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The Malachite Translation

MoskvaSounds a little like a Robert Ludlum novel, right?  But no, I’m referring to a collection of P. P. Bazhov’s traditional tales of the Ural Mountains and the miners who worked there.  It’s entitled The Malachite Casket in English (Malakhitova︠i︡a shkatulka in transliterated Russian).

The stories are very well known by Russian speakers, and Sergei Prokofiev’s last ballet, The Tale of the Stone Flower, is based on these tales.

I didn’t know what malachite was when my parents gave me the book, though I sort of knew what a “casket” was (a coffin?).  But I fell in love with malachite, a copper ore, as soon as I saw it.  Here’s what it looks like:  Unknown-2

And the “malachite casket” of the stories is a jewelry box, not a box for a dead body!

I was reminded of these beautiful tales when I was recently reading two books on translation – one a 2013 compilation by various translators entitled In Translation, and the other Edith Grossman’s 2010 book, Why Translation Matters.  She ought to know; she has written the best translation of Don Quixote in half a century (no mean feat!).

We owe a debt to translation that most of us, I think, tend to forget.   Unless we read French, we have not read Perrault’s original (written) versions of Unknown-3“Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty of the Wood,” “Blue Beard” and “Little Red Riding Hood” (you may be unpleasantly surprised at some of these stories, especially if all you know are the Disney versions!).  Unless we read German, we have not read the Brothers Grimm’s “Hansel and Gretel,” “The Fisherman and His Wife” and “The Bremen Town Musicians” (don’t read “The Girl With No Hands” or “All-Kinds-of-Fur;” they’re very creepy).  If we don’t know Classical Greek, we can’t read Aristophanes’ original comedy  The Birds, no Latin and and we can’t read Ovid’s original Metamorphoses – and to bring in a more contemporary note, if we don’t know Swedish, we can’t read the original of Stieg Larsson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Jules Verne didn’t write 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in English and Nobel Prize winner images-2Gabriel García Márquez didn’t write One Hundred Years of Solitude in English (it was brilliantly translated by Gregory Rabassa). These works are all translations from other languages into English.

We English speakers are spoiled because there is so much written originally in English, and so many authors want their works translated into English.  We can all too easily fall into feeling that anyone important – Shakespeare, Dickens, Faulkner – already wrote in our language, so why bother with anything from another language?

Why?  For two reasons.  One is that many important things have been written in other languages (however you want to define important); another language furnishes another window on the world, other points of view.  That’s what makes translation so difficult – and makes getting it right so essential.

And the other reason?  Because so many works written in other languages are so wondrous.  I have never stopped loving The Malachite Casket.  I don’t know how good a translation mine is – but I have never forgotten the characters:  the Mistress of the Copper Mountain, Danila the Craftsman who longs to make exquisite goblets of malachite, Katya, who dares scold the Mistress for stealing her man by showing him the Stone Flower, Tanyushka who leans against the malachite wall of the Tsar’s palace in St. Petersburg and simply melts away…  Open another window on the world and add what you see to your own vision.  Translation does matter.

 

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Fantastic Flying Books

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Recently on Youtube I came across the 15-minute Academy Award-winning film short based on the 2012 children’s book The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore by William Joyce. My three-year-old and I clicked through and watched, completely enraptured.

According to MorrisLessmore.com, the tale is ”of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor….a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.”  Of course that will hit a soft spot for this librarian, and things may have gotten a bit “dusty” in my living room towards the end of the film. I recommend the book and the film to anyone, child or adult, who can’t live without books. But what struck me afterwards (while rewatching the film, with my husband this time), is that not a word is uttered during the entire thing! Music sets and alters the mood and tempo, and a few key statements are communicated via handwritten letters and printed words on pages; the overall sensation is that of being swirled gently and completely into a gorgeous, speechless world.

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As to be expected from such technological pioneers, Morris Lessmore’s cinematic creators at Moonbot Studio go beyond the printed book and a short film. You can download the richly illustrated ebook from iTunes ($4.99), and once you own (or borrow from the library) either a printed or ebook copy, you can buy an app (for iPhone/iPad only, $0.99) called the IMAG-N-O-TRON, which according to Moonbot “uses augmented reality technology to bring the printed page to life.  Simply point the camera of your device at the pages and step into Morris Lessmore’s library, see words fly off the page, and peek into a part of Lessmore’s world not shown in the book or movie.”

Fantastic flying books, indeed!

I hope that everyone has a safe and fun Fourth of July holiday tomorrow. The library will be closed, but remember, our eLibrary offerings are always open. Happy Fourth!

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Pool smarts

SwimmingSchool’s out, and despite the rain at the beginning of the week, we’re in for some warm days.  If you’re looking for some pool time, check out the swim programs offered through the City of Sunnyvale.  Lessons and open recreational swim are offered at Columbia Park Pool, Sunnyvale Middle School Pool, Washington Park/Swim Center, and Sunnyvale Swim Complex at Fremont High School.  Hours and programs vary by location.  To find out more, go to the City’s Swimming and Aquatics page.

Safety is always a concern during pool season.  We may breathe a sigh of relief once our kids have learned to swim, but even swimmers need to be cautious around water.  Becoming “pool safe” is a process, and it’s a good idea for families to review water safety together before hitting the pool or beach.

The U.S. Consumer Product & Safety Commission’s Pool Safely page is rich in educational information and resources for families.  Elementary aged kids can review what they’ve learned through the interactive game Adventures of Splish and Splash.  Much of the information is available in Spanish as well. 

There’s one more resource I’d like to share.  I’ve recently run across an article titled Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning.   Marine Safety Specialist and retired U.S. Coast Guard member Mario Vittone describes how to tell if someone’s in trouble in the water.  Surprisingly, drowning doesn’t look like one might expect.  There’s no splashing and calling out; instead, it’s very quiet and it looks much like treading water.  As we all work to keep our kids happy and safe in the pool, I want to help get the word out about what to watch for.

Now let’s go out and have a safe, fun, and active summer.

 

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Reflections on a Window

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Allegorical Landscape: The Library as a Center of Learning in the Community

When you enter the Library’s nonfiction room it is obvious that the large stained glass window serves as the centerpiece of the room. It resides with the majesty of a work of art that commands a space with subtlety and a soothing presence.

I love mountains and lakes, streams and rivers. I enjoy being in their presence. Each provides energy and a calming force for me. I cannot explain it but yet I realize that there is a natural tendency to sit quietly on a shoreline or riverbank and look up at a mountaintop and think quiet thoughts. The poet, William Blake wrote, “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.” We should make a practice of seeking the presence of a mountain or the bank of a stream and let our thoughts flow. I have often thought that our stained glass window presents a perfect area for quiet thoughts and reflection.

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The next time you are at the Library, visit the window and look at the detail. On a breezy day the shrubbery behind the window shakes with the wind and adds the illusion of movement to the stream. The window is highlighted in different ways throughout the day as sunlight and shadow affect the emphasis of detail in the window. Take a moment and enjoy this artwork from faraway and close-up. It is one of the great treasures of our Library and Community.

The stained glass window is one of three pieces of public art  you will find at the Library. Our most prominent piece is the “Out to Lunch” bronze statue which welcomes all visitors to the Library.  “Unfolding Knowledge”, a colorful woven tapestry, hangs above the Technology Center. The City of Sunnyvale has a public art collection that consists of over 100 pieces. During the summer take a tour around our beautiful City and enjoy all of these works of art.

Out To Lunch

Out To Lunch

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Unfolding Knowledge

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Best Food to Remember

The most formative year of my education was the year I went to the University of California’s center at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras in Madrid.  It was there that I learned to speak and understand and DREAM in Spanish – I picked up a Spanish boyfriend and acquired a taste for true Spanish food.  No, not Mexican food, which is wonderful in its own right – SPANISH food.  Spain.

restaurante-y-tienda-lhardy_2199071This is a picture of one of the best restaurants in Madrid, Lhardy, on the Carrera de San Jerónimo; it’s been in existence since 1839.  Rich people and wanna-bes in 19th-century novels (and real life) were always sending for Lhardy take-out:  croquettes, pâte, fois gras… whether they could pay for it or not.  Eventually, of course, if they didn’t pay, Lhardy stopped accepting their orders.

I couldn’t afford Lhardy when I was 20 years old (and I hadn’t even  heard of  it until I read Benito Pérez Galdós’  nineteenth-century masterpiece, Fortunata y Jacinta).  But I did just fine eating a tremendous amount of one of the cheapest and most typical dishes in all of Spain:  tortilla de patatas.  Potato omelet.

1352438193_b043643ab9_mOf course tortilla can contain any number of ingredients besides potatoes:  peas, shrimp, asparagus, eggplant, ham, mushrooms, red peppers…   But the classic one is just potatoes, olive oil, salt and onion.  I watched my boyfriend’s mother make tortilla and learned how to do it – but she didn’t use onions.  It wasn’t till I remembered a description of a tortilla in a nineteenth-century novel that I started putting onion in mine.

I’ve seen many tortilla recipes; generally speaking, the more complicated and fussy it is, the further it will be from an authentic tortilla.  Try the recipe in Claudia Roden’s monumental  The Food of Spain.

I came home, started graduate school, got married and started teaching in Boston.  When I turned 30, one of my colleagues, María Paz, invited me over to lunch to celebrate my birthday.  She asked me what I wanted her to cook for me:  “Tortilla and flan and whatever else you like,” I responded immediately.

María Paz was from the southern Spanish city of Córdoba; I’d tasted her cooking before and knew it would be a good lunch.  It was.  And she taught me how to make something else I loved:  flan (caramel custard).  Now there are many kinds of flan, from all over the Spanish-speaking world:  orange flan, flan made with condensed milk, cheese flan, and so on.  But again, for me there is only the simple classic one, the one I remember from Spain and that María Paz taught me to make:  eggs, milk, vanilla and sugar (some of  it caramelized).

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When I was a kid, I refused to touch custard.  It was supposed to be a dessert (I’m told my grandmother made wonderful custard), but it rhymed with “mustard,” which was certainly NOT a dessert.  How could it be any good?  It was not until I lived in Spain that I learned how delicately delicious it could be.  Maybe being a young adult instead of a kid had something to do with it.

I continue to make flan to this day.  Sometimes my family asks me if I want to order it when we go to a restaurant.  I sniff disdainfully and remind them that I don’t need to eat anybody else’s flan; mine is the best.

Other people agree.  My friend Nancy, a brilliant cook, tasted my flan at a family celebration and asked me for the recipe.  Flattered, I said of course and handed her my recipe book, open to the appropriate page.  As I turned away to continue cooking, she said, “Marti… I can’t read this.”  I turned back, and suddenly realized that it was written in María Paz’s handwriting – in Spanish, naturally.  No wonder Nancy couldn’t read it!

There are other delicious dishes that live on in my heart and on my palate - gazpacho andaluz, empanada, crema catalana – each with a story behind it that makes it memorable for a lifetime.  When you travel, be sure to notice what the people of the area eat, and try it yourself.  Sometimes people can’t believe you want to eat something as ordinary as their regular fare.  Sometimes you may not like it after you’ve had it.  But always give it a try.

 

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