21 February 2008

Page 123

I haven't been tagged for this meme exactly, but I've been seeing it all over the internet (most recently at Maitresse's wonderful blog) and thought I'd get on the bandwagon. (Like she says, it's hard to resist a literary meme for us überdorks.)

The idea is to pick up the nearest book, turn to page 123, count down five sentences, and copy out the following three sentences. I kind of had to cheat, because I was sitting next to a bookcase full of books, all of which were equally near to me and technically closest. But to have chosen one of them would have been to reduce the aleatory nature of this little project.

So I picked up the book that is at the top of the "currently reading" pile next to my bed, The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe.

On page 123, the sixth, and seventh and eighth sentences are:

"Did she understand what my eyes said to her but my lips dared not say, that I was young and she was fair? There were moments when I almost thought she did. I asked her why she had come here to bury her young life in the grave of the Sepolte Vive."

Munthe here is speaking of a cloistered nun he meets during the cholera epidemic in Naples at the turn of the century. This is actually a somewhat representative snippet of the book, in that I find it to be full of contradictions, both philosophical and structural: death and life, fancy and realism, fear and boldness, humility and pride, selflessness and selfishness. I suppose the latter tensions always inform autobiographies, for what is more egocentric than to write about oneself, even if telling of good deeds? These are also the contradictions of early 20th-century Europe, achievements in science and medicine while major epidemics raged, "advanced" views of women that are actually condescending (the man seems to have a higher opinion of animals than of the women around him). I still haven't gotten to the part about San Michele, so I'm looking forward to reading about a place we recently visited.

Just for fun, I continued along down the pile, to see what other page 123s held.

In William Boyd's Any Human Heart (I couldn't resist buying one of those new retro Penguin paperbacks), we read: "Describe your state of mind. Insecure. Uncertain."

In the book Parlano le donne: Poetesse Catalane del XXI secolo (Women Speak: Twenty-First Century Catalan Woman Poets), ed. Donatella Siviero, page 123 is the Italian translation of a poem by Anna Aguilar-Amat called "Volar." The three sentences are translated into Italian by Donatella Siviero, and translated into English by me (from the Catalan; my Italian's not quite that good yet)!

"I figli dei lupi camminano, e quelli delle orche nuotano.
Invece gli animali che hanno ali devono imparare a volare
dal dramma di lanciarsi perdutamente nel vuoto.
Pensa che il riso è sottoterra, caldo e fondibile
come lava."

(The wolf’s children walk, and the whale’s children swim.
But the animals with wings must learn to fly
by the drama of throwing themselves hopelessly into the void.
Remember that laughter is underground, hot and melting
like lava.)

Finally, the last book in the pile is La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma), by Henri Beyle Stendhal. I have never read Stendhal before, and it might be a little ambitious to start doing so in French, but I read the first five pages or so aloud to the Mister this weekend, and I pretty much got everything that was going on, so I'm inspired to soldier on (that's a [bad] pun, because so far it's all about soldiers). Plus, it's an edition in red leather and gold scrolling and a satin bookmark, so just the pleasure of holding the book might induce me to amble through the French. On page 123, we read:

"Deux fois, en traversant la France, il fut arrêté; mais il sut se dégager; il dut ces désagréments à son passeport italien et à cette étrange qualité de marchand de baromètres, qui n’était guère d’accord avec sa figure jeune et son bras en écharpe. Enfin, dans Genève, il trouva un homme, appartenant à la comtesse, qui lui ranconta de sa part, que lui, Fabrice, avait été dénoncé à la police de Milan comme étant allé porter à Napoléon des propositions, arrêtées par une baste conspiration organisée dans le ci-devant royaume d’Italie. Si tel n’eût pas été le but de son voyage, disait la dénonciation, à quoi bon prendre un nom supposé?"

(Twice, in crossing France, he was stopped; but he was able to get away; he owed these troubles to his Italian passport and to that strange barometer-merchant quality which hardly befitted his youthful figure and his arm in a sling. At last, in Geneva, he met a man, sent from the Countess, who told him on her behalf that he, Fabrice, had been denounced to the Milan police as having gone to bring Napoleon some proposals, appointed by a vast conspiracy organized in the former kingdom of Italy. If that had not been the aim of his voyage, the denunciation said, why had he taken an assumed name?)

Pardon any errors in my translation. If you are a French speaker, please let me know if I've made any glaring mistakes! (Or, for that matter, subtle ones, because I'd be just as interested.)

In the book nearest to YOU, what does page 123 say?


maitresse said...

wonderful translation! I'm so delighted to have found your blog. The Munthe sounds particularly interesting.

what's your dissertation on?

Robin said...

Thanks so much! Re: the translation, all I want to know now is what a barometer merchant looks like.

The dissertation is on the international poetry of the Spanish Civil War, with a media studies angle (transmission and translation of the poetry, performance, radio/documentary/film, etc.). It's been a fun topic to work on, while presenting its particular challenges, of course!