Thursday, 25 March 2010

Translating Czech

For the historical trip to South Bohemia, that I am organising, I need to produce a handbook for the attendees. What a nightmare! You might have thought it simple - just download stuff off the web, after all Cesky Krumlov's official website is packed full of pages in English about the town and its surroundings. You might have thought that, but you would be wrong. When you come to read what is on the web, it just doesn't always make sense in English or sort of makes sense but I wouldn't swear by it.

"Late gothic reconstruction and monasteries area enlargements in the last quarter of 15th century and development of settlement of Nové Město (New Town - including area of todays brewery compeled up improved protection of this part of growing Český Krumlov. Forwarded city walls, built along Vltava river as far as Lažebnický bridge, fortificated entire New Town with gardens and convents. The city walls were probably built in 90's of 15th century and was borne up reconstruction of monasterial area, nowadays extended with regular house of beguines. Consecrating of chapter house of minorite monastery in 1491 was an important milestone in history of fortification."

Now, don't get me wrong, I think the amount of information on the Cesky Krumlov website is wonderful. And some Czech has toiled long and hard to translate it into English, for which I am grateful. But there's the rub - a Czech has translated this, there are too few native English speakers who can translate from Czech. Even when you do have that rare person who is bi-lingual it is not easy. A bi-lingual friend of mine is sometimes asked to translate pieces for the website and when she does is to be found in front of her laptop chainsmoking and pulling her hair out in clumps.

It is not simply a matter of translating the words correctly, having done that there still can be a problem. The difference between the languages is, I now realise, cultural. It became clear to me when I was working with some local people about a planning issue. In a meeting I tried and failed to explain that letters to an English official should be clearly argued point by point and ideally short. But no. For my Czech listener the longer and fuller the letter the better and repetition is good. And he probably is right, if the letter's recipient is a Czech official.

Nowhere is this cultural difference more apparent than in the Czech love of the poetic. Where the English would be writing solid information, the Czechs are wont to disappear into metaphor. Hence the programme of the Five Petalled Rose started a piece on the history of Cesky Krumlov with a paragraph on primeval mud! What can the poor translator do in such a situation but translate what is there?

Saturday, 20 March 2010

More on Riverworks

Radio Prague has just run this article:
'Regarding finds, the Vltava River, as it flows through the South Bohemian gem that of Český Krumlov, has begun giving up objects lost for centuries in its waters. The finds were made while locals were implementing anti-flood measures and include coins, keys, decorative items, and jewellery. On the shores of the Vltava, archaeologists found Baroque lockets once used to hold images of saints, which women wore around their necks and men attached to their belts. One researcher said that the items most typically lost were heavy keys, which only goes to show some things never change: invisible key- gnomes had their work cut out for them even then!'

Well, we watched the archaeologist with his metal detector, but how much more was lost by the destructive nature of the works - organic matter such as timbers in the riverbed (see above), stones and pottery?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Archaeological tour

The tour of South Bohemia for members of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society looks like it is fully booked and so I am about to start finalising the tour details with the venues, restaurants and hotel.

I thought you might be interested in the itinerary:
There was so much more I could have included, but there just wasn't enough time to do everything.

I have featured several places on the itinerary in posts on this blog and have put links in the above. I will try and put up posts on the rest.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Jiri Barta - Na Pude

I have featured the work of Czech animators - Jiri Trnka and Jan Svankmajer - in previous posts. I am, as my regular readers already know, a fan of both animation (especially stop-frame animation) and the Czechs who excel in it. A recent discovery for me has been the work of Jiri Barta, thanks to my son John for introducing me. Barta, to the relief of all who think that there is more to animation than computer generation, last year produced his first full-length film since The Pied Piper of Hamelin in 1985. Barta belongs to that dark surreal adult school of animation which includes Svankmajer and the Brothers Quay, and the Pied Piper certainly was dark.

But times have changed - dark artistic films aren't the type that get funded any more. For years Barta sought funding for a film about the Golem. In the end all he managed to produce was a trailer, which you can see on youtube or here

The new film called Na Pude (In the Attic) is geared to the children's market, however this isn't by Disney, thank goodness. Yes, in the film the discarded toys who live in a typical Czech attic set out to save their kidnapped friend (a doll) from the diabolical Head and his deformed followers, so there are some superficial similarities to Toy Story. But in this film there is a real sense of threat, the Head could easily be out of a Svankmajer film and his insect and monster sidekicks can be creepy in every sense of the word. Being stop-motion puppets you have a sense of the characters being tactile. There is even a roughness about them which appeals; these are after all the discarded toys of a childhood before Playstation and they have been broken and discarded and it shows.

The films has delightful moments of invention such as the snowstorm caused by old pillows and duvets hanging as they usually do in Czech attics to air or dry. Having some knowledge of Czech customs and culture does help in my appreciation of the film, for example there is a wonderful example of how product placement can work in the hands of a creative genius - Koh-I-Noor pencils, wax crayons and eraser appear in all sorts of guises. But you don't have to be a Czechophile to love this film, it is delightful and refreshing. Don't take my word for it, you can see the trailer on the film's website -

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

When No Means Yes

As you will know if you read this blog regularly my New Year's resolution this year was to spend 30 minutes a day teaching myself Czech (when I am in England). Well, I thought I'd better give you an update, so here it is:

I don't know how it is going - I have no idea whether it is going in. I find 30 minutes all in one go too hard, I am not able to concentrate or I get bored and go too fast - a sign of my advancing years perhaps. So I keep copies of my Czech lessons in both bathrooms and I read them for five minutes/ten minutes whenever I'm in there, which adds up to at least half an hour a day. I find I know quite a lot of Czech words and even some grammar, but could I use them in real life? Probably not. But I'm not giving up on it.

Today I have been writing a guidebook for the visit to South Bohemia I am organising. It includes a quick guide to useful Czech words - thank you, please, yes, no etc. Yes can be a surprisingly difficult word for English speakers. The Czech for yes is 'ano', but it is often is shortened to 'no', so you can see the problem. The word for no by the way is 'ne' and can be added to the beginning of verbs to negate them as in probably the most useful Czech word you can learn - 'nerozumim' which means I don't understand!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Czechoslovakian Folk Dance Book

I was browsing in a second-hand bookshop in England (as is my wont) when I came across a wonderful little book on Czechoslovakian folk dance. Not only does it contain some lovely colour plates of dancers (such as those shown here) in local folk costume, but also musical and dance notation. This was a book published "under the auspices of the Royal Academy of Dancing and the Ling Physical Education Association" and its aim therefore was to get the reader dancing.

The author - Mila Lubinova - also talks about the context and origin of the dances and their regional variations. The Kalamajka (shown directly above) comes from our part of the Bohemia with another form present in Slovakia. Also from our neck of the woods is the traditional sword dance , in which the dancers are linked by the swords held at hilt and point and never let go throughout the dance's complicated windings. Unlike in neighbouring Germany and Austria the dance kept its village roots in Czecho, together with its attendants dressed as fools or in animal masks. This dance is particularly performed with the arrival of spring (sometimes at the Czech carnival - Masopust). As for the music to the sword dance, a few melodies from the 15th century survive in manuscripts from the Zlata Koruna monastery, only a few kilometres from our home.


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