marina_bonomi: (book)
...as one of my favorite characters would say.

Among the people and groups I follow on Twitter there is Medievalists.net (a wonderful resource on its own account), through them I discovered Unbound and a very special book.

Unbound is a British Kickstarter-like site, for books only, and the project Medievalists.net posted about is The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. The wake is an historical novel set in the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings, in the author's words it is a story of the collapse of certainties and lives; a tale of lost gods and haunted visions, narrated by a man of the Lincolnshire fens bearing witness to the end of his world.

As if it wasn't enough (for me it definitely was), this is what the author has to say about the a very specific struggle I'm sure many on my friends' list will relate to:

More than three years ago, I began to write a historical novel which made me realise why I don’t read many historical novels. I couldn’t make the words fit, and I gradually began to see why: the language that we speak is so utterly specific to our time and place. Our assumptions, our politics, our worldview, our attitudes – all are implicit in our words, and what we do with them. In order to have any chance of this novel working, I realised I needed to imagine myself into the sheer strangeness of the past. I couldn’t do that by putting 21st century language into the mouths of eleventh-century people.

So I constructed, almost by accident, my own language: a middle ground between the Old English that would have been spoken by these characters and the English we speak today. The result is a book which is written in a tongue that no one has ever spoken, but which is intended to project a ghost image of the speech patterns of a long-dead land: a place at once alien and familiar. Another world, the foundations of our own.


Here is a short excerpt:

when i woc in the mergen all was blaec though the night had gan and all wolde be blaec after and for all time.a great wind had cum in the night and all was blown then and broc. none had thought a wind lic this colde cum for all was blithe lifan as they always had and who will hiere the gleoman when the tales he tells is blaec who locs at the heofon if it brings him regn who locs in the mere when there seems no end to its deopness
none will loc but the wind will cum. the wind cares not for the hopes of men
the times after will be for them who seen the cuman
the times after will be for the waecend

who is thu
who is thu i can not cnaw
what is angland to thu what is left of angland
i spec i spec i spec
no man lystans


I know this book will drive me crazy, but I also know I'll enjoy every minute of it.
marina_bonomi: (cooking)
Today my mother and I started the family's batch of sourdough.

Up to now our home-baked bread was made using brewer's yeast, that's the most common and,possibly, easier way over here. Given the shared passion for baking  we decided it was high time to try the oldest method and start what we both hope will become a family heirloom (seriously, there are sourdough batches that go back multiple generations).

I love the idea of something alive that has to be cared for ('freshened' or 'fed' as home-bakers say over here) and that links together generations of women, and at the same time can be shared as a strongly symbolic gift and brought to a new house to 'warm it up' linking it to the previous home.

That said, 'sourdough' while descriptive and accurate, makes me think of something with a sour temperament, I much rather like the name we give to it in Italian: lievito madre, that is, more or less, mother-yeast.

If you speak languages different from English and your country/family has a tradition of bread-baking, how do you call sourdough?
marina_bonomi: (facepalm)
I'll never understand why some US publishing houses feel the need to 'translate' British books into American English: just yesterday I bought Whispers Under Ground, the third book in Ben Aaronovitch 'Peter Grant' series, I found that 2 different editions were available in my country, the British one and thre American one, I sampled both to try to understand the differences in page lenght and other parameters, and found out that the US edition not only uses the US spelling, but also has gotten rid of all the Britishisms, so that, for instance, a donkey jacket has become a workman jacket.

Now, one of the things I love about English is its extreme versatility and the variety of its national and regional incarnations, British English isn't US English, isn't Canadian English, Indian or Ghanaian English, but each variation is understandable to speakers of the others (more or less easily, that's true).Chosing among the possibilities a good writer can individualize or regionalize his/her characters' speech (think of Tolkien, how English stands in for the common tongue in Lord of the Rings but how we don't need to be told if the speaker is an Hobbit, a Gondorian, a Rohir, an Elf or a Dwarf, their word choices, speech rythm and sentence patterns tell us).

Now, I wonder why a publishing house would think it is a good idea to make a PoC London Constable speak like an American, it may be a bit challenging to get the references, but, good grief, this was even the Kindle version, and Kindle has pre-loaded dictionaries and the ability to recognize the language one is reading in without having to preset the dictionary. How lazy do they think readers are? Or is it that they (or the readers) want to deal only with the familiar, with no element reminding them that this place is the real London, that we are in a different country and the setting isn't just a coat of varnish on some 'generic' US big city?

I don't get it.
As you may know, a few prompts bouncing back and forth between [livejournal.com profile] thesilentpoet , [livejournal.com profile] ysabetwordsmith and myself started a conversation that originated the Silk Road Allies alternate history project. The project now has a community on Live Journal for discussions, sharing of resources, communal world-building and posting of 'in setting' material (including a couple of new poems of mine, not previously published on LJ).

If you enjoyed our previous works and want to read more come over to [livejournal.com profile] silkroadallies and make yourself confortable, if you think you might like to contribute something to the setting (prose, poetry, visual arts, music and crafts are all welcome) ask to join, membership is moderated but we'll get you approved as fast as we can.

And if you like the idea, but aren't sure about getting involved, signal boosting is really appreciated.

Thank you.
marina_bonomi: (book)
A few days ago I bought an e-book I had been eyeing for a long time, an anthology of international speculative fiction. As soon as it downloaded I settled down with my Kindle and dove in with a will... only to be completely turned off half-way through the first page of the introduction (yes, I have the habit of actually reading the introductions to books, I also read the backmatter and the glossaries). My disappointment had nothing to do with the stories themselves, the included authors alone are pretty much a guarantee that the stories are worth it, but next time I open that file I'll be sure to avoid the introduction and these irritating lines:

Lingua Franca come and go. They are universal in that they allow people with different mother tongues to communicate with each other. In the time of the Roman Empire and far later, Latin was such a language, though it is now a dead tongue - read (rarely, and by scholars), but not spoken. French was once a major international language (we still use par avion for airmail, a remnant of that time). The rise of British power(...) led to English becoming the new language of comminication (...)

And so on.

Pardon me? First of all if you are using lingua franca as a plural and you are an editor, then, please, it's either lingua francas or linguae francae, then, I find the discussion rather narrow. What about the role of French as lingua franca in Africa? What about literary Arabic as veicular language for the Islamic community world-wide? What about Kiswahili? Or Spanish in Latin America?

As to Latin... read (rarely, and by scholars)? I guess someone forgot to tell the guys that publish these , or this, or any of these guys (and gals). or the folk over at Vicipaedia, moreover Latin is still the official language of the Holy See, official documents are published in Latin, their web site is available in Latin and Latin is even a possible option for their automated teller machines (that are also very polite) : "Inserto scidulam quaeso ut faciundam cognoscas rationem".

Not spoken? About 15 years ago a delegation from Poland came here, we meet them in several occasions, during one lunch I listened to my dad and one of the delegation members (their parish priest) conversing amiably in Latin for the whole time with no trouble whatsoever (neither of them was a Latin scholar, they both had learned it in high school). It drove me crazy because, while I understood perfectly, I was unable to speak, the teaching method had changed by my time. BUT that isn't true everywhere, and even here more and more schools are going back to Latin as a 'normal' language for instance using Lingua latina per se Illustrata or other similar books as textbooks.
Then there's Nuntii Latini , a regular news broadcast on Finnish radio, Latin circles everywhere in the world  and even instances of multilingual families where Latin is used as the everyday in-home language so that neither of the parents' native languages would dominate the other. Do they speak like Cicero? Definitely not, but, you know, when at home even Cicero did not speak like Cicero .

In short, Latin speakers may not be as many as English speakers, but Latin is alive and well, thank you.
marina_bonomi: (book)
Today I had my last encounter with students taking part in my 'Mille Gru' (senbatsuru) school activity.
The thing is split in two two-hour 'labs', as we call them. In the first I introduce the life of Sasaki Sadako and a bit of origami history, then teach them how to fold origami cranes, with the aim to send a senbatsuru (a garland composed of 1000 paper cranes) to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima.

A couple of months later we have an haiku lab. First I introduce the haiku as a poetry form (with examples, of course), then the students, with my input and assistence, build their own lists of kigo, based on season-relevant elements for our part of the country. The students then experiment with writing haiku and, in the last part of the excercise, they read their works and I suggest revisions.The students will keep working on haiku with the help of their Literature or English teachers and some haiku will be 'incorporated' in the senbatsuru  .

Often there are very lively discussions, today's group (a 'seconda media' class, seventh graders for my American friends), were very creative and bold, not already constricted, as has happened with others, by the frames of European 'classical' poetry (which I love, but may be an hindrance in experiencing haiku if you believe that 'poetry has to rhyme'). Here is an example of today's kigo list (interestingly, in each and every group I worked with someone suggested 'Halloween' for autumn)



Today's discussion made me think about how much seasonal associations depend on one's activities and obligations.

'freedom' is a summer kigo
for students


marina_bonomi: (book)
Is a very interesting fantasy/alternate history novel by a three-writer team, Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint and Dave Freer.

I'm often wary of collaborations, but in this case as I was reading I kept forgetting that the book has more than one author, no mean feat, in my opinion.

I picked The Shadow of the Lion from the Baen Free Library, I was intrigued by the premise, a fantasy set in 16th century Venice, and I figured that, it being free, at worst I would just lose a couple of hours before deciding it wasn't for me (I'm past the phase in which I forced myself to finish each and every book I started).

In that couple of hours, or even less, I was hooked. The alternate history is intriguing (also 'alternate theology' if you wish, thanks to the conversion of Saint Hypatia), the characters are nuanced and three dimensional, there are as many intriguing and strong females as males, and it manages to completely sidestep one of my biggest turn-offs in fantasy (the 'big, bad, fanatic church' and 'poor, persecuted magic users/pagans' trope) here there is bad and good on both sides. I loved equally the dottor Marina (a family name here) the strega, and father Eneko Lopez, a Basque former soldier of venture turned priest who, I believe, is the fictional alter ego of Íñigo López Loiola

The plot is complex, many of the major players on the European checkerboard of the time are there (but for France, the rival of the Empire is different in this story), it may not be your cup of tea if you don't like politics in your fantasy but the politics is neatly balanced by the action, in my opinion, and neither feels overdone.

And, most of all, Venice feels real. That in the book is the city were I studied, with its pride, its history, its special mix of sea and island that sets it apart from any other city in Italy, the strong esprit de corps of the workers at the arsenal, the strenght and world-view of the canalers, the pomp and sense of duty of the best of the aristocracy... I could go on for hours. Venice is a character in the novel, and not a minor one.

This is not to say that the book is perfect, but my problems with it (if that's even the right word), are definitely minor.

I did a couple of double-takes reading of the Swiss guard of the Doge and of the Scaliger of Verona as an enemy of Venice in 1538 (in this world the Scaligers were thrown out of Verona in 1387 and Verona gave itself to Venice in 1405), but I think it likely that these aren't mistakes but points of divergence (note to writers of alternate history: please, please put a note on historical matters somewhere in your book spelling out what is intentionally different , this reader, for one, would be grateful) .

All through the narrative there are Italian words for flavor, I've no doubt they work fairly well for readers that don't know Italian, for me... the mis-spelled words were like a constant itch I could not scratch.
Giaccomo for Giacomo, Polestine for Polesine, Caesare for Cesare, Fruili for Friuli, Veneze for Veneziani, capi (a plural word) used also as a singular, in one instance slices of prosecco on a platter (prosecco is a wine, neither cheese nor salame) and why should Kat, a scion of one of the 'old houses' of Venice bear the definitely non-Venetian family name Montescue ?

They are all small, silly things, but an Italian beta-reader would have weeded them out, and I believe an already good book would have been made even better by it.

BTW, if any of my writer-friends on Live Journal needs an hand with Italian words or details, I'm happy to officially volunteer.
But this time the whole ballad...

木 兰 辞
Mulan ci


唧唧复唧唧,木兰当户织。
Jiji fu jiji, Mulan dang hu zhi.
不闻机杼声,唯闻女叹息。
Bu wen jizhu sheng, wei wen nü danxi.
问女何所思?问女何所忆?
Wen nü he suo si? Wen nü he suo yi?
女亦无所思,女亦无所忆。
Nü yi wu suo si, Nü yi wu suo yi.
昨夜见军帖,可汗大点兵,
Zuoye jian juntie, kehan da dian bin,
军书十二卷,卷卷有爷名。
Jun shu shier juan, juan juan you ye ming.
阿爷无大儿,木兰无长兄,
Ah ye wu da er, Mulan wu zhang xiong.
为市鞍马,从此替爷征。
Yuan wei shi an ma, cong ci ti ye zheng.


东市买骏马西市买鞍鞯
Dong shi mai junma, xi shi mai an jian,
南市买辔头,北市买长鞭。
nan shi mai peitou, bei shi mai chang bian.

Read more... )






marina_bonomi: (book)
This is another of my favorite Chinese poems (actually the first stanza, but I want to translate it in full).

It is older than the Tang, in fact it dates from the Northen Wei dinasty (386-534 AD) although the original collection it was part of is lost, and the ballad survived in another, much later, opus. I find it remarkable in many ways.

木 兰 辞
Mulan ci



唧唧复唧唧,木兰当户织。
Jiji fu jiji, Mulan dang hu zhi.
不闻机杼声,唯闻女叹息。
Bu wen jizhu sheng, wei wen nü danxi.
问女何所思?问女何所忆?
Wen nü he suo si? Wen nü he suo yi?
女亦无所思,女亦无所忆。
Nü yi wu suo si, Nü yi wu suo yi.
昨夜见军帖,可汗大点兵,
Zuoye jian juntie, kehan da dian bin,
军书十二卷,卷卷有爷名。
Jun shu shier juan, juan juan you ye ming.
阿爷无大儿,木兰无长兄,
Ah ye wu da er, Mulan wu zhang xiong.
为市鞍马,从此替爷征。
Yuan wei shi an ma, cong ci ti ye zheng.


The Ballad of Mulan

Whirr-clack and again whirr-clack, Mulan weaves facing the door.

(But now) no sound from the loom is heard, only (our) daughter’s sighs.

“ Daughter, what are you thinking of? What are you brooding over?”

Nothing I’m thinking of, nothing I’m brooding over.

Yestereve I saw the army register, the Khan is levying the troops.

The register is twelve scrolls, each one bears father’s name.

Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother.

I wish to buy horse and saddle, soldiering in father’s stead.



Mulan is an enormously popular character in Chinese folklore, it all started from this ballad, composed about 1500 years ago. From here came a novel written during the Ming dinasty, more poems, theatrical plays, TV series, live-action movies and cartoons, including the Disney one that gave Mulan popularity in the West (the downside of it is that many schoolchildren over here think Disney invented Mulan).

I liked the Disney movie for many reasons, and honestly I don't mind the chronological mish-mash overmuch, after all in China beloved stories are told and retold and undergo many transformations, so long as the 'layering' is evident and the different strata are there if one digs, I have no problems with the process.

But I like the original better, and some of the reasons are right there in the first stanza. For starters, Mulan is no freak: no girl out of place trying to conform to the norms of society and failing. She enters the scene fulfilling the expected duty of an unmarried daughter, weaving for the family, but is pondering on a problem,the call to arms her family cannot answer, and comes up with her own solution.

Mulan doesn't steal out of the house during the night. She has a plan and executes it with the full knowledge and consent of her parents. The Northern Wei was a troubled time, historians say that it's very likely that women (specifically in Northern China where the ballad originated) received weapon training as a matter of course, in Wei statuary there are images of female warriors. So why is she passing herself off as a man? I think (and it's all speculation on my part, mind you) that it may depend on a technicality.
The ballad says that the army scrolls bear father's name and also  Father has no first-born son, Mulan has no elder brother, my guess is that a son could fulfill his father's duty if the latter was incapacitated but there was no written rule about a daughter doing the same, so Mulan assumes a man's identity (later works say she takes her younger brother's name) to avoid a possible refusal.


Years ago I had a very strange experience while interpreting, thinking about it recently I realized it was an one and only occurrence, I wonder if any of you had something like it happening.

I was working as cultural mediator for the University Clinic in town, my boss called one day saying that in the space of a fortnight two high-level delegations from China would be coming and would I be available to be their interpreter?
I was scared, honestly, but , well, the question was more or less academical, they weren't going to hire somebody from outside with a putonghua speaker under contract already. So I got hold of the delegations' schedule and as much specific material as I could and started cramming .

The first visit was exausting (I had no backup, so whenever they were around I was too) but went well.

The second group arrived, this delegation was ministry-level and we had a programmed visit to Venice to meet the President of the regional governement, after that there would be a meeting / lecture on computerized data gathering and organization in the regional health system.

Well I was tense and tired, came from days of switching constantly from Chinese to Italian and vice-versa and that may have something to do with it, but this is what happened.

I started with consecutive interpreting and then, as I recall, moved to simultaneous (whispered), and then, all of a sudden, it felt like my brain split in two. The 'observer' part was there listening to myself speaking fluent Chinese with no idea of what I was actually saying, just thinking 'they nod and take notes like crazy, go on, don't stop', it was like I was in some sort of trance, I came out of it when the meeting ended.

While we were going out, the head of the delegation told me 'You know, it's clear you learned Chinese in Taiwan: you said '***' for 'data' and that's a word Taiwanese use, not Mainlanders.'

I don't remember that word now, and as he said it I didn't remember even having heard it before.

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