Thursday, July 01, 2010

Named in Hot Rubber

by Zinta Aistars

I've been driving since I was 15, but this will be my first time starting up an engine and setting rubber to asphalt in Latvia. Today I acquired my international driver's permit. Good for one year. Perhaps it is something about the American culture that we so identify with our automobiles, so identify our sense of freedom, freedom of movement, freedom to pursue happiness, with the ability to sit behind the wheel and steer into the sunset of the glowing horizon.

For all the many times I have been in Latvia, perusing train, plane and the automobiles of others, I have never been a driver there. Just moments ago, a Latvian friend warned me ... asked me ... did I know that Latvia and India have the highest fatalities among drivers in the entire world?

Uh-oh. Didn't know that. Thank you for the warning, Sandra.

Yet I sense there is just enough American taint in me that I feel like until I take the wheel and hit the Latvian road on my own, I haven't yet marked my territory. It could be because so much of my daily life now is spent as a road warrior. It could be, too, that since I was 15 and first took claim of my gold Dodge Charger, I had never really felt so free ... to go, explore, escape, discover, just go. Just go. Endlessly. From one horizon to the next, never reaching any of them.

It's all in the journey, truly, although the occasional destination does soothe the road-rattled nerve. There is no discovery as there is when hitting the road. I have driven across this country ... now I ache to drive across that other that also knows my name.

What it comes down to ... I am trying to find my comfort zone. To do there something at least of what I do here. To be there something of what I am here, even as I am different, even as I silently, near invisibly, until it becomes visible, transform while crossing the ocean. One part of me peeling away and the other part of me emerging.

Pronounce my name in either language, and it is almost, almost the same.

And yet it is not. In my sleep, I would hear the difference. The Z is sharper, the I has more of a sly smile to it, the N curves the tongue closer to the roof of the mouth, the T has a delicate bump at its tip, and the A draws its breath with tiniest bit of air more, more air, just a little, just a bit.

I imagine myself driving the road from Riga to Ventspils, pulling to the side when I see someone walking the roadside, leaning out the window and saying, please, ludzu, can you say my name? Can you say it? Can you pronounce it as my mother did when I was a newborn? As it was shaped on my father's lips when he first held me up to the night sky? As my grandmother sang it, rocking me, rocking me to sleep, aija zuzu, aija ...

I am traveling across an ocean to hear my name, hear it in the sound of the rubber on the road, the kilometers running away from me, sucking me in, melting under me. I will start the engine and listen for it. I will listen to it as the engine putters to stillness again.

All our lives, all any of us truly want: to hear our name, pronounced just so, thrown into the sea only to be brought back again on a salty breeze.

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