August Teas of the Month

Every once in a while I like to try something new, so I signed up for a Tea of the Month club. Since I was at Worldcon, I got my August selection, which contained four packets of different teas, on the 14th, and have tried them all out at least twice, except for the Lavender Earl Gray, which I gave to my sister. (Bergamot, ugh.)

I usually make black tea (along with the occasional pu’erh, or gen mai cha, or an herbal blend with mint and chamomile), so the Classic Laoshan Black was the first one I tried. They describe it as “very smooth and viscous” with “a distinct dark chocolate bite”, phrases which are descriptive and convey useful meaning while not literally describing anything real. I found the chocolate notes unpleasant, but was surprised the second time I made it, when the flavor seemed less obtrusive; perhaps my palate got used to it? A decent tea, but I liked it more when the distinctive elements were less prominent, so not something I would come back to after the packet was exhausted.

The Nirvana blend (“sencha-style green tea, peony petal, berries, and figs”) sounds like the sort of fruity herbal tea that I’ll occasionally drink as a change of pace, but which has never been a favorite. And indeed that was my first impression, although oddly enough not my second. The first cup I made was very fruity, to the point where the green tea was completely overwhelmed. Basically, okay. The other cups were less fruity, and I could taste the green tea, but the whole was less than the sum of the parts: a boldly fruity herbal tea, or an unflavored green tea, would have been preferable to a a combination in which both flavors were present but neither dominated. I’m not sure what made the difference, if my palate adjusted so the fruity flavors were less conspicuous, or if I simply used a bigger spoonful the first time I made it, or if the flavorings were unevenly distributed in the tea and I got a more concentrated dose of the fruity elements the first time. Regardless, if I were to buy another tea like it, I would get an herbal tea only, with no actual tea at all in it.

The surprise of the month was the Imperial Green Biluochun. When I first started drinking tea, I found black tea too harsh and drank exclusively green tea. After a while, I progressed to an occasional oolong, and then mostly oolong, and then I tried black tea again and found varieties I liked, until eventually I was drinking almost all black tea and hardly ever tried a green tea. This is a reminder of what good green tea is like, delicate, but with a complex and pleasant flavor. (It’s also a reminder that it is really, really easy to forget to take the tea bag out, and that when green tea oversteeps it becomes undrinkable.)

On the whole, the shipment did what I hoped it would do, which is to knock me out of my rut and get me to try different flavors. September’s shipment has a ginger lime rooibos tea, which sounds intriguing despite my usual dislike of spices in herbal tea, plus a black tea, a green tea, and a matcha/maté blend. And then starting in October, I’ll have the option of receiving only unflavored teas, which could be an improvement. I think I’ll probably only stick with it for three or six months, but for now it’s a nice change of pace.

Me vs. Google, Round 1

When I can’t find a word in any of my dictionaries, I’ll often Google it to see if I can find a definition or some other context. Doesn’t always work. And when I try Google Translate on a passage, well, maybe it will be helpful, but more often it will go like this:

My text:

It belonged to the Archbishop of Esztergom, but the king lives there now, since there is no Archbishop. They say that the Pope will not appoint anyone. Because the King wants one thing, the Pope another. Who the hell knows. The great lords squabble just like us common folk. Who the hell knows…

Google Translate:

It was the archbishop of Esztergom, but the king lives because there is no archbishop. It is said that the pope does not give arsenal. Because the king wants something else, the pope is something else. You know hell. The gentlemen are just as fools as the middle class. Do you know hell …

Points: me.

Betraying the Text

There’s an old Italian proverb “Traduttore, traditore” to the effect that all translation betrays the original. I recently showed some of my polished translation to a workshop group on the Writing Excuses cruise, the first story I thought was ready to get serious criticism, and it became obvious I wasn’t betraying the text … enough. So from now on, I will take greater liberties for the sake of readability. An example:

Everyone on the provost’s estate was fat. Only the provost was thin. But the provost spent most of his time in Buda, near the king.

In the first sentence, “a prépost házánál” basically means “near the provost’s house”, and I would have been tempted to use a construction like “in the provost’s household” or “attached to the provost’s house”. But “on the provost’s estate” is accurate enough, and makes the author’s point. And in the last sentence, “jobbára élt” could be translated as “for the most part lived” (or “resided”), but “spent most of his time” is a more natural English turn of phrase, even if it isn’t as precise a rendering of the exact words.

I’m concerned that there’s an imbalanced feedback mechanism: if I take too few liberties, people will note the awkwardnesses, whereas if I take too many, people may not even realize I’m losing some of the author’s voice. But not taking feedback is even worse than not getting feedback. It’s clear a bit more treason is in order.

Easing Back Into Things

I’ve been thinking about reactivating this blog for a while, starting of course with a quick update about how I’ve progressed since the last time I talked about it, and what my plans are, and … and you know what, it would be a lot of work to do even a half-assed summary. So I’m just going to do fragmentary posts for a while, dropping a random detail or two into each one, until I feel like I’ve caught up.

Today’s random detail: I’ve been noodling around the idea of measuring how many uninterrupted half-hours I spend on translation each week. Basically, I want to break myself of the habit of doing a little bit, then checking Twitter or something, and never getting much done. So for at least the next little while, and indefinitely if it seems to help things, I plan to sit down at least once a day and make sure I work for thirty continuous minutes before doing anything else. (I may make an exception for bathroom breaks or to make a cup of tea, but I’ll probably extend the thirty minutes a bit to make up for it.)

I’ve ordered a 30-minute hourglass (turns out the term to search on is “sand timer”) to help me stick to this goal.

Finally, a brief quote from today’s work: “Lukács was very concerned with his own dignity, like a turkey, but only when on the provost’s estate. In Buda a turkey is not dignified. True, in those days there were no turkeys in Buda, or in Fejérvár either, or anywhere in Europe. But Lukács was, all the same, as dignified and red-necked as a turkey.”