Katherine Gregor

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Katherine Gregor (a.k.a. Scribe Doll) is a literary translator and scribbler who has also been an EFL teacher, theatrical agent, press agent, theatre director, complementary medicine practitioner, and one or two other things. Perhaps that's why the literary characters she relates to most are Arlecchino, Truffaldino, Gianni Schicchi and Scapin, and feels empathy with crows, squirrels and cats. She lives in Norwich, Norfolk.

Paris, 14 Juillet

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We were in Paris this time last year.  I was enjoying the buzz and feeling shortchanged: we don’t have national holidays in England, at least none that carry any kind of historical significance.  No religious holidays except Christmas and Easter, and even the country’s patron Saint, George, doesn’t warrant a day off.  That’s Protestant work ethic for you.  If our May and August bank holidays do have roots somewhere in history, then they have been forgotten by the common man (and woman) and appear to have been randomly tacked on at the end of three weekends, almost like a grudging concession by an employer related to Ebenezer Scrooge.  We have no dates when we celebrate freedom from oppression, change of regime, the end of a conflict or independence.  No day that unites the entire country in a civic celebration.

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Almost all the shops were closed and there was a mildly festive ripple in the summer air.  Notre Dame was crammed with tourists.  Noisy invaders with little respect or awe for this ancient church or its prayer-soaked walls.  Calling out to one another in loud voices, stomping around in large groups.  Too loud to be able to hear her voice or her heartbeat.

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Once again, I longingly tried to imagine what it would be like to stand in an almost DSC00275deserted Notre Dame, listening to Mediaeval voices rising to the Rose Window, singing Léonin or Pérotin, music composed for a perfect marriage with Gothic architecture.  I went to smile at the stone Virgin and Child, one of my favourite Madonnas.  I like her delicate features, her gentle, youthful smile.  A few years ago, I translated a crime novel by French novelist Alexis Ragougneau, The Madonna of Notre Dame, and it brought this beautiful statue to my attention.

When we approached the cathedral exit, the noise of the crowd was suddenly drowned out by a loud roar.  A row of fighter planes tore across the sky, a trail of blue, white and red in their wake.  I find the sound of fighter planes eerie and something in my chest always seizes up when I hear them slicing through the air above Norwich, where I live, but there, in Paris, as part of the Quatorze Juilletparade, I stared and marvelled with the other tourists.  I felt strange, standing inside a church, a building symbolising peace and compassion, while above me, there were these war machines, designed for war.

DSC00280We strolled to Île Saint-Louis and stopped in a café for a late breakfast of crêpes and coffee.  There was a television broadcasting the parade on the Champs Elysées (Elysian Fields - nowhere would be called this in England).  We were the only customers and the manageress started chatting to us.  “Macron’s been lucky with the weather both years since he’s been elected,” she said. “It’s been lovely and sunny on 14th July.”

“Oh, is that unusual for this time of year?” I asked, surprised.

“Under François Hollande it always seemed to rain or something would go wrong whenever there was some kind of event.  That’s why he was nicknamed  le chat noir.”

The black cat.  How funny.

We ended up staying in the café, following the live coverage of the parade, President Macron and guests watching as what looked like the country’s entire human fighting force and arsenal processed before him.  Tanks, military vehicles, men and women in uniform, weapons of every kind, the Garde républicaineon horseback, helmets and swords gleaming in the sunlight.

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As always when watching a national parade – in any country – I felt a sense of wrongness, or at least of incompletion.  I always look at all that military personnel, at all those tanks, fighter jets, weapons, and all those politicians, and I want to ask out loud, Where are the country's writers? Where are the scientists and the scholars? Where are the all the medics? Where are the actors? Where are the farmers? Where are all the other people who contribute to the country? Have they not also played their part in forging history?

Is the nation not proud of them, too?

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
As a child we used to go to a Navy air show each summer where the air squadron called the Blue Angels would perform - very fond me... Read More
Thursday, 18 July 2019 21:21
Katherine Gregor
I've never seen a July 4th parade (except for one I went to in France back in 1976!) – do you not normally have military vehicles?... Read More
Thursday, 18 July 2019 22:05
Stephen Evans
No - In DC, a big concert on the mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial and lots of firework.
Saturday, 20 July 2019 13:35
185 Hits
12 Comments

Reconnecting

The fountain pen feels heavy in my hand.  I haven't written for a long time.  I mean written – not typed.  That I do every day, all day.  Click, click.  Irregular, hollow.  I tap the plastic keys, one letter at a time, and words appear on my computer screen.  Words someone else has written, thought, felt.  Words I mutate into another language.  Making myself think them, feel them.  Click, click.  

No words flow out.  My nib is like a dried-up fountain.  The pathway between my brain and my hand is overgrown with brambles, and my thoughts are caught up somewhere in that darkness.

I suddenly realise that even writing these few lines has been stressful and tiring.  An effort.

I pause.  Shall I put the pen down? What if I can't pick it up again? A flush of anxiety  rushes into my face.  Cold.  I begin to write again.  Slowly, gingerly.  Piano piano.

I think of a cartoon in The New Yorker that hangs framed in my study, my bottega.  A little boy watches as a cute little girl is scribbling on the sidewalk. I try to write a little every day, the caption says.

Baby steps.  One foot, then another.  The black ink briefly glistens on the paper before turning matt.  I take my time to form the letters, join them, taking care to place the dots above the is and not let them float randomly.  Making sure I round my letters so my as and es are legible.

My rosewood and chrome Faber Castell seems like a close friend you haven't seen for a long time.  You used to talk over each other and now you can't think of anything to say.  The intimacy's gone.  You look at each other with trepidation and fear of disappointment, hoping to detect the gold thread that connected you in the past, so you can pick it up again.  You search for the bridge that used to join you.  You know it can't have crumbled – nothing that can't be repaired with a few stones and a little mortar – you just can't remember the way to it.  Any minute now you're going to turn a corner and see it right in front of you.

And so I keep writing, slowly, gingerly, trusting in the brilliant black ink flowing steadily through the nib, taking root on the cream page.  Forming every letter carefully, lengthening the stems, evening out the loops, connecting them into words.  Almost any words.

Trusting that my thoughts will start to light up the overgrown pathway and seep into my nib.  Soon.

One word at a time.  Slowly.  Piano piano.

 

Scribe Doll  

Recent Comments
Monika Schott
Yes, I know that feeling well, of needing to burst from all the restraint and you don't know how. That's when I start to write too... Read More
Sunday, 07 July 2019 21:53
Katherine Gregor
Thank you, Moni, I've done many different jobs in my life and always managed to write. Since I've been a literary translator, th... Read More
Monday, 08 July 2019 07:50
Rosy Cole
What I find useful, Katia, with any form of writing when sufficient inspiration is lacking, or even when it isn't, or you can't ge... Read More
Tuesday, 09 July 2019 13:35
571 Hits
5 Comments

A Few Thoughts About Lent

As the Dean traced the ash cross on my forehead and said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ" and the Cathedral choir sang Allegri's Miserere, what flashed through my mind, once again, was the image of a phoenix.  Ashes as the necessary stage of burning the old, so that the new might be reborn.  Ashes as catharsis.

 

When I was a child growing up in Rome, Lent was a gloomy forty days, with a Holy Week of wailing and gnashing of teeth, expressed through sober, serious television programmes like Passion plays, religious contemplations and funereal classical music.  I have a vague memory of my grandmother chiding me for dancing around the room one Good Friday.  Lent had be heavily sad.  Lent as repentance, as stating our unworthiness.  Lent that felt like a punishment after the joy of Carnival.  Lent as fasting or at least giving up on something you found pleasurable.

 

But what if Lent was originally intended not as six weeks of gloom and doom but as an opportunity for renewal? After all, it wouldn't be the first time that the wisdom and practicality of Christian teachings was changed, mistranslated or misinterpreted through centuries of organised religion.  

 

I disagree with Lent as moral self-flagellation the same way as I find deeply disturbing the presence, in prime position, of the crucifix in churches.  Why focus on the image of intense pain, injustice and death when what is actually at the heart of Christian doctrine is the Resurrection, i.e. the triumph of Life over death? I have no doubt that theologians and ministers will provide a valid reason for that, but my instinctive feeling is that you get further by focusing on joy and Light than on sadness and darkness.

 

"'Church' has become a dirty word," a priest once told me.  It certainly has in the UK, where backs all too often stiffen and looks become embarrassed and vacant as soon as I mention the fact that I occasionally go to church.  Given the laissez-faire attitude of the Church of England, where you can opt for High, Evangelical or Traditional or an assortment thereof, I find this backlash something of a disproportionate response.  Still, whose fault is it, really, if "church" has become "a dirty word"?

 

Everything that happens on this planet has a rational explanation, whether we have come up with it by now or not.  The universe is governed by physics and the laws of nature.  As a child and teenager, I used to think of the world as a perfect circle, with no loose ends.  So whenever I could not understand something, I felt as though this was because all I could see was a segment of the circle, just a line that wasn't connected to anything, thereby not making any sense. And yet the Church still puts an emphasis on almost blind faith.  The magic and supernatural elements that make Christianity so wonderful to some are also a strong deterrent to others.  Isn't it time the Church began to explain its philosophy – I choose this term rather than doctrine deliberately – in a more 21st-century-friendly context of society, psychology and physics? Increasingly, the Church is trying to become more "accessible" by dropping – much to my sadness – the poetry from the language of prayers.  By doing that I feel it brings the Divine down to the limited dimension of humanity; it does nothing to encourage its unlimited side.  Replacing "thou" with "you" and "trespasses" with "sins" is not enough if you maintain the party line that miracles have an element of the supernatural that cannot – and almost must not – be understood with our brains but accepted through faith.  Faith, like love, cannot be supplied on demand.  Besides, as I once remarked to a priest after Sunday service, humanity can no longer be treated as a child who accepts whatever his or her parents say as though it were unquestionable truth.  "We are teenagers now," I said, "we have doubts about everything, so we need plausible answers."  Why not appeal to the human side that resides in the totality of possibilities? The side capable of absolute wonders?

 

Again, when I was about ten or eleven, and I heard a minister say that we, children, should be "as good as the Child Jesus", I replied, "But Jesus's father was God, while mine was a man, so he had a clear advantage over me – what's the point in my even trying?"  Yet another of many contradictions and inconsistencies in Church teachings.

 

Heavily sad Lent.  Lent as repentance, as stating our unworthiness.  Lent as fasting or at least giving up on something you found pleasurable – and which you fully intend to resume come Easter Sunday.  What if it were Lent as taking stock, as a time for introspection, as cleansing, as shedding old habits and creating new ones? Lent as rewiring our brains? In other words, Lent as a wonderful opportunity for a physical and mental detox – a re-set button?

 

A field that fascinates me is that of neuroplasticity and the possibility of redirecting our neural pathways.  Obviously, the Ancients probably did not have  "neuroplasticity" in their vocabulary but, on some other level, they were clearly aware of its existence in practice, or there would have been no yoga, no Qi Gong, and no Lent. 

 

Why forty days? I don't know. There is a school of thought that says it takes twenty days to break a habit and twenty to form a new one. Forty is a number that recurs in the Old and New Testament, in other religions, in yoga practices, in some fairy tales and in popular beliefs.  When, age six, I had the measles, my family kept me indoors and in the warmth for full forty days, to make sure I had fully recovered (there is an interesting Huff Post article on the forty-day topic by Rebecca Grainger).

 

Lent is also about fasting.  I fast for twenty-four hours once a week.  I find it invigorating and refreshing.  There is evidence to suggest that fasting responsibly can have many health benefits.  It acts as a re-set function.  It can reduce inflammation (remember the old saying "Starve the fever and feed the cold"?), is cleansing and allows the body to focus on spring cleaning and healing while not busy digesting.

 

I love Lent.  Not the Lent of repentance but of taking stock, of trying to reroute neural pathways, shedding old habits and forming new, more creative ones.  Lent as a wonderful opportunity to reinvent oneself.

 

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Stephen Evans
The word itself as I understand it comes from the Middle English term for Spring - which fits right in with your philosophy. ... Read More
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 01:00
Katherine Gregor
Now I didn't know that! Thank you!
Wednesday, 13 March 2019 17:49
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2 Comments

The Hour of the Book

The day is drawing in and I'm rushing to finish translating a page.  I need to look up a word and that slows me down.  I don't like to stop mid-page but if I don't leave now I'll be late.  Do I really want to go there tonight with all the work I have to do? And it's so cold out there.  I dither out loud.

"Go," H. says. "You know you always enjoy it once you're there."

I quickly tap cmd + s to save my work, pull on my boots, grab coat, scarf, gloves.  Where did I put my notepad? H. is standing by the door, waiting to lock it behind me.

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As usual, I'm cutting it fine, but after a brisk walk I push open the glass door and walk into the bookshop.  The Book Hive is a local institution.  "Eclectic, thoughtful, and tempting - a must for book lovers visiting Norwich", Margaret Atwood said.  A quirky-looking, three-storey building on a street corner that holds a wide range of hand-picked, quality titles on just about every topic you can imagine, many translated from other languages. A setting with so much personality, it's crying out to feature in a short story or a play, with its three levels, getting narrower the higher you go.  A place I sometimes walk into just for the pleasure of a chat with Joe, Megan, Henry, or whoever happens to be behind the counter that day, although it's hard to then walk back out without succumbing to the temptation of a book you never knew existed but then decide you simply have to have.

But I am not going to buy a book this evening, or chat with the bookseller.  This evening, just like all the other people there, I am going to spend an hour being quiet.

It's the weekly Page Against the Machine hour, when you can bring your book and round up the day by just sitting and reading.  Behind the counter, Joe has already lined up the glasses and offers you red wine.  He's put on some music, just loud enough to create a confidently relaxed atmosphere, and soft enough not to butt in between you and your page.  Often piano music, always wordless.

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There are already people scattered on all three floors of the shop, sitting wherever they've found a seat, sipping wine, absorbed in their book.  This time, I head for the wicker armchair in the corner by the small sash window.  There is a stuffed duck on the sill.  I call it the nature corner.  The low table and shelves carry books about seasons, the elements, birds, animals, trees, travel logs, landscapes.  I pull out my notepad.  I have an hour to do nothing but write.  Write.  Not translate other people's writing but actually scribble my own.  Luxury.  When I first discovered the Wednesday Page Against the Machine, I asked Joe if he'd mind my coming to write instead of read.  "Absolutely," he said.  "I can even clear you some space at one of the tables, if you like."  I don't go as often as I would like to; more often that not, work takes the upper hand.  But on those Wednesdays when I do manage to slam the laptop lid down on it in time to get to The Book Hive by 5.30 p.m., that hour feels like a capsule of therapeutic release.  A whole hour when I am free to write my own stuff, uninterrupted.  Luxury.

I lean down to pick up my glass of water on the low table and catch sight of a small 

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hardback.  Snow, by Marcus Sedgwick. Gosh, somebody thought of writing a book about snow.  What does he say about it? Does he talk about its softness as it muffles the city sounds or describe the unique, geometrical pattern of its flakes? I reach out to pick it up but resist the temptation.  No, I'm here to write. My eyes drift back to the black ink curls and swirls in my lined notebook, like untidy notes forming a daisy chain on a stave.  I turn my head to the side to stretch my stiff shoulder muscle and see How to Read Water in plain capital letters down a lilac-white spine.  I take off my long-sight glasses to focus on the author's name.  Tristan Gooley.  What an intriguing title.  How do you read water? What kind of water? River water? Tap water? The water content of our bodies? 

Enough with distraction.  I uncross my legs and cross them the other way, and take the chrome cap off my fountain pen again.  I manage to scribble two more sides of A4 without looking up.  More swirls and curls that make words.  I am writing a story about languages, about when two or three or even four words mean the same thing – and yet not quite.  About when two or three or even four individuals have the same concept in their language, but not the same feeling.

I take another sip of water.  My attention is drawn to a highly atmospheric picture of a tree, its wind-chiselled branches reaching out to a lead-grey sky charged with thunder.  Hawthorn, by Bill Vaughan.  I think of Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Of reading The Scarlet Letterin my teens, The House of the Seven Gablesmany years later.  The old film adaptation with Vincent Price playing a goodie.  I look again at the picture of the tree.  At its branches, gnarled and twisted by the wind, and yet still standing in defiance of the elements.  It's just after 6.  I can probably fill a couple more sides of A4.  I am writing about a family that has been equally wrought by the gales that make up human life on earth.  I wonder if anyone will ever want to read it.  If one day, it will be bound into a hardback book, with a quote from another writer on the front cover.  What would the illustration on the dust jacket be? If it's the picture of a tree, then I hope it's an oak.  Tall, sturdy and wise.  An oak with centuries of stories to tell.

"It's 6.30," Joe says softly. patm_poster_A4 (1)

The shop stirs, as people lazily close their books, drink the last sip of wine from their glasses and slowly leave their seats.  It's time to leave the oasis.  Time, which paused for an hour, has resumed its course.

I put my empty glass on the counter on my way out.  "I hope I can come again next week," I say, the temporarily suspended awareness of my overwhelming workload rushing back into my relaxed brain.

I hope I can come again next week, I think as I pull open the glass door and step out into the street.  I wonder if I can organise my work so I can come every week.  Luxury.

Scribe Doll

Recent Comments
Rosy Cole
What an inspired idea, Katia! And, yes, it is a precious luxury to visit another congenial space where nothing is demanded of us, ... Read More
Wednesday, 06 March 2019 15:48
Katherine Gregor
You're very kind, Rosy. Thank you.
Friday, 08 March 2019 08:39
Stephen Evans
How wonderful to have a bookstore you can walk to! They are few and far between in my area. The closest is ten miles away.
Thursday, 07 March 2019 23:08
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4 Comments

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Latest Comments

Rosy Cole Paris, 14 Juillet
08 August 2019
Yes, I feel confident that 'The Government' does not essentially represent the British people. When ...
Stephen Evans Memory
29 July 2019
Very kind!
Rosy Cole Memory
28 July 2019
In view of the above theme, I feel bound to add this:Back in the theater again after too many years....
Rosy Cole Memory
28 July 2019
Some mischievous ambiguity here :-)
Katherine Gregor Paris, 14 Juillet
25 July 2019
I don't blame the Queen or the monarch. They have little say in Government decisions. I hold Her M...