- What does your character fail to say? Why does she fail?
I came across ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes) and was immediately struck by the unique adaptations of the rhymes. They are clearly not straight translations and made me wonder what makes a rhyme work in two languages and what is lost and what is found in the process of adapting–especially when rhyme is a central part of the experience.
In Spanish, “El sol es de oro” is, although concise in both languages, very different in English.
El sol es de oro
El sol es de oro
la luna es de plate
y las estrellitas
son de hoja de lata.
The sun is of gold
the moon is of silver
and the little stars
are of tin.
The English adaptation, on the other hand,
The Sun’s a Gold Medallion
The sun’s a gold medallion.
The moon’s a silver ball.
The little stars are only tin;
I love them best of all.
One that was closest in translation was unfamiliar except for the form. This one seemed to be counted on the hand as the more familiar (to me at least) “This Little Piggy” is counted on toes.
Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo
Aquí puso la pajarita el huevo.
Éste lo agarró,
éste lo partió,
éste lo cocinó,
éste le echó la sal,
y este pícaro gordo
se lo comió.
Here the Bird Laid the Egg
Here the bird laid one round egg.
This one found it,
this one cracked it,
this one cooked it,
this one put salt on it,
and this fat rascal
gobbled it up!
from ¡Pío Peep! Rimas Tradicionales en Español (Traditional Spanish Nursery Rhymes)
In the Tlacolula market on Sunday, I am determined to find a picture of Saint Antonio. Rumor has it that he is a saint of miracles and can help mere mortals find lost items—like love. Here, in Oaxaca, legend has it that you simply need to turn the image of Saint Anthony (usually holding an angelic looking child) on his head (a cabeza) and pray. http://www.stanthonyfinderoflove.com/About_St_Anthony.html
I see a stand selling religious books and jewelry and ask the woman if she has an image of Saint Anthony. She does not, but she offers me directions to a shop two and a half blocks off the market. It is called Adonay. I do not hesitate to head in that direction. I consider it a small Spanish test. Can I find the shop on this unknown street in this unknown town? Do I even know what two and a half blocks might be? I have a hat for the sun and it is not raining. I am confident I will find the shop.
C, who is with me, is not so confident. He does not understand why I don’t just download a picture of this guy from the internet. Always a provocateur, he also asks the woman if we will find readings on atheism at her shop. Her face says no. Then, she abruptly confirms: No.
It is definitely farther than three Sacramento city blocks, but we arrive at a beautiful shop with giant Jesus and Mary statues and portraits. It is part garden, gift store, and gallery.
The patient shop keeper tries to sell me a practically life-size Saint Antonio. I assure him that my luggage cannot even accommodate the baby Antonio holds in his arms. He laughs and suggests I get larger luggage—for next time.
He helps me find five cards with the Saint. It turns out C wants two.
C asks to use the restroom, and the kind man says certainly—after I have paid for the cards. As he leads C into the house, a small dog with a pink bow emerges from her doghouse and tries to attack C. The parrot above starts to squawk. I literally scream because I had no idea we were so close to wildlife.
The dog is named Greta. She turns out to be sweet. C finds the children in the back room painting images of Jesus. There are three of them; the husband runs the shop. The wife is the woman we met in the market, the lady of the good directions we name her.
Back out in the chaos of the streets, we have to smile at the adventure and how we never cease to be surprised by what we will find.
I often ask folks if they were to open up a store in the capital (Oaxaca) what the store would sell. Usually people are set on food because everyone needs to eat, but C decides this afternoon that it might be good to sell religious materials, like these tourist-sized images of Saint Antonio that we picked up for under a nickel each. Yes, we could mark them up double and it’d still be cheaper than downloading him from the internet. And, we could help people find things—as we found this little shop.
All of us dance/ on a cent’s edge
Upon what edge are you or your characters dancing? And, what happens? And, what do those watching fear will happen?
The officer at passport control in Mexico City asks where I am coming from. I offer Sacramento; he counters with Atlanta. But I am so tired I don’t recognize the word Atlanta. I start to nod no. He repeats, slowly, A T L A N T A. I agree that’s where I have been most recently.
He asks me why I am in Mexico, and I want to tell him that I long for music in the streets, tacos in the park on Fridays, children roaming freely into twilight, a ride in the back of a truck, Indigo skies over Santo Domingo church. Instead, I sneeze the word: tourism, and he sends me off for two rounds of suitcase inspections and impromptu Spanish tests.
I’m usually up for trying out my comprehension, but I left Sacramento at 11:05PM and arrived in A T L A N T A at about 3AM my time, to take a train and find a gate in the vast terminal and then tried to sleep while a little old man loudly read the newspaper and slurped steaming coffee.
The officer has caught me at 10AM his time, 8AM mine, 11AM Atlanta’s.
Before meeting him, I have mostly fruitlessly tried to sleep in three time zones: pacific, eastern, central. I will have experienced a handful of solid minutes of sleep without disruption.
I will, at last, nap deeply in the small plane over Oaxaca and then briefly in a taxi-van full of seven men in the bustling streets leading to my stop (second-to-last) and my room, my comfortable room, at the posada.
I loved several childhood books above the rest: Little Bear, A New Home for Snowball, Mommy’s Little Helper, and the Child’s Garden of Bible Stories. Each of these books was as visually engaging as the narratives within. And, the lessons I learned about helping and kindness and fairness and storytelling shaped my friendships as much as my writing.
So when I first set eyes on Michelangelo’s The David—first the replica in the Palazzo della Signoria and then the original housed in the Galleria dell’Academia (Accademia Gallery) —I recalled the tale of David and Goliath that followed the Garden of Eden and Exodus and the plentiful illustrations to help young readers.
Marveling at David’s towering and pale body, such a stark contrast to, for example, Donatello’s diminutive bronze interpretation, I am perplexed by how much more colossal, how monstrous, how goliath! Michelangelo’s Goliath might be.
In fact, David’s unabashed stance and nudity make me question whether Michelangelo read a different tale than I. According to my Little Garden, David was clothed and about the same age and size as I.
Speaking of Michelangelo, it is February, and I can’t help thinking of TS Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and his repeated lines: “in the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo.”