19th Dec – My son cooked dinner for the six of us in his apartment. It’s his 24th birthday but he spoilt us.
20th Dec – In my household, 4 things have an imperfection in their 4th working part:
One leg has rusted off my fashionably pre-rusted outdoor table;
One of four glass feet on a blue heirloom vase broke off and rejects the strongest glue;
Our dog’s fourth leg hangs limply since he broke a ligament;
One candle on a German Christmas carousel burns out before the other three. But here it is, running on 4 pistons:
21st Dec – Received an email from a publisher’s employee with the Dickensian name of Robert Puffett.
22nd Dec – On a shady bench in the Sculpture Garden, away from visitor paths, I read my translation aloud into a recorder.
23rd Dec – At 7 am as I wandered in the garden, bees buzzed about my ears and eyes. I looked up into the fig tree and saw and heard a swarm of them gathering sweet sticky honeydew left by a plague of aphids.
Ailsa’s photo challenge focuses on travel, http://wheresmybackpack.com/2012/12/21/travel-theme-festive/, and most (if not all) my contributions have been of photos taken far from home. Usually, travel is for the fun of it. But occasionally, throughout history, people have travelled to far-off lands to help defend them. For soldiers, travel is small compensation for a life that is dangerous, short on comfort and long on discipline. Christmas, for those raised in countries where it is celebrated, is a time when they feel particularly separated from their countrymen back home. For the A.I.F. (Australian Imperial Forces) in the Middle East in WWII, some comfort was offered in the establishment of a newspaper, the A.I.F. News. It was not only the first army newspaper for Australian troops, but the first in any theatre of war. Initially it was printed in Jerusalem, and later transferred to Cairo. Here’s the Christmas issue for December 1941.
Another form of comfort was writing. So far away from home at Christmas, the soldiers didn’t feel festive or joyous, especially if they’d seen horrors and lost companions in grim battle scenes. Many wrote poetry about the separation from girlfriends and families; the following poem, Christmas Bells, expresses both kinds of grief, separation that is temporary and the other, which is for ever. The poem is in my father’s poetry anthology, but it was written by Spr. E. Locke and was published in the A.I.F. News Christmas edition in the photo above. I’ll add my transcription after the image.
“Say, cobber, did you hear a sound
above the battle’s din?
A sound as sweet as music
that awakes response within;
I’m sure I heard it clearly,
above the bursting shells,
I’m sure the sound was happiness,
the chime of Christmas Bells.
“It wasn’t on the battlefield,
but came from o’er the foam,
from the land of joy and sunshine,
and the folks we left at home;
It seemed to hold a note of peace,
to tell of joys to come;
of many happy Christmases,
when fighting days are done.
“And now the dust of battle
and the torn and broken ground
have changed into a happy scene
and friends are all around;
How strange! The noise of screaming
shells has changed, and now I hear
The merry laugh of happy friends
That I hold ever dear.
“The scene is fading fast, mate,
But the Christmas bells ring clear,
and they’ll miss us over there, mate,
when they greet the newborn year;
But yet we will be there with them,
to give the year a start;
For though we’re miles across the sea
We’re always in their heart.”
14th Dec – One of my students said today after our last lesson, ‘I’ll miss you’. This is unusual for me.
15th Dec – Watched a six-year old write in cursive, something most older children and young adults can’t do these days.
16th Dec – Saw the word ‘themself’ in the latest translation of Les Misérables. If the translator wrote it (eek!) then why didn’t the editor fix it? Do they both think it’s a word?
17th Dec – Taught a student last week how to crochet triangles and today I was going to teach her how to join them together. But she turned up with a whole bag made from them. Left me standing in the dust cloud.
18th Dec – Saw some bugs that like only white things (they used to gather in hundreds on my white washing). Last night they were asleep in a huddle on my white hydrangea. Dreaming of a white Christmas… This morning they were awake and working.
Someone is going out in style in what must be a Christian funeral, the carriage decked with a cross and angels, moving past a mosque! This is the first mosque built in Heliopolis, the present-day outer suburb of Cairo which the Belgian Baron Empain built out of the desert in the early 1900s. The mosque was built in 1911 in Mosque Square (Midan al-Gami).
The photo shows a pretty blend of Islamic and Christian ‘architectural’ embellishment, particularly the rooftops, the parts closest to heaven… I also couldn’t help noticing the Egyptian religious tolerance of the 1940s.
9th Dec – My son told me he hides in car boots to get into places… He reminded me that my grandfather was a stowaway on a ship going to the First World War.
10th Dec – To sell their house, our neighbours got rid of their chickens, and now a small tree grows where they used to run. Something on a branch hanging on my side of the fence caught my eye – cherries!
11th Dec – Read two articles by professional translators, one grumbling about dogs and their owners, another who can’t work without his dog beside him.
12th Dec – Walked into a friend’s study and was confronted by a dress hanging beside the door, a 1920s apricot lace dress with a satin hip sash and bow that she’d bought in a 2nd-hand shop. While we sat talking, the handle of the door turned, the door opened a fraction and closed again, the handle turned back. She assured me it was air movement and that it wasn’t the woman coming to claim her dress.
13th Dec – Put on a lip balm called Baby Lips; my lips swelled outside and in, like an allergic reaction. I think that was the cosmetic plan, to puff them up like a baby’s.
4th Dec – My 40-year-old Chinese student doesn’t know where Israel is, and has never heard of it.
5th Dec – My 12-year-old Cambodian student prefers to write left-handed but in Cambodia it wasn’t allowed.
6th Dec – I tutor a primary school student who asked me if tutor is spelt like shooter. She formed her hand into a gun and shot. I assured her they are spelt quite differently.
7th Dec – Sitting in the new café at the National Archives, I listened to public servants placing orders: double-shot small latte, normal small latte, soy flat white, weak cappuccino, double-shot cappuccino. No one actually ordered coffee. Not even me. I had tea.
8th Dec – On a hot road, I saw reflections of passing cars in mirages.
High in the mountains in south central France, in the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon, a circular stained glass window draws the eye to a command etched in stone above the door: “Aimez-vous les uns les autres”. Love one another.
For four years during the second world war (1940-1944) the villagers of Le Chambon sheltered refugees from the Nazi regime, mainly Jews. The penalty for hiding a Jew was death for the whole household. Yet everyone in Le Chambon and the surrounding villages risked their lives to help those they believed were being forced outside the circle.
During a sermon in June 1940, the church’s pastor, André Trocmé, asked the villagers not to passively submit to the anti-Semitic laws but rather to welcome refugees being sent to the village as a safe haven, and to develop non-violent ways of dealing with the authorities who would eventually come to round up Jews who they suspected were hiding there. Very few refugees were ever found, for they were successfully hidden in surrounding forest or disguised as relatives or employees of villagers and farmers. The small population worked silently, never revealing even to each other who was hiding in their homes. The command to ‘love one another’ was often referred to in sermons during these years to justify continued resistance to Nazi laws. Many of the people of Le Chambon attended this church and read the words ‘Aimez-vous les uns les autres’ every time they went through the door.
Thousands of Jews and other refugees who were sent to Le Chambon during those four years survived the war, thanks to the actions of these villagers.