It is impossible to translate; we are always translating:
Alone at a café table set on uneasy cobble under some broad-leaved tree, I wait for my lunch and enjoy a breeze. At last. At last a breeze, at last a moment to consider the past several days, the rush and press of them, memories already shifting into an unsorted memory I will call “Lisbon” before long. 10 days in and I too have shifted, easily navigating tram, metro, train and the often steep, slick cobble underfoot as I follow the Disquiet schedule of lectures, readings, workshops and events around the city, Lisbon built like San Francisco upon hills along a waterfront. What I have learned: to move slow in the afternoon(now), how to count change(or be short-changed), how to say “no Portuguese,” passably.
It’s the time in a trip you begin to think, “I could stay,” your other life for the moment the memory. Traveling, like a translation of experience from one life to another, is itself a “placeless place” you may begin to feel at home in.
Translation, the movement of meaning from one language to another, is the topic of many discussions here where a number Luso(Portuguese)-American writers work alongside the general diversity of north American participants. Each guest writer, scholar, or cultural leader—and the list is formidable—has touched on this paradox that lies at the heart of all human communication. As the world renowned fiction writer António Lobo Antunes said last evening through headphones and the voice of a translator(!), “Translation is the black and white version of a color photo.” Or, as Paula Rejo, a magical realist painter puts it, “You always see the light reflected.” Or in the words of Jacinto Lucas Pires, another fiction writer, “Translation is a shadow language.”
Language itself, our method of connecting thought to thought, can be experienced as a sort of floating space between people, a space that we try and inhabit together.
Dance- Paula Rego
Well, let’s have a poem then, this by Nuno Júdice.
The light crossing the room between
the two windows is always the same, although
on one side it’s west - where the sun is now - and on
the other it’s east - where the sun has already been. In the room
west and east meet, and it is this light
that makes my gaze uncertain for not knowing
which hour held the first light. Then I look at the thread
of light stretched between both windows, as if
it had no beginning and no end; and
I start pulling it inwards into
the room, winding it up, as if I could
use it to tie up both ends
of the day into midday, and let the time be
stopped between two windows, west
and east, until the thread
unwinds, and everything
begins all over again.
from A Matéria do Poema, 2008
Translation by Ana Hudson, 2009
Centro Nacional de Cultura, a historical literary foundation and primary sponsor of Disquiet, has an excellent website to introduce you to more of Nuno’s work as well as that of other Portuguese poets in translation, Poems from the Portuguese.
What? Music too? I have spoiled you. Here, fadista Camané gives an introduction in his native tongue just to give you a sense of that, too.