Looking Ahead: Food for Thought in Belgium

August 3rd, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

The June issue of Metropolitan, the Eurostar’s complimentary magazine, covered the opening of the first Starbucks in Belgium last February, in Antwerp’s Centraal Station. The magazine itself launched in May.

Two thousand people (in a country whose total population is ten and a half million) were in attendance for the Starbucks opening, some showing up as early as 5:30AM. Howard Gutman, the U.S. ambassador to Belgium, was also on hand. Apparently, this was quite an event because Belgium has been famously resistant to international franchises. KFC withdrew in the ‘70s; McDonald’s held on, but its presence is diffuse (Belgium has one of the lowest numbers of McDonald’s stores per capita in Europe) and it cedes the number one slot to the French chain Quick. Pizza Hut alone has taken off, perhaps because pizza is not otherwise widely available. But 19 year old George El Kyperian seems to speak for much of his age group when he says:

“I sometimes drive two hours across the border to Holland to get Burger King.”

The “We Want Burger King in Belgium” Facebook group has drawn thirty-nine thousand members in its six months of existence.

Harry De Landtsheer, Belgian operations director for the café chain Le Pain Quotidien, tries to explain. He notes that Belgian has “the highest labor costs in Europe… also, there is a very high minimum wage (€1,440.67 a month).” I am glad to know the Fulbright is less than minimum wage.

De Landtsheer adds:

“As an American company, we have to translate all the manuals and advertising into three languages, which takes time and money.”

Well, if you ever need a freelancer… Incidentally, all the articles in Metropolitan were in French and English, though this, like a few select others, was also in Dutch. The French was perfunctory and perfectly serviceable.

A good burger may be hard to find, but I look forward to snacking in a country with a three-story Frietmuseum. (Fries, like Tintin, are yet another Belgian creation mistakenly ascribed to their prominent neighbors.) Richard Hill, author of The Art of Being Belgian, chalks the relative absence of multinationals not up to xenophobobia or to anti-Americanism but to “skepticism in the Belgian mind” and an inherently conservative national character.

“Belgium is a slow starter,” he says. “It was the last European country to start shopping online and was behind the rest of Europe in adopting email. And young people eventually revert to the preferences of their parents.”

What an odd pronouncement. I imagine a nation of reactionaries, in decor and fashion slowly traveling backwards in time, as kids grow up to don their parents’ clothes and eventually live in their houses. Much food for thought and conflicted feelings as, these days, I browse for Brussels apartments online and wonder about the future.

Marcel Béalu at the Joyland Consulate

August 11th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

The Consulate at Joyland is delighted to welcome a distinguished French visitor. Three haunting, mournful, and disturbing short-shorts from Clandestine Messengers can be read for the next two weeks in that lovely litmag’s international section.

Marcel Béalu (1908-1993) was best known for the delicacy with which he explored dreams and the unreal in poetry, prose, and painting. A retiring figure, he ran the Parisian bookstore at 62, rue de Vaugirard named Le Pont Traversé after a novel by his friend, critic and editor Jean Paulhan. There he held readings for a small circle of surrealist and fantastical writers; it is said Lacan, among his first customers, purchased Shakespeare’s complete works and forgot to pay for them. Béalu also founded the revue of fantastic writing Réalités secrètes (1955-1971). His 1945 novel L’Expérience de la nuit was translated by Christine Donougher as The Experience of Night (Dedalus, 1997).

Russia Is Burning

August 12th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

though in a manner far more apocalyptic, I think, than my friend H.V. Chao had in mind when he wrote his story “Jewel of the North,” published last fall in Epiphany (Fall 2009 issue not up in the archives section yet). Take that, SF: fantasy too can predict the future.

Photo courtesy The Daily Mail online

In Praise of French Vacations: Farniente, by Trondheim & Hérody

August 13th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

At first there were still children in the school courtyards when I’d go out for my afternoon run. You could hear the colored spangle of their voices over the fence. The path of grass and earth beside the river took me past one verdant field after the next, alike to my untrained eye. The sun would clear my balcony by midmorning, vaulting high into the sky, and I would move out there to work. The days got hotter and hotter, and I went out later and later, pushing into evening on my runs. The plume of an impact sprinkler rose in the distance, hosting rainbows in its mist. I dined at eight, flocks of swallows screeching past the balcony rail. Along the path beside the river one field revealed itself as corn, another as sunflowers. For a few weekends in a row, whole families with towels round their waists dawdled to the pool, or little girls returned with dripping hair. The hay was mown and rolled; the corn shot up. The children vanished from the schools and reappeared in the streets at dusk, on bicycles with tasseled handlebars. Their cries replaced those of the swallows—now in Morocco, I was told. The heads of sunflowers grew heavy, their fringe of yellow petals paled; when you drove past, the fields seemed blanched. The evening bus brought older sons and daughters to join parents who’d preceded them. Then, for a week, it rained. When it was over, the tourists had arrived.

The sun, slower now to rise, lingers on my balcony through lunch. The town is fuller than ever with cars and people. In the mornings, you have to wait to cross the street. When I bike across the river to the supermarket, there are other bikes locked up at the rack. In line at the checkout, you can hear French apologies in English accents. The cashiers are younger and prettier, and after work ride five in a car to nightclubs folded into a bend on a country road: there is a buvette outside and the light from its counter shines over the gravel lot. Or sometimes a motorcycle pulls up beside you at a light: a bare thigh pressed to a boyfriend’s, long hair spilling from under a helmet. The bales are dried and taken in; those fields are baked and buckled earthen plates with tire tracks. The corn rises over my head. It’s dark now by ten.

It’s the final month of summer in France! Check out my excerpt from Farniente, a paean to vacation by Lewis Trondheim and Dominique Hérody, now up at Words Without Borders!

Débat autour de la traduction

August 16th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

You heard it here late! I will be at the Librairie-Tartinerie in Sarrant tonight hosting a discussion about translation. Looks like a nifty place; locals throughout the region speak highly of it. Venez nombreux nous rejoindre à 20h30!

Radu Mihaileanu’s The Concert

August 17th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Apparently this 2009 French film has just come out in America. Around Thanksgiving 2007, I translated a draft of its screenplay for a US production company that went bankrupt not long thereafter, and has since been through a real financial rollercoaster. Of all the screenplays I’ve translated, this was probably the wittiest and best written. It had a lot of charm, and kvetching. I’m curious to hear how the movie is, and catch up with it eventually. If anyone’s seen it, leave a comment!

We’re born outside the law

August 18th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

and whatever we do, we break it, said Naisi. They’re born inside and whatever they do, they’re protected. If you need to hit without killing, hit those who love you, not them. What applies to them doesn’t apply to us. Take apples. They eat an apple for their health. We eat an apple because one of us stole it. Take cars. They drive because they’ve got a rendezvous. We drive to get away. Building a house! They build to invest their money and leave it to their children. We build to have a roof. Fucking! They fuck to get kicks! Naisi took off the mask and dropped it onto the floor. I fuck to die! And you?”
~ John Berger, Lilac and Flag

John Clute reviews Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud!

August 19th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

No less than the great John Clute reviews Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud at Strange Horizons. I reproduce the capsule here in its entirety.

SHORT NOTE: Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud is 63 and has never published a book in English until now. A Life on Paper: Selected Stories, brilliantly translated by Edward Gauvin, opens the door at last. Nothing in the volume much resembles SF, many of the tales included here ostensibly lack any fantastic element: but this matters not at all. Châteaureynaud’s characteristic tone of voice is deadpan, unsurprised, almost anecdotal. Unsettlingly, nothing remarkable is remarked upon, as though words that illuminate deep shadow do no more than light our way to the end of the perfect tale. In his blurb, John Crowley evokes Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Nathanael West, Aimee Bender. I’d add Robert Coover when he’s not spanking or out West; and maybe a few others, like the hugely undervalued Macdonald Harris when he lets his stays out. And Thomas Ligotti, especially when he’s channelling Lovecraft as a describer of the given world. And some passages in Michal Ajvaz when movement occurs. But none of these writers has quite the air of transparency that makes the stories assembled in A Life on Paper seem untold—until you look again, and realize that a deep magic has opened you. Nothing matters in this book unless it has been told, everything is told. Open this book.

There were always high points.

August 26th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Moments when he could see quite clearly that Greatness begins in meaninglessness, that every great plan carries its own death within, and that we are born and renewed every moment we are capable of abandoning ourselves.
The remarkable thing, of course, is that a series of runs like that, three or four mornings in a row, almost always deal with the same thing. You think it, you almost dream it, as you run.
Then you forget it all day. And the next morning, there it is, back again.
We don’t dream only at night. All wise people–no, that’s putting it too strongly–but some wise people know that there are dreams that glide in front of your eyes when you’re wide awake.
But they have no chance of becoming visible, as little as stars in the daytime. They become transparent instead.
That’s what happens: they become transparent.” ~ Lars Gustafsson, “What Does Not Kill Us, Tends to Make Us Stronger” from Stories of Happy People

Traveling

August 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

More when I return.

Where am I?

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