I’ve not only changed seasons from winter to summer, I’ve changed countries, again. In this present country, England, in this city, London, each day changes weatherwise. When the temperature’s up and the sky is clear, the ideal summer day, jets leave condensation trails in white exes against the blue, visitors to Hyde Park buy ice creams and let their children play in the ‘Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fountain’, and the park gardeners busily pull out unwanted pond-side plants. Tourists sail on the lake, attracting swans in flocks looking for crumbs. And the ugly duckling born in spring is left to fend for himself, wondering why.
The next day the sky is grey, rain falls on and off for hours, the ground is puddly in the least expected places, and canvas shoes let in water. The old dark brick 18th-century buildings of the former silk manufacturing area, Spitalfields, look worse without sunshine. But I’m sure they’re beauties inside now that the price tags are in the millions.
The soaring Gothic cathedral in Amiens is a medieval beauty by day with an abundance of statuary and stone lace, but at nightfall in summer it becomes a giant canvas for a light show of high-definition coloured images. Nightfall means 11 pm. At 10.45 when I took the first photo, the sky was still deep blue. The days are very long in a northern French summer, but this one just happened to be the summer solstice. The longest day.
The projections are modern for the most part, following the lines of the facade, highlighting them and even appearing to move parts of the cathedral about.
The best is left till last. In the beginning of their existence (approx. 1220 – 1270) the statues were polychrome, a feature revealed during the laser cleaning of the facade in the 1990s. Time has stripped them back mostly to bare stone; only a few small areas of colour can be detected here and there, and if you didn’t know they were once painted, you wouldn’t notice even these patches. But, for one transient moment, our brilliant 21st-century lighting people can restore the medieval colours for us.
The statuary is mostly far above my head, so photography is a good way to look closer at the details. I particularly like the central tympanum depicting the last judgment. In the middle register, the naked damned are led to hell, while the saved are clothed and led to heaven. I’m hoping to be among the clothed.
Each image projected onto the cathedral facade lasts but a moment, the spectacle itself lasts half an hour, and even the lighting patterns change from time to time. But the cathedral itself has stood solid and unchanging since the 13th century, a survivor of wars and revolutions. It reminds me that if I leave something behind, it had better be good; it may be around for centuries.
June in Munich. It’s hot, surprisingly hot. Two months ago it was still cold and even snowing a bit. Now, after the long winter, the population of Munich has come outside. Large numbers of people are running and cycling in the streets and exercising in the parks. In the Englischer Garten they even surf!
A small man-made river, the Eisbach, flows through the Garden with a current so forceful that the ducks don’t need to paddle. In one section near a bridge, a standing wave has been created, and though swimming in the river is not allowed, the rule is bent for surfers (München rules generally seem made to be broken), with the exception, noted on a sign, that the wave is only for experienced and skilled surfers.
The surfers are out every morning, but on Sunday morning in the Englischer Garten there were people not just surfing, or strolling like me; others were boxing, studying, cuddling, meditating, photographing, dog-walking, or doing a little yoga:
Nearby, at the end of Prinzregentenstrasse where I went to gaze on a golden angel, the Friedensengel, I found a photographer with models, exercising of course. The stone angel babies almost seem to be joining in the whole Munich exercise trend.
I’ve seen the seasons change in a few cities this month, starting with Canberra, then Singapore, and now Munich. Cardinal Guzman likes to see seasons change and prompted me to do the same.
First thing on a Singaporean June morning, steamy air fogs the lens and veils the purple bougainvillea in mist.
By 6.30 on a Saturday morning the revellers have all gone home and a man sits alone in peace beneath colourful colonial architecture, a combination of Chinese, Muslim and British influences. He watches a video on his phone, oblivious to the loud repetitive soundtrack, a version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
At midday, amid a mass of visitors to the Botanic Gardens, amid the lush vegetation found here and throughout the island, a bride in red and her less spectacular husband pose beside an old fig, its roots resembling two human legs and perhaps a tail.
When Cardinal Guzman posed this prompt to photograph the changing seasons, he wanted a photo of the same place each month. I’ve already covered Canberra for June, but have ended up in Singapore, a country with no winter. Just heat and humidity and eternal summer.
It’s officially the first month of winter in Australia. Here in this part of the country that’s more wintry than most, many of the trees are leafless, the maximum today is 13, feels like 8, the public servants still run morning, noon and night even when the wind is blowing at 35 knots, and if you’re standing beside the lake taking photos of the landscape, you get wet.
My translation of Claudine Jacques’ Condamné à perpétuité, “Life Sentence”, has today been published by Southerly, the journal of the English Association at Sydney University. The journal is available to purchase in print or digitally.
Southerly is dedicated to publishing new Australian literature. I feel honoured to have had my work selected, given that the author I’ve translated lives in New Caledonia, a French island about two hours off the coast of Queensland. However, I’m Australian and the English is mine. The story has much in it that was familiar to me as a child in Queensland: tropical flora, heat, ocean. But one thing I’m not familiar with is leprosy, the topic. There’s a little island clearly visible from Brisbane called Peel Island, which in the past when anyone asked was always quickly identified as the leper colony. The question was a good conversation killer. All we knew was that those who lived there had been expelled from the mainland. No one actually knew what it was like to be there.
Reading Condamné à perpétuité gave me a bit of an insight into life on an Island of Lepers.
To encourage you to read the translation, I’ll reveal that “Life Sentence” has a happy(ish) ending.
I feel especially fortunate that Southerly has published it since the theme of their current issue is Persian literature! “Life Sentence” is one of the few stories included that are outside the theme. Thank you Southerly.
(Be assured this is the latest issue despite the 2016 date.)
From time to time literary translators seek an analogy to help others see what it is that a translator does with a story. When I hear a great cover version of a song or a piece of instrumental music I see the similarity with translation. It’s a work originally written by one artist but interpreted by another. A composer writes a piece of music and another musician can play it, but no two interpretations of the score will be the same. The player or singer always puts a little of himself into the piece. And so it is with translators.
I have sons who play piano or guitar or sing a cappella in quartets, and when they want to learn a new song, they listen to other musicians performing live or on Internet videos. As I’m listening in the background, I note that the same song can sound so different according to the singers’ skills, their personal histories and their countries of origin.
Here’s a good example of a piece of music interpreted quite differently from its original version, though it is equally entertaining and touching. It was a performance in April when my son Ben competed with a quartet in a contest in Sydney for the Barbershop Harmony Australia association. Barbershop singing has changed a lot since its beginnings and is now less about boater hats and corny gestures than the precision of singing four-part harmony without instrumental accompaniment.
Left to right, Danny, Ben, Geordie and Adam – Fresh Notes – sing It’s You, written by Meredith Willson for the 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man. Fresh Notes came second in the contest.
The lyrics and melody are Meredith Willson’s, but the style and composition for the quartet belong uniquely to Fresh Notes. Remembering this helps me to relax when I’m translating, it reminds me that sometimes the cover version can be as good as, even better than, the original.
Like a musician, a literary translator takes someone else’s composition and performs it in his own special way.