Friday, September 21, 2012

Problems with Miss Translation

Unless you never go to such places and haven't seen it, these days McDonald's has a Spanish translation for each of the chirpy catchphrases on their signage around the counter area.  This would give one a quick chance to brush up on his creaky school Spanish, except that they are mostly different phrases and not translations at all.  That is because idiomatic or colloquial expressions in one language are just about impossible to render in another.  But, bless 'em, people keep trying. 
Now, these McDonald's signs make me cringe a little, because they bring back an old memory, and those are almost always cringeworthy.
Within the great blur that was thousands of days of school, I remember one most clearly:  in Spanish IV (I like to stick with some things), we were assigned to write a mini-book of ten stories, poems and/or essays in Spanish; only two could be translations.  Having to hurry up this end-of-semester surprise (don't big homework projects always come at the same time?), I started the translations first, thinking them to be the easiest, with selections from The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce. 
I have to mention that what syntax is, its definition and how essential its mastery is to translation, was never gone into in class.  So endeavoring to translate quirky American humor into correct Spanish (you're being graded on what you don't even know!) in such a fog of ignorance was like trying to repair a car without even knowing what the tools are.  So all ten efforts, when done, looked and sounded just like the English sentences I had in my head being replaced, word for plodding word, with ones sloppily covered in a Spanglish veneer.
Words and phrases from the Bible are often puzzling, because after going through Hebrew, Aramaic, Hellenistic Greek, Latin and English, they really make no sense.  Take the statement about John living in the desert having only "honey and locusts" to eat.  True, they eat grasshoppers in Africa and Asia, but that is a strange combination, considering how difficult it is to get honey and how plentiful date palms are where he was.  Scholars have finally sorted it out, though:  the "honey" was probably pressed from dates, and the supposed insect portion of the menu was actually flour made from grinding the seeds of locust tree pods (still done today).
Of course, misunderstandings due to spotty education, visual error, ongoing changes in languages, original meanings lost and modern connotations attached should be assumed.  Often, as manuscripts were copied by hand, things were changed intentionally by individuals with an agenda.  Those people nicely referred to as "servants," for example, might more accurately be called indentured or slave laborers.  Incidentally, the Greek word for "servant," DIAKONOJ, has been transliterated as "deacon."  One word in Proverbs (26:10) has been translated ten different ways.  A ball of confusion, as the Temps sang.
He whom we call Jesus was either Yesh'yahu, Yeshua, Joshua, or even Isaiah.  Some say not Isaiah; some say Yeshua was never the Hebrew spelling.  Translating Semitic languages without vowels -- oy vey!
On a less cosmic level:  as General Motors found out to its corporate chagrin, the name of the Chevrolet Nova means "does not go" in Spanish.  The closest sound to "Coca-Cola" in Chinese, the Coke people found, was ko-kou-ko-le, which nicely means "happiness in the mouth."  McDonald's "I'm lovin' it" can only be put into Chinese as "I just like it."  Not quite the same punch.
I recently finally read the Roman Lucretius' On the Nature of Things, in which he regrets that he cannot express new scientific ideas in his limited "native tongue."  And you know how much the French hate to adpot an English term that can't be expressed in their Latin-derived language (but they can say many things we can't; and elegantly, of course).
I'll leave you with this, proclaimed by a newspaper in Chennai, India:  "Our editors are colleged and write like the Kipling and the Dickens." 



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Get Lost

The site of the stage is to Nancy's right, the hillside amphitheater to her left

The bucket list is shortening
Lovin' the Lazy Pond B&B
The Hog Farm Bus in the museum
Happy visitors to Grossinger's in 1950
The "Hawk Nest" overlooking the Delaware River
The traffic, light as it is, slows to a crawl as we approach Jeffersonville, Sullivan County, in the green countryside of  the southern Catskills in New York State.  We find that we've landed in the middle of the tractor parade, part of the Second Annual JeffFest -- more shiny red antique Farmall tractors than we can count, and a big beautiful Oliver (my favorite).  We exchange a look which says, "Of course.  We're the people who got caught up in the Gay Pride parade in Cleveland a few years ago, waving to the tighty-whitey clad fellows wearing cowboy hats on the float ahead.  Quirky must just be our thing."
Thanks to (1) murky Internet directions and (2) a completely missing County Route 114, we've gotten off track returning home from our trip to visit the Woodstock festival site and museum (on the bucket list for so long now), but we're not minding it since it's a beautiful near-autumn day and Jeffersonville (originally named Winkelried!), which we get a chance to see at a slow pace, is an astonishingly charming small town (under 400 peaceful souls).  Patty Hearst was kept captive here in 1974, believe it or not.
The Catskills have been an accessible vacation destination since the 1920s when autos got people out of the cities, and thus this small town has at least seven restaurants and cafes, several small inns and the inevitable antiques shops.  A busy creek runs through it, and it sports its own 23 acre lake -- the attraction of this area has been, in large part, its hundreds of ponds and lakes.
Getting lost got better as we entered the Minisink area along the upper Delaware River.  The road rises then tightly winds, hugging the steep cliff, providing lovely views of the river dotted with canoeists, kayakers, and rafters (we passed at least a half-dozen river outfitter places, where everyone seemed to be having a fine time).  It reminded us immediately of Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway.
We had spent Friday afternoon at the Woodstock festival site and its new Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Woodstock itself is about 50 miles away and has its own museum, which I'm sure causes confusion).  The grounds are immaculate, and due to the end of the busy season after Labor Day, we pretty much had the lush outdoors and the museum to ourselves.  The ticket taker told me he was a local, who had wandered over to the festival site on the night of its first day (a Friday), not having even heard it was coming -- his father's gas station had seen more customers than in years combined and ran out of gas in mid-afternoon.  He grinned and said, yes, it was disorienting but quite an experience.  We had time to view the films and read all the signage; it is not filled with memorabilia but with quotes and memories.  The Hog Farm bus just made you smile and feel good. 
After reading about it in books and seeing it in films ("Dirty Dancing") I've always wanted to get a feel for the "borscht belt," as they affectionately called it, that wildly popular summer vacation destination for millions of New York City residents, mostly Jewish, from about 1920 to the 1970s.  The great hotels -- the Concord, Grossinger's, the Tamarack Lodge, the Laurels -- are closed or burned down now, and the summer camps with Hebrew names strung out almost every mile along country roads are forlorn, decaying and look disturbingly like old concentration camps.  Bungalow colonies were as popular as the camps; we saw two that looked new but were weedy and empty -- I guess the 2008 bust stopped any comeback that was beginning.  The auto, and a two-hour drive, brought millions of urban immigrant families to a little piece of the American dream where they felt they belonged, for many decades; the airplane and rising prosperity with a proliferation of choices spelled the end of the unique Catskills experience.  Every entertainer of note, and every single Jewish one, performed here:  Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, George Burns, Woody Allen -- even Larry Storch! 
And then, as unexpected as anything could be, Woodstock in 1969.
Quite a place, Sullivan County.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

You Can Ride a Tron Cycle. Really.

The original.  Cool as the Batmobile, no?

LIT Motors C-1

A recent visitor to Shanghai noted that 80% of the vehicular traffic was electric bikes and scooters.  I've been casually researching this mode of transport, and, distressingly, despite one each high-quality American and  French entry into the field, pretty much all you see for sale locally or online is Chinese-made.  Do you think they're going to flood the Western markets soon after building out their manufacturing base at home?  Do you think the sun will probably rise tomorrow?
I'd pay no more than $40 for one, since it is going to last about two months until something fails and the thing is pushed to the back of the garage.  Meanwhile, the well-designed American and French brands are not available.
Let's say you too have been thinking about avoiding some of the average $8000/year cost of operating a gasoline car and want something that is more of a car substitute and less of a battle between you and the elements.
Just this month Mr. Danny Kim of LIT Motors announced the launch of his C-1 untippable enclosed motorcycle in San Francisco -- and I wish him all the breaks he can get.  At low speeds and in chancy situations, two flywheels gyroscopically stabilize his vehicle, removing most of the dangers of two-wheeled travel; an enclosure offers bad-weather comfort as well as air conditioning, airbags and power windows, things which people generally require these days.  With a 200 mile per charge range, there's no comparison with the tiny 25+ mile range of electric scooters.  And it will cost you about $1 worth of electricity to go those 200 miles --not $4 a gallon for liquefied ancient sunlight.  And it is a motorcycle, not a bike:  it does 0 to 60 in six seconds (electric motors have full torque at 0 rpm).
There is a need, a few of us think, for a one-person commuter vehicle (a solo driver piloting an Escalade or Range Rover to work just seems a little wasteful, don't you think?), and this may be it.  Cost?  Around $24,000 initially (2014 production start), declining to a projected $12,500 by 2018.
The amazing Mr. Kim is an automatic transmission expert, has studied architecture, and attended Reed College, UC Berkeley and the Rhode Island School of Design.
Finally, you can be ecologically responsible, economically prudent, and futuristically bad-ass all at the same time!

Monday, September 10, 2012

But Things Have Changed

It was a cool, pleasant evening at the Hershey Star Pavilion after a surprise afternoon rain, but it got hot when Bob Dylan and his band barrelled into "Route 61 Revisited," even though the lyrics were more in our memories than heard from the stage.  All I got that was recognizable was "bleachers;" for each song the music was pretty much made up and only, at times, were there faint phrases similar to those melodies we have known for decades.  After playing guitar for the first three numbers, Dylan spent most of the rest of the show behind the piano.  I'm certainly not qualified to judge anyone's playing, especially a 50-year veteran's, but I'm not sure he would have passed the audition at Miss Prunella's Music School.  He did perform one lead on the guitar, though, and it was sweet.
His voice started out as a shocking croak that would have frightened a raven, but loosened up at little further in.  The words came in short bursts as if he just didn't have the wind anymore.  Well, the Queen is quite old and not as lively either, but they're both still absolutely one of a kind and we're glad they're still here and doing what they do. 
The crowd  responded enthusiastically to his brief harmonica bits -- it is his signature sound, like screaming feedback is with Neil Young.  There were two other guitarists, a rhythm section (the bassist switched to a red Rickenbacker mid-way; loved that), and a versatile fellow in back who played lap steel, pedal steel, electric mandolin and finally, violin on the encore "Blowin' in the Wind" (he really should have played the keys also).  Speaking of which, I missed the rolling Hammond organ on the old songs, which had been piloted by Al Kooper way back in the day.  It's like Santana without Greg Rolie today.
The other highlight, predictably, was "All Along the Watchtower."  Whatever did Dylan have in mind when he sketched out that mysterious story?  We've all been wondering for quite a while, but he will probably go on keeping his secrets.
After writing and touring for so long, he's pared both down to the dry-bone basics.  There were only white lights on the stage, everyone was dressed in black, and not a word was spoken except to mumble the band members' names once.  The lyrics in recent years have been simple, almost commonplace phrases, and he's been mining and quoting outside sources; they're so unlike the inscrutable epics he penned in the 60s and dangerously close to what I think of as plastic top-20 "country."  As far as I could tell, all the numbers performed were the older ones.
Another icon opened the show, solo:  Bob Weir was barefoot and bearded, but full of energy and conviction.  The sound was loud and clear as he made his acoustic guitar work hard for a living; the old vet looked like he could go lots longer than the hour he performed nonstop.  I was really hoping for "My and My Uncle," and there it was near the end; "Not Fade Away" was just as good and got the crowd jumping and cheering.  Women of our age (who were about 17 when the Dead appeared) were dancing the snaky Dead dance with practiced skill and some certainty, I suppose, that their grandchildren would never see it.
Needless to say, there were great clouds of blue smoke drifting through the air.
As we left with old but great music in our heads, we passed a dreadlocked senior in bare feet, a group being hauled off by the authorities, and one fellow looking forlorn in the back seat of the police car. 
The 60s ain't over til they're over, bro.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Weather Report

The electric Karen Briggs
We were watching the storm front approaching all afternoon on channels 49 and 119.  Beep! beep! the banner started:  severe thunderstorm warning until 10:30 p.m. with probability of hail. Then the skies predictably darkened and a sudden rain hit the hard surfaces with a splash.
This evening we had really wanted to go to the jazz and wine festival at Ft. Hunter Park, but it wasn't looking good.  I felt bad for the many people who had planned to set up their booths, the organizers who had put weeks into it, and the local vintners, all family enterprises, who couldn't afford to waste time and resources.
At 3:30, sunlight returned and the disturbed, humid day seemed to settle.  Folding chairs in the car -- check; pets fed -- check; tickets in pocket -- check also.  Up Route 11/15 North we go, and suspicious looking clouds moving in from the west notwithstanding, we continue on and find a spot on the wet and slippery park lawn. The large tent in front of the Centennial Barn is already full of waiting music fans.  We had to stop by at least four of the winemakers' stands, of course, and I was relieved to find that Ft. Hunter had the good taste to hand out glass wineglasses instead of plastic.  You should only drink from plastic if you're desperate.
Local piano legend Steve Rudolph was first on, trading leads with the sax player.  One of the several singers who regularly perform with him soothed the crowd with "At Last" and several other standards.  She saved the fireworks for "Route 66," written by Harrisburg native Bobby Troup.  Mr. Rudolph has played downtown at the Hilton ever since it opened 20 years ago (we've been a few times) and as far as everyone's concerned, he has a job for life around here.
We went back to the Nissley Vineyards booth, which was too crowded before, and enjoyed their Vidal, the closest one we tried to California squeezins.  Next door at Tamanend they poured their new pumpkin-spice white wine and another quirky production, margarita wine.  Sounds strange, but it was oh so good.
After a visit to the sweet, smoky Camp Curtin BBQ truck (they've been around forever also) the main act, Lao Tizer's group, got going around 6 p.m.  This was the last stop on their East Coast tour and we were more than fortunate to have them, because electric violinist Karen Briggs was along.  If you remember that mind-blowing concert Yanni did at the Acropolis years ago (PBS showed it several times, and I'll bet you or someone you know has a VHS tape of it), Ms. Briggs was that volcanic violin soloist in red.  And she's in Harrisburg?  You can see why we were so apprehensive about the storm preventing this from happening.
By the middle of their first original piece, "Uptown," I was sure her strings would either snap or melt.  The crowd responded with excitement and respect.  Mr. Tizer allowed as how they should be enjoying some wine too, and before they started the second number, four glasses of white were brought up.
Ms. Briggs did her take on Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherezade  (with some gypsy violin improv), and they ended with another orignal that wandered from 70s jazz-funk to Latin (the drummer is Cuban) to Pink Floyd and back to earth.  They deserved every minute of the ovation.
Just as we got in the car, it started raining lightly.  Love it when a plan comes together.

Friday, September 7, 2012

It's Closing Time

The kids are alright.

Well, they're not doing well by our usual objective measurements, but it's obvious that they are more perceptive and grounded than their established, self-righteous and blathering elders.  The Millenials, as analyzed in a September 2012 article in The Atlantic, are responding to the beginnings of fundamental change by becoming "the cheapest generation."  They're not into or buying cars, not establishing family households, and not buying homes.  Since the vets returned in 1945, the car culture, abundant fuel and the buildout of surburbia have been the engines of the economy which created the middle-class America we know, the reality we see as the normal.  But the sudden roadblocks they've encountered such as unrealistic student debt, far too expensive housing, and automation and overseas outsourcing eliminating the jobs they were expecting, have lead to a different mindset.  They are looking to sharing rides (Zipcar), moving to closer-in small multiperson housing, and valuing interconnectedness (smartphones) over acquisition (why are Toll Brothers and Hovanian still building McMansions?).  Unlike the older generations, they feel a change coming and are responding rationally.

Elder blathering pundit George Will (it pains me to even write his name; it's like summoning the devil) ridiculed the still-startling 1972 book The Limits to Growth in a recent column, since shooting the messenger is an intelligent response to disturbing news, right?  Stalled growth is the big topic now, as it should be.  Neither George nor any other rigid ideologue can look forward and backward far enough to see that all things are born, grow, change and pass away, proving the adage that the person with a conventional mind can't believe anything to be true if it threatens his paycheck.  Even the mainstream National Bureau of Economic Research, no radical thinkers, states in a recent research paper that the era of economic expansion is over.  The growth era in human history was a somewhat brief anomaly, they say, from about 1750 to now, after which there will be little to no growth for the 99%.  It is projected there will be, worldwide, about 93 million unemployable low- or unskilled workers.  We're at the end of the third phase of the Industrial Revolution, due to quickly diminishing resources and returns on technology. Mr. Will and his ilk will never wrap their ossified minds around that, but people in coming years will be desperately engaged in finding ways to cope with the world having reached hard limits.  Overwhelmed, in shock and rage, they'll forget that leading bloviators like Will or our Senator Toomey (previous head of the Club for Growth, a group dedicated to the proposition that eliminating taxes on the wealthy is the formula for growth and thus your future prosperity!) were dead wrong, and may well turn in fear and panic to authoritarian leadership, as has happened so often before.

At the other end of the social spectrum from our young Millenials, the superrich are seceding from society also.  Like the aristocrats at the end stage of every empire, they have spread distrust of and undermined government, promoted savage selfishness as pure virtue and are dedicated to privatizing what we held in common.  Estimates are they have about $23 trillion stashed away, or about the total GDP of us and two other leading nations combined.  Gated communities, unconstitutional detentions and private security are already here.

The current young adult population may be creating some new way, as every thesis contains its antithesis and a dead flower is really seeds for next season.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

There's This Rum Bar on the Blue Hills Road...

(Courtesy of Nimrod Studios)
It's at the far end of the coral rock island of Provodenciales, among locals' homes, not sprung from the imagination of any real estate developer but made by hand.  The parking lot sits behind a wall made of giant pink conch shells pasted together with cement.  Three of the many "potcakes," the area's homeless beagle-like dogs, take shelter from the sun under the shade cast by toasting cars. You could easily throw a ball into the shallow blue-green edge of the ocean, across the strip of simply pure white beach.  Enter under the arch sporting the sign with pink lettering:  Da Conch Shack and Rum Bar.  It is, the cheerful bartender Rayon tells you, one of the Travel Channel's "21 sexiest beach bars."  OK, there are some pretty people here, but on first impression it's surely one of the funkiest.  I find out that Prince was just there last week, sipping on a Pepsi which he paid for with a $20 bill.  He had recently bought a home on the undeveloped south shore of the island, which I'm sure he can afford. Keith Richards was here recently also, standing in the shadows; he has a home on nearby Parrot Cay. 
Miss Nancy and I have arrived in the slowest of the slow weeks of late summer, and instead of celebrities and the usual packed house, there are only a few couples and two tables with all men or all women.  Lively reggae music breaks out on Thursday nights, and we decide right away we must (1) come back next year, and (2) definitely make that on a Thursday night.
The quiet midday has its charms, though.  A fellow is collecting a conch or two from the big piles of them stored in the shallow water; he will bonk it hard with a heavy hammer, cut out the mollusc inside and separate out the half that is all white muscle, then turn it over to the cook who will have it on your plate in one of several different ways within ten minutes.  Add to that "rice n' peas" (rice and beans, actually), and either a Turk's Head beer or Jai's Rum Punch, cast your gaze over the impossibly blue water and sky, and consider yourself one lucky duck.
The bartender at the raised, tiny bar seems to find everything hilarious and everyone who comes by an old friend.  I decide to go all Hemingway, and ask for the most interesting rum among the collection on the wall.  He says the Zacapa is the "best in de worl'."  It's from Guatemala, of all places, and pours slowly and thickly  from the handsome bottle at 23 years of age, having started as the first press of sugar cane (most rums are made of molasses, the dregs of the cane).  I admire the copper/mahagony color in the filtered sunlight, and inhale an aroma which reminds me of Christmas at a gourmet's home.
I later learn that this unlikely spot is in the book One Thousand Places to See Before You Die and was called the "greatest bar in the British West Indies" by CNN.
Let's just keep it between you, us and Keith, though.