The Inuit word that was just what I needed

To me he has that “iktsuarpok” look.

Many moons ago in a post (that I think you’ll really like) about some cool single words from other languages that single-wordedly do the work of bunches of English ones, I promised that some day I’d tell you a story that illustrated Iktsuarpok, the Inuit word for “the frustration of waiting for someone to turn up.” That day is today, and this is the story.

Once upon a time, El Guapo and I had a date to meet each other at a certain place and a certain time. We were engaged to be married, it was the day of the last final exam of my college career, and we had set a rendezvous so we could get together and celebrate the beginning of a little bit of leisure before the wedding planning got going in earnest.

The meeting place we decided on was the Widener Library steps. Widener is Harvard’s main library, and in addition to housing 3.5 million volumes on 57 miles of library shelves, it has unmissable steps. We assumed each of us would be unmissable to the other.

Here’s how it played out: I can’t now remember whether it was a really hot day, making some shade a desirable thing, or an unseasonably cool day, making shelter a desirable thing, but whichever it was, I stood just inside the doors at the top of the steps, with an unobstructed view of the entire wide flight of steps, so I’d be sure to see El Guapo when he arrived at 12:05.

Meanwhile, El Guapo cycled up and parked his bike in front of one of the massive stone blocks that flank the steps. From that vantage point, he had a view of all approaches to the steps, and would be sure to see me when I arrived. Or at least he would have been sure to, had I not already arrived. From his perch he could not see me, and from mine I could not see him.

And thus it was that what was designed to be a blissful celebration of young love and liberation from academic stress became vexatiousness of spirit and frustration.*

I tell you this story because it has been a foundational example of one of the things I dislike the most. It’s not the time waiting that irks me so much, but the not knowing what’s going on, and what could have gone wrong, and is this the place we agreed to meet, and did I mistake the day?

Can you guess what’s coming? That’s right–another chapter. There have been others, but this one is set in Valencia, so it’s the one I’ll add today.

Monday is market day in the Russafa neighborhood of Valencia. Last year while Fiddler and Ginger were visiting we made a pilgrimage to buy lots of the amazingly tasty olives we had been enjoying from a certain shop inside the main building. We also planned to wander the street stalls surrounding it, hoping to finally find some sandals for Ginger, whose search had been long. And we still held out hope of finding a scarf table.

These are not the actual olives, but they’re the same kind, called “El secreto de mi abuela,” the secret of my grandma.

After securing a staggering quantity and variety of delicious green olives, and having found a nice little “two scarves for a euro” table, we made the fateful decision to split the group up: I stayed to look at a few more scarves pulled out of the tangle and to buy the ones both Ginger and I had chosen, and the rest went off to find a shoe stall in search of sandals.

In a short while Fiddler came back to say they were ready to buy the sandals, and he was short five euro. I handed him my bank card and he was off. I then bought my bundle (seven for 3,50, though unsuitable for a dance of the seven veils, as one of them was a blouse). As I didn’t know the way to the shoe stall, I found a shady spot to wait. And wait. And wait.

I went down to an intersection to peer in three different directions, hoping to spot them, which brought me dangerously close to a woman hawking strings of garlic (Ay, Guapisima, ajo, ajo, solo un euro! Hey Beautiful, garlic, garlic, just a euro!) without bringing me any information about my lost shoppers. More waiting. And more waiting. Fiddler had told me that they were all set to pay. Could they have taken a wrong turn getting back to me? I decided to walk a little way down the path I thought most likely, without results. I didn’t dare go too far, as they might come from another direction at any moment and pass me, and I would miss them. I retraced my steps.

And waited. And waited some more. So then I thought, what if they thought I knew where the shoe stall was, and they’re waiting there? Or what if they’re back at the bicycles, on the other side of the market? We could be waiting half the day in different places (images of the Widener steps loomed large).

Doing my best not to attract any more attention from the garlic seller (I don’t mind being called Beautiful, but I didn’t want any garlic), I thought I’d just circle around so that I could see down the street where we’d locked up our bikes, nervous that this might be the moment they would choose to return to look for me.

It’s taken me a while to describe this, but not nearly as long as it took to puzzle over why we weren’t connecting. It really did go on for an impressive length of time–not four minutes–more in the range of 24 to 34 minutes. Finally, wandering back to take up my post within reach of the garlic seller, I spotted them. Rejoicing! I focused on being happy to see them, relieved that none of the dire things I had imagined had come to pass. I let a few minutes pass before venturing, “What happened?”

Of course, thing after thing had happened. I didn’t get a minute-by-minute account, but here’s the outline. It was a crowded day at the market, and the shoe stall had been busy. After Fiddler returned with my bank card to buy the sandals, they’d had to wait in line, and then one wall of the stall, composed of stacked shoe boxes, had come tumbling down.

I picture some localized chaos, a bit of arm waving, some consternation, bystanders pitching in to help restack boxes, maybe retrieving those balled up packing-paper shapes that fit inside of shoes. Once order was restored, it was discovered that there was no more cash register tape. Someone was dispatched in some direction in search of more, by which time the desire to buy sandals was sorely tested. But they’d looked for so long, and then waited for so long, and how much longer could it possibly take? Just a few more minutes, surely.†

Eventually we got home with tasty Spanish olives, fine Spanish sandals, and a welter of scarves from who-knows-where. And of course, another fine chapter for my personal book of Iktsuarpok, The Frustration of Waiting for Someone to Turn Up. I wouldn’t mind if it were the last chapter in the book, but given the way things tend to go, that seems unlikely, doesn’t it?

*You might have noticed that either of us would have been fine if the other had followed directions exactly (meet me on the Widener steps), but that neither of us actually did that. I’m not sure we realized that at the time, but the fact may well have underpinned the vexatiousness of spirit.

†These two examples are, of course, another instance of those quaint old-fashioned problems that cells phones address, but the first story took place back in the days before cell phones. Though the second story took place just last year, and I had a cell phone, the rest of the group had a cell without an international sim card. We could make up a new Zen kōan: What is the sound of one cell phone texting?

[Images: firstpeoplesofcanada.com, pinterest, yours truly, El Guapo, Anjana Iyer]

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