The flower-bunch principle – working wood in the garden and other matters (Beware: patience required!)

Dear readers of my blog,

it is almost to the day a month since my last intervention on the Internet, please allow for my absence in such personally and politically intense times when even the editor-in-chief of our local and regional daily paper cannot but tone down his language. Sometimes silence is more than gold when if you had spoken too early or too rashly would have meant that it is worth a lot less than silver.

Having subscribed to this paper for almost eighteen years, I thought when giving notice in December that it would take some time to digest this loss of reading the latest on politics, the economy, local events as well as culture and sports in the early hours every week day under the sun but as with most of my subscriptions in the past I was off the hook quite quickly. Now I enjoy reading both a Jewish and a Christian weekly which provide me with a diet of specialized as well as general news and commentary that is still very refreshing given that they, too, compete with online media.

As a reader of Wilde, I have always been wary of newspaper polemics and, certainly, of bad journalism. And as a reader of Victor Hugo whose novel Notre-Dame the Paris – 1482 was published on 16th March 1831, a hundred and eighty-nine years ago today, I have also learned to take newspaper headlines with a pinch of salt, so that now when public life as such has come to a halt in most of the EU countries the situation in which Hugo wrote this page-turner is one I can imagine without any problems.

Given that he had succeeded in extending the last deadline for handing in that novel by two months owing to a sheaf of manuscripts purportedly lost or mislaid on the Left Bank following the July Revolution in Paris in 1830, while he had moved to the vicinity of the Champs-Élysées some months earlier, on the Right Bank that is, he was sure that this ploy would not work another time, so that he isolated himself in his writing-chamber, spending most of the autumn and winter 1830/1831 surrounded by his books and papers as well as composing his novel.

At this moment, however, myself being only the editor of a translation first published in 1969, I have more leisure to study this translation in comparison with the original French than I could have dreamed of when accepting the commission last year. As the editor, I feel responsible for providing the readers with a reliable text, which means that I scan the translation for the beginnings and sometimes also the endings of paragraphs with the purpose of having the same paragraph structure in both languages. This is important because the rhythm of Hugo’s text is determined by his paragraphing as well as by a certain oral quality. This cannot always be retained since the translator did not invariably decide to accept Hugo’s lengthy sentences.

As the editor, I also sometimes fill in gaps left in the text for no obvious reason whatsoever, unless one accepts that the typesetter sometimes suffered from an eye skip, meaning that he jumped ahead and forgot to typeset a certain sentence or phrase – which gap in the text was subsequently overlooked by the translator or editor or both. This, too, can easily be explained by the fact that translators and editors do not always read the complete text in both languages when reading the proofs. They ought to but for a lack of time they do not – more often than not, I suppose – having committed this sin myself several times.

This means that they act like gardeners who have left some wood in the garden after cutting down a tree and chaffing the branches and twigs some time later. They fail to do their homework once they see the finishing-line, the deadline, that is, looming ahead. This is also what needed to happen in our garden after a white-thorn had suddenly fallen across the metal fence in our back garden following one of the spring storms this year. Last week, one neighbor was willing to use his chain-saw to cut down the tree, while today another neighbor helped out with his chaffing machine – aka “all in”, according to the firm that had produced it. Indeed, it chaffs anything that does not exceed the width of a thumb, and does so to perfection with noises not dissimilar to cars running on two cylinders only. Two adults and up to three children aged five, six and eleven happily cut and collected the remainders of the tree, putting them into the wheelbarrow before all was carried to our neighbor’s carport where he keeps his “all-in” chaffing machine run by a four kilowatt machine that needs high-voltage, which was the reason why we were unable to do this in our own garden given that the neighbor’s cable measured only ten meters.

You may have been wondering about the title of this blog: Here is why I chose it: when you hand branches and twigs to be chaffed to the handler of the machine take care that you follow the bunch-of-flower principle, holding the short end and passing how many branches and twigs you can take that way to him or her, so that you avoid scratching or hitting him or her with the long ends. Obviously, this is one of the lessons I learned from two taciturn neighbors whose handyman I was Monday a week ago and this afternoon. It was something I have come to the country to for and which I have been waiting for very patiently all these days – as if I had known all along that one day it would pay to have chosen to leave the “madding crowd” (Thomas Hardy) of the “fair to middling” (Samuel Beckett) city Münster just after having turned forty in March 2002. It goes without saying, however, that I did not foresee then that living in the country would be helpful at such crucial moments as during the current Covid-19 crisis – a global one that makes people stay at home and cross the street when soon all but supermarkets, the chemists and banks will close down. The crisis such that islands as well as mountain valleys have become closed zones for tourists. So what can you do but read, telephone and ponder your life both past, present and future. Do not hesitate to do so, now is the time. We may emerge both fortified and cleansed.

All best wishes,

Jörg W. Rademacher, 16th March 2020


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