Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lost in Translation

Have I told you that I have a side-line in translation work? Well, I do. I translate books and documents from Italian to English. Don't ask me to do it the other way around, I can't write decent Italian at all. I consider it an accomplishment if I write the shopping list in correct Italian! But since way before I was qualified to do it, I have been translating to make an extra buck on the side.

In the beginning it was quite a challenge and I must claim full responsibility for the damage I have done in poorly rendering completely respectable Italian texts. It's probably all my fault that that documentary film on Canosa di Puglia didn't win anything at the competition it was entered in. And God only knows what chaos I wreaked with that 500 page computer manual...its users probably have errors popping up all over the place, if not a complete system breakdown!

But, after hundreds of documents on topics that vary from agriculture to medicine, from architecture to cosmetics, from business to political science, from tourism to art criticism, I'd say I've gotten pretty good at it. My most recent project was the most challenging, but also most interesting and satisfying job of all: a book on film tourism in Apulia. As soon as it's published I'll stick a link on my sidebar here so you can run out and buy it! Not that I'm getting royalties or anything, mind you. Which brings me to the downside of translating...

The money. Or lack thereof. People don't seem to understand that it's hard work translating. They think that if you know two languages all you have to do is read the words in one language and spit them out in the other. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. If it did all those computer translation systems would solve the world's translation problems lickety-split. Instead of just being the source of great laughs for the crazy and totally inappropriate language they create. Try this for yourself on the Google Language Tools page.

Translation requires not only in-depth knowledge of the two languages, but also of the idioms, slang, and a thousand cultural references in both languages. You have to be well-read, have access to a wide range of general information, be up on current events, familiar with classical references and willing to research and study words and phrases, even ones you already know because every word can have multiple nuances depending on the context it is used in. You have to know how to express yourself in a variety of registers, or levels of language, from colloquial to formal and everything in between. And you have to know how to write well.

Clients don't usually take any of this into consideration. You know English, you know Italian, so it should be easy to translate between the two. So, they send you large quantities of work to be done...yesterday, usually! Or, in any case, in a very short period of time. Which you try to respect, sacrificing everything and everyone else in your life in the meantime. Often for mediocre to poor pay. I've learned to be selective in accepting jobs, both regarding deadline and compensation. And more business translations for me, I just don't have the vocabulary, nor the interest in developing it.

I wouldn't do it at all, though, if I didn't find the process fascinating. Getting a phrase just right in the target language is one of those "ah-ha!" lught-bulb going on over your head experiences. It's like solving a puzzle and once I get started, I can't stop until I've got all the pieces in the right places. One stroke of genius after another, sentence after sentence.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carnival Party

Saturday night we celebrated Carnival with a party for fun-loving children and crazy adults!

Here we have a boy-girl, a Russian soldier, a rapper and a very elegant pirate, accompanied by an Australian cowboy.

A gentleman and his lovely lady!

Three...three..your guess is as good as mine!???

My costume is a little bit more complicated to explain because it involves a play on words in Italian, but let me try.... The obvious bit is that I'm a pregnant nun. You've heard of the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception? Well, in Italian "immaculate" is "immacoloto" which sounds like "maculato" which means "spotted" and is used to describe animal print fabrics. So, I am a "suora della maculata concezione" or "sister of the animal print conception"...get it?

East meets West!

An Australian cowboy and his turtle woman.

Live music!

The belle of the ball!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Mistaken Identity

It all began last Friday. The phone calls. First just a couple.

Me: Hello?

Caller: Hello, I'm calling from XYZ School in the Veneto region. Am I speaking to Maria Rossi? (Let's just use this alias to protect the innocent.)

Me: No, I'm sorry, you must have the wrong number.

Caller: Well, let me just check. Is this 1234567891?

Me: Yes, it is, but I'm not Maria.

Caller: Well, this is the number we have in our data. Could you tell Maria we called?

Me: I don't know Maria. There must be some mistake.

Caller: Maria has won a post as a substitute teacher at our school and we absolutely must inform her. (pregnant pause... like they expect ME to do something about it)

Me: Look, I'm sorry, but I'm not Maria, my name is Saretta. I don't know Maria. I don't live in the Veneto region. I live in the province of Bari and I am not looking for a job!

Caller: Oh well then, goodbye...

Take this conversation and multiply it over the next 3 days by...oh, I don't know...about 30 I would say. Just about enough to drive me mad.

There were various "types" of callers in the bunch. I divide them into 3 basic groups: 1) those who thought the mix-up was a good laugh and were good-natured about the whole thing; 2) those who were surprised and concerned and begged my forgiveness for having bothered me unnecessarily; and 3) those who wanted Maria Rossi from me, come hell or high water!

These, as you can imagine, were the worst. I found myself trapped in impossible conversations with school officials with bull-dog like tenacity. I learned all kinds of interesting facts about Maria that certainly should never have been given out to a complete stranger on the telephone.

Caller: Are you sure? Were you, by chance, born in Naples in 1967 and are now currently a resident in (town's name)?

I had to just bite my tongue not to respond, "Oh, yeah, now that you remind me, that is me! I am Maria! How could I have forgotten?"

After call number 35 or 36 I had to take things into my own hands. Not only was I being driven crazy by a constantly ringing cell-phone, but poor Maria was losing out on a whole lot of possible job opportunities. With unemployment being what it is in this country, and the fate of the vast army of substitute teachers being as precarious as it is...I started to feel responsible for this person.

So, I decided to find her, and find her I did! Where? On Facebook, of course! (See what a social network expert I am becoming!) Turns out that while my cell-phone number is something like 1234567891, hers is 1234567892 and somewhere along the line a mistake was made in writing that number down.

Maria was quite thrilled to hear from me, and to hear that she had been called by so many schools. Luckily for her, she is already working somewhere until June. In an email exchange she asked me, "will they call me in September?"

That may have been the last straw...

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is it Only Me?

Or are there other social network complete incompetents out there?

I don't know what it is, but I always seem to get into trouble when I get involved in these things. Take Facebook, for example. I don't "get" Facebook, in the sense of I really don't see what all the excitement is about. I'll admit it's got it's good points. You can find people who you thought were long-lost. On the down side, however, you can be found by people you had hoped were long-lost!

I found my half-sister whom I had lost contact with for about 5 years, that was good. I found a little boy I knew in Mexico a lifetime ago, who is now a 27 year old concert pianist in Luxembourg, that is fascinating.

But, do I really want to be kept up to date on the daily comings and goings of all kinds of fringe relatives, old high school pals I don't even remember and complete and total strangers who ask to be my "friend" for God knows what reason?

Okay, so with a stretch of the imagination I can take a guess at the reason...they are always men, interested in women, looking for friendship and/or dating. There doesn't seem to be an age limit for this kind of Facebook approach. Before I figured out that I should make my profile available only to friends, I was getting tons of these requests from guys of all ages. My favorite was from an 18-year-old Egyptian man working at a McDonalds in Milan. What? I mean I'm a lot older than him and living at the other end of the peninsula. I guess I should be flattered...

And then there have been the Facebook disasters of my own making. I thought I had found a person I know. The name was the same. The photo showed a short, dark-haired guy standing on the kind of rock beach we have around here. He immediately accepted my request for friendship and wrote me a lovely, indecipherable note in terrible Italian saying that yes, he loved scuba-diving (my real friend is a diver), but his real interest was in esoterism! Alarm bells started ringing! This could not be the right guy, my friend is a teacher, he couldn't write that poorly...and esoterism? If you ask me, it was secret code for "kinky sex"! I unfriended the guy. He immediately sent me another friendship request. I blocked him. Oh dear...

This kind of thing has happened more than once. I'm like a weirdo magnet!

I haven't had much better luck with Skype, either. I hadn't set up my account 5 minutes when I get a message from a guy with some name like Dirk, saying "hi! watcha doin'?" Today it was "Haylie Sexy" who wanted to show me some pictures...great...

So, what? Is it just me, or have you had experiences like mine, too?

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Gassy Goddess of Love

This morning I woke up to older son Danny bursting into the bedroom at 6:30 a.m.

Me: "Danny, it's too early, go back to bed."

Danny: "Brrr, mmm, ughlsk..."

Well, there was no arguing with that logic so I made space for him in the bed and tried to go back to sleep. Right. Once I'm awake, I'm awake. So at 6:45 I rolled out of bed and started my usual wintertime getting-out-of-bed-in-the-morning routine. This involves putting a fleece bathrobe on over my pyjamas, digging the heavy socks I went to sleep in out from the depths of the sheets and blankets at the foot of the bed and putting those on, grabbing a fleece blanket and wrapping it around my waist. Very attractive, I assure you!

But this morning all those layers were not enough. It was cold. Unusually cold. I decided to add another fleece jacket to my ensemble, jacking my attractiveness factor up to Michelin Man level. That's just one step below Goodyear Blimp level.

I have it on good authority (trust me!) that the Michelin Man is very sexy. He has even been compared to Venus, so what am I worried about? The more layers, the closer I am to the Goddess of Love!
The radiators were all stone cold. Bad sign. But, it has happened before. We live in a big house out in the countryside and sometimes things break. Luckily I am married to the Man-Who-Can-Do-Everything (very useful to have around - every woman should have one) and whenever household disaster strikes I know that all I have to do is call out "Franceeeeescoooo" and things will soon be set to right.

Unfortunately, Mr. Fix-it's diagnosis was that we were out of gas, completely out of gas. No gas is a problem. A lot of our basic household needs are met by that big tank of liquid propane gas buried out there in the front yard. No gas means no heating, no stovetop cooking, no hot water to wash the dishes, no hot water for taking a shower! And after two days in bed, one with back spasms and another to avoid freezing to death, let me tell you that I stink!

Finally, the gas truck came this afternoon and topped off our tank. I can't wait for the water to heat up so I can jump in the shower. My family can't wait either!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


On the way home from our monthly book club meeting my dear friend Shannon, the writer of erotic thrillers, leaned up over my shoulder from the back seat of my 1997 Peugeot 106 where she was sitting with her 11 month old baby, Alex, and said,

"I've been reading this book..."


"I think the story behind it is a bunch of hooey, but..."


And she proceeded to tell me all about Ancient Secret of the Fountain of Youth. Which, in short, is a mini-yoga program designed to help you in the process of "youthing." The opposite of aging, right?

It includes 5 simple exercises to be repeated every morning, as few as three times each, but ideally working up to 21 times each. The first exercise is to spin around clockwise in place, the second is a sort of leg lift, in the third you arch your back, in the fourth you make a bridge with your body, and in the fifth you swing from an arched back position to forming a V with your body. They are very simple, but perhaps easier to understand by looking at the photos in the book than from reading my description.
Apparently, these exercises serve to normalize the energy in the seven "chakras" located in the human body. Freeing this "blocked" energy allows your system to function optimally and turn back the clock, creating this "youthing" process that makes you stronger, healthier, more energetic, and so on.

Being a woman of a certain age...certainly not "old," in my opinion, but not getting any younger either...I have started to notice the effects of time passing. Those wrinkles deeping around the eyes, that droop of the chinline, the quality of my skin tone. Nothing tragic, but enough to make my vanity falter a bit.

When I was younger, I always imagined an old age lived with verve and style. You know, the old lady dashing off in her hot red sportscar to a bridge game with her girlfriends! At the same time, I've always felt it is important to age with dignity. I wouldn't want to be one of those folks who dresses too young and ends up being ridiculous.

But, seeing friends and relatives begin to age around me, I have realised that the real problem with aging has less to do with aesthetics and everything to do with health. With age you run into more of what the Italians call "acciacchi" (say "AH-CHA-KEY") or aches and pains, infirmities and ailments. Anything that can help fend these off is more than welcome, I say.

And so, last Sunday I started my "youthing" program. On the first day, I did only a few repetitions of the exercises, or "rites" as they are called in the book, but when I was finished I felt energised and...taller! I've always had poor posture, but since beginning the rites standing up straight seemed natural and easy. Wow!

On the third day, however, I felt full of muscle pains around my chest. Yesterday these pains transferred to my back between my shoulder blades and I'm having painful muscle spasms there. I hate to think this is related to the exercises in any negative way. I mean, the exercises are easy and make me feel great. I'm wondering if there is some sort of yogic explanation, like a problem with the particular chakra involved. Unfortunately, I'm completely yoga ignorant... Hope the pain goes away soon so I can get back to doing the rites.