Bring Us More Whisky!

UPDATE: The Water of Life has its very own website!

Attention whisky lovers, history buffs, avid readers and fans of vivid storytelling!

For the last couple of years, I’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and love into translating a fantastic, award-winning French-Canadian novel called L’eau de vie (Uisghe beatha) by Daniel Marchildon from French into English. This is a story all about whisky and whisky-making, a historical epic which dances between times and places in Scotland and Canada, and also a family saga full of mystery. I’m really gripped by this book, I feel it should be shared with a wider audience – and that’s why I’m excited to announce that my English-language translation, The Water of Life, will be published quite soon (July 15th 2015) by Odyssey Books!

I look forward to sharing The Water of Life with the world. Slàinte (cheers)!

 

Insidious Occupation

Ask yourself: “What exactly is a border, and why do we (‘we’ referring to human beings in general) often fight so hard, go so far in different ways, to defend them?”

This is a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately, given the conflict that has been happening in Ukraine and has appeared often in the news media over the past few months. Family members of mine have paid attention, and as a result, have engaged me, as well as friends of theirs, in conversation on the subject.

Please take note, however, that this post is meant neither as economic nor as political analysis. It is, instead, a collection of personal impressions and opinions. As such, it will probably contain personal bias as well.

So why should I care about Ukraine, then, since I am not Ukranian, and have no connections to or direct personal investment in the country? A fair question.

I’ll start by saying that my family and I are Latvian, which means in my case that, although I didn’t experience the Soviet Russian occupation directly, I’ve heard much about it from family and friends who did. I also volunteered at the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia for the summer a few years ago. That experience taught me a lot about how both Germany and Russia behaved as invading and occupying powers, at various times between 1940 and 1991. I’ll let the museum speak for itself (seriously, check it out  – it cares about teaching people), but one of the overwhelming impressions I came away with was that being occupied by Russia is an awful, degrading experience which tramples all over human rights and human dignity.

With this in mind, I care because I feel a certain sense of solidarity. I’m aware of what a very large country can be capable of doing to a smaller one – especially if the larger feels that it can claim territory or people from the smaller, regardless of the smaller one’s established sovereignty or possible wishes to the contrary.

It’s true that ethnically Russian people, who speak the Russian language, live all over Eastern Europe. I don’t support these people being discriminated against as minorities in their countries of residence –  something that can happen all too easily, anywhere there are groups of people large enough (in comparison to other groups present in the same area) to describe themselves as majorities. No one should be treated that way, ever. I will admit, however, that given the Russian state’s track record during the Soviet era – a record characterised by violent invasion, suppression of culture, unexplained imprisonment and deportation of people who didn’t agree with it, and other charming behaviour –  I’m deeply suspicious of that state’s motives. I don’t want Eastern Europe to be absorbed into Russia, piece by piece – again.

I’m scared too – not only for the people in Ukraine, who are currently experiencing violent invasion and have experienced manipulation of their democratic elections, but for all the people in smaller states near Russia, who run the same risk.

Money can but a lot of things, including votes, and through them, political influence as well as power. I wouldn’t be surprised, honestly, if the liberal use of money to influence elections in surrounding countries – including the upcoming Latvian parliamentary election on October 4th – were part of the Russian state strategy for reclaiming former Soviet territories. Yes, the situation has been explained to me by people who understand it much better than I do. Still, now that I am better informed, sorry, Russia – I have no intention of playing along.

Less “Femme Fatale”, More Intriguing Human Being

“A Song for Lucrezia Borgia” / “Una canzone per Lucrezia Borgia” Lucrezia, Lucrezia, Lucrezia Your name sings and murmurs from the pages of my history books, set in a tapestry of popes, dukes, kings. How shall I understand you, who you are? Tiny curling vines spiral up from the printed words, thorny and bitter – […]

Books Coming to Life

“Scriptorium”

Quill pens scratch, feet shuffle,

voices read aloud in droning monotones –

noise reigns here,

where books are born.

Scribes with hedge-trimmed hair

scrape sheets of sheepskin parchment,

tasting its pearly glow

with sensitive fingertips.

Purposeful clutter crowds around –

jars of coloured ink with a hundred smells;

knives for trimming quills;

needles, thread, cover-leather.

A monk with nose so sharp

it nearly punches through his skin

strides up and down, back and forth,

keeping order.

Illuminators,

fingers all stained red and blue and green,

take the pages full of graceful script,

surround words

with images, borders, curls so bright

it takes more than the eye to see them.

A hundred years from now

someone will hold a manuscript made here,

feel every life that touched it,

hear every voice

whose hand scrawled bored, laughing notes

in the margins.

~ Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

A Tribute to Piracy

“Gràinne”

First night aboard this ship,

the waves make me sick.

Still, we’re sailing

with you –

a woman people at home

always talk of with such tales,

I wonder how

you can be real.

‘The Sea-Queen of Connaught’, –

there’s one of the names

I’ve heard.

Yet, here on the water,

you’re simply ‘Captain Gràinne’

– that’s enough.

Dawn creeps

across the deck,

we dash into a cove,

waiting…

Suddenly, there’s an excited hiss

from the crow’s-nest swaying high above

We leap out,

nipping at the English trader,

darting swift as swift.

Like the other powder-monkeys,

I must dash to keep the cannon loaded,

silently praying

not to drop a cannonball.

I can hardly hear or see

through the bangs and shouting,

the drifting smoke and flying splinters.

When quiet returns,

the trader’s mainmast

leans shakily, shattered,

her cargo trickling into our hold.

The English captain,

twitching with rage,

shouts from his deck,

cursing your name.

‘God damn you, Grace O’Malley,

into Hell!’

I look at you –

back straight and proud, hair flying,

eyes bright, hard, sad and strong.

No curse comes to my lips, only admiration

for our Pirate Queen!

Calm waters beneath, we’re sailing alone again,

yet the crew are cheering still:

Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol! Gràinne Mhaol!’

But how can you be bald?

That silly nickname

makes no sense at all,

so I start giggling, stormy-wild.

Somehow you hear –

there you are before me!

‘What’s this, a bhuachaill, sassing your captain?’

But then you’re grinning,

and I know you’re just like me –

sassing everyone within reach.

– Marta Ziemelis. Written in Dubai, copyright 2013.

Here’s another piece in what I like to call my “Moments in History” series. I’ve been fascinated by pirates, and the history and culture of piracy, for a long time, though I’m not quite sure how that fascination began. On a number of Hallowe’en’s I have in fact dressed in pirate costume, as a way to connect to their world – romanticized though my view of that world may be. And the greater the swashbuckling air generated by the costume, the better!

Gráinne Ní Mháille (a common English version of her name is Grace O’Malley) has been one of my favourite historical and legendary pirates for some time – partly because she successfully accomplished a number of things which were generally thought of as unacceptable activities for women in her country and time period, and partly because she is an Irish historical-legendary figure. As any of my friends will tell you, I have a keen interest in Irish myth and folklore. To learn a bit more about Gráinne, check out this article.)

I owe thanks to my good friend Cam Wachowich for generously assisting me with some of the Irish in this poem. Any grammatical errors are my own. Go raibh míle maith agat, a chara!