Feb. 19th, 2016

rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I will never get over the time he managed to open a book with an untranslated, unglossed wall of text in Hebrew, for an English-language novel, and the book became a famous international bestseller.

He visited my college, way back when, and read from Baudolino, which was his work in progress at the time. He read the chapter first in Italian, which I do not really speak and faked less well then, and after the standing ovation had died down he read the chapter again in English, which was entirely unnecessary, because everyone there had understood every word he said. It was a bit in which there is a rockslide, and you could hear all of it in the language: the initial dropping boulders as the protagonists' feet set them off, the pauses as they tried to slow down and tiptoe and move through the area more carefully, the ominous crackings underneath the pack animals, the sliding overwhelming crashes and the overall roar as the land fell down into the valley and they all went with it... I mean here that if you played this chapter to somebody who didn't know it was speech, they would register the noises, the way the syllables work together, as being an onomatopoeic depiction of a rockslide, regardless of the actual semantics. It wasn't as good in English-- I don't think Eco translated it himself, because he wasn't really English-fluent-- though the translator had clearly known what was supposed to be happening and made a valiant attempt. In Italian it was one of the two or three best readings I have ever heard a person give, revelatory, the kind of thing that expands the possibilities of language itself.

Afterward we all stood in a line for autographs, and I attempted to express something of how impressed I was by that reading, mostly I think by waving my arms a lot, and then something happened which was even more memorable, and which I am probably not going to manage to express in a way that makes it make sense.

None of the words I can use to flatly describe this situation have any of the right connotations. None of them. Even when I just limit myself to physical descriptions of actions taken, you're not going to get it, because they sound completely wrong. But I am going to have to start there.

Umberto Eco grinned at my hand-waving enthusiasm and attempts to say something about Greek and Latin poetic meters (both of which he had used in the passage in question), shook my hand, kissed my hand, signed my book, looked intently and delightedly down the front of my shirt (I have a chest tattoo; my default shirts have a lot of cleavage) for at least thirty seconds, and moved on to the next person in line.

You now have the wrong impression.

Here is an attempt to unpack the situation:

Me: *is enthusiastic and delighted in a language Eco does not speak, using vocabulary which is international, because the names of Greek and Latin poetic meters are basically recognizable no matter which modern language you are speaking*

Eco: *understands that I am being enthusiastic and delighted in a language he does not speak, and recognizes the vocabulary which means that I have understood and am happy about a specific, honestly rather esoteric aspect of the complicated thing he is trying to do*

Eco: *shakes my hand, making eye contact, firmly, in a manner which emphasizes that he is pleased to meet me and happy to hear what I have to say, but which also indicates his inability to continue the conversation in the manner which he would like and which would be the logical followup*

Me: *realizes oh of course he doesn't speak enough English for this what was I thinking gah* *starts to feel and look slightly embarrassed*

Eco: *kisses my hand, maintaining eye contact, indicating firmly that no! no! you should absolutely have said that! I am so glad that somebody understood and took the time to comment on that aspect of my work, and I am genuinely grateful that we are interacting in this way! I respect you very much for bringing it up!*

Eco: *signs book* *hands book to me with air of 'now that required bit is over with'* *manages to communicate to me, as far as I can tell psychically, 'I do not want to stop interacting with you, but there are all these other people, and we have this language barrier! What can I do that will register as a continuation of genuine human contact, be fast, and indicate admiration for you and this situation? I know!'*

Eco: *looks down my shirt for at least thirty seconds*

Line: *moves on*

Me, internally: oh my lord he actually managed to do that in a way that indicated that he was genuinely doing it as a stand-in because he respected my intellect. I... I believe him. That was... that was actually what he meant. I have never been leered at so politely in all my life. How did he do that. How was that not creepy. That was... that was not creepy in any way (and this was back when my PTSD and general skittishness were way the hell worse, especially in public and when I didn't know people). How.

A friend, right afterwards: So how was meeting Eco?

Me: He looked down my shirt! It was--

Friend: HE WHAT.

Me: No! It wasn't like that, it-- I am never going to be able to adequately explain this to anybody, am I. *sighs*

And from that day to this, no one has ever leered at me in such a non-creepy, intensely affirming, intellectually welcoming, genuinely supportive and delightful manner. I wouldn't believe it myself if he hadn't done the thing with the Italian reading immediately previously. But anyone who can do that is some kind of ludicrous language wizard; I think he could have done that reading literally anywhere on the planet and they would have understood it. So him doing the wildly impossible again right afterwards somehow seemed, well, a bit more likely.

I have spent the rest of my life proud and delighted that I was once ogled by Umberto Eco. Truly, the world has lost something in this man.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I will never get over the time he managed to open a book with an untranslated, unglossed wall of text in Hebrew, for an English-language novel, and the book became a famous international bestseller.

He visited my college, way back when, and read from Baudolino, which was his work in progress at the time. He read the chapter first in Italian, which I do not really speak and faked less well then, and after the standing ovation had died down he read the chapter again in English, which was entirely unnecessary, because everyone there had understood every word he said. It was a bit in which there is a rockslide, and you could hear all of it in the language: the initial dropping boulders as the protagonists' feet set them off, the pauses as they tried to slow down and tiptoe and move through the area more carefully, the ominous crackings underneath the pack animals, the sliding overwhelming crashes and the overall roar as the land fell down into the valley and they all went with it... I mean here that if you played this chapter to somebody who didn't know it was speech, they would register the noises, the way the syllables work together, as being an onomatopoeic depiction of a rockslide, regardless of the actual semantics. It wasn't as good in English-- I don't think Eco translated it himself, because he wasn't really English-fluent-- though the translator had clearly known what was supposed to be happening and made a valiant attempt. In Italian it was one of the two or three best readings I have ever heard a person give, revelatory, the kind of thing that expands the possibilities of language itself.

Afterward we all stood in a line for autographs, and I attempted to express something of how impressed I was by that reading, mostly I think by waving my arms a lot, and then something happened which was even more memorable, and which I am probably not going to manage to express in a way that makes it make sense.

None of the words I can use to flatly describe this situation have any of the right connotations. None of them. Even when I just limit myself to physical descriptions of actions taken, you're not going to get it, because they sound completely wrong. But I am going to have to start there.

Umberto Eco grinned at my hand-waving enthusiasm and attempts to say something about Greek and Latin poetic meters (both of which he had used in the passage in question), shook my hand, kissed my hand, signed my book, looked intently and delightedly down the front of my shirt (I have a chest tattoo; my default shirts have a lot of cleavage) for at least thirty seconds, and moved on to the next person in line.

You now have the wrong impression.

Here is an attempt to unpack the situation:

Me: *is enthusiastic and delighted in a language Eco does not speak, using vocabulary which is international, because the names of Greek and Latin poetic meters are basically recognizable no matter which modern language you are speaking*

Eco: *understands that I am being enthusiastic and delighted in a language he does not speak, and recognizes the vocabulary which means that I have understood and am happy about a specific, honestly rather esoteric aspect of the complicated thing he is trying to do*

Eco: *shakes my hand, making eye contact, firmly, in a manner which emphasizes that he is pleased to meet me and happy to hear what I have to say, but which also indicates his inability to continue the conversation in the manner which he would like and which would be the logical followup*

Me: *realizes oh of course he doesn't speak enough English for this what was I thinking gah* *starts to feel and look slightly embarrassed*

Eco: *kisses my hand, maintaining eye contact, indicating firmly that no! no! you should absolutely have said that! I am so glad that somebody understood and took the time to comment on that aspect of my work, and I am genuinely grateful that we are interacting in this way! I respect you very much for bringing it up!*

Eco: *signs book* *hands book to me with air of 'now that required bit is over with'* *manages to communicate to me, as far as I can tell psychically, 'I do not want to stop interacting with you, but there are all these other people, and we have this language barrier! What can I do that will register as a continuation of genuine human contact, be fast, and indicate admiration for you and this situation? I know!'*

Eco: *looks down my shirt for at least thirty seconds*

Line: *moves on*

Me, internally: oh my lord he actually managed to do that in a way that indicated that he was genuinely doing it as a stand-in because he respected my intellect. I... I believe him. That was... that was actually what he meant. I have never been leered at so politely in all my life. How did he do that. How was that not creepy. That was... that was not creepy in any way (and this was back when my PTSD and general skittishness were way the hell worse, especially in public and when I didn't know people). How.

A friend, right afterwards: So how was meeting Eco?

Me: He looked down my shirt! It was--

Friend: HE WHAT.

Me: No! It wasn't like that, it-- I am never going to be able to adequately explain this to anybody, am I. *sighs*

And from that day to this, no one has ever leered at me in such a non-creepy, intensely affirming, intellectually welcoming, genuinely supportive and delightful manner. I wouldn't believe it myself if he hadn't done the thing with the Italian reading immediately previously. But anyone who can do that is some kind of ludicrous language wizard; I think he could have done that reading literally anywhere on the planet and they would have understood it. So him doing the wildly impossible again right afterwards somehow seemed, well, a bit more likely.

I have spent the rest of my life proud and delighted that I was once ogled by Umberto Eco. Truly, the world has lost something in this man.

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