Today my translation of Théodore de Banville’s ‘La Lydienne’ (The Lydian) was published by Black Sun Lit on their web site.
The Lydian is a statue of Queen Omphale, queen of Lydia in Greek mythology. Théodore de Banville’s story is about a sculptor who creates a marble statue of her and falls in love with it. With her. His love is so powerful that she comes to life…
There are a few real sculptures of her in the world and even more paintings, particularly accompanied by Hercules who was her slave for a year. This sculpture by Constantin Dausch is my favourite of all those I’ve seen online:
It’s been more than a year since I’ve had any of my translations published, so I’m having a very good day.
The original was written in 1882. For me the second half of the 19th century was one of the greatest eras for literature. If you too enjoy fantasy and “art for art’s sake” (de Banville’s literary philosophy), this story will be a good one for you.
Alicia Martin, ‘Biografias’, installation in Cordoba, Spain, Photo courtesy of Toni Castillo Quero, Creative Commons
Over the past decade university libraries have been systematically removing books from their shelves.
Michael Wilding, ‘University Libraries should Preserve Printed Books’ in The Weekend Australian, 23rd August 2017
Last week’s opening line came from a short story by Michael Wilding. Now I’m drawing on him again, but today’s opening line is no fiction. It’s sadly the absolute truth about our libraries. He has written at least three pieces over the past seven years to alert the world to the emptying of its libraries.
Wilding is in some ways a man after my own heart. I’ve been told that my local university library will one day be purged of old French books (among other foreigners), so I’ve been borrowing what I can to prove they are wanted, to keep them out of the book cemetery.
In March 2014 Wilding wrote ‘Libraries Under Threat’ in Sydney Review of Books, and revealed what happened to some books from the University of Western Sydney:
… skip loads of books deemed duplicates, silver-fish infested and surplus to requirements were thrown out and used for landfill.
The men of the twenty-ninth century live in a perpetual fairyland, though they do not seem to realise it.
Opening line, In the Twenty-Ninth Century, by Michel and Jules Verne, 1889, translated by I.O. Evans, 1965
The full title of this short story which is mostly the work of Jules Verne’s son, Michel, is In the Twenty-Ninth Century. The day of an American journalist in the year 2889. The story was originally written in English by an uncredited translator working with Michel Verne, and was later improved by Jules and published in French. (Michel’s English was too poor to write a publishable story.) It appeared in a New York periodical, The Forum, in 1889, a thousand years before the events depicted.
I had an ‘Ah!’ moment when I recently read the story in a Jules Verne collection. Near the end, a scientist tries to hibernate for 100 years, for pure love of science, by exposing himself to a cold of 172 deg Centigrade and then being shut up in a tomb. On the appointed day for his resurrection, the coffin is opened and the body is still mummified. Nothing brings it back to life. It’s concluded that the method ‘still needs to be perfected’.
But I had already suspected that Verne had written something about the dead returning to life because of this postcard I bought at his house (now a Jules Verne museum) in Amiens earlier this year, which was definitely more interesting than any tomb. As you see, he’s bursting up out of his grave, alive again, though only in a sculpture that was added two years after his death in 1905.
An amusing foresight in the story is the phonotelephotic apparatus used by the characters Francis and Edith Bennett, who like to have lunch while in two separate places, talking to each other on the screen while eating. A video phone, we might call it. It’s a part of the fairyland mentioned in the opening line, but it’s also a good prediction on the part of Jules’ son Michel.
And it’s elements like these in old science fiction that make the stories fun to read, picking out what has actually come to pass and what is yet to be ‘perfected’.
Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, where the right way was lost.
Opening line of Canto 1, “Hell”, The Divine Comedy, Dante, completed 1320, translated by Charles Eliot Norton.
Dante has lost the “right way” and hopes to find it before he grows old. But he begins his work “Midway upon the journey of our life”, that is, when he was about 43, though it was not midway for him; he died at 56.
Many of us live long past 56, though some old people seem to be still in the dark wood that comes with weariness and a tired mind, a thought that occurred to me this week in the National Gallery of Australia where thirteen old men in electric wheelchairs are rolling around a room aimlessly, dozing, sleeping, or staring into space. They’re not real. They’re an exhibit by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, “Old People’s Home”, part of the Hyper Real sculpture exhibition.
Unlike Dante I’m not in a dark wood turning over thoughts of hell, purgatory and heaven. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to purgatory, but I’m not so certain I won’t end up in its earthly counterpart as a model for the two Beijing artists when they create the female version of Old People’s Home.
In Montmartre, on the third floor of 75b Rue d’Orchampt, there lived an excellent gentleman called Dutilleul, who possessed the singular gift of passing through walls without any trouble at all.
From The Man Who Walked Through Walls, 1941, Marcel Aymé, translated by Sophie Lewis
In my previous post about a great opening line I introduced the French author, Marcel Aymé, and his short story, The Wolf, written for children albeit with a pretty scary moral. Aymé also wrote fantasy for adults, and is possibly most famous for his tale about a man who walked through walls. There are several English translations around, but this one (above) is the best I could lay my hands on.
Back in May I blogged about a new sculpture that was set in place on Anzac Parade in Canberra as a memorial for the Boer War in South Africa (1899 – 1902). Before the official opening, the sculpture was covered in black plastic, or rather the sculptures, all four of them. It was a weird sight, especially at dusk and in the evening. The sculptures were covered for a couple of weeks, and looked like this:
Is it unusual to cover a sculpture in black plastic before a big reveal?
At last at the end of May the plastic was removed and now we have this magnificent arrangement to admire as we drive or walk past:
The sculptor, Louis Laumen, created four bronze riders and horses that for all the world appear to actually be riding out from the gum trees and down the slope towards the road. From a distance they look life-size but they’re actually larger than life. A short path at the back lets us walk around the entire group and touch the horses and riders.
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.
Cones. Bert Flugelman (1923-2013) created them, and the National Gallery put them out under the blue Australian sky in the Sculpture Garden. Flugelman produced a number of stainless steel sculptures in Australia (where he lived), not to be confused with Austria (where he was born).
Children and adults alike love the 20 metres of image-distorting steel forms. You can be as thin, fat, short or tall as you want. Cones is a paradox, a totally unembellished minimalist artwork yet filled with detailed images. The seven iconic conic sculptures reflect this little bit of Australia, the sky and trees and flowers and dry sandy ground. And anyone standing around.
Today I was fortunate to find myself alone in this corner of the Garden to snap some photos sans visitors. My camera’s eye caught me in the stainless steel mirror, and my mind made a link to the nearby Portrait Gallery where I had just spent an hour, where I had seen a self-portrait of Bert Flugelman (it’s a sculpture), and now here he gives me my own self-portrait, an image of no one in particular. Indeed, it’s better (in my humble opinion) than the self-portraits by Ken Done and Sidney Nolan that really do look like no one in particular!
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:
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:
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!
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!
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.
In the 1800s, the town of Helwan was Egypt’s winter resort for the wealthy. During the Second World War, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were resident in the area and visited these gardens constructed in 1917 by the architect Zulfiqar Pasha, who gave them a Japanese theme with about forty Buddha statues, elephants, a Japanese-style bridge and pagodas.
After the 1952 revolution the gardens were neglected and Helwan became an industrial area. However, about a decade ago, with help from the Japanese Embassy, they were restored as a Japanese Garden. Once more it has become a desirable escape from the crowds of Cairo. It’s not just tourists who enjoy the space; most Muslim locals also love it as a green oasis amid decrepit concrete buildings, even accepting the novelty of Buddha statues in a Japanese garden, the only one in the Middle East.
In an earlier blog post, I had previously posted the photo of the seated Buddha on a lotus flower and the three elephants, but I deleted it. However, I’m posting it again, because today I was reminded of the value of photos.
When I went searching online for current images of these statues, I found that my photo had been copied before I deleted it, and then it was used to illustrate a couple of stories about the demise of the statues. The Buddha has been beheaded and the elephants de-trunked. What a horrifying discovery! A couple of web sites have stories or brief notes about the destruction, and the authors of these sites have used my photo to show the statues as they were in the 1940s.
My father’s collection of wartime photos is a valuable historical resource, and I’m pleased to be able to share them through this blog. However, it’s disappointing that I received no credit as owner of the photo. Take a look at this Twitter post, for example, and a news site, here, which has put its own name across the bottom of the photo. Please, if you wish to use my photos in your stories, ask me before copying them, and give me credit. Thanks.