which language

“Pat! have you read this book?” My husband was showing me the screen of his e-reader.

“Didn’t you know we have the paper book in Italian in the bookcase? Left side third shelf from the bottom. No, I started reading it,

 but it just didn’t ‘take off,’ so I dumped it.” 

“Same thing here!”

This dialogue was about a book we had both unsuccessfully tried to read in Italian. It was a worldwide bestseller. As my husband was having the same feelings about the book, a bell rang in my head: I repurchased the novel in English for my e-reader, and surprise, for three days, the book carried me away; I couldn’t stop reading it. I burnt dinner because I was reading it while cooking. That’s what happens when a book captures me. 

The writer wrote the book in French. I have studied French for many years, and all my father’s and mother’s siblings migrated to Paris while we had chosen  Manchester. So, French is a language that runs in the family. My knowledge of French goes nowhere near to how I know English and Italian, but I love it, and I know it well enough to read and understand it. I downloaded and read a French abstract and can say the best version for me is the English one. Robert Slade, the translator, has positively added something to the book. The better result could also be due to the rhythm of the book that matches the sound of the English language, could also be that my British soul was more into the story than my Italian soul, and I could go on and on listing still many more “could be moments.” 

That’s what translation is all about. It’s an endless list of possibilities that can come true or slip away.

replacing

For me translating is creativity that you must own and a skill that you must learn. My first experience, when I was very young and had little knowledge of translation, was about the painter Giorgio De Chirico; I translated two books. I remember hundreds and hundreds of sheets of paper, carbon paper, and a typewriter. My client was an Art History scholar that was writing a book about De Chirico. It was only a sketched translation enough to communicate content, nothing that could be published, but it gave me a taste of this work. After that, I translated for students preparing their thesis, businessmen/women preparing international projects, and whoever could not cope with the English language. At that time, let’s say I replaced the deficit of an Italian generation that had not studied English. 

I have always enjoyed it. But then, with the use of the computer, things changed. Frequently quotations and evaluations were all about words; I don’t translate words; translating is much more. 

So, I concentrated more on teaching English to the next generation of Italians. 

my way, our way

In forty and more years, I have had all the time to build my idea of translating. It happens to be the same as that of Fabrizio De Andrè. He was a great poet, an inspired singer, a 20thcentury genius. To explain this idea, I cannot but use his words; mine will never be as good. I translated them inspired by my love for Fabrizio De Andrè and for the two languages that enrich my life:

“These two songs are two translations of a Canadian colleague. His name is Leonard Cohen. One or two of you probably know him. I believe today, and I have always believed that when you are not in the mood or a writer is not quite in the mood to take the responsibility and the burden of his work, it’s a good idea to do some translation. That way, you immediately achieve at the same time two clear goals: you practice, and you also subjectively show humility.

I do think we need humility, whatever the job you decide to undertake in your life. Furthermore, you can reach a supreme outcome: to be beneficial to everyone, disclosing a lot or a little poetry or culture that lives in some of the songs of our colleagues that convey themselves in languages different from ours.

We all have a different way of translating. And I have mine. Usually, I don’t bother about “literalism.” I honestly don’t give a fuck. Sometimes, no less, I elide. I’m interested in getting into the spirit of the song, and through the song, we can, hopefully, get into the person’s, the author’s mood and mind frame comforted by the words of our prominent literary critic of the 20th century Benedetto Croce who differenced translations in two categories: ‘awful and faithful’ or ’lovely and unfaithful’. 

In front of what I personally and humbly esteem as beauty, willingly I accept all kinds of unfaithfulness.”

Quote in Italic from: Parlato “Le traduzioni-live Tour” In Teatro -In concerto 1992/1993 Fabrizio De Andrè minuti 2.27/2.53). © copyright  Fabrizio DeAndrè. All rights reserved. (Voice transcribed and translated by Patrizia Verrecchia)

 

Picture: Detail of the book cover – “Fabrizio De André. Una goccia di splendore”,  Guido Harari (ed.), Rizzoli. Patrizia Verrecchia©

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