Yesterday I complained that the weather had taken a turn for the worse. In fact it turned out that really I was just up too early for my own good: once the sun got up, the wind blew most of the clouds away.
This reminded me of the times when we would be on holiday at the seaside when I was a child and the days almost always seemed to start off looking unpromising. I remember my parents assuring us it was “only a heat haze”, and it’s true it often seemed to burn off by middle morning.
It’s perfectly clear that yesterday’s cloud wasn’t a heat haze, but it got me thinking about weather, about how vocabulary is so often tied to location, and about how both weather and the words we use for it have personal connotations.
In April, I’ll be leading a poetry workshop in which I intend to use a poem by Joan Margarit. The title in Spanish is:
Flores blancas en la niebla
in Catalán it’s:
Flors blanques en la boira
and I’m trying to decide how to deal with the word niebla/boira.
The flowers in question are almond blossoms, which come very early on, in the first mild days of the year, but which don’t usually last very often because the snow or the frost is almost certain to return.
When I first read the poem, I translated the title as White flowers in the fog. At that time, my vocabulary and experience was still quite limited; I had lived in Madrid for over ten years, but I wasn’t familiar with the Spanish almond terraces, nor the climate and agriculture of any of the country’s rural areas. Now, I’ve been living en el pueblo for a number of years, and there are almond trees in my neighbour’s garden. I’ve also got a lot more experience as a translator.
I see that Anna Crowe calls the poem White flowers in the mist in Tugs in the fog, her collection of translations of Margarit’s poems. (The original of the title poem was called Remolcadores entre la niebla.)
I don’t really have any doubt that what we have in the winter in the Gredos foothills is fog, not mist. It’s certainly not calima – the high summer haze that is burnt off by the sun. But both ‘haze’ and ‘mist’ are eminently poetic words, that seem to go with blossom and fallen petals, whereas ‘fog’ isn’t, although it’s perfectly appropiate to associate with tugboats.
I want to agree with Crowe. Not least because the word ‘mist’ sounds better to me. But then I think of mornings like yesterday, when the winter sky is solid grey and the clouds seem to come right down into the garden. That is nothing so ethereal as mist. It’s cold and bleak and it gets into your bones, and that’s what destroys the almond blossoms, at least in this part of Spain.