My mother would have been eight-five today had she lived. As it was she died thirty-four years ago at the age of only fifty-one. I remember doing a reading on my fifty-first birthday and mentioning that I was precisely her age on the day.
The human span, or life arc, is not that long though consciousness generally makes it seem longer, almost eternal. It is very hard to think of consciousness actually stopping. Sometimes it is even possible to think consciousness governs time, that as Marvell says at the end of his To His Coy Mistress, we can make it run.
...Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life:
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
This, naturally, in the course of an argument to persuade said coy mistress into bed. The fact is she might think it was not an altogether bad argument, especially when put with such grim élan (The Grave's a fine and private place / But none I think do there embrace... and a few lines earlier... Then worms shall try / That long preserved virginity. And, 'Thank you kind sir,' she might say to that yet find a biting edge of persuasion).
Anyway here is Magda as she would have been about 1962 perhaps:
She is still at work and the photograph would have been taken in the photographers in Oxford Street that employed her, perhaps as a favour, or as a dare by one of the others. (Go on, get your picture taken!) Or maybe it was taken by GV, a professional photographer acquaintance, who had, it seems, taken some rather risqué photos of his wife, as well as of other women, since he had a sideline as a glamour photographer. But that is all hearsay. Here she looks as melancholy as she sometimes could look, except when she was angry, excited or simply exhausted.
She was only 5'1" but slender. Her fingers were very long and supple. She had a beauty spot she painted black, the spot just detectable on the photo on the left side of her face. Note the cigarette in her right hand.
The photographers was part of the domain, as would that part of Oxford Street have been, and the bus ride or tube ride there and back, and the long steep climb up to our house from the bus stop or tube station on the Edgware Road below, a climb her heart condition made ever more demanding.
Home as domain only began to matter very much, it now seems to me, once she was no longer able to work and the house became her cage. It was then she began to collect birds in cages too. Two budgies, a Yorkshire canary that sang sweetly, two zebra finches, two lovebirds and others that came and went. One of the zebra finches had a leg chewed off by the others who then pecked at it. The Yorkshire Canary was in its own normal birdcage, the rest shared a tall cylindrical one. She expended much affection on these.
Ideally she would have had a chimpanzee, but that was out of the question, as was a dog that might have been too energetic, though she loved dogs. Out in the garden, at different times, there were geese, and ducks. In the shed, hamsters and white mice.
I took the animals to be part of her maternal domain, flickers of life of which she was the centre. The radiogram downstairs might now and then play Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake as likely as not - or Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, or a Beethoven overture, or a Strauss waltz, or a Chopin Polonaise, or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsodies, or some of her beloved tzigeuner music, violins and stagy sobbing voices emoting songs of which she knew all the words.
On Sundays there would be bridge or rummy or Monopoly and a visit to a restaurant, either the local italian caff with the beautiful, giggling Philomena or, on a longer trip, down to Schmidt's in Charlotte Street with its great halls and ancient parched Viennese waiters, plump as trussed chickens or thin as Konrad Adenauer.
And we were there of course, part of the domain, but all too quickly outgrowing it. And eventually the Iron Gates closed, or rather she drew them closed herself, since her own life was also her domain.
Norm has a very good article on Gaza here. And if anyone is interested in my view on translation there's an interview I made for a Hungarian literary website here. An excerpt on being asked what annoyed me in translations I didn't like:
I used to think that the most annoying aspect of a bad translation was loss of register, an incomplete sense of the modalities of the receiving language. I didn’t like translations that were too locally-coloured or pretended to be slangy London or New York, or any other place. I suspect translations live in an imagined terrain that is not entirely fixed. They inhabit the air between two cultures. I don’t like the moral-political option on translations in which the translator is constantly quibbling about the right of the receiving language to engage with the other text on perfectly natural terms. It irritates me more than anything when the translator takes upon herself or himself to redress a political imbalance by mangling a perfectly open text just to show that they are not simply co-opting it. That is of no help to the original at all; post-colonial guilt may be salutary for the soul but it is poison to the original text.
Tomorrow I do a phone interview for the RNIB in the morning, then go in and teach what I couldn't teach on Monday. And talk about aphorisms apropos a doctorate.