government's abrogation of my freedom to read -- or discard unread -- whatever I wanted to. The requirement was the result of an Executive Order by President John F. Kennedy, and was rescinded as the result of a successful court suit (Heilberg vs. Fixa) by an Esperantist who was upset about this requirement to in effect register himself as a Communist sympathizer simply for exercising his right to listen to both sides of an argument. Rumor has it that the Post Office Department, unhappy about the additional burden laid on it by the Order, was itself in favor of rescinsion.(6)

Thirty years later, I can only say about those little booklets that whether the scurrilous Chinese attacks on President Kennedy and American policy had anything to recommend them, I still don't know, and at this late date don't much care, President Kennedy being as dead as most of the people who published the pamphlets. I do know that in some cases I was able to determine, through independent investigation, that what they had to say was quite true -- for instance, in the case of the Sino-Indian conflict of the early '60's, in which their representation could be verified by looking at my father's collection of several decades' worth of National Geographic maps -- although not through the American press, which presented the conflict as a straightforward example of unprovoked Chinese aggression.

Later, the government of North Vietnam also undertook a major Esperanto publishing program in an effort to present its side in the ongoing Southeast Asian war, but the reader usually had to pay at least a nominal sum to get access to this viewpoint.(8)

Esperanto was intended for active as well as passive use. The Esperanto Club of Los Angeles was a good place to practice the language, and even had several foreign-born members who usually preferred to speak Esperanto rather than English; but now I got my chance to use the language with people actually living in other countries. Through the correspondence columns in several Esperanto magazines, I started writing to contemporaries in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria and North Vietnam. Although all three correspondences were terminated when I left college and joined the Air Force, I learned something from them about people who live in other places: they aren't all that different from us, after all, even though they do have a tendency to do things in different ways.

Karel S^tulz of Usti nad Labem, Czechoslovakia (9), was a young man of about my age but with different interests; he struck me as what in the South would have been called a good ol' boy. Our correspondence was quite light in nature, with occasional requests from him for bits of Americana whose reception apparently proved adventurous, even painful. I still have, somewhere, one or two copies of Dikobraz ("Porcupine"), a Czech political humor magazine that he sent me, with some of the cartoon captions translated by him into Esperanto. Malicious Uncle Sam always got particularly poor press, but the Czech bureaucratic buffoons seldom fared much better.

Todorka Petrova of Gabrovo, Bulgaria, was a young girl, also of about my own age -- from her picture slightly stocky, with a round face and deep, intense dark eyes. The effusiveness of her letters might have caused me to nurse romantic ambitions toward her, had I been into such things in those days, and had she not been about eight thousand miles away. We talked a lot about our two countries, and I was pleased to discover that she was almost as ignorant of the West as I was of Eastern Europe; she told me that our national author, Jorge Amado (of whom I had then never heard), was one of her favorites. Jorge Amado is a Brazilian. This being the time of Sit-ins, Civil Rights legislation, and the Desegregation struggle in general, I had the pleasure of giving her what I hoped was a more objective and balanced view of this aspect of American culture than I supposed she was receiving from her local newspaper. She was a fun correspondent. I wish I knew where she was today.

Nguyen Tat Dat was a correspondent with whom I only exchanged about three or four letters; the problem of corresponding between our two countries was exacerbated by governmental policies. Our governmental policies. While he, a citizen of a restrictive and totalitarian society, could send letters to me, my letters to him, mailed from our free and libertarian nation, almost invariably ended up in Saigon, from which they were returned with a note (in French) that there was no mail service between the two cities. I eventually turned to the process of sending my letters via Karel S^tulc in Czechoslovakia -- a procedure that almost got me in trouble with the Air Force later on. From his photo, Tat Dat seemed to be a rather intense young man; he was a student at the University of Hanoi, engaged in the new field of computer science. Like me, he was attending college away from home; his family -- a father and two sisters -- lived in the port city of Haiphong. In his letters he told me a little about his country, and about his city, which was entering its tenth century of existence. Neither of us guessed that in the first years of that tenth century much of his city would be razed by bombs from my country. I have often wondered about his fate in that conflagration. (10)

It was my short-lived acquaintance with Nguyen Tat Dat that first showed me that Esperanto had changed my view of the world from that of many, perhaps most, of my fellow countrymen. In late summer of 1964 the Tonkin Gulf Incident occurred -- the purported attack on the destroyer Turner Joy, innocently going about its lawful pursuits, by a North Vietnamese PT boat. President Lyndon Johnson responded by ordering the bombing of Haiphong by navy fighter-bombers. I remember watching the announcement on television and thinking to myself: "Gee, I hope that Tat Dat's father and sisters are O.K." It was only moments later that I realized that my parents, watching the same program -- and probably most other Americans as well -- did not see the attack in the same way I did; whether they agreed or disagreed with Johnson's policy, the end results of the attack, in human terms, were nil to them. Haiphong was a dot on a map, a place to be "neutralized" or "pacified" -- not the home town of someone they personally knew.

This is not an experience unique to me. Eugene Adam, the founder of the Anationalist movement, allowed himself to regret his knowledge and use of Esperanto on the grounds that, when Europe descended into a frenzy of patriotic madness in 1939, he was unable to restrict his sympathies to his fellow Frenchmen, but also felt for his many friends in Poland, Russia, England, and -- yes! -- even Germany. Hitler, Adam states, was correct in his justification for banning Esperanto on the grounds that "practicing a non-national language with foreigners can only cause damage to nationalistic feelings among its practitioners." On this subject, Adam (and I) would differ with Hitler and his contemporary Stalin not about the phenomenon itself, but about its desirability.(11)

Graduation from college plunged me into marriage and the United States Air Force. The latter sent me off to Texas A&M University, where I did not expect to find Esperantists; but in fact there were two in the Department of Meteorology and Oceanography, where I was to study weather forecasting: one of my instructors, a major in the Air Force Reserve; and a visiting oceanographer from Argentina. Leaving Texas A&M did separate me from Esperanto for a while (I taught a class to four people in Charleston, S.C., where I spent a year and a half), but summer of 1968 saw me reassigned to High Wycombe Air Station near London, England.

England was to us an Esperantists' paradise. We landed at Lakenheath Air Station and were taken by bus into London where, after getting a room at the Columbia Club (American transient officers' quarters) and finding a baby-sitter for our infant daughter, we immediately went out hunting for some sign of Esperanto. That sign was in the front window of the office of the British Esperanto Association at 140 Holland Park Avenue.

BEA was staffed by two quite competent Esperantists: a young German, Herbert Platt; and an elderly Englishman, Cecil Capp. They seemed pleased to see us and gave us information about Esperanto in London, and also where to go and what to see. We spent quite a bit of time at the BEA office then and later, and from time to time both I and my wife Angela would work there as volunteers -- a bit of acceptance into British society that few other American servicemen encountered.

We also discovered the London Esperanto Club. This organization met weekly on the upper floor of the Country Holidays Association building, near Euston Station in the northern part of London. It is an old club, dating back to the very earliest days of Esperanto in Britain, and boasts interesting programs and interesting members. We used to make the long trek into London once a week from our home hear High Wycombe just to be able to visit the club. Among its members were such luminaries as Professor Ivo Lapenna, at that time president of the Universala Esperanto-Asocio, and Nikolai Rytjkov, a Russian emigré, former inhabitant of the gulag, and one of the most interesting individuals it has ever been my good fortune to meet.

At this time we also attended our first Esperanto conventions ("Congresses" as they are known). We missed the chance to go to the World Congress in Madrid by several days, but in April, 1969, we went to Ireland for the annual British Esperanto Congress, to be held at Dublin Trinity College over Easter weekend.

The Congress was our first experience with Esperantists by the hundreds rather than by the dozens. We spent all weekend using nothing but Esperanto -- a fact encouraged by the large number of Esperantists from the continent at the Congress. We shared dinners with a genial and fluent Hungarian Esperantist named Gabor Vigh; and I stood in a crowd, watched the Dublin Easter Parade, tanks and all, and exchanged comments on it with a young Swedish Esperantist named Kjell Rennström.

That July we attended our first World Esperanto Congress -- in Helsinki, Finnland -- and had our first experience with Esperantists by the thousands rather than by the hundreds. Here, it would be impossible to say that foreigners existed at all -- no country provided a majority, or even a genuine plurality, of participants. More than forty countries were represented, from both sides of the Iron Curtain. This was, in fact, my first real experience of how Esperantists function as a group when they represent, not only different countries or languages, but entirely different cultures.

My vacation was due to start one day after the beginning of the Congress, so Angela and our toddling daughter took off with the British "Caravan" (travel group) a day ahead of me, and I followed by British European Airways and Finnair. In this way I missed my first Interkona Vespero ("Getting-acquainted evening") -- but Angela didn't. When she met me the next day, at our hotel, she asked me, in a combination of horror and fascination: "Do you know what happened to me last night?" It turned out that she had been propositioned by a Jugoslavian Esperantist -- a common enough occurrence at Esperanto congresses, where you really do get a chance to look over the proverbial other side where the grass is always greener.

A World Esperanto Congress is, according to the Congress Book, a collection of meetings and tourist excursions that lasts for about a week. In reality it is much more than that -- it is a chance to get to know people from all over the world. I will go into more detail in chapter 8 about one particular Congress; let me simply mention that at Helsinki we did attend meetings and go on tourist excursions, but we also spent a lot of time with a couple named Pelcov, from a little mountain town in the northern part of Czechoslovakia, who had a son about the same age as our tiny daughter Gwen. It was pleasant just to sit and talk and watch the kids playing with each other, unaware that, in that Cold War era, they were supposed to grow up to be bitter enemies.

Esperanto Congresses played a large part in our vacation periods during our years in Britain. In 1970 we took a full three weeks and drove through France and Switzerland to the World Esperanto Congress in Vienna, Austria; the next year we spent a week at the World Congress in London, lodging for the time in a bed-and-breakfast establishment on Great Russell Square (and occasionally driving the eighty miles home to make sure that everything was in order). Those two Congresses, incidentally, were particularly interesting in terms of the contrast they showed between the respective host governments' attitude toward Esperanto. The London Congress was almost completely ignored by the British Government and Press, which at that time were devoted to the idea that English Is And Must Always Be The International Language, as mentioned in the first chapter; at Vienna, the Congress keynote address was given -- in Esperanto! -- by Austrian President Franz Jonas, who got his start in politics in the Austrian Esperanto workers' movement back before the War.

During our five years in Britain, as I have said, the London Esperanto Club, the British Esperanto Association, the annual British Esperanto Congresses, and the annual World Esperanto Congresses played a big part in our lives. But eventually the time came to return to America. In 1973 we came "home" -- to a country that we both yearned to see again, but which had become only a part of a much bigger "home" for all of us.


(1) Heinlein, Robert: "The Green Hills of Earth," in The Past Through the Future, New York: Doubleday, 1970. For further comments on science-fiction and language, see appendix 2, to be posted at some future time.
(2) This sociolinguist should see chapter 9.
(3) This question of words not taught in basic texts arises from time to time in discussions of the relative failings of Esperanto. When I took Poul Anderson to task for using ekskremento! as the Esperanto equivalent of the English interjection "shit!" in his novel The Shield of Time (New York: Tor Books, 1992), he told me that he had been informed that this was indeed the word by a competent Esperantist -- probably Harry Harrison, who uses the same word in the same way in his old novel The Ethical Engineer (New York: Astounding Science Fact/Science Fiction, 1963). This problem is not, however, exclusive to Esperanto.
(4) An English translation of one chapter from this book, "Kevenhüller", is found here.
(5) See chapter 9 for more comments on this same subject.
(6) William R. Harmon, personal communication.
(7) But see chapter 9 (to be posted later).
(8) See chapter 10 for some comments on the use of Esperanto in propaganda, and on the U.S. failure to utilize this marvelous tool.
(9) Today the Czech Republic, sometimes known (even in English) as Czechia.
(10) The Vietnamese national Esperanto association, acting on my request, was able to turn up no information about his current whereabouts.
(11) Lanti: El Verkoj de E. Lanti ("From the Works of E. Lanti"), vol. 3. Laroque Timbaut: Cercle esperantiste de l'Agenais, 1985.

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