Festival Time!

The Festival(s) programmes are simply getting too big. At the rate they are going, we will need people to spend a day just going through them and filtering them to a manageable number of offerings that might interest us. Every year when the Book Festival (yes, I know it’s the ‘Edinburgh International Book Festival’ just as the Simpson’s was the ‘Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion’ but really, not every time I want to mention it and see, now I’ve lost my train of thought) … oh yes, whenever the Book Festival programme arrives, I have this sinking feeling when I have a cursory look and immediately think there is nothing of real interest to me. I then pick it up again on the following weekend and discover that there is in fact a huge variety, and this year was no exception. This year, though, I also went to a number of events in the Fringe, the programme for which really does require several hours of searching.

Unsurprisingly, we saw a few dance shows, starting with a combination of ballet and juggling where timing seemed to be everything, and was executed brilliantly. There is always something about seeing two art forms combined and what is then created. Balletronic was a Cuban dance troupe with a small orchestra (I’m sure there is a technical term for it, but the inclusion of electric guitars and drums might complicate that), a singer, and music which wouldn’t normally be associated with ballet. The dancing itself reflected the energy and pace of the music but still managed to look effortless.

Going back to combining different disciplines – how about maths and comedy. Not maths as I remember it though. We didn’t ignite gas to show wave forms, or hold hands to complete a circuit to listen to music, and we certainly didn’t predict the exact time of a baby’s birth by extrapolating from the frequency and duration of contractions. It was probably rare that a bunch of finance guys were the target audience for a Fringe production. My experience is more likely to be that I’m the person walking through Edinburgh (admittedly in a suit sometimes) who nobody offers a flyer to. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

And then there was the Book Festival. You have to be there pretty late to see it like this:



First up was Kate Mosse (note the ‘e’, this was not the other Kate Moss without the ‘e’). I found her thoughts on writing, rather than her books themselves, particularly helpful this year. For example her analogy that when she starts writing a novel, the characters are waiting in the wings, waiting to show themselves. And she has to be patient and not rush them out onto the stage until they are fully ready.

I mentioned Rory MacLean’s brilliant book on Berlin last year. This year he was back with a new, and decidedly more bizarre subject. Transnistria is… well it thinks it’s a country, even though the rest of world doesn’t, and doesn’t recognise the fall of the Soviet Union, even though the rest of the world does. This was going to be strange then. We stood for the Transnistria national anthem. The tune was not memorable. And then he took us into this surreal world of a non-country with a president, a range of ministers, many of whom are young, female, and appear to be in a relationship of sorts with the president. Lenin is a frequent appearance in statutes and pictures. And the country is a refuge for former Red Army generals, KGB officials and ammunition dumps which were left over after the Cold War and have since found themselves in conflict zones around the world. It really is a place you wouldn’t believe could exist today, and yet there it is. And you can get there (and back out again) by bus from Moldova, to which Transnistria legally belongs. Tempted?

If maths geeks were happy with the Fringe show I went to, translations geeks were in their element at a ‘Translation duel’. We all read translations of books where we don’t know the original language, and the work of translation is itself a skill where there is rarely a right or a wrong answer. Understanding the words of the source language is only part of the task. You also want to reflect the rhythm, the register and the overall sense of the original. And then there is the cultural associations. For example, how would you translate cucumber sandwich – if you’re from the UK, you will have an immediate picture of the type of bread, the cucumber slices, the butter, and probably even the types of event where you might expect to see them. We were given the source text (the author of which was also there), and two translations (both translators were also there). And then they discussed how they had translated the text. Well, the first sentence anyway. That took half an hour. It started with ‘why did you put a comma after “During the day”’? There was none in the original. Progress was really only made by stopping before any conclusions were reached. What amazed me most was that the tent was almost full, I was sure I was in the wrong queue for a while because it stretched back so far and I couldn’t believe anyone else would want to sit through an hour of detailed consideration of how to translate a text. But it’s as much more an art form than a technical exercise.

I translated part of a German novel a few years ago for fun when I was wanting some stimulation. It was by Armin Mueller-Stahl and I was surprised that it hadn’t already appeared in English as he is a well known actor. I wasn’t doing it with a view to it ever being used and certainly didn’t get close to finishing it, but it was good to engage with the detail of the two languages for a while. And it still hasn’t been translated into English. No, I’m not going there…

And there’s still another week of events to go… it’s exhausting!

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