Ragged Claws

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

From this angle, you look like a giant acorn

The squirrels in Chapultepec Park are small and agile, their pale grey coats flecked with velvety splotches of auburn. In the world's largest city they're also some of the most accessible wildlife around, of considerable interest to visiting children. It's not uncommon to see a family staring up into the tree branches, entranced by the sight of a squirrel flicking its tail, or trying to coax a squirrel into taking food from the hand. No slouches, the squirrels recognize a good thing when they see it and are thoroughly acculturated to the humans in their midst. So when I halted in my run yesterday, it wasn't surprising that a nearby squirrel would come over to investigate. It was unexpected, however, when the squirrel decided to jump onto my leg, remaining put for several seconds before allowing itself to be shaken off. It then retreated back a few yards, with a slight air of wounded dignity. If you didn't want me to climb on you, it seemed to rebuke me, why did you stand still and look at me for several seconds? And you know, fair enough - there was an implicit offer there which was, from the squirrel's perspective, precipitously withdrawn.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Too much wine and too much song, wonder how I got along

One of the most endearing things about Mexico City is the presence of music in public spaces. Merchants hawk cds or dvds on the street, vendors tuck speakers into specially designed backpacks in order to sell mp3 collections on the metro, and the teenage boys who steer rickety green buses up and down Reforma blast their favorites as they drive. 2009 has been the summer of Michael Jackson - it's hard to walk through the Alameda without hearing "Beat It" or "Smooth Criminal" pulsating from stalls along the path. This is the first time I've been here that a single artist has been so dominant, although it's true that loose musical themes usually emerge during each visit. Last year the mysterious entity which produces and markets mp3 discs was pushing a collection of '80s and '90s hits, so it was common to hear wistful snippets of "Losing My Religion." In 2004, the song which made its presence felt was "Seasons in the Sun," by Terry Jacks (who sings the line "Goodbye, Michelle, it's hard to die" with remarkable gusto, as if telling Michelle that while yes, dying is hard, it's a challenge he is eager to tackle. "Seasons in the Sun" also includes the immortal verse "But the stars we could reach/Were just starfish on the beach.") I think the repeated encounters with this song in 2004 were just coincidence, though, not the work of any larger structural forces. (At least, I hope this is the case, since it's terrifying to think of some malevolent hand deliberately sowing schmaltz throughout the fabric of space and time.)

The most serendipitous Mexican musical experience, though, happened in a pedestrian underpass last summer. Because I am now old enough to be out of touch with the Youth of Today and their internets, toaster phones and tweet tweet splats, I was listening to an NPR podcast about pop culture. (Yes, I know that getting information about popular culture from NPR compounds the geezer factor tenfold, then raises it to the power of a million, then multiplies it by itself a few times just for fun, then lightly drizzles some maple syrup and powdered sugar on top and serves it up as an Early Bird Special.) The NPR hosts were discussing the then-novel phenomenon of Rickrolling, in which internet users are tricked into watching a video of the 1987 Rick Astley song, "Never Gonna Give You Up." So I was walking through the underpass, headbanging to NPR, when noises from the outside world started to seep through. Speakers blared from inside a small hardware booth, and those speakers were playing..."Never Gonna Give You Up." Seriously, it was like walking by a pet store, and seeing a live performance of the hamster dance, but even more meta. That's one of the best things about having all of this public music available - it allows for the creation of fortuitous connections and associations, enlivening what would otherwise be more workaday spaces.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Somewhat misplaced in translation

It can’t be a fun job to translate movie titles, given the eminent blandness of so many of them. Do we have a piece of technical jargon that can be imbued with a faint air of menace? (Collateral Damage, Double Jeopardy, Flight Plan, Rules of Engagement, Proof of Life). Vaguely chipper cliched phrases? (Get Over It, As Good As It Gets, Home for the Holidays, Something’s Gotta Give, What Women Want) Song lyrics? (From the “Neither a Musical Nor a Musician Biopic” division alone, there’s Addicted to Love, Angel Eyes, Can’t Buy Me Love, Deck the Halls, Drive Me Crazy, Forever Young, It Had to Be You, Jingle All the Way, Man on the Moon, The Mighty Quinn, Pretty Woman, Simply Irresistable, Something to Talk About and The Sweetest Thing). The adjective “American?” (American Beauty, American Dreamz, American Gangster, American Graffiti, American History X, American Pie up through whatever wretched sequel is paying for Eugene Levy’s fourth beach house, The American President, American Psycho, American Splendor, An American Tail, American Teen, Wet Hot American Summer). Still, looking at Spanish translations of English-language movie titles, you get the feeling that considerations of either marketability or workload severely limit the range of words at the translator’s disposal. Consider the following:

Charlie Wilson’s War = “Juego de poder” (Game of Power)
Coach Carter = “Juego de honor” (Game of Honor)
Cruel Intentions = “Juegos sexuales” (Sexual Games)
Four Play = “Juego de cuatro” (Game of Four. At least this is literal, even if it loses the double entendre.)

Then look at the slapdash prurience of these titles:

Love’s Labour’s Lost = “Pacto de amor” (Pact of Love)
There Will Be Blood = “Petroleo sangriento” (Bloody Oil)”
Lord of War = “Hombre peligroso” (Dangerous Man)
Quills = “Letras prohibidas” (Forbidden Writings)
Little Children = “Secretas íntimas” (Intimate Secrets)
My Sister’s Keeper = La decisión más difícil (The Most Difficult Decision)

While here, someone just threw up their hands and called it a day:

Along Came Polly = “Mi novia Polly” (My Girlfriend Polly)

But then again, The Sound of Music is “La novicia rebelde,” which is an indisputable improvement. Home on the Range became the far cleverer "Vacas vaqueras." And you can only admire the patriotic snark of whoever decided to turn Not Another Teen Movie into “No es otra tonta película americana,” or “Not Another Stupid American Movie.” While a lot of spoof movies fall in the “tonta película” category – Meet the Spartans is “Una tonta película sobre Esparta,” Date Movie is “No es otra tonta película de amor,” etc. – the sentiment in this case seems especially...pointed.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Job application

During the Mexican Revolution, the capital city was occupied by a number of different governments and military authorities. In 1910, the elderly dictator Porfirio Díaz presided over lavish celebrations of the national centennial, secure in the belief that his decades of rule had resulted in a stable, prosperous, progress-oriented country. By 1911 Díaz was gone, replaced by Francisco Madero, an idealistic aristocrat who denounced the corruption and authoritarianism that existed under the previous regime. In early 1913 Madero was assassinated at the orders of Victoriano Huerta, who had been a strong supporter of Díaz and was allied with the dictator's nephew Félix. Huerta's coup sparked a series of further uprisings, as revolutionaries with separate constituencies and agendas worked together to unseat him. While Huerta maintained power for a time, ironically strengthened by foreign attacks meant to dislodge him, he fled the country in 1914, to die in a U.S. jail two years later. Huerta's departure exposed the faultlines in the revolutionary coalition, which realigned into the opposing factions of Conventionalists and Constitutionalists. The Conventionalists were led by Pancho Villa in the north and Emiliano Zapata in the south, while the civilian former governor Venustiano Carranza directed the Constitutionalists. During this portion of the struggle, Mexico City was occupied by both Constitutionalist and Conventionalist forces before Carranza finally established himself securely in the capital during the spring of 1916. Carranza would more or less maintain national power until he overreached and was killed on the orders of Álvaro Obregón, his most capable general, in 1920. (Obregón himself would later be murdered by an ardent Catholic infuriated by restrictions on Church activities. Similarly, both Zapata and Villa died from assassins' bullets. It’s one of the great ironies of the Revolution that the only one of its major figures granted a peaceful death was Díaz, the man whose policies had triggered the entire affair.)

All of which is to say that anyone who sought work from the Constitutionalist government in 1916, even employment of the most innocuous type, was treading a political minefield. One applicant who desired a post in the offices of the national museum had to provide satisfactory answers to the following questions:

Have you been an employee of the Government?

Have you served in an army? Under whose orders did you serve, during which time, and which rank did you achieve?

During the dictatorship of Díaz…what positions did you fill?

When the government of Sr. Francisco I. Madero was established, did you continue in the same position, or did you obtain another one?

After the assassination of Sr. President Madero, did you serve the usurper Huerta, keeping the same position as previously, or did you obtain another one?

During the occupation of this capital by the Constitutionalist Army, in August of 1914, did you apply for and obtain a position, or keep that which you had?

Did you follow the Constitutionalist Government when it moved to Veracruz? If not, explain the reasons why.

During the so-called Government of the Convention, did you continue in the position granted you by Sr. Carranza, or did you obtain another position?

Additionally, the truth of these statements had to be verified by witnesses “of recognized adherence to the Constitutionalist cause.” Despite providing recommendations from two Constitutionalist army officers, our poor applicant was still denied the job he sought. Although the government was generally reluctant to hire outside applicants for positions, our applicant's fortunes could not have been helped by his lack of service in the victorious army - keeping your head down, it seems, can only take you so far.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Lo básico

Search completions suggested by Google México, July 8, 2009.


te admite (two variants)
te eliminó (four variants, including te borró del MSN and te bloqueó)
inventó el teléfono
inventó la computadora
inventó la televisión
inventó el radio


es el amor
es un ensayo
son las valores
es ciencia
es una entrevista
es internet
es la amistad
es el hule
es el tabaquismo
es el calentamiento global


es Semana Santa (2 variants)
tus ojos me miran
me voy a morir (3 variants)
se estrena Rápido y Furioso 4
el destino nos alcance
un hombre ama a una mujer
juega México


puedo ver películas gratis
puedo ver películas
está Wally
están los Chicharrines
habitan los ángeles
hay misa
viven los serpientes
está el amor

Por qué

el cielo es azul
se originan los huracanes
te amo
a mi
te quiero
te quiero tenerte para mí
flotan los barcos
me tratas así
es tan cruel el amor


bajar videos de Youtube
hacer un currículum (2 variants)
bajar de peso
saber si estoy embarazada
hacer un ensayo
cuidar el agua
hacer un papalote
ser emo