I like what Heather said in her very nice comment about my previous post. It reminds me of one of the first conversations about translation that I had with Damiano. He was talking about his idea that the original text is like sheet music, and that a particular translation of that text can be seen as a "performance." That evening, we sat and listened to each of Glenn Gould's two very different versions of Bach's "Goldberg Variations," one recorded in 1955, the other in 1981, not long before his death. (Go and listen now! I can wait.)
When you think about it, life is a constant act of translation. [Translate: ORIGIN Middle English:from Latin translatus ‘carried across,’ past participle of transferre (see transfer)] (thanks, little Oxford American Dictionary that lives in my Mac). Damiano likes to use the example of crossing the street. If we took the time to stop and consider how many perceptions we have to analyze before taking that first step in the crosswalk (how many cars? is that red Fiat going to stop? how quickly can I walk with these damned new shoes pinching my feet? how slippery is the street? is this grocery bag going to break? etc etc.), we'd never get across the street. And it's always amazing just to think of the job our nervous system does in translating all those physical stimuli out there into sensations that we get to have right in our own little bodies.
And living in a foreign language: well, continuous translation! I no longer need to "rehearse" what I have to say when I go to the post office to send out packets of poems, or to the butcher to get some chicken breasts and a bottle of wine for dinner. But when the shopkeepers shoot back rapid-fire pleasantries or unexpected questions in their thick and twisty Romanesco, I'm still sometimes lost. Earlier this year, Raffaele the butcher was trying to explain something to me and I just didn't get it. I must have had that "Don't mind me, I'm an idiot" look on my face, so he slowed down until I got it, and then, very kindly, he said, Piano piano. And I did manage to make him laugh when I told him that I'm just too damned old not to be able to say what I want to say.
But that was six months ago, and today, I'm happy to report some progress. My sister-in-law, who doesn't speak much English at all, is visiting us this week. Yesterday, she and I hung out for much of the afternoon, catching up on stuff, starting to prepare dinner, drinking a little wine [at the appropriate aperitivo hour, naturally!], all the while speaking in Italian. By the time Damiano rang the buzzer, I forgot to switch back to English and started babbling away at him. I didn't even notice until he looked down quizzically as if to say, Who are you and what have you done with my wife?
It was Raffaele the butcher, in fact, who scolded me: You don't speak Italian at home with Damiano, do you? he asked one day. I shook my head. You have to tell him to speak to you in Italian. Raffaele is right (and we did all speak Italian for the rest of yesterday evening, by the way), but I'm sure you've heard it: once you've established a relationship in one language, it's mighty hard to switch it to another. It just feels weird. And let's just say it's not fun when you've grown used to being able to express yourself with the fluency of, oh, say a 46 year-old, and then you're suddenly rendered into having to communicate like a 6 year-old.
But, as Raffaele says, Piano piano.