The War of the Worlds. Read the blurb on the front cover of this 1910 edition: ‘It is a story which no ordinary reader can possibly put down half finished.’
And that’s because when you’ve half-finished reading it, you’re at a point of suspense that drives you onwards through the chapters. I’ve been reading this book online, having succumbed to the temptation of instant literature. Normally I go to a library and get the physical book to read, which should be possible with any classic. But not this time. To my disappointment, my local libraries don’t have copies of it; it’s either lost, available only as an audio-book or video, or is held in a faraway place. You’d think that libraries in a capital city would ensure they have copies of every classic on their shelves. Of course, I could always go out and buy it but then it would be yet another book to store in my house. Libraries are a gift.
Searching for the centre of The War of the Worlds online, I took the plain text version which is 111 pages long, then went to p. 55 and read these tense lines in the chapter ‘The Exodus from London’ which follows a number of chaos-filled chapters where Martians had invaded the suburbs of London, killing citizens with their Heat-Ray and a black vapour they discharged into the streets:
‘All the railway lines north of the Thames and the South-Eastern people at Cannon Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and trains were being filled. People were fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriages even at two o’clock. By three, people were being trampled and crushed even in Bishopsgate Street, a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpool Street station; revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct the traffic exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect.’
Header: artwork by Alvim Corréa for a 1906 Belgian edition. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Think ‘big’. Now think ‘Egypt’. Perhaps you’re having visions of big protests in the streets, and as I’ve just heard five minutes ago on the evening news: ‘Another day of rage and bloodshed’.
Perhaps you’re thinking of other big Egyptian things: pyramids, massive pharaonic statues, or the sphinx. But here’s something else that’s big in Egypt: the citadel in Cairo, a 12th-century fortification against the Crusaders, and the mosque on its summit built centuries later by Muhammad Ali between 1824 and 1848.
In 1801, Muhammad Ali was appointed by the Ottoman Sultan in Constantinople to be governor in Egypt. But he had bigger plans.
In 1805 he began eliminating the Mamluks, his main competition, a warrior group who for centuries had worked for the Ottoman Empire and the Sultan. In 1811, Muhammad Ali invited the Mamluk leaders to a ceremony in his palace in the citadel, and as they were leaving he had them massacred. In the following days large numbers of Mamluks were killed in the city. Years later, in 1824, he razed the Mamluk buildings in the citadel and in 1830 began building his mosque in the style of the Ottomans in Turkey. The building, with its one main cupola, four smaller and four half-cupolas, resembles the Turkish Blue Mosque. On his death in 1849 Muhammad Ali was buried under it.
Next to it in this photo is one of the Mamluk mosques that remained in the citadel, the Mosque of Mahmud Pasha built in 1567 in the Mamluk architectural tradition, with a pencil-shaped minaret characteristic of Ottoman mosques.
The painting below by David Roberts in 1839 shows the citadel before Muhammad Ali’s mosque was built; it looks quite different from the photo, but the title on the painting tells us it’s the same place:
Even the painting evokes something big! We can see the grandeur of the citadel viewed from above a parapet and also a sense of the size of the structures when compared with the Arab groups dotted in the foreground.
But return to the photo and take a moment to look at the street scene. Peace. It will come again.
This is an account of connections observed when a translator, or any writer, is absorbed in a story.
This morning as I searched through a Wikipedia entry about One Thousand and One Nights for the use of a particular phrase, I came across the sub-heading ‘Foreshadowing’, which, I learned, is a literary device used by an author to hint at certain plot developments such as a disastrous end for the hero. Ah, what a coincidence, I thought, having just posted a blog entry in response to the WordPress weekly photo challenge for which the prompt was foreshadow. Clicking on the highlighted term ‘foreshadowing’ on the Wikipedia page took me to another page where I saw an illustration by Arthur Rackham of the Rhine maidens warning Siegfried of a curse and looming disaster.
Ah, I thought again, what a coincidence! Just a few days ago, reading up on the Symbolism of artists and writers of the 1890s, all the better to understand the story I was translating that day, I came across a painting in a large book about nineteenth-century art, a work by Albert Pinkham Ryder called Siegfried and the Rhine Maidens. It surprised me at the time because it virtually depicts a particular detail in the story I was working on, Useless Virtue (L’Inutile Vertu) by Jean Lorrain (1895). Yet another coincidence. Here’s the painting from the NGA (USA) web site:
The scene with Siegfried and the maidens comes from Wagner’s opera, Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods), which inspired many painters and writers of the 1890s who produced stories and paintings that transport the reader or viewer, as Wagner did, to a mystical land where symbols foreshadow an unhappy destiny for the hero. There is often a sunless sky or a glowing moon, a mythical natural landscape of forests, mists, bodies of water, and nymphs – often in groups – who seductively invite the hero to join them.
In a few paragraphs from Useless Virtue, Jean Lorrain could have been writing about Wagner’s Rhine maidens. The hero, Bertram, even wears a winged helmet like Siegfried in the paintings above. The story is a gloomy one and quite different from Götterdämmerung, but there’s a moral at the end: there is punishment for a man who avoids temptation all his life! I enjoyed translating the vivid imagery, partly because this week I’ve stumbled across these few connections to the story. Vive la coïncidence!
Trembling. It’s what I do best. I’m an expert at trembling. I have an incredible mastery of trembling. Had it since I was very small. Since the day I started kindergarten, the teacher has been telling my mother who comes to pick me up every day, running from the Sendai–Minami Sanriku train; she has been telling my father who never misses a fete at the Shizugawa school: Your daughter, she trembles; it’s amazing how she trembles; it’s amazing how well she trembles. Perhaps she didn’t say exactly that at the end, Your daughter, how well she trembles, but she looked so impressed that I think she did. I am the best at trembling.
It began the first time someone said, All children under the table. At first, I hesitated. When the voice repeated, All children under the table, the Earth is trembling, I thought, it’s the table with the red tablecloth, and on top of it all the flowers and the birds and the horses and the multicoloured lanterns of the origami class for the school fete, if it starts trembling, us underneath, no one to watch it, everything will be knocked to the ground, the fete knocked to the ground. But the voice insisted, so I slipped under the table with the others, and I thought the only thing to do was to tremble all together, me, us, the table, the flowers, the birds, the horses, the multicoloured lanterns of the origami class for the school fete. And that’s what I did; every time, that’s what I did and the teacher said, Your daughter, she’s an earthquake on legs; and the old doctor Tokiji Watanabe looked at me for a long time, a long time, and he said, There is actually a sickness called ‘Essential Tremor’ or ‘Familial Tremor’, but to be sure, we’ll have to wait till she grows up, and she’ll have to learn to live with it.
Learn to live with it; Papa says, It’s Shinto, it’s knowing that everything is connected, nothing and no one is ever separated, it’s our pride. I’m not sick, my name is Katsumi, Victorious Beauty; my father chose my name and he never misses the school fete that takes a long time, a long time to get ready, sometimes all year, and every day when parents ask, What did you do today?, me, Katsumi, I answer, Today we got ready for the school fete, and the next day, and for days and days, when Papa or Mama asks What did you do today?, always the same answer, Today we got ready for the school fete.
This morning, Friday 11th March 2011, for the school fete, for the origami class, I brought in some beautiful old paper that Grandma Sadako gave me. There’s a drawing on it that frightens me, but Papa says, Fear is like the tengu, like trembling, you must tame it; take this picture, it’s by Hokusai, our ‘Old man mad on painting’, his Great Wave off Kanagawa, it’s everywhere in the world, it’s our pride. So I dared to take it because folding, it calms my trembling, and especially because I saw her in the folds, the creases, the teeth and the claws of the sea on the paper: the crane of my dream. She was just waiting for me so she could fly away. And that’s what I did. All morning, I had to fight with this rotten drawing and my trembling. In the end, she was standing on the table with the red tablecloth; the one‑thousandth crane for Grandma Sadako, who folds one every day, saying, It’s my prayer; and she was the most beautiful, too.
She’s Prussian blue and yellow ochre, with greys like you’ve never seen over her whole body; here pale like shellfish soup, there dark like pea soup, and a very white spot on her throat. The great wave living inside her doesn’t frighten me any more. Papa is right. Everything is connected, no one is separated. It was 2.30pm when the voice shouted, All children, quick, the Earth’s trembling. I held her close to me under the table with the red tablecloth. Both of us lying down, folded, patient. When I put her up to my ear, I clearly heard the roar of the sea; Mama, running from the Sendai–Minami Sanriku train; Papa, his footsteps, full of pride, coming to the school fete. She was just waiting for me so she could fly away. I’m not trembling any more.
For a couple of years I’ve had a small copy of this painting on my wall. It reminds me of one of the photo challenges for January: Launch. On this last day of January, I want to show it to you. It’s a blogging analogy. On 1st January I started this blog, lifting off in colourful company. Some float with me, some observe from solid ground.
The hot air balloon launched at the Chateau de la Muette was the first untethered manned flight. It was invented by the Montgolfier brothers; thus, in French, it’s called a montgolfière. The painting above is part of the National Library collection here in Canberra.