...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Harry Potter y el príncipe mestizo

That is, Harry Potter and the Mixed-Blood Prince** (see note at end), for which I'm taking shhhh! merely the briefest of breaks from David Foster Wallace's Infinte Jest. MBP came out just days after I left for Chile a year and a half ago, and it it would have been prohibitively expensive for my family to ship it to me from Oregon, so I was forced to await its translation and appearence on the streets of Valparaíso.

The book market in Chile is very different than in the US; at least in Valparaíso, there weren't huge bookstores like Barnes & Noble or Borders. There were three main kinds of book vendors around Valparaíso and Viña del Mar, where I lived: a) WaldenBooks-type stores in the malls and galerías, where they sold imported, authentic (not black-market), paperback and hardcover books in Spanish and English; b) musty used-book stores run by old leftists; and c) vendors who would sell black-market and photocopied books in market stalls and on the streets. The street vendors spread out all their books on tables or blankets in Plaza Bernardo O'Higgins in Valparaíso, or Plaza de Viña in Viña del Mar; hundreds of books lined up, children's books, religious books, classics, poetry, everything from Don Quijote to El código Da Vinci. Often they would be shrink-wrapped so you couldn't flip through them and make sure they photocopying was done well, which it frequently wasn't: in the first book I bought from a vendor, Pantaleón y las visitadoras by Mario Vargas Lllosa the photocopying was so poorly done that some pages were totally blurred out, rendering them illegible, and some pages were repeated; after page 50 or so the page numbers dropped off the bottom corners and I had to go through and number them by hand.

At the beginning of each semester at Lewis & Clark, I make a list of the books I need then go downtown to see if I can find them at Powell's; at la Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, after Profesor Sarocchi would assign a book in Carla, Mariah's, and my Post-1973 Feminist and Queer Literature class, we would walk the few blocks past the Mercado and Calle Yungay to Plaza O'Higgins, where we would ask the vendors if they had a particular book: "¿Usted tiene Mapocho por Nona Hernández?" "¿Hay Tengo miedo, torero por Pedro Lemebel?" Often the vendors knew their stock immediately; sometimes they invited us to rummage through the boxes and stacks of shrink-wrapped books.

By the time that Harry Potter y el príncipe mestizo hit the book stands, I was savvy enough to know that I was getting a photocopied edition. What I didn't realize was that, instead of being the official Spanish translation, it was some slapshot Google or Babelfish translation of the English text that had been whipped off and photocopied as quickly as possible. The fonts, formatting and paragraph breaks were all wrong; there were some bizarre false-cognates that I only understood because I could figure out what the text must have said in English (example: At one point Mr. Weasley or whoever draws the curtains--that is, he closes them. The Spanish text read, "dibujó las cortinas"--he drew them, as with a crayon); words like "magic wand" would randomly show up in English. (Incidentally, I found an authentic Spanish translation a few days before I left for the US, in one of the classy bookstores at the huge mall in Viña. It was hardcover and looked just like its English counterpart, with the correct fonts and formatting. It also cost at least 25,000 pesos: around fifty US dollars. I bought my black-market paperback Harry Potter for around 10,000.)

But the Spanish text wasn't without its charms. I loved the way the translator rendered Fleur Delacour's French accent, by replacing her Rs with Gs: she called Harry "Haggy," for instance, and pronouncing "Haggy" with a silent H and throaty Spanish G really does evoke the sound of Spanish spoken by a French person. And despite the laughably bad quality of the translation, as I'm reading MBP now, for the first time in English, I'm amazed that I understood virtually everything the first time around. I remember everything, but I'm not remembering it in Spanish or in English, I'm just remembering it. The language is secondary to the experience. In a way, that reflects how I feel about my entire experience in Chile, now that I look back on it after a year: how on Earth did I do that? I think back on the conversations I had, and the people I met, and the things I did, and the classes I took, and I can't believe that I did it all in Spanish. I can't believe that was me. It's a strange feeling.

** Edited to add: I knew there was something strange-looking about Harry Potter and the Mixed-Blood Prince: as my brother just pointed out, the title in English is Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The clarification allows me to comment on something interesting: the fact that "Half-Blood" was translated mestizo in the Spanish translation. Mestizo is a fairly loaded term in Latin America, where it's used as an ethnic descriptor to describe the descendents of the Spanish conquistadores and native women who were raped by the Spanish during the Conquest.