Friday, December 31, 2010

On reading Julia Child (preparation is no free lunch)

I have just finished reading Julia Child's My Life in France. It is full of wonderful-sounding food--so much so that, while it's a level of cooking detail I have seldom even approached ("nothing is too much trouble" is a repeated phrase in the memoir), I find myself wanting my very own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In hardcover.

But, cooking aside, one of the things I enjoyed most in the book were the attention to traveling and to cultural adaptation--and to a kind of translation, as Child worked to write up a particular kind of French cooking in terms an American cook (of a particular time) might understand and embrace. I enjoyed the energy with which she threw herself into learning new languages as Foreign Service postings took the Childs to Germany and Norway. France may have been her great love, but there was still a big, wide, varied world to understand. I loved her insistence on learning enough of the local language to go to the market--that is, to talk to the people around her. 

And perhaps my favorite passage, which has nothing to do with cooking: 

"As our ferryboat from Denmark made its way up the winding Oslo Fjord in May 1959, we looked at the granite boulders and high cliffs covered with pine trees, sniffed the cool, salty-piney air, and said to each other: 'Norway is just like Maine!' Which it was, and it wasn't.
You can prepare yourself to enter a new culture, but the reality always takes some getting used to."

Here's to a new year of preparation and getting used to--aprendiendo a enseñarnos en otros lugares, con nuevos sabores. A good 2011 to all!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Interpretive pleasures of travel

I didn't drop off the face of the earth. I went to New Zealand.
Wellington is about as rainy as Oregon (more so, some days) but the sun peeked out and I didn't catch the fabled wind. The Pohutukawa trees were in bloom, many of them. I left the hotel window cracked (the room was stuffy) and woke to birdsong around 5 a.m. Then came the truck. I had a seventh floor room overlooking the city, with a slice of harbor in the distance. The botanical gardens held plump, busy brown parrots. A sign above the entrance to the hotel gym, located just off the pool, pleaded No wet costumes in gymnasium, please. Of course, I knew what they meant. But I prefer to imagine soggy pandas, witches, superheroes--all the stuff of Halloween--dripping on the free weights and the nonskid floor.
My first stop was a translation conference-- "Talking Past Each Other" -- held at the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation (Victoria University of Wellington). It was a terrific conference, with strong papers and good conversation (and tasty snacks!). Big cheers for Jean Anderson, the center director, and her team. I have another long list of books to seek out.
After the conference, I took the opportunity to do just a little sightseeing. (I'll have to go back, with the full family crew, and do some real hiking.)
One highlight: a tractor-pulled excursion along the beach to the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. I don't know how many birds there were--thousands--burbling and hooting, dragging seaweed back to the line the nests, preening, stretching, edging restlessly around the fluffy, awkward chick in the nest. They don't hatch all at once, so there were gray, nearly featherless chicks the color of stone next door to bewildered white powder puffs, stretching their necks to look around. The chicks spend four months or so just sitting in the nest; those that roll or stumble out are likely to be pecked and harassed to death by territorial neighbors. At roughly four months of age, the chicks make their first flight--to Australia. Many swim part of the way.
The tractor trip is evidently a traditional family outing for many in the area. Most of the group of 20 or so of us were Kiwis, some local, some from a few hours away. A couple from Christchurch were making their third attempt at seeing the colony with chicks. There were two German families, and families from Singapore and Malaysia.
I was reading Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness at the time, a book (for those who haven't read it) in which gender is distinctly undecidable. So I was struck by the guide's telling us, first, that male and female gannets are indistinguishable: same markings, same size, both sit on the eggs. But, he went on, it's the male who gathers the seaweed for the nest. If we saw one with a beak full of greenery, we'd know what we were seeing. 
Traveling, you want to know what you're looking at. And if we have the categories, it's hard not to use them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kirdaglass & Marillín: Still thinking about accents

Here's a fun code. I first read Angélica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial this past summer in Ursula K. Le Guin's excellent translation. (For anyone considering study in Rosario, by the way, Gorodischer is a rosarina.) There's a lovely creation story near the end, a kind of mash-up of movie actors, plot points, technologies, and conventions (much more inventive than I make it sound--it offers a lot of room to think about how we take stories in and then remake them, and how our creation stories, as stories, also shape us). But sound--that's a big part of the story. Names shift across borders, pronounced differently by speakers of different languages, stressed on different syllables. There's a code here, derived from mostly U.S. movies--non-Argentine movies, anyway--that, in translation, may yet be less available to the English-language reader. Even though, to a degree, it's been translated "back" into its native cultural milieu. 

I'm no film expert--I'm not even a maven, really--so film allusions aren't what springs most readily to mind for me when I'm reading. Still, the first title in italics charge of the light brigade was a hint, as was  the saloon door and, eventually, the names of the actors. The description of the projector (never named as such) helped, too: "a very thick lens, and it had just one eyelid around it [ . . ]. And out of this eye came a tiny speck of dust that got bigger and bigger, and then the eye saw that pinch of dust turn into a house" (Kalpa Imperial, Trans. Le Guin, p. 230).

Gorodischer adapts iconic actors' names to Spanish pronunciation: Kirdaglass, Marillín, Marlenditrij, Betedeivis, Briyibardó, Jedilamar. Good (if transplanted) Midwesterner that I am, I read KUR-duh-GLASS the first time or two, then had my little ah hah! moment: Kirk Douglass. Remember, I'm reading the English. Le Guin has kept the spelling of Gorodsicher's invented names. That seems appropriate. The names are distorted and re-imagined within the novel; their importance stems, in part, from the distance between the original name and the actors'/characters' form--and function--in Gorodsicher's tale. Still, I wonder about the availability of the code to the monolingual English reader, who might not trace Jedilamar back to Hedy Lamarr.

I haven't done the scene justice, thinking mainly about sound and about cross-language adaptation. There's more here. It's a multi-layered code one that includes the names of the actors, the conventions of cinema, the conventions of story-telling. Check out the novel itself, in either English or Spanish (or both!)

Gorodischer, Angélica. Kalpa Imperial. Various editions, most recently Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2001.
---. Kalpa Imperial: The Greatest Empire That Never Was. Trans. Ursula K. Le Guin. Northampton, MA: Small Beer Press, 2003.