What book to take on vacation - part II

The short answer?

Here I am, in Salmon Arm, BC, and my Greene and Darwin are so far just objects making my suitcase that much heavier to drag in and out of the car trunk, up and down motel stairs...

Not that I haven't been doing any reading.
I've read maps, signposts, information signs, menus, weather reports, bear sighting reports and avalanche warnings, for example. All awfully interesting. And a bit scary :-)

Well, the trip has just begun, I am sure there will be some down time when I can settle down with one of my books. Thought British Airlines does not make it easy -- their selection of movies and music is amazing; did some catching up in that area.

Au revoir -- gotta go!

Oz – Gogol – Greene – Darwin

One of the most important things to be packed before a trip is a book, of course. The difficult question is which one. It can't be too heavy – your carry-on weighs a ton already.
It can't be too engrossing – you don't want to be so absorbed in the hero's shenanigans that you miss out on the view. My son once pointed out that judging from my trip journal, I spent most of a certain trip abroad totally involved in the adventures of Frodo and Sam and sighing over Strider rather than over the wonders of a new land.

The natural thing to do is probably to take the book you're in the middle of reading. Which is not a good idea if the book is 593 pages long and weighs 708 grams (including my bookmark and the weight of the lead – sorry, graphite – of my pencil markings in the margins.) Which is why the book in question, A Tale of Love and Darkness, by Amos Oz, was not taken on any of my recent trips. Took me a long time to finish that book, and not for lack of interest –I loved it. For one thing, I discovered that Oz has a sense of humor – something that had never struck me before in earlier novels. Also, it brought back childhood memories, captured to perfection. For example, the Special Event of going to the pharmacy in the center of town in order to make a phone call.

When I at last finished A Tale of, I was sorry it ended and immediately picked up Oz's nonfiction, The Story Begins. I leafed through and chose the chapter describing the opening paragraphs of Gogol's The Nose. It was so intriguing, that I dropped the slim volume and picked up Gogol's Petersburg Tales (see my posts of November 29, 2008 and December 25, 2008). What a treat! Unlike my reaction to The Overcoat, The Nose was quite funny, in a lunatic sort of way.

But I digress. Oz and Gogol were both ruled out as travel companions.

Another book on my shelf is Ian McEwan's Atonement weighing in at 480 pages and 253 grams. I stopped at page 130. At the risk of sounding superficial, un-literary, unrefined and unappreciative, I'll say that I found the novel hard going. Each description in itself is a gem of insight: hits the nail on the head, touches a nerve, zeroes in on the essentials that make people tick, or work. But strung together as they are, interspersed between the "lowly" plot-propelling chapters, they slow down the story excruciatingly, while I believe in E.M. Forster's wistful "Oh dear, yes, the novel tells a story." I want a story to unfold smoothly, whereas this story (and I know it's a good one – I've seen the movie) lurches painfully – one step forward, two steps back, one in place.

Which leaves me with two books. Seeing as I'm leaving early tomorrow morning, I had better make up my mind.

I'm opting for Charles Darwin and Graham Greene.

Greene has for years been one of my favorite writers. In case I haven't mentioned it (and "Search Blog" says I haven't), I was reading A Burnt-Out Case, (208 p., 122 gr. including the Scotch tape holding it together) and stopped – can you believe it – on page 189! I could see how Querry, the well-meaning protagonist, was getting himself into a pickle, and I just couldn't stand it. As if, if I didn't read on, everything would be alright, and the story would have a happy end. So, no Burnt-Out Case, I'm not going to schlep 122 gr. for the sake of 19 heart-rending pages. If you know from your own acquaintance with the novel, that I can safely read on without crying my eyes out, do let me know, and perhaps I'll finish it tonight after packing and before calling for a taxi.

Instead of Burnt, I shall take my chances with The Honorary Consul-- 268 p., 151 gr., no Scotch tape – better condition, won't fall apart in transit. And yes, I know I'm taking a chance with regard to the fate awaiting the protagonist. I can tell from the cover: a Michael Caine type chappie, blindfolded, and two machine-gun toting revolutionaries behind him.

Which brings us to the book I am currently reading: The Voyage of the Beagle, by Charles Darwin. I thought I should read it before The Origin of Species. You know – as background. It is heavyish and thickish – 480 pages, 324 gr. I'm currently on page 50. The margins are littered with my question marks – petioles? mytilus? ampullariae? infusoria? confervae? I don't even know what pelagic animals are, and I'll have you know that "Scoresby remarks that green water abounding with pelagic animals is invariably found in a certain part of the Arctic Sea." (p. 20) But in the margins are also exclamation marks, smileys and "ha!", indicating, of course, that I was amused. True, I do get a bit glassy-eyes when various beetles are described. But on the other hand there are plenty of adventures and astute, insightful observations about foreign cultures, social mores, Life, the Universe and Everything.

* * *

This will only take you a minute

How many times have you heard that before?
Don't you just love it?

The phone rings, and one of your regular customers is on the line, offering you a job, or rather, expecting you to take the teensy weensy job he is throwing at you.
You explain that you're in the middle of something, rather a long complicated piece – say about Prospects for Peace in the Piddled East, or the Logic of Life on Lucifer – and you can't right now. Needless to say, his job is urgent.
"There's nothing to it, really," he insists, "it's less than a page. It'll only take you a minute."

So, against your better judgment, you give in.

But it never takes just a minute, does it?

First of all, you save the document you've been toiling over and shove it aside, as it were.
You open the new email. Save the document into the appropriate folder. Glance at it. Realize it's more complicated than you thought. Start translating. Find out there's an unfinished sentence in the first paragraph. Paragraph two contains three unfamiliar names in Hebrew, or in Arabic, or in Ancient Greek, which you have no idea how to pronounce and therefore can't Google them properly. Paragraph three is so vague and convoluted, being made up of one long sentence, that you haven't the foggiest what the writer was trying to say.
You figure out a workaround – after all, you are an experienced, skilled translator – tweak it a bit, and send it off back whence it came.
What with one thing and another, you've spent nearly an hour on the stupid thing.

Never again, you say to yourself… Until next time.

Planning my getaway from literal translations

For the past few weeks, I've been jotting down notes, bits and pieces of rants and ideas, but never getting around to actually posting on this-here blog. My excuse this time is, that I've been preparing for a trip to Canada, and had a "to do" list as long as my arm. By now, after weeks of intensive to-doing, the list is less than a foot long, which is far better than an [adult] arm.

One would think I was going to some god-forsaken uncharted no-man's land, from the amount of errands, shopping and "sidurim*" that I've been doing; when in fact I'll be in a Very Civilized country, where I'm sure every petrol station will carry most of what any Western weary wayfarer might wequire.

I can see myself sitting in a roadside diner, sipping awful coffee (I'm addicted to Elite Brazilian Botz**) and leafing through the local paper. Will I get as upset with the Calgary Clarion, the Banff Bugle, the Waterloo Weather Weport or the Kitchener Kitchen Knews as I do here in Israel with the Jerusalem Post?...
Only Time will tell, and this time draws near, thank goodness. Just a few days away.

Meanwhile, I'll share with you some of the annoying snippets, the likes of which I hope not to encounter when on vacation:

1. An ad for the Mega supermarket chain gave a recipe for a zucchini-pepper-cheese dish. It says :"Oil an English cake dish with olive oil." For those of you who reacted with a "Huh?", this is a literal translation from Hebrew. It should say "Grease a loaf pan…"

2. In the same ad, a picture shows two types of strudel, and the caption says "Apple / Forest Fruit Strudel". Well, folks, there is no such thing as "forest fruit strudel"; what the translator meant was wild berries. Again, a case of literal translation

3. Yotvata sweet cream – it's not sweet cream, it's just plain cream, as distinguished from sour cream.

4. The Bank Hapoalim ad, pushing a new "budget management tool", says: "… a simple tool allowing you to monitor your incomes and expenses in detail, by category without any efforts". Once again, a case of literal translation from Hebrew. Writers in Hebrew tend to use the plural where it isn't really necessary, probably under the impression that more is better. In this case, it should be income and effort. Or use "effortlessly", in the right place in the sentence, of course.

5. The Marker's lifestyle magazine, Active, of April 2009, carried an article about fitness trends. Guess what the latest trend is? Having your own מאמן אישי וקואצ'ר - -- me'amen ishi ve'coacher – "personal trainer and coacher"… Yes, you got it, they mean coach.

6. Camp Kimana Israel is advertising its 2009 summer camps for kids and youth from all over the world. The colorful flier is all in Hebrew, except for… the words summer camp, which are liberally strewn all over the page. I guess the Hebrew words מחנה קיץ – makhaneh kayitz – just doesn't have a posh enough ring to it…

* sidurim -- inimitable Hebrew word covering a combination of errands and assorted tasks
** Botz - Turkish coffee; finely ground coffee to which you add boiling water and let the coffee grounds settle like mud. But I thought Brazilian Turkish coffee sounded silly.