March 4th, 2007

family visit

And no drama!



We all had a good time, as near as I can tell. R.'s sister T., her husband J. and their two children A. and J. came over. They stayed at a hotel because we don't have space. We went to Hampshire Hills and played in the pool Saturday. We hung out the rest of the day and Sunday morning. The kids were picky eaters, but breakfasts were fine, and lunch at Giorgio's on Saturday more or less worked out. Dinner Saturday did not work as well (beef burgoyne) BUT apparently T. has had bad-stew feelings since being a young'un and eating Dinty Moore out of a can about 100 too many times when the babysitters made dinner before mom came home post-divorce. Shockingly, she was willing to eat the beef stew, so now J. can maybe finally make her his fabulous stews (he's the chef) which he has been itching to do for apparently 13 years.

Shocking, really.

Waffles for breakfast today; banana muffins yesterday. I even bought bagels, lox and cream cheese, so the adults could have what they always have (and they snarfed it right up with no complaints about the bagels which, honestly, weren't great).

The kids played really well together. Teddy had a fine time and the older kids played a bunch on the slide and there were only a couple of accidents (one fat lip was probably the worst of it). We are tentatively discussing D-world next spring and possibly Narraganset in late July/early August of this year.

geekitude: menus and other languages

When we were at Toadstool the other day, R. stumbled across a book called _Eating Out in Five Languages_ which is basically five N-English/English-N food dictionaries, primarily oriented to menus. A very slim set of pages about eating out/standard meal times/explaining that you are diabetic or vegetarian, etc. It was $3, remaindered. He showed it to me and I snapped it right up. It is _so_ UK -- there's an entry for toad in the hole (at least in the french section); no bangers and mash, tho.

R. took a look around Amazon trying to find a better one and failed, so I took a stab at it. You know where this kind of story goes, right?

Here are the major options (other than the one we bought):

Marling Menu-Master -- thin, light, pocket-able, menu-focused. One per country for France, Italy, Spain, Germany (so the exact same coverage as the all-in-one we bought). Good reviews; has been around for a while.

The sushi specific Red Dictionary, which adds Portuguese to the standard list. Explains sushi, then gives you the equivalents in the various languages.

The Hungry Traveler: more general purpose. Overview of a country's cuisine, which wines to go with various dishes, regional specialties, etc. Bizarrely, France, Germany, Mexico, Italy. From 1997 or thereabouts by Andrews McMeel (Dilbert publishers, IIRC) and some appear to be OOP.

The Menu Guide for Travelers: France, Russia, Italy, Greece, Brazil & Portugal, China, Spain. Published by an Italian conglomerate. Hard to tell what all is in these books.

Eating and Drinking In ... by Open Road Travel Guides. These includes restaurant guides and are organized around a city/country.

Berlitz does fold up laminated menu decoders AND they do a European Menu Reader with 15 languages in a little over 300 pages. That looks tempting.

Lonely Planet has a World Food Series, again, explains cuisine, regional specialties, wines to go with, etc. along with a menu decoder.

Eat Smart in (Poland, Morocco, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and possibly more) by Gingko Press, distributed by the University of Wisconsin. Obviously, more about the adventure travel. Explains cuisine, describes how to shop at the markets, menu decoder, etc.

Langenscheidt has a food dictionary series, not great.

What is quite amazing is how difficult it is to find all this out. People who write articles about how to research a country before you go typically know about two of the above list, but don't mention more. I haven't actually laid hands on many of these (altho I'm thinking about it, I'm probably not going to buy any of them now).

Travel guides in general are difficult things to assess; you usually buy them _before_ you go somewhere, and if you only go there once, you don't get to correct problems. The most useless reviews out there are also the most common: this is a great book! I'm planning on going to X and this is awesome! The best reviews -- I brought this with me and never had trouble ordering even tho I don't know a word of the language -- are few and far between. In general, people are unlikely to buy a food dictionary unless they've already bought foreign language dictionaries and realized their shortcomings. That cannot be a large market in the US.

I spent some time searching on the UK Amazon website on the idea that maybe those people use this stuff more (I think they do), but of course it's a much smaller audience to begin with.

Update on previous food-language post: I got my sister-in-law to correct the Spanish on my allergy card that I put together for D-land. Grammar and word choice problems, but I think I understand the problems which means I learned a little bit more Spanish, too, which is nice.

geekitude: travel and kids -- guidebooks

In the course of looking around at food dictionary options, I got curious about what kind of guides are available for traveling with kids. You might say, gosh, why didn't you look for those earlier? I'd probably go, well, I saw several go by that my sister picked up used and was not impressed with the quality. But those were more general purpose how-to-get-out-of-the-house books, not how-to-go-to-the-Netherlands-with-a-toddler (which, for the record, I have not yet found. But I haven't given up, either).

Frommer's and Fodor's (what is it with F and major brands of travel guidebooks) both have significant lines of With Family/With Kids/With Children. There's also a Kids Go! line of maps and guidebooks. Lonely Planet has a with kids book (ordered it, despite middle starred average review because it suffers from the classic U shaped review distribution of a book which does not match its obvious audience) and there are a handful of books about getting outdoors (one has a mountainbike with a trail-a-bike attached -- biking through a meadow! Bought that one) and exotic destinations with kids. As near as I can tell, we can expect Time Out!, Let's Go! and Michelin to never, ever, ever issue guidebooks focused on the kiddies, given their audiences.

In the course of ascertaining the available literature, I learned some geography: the Algarve and the Balearics have, magically, been added to the list in my head of Places I Want To Go.

Frommer's has a 500 Places to take the kids before they grow up (much like the places to go before you die) aspirational book. Not interested. Also, terrible reviews.

Judging by descriptions/reviews online, Lutz has the definitive get-out-of-the-house-with-baby/toddler book. And I think we probably zipped right past most of her recommendations, but I'll see if I can get it from the library just in case.

In any event, it looks like the field is good and growing. Further commentary on this subject will probably go into the parenting web over on my website, unless there's something juicily worth snarking about which might otherwise make me look bad over there, but which might be generally amusing over here.

geekitude: hard problems in dictionaries

Oxford University Press and Duden (the German dictionary people) have a gorgeous line of picture dictionaries. Each page has simple line drawings of a bunch of stuff organized thematically (women's clothing, for example, or textile manufacture). The drawings are numbered and at the bottom of the page the words are given for the pictures. I have the German one. They are awesome; best vocabulary builders I've ever encountered. OUP also does a monolingual one for English.

There is at least one food dictionary which has tabular organization: word in English, word in French, word in German, etc. Of course, this sucks if you are trying to go from French to German, say. Or anything to English, which you would be when decoding a menu.

Initially, I thought maybe a pictorial dictionary with all the languages on the bottom (and a big-ass set of indices at the back) of the page matching the pictures of apples, black beans, chicken-pot-pie. . .Hmmm. Because while an apple probably has a name in every language, cuisine is very regionally specific. Altho at least a pictorial dictionary would give you a shot at figuring out what an escalope (a word in English that never fails to confuse me) is.

But play with it. Could you have a technique section? Probably, but the complexity there could be hideous, and sure to piss off purists in each foodway. How do you show what the difference is between panko and any other kind of breadcrumb? Maybe it would be enough just to know it was a kind of breadcrumb, and you could be pleasantly surprised by how nice that particular kind of breadcrumb is. *shrug*

Probably can't leave presentation out, because menu descriptions include presentation terms. We wouldn't want people assuming that if it isn't in the dictionary, it's just presentation -- they might wind up ordering something _really_ exotic that got left out.

One of the problems with polyglot food dictionaries is marketing them. The market which needs them doesn't realize they need them. Could a completist, polyglot pictorial dictionary be marketed in a way that got around this problem? It won't be fitting in anyone's pocket, that's for sure. Market it to restaurants to help them create menus in whatever language needed? The high end folk need it the most, and I'm betting they have enough trouble writing the day's menu, much less translating it into Portuguese. Market it to restaurants to loan to their patrons when they have difficulty figuring stuff out? That seems possible. A fair number of not-so-high-end restaurants in cities that get business from all over have pictures of a lot of their food displayed in the menu, front window, whatever. Especially restaurants not serving the cuisine of the country they are in. Doesn't really help, tho, if you're in a Chinese restaurant in Paris looking at chopped chicken in sauce, and wondering what that adjective means. Amandine vs. gingembre is going to be real different.

Here's an interesting project that could go in the right direction:

There have been electronic polyglot translators around longer than Google has been in existence. Maybe what we need is some small electronic device with a big enough color screen to show you a picture. Enter (scan?) the menu text and it shows you either what you asked, or a series of icons that are a pictorial translation, along with a machine generated textual translation in your target language.

I bet they're already selling it in Tokyo.