February 15, 2009

From guest author, Kathie the Beltway gal

Filed under: cats,language,literature,travel — yenezie @ 4:42 pm
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Origamifreak went to DC for the holiday weekend to visit Kathie.  After being teased about “still having that old dining room lamp post up,” OF has arranged for her hostess to provide a guest entry:

It was almost unfortunate that my first introduction to C.S. Lewis were the Chronicles of Narnia books.  The stories were tedious, the children characters unrelatable and insipid, and the overuse of parentheses drove me to near madness  — not a good idea when teenagers are already emotional lunatics.  I probably could have gotten past the first two issues, but the abundant sight of parentheses was a tie breaker and I had vowed with infinity plus one that I will never read another book of his.  13 years old girls can be very unforgiving that way.

Fortunately growing up happens and along the way discovered that C.S. Lewis was much more than an author of children book, he was also a man of leveraging insights and possessed a great talent of writing plainly about our psyches in the search of meaning, morality, and myth.  Ah, see that?  A comma before “and myth”.  I’m not a grammar nazi but what is with today’s writers and so-called journalists’ habit of leaving out the comma when separating three ((THREE!) and yes I know I’ve just bitched about using parentheses) or more words, phrases, or clauses in a series?  Nowadays it seemed that only lawyers have the enough sense to correctly use commas, that alone brings sadness to the human race.  While I’m on the subject, unless you’re a novelist the period should go on the outside on the quotes, I don’t care what some Mr. Manner guy in Chicago says.  Obama is from Chicago and already he has cheezed off the European Union not yet one month into his administration.

Not only is English the international language of science, it is also the international language of the Miss Universe pageant and sport anouncements.  So it is of no surprise that foreigners could read page 739 subsection XII(s) of the stimulus bill where “buy America” translate to “protectionist” in French and so the European Union reacted with its typical nuance by crying “trade war!” (oh, so now they support the war) and Canada proclaimed with “a march to insanity!”.  At least when Rumsfield cheezed off Europeans by gabbing about “Old Europe”, he did it intentionally.

Keep this up and people will be acting like my cat toward me.


Mokey acting annoyed since Kathie allowed OF to take a photo of them. (Shunning is his favorite form of punishment.)

November 2, 2008

Asolo to Venice to New York

Filed under: language,transportation,travel — origamifreak @ 6:18 pm
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On Sunday afternoon I drove back to Venice.

The irritating GPS Lady didn’t know about some intersections that had been changed to roundabouts and vice versa, and she couldn’t find the hotel, so that is why there’s a lot of driving around at the end. Also, there wasn’t anyone in the rental lot to give the Budget car back to, and no Budget slots left, so I ended up just finding an empty slot on the side and parking there. I had to lug my suitcase back into the airport to give them back the car keys, and they wouldn’t give me a receipt because “they hadn’t checked the car yet.” I extracted a promise to email me the receipt, and I still haven’t received it.

Then I had to figure out how to get to the hotel (the Budget lady wouldn’t help me call them for the shuttle, but sent me to the information counter). The information counter was 6 people deep with exactly one person working it, so I went to figure out the pay phone, swiped my travel card, and called the hotel, to find out that the shuttle was off from 2-4pm. My watch said “4pm,” and when I pointed this out to them, they informed me that daylight saving time had ended that morning. Which explains why neither the museum nor the information office in Asolo had been open. OK, well, now I know.

So I asked how to get the hotel, and the woman on the phone told me to take the bus. This was not an appealing option with a large heavy suitcase (now I had all the papers and stuff from work in it), so I opted for a taxi, where the taxi guy was mean and nasty.

Eventually I got to the hotel, and when I rolled up to the counter, the guy there was on the phone, apparently to someone at the airport, and he said “the shuttle is not running right now, so how about I send my colleague to come get you?” I blew my stack, at this point. I mean, how come I had to go through all the hassle I just went through, if other people were being offered rides?

The restaurant at the hotel was closed, so I had to walk down the busy street to a local pizza place, where I had a gloppy pasta carbonara next to a couple of guys from the US (South Carolina and Tenessee), who epitomized the stereotype of “Ugly American.” Their idea of trying to speak Italian was to add “o” to the end of every English word. No wonder the waitress was frustrated – even I couldn’t understand them!

They were there for work, both in the retail sporting goods business, checking out the Asolo boot factories in Romania and Treviso. It didn’t help that they couldn’t even pronounce “Asolo.” South Carolina called it “Oslo.” No, I said, it’s “AS-o-lo.” I was just there this past weekend. That’s what I said, he replied, “Oslo.”

There were two women on the other side of us they were trying to chat up, and one of them said she was from Malta. The other was a chemical blonde Italian, who was clearly horrified and yet fascinated by these aliens. She was doing her best at trying to flirt with them. The Maltese could tell what she was dealing with and wasn’t going to bother.

“Where is Molto?” Tenessee asked.

After hearing the reply, he said, “What country is it in?”

“It’s in Malta,” she replied. “It’s a country.”

He received this with a puzzled pause, then asked, “Are there many mountains there, for hiking?”

*sigh* It’s people like this that make me wish I were Canadian.

I recounted this story on the airplane to the woman next to me who was from New Jersey, and she agreed that he must be pretty ignorant to have never heard of Malta. Then later the guy in the aisle seat in front of us got up to use the facility. It was Tenessee. At first I regretted having said what I did (I’m sure he heard me), but then I decided that if he was going to be travelling around in Europe without the faintest interest in language or geography, then he had only gotten what he deserved.

Anyway, here are some pictures from that flight.

Marco Polo airport in Venice:

The inevitable swampy wetland next to a coastal airport:

The dolomites (I think); the alps came later.

Another Delta plane that flew alongside us over France:

We went right over the English Channel, the part between Dover and Calais, and could see the hovercrafts buzzing back and forth. I apologise for not taking a picture of it.

New York:

See earlier comment about coastal airports and wetlands:

The leaves were probably at their peak in NYC (they’d already finished in the Finger lakes before I’d left, almost two weeks before).

October 24, 2008


Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 7:19 am
Tags: , ,

10/23/2008 11:06 PM

Tonight a bunch of us went to dinner in Trento. My colleague noticed an interesting item on the menu:

Did you spot it? It’s the spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, garlic, parsley, and shrimp. I’m sure it is very good, but perhaps they ought to have an English speaker spell-check the menu…

By the way, this same colleague said that I have to inform everyone in the U.S. that gondoliers in Venice do not sing “O Sole Mio.” So please forward this fact to everyone on your email list, and spread the word, as a public service. Thank you.

He also observed that in movies all Italian restaurants have red and white checked tablecloths, and he said he’d never seen such a thing on any table in a restaurant. At which I pointed out that the envelope in which his silverware had come had a vague green and red gingham pattern on it. He said that didn’t count because it was paper, not fabric. I rested my case.

I had the penne with ham and walnuts in a cream sauce, which was nice. Afterwards we walked a bit around Trento before heading back to our respective cars.

Tomorrow is my last day here, and tomorrow evening I head off for a weekend in the foothills of the Dolomites.

October 23, 2008

La lavanderia a gettone

Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 5:15 am
Tags: ,

10/22/2008 10:39 PM

I just had a Very Exciting Evening, in which I had a Laundromat Adventure, and then afterward had dinner all’ristorante. Last night I had pizza with Mickael and Lorenza and their daughter Sabrina, who is very bright and cute and about 2 or 3. We talked for a long time about jobs and families, and all kinds of things (well, Mickael and Lorenza and I did – Sabrina went to bed soon after dinner), and I’m afraid I imposed on their hospitality longer than I should have, because I was tired this morning, and I imagine they must have been, too! (Note to self: check the watch more often and scoot by 10:30 at the latest – especially when visiting people who are usually woken up early by a cheerful sprite jumping on them.)

While I was there, Lorenza kindly called the hotel for me and asked about laundry arrangements (I packed exactly enough clothes to get me through with one wash on Wednesday.) They confirmed that there is no laundry service, and Lorenza was pretty sure that the only laundry in S. Michele all’Adige is a dry cleaner. So, being the awesome person that she is, she raided their change jar and lent me a bag of 0.5, 1, and 2 euro coins (30 euros of them!) and explained where the laundromat is in their town, Mezzolombardo.

She also has been helping me to find contacts to see if my family can begin to locate cousins in northern Treviso. A friend of hers had supplied the phone number for the local parish priest, and she called and chatted with him about it. He gave her his email address, and said he’d ask around to see if anyone thought they were related to my grandparents. Although he offered to meet me on Sunday, he was unclear how it would work, since I don’t speak Italian, and that’s the only language he speaks (other than Latin, presumably). Too bad I didn’t switch to Latin when I started high school, huh? Anyway, the contacting has been started, and maybe by the time my siblings are ready for a trip back here, we’ll have real, live distant cousins to meet.

So this evening I left work around 17:45 and got stuck in a ?traffic jam? In which a usual 5-minute drive back to the hotel took 20 minutes. There were a lot of vehicles coming in to town, and a lot going out, and they were getting bogged down at the traffic circles. I wonder if something like a game was going on? I mean, this is a town, well, village, in which there are as far as I can tell exactly two grocery stores (one tiny, one small), and no laundromat, so how on earth can they manage a traffic jam?

Anyway, when I got back I was tempted to skip the laundry because I was tired and I *could* actually manage through tomorrow, but knowing that I was supposed to go out to dinner with the people from work, I wouldn’t have time to wash anything to wear on Friday. So I shoved all the dirty clothes in my suitcase and drove to Mezzolombardo and circled the little mall until I found the laundry. There were exactly two things in English about this experience: 1) The sign on the door that said “Coin-op Laundry,” and 2) the “Start Cycle” button on the washers. I’m starting to see that what my guide book blithely describes as an Italian love of borrowing words can really lull the traveler into a false sense of security.

When I got there a lady was finishing her laundry, saw me studying the instructional poster, and jumped up to help. Most everyone here is really friendly and helpful, especially the women, who are really kind and go out of their way to be friendly and helpful. So this lady, once I explained apologetically, “non capisco – non parlo Italiano,” actually pointed to each step on the chart, then ran over to the washers and acted out each step with exaggerated clarity. I asked if she spoke German? Nope. French? Nope. Spanish? Nope. ….. Japanese? Definitely not. J But she made herself really clear in Italian, and it helped me a lot. She was even able to convey that the machines include soap automatically, based on the type of cycle selected. (Wow, that’s pretty cool. I wonder if US front-loaders in laundromats can do that, now?)

She left and I sorted my clothes into a light and a dark load, and fed the euros into the slots. The instructions pretty clearly said to select the type of cycle, put in the money, and press “Start Cycle.” And yes, the little red button said “Start Cycle.” In English. But I couldn’t figure out why the machines wouldn’t start, and it didn’t seem like the door wanted to close, either. While I was puzzling over this, another nice lady showed up, and she didn’t speak anything but Italian, either. She showed me that I needed to slam the door to make it shut.

She stayed for a while and asked me how I came to be there in Mezzolombardo, and with the help of the pathetically thin dictionary in the back of my Berlitz book, I managed to explain that I was working in S. Michele all’Adige for the week, that I’d been here since Saturday, that I was leaving for Treviso on Friday, and flying home on Monday. Good thing I spent a couple of commutes last week going over and over the days of the week on the Berlitz CD…

She had a box of Friskies under her arm, and I couldn’t figure out how to tell her that I have cats too, and my cell phone that has photos of them was back at the hotel, so I couldn’t show her. I was sorry about that, because she was really nice, and I think she might have liked to see pictures of my American cats. Plus, I would have learned the word for “cat,” which is NOT in the Berlitz book. In a pinch if I had to, I would just say “due gatti” and hope that my Espanliano was close enough. It seems to work about 75% of the time, which is impressive, given that my Spanish is terrible.

While I had my nose in the book trying to figure out how to tell her I had cats too, she said “ciao” and left, and I was alone for a while studying the phrase book when a third lady came in. She brought some wet laundry from home to dry. Although by this time I didn’t need help, she stuck around and wanted to chat, too, and shared an espresso candy with me. When it was time to put my clothes in a dryer she insisted that I combine the lights and darks, so I did.

She told me her son goes to school in S. Michele all’Adige, and when I explained the kind of work I do, she wrote her email on my notepad, and said she’d write for Christmas, and I gave her a card so she could have my email. I think she asked how we’d read each other’s email, and I wrote on a notepad, “Google translation,” which amused her greatly. Her laundry bag was from Ikea, and I told her “me gusto Ikea” (there’s that Spanish again), and she asked if there was Ikea in America, and I said, “Si, molto Ikea.” Which I’m pretty sure is not grammatically correct, but she got my point.

After more attempts to talk about things, some successful, some not (Note to self: next time I go somewhere that I’ll need to talk to the natives, bring a real dictionary), her laundry finished, and she gave me another candy, a hug, and told me “arrivederci” before leaving. I’ve noticed that people make a definite distinction between that and “arrivederla which I think means a more permanent “good bye.”

My clothes were dry about half an hour later, and I drove back to the hotel. By this time it was 20:00, and I was tired. And hungry. Mickael and Lorenza had mentioned they thought the restaurant across the street was nice, so I wandered over there to see. What at first looked like the entrance was closed and dark, but next-door there was a parking lot with some cars, and a couple kissing, and on closer inspection, it was also the restaurant, and looked like the main entrance. I think the first door was probably the original restaurant.

Anyway, I went in, and the guy by the cash register was mildly frustrated to be faced with someone who didn’t speak Italian. I can’t say I blame him. There weren’t very many people there, and I privately wondered if I was too late to get dinner, although it didn’t make sense, because I’d understood from my guide book that Italians eat late.

He said to wait, and eventually went and got the main waiter named Pepe, who spoke enough English to manage me quite well. He started to give me a menu, then studied me carefully, and asked what I like to eat. “Everything,” I answered. “Pasta?” he asked. Carne and vegetale?” I asked back. Later I figured out that the correct word is “l’ortaggo,” and I’d probably asked for “meat and plants,” but he understood and suggested a grilled fillet over vegetables, which turned out to be delicious. Did you kniw you can grill radiccio? I did not. Now I do, though! He suggested a glass of local red wine, which I accepted, and I asked for l’aqua naturale, which is mineral water, not fizzy. A colleague told me that you can also ask for l’aqua lischia, which means “smooth water.”

I spent a long time eating and reading my phrase book, looking up nouns as they occurred to me, and verifying them, their articles, how to construct plurals, and making a stab at conjugating “to go.” (There are only 5 verbs conjugated in this book: to talk, to sell, to sleep, to be, and to have.”) Then I moved on to the food section, reviewing the names for fruits and vegetables, until I discovered the compiled food section (which has words that aren’t even in the dictionary in the back), and amused myself for a long time, guessing the meanings of all the food nouns. The restaurant started filling up around 9pm. I’m not kidding. 9pm, on a Wednesday. So they apparently like to eat REALLY late, here.

Eventually Pepe showed back up and asked if I’d like dessert. “It depends,” I said. “What do you have?” He started to describe something in Italian, and when I offered him the tiny dictionary in the back of my phrase book he indicated that there was no way he was going to be able to make out such tiny writing. He said, “I can bring you something very nice-a.” And I said, “OK, you bring me something nice. I trust you.” (He’d been right about the entrée, after all.) I went back to playing my “guess the food” game, and after some time he showed up with an amazing creation that was simple, but very tasty. I think it was crème fraiche sweetened and flavored with vanilla, in a pool of a tart apricot conserve and thin pieces of dark chocolate with treble clefs printed on them, broken and scattered over the plate, and two thin cookies, one between two scoops of the crème fraiche and one stuck in the top. There was a very light dusting of dark chocolate powder over all.

I finished this while continuing my food vocabulary game, and was amused when I got to gli aromi and guessed “something smelly,” which turned out to be herbs, and therefore exactly right. I was perplexed to learn that a pork shoulder is a bowl, i.e. la coppa. I mean, I think of a bowl every time I see a pork shoulder, don’t you? Not.

After I finished dessert a lady offered me coffee, and I counter-asked, the? And she brought me some, and then I had to say, “scuzi, latte, per favore?” and she brought that, too. While drinking these, I learned that there are two words for lamb, l’abbacchio and l’agnello, and one word for mutton, il montone. There are two words for “suckling pig,” il maialino da latte (which I’d guessed was a little pig associated with milk, having seen il maiale just above it), and la porchetta. I wonder if one word is for *male* baby pigs, and the other for *female* ones? After all, they distinguish between a hen, la gallina, and il pollo (chicken)… ( I didn’t see a word for capon, but I bet they have one.)

One thing that really annoyed me among this vocabulary is that Prunus persica (i.e. the peach) is la pesca, while il persico is a fresh water perch, and of course a fish is il pesce. I don’t know what they’re thinking, using those words for those things, because I’ll never be able to keep them straight.

Eventually I finished my the and after waiting for a while longer for the check and revisiting in my book how to ask for it, I saw two other diners who had finished and were waiting by the door. Pepe told them to go to the cashier at the front, so I did the same. The lady even took my carta di credito, and the tab was 31 euros. So, do I think that this meal was 6 times better than my unfiltered beer, 4 hot dogs, and 2 overcooked pea pods? Um, yes. Actually it was more like 10x better, so I suppose it was a comparative bargain. By the way, guess what I discovered tonight that il wurstel is? Yup, you’re right. “Hot dog.”

October 20, 2008


Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 12:38 pm
Tags: , , ,

 10/20/2008 6:42 PM

Yesterday I spent most of the rest of the day sleeping and finishing up a short paper. Last night some friends from NY came to get me and I had an impromptu dinner at their house and we spent a nice time chatting – which was very kind of them, considering they had just returned from Prague that afternoon and were probably very, very tired!

This morning I had a quick breakfast at the hotel (it’s included, and the bread is fresh), and met my friends for coffee at the gelateria around the corner. Then we drove up to where I’m working for the week, and the rest of the day is pretty much a blur, so I’m glad I took notes. I met lots of nice collaborators, had a lunch and a long meeting afterward, and in the cracks even managed to finish and send off the short manuscript I’d been working on yesterday.

Tonight after being dropped back off at the hotel, I left my backpack (now considerably heavier, with the addition of a 2cm stack of reprints to read), and trotted with my camera back to the bridge over the local river before the light faded.

Next I browsed the local supermercato. I love going to grocery stores when I travel. It’s just so very interesting to see what they have. In this case it was a lot like the Madias store in Geneva, but with an amazing cheese counter (there were separate meat and cheese counters), lots of different kinds of olives, wines, liquors, all kinds of fruit juices, shelf milk and creams, a cleaning products aisle that tickled my nose with unfamiliar smells, a pet food aisle with familiar brands like Friskies, plus some that I’ve only seen on (kit-E-kat).

After that I walked back in the direction of the hotel and debated about whether to eat at the bar on my side of the street, or at the pasticceria on the other side. I picked the bar, and the guy there spoke some English, and some German. He offered me by name the same kinds of pasta that I ‘d had on Saturday night, and while considering the alternatives, he then suggested wurst. “OK, Wurst,” I said, and was seated in a vaguely Barvarian-themed dining room behind the bar. He asked what I wanted to drink and I asked for beer. “Piccolo” beer (meaning a small glass). I usually accompany this word with the thumb and forefinger sign I use for “Un poquito,” and people seem to understand.

The beer tasted vaguely reminiscent of my fruit fly cultures in grad school when they needed changing, that is to say, rather yeasty. It wasn’t filtered. I drank it anyway, and got used to it. Then the wurst came. Or, should I say, the four extra-long hot dogs that met at the bottom of the plate in a dollop of thick brown mustard, and fanned out at the top, the plate garnished with two very over-cooked pea pods between the two center hot dogs. I must have looked surprised, because they guy looked a bit surly after that, and asked if it was OK. I said it was OK, and dug in.

The pea pods were pretty tragic, but the hot dogs weren’t bad; about the same quality as the beef Hebrew National ones I like at home. He also put a basket of bread on the table and I had a piece. It wasn’t as nice as the kind the hotel serves at breakfast, but it was edible.

Eventually I finished, and after checking the Berlitz book, asked for the tab. The grand total? 1.5 Euros for the beer and 3.5 Euros for the meal. So at least I only paid for what I got!

I continued back to the hotel and stopped at my favorite gelateria and all in Italian asked for “uno gelato, per favore, senza panna.” This means one gelato please, without cream. The lady smiled at me, I suppose, for now knowing not only what the Zhane was, but also how to ask not to have it. In Italian. 😉 This serving was also piccolo, and the flavor I chose was “Fiordlatte,” which was actually vanilla. I guess I’d expected sweet cream, or something. They stuck one of those cylindrical cookies in it. Afterwards I asked for the check (still in Italian) paid my one Euro, and went back to the hotel. I hope that one Euro is sufficient payment for them helping me practice their language – I rather suspect not, but I guess it’ll have to do.

The people at work today said that this town is last one before they speak all German, even at home. Apparently 5km north of here there are places where they use German for everyday life, and only Italian for commerce. So although the political border is beyond that, apparently the language border is right about here.

October 18, 2008

OK, this is just sad.

Filed under: food,language,travel — origamifreak @ 7:39 pm
Tags: ,

 10/18/2008 7:39 PM



After arriving at the hotel around 1pm, I took a nap and woke up around 6. I got myself together and around 7 went to find something to eat. Nearby there is a café/bar/gelateria and they were open, so I went in to see if they had food. They did. There were a few clusters of people sitting around tables, having drinks. I asked if the guy behind the bar spoke English? Nope. Hmm. Well, all the signs in my hotel room are in three languages: Italian, English… and German.


So I tried the third option. “Deutsch?” I asked. “Ja, naturlich,” he responded. So even with my Italian phrasebook, here I am in the country of my grandparents, most easily communicating in the language of the very invaders that made them leave, in the first place. *sigh*

I did try, though. I used my pathetic, stilted “Italian” as much as I could, and only resorted to German when that didn’t work. So those kind, patient people had to wade through my poorly-pronounced hodgepodge of Italian/Spanish/French/Germanglish. And they did it while smiling and remaining friendly.

The food was OK. I ordered it off a standard bar menu and I suspect that they just have frozen entrees in the back that they heat up for people. The gelato was great. I had the wine-flavored one, with little pieces of grape skin in it. The lady offered me Zhane with it, which really confused me until she pointed to a whipped cream machine. Oh yeah. That’s right. “Cream”. It’s not like I’ve ever actually USED German for travelling before, so that was not one of the words in the forefront of my mind. I declined; the gelato was just fantastic without adornment.

I suppose it’s of necessity that people will use German here. In Denmark all the older people I met knew German, but they absolutely refused to speak it. Most of them spoke perfect English, so I didn’t need to use Danish much or look for alternatives.

The place I am right now was (temporarily) part of Austria until it was awarded back to Italy after WWII. The border has moved a lot over the past 200 years; so many times that I have lost track of the exact number. Given how ubiquitous German seems to be, it looks like they must come for vacations. So they’re *still* invading, just economically. In the grand scheme of things maybe it’s not so terrible that I can use German here. The population is mixed and judging from my surname, some of my own ancestors were probably northerners who came and settled within the last thousand years, so maybe I shouldn’t judge? It’s complicated.

May 19, 2008

More Free Rice

Filed under: language — origamifreak @ 8:00 pm
Tags: ,

Back in February Deb alerted us to the Free Rice website.

At that time I managed to get to 50:


You have now donated
4360 grains of rice.

Then in April another blog I read mentioned it.

Yesterday I attended a taping of Says You, which featured some intriguing words: vada, fick, stipe, among others. I knew stipe outright, figured fick was Anglo-Saxon (which helped me guess the meaning), and guessed wrong about vada. Interestingly, vada is not in the OED (SY said it meant “moistness”), and the only fick listed is a proper noun, and not remotely the same definition (SY claimed it meant “a lock of hair.”). So now I am beginning to wonder just where they do get these words?

It made me want to go back and look at Free Rice again. Today I managed a new record:


You have now donated
2940 grains of rice.

I stopped on parcener for a while.

Then I decided to keep going to see if I could get to 52:


You have now donated
7180 grains of rice.

Next I got crepuscule which I knew, guessed right on pogey, and guessed wrong on the next one that I’ve already forgotten.

I think that’s enough for now. My head hurts! 😉

This site has some interesting comments about the words there.

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