Steven desJardins' Journal|
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|Sunday, November 4th, 2012|
|Terry McGarry status
I just got a voice mail from Terry. Her basement and car were flooded, she still has no water or power, cell service is spotty, and the National Guard has imposed a curfew, but her living area got through the storm without damage, her neighbor has a generator, and she's adequately supplied with food and water.
|Friday, September 7th, 2012|
|TIFF '12, Part 1
I saw two films at TIFF yesterday, three today, four tomorrow, and that's as far as the trend goes, because I'm not insane.
Best film so far was The Holy Quaternity
, a kind-hearted Czech film about two married couples who live next to each other, do everything together, and end up experimenting with a foursome to spice things up. It definitely tilts toward showing the funny side of sex and is pleasantly angst-free.The Great Kilapy
is another congenial film, this time about a womanizer and swindler in colonial Angola who ends up being hailed as a hero after liberation for, well, mostly being on the colonial government's shit list.Rust and Bone
leans more towards the dysfunctional relationship side of the Force. A semi-employed screwup reclaims his five-year-old son from his drug-dealing ex, moves in with his sister, starts dating a woman who's involved in a horrifying accident, and makes a staggering number of really bad decisions. Eventually he begins to start to think about growing up. Very good film, but with more than its quota of over-the-top plot twists.Far Out Isn't Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story
is a documentary about a once-popular children's book author whose career was destroyed in the '70's when people noticed he was also doing porn. Definitely worth seeing.After the Battle
, an Egyptian film set during the Arab Spring, using mostly non-professional actors and a great deal of improvisation, would have benefitted from a tighter script, but was still interesting and worth seeing.
Not a turkey yet. We'll see how long that lasts.
|Thursday, June 21st, 2012|
Two more films at Silverdocs today. The Vanishing Spring Light
is about an elderly Chinese woman in the last year of her life, and how her children treat caring for her as a burden. Tea or Electricity
is about a Moroccan village anticipating the extension of electrical power to their remote mountain village. Both films had interesting subjects, but were kind of dull and slow-paced. It takes a knack to film the sort of telling moment that's interesting, informative, and moves the film forward. Both these films lacked that spark.
|Wednesday, June 20th, 2012|
I have very mixed feelings about The Ambassador
—it's an amazing movie, but I question whether it ought to exist. Mads Brügger bought an ambassadorship (from Liberia to the Central African Republic) for $135,000, then ostensibly worked on setting up a match factory while covertly negotiating for the purchase of blood diamonds and even more covertly filming his every corrupt transaction, while playing the part of a racist buffoon with a penchant for making absurd speeches. After a toast in which he points out that they're drinking the same wine Hitler drank before committing suicide, someone remarks, "Hitler had many funny stories." He hires a pair of pygmies as assistants in the match factory and parades them around as props, at one point requiring them to listen to a whale song recording while watching their reactions. So much of this film is just wrong on so many levels. And yet it's a compelling look at how corruption actually works in the real world, and it's not clear that the subject could be documented in any other way.
The annual Silverdocs
festival in Silver Spring is underway, and I saw three films today.
The first was The Imposter
, a true crime doc about a 23-year-old homeless man who tried to get into a youth shelter in Spain by pretending to be a teenage runaway. When the authorities insisted on establishing his identity, he claimed to be an American, then picked an identity from a missing persons poster and ... it is very nearly unbelievable how many people were taken in before his lies were exposed. (The most incredible detail, for me: he told the FBI that his abductors, along with torturing him and forbidding him to speak English, poured a solution in his eyes to change their color from blue to brown. And they believed him.
The second, Chasing Ice
, is about photographer James Balog's Extreme Ice Survey
, a project to automatically create time-lapse photography records of glaciers over a period of months and years. Beautiful and horrifying.
The third was Sweet Dreams
, about a Rwandan all-woman drumming group that formed a cooperative to build the country's first ice cream shop. Two women who own Blue Marble Ice Cream
in Brooklyn helped them get the business going, and they handed out free samples after the movie. I took the cherry chocolate chip, and broke a tooth, for which I absolutely do not blame them at all.Gerhard Richter Painting
is at the E Street Theater, not at Silverdocs. It's a fascinating film, even though I don't like his art at all.
|Friday, April 27th, 2012|
|The Trip Home, Part II
First part here
The buffet the Hilton eventually served was adequate. As unseasoned steamed vegetables go, it was even perfectly fine. (Not that that's all they had for vegetarians; there was also salad, rolls, fruit, and desserts, including a chocolate tart which would've been almost luxurious if it had tasted better.)
Second day, I get to the airport, and after much walking through excessively long corridors, I get to my plane's gate well before they post it in the passenger lounges, confirming my impression that Heathrow delays posting gate information not because they don't know yet, but solely to make the passenger experience miserable. When I get on the plane, I discover that the aisle seat they assigned me the day before is in the first row of its section, with nowhere to put my books and iPad and stuff except on my lap. Fortunately, it's also an exit row and the plane's not very full, so I volunteer that I'm unable to perform the exit row duties in case of an emergency and they move me to a better seat. The plane proceeds to have electrical problems and departs an hour and forty-five minutes late.
The flight, at least, is fairly smooth and the meals are mostly edible. There's mayonnaise on the sandwich again, but this time I'm able to strip off the top layer of cheese and wipe a bit of stray mayo off the bottom half, and I'm left with something tolerable. Going through customs and picking up my luggage would have been quick and easy if I hadn't somehow strained my right index finger, which decides to spontaneously emit wince-inducing waves of pain at unpleasantly frequent intervals, and whenever I put too much pressure on it. Since I tend to use my right hand for most tasks involving strength, this makes the rest of my day rather educational. (Fortunately, it seems to be much better now.)
I finished reading my Hungarian children's book on the flight, incidentally, although I still need to go back through several chapters with my dictionary to check missing vocabulary that I filled in from context. Also read a big chunk of Jenő Rejtő's The 14-carat Roadster
, which I'm enjoying: "Ivan Gorchev was not yet twenty-one when he won the Nobel Prize in physics. To win a scientific award at such a young age is unprecedented, though some people might consider the means by which it was achieved a flaw. For Ivan Gorchev won the Nobel Prize in physics in a card game, called macao, from a Professor Bertinus, on whom the honour had been bestowed in Stockholm by the King of Sweden a few days earlier. But those who are always finding fault don't like to face facts, and the fact of the matter is that Ivan Gorchev did win the Nobel Prize at the age of twenty-one."
After getting home, I discover that a package I expected never arrived, or has gone missing—the tracking number says it got here, the front desk staff says they can't find it. It's a fairly trivial item, but still annoying.
To some extent, I had this coming. I saw when I booked the flight that it was a tight connection on the way home, but I told myself that the worst that could happen was I'd have to spend the night in London.
I'm doing pretty well at getting caught up here: I've already been to the farmer's market, triaged my mail and dealt with everything that involves money, ordered a prescription refill, and succeeded in completely unpacking my suitcase using a simple three-part procedure. First, I dumped the dirty clothes in a laundry basket and put everything else on the bed. Second, every time I took something off the bed, I put it in its proper place. And third, I waited to get tired.
I still have a bit of work to do before I'm completely caught up, and I want to get back into the routine of doing translation and Project Gutenberg stuff every day, but I've already accomplished enough that I'll be happy with just token efforts today.
|Wednesday, April 25th, 2012|
My flight from Budapest was delayed over an hour, because the plane arrived late from London, because of bad weather in Finland. Which means I missed my connection, which means I have to spend the night in the outskirts of London, which means clearing customs and navigating my way through Heathrow to the customer service desk and the bus to the hotel. All of which involves nearly four hours of walking and standing in line. (One hour forty minutes in line at customs alone. And the worst part is, the US probably treats foreign visitors just as badly or worse, so I can't even complain properly.) And then, when I finally get to the hotel, they explain that I'm not allowed to eat dinner until 10:00 because that's the arrangement they have with British Airways, and apparently Hilton is eager to give its guests crap service as long as they can make arrangements with someone else to blame it on.
Oh, and the vegetarian snack on the flight from Budapest was a mayonnaise sandwich, which looked so unappetizing I didn't even open it. So all I've had to eat today is a hundred grams of sunflower seeds and a small bag of hard candy.
Ugh. The one bright spot in the whole day is finding a Hungarian children's book in the airport that's just about the right level for me to read without a dictionary. I don't know all the words, but the stories are simple enough that I can figure out what they all mean from context.
I suppose there are worse problems to have, but I hate experiences that are more unpleasant than they need to be.
|Saturday, April 21st, 2012|
My individual Hungarian lessons are over. Classes move much faster when you're working alone, instead of in a group. Last time I was in Debrecen, my class finished two chapters of the textbook in a week. This time, with a teacher and no other students, I finished a bit over five chapters. I'm not entirely sure how much of what we studied I'll retain, quite likely not 2.5 times as much, but it seems to have been an effective but exhausting alternative.
I'm tempted to come back for the four-week summer course, which would be 90 hours total class time (as opposed to 37.5 hours on this trip). A lighter daily schedule, and weekend breaks, would make it a great deal easier, and I'd have time to study a bit at the hotel, which would perhaps be very useful. The downside is I'd have to miss my annual trip to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival with my family; it might be better to come up in October for the intensive one-week class, followed by a week or two of private lessons.
In any case I'll push forward at least with reading projects, and possibly some translation projects as well: I want to focus on Project Gutenberg stuff for a while, but I also want to maintain momentum on my Hungarian. I feel like I may finally be getting to the point of a virtuous cycle, where as my Hungarian improves it becomes easier to read Hungarian, and as I spend more time reading Hungarian, my Hungarian more rapidly improves.
|Saturday, April 14th, 2012|
It's my 45th birthday today. Circumstances conspire against any grand celebration. I'm starting Hungarian lessons in Debrecen tomorrow, so I took the train from Budapest, checked into the hotel and completely unpacked my belongings, and went book shopping. Comparing my translation of The Violet
to the old one is an uncomfortably educational experience, so I got some novels that have already been well translated: Magda Szabó's The Door
, Jenő Rejtő's Quarantine in the Grand Hotel
, and Margit Kaffka's Colors and Years
. I also got two slim books of verses by Sándor Petőfi and Dezső Kosztolányi, a collection of three Molnár plays, and a Hungarian SF magazine containing "The Chronicle of Hungarian SF", a subject I know nothing about. All of which exceeds my luggage space budget by about 50%. Tonight I'll have dinner at the Indian restaurant which has the best vegetarian food I've found in Debrecen, and in the meantime I'll study Hungarian, rest, and work on the PG edition of a famous Hungarian travel book by Arminius Vambéry. (Oh, and I uploaded two books to PG this morning which I finished in Prague but didn't have a good enough connection there to upload. The proofing backlogs at DP are dropping fast, which is a very good thing but which is spitting out books for me to work on at an alarming rate. But I only have three books—all Ferenc Molnár play tranlations—left in the rounds, and then I should start catching up fast, as long as I avoid the temptation to scan more books.)
I discovered from the copy of The Door
I bought that it's been turned into a film starring Helen Mirren, and IMDB tells me the Hungarian release date was March 8th. If it's still playing, I may try to see it while I'm here.
|Sunday, April 1st, 2012|
I just finished translating a 75-page one-act play. It took me 24 days, start to finish. At that rate, a full-length novel would take around six months (that is, for the rough draft). I'm pleased: I set myself an ambitious goal, and achieved it.
|Wednesday, March 28th, 2012|
|Thinking About Daisey's Apology
By now you've probably heard about Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs
, which I recommended
last year, which aired on PBS in January, and which PBS retracted ten days ago. I called the first-hand reporting from China the most compelling part of the show; it's also the part which was retracted. Everything that Daisey claimed to witness is China is something that does happen in China, that he could
have seen—but much of it, he didn't actually see. And the effect of claiming to have seen it is to make the story more powerful.
Tonight I went to a discussion session with the artistic director of Woolly Mammoth, Howard Shalwitz; the managing director, Jeffrey Herrmann; and Mike Daisey, where they all apologized for their parts in the debacle and discussed why they plan to continue presenting the show and how they'll modify it going forward. Daisey's apologies are I think getting more heartfelt and more precise about what he did wrong than they were when the story first broke. It's hard for people to admit they screwed up (as my correspondence with the Keegan Theatre
demonstrated), and it's not much to his discredit that it took him a while to recognize and dismantle the fallacies he'd used to justify himself to himself. At one point he described how the lies first slipped in, not in the show itself, but in interviews about the show, which were less carefully considered; and once he saw how effective his accidental misstatements or imprecise summaries were, he gave in to temptation and traded accuracy for emotional power in the stage version as well.
They talked about breaking the implicit contract they had with the audience. I never thought every detail of what he said was true, but I thought the inaccuracies were more on the lines of rearranging the order of events or taking two conversations he had with different people and combining them into one; I didn't think he'd say he had personally seen something when he'd merely read about it. I think a big part of the problem is that the implicit contract was implicit: if he had spelled out how much you could rely on what he said to be true, then he might have avoided the temptation to make his personal experiences juicier than they really were. He could have closed the monologue by saying, "Everything I've just told you is true, but some of it didn't happen to me. Go to my web site, and I'll explain where in a few places I've taken other people's experiences and claimed them as my own. I'm a liar, but those people aren't, and everything I said I experienced is something that's really happening in China right now, and if you go to my web site I'll show you the proof." Or he could have in some other way explicitly renegotiated the audience contract. If he didn't, it's because he knew that if the audience knew what kind of a deal they were getting, it would make his show weaker—and that's where he didn't "make a mistake", as he says, it's where he told a lie.
Edited to add: Something I meant to say last night. There are some people who will never trust Mike Daisey again and never see another of his shows, and that's a reasonable reaction to this whole mess. And there are others who have already forgiven him. I'm in the middle; in order to enjoy his shows, going forward, I need for him to state clearly what standards of truth the audience can expect, and commit to following them. And the best way to do that is as explicitly as possible.
|Tuesday, March 20th, 2012|
A quirk of DC voting geography is that it's easier to vote early than on election day—the main early voting site is four blocks from my apartment, my assigned precinct is six.
Most of the races are either uncontested or trivial. Naturally, I voted for Obama, who's running unopposed in the Democratic primary, for President. I also voted to re-elect Eleanor Holmes Norton, but cast a write-in protest vote against the formally unopposed Jack Evans
. I went with Peter Shapiro for the at-large DC Council seat, and against the incumbent in the do-nothing DC Senate race.
|Saturday, March 10th, 2012|
Some time ago, I started a blog called Gentleman Translator
to collect my posts about translation, Hungarian literature, linguistics, and such. I wasn't in a hurry to announce it publicly, partly because I wanted to get a few posts under my belt, and partly because I had plans to make the blog look nice. I did get some posts up, but I never did get around to making it look nice, and the lack of pressure in writing for a blog that I'd hardly mentioned to anyone was kind of nice.
But I've been neglecting both the blog and my Hungarian studies a bit lately, so I've decided a dose of public pressure/accountability is in order. I began translating Ferenc Molnár's one-act play The Violet
, which I read in January, today, and I plan to post at least a few lines each day on Gentleman Translator
until I'm done with the first draft. It's hard to say how long that will take; I finished the opening stage directions, but got hung up on the second line of dialogue, which contains an obscure and archaic form of address. (I made it about halfway through a lengthy dictionary entry before my brain seized up.)
So go over, take a look at the archives, and come back each day and hassle me if I don't post. It's finally time to open up the new place to company.
|Thursday, March 1st, 2012|
|2011 Project Gutenberg Report
It's been a while since I reported on my progress.
, I posted 37 books to Project Gutenberg. Last year, I did significantly worse, posting only 27 books. Furthermore, I created 20 new projects, and picked a few projects up from the general post-processing pool, so I reduced my backlog by much, much less than I'd like.
This year, I posted four books in January, and completed two books in February. I haven't posted both of my February books, because I submitted both of them for smoothreading—letting other DPers read through them for anything that looks odd—and I'm still waiting for a report from one of my readers, who asked for more time to finish. I had a week off for JoCo Cruise Crazy 2
, and both of these books were typo-ridden nightmares which took more than the usual effort to finish, so I actually feel okay about my progress in February. I have only about four weeks of travel planned for the next six months, and have prepped exactly zero projects so far this year, so I'm feeling optimistic about burning through a bunch of my backlog in the coming months.
|Friday, January 20th, 2012|
|Wednesday, January 18th, 2012|
|Suboptimal Fundraising Tactics
Today's observation: The Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation both buy their mailing lists from the same source, and they both think I prefer to be addressed as "Ms."
|Saturday, January 14th, 2012|
|No Visible Flames
There were seven fire trucks and an ambulance visible from my window a couple of hours ago. I saw some of the firemen go into Jaleo
, and one of the fire trucks extended its ladder eight stories up to the top of the roof, but aside from that the firemen didn't seem to be doing much or moving with a sense of urgency. I'm kind of curious what the point with the ladder was; I don't think anyone used it.
|Monday, January 9th, 2012|
|We Are All Jedi Now
The Contrarian Hungarian
reports that köztársaságiak
, the name protestors against the current Hungarian government have begun using to describe themselves, is also "the word one uses for the planets of the Galactic Republic in the Hungarian version of Star Wars
The situation in Hungary is pretty bad
|Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012|
|Comics of the Year
Now that the year's over, I thought I'd take a look at each month's comic book shipments, and pick out my favorite items.
For January, I'd pick Madame Xanadu: Broken House of Cards
, a nice blend of fantasy with a superheroic universe.
I'll take a pass on February—some okay books, but nothing really stood out.
For March, my pick is Thor: The Mighty Avenger
vol. 2, a kid-friendly version of the Thor story which contains a really sweet, appealing version of the Thor/Jane Foster romance.
For April, I'll go with Judge Dredd: Complete Case Files
For May, Modesty Blaise vol 19: Double Agent
, an excellent newspaper comic strip adventure serial.
For June, Batman: Knight and Squire
, a miniseries scripted by Paul Cornell, which will probably mostly be of interest to comic book fans; he seems to be taking the sort of comics story that was popular in the 1950's, updating it with modern storytelling techniques, and toward the end contrasting it with the cruder, more violent sensibility that's come to dominate the comics industry. The character of Jarvis Poker, the British Joker, and the way he's used as a foil to the current version of the Joker, is fascinating and wonderful.
For July, Spider-Man: Big Time
, which is simply good fun Spidey comics.
August had volumes of Madame Xanadu
and Modesty Blaise
, but since I've already mentioned those I'll go with the third print collection of the webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court
For September I'll declare a tie between Love and Capes vol. 3: Wake Up Where You Are
, an absolutely wonderful superhero romance/sitcom, and Hark! A Vagrant!
, collecting Kate Beaton's awesome webcomic.
My pick for October is also my pick for best of the year: Marzi
, an autobiographical comic by Marzena Sowa, who grew up in Poland during the last days of Communism. The keen observations of how it felt to wait in line for oranges or to piece together what was happening in Chernobyl when adults wouldn't explain anything or to be friends with a girl who got clothes from France
, and so on, are both fascinating as a picture of what conditions were like, and a masterpiece of concise, heartfelt storytelling. Really a great piece of work that I highly recommend to anyone.
For November, the first volume of the complete Pogo
I haven't received my December shipment yet, but the book I'm most looking forward to is volume 1 of Brothers of the Spear Archives
|Monday, January 2nd, 2012|
|New Year's Resolutions 2012
Less travel, more accomplishment. The first half is not actually a resolution, I just feel like I overdid the travelling last year and it will feel good to take it easy this year.
To be specific about the "more accomplishment":
I'm having bookcases delivered next week, and I intend to finally buy some decent office furniture. If I can get my books, comics, and paperwork organized, it'll make my apartment a lot tidier and more livable.
My Hungarian has advanced to the point where I can read a play without a dictionary and have at least a basic idea of what's going on. I still need to resort to a dictionary to understand exactly what people are saying, but I've clearly made excellent progress over the course of the last year. This year, I want to take advantage of "less travel" to do more Hungarian. First, I'm going to finish reading the play I'm puzzling through now; second, I'll go back to the beginning of the play and go through it again, this time translating as I go; third, I'll polish my translation as best I can; and finally, I'll compare my version to the existing English translation. I'll repeat this for as many plays as seem necessary before moving on to a novel.
And as for the Gutenberg stuff, I think I need to clear at least two books a month from my long-term backlog or throw some projects back into the general pool if I'm going to stop feel really guilty. I definitely need to do something about the magazines. I don't know which would make feel better—to finish my first novel translation, or to completely eliminate my post-processing queue.