Nostros (return home) + algia (longing)

Every language, it seems, now has a special word for homesickness that its speakers claim to be radically untranslatable—the German Heimweh, the French maladie du pays, the Spanish mal de corazon. Czechs have the word litost, which means at once sympathy, grief, remorse, and indefinable longing. The whispering sibilance of the Russian toska, made famous in the literature of exiles, evokes the claustrophobic intimacy of the crammed spaces whence one pines for the intimate. The same stifling, almost asthmatic sensation of deprivation can be found also in the shimmering sounds of the Polish tesknota, which adds a touch of moody artistry to the Russians, who are enamored of the gigantic and the absolute. The Portuguese and the Brazilians have their saudade, a tender sorrow, breezy and erotic—not as melodramatic as its Slavic counterpart yet no less profound and haunting. Romanians claim that dor, sonorous and sharp like a dagger, is unknown to other nations and speaks of a specifically Romanian dolorous ache. Although each term hews to the specific rhythms of its language, all these untranslatable words are, in effect, synonyms, but synonyms that share a desire for untranslatability, a longing for uniqueness.

~ from The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym

My Russian teacher Jarkin has a quick laugh, a warm heart and patience aplenty. When I balk at the handwriting exercises, she gives me a withering look, exhales dramatically and then sits silently, waiting for me to acquiesce. I do. Every time.

When I rush through my oral exercises, she reaches over and touches my hand. “Laura,” she says imploringly, “be very attentively.”

It is my good fortune that Jarkin has a divining rod to all that is essential in the universe. Be very attentively: isn’t that life’s essence?