46 Great Opening Lines: 15

There were 700 or 800 of them at least. Of medium height, but strong, agile, supple, framed to make prodigious bounds, they gambolled in the last rays of the sun, now setting over the mountains which formed serried ridges westward of the roadstead.

Opening lines of Gil Braltar by Jules Verne, 1889, translated by I.O. Evans, 1965

Can you guess what they are, these gambollers? Perhaps if you’ve been to Gibraltar you’ll know they are monkeys. The title of this fantastical tale, ‘Gil Braltar’, is also the name of the main character, an ugly Spaniard who resembles the macaque monkeys that possess the great Rock. To convince them to follow him as their leader, Gil dons a monkey skin, fur side out. He tries to recapture Gibraltar from the British, but fails, defeated by an Englishman, General MacKackmale, a pun on the French words macaque mâle.

When Verne’s science fiction/fantasies were first published in French, they were quickly followed by English translations. But not this one, which wasn’t translated until 1965. Hmmm. Clearly, Verne’s satire on the British claim to the Rock didn’t impress British publishers. But like many things that at first feel unpleasant, we find a few decades later that perhaps there are interesting elements, after all.

In my previous post I wrote about Dr Trifulgas. This and Gil Braltar were both written by Jules Verne in his house in Amiens, France, which I visited earlier this year. While the ground floor is elegant and nothing out of the ordinary for a 19th-century French house, a climb up the spiral staircase takes you to Verne’s writing world, where at the top of the stairs there is an improvised ship’s deck, a larger space filled with exhibits, and a compact study-cum-bedroom where Monsieur Verne wrote many of his famous stories. There’s even a list in English of stories written in this house – if you look closely at the photo below, you’ll see Dr Trifulgas (Frritt Flacc in French) and Gil Braltar.

It’s funny that I’ve read so many stories by Jules Verne recently; I once had no time at all for science fiction. After visiting his house and seeing the upstairs space filled with books and maps and puppets and posters, not forgetting the ship’s deck, I had a whole new appreciation for the work that goes into producing an imaginative piece of literature. As a translator, I had not thought long about it until then.

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46 Great Opening Lines: 14

Swish! It is the wind, let loose.
Swash! It is the rain, falling in torrents.

Opening lines, ‘Dr Trifulgas’, Jules Verne (1884), translator unknown

This story in French is called ‘Frritt-Flacc’, the sound of the hurricane and the torrential rain it brings. Dr Trifulgas is a rich old doctor who demands exorbitant fees from his patients, or else they get no service. In the end, his greed brings him down when he least expects it. It’s a short horror story, but not scary enough to stop me reading it. (I scare easily.)

The opening lines invited me to keep reading, contradicting the advice that a writer should never start with the weather.

And by coincidence, as I write this, torrential rain that has threatened all afternoon has finally begun to fall. I’m not making this up. Fortunately I don’t have to go out with my dog, his lantern, and Dr Trifulgas.

Illustration by G. Roux for Frritt Flacc, Jules Verne

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The Nile, 1941/42

A reader of this blog, a maritime archaeologist writing a PhD, expressed an interest in some of the photos I’ve posted here over the past five years, especially images of the Nile and its boats. So this post is about the Nile River, Egypt, in a particular period, 1941/42. The photos are from my father’s album, from a time he was stationed there for seven months with the army (not counting the couple of months to get there and back). He took photos and swapped photos with his mates, stuck them in an album and left them for his family to do what they wanted with them. Many of these photos have been on this blog before, with a couple of exceptions. Where there were captions beneath the photos in the album, I’ll repeat them. Where there was none, I’ll write what I know, if I know anything. The photographers of these photos are unknown. Some were taken by my father, some were not. I don’t know which is which.

Canal sailing, Nile River
Imbaba opening bridge, Nile River, Egypt
Nile Bridge
Weir in Nile River
Felucca, Egypt
“English Bridge” Cairo, daytime
“English Bridge”, Cairo, nighttime
Camel bridge, Great Delta Barrage or Alkanater Kheireya, Nile River, Egypt
Officers’ convalescence, River Nile
Showboat celebrations on Nile, flood
Sunrise on Nile
Sunset on Nile
View to a village across the Nile

I love all my black and white 1940s photos, but I totally love the feluccas and never tire of looking photos of them.  Thanks, my reader, for asking me to take another glimpse into 1940s Nile history.

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Weekly photo challenge: Distraction

What’s guaranteed to distract you?

I confess that writing this blog post right now is distracting me from an otherwise engrossing translation project. But I can’t sit writing at the kitchen table all my life. Sometimes I have to get out and get down to the seaside to refuel. And there I’m distracted by small things on the sand.

Strolling along a beach, heading for a rocky outcrop, I’m easily sidetracked by what lies in the drift-line. Mostly it’s broken shells, seaweed, stones, twigs and branches washed up by the high tide. But occasionally something catches my eye from a distance and I leave the water’s edge and head over to take a closer look.

It could be a lost thing. Like a coloured water-ski rope. Somewhere in the Pacific, a water-skier is asking “where did that rope go?” Well, if you’re looking for it, it’s on the beach at Guerilla Bay.

It could be two lost things. Like shoes. Somewhere along the south-east coast of New South Wales, a young girl is asking “where are my new runners?” Well, they’re on the mud flats of the Clyde River in Batemans Bay. Did they wash off the side of a boat? It could be a heart. Did someone lose their heart on the beach at Guerilla Bay? Because, well, I found one. Is it yours?The WordPress people have asked this week for photos of our distractions.

But enough of this blogging distraction. Back to the project.

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Changing Seasons: August

August in Canberra is a little warmer than July when dawn was a few degrees below zero. Now we’re slowly moving back towards the sun and the wattle trees are coming out in bloom, producing bursts of  bright yellow in the bushland. Today I went up Black Mountain to our telecommunication tower known as Telstra Tower, where I saw the interesting combination of our iconic wattle and the tower, a structure that can be seen from far outside Canberra, a landmark that tells travellers they’re almost here.

If we are enjoying delightful afternoons, warm enough to sit in the sun to catch ten or twenty minutes of Vitamin D infused rays, our nights are still freezing and frosty, and the further you go above sea level the frostier it is. On Black Mountain there’s a warning sign for those driving or riding or even walking up and especially down the slope in the early hours of the morning: Ice on road. When I took photos this afternoon it was a lovely 14 degrees and this cyclist was haring down the mountain, around its curves. His wheels made a loud whirring sound as he passed me.

Here’s some evidence of August’s two weathers. Yes it’s a good afternoon for riding downhill at speed, but after the night’s frost a cyclist could be sliding not riding.

Cardinal Guzman had the idea of posting a photo of changing seasons each month. Thanks Cardinal.

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James Burley

I have often thought that many a youngster when he was hit out there on the Passchendaele heights … and he knew that the end had come – must have thought to himself: “well at least they’ll remember me in Australia”. C.E.W. Bean

We all have ancestors but not all of us study their lives. I do, but I don’t know whether I’d recommend it. Many of my ancestors died young, which means I’m a descendant of the few survivors. And every young loss has a tragic story behind his or her death.

Two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, James and Frederick Burley, were my great-grandmother’s cousins. Both of their lives ended in France in 1917. Frederick was never found.

But James was wounded in one of the horrific battles in Passchendaele near Ypres in Belgium, died in hospital in Rouen, France, and is buried there. This week, news articles are appearing about the commemorations of the hundred years that have passed since the Ypres battles. By coincidence, James Burley had his name projected onto the Australian War Memorial last night. I was there to see it for the 30 seconds it was shining on the facade of the building.

Like many Australians, I have descended from a convict ancestor, Joseph Burley, who was transported to New South Wales for trying to sell a stolen watch. Seven years he got. Pretty harsh penalty for a pretty petty crime.

Frederick and James Burley were his grandsons.

James was wounded on 20th October when his battalion was fighting near Zonnebeke in the region of Ypres, where 30 mm of rain had fallen two weeks earlier. Not only was the ground wet from heavy rain, but parts of the battlefield were swamp or reclaimed swamp, and digging and shelling only produced more water.

View of the swamps of Zonnebeke on the day of the First Battle of Passchendaele. Ruins of Zonnebeke church in background. Photo from Australian War Memorial taken on 12th October 1917.

Note from War diary for James’ 47th battalion, 12th October 1917: Country almost impassable being very boggy and shell holes full of water… Weather very bad, cold, raining… Men’s feet very sore owing to continually standing in shell holes full of water…

James died seven days after he was wounded. He was 32 and had got married the year before.

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This is the last of my relatives’ names to be projected onto the War Memorial. Five in all.

I have so little to complain about.

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The Mask

My translation of Claudine Jacques’ short story Le Masque has just been published by Volkeno Books, Vanuatu, in a bilingual edition. Hold the book one way to read the original French story, then flip it over to the back to read it in English.

The setting is a fare ofe, a bamboo house in New Caledonian bushland. The protagonist sees it as exotic and inspirational, just the impetus she needs to begin her writing career. She talks to a tribal mask left behind by a previous tenant, and it responds…

Available to order at noiraublanc.fr, here: http://noiraublanc.fr/index.php?route=product/category&path=62

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Weekly photo challenge: Unusual

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.

Thanks to Lignum Draco for posting this photo challenge on WordPress.

The Travelling Sketchbook

Many months ago I joined a group of women bloggers who wanted to contribute to a travelling sketchbook, the brilliant idea of Anne Lawson. The blank sketchbook was made by Anne in Melbourne and posted off to the first person on the list who posted it to the next one and so on and so forth until it reached me, the last one on the list. Consequently, being last, I had all the previous entries to follow. A hard act. Here are the creations, page by page:

The sketchbook has now returned from its round-the-world trip back to Anne’s house. It’s been a unique pleasure for each of us to decide on a suitable contribution and then execute it.

For me it was an unusual day. I’d been wondering how I’d find time to think about my contribution let alone write something in the book. But I’d gone to meet a student that day who forgot about her lesson, so I unexpectedly found myself with a whole day free. I went home and set about writing a number of meaningful quotations with a calligraphy pen, ending up with ten. I chose the neatest one that best fitted the page size. Then I added a piece of machine embroidery I’d made for a textile art course years ago. It was freely embroidered inside a wire coat hanger, then cut away. I had made several of them and attached them to a shawl for the course assessment, but had this one left over. Now it isn’t left over any more.

Thank you Anne for your idea!

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Weekly photo challenge: Bridge

If I were young and in love I might be tempted to engrave my name and his on a padlock and attach it to a beautiful bridge, casting the keys to an unreachable depth and thereby hopefully cementing the relationship. Now that I’m oldish I see these padlocks as akin to litter. Young lovers who attach the piece of not-easily-removable coloured metal see it through the rosy glow of their love. The decorative wrought iron of the bridge panels is little more than a place to hang their public bling. When I saw this and other footbridges in the Englischer Garten in Munich I felt an old woman’s frustration.

Footbridge, Englischer Garten, Munich

Later I despaired at the sight of a love-lock stand framed by a huge walk-through heart that was covered in them. Lovers could purchase padlocks for the specific purpose of attaching them to the narrow ironwork of a bridge and throwing the keys into the river below. Like a fast food outlet, the stand eliminated the need for forethought and preparation.

But not all pretty garden footbridges are made with decorative ironwork. In Albert on The Somme in northern France there’s a small public garden with a narrow stream, a waterfall and this bridge, where lovers would need to bring something pretty big and heavy to permanently attach it to the branch-sized bars.

The public garden in Albert is at the back of the Somme 1916 Museum where there is much to see regarding all the parties fighting in and around Albert in that year. Lots of grim reminders of war. The garden, by contrast, is a place of joy and peace.

Thanks WordPress for the Bridge prompt for this week’s photo challenge.

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