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A glimpse of life at the Antwerp Translators' House: Christiane Burkhardt

What is it that translators do at the Translators’ House? Christiane Burkhardt visited us from Germany in October and has given us this glimpse.

Notebooks and chocolate bars

Day one. I arrive and mark my territory. That means dragging my suitcase and laptop to the second floor and in no time covering the desk in one of the two rooms with glasses and the cases they come in, vitamins, business cards, contact lens fluid, tissues, pens, lipsticks, print-outs of various web pages, PDF and Word documents, novels, notebooks and newspaper articles. The atmosphere has to be just right and I need to take possession of the space here before I can get stuck in as a creative spirit. When the apartment feels a bit more homely, I quickly pop by the supermarket to buy even more things that are conducive to a positive work environment (chocolate bars!). Then it’s off to bed with major literary journals (from Albert Heijn I brought back a copy of their food magazine Allerhande, while my bedside cabinet should not be without Delhaize Magazine either).

The real work commences on day two.

Sometimes I oversleep because the room is so dark. The curtains need to be closed in the evening, or else the neighbours can peer in from the stairwell. The downside is that my sense of time disappears along with the daylight. After a quick shower, I pick up breakfast at Domestic. Day after day, I’m charmed by the beautiful saleswoman at the bakery and her beautiful Flemish ("Briocheke!").

Over breakfast I read the newspapers. Three dead cyclists within the space of a few days, killed not far from the Translators House.

I stay in and work on one of the chapters from Thomas Verbogt’s 'When Winter’s Over', "From Nothing". Then I move on to "They’re All Alone", "Blazing Eyes", "Other Life" and "The Length of a Dream".

Soaking up the Antwerp atmosphere

I fall in love with 'Mazel tov', the latest book by Margot Vanderstraeten. It makes me look differently at the people with the fur hats, yarmulkes and wigs – as if they’re family now.

At times I feel the urgent need to explore Antwerp. Despite everything, I cycle to the city centre and visit some scenic spots. There is the botanic garden with the great monkey-puzzle tree and the cactus greenhouse where an elderly couple keeps an eye on things, like they would on their grandchildren (even though it contains a specimen called mother-in-law’s cushion).

I enjoy a Palm beer, catch some fresh air at the Eilandje port area and admire Dries van Noten’s studio. I meet some of the staff of Flanders Literature. I read and read and read. And I fall in love with Margot Vanderstraeten’s latest book (Mazel tov!). The book makes me see the people with the fur hats, yarmulkes and wigs differently – as if they’re family now.

I ask the author if we can meet. We go to Dageraadplaats and enjoy the sunshine on the square. From my base at the Translators' House I send emails to selected editors to recommend the book again shortly after the book fair. I write a reader’s report, try to find someone in the publishing industry who shares my enthusiasm and then finally receive the news that I may translate the book!

A body like a cathedral

At the literary festival ‘Het betere boek’ in Ghent I look for interesting first-time authors. Still in Ghent, I admire the painting 'The Mystic Lamb' as well as the whale skeleton at Saint Bavo’s Cathedral. ("A body like a cathedral," according to newspaper De Standaard). Not to be missed! And don’t forget to listen to the poem Peter Verhelst wrote in honour of it.

I join Karen and Rein of Flanders Literature for a trip to the cinema to see another "body like a cathedral": a.k.a. muscular Antwerp native Matthias Schoenaerts in 'Le Fidèle'. At De Roma I see Aimee Mann: what a voice!

I write an assessment of a sample translation, and at the request of a publisher I put a reader’s report down on paper immediately followed by another one (the Frankfurter Buchmesse has just taken place). Thanks to Flanders Literature I get to attend the preview of the Antwerp Book Fair. I have a nosey around and study the covers of books translated into Dutch.

All things must end

Later I head back to De Roma for a discussion between journalist Ine Roox of De Standaard and author Naomi Klein. I’m starting to feel a bit sad – in response to the awful state of the world, but also because my stay in Antwerp is drawing to a close.

With a Duvel beer in hand I watch the first episode of a new Flemish TV series, 'Tabula Rasa', co-written by and starring Veerle Baetens, whose character has amnesia. It turns out someone’s gone missing. Meanwhile I’m beginning to feel a bit restless. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and family again, hoping they don’t have amnesia and still remember me.

Translation, translation, translation: "The slow, contented rhythm," "Early winter wind," "Nothing passes" ….

Everything repeats itself. And so: until we meet again!

Nov 8th, 2017