nous sommes ici, mais ou sont tes amis, alice la-bas, sur l'herbe qui est le garcon en mai

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nous sommes ici, mais ou sont tes amis, alice la-bas, sur l'herbe qui est le garcon en maillot rouge c'est guy, mon cousin. et le garcon sous l'arbre est son compain. we are here, but where are your friends, alice? down there, on the grass. who is the boy in red tights? it's guy, my cousin. and the boy under the tree is his companion. how did you arrive at your "translation"? it is precisely mistranslations such as yours which have made nostradamus famous. i offer the following, taken directly from "the straight dope" by cecil adams (if you're not familiar with "the straight dope", people write in with questions, which cecil answers.): "recently i saw a movie on cable tv called "the man who saw tomorrow", about michael nostradamus the prognosticator. that film scared the shit out of me. nostradamus claims that first halley's comet will screw up the entire world and then in the 1990's a middle east/russian collaboration will wage nuclear war on the west for 27 years, after which the u.s. and russia will join together again to defeat the islamic horde. halley's comet is supposedly due in 1986 - should i begin to say my prayers? how good was nostradamus at predicting the future? did orson welles (the film's narrator) con me again? -lisa l., river forest, illinois" there are two schools of thought on nostradamus: either (1) he had supernatural powers which enabled him to prophesy the future with uncanny accuracy, or (2) he did for bullshit what stonehenge did for rocks. i am inclined to the latter view, for reasons which will become clear presently. michel de nostredame (nostradamus in latin) was born in southern france in 1503. intelligent and well-educated, he worked as a travelling physician for many years, but late in life his reason failed him and he decided to become a free-lance writer. among his works (which include a collection of jelly recipes, charmingly enough) were several books of prophecy, organized into sets of 100 quatrains, or "centuries." there were so many of these prophecies and they were so vaguely written that they could be made to apply to nearly anything. for example, one quatrain predicted prosperity for henry ii, the king of france. unfortunately, henry was killed in a jousting accident a couple years later. no problem - someone discovered the following gem among the 940 or so other quatrains: "the young lion shall overcome the old/on the field of battle in single combat;/in a cage of gold he shall pierce his eyes:/two knells one, then to die, a cruel death" (sic). it was pointed out that a sliver from the lance of henry's opponent had penetrated the king's golden helmet and pierced his eye and brain. furthermore, the king was seven years older than his opponent. ergo, nostradamus had really been on target after all. (after nostradamus's death, some editors emended the enigmatic last line to read, "two _wounds_ (from) one," which fits the circumstances even better). fast shuffles like this do wonders for a guy's reputation. true believers have since applied mike's predictions to nearly every significant event in the 400 years since his death in 1566. this effort has been aided, for those not fluent in french, by convinient mistrans- lations. for example, the well-known "people's almanac" gives one verse as follows: "the captive prince, conquered, to elba,/he will pass the gulf of genoa by sea to marseilles,/though he escapes the fire, the bees yeild liquor by the barrel." the mention of elba makes this otherwise ambiguous quatrain appear to apply to napolean. in fact, however, the original has "aux itales," which is generally translated to "to italy," not "to elba." (the more imaginative, it must be conceded, claim "itales" derives from "aethalia," the classical name for elba.) similarly, some say the following verse predicts the great fire of london in 1666: "the blood of the just shall be dry in london./burnt by the fire of 3 times 20 and 6./the ancient dame shall fall from her high place,/of the same sect many shall be killed." the ancient dame supposedly was the statue of the virgin on st. paul's cathedral. sounds convincing, but a literal translation of the first two lines is far more cryptic: "the blood of the just will commit a fault at london,/burnt through the lightning of 23 the sixes." yet another verse mentions a certain "hister," which some claim refers to adolf hitler. in fact, though, hister is simply the classical name for the lower danube, and nostradamus uses it as such in several instances. supposed predictions by nostradamus of future wars and disasters are equally implausible. i didn't see the movie you allude to, but other scenarios i've come across talk about an alliance between the u.s. and the u.s.s.r. followed by a joint arab-chinese invasion of europe. there's also something about a giant meteor falling in the indian ocean (maybe this is the reference to halley's comet you mention). this last is based on a quatrain supposedly beginning, "a great spherical mountain [i.e., a meteor] about one mile in diameter/...will roll end over end, then sink great nations," etc. once again an overenthusiastic translator has been at work - the first line in more plausibly rendered as "a great mountain seven stadia around," and many nostradamus buffs say it refers to vesuvius. in any case, it's not worth worrying about.


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