15 January 2010

Everyday Adventures

Finishing the translation of Superman 
Tonight I finally finished translation work on a film from India, Superman of Malegaon. This is a huge relief! Our school librarian had originally asked me to do some translation stuff for the Festival International des Cinémas d'Asie, which starts next week, back in November. I'd excitedly agreed, envisioning myself smoothly and efficiently translating the film...perhaps finding a new career path...becoming the next Pevear or Volokhonsky...................huh. Yah.

As it turned out, the translation to be done was from English to French, and a far different scenario ensued. The film itself is great, a 50 minute documentary made lovingly and humorously about a small town in India where cinema is the rage. A group of local folks get together and regularly make their own films--usually remakes of popular Bollywood films, but put into the local language and context. This time, they decided to take on the Superman movies. The documentary crew followed them all over town as they endeavored to solve various (and generally hilarious) problems that arose, usually having to do with people not showing up to the shoot, grazing animals or interested townspeople getting in the way, and having a very very low budget. What I loved most were the ingenious ideas they had for overcoming budget problems. The cameraman sat on a bicycle while several people held onto the bike and ran forward to create a "zoom" shot, for example.

The film was originally in Hindi, with English subtitles. The subtitles weren't too badly done, but they were generally very vague and prone to simple, but obvious errors. "I feel very bad. I will now have to take pain coolers" was my favorite. Translating very colloquial language into French proved way over my head, especially when technical film terms, and very ambiguous subtitles were added in. Another of the English teachers gamely agreed to help me finish the work at the last minute, and we actually had a lot of fun doing it. I learned some great (and sometimes strange) French expressions "It's the foot!" for "That's the coolest!" and together we made what I think was a pretty darn good translation. The film will be shown in the festival next week, and I can't wait to go and see it with my friends!

Cooking biscuits and soup

I got a huge craving for Genie's (my grandmother's) biscuits a couple of days ago and, after finally managing to find the equivalent of baking powder (not the stuff I had bought to make sugar cookies!) I managed to make some pretty passable and tasty biscuits (special thanks to Paula Deen and butter) which I ate/scarfed with my second-ever Solo Soup effort, a potato and green lentil soup with carrots, bell pepper, and garlic in a chicken broth. Yay!

La Bonnefemme de neige...La madame de neige??

We've had a fair amount of snow in the last couple of weeks, very exciting for the two Mexican assistants who had never seen it before. So last weekend, Elaine, the other American assistant and I went up to the Motte with Pam, the other Mexican assistant in town and Astride, her French roommate. We padded slowly up the slippery, winding path to the monument, had a snowball fight--very difficult, actually, since the snow was wonderfully powdery--we really had to work to form the snowballs, (boules de neige).

Then we began forming a snowperson, very very carefully. The results were quite inspiring, actually. Astride got very into the decorations. Our snowwoman looks very mischievous in the first photo, rather wistful in the second. Apparently there is no way to say "Snowwoman" in French. Bonhomme de neige is used for Snowman, (kind of sexist, really) so we decided to coin our own term.

Les Soldes

Adventured to Besançon with Pam, in spite of the "strong perturbation" in the local bus system due to the weather. January and June are the only times of year when French retail stores are permitted to have sales--I think this is meant to standardize prices and prevent undercutting. This results in some very good shopping deals. We spent a very satisfying afternoon picking through the piles of sales clothes in the Galeries Lafayettes. I found a great trench coat. Once we were totally spent (hehe...ouch) from all that shopping, we found refreshment in a Salon de thé with some marvelous pastries--Coconut Flan for Pam, Chocolate and Banana tart for me! Rounded the day off at the fabulous Campo book store.
An aside: Kind of like BBS, Campo winds its way around several different buildings, with mezzanines and catwalks and atriums everywhere. A true book lover's haven, if only the sales staff were a little less---totally and completely bitchy!

The Kitchen reproduction

Lastly, more cooking adventures. Ever since Troy and I went to brunch at the Kitchen over the summer I've been dying to have what we ate there--exactly what we ate there. I managed to figure out what kind of sautéed mushrooms to use, and tonight I made a Serendipitous Omelette (you know where you start out with low expectations, you're like, "How 'bout scrambled eggs?" and then, miraculously, you find you are on your way to an omelette before you know it? Conversely, most times when I set out with the intention to make an omelette, it ends in disaster OR at best, a scromlette). Not only was this a Seredipitous Omelette, it happened also to be the Best Omelette I Have Ever Made Thus Far. I topped this off with a broiled tomato, very delicious. It was my first time trying to broil a tomato, and my little toaster oven did a very respectable job. All in all, a very satisfying breakfast-for-dinner endeavor.

06 January 2010

FOODAPEST or, Not Going Hungry in Hungary. (I'm sorry. Those puns are awful. I REALLY couldn't help myself)

I just got back to Vesoul from a fantastic trip to Budapest, Hungary with Fiona and Matt. I met them in  Geneva on December 29 (they met me at the arrivals part of the train station with a sign that said "Roberts, Dread Pirate") and had a deceptively smooth and pleasant flight to Budapest, complete with buttered pretzel. We all agreed this was the nicest flight experience we'd ever had. Short, easy, effective.
On arrival in Budapest we were met by Pishtya? (it sounded something like that), a guy from our hostel, who drove us there from the airport. We tried chatting with him since he spoke English, with moderate success. I asked him where he was from, if he'd lived in Budapest for long. He told us he'd mostly grown up in the Ukraine, but had been in Budapest for 15 years. When Fiona asked him if the Ukraine was pretty, he told us "It was very shit." After that we rode in silence until Pishtya started pointing out some of Budapest's main buildings. He suddenly got very giggly as we were getting out of the car and we later realized that he was very high. We also found out that he was, in fact, the owner of the hostel instead of the flakey college kid who worked part time for the hostel, as we had mistakenly assumed.
We got really lucky with the hostel, I think. It was located in a building whose entrance and stairwell would make a great set in a zombie movie, but once we reached the third floor we found the hostel's apartment to be clean and bright with high ceilings and a big, recently refurbished kitchen. Only 11 people could stay there at a time, while the rest of the "hostel" functioned by renting out small apartments all over the city. The effect was a clean and relatively quiet budget accommodation. Basically, backpacker gold.  
Pishtya handed us a map of the city and told us of a couple of good restaurants, since it was about 10pm and we were starving (a common theme on the trip). We picked Lugas, since it wasn't too far away, and found it to be a cosy, tasty, and very smoky place serving traditional Hungarian food. I was charmed by the garlands hanging from the ceiling--they made an artificial arbor over our heads where fairy lights and ornaments glowed softly above us.
I had a super tasty stuffed pancake thingy smothered in cheese, a Greek salad, and a local beer. Fiona ordered what we thought were pickled apples, but they arrived as pickled jalapenos, definitely jalapenos. It turned out that, while incredibly spicy, they went quite well with the meat dishes. Apparently this is a typically Hungarian thing to do--serve spicy pickled vegetables with their starchy/meaty foods in winter to provide contrast and taste.
The rest of the trip continued in this wonderfully leisure fashion. We got up when we felt like it and made wonderfully large, multi-course breakfasts, read a lot, and generally Did As We Pleased.
Other highlights included going to an opera, Die fledermaus, at the unbelievably ornate Hungarian Opera House, followed by one of the best meals I've ever eaten at the Bock Bistro.
Also finding an incredible noodle house, Momotai or something like that, just down the street from our hostel. We stuffed ourselves there several times and even bought their dumplings as take-out so we could eat them at the airport as we were leaving!

We also went to Rudas, one of the several Hungarian, Turkish-style baths. Here's a photo I snagged off the internet to give you the general idea--when we there it was a lot steamier and there were tons of people in the baths, some of whom were being disconcertingly amorous, which made it slightly awkard, but still very enjoyable--several smaller pools surrounded the central bath, each was a slightly different temperature, so you could cool off or soak as you saw fit. Going to the baths seems to be a big part of everyday life in Budapest and there are many of them. It's a really cool idea to go and soak everyday in the winter--but I think it would take some getting used to. I tried really hard not to think about all of the bacteria we were bathing in or stare too much at some of the really hairy folks (I mean, like, hairy).

Close to our hostel was the enormous St. Steven's Basilica, named after Steven, Hungary's first Christian king, in like, 1000 or something. The Basilica was took more than a century to build and was unabashedly tacky in its ornamentation. But it did have Steven's mumified right hand in a little chapel. I was very eager to see this hand, as it is supposed to be one of Hungary's national treasures, and well, it's also just cool. What we finally saw was a decorative dollhouse housing a glass cylinder housing--what may or may not have been a small, desiccated hand in some juice. All around us people were clearly asking each other in many languages, "Is that it?!?" Apparently it was possible to pay 100 Hungarian Forint (about 50 cents) to have a little viewing light come on, but we didn't realize this until after we'd left.

We wandered around the Buda side of the river and saw the Hapsburg castle and poked around the Fisherman's Bastion ramparts, which have a terrific view of the Pest side and the ornate Parliament building. Unfortunately it was really unpleasantly cold and windy, so we ducked down into the Labyrinths under the castle hill (Budapest is filled with thermal springs, caves and, yes labyrinths!). Now, I was super excited about this, since the cave system under the castle was, I believe, used in two different wars and as storage for centuries. Unfortunately some folks have bought it and made it a tourist attraction by sticking up reproductions of primitive cave paintings (as from Lascaux, France), so give tourists a sense of prehistoric art. Which bugged me because I think learning about the history of the castle and the caves would be quite as cool, thank you very much, and I wasn't crazy about how they'd papier-mached humanoid figures everywhere or put a fountain spewing rancid wine down there to symbolize----something---in human history. So we mostly just wandered around down there and goofed off.

On our last night before leaving, we went to a restaurant called "stone soup" in Hungarian with a friend of a friend of Matt's. We had some tasty food, and tried homemade palinka, the strong Hungarian-flavored brandy, from her felt-covered flask. It was a lovely evening, even though the restaurant was rapidly running out of everything! Our poor waiter kept having to come back and say, "I'm sorry we are all out of________".
Unfortunately, our trip home was made long and unpleasant by flight delays. We wound up lying on the floor of the Geneva airport from 2-4:45am. Then I took the 5:30 train back towards Vesoul, ridiculously out-of-it, but very happy.