To paraphrase my dear friend, the late President Woodrow Wilson: It is not interest, but sympathy and understanding, that unites nations.
Or something like that. Since Woody was quite ill at the time, I may have misunderstood. Which is exactly the point at hand. While the global sympathy supply has been in decline since Live Aid, understanding’s stock had vanished long before the Concert for Bangladesh. Especially where international relations were concerned.
We are thinking of the mysteries of (mis)communication because the fine Japanese public-relations firm of Naçio Cronin Inc. was kind enough to include us in its quality circle of information by sending an 11-page press release regarding the Imperial Hotel of Tokyo. Said structure is apparently a sponsor of this year’s Washington Chamber Symphony Annual Benefit (a fact that deserves further investigation, but that is work for a future monograph).
Poring over endlessly efflorescent paragraphs in an attempt to glean the missive’s true meaning, we were at once reminded of poor Nicolas Perrot, whose interpretive translations of Greek and Latin classics were the subject of so much blistering acrimony from 17th-century literati. “Translations,” went his peers’ tart barb, “like women, are rarely both faithful and beautiful.” Ouch.
While we found a peculiar beauty in the prose of the press release, its degree of veritas does seem elusive. Should we, perhaps, be as steadfast as Lebanese President Chamoun, who in 1946 was undaunted enough by the truth behind the Perrot aphorism to argue passionately before the United Nations General Assembly in favor of translating the great works of world culture into the languages of “less privileged peoples” for the cause of greater understanding? A dilemma!
Admitting that such a magnanimous proposal has yet to bear fruit, we have nonetheless decided to further the quest for enlightenment by printing Naçio Cronin’s communiqué, semi-unexpurgated, with annotations where appropriate.
1. Also in the significant year of 1946, a casual comment from the Englishman Andrew Booth to Warren Weaver of the Rockefeller Foundation, regarding the use of high-speed digital computers as an aid in the work of translators, led to a handsome research grant. (Émile Delavenay, An Introduction to Machine Translation, Praeger, New York, 1960, p. 5; see also A.D. Booth, et al., Mechanical Resolution of Linguistic Problems, Butterworths, London, 1958.)
Forty-eight years after Booth’s prescient remark, we can witness the 30 percent increase in ad pages claimed by Mangajin magazine, the curious Marietta, Ga., publication specializing in teaching Japanese via Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes cartoons (Oct. 1994, pp. 41-43). Most of its fresh ads are for computer translation software.
Lurking in our mnemonic attic while reading this paragraph was the notion that here was evidence of a machine at work, a translating program, probably Windows-based. Not so, suggests Esperanto scholar E. James Lieberman, Ph.D. Dr. Lieberman maintains that the press release’s language is “too recondite” for inhuman hands. Thus we are left to ponder the identity of a scribe who willingly uses the word “mnemonic” in an opening sentence. By the way, in Esperanto the Imperial Hotel would be called Imperia Hotelo.
2. See Note 8.
3. With the exception of Ciao, Mothra (1963), Federico Fellini (1920-1993) never worked in Japan.
4. Mayan settlements in Japan have been dated to the late 1600s, according to Erich von Däniken in his 1971 book, Lawn Furniture of the Gods? MacLaine Press, Sonoma, Calif.).
5. Traditionally, many sumo wrestlers found off-season work in the hotel industry. Sadly, it does not suit them particularly well. See also Jerry Lewis in The Bellboy (1960).
6. Interestingly, the Of Human Bondage author was widely thought to be the love child of a sumo wrestler and an interstellar Incan (op. cit. von Däniken).
7. See also Gallagher, Overboard, etc., Showtime Networks (1984-present); Siegfried & Roy, Circus Circus, Las Vegas, Nev. (1983-present).
8. See Note 2.
9. “Rebels are we/Born to be free/Just like the fish in the sea”—popular 1960s revolutionary song, transcribed by A.S. Konigsburg, New York.
10. “Two-and-a-half stars. Handsome but uninspired filming of the Broadway musical starring Howard Keel, Ann Blyth, Monty Wooley, and Sebastian Cabot. Songs include “Stranger in Paradise,’ based on the Borodin theme.” (Leonard Maltin, Movie and Video Guide 1994, Signet, New York, p. 679.)
11. This practice was largely discontinued with the invention of the pillow mint.
INCIDENTALLY Japan harbors one of the strongest contingents of Esperanto supporters on the planet. While English is a mandatory course of study, the artificial language is easier for the Japanese tongue to master.
Not fluent in Esperanto, may I instead say to all my Pacific Rim friends: “Doshite watashi ga hanbaga to poteto no sukinakota ga wakari mashitaka.” Or words to that effect.