Who’s been in my bed lately?

Yesterday, apparently, was International Translators’ Day.  I missed it. It’s not a UN International Day so it wasn’t on my list of observances. It was brought to my attention by a friend of mine who happens to be  translator; he sent me this rather charming picture in the post. (Trans: How many authors do you take to bed with you?)

irish I have to fess up and admit to be a bookslut, shamelessly sharing my bed with two or three or even four at a time. Right now, I’m on the verge of what looks like a promising relationship with one Erik Larson (him of Time magazine fame). I have two of his books waiting to be read: The devil in the white city and In the garden of beasts. And, curiously, I decided that before reading the books, I’d get to know the author a little. That’s a first for me – usually I rush hastily in and often find myself repenting at leisure. Larson seems like a nice chap; he, too, reads aloud to spot grammar errors and voices that are somewhat off and does so to a specially composed soundtrack that suits the mood of whatever book he’s working on. What a novel approach (excuse the pun).

Markus Zusak is also hogging the sheets with his novel narrated by Death – The Book Thief. The French translation has the title/strapline: la voleuse de livres ; quand la mort vous raconte une histoire, vous avez tout intérêt à l’écouter – which, if my schoolgirl French still holds, means something like – The Book Thief – when death tells you a story, you want to listen. Zusak’s book is the result of stories he heard as a child in his mum’s kitchen, of her experiences growing up during the War. When asked in an interview what makes him write now, Zusak had this to say: To me the question is always this: if a ray of light came out of the sky and said, “Your next book will never be published – would you still write it?” If the answer is yes, the book is worth writing. I quite like him. We’ll get on well.

West Indian novelist Jean Rhys summarised this love affair with books beautifully: Reading makes immigrants of us all. It takes us away from home, but more important, it finds home for us everywhere. I get lonely at times, despite being blessed with good friends all over the world. And when I do, I find refuge in my books. I simply can’t imagine a world without them and wonder if my recent stockpiling has anything to do with a subconscious fear that the life of the printed book is coming to an end; will it be supplanted by odorless, intangible electronic text? Not in my lifetime, I hope.





Not all schnitzel and sausage

When I pitch Vienna against Budapest or even Bratislava, it always comes in third. I’ve never taken to the city – and I have no idea why. It seems a little sterile and old-fashioned, without a sense of humour. It seems to take itself far too seriously. Yes, it has some magnificent buildings and some spectacular museums and galleries. And yes, it’s the home of sacher torte, that delicious chocolate cake immortalised by Franz Sacher in 1832 (interestingly, he trained first in Bratislava and then in Budapest, before ending up in Vienna). And yes, it has some great schnitzel and sausage, but aside from all this, there has always been something missing…for me. Vienna was just a little too predictable.

But this time around, I was taken to the Naschmarkt and was suitably impressed. Aside from the usual fare of fresh fruit, veg, and flowers, this market does a roaring trade in fresh fish and lamb. And lamb to die for. Many many years ago, while in the village butchers with my mother, I laughed at the conversation she had with the butcher in which both were rhapsodising about a leg of lamb. For the life of me, I failed to see how anyone could be so taken with a piece of meat. Then, in Anchorage, Alaska,  I found a real butchers with real cuts of meat. When I stopped to admire a rack of lamb on display, he quickly nipped in the back and brought me out the finest leg I’d seen in years. It had happened – I’d turned into my mother. The same happened on Thursday in Vienna as I ogled the cutlets, the shoulders, the racks, and the legs of lamb and wondered for the umpteenth time why Budapest’s markets are practically lamb-less. I can see me taking the train to Vienna on a lamb spree someday soon.

The market is truly cosmopolitan and perhaps for the first time I glimpsed the city’s multicultural ethnicity. Vendors from all over the world plied their trade in prepared food and ingredients. Had I not been so focused on schnitzel for dinner, I could easily have lost myself in the Indonesian food on offer. On Saturday, the market extends to include a flea market – enough in itself to warrant a return journey. But perhaps one of the most exciting finds of all was an international discount bookshop with a huge variety of English books on sale. To be able to sample new authors without paying an arm and a leg for the experience is a very underrated pleasure. I browsed, I bought, and I went back for seconds.