They Were All Unique In Their Own Way

E.M. Forster wrote those words at the end of A Room With A View, a slender tome that was turned into a wonderful 1980s period piece starring Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter.

Its a movie I have loved since I was about nine years old when it came out.  Buttoned up Lucy visits Florence with her yet more buttoned up chaperone, Charlotte Bartlett.  While in Italy, Lucy’s eyes are opened to a new world and her sort of conservative existence is broken up by encountering the independent, worldly (and hot AF) Julian Sands.  Julian Sands, if you ever come up here, email me!!!!  Nah, I’m kidding.

The movie shows a young woman opening herself up to new ideas and different types of people.  One time I was watching Gilmore Girls, a show I generally like and Rory was showing the movie as a way to make fun of the fact that she had gone to Italy with her grandmother and her grandmother was so buttoned up and conservative.  It was bunk.  A Room with A View is totally not about that at all.

Anyway, I’ve seen the movie enough times not only to have it memorized but also to have retraced the steps of the entire thing on a trip to Italy a few years ago.  I just had to go to the places where Lucy and George had fallen in love!!!!!

That line at the end of the movie always stuck in my mind that all the people that Lucy had met at the Pensione Bertollini were all unique in their own way.  It was something I thought of in the past few days.

A few days ago marked the second anniversary of the death of Pepi Leistyna, a professor I had in UMass Boston who passed away on March 26, 2015.  I think about Pepi more now than when he was alive and I talk about him a lot more.  I tell all of my students about the crazy guy who wore a rope as a belt and talked incessantly about his cats.  What’s even more interesting is how much I go back to the ideas that Pepi espoused and I wonder what would he have thought of the recent political turn of events in the United States.

A couple of months after Pepi passed away, I started studying for my comprehensive exam, the last exam I had to take to get my masters in applied linguistics.  Everyday for three months my diligent (and hilarious) Brazilian best friend and study partner poured through our notes from our classes trying to gather and remember every single detail so we could reproduce it on the exam.  I hated Pepi for making me write those 150 page papers when he was alive, but when I was studying, I knew why I had to do them.  Going through every single reading clapped that information into my brain permanently.  My Brazilian study partner and I passed our exam on the first try, thanks in large part to Pepi.

The next year for me was a rough one.  Work became a trying experience and a place where I could see a lot of Pepi’s ideas in play.  Who gets to study English in the United States?  How is that divided up by class and money and not ability.  The more I saw the world in Pepi’s terms, the more I knew I had to leave my job and work in a place that was more hospitable to the ideas of respect and cultural awareness he had espoused.

Recently I’ve started to think of Pepi in different terms.  Whereas before I thought of how sad it was that he wasn’t around to see us graduate and go on to do great things, now I had started to appreciate the fact that he had forced me to be so critical of the world around me.  I’ll never get to talk to him but he will live on in his ideas.

Maybe if they make a movie about Pepi one day (and they should) these would be some of the film stills, perhaps shown at the end of the movie:
boston allston twin donuts sunset

boston brighton sunset
Today I attended a hilarious round table discussion at UMass Boston entitled “Fake News, Alternative Facts and Trump Speak.”  It was a talk given by Professor Charles Meyer, the first professor I ever had in my masters degree.

It was Professor Meyer’s class that I had directly after Pepi’s death had been announced and it was in his class where we all enjoyed one last hilarious Pepi story.  We all went around the room and talked about our experiences with Pepi.  I shared how Pepi had always said that Chuck Meyer wrote a book about the word “the” and he’d rather die than read a book about the word “the.”  It was Pepi’s weird way of showing us that linguistics was pretty multifaceted and that yeah, there were corpus linguists like Professor Meyer but there were also applied linguists like Pepi who looked at language from a political standpoint.

Professor Meyer laughed at this anecdote and said “I never wrote a book about the word ‘the.'” I guess it was Pepi, still ribbing us even after he had passed away.  That story always makes me laugh.

Professor Meyer’s talk was pretty much like fertilizer for any kind of linguistically geared mind.  He had found a linguistic corpora of Trump’s previous speeches and Twitter transmissions and had done frequency searches on Trump’s childish nicknames for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush.  He looked at Trump from a purely linguistic point of view, veering slyly into political commentary.  At one point he goes “I was going to show YouTube clips of Trump, but I choose sound files so we don’t have to look at him.”  Here are some photos I snapped with my crappy phone camera:


The talk had a work sheet and featured the slide with the alien endorsing Clinton for president.  The whole thing was so much fun and so engaging.

I thought the whole time about the quote from E.M. Forster, about how all of those people in the Pensione Bertollini had been unique in their own way and in equal measure, the people I met at UMass Boston in the Applied Linguistics program were also unique in their own ways.  In their own special ways.  One man who talks about cats, who lies about another man writing a book about the word “the.”  Another person using classical linguistic analysis methods to dissect the language of what is surely a mad man.

Not bad for a place I choose to go to because it was near work and cheap.  That’s another lesson.  High expectations are meant to be dashed but having no expectations mean that they cannot be dashed.



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