jeudi, avril 29, 2004

Spread Out Your Tents

What do these words mean to you?

Caprice - a whim, an impulse

Touareg - a nomadic, Berber speaking peoples found in the Sahara

Impala - a reddish African antelope known for its leaping ability

Pontiac - Native American Ottowa leader who lead a revolt against the British in the Great Lakes region in the 18th century

Mercury - the Roman god of travel, commerce, and interestingly, theivery

Cherokee - a Native Amercan peoples originally inhabiting the Southern Appalachian region, from the Carolinas and Tennessee to Georgia

Lumbago - a painful condition in the lower back, resulting from muscle strain or a slipped disk

All but one of them is also the name of a model of car, from the luxury GM Caprice, to the rugged, tough Jeep Cherokee.

Can you guess which one sent me over the edge the other morning on my way to work as I read it on the back of the vehicle in front of me and exclaimed out loud,

"Oh Jesus Christ, they're naming cars that now?!?"

This stayed in the back of my consciousness, simmering. Where do we come up with this stuff? That the etymological associations evoke noble and strong peoples and animals is understandable, after all, cars are a reflection of the way we see ourselves. But how many of us actually understand the image behind the name?

The Roman god of travel is pretty clever for a car name, but I bet the ad exec who came up with that zinger didn't know he was also the god of theivery. Caprice, a pretty, frivolous thing you would buy just because you can, dammit, and because you look so good in it. Cherokee, tough enough to survive genocide and displacement for thousands of miles.

One day a French friend complained of severe back pain, saying he had a "lumbago." I had never heard the word, and, fascinated but completely insensitive to his discomfort, I declared it sounded like the name of a car. I could even picture the classified ad:

"Black 1999 Lumbago, 5 speed, good condition, 45k miles, $6,000 - all service records available!"

Yes, you are right, it is the Volkswagen Touareg that got me all riled up. To take the name of a nomadic people in the Sahara, otherwise known as the "Blue Men" for their brilliant blue dyed robes, and put it on the back of a sports utility vehicle was too much for me.

Perhaps because at the beginning of my foray into the world of chatting online, I was contacted by a gentle soul, a member of that group, who wanted to express to me, an American, his sorrow about the tragedy of the World Trade Center attacks. We talked of our common belief that we are all woven from the same cloth of humanity. We consoled each other that at least the age of the internet had made it possible for us to reach out to each other across deserts and oceans.

He taught me a Touareg proverb :

"Eloignez vos tentes, et rapprochez vos coeurs."

"Spread out your tents, and bring your hearts closer together."

When I think Touareg, I think of that man and his simple but powerful gesture.

Here's hoping his spirit, and his people's, get more mileage than the car.

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