Published on June 16, 2009. A modest tribute to a school that turned 150 years old two days before the column came out. Contrary to the view of some of my more assertive readers, however, I did not criticize the erasure of “el Ateneo” from the Penguin edition merely because I was, I am, an Atenean. Give me a little more credit than that.
In the Penguin Classics edition of “Noli Me Tangere” (2006), translator Harold Augenbraum renders the title of the seventh chapter, “Idilio en una azotea,” as “Idyll on a terrace.” I think I can understand why; the meaning of “azotea” would still be transparent to a Filipino reader today, but to the international audience of Penguin-reading English readers, it would be opaque. “Terrace,” on the other hand, falls trippingly off the tongue.
But something else is lost too, when Juan Crisostomo Ibarra and Maria Clara de los Santos meet for the first time since the young gentleman’s return from seven years of study in Europe. In the famous balcony scene (“balcony,” in fact, is how Leon Ma. Guerrero, translator of the popular 1961 edition of the “Noli,” renders “azotea”), the two lovers exchange gigabytes of information without saying a word, through what Augenbraum, a Latino expert in the United States and the executive director of the National Book Foundation, describes as “the language of their eyes.” But they also talk, both teasingly and in earnest.
At one point, Maria Clara responds to Ibarra’s effusive declaration (“Could I ever forget you?”) with a modest recollection (“Unlike you, I haven’t traveled.”) She then says: “We were still children; your mother would take us to swim in that creek in the shade of the sugarcane. So many flowers and plants grew on the banks, and you would recite their names to me in Latin and Castilian, since you had already begun your studies at the athenaeum.” Continue reading