I always belonged in a world of colours, of languages, of culture and literature, moving images, sounds and human faces. I’ve always created my own stories, lived them out, shouted them into thin air and released them where I possibly could.
When I received the power to choose the focus of my studies in my teens, there was no doubt it would be modern languages, words that were still alive, ringing with truth and substance, languages that would always accompany the endeavours of my spirit.
I hold on to those moments which opened doors for me, which stirred what had been waiting inside of me, gave names to abstract feelings and thoughts, names to heroines and heroes, stories that kindled my own imagination; and for the first time, school became a source of inspiration, away from all the teenage drama and back into literary time periods and fiction that I could relate to.
I felt heard and seen. I remember the aura of my German literature teacher whose eyes lit up when she spoke about Thomas Mann; her enthusiasm was infectious and never let me go. I rarely felt so deeply connected; that’s what language does, when words are truly felt and projected. She introduced me to Werther’s pain and obsession, to the struggles and desires of both Faust and Mephisto, with such an adventurous energy to suffer with them, love with them and learn from their lives on paper. These hours of my life, filled with Goethe & Schiller, Georg Trakl & Paul Celan, are rare gems that I won’t give up as they resonated so deeply with me.
I remember how I finally learned how to appreciate the French language: through its literature and how it was taught by my French teacher and her rapturous energy. Baudelaire’s spleen and synaesthesia took over the classroom, Jean Giraudoux, the controversies of Madame Bovary and Paul Éluard’s love for art, women and colours. To listen to these passionate women, how they spoke and accentuated words and phrases, gave life to emotions, was a gift that is ranked high in my memory.
And how could I forget the moment I had been waiting for with an unparalleled impatience: when my English literature teacher read Lady Macbeth’s most poignant monologue to us all and there she was indeed, Shakespeare’s anti-heroine, life-size, in the classroom. It was electrifying and sent shivers down my spine. What all of these glorious women did to me, moved within me. I remember how Austen’s universe gave me solace and hope. Then came Offred and the word ‘fuck’ out of my teacher’s mouth which is a blast for a teenager. She carved them all into my mind and heart, made me care about human beings captured between two book covers, the Desdemonas and Ophelias of our world.
And they all taught me that there is room for heroines in this world, be it in literature, music, film, art, life, death and the classroom. They made my mind flourish, encouraged my strengths & imagination and taught me an important lesson, from woman to girl, that we are not just muses, but protagonists, that we have a voice and a purpose, that we have the heart and eloquence to take a stance in the world, that we have to tell our own stories and that our footsteps are forward-facing with the knowledge of yesterday’s heroines.
“Cleopatra” by John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)