Getting lost in translation

With a burst of confidence I recounted for my host mother in eastern Quebec what a friend and I had got up to the night before. It was early in the summer of 1990 and I was on a publicly funded six-week French emersion program that probably no longer exists.

"Hier soir nous avons mangé poutine," I explained, expecting kudos for correctly categorising "to eat" as an avoir verb and for tackling the gruesome local concoction of fries, curd and gravy. But had I mispronounced poutine and changed its meaning.

Mel eases his tow truck driver

Mel eases his tow truck driver closer to my moribund Hyundai rental car, assessing its plight with the help of his headlights.

It's the wee hours of Saturday morning on a rough bit of fire trail beside a now abandoned city dump. A full moon on a still, cloudless night had inspired me to hike to a favourite lookout in the Blue Mountains. Maybe it was the the virile sense of accomplishment of a two and half hour hike but driving back I dared to forge straight through the small lake I had cautiously skirted on the way in. Three days after flooding in this part of Australia made headline news, my front bumper was jammed into the upper ridge of a watery trench, my tires helplessly spinning and squealing like panicked pigs. 

One of my writing rules is to never start anything with a taxi anecdote. It's cliche. I'm making an exception this time.

Yesterday, with my meetings and language lessons finished, I had time to burn so I took a taxi. To get anywhere fast in Jakarta traffic you go by scooter. I flipped open my journal and noted the time -- 2.32pm. Reveling in my air conditioned comfort I estimate I wrote 300 words -- longhand -- in one particularly bad patch of traffic while the taxi. Stood. Still.