The Enchanted Ring

Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).

To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).

Claude Monet, ‘Vétheuil, Paysage’, 1879

Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:

Auguste Renoir, ‘The Daughters of Catulle Mendès’, (1888), Huguette b. 1871, Claudine b. 1876, Helyonne b. 1879

Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.

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Nervous

We arrived at the ruins of the burnt-out observatory at Mount Stromlo before the sun set yesterday, excited about the performance we were about to see: “Nervous” by the Australian Dance Party, an hour of contemporary dance, music and lighting.

At eight o’clock, inside the structure in the light of the early evening, four dancers began their interpretation of the inner turmoil of nervousness, while the audience waited outside in anticipation, peeking in through the doorway. At last we were invited into the space to find a chair or floor cushion to settle into for the performance as the dancers slowly and aimlessly walked about the circular centre of the floor, confronting each other and almost colliding, wondering about the thing that was making them nervous.

And then they seemed to come together in harmony and moved as one.

Once the audience was comfortably seated, the dancers picked up speed, and the idea moved from wondering to worrying. The nerves were back in control, and we soon learnt why, through the dialogue of the blonde dancer: “Hey, there’s something I really need to talk to you about.” We heard it over and over in different phrasings, as she talked to herself or moved up to the audience and addressed them directly. Hello, there’s something…. No. Hey, how are you? There’s something I… No. Ahhhh, there’s something I really… No. Ughhh, just act natural… Why is this so hard?…

And as she practised her speech, the other three were her conscience, the angels and devils telling her she was doing it right and doing it wrong and she was hopeless at this but had to do it anyway. The four became one conscience and approached the audience, and again the blonde spoke, Hey, there’s something I really…, while a second dancer held her breath, another writhed and the fourth groaned painfully. All of that stuff that goes on inside us while we’re trying to appear calm and in control.

Eventually the nervousness conquered its victims and they could do no more than lie on the cold concrete floor in the purple light of defeat…

Over all of this movement was the intense electronic music composed by Ben Worth (my son), pulsating and vibrating and making us physically vibrate with it. It was loud and soft and occasionally absent but it always returned. And there was Robbie, the lighting guy up there on the platform with Ben, playing his lights over the dancers as darkness descended. Robbie’s light show became one of the players playing with the dancers’ nerves.

Ben, left, Robbie, right (behind scaffold)

By nine o’clock, the sky above the roofless structure was black and starry with a crescent moon and nearby Venus growing brighter by the minute. Some cords from the floor became a prop that lit up and tangled about them, winding around and wrapping them up. The music stopped, the darkness was almost complete. Someone began clapping, and we realised this was the end.

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Weekly photo challenge: Mirror

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).

‘Cones’ in spring, Sculpture Garden, NGA

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!

Self-portrait with wattle
Self-portrait with wattle

Thanks to the WordPress photo challenge, I was prompted to get my camera out today as I was passing through the Sculpture Garden.

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The sleeper wakes?

There are times when a gallery visit can be dull, and others that are unforgettable.  When I walked into this room of old Australian art, I experienced a moment of consternation as the walls leapt out from behind the turn-of-the-century artworks.  All four walls were painted in a red and black chevron pattern, clashing with the soft colours of portraits and landscapes in frames of ornate gold and timber.  The intent was to shock, and it did.  The pattern is a reference to the Wiradjuri people of Australia who paint chevrons on their skin and on trees.  The installation artist is Brook Andrew.

Brook Andrew installation Brisbane
Under the Jacaranda, R. Godfrey Rivers, and Mt Coot-tha from Dutton Park, Evening, F.J. Martyn Roberts

I was disturbed by the clash of loud and soft.  But on this Monday morning there was something even more disturbing in the room.  On one of the viewing seats was an obese boy who had fallen into a deep sleep.  His carers were trying to wake him, calling his name and shaking him.  The gallery guard came to help with a louder voice, keen to move him along.  She called for her colleague to bring an ice pack, which was laid on his shoulders and neck.  He didn’t wake.

Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912
Monday Morning, Vida Lahey, 1912

They phoned his mother, put it on speaker, put the phone near his face, all to no effect.  The guard sent the carers off ‘to have lunch’, trying to trick him into feeling left behind.  No reaction.  He was now sliding off his chair, an ordinary chair, not a sofa, not even a soft chair.  Just a gallery chair, hip but hard.  The guards pushed him back onto it, talking to him all the while.  Nothing.  One guard said to the other, “We haven’t had this before,” and laughed as gravity pulled the boy down again.

Portrait Group, the Mother, G.W. Lambert

The carers had not gone to lunch but were hiding from the boy in the next room.  They peeked round the corner and saw that he hadn’t woken.  The guards warned the sleeping boy that he would have to go home in the back of an ambulance.  His hand twitched, and the guards and carers persisted with the cold pack, calling, rubbing and tugging.

Forty minutes later:  they stood him up but his eyes were still closed.  As I left the room, relieved, they were following me out, the carers guiding him, one each side as he walked blindly.  His huge black t-shirt was too long, hanging down past his shorts, revealing only his heavy shuffling legs. They were taking him home to bed, they said.

I returned to look more closely at the artworks, to try to understand why the walls were screaming in red and black.  But I could think of nothing but the boy, who must have been heavily medicated.  Those chevrons are emblazoned in my memory, but the boy whose eyes never opened will not remember them.

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Pinboard

Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use).  One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works.  I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend.  So I tried it.  When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, illustrated by Alfred Daguet for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):

First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in Revue illustrée, 1 June 1899
First page of Princesse Mandosiane, in ‘La Revue illustrée’, 1 June 1899

Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth!  Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches.  Such fun!  Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?

Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted.  Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on.  Or, rather, was working on until that moment.  Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories.  But why write it if no one will read it?  Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion.  Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!

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Not quite the back of beyond

For a couple of months I’ve been waiting for a journal posted in August, and yesterday it arrived in my letterbox:  Eleven Eleven, Issue 19, a Journal of Literature and Art produced by the California College of the Arts.  I was surprised at the size of it, about half an inch thick, 256 pages of stories and poetry and art, some in colour.

Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover
Eleven Eleven Issue 19 cover

The editors had published two stories I translated from a collection by Jean Lorrain:  ‘Princess Mandosiane’ and ‘Queen Maritorne’, and sent me a copy by way of payment.  Seeing the stories in the journal was pretty special, and knowing that readers will have to go out and buy it gives the experience an edge.

But even being published in a free online magazine earlier this year was, I have to admit, a thrill!  Another one of Jean Lorrain’s stories, ‘Madame Gorgibus’, was published in Intranslation, part of The Brooklyn Rail, ‘an independent forum for arts, culture, and politics throughout New York City and beyond’.  I was so glad to read that last word, my home being far far away from New York.  Indeed, I’m very grateful to American magazines that welcome submissions from Australia, from the back of beyond (well not quite), since there are virtually no journals here that would take my translations.

What opportunities there are for writers in this electronic world!

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Weekly photo challenge: Intricate

This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge is for something ‘intricate’.  The Oxford Dictionary defines intricate as ‘very complicated or detailed’, from the Latin intricat- ‘entangled’, and from in- ‘into’ plus tricae ‘tricks, perplexities’.

Tricks and perplexities.

When I read about the challenge, I was in Barcelona looking at intricate architectural details on buildings all around me.  Barcelona does intricate very well. There’s Barcelona Cathedral with its decorative west facade constructed in the 19th and early 20th centuries:

Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail
Barcelona Cathedral facade, top detail

There are the individual architect-designed houses in the Passeig del Gràcia, including one of Gaudi’s, which had hundreds of people outside and inside and which I therefore passed by, and there was this one, the Casa Lleó Morera a few doors away, which I prefer.  It was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for Lleó’s mother in the early 1900s.

Casa Lleó Morera, Barcelona

But, for me, what was most tricky and perplexing were the bench-lamp-posts designed in 1906 by Pere Falqués et Urpí, a Catalan Modernist architect.  There are 32 of them along the passeig.  The benches are covered in ceramic mosaics, a  technique typical of Catalan modernism (think Gaudi), and the lamp posts are of wrought iron rising up from the bench in a whiplash form, a characteristic of Art Nouveau generally (known as Modernism in the Catalonia region of Spain, which includes Barcelona.)

I sat on this bench to read a city map, looking for famous Barcelona art and architecture.  But I was sitting on something more interesting than all the tricky buildings and their perplexed spectators.  For, when I stood up, I saw the shadows cast by the twisting entanglements of the ironwork and the complexity of the mosaic tiles over the curved edges of the seat, and realised this was an excellent way to make art publicly useable and inclusive rather than exclusive.  When you sit on the bench, you are part of the art.

A moment in time

Today there’s a prompt to show and tell:  show the last photo I’ve taken, and tell the story behind that moment in time.

Yesterday I was passing the Civic library where I’ve worked casually as a tutor for a couple of years.  There’s something in there that I’ve often wanted to photograph, but when I’m working I’m too busy for such an indulgence, though I sit gazing up at it while my student is busy with his writing exercises.  Yesterday it wasn’t a work day, I had my camera, and I had time.

Here it is, my last photo.  It’s of an artwork suspended from the library ceiling, a stripped down Vietnamese boat.  The oars are long golden arms and hands pushing through the air, while a pair of eyes on the prow watches where the boat is going.  The artist, Nerine Martini of Sydney, created the work during an artist residency in Vietnam in 2006 and has exhibited it in Vietnam on a lake (on a stand in the water) and at outdoor sculpture exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.  The design of the Civic library is ideal for hanging a long object in the high-ceilinged space above the ground floor, up there at the mezzanine level where we can lean over the railing and look into the boat.  The golden hands, each with a different gesture, reach out to the viewer;  it was tempting to reach my own hand out to touch one.  I didn’t.

Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini
Lifeboat: Thuyen Cuu Roi by Nerine Martini

It was an odd moment finally seeing the boat up close, as pleasurable as I expected it to be.  But up on the mezzanine level where I took an earlier photo (see my header), as I leaned over the rail I was aware of a tutor at a table behind me teaching four students.  I knew her.  She was enjoying the interaction with her group, so I studied the boat for some moments and then I turned to her and quietly said “Hi, Jenny”.  Although I have known her for five years, she looked at me blankly.  I most uncomfortably interrupted her class to explain our connection as tutors.  “Your face looks vaguely familiar,” she said.

I left the library feeling fulfilled but forgettable.   Not so the rugged beauty of the Lifeboat.

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August Endell: in praise of bark

I recently read a quotation by August Endell (1871 – 1925), a German self-taught architect who designed in the era of Jugendstil, or, in English and French, Art Nouveau.  Here’s what he said in Berliner Architekturwelt, volume 4, 1902:

“I believe it is not generally known that, in the bark of our own native trees, we possess the most rapturous symphonies of colour that a painter could ever dream of.  After rain, for example, when the colours are luminous and fresh, the richest and most wonderful motifs are to be found there.  You need to go right up to the trunk and look hard at small areas the size of your palm.  Strong colours alternate one with another.  Velvety violet,Young plum tree

fiery yellowy-red,yellow-red bark

grey with a blue shimmer,Willow-leaf Hakea barkbright green,

Maple bark

– the widest possible range of colour nuances are found in a rich spectrum in the boldest contrasts.  Only when you have studied the colours of bark close up can you appreciate why tree trunks have such luminous colours from afar.

Eucalypt forest, Jervis Bay

The individual colours are garish and unbroken, but because they lie so close together in such small blotches, they tone each other down without losing their effect.”

August Endell’s first commission was for the Hof-Atelier Elvira, a photography studio in Munich, built and decorated in 1896-97.  The interior decor was highly individual, even bizarre, but partly reflected Endell’s belief that ‘the most wonderful motifs’ are to be found on tree bark.  Look, for example, at the studio staircase, to see how the organic pattern resembles the cracks in bark:

You can guess from the age of the staircase photo that the building no longer exists.  It was destroyed by Allied bombing in 1944.  Hooray for photos!

In 1896, in an article about his theory of art, Endell said:

“Someone who has never been sent into raptures by the exquisite swaying of a blade of grass, the wondrous implacability of a thistle leaf, the austere youthfulness of burgeoning leaf buds, who has never been seized and touched to the core of his being by the massive shape of a tree root, the imperturbable strength of split bark, the slender suppleness of the trunk of a birch, the profound peacefulness of an expanse of leaves, knows nothing of the beauty of forms.”

(Cited in Art Nouveau, Gabriele Fahr-Becker)

The year 2014 is all but over;  I want to finish it on a beautiful note.  In an antique shop at Jervis Bay, in a holiday mood, I found Fahr-Becker’s Art Nouveau still sealed in protective plastic yet offered for a small price.  I took it back to the beach house, peeled away its covering and flicked through the large glossy pages.  At around the middle of the book, 232 pages in, the Endell quotation on bark brought me to a halt.  I didn’t turn the page, but closed the book.  I didn’t want to forget his urging to ‘go right up to the trunk’ of trees, and look hard.  I urge you to do it, too.

Happy New Year!

I wish you wonderful days in 2015.

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George Sand. Heard of her?

She was a great-great granddaughter of the King of Poland, Augustus II the Strong.  Her father was the king’s great-grandson, Maurice Dupin.

Her mother, Sophie Delaborde, the daughter of a bird fancier, was, said George, of the ‘vagabond race of Bohemians’.

She was a girl with a foot in two worlds, born Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin in 1804 in Paris, raised by her aristocratic grandmother.

She did what women did in the nineteenth century:  she married at 18 and produced a child, and a few years later, after some time away from home, she produced another child.  Perhaps not by the same father…

She did what women didn’t do:  she left her husband to live as a single mother in Paris.

George Sand, Auguste Charpentier, 1838, Musée de la vie romantique, Paris
George Sand.  Auguste Charpentier, 1838.  Musée de la vie romantique, Paris

In 1831, she began mixing in artistic circles and changed her name to George Sand.

To be independent, George had to earn her living.  She took to writing, lived in attics, cropped her hair, abandoned her expensive layers of women’s drapery and donned cheaper clothing:  a redingote, trousers, vest and tie.

Dressing in men’s clothes allowed her to visit clubs and theatre-pits where she closely observed men in their public male spaces and listened in on their literary and cultural conversations.

And dressing in men’s clothes brought her valuable attention as a new author.  It helped her books to sell so she and her two children could eat.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ef/Liszt_at_the_Piano.JPG
Franz Liszt Fantasizing at the Piano.  Joseph Danhauser, 1840.  George Sand is seated on her red cloak.  An imagined gathering of musicians and writers (and Liszt’s mistress).  Image courtesy Wikipedia

In her writing career she considered herself an equal among her male peers, and her works were widely read.

By the end of the nineteenth century, her works were out of fashion.

Some of her best writings have been translated into English in recent years.  After I read her Gothic novel, Spiridion, (in French), about 3 years and 3 months ago, I had an idea that English-language readers would find it intriguing.  When I’d finished reading it, I started translating it.  Now SUNY Press is publishing my translation of Spiridion, and will have it ready in May 2015.

George wrote it in 1838/39 while keeping company with Frédéric Chopin, several years her junior.  When Frédéric, George and her children sojourned in Majorca for the winter of 1838, she finished Spiridion to the sounds of Chopin composing his Preludes.

But in 1842 George revised the novel’s ending, and it’s this one you’ll read in the English translation.

In Spiridion the audacious George wrote of an exclusively male microcosm where not one female plays a part, a world impossible for her to experience but not impossible to imagine:  a monastery where goodness is punished, corruption is encouraged, love is discouraged, and real and unreal demons haunt the cloisters and the crypt.

It was a harsh critique of the rigid dogmas of a monastery and its authorities.  “I allowed myself to challenge purely human institutions,” she said, and, for that, some declared her to be “without principles.”  Her response:  “Should it bother me?”.

Some readers will learn a lesson and find hope in this story.  Others will read a mystery based on the evil tendencies of humans confined in an institution, with a positive suggestion or two for living peaceably with our fellow monks.Spiridion cover

In May next year, if you’re looking for a Gothic novel with a philosophical turn, keep your eye out for this cover.

George became one of the rare women of the nineteenth century able to earn enough to be financially independent.  She was still writing when she died at 71.

Nadar (Gaspard Félix Tournachon), photographer (French, 1820 - 1910) George Sand, about 1865, Albumen silver print Image: 24.1 x 18.3 cm (9 1/2 x 7 1/4 in.) Mount: 30.5 x 21.4 cm (12 x 8 7/16 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
George Sand, photograph by Nadar, about 1865, Albumen silver print, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

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