January 10, 2008

This article in today's Post may help clarify to Burro Hall, and others wondering, just how is it that the entire population of Mexico claims to have read and loved One Hundred Years of Solitude.

But here in Nezahualcoyotl, García Márquez's opening line reads, "Many alfas later, in front of a 44 squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía had a 60 about that distant afternoon when his father 26 him to 62 ice."


The police here aren't. The Nezahualcoyotl version speaks their language: cop-speak. Police supervisors here are translating some of the greatest works of the Spanish language using police radio codes. So Macondo, García Márquez's mystical Colombian village, is a "22." And Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes' windmill-tilting hero, is a "skinny 67."

Nezahualcoyotl's stab at remaking the Spanish-language literary canon in terms that can be easily understood by poorly educated police officers strikes at a fundamental problem in Mexico. The country's educational system is woeful. And the police, most of whom come from poor neighborhoods where the schools are the worst of the worst, reflect it.

In a survey of 15-year-olds in 30 developed nations, Mexico ranked last in reading comprehension, according to a study released last month by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Most of the 1,300 police officers, firefighters and rescue workers now being tutored in Nezahualcoyotl have not completed high school, and barely any have gone to college. Mayor Victor Bautista López says he believes that teaching them to read will improve their communication skills and help them overcome the image of police as uncouth, uneducated brutes.

Wait, translating literature into cop number codes so they can grasp its literal meaning defies "the image of police as uncouth, uneducated brutes."? That could not be more profound. Maybe they should be reading Borges instead?

...Class resumed with a question.

"Have any of you heard of 'One Hundred Years of Solitude?' " Pérez Ortiz asked.

Santoyo Herrera looked down, scraping a boot against the floor. Some officers shook their heads. Others looked around searchingly. Not a hand was raised.

Pérez Ortiz smiled patiently.

"It's a very interesting work," he assured them.

An aide produced bright green, pristine copies of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." Some of the officers turned the books over and over in their hands, examining them as if they were objects from outer space.

The officers will get Meléndez Mecalco's translation of the first chapter. But today, they are going to be the writers. Pérez Ortiz tells them to partner up and write their own translations of Chapter 1.

Marco Antonio Molina Tolentino hunched over a blank page with fellow officer Luis Alberto Campos Tellez. Pencil in hand, Molina Tolentino started to write.

"First they 26 the imam," he wrote. "A 40 gypsy, heavyset with a coarse beard, presented himself to the 62 of Melquiades."

Molina Tolentino looked up and grinned.

"Not bad," he said.

It occurred to me, to amuse myself in the simple way I am easily amused, to translate this whole post into Jive at this point, but no jive translator does a good enough job. At least I think, not actually knowing jive beyond that one scene in Airplane. However [a jie word it ain't], I have found that running text through a jive translator like this and then running the Jive again through another Jive translator does yield something that is vaguely amusing, even if it isn't actual jive. There are a lot of jive translators out there but none of theme seem to do the trick. How hard can it be to write a good jive program? Hear me, dog?

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