Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Spanish Beech Trees and Presidents
Reading again a Spanish translation of The Hobbit – I noted it down inside the back cover, apparently the last time I read it was in July 2001 – to try to clean some of the rust off my Spanish. And because I love the book, and have read it countless times in English, both to myself and aloud to my children. I pretty much know it by heart. I catch the translator out, occasionally, but by and large it's a good job. Each day I make a list of 25 Spanish words I had to look up, and I go over them a bit. My Spanish vocabulary is in a strange, hazy state. It's often hard for me to say whether I know a word or not. An haya, now, that's a beech tree, did I know that? Well, sort of. If you tell me there's three trolls sitting around a bonfire of troncos de haya, I do. But if I met an haya standing by itself in a new poem, I bet I'd have to look it up.
Finishing reading a biography – it's always a melancholy business, the finish of a biography – of George Washington. Obama is often compared to Lincoln by his admirers, but really the predecessor he most reminds me of is Washington: particularly in his patience, in his extraordinary ability to leave unripe fruit on the tree. I disagree with him about a great many things – he is after all a center Democrat, the sort of creature we used to call a moderate Republican – but I often feel, as I often do reading about Washington, that he's the only grown-up in the room: the only one who recognizes other people's good intentions, and the only one who understands thoroughly that we don't actually know what's going to happen if we follow one policy or another: we're only guessing. Poor old Washington, who thought that Hamilton and Jefferson would be able to work together in harness, because they were both patriots! There's something very sweet about being able to make a mistake like that.