Rainy weather reading


The rainy season is in full swing in California, and I have been taking advantage of the weather to snuggle up with some great books. Here are a few of my recent favorites:

  • Ces enfants de ma vie, by Gabrielle Roy – This French collection of related tales starts out slowly with some shorter stories, but keep with it! It builds into longer, more personal tales of life as a young teacher in remote areas of 1930’s Canada. We read this for our local book club, and those of us who finished it could not stop talking about the ending. The sweet descriptions of the Canadian landscape are a great touch to help you embrace the colder seasons, too.
  • Hocus Pocus, by Kurt Vonnegut – The story of a war veteran who teaches at a college for the disabled, then at the prison across the lake, and survives the takeover of the town when the inmates escape (among other things). It hits a bit close to home in the current American political climate, but Vonnegut is one of my favorite authors. Perfect if you like witty, sometimes dark humor.
  • Pacsirta, by Dezső Kosztolányi – For those of you who read Hungarian, I loved this description of a family experiencing temporary empty-nesting when a couple’s daughter visits cousins out of town. Plenty of laughs, with enough substantive food for thought to keep you hooked. And there’s no sappy Disney ending.
  • The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard – I am still working on this piece of non-fiction. Teddy Roosevelt was a total character with huge capacity for persistence. This book documents the trip he took after losing his bid for a third presidential term, down the Amazon with his son Kermit. They faced disease, death, and even murder. Fascinating!

What are you reading lately? Can you recommend any favorite authors? Share in the comments below!


Hungarian National Day

October 23rd marks the anniversary of the 1956 uprising against Soviet rule in Hungary.

In their own words (my translation below):

Az 1956-os forradalom Magyarország népének a sztálinista diktatúra elleni forradalma és a szovjet meg­szállás ellen folytatott szabadságharca, amely a 20. századi magyar történelem egyik legmeghatározóbb eseménye volt. A budapesti diákok békés tün­te­té­sével kezdődött 1956. október 23-án, és a fegyveres felkelők ellenállásának felmorzsolásával feje­ződött be november 10-én.

Az október 23-i budapesti tömegtüntetés a kommunista pártvezetés ellenséges reakciója és a fegyvertelen tömegre leadott véres sortűz következtében még aznap éjjel fegyveres felkeléssé nőtt. Ez a kormány bukásához, a szovjet csapatok visszavonulásához, majd a többpártrendszer visszaállításához és az ország demokratikus átalakulásához vezetett. November első napjaiban az új kormány megkezdte a tárgyalásokat a Szovjetunióval a szovjet csapatok teljes kivonásáról, a Varsói Szerződésből való kilépésről és az ország semlegességéről. A szovjet politikai vezetés azonban a kezdeti hajlandóság után meggondolta magát, és miután a nyugati nagyhatalmak biztosították arról, hogy nem nyújtanak a magyar kormánynak segítséget, november 4-én a szovjet csapatok hadüzenet nélküli háborút indítottak Magyarország ellen. Az aránytalan túlerővel szemben egyedül maradt ország több napon át folytatott szabadságharca így végül elbukott.

The 1956 revolution was the Hungarian people’s revolt against the Stalinist dictatorship and their fight for freedom from Soviet occupation, one of the most defining moments of 20th-century Hungarian history. The peaceful demonstrations by Budapest students began on October 23, 1956, and ended with the disbanding of armed rebel resistance on November 10th.

The October 23rd mass demonstration in Budapest was held in reaction to Communist leadership. The bloody volley shot into the unarmed crowd resulted in the overnight growth of an armed uprising. This led to the fall of the government, the withdrawal of Soviet troops, and later the return to a multi-party system, as well as the nation’s transformation to a democracy. In the first days of November, the new government began negotiations with the Soviet Union for the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops, secession from the Warsaw Pact, and the country’s neutrality. However, after initial leanings towards this, Soviet political leadership changed its mind. Once the large Western powers confirmed they would not aid the Hungarian government, Soviet troops launched an undeclared war against Hungary. Left alone to face the disproportionately powerful opponent, the country struggled for freedom for several days only to fail.

Thus, I cannot wish you a happy Hungarian National Day, but I do wish you a reflective day to think about the courage shown by that generation of Hungarians. In a similar situation, would you have the strength to protest?

For further reading on this subject and other events in Hungarian history:

Hungarian Spectrum (blog)

Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution (book)

Will to Survive: A History of Hungary (book)

The Hungarians: A Thousand Years of Victory in Defeat (book)

Children of Glory / Szabadság, szerelem (film)

Boldog Szent István napját!

Fireworks in BudapestHappy Saint Stephen’s Day! Today in the year 1000, Stephen I was crowned the first king of Hungary. He dedicated the crown, sent by Pope Silvester II with the consent of Holy Roman Emperor Otto III, to the virgin Mary. This event marked the rise of Christianity in Hungary—and its independence from the Roman Empire.

Today is a national holiday in Hungary. Eat, drink, and be merry!

Photo credit: 450Davide / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Québec City

An old drawing of Quebec Settlement, 1608

Québec Settlement was founded in 1608 by French explorer Samuel de Champlain, just one year after Jamestown, Virginia was fortified by the British. Champlain chose an Amerindian word, pronounced “kay-beck,” to name the city. It means “place where the river becomes narrow.” The French used this site as a major center of control over New France from its founding up to the decisive battle of the Seven Years’ War in 1759.

Benedict Arnold brought a small army of colonists to overtake Québec City during the Revolutionary War, c. 1775-76. His men suffered many hardships, traveling through rough terrain in bitter weather farther than they expected. Despite several successes, they failed to capture the city. The British had to divert a large number of troops to defend the territory, though, which was an advantage for Americans in the colonies.

From 1791 to 1841, Québec City was the capital of “Lower Canada,” the British territory named and divided because of its geographic position relative to the St.Lawrence River’s source. Division by this method was meant to help the different regions’ economies expand and compete, but it largely seems to have engendered later franco-anglo conflicts in the territory.

Québec City is now the capital of the eponymous, largely francophone Canadian province. I’m sure we won’t have time to take in but a fraction of the historical sites and current culture. Here are just a few of the ideas we had:

  • Touring the Plains of Abraham, the site of the 1759 Conquest that helped make Canadian French so distinctive.
  • Ice skating at place d’Youville. Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean we’re going to stay indoors all day!

Bonjour Québec is a site full of more ideas, if you’d like to visit yourself. Happy travels!


View of downtown Montréal. GNUL from French wikipedia: fr:Image:VuedeMontreal.jpgHappy almost Thanksgiving, American readers! We’re hailing from Montréal today, a few days in to our two-week train trip.

Montréal was founded in 1642, then called Ville-Marie, but its history is much older. The modern name for this city comes from Jaques Cartier, the French explorer who landed in the area in 1535 and named the mountain Mont Royal. Samuel de Champlain also visited the area in 1603, then returned in 1611 for a short while.

The city itself, as I said, wasn’t founded until 1642, by a group of fifty Catholics hoping to convert the natives and become a model community for their religion. They had problems with the Iroquois, so the settlement struggled for a while. They built a fort, then a wooden palisade, and then had to expand the palisade (twice). More and more troops came to live in the city. The British were also an increasing problem. But, in 1701, Montréal signed a treaty with a great number of native groups, which ended Iroquois hostilities. The 1713 Treaty of Utrecht eased conflicts with the British (for a time).

During the last half of the 18th century, after the Seven Years’ War, Montréal was occupied first by the British, then by American Revolutionaries, and once again by the British. Several major fires devastated parts of the city, but it continued to expand as an important seaport. For a time in the 1800s, Montréal was even the capital of all of Canada!

There’s much to see and learn in this dynamic old ville. Besides the historical sites, I’m hoping we make it to:

  • McGill’s Redpath Museum, which houses a collection of fossils, minerals, and cultural artifacts from around the world. I’m especially interested in the Dawson Gallery’s exhibit on Canadian and specifically Québecois natural history.
  • Mount Royal Park, to stretch our legs after the 11-hour journey and see what the St.Lawrence River looks like from up high.

Unfortunately, the NHL lockout has ruined our chances of seeing the Canadiens play in their home stadium, and our travel plans clash with university-level and minor-league hockey, too. C’est la vie! I’m sure we’ll find a way to cope. A beer at Dieu du Ciel, perhaps?

Québec, here I come!

My husband and I are embarking on a train trip up to francophone Canada this weekend. For two weeks, my “classic” French is going to be challenged by Québecisms. I am so excited! Traveling to a country where your source language is spoken is a great way to maintain your language skills. I attend a French meet-up here in the DC area, but nothing beats being totally immersed in a culture.

Flag of Québec / drapeau québecois

The French spoken in Canada (outside of the universities) is much like the English spoken on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay—many pronunciation quirks and funny conjugations actually pre-date the more common modern language. Québec French is especially influenced by the old Normandy dialect, since most of the francophone colonists came from that region. After the fall of New France in 1759, the language became isolated from its “parent.” Anglicisms and Native American words and phrases worked their way into common speech. The result is a language based on French but distinctly Canadian.

I recommend the very readable The Story of French, by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow, if you want to know more about the development of the French language in general—plus, the authors are Canadian!

If I find myself catching on quickly enough, who knows? Maybe I’ll work on expanding my translation offerings to include Québecois. I’d certainly love to read something by Jacques Renaud, Michel Tremblay, or one of the other many québecois authors around. After buying a good dictionary, of course!

Have you ever tried to learn a variation of a language you already speak? Feel free to share any stories you have about Canada, too!

The mutual history of Hungary and France

In my word of the day series, I’ve explored similarities between the French and Hungarian language. Most of these are loanwords from a Romance language into Hungarian. But how do two languages meet to influence each other?

In 1185, Béla III of the House of Árpád and Margaret, daughter to King Louis VII, created one of the most significant historical ties between Hungary and France—they got married.

This was a second marriage for both Béla and Margaret. Béla III’s first wife was Anne de Châtillon (also called Agnès d’Antioche), daughter of the Prince of Antioch. She lived with her sister in Constantinople after their father was taken prisoner by the Muslims (Reynaud was a key crusader). Béla was educated in Constantinople under a treaty his father signed with the Byzantine Emperor. He and Anne were married from 1170 to her death in 1184.

Margaret had originally been a child bride of Henry the Young King of England; in 1160, the year of their marriage agreement, she was 2 years old and he was 5. Henry sent her back to France in 1182 for failing to produce an heir. The later marriage between her and the Hungarian, with his ties to the Byzantine empire and crusading Knights Hospitaller, was advantageous to the interests of the French king. (Louis VII played a leading role in the Second Crusade.)

Béla’s ascent to the Hungarian crown was not easy. When his brother died, his mother and influential barons preferred his younger brother Géza over him to rule. Béla had to get help from his friends in Constantinople as well as from the Pope to proceed with the coronation. The Pope interceded on Béla’s behalf several more times during his reign, which further fortified ties to the Church.

Under Béla, “Hungary experienced an unprecedented flowering both in the political sphere, domestic and foreign, and in ecclesiastical and cultural life” (Paul Lendvai, translation by Ann Major). His court controlled more silver than did the contemporary English or French courts. He sent scholars and diplomats to study at Paris and ordered that politics in Hungary be conducted in writing. A university modeled after the Parisian school was established at Veszprém, a central Hungarian city. Hungary’s territory was expanded to include parts of Croatia and, briefly, Poland.

Meanwhile, in France, one of the greatest Capetian monarchs came to power: Philip II Augustus, last king of the Franks and first king of France, who was to expand the French territory and introduce a period of prosperity for the new nation. He also supported the Third Crusade, in which Béla’s younger brother also participated with an army of 2,000 men… a story I’ll save for another day.

Rovás, or Ye Olde Hungarian Runes

Another major theme at the recent NCATA regional conference was maintaining your passion for language. Adopting an appreciation for life-long learning seemed to help many of the pros. In fact, the more seasoned the translator or interpreter, the more excited he or she was discussing dialect and other details. Sharing their language treasures only intensified their excitement.

I enjoy this sort of collaboration. Not many people know about my central European working language. Of it, yes, but specifics, no. I’m happy to act as an unofficial cultural ambassador; to me, it’s a natural corollary to the job of translator. And, in reading up on your working culture’s background, you never know what you’ll uncover! Rovás, an original Hungarian writing system, is one of my more exciting recent finds.

rovás ABC

Hungarian is an old language that adopts change slowly. I don’t always expect to find much language-related variation far back in the people’s history. Rovás was largely replaced by Latin orthography throughout the Hungarian territory by the 15th century, though Latin had been the official written alphabet since the coronation of Saint Stephen in 1000. The term rovás literally translates to “nick” or “score.” Hungarians in the 10th century and earlier carved a combination of lines and simple curves into sticks to form their alphabet and written literature. There are several forms of rovás from different time periods; the Székely form persisted the longest and experienced a widespread revival in popularity in the 19th century.

The simple line-letters were often combined in the word they made up (perhaps to save space?). Some ligatures have left older rovás writing almost unintelligible. Try your hand at deciphering the runes in the sample here. Remember, text often flowed first right-to-left, then left-to-right as it dropped to a new line. Once you figure out the letters, send a note to someone in rovásírás (rovás writing). And for more information, this Hungarian-language site houses a treasure trove of rovás history. Good luck, and enjoy!

Update: Dr. Gábor Hosszú, a rovás expert, wrote to correct the date cited for Latin script replacing rovás. He has written an English-language book on the topic, available here.