Posts filed under 'food'

Translation Tuesday: “At Least Here, It’s Warm” by Guram Rcheulishvili

“There was the sound of smacking lips: he threw the blanket over his head, but still, he heard it. His heart ached.”

In this week’s Translation Tuesday, Guram Rcheulishvili tells the story of Vaja Jandieri, alone, in an unfamiliar environment, as he attempts to ski in Bakuriani, Georgia. Excitement and then ennui set in amongst the snowy slopes where the people speak Ossetian, and are from another world unlike Vaja’s . . .

Vaja Jandieri was now sitting in a small, warm room. He could hardly ever find such a room. This year, Bakuriani was extremely cold. Thin walls were unable to stop these freezing chills. Vaja was sitting, pleased that he had found such a warm room. The housekeeper set the tea to boil as a small boy memorized his algebra formulas. The door suddenly flew open, as a woman, his Ossetian neighbor, burst in.

“This year is so cold,” she said.

“Yes, woman, the walls aren’t able to stop it,” said the housekeeper.

“Mom,” said the boy as he closed his work, “in school it’s so cold, tha-”

“At least here, it’s warm,” said Vaja.

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Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from The Lobster by Monique Proulx

The world froze for a fraction of a second; the cashier hurriedly sponged the counter as she leant towards Marceau: “What would you like, Monsieur”

Tensions in the family bubble and boil over in this excerpt from The Lobster by the award-winning Monique Proulx, translated by Frances Pope. What happens when Marceau brings home a lobster he can’t afford? Read on to find out.

“Are you mad? What d’you expect me to do with those? How d’you even eat them?”

As always, Laura’s first words were recriminations. It has to be said that the creatures were no less threatening for being quite dead; amongst the tangle of legs, claws, and feelers which now filled the sink, you could make out here and there the glimmer of a small, black, malevolent eye—more alive than the others, you’d swear—peeking at you with belligerent hate. Marceau had stopped twice on his way home, hearing the wind flap against the big plastic bag, worriedly checking to make sure that the contents weren’t still wriggling, and that his hand wasn’t about to be sliced clean off by a claw.

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2019

Our blog editors provide a tasting menu of the literary feast that is Asymptote's Winter 2019 issue

Featuring work from twenty-three languages and a record-breaking thirty-five countries, there’s plenty to choose from in Asymptote’s Winter 2019 issue! Today, our three blog editors share their favorite pieces, from Icelandic, Slovak and Latvian poetry to Brazilian Portuguese social commentary and Bengali short stories.

From the Fiction section, the ever-intensifying “The Meat Market,” translated from the Bengali, takes one unexpected turn after another in a thrilling prose adventure. Set a week before Eid, what should be a celebratory, communal affair quickly turns sour in East Rajabazar. This is a city where transactions are tainted by the potential for danger, just as the meat sold is tainted by false advertising. Aminul Islam faces the full consequences of these circumstances that he fails to fully understand, culminating in a shocking conclusion carefully set up by Mashiul Alam’s artful prose, switching deftly between first- and third-person at crucial moments in the narrative.

If you are looking for exciting poetry freshly translated into English, don’t miss out on Steinn Steinarr’s “Time and Water.” Hailed as Iceland’s greatest modernist poet, Steinarr’s ethereal poetry combines Icelandic poetics with modernist free verse and imagism to create gems like:

And the sorrow I hid
nearly found your own,
like a fjord-blue sea.

In this sequence on a failed and flawed relationship, the distance between the speaker and the other is quite nearly but not quite ever bridged. Equally impressive are the complex rhythms of Monta Kroma’s extract from Lips. You. Lips. Me., a larger collection of experimental modernist poems. The Latvian poet plays on the use of refrains and repetition to create a circular, almost obsessive monologue. These poems are ones that I’ve been returning to, and ones you might love too! READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: The Last Smokol by Nukila Amal (UWRF Feature)

Although wet, Batara’s eyes now gazed fiercely at the nation, whose far corners the Brunch Fairy never visited.

Welcome to the fifth installment of A World with a Thousand Doors, a showcase of contemporary Indonesian literature brought to you in partnership with the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. This week it gives us great pleasure to present a story by the award-winning author Nukila Amal, translated by internationally published writer, InterSastra founder, and past Asymptote contributor Eliza Vitri Handayani.

If you’ve just discovered A World with a Thousand Doors, you can find an introduction and the first installment here. And we invite you to read the second, third, and fourth works in the series as well.   

Batara—or Bunny Battery to his pals—likes to hold a festive and meticulously prepared smokol (a.k.a. brunch) once or twice a month, depending on how often the Brunch Fairy has graced him with her visits.

According to Batara, this Manadonese fairy is the ruler and protector of brunches, brunch cookers (like Batara), and brunch fanatics (like Batara’s pals Syam, and the twins Anya and Ale). However, his three pals suspect that this fairy is really Batara’s own invention. All Ale can report after actually visiting Manado is that the locals do indeed eat brunches, which consist of tinutuan, a kind of porridge, accompanied by banana fritters and fried anchovies dipped into dabu-dabu, a chili paste so hot that it makes their eyes weep, their ears ring, and, if prone, their minds hallucinate.

To Batara, however, brunches aren’t that simple. With surplus imagination and a passion for perfection, Batara comes up with odd themes and dishes for his brunches. His three pals can never guess what will appear on his table.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Artist’s Life” by Pierre Autin-Grenier

I will therefore continue to numb the sorrows of old age by manufacturing my hand-made lace in the shadows.

Playing with food imagery and writing in a jazzy rhythm, this metafictional musing on the economic reality of being a writer gives the reader a glimpse at the rationale behind microfiction. The sprinkling of French terms places us in a specific context, but the endeavor feels universal as the narrator works to eat. For more microfiction, head over to the brand new Winter 2018 issue of Asymptote!

Business is much too slack these days to imagine treating oneself to a simple sherbet dip after a day spent scribbling in the light of the desk lamp, and going off, just like that, to lick the liquorice stick while daydreaming under the moonlight. It’s drummed into me from all sides that one must breathe frugally and through clenched lips, measure my steps parsimoniously, mind the tallow on the end of the candle and above all cut down on my extravagances. Times are for cutting the kipper in quarters, you see, my wife said to me just yesterday and as we sat down to eat, and I won’t even go into how much your ciggies are costing us. I blushed slightly. Soon we’ll have to go up the stairs two by two to protect the steps, I thought in petto, not wanting to be outdone.

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Translator’s Diary: Vincent Kling

Purism itself could be in turn labeled fuddy-duddy timidity considering how much adaptability translation requires in practice.

Here is another installment of our long running Translator’s Diary by Vincent Kling, winner of the 2013 Schlegel-Tieck Prize. Today’s column is a beautiful meditation on how words hold memories, nostalgia, and traditions hidden within them. Kling ponders the difficulty of translating the cultural weight of the untranslatable. 

How many international airports have a distinct look or layout of their own? What upscale shopping street lacks a Gucci or a Prada store, a Cartier or Bulgari, no matter the city? It’s easy—and largely accurate—to deplore increasing sameness everywhere, including the false belief that everybody speaks English. Yet consumerism still hasn’t quite flattened everything. Take food, for example: American childhood is unthinkable without peanut butter, as much an emotional as a physical nourishment; most Europeans find it seriously disgusting. My Australian friends are crazy for Vegemite; elsewhere, the taste for it is baffling. Or sports: try even explaining baseball to Europeans, let alone inducing them to watch a game. Have any of Goodreads’ list of the 103 Best Baseball Novels of All Time been successful in translation? An American colleague taught a course in the baseball novel as a guest professor in Germany at the students’ request; the students dutifully acquired some technical knowledge of the rules, he told me, but they never began to grasp the emotional weight, the quality of ritual, the glory and the heartbreak, the sense of pastoral innocence.

Naturally, these cultural differences plague translators, who are sometimes confronted with the lack of a word for a thing because the thing itself doesn’t exist in their target language, at least not in any recognized form. The Wikipedia glossary of baseball terms would stagger the inventiveness of even a Georges Perec or a Harry Rowohlt. Never mind explaining the suicide squeeze­­—even finding a name for it would defeat most efforts.

Holiday customs might seem to present a lower barrier from country to country where Christmas is celebrated, but one of my colleagues from our workshop at Ledig House last June (see my earlier post) has found out differently. Yes, we all share sleigh bells and Christmas trees and mangers and a festive meal and some version of Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus bringing presents. In fact, Santa Claus is rapidly catching up with the Christ Child in the German-speaking world as the bringer of gifts. The process may have started in 1947, when, as a small sign of Germany’s alleged vulgarization through Americanization, Erich Kästner translated Clement Clark Moore’s “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” as “Als der Nikolaus kam,” complete with reindeer and all of Santa’s trappings, making no adaptation to German traditions.

Even with increasing overlap, however, Regina Rawlinson told our group at Ledig House about notable cultural differences when translating Jeanette Winterson’s delightful collection titled Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days. Think of the great overlap between English and American Christmas traditions: we Americans have holly, but not ivy, the latter familiar only from knowing the carol. Our fruitcake is a cousin, at least, of plum pudding. Many of our Christmas carols that are not German (“Silent Night”) are English. Yet how many of us Americans associate Christmas with robins, ubiquitous in English celebrations? We may have read about Christmas crackers, but we don’t have them here. Boxing Day is a concept, but not a practice in the United States.

Now, compound the unfamiliarity by transposing robins and crackers and holly and ivy and many other Christmas items and objects to the Continent, and you will be met with blankness. As if it weren’t enough of a challenge to find equivalents or explanations without resorting to footnotes—often the bane of translators—the stories in Winterson’s collection are interspersed with recipes for delicious British Christmas specialties mostly unknown on the Continent. Mince pies? You can find them in gourmet grocery stores, but you’d have to know what they are in the first place. Custard? No real equivalent. Sherry trifle? Practically no correspondence; tiramisu isn’t the same thing. Of course it’s a fairly mechanical operation to translate a recipe by changing ounces to grams and so on—Regina’s translation will surely yield just as yummy a mince pie—but how to explain all the associations, the nostalgia, the memories, the comfort of just-like-grandma-used-to-make? And from the other end, how could someone not from Central Europe experience the impact of tasting a Vanillekipferl, those crumbly crescent-shaped cookies with vanilla powdered sugar? Or Kletzenbrot, the dark country sweet bread with dried fruits and nuts is as powerful a stimulant as Proust’s madeleine. Recipes for all these are easy to download, but the cultural weight, the ethos and the pathos, the tropes of memory aren’t in the recipes. Good luck, Regina.

Similarly, single words often require glosses or paraphrases in Die Strudlhofstiege. More than one scene takes place in a Heuriger. If you go with your children, you can order them a Kracherl as a special treat. No Austrian or South German would ever have to be told what a Heuriger is, and to say it’s a semi-rustic inn on the outskirts of the city that serves wine grown from grapes on the property doesn’t begin to capture the flood of happy associations, images of cool air and arbors and relaxation. A Kracherl is a very sweet lemon- or raspberry-flavored carbonated soft drink, but until you’ve seen a kid’s face when one is served, you can’t know what it means to a delighted youngster. Several characters in the novel eat at their favorite Beisel, a kind of unpretentious, no-frills restaurant serving good, plain food that’s also a tavern but might be likened to an American diner (my Austrian friends find this comparison blasphemous).

A term for something unfamiliar cannot evoke its connotations, a feat that lies beyond the translator’s task; still, the simple terms themselves require explanation. But imagine a reader of Doderer’s novel having to consult three footnotes or endnotes. However conveniently placed, they slow the pace. One expedient is to embed clarification within the text; when Doctor Negria is planning to take Mary K. to a Heuriger, the single word suffices in the original, but I added an in-text explanation and referred to “one of those secluded little coun­try taverns called Heurige.” Out near the Stangelers’ country house lives a miller who hobbles and can’t walk easily. For comic contrast, the narrator quotes the first line of a famous (though not all that famous) Schubert song cycle—but only the one line, knowing that any German-language reader would immediately make the connection, whereas only lovers of the Lied would probably recognize the source. That led me to another in-text expansion: “forget about Schuber­t’s Die schöne Müllerin and its first line, ‘Das Wandern ist des Müllers Lust’; ‘Roaming is the miller’s joy’!—because this miller walks all crooked; his left leg is shorter, so he hobbles.”

I haven’t yet found out how Regina proposes to transmit similar cultural information. Footnotes or endnotes are often considered preferable, since what I’m calling “in-text” expansions aren’t in-text at all. They could be judged as clumsy intrusions, in fact, efforts on the part of an ancillary person, the translator, to set himself equal to the author. Purism admittedly isn’t best served by this sort of hidden expansion, but purism itself could be in turn labeled fuddy-duddy timidity considering how much adaptability translation requires in practice. Translating has little in common with the meticulous art of establishing a definitive text, such as A. E. Housman did for Juvenal or Manilius. I haven’t yet seen actual fisticuffs in the debate over footnotes versus “in-text” expansions, but accusations of pedantry on one side (the “footnoters”) and brazen intrusion on the other (the “in-texters”) are always being traded. (Readers from the general public: did you know it could get this acrimonious?)

Familiar quotations from classic literature also require some context in English they never need in the original. One of Schiller’s most famous ballads, “Der Handschuh” (“The Glove”) tells the story of a knight treated so contemptuously by a lady that he rejects her sneering thanks for a deed of gallantry. Every German-speaking school child in Doderer’s time would have known the relevant line (“Den Dank, Dame, begehr’ ich nicht”) from memory with no context needed. The narrator of Strudlhofstiege puts that line to ironic use, aware that it could function as a quick, free-standing “zinger,” whereas I needed to set up a whole framework: “He could have quoted in reply that line from a ballad by Schiller, ‘Such thanks, fair one, I do not crave’ (‘Den Dank, Dame, begehr’ ich nicht’), but with the accent on the word ‘such,’ meaning ‘Don’t do me any favors.’” I’m not about to suggest that I “improved” the original, which would be preposterous, but I hope to have given enough surrounding information to make the passage intelligible. I sigh in agreement with Klaus Reichert, however, who says he’s always astonished at how much gets lost—odd that a loss results in this case from my adding.

The most formidable cultural challenges of all come from Doderer’s witty practice of using an idiom in its most literal meaning, extending it through whole paragraphs of character analysis. Picture taking English idioms about dogs—dog in the manger, raining cats and dogs, the Southernisms like “that dog won’t hunt” or “I be dog if . . . ”—and holding on to their literal meanings so that they have to be rendered as is in German, even if the language can’t accommodate them.

Next month, how “wo der Hund begraben ist” and “Sie kommen mir spanisch vor” kept me awake at night.

*****

Read More Columns by Vincent Kling:

What’s a Tomme Cheese?

In her continued column about food & language, Nina Sparling examines just what—and how—"tomme" cheese has come to mean

Some words for foods are easily translatable. The word’s functional meaning shifts effortlessly between tongues. Tomato and pomodoro both indicate Solanum lycopersicum, member of the nightshade family. Poulet, pollo, and chicken look the same rubbed with oil and garlic roasting in a hot oven. In these cases, there is little room for deliberation: oil, butter, wine. Rice, wheat, corn. Their translations are patently accessible. Learning the words for foods in other languages is particularly satisfying. There’s immediate sensory recognition: the words indicate familiar tastes, smells, textures, and sights. The intimacy with what we eat follows. In learning to say tomato in another language, we begin to feel in it also.

But this question of feeling is where it gets finicky. While most anything carries a “literal” meaning in another language, its usage and implication remain awkward in translation. A New York bakery and a Parisian boulangerie operate in different ways. In both places flour is mixed with yeast and water, let to rise and baked. Yet we do not eat bread in the same ways, and the bread we eat is not the same.

Take, for example, the French word tomme. My first day of work at the cheese shop a colleague asked me what kind of cheese I liked. Tomme, I said. He was quick to call me out.

Tomme is not a kind of cheese. Be more specific.” READ MORE…

Women, Cooking

On women, place, and nourishment

I have never been able to cook from Madeline Kamman’s When French Women Cook. I read the recipes and my mouth waters: noisettes de porc au pruneaux from Claire in Touraine and tarte à l’orange from Magaly in Provence. Yet I cannot convince myself to cook them. The lists of ingredients appear too systematic for food that has more to do with familiarity and wisdom than measurement.

The herbs in my fridge have spent too long away from the earth, the red ocean perch far too many hours out-of-water. The stage is wrong: a railroad apartment in West Harlem with dusty windowsills and dreamed-of copper pots could never measure up to a grandmother’s worn-in kitchen. I dream of meeting these women, listening to them, absorbing their habits and tricks. More than their food, I want their knowledge. READ MORE…

Au Marché, with Emile Zola

Nina Sparling finds Emile Zola's Les Halles in an NYC farmer's market. Part 3 in a series on food, literature, and translation

Runners zipped down the bike lane, out to beat the rising temperatures. We arrived at Skillman Avenue, just west of 43rd Street, a little after 7am. The sun was rising, the sky still lit with the glow reserved for early-risers and weekend revelers. It was opening weekend at the Greenmarket in Sunnyside, Queens. Ron parked the truck with a jolt and I almost spilled my coffee. The cider, oversized apple turnover, and apple farmers had not arrived yet. Patrick pulled up behind us, honking. He would unload crates of integrated pest management apples and tomatoes, challenging the expectations of seasonal produce. He works with Jesus and together they take home thousands, I’m sure. READ MORE…

Drinking with Boris Vian

Part II in a series on food, literature, and translation—this time featuring Boris Vian and his classic "L'ecume des jours"

There is a way a room full of people drinking cocktails feels. It is distinct from the stale fog that spills from a fridge packed with six packs, and it is altogether different from the rosy-cheeked stupor induced by a case of wine. There is a severe and attentive atmosphere to the room. The alchemy of balancing sweetness, bitterness, and bite in a few ounces is mysterious and tempting. There is a self-awareness that comes with drinking an old fashioned, an edge to the precarious glass that a Manhattan arrives in. There is also enormous satisfaction in drinking a good one. The pleasure doesn’t last long—the drinks are always short and expensive. READ MORE…