Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stopper in the Name of Love

On June 12, 1901, an incident occurred in Karnes County Texas. The Cortez brothers, Gregorio and Romaldo, were interrogated by Sheriff Brack Morris for suspected horse thievery. The Sheriff was accompanied by deputy Boone Choate, who was apparently fluent in "Mexican". Through prior questioning of locals, Choate had learned that Gregorio had recently acquired a mare through a trade. When questioning Cortez, the deputy asked him if he had recently acquired a caballo (stallion). Gregorio responded no, that he had acquired a yegua (mare). The deputy did not comprehend the distinction (a horse is a horse...) and did not property translate. The Sheriff then shot and wounded Romaldo, which then prompted Gregorio to shoot and kill the Sheriff. A bad translation can really mess up a day. (To find out what happens to Gregorio, check out the film 'The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez').

My "Gregorio Cortez" moment happened last week. No shooting, no wounding. But a really bad translation. Our copy of the FLASH INFO LERAN for Mai 2011 arrived in the mailbox, the untranslated French version. An English-language version is distributed to the homes of the not-so-fluent residents at a later date. This translated version is quite an ambitious project for such a small village. The Flash Info Leran isn't highbrow, just your basic articles and adverts essential to the daily comings and goings of Leran. For instance, this month there is/was the Fete du Village, Faites des Jardins, and a teaser for the up-coming Marche Gorumand Nocturne. But there was one advert in particular that caught my attention: Les Bouchons d'Amour.

I painstakingly make a stab to translate the Flash Info before the English version arrives, just to test my reading skills. I pick out words I know and let the context paint the picture. So, when I got to the full-page ad about Les Bouchons d'Amour, imagination won out over translation. I knew "bouchons" from tire-bouchon, a corkscrew. Bouchon, to mean plug, stopper, cork, etc. And who hasn't heard of "amour"----love. So, follow my thinking here. Les bouchons d'amour, the stopper of love, the love plug. Could it mean a condom?

Over at the bar later that evening, I posed my puzzlement to Marek. Initially, Les Bouchons d'Amour didn't ring a bell to him. He concurred that "bouchons" was indeed a stopper and amour was love. Then he pulled his Flash Info Leran out of his mailbox, turned to the page in question and Voila! He rushed back into the bar and brought out a bag of bottle tops. Les Bouchons d'Amour is asking people to collect bottle tops which are then traded for sports equipment for people with disabilities. All kinds/types/sizes of bottle tops from a variety of products are accepted in the receptacle in front of the Mairie.

Speaking of condoms, it reminds me of a story. A friend was staying with a French host family when she was a college exchange student. The first morning, the family was seated around the table. Michelle wanted to practice her French and ask for the jar of jam to be passed. She couldn't think of the French word for jam or jelly, so decided that "preservative" had that French sound to it. What she said came out something like "passez moi le preservatif" and immediately the two children started giggling uncontrollably. The parents attempted to hide their laughter. When she asked why they were so beside themselves, the mother responded "you asked to be passed a condom".

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