the Virgin Mary, gatekeeper
Posted by adiamondinsunlight on March 22, 2008
I can read relatively quickly in Arabic and French, but when it comes to translating, my progress slows to a crawl. Translation is an art form, and a very laborious one at that. So I sympathize with translators when their efforts produce curious fruits – but I also enjoy them.
The old city of Jbeil has a small plaza whose four sides hold a church, a mosque, a shopping arcade and the Crusader castle. Its a beautiful space, but every time I see the church, I want to giggle.
The church connects to a vaulted stone gate through which you pass to reach the plaza. Logically, the church’s name reflects its location: in French, its name is “Our Lady of the Gate”. “Our Lady” – Notre Dame – is a fairly standard term for the Virgin Mary, so the church’s name offers information both about its location and its dedication to Mary.
For the English translation, some well-meaning soul has translated the Arabic sign literally. In English, the church’s name is: The Gate’s Lady.
For me, “The Gate’s Lady” loses the resonance of the French – as well as the location (gate) and dedication (Mary, as opposed to any other lady) pointers.
And it reminds me of another “Lady”: “The Weed Lady”, an eccentrically run flower shop in my grandmother’s suburb.
(Photo courtesy of this site.)
I make laugh-out-loud translation errors all the time, so I’m certainly not calling the kettle black here. But I do miss the resonance of “Our Lady of …”.