Friday, October 17, 2008

Lunchtime in Brussels

For the past weeks, indeed pretty much full-time since the end of February (except when preparing and travelling for conferences, or to family functions, or on holiday for two weeks in July), I've been working day and night to translate a book about the sixteenth-century translator Dirck Coornhert. I might say more about Coornhert another time, as he's a fascinating character. The book, alas, is about his religious disputations rather than his translations, so it meant getting to grips with imputed righteousness and forensic justification (he wasn't a fan of either), not to mention the formal technicalities of 16th-century debate ("After your opponent's counter-statement you will have a limit of two days for rebuttal.").

The translation itself was pretty much finished at 3 a.m. yesterday (Thursday) morning. There is still revision, some tinkering with footnotes, and other minor inconveniences to be seen to, but the laborious work of breaking in the language in is finally done. The rest is grooming.

So today I took the day off. This morning I met a former colleague for coffee, in a beautiful, art nouveau café by the name of A La Mort Subite ("sudden death" being the name of a once-popular card game, and only derivatively from that a macabre name for a café), and we chatted until it was time for him to get to a lunch appointment.

He asked me along, as an unscheduled addition to the lunch party: himself, his wife, and two of his wife's colleagues. He and I are English, his wife is Czech, and her colleagues are both French-speaking Belgians. There was no single language all of us spoke well enough to converse in freely, but between English and French we managed. Of the five of us, four spoke English to a conversational level, three French, two Czech, and two Dutch (to list only those that I am aware of), so there were several overlapping languages, even though we only needed two of them. This is the sort of thing that has happened to me again and again here, and never anywhere else. It's one of the reasons I like Brussels so much. It's not much of a place to visit, but it's a fascinating place to live.

A few years ago we were at a Chinese New Year function where my oldest son, who speaks English and Dutch, was playing with two boys of about the same age: one spoke Chinese and Dutch, the other Chinese and English; so all three could converse, but never all three together.

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