Sunday, 15 March 2015

'This is Illyria, lady'

'...and what should I do in Illyria?'

The past few weeks have been filled with review writing and rewriting, editing and re-editing, cutting and shaping, and with typing and translating of archive letters (for the editor of a book that will be published sometime this year by I B Tauris). The letters are from someone who lived in Albania during the 30s, and worked for British Intelligence during WWII. It promises to be a fascinating book, which I'm sure I'll write more about, once it comes out. 

I thought I had finished and decided to celebrate by clearing piles of papers in my studio, then discovered more letters and reports still untyped. This is what happens when I go away, I come back with new projects and ideas which are placed on top of the pile, leaving earlier ones, still unfinished, buried underneath. When it all gets too much I escape and go for long walks.

When I was living in Albania (ancient Illyria)  I often thought of Viola in Twelfth Night who asks where she is and is told
This is Illyria, lady.
But as is the way of memory, lines, phrases, even whole speeches from Shakespeare's plays which we had to learn by heart at school they return to mind ragged and incomplete with gaps where words used to flow smoothly.  As if a kind of mental sediment builds up, perhaps like rust, from contact with other things, all the thinking of decades maybe, all the books read, the lines spoken, the conversations heard, at any rate, these for-some-time unused tracks have breaks in them, like an old train left in a siding finding undergrowth on its rails, decomposed leaves, trails of withered stalks, accumulations of seed pods and twigs and dried grasses, all making smooth passage quite impossible. I did not remember the next line. But to my delight Bill Dunlop did and created a great introduction from that.

Coast gorge in Albania, carpeted with daisies


Book Review: Tirana Papers
By Bill Dunlop
Illyria was the name of part of the western Balkans in ancient times. Given its turbulent history then and in subsequent centuries, when Viola, in Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ asks ‘…what should I do in Illyria?’ the sensible answer might be to run away while you have the chance.
Viola, of course, does no such thing. Nor did Morelle Smith, whose time in Illyria’s modern day counterpart, Albania, is recorded in ‘Tirana Papers’.


You can read the rest of the review in the Edinburgh Guide here