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.

New Moon, New Month

The crescent of a new moon is slowly emerging through the darkening sky.  A pale silver at first, now with a bright, almost golden glow.  A waxing new moon.  A middle-aged lady in the flat down the corridor, when I was growing up in France, taught me how to distinguish the moon quarters.  "Just hold up an imaginary stick against the moon," she said. "If it forms a P, then it's premier – first, so a waxing moon.  If it forms a D, then it's dernier – last, a waning moon." 

 

Tonight, my imaginary P has a very straight, perfectly vertical stem.   

 

My grandmother would have smiled and said, "It's going to be a sunny month."  She always checked the new moon and, depending on the inclination of the crescent, would predict the weather, or at least the chances of rain.  The more vertical, the least chance of rain, the more inclined, the more likelihood of a wet four weeks.  If it lay practically flat, with its tips sticking up, then don't even think of leaving the house without an umbrella.

 

The funny thing is, her predictions always came true.  In the thirty-five years since I left my family home, it has never occurred to me to check for myself.  I wonder if the English moon follows the same pattern as its French and Italian counterparts.

 

I have always found the moon inspiring and soothing.  I love the delicate, golden sliver of a curve promising new beginnings, and I love moonbathing in its bright, silver fullness.  I once had a bedroom where once I month I went to sleep with the curtains open and the full moon shining brightly in my face, making me feel safe and deeply at peace.

The moon for me is indisputably female.  I don't know what Eric Maschwitz was thinking when he wrote the line "Poor puzzled moon, he wore a frown" in A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.  I can't see any Man in the Moon.  Only a kind, understanding, maternal smile that says Sleep peacefully, I'll watch over you.

 

At school, during maths classes, I would sometimes write sonnets or free verse in honour of the moon.  I spent summer nights in Rome lying on a sun lounger, staring up at the moon.  If I'd had to choose between the sun and the moon, I would have sworn allegiance to the moon without the slightest hesitation.

 

When I was much younger and brazen, I would sometimes tell people who insisted on my defining my accent that I originally came from the moon.  Didn't they know there was life there that couldn't be detected by machines? Of course there was.  Everybody lived in houses made of crystal, with roses and honeysuckle climbing up the walls, and musicians playing the lute to lull you to sleep every night. 

 

In recent years, I have steadily been moving towards the sun camp.  Hardly surprising after over thirty years in a country where the sun, far from being a rude imposition, is rather an overly tactful visitor constantly anxious about outstaying its welcome.  Now, I rush out to catch ever sunbeam I can.

 

And yet the moon is splendid tonight.  So slender, so straight.  I remember my grandmother's words.  I must pay attention to the weather this month.

 

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
As every gardener knows, it's always best to plant your beans and flowers on the premier side of the moon and, preferably, before ... Read More
Friday, 06 September 2019 13:03
Katherine Gregor
I'll bear that in mind for next year :–)
Monday, 09 September 2019 19:16
147 Hits
2 Comments

Paris, 14 Juillet

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We were in Paris this time last year.  I was enjoying the buzz and feeling shortchanged: we don’t have national holidays in England, at least none that carry any kind of historical significance.  No religious holidays except Christmas and Easter, and even the country’s patron Saint, George, doesn’t warrant a day off.  That’s Protestant work ethic for you.  If our May and August bank holidays do have roots somewhere in history, then they have been forgotten by the common man (and woman) and appear to have been randomly tacked on at the end of three weekends, almost like a grudging concession by an employer related to Ebenezer Scrooge.  We have no dates when we celebrate freedom from oppression, change of regime, the end of a conflict or independence.  No day that unites the entire country in a civic celebration.

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Almost all the shops were closed and there was a mildly festive ripple in the summer air.  Notre Dame was crammed with tourists.  Noisy invaders with little respect or awe for this ancient church or its prayer-soaked walls.  Calling out to one another in loud voices, stomping around in large groups.  Too loud to be able to hear her voice or her heartbeat.

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Once again, I longingly tried to imagine what it would be like to stand in an almost DSC00275deserted Notre Dame, listening to Mediaeval voices rising to the Rose Window, singing Léonin or Pérotin, music composed for a perfect marriage with Gothic architecture.  I went to smile at the stone Virgin and Child, one of my favourite Madonnas.  I like her delicate features, her gentle, youthful smile.  A few years ago, I translated a crime novel by French novelist Alexis Ragougneau, The Madonna of Notre Dame, and it brought this beautiful statue to my attention.

When we approached the cathedral exit, the noise of the crowd was suddenly drowned out by a loud roar.  A row of fighter planes tore across the sky, a trail of blue, white and red in their wake.  I find the sound of fighter planes eerie and something in my chest always seizes up when I hear them slicing through the air above Norwich, where I live, but there, in Paris, as part of the Quatorze Juilletparade, I stared and marvelled with the other tourists.  I felt strange, standing inside a church, a building symbolising peace and compassion, while above me, there were these war machines, designed for war.

DSC00280We strolled to Île Saint-Louis and stopped in a café for a late breakfast of crêpes and coffee.  There was a television broadcasting the parade on the Champs Elysées (Elysian Fields - nowhere would be called this in England).  We were the only customers and the manageress started chatting to us.  “Macron’s been lucky with the weather both years since he’s been elected,” she said. “It’s been lovely and sunny on 14th July.”

“Oh, is that unusual for this time of year?” I asked, surprised.

“Under François Hollande it always seemed to rain or something would go wrong whenever there was some kind of event.  That’s why he was nicknamed  le chat noir.”

The black cat.  How funny.

We ended up staying in the café, following the live coverage of the parade, President Macron and guests watching as what looked like the country’s entire human fighting force and arsenal processed before him.  Tanks, military vehicles, men and women in uniform, weapons of every kind, the Garde républicaineon horseback, helmets and swords gleaming in the sunlight.

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As always when watching a national parade – in any country – I felt a sense of wrongness, or at least of incompletion.  I always look at all that military personnel, at all those tanks, fighter jets, weapons, and all those politicians, and I want to ask out loud, Where are the country's writers? Where are the scientists and the scholars? Where are the all the medics? Where are the actors? Where are the farmers? Where are all the other people who contribute to the country? Have they not also played their part in forging history?

Is the nation not proud of them, too?

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
As a child we used to go to a Navy air show each summer where the air squadron called the Blue Angels would perform - very fond me... Read More
Thursday, 18 July 2019 21:21
Katherine Gregor
I've never seen a July 4th parade (except for one I went to in France back in 1976!) – do you not normally have military vehicles?... Read More
Thursday, 18 July 2019 22:05
Stephen Evans
No - In DC, a big concert on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and lots of firework.
Saturday, 20 July 2019 13:35
265 Hits
12 Comments

Reconnecting

The fountain pen feels heavy in my hand.  I haven't written for a long time.  I mean written – not typed.  That I do every day, all day.  Click, click.  Irregular, hollow.  I tap the plastic keys, one letter at a time, and words appear on my computer screen.  Words someone else has written, thought, felt.  Words I mutate into another language.  Making myself think them, feel them.  Click, click.  

No words flow out.  My nib is like a dried-up fountain.  The pathway between my brain and my hand is overgrown with brambles, and my thoughts are caught up somewhere in that darkness.

I suddenly realise that even writing these few lines has been stressful and tiring.  An effort.

I pause.  Shall I put the pen down? What if I can't pick it up again? A flush of anxiety  rushes into my face.  Cold.  I begin to write again.  Slowly, gingerly.  Piano piano.

I think of a cartoon in The New Yorker that hangs framed in my study, my bottega.  A little boy watches as a cute little girl is scribbling on the sidewalk. I try to write a little every day, the caption says.

Baby steps.  One foot, then another.  The black ink briefly glistens on the paper before turning matt.  I take my time to form the letters, join them, taking care to place the dots above the is and not let them float randomly.  Making sure I round my letters so my as and es are legible.

My rosewood and chrome Faber Castell seems like a close friend you haven't seen for a long time.  You used to talk over each other and now you can't think of anything to say.  The intimacy's gone.  You look at each other with trepidation and fear of disappointment, hoping to detect the gold thread that connected you in the past, so you can pick it up again.  You search for the bridge that used to join you.  You know it can't have crumbled – nothing that can't be repaired with a few stones and a little mortar – you just can't remember the way to it.  Any minute now you're going to turn a corner and see it right in front of you.

And so I keep writing, slowly, gingerly, trusting in the brilliant black ink flowing steadily through the nib, taking root on the cream page.  Forming every letter carefully, lengthening the stems, evening out the loops, connecting them into words.  Almost any words.

Trusting that my thoughts will start to light up the overgrown pathway and seep into my nib.  Soon.

One word at a time.  Slowly.  Piano piano.

 

Scribe Doll  

Recent Comments
Monika Schott
Yes, I know that feeling well, of needing to burst from all the restraint and you don't know how. That's when I start to write too... Read More
Sunday, 07 July 2019 21:53
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Moni, I've done many different jobs in my life and always managed to write. Since I've been a literary translator, th... Read More
Monday, 08 July 2019 07:50
Rosy Cole
What I find useful, Katia, with any form of writing when sufficient inspiration is lacking, or even when it isn't, or you can't ge... Read More
Tuesday, 09 July 2019 13:35
1041 Hits
5 Comments

A Few Thoughts About Lent

As the Dean traced the ash cross on my forehead and said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ" and the Cathedral choir sang Allegri's Miserere, what flashed through my mind, once again, was the image of a phoenix.  Ashes as the necessary stage of burning the old, so that the new might be reborn.  Ashes as catharsis.

 

When I was a child growing up in Rome, Lent was a gloomy forty days, with a Holy Week of wailing and gnashing of teeth, expressed through sober, serious television programmes like Passion plays, religious contemplations and funereal classical music.  I have a vague memory of my grandmother chiding me for dancing around the room one Good Friday.  Lent had be heavily sad.  Lent as repentance, as stating our unworthiness.  Lent that felt like a punishment after the joy of Carnival.  Lent as fasting or at least giving up on something you found pleasurable.

 

But what if Lent was originally intended not as six weeks of gloom and doom but as an opportunity for renewal? After all, it wouldn't be the first time that the wisdom and practicality of Christian teachings was changed, mistranslated or misinterpreted through centuries of organised religion.  

 

I disagree with Lent as moral self-flagellation the same way as I find deeply disturbing the presence, in prime position, of the crucifix in churches.  Why focus on the image of intense pain, injustice and death when what is actually at the heart of Christian doctrine is the Resurrection, i.e. the triumph of Life over death? I have no doubt that theologians and ministers will provide a valid reason for that, but my instinctive feeling is that you get further by focusing on joy and Light than on sadness and darkness.

 

"'Church' has become a dirty word," a priest once told me.  It certainly has in the UK, where backs all too often stiffen and looks become embarrassed and vacant as soon as I mention the fact that I occasionally go to church.  Given the laissez-faire attitude of the Church of England, where you can opt for High, Evangelical or Traditional or an assortment thereof, I find this backlash something of a disproportionate response.  Still, whose fault is it, really, if "church" has become "a dirty word"?

 

Everything that happens on this planet has a rational explanation, whether we have come up with it by now or not.  The universe is governed by physics and the laws of nature.  As a child and teenager, I used to think of the world as a perfect circle, with no loose ends.  So whenever I could not understand something, I felt as though this was because all I could see was a segment of the circle, just a line that wasn't connected to anything, thereby not making any sense. And yet the Church still puts an emphasis on almost blind faith.  The magic and supernatural elements that make Christianity so wonderful to some are also a strong deterrent to others.  Isn't it time the Church began to explain its philosophy – I choose this term rather than doctrine deliberately – in a more 21st-century-friendly context of society, psychology and physics? Increasingly, the Church is trying to become more "accessible" by dropping – much to my sadness – the poetry from the language of prayers.  By doing that I feel it brings the Divine down to the limited dimension of humanity; it does nothing to encourage its unlimited side.  Replacing "thou" with "you" and "trespasses" with "sins" is not enough if you maintain the party line that miracles have an element of the supernatural that cannot – and almost must not – be understood with our brains but accepted through faith.  Faith, like love, cannot be supplied on demand.  Besides, as I once remarked to a priest after Sunday service, humanity can no longer be treated as a child who accepts whatever his or her parents say as though it were unquestionable truth.  "We are teenagers now," I said, "we have doubts about everything, so we need plausible answers."  Why not appeal to the human side that resides in the totality of possibilities? The side capable of absolute wonders?

 

Again, when I was about ten or eleven, and I heard a minister say that we, children, should be "as good as the Child Jesus", I replied, "But Jesus's father was God, while mine was a man, so he had a clear advantage over me – what's the point in my even trying?"  Yet another of many contradictions and inconsistencies in Church teachings.

 

Heavily sad Lent.  Lent as repentance, as stating our unworthiness.  Lent as fasting or at least giving up on something you found pleasurable – and which you fully intend to resume come Easter Sunday.  What if it were Lent as taking stock, as a time for introspection, as cleansing, as shedding old habits and creating new ones? Lent as rewiring our brains? In other words, Lent as a wonderful opportunity for a physical and mental detox – a re-set button?

 

A field that fascinates me is that of neuroplasticity and the possibility of redirecting our neural pathways.  Obviously, the Ancients probably did not have  "neuroplasticity" in their vocabulary but, on some other level, they were clearly aware of its existence in practice, or there would have been no yoga, no Qi Gong, and no Lent. 

 

Why forty days? I don't know. There is a school of thought that says it takes twenty days to break a habit and twenty to form a new one. Forty is a number that recurs in the Old and New Testament, in other religions, in yoga practices, in some fairy tales and in popular beliefs.  When, age six, I had the measles, my family kept me indoors and in the warmth for full forty days, to make sure I had fully recovered (there is an interesting Huff Post article on the forty-day topic by Rebecca Grainger).

 

Lent is also about fasting.  I fast for twenty-four hours once a week.  I find it invigorating and refreshing.  There is evidence to suggest that fasting responsibly can have many health benefits.  It acts as a re-set function.  It can reduce inflammation (remember the old saying "Starve the fever and feed the cold"?), is cleansing and allows the body to focus on spring cleaning and healing while not busy digesting.

 

I love Lent.  Not the Lent of repentance but of taking stock, of trying to reroute neural pathways, shedding old habits and forming new, more creative ones.  Lent as a wonderful opportunity to reinvent oneself.

 

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
The word itself as I understand it comes from the Middle English term for Spring - which fits right in with your philosophy. ... Read More
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 01:00
Katherine Gregor
Now I didn't know that! Thank you!
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 17:49
590 Hits
2 Comments

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