Month: August 2011

A small tragedy at the park

The other day I was reading a book in the park when I noticed a middle-aged man sitting on the bench in front of me. His head was in his hands, his growing boldspot exposed to the passerby’s. His dress was shabby enough to evoke pity, but just not enough to assume the worst. He was under nourished, badly dressed and unshaven. And that is when they arrived, his two screaming boys. Both perfectly clean with carefully combed hair, one waving a pirate’s sword and the other with a wood-and-plastic bow and arrow. They came running passed with a little girl, also armed with a plastic sword.

As they stormed past, the exhausted father watched them with one eye, noticing that the little group ran up the stairs to the upper level of the park, followed by the girls parents. I presumed that he found that comforting to know that his boys were being watched by a parent as his head sunk back into his hands. I read on.

A few minutes later, the girl’s mother appears back downstairs and a deeper truth is revealed about the poor fellow. She tells him that they are leaving, and that his boys are still on the upper level. The father looks at her with his weary eyes and thanks her, followed by the words “they’re used to it”, to avoid being thought of as a slouching father. The girls’s mother gives a half smile and walks off. As soon as she is out of sight, he puts himself back into position.

A small fifteen minutes later, the boys entice the father to playing football on a small patch of green grass. Reluctantly he had dragged himself over there to join his enthusiastic boys, and as the game progressed, he starting getting a taste for it. The ball was being kicked from Indian to Pirate to Father who ran as fast as he could with the little feet of the boys chasing him on his heels. The father’s face lit up in enjoyment. But just as he kicked the ball to his little Indian we heard a whistle blow. The Parks Department: No football on the grass!

“Huh?” the poor fellow retorted, “we can’t play football on the grass?”

And then, of course, the inevitable shake of the head with authority. The man guided his little ones off the grass and into the playground area, dragging his heart behind him. Back to his bench. And there you have the whole truth of tragedy. When you are feeling down, you can not just be let down any further, it does not work like that. No, you need a small lifting of the spirits to be able to be properly pushed down lower. Life. It’s the small things.

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A rose by any other name

It is almost impossible not to judge a translation on a sign when you see one. You look at the English, then back at the French, then back at the English. If German or Italian is there too, and you have the time, you compare those too. Often you will notice that it is not the same – the sense may be different, the implications could be different, but most often of all, the politiness level is rarely the same: French signs tend to assume you are an 18th century aristocrat taking the metro, while the English version assumes that you have a vocabulary of 20 words. And of course, sometimes, it is exactly the same.

But rarely do you really feel like one language “wins” by really nailing it, unless, that is, it is a name. If you didn’t already look at the accompanying picture, then this would be a good time to do so. Indeed. I propose that from now on, we only speak of  the Forest Eagle Owl in French. Le Grand-Duc du Népal, at your service.

(Picture taken in the Ménagerie, Paris V)