Trafika Europe Corner: LOST IN TRANSLATION by Hannah Katerina

‘Your dog is always so grumpy!’ I wanted to joke.

Since I got a puppy, most of my conversations in Italian are about the dog.

So far, I can tell people that her name is Lilou, she’s 6 months old, and that a princess gave her to me.

I begin to explain, ‘una principessa’, but I forget how to say ‘gave me’ in the past tense and I trail off. They don’t mind that I’ve trailed off and now I’m embarrassed that I even started speaking in the first place.

I know more dogs in this city than I know people.

‘Your dog is always so grumpy!’ That’s what I had wanted to say in a joking sort of manner. The owner was a well-dressed woman my mother’s age. Her dog always growls at Lilou but she always smiles at me, so I’m making an effort.

A crossed wire somewhere in my head means that instead, I say ‘Your dog is so ugly!’ and laugh in her face.

I realise my mistake when she gasps. ‘Ugly?’ ‘My dog isn’t ugly!’ She tightens her coat as if to insulate herself from my rudeness. ‘She is beautiful!’’

‘Andiamo Lilou?’ I stand there in the street, looking down at my puppy. I’m using her as an excuse to flee the scene, even though I hate it when people do that.

I decide that I need some Italian lessons – and I find a teacher through a friend. We agree to meet the next day in the cafe below my place. Her face looks familiar as soon as I spot her, it nags at something in the back of my head, ‘Where do I know this woman from?’

She introduces herself. She was born and raised in Palermitana but spent the last 20 years living in Poland.

‘Poland! That rings a bell. Who do I know who lived in Poland?’

Now she’s back for family reasons, living in Aspra.

‘Aspra – I’ve been there – Why have I been there?’

Suddenly I remember – I bought a bike from this woman earlier in the year. It was a Facebook ad – 10 euros for an old-fashioned Peugeot bike – and I snapped it up, although I’ve only used it a handful of times since.

‘Ah!’ I pronounce, enthusiastically. ‘Did I buy a bike from you earlier this year!’

I know that I did, but I’m being English about it.

She looked at me with confusion. ‘No’

‘Oh.’

Now I’m even more confused, and she’s still talking, but I’m not listening anymore because all I can think of is ‘I did buy a bloody bike off of you, I’m sure it was you, why don’t you remember me?’

I tune back into the conversation when she says, ‘And what about you? Why have you come to Palermo? Why do you want to learn Italian?’

I don’t know the Italian for ‘existential crisis’ or how to say, ‘I was tired of always doing what people expected me to do’ so I give the simple version; ‘My boyfriend lives here’ and Laura seems pleased. Laura, who definitely did sell me a bike but for some reason won’t admit it.

‘Try in Italian!’ she encourages me. I feel embarrassed, and all of a sudden stubborn. I don’t want to. I don’t want to. But on the other hand, I’m literally in the Italian lesson that I organised and paid for, so it seems ridiculous that I would now refuse.

‘I was live in England… but no like… come here now.’

‘I like.’ I elaborate, with a smile.

‘Family in England, but me grow up in Istanbul.’ I almost see the light bulb go off in her mind when I say ‘Istanbul’. Finally, finally, she recognises me.

‘Ah! Of course! You did buy a bike off of me!’

I’m relieved, but now I’m thinking ‘How could it have taken her that long to recognise me?’.

She was obviously thinking the same because she offers, ‘I remember you being blonder.’

By Hannah Katerina

“Lost in Translation” is a story by Hannah Katerina, a writer living between Palermo and Istanbul. Since her recent move to Palermo, Italy about six months ago, she has been attempting to integrate into a new culture, society, and language. Her personal reflection on the difficulties of being an outsider and trying to make connections as an adult in a new language can resonate far and wide. She shows us the embarrassment as well as the frustration that can arise when people from the “inside” misinterpret or get lost in the errors that we don’t want to make.

We chose this story this week as we get set to release Trafika Europe: Recrudescence on April 12. Becoming raw again or starting afresh are clear themes of this story. Even if the overall result is positive, the process can truly strip you raw and make you question your decisions. Like the narrator, you will be remembered, your efforts will be noted, and you’ll only grow stronger through the journey. But maybe if you anger all of the dog owners in your area, think about getting a cat.

Photo in story of Hannah Katerina and her dog. Cover photo taken in Agrigento by Hannah Katerina.


Read previous posts in The Trafika Europe Corner series:

Trafika Europe Corner: Three poems by Károly Lencsés, translated by Ágnes Megyeri

Trafika Europe Corner: Three Poems by Guðrið Helmsdal, translated by Randi Ward

Three poems by Deniz Durukan – in Trafika Europe Corner II.11 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Marius Burokas – in Trafika Europe Corner II.10 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Franca Mancinelli – in Trafika Europe Corner II.9 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Nina Kossman – in Trafika Europe Corner II.8 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Alexander Kabanov – in Trafika Europe Corner II.7 by Andrew Singer

Three poems by Andrey Gritsman – in Trafika Europe Corner II.6 by Andrew Singer

Kosovan poet Fahredin Shehu – in Trafika Europe Corner II.5 by Andrew Singer

Three poems from Icelandic by Gyrðir Elíasson – in Trafika Europe Corner II.4 by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.3 – New Latvian poet Jānis Tomašs by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.2 by Andrew Singer

Trafika Europe Corner II.1 by Andrew Singer

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