Tag Archives: Lost in Translation

Rows and rows of cottages.

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Folks, I am ill, ill, ill. I was supposed to leave for California this morning, but changed my ticket last night. It was around that time that my nostrils decided to be The Blob for Halloween (they like to get started on their costume early, it seems).

Blerg.

All energy has been sucked out of me and replaced with mucus.

But I feel I need to reply to some of the comments on yesterday’s post, during which several lovely folks noted that Castle Leslie seemed more like a manor than a castle. There was a bit of protesting about the lack of a moat, and there was certainly no drawbridge, and from my vantage point, I saw absolutely zero people wearing crowns and making decrees.

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My darling husband has a slightly inflated impression of my foreign language abilities. A haggling session in Cuzco left him believing that my Spanish was far better than it actually is (It’s not that great. I am, however, an awesome haggler). I allow it, of course. We all believe slight exaggerations about our loved ones. He wants to think I speak perfect Spanish? Fine by me. If he believes I’m trilingual, then I get to believe he’s suave enough to give Cary Grant a run for his money.

What? It could happen.

Besides, it’s not all untrue: I do have enough basic knowledge left over from high school Spanish that I can be of some help when we’re in Spain or South America. Not much, mind you, but enough to (hopefully) not get him arrested. For example, when were in Madrid he saw a sign that said señoras …

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When I was ten or eleven, my mother took my brother and me to see Universal Soldier in the movie theater, at my brother’s request.

For those of you unfamiliar with this specimen of early-90s cinematic glory, here are some fun facts:

  • It is rated R.
  • It involves a terrorist plot … at the Hoover Dam.
  • It stars not only Jean-Claude Van Damme, but also Dolph Lundgren (psst- you should totally check out that link to Mr. Lundgren’s personal site, because it is DELIGHTFUL).

If you are playing along at home, I’ve just given you at least four reasons why you should not let a child see this movie. But let’s not judge my mother, because she really did her best, and (despite being totally desensitized to violence and suffering a crippling fear of most national parks) I turned out okay.

Please consider this the next time you can’t find a babysitter and really want to see a low-budget action flick.  Your kid will probably be fine! He or she may even grow up to be an unemployed travel blogger!

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There are some arguments that will consume you. They will take over your entire mind and body, so that you find yourself shaking with rage, unable to think of anything else. Your hands clench into fists, your teeth gnash together, and you are filled with anger and the conviction that DEAR GOD YOU ARE RIGHT AND THEY ARE SO, SO WRONG.

This is a story about one such argument.

I don’t remember how it began. Few great battles in history have marked beginnings. We say it was the assassination of Ferdinand, we suggest that it may have been the killing of Crispus Attucks and four others on a chilly night in Boston, but we are only guessing – trying to add sense and order to a situation where there likely isn’t one. Where there is only chaos and conflict.

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TV outside of the U.S. is such a treasure. After spending the whole day roaming around a foreign city, sampling a dozen or so local desserts (for journalistic integrity is at stake, and if you do not try them all, Fox News wins), and getting lost at least twice, you return to your hotel room, exhausted, and out of habit, you plop down on the bed/chair/holy-crap-our-hotel-room-has-a-couch and switch on the telly.

And that is where, depending on your geographic location, things will land somewhere on the spectrum of completely familiar to bat-shit crazy. Nowhere is this more true than Italy. Are there stranger television programs in the world than those found on Italian networks? Absolutely. But they are often in languages I don’t understand, and so their mysteries remain locked (we’ve watched ourselves on Japanese TV numerous times. We sincerely haven’t a clue as to what any of the screaming, animated angels, and Whitney Houston background music was all about). But in Italy, I speak the language. I know at least some of the local celebrities. And often I have a relative nearby who can put things into a cultural context for me. And still? Despite all of that?

Italian TV makes NO DAMN SENSE.

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We're not in hell, I promise. Hell's flags are different.

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You know that old joke about heaven and hell? How in heaven, the police are British, the engineers are German, the cooks are Italian, the lovers are French? And how in hell, the roles are jumbled up? The police are German, the cooks are British, and, perhaps most cruelly of all, the bureaucrats are Italian.

And while the more culturally sensitive of you are rolling your eyes at the broad brush with which that joke paints Europeans, a few of you, like me, are knowingly nodding your head. If you’ve traveled at all, you know that the police in the U.K. are generally lovely, and you know the feeling of pure relaxation that comes after hearing your airplane pilot speak to the cabin in German-accented English. And if you are truly unfortunate, you know the hell of any organizational, governmental, or bureaucratic system in Italy.

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We are sitting in a restaurant in Rome. The Peroni Brewery Restaurant, to be exact. Shockingly, it is neither touristy, nor overpriced, nor terrible, but it is overrun with locals and the staff is gruff and rushed. My aunt, uncle, and cousin have come to meet us for a day in Rome, and my aunt suggested we eat there as it was on the way. Rand and I were hesitant, anticipating the Italian equivalent of Gordon Biersch, but once inside, we see that’s not the case. It’s locked in time in the 60s, serving an occasional kitschy German dish alongside traditional Italian ones.

The waiter comes by with the haughtiness and exasperation of someone who knows that the gratuity is included in the bill. My uncle will remind me that this isn’t just because we’re in Italy, but also because we’re in Rome. It’s somewhat like New York – people are rushed, people are busy, people are yelling. It isn’t because they are angry at you (or if they are, it isn’t because it’s personal). It’s simply what life in the city is like. As we rattle off our orders in Italian (yes, Rand included), our waiter seems less disgusted with our table. My uncle’s Roman accent surely helps, as do, I suspect, my cousin’s big green eyes.

My family laughs at my reaction to the service, but I tell them I’m just glad I haven’t been yelled at. It seems that I’m always getting yelled at in Italy … or by Italians (that is another post. I promise you).

I order cacio e pepe pasta – a dish so absurdly simple, I’m wondering why I’ve never ordered it, much less made it. Butter, pecorino, a tiny bit of pepper swirled over fresh pasta.

Carciofi romani in the background.

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Recently, my home has come to resemble a slumber party full of middle school girls. There’s been lots of giggling, and excitement, and jumping around, and yes, it’s because of a boy.

Specifically, this one:

I don't know what they were doing here.

Adorable, ain’t he? Ignore the hair. It just … well, it just is.

The lovely gentleman pictured with my husband is Tom. I have, on occasion, ridiculed his brother on this site, as well as his colleagues, but there’s been sad little mention of Tom himself. Which I intend to rectify. Because this past weekend, Tom arrived in Seattle for the work-equivalent of a foreign exchange program. He’s going to be putting in some time stateside, and, as Rand put it, “making everything better.” Hence the giggling. And the running around. And the general behaving like 12-year-old girls who’ve inhaled a pack of pixie sticks and watched the entire Twilight canon. In short, we are excited.

This cultural exchange of sorts will also mark the longest time Tom has spent in the United States. And since he is a dear and well-behaved lad, I feel that there are a few terms which he, as a Brit, may want to avoid while he’s here. It’s not that they’ll get him into trouble. It’s that no one will understand what he’s talking about. And also, they might get him into trouble.

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