Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009 (Part II)

Monday, July 20, 2009 (Part II)
Ljubljana, Slovenia

Kevin here.

Michael has already described the main focus of the day, which was meeting Barbara Simoniti and learning about her own personal ‘voyages’ in the world of nonsense. So I’ll write about a few other things.

First, some good news for the project; we received an email this morning from Dr. Mavis Reimer, Canada Research Chair in Children’s Culture, and my colleague at the University of Winnipeg. Mavis wrote to inform us that the Center for Young People’s Texts and Culture (CRYTC) at Winnipeg has pledged some financial support for this voyage. Many thanks to Mavis for that. This support along with two other grants from U Winnipeg have helped to make this trip possible.

Moving on to other things—When I’m not making a movie of my eye I try to keep at least one eye open for images of dragons in Eastern Europe. I think I mentioned the dragon that was apparently attacking our train bound from Romania to Bulgaria… Fact is, lots of dragon tales and fairy tales about dragons come from this corner of the world. Dragon lore is all around us on this trip.

According to one legend Ljubljana was protected by a dragon that guarded, in medieval times, what was the one bridge leading into the town. Thus today Ljubljana proudly displays fierce statues on the four corners of what is now known as “Dragon Bridge.” It’s interesting that the legendary dragon of Ljubljana was a protector of its people, and not a tormentor, as is usually the case in European folklore. Normally European dragons are good only to be hunted up and beheaded. Thus we have the legends of St. George and the Dragon in England, and the related tales of St. Patrick and the snakes of Ireland and even St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. All these stories position dragons as evil, as representatives of the pagan belief system that Christianity was struggling to erase. But in Ljubljana it’s different. Here the dragon protected the people from invasion, like a patron Saint, really. In this way the Ljubljana dragon is a lot more like Asian dragons, who were often wise and served as protectors of the people. Dragon carvings and sculpture were everywhere in Ljubljana. Below are a few examples that I snapped photos of.

Click on the photos to enlarge them:

One of the Four Dragons that sit on the corners of Dragon Bridge

Dragon carrying off sheep (pub sign)

Wrought Iron dragon in the entrance to the castle above town

A poster advertising a play

There are, no doubt, more dragon legends that will come our way. In Brno, in the Czech Republic, there is a story about a giant alligator/crocodile-like-thing that ravaged the town. And I know that once we get to Krakow in Poland, we will see plenty of images of the famous dragon, Krak, for whom the city is named.


Monday, 20 July 2009: Day 2 in Ljubljana, Slovenia

After meeting with an unintentional kielbasa for breakfast, I joined Kevin in front of Stari Tisler, where we met Barbara Simoniti, novelist, translator, poet, and, yes, nonsense scholar. We believe, of all the improbable things, that she is the only scholar of nonsense literature in Slovenia, having written her doctoral dissertation on Slovene translations of Alice in Wonderland, as well as a monograph called simply “Nonsens” that deals with certain astute theoretical issues concerning the mechanics of nonsense brought up in her dissertation, in addition to the manifestations of nonsense in Slovenia, particularly in terms of fool’s tales. We sat down at a table in the back of the open courtyard, ordered coffee and tea, and dove straight into our shared passion. Barbara was boiling over with tales of her entry into the nonsense world, her graduate work and seminal scholarship. We eased into easy shop talk only found with those who Know—with those who have breathed nonsense, and found it Good. She gave us a copy of her book and told us about her further discoveries in, as Wim Tigges puts it, the “anatomy of nonsense,” such as the idea of serial addition, and the constant use of “thing.” Because Slovene translators have not understood some of these (and other) basic components of nonsense, they have failed to produce solid translations. As opposed to many whom we have met who think that nonsense is impossible to translate, Barbara was confident that, with a proper knowledge of how it actually works, particularly in its performative aspects, nonsense translation was quite possible. Music to our ears! We talked about the Slovene fools’ tales, world turned upside-down folktales, and certain jokes without punch lines (like the one I knew as a child: Two polar bears were taking a bath. One said to the other, “Could you please pass the soap.” The other said, “Are you sure you don’t mean the radio?). She thought there might be some nonsensical graffiti in Ljubljana, as well. Lastly, we asked if she might write her own nonsense piece for the anthology, which seemed quite appealing to her. Overall, she seemed delighted to re-immerse herself in this passion that she had let rest for quite a few years, since the publication of her book.

Time passed quickly, and we had to part after a couple of hours, but we planned to meet the next morning to give her all the material we had received from Milena. After going back to our room, however, we thought it would be an Excellent Plan to continue our conversation later that same evening, so we called her and set up a time to meet in a city center bar.

One significant regret that I shall perhaps always have is that I did not make a recording of the band that was playing near the café where we waited. It included, of course, a keyboard’s synthesized drums, a four-piece boyish band that oozed the most insipid ooh-ahh Europop imaginable. The only mercy was that we could not understand the lyrics. Barbara arrived, saving us from the music and weak drinks, and we settled amongst the ice cream eaters in another riverside café, where we continued to talk about how we all came to run with wild nonsense. When the staff seemed willing to close the table umbrellas on our heads, we sloped homewards.

In the morning, as I avoided all giant kielbasas who seemed to have a design on me, we met again briefly with Barbara, when she showed us her doorstop dissertation, an incredibly thorough comparison of Slovene translations of Alice and where they went tragically wrong. We talked about plans to come, received a copy of her book that we will deliver to Wim Tigges, encouraged her yet again to send us her own original nonsense, and said our farewells. Meeting Barbara was, for me, a little like meeting Anushka Ravishankar, at the time the only published writer of nonsense in India, all those years ago: an improbable yet incredibly fortunate nonsense confluence. As we parted, Barbara summed it all up perfectly: “It is a very great occasion to be both stupid and clever.”