Saturday, 6 August 2011

My personal version of being lost in translation

I'm working on translation, from French to English, of the proceedings of a conference into the ethical questions associated with aging.

That's the kind of material you can take in your stride in your twenties or thirties. But I'm nearly sixties and it feels a bit close to the bone. What right do older patients have to be admitted to intensive care? Should older people be caring for each other or can they rely on social care? What becomes of human identity in Alzheimer’s sufferers?

For instance, one of the contributors tells the story of a nursing assistant who announced one day of an Alzheimer’s case, ‘Good Lord! Does Joan recognise us? I’ve spent the last couple of months working on the second floor and only came back to the third floor today, and she gave me such a wonderful smile.’

Yes. Heart-warming, isn’t it? The author of the article even referred to the ‘joy’ that comes from recognising, as well as being recognised by, the person inside the Alzheimer’s case. Wonderful. Problem is I don’t see this so much from the point of view of the carer but from that of the patient, thinking ‘bloody woman doesn’t think I recognise her. If only I still had full use of my faculties, I’d soon remind her of the time she cleared away the dinner before I’d finished the chocolate mousse I’d been saving.’

Not sure that feels quite so joyous.

I often think that translation work is like attending a church service, and not just because it’s astonishing how quickly it becomes boring. One of the things that always annoyed me on the few occasions I went to Church, was the unidirectional nature of the whole business. I mean, the priest talks at us. Why can’t we talk back? I always want to stir things up a bit with a question or two.

'What about the Gadarene swine?’ I want to ask. ‘All very well driving them into the Sea but what about the poor swineherds? What were they going to live on through the winter?’

Or the Prodigal Son. I mean, all very well giving him another share of the inheritance, but what about the other brother, the one who stayed behind and kept working to support the family, instead of having the time of his life spending every penny on the joys of the town? Why did he have to give up some of his share for his wastrel brother?

The Prodigal Son - all very well for him
but why did the brother give up part of his share?
But no. In Church, you don’t get to ask. You just have the priest telling you Christ on the Cross is a message of compassion and mercy, where to me torturing someone to death by nailing him to a piece of wood seems to be about pretty much the opposite.

Translation is just the same. Some character pontificates with a few badly chosen quotations aimed at enlivening an uninspiring proposition supported by an unconvincing argument. You want to be able to stick in a note saying ‘I’ve skipped the next two paragraphs – trust me, you’re not missing anything, they're rubbish – so here’s a joke about my uncle Moishe instead.’ Instead you have to translate the drivel into the best constructed English you’re capable of.

I mean, I’ve just translated the deathless words ‘Identity is necessary as a support for social interactions’. It is? And there was I thinking that social interactions all took place between anonymous individuals. If they are individuals.

Must stop. These translations have already worried me enough about getting old. Now they’re putting me in a bad temper, the kind of mood a priest might criticise for not being sufficiently kind to my fellow man. Which is pretty rich, come to think of it, for a priest, considering how many people they’ve burned down the ages. Maybe that’s why you don’t get to answer back in Church.

Anyway, I’m going back to my translations. Even if they do turn me into a grumpy old man.


Have you heard about the drive-through daiquiri bars in the US?

Yes, you read that right – drive-through establishments selling highly intoxicating drinks. I was going to say ‘only in America...’ but that wouldn’t be right: the US tends to be even more stringent about drinking and driving, or indeed about drinking at all, than anyone on this side of the water.

No, these bars are in a specific bit of the States, namely Louisiana. New Orleans struck me as one of the most magical places I’d ever been to, when Danielle and I were there not five months after Katrina. And lots of people told us that New Orleans wasn’t really the States. You can't expect a place that eccentric to live by ordinary rules.

Funnily enough, plenty of people used to tell me that New York isn't really America either, and it was the first place I fell for in America. And there are those who reckon that San Francisco isn’t really the US either, and that’s the third member of my Trinity of favourite American places.

Odd, isn't it, that the places I like most in America are ones that aren’t generally regarded as all that American.


Anonymous said...

Nearing your sixties?
Stop boasting.


David Beeson said...

No boasting, no shame, just rigorous arithmetic - 2011-1953=58

Awoogamuffin said...

No, that's not how you calculate your age. I have a much simpler system - you are exactly 30 years older than me, so it's 28 + 30 = 58.

In two years, I'll be half your age!

David Beeson said...

And from then on always less than half. You're catching up