Title image: Me reading out people’s translations of food.
I was asked by Jen Calleja to translate the short story ‘Sessel und Sätze’ (Chairs and Sentences) by Anna Weidenholzer into a recipe… I did so, and made an installation, and then asked audience to translate the food translation into their own words. An account of this process, here.
Translator’s Note: When thinking about what recipe I will make, I always imagine how I want the resulting eating to make me feel. In my mind try out the recipes: if I make this, how does it fit with my feelings and my body? Anna’s short story made me feel a lot: strangeness in one’s own language; the uncanny violence of a familiar and comforting routine; the simultaneous yearning for, and fear of strangeness. These feelings, along with specific elements of context – Germanness, Turkishness – were what I tried to convey through my translation of the story into a recipe. I think our bodies can be better diplomats and translators than our minds, realising and becoming fluent in the joy of difference, long before we are intellectually ready to engage in it.
Summary of ‘Sessel und Sätze’: Since Ferdinand was made to feel strange in his own mother tongue, German, he has always felt at a distance from other people, as well as an empathy for those designated ‘foreign’ by the xenophobic culture that surrounds him. While he needs the routine of his daily life – his chair, his hotel-bound holidays and his yellow straws to drink his beer – he secretly learns to speak the languages of other tongues, perhaps hoping he might eventually truly venture into the unknown
My ‘translation’ of Anna Weidenholzer’s story:
Notes on the Performance
On Tuesday 20th October I gave a performance in which I asked members of the audience at the ‘Translation As Firework’ exhibition curated by Jen Calleja at the Austrian Cultural Forum, to eat food inspired by Anna Weidenholzer‘s short story ‘Sessel und Sätze’ and to translate the food into words and write them down. I then read their translations out loud.
Dishes I made for the performance:
Frankfurtapita, a Germanic version of Spanakopita, that at first glance looks like a Greek spinach filo pastry pie but within contained chopped Frankfurter sausages in a set white sauce flavoured with dill, mustard and German cheese and served with a side of sauerkraut. When I came up with this dish, I thought of the recently strained German-Greek relations and the way that some elements of the media have positioned Greek and German culture as intrinsically different to each other. There has been animosity and some seem to have forgotten that German authors and scholars once looked to Greeks as their cultural role models – and of Greece not just as a holiday destination or a ‘fiscally irresponsible’ poor European neighbour. I liked the idea of biting into something that you think you have positioned as other and as different to you but then you find yourself within the other in a very physical way, that is hopefully also pleasurable. Your taste does the thinking for you in negotiating difference.
(Milchreis) (Sütlaç) is a rice pudding that looks like German rice pudding and I served it with Morello cherries in syrup which are a very popular accompaniment to rice pudding in Germany. However the rice pudding was flavoured with powerful, unfamiliar tastes: I ground up gum mastic crystals – a resin used in Turkish and Greek cooking with a smoky flavour of pine forests and dropped in a teaspoon of rosewater. Rice pudding is popular and ‘characteristic’ of both Germanic and Turkish cooking and is the sort of maternal, milky, comforting, simple food that makes people think of home and of school or their childhood. In Germany where people of Turkish descent are the largest minority there has been intercultural mingling as well as suspicion – as depicted in Weidenholzer’s story. I liked the idea of both Germanic and Turkish cultures claiming the rice pudding as their own – and bumping into each other in the process, seeing the other in themselves. There is also a less-well-remembered history of Germans who migrated and sought refuge in Turkey. I wanted people to eat the rice pudding and find it both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time in a way that would create a pleasurable dialogue between self and other.
I bought the ingredients to make the food at Lidl in Peckham and at the Turkish Food Centre in Camberwell and had conversations with store staff about sauerkraut: Lidl only has it at Christmas, but the Turkish Food Centre has it all year round and also gum mastic. At first the manager of the Turkish Food Centre did not know what it was. He asked his colleagues and they recognised it and found it for me.
The audience produced wonderfully diverse responses in words with their translations, which I will write up and add to this post soon.