Thursday, 10 June 2010

Travelling in Another Language







The experience of travel, and of being in another place, links me up with that other self that it seems, waits in time's wings,

…..has sheltered, hidden,
waited in ambush even,
in the wings of Time's theatrical performances,
whether it's the same play or a new production
the actors' energy seems inexhaustible,
the show keeps going on.....

so poetry weaves in and out – this is a fragment of a poem I'm working on. Its theme is that other self which I'm
always astonished at rediscovering anew each time I go ailleurs, elsewhere.

Two marvellous books were also part of the journey – it becomes difficult to separate the journey from the time spent in one place, it all runs together and becomes journey. Lesley Blanch's Journey into the Mind's Eye and Bessa Myftiu's Confessions des Lieux Disparus. I bought the latter at the Salon du Livre des Balkans organized by Courrier des Balkans, at the Cite internationale des Arts, rue de l'Hotel de Ville in Paris.

Lesley Blanch's book is utterly gripping taking us into her lifelong love of Russia, and the memorable characters she depicts. Bessa Myftiu's roman explores the house and streets of her childhood in Tirana, the vivid characters, the first experience of loss that brings the realization that our life fetches us up on the other side of rivers which cannot be crossed again. We can look back, wish ourselves back but we cannot go back. Put baldly like that it could sound trite but such experiences keep happening and they never fail to amaze me and whether one's reactions to these experiences are felt as positive or negative, the experiences themselves go beyond both poles of feeling, they transcend our reactions so I feel, or they can do, and can bring an astonishing richness as sources of art.

The theme of one of the tables rond at the salon du livre was of writing in a language other than one's mother tongue. All of the writers now live in a francophone country and many of them said that they had not sought to write in another language, it was rather something that happened through circumstances. Virgil Tanese from Romania says that he had a choice – to remain in a literary ghetto or to change his language and he chose the latter. Velibor Colic originally from Bosnia says he felt stifled in his own language.
For Bessa Myftiu, Albanian, writing in French is an extraordinary opportunity. She felt in her writing a need to bear witness to places people and events that should not be forgotten but hers is a small country she says and people might have felt implicated in her writing, and judged her for this had she written in her mother tongue. So to write in French is enormously liberating, it means she can write without fear of censure. Vassilis Alaxis says that he could not write as a journalist after the generals coup in Greece so he left and came to Paris. You can't survive in Paris without learning the language he says. He feels it's ridiculous, this 'identity through language' bit. Language is a tool he says, we use it to write, just as a cabinet-maker uses tools to fashion furniture. Only Dragan Bogojevic from Montenegro was against writing in a language other than his mother tongue. He was also the only one who had prepared a written text which he read from. This made it harder for me to follow him, he read too fast. But one point I did catch in its entirely was that his knowledge of French was inferior to his capacity to think.
This writing in another language seems to be a 'position' for some – though it seems to be the not-writers in another language who take up this position while the ones who do, simply get on with writing. I know other writers who agree with Dragan's comment and so defend writing only in their first language. When I've spent time in France I find the language infiltrating my thoughts and dreams quite naturally and I write in French as well as English. I find it exhilarating to try out a skill, and I'm not deterred by my lack of ability.


I'd intended to listen to all the talks and discussions but I was in Paris and it was scorchingly hot so I could not stay inside for very long. I wandered through the streets, bookshops and in the Jardin de Luxembourg and in the evenings returned to Christiane's apartment in the rue du Vaugirard. She tells me of a childhood memory, during WWII. There would be these two knocks she said, making a gesture of knocking on a door, and then the radio would be tuned to the clandestine Free French station in London. 'We had to be very careful of course, not to be discovered. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but I was very aware of the sense of danger.'
“Ici Londres. Ici Londres. Les francais parlent aux francais...”
Shivers ran through my body as she spoke these words as they do even now, when I type them. The French occupation during World War II has a tremendous resonance for me. One day I might go over the threshold of that feeling and enter whatever story waits to be explored.....

Inside the golden dome of Les Invalides


Tribute to Delacroix in the jardin de Luxembourg