Any translator would tell you that translation is hard work. Very hard. Programs and applications can get you with their “machine translation” up to a certain point of a word-by-word translation, or in case you’re looking for a sloppy job. This kind of translation cannot express the full context in texts that have much broader cultural meaning than each word per se.
When I heard (again) the song “My Favorite Things” from the 1965 musical “The Sound of Music” I couldn’t help but hearing the maid, and baroness-to-be, Maria von Trapp played by Julie Andrews describing some of her favorite foods. In the original version of Oscar Hammerstein (lyrics) and Richard Rodgers (music), Andrews sang about “Crisp apple strudels” and “Schnitzel with noodles”, as the favorite things for novelty members who live in a not-too-shabby house of 22 rooms on the outskirts of Salzburg (available today for 130 Euros per night):
Since the musical turned to be a huge hit, there was also a demand for translating the original songs. And here is the problem. What could be the favorite things of people in other countries than Austria?
Take Italy, for example. What does Italy have to do with Schnitzel? Not to speak about “noodles”… well, in Milan there is Cotoletta all Milanese, but try to fit it in a song. Therefore, in Antonio Amurri’s Italian version, who translated also “My Fair Lady”, there are not only “apple pies”, but also “the color of tea” (hey, it’s Italy! Where’s the coffee?!), “crispy biscuits”, “chocolate cream inside bignè”, “toasted bread with a butter spread” and (here it is) “when they bring your coffee to bed”. These are a few of my favorite things:
In the French version, Henri Lemarchand franchised the “cakes” perfectly to “a big mille feuilles with fresh apples”, and set the table also with “a big bowl of cream to lick”. These are a few of my favorite things:
I assume that Alfred Pleiter and Louis Dusée were quite hungry when they translated the song to Dutch, since already at the first line you have “whipped cream on top of profiteroles” (as a matter of fact the Dutch version which is called Soezen). And it continues with “boiling kettles”, “crustless bread” and “a real cup of coffee with milk and cocoa”. It’s definitely not a light meal, but definitely a happy one.
Into this breakfast or an afternoon-tea meal, Pleiter and Dusée mentioned also “Sauerkraut and sausages” (Zuurkool met worstejes). Trying to understand whether it is a reference to the Second World War and what does Dutch have to do with sauerkraut, I came across the story of the Siege on Groningen. In summer od 1672, after building an alliance with the king of France Louis XIV, the Bishop of Münster Bernhard von Galen headed north with his army, conquering city after city as part of his counter-reformation campaign.
Until he arrived at Groningen.
For more than a month, von Galen bombed with more than 200 thousand cannonballs the city who was under command of Carl von Rabenhaupt – this is what gave him the nickname “Bombing Bernhard” (“Bommen Berend”) – but didn’t manage to break it. According to legend, on the 27th of August von Galen was in his headquarters in Haren, one of Groningen’s southern suburbs, and ate a hearty plate of the local delicacy – sauerkraut and speck. Eating and planning how to conquer Groningen and a huge cannon that von Rabenhaupt people placed in the market square shot a cannonball that flew directly through von Galen room’s window – and fell right onto his plate! Von Galen understood that there’s no chance he could defeat Groningen and withdrew his army all the way back to Münster. Since 1672 people of Groningen celebrates the 28th of August as the date of releasing from von Galen’s siege, which put in the center eating sauerkraut and meatballs, a tasty memorial to the cannonball who fell on the bishop’s plate. By the way, when people in Groningen ask: “So, are we having a war?” they actually mean: “So, are we having sauerkraut and meatballs?”. These are a few of my favorite things:
I was very happy to find out that the song has different versions in Spanish – for both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The “original” Spanish version of Ernesto Santandreu kept the “apple cake”, but added also “meat cake”:
While the original Mexican version didn’t have any other dish but that “apple cake”, that seems to appear in all of the versions. In a modern adaptation, the much hotter Mexican weather took its position, so you can indulge on “Strawberry and other flavors ice-cream”, that is called in Mexico Nieve, which means “snow”, and also “sweets, popsicles”, and (of course) “apple cake”. These are a few of my favorite things:
What about Hebrew? The original translation was written in the 60s by Ophra Alyagon, and since back then it wasn’t acceptable to feast too much, her version included “a cup of coffee with cream on top”, “slice of bread and butter”, and for dessert “honey cookies and apple pies”. These are a few of my favorite things:
In a modern version in the 90s translated by Avi Koren, the original dishes were very common in Israel, so he had no problem of sticking to the original words – “Whipped cream and strudel… schnitzel and poodle”. Well, almost the same words… These are a few of my favorite things:
In Arabic, unfortunately, I couldn’t find any other version but the one of Lebanese Tony Albayeh in which he mentions, not necessarily as a dish, “bees’ honey”. These are a few of my favorite things:
Talking with much bigger experts for Arabic language and culture (Hi J.!) I understood that the musical wasn’t as successful as in other parts of the world, so there aren’t any Arabic translations. J. added that not only this but that there aren’t many references to food in Arabic songs, except for fruit and seasons, according to the agrarian nature of many Arabic societies.
These are only some anecdotes surrounding the food which is in the words. For a much deeper dive into the tunes, especially those in john Coltrane’s classic versions, you can refer to the academic thesis of Scott Anderson.
Indeed, these are a few of my favorite things.