Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Watch out for false friends

When watching a film—which was shot in English—translated into Spanish, sometimes someone who knows both languages very well notices some words or phrases were translated incorrectly. In my opinion, a high percentage of those mistakes are made because the “translators” may think their knowledge of one of the languages in question is good enough for them to be able to perform the delicate task of translating from one language to the other, and when find a word that looks similar to a word in their mother tongue, think the corresponding word in the other language must have the same meaning. Thus, one can hear in a film that a line like “I’m a doctor, actually” was incorrectly translated into “Soy doctor, actualmente”, which, when correctly translated back into English is “I’m a doctor, currently”. One word completely changes the meaning of the sentence and the persons watching the film translated into Spanish cannot understand it as it was originally conceived. However, a good translation of the original phrase is “Soy doctor, en realidad” or “Soy doctor, realmente”, where the English adverb actually is correctly translated into the Spanish adverb realmente (pronounced /realménte/). The problem here is that the so-called translator wrongly associated the English adverb actually with the Spanish adverb actualmente /actualménte/, which means currently. He or she should have known that these words are false friends.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary gives as a second definition of false friend, “a word in a foreign language that looks similar to a word in your own language, but has a different meaning” (551). Another good example of a false friend is the word sensible, which in Spanish could be confused with the word that is spelled exactly the same way, but has a different meaning. If one wants to translate sensible into Spanish, the correct word to use is sensato /sensáto/. The Spanish word sensible /sensíble/ means sensitive

There are many false friends in Spanish; however, I have mentioned only a few of them so far and others can be seen below (see table 1 and the following paragraphs). I can assure you that if you know both English and Spanish very well, you will be able to find out by yourself some of these special words without looking up in a dictionary. Nonetheless, the meaning of the false friends referred to in this blog post have been verified by the aforementioned procedure.

Table 1
A very short list of false friends in Spanish
English Word
Spanish False Friend
Meaning of Spanish Word
mean; despicable
to annoy; to be a nuisance
Source: Cambridge International Dictionary of English (1995. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) 435. Print.a

    a. Note: The actual list in the dictionary is much longer and provides more meanings for some of the Spanish words, as well as an abbreviation next to each English word indicating whether it is a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

In order to see the importance of being aware of false friends, let’s suppose an American woman visiting Peru makes friends with a Peruvian woman and, one day when they are talking about how different their childhoods were, living in different countries and exposed to different cultures, the latter tells her American friend that a male friend of her big sister’s “used to molest her until his family moved away”. Definitely, the American friend will be very shocked and feel sorry for her new Peruvian female friend, and is likely to tell her how sorry she is and ask her whether she told her parents and if the police prosecuted the wicked man. The Peruvian woman would think her American friend is overreacting to such a silly and mischievous behavior of her sister’s friend. What she wanted to say was that her sister’s friend “used to annoy her by taunting her a lot”; but she was misled by the similarity between the spelling of the Spanish verb molestar and the English verb molest and chose this word inappropriately. Let’s consider another plausible scenario: the Peruvian woman does not speak English but the American woman speaks Spanish well enough to hold short conversations—she will master it while living in Peru, anyway. The same conversation takes place, yet completely in Spanish, and when the American woman hears her Peruvian friend say that “un amigo de su hermana solía molestarla hasta que su familia se mudó a otra ciudad” she feels very shocked and tells her friend the same words she told her in the first scenario because she wrongly associated the Spanish verb molestar with the English verb molest. In both cases, there was a misconception of the meaning of a word which led to miscommunication.

False friends are indeed the main reason for incorrect translations from English to another language and vice versa, and I have witnessed people making mistakes because of them in situations other than translating a film. For instance, in a televised lecture given by a scientist who spoke English, in which he advocated Creationism, the translator said sulfuro when the scientist said sulfur. Sulfur is a chemical element which is called azufre in Spanish, whereas sulfuro is the Spanish word for sulfide, a kind of compounds containing sulfur.

Spanish is not the only language that has words looking similar to English words; other European languages do, too. If you are a non-native English speaker, can you name a few words that have false friends in English?

Works Cited

Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Cambridge International Dictionary of English. 1995. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

That's not what prepositions are for

Some years ago, as I continued the pleasant journey through my English learning process, I was thrilled when I discovered I was able to construct a sentence like It is the best company one can work for. In Spanish—my mother tongue—a sentence like this would sound very odd and is not permitted, so it is not strange that up until today I have not seen such construction. An acceptable translation into Spanish of the sentence in question is Es la mejor compañía para la que uno puede trabajar, while the literal translation, that is, Es la mejor compañía uno puede trabajar para, sounds weird. In English it sounds good to me, so I was surprised when I learnt that one is not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition.

Two articles published in The Guardian, one by David Marsh, “10 grammar rules you can forget: how to stop worrying and write proper”, and the other one by Steven Pinker, “10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes)”, address this issue—among other grammar rules. The writers state that the rule about not ending a sentence with a preposition was created by John Dryden, who declared that it was not elegant to do otherwise because in Latin “the equivalent to a preposition is attached to a noun and cannot be separated from it” (Pinker). By the way, Spanish compares to Latin in this respect, but that is a matter of another discussion.

I was relieved when I read they recommend that one should not follow this rule strictly. There are cases when it is OK to violate this rule, and Pinker points out that one should choose “pied-piping”—putting a preposition in front of a “wh” word, as in The road along which you are walking—when using a formal style and leaving the preposition at the end of the sentence “when it contributes a crucial bit of information”; while Marsh remarks “to ignore this rule”. I agree with Pinker about the fact that leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence can make it finish “with a word that is too lightweight to serve as its focal point”. He gives an example of how a sentence could lose its power, by moving the preposition for from its original position to the end in a sentence that was part of the words Abraham Lincoln said in an important occasion. One can see that, in doing so, the resultant sentence lacks the gravity that is appropriate in such situation. On the other hand, I do also agree with him upon when to leave a preposition at the end of a sentence, and I am pleased that he listed as an example of such use—before he gave this word of advice—a sentence that is part of the lyrics of a popular rock song. Now, I ask: How could The Beatles have written the line “it's you she's thinking of” in their song She Loves You had they not realised the sentence sounded beautiful? It completes the idea of giving the hero of the song hope of getting his girl back. And this song is precisely one of the many I have grown fond of, and listened to a lot of times as an exercise for improving my English-listening capabilities. So, since this kind of construction was used by a famous and beloved rock band, it is obvious the use had been widely accepted for a long time, for the composers were young and, being the English language their expression tool along with music, they used it both in daily communication and in creative writing.

Ending a sentence with a preposition is one of the matters grammarians have been discussing for years. John Dryden commenced its prohibition, but the use of the language allows us to ignore this rule when appropriate, being up to the writer when to do so, as long as they are sensible of what they want the tone of their pieces of writing to be, and it does not happen to the detriment of the beauty and power of the sentence, and thus, of the words surrounding it. It is common among languages influenced by Latin that controversies arise in language usage, amid which some people are very passionate while others take a fairly relaxed attitude towards these grammar quarrels. English has not escaped this fate. Why does a non-native English speaker care about this subject? you may be wondering. Well, I do care. I am a user of the language too. Being bilingual, I testify Spanish has its problems as well, though as far as English is concerned, I regard this very issue as very interesting. And right now I am thinking this is one of the wondrous features of English that make it a beautiful language. What are you thinking of?

Works cited

Marsh, David. “10 grammar rules you can forget: how to stop worrying and write proper.”   The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies, 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.

Pinker, Steven. “10 'grammar rules' it's OK to break (sometimes).” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies, 15 Aug. 2014. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.

The Beatles. “She Loves You.” PAST MASTERS. EMI Records Ltd., 2009. CD.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Painting My Writing

I used to draw and paint when I was a young man. I have enjoyed drawing and painting since I was a child; and, when I was in the last two years of high school, I considered the possibility of becoming an artist, being inspired by the masterpieces of Picasso, Ingres, Degas, and Michelangelo. Even though I enrolled in the chemical engineering program at university, I have not lost my taste in art and I sketch something from time to time, always keeping in mind the basics of this art form, which I learnt while a student at the local art school of my city many years ago.
Nowadays, as I have embarked on keeping a blog in English, every time I prepare a new blog post, I have to go through the same process of writing—whose stages remind me of those of drawing and painting—that for me, being a non-native English speaker, may be more difficult than for those who grew up speaking the language of Dickens.

Writing is like drawing and painting in many ways. First, you have to decide what you will draw or paint. This step involves choosing the object or person that will be your model and setting up the scenery that will surround them. This is the composition stage. Then, you need to choose the materials that will best express your artistic point of view, that is, what you intend to say to the people that view your piece of art about the objects in it. If you aim to create a drawing, will you use chalk, charcoal, pencil, or ink? But if you decide to produce a painting, which will be the best choice: oil, watercolour, or acrylic? Perhaps it would be a good idea to mix materials. After that, one begins to sketch the picture. The artist may make as many sketches as they want until they do one after which their finished work will be produced. Many studies might be leaning against the wall of the artist's atelier at the end of this stage. Finally, attention to the details—light and shade, colour tones, brush strokes—is given, making sure every one of them adds to the original sentiment you wanted to express.

In writing, you first decide on a topic. Sometimes the topic brings the genre within itself and sometimes you have to choose the one that best suits what you want to say. The topic in writing is like the model in drawing and painting, and the genre is for a writer what the drawing and painting materials are for the artist. Perhaps a poem may say what you feel about the topic more appropriately, or a novel could depict your thoughts and show your creativity in a better way. In the end it will depend on you, your preferences, and your aptitude for the genre. The next step in the writing process is to jot down all the ideas that come to mind and make the necessary refinements. This stage is similar to the one where an artist makes their sketches. For instance, you may begin with five paragraphs when writing an essay and end up publishing seven paragraphs, or an author can cut a scene from the first chapter of their novel and include it in the third. The editing process ends when the writer is satisfied with the final work (yet some say they could have written something better), which relates to the attention given to the details in the drawing and painting process.

All of the steps described above, however, cannot be taken without the proper foundations in the art form you want to practise. How to hold a pencil and a brush, the way you must give a line its rhythm, the significance of brush strokes, knowing how to represent light and shade, in the drawing and painting case; and, knowing where to put a word in a sentence, the agreement of a subject and its verb, correct spelling and punctuation, among other grammar issues in the writing case; constitute a compulsory education you must acquire and the first step towards mastering the art form in question. In order for you to accomplish that, a lot of practice is required along the path.

When I started studying drawing, I realised I not only had to draw everyday but also study the works of the great masters. Similarly, it is well-known that every would-be author must read many works of literature and write copiously. I do not pretend to be an accomplished artist, nor can I say I am a published author, but I assure you I have learnt that an excellent ground in grammar is the door to creative writing, as mastering classical-style drawing justifies evolving into Cubism.

As far as the writing of an enthusiastic non-native English speaker is concerned, the major emphasis is placed on grammar; so I am aware of its crucial importance for a good command of the lingua franca of today's world. While being taught English as a second language, once a student learns to arrange the words in a sentence, they are already able to communicate with the world by speaking and by writing. As soon as they can write well, they attempt to write a composition and eventually find themselves editing their own works. My experience is no exception.

Reviewing every piece of writing I write is a decisive step I take in enhancing my style. In doing so, correcting my grammar is commonplace. Having nobody as my appointed English teacher, I rely on the best teachers a learner of English writing can look for: English-written novels. I remember I desperately wanted to have a copy of any of the English classics when I was in my last year of high school. My English teacher had required us to read an excerpt from The Call of the Wild, and when I opened it, I was totally fascinated by the articulation of the story and greatly enjoyed it. I decided I had to have, if not the same book in a complete version, another one. It was not until 2011 that I could afford an unabridged copy of a novel in English, and since then I have bought several of such books and have read the majority of them. (In this link you can see a list of the books I have read so far). In reading them, I have been convinced by the authors' mastery that grammar has been an essential component of their education. Fortunately, English grammar became one of my interests when I began to study the language.

Life has exposed me to art, of which, the forms I enjoy the most are drawing, painting, and literature. Despite the fact that I am neither an artist nor an author yet, I testify that there exist necessary foundations that aspirant artists and authors must lay, on which they can safely build their careers. Would Ingres have made such magnificent drawings, so that he is regarded as one of the greatest representatives—the greatest to me—of Neoclassicism, without having studied and practised drawing for years? Would Picasso have produced the astonishingly beautiful post-Cubism expressionist art he created if he had not already mastered figurative art? Would J. R. R. Tolkien have been able to write The Hobbit and the The Lord of the Rings novel series if he had not studied English grammar?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Not just another pair of brown leather shoes

A pair of worn-out shoes was on a stool. Some keys, a few oil paint tubes, and a bible accompanied them and somehow made the scene have a bit of hope. To me they were a highly unusual set of models for painting a still life. But the would-be artist had chosen well, at least for this watercolor class. I was impressed by the realism of his painting and wanted to be able to paint like him very soon; for some reason I wanted to believe I could accomplish that objective within a few months. It was my first day in the watercolor class offered at the art school of Trujillo and was very excited and extremely enthusiastic to learn several techniques.

Those memories came flooding back while I was watching my brown shoes on the floor of my bedroom, which caused a ray of melancholy to cross and stab my chest, recalling that almost the time I have had them is the time I have been jobless. But a few seconds later I realized that not all has been bad news since I got them, though the main characteristic of all this time has been precisely the fact that a three-month hiatus has extended for more than I first imagined.

It was in 2012–I don’t remember the exact month–when I bought them. I had been working for a laboratory and on one of my days off I decided I needed new shoes. After searching and visiting several stores I eventually resolved I would by them at the same store I had purchased my last pair of shoes some years earlier. After all, those shoes were very good and had lasted for years, so the fact that I had no complaints about them favoured the store. I was looking for some walking boots–my original intention was to buy a top-brand pair but because of them being so expensive to me I made up my mind to buy some locally-made boots–and when I saw this brown leather pair I knew I had to have them.

When I tried them on I discovered they were comfortable and I thought they really suited me. They were casual and the sales clerk assured me that I would be able to walk on any ground with them since the sole was made of rubber and so I would never slip if the ground were muddy or the sidewalk were wet, feature of the shoes that made them more appealing to me.

The next day or a few days later I went back to the store to buy other shoes. Not that I wasn't pleased with the pair I had recently acquired, but I did want another pair. I ended up buying a grey pair of walking boots, but with the uppers being of a material softer than leather, resembling that of sports shoes. However, I have not had as many experiences with these shoes as with the first pair. As a matter of fact, I have used the brown ones much more times than the others.

I have loved my brown shoes since I bought them. It is understandable, then, that I was raging inside when, having gone to the main university in my city to buy a book just after three or four days since I had purchased my boots, I tripped up on the kerb of the sidewalk at the entrance to it. Even though I didn't fall, three small scratches were left on the toe of my right shoe. Despite some people told me they were minor marks, I swore they looked nasty and thought my shoe was not going to be the same afterwards. Could this dreadful event signify that something wrong was going to happen if I wore those shoes from then on? Nonsense! Had it presaged the upcoming jobless period of time? Maybe.

I couldn't believe it, definitely not. I had that feeling every time I visualized my shoe having scratches, while I was turning the leaves of a book trying to brush the disturbing thought aside. Eventually, I didn't buy any book and on my way home I strove to protect not only my right shoe but the other one too lest it might suffer the same or a worse fate. When I got home I strode towards my room and sat down on my bed. I desperately wished I had not stumbled on that curb and, staring at both of my brown shoes intently, was consumed with intense grief at the thought of not putting them on anymore.

The next day I was showing off my grey pair of walking boots. They felt more comfortable, although not being as elegant as the brown pair. The next days I used them almost exclusively, changing to my old shoes when necessary. Until one day.

I had returned to the institute where I used to study English, was far a lot content because my teacher was a native speaker and I would practice writing and speaking once again. Obviously, there was a need for me to attend classes appropriately dressed. Fortunately, I had worked for some months and had bought some clothes, which allowed me to be well-groomed. Of course, one's clothing wouldn't be complete without a nice pair of shoes. Luckily, I had two new ones.

Wait a minute! My right brown walking boot had scratches on it! Even worse, the marks were noticeable because they were on the toe. Still, they were new and I truly needed them. So, there was I, showing up in my classroom wearing my brown shoes, feeling my feet very comfortable, forgetting the horrible marks were there, just relishing the sensation of safety and stylishness.
To my surprise, sooner than later I was finally being able to put up with the scratches on my shoe. Even nobody in my class ever mentioned a word about it. It was good. Now I could use them besides the grey pair.

Soon my pair of brown shoes became a particular favourite of mine. I've used these shoes on many occasions, from just walking downtown and attending English classes to visiting the ancient pagan temple Huaca de La Luna, and from going to the beach and traveling to Lima to attending a few Protestant religious services and going to Mass many times.

It was before I went to visit a colleague this year when I decided to buy a tin of shoe polish. However, the tone of brown didn't match my shoes': it was darker and reddish. Even though I liked the shining surface of my boots, it was gained to the detriment of its original lighter tone of brown. Nonetheless, I had finally covered the scratches on the toe of my right shoe. “I will find the correct tone,” I said to myself, hoping it to happen very soon. At least, the main purpose of applying polish to my shoes had been achieved since both toes were the areas mostly covered with it. When I took a look at the shoe, I saw no sign of the scratches. I felt quite satisfied with the result, and if it weren't for the tone of the polish, I would say they looked terrific.

I've been called for a job interview four times since December 2012. I attended the first three of them wearing a dark-blue suit and a pair of black leather lace-up shoes, which is appropriate for such an important occasion. Two of such interviews were carried out in Lima and, as I mentioned before, I travelled to that city wearing my brown shoes. Even though I didn't slip on these boots for any of the job interviews, in a way the fact that they were on a floor somewhere in the same city made their significant presence seem pervasive, which I noticed at once while sitting in front of the interviewer, sensing them still wrapping my feet.

These events were but an inevitable prelude to two objects reclaiming unlimited sovereignty over the decision on when to be used. How could such inanimate things dare to challenge the hierarchy of entities in nature? What's more appalling is that they were manufactured by men, they are artificial! Ergo they should never count.

I had been slouching in one of the armchairs in my house for an hour, taking a nap, when my cell phone rang. I awakened completely to the voice of a young woman requesting a job interview. Another chance of getting a job! I didn't matter they offered to pay less than what I would accept: I needed a job above all. I had to travel to a town near Trujillo where sugar cane is cultivated and sugar is obtained from it. It was likely that I would be required to step into the plant in order to see the machinery and gain an overall impression of the sugar production process. Under these conditions, lace-ups were the least recommended option (because of safety precautions). Therefore, I couldn't attend the interview being in a suit.

On Monday, two weeks ago, I was polishing my brown walking boots as dawn broke, wondering if any of the other interviewees would also be wearing casual shoes, and if my using them may lose me the chance of getting the job. That anxious thought made me seriously consider the possibility of wearing my blue suit, but shortly afterwards I was standing, hands on hips, in front of my fitted wardrobe looking at the clothes hanging from the rail. I ended up picking a smart blue-and-white striped shirt and a pair of dark-blue jeans. To my relief, once in the caller's office, I realized there were other people in casual clothes too, although their shoes were not as casual as mine. I was surprised when my prospective chief was summoned to conduct the interview right there. There was no need for me to be guided around the plant. In the end I should have been wearing my lace-up shoes.

I don't know if the post has been taken yet, but from the number of interviewees they have to assess, I surmise that they plan to come to a decision by October. Anyway, regardless of whether or not I am offered the job, eventually my brown shoes established their presence at the final stage of a job application process, as though they were attempting to connect the two limits of a long and hard road, one that began when I hadn't got a job anymore, a road that extends far away as time passes by, branching off to another city as I look around for the job that eludes me, a road that appears not to have reached its end yet despite the special effort my brown shoes made to hasten its arrival.

I know for certain I will keep these shoes for a long time. They will continue being my constant and faithful companions every time I embark on a new adventure, protecting my feet from stones and pieces of broken glass while I roam the streets of the cities and bumpy tracks where life might lead me to; they will be by my side as I struggle to find the end of the winding road that began two years ago, and will be there when at last I step into a new road, no matter if I am wearing them or they are resting on the floor of my room. But what is most important, they will never be just another pair of brown leather shoes.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A visit to Huaca de la Luna

It was Thursday, August 7th, I woke up feeling a bit startled by a strange dream I had round about dawn, and wondered what it may mean. However, soon those worries disappeared and a different feeling began to grow up in my heart as the time in the morning was passing. Around 11:45 a.m. a taxi was in front of my house waiting for the passengers it would take for a ride at that time.

My mom, my favourite aunt, my sister, my two little twin nieces, and I were very excited for this was not going to be just another ordinary trip, but a journey to the religious centre of the ancient Moche culture: Huaca de la Luna. It is in the Moche valley, 8 kilometers to the south of Trujillo city, in Peru. We arrived after about fifteen minutes, and had to buy tickets. As a person told us, the tickets had to be bought at Museo Huacas de Moche, which is a museum situated a few meters off Huaca de la Luna. So, I had to go there on my own to get the tickets, while my relatives stayed by the entrance to the archaeological complex looking at some souvenirs.

When I finally got the tickets, we had to wait for a tourist guide to come to lead us through the visit. He led us up a sloping and winding road with some steps every few meters to a rear entrance to the Huaca. As soon as we began the guided tour, he told us about the story of the great people called the Moche, who came into existence in the second century AD, and informed us that while Huaca de la Luna was the religious centre of this culture, Huaca del Sol was its political centre. Huaca de La Luna, which was a temple made of adobe bricks, is situated close to a mountain called Cerro Blanco and consists of five levels or storyes that were constructed one above another, being the higher ones smaller than their predecessors and so the final building had the form of a pyramid.

Huaca del Sol
Interior of Huaca de la Luna
In one of the lowest storyes there is a great wall with a mural depicting the Moche god, the god of the mountain. It is believed the Moche priests performed human sacrifices in Huaca de la Luna to this god, called Ai Apaec, in order to appease his wrath and thus stop floods and droughts. It is interesting the images of this god on the mural are representations of his head and face only. He is shown with big eyes (supposedly being based on the eyes of an owl), a human nose, and feline teeth. This head is surrounded by wavy figures that, according to the tourist guide, are an octopus’ tentacles.

Mural with Moche god
Moche god, Ai Apaec

In another floor there is a mural where, among other figures, the guide stated a Peruvian dog is depicted, although in my opinion it appears to be a fox for the tail of a Peruvian dog is thinner than the one belonging to the animal depicted on the mural. This unique dog lacks fur and its skin is warm, for this reason it is called perro calato (naked dog) in Peru; these features are very attractive for people who want to have a dog but cannot because they are allergic to animals’ fur. This breed of dog is named Viringo, and was regarded as a sacred animal by the ancient people of the Moche culture. It is said these animals are good for helping ill people to recover, particularly if they suffer from asthma. By the way, in the Huaca de la Luna archaeological complex two Viringo dogs are kept: a male and a female.

Mural depicting a Peruvian dog
Detail of the previous mural showing the Peruvian dog
Female Viringo dog (Peruvian dog)

Several cultures fostered in Peru before the Incas, and among them the Moche culture is one which shows remarkable developments in architecture, ceramics, and metalwork; and continues to thrill and amaze archaeologists and anthropologists all over the world, particularly when studying the religious beliefs and practices of these ancient people. I encourage all the readers of this blog post to come and visit my country, Peru, especially Trujillo city and the Moche valley, where you can still find warm and friendly people, whose ability in ceramics and their delicious cuisine can be traced back to their ancestors, the Moche.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Love at first click

It was 2002, I had returned to university after a hiatus because of health problems, was sitting again in a classroom at the most important university in my city; most of my classmates were chattering excitedly about what had happened in the last party, some were concerned because they had been told the subject that was going to begin was quite difficult, while I was gazing at the blackboard with an expectant look on my face, wondering how the classes would be and totally eager to start promptly. The professor entered and soon introduced us to the benefits of mastering the course he was going to lecture–this fact was not new to me–and then pointed out the necessity of using a computer if we wanted to succeed not only in his class but after leaving college.

Now I was convinced that I needed a computer right away, not when having a job; the problem was I could not afford it. Fortunately, my aunt Julia helped me once more (she was always willing to when necessity arose): she bought it for me. I will always be grateful for that. She told me to choose a machine that both best suited my needs and was not too expensive. Customized compatible personal computers were mostly sold in those days in Peru; the one which eventually started to be mine was no exception. A Pentium IV machine with 256 MB RAM became my most faithful companion for several years.

It came with two versions of a proprietary operating system: the last and the most used one. I was so excited that I began to use it as soon as it was put on my desk. Although I had already used computers, none of those opportunities compared to the sense of having one of mine and what was best is it was a state-of-the-art machine for that time (at least in my country), and I was told I could expand the memory to 512 RAM whenever I wanted. I was totally glad and beaming all the time, since I woke up till I went to bed, always thinking of her (yes, I began to treat it as a woman) everyday and wherever I was, expecting to see her soon if I was not at home, contemplating her as a boy in love for the first time stares at the most beautiful girl who happens to be his first love.

At university I discovered I could program the machine so I studied almost everyday and soon was pleased with the things she was able to do as long as I wrote the right instructions. No sooner had I written programs for performing engineering calculations than I got interested in the C and C++ programming languages and realized they were totally compatible with my way of thinking and were appropriate for a better communication with my computer. It would have been much better if I had learned her native language–that is, her machine language–or at least her assembly language but I did not have enough time so I stuck to the C/C++ family since it gave me more flexibility than a proper high-level programming language to make my machine carry out the tasks I wanted her to do, especially the direct access to the proprietary operating system API.

I remember perfectly the great happiness I felt when the program I had been debugging at last run properly and, as a result, I skipped around my house like a child when given a new toy. I also remember many times I would long to have a Unix-like machine and, having tried a Live-CD of a GNU/Linux distribution, I decided I had to have it installed on my computer. Shortly afterwards, I formatted my machine and installed both systems, the proprietary and the free one. This was an exciting new adventure my beloved desktop computer offered me, which I was utterly eager to embark on, and thenceforth I have been programming in these two environments.

As in all love relationships when one of the partners suddenly becomes ill, I got very worried when one day she began to make a long-pitched sound and did not start-up correctly. I was terrified that she would stop functioning forever. This very thought made my skin crawl and then I acknowledged that she may one day, sooner or later, undergo that fate. After a short period of normal operation since a technician had cleaned her, a memory management unit had to be replaced when the same problem occurred again; I thought this fact would solve it once and for all, but, unfortunately, one day this year I found out she had died after several attempts to turn her on.

Last year I bought my first laptop computer, which has become my only machine since the decease of my beautiful, unique, hard-working, faithful, desktop computer. Although it has features my old machine did not, it is completely different working with it and I miss the use of floppy disks, the boot loader screen, the capability of running full-screen DOS programs, the keyboard, and the old-fashioned mouse that were some of her more attractive characteristics.

I still have my old computer, lying on my desktop, where she was first laid, where she was always helping me each time I required her fast calculation capabilities, accompanying me all the nights I passed sitting in front of her programming an important piece of software. I strongly oppose getting rid of her despite my relatives suggest that I do it, and I will always stand on my decision. Perhaps I will dismantle her and keep her parts in a safe place as a way of preserving her for the future, for me to re-assemble her someday and be able to make her live again. This is the least I can do for the computer that has been my first technological love.

A set of memories of an intense human-machine relationship will always dwell in my mind and the warm and heart-breaking emotion that is provoked every time I see a desktop computer in a store will continue assaulting my heart, though the great satisfaction of having learned a lot with the help of my old computer wipes the tears as they are running down my face, assuring me that the knowledge thus acquired is a fitting tribute I pay to her.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Remembrances of a main square

I have travelled several times across Peru for work reasons, I have been to different cities and towns, gotten to know new people, stayed in rooms other than my bedroom, become accustomed to new climates, and eaten dishes that I had never tasted before. I've been a visitor to these places, not a proper apartment dweller, nor have I been called a tourist who is able to relish the visit to local landmarks; for most of the time I was at work and when I had spare time, apart from hanging out with friends, I would go downtown and would be keen to visit only the main square. Yet there was something missing in the experience; in spite of the sky being different and although in some places the buildings were smaller and in others bigger, they were only a part of the whole, and it did not make any difference whether the square was bigger or smaller, more or less crowded, quiet or loud; it was never the open space where I used to go when I wanted to since I was in high school. None of them compared to the main square of Trujillo.

I was walking down an avenue, along with a girlfriend–I was accompanying her to the bus stop–and carrying a book in my hand, when she asked me where I was going afterwards and I answered I was heading towards downtown to have a time on my own in order for me to think about important issues; those were poetry and art-related matters, my primary concerns at that time. I was sixteen years old, was going to enter my last year in high school, was more idealistic than my peers and found much joy in being in solitude. As soon as I got downtown I used to walk along a street where a bookshop was sited and there I sought literature books although I could only afford a few. Sometimes, after leaving the book store, I would go to the main square for a walk, or just crossed over it to go to the other streets before going home. Soon, this main square turned into my final destination, to where I would stride unconsciously or on purpose. There was something peculiar in it, something that attracted me and made me return several times: I had found it suitable for my need of calmness, peace and quiet, and thenceforth it became a witness to important events in my life.

Since I finished high school it became closer to me, for I used to attend art exhibitions in one gallery in the main square and in others situated on streets off it. Thus, it was closely associated to one of my great fountains of pleasure, with its trees reminding me of the ones I saw in the canvases hung on the walls of the galleries, and its sky always welcoming me even though the grey clouds of winter could appear to some people as though it was an invitation to look for shelter. I appreciated its beauty better in the darkling sky of the evening, when the street lamps drew shades of the cathedral and the statues of the main monument seemed to emerge from its centre, freeing themselves from their stone prison, and come to life leaving behind their shadows cast by the combination of the moonlight and the light of the lamps, watching the people as they passed by, sometimes looking as human as us and projecting an apparent gloominess like that of a loner.

This main square was also the scene of the unveiling of the actual nature of a girl's lies on a dismal day, acted as a friend that would rather unmask the liar than let their confidant believe deceptive tricks, providing me with a shield to defend myself against the temptation to embark upon a perilous journey from steadiness to a moment of madness. However, some years later it was the glade where I smelled the air of a summer's afternoon filled with the scent of the honesty of a lovely foreign woman–who had invited me an ice cream cone bought in a store on a street nearby–while we were seated on one of its benches, talking and laughing, wrapped up in our conversation, until a street trader interrupted us, and then we commented on his impolite way of approaching people.

When I graduated from university I was given my diploma in a Peru's colonial epoch building on one corner of this main square. It had to be present at the moment when I was officially declared a proper potential worker, like parents are at the birth of their children, hoping the best to happen to them, knowing a long road to walk on is expecting them. And as an adult visits their parents on vacation, I often went to this main square the first day off work, and it would greet me with an open and wide sky, a perfect ceiling under which I would feel quite safe while walking on the floor of this large and unusual room, sometimes pretending it is my own room, and then realizing it is also home to other people who have lived their stories there many times but have probably never been aware of this fact.

Nowadays, as I have been idle for a while, I hardly ever visit the main square, for I am taking advantage of this time to read and do some research by myself and to pass more time with relatives and friends; but when the necessity of breathing well arises, I head for the bus stop and within fifteen minutes I am walking down Pizarro street in downtown Trujillo, getting closer to the main square with each heavy footstep, knowing that only the air in there can clean my equilibrium lungs out, and as soon as I get there an absolute certainty of getting relieved fills my chest and an awareness of a strong attachment to it comes to my mind. I wonder whether I will find another intimate, warm, and mind-refreshing place.