Paolo Coelho in Armenia
I spent the whole morning explaining that I’m not as interested in museums and churches as I’m interested in a country’s residents and in that way, it would be best if we went to the market.
Even so, they insist on it – it is a holiday, the market is closed.
“Where are we going?”
“To a church.”
I knew it.
“Today we are celebrating a saint that’s very special to us and certainly for you too. We are going to visit the tomb of this saint. But don’t ask any questions and accept the fact that sometimes we can provide good surprises for writers.”
“How long does the trip take?”
Twenty minutes is the standard answer – Of course, it will take longer than that.
But to this day, they have respected all my requests; I’d better give in this time.
In this Sunday morning, I am in Yerevan, Armenia.
Resigned, I enter the car, see the Mount Ararat covered by snow in the distance and contemplate the landscape around me.
I wish I could be walking there instead of being locked in this tin can.
My hosts are trying to be kind, but I am distracted, stoically accepting the “special tourist program.”
They end up letting the talk die and we go on in silence.
Fifty minutes later (I knew it!) we reach a small town and drive towards a crowded church.
I notice everyone is wearing suits and ties, it is a very formal occasion and I feel ridiculous because I am only wearing a T-shirt and jeans.
I get out of the car, people from the Writers Union are waiting for me and hand me a flower, taking me through the crowd attending mass.
We descend a stair behind the altar and I see myself before a tomb.
I understand that the saint must be resting there, but before I place my flower down, I want to know exactly whom I am paying homage to.
“The Translation Saint,” is the answer.
The Translation Saint! Instantly my eyes fill with tears.
Today is October 9, 2004, the city is called Oshakan, and Armenia, as far as I know, is the only place in the world that declares a national holiday and celebrates the day of the Translator Saint, Saint Mesrob, in great style.
In addition to creating the Armenian alphabet (it already existed, but only in oral form), he devoted his life to the translation of the most important texts of the time into his home tongue, which were written in Greek, Persian or Cyrillic.
He and his disciples devoted themselves to the gigantic task of translating the Bible and the main literature classics of his time.
From that moment on, the country’s culture gained its own identity, which is maintained up to this day.
The Translator Saint.
I hold the flower in my hands, I think of all the people that I have never met and whom I might never have the opportunity to meet, who are holding my books in their hands in that very moment, trying to give their best in order to maintain the accuracy of what I tried to share with my readers.
Above all, I think of my father-in-law, Christiano Monteiro Oiticica, a professional translator who is watching this scene today in the company of angels and of Saint Mesrob.
I remember him glued to his writing machine, many a time complaining about how badly his work was paid for (which is true to this day, unfortunately).
Straightaway, he would explain that the true reason to keep on doing that task was his enthusiasm for sharing a knowledge, which, weren’t it for the translators, would have never reached his people.
I pray a silent prayer for him, for all those who helped me with my books, and for those who allowed me to read works I would otherwise never have had access to, thus helping – anonymously – to form my life and my character.
When I leave the church, I see children drawing the alphabet, sweets in the form of letters, flowers and more flowers.
When Mankind showed his ignorance, God destroyed the Tower of Babel and everyone began to speak different languages.
But in His infinite grace, He also created a type of people who would rebuild these bridges, allow the dialogue and the diffusion of the human thought.
People whose name we rarely bother to know when we open a foreign book: the translator.
Translated from the Portuguese by Bettina Dung