Saturday 18 September 2010

There are Nightingales that Sing

I've now finished translating the Miguel Hernández poems I've been working on, and have put my efforts onto a web site: There are Nightingales that Sing. The poems are from the anthology 40 Poemas published earlier this year by my friends in the Asociación Cultural Orihuela 2010, as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of Hernández's birth.

You are welcome to browse the poems, which are all accompanied by illustrations by local artists - see my earlier post about the 40 Poemas folder. I've also put in links to online versions of the original poems in Spanish.

This is the first time I've attempted to translate poetry - or anything else, really. It came about when I was invited to give a talk a few months back about Miguel Hernández and his poetry to English-speaking residents of the area around Orihuela, who number tens of thousands. It was quite a relief when 'only' 50 turned up for the talk!

I was staggered to find when I was preparing the talk that there were no English-language versions of Hernández's poetry in print on either side of the Atlantic. I needed English translations for the talk so had no option but to do them myself.

We used about twenty of the poems in the talk, and the friends who read them out with me - Dee, Sarah, and Teresa - were a great help in straightening out some of the awkward phrasing in my original drafts. The other twenty have not yet made their bow in public, so I hope they flow OK.

There are a number of features I'd like to add to the site, including more information about Miguel Hernández himself and the times he lived through. I'm hoping to be able to put up the presentation I used for the talk, including the audio clips; we also have some audio and video recordings from the evening, including a stunning cante jondo performance of Nanas de la cebolla (Lullaby of the Onion), which I'll get up somewhere.

If you have any comments or suggestions, about the site or the translations, please let me know.
NB: I have put the translations under a Creative Commons licence - teachers and students are welcome to use them for educational purposes, but they must not be used for commercial gain.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Soria and Antonio Machado

Soria - 04

Tue 11 May

Antonio Machado (1875-1939) is probably the most highly-regarded amongst the poets of 20th Century Spain. He only lived in Soria for 5 years, between 1907 and 1912, but he is forever associated with the town, and it with him. He taught French at the secondary school, which now bears his name, and there is a rough-hewn bust in the street outside to remind us as we pass by.

He loved going for walks in the town - his favourite routes are now signposted - and in the surrounding countryside; some of his best-known poems were inspired there, including the book Campos de Castilla (Lands of Castile), published in 1912.
¡Oh sí! Conmigo vais, campos de Soria,
tardes tranquilas, montes de violeta,
alamedas del río, verde sueño
del suelo gris y de la parda tierra
. . . .
Me habéis llegado al alma,
¿o acaso estabais en el fondo de ella?
Oh yes! You go with me, lands of Soria,
peaceful evenings, hills of violet,
poplars by the river, green dream
of the grey soil and of the drab earth
. . . .
You have reached into my soul,
or perhaps you were already deep within it?
In the town there was - and still is - the stump of an elm tree:
Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrida,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo,
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.
. . . .
MI corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de primavera.
The old elm tree, split by lightning
and rotten to its core,
with the April rains and the May sun,
has put forth a few green leaves.
. . . .
My heart too awaits,
turning towards the light and towards life,
another miracle of spring.
In Soria he fell in love with Leonor, the daughter of his landlords, a girl some twenty years younger than him. They married as soon as she turned 16, but unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis, and died three years later, in August 1912, aged just 19. Machado felt unable to stay in the town, and moved to another French teaching post in Baeza in Andalucía, where he wrote a series of touching poems to Leonor.
Una noche de verano
-estaba abierto el balcón
y la puerta de mi casa-
la muerte en mi casa entró.

One summer's night
-the balcony and the door
of my house were open-
death came into my house.
In the 1930s he moved to Madrid, where he became a leading figure in the cultural life of the Spanish Republic. During the Civil War (1936-39) he spoke out strongly for cultural and democratic values, but as the Nationalists advanced across Spain the Republican Government and national institutions moved to Valencia, and later to Barcelona, and Machado moved with them.

Eventually he was swept up in the mass retirada (retreat), in which some half a million Spaniards fled across the border into France in a few short weeks at the beginning of 1939. He found accommodation in Collioure, on the coast some 20km from the border, but fell ill and died within the month. He is buried in the cemetery there, and his simple grave has become a shrine - every day there are visitors, and many of them leave flowers, poems and drawings.
Y cuando llegue el día del último viaje,
y esté al partir la nave que nunca ha de tornar,
me encontraréis a bordo ligero de equipaje,
casi desnudo, como los hijos del mar.
And when the day of the last journey comes,
and the boat which never returns is ready to leave,
you will find me on board, travelling light,
almost naked, like the sons of the sea.
If you're looking for a philosophy of life, try this, from a series of short poems - Cantares - in Campos de Castilla:
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Traveller, your footprints
are the path, and nothing else;
traveller, there is no path,
we make the path as we walk.
If you'd like to read some more, there don't seem to be many English translations of Machado poems available online, though the 15 or so by A. S. Kline give a good flavour. Other than that, you'll have to resort to paper . . . Lands of Castile (Aris and Phillips, 2006) is an excellent dual-language version, with translations and commentary by Paul Burns and Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres. The Poesía en español site has an extensive collection in Spanish.

Here's a few Machado-in-Soria photos from our morning walk. There's much more on the Antonio Machado en Soria site (Spanish only), which has a Machado gallery and a Soria Gallery. Plus here's some from an earlier visit to Collioure.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Nájera: of storks and pilgrims

Nájera - 1

Nájera (La Rioja)
Mon 10 May

Nájera is a small town in the wine-rich region of La Rioja, not far south of the mountains which separate the Basque Country from the rest of Spain. It lies on the Camino de Santiago, the historic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and is a convenient staging post between Logroño and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

I don't know how many pilgrims pass through the town, or stay overnight on their journey, but we saw several - it was mid-afternoon - and we seemed to be the only visitors who weren't engaged on the Way. The pilgrimage is significant enough to warrant its own section on the local council's website, and you can find lots of pilgrim accounts on the web.

We had a strange conversation with a Dutch couple (in English, of course), who asked if there were any food shops in town - they'd been walking through Northern Spain for several days, and hadn't yet found anywhere they could buy food to take with them as they walked. In fact, the question was more like "Are there any food shops in Spain?".

On reflection, I suppose the daily stages of the journey mostly take pilgrims across country; the towns, where the food shops are, are at the end of a stage, and by the time they get there, it's probably Spanish lunchtime (2pm-5pm), and the shops are shut. There's a message in there somewhere.

We spent an hour or so on a fruitless search for the medieval Jewish quarter - la Judería - which I had seen references to; there was a street-name, and a bar, but nothing else to suggest the town had once been home to a substantial Jewish population. We also failed to catch sight of the castle, which apparently dominates the town.

Many moons ago I stayed in the town's campsite, located within the former bull-ring. It is said that campers are sometimes woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of thunderously pounding hooves, angry snorts, and cries of '¡Olé!'. Or that may just have been the Rioja speaking.

The storks, by the way, were everywhere.

Here's a handful of Nájera pictures.

Saldropo wetlands

Saldropo - 1

Saldropo (Vizcaya)
Mon 10 May

This is one for later - a lunch stop that turned out to be an intriguing spot - a wetland fed by the confluence of a whole series of mountain streams. However we didn't really get to see much wetland as we didn't have time to explore it properly.

We'd stopped for a coffee at a truckers' caff on the N240 Bilbao-Vitoria road, and as we drove off we noticed a sign pointing up a track. We followed it, hoping to find an idyllic spot crying out to be picnicked in, and found ourselves drawn further and further into the forest. A thousand shades of green.

Somewhere in there is the wetland.

Saldropo is part of a Natural Park based around the Gorbeia mountain, which forms the boundary between the Basque provinces of Vizcaya and Álava. You can easily imagine an army of Romans getting tangled up in the undergrowth, and the Arabs that came later must have found the territory even less to their taste. No wonder Euskara, the Basque language, shows few signs of being related to any other language on earth.

Guernica and Guernica

Guernica - 39

Sun 9 - Mon 10 May

Guernica (Gernika in Basque) is a small market town, upstream from Bilbao, but it has been a place of major significance for the people of the Basque Country since at least the mid-14th Century, with a communal and political rôle which belies its size.

Throughout history the Basques have always been fiercely independent. Over a period of a thousand years they resisted successive conquests by Romans, Arabs and other invaders, and from the Middle Ages through to modern times would only accept the authority of the rulers of Spain if their own laws and privileges (fueros) were respected.

For several hundred years each new King of Spain swore an oath to this effect under the symbolic oak tree of Guernica, a custom revived by the current King Juan Carlos some 30 years ago, during Spain's transition to democracy after 40 years of fascist dictatorship.

During the Spanish Civil War, Hitler's German Air Force, in support of the rebellion of the Nationalist forces under General Franco, bombed Guernica on market day, destroying most of the town and killing hundreds of people. This attack, on 26 April 1937, was the first time a civilian population had been the target of aerial bombing, and it caused shock-waves throughout the world.

The Spanish Government had asked Pablo Picasso to submit a work of art to represent Spain at the Paris International Exhibition later that year. He produced a massive, monochrome painting commemorating the bombing, an immensely moving portrayal of the horrors of war, which has become one of the world's best-known works of art.

Picasso's painting is currently housed in the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, although many Basques feel it rightly belongs in Guernica itself. The picture heading this post is of a reproduction in ceramic tiles, displayed in a matter-of-fact way on a street corner in the town; the caption calls for the painting "Guernica" to be returned "to Guernica".

There are many other pointers in the town to its history and significance, including the Basque Assembly, with its stained glass depictions of Basque people and places, and several incarnations of the Guernica Oak in its grounds, and a nearby park with monumental peace sculptures by Eduardo Chillida and Henry Moore. There's also a statue to George Steer, the British journalist who was the first to report the bombing; it's on the pavement at a central junction so must be passed by thousands every day.

Over 45 years I have found my way to many parts of Spain, but this was my first visit to Guernica, and I'm so glad that we managed to include it in our journey this year.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Briefly in Biarritz

Biarritz - 8

Sat 8 May

On the way down from Aulnay we stopped for an hour or so at Biarritz, just to say we'd been there. We dipped a quick toe in the Atlantic - it's wet, and not very warm - and looked forward to dipping toes in a few other waters over the coming weeks.

Quite a few of the other beachside strollers were Spanish - it's only a few kilometers from the border, so it's an easy trip to make, and I suppose they must find it sufficiently different to make it interesting. Next stop San Sebastián - we'll see if we can spot the difference!

Here's a few Biarritz pictures.