Jan 16, 2013

Casting stones

I have had a wonderful holiday here in Évora, Portugal, but I am not at all sad to see it end tomorrow. I wish I were back in Berlin now, because then I could go about my business of selling and giving away my excess and planning the trip home with my dogs.

I want to thank my lawyer/linguist friend for her excellent recommendation of a place to detox and for all the information she kindly shared to help me prepare for my first real holiday in a decade. It was mostly spent as I like my holidays best - minimal sightseeing, little shopping and a lot of watching and experiencing very ordinary, daily life.

I have been shown more kindness this past week than in 13 years. This is absolutely true.

I've been doing a downmarket food thing, trying to find a cheap eatery that is not better than the expensive restaurants near my former residence in the Berlin area. I am working on an article to compare bacalhau in various local dives.

Last night I enjoyed the kind hospitality of a small café owner near my hotel. I told him about the wonderful day I had today listening to Angel Merkel jokes at the internal revenue office.

When I went to pay for the meal, I was shocked by how little was on the bill - € 4.80. Then I realized half of it had been a gift. Before I could object, I was offered a cigar, told it was a very good one. I am allergic to tobacco and am a militant non-smoker. But the gifts offered by such people cannot be refused with any honor.

I asked for a light, inhaled the taste of freedom, then walked out into the new world.

Reading the future in olive stones cast.

Jan 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Crosswalks

In the early autumn of 1981 I arrived in the Saarland, a state of Germany which for a while after the failure of the Fascist fantasies was under French control and even had a chance, however slight, of real independence before its people chose to come Heim ins Reich. It was a good year studying at the Universität des Saarlandes, the only German university I know of which was actually founded by the French in their optimistic effort to educate the locals. Napoleon had the chance – plenty of chances, really – but I think he squandered them all dreaming of Moskovskiye Vechera. Somebody probably told him the Russians had the best morozhenoye.

That year I was privileged to study with many distinguished scholars to whom I owe daily deepening debts for all they taught me of linguistics, rhetoric, art history and more: the quiet Swiss polyglot Max Mangold; the thundering giant Rolf Hachmann who, I am told, still left 20 year old students panting in his wake as he, at four times their age, charged up yet another hill of relics to excavate (after Stalingrad everything is easy); and my favorite, the brilliant Johannes Boese, who taught me the basics of Sumerian and who, after assigning me to lecture on the temple inventories from Qatna , upon discovering that I could not actually read a single word of French (nearly all the excavation reports of Comte du Mesnil du Buisson were written in that language and never translated), looked at me quizzically and said That’s what dictionaries are for!

A good year that was, an indescribable feast for the intellect which left me so satisfied that I overlooked or forgave the shortcoming of the culture, such as the odd practice among Mercedes drivers of killing pedestrians in crosswalks – or trying to.

It was explained to me, a naïve boy of 19 at the time, that these drivers had a Roten Schein which permitted to do most anything they chose to do, and if that included risking damage to their precious bumpers as they send my worthless carcass somersaulting through space, well then I must simply accept this as Ze Nachurall Order Off Tinks. And zo I did, because order is everything, you know.

Early one day in Dudweiler I was on my way to university when I brashly crossed the Zebrastreifen, interfering with ze rite off vey for a red license holder. He shaved close, brushing the dirt off my jeans to reclaim that bit of Lebensraum for his car. I forgot myself briefly, raised my arm and shook my umbrella at him.

And then it happened. Several years of East Asian esoterica had left me with too much snap in my wrists for party tricks like punching out candles, breaking boards and decorating stone walls with the blood of my knuckles, and the umbrella parted company cleanly from its handle and sailed after the speeding vehicle like the avenging hammer of Thor. And struck. I was horrified. That damned umbrella had cost me 5 Deutsche Mark and buying a new one now meant five fewer greasy sausages in my budget that month.

But there was a greater transgression than having wasted that money. I had sinned against the Gods of Mercedes, and they are not forgiving.

Their Messenger debarked from his Chariot of Fire to hurl lightning bolts of invective at me, striking me with words that would trigger night emissions in first year high school German students. Inspired by all I was learning, I lustily joined in the exchange of this spontaneous streetside language lesson and gave as well as I could in gratitude for what I got, and when he drew back his fist in anger to show me the True Hammer of Thor, I placed the point of my broken accessory in the space between his eyes and spoke sweet invitation machen Sie mal!, inspiring even greater instructional fervor on in my new teacher, to which I responded with all honest effort until at last, alas, my late adolescent German learner’s vocabulary ran out. All I was left with was a pathetic and spontaneous Mediterranean curse, scatana fas!

Verdammter Zigeuner he muttered, spat, then climbed back in his car and drove off to the next Zebrastreifen to improve his score for the day.

I have thought of that long-ago teacher, who is surely now pissing down on me from Valhalla, as I suppose he was at least seventy back then, thought often of him these past few days as I have sunned and sinned in Prodigal Portugal.

Two Portuguese drivers stop 20 meters before the crosswalk after hearing
rumors that a pedestrian might be using it in the course of the afternoon.
Meatloaf Merkel and an army of bankers, tourists and other ambassadors of goodwill have done their damnedest to educate the simpletons of this land, teach them a bit of Kultur and Anstand not only in great matters of finance but in ordinary matters of daily courtesy as well, such as how to drive in traffic and how to process pedestrians hogging the crosswalks.

Portugal and Greece are often mentioned in the same sentence in discussions of the current state of affairs, but this is deeply unfair to the Greeks, who are far more clever and lernfähig. Especially in matters of crosswalks. The Portuguese are simply hopeless.

The very night of my arrival in Lisbon, the magnitude of the problem was clear and frightening. Speeding cars would come to a stop whenever I crossed at a place marked for doing so. And not just slam on the brakes and skillfully slide to a screeching stop centimeters from my shaking knees as one must do to educate the Fussvolk in the ways of the road and Ze Gut Life.

No, these olive-oil-soaked stupidos anticipate that someone might cross, and they begin braking gently at some distance, coming to a soft, respectful stop before the crosswalk even starts. Das geht doch net!

But it’s worse than that. As a scientist, I believe in and am adept at investigating the limits of a system through structured experimentation. I have conducted a series of trials in a multivariate experimental design in which the Portuguese have regressed ever further in their offensive courtesy. The Hammer, as my German friends would say, really dropped on my head when I stood facing away from the crosswalk and glanced briefly over my shoulder, then looked away again. My next backward glance fell upon the shocking sight of traffic on both sides of the road at a standstill as six drivers waited patiently for me to turn, close the gap of twenty meters to the road and cross.

All good people have their limits, even the best, and the patient teachers from the frigid north have rightly reached theirs long ago. But fortunately, they have applied their considerable business acumen, that same savvy that built and maintained the well-greased machine of the Holy Roman Empire so long ago, and these overmortgaged upstarts will soon find that all the shipments of vinho verde they have to offer in their donkey carts cannot prevent foreclosure and restructuring as Deutschland AG calls in the delinquent debts of these prodigals. Gott sei Dank!

Jan 13, 2013

Sailing with da Gama

Baudolino’s Eco teaches us that if our minds can conceive a thing it must be verdad, so I know that, in the land of Presbyter John, the Common Sense Advisory is truly that and the wit and wisdom of Angela Merkel shall lead the Greeks and Portuguese on the Straight And Narrow Path to Full Economic Recovery. Se non è vero, è ben trovato.

So I realized as the road turned from Lisbon and the highway named for my patron Saint da Gama took me across the ocean bridge toward Paradise. He and I set sail on a sea of asphalt and tears, the canvas full with the wind of song, carrying us to a new world.

We passed through a green and pleasant land of milk and vinho verde, the sun smiling on our journey as I woke slowly from the frigid nightmare of el norte, rubbed my eyes and saw clearly

the signs which would lead me to freedom again.

On the road without tolls, less travelled, I passed through the fogs of thirteen years,

fortified myself with café and sandes mista at roadside inns when my body required sustenance,

passed by Golden Arches with their promises of culinary delights.

Entering the gates of the City Upon The Hill at last, I followed the broad avenue to the palace,

my glance passing in tired benediction over the mendicants and students resting in the sun with the others laughing and quarreling before it.

Quite a knocking indeed I made as the porter, young and lively at his work, turned the key and bade me enter.

Master Policarpo welcomed me and showed me to my chambers, where I changed sweat-soaked garb grimed with the dust of Teutonic Tribulations and dressed in gayer, brighter attire better suited for the feast which awaited that evening.

As I made my way back through the corridors to the room that night, tipsy with tinto, I diverted briefly to the courtyard chapel, where I lit a candle and spoke a prayer of thanks to São da Gama for guiding me safely to this place.

Jan 11, 2013

Winging Away

The pain in my left arm started three days before departure on my first holiday in what I supposed to be a decade. By the night before, the arm had grown numb, the numbness spread to my neck. Accompanied as this was by sharp pain in my back, chest and stomach, at times I imagined I might be about to expire of heart failure or perhaps a sudden ruptured ulcer. But I resolved not to die on the soil of Germany, nor in its airspace, so I persevered and reached the Schönefeld airport despite dizziness and a recurrent feeling that I might, for the first time, collapse in a faint. So it is when one has forgotten what it is to take time off and the fear of the unknown strikes.

As I drove through Berlin to bring my dogs to the friends who would care for them for a week, my car stalled a few times. The drivers behind me honked and cursed predictably, displaying the lengths of their middle digits. I showed them that mine, too was intact and that my mouth was clear and free, able to accommodate it. They waved their fingers once again as if to remind me that these are the scepters with which their kingdoms are ruled.

Dogs now in safe hands, I left the Volvo on the Lichtenberg street and made my way to the Underground. Two hours of sleep the night before had left me slightly disoriented, time strobed and I was no longer certain how many stations had passed: one I thought, but perhaps it was four where it should have been three. I asked the fellow gripping the bar beside me; he considered briefly and with an enigmatic sneer informed me that I had gone one station too far, that I must get out now and go back one station. This was of course not true, but in the dark and cold of Berlin January, schadenfreude is taken where found, and so this interruption of my journey by a five minute wait for the next train to take me one station further ensured that I would see my connection depart as I hurried to the top of the platform stairs for the S-Bahn.

Twenty minutes later, the journey continued; another twenty-some minutes and I was at the station for the airport and made my way to Terminal B, stopping for breath and reminding myself that I must wait a few hours yet if this were to be my last day.

At the check-in desk an interrogation on the second, prohibited carry-on piece. Patiently I explained that medical devices are not subject to baggage rules. A medical certificate was demanded. For the first time in 17 years. Must be part of this new drive for innovation I thought, find new ways to disserve your customers. After patient argument failed, I sighed and put an edge on my accent, thought of my old archeology professor, an officer from Hamburg at Stalingrad, flogging his troop of Austrians and Bavarians through a snowy trench, and performed a theatrical re-enactment. Once the proper hierarchy was established at the check-in desk, I repeated the performance at the security station, and once again at the final boarding checkpoint, where once again an explanation was demanded as to why I had made it past previous checks with a forbidden bag. Rufen Sie bitte Ihren Vorgesetzten. Magic words, an incantation and pass phrase for the Portuguese paradise awaiting.

A bus ride, boarding. After a brief wait, the jet rolled, picked up speed and lifted above the malaise. The feeling flowed back into my arm, my neck cracked, and in my shoulder, which had been a solid plate of embedded pain, I could discern instead a knotted rope, which twist by twist grew smaller, to a thread and was gone. Breath came easy now, and I looked out over the wing, clouds below kindly hiding what I did not want to see. Above – blue sky. Good fucking riddance I thought. For a week.

Two hours later, a clearing in the clouds, mountains below capped with snow. Briefly, I wondered what country that might be. France perhaps? Or Spain? I muttered a benediction and closed my eyes to meditate, perhaps catch a few minutes' illicit sleep before the welcome Unknown, then opened them again and reached for my Kindle.

The Revelation of the Grail: I read and wept as Baudolino presented it to his adoptive father, the emperor, now charged with the holy mission of restoring it to the hand of Presbyter John. Silently, I prepared myself to travel with him... and continued.

And then the journey’s end. I saw below me a green and pleasant land, with scattered clusters of construction. And then the land’s edge gave way to sea. We banked, the hint of sunset below the wing’s tip in the final approach to Lisbon.

Jan 3, 2013

Survey on terminology in TM & MT systems

Until January 15th, Peter Reynolds is conducting a short survey to be discussed in the Terminology Cookbook, which will be edited by Drs. Frieda Steurs and Hendrik Kockaert. He is seeking information specific to how terminology is used in processes for machine translation or where translation memory technology is used and what functionality there is there to support quality assurance and using the right terminology.

The URL for the survey is:
(Yes I know there is a typo in the URL, but the URL is correct.) 

Jan 1, 2013

Berliner Übersetzertreffen am 3. Januar

Liebe Leute,

für das neue Jahr wünsche ich euch mehr Direktkunden, üppigere Zeilenpreise und - was sich folgerichtig daraus ergibt - mehr freie Lebenszeit zum Genießen! Auf dass aus den guten Vorsätzen schöne Erfolge werden mögen!

Hier die Einladung zu unserem ersten Übersetzertreffen im neuen Jahr am:

                Donnerstag, 3. Januar 2013, ab 20.00 Uhr

Wir gehen noch ein (letztes) Mal ins:

                Yogi - indische Spezialitäten
                Grimmstraße 17
                10967 Berlin
                U-Bahn: U7 Südstern (oder U8 Schönleinstraße)

Das Yogi gibt es mit preiswerter, solider indischer Küche auch schon eine kleine Ewigkeit.

Bis übermorgen!