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Sue Burke
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12th-Oct-2016 10:34 am - Medieval Chicago
Chicago flag
Chicago loves architecture. Chicagoans built the world’s first skyscraper in 1885, and over time other unique buildings drew on both innovations and the past for inspiration. In 1925, the Tribune Tower became a neo-Gothic landmark, a medieval-style skyscraper.

I’m fond of the Middle Ages, and I can find neo-Gothic architecture in my neighborhood in Edgewater, Chicago. Here are a few samples close to home:

Detail of an apartment building down the street.

An apartment building around the corner.

A storefront with a Mediterranean medieval influence.

Edgewater Presbyterian Church’s magnificent Romanesque doorway.

Not quite a castle tower battlement, but it’s the thought that counts.

A gargoyle. One of several in the neighborhood. Every neighborhood needs gargoyles.

Last but not least, not at all, St. Ita Catholic Church, built in 1924-1927 in French Gothic style. The building will be open to tours during Open House Chicago from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, October 15. I can see the top of the bell tower right now from the window next to my desk, and I plan to toddle over this weekend and enjoy a look inside.

— Sue Burke

P.S. The stonework of the church on the inside was a magnificent as the outside, and with an especially lovely altar and large, intricate stained glass windows.
4th-Oct-2016 10:50 am - We have our stuff!

Our stuff is here! When we were moving from Spain, we sent a shipment off with a moving company on July 15. It finally arrived!

Books, cookware, clothing, photos, home office stuff, wine glasses, sheets, towels -- everything to make a house a home.

I'm off to open boxes.
Let me see..
I’m delighted to say that I’ve won the 2016 Alicia Gordon Award for Word Artistry in Translation! It’s presented by American Foundation for Translation and Interpretation, which is affiliated with the American Translators Association.

The award is given for a translation from French or Spanish into English, or from English into French or Spanish, in any subject that demonstrates the highest level of creativity in solving a particularly difficult challenge. It was established in memory of Alicia Gordon, known for creating imaginative solutions to knotty translation problems based on rigorous research.

I won for my translation of Confusión de Confusiones by Joseph de la Vega, published in 1688, about the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. It was the first book ever written about stock trading, and the Amsterdam market was the earliest of its kind, established in 1602.

Joseph de la Vega was a writer whose Jewish family had fled Spain to Amsterdam. He wrote in a Baroque style called Conceptismo, which is characterized by witty metaphors and wordplay to convey multiple meanings and conceptual intricacies, all with the utmost concision.

I was asked to translate some if the excerpts from his book actually dealing with the stock market; the book rambles into long digressions and allegories on all manner of subjects. The translation was for the Spanish National Stock Exchange Commission, which published Confusión de Confusiones along with with my translation and some scholarly essays to give as an institutional gift. The book came out in December 2015.

My challenge and delight was to translate all the wit and laugh-out-loud fun of the original text into English.

Here are some excerpts, first my English, then de la Vega’s original Spanish.

I came to devise these dialogues, which I hope worthy of curiosity, with three considerations in mind. First, to fill my spare time with a little delightful entertainment that would not be immodest. Second, to describe (for those not involved in it) a business that is the most authentic and useful known today in Europe. And third, to show truthfully the wiles used by the speculators who sully it, which for some will serve as a delight, others as a warning, and many as a lesson.

The business of stocks is so widespread here that it would feel impertinent to speak of anything else, and there are those who only dream that they know what they speak of and even while dreaming do not cease to ponder it.

It is an enigmatic business, both the most splendid and most treacherous in Europe, the most noble and most loathsome known to the world, and the most subtle and most vulgar practiced on the globe. It is the convocation of knowledge and compendium of turmoil, touchstone for the wise and tombstone for the rash, source of profit and origin of disaster.

Yet I will not deny that I would have felt an urge to try my luck if three important obstacles did not stop me. First, I would have to embark on a ship so exposed to the rigors of fate that each wind is a storm and each wave a shipwreck.

Second, I would have to make a profit from the start, since my capital is limited. I would have to be prepared to pay if I were to lose, or at least to keep my capital only if I were so treacherous as to decide to forsake honor. But I would expose myself to the possibility that my first loss would make me infamous without the consolation of being rich, and to me this seems vain to consider and delirious to attempt.

Third, to me this business seems unworthy of a philosopher, and besides, as everyone would know how humble my purse is when they saw that I cannot purchase on my own account, no one would place trust in my mere appearance, and I cannot that imagine anyone would lend me money.

People of diverse customs, different nations, and a variety of trades embark for this new world. Philosophers arrive to discover the little in this circus that differentiates the moto animal from the moto violento. Geomancers dare involvement because as they measure its circumference they find some lines they call irrational. Astrologers become enthusiastic, boasting that they have spotted their own star amid all the others. The curious draw near to learn something from those who are so wise. Poets refine their fantasies, lawyers their subtleties, sophists their complications. The devout seek approval, penitents remorse, and ship pilots latitudes of glory, high winds, and sharp compass needles. The barber works happily because he can shave something off everyone. The doctor comes to treat wounds and apply bandages during battles and soon learns not to treat injuries right away. The shoemaker believes he can fit the same shoe to everyone. The tailor succeeds in clipping attire. The sculptor accustoms himself to carving men from stone so that some of them will not sense outrage and seek furious revenge. The speculator arrives to scrutinize his luck, the lover to improve his appearance, the soldier to perfect his wiles. The blacksmith brings iron, the musician plays dissonant fugues, the mathematician figures accounts, the painter takes perspectives and sketches shadows, and the fencer feints and lunges. Finally, no courtesan studies this business to acquire patience; no rustic to become inured to disdain, nor the French to fury, the English to pride, the Turk to noise, the Italian to disguise, the Flemish to phlegm, the German to arrogance, the Polish to flight, or the Spanish to profanity.

And despite the delusion, distraction, delirium, doubt, and dilemma that accompany profits, there are ways to easily discover where most opinions lean, both in policies and in fundamentals. Whoever dedicates himself to follow these opinions seriously, without blinding passions or changeable whims, will not fail to succeed often, if not always. And when all things are considered, he will realize there is nothing more astute than to pursue speculation nor anything wiser than to drift with the current.


Tres motivos tuvo mi ingenio para tejer estos Diálogos que espero merezcan el título de curiosos. El primero, entretener el ocio con algún deleite que no menoscabe lo modesto. El segundo, describir (para los que no lo practican) un negocio que es el más real y útil que se conoce hoy en Europa. Y el tercero, mostrar con veracidad las astucias de que se valen los tahúres que lo ensucian, para que a unos sirva de delicia, a otros de aviso, y a muchos de escarmiento.

El negocio de las acciones está tan difundido en esta plaza que sienta plaza de impertinente el que habla de otro tema, y hay quienes sin saber ni por sueños de lo que hablan, hasta en sueños piensan en él.

Un negocio enigmático, que es a la vez el más real y el más falso de Europa, el más noble y el más infame que conoce el mundo, el más fino y el más grosero que se practica en el orbe. Conjunto de ciencias y compendio de enredos, piedra de toque de los sagaces y piedra de túmulo de los atrevidos, tesoro de ganancias y causa de desastres.

No negaré, sin embargo, que me siento impulsado a probar suerte, si no hubiera tres importantes obstáculos que me lo impiden. El primero, tener que embarcar en una nave tan expuesta a los rigores de la fatalidad, pues cada viento es una tormenta y cada ola un naufragio.

El segundo, que necesitaría empezar ganando, pues al ser mi capital limitado, debería estar preparado para pagar cuando perdiera, o quedar al menos con capital si fuera tan alevoso que me resuelva a quedar sin honra. Pero exponerme a que la primera vez que pierda me haga infame, sin que me consuele quedar rico, me parece que es vanidad pensarlo y es delirio realizarlo.

El tercero, que este trato me parece indigno de un filósofo, además de que, al conocer todos lo humilde de mi bolsa, cuando vean que no empiezo a recibir partidas en mi cuenta, no habrá quien se fíe de mis barbas, ni me imagino quién pueda darme dinero por ellas.

Se embarcan para este nuevo mundo gentes de diversas costumbres, de diferentes naciones y de varios empleos. Entran los filósofos para encontrar en estos circos lo poco que difiere el moto animal del moto violento. Se aventuran los geómetras, porque encuentran en estas circunferencias algunas líneas de las que ellos llaman irracionales. Se entusiasman los astrólogos, presumiendo divisar, entre tantas estrellas, la suya. Los curiosos se arriman para aprender algo de los que saben tanta letra. Refina el poeta sus fábulas, el jurisconsulto sus sutilezas, los reflexivos sus enredos. Los devotos buscan miradas, los penitentes arrepentimientos, y los pilotos las alturas que engrandecen, los vientos que soplan y las agujas que pican. Entra el barbero contento porque ha de afeitar a todos. Entra el cirujano para sanar las llagas, para valerse de los parches en estas batallas y para acostumbrarse a no sanar las heridas a la primera. Entra el zapatero, presumiendo que meterá a todos en un zapato. Entra el sastre para cortar los vestidos. Entra el escultor para acostumbrarse a tallar hombres de piedra, porque algunos no sienten los ultrajes ni se enfurecen buscando venganza. Entra el tahúr a relojear su suerte, el amante a mejorar su aspecto, el soldado a perfeccionar sus mañas. El herrero a traer hierros, el músico disonancias y fugas, el aritmético a hacer cuentas, el pintor perspectivas, lejos y sombras, el espadachín atajos para sus reveses. Por último, no se eximen de este negocio ni el cortesano para habituarse a la paciencia, ni el rústico para acostumbrarse al desprecio, ni el francés a la furia, ni el inglés a la soberbia, ni el turco al ruido, ni el italiano al disfraz, ni el flamenco a la flema, ni el alemán a la arrogancia, ni el polaco a huir, ni el español a maldecir.

Y a pesar de todos estos devaneos, desconciertos, desvaríos, dudas e incertidumbres de las ganancias, no faltan medios para saber sencillamente hacia dónde inclina la mayoría sus suposiciones, tanto en lo político como en lo fundamental. Y quien se dedique a seguirlas seriamente, sin pasión que lo ciegue ni capricho que lo altere, no dejará de acertar muchas veces, si no todas. Y, cuando haga la cuenta, reconocerá que no hay más astucia que ir tras el juego, ni más sabiduría que seguir la corriente.

— Sue Burke
21st-Sep-2016 09:45 am - Robes were for thieves
Let me see..
Every word in every language has a history. The word robe and its Spanish cousin ropa (clothing) share a history of violence and sorrow that started 1600 years ago.

Back then, clothing was costly, even the most humble garment. Everything was made by hand: animals were clipped and plants were harvested and processed for fiber, fiber was spun into thread, thread was woven into cloth, and cloth was sewn into clothing. It was a long, tedious process that cost endless hours of labor.

In 407, as the Roman Empire was falling, the barbaric Germanic tribe of the Vandals swept into the Iberian peninsula. We get the word vandalism from their name, so you can imagine what they were like.

Meanwhile, the Visigoths, another barbaric Germanic tribe, were sacking Rome. In 456, after a brief, unwelcome stay in France, the Visigoths invaded and conquered Iberia and, during a century-long period of warfare, sacked whatever they found still standing.

What did they find to pillage? By then, not much. Although peasants had been reduced to poverty and hunger, they still had the clothes on their back – but not for long. Soon they were poor, hungry and naked.

The Germanic word for pillage was “raub” and it came to be applied to what the Visigoths took: clothing. That’s how the word “ropa” came into the Spanish language; and via French, the word “robe” came into English.

In parallel, the word raub became “rob” in English and robar (to rob) in Spanish, perhaps via the people whose clothing was robbed and couldn’t have been happy about it, so they remembered the initial meaning of the word.

It’s said that history is written by the victors, but the words they use can tell a secret history, sometimes a very different story.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my professional writing website: http://www.sue.burke.name


My short story "The Perfect Place for Ghosts" has just been published in SuperSonic, a bilingual (Spanish and English) magazine. The story, in English, is about a novice ghost hunter on his first case in Madrid, protecting its art, and includes a a few (allegedly) real local ghosts, along with some imaginary ones, such Ernst Hemingway, who is brave and wise.

The magazine, which also contains "Fotos de gatos por favor" by Naomi Kritzer (practice your Spanish!), costs only 2.99€ (US$3.36) and can be bought with credit cards and PayPal at:

- Sue Burke

6th-Sep-2016 10:15 am - Amadis of Gaul, the final chapters
Today, after an August break, I have resumed the on-line translation of Amadis of Gaul, a medieval novel of chivalry, at http://amadisofgaul.blogspot.com/

I began this translation in 2009, and I expect to finish in 2017, posting a chapter or portion of a chapter every week. We’re up to Chapter 117, and the book ends at 133.

The story has followed the life of Amadis of Gaul, the greatest knight in the world, from his birth to a life filled with adventure, intrigue, and love. As Chapter 117 opens, he has been at war with King Lisuarte of Great Britain, but now, Lisuarte faces defeat by an army raised by Amadis’s longtime enemy, Arcalaus the Sorcerer. Amadis is racing to rescue the king. To complicate matters, Amadis is secretly married to Princess Oriana, Lisuarte’s daughter. Winning a battle might be easier than making peace.

This book drove Don Quixote mad. What will it do to you?

— Sue Burke

Rachel Cordasco interviews me about the most fun and most difficult parts of translation, and about why I started studying Spanish in the first place. It's brief, so don't be afraid to click.


19th-Aug-2016 09:44 am - One month living on the Edge
Chicago flag
Olive oil and wine are a lot more expensive in the US than in Spain.

That’s one thing I’ve noticed after moving a month ago from Madrid to the Edgewater neighborhood of Chicago.

I’ve also been pleased to notice how there seems to be no dog poop on the sidewalks, unlike Madrid. How do Chicago dog owners manage to accomplish such a heroic feat? /sarcasm mode off/

However, my alley has been baited for rats. I haven’t seen a live rat yet (note the qualifier), but the upstairs neighbors say their dog (which they carefully pick up after) enjoys chasing and catching them in the back yard. Rats are said to eat dog poop. Are they the secret to poop-free sidewalks? Probably not, but Madrid: take note.

I’m still marveling at the humidity in Chicago, three times higher than Madrid. My skin is softer, but what would be a pleasantly warm day in Madrid – a mere 85º – can be a sauna here.

I’ve stopped pushing the wrong number in elevators and looking for light switches in all the wrong places, but I’m used to thinking in euros, not dollars. America seems more expensive than it is – although it is expensive.

I still miss the view from my Madrid apartment: the 7th floor with Retiro Park just up the hill, and then the wide sky. On a clear day I could even glimpse a bit of a mountain between the trees. Now I’m on the ground floor with buildings crowding in on either side and trees shading the back yard and blocking the sky. Beyond that the alley abuts the “L” train station and tracks, up on their gradient. (Yes, the trains are noisy. But conveniently close.)

I saw no Persied meteors this week, in part due to the limited view. To try to overcome that, my husband and I walked down to Lake Michigan Thursday to try to spot some, despite the city lights, advancing clouds, and early hour. We knew it was probably futile, but sitting a while at the lakefront is never a waste of time. That’s why we’re in Edgewater: to live at the edge of the water.

Finally, I’ve gathered from news reports that Chicago and Illinois governments suffer from problems with budgets, efficiency, and corruption. The Madrid municipal and regional governments face the same problems. I feel very much at home in that way, although I wouldn’t have minded a change.

— Sue Burke

Let me see..
During August, Madrid holds its fiestas castizas. That’s hard to translate: “traditional” fiestas, perhaps, or “authentic” fiestas. They’ve been going on for at least a couple of centuries in one format or another, and they celebrate San Cayetano, San Lorenzo, and the Virgin of the Paloma. When I lived in Madrid, I always went.

I just moved from Madrid to Chicago’s Edgewood neighborhood, and the Edgewood Chamber of Commerce held Edgefest last weekend. I went with my husband. How do the two street festivals compare?

• Madrid’s fiestas start on August 1st and end on the 15th – two weeks! – moving from one old neighborhood to another on the near south side sloping toward the river. Some of the narrow side streets are elaborately decorated, and castizo fiesta-goers wear traditional costumes: dapper houndstooth vested suits for men, and fitted, flared long dresses with head scarves and embroidered shawls for women. This is ideally accompanied by a cheeky, streetwise attitude.
• Edgefest was held on August 6th to 7th – one weekend! – on a  mere two blocks of Broadway, and the wide street was decorated with a few banners on light poles. Dress was casual – some men even wore cargo shorts – and the attitude was typical Midwestern friendly.

• The Madrid fiestas seem to attract every single person who hasn’t left the city on vacation and even out-of-towners. The streets and plazas can be packed tight from one end of the neighborhood to another, and the noise can be deafening.
• Edgefest attracted people apparently just from the neighborhood, and while the turnout seemed good, the crowd was comfortably sized, several orders of magnitude smaller and not too loud.

• The Madrid fiestas might have a few activities in the morning or early afternoon, but nothing really gets started until 8 p.m. They end sometime long after midnight – I don’t know when for sure. Possibly sunrise. I never lasted much beyond midnight. Madrid is a late-night party town and always has been.
• Edgefest started at noon Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday, and ended promptly at 10 p.m. Saturday and 9 p.m. Sunday. Chicagoans might enjoy a party, but they’ll also let their neighbors go to bed at a reasonable hour.

• Madrid’s fiestas offer food, drink, music, and a few shows, with stages set up in various plazas and streets. There are also carnival games and big food and drink areas. In addition, bars on a street often team up to fill that street with amplified music to make it one big loud party. People drink a lot. Really a lot.
• Edgefest had music stages at each end of the block, and tents and booths between them offering food and drink, games, crafts, art, and promotions by local businesses and organizations. Wine and beer flowed freely, but drinkers seemed to be pacing themselves. Of course, closing up shop at 9 or 10 p.m. makes that easier.

In summary, the Madrid fiestas are huge, noisy, and frenetic. Edgefest was small, friendly, and relaxed. And at Edgefest I could sometimes smell tobacco smoke, but there was none of the marijuana that can waft down the fiesta-filled streets of Madrid – sometimes even on non-fiesta days.

Madrid is a party town. Chicago might have a different focus.

— Sue Burke

3rd-Aug-2016 09:46 am - What’d I miss?
Sue the Chicago T-rex

I’m back in the United States – in Chicago to be exact. I moved to Madrid, Spain, in December 1999, and moved back to the United States not quite two weeks ago. I did visit the US from time to time, of course. And during those years the internet blossomed with all its social media, so I’ve been more in touch than ever with family, friends, and high school alums.

The internet also means I’ve heard all the news – as if the Trump-Clinton showdown doesn’t make headlines worldwide. But now I’m in the midst of the battle and the daily he-said-she-said. While I was gone, American politics took a strange turn. I must register to vote.

Some day-to-day things are now different, too. For example, grocery stores stock more variety, more pre-prepared food, and new brands to discover. The US seems to have turned into a nation of foodies, and I’ll be able to eat very well. Cracked pepper and olive oil Triscuits? Cool. (Spain is as newly obsessed with food, too, but more toward a return to tradition.)

Since I’m now located next to a great lake – an inland sea, technically – moisture fills the air and falls regularly from the sky. Chicago gets on average four inches of rain per month in July and August. Madrid, with one-third less humidity, averages .4 inch of rain each month, and an entire summer month without rain would surprise no one.

As a result, Chicago looks lush: green everywhere and flowers cascading with color in boulevards and lawns. Madrid’s government and citizens do their best to grow and lovingly care for trees and gardens, but they just can’t compete.

Also, I’ve moved into a lively neighborhood with a street festival coming up next weekend just a few blocks away. I’ll see how it compares to the August fiestas castizas of Madrid.

Meanwhile, I’ve had to deal with problems caused by a lack of a state-issued ID. Getting an Illinois driver’s license has become a priority, but as a very patient and knowledgeable man at the DMV explained, the application requires five different documents, one of which I need to acquire. He told me how to get it, and now that’s in process. Then I need to take the written driver’s test, vision test, and road test. I must brush up on my parallel parking skills.

Still, this should be a lot easier than getting my Spanish driver’s license. It’s just one of many “welcome back” complications to deal with.

Meanwhile, most of my worldly possessions are in a cargo container to be loaded this week on a ship to cross the Atlantic. I should see them by early September with luck, but luck is not guaranteed, since Homeland Security randomly inspects shipments, which could add to the wait and cost. I’m living with minimal possessions until then, sort of like camping out. It’s sad to go to those big American grocery stores, see all that fine food, and be unable to prepare so much of it until my cookware makes it to this side of the Big Pond. I’m drinking wine out of a housewarming gift coffee mug in the meantime.

Other than reading, writing, and translating, my big passion in life is cooking. So I’m three out of four this month – in a new city in my home country where I hear a lot of Spanish on the street, but with a Latin American accent. And where bit by bit I’m sure I’ll find out everything I’ve missed.

— Sue Burke

Also posted at my website http://www.sue.burke.name

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