Zen or the Art of… Technical Translation

I had the great chance to have parents who loved reading and although my father traveled a lot for his architecture projects, we always had a pile of books lying around – meaning really. My mother was more of a literature lover with Camus, Sartre, etc. while my father was definitely more cosmopolite (eclectic?) in his choices. So inevitably between the latest crime story from the New York Times bestseller list, there were gems like Zen or The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Strange is how life unfolds sometimes. I was recovering from a bad motorcycle accident, and it was due to neglected tyres pressure. At that time, I was more of a hopping on the bike and let’s go type, than spending time in the garage fixing things. With this book, I read about this guy who was driving a BMW bike and expected it to run perfectly because it was a BMW. Absolutely like my father, the perfect ignoramus in terms of maintenance. One day, in the middle of Sahara, on the road to Tammanrasset, the car stopped working, and he turned to Mom and me, saying, well! We are f…ed. Just because of a grain of sand in the carburator, as it turned out.

So, since I was hurt (physically and in my pride), I decided to take things in my own hands, and not believe blindly that motorcycles, cars, etc. just run okay without a thorough checking out. Typically I would not pay for the mistakes of others. I mean, not if I can help it. (One of the reasons why I am avoiding airplane travel, but I know that is silly!) because it is impossible to control everything, that’s when Zen is important!

So from motorcycle maintenance, to armoured fighting vehicles, and checking how it would look like to fight in one of those steel beasts – I came to study technical translation. Never actually because I wanted to be a translator, but because translation was needed to understand the original documentation to perform repairs, or research about military history – so many questions, and always so many easy to believe already made answers.

So instead of looking for technical translation, it found me. Eventually. From writing scenarios for combat simulation, and looking into archives, answering questions to the best of my knowledge, repairing old cars and tractors… to full-time translator. But always with in heart, the strong belief that I will not accept anything from granted, even terminology. I don’t want a service tech or a tank crew to shake his head or worse when he is reading my translation of an original technical manual. On the contrary, I would like him or her to think I was writing/translating the manual as if I was with him/her right there pointing out what had to be done.

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