Communicating with Colour

A bilingual blog on art, translation and gardening.
To see Colourful Language à la française,
click on the little French bird.

Expressions colorées

Expressions colorées

Open Garden : An Urban Eden

Open Garden : An Urban Eden
Click on the picture for a virtual tour of the garden

About ths blog : Communicating in any language

Art and illustration and gardening, and two languages: English and French - is there a link other than these activities being of interest to me ?

This question has arisen with my decision to launch this blog with my thoughts on what I do. Certainly, these are the interests and skills that I have acquired as I've stumbled along, sometimes with very little idea of where I'm going but are they too disparate for a single blog, which needs focus ? Possibly, but maybe they are linked by more than serendipity ?

As I've found that studying a language, art and more recently gardening, have put me in touch with people with whom I might otherwise not have had any contact, I can't help wondering if the common denominator is less my interest than the communication these activities have generated.
Learning a language, understanding another culture, is definitely about communication but so too is art where of course the language is visual. Gardening also facilitates communication (say it with flowers ?) as does any activity that allows you to link with people, share and exchange ideas. Sport - I do that too - is another way of coming together, pooling efforts and enjoying shared experiences. So maybe the link is the committed, constructive and creative use of our time that allows us all as individuals to be part of something bigger than ourselves : a community ?

Moreover, gardening, like art and illustration, but also learning to communicate in another language, creates colour (literally and metaphorically) in our lives and makes people... smile. And isn't the best way to start a conversation with a smile ?

So, perhaps when explaining what I do, which sometimes I find difficult to do because I don't fit easily into any nice, neat category, I should say : "I'm a communicator".

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

A pocket handkerchief garden

My parents live in a small terrace cottage very near the Valley of the Rocks in Lynton, Exmoor, North Devon. They have a small, narrow back garden, which needed a little work to optimize the available the space. So, the first week of April, my partner and I joined Mum and Dad for a week's gardening...

"Before" and "after" three to four days...

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Kes the Kestrel

Opposite the house there is a field that has been left fallow. It's now only used to graze an old horse. It's no doubt a haven for wildlife and amongst the birds we sometimes see, there is a kestrel which occasionally ventures into our back garden, tempted by the mice that carelessly err into the open away from the safety of the garden shed.

Another computer drawing.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Birds in an English Garden

With winter drawing to a close, the first signs of spring are increasingly apparent in the garden: first the snowdrops, then crocuses and now the daffodils are coming into flower. The birds too are singing again. Hence this latest project for my blog: regular drawings/paintings of garden birds with commentaries.

This first illustration shows a blackbird in a mountain ash tree, which of course would be an autumn sighting. In the spring they are more often seen feeding on the ground: running along, they'll stop dead, tilt their head to one side, listen, then suddenly they'll pull up a worm.

One of the most common visitor to English gardens, especially in the spring when they have young to feed, the blackbird is easy to identify by sight and by its glorious song.

The Blackbird / Le Merle

The naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon (1707-1788) describes the blackbird thus:

Le mâle adulte dans cette espèce est encore plus noir que le corbeau, il est d'un noir plus décidé, plus pur, moins altéré par des reflets : excepté le bec, le tour des yeux, le talon et la plante du pied, qu'il a plus ou moins jaune, il est noir partout et dans tous les aspects ; aussi les Anglais l'appellent-ils l'oiseau noir par excellence.

The adult male is even blacker than the crow. It's a purer, more definite black that is affected less by the light. The bird is black all over except for beak, the ring around the eyes, the claw and the base of the foot, which are all yellow. It's for this reason that the English call this bird the blackbird.

The illustration is a drawing that I did on the computer using the Paint programme.

The extract from L'Histoire naturelle by Buffon is cited at:

Monday, 19 January 2009

La Maison de Claudine by Colette

Anyone who enjoys gardens will surely enjoy Colette.

Here is an extract that I've translated from Colette's La Maison de Claudine, Où sont les enfants ?

As usual, first the original text in French followed by my translation into English.
La maison était grande, coiffée d'un grenier haut. La pente raide de la rue obligeait les écuries et les remises, les poulaillers, la buanderie, la laiterie, à se blottir en contre-bas tout autour d'une cour fermée.

Accoudée au mur du jardin, je pouvais gratter du doigt le toit du poulailler. Le Jardin-du-Haut commandait un Jardin-du-Bas, potager resserré et chaud, consacré à l'aubergine et au piment, où l'odeur du feuillage de la tomate se mêlait, en juillet, au parfum de l'abricot mûri sur espaliers. Dans le Jardin-du-Haut, deux sapins jumeaux, un noyer dont l'ombre intolérante tuait les fleurs, des roses, des gazons négligés, une tonnelle disloquée… Une forte grille de clôture, au fond, en bordure de la rue des Vignes, eût dû défendre les deux jardins ; mais je n'ai jamais connu cette grille que tordue, arrachée au ciment de son mur, emportée et brandie en l'air par les bras invincibles d'une glycine centenaire…

La façade principale, sur la rue de l'Hospice, était une façade à perron double, noircie, à grandes fenêtres et sans grâces, une maison bourgeoise de vieux village, mais la roide pente de la rue bousculait un peu sa gravité, et son perron boitait, six marches d'un côté, dix de l'autre.

Grande maison grave, revêche avec sa porte à clochette d'orphelinat, son entrée cochère à gros verrou de geôle ancienne, maison qui ne souriait que d'un côté. Son revers, invisible au passant, doré par le soleil, portait manteau de glycine et de bignonier mêlés, lourds à l'armature de fer fatiguée, creusée en son milieu comme un hamac, qui ombrageait une petite terrasse dallée et le seuil du salon… Le reste vaut-il la peine que je le peigne, à l'aide de pauvres mots ? Je n'aiderai personne à contempler ce qui s'attache de splendeur, dans mon souvenir, aux cordons rouges d'une vigne d'automne que ruinait son propre poids, cramponnée, au cours de sa chute, à quelques bras de pin. Ces lilas massifs dont la fleur compacte, bleue dans l'ombre, pourpre au soleil, pourrissait tôt, étouffée par sa propre exubérance, ces lilas morts depuis longtemps ne remonteront pas grâce à moi vers la lumière, ni le terrifiant clair de lune – argent, plomb gris, mercure, facettes d'améthystes coupantes, blessants saphirs aigus –, qui dépendait de certaine vitre bleue, dans le kiosque au fond du jardin.

Maison et jardin vivent encore, je le sais, mais qu'importe si la magie les a quittés, si le secret est perdu qui ouvrait – lumière, odeurs, harmonie d'arbres et d'oiseaux, murmure de voix humaines qu'a déjà suspendu la mort – un monde dont j'ai cessé d'être digne ?…

Topped with a high attic, it was a big house with stables and outhouses, chicken coops, a washhouse and a dairy that because of the steep slope of the street were forced together in a huddle around an enclosed, lower courtyard.

Leaning against the garden wall, I could scratch the roof of the chicken house with my finger. The upper garden overlooked the lower garden: a narrow and warm kitchen garden set aside for growing aubergines and peppers, where, in July, the smell of tomato leaves mixed with the scent of the apricots ripening on their espaliers. In the upper garden: two twin pines, a walnut tree whose unforgiving shade killed off any flowers, roses, a neglected lawn, a dislocated tunnel… A sturdy iron fence at the bottom of the garden along the length of the rue des Vignes must have once protected the two gardens but I only ever saw the fence twisted and torn from its cement base and brandished in air by the invincible branches of a hundred year old wisteria…

Overlooking the rue de l’Hospice the front of the house was unattractive. Blackened with age, it was adorned with large windows and a stone stairway that led to the front entrance; an old, bourgeois, village house whose serious bearing was eased slightly by the steep slope of the road, which seemed to cause the perron, with 6 steps on one side and 10 on the other, to limp.

Large and austere-looking, with a porch and carriage gate with an enormous old prison latch, it was a house that smiled on one side only: the back where, out of sight of the passer-by, bathed in sunlight, it sported a cloak of wisteria and bignonia that shaded a small, tiled terrace and the door to the living room, a cloak that weighed heavy on the tired iron framework, which had sunk like a hammock in the middle… Is there any point in continuing my description when words alone are not enough? I wont be able to help anyone envisage the splendour that endures in my memory of the red ribbons of the autumn vines collapsing under their own weight, clinging as they fall to some conifer branches. I cannot make the clumps of lilacs - whose compact flowers, blue in the shade, purple in sunlight, quickly fade, suffocated by their own exuberance – I cannot make lilacs that died years ago reach again out towards either the sunlight or the terrifying light of the moon which, as it passed through the blue window lights of the kiosk at the bottom of the garden could turn from silver, lead-grey mercury, to sharp facets of amethysts and sapphir.

The house and garden are still there, I know, so does it matter if the secret ingredient that brought to life a harmony of trees and birds, a murmur of human voices that have already put death on hold, the magic that opened a world of light and smell of which I am no longer worthy, does it matter if this has gone?

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

For the love of a single flower

Here's another literary text that has something to say about gardening or caring (for plants) at least. I'll post more extracts from Le Petit Prince as the Flower features quite prominently in this story, and there is more to be said about caring for her.
Le Petit Prince is available on line at :
As before, the original text first and then my translation... in orange.
Extract from
Le Petit Prince par Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Chapitre VII

– Mais non ! Mais non ! Je ne crois rien ! J’ai répondu n’importe quoi. Je m’occupe, moi, de choses sérieuses !
Il me regarda stupéfait.
– De choses sérieuses !
Il me voyait, mon marteau à la main, et les doigts noirs de cambouis, penché sur un objet qui lui semblait très laid.
– Tu parles comme les grandes personnes !
Ça me fit un peu honte. Mais, impitoyable, il ajouta :
– Tu confonds tout… tu mélanges tout
Il était vraiment très irrité. Il secouait au vent des cheveux tout dorés :
– Je connais une planète où il y a un Monsieur cramoisi. Il n’a jamais respiré une fleur. Il n’a jamais regardé une étoile. Il n’a jamais aimé personne. Il n’a jamais rien fait d’autre que des additions. Et toute la journée il répète comme toi : « Je suis un homme sérieux ! Je suis un homme sérieux ! » et ça le fait gonfler d’orgueil. Mais ce n’est pas un homme, c’est un champignon !
– Un quoi ?
– Un champignon !
Le petit prince était maintenant tout pâle de colère.
– Il y a des millions d’années que les fleurs fabriquent des épines. Il y a des millions d’années que les moutons mangent quand même les fleurs. Et ce n’est pas sérieux de chercher à comprendre pourquoi elles se donnent tant de mal pour se fabriquer des épines qui ne servent jamais à rien ? Ce n’est pas important la guerre des moutons et des fleurs ? Ce n’est pas plus sérieux et plus important que les additions d’un gros Monsieur rouge ? Et si je connais, moi, une fleur unique au monde, qui n’existe nulle part, sauf dans ma planète, et qu’un petit mouton peut anéantir d’un seul coup, comme ça, un matin, sans se rendre compte de ce qu’il fait, ce n’est pas important ça !
Il rougit, puis reprit :
– Si quelqu’un aime une fleur qui n’existe qu’à un exemplaire dans les millions et les millions d’étoiles, ça suffit pour qu’il soit heureux quand il les regarde. Il se dit : « Ma fleur est là quelque part… » Mais si le mouton mange la fleur, c’est pour lui comme si, brusquement, toutes les étoiles s’éteignaient ! Et ce n’est pas important ça !

Il ne put rien dire de plus. Il éclata brusquement en sanglots. La nuit était tombée. J’avais lâché mes outils. Je me moquais bien de mon marteau, de mon boulon, de la soif et de la mort. Il y avait, sur une étoile, une planète, la mienne, la Terre, un petit prince à consoler ! Je le pris dans les bras. Je le berçai. Je lui disais : « La fleur que tu aimes n’est pas en danger… Je lui dessinerai une muselière, à ton mouton… Je te dessinerai une armure pour ta fleur… Je… » Je ne savais pas trop quoi dire. Je me sentais très maladroit. Je ne savais comment l’atteindre, où le rejoindre… C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes.
"No of course not! I don't believe in anything." I was just talking for the sake of it. "I'm busy. I've got serious work to do."
He looked at me, amazed. "Serious work?"
He was watching me. I had a hammer in my hand, my fingers were black with oil and I was leaning over something that to him was very ugly.
"You sound just like an adult!"
That made me feel rather ashamed. But he was pitiless and added:
"You're confusing everything. You're muddling everything."
He was really annoyed and his golden locks were shaking in the wind.
"I know a planet where there is a purple-faced gentleman. He's never smelt a flower. He's never wondered at the stars. He's never loved anyone. He's never done anything other than his sums. And all day long he says the same thing over and over again, just like you: I'm an important man. I'm an important man. And that puffs him up with pride. But he's not a man! He's a mushroom!"
"A what?"
"A mushroom."
The Little Prince was now white with anger.
"For millions of years flowers have been growing thorns. For millions of years sheep have been eating those very same flowers. Don't you want to know why flowers take so much trouble to grow thorns that are never any good for anything? Doesn't it matter that the sheep and the flowers are at war? Isn't that more important, doesn't that count more than the fat purple-faced man's sums? And what if I know a flower, a flower like no other in the world, which only grows on my planet. What if one day, one morning, a sheep were to eat my flower, annihilating it in a single bite without even realizing what he's done. Doesn't that matter?"
He was turning red. Then he said:
"If you love a flower that is so unique that it only grows in one place in the whole of the Universe, that should be enough to make you happy because wherever you are you always know that your flower is out there somewhere. But if a sheep were to eat your flower, it would be like all the stars in the Universe suddenly disappearing. Doesn't that matter to you?"
He couldn't say anymore. Then, suddenly, he started crying. It was dark now. I'd already put my tools down. I didn't care about my hammer, my bolt, being thirsty or dying. They didn't seem to matter anymore. Out there, on a planet somewhere under the stars, on my planet, on Earth, there was a little prince who needed comforting. I put my arms around him and rocking him gently said: "Your flower is safe. I'll draw a muzzle for the sheep. I'll draw a shield for your flower. I'll..." I didn't really know what to say. I felt very awkward. I didn't know how to reach him. I didn't know where he was. He was in such a strange, sad place.

Friday, 28 November 2008

A return to the Garden of Eden and the age of innocence

A lithograph from Dapnis and Chloé
by Marc Chagall
The extract from L’Immoraliste that I have translated (below) describes a pivotal moment in Gide’s novel, evoking as it does the narrator’s increasing awareness of the reawakening of his senses after his long and disabling illness.

Michel describes his explorations of the palm groves that he and his wife discover after erring from the path that they have been following during a walk through the town in north Africa where they are staying. A break in the high wall that flanks the path, and the glimpse it offers of the luxuriant landscape of the gardens enclosed and hidden by this same wall, is enough to tempt the couple to deviate from their course. Who can blame them? The lush greenery brings into sharp contrast the sterility of the parched mud floor and high mud walls that confine the usual path; the palm grove is a true oasis – a place of beauty that offers respite and resuscitation for the senses otherwise withered by the mundane.

The garden is surely the eternal symbol of rebirth and regeneration and enclosed as it is here by a high wall that shields it from any harsh, intrusive and censorial gaze, this garden seems symbolic of the womb itself. Michel takes retreat and, closing his eyes, withdraws further from the external world to an inner place where he finds he can just listen to his senses. He quickly becomes intoxicated by the soothing sounds of the doves cooing, the rippling stream, the breeze rustling through the tops of the trees, which echoes the stirrings that he feels as his senses are roused from their somnolence. Disarmed by his repose and contemplation, he is further seduced by the dulcet tones of a flute that the goatherd boy is playing: as his inhibitions are anaesthetized, he succumbs to the delight of his physical arousal.

Later Michel deliberately returns alone to the oasis where he listens as the boy enchants him further with his explanations of how he knowingly watches over his charges, carefully ensuring that their needs are satisfied but only when necessary. The boy, it seems, both arouses and assuages desires. It’s not difficult to see why, despite the obvious lyricism of his prose, the representation that Michel makes of a paradise where young boys enchant and stand ready to meet the needs of those in their care, provoked some controversy amongst Gide’s peers. The inferences suggest more questions than they answer. Moreover, the seductive and sensual figure of a boy playing a flute in a fertile landscape is surely a further evocation of the notion of temptation and transgression. Is Gide really casting the goatherd boy in the role of serpent in this Garden of Eden?

Leaving the ambiguities to one side, this passage is, for me, very evocative of some of Chagall work - no doubt because of their lyrical treatment of pastoral imagery. The series of lithographs on the story of Daphnis and Chloé, the foundling shepherd children that, in their innocence, are troubled as their friendship turns to love, particularly comes to mind.
To see more images of Marc Chagall's work, go to :

Sunday, 23 November 2008

L'Immoraliste by Gide

L'Immoraliste is available on-line at :

Extract from L'Immoraliste (1902) by Gide
Part I, Chapter IV
First the original version then, in orange, my translation.

"Marceline, cependant, qui voyait avec joie ma santé enfin revenir, commençait depuis quelques jours à me parler des merveilleux vergers de l’oasis. Elle aimait le grand air et la marche. La liberté que lui valait ma maladie lui permettait de longues courses dont elle revenait éblouie ; jusqu’alors elle n’en parlait guère, n’osant m’inciter à l’y suivre et craignant de me voir m’attrister au récit de plaisirs dont je n’aurais pu jouir déjà. Mais, à présent que j’allais mieux, elle comptait sur leur attrait pour achever de me remettre. Le goût que je reprenais à marcher et à regarder m’y portait. Et dès le lendemain nous sortîmes ensemble.

Elle me précéda dans un chemin bizarre et tel que dans aucun pays je n’en vis jamais de pareil. Entre deux assez hauts murs de terre il circule comme indolemment ; les formes des jardins, que ces hauts murs limitent, l’inclinent à loisir ; il se courbe ou brise sa ligne ; dès l’entrée, un détour vous perd ; on ne sait plus ni d’où l’on vient, ni où l’on va. L’eau fidèle de la rivière suit le sentier, longe un des murs ; les murs sont faits avec la terre même de la route, celle de l’oasis entière, une argile rosâtre ou gris que le soleil ardent craquelle et qui durcit à la chaleur, mais qui mollit dès la première averse et forme alors un sol plastique où les pieds nus restent inscrits. – Par-dessus les murs, des palmiers. A notre approche, des tourterelles y volèrent. Marceline me regardait.

J’oubliais ma fatigue et ma gêne. Je marchais dans une sorte d’extase, d’allégresse silencieuse, d’exaltation des sens et de la chair. A ce moment, des souffles légers s’élevèrent ; toutes les palmes s’agitèrent et nous vîmes les palmiers les plus hauts s’incliner ; - puis l’air entier redevint calme, et j’entendis distinctement, derrière le mur, un chant de flûte. –Une brèche au mur ; nous entrâmes.

C’était un lieu plein d’ombre et de lumière ; tranquille, et qui semblait comme à l’abri du temps ; plein de silences et de frémissements, bruit léger de l’eau qui s’écoule, abreuve les palmiers, et d’arbre en arbre fuit, appel discret des tourterelles, chant de flûte dont un enfant jouait. Il gardait un troupeau de chèvres ; il était assis, presque nu, sur le tronc d’un palmier abattu ; il ne se troubla pas à notre approche, ne s’enfuit pas, ne cessa qu’un instant de jouer. Je m’aperçus, durant ce court silence, qu’une autre flûte au loin répondait. Nous avançâmes encore un peu, puis : « Inutile d’aller plus loin, dit Marceline ; ces vergers se ressemblent tous ; à peine, au bout de l’oasis, deviennent-ils un peu plus vastes… Elle étendit le châle à terre : -Repose toi. »

Combien de temps nous y restâmes ? je ne sais plus ; - qu’importait l’heure ? Marceline était près de moi ; je m’étendis, posais sur ses genoux ma tête. Le chant de flûte coulait encore, cessait par instants, reprenait ; le bruit de l’eau… Par instants une chèvre bêlait. Je fermai les yeux ; je sentis se poser sur mon front la main fraîche de Marceline ; je sentais le soleil ardent doucement tamisé par les palmes ; je ne pensais à rien ; qu’importait la pensée ? je sentais extraordinairement…

Et par instants, un bruit nouveau ; j’ouvrais les yeux ; c’était le vent léger dans les palmes ; il ne descendait plus jusqu’à nous n’agitait que les palmes hautes.

Le lendemain matin, dans ce même jardin je revins avec Marceline ; le soir du même jour j’y allai seul. Le chevrier qui jouait de la flûte était là. Je m’approchai de lui, lui parlai. Il se nommait Lassif, n’avait que douze ans, était beau. Il me dit le nom de ses chèvres, me dit que les canaux s’appellent séghias ; toutes ne coulent pas tous les jours, m’apprit-il ; l’eau, sagement et parcimonieusement répartie, satisfait à la soif des plantes, puis leur est aussitôt retirée. Au pied de chacun des palmiers un étroit bassin est creusé qui tient l’eau pour abreuver l’arbre ; un ingénieux système d’écluses que l’enfant, en les faisant jouer, m’expliquer, maîtrise l’eau, l’amène où la soif est trop grande."

"The clown and the flute"
Lithograph by Chagall

"For the last few days however, Marceline, who was watching with joy my health finally return, had started talking to me about the wonderful groves of the oasis. She loved the fresh air and walking. My illness had provided a certain liberation leaving her free to go for walks from which she returned elated. Up until then she had said very little about this, fearing that I might be tempted to follow her or be disheartened by her talk of pleasures that, as yet, were still beyond me. But now I was getting better she was relying on the appeal of these excursions to complete my recovery. I was being carried along by my renewed enjoyment of walking and watching. The very next day we went out together.

She led the way along a strange path the like of which I had never seen before in any country. The path ambles its way indolently between two fairly high terracotta walls that borders gently sloping gardens ; from the start it twists and turns and sometimes it seems to just stop ; a deviation will soon cause you to go astray and you no longer know where you have been or where you are going. Always close, the river skirts one of the walls, which are made with the same earth as the road and the oasis as a whole : a pinkish-grey clay that the blistering sun causes to crack, that hardens in the heat but then softens again with the first drop of rain when it becomes soft and malleable enough for naked feet to leave their imprints. – Above the walls, palm trees. Our arrival causes turtledoves to take flight. Marceline looked at me.

I forgot my fatigue and my discomfort. I was walking in a state close to ecstasy almost, of quiet joy, of exaltation of the flesh and the senses. A light breeze was picking up, stirring the palm trees and we watched as the tallest of the palms swayed backwards and forwards. Then the air became calm again and I could quite distinctly hear the sound of a flute coming from behind the wall. – A gap in the wall tempted us in.

It was a place full of light and shade ; a tranquil place where time stood still. A place full of the sound of silence, rustling, streams quietly watering the palms, and, escaping from one tree to the next, the discreet cooing of turtledoves. A child was playing a flute. He was tending a herd of goats. He was sitting down, almost naked, on the trunk of a fallen palm tree. As we approached, he didn’t get up. He didn’t run away. Only for a moment did he stop playing his flute.

During this short silence, I noticed that another flute could be heard answering in the distance. We went further into the grove, then Marceline said : “There’s no point in going any further, the groves all look the same, maybe they get a bit bigger near the end of the oasis.” She spread the shawl out on the ground. “Rest a while.”

How long did we stay there ? I don’t know – what did time matter ? Marceline was at my side ; I lay back and rested my head on her knees. The flute music flowed once more, stopping for a moment here and there before starting again ; the sound of water… From time to time a goat bleated. I closed my eyes ; I felt Marceline’s cool hand resting on my forehead ; I felt the hot sun gently filtered by the palms ; I wasn’t thinking of anything ; why bother thinking ? I felt extraordinarily…

Then, from time to time, a new sound ; I opened my eyes ; a light wind too high to disturb us, played with the tops of the palms.

The following morning, I returned to the garden with Marceline ; then later that same evening, I went back alone. The goatherd boy who had been playing the flute was there. I went up to him, spoke to him. He was called Lassif ; he was only 12 ; he was beautiful. He told me what his goats were called ; he told me that the canals are called séghias ; the water didn’t flow every day, he told me. Water was distributed wisely and parsimoniously : just enough to quench the plants’ thirst and then it was switched off. Each tree had a narrow trough hollowed at its base to hold the water it needed. And, an ingenious system of sluices, with which the child toyed as he explained its workings to me, controlled and directed the water to where the thirst was greatest."

Lithograph by Chagall

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Expressions colorées - Colourful Expressions

So why Expressions colorées or, to give its literal back-translation, colourful expressions ?
According to the Hachette (French monolingual) dictionary that I have on my computer, an "expression" is a linguistic, corporal, visual or artistic demonstration of a thought and/or a feeling.
And "coloré" (or "colourful") ? We're talking adjectives, of course : an adjective that describes something that has colour, particularly bright colour. So, "a colourful style", for example, is a style that stands out by its use of imagery.
A nice description of my blog, I think.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

From English to French

A few days adrift in the blogosphere and I'm beginning to feel more at home with the basic functions of my blog. So, after summoning a little more courage (Me, afraid of blogs ?), it's time to start the next stage of this virtual Odyssey : the release of a French version of Colourful Language.
The layout of Expressions Colorées is done, which means I now just have the posts to translate, or "adapt". I say "adapt" because these are my writings and as such I can indulge myself and, if I so wish, make a few alterations here and there to the original texts.
And to celebrate this crossing of the language barrier, I've posted an illustration with a definite French kick.
Expressions colorées is now showing at a blog near you ! Just click on the dzee little French bird at the top of the blog. Or if the little bird has flown, try clicking here :

or on the link in the Blogroll.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Bright colours on a damp, grey November day

The computer has been repaired, which means I have access once more to my image files, to all my photographs and scans. I don't mean to sound paranoid but I thought I'd upload some pickies before the computer dies on me again, which it surely will one day. All the images on this blog are my handiwork : my photographs of my garden (remember : the camera can lie - it's only a little garden !), of the bathroom (or virtual aviary) and scans of my art work. Nothing like some bright colours to lift the soul on a damp, grey November day.

Art imitating nature

Carnations and Gypsophilia. One of my studies in oil on paper.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Original blogger

This entry of mine into the blogosphere has naturally prompted me to examine blogging more closely. What's it all about ? Why blog ?

To say that blogs are a communication tool is of course stating the obvious. But that's what they are : a new way of making contact with people, with anyone and everyone. And, as psychiatrists now tell us, the Internet is a very disinhibiting environment ; in other words, the paradox of the Internet, where you can enter onto a world stage and still retain a degree of anonymity, this paradox is making it a little easier for those of us who, for whatever reason (reservation, lack of opportunity) may find that first contact difficult. This is why so many new friendships, love and romance are spawning on-line.

So it's easy to understand the appeal of blogs for translators, the nature of whose work suggests they are probably prone to discretion. Perhaps wrongly, but translators, like proofreaders, find that their work is often most appreciated when it is invisible, when there is no immediately obvious trace of their intervention. How often do we hear about translators and proofreaders only when fault can be found with their work, for example a misinterpretation or an error that has escaped their proofing ? So, for all those who are working and/or living backstage, so to speak, blogs are a chance to come out of the shadows without having to suffer the glare of the limelight.

More specifically, web logs, as in their recent distant past blogs were properly known, are a space for voicing personal opinion. As such, they are, unsurprisingly, an attractive new tool not only for diarists but writers of every ilk and communicators of all kinds as the many blogs maintained by painters, illustrators and photographers testify (take a look at this site : ).

Finally, blogs surely have precedents too but previously publishing personal opinion in the public domain was an option only available to a limited number of people : authors and journalist for example. Wouldn't Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Rêveries du promeneur solitaire have been perfect material for a blog ? With such an auspicious forebear, how can anyone not be tempted to try this new medium ?

Bathroom birdlife

Remember the blog on moth orchids, zebra finches and Vulcans (08/11/08) ? Here's a photo of the said orchid in place, now providing suitable decor for the bathroom birdlife.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Pictures in windows

When studying for my first degree in fine art I was fortunate enough to win a travel bursary, which allowed me to spend a number of weeks in France doing some preliminary research on stained glass windows. (Incidently, this is how I started learning French.)

The English term stained glass, when applied to medieval glass at least, is really a misnomer as, at this stage in its development, the technology was such that the glass used to make stained glass windows was in fact coloured and produced by the addition to the glass in its molten state of metal oxides. Small pieces of different coloured glass were then assembled in mosaïc fashion and held together with strips of lead to create an image. Moreover, the constraints of the media were such that the imagery produced is flat and decorative. Although the colour is undeniably rich, there is no sense of depth or perspective. Later, silver yellow stain came to be used as a means of actually staining the surface of clear glass to produce within a single piece of glass discrete areas of colour of various hues of yellow and orange.Together with the development of enamels, this technique allowed artists to introduce perspective into their images. Indeed, as the craft developed so many stained glass windows began to acknowledge or even reproduce contemporary paintings . Paintings by Raphaël were popular, for example. Thus, the flat, decorative language that is so characteristic of early stained glass windows gave way to a pictorial language that was more closely aligned to contemporary oil paintings.

Whilst windows of this type have some admirable qualities, I find windows that work with the constraints and celebrate the unique qualities of this media more appealing, more authentic when compared to windows that seek to transpose painted representations or the language of oil paintings to stained glass.

In more recent times, artists such as Georges Rouault, Georges Braque and Marc Chagall have very successfully moved from canvas to glass. I think this is because these artists are less concerned with perspective, which of course breaks/disrupts the surface of an image as the eye is drawn towards a vanishing point. The vocabulary of these artists, so at ease with rich colour, is more decorative and is such that it finds expression as much in the language of glass as paint.

With hindsight, I can't help wondering if my observations on stained glass have been a lesson on translation too. Aren't the differences in imagery produced by the use of the different media (in this case oil painting and glass) available to artists and the constraints and qualities of these media akin to translation where the same problems and issues of transposition, adaptation and modulation in different languages arise ?

In any case, thinking about all this has prompted me to browse the internet for photographs of stained glass windows. Take a look at the window by Jacques Gruber at the aquarium at the Ecole de Nancy.

Gruber's work is wonderfully decorative. There is no attempt to render the glass "invisible". By that I mean the viewer is always conscience of the media ; you know you are looking at a coloured glass window. Nevertheless, there is an expression of movement and light that evokes an aquatic environment. Gruber achieves this I think by playing with the differences in the opacity of the glass... to beautiful effect !

Unearthing the forgotten

Rummaging through my old computer (remember from my previous blog : my usual computer is feigning death and I've had to resurrect my old computer, which was languishing and gathering dust under the bed), I found this little doodle. I'd completely forgotten about it. One of life's little pleasures, hey ? Finding things we'd long forgotten. Almost makes my usual computer dying on me worth it... almost !

Literal versus free translations

Yesterday, my reading of a recent post in Brave New Words ( entitled The Best Translations ? (21/10/08) prompted me to look at the list of the 50 best translations from the last 50 years, as determined by the Society of Authors ( This in turn has caused me to reflect on the criteria used to judge translations.

Translations are of course sometimes deemed good or bad according to how loyal they are to their source text, or how literal they are. This question of literal versus free translation has long been a concern for translators and readers of translation alike. Certainly, its a tricky issue, not least because how close a translator should adhere to the original text, respect the author's voice or conversely modulate the translation to suit the reader depends on a number of variables including the purpose of both the original text and its translation. Both approaches therefore have their potential merits.

Whatever, reflection on this subject has reminded me of comments on literature by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, which I studied in my final year at university. I must say, I don't find Derrida's writings particularly transparent. Nevertheless, in an interview conducted by Derrek Attridge, documented in English under the title This Strange Institution Called Literature (published by Routledge), Derrida talks about literature as a repetition, a reiteration of an event (real or conceptual) and likewise he evokes the aptitude of literature towards transcendental reading. He discusses the instability of the meaning of a literary text, which, once in the public domain, is subject to a multitude of interpretations that result from the dialogue that the text prompts. A text is therefore organic, it's a living creature that has the capacity to evolve and to take on an existence entirely independent of its referent, i.e. its author (an idea reminiscent of Barthes' Death of the Author). In this respect then, the translator can play a role in this marginalization of the author as well as the text's liberation from its author's dominance and the evolution of its meaning.

So, it strikes me that a literal translation that is particularly conscience of the author's voice and presence in this living organism, this beast that is their writings, could be compared to the work of taxidermist who seeks to preserve at least the appearance of the animal in its original state, whilst a free translation submits to and willingly engages in the forces of evolution that must surely act on any text in the public domain. But again, none of this allows us to say which is right, a literal or free translation. Both fulfil a function. This is why for me, defining a translation as good or bad purely by the degree to which it acknowledges the author's voice, signature, presence, is misleading as surely the worth of a translation, beyond the basic issues of accuracy, should be determined according to its appropriateness. This is why I think when judging a translation it might be more constructive to give greater weight to the question of how much it satisfies the needs that prompted its necessity.

Ouf ! Heavy cogitations ! And sadly, I have no images to offer to lighten the tone of today's post as my usual computer has died on me. Needless to say, my thoughts today will be less on what makes a good translation and more on the practicalities of retrieving my precious files from the dark, mysterious depths of my laptop. Wish me luck !

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Moth orchids, zebra finches and Vulcans

Horticulturally speaking, my current preoccupation is an orchid, or to be precise a phalaenopsis. For the profanus amongst us, the moth orchid is apparently the most popular orchid grown as a house-plant, at least in terms of the numbers sold. Up until now, I've steered clear of such exotic creatures fearing the special care they need. However, I've now acquired a specimen by way of a thank-you gift from a friend saying it with flowers.
Needless to say, the instructions (in 4 languages), which accompanied the plant, were rather rudimentary : light - bright but no direct sunlight ; temperature - between 18 and 22°C ; water occasionally but don't leave any water in the pot ; feed occasionally and cut the flower stem back to the 3rd or 4th eye after flowering. Being so succinct, the information suggested more questions than it answered. Fortunately, I live near a very good garden centre that presently has an indoor display of orchids growing in the intersections of tree branches set up as supports. The display, like a picture, spoke a thousand words. I now understand, with further reading, that orchids of this kind are epiphytic, they grow on the surface of other plants but are not parasitic. In their natural habitat, aerial orchids typically live on the branches of trees in communities with other epiphytic plants. They are true survivors as their arboreal colonisation is the result of a lack of light on the forest floor.
Certainly, epiphytic orchids are well adapted to their lofty accommodation with aerial roots that draw in moisture and nutrients more from the surrounding air than the scant vegetable matter in which they nestle. This explains the very dry and loose compost and the clear plastic pots in which commercially-grown orchids are usually sold. The roots need light.
So, forearmed with this information I have opted to hang my orchid in a net from the ceiling in the bathroom where I hope it will enjoy the temperate and humid atmosphere, the dappled light and the company of the other plants that seem to be living quite happily there.
The orchid flowers are indeed exquisite. I quite understand Tuvok's predilection for orchidaceae. Following the footsteps of his forebear Spock, the Vulcan officer serving on board the star ship Voyager has an understandable propensity for perfection. Tuvok's collection of orchids suggests that Voyager is equipped with a lighting system that truly imitates daylight - no doubt essential for the well-being of its crew (and its on-board garden) wandering at length through space. Apologies for the digression but I can't help it, aliens with pointed ears and irritating logic always come to mind when I see an orchid. Maybe if ever we make first contact an offering of orchids should be our welcoming gesture, à la Hawaiian who are said to say it with flowers.
In the meantime, I'm enjoying the position of my orchid and may indeed fix a few more hooks into the ceiling so that I can expand this epiphytic community. With the zebra finches that I've painted on the bathroom tiles peeking through its foliage, my phalaenopsis at least 'looks' well suited to its new location. That being said, after this initial research I have some concerns about my orchidaceae : when the plant reached me it leaves were showing some discolouring, a result perhaps of inappropriate conditions in the shop or in transit ? Still, most things want to live and hopefully, with a bit of gentle nurturing, it will pull through the ordeal of all the man-handling its endured to date.