Don Quixote

This new entry sat in my waiting room for ages. It read all the old magazines there and was frightfully bored. When business is good, the blog suffers. And business has been excellent for months. Whenever there was a brief lull, there was always administration to catch up with, invoices to be sent or tax returns to be prepared. And then the summer heat would kick in, mercilessly and exhaustingly, and my office became a death zone. Such is a freelancer’s life: always free, and always busy – and no airco.
Not that there was nothing going on language-wise. I’ve had to deal, one way or another, with English, Danish, Dutch, Spanish and Maya – the latter a group of languages which I don’t read but merely stare at in awe. I travelled to Italy, Guatemala, Hattemerbroek (where? Hattemerbroek. Find a good Atlas and a magnifying glass) and Frisia Magna. All from behind my desk, of course. Then there was the constant background noise of language, like a steady drizzle so fine that it can’t be felt but is always there, and plants wilt without it, as a lack of language lames all life.

My cat purrs and PURRS – ‘I’m happy’ and ‘Food!’: language.
A little girl says ‘uhh!!’, and I know exactly what she wants: language.
A wild boar in the woods warns me ‘Mine! Get out!’, merely by using his pungent porcine smell: language.
Ehtyarion, my name in Quenya, in the fuzzy weird world of make-belief: language.
Ans so on and on and on. Always language drizzling, keeping life alive.

The attentive reader has undoubtedly noticed at this point that I’m rather fond of alliteration. Most bad writers are. I will try to make amends by quoting a very good writer. While leafing through my copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote (which I have NOT completely read) I stumbled upon this gem about translators and translation. My copy is a translation by J.M. Cohen, published in 1950 by Penguin Books in their series ‘Penguin Classics’; this fragment appears on page 877 of that edition.

“But yet it seems to me that translating from one tongue into another, unless it is from those queens of tongues Greek and Latin, is like viewing Flemish tapestries from the wrong side; for although you see the pictures, they are covered with threads which obscure them so that the smoothness and gloss of the fabric are lost; and translating from easy languages argues no talent or power of words, any more than does transcribing or copying one paper from another. By that I do not mean to imply that this exercise of translation is not praiseworthy, for a man might be occupied in worse things and less profitable occupations.”

‘Zo is het maar net’, as we Dutch say.