Wednesday 27 April 2011
Here we are, Margaret and myself, in the summer of 2008 among Italian friends. The setting is a converted farmhouse in the countryside near Perugia. On Friday (29 April) we are returning for a few days to the farmhouse, where we spent a most amazing and creative year in 1994 – 1995. We are looking forward to meeting these friends again after almost three years, which is the longest period we have stayed away from the place since our year's sojourn there.
The area has become the setting for a gothic novel, 'A Year's Midnight', which I hope to publish shortly. I have already published a number of excerpts from it on this blog, e.g. 'A Desecration of Considerable Magnitude' and 'The Canine Position on Abortion'.
The idea of the novel was a sort of 'what if?' proposition. What if the year we spent in Italy had been a complete disaster, instead of a complete success? Imagine two characters like yourselves, who arrive in the heart of rural Italy with a five-year-old child, knowing practically nobody, with only a rudimentary knowledge of the language, hoping to make it a period of renewal, and everything gradually goes haywire for them.
It is largely thanks to the people in this photo, and a number of others, that we can look back on that year in Umbria with such affection and vivid memories.
Friday 15 April 2011
The person I am pointing at in the above photograph is Derry O'Sullivan, an Irish poet who has lived the best part of his life in Paris, and writes in Irish, translating much of his work into French and English. The occasion is the launching last year of his fourth collection, An bhfuil cead agam dul amach, má's é do thoil é? at the Centre Culturel Irlandais. The title means 'May I go out, please?' (literally Do I have permission to to go out, if it is your will?) Three of O'Sullivan's collections have titles which are questions, the previous two questions being 'Where is your Judas?' meaning judas-eye but with a hint of betrayal, and 'Where is the landlord of l'Univers?' – l'Univers being a pub in Paris which Derry frequented, but with a hint of God. His other collection is a long poem which was sparked by the discovery that his apartment in Paris housed a Jewish family during the Second World War, and that the family were taken away by the Nazis; it is called An lá go dtáinig siad – 'The day they came'.
'An bhfuil cead agam dul amach má's é do thoil é?' is quite a lengthy title for a book, and indeed it was quite a mouthful for a primary school child in the 1950s to have to say if he or she wanted to – or pretended to want to – leave the classroom and go to the toilet. In my primary school in Ballyline, County Kilkenny, it became truncated to 'Mac-mac a dul é?' which of course is complete gibberish, reminiscent of the gibberish anglicisation of many Irish place-names, e.g. Knockcrockery, which to me conjures up an image of mayhem in a china shop. And what may we say about Termonfeckin?