May 5 2016

Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

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Adventure Italia: Day 3 of 9

Because Cosimo had errands to run this morning, and Chiara had class, I had the privilege of making coffee for the first time while (being?) in Italy. Scott and I sipped coffee and surfed internet throughout the morning in our hosts’ Bolognese apartment—then, we ate some breakfast (mostly buttered toast, olive jam, parmigiana).

That afternoon the four of us drove for about an hour northward to the small city of Comacchio (pop. 23,000), situated in the Po River Delta region of Italy’s northeast coast. Parts of the drive were over the Via Aemilia (an ancient Roman road completed in 187 BC).

Comacchio is surrounded by a lagoon, where the Reno River empties into the Adriatic Sea. The day was ending as we arrived at the lagoon, then, drove down a peninsula with a dirt road that had fishermen’s shanties lining both sides. From here we bird watched. As the sun set we saw flamingos, ibises, ducks, pheasants, and other fowl we could not identify. There were also literal clouds of mosquitoes—Comacchio used to have a malaria problem––so we stayed in the car while we watched the birds.

Later we drove from one side of the lagoon to the other, that is, to where the actual town of Comacchio sits, that is, at the corner of Croso Garibaldi and Via Rosario, where we had a 9:00 p.m. seafood dinner at a restaurant called Al Cantion. The atmosphere inside was both elegant and casual. Interesting old photos of life in Comacchio dotted the walls, with a large portrait of Sophia Loren hung high on the center wall opposite the entrance. In 1954 Loren starred in La donna del fiume (The River Girl), a movie that was filmed in Comacchio, and the town, quite understandably, seems never to have gotten over her.

Translating the menu was the largest language difficulty we encountered on our trip. I had a platter of fried fish and shrimp, Scott a clam and pasta dish. I think the four of us split a half bottle of pinot grigio.

After dinner we walked around the town, which was still and quiet after 10:00. We saw the Trepponti (Three Point) bridge built in 1638—a three-part bridge that connects the city’s various streets stretching over canals (canals which are not quite as large as those in Venice, but impressive nonetheless).

As we drove back to Bologna, we played different songs for each other from Cosimo’s phone. Scott and I introduced our hosts to Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” and Willie and Merle’s cover of Guy Forsyth’s “Poncho and Lefty,” as well as Kool and the Gang’s “Summer Madness.” Cosimo later cued up “I Can’t Tell You Why” by the Eagles and told us about some remix ideas he had for this song.

(Kool and the Gang’s song Summer Madness)

Then, around 1:00 a.m., on our return to Bologna we stopped (almost suddenly) in the middle of a small city. Cosimo started asking a bystander  directions about touring around town. The whole conversation was in Italian, but Cosimo later related some of the details to us: he had started by asking the bystander something like, “Hey, I’m from Bologna, do you know where we can walk around and tour the town etc.?” and the bystander immediately responded, almost in jest, “If you’re from Bologna, why don’t you speak with a Bolognese accent?” (because Cosimo is originally from southern Italy), to which our host responds: “Ah, come on man, help me out, I’m just trying to show the sights to these Texans here in the car with me.”

At the mention of “Texans” the bystander immediately perked up his shoulders and looked in the back of the vehicle at Scott and me, as if we were exotic animals being transported to the zoo.

The little city we began exploring in the wee morning hours was Ferrara (pop. 133,000). It’s a university town, and even after 1:00 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, there were plenty of students still in the streets. Among other things we saw were the twelfth century moated castle Castello Estense, the tenth century Ferrara Cathedral, the Piazza Savonarola and its statue of hometown book-burner and excommunicant Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498) as well as the façade to the entrance of Ferrara Synagogue that included a plaque of the 96 names of Jewish citizens of Ferrara whom Fascists sent to the camps near World War II’s close.

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(random façade in Ferrara)

Comacchio was cool and Ferrara was fun. (I’m definitely ready to go back.) We got home around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., had some tea, watched some videos on YouTube then went to bed.

(Read “Adventure Italia: Days 4 & 5 of 9″ here.)

(Read “Adventure Italia: Day 2 0f 9″ here.)

 


May 2 2016

MISREADING & MISTRANSLATING: Between Boredom & Bombast

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Misreading & Mistranslating: between Boredom & Bombast

The books which once we valued more than the apple of the eye, we have quite exhausted. What is that but saying, that we have come up with the point of view which the universal mind took through the eyes of one scribe; we have been that man, and have passed on.

––Emerson[1]

Undoubtedly the very tedium and ennui which presume to have exhausted the variety and the joys of life are as old as Adam.

––Thoreau[2]

A philistine is habitually bored and looks for things that won’t bore him. An artist finds things boring, but is never bored.

––Kraus[3]

“You don’t impress me at all,” she said, “Everything you say is boring and incomprehensible, but that alone doesn’t make it true. What I really think, sir––why do you always call me dear Fräulein?––is that you can’t be bothered with the truth simply because it’s too tiring.”

––Kafka[4]

Reading Theory I: Somewhere in After Babel (1975) George Steiner writes that there is no such thing as proper translation—there are only mistranslations (some better than others), and that creative mistranslation is the job of the interpretant.

Reading Practice I: A few weeks ago in Al Cantion, a seafood restaurant in Comacchio, northeast Italy––with the icon of Sophia Loren centered high on one of the walls, beaming, bearing down on all the restaurant’s patrons––I, Bookbread, and my company Cosimo and Chiara and Scott were eating some delicious seafood when someone at our table mentioned the name Alessandro Manzoni in passing.

Because Bookbread cannot tell a lie under Sophia’s watchful eye, I confessed to my company that I Promessi sposi (Betrothed) (1827) was, for me, a boring read, hadn’t been that bored reading since a tenth grade assignment covering Pushkin’s The Captain’s Daughter (1836).

But Italian natives Cosimo and Chiara (both university educated, the former from the rustic south, the latter from urban Rome) thought Manzoni boring also, and couldn’t understand why he continues to be so revered by educators of Italian Literature, when even the Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel (2003) informs us:

I promessi sposi was a required text in schools. Up to a generation or so ago, it was not unusual to find Italians able to recite from memory long passages from the most famous pages of the novel.[5]

Bookbread remembered to thank Sophia how Manzoni could, occasionally, offer moments of slight self-depreciation in a tongue-in-cheek style:

The reader should know that among the common people in Milan, and even more in the country, the word ‘poet’ does not mean what it means among all respectable folk—a sacred genius, an inhabitant of Pindus, a votary of the Muses: it means a peculiar person who’s a bit crazy, and talks and behaves with more wit and oddity than sense. What an impertinent habit this is of the common people’s manhandling words and making them say things so very far from their legitimate meaning! For what, I ask you, has writing poetry got to do with being a bit crazy?[6]

Reading Theory II: Somewhere in The Anxiety of Influence (1973) Harold Bloom writes that there is no such thing as properly reading a poem––there are only misreadings (some better than others), and that creative misreading is the job of the literary critic.

Reading Practice II: A week after Comacchio, in the shadow of the Texas Capitol, a fellow writer and brother-in-law of Bookbread’s called Brick Made, invited me to the Chili Parlor because he was curious about Bookbread’s recent trip to Italia.

Memories of Bookbread’s visit through Emilia-Romagna were soon imparted to Brick Made. Later in the conversation I mentioned, without hesitation or criticism, that Bookbread didn’t understand Brick Made’s latest published short story about baseball. Ten years ago, when face to face with a writer, Bookbread would have told that person, “I liked it” whatever it was I just read of theirs, whether I truly did or not. Now too much truth spills out, and I think I’ve made a mess at the chili parlor.

“Oh, there’s nothing to get,” says Brick Made. “It was literary clickbait, an exercise in the gonzo-esque, trolling for what counts as trendy.”

“Well, trolling can be good. The random can be good. The story was really random. Bateson says somewhere that ‘without the random, there can be no new thing.’ ”[7]

“Yea, I carpet-bombed them with Dadaism. I wrote it to purposely make no sense—as randomly as possible––that’s what the mag wanted.”

“Benevolent blitzkrieg. But we’re in election season, so perhaps it’s appropriate.”

“Egg and face and all that. But they paid me. And published me. So I’m happy. Joke’s on them.”

(Another example of trolling the trendy: Edward Snowden/Scissorhands on CNN )

NOTES

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[1] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The American Scholar: Oration delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, August 31, 1837.”

[2] Thoreau, Henry David. Walden: or, Life in the Woods. Boston, MA: Ticknor & Fields. 1854. “Economy.”

[3] Kraus, Karl. Halftruths & oneandahalf truths: selected aphorisms. Edited and Translated by Harry Zohn. Engendra Press: Montreal. Reprint Chicago UP. 1976. p. 52.

[4] Kafka, Franz. “Beschreibung Eines Kampfes.” (“Description of a Struggle.”) Translated by Tania and James Stern. Franz Kafka: The Complete Short Stories. Edited by Nahum N. Glatzer. NY: Schocken. 1971. p. 37.

[5] Ragusa, Olga. “Alessandro Manzoni and developments in the historical novel.” The Cambridge Companion to the Italian Novel. Eds. Peter Bondanella and Andrea Ciccarelli. Cambridge UP. 2003. p. 43.

[6] Manzoni, Alessandro. I Promessi Sposi. (Betrothed.) 1840. Translated by Fr Kenelm Foster. 1964. Edited by David Forgacs and Matthew Reynolds. London, UK: J. M. Dent. 1997. XIV, pp. 204–05.

[7] Bateson, Gregory. Mind and Nature. NY: E. P. Dutton. 1979. p. 147.