There are More Things in Heaven and Earth...

There has been much news coverage, during the past week, of the experimental Mars probe, Schiaparelli, which is now suspected to have exploded upon landing on Mars.  No doubt, in time, another spacecraft will be sent to the Red Planet with the purpose of investigating whether there has ever been, or currently is, life there.  Personally, I fail to see how this astronomically high expense can be justified, given the lack of funds alleged by our various governments to tackle the pressing problems on this, the Blue Planet.  But that's an issue apart.  Listening to various scientists speculating about whether or not there is life on Mars made me wonder – how would we know for sure?

 

If the sophisticated machines show that there is life on Mars, then I suppose the proof will be irrefutable.  If, however, they find no evidence of life, how could we be 100% certain that these findings are accurate and true, in other words, that they correspond to actual reality? I can't see how lack of evidence can possibly be considered as proof either way.

 

It's been widely observed that animals exhibit unusual behaviour and sometimes even flee before an earthquake.  I don't mean domestic animals, of course, many of whom have been overbred to serve and depend on us to the point where they have lost many of their survival instincts (once, as a teenager, I woke up in the middle of the night because I felt my bed being jolted and saw a couple of books fall off the shelf, while my dog, curled up at my feet, was fast asleep, snoring away).  How do these animals know there's an impending earthquake when human machines are unable to predict them? One can deduce that they possess a way of sensing them either through glands or other perception organs that are more refined and sophisticated than human-made machines.

 

In medicine, successful experiments have recently been conducted with dogs and cancer detection.  It appears that dogs can "sniff" certain cancers with an accuracy rate of over 90%.  This suggests that their senses are far more developed that those of humans.  Many pet owners will have observed that their cats and dogs know instinctively which grass or herbs to eat in the field when they are ill.  Most humans are not so in tune with their own bodies and require a doctor to tell them what to eat or not eat.  One could say that the authority of technology and science has bred instinct out of us, too.

 

My cat, Genie, knew when I was coming home despite my erratic working hours.  I'm told that about twenty minutes before I arrived, she would go and lie by the door, thus announcing to anyone at home that I was on my way.  How did she know? Do you sense when your spouse/partner/flatmate is about to come home?

 

There are countless examples of cases where animals are aware of realities we, humans, are not, which goes to prove the limits of our perception of the world.

 

*   *   *

Humans have manufactured technologies, machines, tests and probes that are supposed to reveal more than our senses can, especially in the field of medicine.  The purpose of a blood test, scan and X-ray is to detect what is, we believe, undetectable by our five senses.  Machines have been known to show more sensitivity than humans.  I remember one particular instance where my own experience showed this to be true.  When we were living in France, a nightingale sang on the hill outside our balcony every morning at about 4 a.m.  One day, my mother got up and tried recording the bird's song on her National Panasonic cassette player.  When we tried listening to it over breakfast we couldn't hear the nightingale over the numerous rustling, humming and clicking sounds made by the other creatures of the night, which our ears were unable to pick up.

 

Still, I think it's a fair assumption that we can only manufacture machines that our imagination allows us to manufacture.  After all, we cannot make what we cannot imagine to be possible.  By extension, our imagination is limited by our sensory perception, since it is the latter that informs us of the reality that surrounds us.  Therefore, the same way as, being someone with "bat ears", I can hear distant sounds people around me generally can't, our knowledge of reality is made possible, and consequently also limited, by what we or our machines – designed within the span of our sensory abilities – can perceive. Just because we can't see, hear, smell or touch something is not sufficient proof that it doesn't exist.

*   *   *

On occasion, when the topic has arisen, I have been challenged by atheists to prove that there is a God.  I can't.  Their conclusion was that because I can't prove the existence of God, He doesn't exist.  I've responded by pointing out that they, equally, are unable to prove that He doesn't.

 

I have come across people, in England, who assure me that not only do fairies exist, but that they have seen them with their own eyes.  Personally, my automatic reply to anyone asking me if I believe in fairies would be, "Of course, I don't," but, if I were consistent with my reasoning, I would have to reply, "I don't know.  I have no experience of fairies."  After all, do I not see fairies because there are no fairies (or unicorns, or ghosts, or other apparitions) to be seen or because my senses are too obtuse to see them? I can't answer that truthfully.

*   *   *

Back to Mars.

 

If our machines eventually detect a life form on the Red Planet, that would suggest that there is.  However, if they don't, it is equally possible that there isn't life there and that there is.  There could be a life form unlike any we can imagine, therefore undetectable by our machines and probes.  It is also possible that creatures of this life form have destroyed the Schiaparelli probe, to discourage humans from encroaching on their space.  And if it were so, who could blame them?

 

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies...

 

 

Scribe Doll

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Should these Connotations Always Apply?

Dark

Just read any book or film review.  Dark implies deep, complex, fascinating, intelligent, and, therefore, somehow worthy.  I tend to think that dark is just dark.  It's not good, it's not bad.  It's just dark.  But, since we're on the subject, I believe that, for reasons possibly akin to the force of gravity, which bodies obey without needing to make any effort, it is easier to depict something dark that something Light.  The same way as it is easier to write a tragedy than a comedy.  The elements of tragedy are the same throughout nations, cultures, and centuries.  Their weight keeps them fixed, unchanged.  Comedy, however, is therefore ever-changing.  A sense of humour alters over time, and doesn't necessarily translate from one culture to another.  So, surely, writing enduring, internationally appreciated comedy requires true genius.  

Light

You hear this word and you think weightless, low-fat, superficial, not requiring much thought, lacking in substance.  And yet think of the actual meaning of the word Light when it's a noun.  Light.  Sunlight.  Daylight.  How many of us can stare at a light without wincing and shying away? Brightness.  Truth.  Speed.  All the colours of the spectrum.  Understanding.  LIGHT.  

Comfort Zone

For some reason, people described as "not wanting to leave their comfort zone" are always viewed with disapproval.  The comfort zone is a synonym of limitations, of fear, of narrow mindedness.  What exactly is wrong with comfort, anyway? Besides, a comfort zone could be a choice that fits our strength and abilities.  In my experience, people who accuse others of remaining in their comfort zone are, quite often, people who are very firmly set in their own comfort zones.

Can I be honest?

Since when has the term honesty equalled negativity, insult, rudeness and unsolicited opinions that are too personal? Someone says, "Can I be honest?" and you can bet all you have that a negative comment is about to follow.  Not only, but that the speaker feels that the word "honest" somehow entitles him/her to impose their opinion on you, and judge you.  "Can I be honest? I don't like the way you've furnished your house." "Can I be honest? I think you have such or such a defect." When was the last time you heard, "Can I be honest? I think you're a wonderful person"?

Real People

For some reason, only working-class, underprivileged, socially and financially disadvantaged individuals are referred to as Real People.  A play, film or book about Real People.  So not Downton Abbey, then.  Rich, privileged people are therefore imaginary.

I once had a play workshopped in a London theatre.  The characters were a barrister, a Cambridge academic, and a polyglot photographer.  During the feedback session, the man chairing the discussion asked the audience, "Yes, but don't you think this play isn't about Real People"? At that moment, I mentally measured the distance between my fist and his face, and wondered how real or imaginary he'd feel my punch landing on his nose. 

Organic

The buzz word of the decade.  Of course, I do believe that everything should be grown organically, i.e. without harmful pesticides, or GMOs.  But I do find that the word Organic is being somewhat overused and abused.

I ask, as I order breakfast in a café, what their baked beans are like.  "Oh, they're organic," the waiter replies, as though that means the baked beans are automatically in a league of their own in terms of high quality, flavour, health benefits, and probably ability in guaranteeing eternal youth.  I have had food poisoning from so-called organic vegetables just as I have had from non-organic ones.  Organic is politically, correct, healthy, tasty, and generally superior.  The other day, swayed, I bought a box of organic cherry tomatoes.  Their skins were so hard, I could probably have used them to re-sole my shoes.  There's a wonderful scene in the film version of David Auburn's play Proof.  A do-gooder older sister is insisting her rebellious younger sister try a hair conditioner with jojoba.  The girl asks if it's a chemical. "No, it's organic," the older woman replies.

"It can be organic and still be a chemical.  Haven't you ever heard of organic chemistry?"

Natural

There is Natural, and there is good.  They two are not necessarily synonyms.  A hairdresser I used to go to kept asking me if we should have my hair look "natural".  

"No," I replied.  "'Natural' would mean I don't come here to have my hair cut at all."

I have a natural tendency towards being impatient and abrupt.  Left in my natural state, my presence in a social scenario would be intolerable to many.

Popular

Sales assistant seem to think that if they tell a customer that a particular item is Popular, then you'll think it's automatically worth buying.  This is based on an assumption that the said customer believes that the majority is always right.  Wrong.  Whenever I'm standing in a clothes shop, dithering over a dress or a handbag, and the sales assistant tells me it's a very Popular dress or handbag, then my knee-jerk reaction is NOT to buy the said item.  I wouldn't want to turn up at a party and see another woman wearing the same dress.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
An interesting question -- which suggest other interesting questions: where do these connotations exist, and how do they persist?... Read More
Monday, 05 September 2016 20:43
Katherine Gregor
In the case of "dark" I genuinely believe (and there really is no judgement on my part because I too am guilty of this) that it's ... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 08:37
Monika Schott
This made me really think, Katherine, and then feel a little embarrassed at the times when I've used them! Thanks for highlighting... Read More
Tuesday, 06 September 2016 21:01
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Translator or Writer?

I used to write.  A lot. I never set time aside to write but grabbed it as and when I came across it.  At home on a Sunday afternoon, when I had a twenty-minute Tube journey and could get a seat, in a coffee shop between clients, in a classroom while my students were sitting a test.  I wrote while working as a teacher, and as a theatrical agent. I produced short stories, plays, half a novel and a weekly blog.

 

I write even more now.  Two or three novels a year, short stories, non-fiction and even the odd play.  My style is more versatile than before.  Historical novels, crime, travel, popular women's fiction, high-brow women's literature, fairy tales for children.

 

And yet now I can't even manage a blog post scribbled à la diable once a week.

 

Because I now work as a literary translator.  I spend all day writing, yes, but writing other people's words.  Correction.  The words are mine but I choose them with care, so they may convey other people's intentions as faithfully as possible. 

 

In order to achieve this, I must shut away my own inner Scribbler in the basement, under lock and key, to stop her from interfering with my work on behalf of other writers.  I must become a medium, a go-between, a bridge.  I must be creative enough to produce a text that doesn't limp, supported by the crutch of its original language, but one that walks head high, freely, and at the same time remember that it is animated by invisible, yet ever-present, strings.  A ventriloquist's job, in a way, for which one must develop impeccably-controlled, obedient muscles.  Creative – and shrewd enough, at times – to know when it's judicious to improve on the original text, which, sadly, is all too often under-edited – if edited at all – because of misplaced and unhelpfully exaggerated reverence towards the original author on the part of the publisher.  After all, you need to watch your back.  When critics and readers like the book you've "Englished", then you'll be lucky if they take the trouble to mention your name at all (and this omission can, in itself, be a compliment to your seamless translation), but if they don't like it, they sometimes blame it on the translation, in which case they do mention your name.  You're not there to protest, "But I'm not responsible for this piece of overwritten, self-indulgent crap! I just translated it!" And so, very often, you tweak the odd word, rearrange a sentence here and there, polish a paragraph, or carry out a barely perceptible cosmetic procedure.  Even so, tempted as you may be to act like Cyrano with Christian, you restrain yourself, always remembering that, as a literary translator, you are the servant of the text and not its master.

 

In the evenings, after a day of translating, I go and let my inner Scribbler out of the basement.  In the beginning, as I unlock the door, she bursts out, flings her arms around me, spins around the room, tap dances on the ceiling, and runs out into the sunshine glad of the exercise after a day in the basement.  I pick up my fountain pen and write to my heart's content, pouring out on paper all the ideas I've ignored during working hours.

 

As my workload increases, I let out the Scribbler later and later, often long after the sun has already set.  She greets me with a warm smile but I can see that she is disappointed to have missed out on the daylight.  As time goes by, sometimes several days pass before I can go down and unlock the basement.  I notice that my Scribbler doesn't smile any more but trudges up the stairs and slumps on the sofa, complaining that she's tired.  Never mind, I think, we'll spend some quality time together over the weekend.  I pick up my fountain pen but the words come out with difficulty, spasmodically, and I can't get my current translation project out of my mind, no matter how hard I try.  

 

That weekend, the first of many, is spent on translating.  A publisher has given me an extra book to do.  Sorry, please help me out, it's urgent.  OK, I say.  I need to keep on the right side of this publisher.  And other publishers.  I need the money.  

 

When I next see my Scribbler, I notice she's put on weight around her middle, and her shoulders are hunched.  She huffs when she sees me, and goes to vegetate on the sofa without a word.

 

I have three books to translate at the same time, so I can't see my Scribbler for a little while.  I forget how long exactly, but not very long.  When I finally go down and unlock the door, Scribbler isn't standing there as usual.  I look inside the basement room.  She's sitting on the floor, her eyes blank, her complexion grey, lethargic.  There's no persuading her to come out.  "I have the whole day off," I say.  "Let's spend it together."

"I'm too tired," she replies.  

"Tired? But you haven't done anything for days –"

"Years," she replies, interrupting me.

The shock silences me.  Has it really been years since I've written anything substantial of my own? I can't believe it, I won't believe it.

I go back upstairs alone, take out my notepad, unscrew the cap of my fountain pen.  The nib leaves blank scratches on the paper.  The ink has dried up.  I find the bottle of black ink and syphon some in.  I draw a squiggle in the corner of the blank page, then stare at it.  And stare at it.  Then I write "Word".  I can't think of anything else to write.

 

I go back down to the basement and slowly pull Scribbler up from the floor.  My ventriloquist's muscles are now strong enough for me to lift her but hers are too weak to stand up unaided.  I put my arm around her and gently lead her out of the basement room.  She rebels.  I coax her.  She takes slow, sporadic steps.  Her movements are jerky, uncontrolled.  It's a struggle to climb the stairs.  She groans, she moans, she shouts, "I hate you!"

Tears are streaming down my face.  I wish I could tell Scribbler I'm sorry.  "Come on Scribbler," I say. "We're nearly there.  Just a few more steps and we'll be back in the sunlight."

She looks up and I see the light from the upstairs windows glow in her eyes. 

"Come on, Scribbler, just one more step."

 

Scribe Doll   

 

 

 

     

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
I hope your Scribbler will stay for a while, if this is the charming result.
Tuesday, 09 August 2016 23:52
Katherine Gregor
Thank you. I'm thinking of letting Scribbler move back in with me, and buying a muzzle for the Translator instead.
Thursday, 11 August 2016 21:00
Rosy Cole
We don't always appreciate how draining empathy can be. I hope you can get a little respite to recharge powerfully and take care o... Read More
Wednesday, 10 August 2016 10:14
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Santa Sabina

When we were in Rome, a couple of weeks ago, I insisted we go and see "my favourite church in Rome".  The first church I ever liked, to which I owe my introduction to, and love for, early sacred music.

It was all because I was a teenager with a crush.  

I was sixteen and attending the French Lycée Chateaubriand in Rome.  In the morning, I'd leave home earlier than I needed to, in order to reach the Aventino, where my French soon-to-be first boyfriend and his family lived, and, with some luck, "happen" to find myself on the same bus as he.  This required major planning with the help of maps, bus time tables, and psychic abilities to be able to predict when the Rome buses would actually be running.

That morning, through over-eager miscalculation, I arrived on the Aventino nearly an hour before I'd expected to.  The winter morning daylight had barely broken, and not wanting to loiter in the street, in the cold, I walked into a church.  Santa Sabina.

I'd never seen a church like this before.  From an early age, I had been both drawn to and frightened by churches.  I'd always found something unnerving and menacing about High Baroque Roman churches.  As a child, I couldn't find the right words to articulate what it was, exactly.  Now, I realise it evoked for me something deeply powerful and unforgiving.

Santa Sabina was different.  An open, wide nave with two rows of plain stone pillars, and no seats for the congregation.  Further down, before the altar, a separate, secluded area where, I guessed, there were a few seats, although from where I stood, hidden behind the first pillar, I couldn't see who was there.  But I could certainly hear them.  A regular, repetitive, lulling chant by male voices.  Gregorian chant, although I didn't know that's what it was called, then.  Nor did I know that Santa Sabina was a 5th Century church, and that the singers were Dominican monks.  All I knew was that, for the first time, I was in a church that I not only found far from menacing, but positively inspiring in a way I'd never known a church to be.  I felt a strong pull, a deep sense of longing, like the yearning to come home.  So new and yet so familiar.  

I was mesmerised by the regular, even chanting.  It wasn't imposing, like the great masses in the large basilicas.  It was deeply comforting.  A balm for my anxious soul.  I listened, entranced, leaning against the quietly strong, gently reassuring stone pillar.  I wanted to stay there for ever.

After that day, and even when, a few months later, I started going out with my French boyfriend, I would often leave home early, just so I could go and stand in Santa Sabina, behind the pillar, for a few minutes, and immerse myself into that dimension of peace created by the ethereal, and at the same time comfortingly grounding, music.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
A beautiful post, Katia. It's certainly one that 'resonates' deeply with me. Often I've listened to Gregorian Chants at the end ... Read More
Monday, 11 July 2016 12:45
Katherine Gregor
I agree with everything you're saying, Rosy. I often put a CD of Gregorian chant on a timer when I go to bed. It feels like it c... Read More
Monday, 11 July 2016 15:36
Rosy Cole
Thank you. I'll look out for that.
Tuesday, 12 July 2016 13:25
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