I’ve translated ten pages and that’s enough work for today. It’s raining heavily, so I can’t go out for a walk in the grounds this afternoon. Determined, steady rain that heralds the autumn. Hard rain that chills the air until it seeps into your bones. Insidious. You notice it only when you suddenly shudder and realise that your fingers and nose are cold, and a stiffness has lodged itself in your neck and shoulders.
The eighteenth-century courtyard, where the stables and servant quarters used to be, is deserted. There is nobody strolling around the fountain, discussing whether or not a translator should keep the punctuation choices of the original author, nobody sitting on the white plastic chairs under the sun-bleached mauve parasol, drinking a pre-dinner apétirif, nobody reading on deck chairs outside the French windows of their rooms. No footsteps crunching on the gravel. Just the gurgle of the fountain against the teeming rain. A relief on the even, hard backdrop. What’s the word for the hissing, swishing, steadily drumming sound this rain makes? The old dovecote is silent. Its windows have been closed up for centuries. All around the white and grey courtyard, a thick wall of trees encircling the buildings, standing there as reminders that they’ve been here much longer than this Château in Wallonia. What are these trees called? Their heavy foliage is swaying in the light wind. Are there words for the different shades of its rich greens? I wish I knew them. Shades that alter as the wind moves them and the light slowly fades.
The other translators are at a seminar, or in the library upstairs, or working in their rooms. I’ve made the long, oval dining room table my space for today. A bored fly lands on my laptop keyboard, then scurries around the amaranth-red tablecloth, drawn to the clusters of breadcrumbs left over after lunch. What’s the word for the tiny trunk the fly extends to suck up the food? It lands on my head, then on my hand. I wave it away and it whizzes off with a frustrated buzzing. A wasp crawls up the window-pane. The glass offers a safety partition between it and a perfectly engineered spider’s web that occasionally stirs in the wind. In the distance, the caw of a lonely crow as it flies across the pale grey canvas of the sky and vanishes into the rich texture of swaying, breathing green. Emerald, avocado, Kelly green, Spring bud, dark olive green. No. None of these words convey the exact colour of these trees, because none of them captures the breath that imbues them.
I fill the chilly dining room with sounds from the music in my laptop. Sounds that best match the colours and feel of the day. On a day like this, I want the languid notes of a period, languid violin. Pandolfi. Von Biber. Hume. Baltzar. Passionate yet vulnerable. Introspective.
Someone walks through the dining room and I suddenly feel the space around me shrink. “Ooh! It’s cold in here,” she says. “Why don’t you come and work upstairs in the library? It’s a lot warmer.”
“No, thank you, I’m really quite comfortable here,” I reply, slouching over my laptop.
She stands looking at me for a moment, then slowly walks away. And I sense the space around me start to expand once again.
* Please also see The Castle of Translators