The Donkey Bridge
Otherwise titled: Something That Isn’t Depressing
I realize my last few blogs have been a touch on the melancholic side, and I suppose that’s because nothing is funny when you know you have to leave Thassos. Even thinking about the possibility of leaving makes a person stare deep into the distant nothing and weep, and now I am here with only three weeks left—positively freaking out. When Maria left a few days ago, a German woman who has been coming to Archodissa for 25 years and knows she will return next summer, you know what she did?
And when “The Machine” returned (if you recall, he was here two months ago) with a friend, whom I will call “Lufthansa,” the both of them coming for 14 years, more than once a year, they both went into a quiet, contemplative state and told me it never gets easier to leave. Lufthansa joked that when he returned his and The Machine’s room the night before their departure, there was a puddle on the floor. “And we’re men,” The Machine said, trying to imagine the state I will be in when I leave. “I think we’ll hear you crying from Germany.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “The whole world will hear me crying.”
And there you have it: the reason I need to take a break from writing about leaving Thassos island. So today, instead, I am going to tell you about Donkey Bridges, because they make me smile. And because everyone should know what they are. Despite the dead give away title, they are not bridges that donkeys cross, although those might exist, too.
I first learned about the Donkey Bridge from my friend “Paper,” when my German parea was here. We were all in the car, she and I in the backseat, and she saw a goat. “Katsiki!” she said, pointing out the window. She confirmed with Aunt E that this was the word for “goat” in Greek. Then she said aloud, “katsiki tzatziki,” –tzatziki is the staple Greek yogurt dip—and explained that it was her Eselbrücke.
“What?” I asked.
She started to translate Eselbrücke directly from German into English, but it literally means, “Donkey Bridge.” She got as far as “D—“ and couldn’t finish the rest because she was laughing uncontrollably. So, I started laughing, too, only because she was laughing, and every time she calmed down and started to explain, she’d start laughing again. The two in the front seat also found it funny, but Paper was most amused. Finally, she said got the words out, “It’s a Donkey Bridge,” and I was so confused. But intrigued. I waited for her to explain.
The term refers to a mnemonic device. In order to learn the word “goat,” katsiki, she remembered the word tzatziki, something she was already familiar with—because the two words rhyme. This is something I’ve been doing all along in language learning, making connections with something familiar to something new, but I didn’t know the Germans had a name for it. And such a cool name! A Donkey Bridge!
But none of us understood why it was called a Donkey Bridge. At dinner that night, we were all on our devices Googling donkeys and bridges, and Rocks came up with the best hypothesis: donkeys are afraid of even the most shallow of water, so in order to cross over, they require a bridge. Sometimes the bridge is far way, and they must walk down the stream, cross over, and then walk back up. So, it’s a roundabout way of getting to the other side. Which is the same of as getting to the other side of memory. With a mnemonic bridge. Something like that.
The beauty of the Donkey Bridge is that I’ve continued its legacy with everyone: the Americans in the writing workshop, the staff of Archodissa, Greek friends, strangers—I’m sharing the Donkey Bridge with everyone. It’s always met with the same look of confusion. “That’s your…what?”
During the writing workshop, my friend Cammie was explaining how she remembered the Greek word for silver, asimi, because it sounds like, “I see me”—as in in, “I see me in the reflection of this piece of silver.”
“What an amazing Donkey Bridge!” I exclaimed.
When Joanna, my Greek teacher, taught me gimni, meaning “naked” (don’t ask why), I thought of gimnastiki, the word for exercise. Gimni gimnastiki—naked exercise! “That can be my Donkey Bridge!” I declared.
When Tassos of Thassos taught me the word for frog, vatrahos, I thought of “water hose,” which—in the context of the story he was telling—was quite fitting**.
“Ah, this is your…Monkey Bridge?” he asked, at this point having heard me use it many times.
“My Donkey Bridge, yes!”
But then we had to explain the Donkey Bridge to his friend, who was looking at us like we were crazy.
**The story: while visiting a friend in Germany, Tassos was so thirsty he put his face under the faucet and started drinking straight from the tap. His German friend said, “What are you doing? Only frogs do that.”
And then, when “The Machine” surprised us all at Archodissa with a return visit to Thassos, he brought a birthday gift for me on behalf his entire group, and it included these gems:
Now, everyone knows I’m on a mission to create Donkey Bridges. I believe this is the best way to learn languages, and although the concept is one that does not need a name, I will always be thankful to call it my Donkey Bridge.