Monday, September 1, 2014


As people are learning about our plans, with the Esperanto flavor of the four months in Europe, I find that I'm often asked about Esperanto. Both basic questions about what it is, and also what happens at an Esperanto gathering. I'll try to respond to both questions here.

For a general introduction to Esperanto, I think I'll refer to something I wrote almost six years ago: my first and only "zine". Its title is "How Esperanto Changed My Life" (4 MB PDF file).

To answer what happens at Esperanto meetings, I have to ponder a bit, because there are several different types:

  1. The "granddaddy of them all" is the annual one-week Universala Kongreso (worldwide conference), held in a different city each year. This year's was in Buenos Aires. The two that we've attended were in Japan (2007) and last year's in Iceland. Next year's in France will be special, being the 100th one. (The first was in 1905, but they weren't held during the years of the two world wars.)
    Presentation about the Northern Lights
    During these events, there are usually four or five things happening simultaneously, making it sometimes difficult to choose. In Reykjavik we went on three bus excursions, watched plays, schmoozed with old and new friends, and attended presentations. Among the memorable ones were: three sessions on the Icelandic language; the vegetarian group (the topic was quinoa, in honor of the UN designating 2013 the "international year of quinoa"); the atheist group; a talk about the physics of the northern lights; the oratory contest for people under 25; a talk by an ex-Finn about what it was like to start living in Iceland; a talk by an Icelandic meteorologist about the weather in Iceland; authors presenting their recent books; information about an upcoming all-Celtic conference in Scotland (we're sorry we weren't able to go to that one); auction; language issues; sessions about the internet and; slide show on mountain climbing in Tibet and South America. Everything is conducted in Esperanto, which is necessary since the participants with their 40 or so native languages have no other common language. At this type of conference, the people stay at designated nearby hotels. Many regional conferences we've gone to, and even organized, are similar but shorter (2-3 days).
  2. A completely different type of gathering, held especially in Europe, is one meant for families who use Esperanto as one of their daily languages. Often the children in those families don't meet many other children who speak Esperanto, only other adults.
    Daughter "helps" her dad give
    a talk on graph theory
    So it's great fun for them to spend a week in each other's company. We've only attended one such gathering, last year in Xanten, Germany, and it was as much fun as I expected. As is common, it was held at a youth hostel. The participants came from about ten countries. The program was a full one, with always three or four options. There were Esperanto classes for beginners and intermediates, and one class for children. I liked the craft classes, the daily group singing canons, the classes in photography, graph theory (mathematics), and the science of dreaming. We went to a daily class on Buddhism and meditation, which started a practice that Les has continued ever since. We had excursions into the city of Xanten, known for its old Roman ruins. In the evening were concerts, a puppet show, a talent show, and bedtime stories for the younger kids. The delightful children, babbling away in Esperanto and doing silly things, gave a completely different feeling from other conferences.
  3. Yet another style of meeting is the type that the eastern Canadians do so well: a weekend of just being together and doing excursions.
    Walking tour in Ottawa
    We went to one last year in Ottawa, and next year, before heading to Europe, will join a similar one in Toronto. The 30 or 40 participants stay in a college dormitory. There are no talks, no famous singers...just going as a group to local attractions. In Ottawa it was several museums and famous locations, a boat tour, and an evening “haunted walk” tour of downtown. We all ate meals together at restaurants and—once—at the home of a local Esperantist. At all the eastern Canadian events, there's extra reason to use Esperanto because some of the participants are English, and some French; it would be rude to speak in either of those languages while with the group, because some people might not understand.
  4. Another kind of get-together is educational, to improve one's language skills. In July we were at that kind when we did the annual 8-day intensive Esperanto course, this year held at the University of Victoria.
    Younger members of the Esperanto
    course in Victoria
    At the top level that I was in, we studied literature, wrote an essay every evening for homework, and talked about the most tricky aspects of the language (it's easier to learn than any national language, but that doesn't mean that there aren't a few linguistic subtleties). When not in classes, all the groups mingled together for talks given by the participants, excursions, dancing, and other diversions. The 70 students and teachers mostly came from the US and Canada, but also from China, Japan, Hungary, Holland, Mexico, and other countries. In Europe next year we might go to a one-week gathering in Slovakia geared for people who have learned Esperanto through; for some of them it may be their first chance to speak face-to-face with someone else in Esperanto.

No matter the type of gathering, we always have fun being with other Esperantists. It just feels so good to be easily talking to people from all over the world, with nobody feeling inferior while trying to come up with the intended word or mangling the grammar. And that’s why we want to get in as many Esperanto events—and visit as many Esperanto friends—as possible, rather than see monuments and museums.