Late Summer Bank Holiday 2006: Part One

Before the programme covering the activities in Greater Manchester during the Bank Holiday weekend goes out on September 1 (the back-to-school day in Russia, incidentally), this is a report of some impressions.

Some of the activities at the Imperial War Museum North were linked to a new exhibition, called Against The Odds: The Story of Bomber Command in the Second World War (27 May 2006 – 7 January 2007). It traces the history of the named part of the British Army in the Second World War, of its Lancaster bombers, pilots and operations, not averting the difficult questions of whether or not some of the well-known operations were justified. The organisers have spent about a year working on this exhibition, which uses mostly the IWM North archives.

The proverbial ‘against the odds’ can be applied to almost everything in the story of war 1939-45, so of course it was interesting to know, how exactly it referred to the story of Bomber Command. In the words of David Hopkins, Special Exhibition Manager, Bomber Command as a military force had “against the odds” risen from a poorly equipped group at the outbreak of war to a vast and respected organisation by 1945. From the start it was a pivotal agent in the British and the Allies’ war effort, but its story was not always smooth or glorious, as the exhibition well illustrates.

Several displays are dedicated to personal experiences of soldiers, some of whom had never returned from the duty. One of the stands exhibits the log book, goggles, papers and medals of Leonard Cheshire, including the Victoria Cross that Cheshire, as the Master Bomber, had received for his outstanding gallantry. Other displays cover technical issues, such as the construction and operation of the Lancaster bombers. The very last sections cover major operations, presenting their outcome through the archival photos and films. The general sense, though, is that however important was an operation, one can’t help looking at it through the prism of the number of casualties and the images of the ruins of historic cities. The well-known Dams Raid in 1943 resulted not only in the destruction of the water dams on the rivers Eder, Mohne and Sorpe, but also in the death or captivity of many soldiers. And the infamous raid of Dresden, which still stands out as a senseless operation with devastating effect, has somewhat overshadowed the glory of Bomber Command, and the Allied Forces in general.

During the Bank Holiday weekend, on Sunday 27 August, the visitors to the IWM North were given identity cards, which ‘ascribed’ to them the story of one of the pilots of the Bomber Command. I was identified as Geoffrey Pell Dawson, who was born in Manchester in 1923. An architecture student, he was in the forces between May 1942 and September 1946, serving as a Bomb Aimer and achieving the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

The last page of identity card contains some questions for reflections on the experience of the pilots, asking, in particular, how the exhibition had changed the way visitors feel about the events of the Second World War. The comments left in Reflections area give much hope to pacifists, as the majority of them are written (or even scribbled) by children as young as 7, expressing their resentment to war.

And on Monday, 28 August, the activities were celebrating cultural diversity presented in the Museum’s collections. Children of all ages and their parents were invited to build a wooden (!) plane, to hear about the animals who took part in the war, and even to play on the computer. I listened to a couple of really nice stories about animals, including the one about two cows who were the mascots of a Scottish division. I also know that children enjoyed assembling the aircraft (with the help of a volunteer Sean, who admitted that the parts of the plane were quite heavy). But then I looked into a Learning Studio East, where computer-based activities were taking place. And there I saw someone’s father being totally immersed in a computer game of some kind. So, family activities at the IWM North were quite literally attracting all generations.

One of Monday’s hot events was going to be the performance of African and Caribbean music, in the same vein of celebration of cultural diversity. The band in question turned out to be Britannia Rumba, a Manchester-based musical collective, performing what is usually called here ‘world music’, accompanied by a dance group of four girls in lovely green sarongs, tops and visors. The band was playing on the stage outdoors, it was a bit cold, and the wind was quite strong. Nevertheless, the Afro-Caribbean sounds have filled the surroundings completely, and children, parents and even some of the IWM workers were jiving gleefully. Soon after I packed my equipment and went to catch the bus home. I could long hear the drums and guitars, as I was walking away from Salford Quays.

Hier bin ich, dein… (On Dragostea din Tei song by O-Zone band)

It’s been years since I fell under the spell of surrealism. So much so that I ended up using ‘avidadollars’ as my nickname or logon on many forums and websites. This doesn’t tell anything about my love for, erm, dollars, but says aplenty about my admiration for both Salvador Dali (whose name was so deftly anagrammed by Andre Breton) and Andre Breton (who anagrammed so deftly the name of Salvador Dali). In fact, if for any reason you had doubts about Breton as genius, ‘avidadollars’ should convince you once and for all.

[Of course, there are many other reasons for why I admire both Dali and Breton…]

Anyway, this is as far as my enchantment has led me, and I doubt I go any further. On the other hand, I read recently about a family who were such ardent supporters of the Chelsea Premier League Football Club that they changed their family name to Chelsea. ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘but I’ve heard something like this already before’.

Turned out I was thinking about a Moldovan band O-Zone, who burst onto the European music scene a couple of years ago, dancing away on a plane’s wings (in their clip, at least) to the song ‘Dragostea din Tei’ (something almost untranslatable, as Wikipedia tells us, which interpretation ranges from ‘Love of the Lime Tree’ through ‘Love among Young People’ to ‘Love at First Sight’). I knew they were singing the name ‘Picasso’ in one of the lines, but I never looked for lyrics, to be honest. Two years later I finally found myself sufficiently intrigued, and as I don’t know Romanian, I had to go with a German translation. The line in which the Spaniard’s name was mentioned is:

Hallo Du,
Hier bin ich, dein Picasso.
Hello you,
This is me, your Picasso.


Nice one, even if purely for the purpose of rhyming. This Romanian Picasso was waiting for his Muse to come, but I assume the girl never turned up. Otherwise we would already have had a painting of ‘A Girl under the Lime Tree’.

However – a peculiar point – in the very first verse of the song the word ‘haiduc’ is mentioned. ‘Haiduc’ is essentially an outlaw, but in Moldovan and Romanian folklore haiduc only robbed the rich, while protecting the poor. Reminds you of Robin Hood, doesn’t it? And this is exactly how the Germans translated it.

I decided to look up the English translation. I found out that the English went for ‘outlaw’. I wondered how the French dealt with it. Turned out, they decided not to translate the word at all.

Planet Parade, or The Excommunication of Pluto the Planet

So, Pluto has been disqualified from the Planet Division and will now continue to whirl as a dwarf planet. The story is here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5282440.stm.

I’m wondering how is this going to impact the work of astrologers? From what I could gather in the past, while surfing through various resources on the web, there is already a contention, as to whether to take into account the positions of asteroids in a horoscope or not. With Pluto now being ‘diminished’ to the status of a dwarf planet, it’s interesting how this is going to be taken into account, if at all?

In basic terms, Pluto is associated with dramatic changes, and since the planet was given the name of the Roman god of Inferno, its house is the so-called house of death and is linked to the sign of Scorpio and the 8th House. It ‘rules’ crimes, revolutions, terrorism, but also the reproductive forces (cue in a connection between Eros and Tanathos).

Although the astronomers’ decision is purely scientific, it is quite curious in one respect. If one thinks of death or revolutionary impetus, or even terorrism, it is perhaps something of the size and the influence of Pluto – small, easy to go unnoticed, existing on the fringe of the system (be it solar or social), but powerful enough to overthrow empires and wage wars, as well as to push people towards whatever goals they wish to pursue (memento mori, perhaps?). The renegation of Pluto in such context appears almost like a manifestation of its usually huge impact and of its marginal status.

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres.
I prefer your lips to my books.

This is one of my favourite phrases by Jacques Prevert. Not only is it beautifully romantic, it also presents a nice example of what sometimes is lost in the process of translation.

The play on words is obviously lost, which you can notice, even if you don’t know French. The melody of the phrase is also distorted in English translation. ‘Lips’ and ‘books’ are two short and brisk, muted words, while ‘prefer your’ doesn’t capture the music of ‘jaime mieux’. I have no idea how this phrase was translated into English or other languages, and if a translator managed to recreate any effect of this phrase. I can only imagine it being communicated to some extent in Italian, through ‘labbra’ and ‘libri’, respectively.

Other posts in Jacques Prevert and Archives.

Update 2020: On another note, Man Ray’s famous rayograph The Kiss, produced in 1922, is vaguely related to the theme of Prevert’s saying. Being an artistic enquiry into a photographer’s private life, The Kiss may be seen as reinterpreting the quote the following way: j’aime mieux tes lèvres que mes lumières (I prefer your lips to my light). In both cases, be it a book or lighting, the authors clearly state that Love means more than Art.

jaime-mieux-tes-levres-prevert-man-ray
Man Ray, The Kiss. Rayograph (1922): another interpretation of loving lips more than the artistic medium

Los Cuadernos de Julia: Meaning and Content

I am sure a lot of readers wonder (or have done, or will do so) why I gave my blog a name in Spanish, Los Cuadernos de Julia. The truth is, i wanted to use it as my online notebook, but the URL containing the desired name was already taken, so I had to invent something… and here my avid readership came to the rescue.

los-cuadernos-de-don-rigobertoLos Cuadernos de Julia is a paraphrase of the title of Mario Vargas Llosa’s 1997 novel, Los Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto. I bought the book (published in English by Faber&Faber) in the summer of 2004, in WHSmith in Blackpool, but didn’t start reading it until after September, as I had to write my MA dissertation first. When I eventually began to read it, it practically blew me away. I know some critics described the book as ‘ambitious‘ (a word I very much dislike), but to me it is simply one of the most original books of the last century. Obviously, as I know no Spanish, I have to thank the English translator for doing a fantastic job. You can read reviews and purchase a copy of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto (affiliate link).
Why cuadernos?

‘Cuadernos’ as ‘notebooks’ are a normal part of life of many writers, which is what I am. These present cuadernos are, of course, slightly different, since I decided that I’d be posting here not only random quotations that I’ve been collecting for years, but also reflections on films, music, works of art, phrases I’ve heard or read elsewhere, musings about news stories, etc. I’ve been doing a similar thing on a website for several months, but sometimes there’s more to post than just a couple of quotes from my beloved Jacques Prevert.

My own mother, who isn’t a writer, also used to have two cuadernos – dark thick exercise-books, in which she had collected quotes and poems. When I was 12 or 13, she gave them to me, and some content influenced me quite profoundly. And providing you have read Llosa’s novel, you surely know that cuadernos played a crucial part in the story. So, it is from these two experiences, plus a couple of ‘tangible’ cuadernos I have already had in my life, that the idea for this blog’s title has originated.

My blog as ‘cuadernos’

For a while I wasn’t sure whether to start a blog or not. Two things have finally compelled me to do so. First, the main page of my web radio programme’s website has become way too small for everything I want to put on it. Half of those things will never make it to the programme, like The Quotes on the Front Page, or some news stories, or various other stuff. Yet I do want to share these things with everyone who is interested, hence I have finally succumbed to blogging.

Secondly, I have never managed or even wanted to write a diary, if the diary is to be understood as a narration of one’s private everyday life. However, the notebooks are different, especially because I’m a writer. So, while using the form of a diary, I’m essentially creating no more or less than a writer’s open notebook. Many things will still be left behind, for one reason or another, but I’m glad I’ll be able to do what few publications would allow me to do, not to mention the restrictions of the radio format.

As for the content, it will hardly be up for any strict systematisation, bearing in mind that its author is also a qualified historian who knows a couple of languages and has many side interests. The only thing that consoles me is that even Umberto Eco’s brilliant ideas are reportedly jotted down on small pieces of paper that are scattered around his flat or stuck in the professor’s case. At least, I’ve got ‘categories’ and ‘tags’…

Other posts in Blogs and Social Media, Mario Vargas Llosa and Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose archives.

In the beginning….

As I was thinking of what to write in the very first post in this first blog of mine, I suddenly realised that you’re probably more compelled to produce something when you stare at the screen rather than when you’re falling short of breaking a pencil because nothing ‘worthwhile’ comes to mind. I guess in my case it had to do with the nature of the blog: once you finish typing  and click “Publish”, your musings will appear in the space where they can be read virtually by anybody, from a college student through a BBC broadcaster to a pensioner. I don’t know yet if the understanding of this may put any pressure on what and how you write. One thing I know for sure: when I was publishing articles online or ‘making’ a website with AOL Homepages, I didn’t have this feeling of being obliged to write something as quickly as possible. In part, I felt so because I wanted to begin to publish other stuff, but in part it was because an empty blog – my blog – looked terrible, so I needed to fill it with something, to write that notorious first blog post… and what could be a better filler than an introduction? 
 
Read other posts in Blogs and Social Media category.
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