Renovations, what a beautiful word!

Renovate. What a beautiful word. To make something new again. To give it back youth, beauty. Even if it wasn't beautiful to begin with. Restore. Give back life. Such a noble, optimistic concept. Refurbish isn't bad, either. But I like the Latin sound of re-novare better.

Shame reality is such a drag...  Not the fault of the word, of course. The pretty word creates lovely, hopeful expectations. And then you come up against reality: Noise: drilling, banging, hacking, sawing, tearing down. Dirt: debris, sand, stone, glass, rusty pipes, dust, dust, and more dust. 

In Hebrew, at least, the word doesn't sound so inviting, to my ear at least: le'shapetz -- to renovate; shiputzim -- renovations; shiputznik -- the handyman who does the actual work. 

One of these days I'll have a third blog up and running, dedicated to all sorts of stuff that goes through my head, and that has nothing to do with language (writing, translation, editing etc -- the original objects of this here blog) or with travel (the proclaimed object of
Nina Makes Tracks. That third blog will be called Nina Tracks Changes because, let's face it, everything else comes under the heading of "change". Life, the universe and everything comes under change. No change, ergo no life. But until then, I'm reduced to all manners of subterfuge to sneak unrelated topics into one of my two existing blogs.

Enough apologizing.

Where was I? Yes, renovations, noise, dust.

Four years ago we renovated our kitchen. I
documented key points in the process on Flickr. As renovations go, I am told that we had it easy: reliable contractor/shiputznik who had a plan and stuck to it. When the job was done and we said our goodbyes, we told him that we'd be needing his services again at some point to redo our bathroom. 
But we kept putting it off.
Now -- as the shiputznik drills in the adjacent wall behind me, the walls shudder and dust floats in the air, getting into my keyboard, my hair, my nostrils -- it is very obvious why. Who wants to go through that nightmare again???

But at some point, iron pipes installed over 35 years ago die a horrible death, door-frames exposed to the elements rot, pink bathroom tiles go out of fashion (if they ever were in fashion) and look ridiculous. Not to mention scrub-resistant mold spots. So one day I finally picked up the phone and called Micha, the shiputznik of yore. He was astounded that I'd kept his number.

Off with those pink tiles!

We are towards the end of Day 2, but it feels like it's been going on for much, much longer. 
Dirt, dust, mess, tools all over the place. Even my study, which I thought was safe from destruction if not from noise, has suffered the ignominy of ripped tiles, to reveal rotting pipes:

Not to mention that we rely on friends and neighbors for showering. (Let's ignore our toilet solutions.)

But look! The tiles have arrived! Surely that's a good sign?...

 With this happy thought to sustain me, I shall escape from my study while my eardrums are still relatively intact.

The Lighter Side of Translation – at ESRA

What an appreciative audience! No speaker could ask for anything more.
That’s how I felt on Tuesday the 16th, when giving my talk & presentation at Janet’s beautiful home in Rishon LeZion. The audience was ESRA  members, some from town, some from out-of-town. The comfortable and elegant living room was packed. Most people had had their coffee or soft drinks and cake before the Live Entertainment began. My laptop had been connected to the large, flat TV screen, and the ppt’s opening slide was already displayed:

Though there were a few translators in the crowd, most listeners weren’t involved in translation. Which isn’t an accurate statement, come to think of it: Any English speaker living in Israel is, to some extent, actively involved in interpretation and translation every single day, whether they like it or not. It’s just a fact of life, part of living here.

I had given these issues serious thought when preparing my talk. I wanted to give examples that the audience could easily relate to, and other examples that would shed new light on the subject, tell them things they didn’t know. Judging by reactions, I think I achieved both ends.

My talk attempted to describe what a [freelance, self-employed] translator’s work day consists of: Talking to prospective and existing clients; agreeing to do a specific job; grappling with difficult, obscure, or poorly-written text; and trying to make the best of it.

Most of us translators work alone in front of our computer. If we don’t reach out to colleagues, don’t belong to forums and discussion groups, we don’t realize that we’re all in the same boat. “We translators should stick together,” I said to a young guy, who introduced himself as a translator and who turned out to be a student at Beit Berl College, in the department of translation. He didn’t seem impressed or amenable to that notion. Pity, really. On the whole, I’ve found that formal students of translation, i.e. those studying towards a university/college degree in translation, are in dire need of a “reality check”. Studying the theory plus a bit of practice is very loosely connected to actual work in the field. Which is sometimes more like a battlefield between client and translator. And which is why Prof. Miriam Shlesinger  was kind enough to invite me to give a lecture at Bar Ilan University a few years ago. “You put the fear of God into them,” she grinned at me with satisfaction at the end of my talk.

Well, this time, in Janet’s parlor, I didn’t put the fear of God into anyone, but I may have burst a couple of bubbles. And I made people laugh, which is a wonderfully rewarding feeling. In our profession, if you don’t look at the lighter side of things, you’re likely to end up pretty miserable. Which is one of the reasons I’m such a big fan of Mox’s blog  and share his insights often on my Facebook page.

As for the actual content of my talk and presentation – I don’t want to repeat myself. But I can tell you that several of the examples given in that talk were taken from this-here blog; so just browse away, and you’ll find plenty of examples of what we’re up against as translators. 
Have fun!

Kindle Audio Files – the play

Scene: My desk
Dramatis Personae: Kindle user, Son, Kindaleh
Time: The present
One of the justifications for getting me an e-reader was to help me through the days before and after my cataract operation; see my three posts in August, all focused on either Kindaleh, or my eyesight, or both. With Kindaleh, I could enlarge the print, making it easier on the eyes; or I could download audio files and listen to stories.

Act I, scene i: I enlist my son’s help, and together we download a few samples of – what was it? A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, which I’ve always meant to read.
I am supposed to make some decisions, such as which formats are best and which books I want, and create a neat selection on my kindle before the operation.
And what happens?

Act I, scene ii: I get involved in two or three urgent translation and editing jobs, which must be finished before the date of the surgery. I spend time chasing the red tape involved. I do everything but.

Act II, scene i: Now, post surgery, when I’m dying to read on the one hand, and want to give my eyes a rest on the other hand, Kindaleh is speechless, through no fault of its own.

Act II, scene ii: Disgusted with myself, I attack the issue again. I go to, and start small: download a short story in MP3 format (after finding out the hard way that .ogg is invisible to kindle) – The New Advertising, by  P.B. Wodehouse -- and have the satisfaction of seeing it on the kindle screen. However, listening to it “straight”, without earphones, the volume, even at max, is very low. So I pull out and untangle my iPhone earphones. Nada. Total silence. Once again, my techie son comes to the rescue, skims through Google replies to the question, and informs me that indeed, this is a known problem. I look through my gadget drawer and fish out a pair of cute Philips earbuds which had proved to be unsatisfactory for listening to music (tinny sound), and exhale with relief: they work.

Act II, scene iii: So, can I now listen to the story? – Sure, if I don’t mind listening from the middle, which is where the progress bar shows the story is at, where it advanced to during our various attempts. Theoretically, there’s a Fast Backward arrow, or Return to Beginning. But it’s grayed out. Oh, wait, I see! You first have to press the Play button, and, as it’s playing, you can choose the Fast Backward arrow. Doesn’t make sense to me, but it must have made sense to someone. At least I don’t have to let the story play silently to itself until the end only in order to start over.

Act III, same place, several weeks later. I listen to all 3 minutes of the story. Groan.

Recommendations, anyone? Links? Free audio files?

Cataract Surgery -- YMMV

... so the worst is over, and here I am at my computer, without glasses, back to reading and writing, and not taking it for granted.

After discussions with my regular eye doc, the astute-but-lethargic-looking Dr. L., and my surgeon, the gentlemanly-and-professional Dr. S., it was agreed to correct my eyesight mainly for reading (i.e. my “near visual acuity”); which means I'll still need glasses for distance, but with much less correction. Something like -2 rather than -5 going on -6.

What I didn’t know until recently is, that the current favored method of cataract removal is with ultrasound, at least for pulverizing the bad/cloudy lens. Sounds gruesome, doesn’t it?

When I first started seeking personal-experience info about cataract surgery and recommended surgeons, I was surprised by the number of responses I got. Friends, colleagues, the “girls” at exercise class, our family lawyer, my cleaning lady – they all either had it done, or else their spouses had, or their parents. Everyone assured me it was a short, safe, non-painful procedure, with remarkable results. All very encouraging, and probably contributed to my calm, cheerful  attitude at the hospital, and my relaxed state on the operating table. My doc said I was a model patient.

Ultimately, everyone was right. But that’s not how I felt during the procedure itself.

First of all, you are told not to budge. Particularly not your head or your hands. The mere knowledge that I have to resist any  sudden urge to scratch my chin, sneeze, or withdraw from the glaring light, made me worry.  Then my face was covered with a heavy protective mat, leaving a hole for one eye, and for the nostrils. I nearly panicked when the heavy cover pressed on my left nostril, since my nostrils are quite narrow and I have a deviated septum, which means my nose gets blocked up very easily. But a tube of oxygen was placed right under my nose, and breathing was easy.

The entire 20-30 minutes you are staring into a very bright light. Most of the time it’s white. At times it turned a pretty pink, green, turquoise. And two or three times it went black, which is a bit scary (“Gosh, I hope this is normal and not a sign that I’m going blind!”). Occasionally my doc said, “Look up, please,” “Now look to the upper-right,” or similar. When he addressed me directly, which he did from time to time, either to explain what he’s doing next, to remind me not to budge, or to instruct me where to turn my gaze to – it was reassuring. But when the doc and his assistant and the other one or two [male] nurses or technicians in the room spoke to each other sotto voce, one’s imagination tends to run wild. So if that happens to you, make sure and rein it in. I wish you luck. Reining in my imagination is not something I’m good at.

As the bright light shone on, flickered and changed color, and as the pressure on my eye socket increased or decreased, and the sounds changed from humming to buzzing to sucking or purring, I couldn’t help trying to guess what they were doing now. A certain part of the procedure did entail some pain, a sort of dull pressure/pain perceived in the top-back of the eye socket. I said “ouch,” in a very even, matter-of-fact tone of voice, and Dr. S. said, “Sorry I have to apply some pressure here.” This painful pressure accompanied me, on and off, for about 40 hours. By now, 50 hours after the surgery, as I write this, it has abated and vanished.

As I understood it, the process was roughly so: Setting the sights; pulverizing the nasty lens; sucking out the debris; mopping up and disinfecting; inserting the small, folded acrylic lens through a 2 mm incision; spreading it out and maneuvering it into place; a bit more rinsing and mopping; checking that everything is okay. Removing face-cover, oxygen pipe, ECG wires, blood pressure arm band, pulse-taking finger clip. Affixing a huge bandage over the relevant eye. Helping you off the operating table and into a wheelchair and wheeling you back into the pre/post op room. Grin at your partner to indicate that all’s well. Get dressed. Get coffee and a couple of petit beurres. Get an All Clear and paperwork from doc and head nurse. Give the next patient in line an encouraging wave. Go to office to complete paperwork. Heave sigh of relief. Go home.

The following morning, after the removal of the bandage, my surgeon gave me a hard plastic eye patch (clear plastic with holes) to use at night, but said he hands it out mostly because patients want it, not because he thinks it's necessary. I did use it last night, worried that I might, out of habit and absent mindedness, rub my eye.

Though the doc told me my right eye is also developing a cataract, I was not aware of its effect until now: When I cover my right eye, the wall ahead of me is brightly white; when I cover my left eye, the wall is a sort of beige...

I’m instructed to use 3 kinds of eye drops, 4 times a day. Am cleared to do anything I want, except go swimming, wet my eye, do weight lifting, or let my bubbly, bouncy grandson within arm’s-reach of my face.

The surgery took place at Assuta Medical Center, Ramat HaChayal, Tel Aviv. 

And in case you haven't seen the before-and-after pics I uploaded to FB:


Kindle, a.k.a. Kinda'leh, Makes Itself Useful (well, nearly.)

Since I got kinda’leh, it never leaves my side. Wherever I go, it goes with me. Not so much because I can’t  imagine living without it, but as a precaution, in case our house is burgled again. Let the burglars take whatever was left behind by the previous gang; but let them not put their filthy hands on kinda’leh!

And so it came to pass that, when Hubby and I were called early Sunday morning to step in instead of the nanny and rush to Tel Aviv to gurgle and gaze fondly at Baby Momo, I shoved kinda’leh into my already-heavy shoulder-bag, and off I went.

See, taking books – electronic or other – to Daria and Noam’s home is like, pardon the cliché, bringing coals to Newcastle, sand to the seaside or a CD to a D.J. Below is just a sample of the shelves upon shelves of mind-magnetizing, thumb-tantalizing books in that apartment; and guess what: most of them are terra incognita to me!

Daria & Noam's books, sample 1

Daria & Noam's books, sample 2

 Besides, as anyone who’s ever taken care of a spritely, inquisitive 15-month-old knows, one doesn’t get much of chance to loll around and sink one’s intellectual teeth into a book. Sometimes, when Baby Momo snoozes, I Do the Right Thing, i.e. hang up laundry and/or wash a few dishes. And sometimes I just bless my lucky stars and put my feet up. 
When Baby Momo snoozes...

I did a bit of this and a bit of that, grabbed some lunch, and before I knew it the Sleeping Beau was sitting up, alert and ready for action. So much for any reading plans.

At long last, on the bus home, kinda’leh came into its own, showing me what it was good for:
kindle touch 3G - stark design
Doesn't ring a bell? Never heard of it? No wonder. It’s an early, obscure (?) sci-fi piece by Kurt Vonnegut called 2 B R 0 2 B. Haven’t formed an opinion yet, because the ride seemed very short. Must’ve dozed off somewhere between the Ayalon highway and the entrance to Rishon LeZion. But I’ve already decided I’ll download several other Vonneguts, since I haven’t read anything by him yet. (Meaning: I’ve always intended to, but somehow didn’t.)

More about my plans for kinda’leh – next time. Got to get some work done before my upcoming cataract surgery. The doctor’s brochure specifically says, “No restriction on reading, watching television, and working on a computer.” But, as my colleague Mark Levinson  pointed out, YMMV -- my mileage may vary; and Momo’s other grandmother experienced considerable difficulty for weeks. Hope my “mileage” turns out to be better.

Kindle – Not an Open Book

“Tra li li, Tra li la,” I wrote on Facebook “my kinda’leh has arrived!”

I’ve been wanting one for years, but it wasn’t really a pressing need. At last we decided to get me one for my birthday. Shira ordered it for me from Amazon, then mailed it to me from Toronto, wrapped in an old T-shirt reeking of memories and placed in a padded envelope marked – for customs purposes – “1 used T-shirt, 1 used e-book reader”.  - What? Oh, sure it was used. Not as used as the T-shirt, just very slightly used.

I took it out of its wrappings and stared at it. It did not return the stare. It was totally, but totally, unnervingly blank. No keyboard, no obvious buttons, no arrows, nothing. I pressed the discreet on/off button and it came to life. A dull, muted, minimalistic life.  The design is a minimalist artist’s dream come true. At the bottom, or [slim] base, from left to right, there’s a tiny charger socket, round headphones socket, and tiny (7x2mm) on/off switch. Above the screen it says “kindle”, not even with a capital letter; beneath the screen there are four small (1 cm), delicate, slightly raised “lines”, which give the impression of being a microphone but are in fact the only button on the device, that takes you to the Home screen.

Why go to all the bother of describing the thing, when I can just show you a picture? Because an e-reader is all about reading. About words. It doesn’t want to distract you with decorative doodads or a rich array of features and options. It’s not designed to lure you to graphic entertainment. It wants to let you read in peace and quiet. Unless, of course, you want the story read to you. It can do that. And it can show you the original illustrations of books, if you download the version with the illustrations.

I fell in love with it instantly, all the same.  Getting only mildly exasperated when the menu didn’t take me where I thought it would, and when I had to experiment repeatedly to figure out how to categorize the files I downloaded and put them into “collections”.

At the moment, I have no intention of purchasing e-books. Even though some are really cheap, like a couple of dollars. I keep looking at the list of novels I downloaded, and can’t make up my mind which one to read first. The mere fact that I am holding in the palm of my hand War and Peace, Anna Karenina, Three Men in a Boat, My Man Jeeves, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, plus a few other volumes, is just too heady for words.

On Saturday, I had fun cutting up an old folder and trying to make a protective cover for my new toy:
Kindle cover, closed. Unfinished oeuvre.

Kindle cover, open. Unfinished oeuvre.


One day later, I was finally ready to employ kindaleh for its chief purported purpose.

(... to be continued.)

Why I went to my high school reunion

Actually, this post has nothing to do with the usual topics of this blog. I’d say it belongs under Nina Tracks Changes – a blog that is still struggling into existence. Or it could go into Nina MakesTracks, under the heading of “Time Travel”… only I don’t want to break the continuity of my China trip stories.

My colleague Ruth Ludlum has recently written a post entitled Why I’m not going to my high school reunion. I’d say she had good reasons for not bothering to go. I, on the other hand, had a good reason to go: I wanted to see a few old friends, who had been a meaningful part of my life for several years. 
In many ways, high school was a horrid period in my life. Some teachers were imposing and scary, tyrannical and terrorizing. I was forever dreading being called upon to answer questions or solve math problems on the blackboard. So much so, that I sometimes took refuge in the nurse’s room. Nurse Shoshana, bless her, was very understanding. In terms of friendships and puppy love, Paul Anka, Donovan, the Platters, the Shadows, and later the Beatles – it was a mixture of heaven and hell. It was also a time of discovery – from Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky to Flaubert and Francis Jammes, from the laws of physics to the intricacies of Talmudic debate.  Besides, learning French gave me an edge: I could understand the words to Capri C’est Fini, La Nuit, Aline

Of course, I wasn’t friendly with everyone in my year. But it was a small graduating class, since it was a brand-new high-school. Only 94 students in 3 tracks: Re’alit, meaning math/physics based track; Biologit, meaning biology/chemistry based track; and combined Humanit/Hevratit, meaning humanities and social studies track, in one class. Whereas Ruth Ludlum said the students were thrown together geographically, and basically had little or nothing in common, I found myself in a clique that had a lot in common. Though only Ruthie (Opatowski) and I were from English-speaking homes, several of the guys -- who were at the time new immigrants from Rumania, Poland, Russia – took to English like a fish to water, and got a real kick out of reciting quotes from Julius Caesar (“Beware the Ides of March!”) and singing songs from West Side Story. They were, and still are, a brilliant bunch with a smashing sense of humor. Hanging out with them was stimulating and exciting, when it wasn’t combined with teenage heartache. As opposed to some, I didn’t smoke, drink or throw up… But the accompanying existential angst was rather alluring. I did not refrain from these activities due to being a goodie-two-shoes; I simply never developed a taste for whiskey and cigarettes, not for lack of trying. Okay, yes, I was also a goodie-goodie, to some extent. Except, for example, when I disobeyed my mother and began shaving my legs when she thought I was far too young.

Ruth Ludlum spoke of competitiveness: comparing, judging, showing off, even distorting reality. I’m not sure -- there may have been a little of that at an earlier reunion, ten or fifteen years ago. I do recall one guy who presented himself as a university prof when he was in fact a high-school teacher. But in this reunion, where my classmates are around retirement age (Class of ’65, and we’re all around 65 years old…), these emotions seem to have fallen by the wayside. Perhaps we’ve finally matured. We accept who we are. Our nostalgia is limited: short-lived, good for one evening, then shrugged off.

Update: My classmate Mina uploaded some lovely pics. I'm the one in the pink top and red glasses, in case you were wondering :-)

Two of my high-school buddies:
Shimon Nadler has retained his cynical humor and observing eye, if not his stick-thin, lanky figure.
Ruth Opatowski is even more stunning than ever, and to my delight is a co-rebel against the social pressure on women to dye their hair.