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.
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.
We’ve needed a memorial for the mounted troops who fought there between 1899 and 1902. That gap will soon be filled. 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.
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.
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.
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.