September used to be a rather lovely month in my calendar, as I always enjoyed the still warm but not excessively hot days and the return to school fervour. But for the past two years, it has not been a happy occasion. School in Covid times has proved an anxious and challenging enterprise, while both last year and this year, September brought rather devastating personal losses: the death of Barney (our gentleman cat) in 2020 and of my dear friend Csaba in 2021.
So I have been once again mostly in search of easy, comforting reading, and the two books I was reading for two different book clubs were not quite hitting the spot. Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, which I read for the Virtual Crime Book Club, is rather gruelling in its subject matter, a car crash you can foresee but not quite stop. Meanwhile, Andrey Kurkov’s Grey Bees, which I read for London Reads the World Book Club (although unfortunately, I had to pull out of the meeting at short notice) is about life in the ‘grey zone’ between two warring factions in the Donbass region of the Ukraine. Although there is nothing too graphic or horrible in the novel, there is an unsettling, ever-present underlying rumble of threat of death, torture, fighting.
So it was with a real sense of relief that I turned to a rather uncharacteristic read for me: Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Cazalet Chronicles, which I understand was originally intended to be a four-book series, but then had a fifth volume added to it much later. This went down so well (as you’ll have seen from my recent review) that I have now embarked upon the Romanian equivalent of the nostalgic family saga: the Medeleni trilogy (often published as four volumes, because the last book is very long). This one takes place just before and after the First World War, rather than the Second, and was written much closer in time to the events described in the book (he wrote the entire series in record time 1925-27). Yet it too describes a vanished world in minute and loving detail. I am tempted to continue rereading all the volumes and to write a thorough review and comparison.
I’ve been in the mood for less dark and gruesome films as well, so there have been quite a few with deadpan humour and slightly surreal experiences, such as the Icelandic film about an escalation of neighbourly conflict Under the Tree, or the challenges of young love on holiday in All Hands on Deck (filmed in my beloved Rhone-Alpes), the irresistible Lea Seydoux and Tahar Rahim doing their best to seem utterly unglamorous in the tale of life of nuclear plant workers in Grand Central, the impressive Japanese animation Akira, which looks as fresh as if it had been created yesterday, not back in 1988, and my first acquaintance with a Hal Hartley film, with its fantastic and slightly ridiculous dialogue, Amateur. I also had a tender moment with Ghibli Studios’ Whisper of the Heart but failed to impress the boys with Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
Although I have missed theatres and live music performances so, so much, I am less and less comfortable about going out, because it appears that all social distancing or other safety measures have been dropped, and people are closely packed together in public transport or at cultural venues. I ventured to the Royal Albert Hall to see the Classic FM Live concert with my older son (who is now nearly as keen on classical music as I am), as our last ‘treat’ before he went off to university. I assumed it would be a good experience, as they sent several emails beforehand about the Covid-secure measures they were taking, that they recommended wearing masks and that we would have to bring either a proof of vaccination or negative test to be allowed into the venue. Imagine my surprise and discontent when I discovered that nobody checked us at all at the entrance, that no one worse a facemask in the auditorium, and that there were huge queues of people jostling into each other at very close quarters both for the toilets and the bar. It felt like hypochondria, but I felt quite unwell for several days after this, and actually had to do a PCR test to make sure I hadn’t fallen ill.
Translation and Other Literary Pursuits
Since I wasn’t quite ready to go out, I brought the events to me – fortunately, there are still lots of literary and other events being livestreamed. I attended a workshop on writing for the theatre run by the Young People’s London Poet Laureate Cecilia Knapp, based around her play Losing the Night, which was going to be performed and toured starting in March 2020. I also attended several of the Noirwich events: David Peace talking about the final volume in his Tokyo trilogy, Megan Abbott speaking about the current enthusiasm for true crime shows, as well as Maryla Szymiczkowa – the pen name of charismatic Polish crime writing duo, Jacek Dehnel and Piotr Tarczynski and their translator Antonia Lloyd Jones, about their semi-cosy feminist historical crime fiction set in late 19th century Krakow. I have recently resubscribed to the Asymptote Book Club and attended a Q&A with the author and translator of the August book club title, Jonas Eika’s After the Sun, transl. Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg.
I also had the novel experience of being interviewed together with Romanian author Bogdan Hrib about the recently published novel Resilience by Dr Noir (aka Jacky Collins). I don’t think I am cut out for being filmed on Zoom, as I move around too much, nod and smile inappropriately and constantly, but it was great fun having to think carefully about the work of translation and to justify some of the choices I made.
I’m also very excited about another translation-related work I will be involved in this year. The Stephen Spender Trust is a champion of multilingual poetry and storytelling, and they run an annual programme for creative translations in schools. I will be working together with a primary school to encourage children to have a go at translating seasonal and other poems from Romanian. I briefly worked as a language teacher in primary school and also helped out regularly at my sons’ schools when they were small, so it will be lovely to go back into that environment and feed children’s curiosity about other cultures before they grow too old or jaded to care.
Last but not least, as part of the events surrounding International Translation Day (30th of September, the Feast of St Jerome, patron saint of translators, because he translated the Bible into Latin, although this particular event took place on the 28th), I had the pleasure of seeing one of my fellow ‘classmates’ from the BCLT Summer School, Sebastián Gutiérrez, among the three translators talking about the power of theatre and translation for exploring identity and equality.
18 thoughts on “September Reading and Watching Summary”
I share your discomfort about indoor entertainment. I’ve been to the cinema just once since the pandemic began and that was when masks were mandatory. The Stepehen Spender Trust project sounds wonderful!
I went to the theatre once before 19th July and it was a good experience – spaces free between seats (there were two of us, we sat together, but then the others sat a distance away from us). Masks. Pre-order for drinks, so no queuing. Very civilised. But I suppose the theatres just don’t make enough money like that.
That’s the problem although many of us may stay away as a result. A horrible dilemma for them to face.
I used to enjoy September too, but it just seems to be manic lately…. And I was so sorry for your losses too – hope the autumn improves for you. Totally agree about comfort reading – sometimes you need to lose yourself in it. As for going out, although I’ve tentatively been into town and a couple of restaurants, I balk at the thought of a large gathering. I was offered a concert ticket for a gig next May and refused – to be in an auditorium of people who will be unmasked singing along and leaping about seems unimaginable in these Covid times… 😦
Oh, goodness, I do hope by next May we will be able to gather indoors and have fun again! I am supposed to be organising some live events before then, and am somewhat unsure how it will work.
It sounds like it’s been rather a mixed month for you, with some pleasing highlights in several areas but with that undercurrent of anxiety that many of us are still feeling with the combination of climate emergency, ever-present pandemic, continuing Brexit fallout, political shenanigans, and individuals’ irresponsibility.
Every day appears to offer us a ‘new normal’ in never-ending succession so I am so grateful that there are books to read, a variety of programmes to stream, and a wonderful community of bloggers with shared values. Luckily for me live music is starting to happen—I’m accompanying a local choir for rehearsals, I’ve sung Tudor choral music in a nearby church, and played background piano music for a couple of art exhibitions—so a piece missing in my life for the last couple of years is definitely rematerialising! I do hope October proves even more satisfying for you, with lots more highlights to come.
I am sorry to hear that September’s been dimmed for you, Marina Sofia. I do the same thing during those times – seek out lighter, easier fare. I’m so happy to hear you’re getting more involved in translation and other literary things now – it sounds very satisfying, and that’s wonderful to hear. Let’s hope next year proves to be an easier one…
I was wondering about a return to theatre but I’m really not sure. I wouldn’t be happy in the circumstances you describe either. It’s tricky!
You’re such a busy bee, I’m forever in awe of all the things you manage to pack in your weeks.
I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope September 2022 will be better.
It’s weird to have only one child at home, right? Don’t worry, things rearrange themselves and the second child has special moments with us since his sister is away.
I don’t understand why England is so lax with COVID measures.
You know I’ve been back to the theatre, to museums… They really check health passes with an app and nobody even tries to get in a cinema, a shop, a train or a theatre without a mask. And they say the French are not disciplined…
I’m already starting to see how much easier it is with just one child rather than two…
The most worrying places for lack of official Covid measures are schools and universities: they have received such woolly and vague guidelines (if they can be called guidelines) from the government and if they try to introduce some additional measures (so that they don’t have to close down and go online), they are reprimanded by the press for infringing personal liberties. But if they don’t, then they are not respecting their duty of care towards staff and students!
There’s really a big difference between the two countries regarding the acceptance of the Covid rules. If you had asked me two years ago, I would have bet for acceptance in England and rebellion in France.
Things aren’t easy for schools and for teachers.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your dear friend, Casba. How are the other members of his family doing at the moment? It must be so hard for them to adjust, especially given the challenges of the last 18 months. The husband of a close friend of mine lost his mother and stepbrother (the latter to COVID) over the summer, and the difficulties around international travel have made it all the more heartbreaking…
I share your nervousness about going to the theatre. My friend keeps asking me but when we went to our local community centre for an amateur production a few weeks ago I was horrified to find no-one else wearing a mask.
I am a bit claustrophobic but normally don’t have problems wearing a mask when others around me are wearing theirs (I also have bought quite comfortable masks). Oddly, when I am the only one wearing a mask, I start feeling like I am suffocating (must be the anxiety).
I bought some new ones lately and while they are very soft and comfy they are quite thick so as soon as I’m out of the shop I’m ripping the thing off
Oops, forgot to say – your mention of the Asympote book club reminded me to ask you – did you ever get a direct message from me via Twitter asking if you wanted one of the books I received earlier in the year?
Thank you, I believe I did and the truth is I have resubscribed recently to the Asymptote Book Club and also simply have far too many books, so I think I will have to (reluctantly) say no.
Sorry about your losses, and congratulations on your translation endeavors.
I love movies coming from Studio Ghibli, they are so beautifully made!
I will FINALLY be able to join the Virtual Crime Book Club, on Cassandra. Will you be there?