"Robbing an hour from `du Temps Perdu ` 8 April 2013
It was a frozen morning, we traveled for over an hour by car, when we reached the hills of Liege. My father, who sat in the front turned towards me and told me this was a mountainous area “Sure” I laughed “ I come from Haifa, those are not mountains!”. The hills there are flat, elongated as well as rounded, they remind one of huge slopes tumbling down towards a valley or a deep wide river. Groups of trees, possibly a grove, or maybe a remnant of an ancient forest, stand or maybe are `stuck` here and there. Tiny villages with a small grayish church, a street or two, and a few lonely farms, appeared in the car windows for a moment and disappeared before we realized how they looked.
From the moment we left the highway, the small road was covered with asphalt but full of pot holes as the result of the weather. Every so often we had to stop the car and stick as close as possible to a green hedge or a stone wall to let a loaded tractor pass by. In some of the fields cows stood idly unimpressed by the gray weather.
At a certain moment the road split into two, a half broken wall with a few tall trees behind which stood a kind of half ruined `tower`, a deep moat filled partly with murky green water and partly with trees and tall bushes standing maybe in the water maybe not . The `tower` and the rectangle two floored house, didn’t look like the typical local farm house. Farmhouses in that area are usually U shaped connecting the animal sheds to the house. It occurred to me that it might have been once a village Capella with a Rectory.
Inside the court yard there were a few quite neglected tiny buildings, a garden that may have seen better days , but a variety of fruit trees. A gaunt man who looked the age of Methuselah mumbled something to us . A tiny woman with huge spectacles appeared from a door :” come on come on Marion , let’s see how you look now?”. If she calls me by my former Dutch name than she probably knew me once many years ago. I knew we were going to visit `Thérèse the Translator` but I had no idea she knew me.
Until that moment Thérèse was for me a pleasant voice over the phone. A woman who called my father at the oddest hours asking for Dutch terms from the beginning of the 20th century because she is translating Proust and wants to do it in the the Dutch of his time [ since the beginning of the 20th century Dutch has gone through several official spelling changes].
The kitchen was huge, like many farm kitchens, heated with several tiny radiators. lit with some lamps hanging from electric cords . On one side were several shelves with jars of home preserved veggies, but mostly there were, on every surface, many stacks of papers, bound with large rubber bands or thin ropes. On a small table stood an old fashioned typewriter and lots of pencils, pens and papers, papers and more papers. “let’s make tea, but first I have to clear a chair" said Thérèse, but when I reached my hand towards a stack of paper, to free a a chair for sitting she said to me :"Tututut! don’t mix up my chapters!”.
We received coffee and tea, and Thérèse informed me that I reminded her of my father’s late sister as well as of my late mother. She probed me about my activities, wondering if I speak Yiddish as well as Hebrew. Since we had with us somebody who doesn’t speak Dutch we spoke in English, but from time to time the conversation turned naturally into Dutch, and then I cleared my throat to remind the others that we have an English speaker amongst us. Of course my eyes wandered over the piles of papers and the endless number of books. I asked her how it felt to translate the same author/book for so many years. "It is like a marriage " she said: Sometimes, I talk to him!".
After the coffee/tea, the sky began to lighten and Thérèse went out with us to the court yard and showed me that in some of the smaller buildings, some without roofs or with broken roofs, and all with windows, which probably used to be farm buildings, she grows, together with the employee, lettuces. cabbages cauliflower, tomatoes and other vegetables for home use. They also preserve some of the vegetables. and in winter when she returns to live in Holland, during the coldest months, she takes with her some of those home conserves. A rooster and some chickens were roaming in the court yard for seeds. Some of the Fruit trees still produced fruit – green cooking apples, huge wine-pears, and several kinds of plums. Everything was half neglected, the worker could not do all the tasks and she did not wish her peace and quiet to be disturbed by noisy workers.
Thérèse lived off a tiny Grant/loan. Growing the vegetables gave her some physical activity as well as helping ends meet.
It started to be warmer, and we moved to sit outside, Thérèse asked me about the books I read, about Israeli and Jewish literature. About herself she told that she translates one page a day. She also asked questions about life in Israel. She was not astonished to hear that my son Uri also translates, but was surprised that i did not choose it as a profession : “With two parents speaking languages like yours ?” when I told her that I volunteer to translate Dutch to Hebrew in the Archives of the Dutch Jewry in the Ghetto fighters museum, this interested her. Then when I told her that I found it the hardest to translate my own writing from one language to another, because I never feel that it is exactly identical to what I wrote in the first language I wrote it, she told me that she never translates for the reader but feels that she wants to translate for the writer, how would he have written it if he were Dutch .
My father kept saying from time to time that we are robbing her time, but she kept encouraging us to stay `a bit more` . Brought some pages from the house and mentioned that as usual she needs his opinion about some of the terms. And than turned to me and said that surely I too have an opinion about the passage she read aloud, because there is something very Jewish in it.
In the afternoon, we said goodbye to her, she asked us to come again , it didn’t workout, but from time to time I received greetings from her.
In 1999 Thérèse received the Martinus -Nijhoff prize for translation
In recent weeks, I kept thinking about her and tried to find out whether she still lived in Belgium. I asked and was surprised to hear that she just called my father’s house to ask something about former friends and also asked how I was doing. She returned to live in Holland doesn’t see too well and lives with a musician friend. It was promised to me that when she will call again I will get her phone number.
Only now I took time to read her biography in Wikipedia, and I saw the amount of books she translated. Amongst which was also a book of Yiddish Sayings, I didn’t think she knew Yiddish , `Die leiden des Jungen Werther` by Goethe, a book about witch hunting and man many more. Some of her youth friends which are mentioned there are from the same group of Artists and thinkers who observed the broken fragments of the ……..isms after WW2 , with whom my parents were mingling, until my mother decided to move to Israel.
Written and Translated by: Mirjam Bruck-Cohen
Proofread by: Uri Bruck