Travelling rant

Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is one of the most badly designed I’ve ever seen. The security check is located right before each boarding gate. As a result, all the passengers for the flight arrive there at once and have to stand in a very long queue zigzagging between metal rails. Presumably, in the intervals between flights the security gate stands unused. This is instead of having a unified security check for all flights at the entrance of a big area, like in all the other airports, so the queues are small or none at all and the equipment utilization is uniform.

I had to stand in this security check queue for almost an hour, breathing into the neck of the person in front of me and feeling the coughs of the person behind, directed right at my head. Now I am down with a severe cold. It might be that the cold Amsterdam wind from the canals is to blame, but I suspect the person in the airport. Curse you, the Schiphol architect.

Bonus: a picture of morning rush hour in Leiden.

Google maps rant

While preparing for my European trip, I was using Google maps a lot. Naturally, I wanted to save the maps I created, to return to them later. And that’s where my problems started.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love Google suite of tools. They are extremely useful, usable and intuitive. I would not be able to function without Google calendar (and I totally love its easy integration with event organizing tools like Eventbrite). My business e-mail runs on Gmail. My business website is on Blogspot platform. I use Google analytics. And I am not paying a cent for all that. (I would have a hard time if Google suddenly decided to charge for all these things, I would have to pay through the nose. Just don’t tell Google, it may give them ideas.)

However, I was extremely disappointed with Google maps. They are as counter-intuitive as it gets. I was completely frustrated.

Intuitively, you expect the following sequence of operations:
1. You open a document.
2. You edit it.
3. You save it.
4. You can repeat pp. 2 and 3 as required.

Now, with Google maps it just does not work. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily worries

Just got news from British Centre for Literary Translation that they are not going to sponsor my trip to Netherlands because I live in Canada and not Russia, even though I work on the Russian translation of the book. (It does not seem fair, as Canada is much farther and my travel expenses will be even higher than if I traveled from Russia, but that’s international bureaucracy for you. My publisher certainly will not sponsor my trip, and the money I get for the entire book translation are hardly going to cover the cost of the trip.) Now I’ll write to Canadian Council of the Arts and the Ontario one too. I’ll get to Leiden anyway, it’s just that it would be nice for a change to get someone sponsor the process of global cultural exchange.

A.S.Byatt, “Children’s Book”

I’m going to Netherlands in February, for A.S.Byatt “Children’s book” translators’ conference, yay!
ASB almost got the Booker’s prize for this book, but it did not happen (Hilary Mantel got it for “Wolf Hall”). But Leiden University is giving ASB a Honorary Doctor degree anyway, and we are all invited to the ceremony. We’ll probably make a trip to England (I will for sure) from Holland, to visit the V&A Museum in London, as most of the book’s plot is wrapped around the Museum. ASB promised to join us there as well!

Horrible experience in a Montreal “restaurant”

I was in Montreal with a group of friends last weekend. I lagged behind the group (the new shoes I had on chafed my feet raw, and as we were passing the Chinatown, I told my friends to go ahead and choose a nice restaurant, while I buy a pair of flip-flops and catch up). I did exactly that, and, having caught up, discovered that my friends had chosen “St.Hubert” at the corner of St-Catherine and St-Urbaine. Not exactly my choice of a restaurant (especially because we were in Montreal downtown where you can find any number of nice, inexpensive and cozy places), but I decided not to argue, because my companions already have been standing in line for a while, waiting for admission. A little later, we were let in, they took our orders, brought us two bowls of coleslaw and the drinks. We crunched happily and exchanged impressions of the day. A little later a waitress brought us the appetizers we ordered. We talked some more, and then I realized that we have been sitting there for an hour already and there is still no trace of our main courses. I was going to see the fireworks later and I would have hated to miss them. (For those of you who does not know “St.Hubert”, it is not exactly haute cuisine – it is just a notch above McDonalds, with fried chicken and hamburgers on the menu.) We asked the waitress a couple of times when our food is going to be ready but she seemed unperturbed. At last, when I understood that I am almost late for the fireworks, I called the waitress and told her that it’s been over an hour and we still did not get our meals.

– Why are you yelling at me? – she asked.

(I was not yelling; I spoke loudly so she could hear me over the din in a crowded restaurant.)

– OK, – I said, – call a manager, I will yell at him.

Another 10 minutes later the manager appeared and asked me what was the matter, in a very stern voice (as a school principal would talk to a misbehaving student).

I told him that it’s been over an hour since we made our orders.

He shrugged. His face clearly said that I was stupidly bothering busy people with my stupid whims.

– Do you call that a service? – I asked.

– Yes, – said he.

I told him I was canceling my order, paid for the appetizer we ate and left.

We came out of the restaurant and looked behind. The sign above the restaurant said in large letters:


Other people from our group left with me, but others stayed. They told me what happened next.

The food was brought about 8 minutes after I left (which makes about 1.5 hours in total).

It was completely cold.

And the waitress demanded tips. “For service”, as she said.

P.S. It is not the general standard of service in Montreal; next day we dined in another restaurant and were serviced promptly by polite staff. So that’s probably a unique occurrence. I don’t know how to explain it; maybe their primary clientele is tourists who never come back anyway.

P.P.S. I was late for fireworks after all, but saw about the last 10 minutes of them which is always the best anyway.

On my way back to the hotel I bought myself a T-shirt saying:


I am just giftedly outspoken.