Saturday, August 06, 2016

My complicated weekends

IT pays to read a newspaper.

I subscribe to one national daily. I borrow my mother’s two local dailies. My son and I subscribe to one international daily.

All these papers complicate my life. Only someone of my age will spend part of her weekends, holed up with old newspapers. When the husband and I are in coffee shops, I notice that while everyone is engrossed with everyone else, we are rolling our eyes at newspaper grammatical slip-ups.

I have to thank newspaper howlers, though, for making me appreciate lapsus calami more than lapsus linguae. The former is a slip of the pen while the latter, a slip of the tongue.

Both are actually interesting but I associate lapsus calami with the more calamitous. As one who writes, I find errors that end up in print last for at least 24 hours (the shelf life of printed news) or, if online, forever. For a slip of the tongue, one can blame the listener’s hearing, Catholic guilt or the usual suspect.

Only age can equip one for the hidden pleasures of newspaper reading.

I read the International New York Times (INYT) issues days, even months, late. The older son reads the digital version daily but I wait until I get to Manila, where the papers are delivered.

So how does it feel like to go through a box of old newspapers? As a college undergraduate studying journalism, I learned that news must be recent; anything beyond the 24-hour cycle of newspapers is fit only for history or an epitaph.

Well, like wine that gets better with age, the INYTs make me realize that if the writing is any good, it will keep well and linger better than journalism theories.

Take obituaries, for instance. I used to think that The Economist cornered the market on articles that inform the public about the passing away of a newsmaker until I discovered the INYT writes them shorter and no less distinctly.

The obituary comes from the medieval Latin verb “obit,” meaning “perished”. But a well-written obituary makes the reader realize the fullness of a life lived well.

On June 17, 2016, the INYT’s Margalit Fox wrote about the death of Gregory Rabassa at the age of 94.

When I was in college, an aunt gave me “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. This groundbreaking novel of magic realism is written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and translated by Mr. Rabassa.

In rendering the Spanish novel to English, Mr. Rabassa is credited as much as Mr. Garcia Marquez for the “cathedral of words”. The son of a Cuban who immigrated to New York, Mr. Rabassa recalled that his father spoke only Spanish “when he cut himself”.

However, the son’s love for words—Spanish, Portuguese, and English—eventually led to his first confrontation with the novel. How to translate “cien” in the title “Cien Años de Soledad”: “a hundred” or “one hundred”?

Fox writes that, “Professor Rabassa was an ardent believer in the aurality of text. To him, ‘a’ was an acoustic flyspeck, little more than a fleeting grunt. He chose the more durable ‘one’.”

While online portals open borderless worlds, I find that only traditional newspapers allow the reader to experience again and again what Fox describes unforgettably as Mr. Rabassa’s journey: “It is the translator’s lot to be afflicted with chronic, Talmudic agonizing—over sound, over sense, over meter, over meaning.”

Now you know why my weekends are complicated.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 31, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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