Thursday, July 02, 2009

Jeffery Hodges: "How I met her" . . . thanks to Robert Musil

Robert Musil
(Image from Great Books Guide)

Matt Lamers, journalist and editor for the Korea Herald, is currently having a series of articles and columns examining international marriages in Korea published in the Herald's Expat Living section, and yesterday (July 1, 2009) was my turn to tell my story of how I met Sun-Ae . . . which was a bit different than the usual boy-meets-girl story. I've told this tale before here on Gypsy Scholar, but some readers might not have read it:
How I met her

By Jeffery Hodges

About four years ago, when my family and I were still living in Osan, a woman in our apartment complex encountered my wife and recognized her as "the person married to that foreigner."

What the woman particularly wanted to know was, "Why did he marry you? You're not beautiful."

I suppose that there's always a story to tell. I met my wife in Germany, on a train. I hadn't noticed her standing on the platform before boarding, but she had already observed me, perceived the danger, and kept her distance. Despite her effort to avoid me, I happened to sit down beside her. Pure chance - it was the only empty seat. (My wife says fate.)

"Hello," I said, noticing her for the first time, and liking what I saw.

"Hello," she responded, in a low, wary, but husky and thereby enticing voice.

"I'm Jeff Hodges," I told her.

"I'm Sun-ae," she told me.

"What does your name mean?" I asked.

"Good Love," she revealed.

I took it as a sign and decided to marry her. But I had to win her heart. I therefore asked her what she was studying.

"Robert Musil," she said, still wary.

Now, I don't know that "Musil" derives from "muse," and it may be just a variant of "mueseli," but I took him as my inspiration.

"Oh," I noted, "The Man Without Qualities."

By chance (or was it fate?), I had recently begun reading that novel. In German. Indeed, the entire conversation with this unexpected love of my life was taking place in German.

I am terrible at foreign languages, not particularly eloquent in even my own, and was having to woo in a tongue suited less to expressing passionate love than to explaining the mechanical workings of an internal combustion engine. Even the German title of Musil's book sounds mechanical: "Der Man ohne Eigenschaften."

Rather like a piston, isn't it: Ei-gen-shaft-en. Ei-gen-shaft-en. Ei-gen-shaft-en. Ei-gen-shaft-en. Ei-gen-shaft-en ...

She, however, was impressed that I knew the book. Especially when I related the opening story, which introduces the main character, Ulrich, who meets a beautiful, mysterious woman through a series of unfortunate events and accidentally wins her heart.

This introductory part of the novel ends with the dry observation that, "One week later, she was already seven days his beloved." Which I quoted aloud.

I may not have won her heart with that, but I caught her attention. And over poetry the following evening, I did capture her heart.

When I took her to my Ozark home to meet my family, everyone was impressed with her but also baffled. My youngest brother put it succinctly, "How did Jeff ever get such a beautiful girlfriend?"

How indeed? I owe it all to a man without qualities.
That man would be Ulrich, I suppose . . . though I in fact owe my marital bliss to the author Mr. Robert Musil, who merely intended to write about the Austro-Hungarian Empire and would be astonished to learn that his magnum opus led to something far greater than that.

July 13th will make 17 years since Sun-Ae and I met on that German train, and our love is still an adventure going places.

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