Not lost in translation*

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Every year around the holidays, I send a card written in fractured high school French to my relatives in Paris, and every year I receive one from them. But this year, France was silent.

My cousins are getting on in years, and they've had health issues, so I was worried. Then, yesterday, I received a large envelope addressed in the telltale curlicue European handwriting from la Rue des Boulets.

No card was inside, not even a letter. There was something better -- a Jan. 14 edition of Charlie Hebdo magazine depicting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad on the cover, holding a sign proclaiming, "JE SUIS CHARLIE."

When the satiric paper decided to print an edition only a week after the slaughter of 12 staffers Jan. 7 in Paris, and another 4 people in a kosher supermarket two days later, the global clamor for copies prompted the publishers to boost their usual print run of 60,000 copies to 5 million.

It wasn't enough -- according to CNBC, after the initial 3 million copies sold out practically before the ink was dry, copies were selling on eBay for as much as 100,000 euros, or nearly $118,000.

And I have one.

So do lots of other people in L.A., it turns out, but not without some scrambling among distributors to meet the demand.

Maureen Rasmussen, customer care manager at distributor Mader News, said that when the paper announced it would print on Jan. 14, she was besieged with "maybe 100 calls; people were desperate," she said in a phone interview.

But Charlie Hebdo isn't among Mader's regular products, and it took until yesterday for the company to distribute its 124 copies to six newsstands from Malibu to Sherman Oaks to Pico-Robertson.

Speedimpex, another distributor of foreign publications, got its 3,030 copies to 28 newsstands and bookstores across L.A. on Jan. 23, but well beyond the tolerance of people accustomed to immediate gratification. On the phone, Marta Hernandez said that her company used to distribute Charlie Hebdo weekly until six or seven years ago, but that this issue was a special order to meet demand.

Charlie Hebdo has not published since the "Je suis Charlie" edition. Some of the wounded workers remain hospitalized, but this week one of its journalists told CNN that the paper would publish again Feb. 25.

Nearly a month after the horrific acts of terrorism that prompted global unity, the ardor for Charlie seems to have cooled in L.A. My random phone sample today of newsstands and bookstores found 90 copies still available at Book Soup. The West Hollywood store, whose customers were on a waiting list, had special ordered 150 copies from the American Booksellers Association in New York but hadn't received them until Monday this week. At Skylight Books in Los Feliz, 15 copies remained from two orders, one from last week and another delivered Monday.

All those readers waited for their news to be delivered through a pipeline of multiple business relations; I got mine, without asking, from blood relations. Tomy and Janine are people I love but to whom I cannot communicate the concept of a bottomless cup of coffee, much less the depth of my appreciation for Charlie Hebdo.

Several years ago, we were having breakfast at a Coco's restaurant in Baker, where Janine was astonished that the waitress kept refilling her coffee without being asked. I struggled to explain, and came up with "une tasse sans derriere."

I was met, of course, with the blank look of two people who apparently had turned left off the I-15 into Jupiter.

But we share the sentiment of Je suis Charlie. The Charlie Hebdo massacre had to hurt them profoundly, not only because it occurred in their home town, but because when Tomy was a toddler, his Jewish parents left him and his sister with nuns in a convent while they escaped the Nazis in the south of France, moving constantly around the countryside to avoid discovery.

The kids were also moved around Paris, from convent to convent, always a step ahead of German boots.

They and their parents survived, damaged but whole. They made successful lives in one of the world's great cities, and now, in their later years, have once again witnessed barbaric rage.

That they chose to share the resurrection of humanity with their lucky, clueless, far-flung cousin is deeply touching.

Tomy, Janine -- Je vous embrasse.

Photo: Ellen Alperstein

* Corrected Interstate number.


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