I wonder how much my choice to make The Netherlands my literary reading destination this summer was unconsciously influenced by my good friend Cath. One of the beauties of blogging is making so many virtual friendships via A Work in Progress. Cath left her first comment here way back in 2009 and we have been chatting and corresponding ever since. Our reading tastes often overlap (as you'll soon read) and she has given me much insight into not only books but into questions on how to live a contented life. How lovely that people an ocean apart and can find common ground showing how universal life and experiences really can be (just like reading books).
I thought it would be great fun to collaborate a bit on this project and as Cath is Dutch, how serendipitous is it that she can offer a unique perspective on Dutch literature and culture. I can read about it and try and image and understand it, but she knows it intimately. She kindly agreed to write a post to help kick things off and how appropriate that she chose as her topic "beginnings" as I am at my own literary beginning of sorts. Cath is a great lover of poetry and nature and is a thoughtful and introspective reader and writer.
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Without further ado, I'll hand the keyboard over to Cath now:
All beginnings are hard.
This first line of Chaim Potok's novel 'In the Beginning' came back to me while thinking about my first blogpost ever. I have written a series of columns in a magazine for a couple of years, but the idea of my writing travelling through the internet is new and somewhat daunting. While being very grateful to Danielle for inviting me, Cath, a retired counselor from The Netherlands with a weakness for books, the first hours after her suggestion reached me were filled with the making up of a few 'what if' disaster scenarios. Beginnings are hard.
Some beginnings are beautiful.
It was the egret, flyng out of the lemon grove, that started it.
In case you didn't recognise it; this is the first line of 'The Moon-Spinners.' I don't remember what came first in my life, falling in love with Scotland as a vacation destiny or loving Mary Stewart's books. She's the only author in my house with a shelf of her own in my bookcases. 'The Moon-Spinners' is my favorite. Not because of the romantic suspense, mainly because she can evoke the sense of place so very well.
And then there are precious first lines. Like the one this first blogpost is really about. A few words written in a language long forgotten. Even though you might not be able to decipher them - I will translate though - they are so special I think they deserve to be shared here.
'...hebban olla vogala nestas hagunnan hinase hic enda thu wat unbidan we nu'
(All birds have built their nests except you and me, what do we expect now)
Words scribbled on the last page of a manuscript by a Benedictine West Flemish monk in a convent in Rochester, Great Britain. The medieval Old Dutch is poetic, mysterious, longing and very, very old. Dating back to 1100 it marks the beginning of Dutch literature in writing. Before 'hebban' Dutch literature was preserved orally.
Do we have a monk here pining for a beloved? Probably not. More likely the reason for his exclamation on paper was rather mundane. He was trying his pen. That's why scribbles like these are called probatio pennea. What speaks to me is the poetic potential of the words. Exactly these words made me start reading beginnings from other cultures like 'Gilgamesh' and 'Beowulf' and hopefully 'Edda' later this year. How about your beginnings?
By CathvdL, 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, June 13, 2014
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Many thanks to Cath. She found the perfect illustration (above) for this post, too, "Parchment Books" by Jan Mankes (1889-1920). Hopefully Cath will be able to share more posts with us over the course of the summer and perhaps help explain or untangle questions that arise in my own reading about Dutch life, history and culture. I'll be sharing more about my literary travels later next week.