Oct 31, 2002

"The computers went down so we're doing everything manually."

Can anybody guess why this comic strip is a hit with interpreters?

The New Presidential Interpreter. The Folha de S.Paulo daily published a note about Sérgio Xavier Ferreira, translator and interpreter to president elect Lula. The text contains some shocking news, e.g. the information that all work performed for Lula by Sérgio Xavier, a well-known Rio interpreter and coordinator of the large interpreting crews in last year's Fórum Social de Porto Alegre, is done on a pro-bono basis. I personally find this very hard to believe. But then again, not everyone is a mermecenaire. The Portuguese Translators List has caught fire with this thread. Some translators are saying Sérgio Xavier has no right to criticize Lula's choice of topics or words. Other translators are annoyed because he said he does it as pro-bono work. Another group of translators is questioning the statement of continous protocol breaks during the FHC years. Lo and behold the 300 and something controvery-sparking words:

Intérprete de Lula já foi surpreendido por quebradeira de babaçu

Nem o poliglota FHC, nem um Lula tão "Brasil profundo". Para Sérgio Xavier Ferreira, 52, intérprete do presidente eleito, Fernando Henrique Cardoso atrapalhou sua profissão, ao fazer discursos em outras línguas.

"Infelizmente, FHC quebrou muito o protocolo, já que uma autoridade deve falar o idioma de seu país", diz. Em contrapartida, Ferreira afirma que Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva já o intrigou, ao citar temas muito específicos de certas regiões brasileiras.

"Várias vezes a gente é surpreendido porque o Lula vem falar de quebradeiras de coco de babaçu. Então tem de conhecer o Brasil", diz o intérprete.

Ferreira intermediou as conversas de Lula com chefes de Estado estrangeiros, anteontem, entre eles o americano, George Bush. Ele se negou a comentar a experiência, por motivo ético.

Formado em comunicação pela UFRJ, com mestrado em ciência política pela Universidade Cândido Mendes, ex-assessor sindical do Instituto Brasileiro de Análises Sociais e Econômicas, Ferreira morou cinco anos nos EUA na infância, é intérprete há 29 anos e trabalha com Lula há dez, desde a Eco 92 -sempre como voluntário. Ele foi apresentado ao petista por um dirigente sindical dos EUA.

Oct 28, 2002

LulaLá. Let me start clearing the blogging backlog by saying that I was at times annoyed and amused during the recent 3-day interpreting gig. Suffice it to say that there was a little bit of a clash of values between a mermaid and a septuagenarian. I don't know how to pretend I am not affected by gung-ho reactionaryism.

My reaction is to fidget, gulp down my food and refuse dessert so I can leave the table earlier. I also avoid eye contact, lest the object of my adversarial mood realize my eyes have turned into fireballs. Obviously, I'm not referring to the lovely and highly skilled Fabi, picture below. Fabi was a genius in the booth all the time, she made me gasp with admiration. They say there are only two types of interpreter: the quick and the dead. My booth mate is quick and marvelously eloquent, her voice never trembles, her tongue never trips, and her sweet voice is honey to the listeners.

I said annoyed and amused, and indeed I was quite entertained with one of the speakers who went on a long meandering metaphor of Shackelton's expedition. Say what you will, survival in Antarctica is much more interesting than EBIDTA. The other highlight was an all too brief presentation by Cláudia Matarazzo. You got to love it when a mild-mannered and gorgeous Brazilian etiquette expert tells her gringo audience that the semiotics of Mickey Mouse ties is quite simple. They boisterously mean "I'm American!". So do not try appending one to your neck unless you have a blue passport and feel you're on the brink of a bout of patriotism.

So. The hotel was gorgeous, the cable TV was outstanding with a girlie cum artsy movie channel featuring lots of Isabelle Huppert flicks, but I was dying to go back to SP as soon as possible to meet up with G. Oh and to vote too. This was LulaLá weekend in Brazil, let's not forget.

As bad luck would have it, we were stuck in the middle of the road for about one hour, breathing pure CO2 from the engine-running trucks in Rodovia Piaçagüera. We had heard at the lobby that traffic was bad because somebody had jumped off a bridge to efface himself off existence. No such thing, the rumor mill got it all wrong. The asphalt had simply collapsed forming a deep gash at the entrance of the bridge and the valiant Ecovias workers were forced to make a detour by tearing up the incredibly thick center blocks of concrete with their noisy rock crushers. We took advantage of this window of time to inquire with the members of the Spanish booth which would be the appropriate xingamentos to utter in such a circumstance. They said La Puta madre would do the trick. Or el cono de la lora, and certainly in Mexico, me lleva la chingada or in Brazil, puta que o pariu!

But all good things come to an end, including lessons in insults in foreign tongues. The traffic began moving and the next thing I knew I was in São Paulo, reading the paper and having breakfast with G. in São Paulo, my love-hungriness for the Hairy Hungarian temporarily satiated and my civic duties as a voter fulfilled.

In case inquiring minds want to know, I voted for the other guy in the runoff election, even if I had voted for Mr. da Silva in the first round. I think that Isabelle Huppert is to blame. On one of those lonely nights in Guarujá, vegetating in front of the TV after watching at least three French movies, I dozed off and woke up in the middle of the presidential candidates debate. They had set it up differently this time. Instead of taping just the anchor and the two aspiring chiefs of State battling for votes, they called in 16 indecisive voters, who pretended to be asking questions of their own choosing. As if. It reminded of Gladiator a bit or some godforsaken Cecil B. de Mille production, except there were no chariots. But Mr. da Silva and Mr. Serra were standing up and pacing the arena like tigers. They must have been the felines, because neither was sporting a bludgeon, but rather well cut Armani suits.

So it was late, and I was tired, and in that particular moment Mr.da Silva was doing a brilliant job out of fending off a question by being slick and totally evasive and that did it for me. I voted for the other guy, yes. Probably because I knew that there was not a chance in hell that he was going to be elected, but I still wanted to reprimand Mr. da Silva the only way I can for acting like such an oiled and greased slippery fish.

This doesn't mean that I'm unhappy with his victory. Quite the contrary. I think that you cannot go against the will of a country, and my countrymen and countrywomen have decided that it's time for LulaLá. I don't think we will regret electing him to the presidential seat as we did with Collor de Mello. I was a bit mad with George Bush for only calling my new president for the congratulatory drill today instead of yesterday. Other heads of State and government, such as Fidel Castro and Gerhard Schroeder phoned him promptly on Sunday night. But not Bush.

Most striking of all, in my opinion of a non-political mermaid, was how Lula looked immensely happy as he made his post-electoral speech last night. I don't remember seeing a president elect with such an ecstatic countenance in my entire life. His face was completely relaxed, even his beard looked joyful. That must mean something.

Oct 24, 2002

The Che Guevara Bikini. Recently spotted on the racks of an exclusive São Paulo boutique. The "Hay que endurecer" bikini was modeled by Gisele Bündchen at the last São Paulo Fashion Week and more than a page of writing has been written to describe it or mock it.

The photo used is Alberto Korda's archetypical portrait of El Che. The biquini is the elemental opposite of the Guevarian tees that were all the rage in the Fórum Social de Porto Alegre this year. I think I also saw the Hairy Eyeball sporting one of them, but it may have been just a Partido dos Trabalhadores t-shirt.

He is now in LA and we are all waiting expectantly for his news. I'm also taking off in a couple of hours to the far less glamorous and far more tropical Guarujá for three days of interpreting.

Oct 23, 2002

To Grandparents, English Word Trend Isn't 'Naisu'. In an effort reminiscent of France's doomed bid to halt the proliferation of English words in the language of Molière, the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi recently appointed a panel to propose measures to stem the foreign word corruption in the language of Lady Murasaki, author of the 11th-century "Tale of Genji."

Their target is words written in katakana, a script largely reserved for writing the exploding number of trendy words imported from Western languages, especially English — even though Japanese has been borrowing Western words, changing their pronunciation and giving them a Japanese flavor, at least since the 19th century. Before that it did the same thing on an even larger scale with Chinese words." (Read more and more)

Oct 21, 2002

The Two Stooges. Michael Finley writes about his nightmarish experiences with interpreters Marcia and Ismail in Sao Paulo. Is he using fictional names? Because I know almost everybody and I have never heard of either!
Fisimatenten. Can anyone please explain to the German-impaired mermaid what is the story behind Fisimatenten? I tried Prompt-Reverso and Babelfish, but I can't make head or tail of what the shlemiel in the bottle is saying.

Ladies who Lunch. Today I had lunch with journalist Rebecca Mead at the snazzy Figueira restaurant. The food was excellent, and so were the talking and the book recommendations. She is doing an article about a certain São Paulo store, frequented by only very rich women for whom being Voguishly fashionable, botox-beautiful and moderately well-informed is a full-time job. It is going to be interesting to see what she has to say about the islanders of wealth in my country.

I had one glass of chilled Spanish wine, lovely, under the 150-year old massive fig tree that gives the restaurant its name. The tree is is such an impressive matron, very Carlos Saura. And to keep the flies away (outdoor eating in Brazil doesn't come without its tropical perils), they sprayed the patrons with a very fine mist of citronella.

While visiting the waterfalls of Brotas this weekend, G. and I were discussing a single statement that may come as a shock but it's 100% true. The wealthy have a better life in Brazil than the wealthy in any other country in the world. Or in other words, opulence is more opulent in Brazil, probably with less money too. Maybe it's magnifying effect of cheap labor. Where else in the world, would the rich have one-hour long exclusive appointments with a physician to discuss their minor ailments? Or five live-in servants to cater to their every whim?

But mind you, poverty is poorer in Brazil too. A researcher was telling me on Sunday at U's house, how she felt devastated with guilt for finally buying her own car and of how bad it felt to wade through the street peddlers, most of them kids barely tall enough to tap on your windshield to offer you candy or beg or steal your stereo.

I'm not a very political person by nature. G. pokes fun at me for choosing my candidates 5 minutes before I sit at the electronic voting booth (that's another Brazilian contradiction for you). We are very high-tech and jumento-tech simultaneously. Some live in the lap of luxury, others "eat the bread the devil has knead". Others still, just stare wide-eyed at the contrasts and wonder if synthesis can ever be achieved.

Oct 17, 2002

Tree-lover. I live in one of the ugliest cities in the world. São Paulo is just ugly, messy, dirty, sprayed top down with graffiti, a perfect eyesore.

But when this time of the year comes, I am reminded I live in Brazil and that our trees are simply gorgeous and that even São Paulo can be lovely at the right time of the year.

Last August I spotted an ipê branco in rare bloom, as if announcing the feast to come two months later.

My neighborhood is exploding in colors: the violet from the jacarandás, the bright yellow from the guapuruvus, the dark green from the lush foliage of these tall trees.

Even the tipuanas are shedding their flowers and covering the sidewalks with their tapestry of petals.

The 'monsoon season' hasn't started yet. All we've had is suffocating heat sprinkled with light showers. The plants seem to love it though. Long live October, it's my favorite time of the year.
Microsoft Turns to Lionbridge for Translation. What can I say except that they truly deserve each other? And get a load of this: Brussels To Charge EU Members For Interpreters. Does this mean that soon everybody will be speaking Broken Denglish?

Esteemed Author Shares Difficulties of Translating. "Celebrated author Umberto Eco captivated an overflow crowd at the Graduate School of Education’s Longfellow Hall last night, joking that he enjoys misleading readers in his famously dense works.

Eco was scheduled to discuss his new novel Baudolino, but instead delivered a humorous talk on the difficulties of translation, saying that he had not been informed of the lecture’s topic." (Read more)

Credo Elvem ipsum etian vivere. Some of the jokes are oldies but goodies. This one made me laugh again, even if I've heard it many times before.

On a visit to the United States, Charles de Gaulle was honoured at a banquet in the White House. Seated beside his wive was an official who spoke no French, but who tried to engage her in conversation by asking

"Madame de Gaulle, what do you think the most important thing in life is?"

"A penis", she replied.

Overhearing, her husband said gently "I believe, my dear, that in English it is pronounced 'appiness."

Oct 16, 2002

What Makes the Mermaid Tick? Translation, obviously. So glad to find Wood's Lot has been making some posts about this awe-inspiring and widely spat-on discipline. Shit Fit posts a lot of online dictionaries and language links as well as tons of interesting stuff. Closet linguablog?

And what do you make of a mermaid that glumly announces that she is too busy to blog and proceeds to post three articles that very same day? Louca de pedra.

Un nouveau traducteur électronique instantané mis au point.
SOFIA (AFP), le 11-10-2002
Des chercheurs bulgares ont mis au point un algorythme de codage numérique de la parole humaine permettant à des personnes parlant des langues différentes de communiquer, chacune dans son idiome, au téléphone ou sur l'internet.

Koïtcho Mitev, un ingénieur de Roussé a mis au point ce système qui, explique-t-il, consiste en une "traduction de pensées entières formulées dans des phrases".

Selon ce système, les mots de chaque langue sont codés par un ordinateur qui les classe en verbes, noms, pronoms, adjectifs, etc... Cette différenciation permet à l'ordinateur d'effectuer une analyse syntaxique de la phrase pour formuler, dans une autre langue, la pensée exprimée. (Read more in French, English version here)
Hang On. It's sad, but I have no time to blog. For the next two weeks or so I will be running from one booth to the next, with big chunks of translation work in the intervening times. Please visit the good people on the left bar as the mermaid tries very hard to earn her chocolate mints and other dainty staples.

Today I was up at 5.30 am, catching up on overdue e-mails and a bit of cultural consulting. I also downloaded this healthy and cute baby. I can't help but feel a little proud.

Next week I will also be hanging out in the posh surroundings where the filthy rich loiter. I will try to strike my best nonchalant pose and dress smart.

Oct 11, 2002

Oct 10, 2002

Toilet paper novels hit German stalls. I'll grant you some novels are pure crap, but it's a tad dishonorable for Heinrich Heine.
Probably this terrible business idea is going to flop, so there's nothing that the new Nobel of literature should be concerned about.

Oct 9, 2002

if all booths I've worked in looked like this one, what a glamorous life I'd lead...
All Work and No Blogging. It's that weird time of the year when you're not actually working like a maniac, but the closing of deals and the flurry of e-mails and phone calls take up your whole day. The barometer seems to indicate one or two months of heavy interpreting ahead. And maybe some journalism translation as well.

I hope I still remember how to put those chunky English business articles in my linguistic blender and spew them out as smooth and creamy journalistic pinas coladas.

If my consecutive interpreting gig this morning is any indication, translating and interpreting must be hardwired in the mermaidian brain. It's been at least six years since I last did consecutive, and I was so good I almost tapped myself on the shoulder. I would've if I could've.

Since I can't, I left the cu do mundo where I live to go celebrate with the Hairy Eyeball and Angie at Piratininga. He was drinking caipirinhas and I was drinking manhattans, a token effort to promote multiculturalism.

Oct 7, 2002

The Powerpuff Girls Extravaganza. A distinguished guest to the great kiddie bash has posted some pictures of the party that required at least 10 days of planning and opened up a crater in my bank account. There were many mini-monsters around, devouring brigadeiros and applauding the canine performers. The Mermie had the time of her life as assistant to the dog tamer and didn't miss the chance to bow to the public after each intervention in the canine entertainment.

Oct 4, 2002

Portuguese Joke. In case you didn't know, Brazilians love to tell jokes about the Portuguese. And when this Brazilian comes across a language joke featuring two Portugaleses, she simply can't resist it.

Um suíço, à procura de orientação para a direção a tomar, pára o carro junto ao acostamento onde dois portugueses estão à espera.

- Entschuldigung, sprechen Sie Deutsch?, perguntou.

Os dois portugueses ficaram a olhar pra ele...

- Excusez-moi, parlez vous Français?, tentou ele.

Os dois continuaram a olhar pra ele impávidos e serenos.

- Parlare Italiano? Continuaram calados.

- Hablan ustedes Español? Nenhuma resposta.

- Do you speak English? Ainda nada.

Angustiado, o suíço desiste e vai-se embora!

O primeiro português vira-se para o segundo e diz:

- Sabes, talvez devêssemos aprender uma língua estrangeira.

- Para quê?, pergunta o outro. Aquele sabia cinco línguas e não lhe serviu de nada...

Oct 3, 2002

Pela Estrada Afora. Shopping for the Mermling's presents I found out that the Disquinho collection is being remastered and reissued in CDs by Warner. These were the stories I used to listen to when I was a kid. I loved the colorful vynils and the songs, many of which I still know by heart. The storytelling is wonderful and the orchestration by Radamés Gnatalli is simply delightful. Since the recordings were done in the 1960's, the language used by the actors to tell these Brazilian folklore and traditional European tales is more elaborate than today, without sounding completely stilted. It's just like your old aunt is telling you stories. I'm enjoying Little Red Riding Hood just as much as the little Mermaid.

Oct 2, 2002

Oct 1, 2002

The Mysteries of Translation. "I am an avid reader, but a shockingly monolingual one. The English language is the golden prison I inhabit: richly and divertingly adorned, but with all the exits closed off, preventing me from making my escape to French or Russian or Italian or Chinese. Only the Spanish door is slightly ajar, but its opening is just barely wide enough for me to peek through longingly." (Read more of this excellent article)

via language hat via billy clark

Related links: a glossary of translation terms
ten reasons why English is so difficult to translate (just ten?)
Unrelated but relevant:
understanding and planning for translation services

FrenchZine. One of those great places you find when looking for something completely different. The cyberculture section will send you off into the Labyrinthe.
Mamão com Açúcar. At Blethers I discover about a writing contest that appeals to my notions of no-bull efficiency and inclination to prolixity. It's quite simple. You just have to start a sentence on November 01 and find an ending for your novel, 50 50,000 words later, by November 30. What could be easier than that?