This is part of a conversation between Stan, a New England mechanical engineer who has decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, and Baird Christopher, the owner of the Cosmic Possum Hikers Hostel- a Victorian mansion along the Appalachian Trail that he has made into temporary lodging for transient hikers.
Stan: "Interesting part of the country. Lots of stories."
Christopher: "Lots of Celtic bloodlines in the people here. Stories is what we do."
Well, I'll be interested to hear some stories. This is my first visit to Appa-lay-chia.
Baird had this conversation rather often, too, and in this round he was less inclined to be charitable. The statement We say it that way back home sounded like a reasonable argument unless you realized that it was not a privilege Easterners granted to anyone other than themselves. If a Texan visiting New York pronounced "Houston Street" the same way that Texans pronounce the name of their city back home, he would instantly be corrected by a New Yorker, and probably derided for his provincial ignorance. But here in rural America, the privilege of local pronunciation was revoked. Here, if there was any difference of opinion about a pronunciation, Eastern urbanites felt that their way was the correct one, or at least an equally acceptable option. One of Baird Christopher's missions in life was to set arrogant tourists straight about matters like this.
"You know," he said to Stan, gearing up to lecture in genial tones. "Over in Northern Ireland once I visited I visited a beautiful walled city that lies east of Donegal and west of Belfast. Now, for the last thousand years or so the Irish people who built that city have called it Derry, a name from darach, which is the Gaelic word for 'oak tree.' But the British, who conquered Ireland a few thousand years back, they refer to it as Londonderry. One place: two names.
If you go to Ireland, and ask for directions to that city, you can call it by either name you choose. Whichever name you say, folks will know where it is you're headed and most likely they'll help you get there. But you need to understand this: When you choose what name you'll call that city- Derry or Londonderry- you are making a political decision. You are telling the people you are talking to which side you're on, what cultural values you hold, and maybe even your religious preference. You are telling some people that they can trust you and other people that they can't. All in one word. One word with a load of signifiers built right in.
Now, I reckon Appalachia is a word like that.The way people say it tells us a lot about how they think about us. When we hear somebody say Appa-lay-chia, we know right away that the person we're listening to is not on our side, and we hear a whole lot of cultural nuances about stereotyping and condescension and ethnic bigotry, just built right in. So you go on and call this place Appa-lay-chia if you want to. But you need to know that by doing that you have made a po-li-ti-cal decision, and you'd better be prepared to live with the consequences. Friend."
So, I'll let you guess whether the distinguished traveller decides to pronounce Appalachia the way the residents do, or the way the rest of the country does. I really liked this author's style and hope to look up more of her work.
What good books are you bloggers reading out there in Bloggyland?