Some words are deemed to be untranslatable in other languages, or “unique” to their languages of origin, but the feelings behind them are usually not. That’s why we tend to borrow these words or create new ones, to shortcut what could be a lengthy explanation into reusable bits. A while ago, I wrote an article called “Post in Translation” about untranslatable words and similar concepts in my writing blog, OuZePo.
This time, I’m using some “untranslatable” concepts in one-word equivalents in English to illustrate what my winter holidays felt like at home, in London 🙂
Hygge is a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.Wikipedia
Hygge was quite trendy a while back, and I do think that cosiness is probably a good enough approximation, yet to some extent, it also translates as the French adjective “chaleureux” which conveys warmth and cosiness at the same time, when applied to an atmosphere.
I guess we all have a different idea of what brings comfort and contentment. Some staples that will evoke Hygge are the very cozy grey vegan fur plaid, the faux-fur cape, the socks, the warm tea, the candles, the book lamp, the perfumes, the cushions, a lighter make-up than in my past photoshoots, and the reassuring presence of a loved one (Alexis, taking the pictures).
Some things that make it my own idea of hygge, are the more dramatic visions of the galaxy through the BlackMilk galaxy leggings, my new hair colour from @pedro_plastic, evoking iridescence, a rainbow after a (purple) rain, pictures of wilderness… But also all this endless stream of books and reading materials.
A while ago, I thought this blog would be a mix of literary reviews and fashion, for instance me posing with books. This is the first attempt, as an experiment.
Tsundoku (積ん読) is a Japanese word that means getting new reading materials but piling them up without reading them all. It is not supposed to be negative, but it can verge into hoarding. I am not trying to hoard more things and I actually let go of a few things during my last move, but books are something I like to be surrounded by, and they evoke this specific hygge feeling for me. True, I tend to get more books than I read, I recently calculated that I need 4 to 8 years to read all the books I have, 20 for all the books I put in my wishlist. But, I still read a lot of books, and the joys of re-discovering a book, of browsing it, or of jumping quickly into the new book of a series are real. I try to buy less physical books, but I give in to pretty covers and like art books and comics in physical format. I also find very convivial the idea of reading a magazine with someone, or visualising different themes at the same time like on the pictures. Most of them are second hand or gifts, as I’m trying to stay sustainable in my reading habits.
There are several interconnected spaces in these images, full of details. The books are in French and English, and vary from children fantasy books to poetry to philosophy and faerie magazines.
I don’t like to stay in boxes. My books don’t either.
Jhāna (ध्यान) is a Pali word that means “the training of the mind, commonly translated as meditation, to withdraw the mind from the automatic responses to sense-impressions” (wikipedia) – actually, the Japanese word Zen comes from the word Jhāna. It meant meditation or contemplation but is now used to describe the 4 jhānas, or more intensive states of meditation.
Alexis got a meditation cushion for Secret Santa at work. He also has some handpan drum which makes amazing sounds however randomly you play it (true story).
Contemplation and meditation are helpful for me and something I strive to do more of. Contemplating life through different lenses like philosophy, science, or other non fiction books is also something I enjoy on top of fiction.
I put it next to a gift from my CEO, Ed, who decided this year to get a book to every employee, with a handwritten note. He got me his favourite poet, Nâzım Hikmet, who was a Turkish-Polish “romantic communist”, spent years in prison and who wrote about Living. I’m looking forward to reading it soon!
Also, “Silence in the Age of Noise“, by explorer-philosopher Erling Kagge, which I’ve started and also look forward to finishing. It seems very linked to my reflections on life, the sublime and the moment as well.
I guess parallel universes you will never explore can be a sort of Fernweh – a German word to describe feeling homesick for a place you’ve never been to.
Technically speaking, I love books because they are nearly all portals to different worlds. And in a meta way, I also enjoy books about parallel worlds or time travel.
It looks like “Starless Sea“, the new book by Erin Morgenstern, who penned the amazing “The Night Circus” some years ago, will be an ode to storytelling and use portals as a device. Not read yet. 🙂
Some of my favourite books are arguable the “His Dark Materials” series by Philip Pullman, and I managed to get a second hand version of his new book, “The Secret Commonwealth“, which, guess what, I’m also very much looking forward to finish! (Right now, I’m reading another great multiverse story, the next instalment of the Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman which featured in my article about Babel Libraries, but let’s not fall into a rabbit hole…)!
His Dark Materials is the epitome of multiverse fantasy, northern lights, sublime and also very human and metaphorical at the same time. This is the series that got me into northern lights, airships and probably steampunk. Lyra (my instagram nickname) uses an alethiometer, a compass-like truth device. As a reference, I put on the picture my astrolabe, which is a star based triangulation tool used to navigate ships. It comes from the arts et metiers museum in Paris, an incredible place with a steampunk interior and a northern light making machine!
Goya is not the painter here, but an Urdu word (گویا) that means
Literally, it means “as though” or “as if.” Not a lot of languages have an exact word for the meaning or feeling the word “goya” delivers though. It’s used the most in Urdu poetry & story-writing where it conveys a sense of shifting into a dream like feeling of disbelie[f]. […] In Turkish, the exact word exists and is sanki.Lizza Fatima on Quora
Directly linked to parallel worlds, fantasy is a theme I like. It is a way to explore themes and concepts and make experiment out of them, or to ease some messages in awe inspiring settings and stories.
I do read a lot of fantasy for children or young adults, on top of adult ones, sometimes intricate like the untranslated “La Horde du Contrevent” by French writer Alain Damasio. For younger ones, I enjoyed “the Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch” by Tom Fletcher will be a good wintry choice, it has time travel, the North Pole and a dinosaur. (I don’t think it’s a contradiction at all 🙂 )
Some books in French that I like, next to the gothic angel cushion by Victoria Frances:
1 – Les “Brumes de Cendrelune” by Georgia Caldera. Set in a world where apparently, gods are “real” and can read your thoughts, and punished humans either die or get cyborg-ed… I can’t give spoilers but I found the story and the ending particularly relevant to our world. Can’t wait for Book II.
2 – Not read yet, the last book of the Mirror’s Visitor series by Christelle Dabos. Her world building is enchanting and the series is being translated to English. You can start with “A Winter’s Promise”, where the hero is called Ophelia, can travel through mirrors, and lives on a world which has been split into various Citadelles, with different families and powers. (Also, the covers are illustrated by Laurent Gapaillard, a great artist who did some concept arts for the video game Dishonored 2)
Now, magic is an interesting topic in itself, and one I won’t cover in a paragraph. But one of my resolutions for this year is to carry on finding my “magic”. Parkour is my way I think, but I’m also exploring my own reservations and fascinations towards witchcraft. I got “Waking the Witch” by Pam Grossman for Christmas and will read it in 2020.
I also recommend the “Enchanted Living” Magazines, formerly Faerie Magazine, as they are full of magic and enchantment.
Mono No Aware
Mono No Aware (物の哀れ) is a Japanese concept meaning the Pathos of Things, literally, or a sensitivity to ephemera.
“Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing that none of it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened and appreciative of transience – and also about the relationship between life and death. In Japan, there are four very distinct seasons, and you really become aware of life and mortality and transience. You become aware of how significant those moments are.”Fiona Macdonald
A Portuguese friend on Instagram suggested Saudade as well, and it’s another great untranslatable word. It’s a deep “missingness”, and can be part of Mono No Aware, but Mono No Aware is about the appreciation of transience in general as well, not just missing. I do get Saudade now, at the thought that 1/3 of the koalas might have died in the Australian fires.
I’m also surrounded by cushions printed with my pictures from past trips, here Iceland and Russia, that evoke some winter memories, some bittersweet, some heartwarming, all beautiful and awesome in the literal sense of the word. The gothic cushion evokes old loves and interests of mine, still pursued through books and aesthetics, but less literally than ten years ago. Moments that will never come back.
For instance, the sunset in St Petersburg is something I’m glad I put in my camera, and it can’t show what it actually felt like to climb the stairs under -10 degrees, to freeze my hands because I wanted to take lots of pictures, to walk slowly twice around the view with my hands in my pockets to make sure I’d remember – I don’t remember the details, only the sensation of enjoying the moment.
I remember some photoshoots I did, like the ones in Krakow and Moscow, with sometimes melancholy, as they were truly amazing, but with a warm feeling that they happened and that I’ve been so lucky to experience this and then share to some extent.
Or the views of Iceland – I had never seen icebergs or black sand, and it was incredible to be there and witness safely the most sublime aspects of nature. (I’m planning an article on my writing blog about the sublime, maybe…). I saw a glacier which is impressive, but will disappear slowly due to global warming, as also evidenced by Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson in his Glacier series.
I saw the Northern Lights, for the first time in my life, after dreaming to see them for more than a decade. This is a story for another time.
Yūgen (幽玄) is a concept of Japanese aesthetics which is not dissimilar to the sublime. For Noh theatre creator Zeami, Yūgen was “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe … and the sad beauty of human suffering”.
A book in French I’ve just read: “Chasseurs d’Aurore” by Samantha Bailly and Munashichi. It’s very Sublime and metaphorical, also regarding melancholy and mental health. It’s also incredibly beautiful.
I saw incredible waterfalls in Iceland and in Canada, I hiked for hours before stopping on a mountain, my feet dangling vertiginously, looking at the Saguenay Fjord below.
The melancholy is quite… pleasant to feel, if you err on the accepting part of impermanence (see the previous post, Evanescent ). I cherish these memories, and accept life is changing. Aware of Mono No Aware.
At the same time, looking at “sublime” / awe-inducing pictures feels like a safe way to experience the majesty of nature. Burke, in his theory about the sublime, said that a safe distance was important to focus on enjoying the sublime rather than focusing on the fear itself too much. I guess there is something comparatively reassuringly alluring in contemplating past cold or dangerous experiences from the warmth of one’s living room.
In https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/, chrysalism is coined as a word to describe this feeling of looking at storms or unforgiving weather through the safety of our windows. It’s different but related to the Icelandic word Gluggaveður, or window-weather. I read somewhere that psychologically speaking, this attraction for looking at dangerous things through a safe lens (I guess the same happens for horror movies or fun fairs?) is linked to the reassuring feeling of being a baby protected by their parents from the outside dangers.
Chrysalismhttps://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com, John Koenig
n. the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm, listening to waves of rain pattering against the roof like an argument upstairs, whose muffled words are unintelligible but whose crackling release of built-up tension you understand perfectly.
The sublime and other grandiose or fleeting experiences remind one with their mortality, or how small we are in the universe, or how impermanent everything is. The universe and contemplating our place there is quite mind blowing, and maybe that’s also why we love dinosaurs. We are fascinated by beings that used to be huge and scary, and roam the earth, and yet they disappeared, as we will one day, it’s not just that we can love them from a safe distance, it’s that we want to remember them as we would want to be remembered. (I wrote a poem a while ago, based on this, called Jurassic Coast.)
Another Japanese concept linked with accepting impermanence is Kintsugi (金継ぎ), and it resonates with my thoughts about evanescence and also my love for urban exploration and abandoned/ ruined buildings. It is the art of repairing broken things beautifully, for instance with gold, to make the repairs apparent and part of the object, rather that discarding it or trying to hide the repairs. If you have seen the new Star Wars, you might have noticed Kylo’s repaired mask, with the fluorescent red fillings, and it is definitely a metaphorical allusion to kintsugi. Here is a full article about this if you’re interested.
Pictures by Alexis
Model, styling: me
Decor: Alexis and me
Makeup Kat Von D beauty, @katvondbeauty
Cape bought in Hatfield House
Scarf by #linaandlily