Language, My life, Translation, Travel

“So you’re also from Chihuahua?”

I had an intepreting gig in Miami last week. I drove down instead of flying so Alicia could come with me. We stayed in a ritzy hotel on the waterfront. The event was held at another ritzy hotel around the corner.

I’ve interpreted for a few high-level people before, but this time one of the speakers was a political figure all of you would recognize. That was pretty cool.

It was an international conference, and the Spanish speakers came from all over Latin America and Spain. I always wonder how much gets lost in translation; while Spanish speakers can usually understand each other, there are differences in terms and accent from one country to another just as there is between English-speaking countries. You don’t realize how much you don’t understand until you have to translate it, as I discovered the first time I did simultaneous interpretation back in 2006; I had to interpret presentations given by an English woman and by a Spaniard, and some of their terms left me completely baffled.

The other two Spanish interpreters in Miami were considerably better than I, from what I could tell. They have better vocabularies and are more fluent in Spanish. The one time I got to be a hero was when a New Zealander was speaking; they couldn’t understand his accent, and I could catch most of it.

Possibly the weirdest moment in the conference was when one of the Mexicans came up to me and said, “So you’re from Chihuahua too?” I have no idea how he came to that conclusion; I used to have a Mexican accent, as the result of twelve years translating for Mexicans in Dallas, but since I got reacquainted with Alicia in 2010, I’ve resumed the Colombian accent and vocabulary I grew up with.

While we were in Miami, we had a brief visit from Doña Herlinda and her daughter Doris, who lived down the street from me in San Cristóbal (just outside of Medellín) back in the 1970s. Doris now lives near Palm Beach and Herlinda is in the US for a visit. Doris’s brothers Uriel and Chicho (real name Hildebrando, I found out decades later) used to play Kick the Can, soccer, or whatever else was in vogue (tops, kites, slingshots, yoyos) with me and my brother Danny.

Doña Herlinda and her husband once owned a well-known scenic restaurant, Los Pinos, overlooking Medellín. After her husband died, Uriel took it over and ran it for several years, until a local gang started charging him ‘vacuna’ (“vaccination”, what the Mafia called “protection”). He shut it down and turned it into a house. Herlinda now lives there, and Alicia and I visit her nearly every time we go to Colombia. Back in November 2010, when we were just getting reacquainted, we spent a lovely evening together on her balcony, so it’s a pleasant pilgrimage to remember the beginnings of a great love story.

And now we’re back in Tampa. It looks like we finally have a buyer for the Texas lake house I co-own with my ex. Getting rid of it will be an enormous relief; it has been a crippling burden for the past year and a half since the renters moved out and I had to change the septic tank and put it on the market.

Movie review

Another grumpy movie review: Equilibrium

The other night, Alicia and I watched Equilibrium, a Big Brother-themed movie starring Christian Bale.

In the dystopia pictured, all emotions are outlawed, and everyone is required to take a daily dose of a drug that suppresses emotion. Christian Bale is an enforcement officer of the Tetragrammaton, the agency that controls everything under the guidance of Father (Big Brother). At some point, he misses a dose of the drug and begins to feel emotions that cause him to question his job and the laws imposed by the Tetragrammaton. He feels sorrow and regret over the execution of his wife, who had violated the emotion law. Thereafter he hides the drugs behind his mirror instead of taking them.

He’s tasked with infiltrating the Underground resistance and bringing them to justice, but becomes a double agent, assisting the Underground in preparing an uprising and positioning himself to have access to Father so he can assassinate him.

Now here’s the stupid part: his partner (Kaye Diggs) becomes suspicious and eventually arrests him when he’s on his knees in an obvious display of emotion. But during the arrest, Diggs is gleeful, capering around, grimacing, smiling, gloating… not the behavior you would expect from someone who is emotion-free.

When they come before the Tetragrammaton, Bale turns the tables on him and reports Diggs as the high-level infiltrator that they have been looking for. Diggs is led away to be executed, only to turn up again later because he is actually on special assignment from Father to catch Bale and the Underground. But nowhere is his emotion addressed; nowhere do they say, “Well, actually we high-level guys are allowed to skip the drugs.” It’s just bad writing, bad acting, or bad directing.

There is of course a very satisfying sequence at the end in which Bale takes on several dozen guards and the Tetragrammaton and eventually Diggs and Father himself. It’s campy action, much like Kill Bill. My favorite part is the katana duel with Diggs: Bale makes a few quick slashes, Diggs stands there, falls to his knees, and turns his head to the right. His face then slides off, having been cut so cleanly you couldn’t even tell! I wonder why it didn’t fall off when he dropped to his knees.

You can see that scene here:

In summary, the movie is perhaps not as bad as The Colony (see my review here). But people who expect things to make sense will find it disappointing.

Language, Multiculturality, Translation

When no means yes, 7 = 8, 14 = 15, and 20 = 21 = 22

Translation brings to light all the odd things about language.

In Latin America, “No” is used as a general interjection like “oh” or “um”, often combined with “pues,” another interjection that has little meaning. A sentence that starts with “No, pues, es que estuvimos…” might be be translated as “Oh, well, we were…” or “Yes, but the thing is that we were…” or “No, because we were…” depending on context.

One of the oddest Spanish concatenations is the expression “No, pues sí,” which literally means “No, well, yes”:

“¿Pasaste por la tienda?”
“No, pues sí, pero no había de eso.”

“Did you go to the store?”
“Oh, yeah, but they didn’t have any.”

We English speakers all know that a week has seven days, so two weeks is 14 days, three weeks is 21, and so on. In Spanish, however, “ocho días” (eight days) to refers to a period of week. A week from today is “en ocho días” because today and next Wednesday both get counted. Two weeks is “quince días” (15 days) by the same principle.

When you get to three weeks, however, things get tricky. In Costa Rica it’s “veintidós días” (22 days) but in Colombia it’s “veinte días” (20 days).

However… four weeks is not “29 días”. It’s “cuatro semanas” (four weeks) or “treinta días” (30 days), either of which may refer either to the same day of the month (the 18th of July) or the same day of the week (Wednesday four weeks from now). Dates that far out are likely to be fuzzy in any case, so your best bet is to check a few days before to find out when you are expected (or if they even remember that you had an appointment).

Colombia, Music, My life

Alicia’s CD is finally out


This is the CD Alicia recorded with the University Symphonic Band. (My photos don’t do it justice at all, but I’m too lazy to hook up the scanner.) The songs are well-known Latin love songs. Alicia recorded this album just before we got married in November 2012. The mixing was done in a couple of stages last year, and then it was finally issued a couple of weeks ago just in time to be given as a gift to university faculty for Teacher’s Day. Even though Alicia was in Medellín, they somehow forgot to invite her to the ceremony! But they read the dedication and said some very nice things about her.

These are the songs included. The recordings are all outstanding. I seriously think her recording of El día que me quieras will go down as one of the greatest ever. I hope it can get the recognition it deserves.


We had to scrounge to come up with good photos. This one was taken during our Tampa wedding by a high school classmate of mine. The cover photo was done by a studio at the mall. The dedication is lovely, written by Raul Rosero, the director of Colombia’s national philharmonic.


The CD label is pretty cool. I proofread the cover, booklet and label. The only typo left is an extra space on the right side of the disk. I found it after turning in all the others, and it wasn’t worth having the artist work on it yet again.


When we have copies to sell, I’ll let you know. For now she only has a handful.

My life

Memorial Day reflections

My dad grew up in the Depression and World War II. He joined the army when he turned 18, just after the war ended, and served as a photographer. He never talked much about his years in the service; I don’t think it meant much to him.

He once told me about a time he was part of a group taken to drive back a convoy of vehicles, and how he ran to get one of the big trucks, only to have the sergeant pull him in favor of someone with more truck-driving experience. Dad had to drive a smaller vehicle instead. That’s the only story I remember him telling about his military service activities. He never talked about what life as an army photographer involved.

One story I did hear several times (and have in writing) is of Dad going AWOL one weekend, hitch-hiking home and having life-changing conversations with his sister and with a kind driver who gave him a ride. Those conversations and a Gideon Bible led to him committing his life to Christ and becoming a missionary.

The GI Bill paid his way through college, where he studied for the ministry and also met my mom. For that, he was grateful.

At Dad’s funeral in 2010, someone from the Army was there to present his widow with a flag. It turned out that he could have been buried in a military cemetery. I don’t think he would have been interested. He had purchased a plot in Wheaton, IL in 2000 when Mom died, and he wanted to be buried beside her.

Dad rarely identified himself as a veteran, and he didn’t have the manner and attitudes of many of my friends who are ex-military. He never used the VA medical system. He had no old Army buddies. His attitude toward authority (which I inherited) was not at all military. He was patriotic, but not blindly so; he disagreed with many US government policies and decisions. As a missionary, he considered himself an emissary of God, not of the USA.

When I was in high school, I toyed briefly with the idea of joining the navy. Dad said he didn’t think I would enjoy it. Upon reflection, I realized that he was right. I wasn’t the type to be under a rigid, authoritarian system, and I didn’t identify enough with my passport country to be willing to serve it blindly.

I have a lot of friends who are veterans. Sometimes I think they gained things from the experience that I lacked for much of my life. Maybe I would have had a clearer sense of what it means to be an adult, a man, if I had served. I wasn’t comfortable with authority (neither being under it nor exercising it) until I was in my mid-40s. I might have felt less marginal to American culture if I had spent my first four years of adulthood in the armed forces instead of a state university. And it would have been nice to enter adulthood trained in something practical like electronics.

But I’m pretty sure I would have been miserable a good part of the time.


Handyman, My life

Memorial Day rainstorm

Monday afternoon there was a magnificent Florida downpour. This is my back yard. In the distance you can see my shop. The bare ground in the foreground is an ancient brick patio. Other non-grass areas have recently been reclaimed from the encroaching jungle. The creek alongside the garage is a brick walkway, which has sunk over the years.

I spent the weekend grouting the new tiles in the kitchen. The downstairs floor is finally done! Since Alicia left, I tiled the bathroom, breakfast room, kitchen, and laundry room. It involved moving appliances around, which made it even more of a hassle than usual. But it’s done! I’ve repainted the baseboards. Last night I nailed them back up.

Alicia is due back Friday night. I have an enormous amount of cleaning to do by then.

Sorry I haven’t been on all that much. WordPress is blocked at one of my work locations, and when I’m home I don’t have much time to get on because of all the work on the house.