In Grade 12, at 17, my French teacher assigned us a new kind of homework: translation. I’d had plenty of experience with my little Harrap’s English-French dictionary – as an Anglophone kid in a French (not immersion, mind you) school, when things got tough on the assignment side of things, my teacher dad got me started getting my ideas down in English and make them happen in French. It had never occurred to me that I’d use the French-English side of the dictionary.
Every once in a while, I lose my ability to read. It’s not that I can’t make out the words on the page, or understand the sentences they form. It’s a kind of restlessness that comes over me, a dissatisfaction with the books on my shelves, a not knowing what I want to read (perhaps there’s too much choice?) and then, somehow, I can’t read anything.
I remember my enthusiasm at decoding the black scratches that turned into words when my parents picked up books; I remember reading in a circle with my class, each of us sounding out a few lines. Especially I remember being confused when my turn came, because I had read on ahead and didn’t know what page the class was on.
When I was seventeen, living in Edmonton, I knew a boy named Mitch who, unlike the rest of us suburban softies, already lived on his own and had to pay his way through life. Mitch was violent, and routinely beat up his friends for perceived transgressions against him. He had a heroic scar on his face from the time he pissed off a drug gang and they went after him with a hatchet.
Winnie the Pooh is not just a cuddly bear. He’s a poet, and if you don’t know his oeuvre, you should take a rejuvenation session with your A. A. Milne collection. In Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, the pudgy plushie pours forth the poems, the songs, and, when words fail him (being a Bear of Very Little Brain), the hums. But not only are there poems: there is a philosophy of poetry.
I have always felt a deep kinship with Ferdinand. Not only because my mother was born and raised in Madrid, but also because, if I dare say, I’m the kind of introspective guy who prefers to sit quietly and smell the flowers instead of running around and butting heads with others. Ferdinand embodies pacifism and unembarrassed self-acceptance. If I weren’t so busy taming my own wild wee broncos, I could pore over the book’s striking black and white illustrations for hours.