Sunday, December 28, 2008

Here we go again.

Last year I had fun translating this piece of Karel Čapek's online.

Now it's soon to be 2009, and though I have those short stories to edit and that novel with a bunch of prep notes or that other novel (or two collections of short stories) to edit...I have the itch. Another posthumous collection of short writings, this time on the seasons.

Almanac, or How Long The Year Is!

Edit: Oh, autoscheduling! All right then, we'll all have to wait until 12:01 on New Year's Day. I'll be in the Mojave Desert then, if all goes according to plan.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I've been interested in honing processes recently, and I just had a conceptual breakthrough this morning. Stupid at it may sound, I had only been using my bookmarks as a repository for crap I might want to look at later.

Now I'm trying to take some of those links and the interests they point to and view it more as a to-do list. Actively try to use my bookmarks instead of just letting them sit there. There's a beauty in that.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Last Week and a Half

Two sunsets over Monterey Bay. Two long oceanside jaunts at night. (I must start in again with the astronomy.) I've learned to crossover turn in rollerskating, and am hoping Wednesday I still remember how. My blisters may be settling into callus. I'm tinkering with a strawberry-red vintage Peugeot, with thoughts of trying my hand at restoration. This will involve a bunch of liquid wrench. I've had lutefisk on lefse and washed it down with sotsuppe in a midwestern Norwegian yule (tonight!), and gotten an in on a garden that may need lots of weeding. I've read "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" and am trying to get my hands on "Transmetropolitan." My hook shot and one-handed dunk are progressing, as is my foul shot, though I'm trying not to get too caught up in how awesome I seem to be at basketball. I'm prepping a novel to translate, and editing a short story I've already translated.

I'm going to replace my own doorknob tomorrow, if nothing else, and I'll be in the Mojave Desert on New Year's Day, if all goes well.

Can't think of much else to say right now--besides, there's work to be done.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It is my anniversary

I have the old notebook in front of me right now. Chapter 1 of Ladislav Fuks' Burner of Corpses, started 11/27/2004. It now seems incredible to me that I would just up and start translating, but that's what I did. Perhaps I'm placing too much importance on the date--I'd tinkered with passages before, trying to make sense of what I was trying to read--but that was the day that I started the Fuks project, which has become the Fuks and Capek project, which now involves some Klobouk short stories and has involved Slovak papers on stainless steel machineability and German webpages on Finno-Ugric language resources and spirals merrily out of control.

I am a translator. I'm thankful for this. This is where I come from.

It took me forever to get through a page in those days. I had to look everything up. I left blanks. Question marks, cross-outs, [bracketed sections that were placeholders] until I thought of something better. Of late I fear I'm moving away from the handwritten first drafts in favor of marking up photocopies of the original in advance and then typing a first draft directly. I feel like I'm gaining something good even as I'm losing something good. These drafts are tangible reminders of the incremental nature of the work and of the need for patience and stubborn, stubborn single-mindedness.

This is what I have done in four years, in order of completeness.


Burner of Corpses. My earliest work, perhaps the one in the most literal, stilted style, but I love it to death anyone. I was so uninhibited I filled it with self-indulgent footnotes I haven't done anywhere else, and launched myself with reckless abandon into the chapter where most of the dialogue rhymes. My most complete piece.

My Black-Haired Brothers. A short-story cycle about a young boy and the fates of his Jewish classmates in a Czech high school during World War II. The ends of three of the six stories still make me cry.

Death of a Guinea Pig. A collection of early short stories. Black humor abounds. Probably needs some touch-up.

The Way to the Promised Land. A raft of Jews escaping Czechoslovakia sail down the Danube on their blissful way to freedom. Bliss does not ensue.

Mr. Theodor Mundstock. Fuks' first novel, about an elderly Jew living alone in Prague and looking for meaning in the face of imminent deportation to the camps. This is trapped between a first draft and a second.

The Painting of Martin Blaskowitz. Story-within-a-story about a pair of boys, one Czech, one German, and their vow of friendship. Oh man this has rough points too. I'm about half done a handwritten first draft, and have most of the rest marked up on photocopies. If I'm lucky, and if I'm good, I could finish draft one by New Year's. That may be optimistic.

Natalie Mooshabrová's Mice. This barely counts as anything: I have the first 400 words done of what is likely to be about 120,000. I shouldn't even be including it. I have written about it here.

Karel Čapek:

Fables and Understories. Cute vignettes on life from various perspectives on the one hand, humorous short stories on the other. Available from here.

Almanac. A serious of newspaper columns collected and edited posthumously to describe the cycle of one year. Got some stuff hidden away; this is my "secret" plan to give away/post on-line during the course of 2009. Yay side projects.

And not a bit of that includes the work I'm now starting to get that pays me: so I've got enough to keep me busy for a long time. Sometimes I wish the weather weren't so pleasant here--but the rainy season waxes, and with it my desire to sit in coffeeshops scribbling all day.

Thankfulness abounds.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Unlike Ozzie Smith, I came back.

I have finally been to the Mystery Spot. The conflict between my vestibular sense and my expectations of a normal room interior was pretty fun, actually.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Go then--There are other worlds than these."

In another universe, I'm an hour and a half into a train ride up to Portland. Santa Cruz still has me, though, to my occasional surprise.

Back to work, then.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Quince IV-The Voyage Home

First things first--a bit of research has turned up some stuff I should have mentioned earlier, but so it goes. Greek Κυδωνι (kythoni) should hardly be a surprise. Catalan codony/er had me confused until I found Friulian Italian mêl codogn for the fruit and codognâr for the tree. Hopes of further Romance languages that kept the dental stop were dashed by Sardinian mela pirongia "pear apple." And I can't even find anything for Occitan to see if there's a continuum from northern Italy to Northern Spain. Rounding out this odd mix is Lithuanian paprastoji cidonija, "Cydonian...uh...pear something?"

On to Slavic. My first Slavic love, Czech, gives us kdoule. I'd be able to tell you more about that if I hadn't mailed my Czech etymological dictionary off to Oregon or Vermont or somewhere. And that's the only etymological dictionary I actually own. It's clear that you lose that first vowel, though. In a situation we only see elsewhere in Romanian, that /kd-/ is pronounced /gd-/, through regressive assimilation of voicing. Czech has a non-productive suffix -oň giving us names of trees, and this leaves us with kdouloň, which I find to be a particularly beautiful word, although I bet that n won't format properly.

Slovak preserves the initial vowel in kutina. That's about as easy as it gets with Slavic, unfortunately. I don't know what to make of Polish pigwa at all. Serbian/Bosnian/Croatian have (normalized to Roman script) dunja, which is possibly a continuation of cydonium with the first syllable dropped altogether. (That is, like Czech, but with the difficult cluster simplified). Or it could be something else altogether.

Russian and Ukranian, thanks to contact (read: subjugation) by the Turkic tribes to the south and east (incidentally the neighborhood where the quince originally came from) have айва (aiva)--cf. Turkish ayva, Azerbaijani heyva. Thanks, Nate!

These discontinuities all make a certain amount of sense--there was a proto-Romance (i.e., Vulgar Latin) word for quince, and most of the remaining languages show reflexes of this, with some room for phonetic and semantic variation. The Germanic languages were more closely neighboring the classical languages of antiquity and in some cases (Charlemagne discusses quinces in his treatises on gardening) assuming their role and borrowed the term more or less uniformly. Where the Slavs settled in areas associated with classical languages and quince production (Czech/Slovak, the Balkan languages) they picked up some variant of it (if my supposition for the Balkan languages); Polish is a wildcard and the East Slavic languages, in spreading to the South, got their term from the Turkish.

I'm finishing this batch of membrillo, or quince jelly, or quince paste, or quiddany, or cotignac, or what have you, today. Quince on crackers with cheese, as it should be. Enjoy. From Greek to Latin to Old French to English to me to you.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Quince III

Guess I got sick of the cutesy title. It’s amazing how quickly something sweet can become something cloying. Lest this happen to me, I'll try to keep things moving in this wild speculation into etymological hyperspace. Now with purty pictures.

So. Germanic languages: We’ve already seen English quyn/ce and quince. The other Germanic languages end up with /w/ or /v/ in there as well: German Quitte (/kv-), Dutch kwee(peer) (quince-pear, cf. the Walloon), Afrikaans kweper (assumedly a direct descendant of the Dutch) Norwegian kvede and Danish kvæde (note medial consonant voicing) Swedish kvitten. No Icelandic, Faroese, or Frisian data.

Not an Indo-European language is Finnish with kvitteni—a Germanic borrowing, assumedly from Swedish. Not altered by Finnish phonology other than the final vowel—got to keep those syllables open! Also non-Indo-European but merrily borrowed was Japanese marumero, but I should have mentioned that two posts ago.

Oddly, somehow when I started this I had the goal of attempting to get more people to eat quince. I'm not sure what I've just done is the best way, but I'm having fun. Even if it's also more word-comparison than actual lexical analysis. And I didn't even look into a discussion of grammatical gender (the classical languages were neuter, French masculine, German and Czech feminine, I believe) but that's beyond my scope for now.

Next time: Part IV: "Oh right I promised some Slavic data and am totally not going to segue into this great Czech suffix that denotes TREES how cool is that?" And then I'll be done with quinces for a little while. Promise.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Quiddany Quiddities - Part II

We'd gotten as far as Latin cotoneum/cydonium malum last time, and the development and spread of the Romance languages does some funky things.

With cotoneum (malum) we see the same phenomenon as the continuation of Latin (caseus) formaticus (cheese mold-made) where the adjectival element gets continued as the name itself (fromage, formaggio, etc.) There are exceptions, though: caseus remains in English "cheese", German "Käse", etc. The same sort of thing, in yet another aside (this one promised), is why our continuation of Greek melon "apple" now refers to fleshy Cucurbitae--originally melon.pepo(n) "apple-gourd" in Greek and Latin, with the original gourd element clipped off as unnecessary.

Anyway, cotoneum/cydonium is what we have to work with: respectively (1) and (2) from here on out.

Old French: cooin. From (1). The loss of final Latin -m is common to Romance languages, and contributed to the erosion of -VC case endings. The intervocalic deletion of /t/ is harder for me to account for, but seems to have happened anyway, resulting in two contacting vowels which became a diphthong. Later on in French the final nasal went velar, resulting in the current French coing. There is a place name Cotignac in France which alone seems to have kept the intervocal /t/, place names being hardier at this sort of thing, and the name also refers to a kind of quince preserve.

Before it turned into coing, Middle English borrowed the Old French word cooin, reshaping it as coyn or quyn, developing the initial labiovelar /kw/. Things start to look familiar. The Middle English plural of quyn was quynce, which was later re-evaluated as a singular, thus giving us the singular quince. Singular indeed, though not a singular occurrence in English. "children" and "brethren" are double plurals like "quinces," although alone much different lines. Both of these were originally r-plurals (cildra/cildru and brether) which got extra -en endings tacked on when they were no longer viewed as being plural. Etymology or no, "quinces" it's still the valid English plural, though it now strikes me as funny. English also has an archaic quiddany, (from (2)?), referring to something not quite a syrup and not quite a jelly, and cheerfully stole the French cotignac, leaving us with a bunch of Enlightenment-era cookery-book references to Cotiniack. Delightful.

We've gotten sidetracked from the Romance languages. Spanish has membrillo (epentetic b following metathesis!) and Portuguese has marmelo, but Catalan gives us codonyer. The vowels make it look like (1) with the intervocalic /t/ voiced to /d/. The ending is baffling, but fascinating all the same. Walloon has "poere de cwin," "quince pear," developed from the French. Italian has mela cotogna, keeping Latin malum. Romanian has gutui. The initial voicing there is something else. I have no knowledge of Romanian historical phonetics, so I'll leave it at that.

I'll wrap things up with Germanic and Slavic, and Greek tomorrow for completeness' sake (I at least want to get to that, if only to babble about Czech for a while) and a view outliers, like Finnish and Japanese. The title should at least make a bit more sense now!

Quiddany Quiddities - Part I

My story today begins with the Greeks. Humans had been eating delicious delicious quince for thousands of years before that, since it was first domesticated in the area north and east of the Fertile Crescent; that is what is now Iran and the Caucasus. You can find people who will tell you it was the tempting fruit in the Garden of Eden, that it is referenced in the Song of Solomon and not the apple, and that its cultivation may have in fact preceded that of that apple. And yet apples get all the glory and I still have to describe it as a cross between a tennis ball and a pear.

It is the Greeks who came up with two of the more tenacious names for the fruit, both interestingly descriptive. First up is μελίμηλον (meli.melon, Latin melimelum)) "honey-apple." Melimelum is the runt of the litter here, with a limited distribution in extant languages. (Portuguese=marmelo, whence marmelade--originally a quince jelly.). Membrillo, the Spanish term for quince paste also comes to us from "melimelon," though Spanish does not continue this particular item itself for the name of the fruit or tree.

There was a certain kind of quince identified with a Minoan settlement on Crete in Κυδωνία (Kydonia, near present-day Khania), the κυδώνιον μήλον (kydonion melon) which gets into Latin as malum (Latin for apple) cotoneum/cydonium. This adjectival demonym deploys itself into a variety of forms in various languages.

It is therefore ultimately Kydonia we will be chasing through the dropping of Latin case endings, the devoicing or elision of that intervocal d, nasal palatalization, or the adoption of the term into a language with its own pholonological axes to grind.

Next time: More quince, of course, but also: why does "melon" mean apple? What does that have to do with cheese? What does any of that have to do with quinces? And why does "quinces" seem so awkward anyway?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Summer's almost gone, although you wouldn't know it in Santa Cruz.

3/4 summer trips done. Minneapolis, Vermont, New Orleans/Houston, and tomorrow I'm off to Portland. North, East, South, now West. Hopefully I'll get up to the City in three weeks, and Seattle in November, but no real concrete plans beyond that. Passed a birthday (like a kidney stone?), had a great party. Trying to get a handle on my assorted scribblings, too.



Friday, July 25, 2008

Hail from the Green Mountain State

I did it all except the silent film festival (work went too late)

Proofreading, couch surfing, couch surfing in San Francisco, got my head shaved in a bar, came back, biked 60 miles in 26 hours, sandwiching that around a hostel up the coast with a hot tub overlooking the ocean, packed, and flew across the country.

I was right about having little time to sleep; totally wrong about the amount of eating all this activity would require. And now, a shower as a substitute for a nap (2 hours of sleep on the floor of the Newark airport was all I really managed.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Let's see if I can figure this out:

Yesterday: crazy night bike ride.
Tonight: 5,000 words of proofreading stuff that used to be in Slovak, work, packing
Tomorrow night: move out, go to work, silent film festival projected under a bridge, couch surfing
Saturday: couch surfing, raising hell
Sunday-Monday: couch surfing...IN SAN FRANCSICO.
Tuesday: last day of work, couch surfing at my third place in four days
Wednesday: possibly riding 25 miles out of town to camp at a hostel?
Thursday: biking back to town, packing out of boxes, flying to Vermont:
Friday: Burlington.

Note no time for: sleep, eating

If all goes well, I'll be spending five consecutive nights (Monday-Friday) in four separate counties and an airplane.

This is an adventure.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Entschuldigung bei Ogden Nash

Das Konfekt
ist perfekt
aber man will sterben
mit Bourbon.

The cross-language rhyme of the second line occurred to me while I was waking up, and I had to run with it.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

My bike is dead. Long live my bike!

I'm building up a 1984 Centurion Elite RS frame. The threading for the bottom bracket's a little worn, so I'm not predicting this'll get me through, oh, September of 2009, but it's nice what ten dollars and four hours of swearing at bike components can do for you.

The dishing on the rear wheel's a little funky, as are the spokes. Also, the seatpost creaks. And I don't have my rear brake set up yet. Or fenders.

Still, it's ridable, which is more than I thought was going to be possible late into the afternoon.

Now I'm working on a name.

And plowing through the back pages of the Futility Closet. Oh good, another thing that sucks up my spare time.

Saturday, June 28, 2008


My bike is trashed.

There's a crack in the top tube--brought on my the stress I impart to the frame--and, unnoticed, it has been spreading and spreading in a circle around the tube. And I wondered why it was creaking so... It's about 85% of the way around. I noticed it today on the way to work. If the top tube failed in transit, it would probably have hurt me a lot. I love my bike. I will miss my bike. But I'm glad I found out it was broken the easy way, and not on my twenty-five mile ride of two weeks ago, or my drunken hill sprint of last night, or the forty-mile ride I was going to take in two days.

It gave me what it had to give, and now I will ruthlessly strip it down to components and rebuild around another frame. Which was this bike's genesis--my cranks, gears, stem, headset, and rims are from the bike before that. I'd be tempted to call this my Neurath boat, but a frame failure is not something I can really rebuild in transit.

Rhetorical Device is, as always, apt.

I remember it in building, I remember hauling it across the country, and I am thankful it took me to every street in a mile radius of my house, and more than half the streets in the city. It built my calves and whetted my appetite for long-distance bike travel. It will live on.

Requiescat in pace.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I rode to Davenport today—coastal route 1, beautiful scenery, light traffic (heading out of town at eight in the morning is a good idea), little bothersome wind, and something I think was a bobcat.

My little skinny-tire single speed is becoming more and more dear to me. Even though I made it through the whole ride uneventfully and then tore a valve stem off topping off my tires at the bike shop next to where I work. The more practice I have fixing flats, though, the less of a bother it’ll be when it happens at the side of the road. And it probably will and some point.

21.5 miles from 8:05 to 9:55. At that rate (plus some stops) it would take me eight hours to get the eighty-odd miles from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. Today will end up being my first twenty-five mile day—possibly more than I’ve biked some weeks—so there’s a way to go on the training front. Before I end up trying that, I’ll need some synthetic socks. And, yes, bike shorts of some fashion. Next step: my house to the San Mateo county line past Waddell Creek? That’s thirty-eight miles there and back, give or take…

[Slightly later edit. I’ll need vast quantities of food to do so. I cannot stop eating at the moment.]

Monday, May 26, 2008

...and in the three weeks since that last post, I've biked over a hundred miles, all within two, two and a half miles of my house.

Biking Santa Cruz update: I've biked ~99% of the streets within a mile of my house and probably 75% within a mile and a half. It's getting harder and harder for me to get to places from my house that I haven't been to yet. Seem some interesting things, but my body (and bike) are hanging in there despite the hills.

Of course, I have my own reasons for obsessive amounts of biking. Add to this the fact that my dog died this morning. RIP Mickey.

Monday, May 05, 2008

For no sane reason...

I just biked up Western the middle of the night because it was there.

Of course, now I'm shaky and nauseated. And my fingers, neck, and lower back are sore.

But I biked from sea level up to the USCS arboretum on my single-speed without stopping. Gotta be a couple hundred feet, anyway. [Edit: Research tells me I went about 320 vertical feet up in a mile and a half. That's only halfway to upper campus. Better keep trainin'.]

God, I'm going to hurt in the morning. I hurt now.

Monday, April 28, 2008


I'm undergoing a pretty big change right now--the reasons I had for being where I am are being taken away. Perhaps that's too cruel--maybe those reasons weren't particularly hardy to begin with, say--but right now I do feel somewhat adrift.

Still writing, though. And my binoculars came, though I haven't had much time to use them of late.

Everyone's warm regards have been incredibly helpful.


Friday, April 18, 2008

There have been...issues with internet access.

Nevertheless, I am fascinated with Nick's new project. I do adore the pokings-around in natural places sprouting up in otherwise built-up locations. I just like knowing my surroundings in a more complete way--schematic maps and road maps are just so incomplete.

Also, I'm a fan of birding, and will be able to do more of that once my binoculars arrive from Kansas.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Alternate-day posting comes to a near-crashing halt.

Closing Friday, opening Saturday, loads of biking and bike-tricking-out...and I am beat.

Today I wrote nothing. But I did swap a bike chain out on my lunch break.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I love the internet.

Stalactites and stalagmites? Oh, that's so yesterday. Seriously, it's nice to see other people interested in the same random thing, even if no one seems to know why there's a difference. Merriam-Webster tells me the words date back to New Latin in the 1660s or 1670s, and so they were probably coined for someone's science research...but my inclination to look wanes beyond that.

Which is a good thing, really, since I've been distracted by sketch comedy.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


Been tinkering with the old and tinkering with the new, and came across the odd fact that Czech apparently has two words for icicle, neither of which is etymologically related to the word for ice. There's one from a word possibly meaning "drip" or "flow," and another related to the word "roof."

That got me thinking about the English word icicle, which seemed odder to me the more I looked at it. -icle is familiar to me as a Latinate diminuitive suffix (test-, veh-, etc.) but ice isn't a Latinate word, it's Germanic.

Turns out, according to Merriam-Webster, that the -icle part comes from Middle English ikel from Old English gicel, meaning icicle; cognate to a German ihilla with the same meaning that's no longer extant in Modern German, which has, if I'm not mistaken, Eiszapf "ice-spike."

So somehow English ended up with a Latin-seeming but very Germanic word for icicle that means "ice-icicle." Presumably the -ikel lost some of the semantics of icicle itself and was strengthened by the first "ice." I suppose I would guess that it was due to interference from the Latin suffix that confused me.

Next post: how did stalactite and stalagmite end up with their roof-floor differentiations in meaning, since they're from the same damn Greek verb?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Another Godforsaken Translation Update

I've scrabbled my way through another three thousand transcribed words of Mr. Mundstock. Twenty more handwritten pages to go--both sides--maybe twelve thousand words in total.

I've reformatted a whole load of fables (why didn't I do it properly to begin with? I must love three-key commands to center and right-justify) and edited maybe half the understories. (I still hate that decision, though I do like the way these stories are coming together. Undertales? Sub-stories? Fairy tale-lets?)

I'm drawing up plans for Almanac, and poking around with a bit of handwritten translation there, while resisting the urge to get bogged down in planning my own Hipster PDA.

This [title] is not true [for me the day I posted it. It is a good read, however.

Friday, April 04, 2008


Progress. The rust is coming off the wheels. I'm editing Capek fables, transcribing Fuks' Mundstock, and drawing up crazy plans for a calendar-cycle collection of Capek's for 2009. And then another for 2010. Maybe.

I can't be thinking about soup right now.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008



Burner of Corpses. Farthest along. Revised multiple times. Still needs work. The self-indulgent footnotes could go too. (Anyone ever get through this thing?)
Mr. Theodor Mundstock. Version one handwritten. Probably four-sevenths typed up.
The Way to the Promised Land. Transcribed. No thorough editing.
My Black-Haired Brothers. Transcribed. At least one major overhaul. Haven't touched it otherwise since December of '06.
Death of a Guinea Pig. Oh right now I'm not even sure.


Fables and Undertales: version 1 online. Editing proceeding sporadically.
Almanac Faint scribblings. Perhaps a next project? A premature assessment. Why would I even think of a new project right now?

Friday, February 29, 2008

I'm sure it's a fairly common thing, but on some levels I'm very common.

This blog's up out of semi-retirement to wish one and all a happy Leap Day.

Everyone enjoy their March 0th.

Monday, January 07, 2008

New 2008 project.

Resolutions, incremental actions, and all that. I'll update it until it's done. I think it's the first time this has ever been done in English. Well, for a theoretically large audience, anyway.