‘Astonishing travellers’ is a Weblog about literature, art, heritage and translating – from France, where I live, and from French, which has travelled well and is written and spoken by people on every continent. It’s about the writers, artists, books, artworks and events I enjoy and am privileged to come across for a living. Readers of French books may recognise the borrowed name of a major film and lit fest held every year in Saint-Malo, whose founder Michel Le Bris spearheads a campaign to move on from the conventional distinction between French and ‘francophone’ literature (read a summary in The White Review here).
Because every translated book, every writer and artist is an astonishing traveller. So many of my favourites have journeyed between continents, cultures, media, genders: Matisse, psychogeographer Jean Rolin, Gabrielle Wittkop, Hubert Haddad, Olivier Truc… And in English? W. G. Sebald, E.M. Forster, Patrick Leigh Fermor, H. V. Morton, Eric Newby, Dervla Murphy, Freya Stark, Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin and more.
Why the flying books?
Because a book translated is a book that grows wings, and takes flight.
Why the photograph?
Because Saint Malo’s inshore islets are home to the tomb of Châteaubriand, the location and design of which was toute une histoire (as the French say) – a whole other story of municipal objections, scandal and opprobrium. At high tide, the poet is cut off from the mainland, unattainable in his splendid isolation, at peace with the lonely sea and the sky. But at low tide, the stone causeway connecting him to us is exposed, and we can stroll across with ease.
Great writing or art may not be recognised by its contemporaries, but it may stand the test of time and tide. Sometimes, the ebb and flow prevent us from connecting with it, and sometimes they lay bare the bridges that were there all along. A little like language, perhaps, and translation.