Thursday, August 18, 2005

Mid-August musings

To my small universe of readers, apologies for not posting much this week. I’m on vacation.

This is great:

Pretty much all of my life, with occasional moments of imbalance, a cup of coffee and a gallon of gas have been about the same price. A few years ago, coffee took the lead, but recently gas caught up. Yesterday, gas took the lead, however, and I bet it will stay in the lead at least until Starbucks invents a new gimmick such as blending bee pollen with java and infusing it with ionized oxgygen to create a ten-dollar morning super-drink. In fact, yesterday was the day when gas officially became a luxury item for me, much as coffee did a couple of years ago and water did, too, come to think of it.

If we can afford $3 for a cup of coffee, why not for a gallon of gas? Isn’t our whole way of life like the $3 cup of coffee – a weave of pleasant but mostly unnecessary indulgences that Dick Cheney would have us believe is “our due”?

Matthew Yglesias goes to the movies in Iceland. Years ago I went to Norway on vacation and had a similar experience. Not only was there an intermission, there were also assigned seats. The movie was Nuns on the Run, in which Robbie Coltrane and Eric Idle play petty criminals who cross their boss and are forced into hiding as nuns (a possible inspiration for Sister Act, which came along a few years later). It was called “Nonner pa Flukt” in Norwegian, which for some reason remained stuck in my head. Nonner pa Flukt.

I don’t know Norwegian, and Babelfish doesn’t do it, but I assume this is pretty much a straight translation – “Nuns in Flight,” “Fleeing Nuns” or something like that. Of course, depending on where you are abroad, American movies are likely to have more liberally translated titles. I remember renting Annie Hall from a video store in Mexico, and it was called “Dos Extranos Amantes,” which means “Two Strange Lovers.” Prosaic, but at least accurate. Some pop-cultural effluvia don’t translate well. “Batman” is known as “Batman” – not as the “Hombre Murcielago” for obvious reasons.

On a related point, I am reading Snow by the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk. It's great. Michiko Kakutani would employ the word “limns” to describe what it does for the modern Turkish identity – and for the whole current, epochal clash between fundamentalism and post-enlightnment modernity. More on this later. One thing that jumped out at me: The Turkish city of Batman plays a minor role in the political drama. Coming across this is, well, slightly jarring to the pop-culturally attuned American. It of course fits perfectly well with the geography in the book, which is set mostly in the provincial city of Kars, and I’m not saying Pamuk should avoid it because it may sound odd to Western ears. But Pamuk is also cosmopolitan to the core, and his books are aimed in part at an international audience. He must be aware of the cultural meanings embedded in his text, flowing easily in the Turkish and jumping out in the English translation. What can he mean by it?