Thursday, November 30, 2006

Heer ma voyce

This temporary excursion into audio blogging was inspired by several things. Partly by a little video by one of Teacher Dude's students, an idea that I'm going to be using with my own students; partly by Ben over at Notes in Spain asking for audio comments on his podcasts, which made me dig out my old Odeo login. And partly, I suppose, by Gordon's comments on the inferiority of video/audio in comparison with writing which I agree with, so this definitely isn't going to be a regular thing.
And now it's over to me suggesting an audio meme.

powered by ODEO
(By the way, making this was easy-peasy with OdeoStudio. So it's over to you and your voices..... )

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


On Friday P. and I saw Piers Faccini in concert. This was a major deal since we hardly ever go to see live music anymore. We used to be permanent fixtures at the now-defunct Cricketers — a Blues club on the Quai de Paludate in Bordeaux — but that was in those faraway days before the poison dwarves.

So Friday evening we got our glad rags on, wondering what young people wear nowadays. We needn't have worried, when we got to the venue we soon realised that the audience was about our age - old. They were mostly dressed like us too: bobos obviously.

The tickets said "formule club" but we weren't sure what this meant. It turned out that it meant standing in the foyer of the Rock School Barbey beside the bar but with no tables and — more alarmingly for the over-40s —
no chairs.

Anyway, it was a great concert. You can't not warm to someone who walks out into a room full of strangers and sings the first number a cappella. I'm not a great music critic. (The student newspaper at university rejected my only contribution, a dithyrambic account of a Thin Lizzy concert that probably dwelt a little too much on the qualities of Phil Lynnot's leather-clad legs.) Piers Faccini probably has good legs too but it's his voice and gentle aura that hold your attention.

Judge for yourself.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Interpreting drawbacks

Céline wrote an amusing post recently (also picked up by Language Hat). She described what one half of her brain does when she runs into a word that she can’t remember while she’s translating. Basically, it screams things like:
I think I’ve mentioned before that I do some freelance conference interpreting and so this is a familiar feeling. However the truth is that the multi-tasking cognitive confusion doesn’t stop at the screaming. It's really more like having multiple brains than two brains.

If I’m in an interpreting booth and an elusive word comes up, one brain immediately starts desperately flicking through its files to find a direct translation. This can take a while because the files often seem to be in a terrible mess (It's not there, I'm telling you.) Meanwhile another brain may then remember that I actually included this word in a specially prepared glossary in which case it will have to resort to flicking through real paper and dealing with alphabetical order. I might even remember having seen it in one of the documents I used to prepare for the conference (I can see it, half way down the page on the right hand side) which is not particularly helpful. Or maybe I’ll remember that I’ve already come across the word and its translation but in a completely different context and my already overheating brains will have to retrieve and replay a video-memory of what that context was (It was a Thursday. I was wearing that black skirt).

Meanwhile the nanoseconds tick by and new words to be translated keep streaming in ready for processing. (It’s a bit like the ironing, you can’t allow yourself to fall behind — the pile just gets higher and higher).

At the same time I have to be preparing an escape route: thinking about what to do if I just can’t find the slippery translation (Quick paraphrase ! Hollyhocks are really just tall flowering plants, that’ll do). I may have to attract the attention of my partner in the booth to see if s/he heard the pesky word and has a suitable suggestion (pull on partner's sleeve; form quizzical expression with face), maybe even scribble the word down on a pad for him/her to puzzle over while I’m still translating the build up to it. My brains will probably also be admonishing me for not seeing this word coming (you idiot, I told you you should have spent longer preparing last night) or telling me that this is undoubtedly not going to be the last time the speaker uses the word (we're doomed I tell ye). My poor brains may even realise that the entire presentation hinges on this one lexical item in which case, I’ll already be typing the word into a specialist dictionary for use later (How do you spell that again?).

And those are just the straight one-word-for-one-word translations. There are also the words that require careful handling, the ones that slip into my brain(s) through the headphones and set off alarm bells because they appear easy but they’re not: false friends for example or terms that have one translation in one context but something completely different in another.

When people ask me about simultaneous interpreting (and for some reason a lot of people do seem to find it a fascinating party trick) I modestly explain that it’s nothing more than a sort of mental gymnastics. But imagine, if you will, the somersaults (nay the triple saltos) that my brain performed when, having mugged up on an extensive list of appropriate building terminology, I was translating the architect William Alsop and he unexpectedly announced that he found a detail on one of his buildings reminiscent of a foreskin.

PANIC. Lexical networks are instantly fleshed out. At least I know what it looks like, now if I could just find the word. Brain helpfully sends images ... just in time I tell it to put the videos on hold. Paraphrases flood in, unfortunately mixed in with dredged-up jokes (What’s the biggest drawback in the jungle? An elephant’s foreskin. Boom, boom.). ….. I never did quite put my finger on the word prépuce. But, believe me, I’ll be ready for it next time.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Z is truly thrilled to be six today. He sang a little song to himself as we took Grandma to the airport this morning. It went like this
J'ai six ans, j'ai six ans, j'ai six ans, j'ai six ans....

So now it's time to say goodbye to the babyish farmyard pictures I decorated his bedroom cupboards with before he was even born, and it's hello garish football posters, Pokemon cards in every possible pocket and a growing collection of Star Wars tat littering the floor.

If the coming years go past as quickly as the first six, we'll soon be buying him a cap and a pipe.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Back from the Bardenas

Gif animations at
If you get in the car and drive due south of Bordeaux for four hours, you arrive in an area of Spain that is so utterly otherworldly that, well only expressions like utterly otherworldly will do. In no time at all you can be walking along drovers' trails through putty-coloured landscapes that are irresistibly reminiscent of the Far West. You can picnic under a blazing sun, sense that someone is watching you, look skywards and spy two creepy vultures on a crag openly sizing up your children. You can kick up dust from the crazy-paving patterns of cracked earth and rub pungent rosemary from the scrub between your hands. You can wonder at the unsettling quietness of the pueblos with their empty streets and houses all squares and rectangles with blank facades.
Later, you can wander up and down the steep streets of Ujué, drinking in the crystalline air and the views across miles and miles of scrubby hills dotted with elegant white wind farms. You might marvel at how so many people manage to survive in such a barren landscape, not to mention a distinct lack of grocery stores. And when you do push open the jangling door of a well-hidden alimentaciòn, all you will find in the gloomy interior are a couple of tomatoes, a few faded packets of dry goods, and massive jars of the local honey. It's a relief then that in the evening you can roll back to the Txapi-Txuri for a wholesome Navarrais dinner and a bottle of the local vino tinto.

(And after all that, you might spend the four-hour drive home mentally composing a blog post with far too many adjectives and adverbs)


Being confined indoors most of the day, just the four of us, is reminding me of the days when my children were wee and most of our weekends ...