Thursday, September 29, 2011

Birdwatching for Translators

I was asked recently when on this trip I had particularly felt I was somewhere else. Well, running, last Friday.

It was a gray, cold, drizzly morning with a strong wind, easily run-in-a-fleece weather; a day worthy of Michigan at the end of March (remember, we just celebrated the first day of spring). The wind was stronger by the river, and stronger yet as I turned back and realized I had had it behind me; the rain stung my face and my ears. The river looked brown, as usual, but high and choppy.

Then I saw a tero. Two, actually. I recognized them by appearance, not by name (those who know me can testify I'm no ornithologist), and I recognized their appearance because I'd been looking at photographs.

When I first read the sentence in the book I'm translating --he looked like a tero-- I had no idea. It could have been anything: a kind of rodent, a local bogeyman, an aristocratic dandy. It took some dictionary rummaging, a trail from a more local name to a more general name to a comparison of photographs to settle on the English. Tero to Teruteru to Southern Lapwing.

It was bumpy ground, rough grass and not-quite-park just where the construction site started. The two men I usually see practicing Tai Chi (always on the danger side of the keep-back sign meant to protect the unwary from the eroding bluffs) were posed in the distance. I was pulling my cold hands further into my sleeves when the dark, trailing crest at the back of a bird's head caught my eye. And I thought, I really am somewhere else now. 

[photo via Wikipedia]
Does it help the translation? Change it?  

It did push me toward using the local name, not the English name of the bird. Wikipedia will tell you about the Tero in Spanish or the Southern Lapwing in English. Lapwing now seems too domesticating (and, perhaps contradictorily, needlessly distancing; the reader who doesn't know her birds won't know a southern lapwing from a cedar waxwing). Also, to me, lapwing sounds somehow more fluid in its movements, not poking and jumping on the ground like the birds I saw, longish-legged and knobby-kneed, like miniature heron relations. But will the reader know a tero is a bird if I don't add other pointers?

It's still a work-in-progress. For now, I've got both names in the draft.

Monday, September 19, 2011

First Day of Spring

Podrán cortar todas las flores pero no acabarán con la primavera
--they can cut all the flowers but they won't do away with spring--

Lapachos in bloom
I wonder how long I'd have to live in the southern hemisphere for September to mean springtime to me. I do associate September with beginnings-- new school year, time for plans, goals, agendas, new projects. But there's also a sense of the year winding down, the days getting shorter, rain on the horizon and then in your shoes.

But here in Rosario, people are gearing up for spring. The last of the winter merchandise is heavily marked down. Changes in the bus schedule are announced. It seems the first day of spring is also a day off of school-- and, according to this morning's paper, the September 21 date is also a mistake, an inexact transfer by immigrants from the northern hemisphere, so that the spring equinox they were accustomed to (March 21) was transposed to September. What went wrong? The equinox is actually on the 22nd or 23rd in this hemisphere, varying slightly year to year.   

Seasons don't arrive on schedule anyway, whatever the calendar says, or ought to say. The weather has been cooperatively variable (read spring-like, in my seasonal experience): sunny but not too hot; then a full day of warmish, muggy rain; then cold, dusty wind under a gray sky, days I've worn sunglasses as safety goggles to protect against dust instead of glare. The grass in the parks looks worn, almost threadbare, reflecting a lack of rain. There are birds' eggs broken all over the sidewalks, and doves are trying to nest on my air-conditioner, or under it. And though I don't know if palm trees change at all from spring to fall--they always look the same to me--the lapachos are blooming. 

Lapachos apparently come in several colors, but so far I've only seen pink. The trees bloom before they leaf out, big, bundled, trumpety blossoms. They're here and there throughout the city, they line a couple of the downtown streets, preside over the park next to the maternity hospital a few blocks away. Sharing a cab with several new friends the other day, I asked the name of the pink flowering trees we passed, and the other women all agreed: seeing the lapachos in bloom was how they knew it was really spring.

View from Davis Silos (MACRO contemporary art museum)

The trees are beautiful. The sunshine today was delicious. Still, in my gut, it feels like fall. Something about taking the girl out of the season but not getting the season out of the girl. Maybe if I were here for a full round of seasons, it would feel different.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Running on Sunday

I set out to run on Sunday, either over toward the Paraná River and along the bluffs on the shore for a bit, as I've done before, or maybe taking Blvd. Oroño in the other direction, toward Parque de la Independencia [map]. But I found that the boulevard is closed to vehicle traffic on Sundays from 8:00-1:00, so I stayed right there and ran in a loop. No, I didn't run in crazy circles (though I did recall an old friend's reference to Quito's Avda. Amazonas as the tontódromo; think hippodrome, then insert "idiot" in place of horse), but it did make me happy.
Blvd. Oroño; no cars, plenty of people

There were still a few pauses at intersections. On corners with traffic signals, most of the assembled strolling/running/biking/ambling/skating/stroller-pushing crowd dutifully waited for the light to change; other intersections had police directing traffic, so cars wouldn't gush right into the non-motorized stream. 

Change the air! Recreational street.
The air seemed cleaner than when I've run on weekdays, though that may have been an illusion. The sun was out. One of the first things I did on arrival was to buy a pair of black sweatpants to run in, so I blended right in with all the other women of a certain age (i.e., mine ± 25 years). A girl on a little pink bike with training wheels pedaled madly after a teenier dog leashed to her handlebars. The occasional driver wondered how to get his car out of a corner gas station. Unlike some pools where the swimmers can be quite fierce about sharing lanes for lap-swimming, there was no particular directional regime; folks went up and down both traffic lanes and the sidewalk median. 

I went back later with my camera. I liked the green and white signs the city put out. I wanted to capture the flow of people. But I never feel comfortable sticking my camera right in someone's face--aside from family, I take a lot more pictures of flowers and buildings.

You go ahead; not your car.

And it wasn't that crowded. It was open. People had hours to take advantage of the car-free zone, and did. I don't know how long the initiative has been in place or how long it might last. Maybe there was controversy, maybe it's someone's crazy plan, maybe it's a tradition of long standing. I'll have to ask someone. I've met a couple of women who love to tell stories, so with any luck, I'll get an earful.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Paraná River Cruise

A few pictures from last weekend's river cruise, a two-hour trip from the Estación Fluvial (just below the Monumento a la Bandera), up to the foot of the Rosario-Victoria bridge and back. The water was high, so the boat was able to take a further channel, between islands, then return via the main channel of the Paraná.

Kayaks beached for a picnic

Long-term moorage
Fisherman's home

Some islands are more water than isle

Enough solid ground for a few cattle

And beehives (hard to see in the picture) behind a sign offering Miel

The Rosario-Victoria bridge, turn-around point for our boat

River traffic (heavy)

River traffic (light)

Approaching the dock again, near Parque España

Monday, September 5, 2011

Signs (taken for wonders?)

The exotic is always alluring; borrow a few words from another language, or a cinema icon from another era, and the possibilities blossom. Or wilt. I always enjoy reading signs (we recently turned the car around to photograph a sign for "Salad Shrimp" offered right next to night crawlers; imagine our disappointment when it was in fact "Sand Shrimp" that we had misread--a perfectly coherent listing of bait species.) A few signs that have made me smile, or left me thinking, over the past few days in Rosario:

Ming Fat Food? Is that really what they mean? (Lady Stork, at the bottom, sounds like maternity wear to me, but from the window, I think it's just regular shoes and clothes.) Eat too much Ming Fat, and you won't be able to achieve the long, lean lines demanded by:
Sutilezas King Kong--Alta Costura
Maybe it's the idea of King Kong's signature subtleties, heretofore unknown? High fashion in the sense of altitude, not class? The model looks as tall as the Empire State Building, anyway. 

For those of us in the more modest price ranges (far from high fashion) there's always:
Where everything's 2 pesos, unless it's not
The local variant on the dollar store promises everything for 2 pesos (about $0.50 US, right now) or "for less and more" as well. No one will be disappointed.

And finally, some of you have seen this, but I can't resist including Don Beef's promise to the masses: Pork for Everyone!

Seen any good signs lately?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Orientation: Stone Windows

alabaster window
It's orientation week, for students and visiting faculty alike. I want to say disorientation as well (notice my self-restraint--no parenthesis around the prefix, though both training and inclination leave me tempted to ask a word to be its opposite even as it is defined, greedily hoping to hold ambivalence and precision in the same little bundle of sound). But orientation, whenever someone takes the trouble to offer it, inevitably seems disorienting as well.

Recoleta Cemetery (from the--open--stone window)
Librería Ateneo Gran Splendid (Buenos Aires)
Before catching the bus to Rosario, I spent a couple of days beginning to find my way around Buenos Aires. At the Claustros del Pilar, an old section of the church beside the Recoleta Cemetery, I especially admired the stone windows, thin, translucent sheets of alabaster. There is something about the idea of a stone window that intrigues me (though I suppose glass, with its origins in sand, is only a more refined stone). Maybe it has to do with direction and enclosure: these windows are translucent, not transparent; they let light in, but you can't see out. 

I attended the theater-- the theater of live performance, and the theater of books. 

I'm living in an eleventh-floor apartment downtown--not what I'm used to at all. My Buenos Aires hotel room, with its sought-after view of the air shaft, was much quieter. But I like the view from the enclosed balcony, and the cafés up and down the street, and the elevator with its complicated, manually-operated double doors.

Río Paraná
Rosario is a river city, with the Paraná, running roughly north to south, marking the eastern border. I walked to the shore yesterday and again today, noting the "No Fishing" signs next to the numerous fishermen (I don't know what they were hoping to catch) and watching a couple of ships pass. The water is brown; the current looks fast. I met a professor the other night who's training to swim across the river--it's an annual event. From the riverbank, it's a daunting proposition. I'll stick to running for now.

The contemporary art museum occupies a reconditioned grain silo. The driver of the paint truck parked beside it was likely just having a late breakfast at the museum café, but the truck seemed well-placed all the same.

All the benches on Blvd. Oroño are held up by paired sphinx. They look recently painted, for the most part, well-tended. I'm trying to imagine the civic boosters meeting where such a design plan was proposed and endorsed. Many of the benches seem to be work stations for the itinerant car-washers tending to the late-model vehicles parked nearby. No riddles, just small change.

Orientation can be a series of rules and expectations and procedures, neatly outlined and carefully explained. It's is also a spatial concept, one that implies attention to both context and perspective: what we see and from what vantage point. Sometimes there's not a lot to see. Sometimes it's a matter of waiting for light to penetrate stone.