Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Travel guides new and old

I love reading travel guides. I've bought several in preparation for my upcoming trip to Argentina, and I've pretty well cleaned out the public library's shelf. (Good news for those planning their own trips: I leave at the end of the month, and all books will be returned.) The university library has just one book specifically on Rosario, where I'll be teaching: a pamphlet titled Rosario: Argentina's Second City published by the Pan American Union in 1925. The emphasis is on commerce and modern development, with the occasional flight of fancy: "With ocean and river craft of all descriptions anchored for several miles along the water front, with sailors and river boatmen speaking varied languages, handling cargoes curious and interesting, a commercial picture is presented that merits the attention of a gifted painter." 
Most of the photographs, however, are of buildings--mostly banks, solid, blocky, and imposing. Certain details, though, do connect with my current translation project, such as a mention of the Jockey Club or a photo of palm trees on Blvd. Oroño. I've found mentions of the latter in travel books as well, and I'm looking forward to seeing the "real" haunts of the fictional characters whose adventures I've been rewriting into English.
I'll be teaching a course called Translating Argentina, using translation as a lens through which to consider cross-cultural experience and adaptation. We'll read some Borges, some Cortázar, some Gambaro. We'll read travel books and local advertisements. 
We'll all be translating ourselves, my students and I, rewriting ourselves into another language, another cultural context, introducing ourselves to new people, and then rewriting whatever adventures--or misadventures--we might have back into English, to tell our friends back home. Rethinking an experience in more than one language, I think, inserts a distance that encourages reflection--an opening, a necessary pause to think. The cheerful boosterism of the 1925 pamphlet reminds me, too, that whatever I might find in Argentina will be just one moment, open to reinterpretation over time as well.


  1. I imagine Argentina being a pleasant place, more European than we would think in South America. When I was in grade school, PanAmericanism was in style. It was just after the War, when we had been very solicitous of our southern neighbors, that we should all be on the same page.

    Is it odd to look at that 1925 boosterism and think that Peron and Evita were just around the corner?

    Have you looked for old films about Argentina on You Tube? It is amazing what you can find there.

    I like old National Geographics, too. The world before the Second War was such an interesting place.

    When you come back from Rosario will you say that you liked so much being there because you could feel there so sweetly your nostalgia for your own home? (I have probably bollixed Borges' quote hopelessly: when something strikes me as so apt, I sometimes confuse my own reflection on it with what the author actually said.)

  2. DEK-- the tone of the pamphlet is very much "all on the same page," no question about it. I don't recognize the Borges quote, but it does ring true, a variation on the absence that makes the heart grow fonder.

  3. Amalia: I seem to remember it from a Collected Works read about a dozen years ago. Looking for it online I did find this, which reminded me of you:

    “El original es infiel a la traducción.”

    from "Sobre el Vathek de William Beckford" (1943)

    Since I found this as a disembodied quotation, I of course have no idea what he means, but appreciate it anyway.