I’ve been meaning to tell you about my friend Bridget, who is my blogging inspiration. The funny thing is, I’ve never actually met Bridget. I first heard about her from her then-fiance (now-husband), who was on an intensive Arabic study abroad program in Syria with me ten years ago. As you can imagine, my first impression of Bridget, garnered from the lips of the lovelorn Jeremy, who was at the time separated for six interminable months from his brilliant, beautiful, and perfect-in-every-way sweetheart, could not fail to be favorable. Our study abroad group still keeps in touch, and so I was eventually introduced to Bridget’s blog. I soon found that Jeremy had not been exaggerating.
Bridget’s blog is the probably the one I have read most faithfully for the longest. I like it for a number of reasons. First of all, they have a pretty interesting life, which I find endlessly fascinating, especially as it involves lots of travel to and funny adventures in Arabic-speaking countries. Second, it kind of validates me to read Bridget’s blog, since sometimes I wonder if there’s anyone who’s as crazy about dragging their small children around to exotic places as I am. Bridget does it, and she’s a responsible, sane, and well-adjusted person, so maybe I am too. Third, Bridget is just a really great writer. Aside from her credentials as an editor for the dictionary, she has a gift for making even the mundane interesting (and as for the frequently-occurring non-mundane, well it gets even better).
Bridget and her family moved to Sharjah (just next door to Dubai) at about the same time we moved to Italy this time around. So I find it especially interesting to make cultural comparisons between our widely differing expat homes. For example, in Italy PDA is not just accepted, it’s pretty much expected. Take a stroll in the summer, and you will find couples passionately kissing on park benches, in cafes, on the bus, in the street, everywhere in fact. It basically feels like living in one long romantic movie. And no, I don’t mind that now my husband will make out in public with me as much as I like. In the UAE, on the other hand, we’d all be arrested on the spot for flagrantly violating the public decency laws. Or to cite another difference, I have to embarrassedly explain to multiple government offices why I’ve been so backward as to take my husband’s last name, while she needs a letter with her husband’s permission to get a driver’s license. However, neither of us can find proper pumpkins at Halloween.
Hopefully someday I’ll meet Bridget in real life in some corner of the world or other. In the meantime, if you’d like to “meet” her too, you can find Bridget blogging nearly every day right here.
Last week, she was talking about baby names. Specifically, baby names she liked when she was a kid, and now thinks are awful. Which is funny to me, because my kids’ names would probably end up on her awful list. First of all, there’s Axa, which is both unspellable and unpronounceable, as well as being the name of an insurance company. However I think it’s absolutely beautiful. Perhaps more importantly, it is quite unique. In fact, I have never found it in a baby name book. Neither Tony nor I (no offense to our parents) enjoyed sharing a name with multiple other members of every class we were ever in. I don’t know if that qualifies as being scarred for life, but we’ve purposely given our children unique names. I’m sure they will be oppositely scarred, and end up naming all their own children John, Mary, and Michael.
Actually, it’s doubly my parents’ fault that Axa has her name. My mother wanted to name me Axa, but my father objected. The name comes from an old Spanish ballad about three beautiful Moorish girls. As a child, my parents often told me about the name I didn’t get, and quoted me the poem. When I learned Arabic, I realized that Axa must be a strange Spanish transliteration of the classic Arabic name A’isha. That funny “x” in the middle, not a common Spanish letter at all, appears to be an attempt to reproduce not only the “sh” sound, but also the preceeding (and probably unpronounceable for Spaniards) “ein,” an Arabic letter whose pronounciation is described in my Egyptian colloquial Arabic book as the sound of being strangled. In fact, the other day I read this caution in another Arabic textbook: “Be careful if this is the first time you’re pronouncing Ein; do not hurt your throat.” Don’t worry, the Spanish version of Axa’s name is guaranteed to not hurt anybody’s throat.
As I already told you last week, our son’s name, Raj, is courtesy of our Indian web designer. Although I’m told it’s fairly popular in India, it is uncommon in the United States, and even more so in Italy. In fact, the name Raj is quite a problem for Italians to pronounce, although Axa always seems to come out beautifully no matter the accent, as long as people can avoid making the “x” hard, which makes her sound like a Dungeons and Dragons warrior.
We did have some pity on our children, and gave them (relatively) more “normal” middle names. Axa has mine, Elisabeth, and the only weird thing about it is that we’ve spelled it with the Biblical “s” rather than a “z.” And Raj has Dominique, the name of Tony’s great-great-grandfather, who immigrated from Italy to France, and then to the United States. We gave him the French version, because I thought it looked and sounded nicer, even if the Washington State Office of Vital Records thought it must be some unknown Hispanic name, and changed the “q” to a “g.” All our Italian friends call him Dominique, and he happily answers to either name.
We’ll see if we can manage to continue the tradition of the strange three-letter first names with future children . . .