15. Asked a French publisher a question by email (second question in two weeks) and she replied, ‘As I told you … ‘. Funny how this structure is normal in French, but abrasive in English.
16. Saw a huge woman in a bikini come out into her garden and lie on a sun lounge. Bikinis are not seen in Canberra, even now it’s summer, except at the pool.
17. What I thought was a small bird landing on my tree was actually a large swallowtail butterfly.
18. This morning I translated Claude Aveline’s comic reworking of the story of Jonah being thrown off a ship in a wild tempest, and an hour later a student asked me to teach her The Wreck of the Hesperus, a poem about a ship wrecked in a wild tempest.
19. A sign that a neighbour made for a garden seat outside her house – Lockdown Garden 2020 – reminded me we can’t predict the future.
20. From a free library I picked up a tiny children’s book, 3 x 2 inches, 1/2 inch thick. It contains 3 copies of the same story, Feathers for Phoebe by Rod Clement.
21. Had dinner at a local golf club where the golfers were leaving the course, no doubt because kangaroos had moved into their space.
Following a news story about Sean Walker, a man with a severe form of colour blindness called rod monochromatism, meaning he sees only in black and white, I thought of the days when all our photos and films were only in black and white. Sean says that the world in black and white is beautiful.
When I was a child, I used to look at an album of photos my father had brought back from the Middle East in 1942, but though they were not colour photos I never doubted there was beauty in the Cairo architecture, the Nile, the pyramids, the camels and their handlers. He took some of the photos himself, while others were taken by fellow soldiers and were shared with him.
I looked at a few photos that I’ve snapped of architectural subjects similar to those in the Egyptian photos, then I removed the colour and placed them side by side. Here are two bridges.
Imbaba opening bridge, Nile River, Cairo, c1941
Old opening bridge, Batemans Bay NSW 2021 (new bridge on left)
I like the soft edges in the old one, and I like the details visible in the new one. Sean Walker says that people look at his photos and put their own colours into them. My original photo of the new and old bridges at Batemans Bay in New South Wales shows a clear blue sky over equally blue water, the greys of steel and concrete bridges, green vegetation and a red crane in the background, whereas for the image of the Imbaba opening bridge over the Nile, I really do have to imagine the colours. Yet it’s a great photo, perhaps because of the perspective and the straight lines.
As Sean says, black and white is much more than the absence of colour.
The old opening bridge at Batemans Bay was pulled down a few weeks after I took this photo. Sniff. Many of us were sad.
8. Went to check out Canberra’s water supplies in the Cotter Dam and Corin Dam with Gibraltar Falls in between. They’re all connected. What’s unusual? We’ve never seen so much water in them. The trees look like they’re growing out of the water. And at Gibraltar Falls, people (just visible in the photo) dared to swim in the rushing waters at the top. The bottom photos show a comparison of my earlier visit to Corin Dam in 2014 when I could walk on the dirt banks.
Cotter Dam ACT January 2022
Gibraltar Falls ACT January 2022
Corin Dam June 2014
Corin Dam January 2022
9. At the local golf club, a bridal party entered and sat in chairs to have photos taken, all wearing masks. The bride’s was white, the groom and his men wore black, the bridesmaids wore matching masks and dresses.
10. Read in The Land Before Avocado by Richard Glover that in 1970s Australia, avocado growing was considered an industry without a future. Now we eat 3.5 kilograms of them per year. I eat it every day on toast.
11. Walking beside the pond, a small girl with a long red braid hurtled past me on roller blades, towed by two small greyhounds training for a race.
Every day this week I’ve been taking notes about things that made me look or listen, not quite believing what I was seeing or hearing. I’m pretty sure I’ll observe uncommon things 365 times this year. Here’s one thing from each day of this past week:
1. A neighbour has a back to front Merry Christmas sign on his door. Every time I walk past I ask Why?
2. I saw Lake George today, an endorheic lake that’s usually dry due to evaporation, but after months of rain at the end of 2021 it is now full.
Lake George, dry 2009 (Photo Wikipedia: Jack Greenmaven)
Lake George, full today
3. I’ve received encouraging gifts from students, Russian chocolates from a Ukrainian woman, and Japanese ice cream from a Chinese woman.
4. At my local pond the authorities have put up a sign telling us NOT to feed the birds. Now a graffiti artist has written Feed the Birds on a nearby sign.
5. A pharmacy experiencing overwhelming demand for Rapid Antigen Tests had a sign in its window: SORRY NO RATS.
6. The local bakery is selling hot cross buns, two weeks after Christmas.
7. I bought a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle of a world map. The image on the box has Australia and north-east Asia covered with other images. This is the only image to use as a guide, so how can I finish it?
Since taking up literary translation about ten years ago, I’ve read many more books on a daily basis than ever before. Always within arm’s reach is a combination of English-language books, French-language books and books translated from other languages. On any day I can name roughly eight books I’m currently reading. There’s one in my backpack, one on the coffee table, one beside my bed, one under my bed, one on the breakfast table, one on my desk, and one in my tutoring bag. I gathered up all of today’s books and took a photo.
Today there are nine. I’m surprised.
Here’s a bit about each one, whether it’s a translation, whether it’s in English, why I’m reading it (and whether I’ll finish it) :
1 Les contes bleus du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, a collection of children’s stories (told to the author by a cat perched in a tree) and first published in the 1930s. I’ve read each story quickly and three of them again, slowly. I’ve translated two, and one has been published, ‘Le Loup’, ‘The Wolf’, in Delos Journal in 2018. Two small girls live with stern parents and farm animals that talk. Love it. Les contes bleus is on my desk.
2 Les contes rouges du chat perché. In French, by Marcel Aymé, more stories from his collection. I’ve read each story quickly and one slowly, the one I translated which has not been published. Yet. More talking animals. It’s on my desk.
3 Aymé. Nouvelles complètes. In French, by Marcel Aymé. All his short stories. I’ve read about half of this book. Every story is quirky but quietly clever. It’s beside my bed and is often the last book I read before sleeping, and in the wee hours when I can’t sleep.
4 Biblical Literacy. In English, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Interesting notes on the Hebrew Bible books, teaching me things I never knew. For instance, loneliness was the first thing that God saw that was not good: ‘It is not good for man to be alone’, Genesis 2:18. I’m not Jewish but I like the author’s approach to studying the old texts. It’s under my bed.
5 David Copperfield. In English, by Charles Dickens. My husband and I read a few pages to each other every night. It’s long but we’ve never grown tired of it. Dickens deserves his reputation as a gifted writer. It’s on the coffee table.
6 Gould’s Book of Fish. In English, Australian English, by Richard Flanagan. You could be forgiven for thinking Richard Flanagan is the title of the book, so large is his name and so ridiculously small is the title due to this publishing trick to get us to buy it. This book is dreadful so far, but I’m only a quarter of the way through it. One of my students asked me to read it with her, to help her learn English. There are horrific descriptions of what people did to people in the colonial days of Australian history, so I skip the disgusting bits when we read it together. It’s in my tutoring bag. Possibly won’t finish it.
7 People From My Neighbourhood. In English, by Hiromi Kawakami, translated from Japanese by Ted Goossen. A Christmas present from a relative. A small thin book that I read at breakfast every few days. Not bad, the stories are very short and often don’t go anywhere. On the breakfast table.
8 The Thurber Carnival. In English, by James Thurber. A book of American short stories. Very entertaining, but some stories are better for me (not being American) than others. Lent to me by the relative who gave me number 7. I read it most days. It’s on the breakfast table. Possibly won’t read every story.
9 Why Do You Wear a Cheap Watch? In English, by Hans Fallada, translated from German by Michael Hofmann. One of the 50 small Penguin Moderns that come in a long rectangular case. The stories are not bad, but the book is handy should I have to wait somewhere for someone. (I don’t read my phone.) I carry it in my backpack because it’s almost weightless.
Which of the nine would I recommend? David Copperfield.
It’s midnight, 31st December 2021. Some are drinking to forget another year of a worldwide health crisis, while I’m writing to remember, not the pandemic, but lots of unusual things that happen around me every day. Normally I let them pass over my head, barely observed. But in 2022 I’m going to write them down, remember them and think about the world and how curious it is. As Dickens’s David Copperfield said: “This narrative is my written memory.”
Just today, for example, I was sitting outside a café (safer Covid-wise) when a chicken flew down from a balcony above and landed on the footpath, then leapt up onto the seat at the bus stop.
I reported it on Facebook’s lost pet page and added a photo. Someone immediately asked Why did the chicken cross the road? And an answer came as quickly: to catch a bus lol. But it has ended well: I’ve just read that the chicken and her owner have been reunited.
Let’s see if I can record one unusual thing every day for the rest of this year. Here’s hoping I can one day add Covid case numbers that are so low they’re unusual!
It’s a bit sad that this post is about something unusual that used to be usual. This is the first year in my life that I’ve received only one Christmas card in the post. Here it is. Arrived today, Christmas Eve. I used to receive so many that I could string them up across the living room. Who knows why I didn’t receive more than one? Could be Covid, could be technology. I did get one e-card, but I can’t hang it up…
As I strolled on the sand, a strange brownish bird flew past me and landed at the edge of a flock of seagulls resting on the beach. Instantly they all stood up and turned their backs to it, then moved away. The outcast walked up the sand to be alone. I couldn’t get closer without it fearing me, so I took a photo which reveals it is a seagull with a sand-coloured affliction.
A horde of seagulls followed a woman who I thought was a man as she dug through wheelie bins, pulling out recyclable bottles and throwing them into a shopping trolley. Occasionally she found a bit of food to throw to the birds that followed her from bin to bin through the park.