Weekly photo challenge: Heritage

In Canberra there’s a street that exists because of war. On either side of Anzac Parade there are statues and sculptures to commemorate those men and women who went off to every war that Australia has been part of over the past century and more. At the head of the street is the biggest monument of them all, the Australian War Memorial, not a statue but a building, built to commemorate those who fought in the First World War. Every war has been represented except one. The Boer War in South Africa.

But the need is about to be satisfied for a memorial for the mounted troops that fought there between 1899 and 1902. The sculptor, Louis Laumen, has created four bronze riders and horses for the commission. They are in place on Anzac Parade, but will remain covered in black plastic until the official opening on 31st May.

Until then we’ll be seeing phantom riders at dusk.

Beside the statues, a verse by A. B. Paterson (Banjo Paterson) reminds us of the courage of those who volunteered to fight in South Africa:

When the dash and the excitement and the novelty are dead,
And you’ve seen a load of wounded once or twice,
Or you’ve watched your old mate dying – with the vultures overhead,
Well, you wonder if the war is worth the price.
And down along Monaro now they’re starting out to shear,
I can picture the excitement and the row,
But they’ll miss me on the Lachlan when they call the roll this year,
For we’re going on a long job now.

A.B. Paterson 1902

The war memorial building and Anzac parade have National Heritage listing to ensure this tribute to the sacrifices by many generations of Australians is recognised and protected.

Thanks WordPress for prompting me to think about heritage for the photo challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Danger

My father captioned this photo in 1942 ‘Dud bombs’. But judging by the rubble almost covering the small building at the bottom right, some earlier bombs had done the job they were made for.

It’s an odd photo that seems to have a part of another photo laid over it; the man looking at the dud bombs is transparent! The hill of rock behind him is visible through his face…

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week is to find an image that evokes danger, so I immediately thought of this one from Dad’s war album of photos from Egypt and Libya. I don’t have a clue about bombs, exploded or unexploded. But these dud bombs were probably a source of danger.

Dud bombs, North Africa c1941/1942

Changing Seasons: May

May in Canberra.

I could show you the maple tree in my back garden, every one of its leaves orange, and little helicopter seedpods hanging here and there.

I could show you two learner sailboats trying to make their way across Lake Burley Griffin in a total absence of breeze under a perfect blue sky.

I could show you the view across the lake to Parliament House with orderly plantings of trees turning red and yellow amid the green pines on the foreshore.

But this shot sums up May in Canberra. The sky is blue, the sun is still warm if you’re directly under it, but the air is cold in the shade. Cold in our houses. Canberra has a reputation for cold houses. So at lunchtime today I went out to sit on our back deck in the full sun – absolutely delightful. But my poor neighbours, their house catches no sun front or back. They had two options: turn on the heating or sit on the roof.

Is it comfortable up there, I asked. No, they said, but the view is great.

Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge: check it out for more seasonal photos from bloggers.

Changing Seasons: April

April in Canberra.

In many parks and gardens, autumnal trees flaunt their red and yellow leaves or let them drop onto a thickening blanket of colour.

My back yard is scattered with leaves from a crepe myrtle and ornamental grape, plants so beautiful in colour yet so sad as the branches strip off their leaves, remaining bare and to all appearances dying.

But looking at the trees lining Anzac Parade today I saw only the green of our native trees that don’t hibernate for the winter. On the lush lawns of the Australian War Memorial the white chairs are all in place for the Anzac Day services which more and more people are attending every year. On the day, Tuesday 25th April, great numbers of visitors will fill the chairs, and those who stand on the roads behind will watch and hear the services on huge screens. I popped down there this morning while the crowd size was navigable. And with the weather forecasters predicting an 80% chance of rain on the actual day, I realised that today (with about 0% chance of rain) was better suited for photographing April in Canberra for Cardinal Guzman’s ‘Changing Seasons’ challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Surprise

Yesterday, Easter Sunday. Perfect weather. All I needed was coffee and water. The former to drink, the latter to gaze on. With most cafés closed for the public holy-day, I walked for some time through the town of Queanbeyan before finding the open doors of the Central Café with its sign written in Coca-Cola calligraphy. Now with my take-away coffee and cake I headed for the Queanbeyan River where the grass is lush and even and green, a rare treat.

Down on my haunches beside the water, I was quietly photographing ducks when they spotted me and all began swimming my way. I tried to focus on one or two individuals, keeping the camera and myself still as still. Suddenly there was a loud flapping and sploshing of water, but I didn’t allow myself to be distracted from the task at hand. Then the image on my camera screen changed as a huge dark bird came in from the right. Without moving, I clicked several times until the splashing stopped. When I looked up, a black swan was coming to rest amid the froth of disturbed water.

Quelle surprise!

Thanks WordPress for the photo challenge.

Weekly photo challenge: Dense

Dense growth in a garden attracts birds. This morning, passing one of my Hakea trees, I heard munching sounds and looked into the branches. There, right in front of me, not afraid of me, was this Gang-Gang Cockatoo eating Hakea seedpods. It’s a rare treat for anyone in Canberra to see one up close. Higher up in the tree there were sounds of his mate cracking open some pods but she was disguised by leaves. I’ve read that Gang Gangs are left-handers, and indeed the little birdy is eating with his left hand!

By an unpleasant coincidence on this same fine morning when I was enjoying my foresty garden, a government man came to my door to tell me that an Ash tree with a split trunk growing on our nature strip (footpath) has to be cut down. Nooo!

Sixteen years ago when we moved into this house, I rang the government tree people and requested a street tree. Very soon after, they planted a young sapling and I’ve watched it grow into this lovely big tree. Its canopy is green and lush, and birds frequently fly into its branches for safety.

After the man left this morning, I went for a walk and in my absence he came back and sprayed this yellow mark of death on the Ash trunk.

So my morning was bittersweet. I’m so glad I saw the Gang Gang with his wispy red crest enjoying the Hakea trees. And I’m very glad their trunks aren’t marked with a yellow spot.

Thanks WordPress for the photo prompt.

Turgenev translation comparison

Once, I read two sentences that had a silent “Oh wow” effect on me; they were by Turgenev, in his story “The Tryst”. I had never read Turgenev, but now I wanted to know him better. I met Turgenev through Rebecca McClanahan in her very useful book, Word Painting. She quoted from “The Tryst” to illustrate description-by-negation, or rather she quoted from Isabel F. Hapgood’s translation of Turgenev’s story, without crediting Hapgood. But she should have, for without the translation she would not have known about Turgenev’s skilful repetition in “It was not … not … not”, describing the sound of rustling leaves. Ivan Turgenev’s sketches of provincial Russian life are stories I’ve read and read again in English. Not only are they compelling vignettes of a country I’ve never been to, but his descriptions of closely observed Russian hunters and other forest frequenters hold my attention from beginning to end.

“Turgenev Hunting”, Nikolai Dmitriev-Orenburgsky [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Wondering whether the beauty lay in the translator’s words or the author’s, I went searching for other translations of the same passage. Here are four versions of Turgenev’s description, followed by the translator’s name:

The leaves faintly rustled over my head; from the sound of them alone one could tell what time of year it was. It was not the gay laughing tremor of the spring, nor the subdued whispering, the prolonged gossip of the summer, nor the chill and timid faltering of late autumn, but a scarcely audible, drowsy chatter. (Constance Garnett, 1897)

The leaves were rustling in a barely audible manner overhead; from their sound alone one could tell what season of the year it was. It was not the cheerful, laughing rustle of spring-time, not the soft whispering, not the long conversation of summer, not the cold and timid stammering of late autumn, but a barely audible, dreamy chatter. (Isabel F. Hapgood, 1903)

The leaves scarcely rustled above my head; by their very noise one could know what time of year it was. It was not the happy, laughing tremolo of spring, not the soft murmuration and long-winded talkativeness of summer, not the shy and chill babblings of late autumn, but a hardly audible, dreamy chattering. (Richard Freeborn, 1967)

The leaves were whispering faintly over my head: you could have told the time of year from their whisper alone. It was not the gay, laughing shiver of spring, nor the soft murmur, the long discourse of summer, nor the cold, frightened rustling of late autumn, but a scarcely perceptible, drowsy converse. (Charles and Natasha Hepburn, 1992)

 

Which is the best?

 

Garnett: Her choice of ‘not … nor … nor’ is as good as Hapgood’s ‘not … not … not’. Each word in the two sentences is individual, and most consist of one or two syllables.

Hapgood:  While it’s the translation chosen by Rebecca McClanahan to illustrate the suspense in ‘not … not … not’, it would be better if Hapgood hadn’t used ‘barely audible’ in two consecutive sentences. And ‘rustling’ and ‘rustle’.

Freeborn: Yes, he uses ‘not … not … not’, but there are too many words of three or four syllables, like ‘long-winded talkativeness’. But then ‘The leaves scarcely rustled’ is more concise than Hapgood’s ‘The leaves were rustling in a barely audible manner’.

The Hepburns: They repeat ‘whispering’ and ‘whisper’ in the first sentence, and later in the same sentence their choice of ‘you’ is less literary, less poetic, than ‘one’ which keeps the reader at a distance. Also, ‘could have told the time’ at the beginning of this clause had me thinking of hours; I had to read it again.

 

So, for this little exercise, Constance Garnett is the better translator, and the one I admire. Or is it Turgenev I admire? Since I can’t read Russian, I’ll never really know. What I do know is that comparisons of translations often send me back to Constance Garnett.

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P.S. I’m writing this in autumn, but not in Russia. There are no shy and chill babblings nor is there a cold, frightened rustling. It’s a stunningly beautiful day here in Canberra where the only rustling is from the currawong, shifting branches as he eats my figs!

Changing Seasons: March

On Friday night at 6.30 daylight saving time, the autumnal sky over Lake Burley Griffin was amazing as the last sunbeams shone on the clouds, a perfect backdrop for an air display by a RAAF F/A-18 Hornet. There were two displays on two nights. These photos are from the first night, the rehearsal! The official show was last night, an introduction to our annual fireworks show, Skyfire.

It was spectacular, it was loud. The Hornet flew low over the lake, making several passes back and forth and around, and exiting with a vertical twirling ascension to the clouds. I took the first photo as soon as I caught sight of it at 6:35:53 pm, and the last one as it disappeared into the clouds at 6:41:22. About 6 minutes of entertainment. Not that the F/A-18 was built to amuse us.

The ducks on the lake did not bat a wing at this big noisy bird flying over them. Other birds flew up into the sky that is naturally theirs, and were mistaken by humans for the jet.

The Changing Seasons photo challenge is from blogger Cardinal Guzman.

Under Cover of Dust

Yesterday, the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative published a piece I wrote for their French month, “Under Cover of Dust”. It’s available on their Facebook page and on their blog.

Today, I inadvertently deleted the link and the post from my own blog, so here is the article, with illustrations:

 

Under Cover of Dust

by Patricia Worth (© 2017)

For an idle literary translator, what’s a good place to search for foreign fiction? Anthologies and best-seller lists, web wish-lists of books that ought to be translated? Old bookshops where floor-to-ceiling shelves are laden with literature from decades or centuries ago? All good suggestions. But there’s another source which can prove fruitful. If your local university library is like mine, there’s a mass of French fiction, purchased in the sixties or fifties, sitting neglected, waiting for a borrower. Each volume is now ageing beneath a grey layer of dust settled in the nook of its page tops.

Here you can find old French books filled with tales far removed in time and unlike anything in contemporary fiction. Read between the lines of these stories and you’ll see writers disappointed with things unchanging, say, in rigid religious traditions that influenced the behaviour of believers and atheists alike, or writers disappointed with too many changes: the advance of technology, the end of manual labour, the taste for realism versus fantasy. They were authors reluctant to let fairies die, who wanted to revive the Medieval world and the era of monarchs and superstitions.

Libraries are a gift to mankind. And womankind. Their shelves are treasure-laden and cost-free. Yet there are book lovers who never go near them. They read only books they can keep, preferring to build their own personal collection, all the while asserting that libraries are an endangered literary species. Once, a young French exchange student at my old university, searching its library for something from the twenty-first century and finding only these old tomes, curled his lip and declared it a museum.

Now, for a translator with an itchy writing hand, old books are a rich source of literature begging to be translated. Perusing the shelves, I suspect that many of them have not been translated in a hundred years, if ever, and now the dust seduces me. I dirty my fingers flicking through the yellowed pages. Opening the covers back too far breaks the aged connection between pages and spine, and I half close the book in sympathy, tilting my head to read inside the triangular space.

One little book, George Sand et le rêve monastique : Spiridion by Jean Pommier, about Sand’s novel, Spiridion, leads me to the novel itself, not far away on another shelf. Sand wrote two versions with different endings. Choosing the second version, I translate it and send it to SUNY Press. Sand’s gothic, philosophical novel set in a monastery, excluding all women bar the author and her translator, is the right choice for me: for the first time I become a published translator.

Tickled by this success, I return to the library and pull out a fragile, hand-sized, brown-covered book, Jean Lorrain’s Contes pour lire à la chandelle, ‘Stories to Read by Candlelight’. As I turn the pages I imagine sitting beside a storyteller in a candlelit corner, listening to tales about a haunted house or an ill-treated woman or a hallucinating boy. For a year I borrow and re-borrow the Contes, translating the stories in no particular order, according to my mood. With each opening of the book another page comes loose and corners flake away. Poor book! When my work is finished I return it to the librarians for conservation, and send six stories to journals to see if they like nineteenth-century French fiction. They do. Lorrain’s small stories are now available in print in Eleven Eleven Journal, and online at The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation, Danse Macabre and Sun Star Review.

My addiction has me hurrying back to the ‘museum’. Kneeling on the floor, I bend my head to read the spines along the bottom shelf, down where the dust is thicker. A small gem, Nouvelles orientales by Eugène-Melchior de Vogüé, appeals by its title; I blow across its top, give the heavier lint a push, read the first page, skip to the middle and scan a few lines. This little number has shortish French stories set in various non-French lands. It comes home with me.

I like some of the stories but not all. The wintry ones are the author’s better work, they make me forget I’m reading. I form a short list, for now avoiding the one that ends in a suicide. Another year passes as I translate the Nouvelles, draft after draft, renewing the library loan a dozen times. When three stories are polished, I send them off. One, my very favourite, is accepted by The Cossack Review: ‘Joseph Olenin’s Coat’, about a lonely man in Ukraine who falls in love with a perfumed pelisse.

Research about Jean Lorrain leads me to his Decadent peer and a great creator of fairies, Catulle Mendès, whose collection Les Contes du Rouet is available online. It’s a thoroughly pleasurable exercise to translate Mendès. A tale about a selfish princess, ‘The Only Beautiful Woman’, makes it into The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation. This is an online to online conversion, but I’m eager to work from a physical book, and am thrilled to find, back at the library, two more collections by Mendès, and I borrow them both. As you can imagine for a book entitled ‘To Read in the Bath’, and another, ‘To Read in the Convent’ (a deceptive title which would have drawn pretty young things into Mendès’s naughty fantasies), I read them with the amusement and occasional dismissal they deserve. My translation of La bague enchantée, ‘The Enchanted Ring’, has been transported to new readers via Peacock Journal.

While it’s true I translate only stories I’m pretty sure will please other readers, there has been the odd dusty book that clicked with me but by the time I reached the end of the first draft, I wasn’t convinced that anyone else would eagerly turn its pages. Henry Gréville’s Sonia was such a book. After months of work, I filed the translation manuscript at the bottom of my drawer.

It’s thanks to the library’s stubborn persistence in holding on to these books that I’ve discovered and translated bits and pieces of them. Yet, in this same university library, no searchers will ever pull Spiridion in our language from a shelf in the way I’ve picked up a few pearls simply by browsing. It is in the library catalogue, but only as an e-book. The National Library of Australia has also acquired only the e-book. Disappointing but not surprising.

Still, e-books and digital journals are here to stay and I must be grateful and push on. As Lorrain led me to Mendès, Mendès has led me to Théodore de Banville. The library has a copy of his Œuvres. I’ve translated a number of his stories and can tell you that he is indeed a witty and entertaining writer. One of my patient draft readers has declared him superior to my previous authors, though I myself love them all equally. Indeed, de Banville has driven me to purchase one of his old volumes. I’ve also bought originals by Sand, de Vogüé, Mendès and others I’m keeping for a rainy day. Yes, I’m starting a collection, but I would never have met these books and their authors if the library had not kept them under cover of dust, despite calls to dispose of them. Long live libraries of the physical kind.

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Weekly photo challenge: The Road Taken

This week’s WordPress photo challenge title is The Road Taken, which is not the road taken by the poet Robert Frost in his poem, The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and Frost made a decision to take the grassy road, the one that wanted wear, the one less travelled by. Ages from then, he told how the road taken had made all the difference. The poem’s title is a careful play on its message – The Road Not Taken, for him, is the one everyone else took.

Here’s an image of a road taken in Israel, a road where no grass grows, where tarmacadam has been laid to avoid the mess of wheel ruts. The photo is from my father’s war album; he called it “Point duty Tel Aviv”. This traffic cop is a living traffic light, bang in the centre of converging roads, with only his arms and two painted arrows to give people direction. Clearly it’s a road that needs some form of traffic control, and indeed the officer seems to be looking at something coming his way.

Point Duty Tel Aviv c1941

Point Duty Tel Aviv c1941

Still in Israel, here’s a road that’s long and winding. The Road of the Seven Sisters was constructed during the time of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948), and apparently there are seven bends in the road, though many disagree. I’ve read it’s hairy to drive it, but, at the time, it was the only approach for cars coming to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. It looks quite bleak in this black and white image but recent colour photos show vegetation now softening the roadsides.

Road of the Seven Sisters, Jerusalem c1941

(The photographer might have been my father or it might have been a friend; soldiers commonly swapped photos.)

Unlike Robert Frost, it’s not often I find myself in a wood, and even less often in a yellow wood here in a country where native forests are perpetually green. But if I did, and if I came to a fork in its road, I would not take a path if it needed traffic control, or if it were a steep winding road of hairy hairpin bends built for army vehicles. Like Frost I would go where no one else that day had trod.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

If The Road Not Taken is new to you, take a brief moment to read it. It’s in many places online, here for example.

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