Katherine Gregor

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Katherine Gregor (a.k.a. Scribe Doll) is a literary translator and scribbler who has also been an EFL teacher, theatrical agent, press agent, theatre director, complementary medicine practitioner, and one or two other things. Perhaps that's why the literary characters she relates to most are Arlecchino, Truffaldino, Gianni Schicchi and Scapin, and feels empathy with crows, squirrels and cats. She lives in Norwich, Norfolk. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Goldsmith @GoldRosie )

R. R. R.

Different ways of speech communication is one of my earliest memories. The fact that, at home, my mother and grandmother speak one way, and friends, neighbours and people in the street another. Then there's the way my mother speaks to my grandmother when she doesn't want me to understand what she's saying. The third way. Russian at home, Italian outside, Farsi for secrets I long to know.  I am at the stage in my young life when I have a notion of existing but not living. My body still feels like a chunky box that's the wrong shape for me. Too bulky, too slow, too clumsy, too heavy.  Like a container in which I am trapped and which prevents the lithe, fast, agile, sprite-like me from moving as easily as I feel entitled to by right. 

 

On top of this hindrance to the full expression of my self, there is the disobedience of my tongue.  I cannot roll my "r"s.  This is just another way my body is opposing me.

 

My mother looks sternly. You cannot speak Russian or Italian with a weak "r". Her daughter will learn to rattle "r"s as hard as engines, as uncompromising as machine guns. "You'll practise this Russian tongue-twister," she instructs.

 

На горе Арарат

Ростëт крупный виноград

On Mount Ararat 

Grow large grapes

Where's Mount Ararat? Why are the grapes there large?

 

While my mother is at work, during the day, my grandmother prompts me gently. When my mother comes back home, the evening, it's boot camp training mode. I know you're sleepy.  Say it just once again and you can go to bed.  Come on.  One more time.  Rrrrr.

 

I hate Mount Ararat. There are probably big spiders and nasty people living there. And I hate grapes.

 

I finally manage to produce a guttural "r". "Good," my mother pronounces as though she expects no less. "But no one is French in our family. We need a strong, Russian and Italian RRR."

 

I am caught between wanting them to leave me alone and the conviction that the goal is non-negotiable. It's as though my life is impossible until it is achieved. I dread uttering words that contain "r"s.

 

Then, one day, it just happens as though it were the most natural thing in the world. R r r. My mother is relieved. The uneven edge of my speech has been sanded down.

 

Scribe Doll

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I have always admired people who have a facility with multiple languages, and even more now that I know what went into it ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 02:40
Katherine Gregor
All small children have a facility with languages. It's a neurological fact. I admire people who learn them as adults. Thank you ... Read More
Tuesday, 05 June 2018 09:26
Ken Hartke
When I worked in the prison system an issue came up on inmates with hearing deficits and the state university wanted to conduct re... Read More
Wednesday, 06 June 2018 18:15
110 Hits
6 Comments

In Praise of Tricksters

I feel tears pooling my eyes before he even utters his final lines:

 

Ditemi voi signori se i quattrini di Buoso potevan finire meglio di così.

Per questa bizzarria m'han cacciato all'inferno, e così sia.

Ma con licenza del grande padre Dante,

Se stasera vi siete divertiti, concedetemi voi [he gives a little clap] l'attenuante.

[You tell me, ladies and gentlemen, if you think Buoso's money could be put to better use.

Because of this bizarre event, I have been sent to hell – and so be it.

Still, with all due respect to the great Dante,

If you have enjoyed yourselves this evening, then why don't you plead [he gives a little clap] mitigating circumstances on my behalf?]

 

By now my eyes are brimming over.  I have no idea why the words of the protagonist in Puccini's only comic opera always stir something deep inside me.

 

Loosely based on real-life character, Gianni Schicchi – a 13th-century Florentine nouveau riche – is reluctantly called upon by the snobbish, upper-class Donati family to get them out of a very inconvenient situation. Old Buoso Donati has just given up the ghost and, after a frantic search for his will, the outraged relatives discover that he has left his entire fortune to the local monastery. Young Rinuccio Donati, who is in love with Schicchi's daughter Lauretta, and whose hopes of marrying her (albeit against his family's wishes) are now thwarted by the unexpected lack of an inheritance, sends for the nouveau riche wheeler-dealer.  If anyone can think of a way out of this impasse, then it's shrewd Gianni Schicchi. And so he does. After ascertaining that nobody outside the room knows of Buoso's demise yet, he puts on the dead man's clothes and nightcap, wraps a scarf around his face and takes his place in bed. The notary is sent for so that a new will may be dictated: one that will not increase the roundness of the monks' bellies and, instead, keep the Donatis in luxury. But as Gianni Schicchi itemises the list of Buoso's possessions, it is to himself that he bequeathes the choice morsels. Seething with anger but unable to speak out for fear of having their hands cut off and being exiled for aiding and abetting impersonation and fraud, the Donatis listen, powerless, as Schicchi goes as far as bequeathing himself the family's palazzo before unceremoniously booting them out of it, as the now lawful owner.  Once they have all gone, he sees Rinuccio and Lauretta embracing, happy than they can now marry.  Moved by this scene of young love, Gianni Schicchi addresses the audience in his short concluding speech.  This act of his made Dante consign him to his Inferno, but if we have enjoyed the show, then perhaps our applause will serve as mitigating circumstances.  And thunderous applause he gets as the curtain falls.

 

I have always had a soft spot for theatrical and literary tricksters. Scapin, Figaro, Harlequin, Truffaldino.  Gianni Schicchi.  Ever since I was a child, I have admired characters with the cunning to circumvent unfair rules or to give authoritarian bullies their comeuppance, not with any kind of violence or self-righteousness but the elegance and grace of their wits.

 

In the Russian fairy tales my grandmother would tell me when I was a child, my favourite animal was the vixen for her invariably imaginative ruses against stronger, larger animals.  As well as foxes, I now like cats and crows.  Intelligent and self-possessed, they find creative solutions to further their pursuits without losing any of their natural grace (cats especially).  From what I have seen of them, foxes, cats and crows are patient observers.  They watch, plan, calculate, then act.  I get a sense of inner negotiation, of weighing pros and cons, and, above all, of a thought process that is "outside the box".  They see things they way they see things and not according to the popular trend.  One could call cats, foxes and crows "original" thinkers.

 

My favourite literary heroine of all time, Sheherazade, is no innocent, man-dependent maiden.  She knows precisely what she is doing.  She uses her cunning to hold the king's attention until he has grown to love and respect her so deeply that he cannot bear to kill her.  Not only that but he also becomes a just ruler beloved of his subjects. Sheherazade has immense courage, yes, but it is her intelligence and cunning that transforms a predatory, bloodthirsty misogynist into a truly good man.  She does not opt for the dagger-in-the-heart-while-he's-sleeping-off-sex solution.  She thinks outside the box and that's what makes her a role model.

 

The first fairy tale I wrote, when I was about eleven, features a princess who delivers her father's kingdom from an evil witch by dressing up as a boy, entering the witch's service, gaining her trust and watching her every move until she discovers the weak link in the castle's defence.  In the process, she also frees the knights her father sent, who are locked up in the witch's dungeon.  Impressed with her courage, the king allows his daughter to chose a husband from among his most valiant knights.  At this point, the princess weeps at the sudden realisation that she will never marry.  For she can only be the wife of a man she looks up to and there is no such man among all those who did not think to put away their swords and shields and fight by cunning instead.  And so the princess eventually becomes a much-respected, much-loved and very lonely queen.

 

I was severely bullied at school.  I couldn't fight back on the same terms.  I simply didn't have the resources.  So, when I was about twelve, I bet the class that I could stop the English language test from taking place that afternoon.  Nobody believed me, of course.  I walked into the classroom more slowly than usual, wearing my most anxious expression.  I glanced at the teacher.  He looked at me quizzically.  I frowned, made to open my mouth, then shook my head, went to my desk and sat down, still frowning, knowing the teacher was still looking at me, wondering.  I was top of my class in English, so I knew he would never think my anxiety was in any way connected to the scheduled test.  I looked up at him again, then repeated the slight head shake.  "Are you all right, Katherine?" the teacher asked.

"Yes, yes, sorry.  Well, no, I mean – no, it's all right."

"What's the matter? Tell me."

I gave him a hesitant look.  "Well, if you insist, sir... It's just that I've been wondering... Who was the first king of England?"

The teacher froze and the classroom fell silent.

"I'm afraid there's no straight answer," he replied. "You see, it's rather complicated.  There's Offa and Egbert, then Alfred..."

He stood up by the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk and began tracing names, arrows and dates.  He spoke for about twenty minutes.  Then he dropped the chalk back into the tray and looked at his watch.  "A bit late for the test now," he said, "but don't you all get too comfy because tomorrow straight after recess..."

 

In case you are now thinking that I am a natural cheat, please let me assure you that I am not.  I am not a liar, either.  The tricks and tricksters I enjoy cause no harm or real disruption.  What appeals to me about them is not the dishonesty or manipulation element.  It's their courage, their daring to imagine a different possibility to the one dictated by narrow-minded authority or lazy, unquestioned custom.  After all, isn't "thinking outside the box" a way of honouring life's hidden yet available resources and possibilities? Isn't thinking outside the box the resounding YES to life against the self-limiting NO?

 

Perhaps it's the reminder of all these wonderful possibilities and resources, suppressed or forgotten, that brings tears to my eyes when I hear Gianni's Schicchi's apology.

 

And, Ladies and Gentlemen, if in any way my views have offended, then I ask you to forgive me.  But if anything in this post has made you smile or nod or even suggested further thought, then, pray, leave me a comment.

 

Scribe Doll

 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
So many cultures world-wide have a tradition of tricksters - it's easy to enjoy their cleverness! I'll have to give this opera a l... Read More
Monday, 28 May 2018 03:50
Katherine Gregor
Thank you for commenting. The opera is less than an hour long. This is, in my opinion, the best performance currently available o... Read More
Monday, 28 May 2018 07:58
Stephen Evans
I was listening to the radio today and heard O Mio Babbino Caro, which I had forgotten was from that opera. one of my favorites an... Read More
Wednesday, 06 June 2018 21:59
138 Hits
9 Comments

Rook

My train home wasn't due for another half hour and I strolled up the platform, looking for something to snack on. There wasn't anything particularly appetising left at that time of the afternoon at the small town station, and I was suddenly tempted by a bag of cheese and onion crisps. Crisps in general are my guilty pleasure, although I prefer plain ones, and I probably hadn't had cheese and onion ones since my student days. College food was so genuinely revolting that, more frequently than I care to remember, all it would take was one mouthful to consign the contents of the entire tray to the rubbish before heading to the tuck shop, buying four packets of crisps, and then dining on them in my room.

And so, in memory of my undergraduate former self, I pulled the packet open and the pungent smell of chemical cheese and lab onion hit my nostrils, bringing back a wave of happy memories. I munched and looked up at the East Anglian sky, especially endless and near in Cambridgeshire. Something stirred on the platform canopy above me. Two rooks were looking down at me. Or perhaps at my crisps.  

I glanced around, looking for any signs forbidding the feeding of vagrant birds – you never know these days – then wondered if any of the other passengers waiting for the train would raise any objections.  Were I younger, I would not have hesitated for a second.  Now that I am middle-aged, I have become a little more wary of displaying my eccentricity in public.  After all, a young eccentric woman is seen as endearingly quirky. A middle aged one – sadly – often as mad.

I stared at the birds, hoping that somehow, by a telepathic process, they would understand that if they flew down, they would get some crisps.  Then I hesitated.  Did I really want to give these innocent, unsuspecting creatures, unhealthy processed food? Oh, go on.  I quickly glanced around to check that nobody was watching and threw down one crisp.  The rooks spread their wings and swooped down with as much speed as silent grace.  One of them, the larger one, landed a few centimetres away from the crisp, while his more timid companion kept her distance despite my attempts to lure her closer.  

The large rook walked tentatively towards the crisp then stopped to study me.  I was drawn into the beady blackness of his expression that seemed to plunge deeper and deeper into my soul.  As though the rook was seeing a part of me no other human could.  A feeling of bonding, of acceptance swept over me.  Then he strutted to the crisp, held it under his talon, and began pecking at it with precision.  I couldn't help but admire his table manners.  Such a beautiful rook, with a long, sand-grey beak and glossy black plumage with glints of purple.  I wished I could watch him for ever.  Once he'd finished his snack, I slowly walked away.  He followed me, looking up at me, expecting rather than asking.  I dropped another crisp and enjoyed observing him as he secured it once again with his talon and proceeded to take small, delicate pecks at it.  Every so often, he would look up at me.  Not a furtive, indifferent peek.  There was no red robin aloofness about this character.  It was a quick but penetrating, intelligent glance.  A connection that ran deep and was acknowledged by us both.  I know you, it said silently.  And at that moment, I didn't care what the humans at the station thought of me.

A few minutes later, I boarded my train feeling a lightness in my heart I seldom experience.  A sense of freedom, of unlimited possibilities and peace.  Of pure happiness.  It had been just a moment on a station platform, sharing a bag of cheese and onion crisps with a rook.  And yet it felt like such a special moment.  

Like making a new friend.  The kind you feel you've known for ever.

Scribe Doll 

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I don;t think we have rooks here - too bad - they sound like wonderful intelligent companions.
Monday, 26 February 2018 01:36
Katherine Gregor
Same as crows, except for a grey beak. I'm sure you have them (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o7JQthRpHA)... Read More
Monday, 26 February 2018 20:06
Ken Hartke
I've made a whole career in retirement of being endearingly eccentric. I seems to work better for men. If you happen on to a near-... Read More
Tuesday, 27 February 2018 17:17
356 Hits
8 Comments

Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.

 

The voices gently rise to the stone vaults and fill the 12th-century church, one of London's oldest.  The congregation forms a queue.  Slowly, everybody advances towards the altar steps.  

 

Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris.

Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

 

The rector's expression is stern, menacing almost.  I think I am supposed to look down in humility.  Instead, I stare straight into his eyes, searching for an echo to my thought.  "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,"  he says as his thumb traces a black cross of ash on my forehead.

 

I am thinking of the phoenix.  Of what happens after the return to dust.

 

Asperges me hysopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.

Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.

Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.

 

The soprano pierces through the semi-darkness, and lingers high up before fluttering downwards, graceful, having made her plea for us all.

 

I return to the wooden pew, kneel, close my eyes and breathe in the frankincense.  Yesterday, Shrove Tuesday, I ate pancakes.  I realise that I haven't decided on what I will give up for Lent.  I remember those friends who will probably give up chocolate, or alcohol, or both.  Not eating chocolate is easy for me, and, since I hardly drink, renouncing alcohol would hardly constitute a sacrifice.  Now cheese, on the other hand... Could I manage a whole forty days without cheese?

 

The futility of my thoughts suddenly makes me sad.

 

Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.

Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.

Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam.

Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.

What's the point of giving something up that you know you will go back to on Easter Sunday? Doesn't knowing a privation is temporary make it too easy? Easy and pointless? Isn't the true purpose of Lent to cleanse your soul for Easter? Will my soul really be purer without cheese or olives or whatever other anodyne habit I decide to break? 

 

For Lent, why don't we give up something less tangible and yet destructive to us and to others? Something we would work on eradicating from our minds and washing from our souls?

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

How about we pledge to give up resentment?

We could train ourselves, little by little, to replace resentment with responsibility and forgiveness.  Turn the other cheek.  No, not to ask for another slap, but to remove whoever has struck us from our field of vision, from our thoughts, from our world.  To set ourselves free.

When someone upsets us, we could indulge in making up a story about something that just might have happened to this person that would explain his or her unpleasant attitude.  It doesn't have to be true, only plausible.  And the self-storytelling might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up gossiping? 

We could try never speaking of a third person except to praise at least one aspect of him or her.  Is there nothing good to say about him or her? There must be something, however small.  We could avoid divulging personal information about others.  Instead of using what we know about them as social currency, we could cherish it as a secret treasure.

 

How about giving up sadness?

We could choose an image, a tune or a thought that makes us smile and summon it whenever we feel the clouds gathering in our minds.

 

How about giving up fear?

We could try to imagine that we are safe.  Just making believe at first, until it becomes reality.  After all, we can't make it real if we don't imagine it first.  And if we can imagine it, then perhaps we can create it.

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

 

How about we monitor the words that leave our lips and give up using them irresponsibly?

We could replace "Filthy weather, today" with the more accurate "It's cold" or "It's very wet" or "It's very grey".

When someone asks us how we are, we could discard "Not too bad" in favour of "Very well, thank you".  It may not be true at the time, but people mostly don't ask because they really want to know.  And "well" might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up believing we can't and, at least for a while, try to imagine we can?

 

How about we give up the familiar comfort of darkness? There is a lot of darkness, I know.

Just one candle.  It's surprising how much light just one little flame gives.

 

ScribeDoll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
forty days without cheese? unthinkable!
Wednesday, 21 February 2018 23:31
Katherine Gregor
Well, I'm trying to cut down...
Thursday, 22 February 2018 09:45
Rosy Cole
'For Lent, why don't we give up something less tangible and yet destructive to us and to others? Something we would work on eradic... Read More
Saturday, 24 February 2018 17:39
393 Hits
4 Comments

Latest Comments

Rosy Cole We Don't Say Goodbye
23 June 2018
Much deep wisdom here. Thank you!To be honest, I'd rather never say goodbye... No matter what plans ...
Stephen Evans We Don't Say Goodbye
15 June 2018
Sound advice Ken.
Ken Hartke We Don't Say Goodbye
13 June 2018
I may have posted this before -- I sometimes need to revisit it. I occasionally need to give myself ...
Katherine Gregor Rise
12 June 2018
I like it!
Katherine Gregor R. R. R.
12 June 2018
I hope you're right. Thank you for your comment.

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