Women in Translation Month

August is Women in Translation month. This is a time to search for books by one of the minorities among writers, female authors who have been translated into English. As a translator of a couple of them, I’ve decided to slip out of my translatorly solitude and become somewhat actively involved. I’m very fortunate to have a daughter-in-law who works in a bookshop frequented by serious readers, ‘Paperchain’ in Canberra, so I took in a few copies of Spiridion by George Sand, (which I translated), and asked if she would be interested in making a small display of books authored by women in languages other than English. She selected a few from the shop stock and assigned a shelf to the cause, directly beneath the shelf assigned to Harry Potter books…

My translation of George Sand’s ‘Spiridion’ in the front row…

She then put a post on Paperchain’s Facebook page showing some translated books written by women and available in her shop.

This month, try to read at least one translated book originally written by a woman. I’m reading a book of poems by New Caledonian author, Déwé Gorodé, translated by Raylene Ramsay and Deborah Walker, and from the same island some short stories by Claudine Jacques, which are not yet available in English but will be, just as soon as I find a publisher for my work!

So, think outside the box that contains only male English-writing authors, and enjoy some of the other outstanding books from around the world.

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Weekly photo challenge: Fun

Fun with Australian animals:

Today – at Burrinjuck Dam: It might be a famous spot for fishing competitions, but the fish in our fish and chips was sadly not from the dam. Still, we enjoyed eating it at a picnic table in the sun, in the serenity of the Burrinjuck National Park, even in the company of five kangaroos that hopped up to us like seagulls coming begging from snackers at the beach. One kangaroo, her joey frequently popping its head out, moved in closer and closer, which would have been more fun if she weren’t drooling and dripping her drool close to our food. But it was not the scent of the fish and chips she had picked up, it was my leather bag. (A clue to the type of leather?) The further away I pushed the bag, the further across the table she stretched.

Last week – at home: A kookaburra was lingering in our front yard, sitting in the old ash tree, on the hose reel, on the gate, and finally on the tap post. Merry merry king of our yard is he. My son felt a personal challenge to try to pat him, and succeeded. It’s a fun Australian memory for Josh now; a few days later he moved to Munich with his wife, and today sent me a photo of himself beside a pretty German stream.

May – at Wagga Wagga zoo: Another son, Ben, took me to the Wagga zoo for Mother’s Day. I felt just a little sorry for this emu confined to its own bit of park. But perhaps I was just endowing him with human emotions. He was probably looking back at me thinking: what goggly eyes you have, and what bad hair!

It’s always fun to find the human in an animal.

Thanks WordPress for the challenge.

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A hundred years ago in Pozières

In recent years, thousands of us have become avid family historians. The more information that is made electronically and freely available, the more we search, and the more we know. I know things that my parents never knew, and some of my ancestors would no doubt be horrified to know what I know about them. To know that I know, for example, that my grandfather stowed away on a ship so he could join the fight that was the First World War.

Ancestry, Family Search and Findmypast have been (not always reliable) sources for my research, not to mention the very generous provision of (more reliable) digitised newspapers going back to the early 1800s on the National Library’s Trove site, as well as the publishing of war service records by the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial.

Because we now know so much, many of us are commemorating various incidents in our relatives’ lives. This week on the news, I heard of a service in Pozières, France for the centenary of the battle for Pozières ridge on the Western Front which began on 23rd July 1916. It was a costly battle in which 6,700 Australian men died, but which has been ignored until now. It is estimated that 4,000 were never given a burial and are lying beneath the soil of present-day farmland. This week, I, too, am remembering this little village where my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, the stowaway, fought, and survived.

E.W. Bruce one of the soldiers photographed in The Queenslander Pictorial supplement to The Queenslander 1916.

E.W. Bruce, photographed for The Queenslander Pictorial, supplement to The Queenslander 1916.

On 29th July 1916 he was gassed, and later took cover behind a concrete wall with two fellow soldiers; a bomb went off near the wall, which fell on top of them. The other two died. My grandfather was pulled out unconscious, but alive. The gas ruined his eyesight, and his nerves were shot from the bomb blasts. I learned this from his medical records.

Of this day in Pozières, 29th July 1916, Charles Bean, the official Australian war correspondent, wrote in his diary:

Pozières today, no brushwood left – only black trunks – more buildings to be seen than before. Red brown earth. Men quietly dying. … Pozières has been a terrible sight all day … that insatiable factory of ghastly wounds. The men are simply turned in there as into some ghastly giant mincing machine. They have to stay there while shell after huge shell descends with a shriek close beside them. (Diary of CEW Bean, 3DRL606/54/1, pp. 19 & 90)

The gardens of the village of Pozières in August 1916

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This year, since 14th July – Bastille Day – the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra has been flying two French flags out the front of the building. They will remain until 4th August as a sign of respect for the slaughter that occurred in defending the Western Front, in places like the Pozières ridge. By a grim coincidence, the flags might have been raised because of the Bastille Day attack in Nice this month, which is what happened after the attack in Paris last year, but it turns out they were to be raised on that day anyway. A note on the AWM website explains the flying of the French flags:

“The decision was made earlier this month to honour Bastille Day and in recognition of the bond forged between the two nations and the sacrifices made on the Western Front 100 years ago. Given the recent horrific events in Nice and the subsequent loss of life, the flying of the French flag has added significance and our utmost respect.”

My grandfather volunteered to help defend his king and country, and even stowed away, which seems to mean his application was initially rejected. He was nevertheless signed up on arrival in Egypt. After more than a year, he returned home in poor health, which continued to deteriorate for the rest of his life. He couldn’t work for long stretches, had little money and even less sympathy from the government when he applied for a pension as a young man. It took many years and many requests before his debility was acknowledged as war related. But he did marry my lovely grandmother and they had nine children.

A hundred years later, France is under attack again. She will survive, she always does, but it must be easier if she has friends to help her fight and recover.

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Weekly photo challenge: Look up

Friday was grim, grey, an on and off drizzly day. My latest translation had been rejected. My weekly gathering of friends had been cancelled and no one told me. I was more than half-way through The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and had to escape from that dark story.

So, grabbing my umbrella, the one made by Pep’s in Paris when I was a brief neighbour of the small business, I walked out into the great outdoors. I’ve rarely used my Parisian umbrella in this city of more sun than rain. But this winter, it’s wet.

I looked up and saw this spidery mesh of branches.

Wet wintry walk, CanberraIt didn’t make me feel better. But I kept walking, my gloom burning off with each step. As I turned down a bush track, I looked up again and saw this Sulphur-crested cockatoo flying up to the branch above my head. I felt a little love for the world. Even gratefulness for the rain.

Sulphur-crested cockatoo in gum treeBack home, I had to prepare a lesson for a student for the next morning. It was to be poetry, something not too deep, not too obscure, something which might have meaning for her. I selected The World by William Brighty Rands, a poem I’d never read, by a poet I’d never heard of. After Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde had earlier dragged me down, I was pleasantly relieved to read about The World according to Rands. His poem lifted me, and things began to look up.

Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World,
With the wonderful water round you curled,
And the wonderful grass upon your breast –
World, you are beautifully drest.

The wonderful air is over me,
And the wonderful wind is shaking the tree,
It walks on the water, and whirls the mills,
And talks to itself on the tops of the hills.

You friendly Earth, how far do you go,
With the wheatfields that nod and the rivers that flow,
With cities and gardens, and cliffs, and isles,
And people upon you for thousands of miles?

Ah, you are so great, and I am so small,
I tremble to think of you, World, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers today,
A whisper inside me seemed to say,
“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot:
You can love and think, and the Earth cannot.”

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Thanks WordPress for the Look up photo prompt.

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Weekly photo challenge: Curve

This week’s photo prompt, Curve, immediately made me think of the semicircular arches on the Catholic Basilica in Heliopolis, Cairo, or Basilica of the Virgin Mary. I’ve posted a few photos of it in the past, for example here and here and here, but I have a fourth one from a different angle. It’s a church that’s not particularly Roman Catholic in a western European sense, but rather more like the Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, which also has large semicircular arches on its sides, and multiple domes. The Heliopolis basilica is deceptively cake-like in this photo and doesn’t look too monumental, that is, until you look at the little man walking down the road!

Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

I post these images for those who are interested in not-so-ancient Egyptian history; they are from my father’s war album, a collection of photos he took in 1941/42 as well as photos from his mates.

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Close

Once, when we were having a day in the country, not too far from the city, and in fact quite close to Canberra, we discovered not just the Googong dam and spillway, but, continuing a little further along, and crossing a causeway over the Queanbeyan River, we discovered an echidna coming from the river and heading for the road.

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We pulled over and, knowing how slow echidnas go, I took advantage of his handicap to photograph him up close.

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He was a very peaceful little fellow to observe. But he was wary of me, and, unable to run away, he hid his face, hoping he would become invisible. When echidnas feel endangered they try to bury themselves, but since I’d caught him on a rocky surface, it was all he could do to stick his snout in the sand.

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When he looked up and saw me still watching, he made an effort to escape to a place inaccessible to humans. And I have to admit, these brambly blackberry canes covered in thorns (an introduced invasive weed) would leave me scratched and bleeding if I tried to reach into them, but for a creature covered in long sharp quills, this is not a problem.

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I moved away and watched him turn about and head back to the road. Now I feared for his life, I’ve seen a lot of echidna roadkill, and knew he’d be history if it was not his lucky day. But as it turned out, not many cars passed this way while I was there. He made it to the other side, where I once again attempted to get up close. He made a beeline for a large and rather beautiful arrangement of deadwood. I tried to take his photo but he kept hiding his face behind the grey branches.

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Finally he went deep into a sort of cave of dead tree trunks and vegetation debris, and all I could see was his spiky rear end disappearing into the safe shadows. If you look carefully, you’ll see his round back at about the centre of this photo:

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Thanks to Ailsa at Where’s my backpack, I remembered my close encounter with a spiny spiky prickly thorny much-loved Australian animal, an echidna.

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The Mandrake

‘The Mandrake’, my translation of ‘La Mandragore’ by Jean Lorrain – about a princess who gives birth to a frog – has just been published in a new literary journal, Belmont Story Review. I missed its appearance in May in this first issue, and discovered it one afternoon this past week when searching randomly online. A delightful surprise!

Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review

Cover of first issue of Belmont Story Review

Jean Lorrain was a French author of the Belle Époque who wrote fantastical stories and novels that were original but often bizarre. He was loathed for the caustic humour of his newspaper columns in which he attacked many of the leading figures of his era. Yet, while his perversions repelled readers, this participant in Belle Époque decadence was also a spectator who wrote sarcastic analyses of its morals: many of his stories encourage questions about prejudices, leaving a reader unmasked and uneasy. Lorrain was particularly renowned for his flamboyant homosexuality and an addiction to ether. No surprise, then, that he died quite young, at 51, in Paris. Today much of his work remains unread, even by the French.

I’ve translated a number of Lorrain’s short stories, with a few published in literary journals. Last year I decided to translate ‘La Mandragore’ (1899), a dark fairy tale brilliantly illustrated by Marcel Pille and available online in the original French edition at Gallica. I submitted my work to a few journals and this year was fortunate to have it accepted. When you’ve read the translation available in print from Amazon or for free on the site of the digital publisher, Issuu, I highly recommend you check out Gallica, where you’ll see amazing illustrations like the one below which will give you clues to the story about a Queen and her frog daughter. Oh, and of course there’s a mandrake, the plant with an eerily human-shaped root…  Illustration by Marcel Pille in original edition of 'La Mandragore' by Jean Lorrain. My translation, 'The Mandrake' has been published in The Belmont Story Review (no illustrations, unfortunately). A Spanish translation was published in 2015, with the original illustrations. Ilustración de Marcel Pille para la obra La Mandrágora, de Jean Lorraine.:

‘La Mandragore’ has also been translated into Spanish by Alicia Mariño and Luis Alberto, and it looks to be a beautiful edition that includes the original illustrations.

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Weekly photo challenge: Spare

A few years ago, some friends of ours let us stay in their beach house at South Durras on the south coast of New South Wales. We headed up along the Princes Highway looking for Durras Drive, and as we turned the corner, there was this remnant of a barn. We’ve passed it many times since then, and each time I’ve had an internal debate about its appeal. Why do I look at it for as long as I can, until the car has gone too far? Is it beauty I’m seeing? My gut reaction is yes, but I can’t explain why. A few weeks ago I decided to snap a few photos and go home and think about it.

We pulled off to the side of the road where the bare tyre-marked patch made it clear that numbers of cars had done exactly the same over the years. What is it about the old barn that makes drivers suddenly stop on their way to South Durras beach, and gaze in awe at a structure that has lost its original potential?

Looking at the images today, I can see that the beauty in the ruin is the remains of its frame, the grey of its weathered wood, the rust on the old sheets of corrugated iron. And its size, impressive and significant, suggests strength and persistence, a refusal to lie down and die; it’s a paradox, its life is ending yet it’s not.

There’s not a lot that the barn could be used for now. Perhaps it would keep light rain off our heads, perhaps it casts a large shadow where cattle and horses can retreat from the heat. But thanks to its slow deterioration, the ruin gives travellers who turn the corner off the highway for the first time, as we did, this brilliant wow moment when they gaze on the spare interior and crumbling exterior. Thanks Daily Post for the prompt.

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Weekly photo challenge: Face

If you’re looking for some mild amusement, and you have an Apple computer, check out the Faces option in the ‘Apple Photos’ application. It collects images of faces, that is, anything that resembles two human eyes above a nose above a mouth. It doesn’t always get it right. Sometimes it finds sculpted faces, though they can look real enough, like these resting on top of the pond in the Sculpture Garden at the National Gallery, faces that produce a physical reaction in passers-by:

Heads National Gallery Sculpture Garden

Dadang Christanto, ‘Heads from the North’ 2004, Sculpture Garden, National Gallery of Australia

It’s not just 3D images it finds; even 2D painted faces are thrown into the collection with photos of real faces. Here it places two faces from For of Such is the Kingdom of Heaven by Frank Bramley (1891) hanging in the Auckland Art Gallery, New Zealand, next to my beautiful daughters-in-law:

Beautiful girls painted and real

How about this image of a sun sinking into the sea? I do love a good sunset, but if I’m looking for the reassurance of a human face, I prefer my son, not the sun!

Sunset and handsome boy

But even more mysterious, curious and ridiculous, a photo of a kangaroo’s tail and back legs, sideways. I’ve looked at this circle with my glasses on and glasses off. I can’t see any face. But it’s good for a laugh!

Kangaroo tail, sideways

It was truly surprising to see all the faces (recognised by Apple) from my photos. There were even some I had previously ignored for being too small or blurry in the background of another subject. As I was scrolling through them all, another son walked into the room and exclaimed his delight at all the faces of our family and friends appearing in a long stream across my screen. It was a bit of fun, and was fit fodder for the photo challenge this week.

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