Monday, 1 March 2010

The Life of Others



An interesting article from last Sunday's El Pais.

French, Arab, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Chinese, Romanian, Portugese...These and many more languages can be heard in a small room in Madrid's police headquarters. In this room translators spend hours listening to conversations and transcribing them. Sometimes they have to listen to unpleasant things-- threats, arguments, accusations.. At times they listen as the same person who was shouting threats tells their mother that they love her. It is a hard job in which, eight hours a day, one lives the life of others.

Immigrants translate the phone-tapped conversations of foreign suspects for the Spanish police. The Romanian translator is a pious Catholic and has only been with one man in her life: her ex-husband. Ironically, everyday she has to listen to calls between pimps and their prostitutes. She works for a police taskforce investigating sex traffickers. When she translates the conversations she tries to omit swear words or sexual references but sometimes this is impossible and she goes bright red as she writes. At first she was surprised to hear that the pimp called all the girls by the same name, Irina. Afterwards she discovered that Irina was the name of the pimp's wife and using only this name avoided problems at home.

The Hungarian translator was the coach of the Hungarian women's swimming team when her country was still part of the Eastern Bloc. 15 years ago she had to emigrate to Spain and since 5 years ago she has not been once to a swimming pool-- it brings back too many memories. Her physical build attests to her history as an athlete, as well as to the use of anabolitic steroids which she says was common practice in those days. The USA had to be beaten at all costs. The human body has its limits, however.. She is married to a Spaniard and when she goes home to him it is sometimes difficult not to talk about what she has been listening to all day. But she can't. Nobody can know. When people ask her what she does she tells them that she works in an accountancy firm. This sounds so boring that no-one asks her for more details.

The oldest translator is a Turkish woman. Single and attractive, she always tuns up with full make-up on. She turns the heads of the policemen as she walks past. She has a teenage son and she works extra hours to support him. As she has no time for her own life she spends the day living that of others: those that kill for money, those that smuggle in contraband from Turkey and those who commit credit card fraud. She knows all of them by name, she knows who their parents are and what they say to their girlfriends before going to sleep at night. She understands them, translates their words and hates them, all at the same time. Life is not black and white she says, but sometimes it is too grey.

The Arabic translator is a doctor of Philology and has 3 sons. Her husband stays at home with the children while she works. It wasn't thier plan but she found work before he did. She is familiar with every type of hashish and with all the different ways that it can be smuggled into Spain but she has never once rolled or smoked a joint. One day she arrived to work looking pale and almost fainted. She was fasting for Ramadan. People asked her if she was very religious. She replied that she wasn't but that it was more of a tradition than a religious practice. One doesn't have to be a practising Catholic to celebrate Christmas, all Spaniards celebrate it.

A group of police officers burst into a clandestine laboratory where kin, a Chinese drug similar to ketamine, is produced. The police needed to catch the dealers red-handed so the translator had to spend all night listening to phone conversations until he discovered the location of the laboratory. The translator is the only man in the translating room but he doesn't stand out. Quiet and efficient, he never takes off his headphones, not even to eat. He speaks Spanish with a Madrid accent. He was born and raised here and has never been to China, not even for a holiday. The truth is that he still misses China but does not know why.

All these stories are real. They are not taken from the violent streets of Baltimore portrayed in 'The Wire' or from the old East Germany as seen in 'The Life of Others'.
They come from a small room in police headquarters located at Cuatro Caminos.

I know all of this first-hand because for a while I was an inhabitant of that small room. I was the Portugese translator. I was so engrossed in my work that I talked of the people on whom I eavesdropped as if I really knew them. The other day I thought about each and every one of those people who I got to know in that room. I thought about all the stories I heard and all the moments we shared. I would like to dedicate these lines to them. There are people in the real world who do things which would surprise us in the world of fiction. With headphones on and brains alert, they live the life of others without missing a word.

Carla Guimares is a Brazilian writer living in Spain Translated by Czarny Kot 01/03/08 Source: El Pais

15 comments:

Krakow's New Dragons said...

David I didn't know you spoke Spanish as well. I think you are one of these exceptions that prove the rule that Englishmen are rubbish at languages with a few exceptions who seem to speak about 5 or 6 when they do. I know somewone in Krakow who can speak Polish ALL the slavonic languages , Spanish, German , French-but not Hungarian !!!

The destruction of Krakow is now part of what Noami klein calls the "shock doctrine". I never though I would go from being a Tory voting and mostly Thatcher supportiong person in the 1980s when I was young and ambitious to being increasingly radical.

Yet the new capitalism is revolutionary and not and Klein suggests "counter revolutionary". Counter revolutionary mean intelligent conservative politics in the way intended by John Gray in staving off the recurrent evils to which human life and Utopian plans create.

Like Gray I have moved towards this hostility to neoliberalism in its entirety.But my conservation work is an example of preventing great evil and the destruction and deracination of what was once known Petit Wien in the districts outside the UNESCO zone.

The corruption of the PiS dominated Rada Meisjska is chilling.

Krakow's New Dragons said...

Please, translate this for me. I wish you all the berst. Please help me save Krakow from Gaertner and take a look at my blog. The scale of the destruction is heartbrealking and the seeds beneath the snow are germinating into a resistance movement.

Pałacyk na Szlaku. Szlak, ładnie wytyczona ulica obwodowa, wspomagać miał zatyle linii fortyfikacji Twierdzy Kraków, poprowadzony był niejako równolegle do linii al. Słowackiego. Od ul. Warszawskiej ulica wydłużała się sukcesywnie ku Łobzowskiej; w pobliżu traktu warszawskiego mieściły się koszary austriackie arcyksięcia Rudolfa (dziś politechnika). Koszary trafiły w ręce wojskowe drogą kupna. Taida hr. z Małachowskich Leonowa Rzewuska, ówczesna właścicielka pałacyku i folwarku Szlak, sprzedała na rzecz cesarskiej i królewskiej dyrekcji inżynierii tylko dwie działki służące dotąd za ogród warzywny. Miejsca wystarczyło w sam raz na koszary. Grunty dawnego folwarku Szlak sięgały wtedy od Rynku Kleparskiego aż do ul. Montelupich.

W osiem lat po transakcji, w 1869 roku, bezdzietne małżeństwo Rzewuskich zmarło. Cały folwark nabył (zapewne od spadkobierców) Konstanty Grzegorz hr. Branicki - prywatnie rodzony wnuk Franciszka Ksawerego (tego samego, którego w "Weselu" diabły wynoszą na widłach, a na obrazie Matejki "Rejtan - upadek Polski" stoi z twarzą dłoniach). Z Rzewuskimi nie był spokrewniony. Branicki był człowiekiem niezwykle majętnym. To on uczynił francuskie miasteczko Montresor siedzibą polskości we Francji. Dobra rodzinne Białej Cerkwi, w których się urodził w 1824 roku, miały wielkość ówczesnej Belgii. W pięć lat po zakupie (w 1874 roku) podarował folwark i pałacyk w prezencie ślubnym swojej córce, 20-letniej Róży, poślubionej w Paryżu Stanisławowi Kostce hr. Tarnowskiemu. Tak rozpoczęła się historia rodziny Tarnowskich w tym domu, zakończona nieledwie kilka lat temu sprzedażą samego budynku. Ogromny ogród wkrótce po II wojnie światowej (około roku 1947) nabyło Zgromadzenie Salwatorianów, co pozwoliło rodzinie zachować część majątku i uchroniło go przed konfiskatą. Dziś zgromadzenie jest właścicielem gruntów otaczających pałac z trzech stron w odległości... czterech metrów od ścian budynku. Linia podziału przechodzi np. przez proscenium amfiteatru wystawionego w ogrodzie od strony południowej. Widownia należy do księży, a scena do właścicieli pałacyku. Swoją drogą, to kto dobudowuje amfiteatr do południowej ściany?

Krakow's New Dragons said...

Part 2

Dzieje tej gałęzi rodziny Tarnowskich opisał w rodzinnych wspomnieniach Andrew Tarnowski, najstarszy z noszących rodowe nazwisko prawnuków Stanisława. Za ten czyn został wykluczony ze związku rodziny Tarnowskich, bez prawa apelacji. Niech to posłuży Państwu za rekomendację lektury.

Tu, na Szlaku, Stanisław Kostka Tarnowski, profesor i arystokrata (niezwykle rzadkie zestawienie), rektor UJ i prezes PAU, człowiek pobożny, współtwórca "Teki Stańczyka", właściciel "Czasu", słowem - konserwatysta jak należy, budował historię lojalnej autonomii galicyjskiej. Inteligentny, niesłychanie pracowity, skromnej postury, małostkowy i złośliwy, wszechwładny - był pan profesor ofiarą niezliczonych żartów, kpin, anegdot i relacji. Takie zestawienia cech znamy i ze współczesnej historii...

Podczas II wojny światowej pałacyk wraz z dobudowanymi skrzydłami służył Niemcom za kwaterę oficerską, a po 48-godzinnej "wyprowadzce a la SS" - za pałac młodzieży Hitlerjugend. Dokonana w tym celu przebudowa zrujnowała harmonię wnętrz bez reszty. Dostawiono nadęte tarasy, wykuto wejście główne od północy (sic!). Niedługo po wyzwoleniu, w styczniu 1945 roku, stacjonujący naprzeciw radzieccy żołnierze w towarzystwie okolicznej ludności splądrowali pałacyk w poszukiwaniu ukrytych rzekomo zapasów żywności. Na koniec budynek podpalono.

W 1950 roku przystąpiono do remontu pałacyku na potrzeby krakowskiej rozgłośni Polskiego Radia. W latach szalejącej mincowizny, czyli państwowej praktyki rujnowania ze szczętem wszystkiego co prywatne (od nazwiska Hilarego Minca, ministra od tych spraw), nikt nie przejmował się własnością. Wnętrza przerobiono na potrzeby redakcji, studiów emisyjnych i nagraniowych. Dobudowano dość gustowne piętro z lukarnami. W lecie przy otwartych oknach doskonale słychać było z nich hejnał. W sklepionej sieni na parterze, która widywała trumny królów przed pochówkiem na Wawelu, urządzono recepcję radia, wartownię i szatnię. I tak rodzina Tarnowskich, wbrew własnej woli, znów wsparła Rzeczpospolitą. Duch tego budynku, w którym przechowywano przez wiele lat rękopis "Pana Tadeusza", udzielił się Radiu Kraków - bez wątpienia. Budynek mieścił też znakomite archiwa nagrań i stał się na lata siedzibą medium kształcącego naszą wyobraźnię, któremu piszący te słowa oddał kawał życia, by w zamian zyskać znacznie więcej. Ale to już całkiem inna historia, na szczęście niedokończona. W 1999 roku Radio Kraków przeniosło swoją siedzibę do nowo wybudowanego gmachu przy al. Słowackiego 22.

This translation will be used to show the importance of the building. Please link one of my artcles of Henryk Gaertner of GDK Group to give him maximum negative PR. I'm right up there with him on the google search engine.

Krakow's New Dragons said...

Joke of the Year . Polish anarchists support Polish nationalists in Belarus and support picketing the Russian embassy. The words useful idiots comes to mind or is it useless idiots since they are not even being paid by the USA to stand about looking rebellious so that Soros can use counterculture to get his hands on the Belarusian economy.

http://krakowconservationwatch.blogspot.com/2010/03/useful-idiots-polish-anarchists-support.html

Renegade Eye said...

Interesting and scary post. Immigrants don't have any pretense of rights.

Czarny Kot said...

@Karl: I've had quite a few errands to do this week so I haven't been online for a while. I'll happily do the 2-part translation, perhaps by Sunday or Monday but i'm afraid the English to Polish one is looking increasingly unlikely. I might be able to have a pop at it over the next couple of weeks but if you need it for something it would be best to get a Polish friend to have a look.

@Ren: Thanks for the comment.

Brett Hetherington said...

Fascinating! I missed this when it was in El Pais, so I am grateful for your excellent translation. The Lives of Others is one of the films that I am happy to watch again and again with my older History students when I teach them about East Germany. This article certainly confirms that aspects of surveillance from that time still go on here in Spain and that it is after all human beings who reveal information about other human beings. I would not condemn those translators doing their job if they are helping to catch serious criminals committing crimes like pimping, running hard drugs or people-trafficking.

Krakow's New Dragons said...

Ok,forget the Scruton declaration Czarny. Just when you have have time do the ones you can do in is your crossword time coffee breaks !!!

Gregor said...

@CK
Thanks for another interesting translation.

I watched The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada last night; thought it was great, but raised a peripheral question. A town called 'Jimenez' features which the Mexicans pronounce 'Khimenez'. According to my Spanish books, 'z' is pronounced 'th' in Spanish. Is it just Mexico that pronounces it this way? Or is the terminal 'z' always pronounced in Brit fashion?
Cheers

AngloPolish.com said...

This post is a little.. scary ? ;-)

But the blog is great. What I admire the most - it promotes poland.
I also try to popularize Poland in the world so I now how hard it is. Keep writing. Good job.

Krakow's New Dragons said...

I am on Internet KTVi at the following link. Now you can see me in action as a flesh and blood individual here,

http://ktvi.pl/film,396,10,0,informacje_ktvi.pl_-_wydanie_szesnaste.html

Tomorrow I and others meet with Gazeta Wyborcza journalists.

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