Tel Aviv Diary - October 3-7, 2013 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

Tel Aviv Diary - October 3-7, 2013 - Karen Alkalay-Gut

October 3, 2013

Somebody asked me to translate this piece by Nathan Alterman. It moved so much I forgot to ask for money.


Nathan Alterman (1942)

Few there are who know the Swedish tongue.
Who speaks it? Perhaps only the Swedes themselves,
because their land is lost among mountains and fjords,
and their nation tiny and modest.

And when Sweden said: “I hereby admit
all the exiled Jews from the Danish border,”
all the peoples of the earth understood
how poor Swedish is in its vocabulary.

Because many states had already declared,
revealing their hidden linguistic treasures,
with words like “infiltration” and “quota” and “visa.”
Only in Swedish are words like these absent.

When a hunted boy escapes to Sweden ,
it doesn’t turn away to consult its maps.
It simply takes him into its hearth
without knowing this is a question of “transport.”

Unfortunately my parents got to Sweden twice before WWII from Danzig - in Esperanto conference - and were sent back. They finally made it out - to England - the night before Hitler invaded.

But who knows what the reasons were. My parents were stateless, desperate, and perhaps couldn't figure out what they needed to do to remain in Sweden.

October 4, 2013

Busy day ahead. After a morning of beginning the process of changing windows from the old leaky window frames to new ones before we take off for a birthday lunch (9 year old grandson) and then Ashkelon for the night to speak about translation at a conference on translation. 4 parts`; 1. how important translation to English is 2. how difficult it is 3. how to choose a translator 4. how to treat a translator.

1. There is a great deal of writing in Israel that is fascinating because of all the multiculturalism, disorder and conflict. This fact is now being revealed to the general population through film and art. But the potential readership in Israel is miniscule, Even more miniscule for Arab writers here who are not usually respected in the rest of the Arab world. The lack of dialogue with the world - at times - provincializes the writing (especially when it is poetry), prevents even the possibility of feedback. A universal dialogue shifts the perspective of the writer, even if it is another language

2. Translation is not easy. The possibility of exact translation and communication is an abstract goal and needs cultural interpolation, and the imput of the translator him/herself. Sometimes crucial points get lost - for lack of alternatives. (For example, the final word in the previous poem "transport" immediately in Hebrew strikes a chord that shudders down the backbone - it is immediate transportation to a death camp.)

3. Choosing a translator is not like choosing a glazier. You need to find out who has translated similar work, and whether they might enter into the same spirit as your work. This step saves some of the time and money wasted on trying out translators.

4. But it is not only the artisanship of the translator that should be explored but also the translator as a whole. Are they writers themselves? If so, would it not help to read something they wrote?Most people treat a ignore the possibility that the translator may indeed be a writer whose work should be known as well. More significantly many translators have reported that the writers who approach them ask for a sample, never return to them, never pay them, and publish the sample without the translator's name. Translation is difficult - and translators must be paid accordingly.

Any other ideas about what i should say?

october 5, 2013

Well I didn't get to say anything I said in yesterday's post. The interest was in translations from English TO Hebrew. In some ways this was very comforting, because it meant that people were interested in learning and understanding, much more than getting themselves known to the world. We had a long session on the ways in which Robert Frost's poem, "Fire and Ice" could work in Hebrew - and Arabic.

The hotel was gorgeous - weird - Holiday Inn in Ashkelon - and the big event in the hotel was not us, but a party in honor of a groom. For some people here this has become a major activity. The week before the wedding there is a Sabbath in which the groom is called up to the torah and the family is present to encourage him. It evolved to a lunch afterward, and then to an entire weekend of feasting. Unfortunately we were in the middle of this. Hundreds of people eating pumpkin seeds all over the hotel and leaving the shells wherever they fell, camping out in the patio under the open patio around which all the hallways circled, and letting children run around screaming and whistling until 2 in the morning.

The contrast of cultures was great -

October 6, 2013

Once again I have shirked my duties and opted out of all required social and cultural activities so that I may laze around and research my next project. and/or work on emptying on my closet so that we can seal the walls and put in a proper window and wait for the real cupboards to be ready. it means cleaning out the mess of thirty years. and of course every time i think of it i need to lie down.

Can't throw the old clothes out.

After all, I am the one who has written the odes to clothes, and, if you come to Rothschild 12 on Tuesday at 22:30 you will see Savannah singing my songs about the significance of every item of clothing that exists.

A coat for instance:


I could get home from here
on my own, I comfort myself.
Yet no matter how near I am,
fear the public denudation.

The coat
makes it possible—
a kapote for a shy stranger
in the strange land
that is my neighborhood.

Grasping this black cloak
I throw my arm across my face
and become


A prayer shawl, a space
with only me and God
and no threat of the world—
that is the
black greatcoat

May your name be praised


This coat-tabernacle—
the space needed for the self
to reconnect, to love
the forbidden, to relearn
the outlines of its flesh.


I made my coat a song
notes ringing as we walk

trilling softly behind me, clear.


With this coat I have
no form, no sin, no invitation

dare go
where I have
never gone


And now it is a magic carpet!
I wander in foreign cities,
alone, with no guide or language
and fear
no evil.

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