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.

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.

*****

Changing Seasons: February

Until last weekend there was a hole in my soul, a beachy space that I was eager to fill. I had not been to the beach at all in December or January when the surf, sand and sun were calling me. Once upon a time the beach was a magnet whose pull I could not resist, but now I’m growing older, and have other priorities. That is, I can no longer be bothered demanding that I be taken to the sea.

Now it’s February. All the families and kids have returned to the cities to start the school year, which means the beaches are empty at times, ideal for reflection and winding down. On Saturday morning we drove out of the city, through two country towns, rose up the mountain into the clouds, crawled along blindly through their whiteness, descended towards the coast and got to our cabin in time for lunch.

In the previous week the temperature had been up to 41 degrees and down to 17. On Saturday it rained (lightly) as we strolled alone along the sand. The tide was high, lapping about the strip of rocks that protruded from beneath the water and stretched all the way to Barlings Island, an Aboriginal heritage area. If I were a snorkeller I’d go there because it’s a good place to see fish swimming through a giant underwater kelp forest.

The next morning the clouds had gone, the tide was low, and I said to my husband: “Walk to the island.” And he did.

Almost there, he struck a narrow chest-deep channel. But he was fully clothed and turned back.

What a man! I say “Do this” and he does it.

*****

The Changing Seasons photo challenge is the brainchild of Cardinal Guzman. Hop over and see his amazing shots of Oslo in February.

Weekly photo challenge: Solitude

There’s this song that goes:

Son, in life you’re gonna go far
If you do it right
You’ll love where you are.
Just know, wherever you go
You can always come home.

Son, sometimes it may seem dark
But the absence of the light is a necessary part
Just know, you’re never alone
You can always come back home.

It’s 93 million miles, sung and partly written by Jason Mraz. It’s a song about something so much bigger than us, yet without which we cannot live. Though we are incomprehensibly far from the sun, its light and warmth after travelling all that way are perfect for us and our planet.

My son in Germany sometimes feels likes he’s millions of miles from home, but fortunately he’s not. He likes this song because of the reminder: You’re never alone. Once, when he was still living with us, I had a migrant English student come for a lesson and my son played 93 million miles on his guitar for her. We all sang it together, and by the end we felt like every one of the world’s problems was solvable!

93 million miles from the sun
People get ready, get ready,
‘Cause here it comes, it’s a light
A beautiful light
Over the horizon into our eyes.

Here’s my son when he was still in Australia, enjoying solitude between a rock and a hard place on ‘Ben’s Walk’, a riverside forest track in Nowra, New South Wales. It’s an image of solitude, a moment when he was on his own, contemplating the river view. Although, as the song says, ‘You’re never alone’: his dad was round the other side of the rock and I was outside the gap with a camera!

Ben's Walk, Nowra, NSW

Rock gap on ‘Ben’s Walk’, Nowra, NSW

Actually, he’s not alone in Germany either, for he has his wife, Mrs Amazing. But this post is for him in those hours when she’s away doing amazingly astronomical things and he’s physically alone. It’s a bit of electronic interaction that might, just might, momentarily curb the negative side of his solitude.

Thanks WordPress for the challenge.

Australia Day 2017

 

To celebrate Australia Day today, 26th January, in our nations’s capital, Canberra, there are the official government-organised events like the Australian of the Year ceremony at Parliament House (last night), a Great Aussie Day barbecue breakfast (this morning), and, later, a citizenship ceremony, a flag raising ceremony, kids entertainment, bands, and finally fireworks.

The winners of the four categories in the Australian of the Year Awards deserve recognition for their many years of service, offering solutions to hard-to-solve problems of often-forgotten groups of people. The principal award of Australian of the Year was given last night to Professor Alan Mackay-Sim for his ground-breaking work in repairing spinal cord injuries.

This year’s winners were all quiet achievers. Today there’s another Australian here in Canberra who’s quietly getting our attention, a patriotic man who’s not just flying one Australian flag on his car or his house for the week as some do. This guy, pensioner David Goodall (who prefers to be called Spurs), has arranged a display of Australian flags on his front lawn and footpath – there are 229 bunting flags, one for every year since Captain Arthur Phillip planted his own flag, the Union Jack, in the soil of Sydney Cove and claimed this land for England. Spurs has also displayed flags for each Australian state and territory.

The facing neighbour has allowed him to set up chairs for those who wish to visit and be present at 9.30 this morning for an indigenous Welcome to Country ceremony by a local man, Wally.

When I went for a look last weekend, I admired the tall blue agapanthus lilies growing along his front fenceline. Don’t they blend well with the blue of the flags! I wonder if that’s a coincidence…

Here I like the red reflections on the tinder-dry Canberra grass as the sun shone through the Union Jack crosses in our flag corners. Spurs set up the whole display, paying for everything himself and writing all the signs and slogans. A number of them are written with everyday Australian expressions like “Good on ya mate” or with facts from Australia’s 229-year European history, but there’s also a tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country:

The display is at 9 Biffin Street, Cook. Any Canberrans who enjoy driving past displays of Christmas lights can now extend the pleasure to Australia Day, for Spurs intends to do this every year for the rest of his life in Biffin Street. Good on ya mate!

*****

 

Changing Seasons: January

Cardinal Guzman has put up a photo challenge that seems challenging enough for me as a non-photographer.

He has two versions. I’ve chosen the easy path:

    • Each month, post one photo (recipe, painting, drawing, whatever) that represents your interpretation of the month.
    • Don’t use archive stuff. Only new material!

This morning I was in the Botanic Gardens here in Canberra and was stopped in my tracks by this Corymbia ficifolia. Family: Myrtaceae. Dwarf orange. Sometimes called Red Flowering Gum.

The Canberra Botanic Garden has nothing but native plants. The gardeners have found ways to grow plants from all parts of Australia, even rainforest plants in a lower part that is reached by stone staircases, a place that’s kept dark and wet to encourage rainforest trees and ferns to grow. And up in the bright sunlight there are trees like this orange Corymbia ficifolia, a native from a small area near Walpole, way down on the very south-west coast of Western Australia, and here it is growing on the opposite side of the country in a different climate. Bravo, Botanic Gardeners!

The photo is my interpretation of January in Australia. Bright orange native flowers, clear blue sky, hot morning.

Weekly photo challenge: Anticipation

In anticipation of a 2.6 metre fence to be built in front of Parliament House in Canberra, Lester Yao, a young architect, came up with a plan during the week to invite everyone to roll en masse down one of the grassy roof slopes.

Since the building opened in 1988, adults and children have enjoyed rolling down the slope or even jogging or training on it, and indeed this was part of the inbuilt anticipated pleasure designed by the architect Romaldo Giurgola (who died in May this year). When the security fence goes up in the new year, the public will no longer have such free access as we do today.

Lester Yao put out a call on social media last Monday, and in response hundreds of people turned up for the peaceful rolling protest. We drove towards Parliament House and saw all the people on the grass from the approach road, so we parked, went to have a look and discovered that a few minutes earlier, on a signal, they had all rolled down from the top. Even though it rained yesterday, all day, as well as the day before, this morning was dry and the temperature was up and no one was complaining about their damp grass-stained clothes. As the rollers began to disperse, much of the space was cleared, which suited individuals who wanted to do their own thing without getting crushed.

dsc06030

There are many ways to roll down a hill. Most lay across the slope and propelled themselves over and over like a log. But a few creative ones did somersaults  until they were giddy. The woman below did headstand rolls.

Parents rolled holding a child, dog-owners rolled with their dogs, and people rolled with rolling cameras. Quite a few adults simply played by themselves like children, rolling on their own for the sheer silliness of it.

In the photo below, there’s a guy laughing at the two rollers in front of him. It looked like such fun…

…that he couldn’t resist. He just had to see what it felt like.

(Just in case you’re wondering, I didn’t roll down the hill.)

Romaldo Giurgola had designed the building with a roof that could be accessed by the public in a spirit of democracy. He liked the idea that we could walk over the top of those in charge of us. But that is all about to change.

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge for the Anticipation prompt.

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