Wind, snow and ice are perfect conditions for cosying up indoors and making the most of home. For any of you who have missed out on our recent activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . . BookBlast® brings to you gods and African lions, exclusive interviews with some of the best indie publishers at work in the UK today, revolution revisited, a memoir in tweets, strong women strolling with Pushkin, 1960s Damascus and Iran, Arabian aromas, translation as activism, Roger Pulvers and David Bowie in Japan, naughty valentines, French flair, and much more besides.
An article about sparring with Hemingway and the stamina required to be a writer fell out of Gael Elton Mayo’s copy of Robert Ruark’s Something of Value while rearranging the overfilled bookshelves in the hallway this morning. Gael wrote about 1950s Spain in the 1950s in her memoir The Mad Mosaic.
The American writer Robert Ruark was a friend of hers: “He wrote not (yet) bestsellers, but sports columns, that were syndicated and appeared in twenty newspapers at once all over America. We went to see him with Dennis, in his villa near Palamos. The atmosphere was very different from our village. Friends of the Ruarks had houses with floodlit lawns, beach houses, booze and boredom. But Ruark was as hospitable as Dennis, having people to stay, offering meals, drinks, leaving all his guests for a few hours then returning, rubbing his hands together, to announce he had just had someone killed off. He was referring to the novel that he was working on, about the Mau Mau, Something of Value. He had many Tahitian primitive paintings and played Hawaiian music. He drank mainly rum with Coca Cola, and much ice and lemon. He had two boxer dogs who went swimming with him, and a wife called Ginny who looked as if it had all got beyond her long ago.”
To box with Hemingway when he was in his prime was a rather unusual experience for a reporter who had been sent to interview him. I went to cover the arrival of the Pan-American Airways Clipper across the Pacific via Manila to find Hemingway buoyant with the success of his Spanish Civil War novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. He had just sold the film rights to Paramount for a record sum. Some months before the balloon went up at Pearl Harbour he had been sent to China to cover the Sino-Japanese war for Marshall Field’s now defunct paper, PM.
In the northwest of Spain, Brittany, the west of England and Ireland, you find people with the same surnames. They are all Celts. When Breton and Cornish sailors meet at sea they understand each other’s dialects.
One remembers the saying that Brittany was originally joined on to Cornwall, but how Galicia fits into this is more mysterious, even though if you look at the map it isn’t so far – relatively speaking – from the south coast of Brittany to the north-west coast of Spain.
Madrid is a small town, yet it is not provincial; a clever achievement, “There goes so-and-so in his Jaguar, or X on his Vespa,” contributes to a really Main Street atmosphere – yet there are no provincial qualities of narrow mindedness or hypocrisy. On the contrary, we have rarely been anywhere more open in its general views about eccentricities of the human character. The small family is warm – the freedom is still great.
And at night this capital sounds like the country. From our apartment (which is in the middle, of the city) we hear donkeys braying, turkeys and cocks crowing . . . these last live in a barnyard next door to the British Embassy but are apparently not for English breakfast eggs, they just belong to a neighbour with space.
The edge of the town is a real edge. There are none of our dreary suburbs tailing off indefinitely and submerging your entrance or exit to the city in gloom. Abruptly the city stops. You feel the edge distinctly as you actually stand on it (on a parapet about the Palacio, or on the road to the university) and look out from its finality onto the land beyond. The city, the country. No half measure.
Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .
“To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde
Dandy at Duskpublished by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . “Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds
Arriving in Madrid by Car the other night there seemed to be no transition; the earth, a road cut into its open face, and then a notice: Madrid. After that some lights and suddenly we were in the capital of Spain, only a few minutes from the open land to the civilized Castellana with its trees and gardens. In this city that is both provincial and international, new and old, no middle way seems necessary: it is a place of extremes, geometrical lines, radical emotions. Why bother with such inessentials as bourgeois villas and suburbs — this is simpler, strong as coarse Logrono wine and more aesthetic.
Since the American agreement there is a new atmosphere of potentiality; the American tourist on his way through now stays longer, there are not only just embassy people or the press. (We noticed also yesterday in the Palace bar some rather familiar sharks and a few 5 per cent operators, last seen in Egypt and Tokyo, perching on high stools waiting and watching . . . the sort that show up when something is going to happen.) Suddenly Madrid contains suspense, against its old and well-known atmosphere of no-hurry. The people waiting around in bars are only the ripples on the edge of the pool, the real pawns are for instance American generals in civilian clothes, business men . . . the atmosphere of construction is especially appealing to the American pioneer spirit, for here there is ( in some ways) everything to be done.Continue reading BookBlast® Archive | Gael Elton Mayo, Letter from Madrid | Moroccan Courier Dec. 1953
“Translation does not simply jump from one language to another. It also ‘crosses’ languages in the sense of blending them, as you might cross a bulldog with a borzoi, or two varieties of rose . . . Translation can cross languages that have much in common – for example, English and French – and language that are very distant – like English and Malay; it can span languages that share the same script system (Japanese and Korean) and those that don’t (Japanese and Arabic or German); it can go between dialects (or between a dialect and a language) or between different words of the same language . . . Translation can be done by one person, or several, or hundreds – or by machine. It can be a matter of life or death, as in a war zone; or an ordinary part of everyday existence in a multilingual community.” Matthew Reynolds, Translation: A Very Short Introduction
In short, language-learning and translation skills are vital in our global era. Ever more so for Brexit Britain: as links are severed with Europe, forging new links with faraway foreign countries will become crucial. How ironic that the prevailing mood is so bulldog British, with foreign language learning on a downward slide, and languages no longer being part of the core curriculum for 14 to 16-year-olds. To expect everyone else to speak English, the lingua franca spoken across the world, and no longer be embarrassed by being monolingual, is a deeply arrogant and short-sighted attitude. Language is the means by which one accesses a culture, and is the expression of a culture.
There are oases of hope. Thank goodness for those universities which run language courses and postgraduate degrees in translation – Westminster, Roehampton, SOAS, UCL, UEA and Portsmouth among them.
Spain is a ‘place apart’ from Italy, France and the other Latin countries, with a very individual character, only partly explained by her language and history. The language contains many Arabic words; the Moors left much of their character in Spain after their defeat; Moorish mosques were converted into Catholic cathedrals; Romany lore is present in the flamenco songs of love which are always sad. But there is also a mystery — in the inhabitants’ pride, dignity and aloofness, and it is this inexplicable element that makes them so fascinating.
A traveller might start their journey into Spain by crossing the French frontier at Le Perthus, after which the first major town would be Gerona, standing out on the hillside, showing the coveted site for which it was so often besieged. Inside the old part of the town the streets are chasms too narrow for the sun to reach. The stranger feels compelled to stroll there, drawn into the core of a city where the Middle Ages seem to live on. “City of a thousand sieges”, it was called, from Iberian and Roman times until later, when its people organised several battalions against Napoleon, including one entirely of women.