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Originally published in an English language edition, my book gains added charm by being recast in Japanese. As a fancy coloring book celebrating the world’s cities, what’s there to translate? The book’s cover, for instance, displays a detailed drawing, only partly colored, that sure looks like Parisian rooftops, their garrets straight out of Puccini’s La Bohème.
The images to be colored are unidentified; the pages, unnumbered. The key to their locales is on the inside rear cover of the book—in Japanese only. Therein lies additional charm. It’s a fine coloring book, the sort one would do with sharpened color pencils or gel-ink pens. And it’s also a great collection of puzzles for anyone learning the Japanese language, principally Katakana.
Japanese uses three sets of characters. Katakana is specifically for foreign words, regardless of their source languages. Kanji shares a lot of its elaborate calligraphy (though not its sounds) with Chinese equivalents. Hiragana characters have grammatical uses, modifiers and post-positionals (the Japanese language’s analog of English prepositions).
My knowledge of Kanji is akin to a young Japanese kid’s. My Hiragana is sketchy at best. But I delight in sounding out Katakana words and guessing their meanings. Part of the game is remembering that the Katakana word’s foreign origin need not be English.
For example, the i.d. for the Parisian rooftops reads パリ, フランス. The first two characters, パリ, are Pa Ri, just the way a Parisian would say it. And the characters フランス sound like Fu Ra n Su.
Opposite the book’s Paris scene is one typical of New York City, complete with taxicab, delivery truck, traffic light and a street sign that tantalizingly reads “WAY.”
This puzzle, solved: So Ho, Ma n Ha Ta n, Ni u Yo Ku, A Me Ri Ka.
Another image is relatively straightforward to recognize: a giant dome, minerets, surrounding buttresses and crenulations. Could this be Istanbul?
Sure enough, the Katakana reads I Su Ta n Bu Ru, To Ru Cu.
Another architectural giveaway has a large church perched atop a steep mount, its walled village spiraling up to it. I’d guess France’s Mont St. Michel.
Yep. Mo n · Sa n ·Mi Tsu e Ru, No Ru Ma n De, Fu Ra n Su. That is, Mont St. Michel is in Normandy. This is fun.
Its accompanying drawing is a mandala based on the same locale. There’s an entire genre of these Sanskrit-influenced designs transformed into coloring books. Among its total number of 58 drawings, Fantastic Cities has 17 identified as a マンダラ.
By the way [added in a.m. editing], I am delighted by the imagination and intricacy of McDonald’s artistry. He notes that the images are both real and fanciful. And their details are astounding. How does he do it?
As shown in the cover flyleaf, artist McDonald works in very large scale. It’s clear, though, that each drawing remains a huge labor of love.
I still have plenty more to puzzle out. This last one’s ドイツ took me a while before Do I Tsu came to mind as a perfectly good rendering of Deutsch, German. Okay, it’s in Germany, with a river running through an urban environment, so I better start thinking in Deutsch. Sounding out バイエルン gets me Ba I E Ru n. Aha! Bayern. It’s in Bavaria. And the beginning of ドナウウ”エル卜 sure looks like the Donau, what they call the Danube in those parts.
I’m still working on the rest. Don’t tell me. Don’t tell me. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2015