Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bored as an oyster?

Razor clam, boredom long past

The translation I'm working on includes the phrase, aburrirse como pingüinos-- become bored as penguins? A little sleuthing around turned up the phrase, aburrirse como una ostra or una almeja-- bored as an oyster, or bored as a clam. Bivalves likely lead pretty dull lives (though a razor clam can burrow down 24 inches in less than a minute which, allowing for scale, is faster than many bipeds can travel). A new phrase for me, but evidently a perfectly common way of saying "bored to tears" or "bored to death." Bored silly, bored stiff, bored beyond belief, bored out of one's mind--there's quite a variety of ways to say it in English. My guess would be lots of bored people, looking for colorful ways to complain. Based on the lists I've assembled so far, Spanish seems to have more "bored as an [x]" comparisons, while English speakers seem more likely to be bored into or out of a state or condition.

Idioms are a challenge--to teach, to translate, let alone to employ with any grace in one's own speech. One of my favorite moments from my college Spanish classes was when the exasperated professor, faced with a student's protest--"I'd never say it like that!"--responded drily, "Fortunately, the language is not limited to what you would or would not say." I think we were talking about heartbreak.

But about those penguins. In context, it's a variation on a common theme; the reader of the original would have the standard idiom in her repertoire, and notice the shift. Recognizable yet unexpected. I haven't quite worked out how to preserve that wrinkle in the English, though I'm thinking I might keep the penguins, just for fun. 

I'm seldom bored, but I'll be looking for ways to work the oyster's ennui into conversation.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Cookbooks--a translator's best friend

Maybe I just tend to translate books full of food, even elaborate meals (the Virgin's Jubilee breakfast in La Virgen Pipona/The Potbellied Virgin being a favorite example) but I have found, mostly by chance, that international cookbooks provide a wealth of information for the translator. Plenty of ingredients--herbs, spices, cuts of meat--have straightforward parallels across languages, but many do not. Prepared dishes can be harder to indentify, and a lush, full-color illustration of the finished stew or conserve can be invaluable. Pictures can be especially helpful in a monolingual, source-language cookbook-- so that's what they're eating! Then there are the multi-lingual glossaries, the explanations of staples and procedures that might be daunting to a cook unfamiliar with the cuisine described. 

Not to be overlooked: the tangential fun of reading cookbooks. So many wonderful dishes to imagine without all the tedious chopping. One of my favorites carries a blurb that proclaims it a MUST for the bookshelf of any serious cook. I'm not really a serious cook. Grim, maybe, heating bean and cheese tortillas at a gallop before fencing classes or recorder lessons. But I like to dabble. Imaginary cooking requires little skill and only modest self-control to keep the snacking demons in check. And if I finally identify an elusive pastry, it even counts as work, not woolgathering.

I suppose it's a matter of seeing "dictionary" in the broadest possible sense--the plant books I've mentioned before, compendia of mythological creatures and little-known saints, forgotten movie reviews. Today's library trip had a specific goal: cookbooks from or about Argentina. There weren't too many in my local library but there were, I hope, just enough to get the characters through their breakfasts and on with the story. Maybe I'll even try cooking a new dish or two in preparation.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Argentina Count-Down (part 1)

I picked up a 6-week, inter-library loan on campus the other day, and the return date was none other than my departure date for Argentina. Aack! I've got as many to-do lists as a woman could wish for, but checking things off the lists is proving harder. So the packing/planning/copying/reserving/panicking begins in earnest. I spent half the morning today in front of the department photocopier, putting together a course packet that I could then scan and email to myself. But the scan was too big and the email never arrived, so I'll have to scan it again, part I and part II. I spent yesterday evening poring over guidebooks and web sites looking for weather information, needing to answer that all-important question: what should we pack? With different parts of the family heading in different directions at different times this fall, we're counting suitcases and wondering what can be borrowed, what must be bought. I'm a big believer in taking far less clothing and way more money than you think you'll need on any given trip; I have almost never wished I had more stuff to cart around. Still, we hate to be caught short, without the crucial book/tool/sweater that would make everything run smoothly.

It's also important to leave some room in the luggage for the trip home. Souvenirs, presents, paraphernalia-- call it what you will (I like the terms "research materials" and "realia for teaching purposes," both of which sound more purposeful than the "ephemera" we used to sell at the used bookstore where I worked in college). I'm already daydreaming about book shopping in Buenos Aires and Rosario. When we returned from our year in Ecuador in 1980, my parents would station one kid at each pile of luggage, then ferry suitcases and bundles from one to the next. That trip, we were bringing home gorgeous hand-tinted photographs, a huge wheel of cheese, copious research notes, the usual clothes and books, and two blow-guns. 

Easy to take along: virtual reading material in the form of links to favorite blogs. I've added a list of a few I enjoy reading, with more to follow. Do have a look if you haven't read them yet and, in a comment, take a moment to mention your own favorites that I might have missed.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Globe Oranges -- a story

Many years ago, a student arrived on the first day of class with a very small infant in her arms. When her turn came to introduce herself, she said she had studied in [country x] for a semester and come back with a little [country-xian]. Which got me thinking. . .  and marked one of the first steps toward a short story I wrote sometime later. "Globe Oranges" was published in Bellingham Review in 2004. It's only tangentially about study abroad, but it is about maps, and how we understand the world, and words, and what we can make for one another. Click here to read the whole story. It's not brand new, but it's one that's stayed with me.

--Thanks to the editors of Bellingham Review for their initial hospitality.