Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Accommodation for remains

Microsoft built a thing called Bing, which would probably like to catch up with Google. Click here to use this tool.

Apparently Bing has the courage to get involved in the dangerous domain of language translation. Here’s a French-to-English specimen (slightly edited, to make it readable) that I found this morning:

Readers might well be intrigued by the translated line at the bottom of the tweet: a reworking or art to accommodate the remains. Are we talking of human remains? Maybe this has something to do with the idea of creating artistic accommodation to house deceased humans. I was reminded immediately of the fantastic Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily, which have been offering excellent high-style accommodation for corpses, of a most artistic kind, for several centuries.

In the beginning, the lodgers were exclusively deceased monks. But the idea caught on at the level of the local population, and posthumous accommodation was soon being offered to all and sundry. One of the most charming inhabitants of this extraordinary home for the dead is a two-year-old girl named Rosaria Lombardo, who took up residence here in 1920. Her calm appearance is such that an onlooker might imagine Rosaria as a sleeping child who only moved into the catacombs quite recently.

On looking more closely into the wonderful work of Bing, we find that the original French-language tweet from the investigative website Mediapart concerns a minor ministerial shakeup (remaniement) in the Greek government, reflecting the victory of the extreme left wing in the European elections of 25 May 2014. The French expression “accommoder les restes” designates the familiar home-kitchen theme of grabbing all the left-overs lying around in the refrigerator—after a couple of major meals, for example—and blending them together intelligently and harmoniously (whence the word “art”) with the aim of creating a new meal. Personally, I’ve always done this automatically and relatively skilfully, which means that I almost never throw out fragments of good food. In the Greek political context, the journalist was suggesting that the Greek prime minister grabbed various credible survivors of the electoral calamity and made an artful attempt to blend them together into a new and edible, if not tasty, government.

Clearly Bing is as dumb as they come. But so what? It has provided us with an opportunity of going on a tiny virtual trip to a strange place in the centre of the fabulous Mediterranean world.

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