Monday, September 8th, 2008
Not as a medicine, but it is one of the richest springs from which the spirit can drink. Perhaps it can't do great things for the body, but the soul needs literature like the mouth needs bread.Literature is fortunately to hand -- Saramago has published a new book! The title is The Elephant's Journey; it is the story of the elephant Solomon, who in the 1500's travelled from Lisbon to Vienna. (This is what the article says; I'm presuming before that, he had also been transported from northern Africa to Lisbon.) It is not translated yet. And I have yet to read his most recently translated book, Death With Interruptions, about the problems of immortality.
Saramago is also in the news calling for Spain and Portugal to unite in a single nation under the name Iberia. Not sure what to make of this.
Tuesday, June 16th, 2009
Saramago is taking a few days off to go hiking:
Readers will recall that the names of two villages which the expedition passed through on its way to Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo were never mentioned by the narrator of the story.
These villages, as far as they were described, were simply invented to fill a need of the fiction and had no real-world correspondents. Thus it will appear appalling to lovers of historical ricor, that Salomón is preparing himself today for a journey that, while not being literally the one he took, surely could have been it, even if of that one there remains no precise record. Life carries many coincidences in her pockets and one can not exclude the possibility that, in some one or another case, the lyrics might fit with the music. It's certain that our story doesn't say Salomón crossed the lands of Castelo Novo, Sortelha or Cidadelhe, but nonetheless it is impossible to say that that didn't happen. We are making use of this tautology, we the José Saramago Foundation, to think up and organize a journey which will begin today in Belén*, in front of the monastery of the Jerónimos and which will bring us to the frontier, up there, where the Austrian cuirassiers wanted to transport the elephant to the archduke. But the itinerary is arbitrary, the reader will protest, but we prefer, if you will permit us, to consider it one of the innumerable possible routes. We will hike that way two days and we will tell the story of what happens to us. Who is coming? The Foundation will be there in full, a couple of staunch friends of Salomón are coming along, Portuguese and Spanish journalists, all good people. Stay well. Until we come back, farewell, farewell.
(I am extremely impressed by a man of his advanced years going off for a multi-day hike. Perhaps he should take as a nickname,
* This is a kind of interesting question: should this be rendered as Belén or as Bethlehem? He is talking about Lisbon -- unless there is a neighborhood in Lisbon called Belén -- I'm not sure quite what he is doing by referring to it as Belén. It's probably something to do with Bethlehem being a generic starting point, a birthplace. Or it might have something to do with the novel, which I'm anxiously awaiting. Here are some pictures of the monastery they are starting from.
...Aw, forget all that -- a little more research reveals that adjacent to the monastery is a structure called "the Tower of Bethlehem," and the district around there is called Belém. That's all he meant by it. Probably the correct/best way of rendering this would be Belém, since that's what locals would call the neighborhood.
Tuesday, July 28th, 2009
Finally today I read a notice that The Elephant's Journey is going to be published in English; but not until more than a year from now! Jull Costa will be translating it, as I had assumed she would be; Houghton Mifflin will publish it next fall.
Friday, September 24th, 2010
Strange though it may seem to anyone unaware of the importance of the marital bed in the efficient workings of public administration, regardless of whether that bed has been blessed by the church or state or no one at all, the first step of an elephant's extraordinary journey to austria, which we propose to describe hereafter, took place in the royal apartments of the portuguese court, more or less at bedtime.
And so The Elephant's Journey opens in the marital chambers of John III of Portugal and his queen Catherine of Hapsburg -- John III is (IIUC) great-great-grandfather to John V, in whose marital chambers Baltasar and Blimunda will open two centuries later. And The Elephant's Journey is seeming in its first few chapters like it is very much going to be a masterpiece on the order of Baltasar and Blimunda and The History of the Siege of Lisbon. I could hardly imagine anything better...
Saturday, September 25th, 2010
Something you will occasionally see in books translated from a foreign language and published in America, is that metric units of measurement are rendered as English units*, with no conversion of the number next to the units, e.g. "cinco kilogramos" is rendered as "5 pounds". I'm not sure how often this happens, I have noticed it a couple of times and it's driven me just batty. (Also have seen it with monetary units, "cien francs" being translated as "100 dollars" which does not make much sense either.) I believe the thinking behind it is something on the order of, someone reading this story in the original language would get an immediate sense of what 5 kg means, where a US reader would need to pause and convert it mentally -- at the very least it seems to me every time I notice this that it at least ought to be rendered as "ten pounds" or whatever, to keep the meaning the same.
Well: when Saramago was writing The Elephant's Journey he faced a similar issue in terms of translating archaic units of distance into metric, and he came up with a very tidy, winning solution. Check this out -- on the first day of the journey, Subhro is reckoning how far they have travelled:
How far have we traveled, a league, possibly two, he wondered. ...Let us consider the league, which was the word used by subhro, a distance that was also composed of paces and feet, but which has the enormous advantage of placing us in familiar territory. Yes, but everyone knows what leagues are, our contemporaries will say with an ironic smile. The best answer we can give them is this, Yes, everyone did in the age in which they lived, but only in the age in which they lived. The old word league, or leuga, which should, one would think, have meant the same to everyone at all times, has in fact made a long journey from the seven thousand five hundred feet or one thousand five hundred paces of the romans and the early middle ages to the kilometers and meters with which we now divide up distance, no less than five and five thousand respectively. It's the same with other measurements as well. ...Now, having presented the matter with such dazzling clarity, we can make an absolutely crucial, almost revolutionary decision, namely this, while the mahout and his companions, given that they would have no other means at their disposal, will continue to speak of distances in accord with the uses and customs of their age, we, so that we can understand what is going on in this regard, will use our own modern itinerary units of measurement, which will avoid constantly having to resort to tiresome conversion tables. It will be as if we were adding subtitles to a film, a concept unknown in the sixteenth century, to compensate for our ignorance or imperfect knowledge of the language spoken by the actors. We will, therefore, have two parallel discourses that will never meet, this one, which we will be able to follow without difficulty, and another, which, from this moment on, will remain silent. An interesting solution.
*Ooh and look! I did not know anything about this; but until the mid-19th C. there used to be an entirely separate Portuguese system
of measurement units.
Sunday, November 21st, 2010
Three books I read this summer that I wanted to write about but didn't much of substance. Either of the first two would be great by itself, it was a real treat to read them both in succession.
- Stranger Here Below by Joyce Hinnefeld. This is Hinnefeld's second novel and seems like a real breakthrough. I liked In Hovering Flight a lot but it did not seem like a "masterpiece" the way I can picture talking about this book (once I get around to/figure out what to post about it).
- Out of the Mountains by Meredith Sue Willis.
I talk to Vashie on the phone and visit occasionally, but I never run her errands. I don't drive her to the doctor, and I don't pick up her groceries.
Such a clear, genuine voice.
Her daughter Ruth doesn't either, but Ruth is a classic agoraphobic, a direct result of having Vashie as a mother, in my opinion. Vashie was even worse as a mother than as a third grade teacher. We're all widows now, Vashie, Ruth, me, and my friend Ursula Rose, who was having the tag sale in front of her late husband's mansion the day Vashie came lurching toward us on her walker, pausing to rest when she thought we were watching.
-- "The Scandalous Roy Critchfield"
- The Elephant's Journey by José Saramago. This book seems almost the equal of Balthazar and Blimunda to me but I'm not sure how to back this up -- my plan was to write a review of it to submit to Quarterly Conversation or similar, but I got stuck on recommending it rather then writing about it. Really a sheer pleasure to read.
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