Paris, December 1993

1993 was a very, very long time ago, but what a time! On and off for about a year I slept on the floor of the shrine room at the apartment in rue Burq that Babette lent to Sogyal Rinpoche as centre and home. It was a very old apartment, as run down and dilapidated as many I’ve seen in India in more recent times. And the public parts (the kitchen, the bathroom) were positively medieval. Yet, it was a magical place. Bang smack in the middle of Montmatre, we had on our doorstep: the gourmand’s paradise, Rue Lepic; the marvellous, if architecturally confused, Sacre Coeur Cathedral; the tourist trap that is the Moulin Rouge; and the brazenly outrageous transvestites of Pigalle. Something for everyone…

Sogyal Rinpoche had published the original English version of  The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying  the previous year, and it was time for the European editions to be launched. A team had been assembled to facilitate Rinpoche’s French tour and as a result some nights I slept with twenty human beings, snoring and farting their way to an early call, or just a phone and the shrine mice.

Patrick Gaffney was around quite a lot in those days, supporting Rinpoche as what, post The West Wing, we might now call his ‘speech writer’. Can you imagine him as Toby Ziegler to Rinpoche’s Jed Bartlett? Perhaps not. I found this photo of him the other day. A bit fuzzy, but it serves to oil those cogs that I’m so desperate to get moving again.

Anyway, as you know Patrick is a wonderful writer, translator and poet, and someone whose advice and opinion I wish I could seek more often. But he sets the bar very high indeed, and as part of some wonderful solicited advice he sent recently, he included the following quotation.

“Ariel and Chana Boch say in their The Song of Songs, A New Translation, New York: Random House, 1995, p. 41: ‘One of the major challenges facing a translator today is to find the proper register in English, neither too formal and stylized nor too breezy and colloquial—language that is fresh and urgent and passionate, and at the same time dignified.’ ”

It’s good, don’t you think? After the first, second and third readings I felt giddy with enthusiastic determination, inspiration surged through my previously atrophied creative channels and I knew I was the equal of this and any other challenge life threw at me. But once that initial light-headedness began to clear I started seriously thinking about how such advice might be put into practice. And now, some months later, the reality of the task ahead is so vivid and its horrors so tightly riveted to my already hyperbolic imagination that I am daily racked and terrorized by the mere thought of it. If ever a girl needed a ‘muse of fire’…

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