Lost in Translation

Published at the beginning of this year in the U.S., The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain, by the British writer Tim Moore, tells the story of his bicycle trip from the top of Europe, 400 kilometers above the Arctic Circle in Kirkines, Norway, all the way down to the Black Sea, in Varna, Bulgaria. En route he passes through a slice of Russia, skirting the Baltic Sea between the Finnish and Estonian borders, and finds himself outside St. Petersburg, ordering dinner in the town of Гостилицы, aka Gostilitsy.

I hope Mr. Moore won’t mind my excerpting this episode at some length. This passage by itself is worth the price of the book:

“The ordering process was memorably conducted by Tatiana, who dictated the Russian menu into a translation app on her phone. With the halting, toneless authority of a digitised train announcer, this device then offered me suggestions it was very difficult to listen to politely.

‘Meat Beach Gardens.’

‘Children’s Alexander.’

‘Tea Pork with JW Boils.’

‘The Sultan Episode.’

Tatiana’s enthusiasm for this technology did not ease the ordeal; battling my features into respectability, I looked up at her open, expectant face and falteringly ordered support beef with titles of mushroom. She smiled and scribbled, then spoke once more into her phone.

‘What is not a drink?’ it mused in response.

Pivo,’ I said.

With a flustered look she shook her head and a free hand, then held the phone to my mouth promptingly.

Pivo,’I told it.

The device said something in Russian that seemed to disappoint her. She pressed the screen a number of times then showed me its suggestions, translated back into English:

‘You knew. Pencil case. Peugeot.’

We tried again.

‘Beer,’ I said.

‘Bill,’ offered the phone. Then: ‘Pace of the warp.’

‘Heineken!’ I blurted, launching into a strident roll-call of ales that began with Champions League-grade ubiquities and very very sharply downwards, ‘Amstel, Budweiser … Skol … Carling Black La-’

‘Ah, piva.’

•••••

Reminds me of an experience in Tibet, recounted in Common Sense and Whiskey. At the end of another bone-jarring day-long ride we pulled up at the town of Lhaze, at a no-name hotel that wouldn’t have power until 8:00 that night.

“Not much use being there unable to see, so we found a restaurant across the street where there was power, and talked with some men from Guangdong on their way to China’s Everest base camp for holiday.

We asked for cold beer and one of the guys tried to translate. The waitress looked puzzled, was gone too long, then came back smiling triumphantly, buckling under a big metal tub of raw meat. Thought we asked for ‘cold beef.'”

 

Weekend Reading

Here is a selection of fine reading material on which to muse this weekend:

The Fate of Earth by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker
Russia’s House of Shadows by Joshua Yaffa in The New Yorker
A New History of the First Peoples in the Americas by Adam Rutherford in The Atlantic
Here’s What Would Happen If Donald Trump Nuked North Korea by Greg Fish at Rantt.com
Citizens of anywhere by Matthew Valencia at 1843magazine.com
Ça va un peu by Adam Shatz in the London Review of Books, reviewing Congo: The Epic History of a People by David van Reybrouck

Weekend Reading

May you find solace from the winds somewhere cozy and dry, where you can click through and enjoy this fine selection of weekend reading:

Cleaving to the Medieval, Journeymen Ply Their Trades in Europe by Melissa Eddy in the New York Times
The Fifteenth Century is the Most Interesting Century by Medieval Indonesia on Medium
Threads in the Tapestry of Physics by Sheldon Lee Glashow at inference.com
Going Nowhere by Daniel Judt in The Point Magazine
Bulgaria’s post-1989 demostalgie by Elitza Stanoeva in Eurozine
Once upon a time in 1989 by Slavenka Drakulic in Eurozine
And a book that compliments both these last two articles is Border, a Journey to the Edge of Europe by Kapka Kassabova, which I’ve just cracked open this week but which looks most promising.

Cheers!

 

 

Weekend Reading

A few interesting articles to enjoy with your favorite beverage this weekend:

A Total Solar Eclipse Feels Really Weird by Bob Berman in Wired
The End of “Here and Now” by Alexandra Samuel in JSTOR Daily
The Omnipresence of Dust in Kathmandu by Abby Seiff at psmag.com
Will Russia Interfere In The Finnish Presidential Election by Pekka Virkki in Up North magazine
How to kill a dinosaur in 10 minutes by Paul Braterman at 3quarksdaily
The Haunted Mind: The Stubborn Persistence of the Supernatural by Bo Winegard and Ben Winegard at quillette.com

Weekend Reading

By the time this post goes up I’ll have pulled back from the internet in part for some longer form reading, but mostly for sausage grilling, beer drinking, bonfire-making and swimming in Lake Saima in Southern Savonia, Finland. Meanwhile, I leave you with a few intelligent articles to enjoy:

Down on the border. One day on the Canada-U.S. line by Jason Markusoff, Nancy Macdonald, Aaron Hutchins and Meagan Campbell in Maclean’s.
Turkey’s Hidden Past by Christopher de Bellaigue in the New York Review of Books
Russians in Estonia by Cody L. Zilhaver at thestretegybridge.org
The Time of Our Lives by Raymond Tallis at thenewatlantis.com
Now to Stride into the Sunlight by Ian Jack in the London Review of Books

All week I’ve been staring at a stack of too many books to fit in my bag. Two or three of these will make the final cut:

Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys across a Changing Russia by Lisa Dickey
The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain by Tim Moore
Congo: The Epic History of a People by David Van Reybrouck
Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War by Lynne Olson
Lenin on the Train by Catherine Merridale

and as for page turners, at least one of:

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth
The second book in the Faroe Islands trilogy, The Killing Bay by Chris Ould
The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen
The Good People by Hannah Kent, imported in advance all the way from Australia

Do you have any suggestions? What must-read am I missing?

If you’re stuck where it’s hot, may I suggest for your summer reading the cooling goodness of my own book, Out in the Cold?

CS&W the blog will probably be mostly quiet for the next couple of weeks. For now, kippis!

Weekend Reading

It’s a long weekend for many here in the USA, so here’s a whole batch of articles to take with you to the pool.

The Lunar Sea by Ferris Jabr in Hakai Magazine
The Rise of the Thought Leader by David Sessions in the New Republic
The New Working Class by Gabriel Winant in Dissent
Amazon Robots Poised to Revamp How Whole Foods Runs Warehouses by Spencer Soper at Bloomberg.com
The deal that’s destroying Russia’s roads at meduza.io
Trump and the Trumpists by Wolfgang Streeck at inference-review.com
When Pedestrians Ruled the Streets by Clive Thompson at Smithsonian
Paying a Price for 8 Days of Flying in America by Sarah Lyall in the New York Times