An easterly is the most disagreeable wind in Lyme Bay – Lyme Bay being that largest bite from the underside of England’s outstretched south-western leg – and a person of curiosity could at once have deduced several strong probabilities about the pair who began to walk down the quay at Lyme Regis, the small but ancient eponym of the inbite, one incisively sharp and blustery morning in the late March of 1867.
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles
If The Hobbit is one of my favourite books but far from my favourite movie, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is a favourite in both forms. I was once obsessed with the movie, hiring it and playing parts of it over and over. Before writing this novel, John Fowles had translated a French novel by Claire de Duras, Ourika, based on a true story about a Senegalese girl taken to Paris as a baby and raised separately within the nobility. As she grew older she was surprised to find she lived in a culture of racial segregation. Fowles believed that this story affected his telling of Sarah Woodruff’s tale as the fallen and outcast French Lieutenant’s Woman.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
From today I’m going to attempt a self-imposed challenge: post 54 great opening lines from books on my shelves. After reading a post by Zany4Days about challenging himself to paint a watercolour every day for 30 days, 100 days, the whole year, I’ve decided to study the first few words in good stories, an activity which might, which should, affect my own writing. The opening lines that I post will be in English, but not all of them will be from English-language stories. Some will be my translations of great French opening lines. After browsing my bookshelves, I initially chose a figure of 50, but I could possibly come up with four more and make it 54, my age from today…
I’ll begin with the first line from a novel I read when I was 13 which gave me a plan for my life, a plan I haven’t always followed but, in hindsight, I see has often followed me. It begins with:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
8th April – My son is on a camping holiday for four nights at the Folk Festival, fifteen minutes from home.
9th April – The 100th day of this year. A guest brought us some Hot Cross Buns from a Vegan bakery. On the packet it says ‘cruelty free’. How much cruelty is there in producing a sweet bun in a traditional bakery? (Each of the six buns was wrapped in cling wrap.)
10th April – A hairdresser washed my hair, then massaged my head for minutes and minutes and minutes. She seemed to be luxuriously filling in spare time.
11th April – In a book of short stories I found that the Q is the Queen of Capital Letters with an attention-seeking train.
12th April – Survey results today show the greatest editorial barrier to publishing literary translations is the ‘cost of paying translators’. I’ll push on with my novel translation anyway, for the love of it.
13th April – Went to my son’s wedding rehearsal in the forest. The bride’s father was mowing a path, an aisle, for her to enter along.
14th April – The wedding day; the most unusual wedding I’ve ever been to. The bride played a ukulele (which she has just learnt) and sang, in the sweetest voice I’ve heard, a song by Ingrid Michaelson, You and I. (Note the chair – refer to my ‘unusual thing’ for 5th Feb; note the table – she found it at a flea market and painted it this week; note the bunting – she made it.)
15th April – At dinner with my son and his bride, she was still wearing her wedding shoes which she bought online from Sweden. (See photo above)
16th April – Years ago I opened a long-term investment account at the bank with $500, and tried to do it again today. The minimum they now take is $5,000.
17th April – Watched a documentary about an Australian man who gave up a wealthy Hollywood life to establish schools for kids from the rubbish dumps of Phnom Penh in Cambodia. He started the Cambodian Children’s Fund: http://www.cambodianchildrensfund.org/
To my surprise, in my summer years, I find language and words filling my life. On any day, I spend hours dealing with language. This weekend, for example, the last day of 2011 and the first day of 2012, I have helped an eight-year-old learn to read; I have read chapters and chapters, on a recommendation, of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (it’s my third go at this book); translated part of a 19th-century French novel into English; written six postcards telling foreigners of the wonders of Australia; written a calligraphic quotation for a German penfriend; listened to my neighbours, government housing tenants, swearing twenty to the dozen as it pleases them on this New Year’s Day.
I recently (last month) graduated with a Master of Translation Studies, and now I’m in search of things to translate. There’s the interesting 19th-century novel, the one I worked on today, and there’s a French book on teaching three-year-olds to read which I use when I’m tutoring and which would be just as valuable to others, if they could read it. And there’s my older thesis about French villagers who sheltered refugees in the 1940s, the one I wrote in French and would like, before my winter years, to translate into English.
Meanwhile, I’ve found this blogging way to share my father’s photos, and later his poetry, as a background for my interests, though the connections will at first appear vague to a reader.