Getting A Head at Esapolis

So today, just to while away an almost-Spring afternoon, we drove deep into “Veneto per i Veneti”/”Veneto Libero”/Indipendensa per il Veneto” territory to visit Italy’s largest insectarium, Esapolis.

Given the museum’s impressive website (though the “current exhibits” section hasn’t been updated since March 2008), the museum turns out to be rather less than you expect. One’s overall impression, in fact, is that Esapolis is a little tuckered out and slightly neglected and that it’s feeling the financial crisis in a big way, as are so many small, interesting, private museums in Italy. It’s a real shame.

It’s also the kind of small-town museum whose nucleus is some dead guy’s private collection, which explains the millions (no, I’m not kidding) of silkworm cocoons, lovingly preserved in glass display bottles on kilometers of shelving. There are so many of them (and, let’s face it, one silkworm cocoon is remarkably like another) that you’re more-or-less forced to start admiring the cabinetry.

But that’s not what I’m here to complain about.

I’m here to complain about bad translations.

At a certain point, the announcement came over the PA system that the show, Dog & Bug, was about to start in the 4D Theater. We hurried over. Dog & Bug, I’ll just tell you now, in case it ever comes on late-night TV and you’re wondering whether it’s worth staying up, is a silly, mindless filmette for children–the kind that any self-respecting child would find not only silly and mindless but insulting to his or her race.

Oddly enough, Dog & Bug was shown in English (though the narrator had a thick and unidentifiable accent) with Italian subtitles. Now, I don’t want to give away any of the thrilling plot points, but Dog aspires to become a bee. And he succeeds!

After flying off with the bees to gather pollen, Dog returns to the hive where he learns the “bee dance,” the purpose of which (the Italian subtitles tell us) is to inform the other members of the hive that “the bee has nectar on its head!”

Now, what the English narrator actually says is “to let other members of the hive know there’s nectar up ahead.”

Whoever translated the subtitles didn’t get it: “up ahead” vs. “upon its head” (one imagines the “reasoning” must have gone something like that).

But here’s my thing. In a museum whose mission is purportedly to educate the public about insects; and which has an entire hall dedicated to honeybees; and whose gift store is full of books in Italian about, among other things, honeybees; and which has entomologists on staff, is no one aware that bees don’t actually carry nectar on their heads? In other words, that the translation is not only ham-handed but factually wrong?

Hello? Anyone?

No, no, I’m fine. I just want to sit quietly by myself for a few minutes and think about fact-checking and whether I should stop doing it when I translate. I mean, given that the only people who apparently care about things like facts are me and quattro api.


Posted on 14 March 2010, in Crimes Against Translation, Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order), Tales from the Road and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. >Well, I was watching Ugly Betty in Italian a few nights ago (ah, these quiet evenings in…) and there was a scene that made no sense at all. For UB aficionados, it's the one where Mark tells Wilhelmina he's agreed to leave her in order to work as Daniel's assistant. In the Italian version, Wilhelmina says 'Mi lasci?' Mark looks upset, then explains that his career chances with Daniel will be much better than with Wilhelmina, which, as my younger friends say, is like duh. But Wilhelmina looks unnacountably shocked. The scene didn't work, so we watched it a second time in English (thank you, mysky). What Wilhelmina actually said was 'So quit,' i.e. leave Daniel and stay with me. So, of course she can't believe that Mark disobeys her and refuses to go back on his decision. If you're not an UB fan, this will be unutterably boring, I know, but, even so, it's worrying that such a high-profile show should have a scene that means ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in the dubbed version and that no one seems to have noticed, or cared…

  2. >Have you guys ever watched Will and Grace in Italian?

  3. >We watch W&G almost exclusively in Italian, and my standing comment is "Questo non fa ridere in italiano." Matteo's post on "Guillermo e Grazie" should be required reading for anyone who works in Italian TV!

  4. >Try Frazier. No, on second thoughts, don't bother.

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