Friday, April 17, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being



I did a quick search but did not find the literal English translation of the title of Milan Kundera's book ("Nesnesitelná lehkost byt"). Anybody out there speak Czech? I just wondered since sometimes a lot gets changed in translation. One of my favorite movies, called "Wings of Desire" in English, is named "Angels over Berlin" in German. I definitely prefer the German name to the translation. Even hearing the German words spoken aloud seems more fitting than "Wings of Desire."

Though - it's hard to imagine any phrase more beautiful, more perfect, than the unbearable lightness of being. It explains everything. The phrase kept looping through my mind as I sat on a bench in Lafayette Square yesterday. The park was awash with light, color, a whole lot of chirping, even some early season buzzing. Waves of sound from the Iranian protest in the distance came and went with the breeze. Every now and then about a dozen pigeons, for reasons I'm not likely to ever understand, would leave their perches, fly figure eights around the square and then return to the same tree where they'd been in the first place. For all I know, they returned to the same branches.

All the zillions of bright red tulips were impossible to ignore (who would want to?), children were whining and trudging alongside their parents, field trip guides were shouting to the groups of restless kids in front of them about the history of the White House. Of course there were also dozens of suited people talking on the cel phones, rushing by. How do those women walk so fast in those high heels?

There was so much BEING, so much LIFE going on in the square, it was almost overwhelming, almost unbearable.

Spring in DC is not shy. It comes on full blast. I was feeling a happy variety of awe yesterday, but some days all that action makes me so moody. I surrender to the power of Spring. Yowza.

34 comments:

John Hayes said...

Can't help with the translation-- sorry-- but, yes, spring in DC & Virginia is almost unbearably lovely & full of life & color. & I second your vote for "Wings of Desire/Der Himmel über Berlin" as a fantastic film-- one I've had a hankering to watch recently, too. Lovely photos, as always.

Delwyn said...

Hello Reya,
well I am on an april 17th virgin blog ...

I reread 'the unbearable...'recently because it had such a big impact on me many years ago and was so I disappointed...
In fact the title didn't seem to mean what I had always thought it meant...what I thought it so wonderfully captured...I always feel ecstatic when I say the phrase...but reading the book I felt Heavy...

Delwyn said...

nope didn't get it there in time...

Reya Mellicker said...

Delwyn! I haven't read the book since it was first published and now I think I'll keep it that way. I do remember it was a depressing story, wasn't it? How funny!! Thank yo for reminding me.

John - Der Himmel uber Berlin is one of my favorites. I could watch it again and again.

Greg said...

But "Angels Over Berlin" is so literal (though it does sound good in German)! whatever the title, it's my favorite movie.

Reya Mellicker said...

There are a whole bunch of us who love that film.

Joanne said...

I've never been to DC, but your words brought me there. I can just imagine parking myself on a bench with much the same thoughts as yours as I people (and pigeon) watch, soaking up the rays. Coffee in hand, too!

Washington Cube said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Washington Cube said...

Well. First of all. Bruno Ganz. I will go see him in ANYTHING. Don't go back to Unbearable. It was very depressing. Once was enough, for me. I find, as I grow older, that I have to avoid things like that, as good as they can be, because they hit too close to the bone. I choose those things with care.

I stayed up late last night (after updating my blog roll for ya, Reya) and kept watching Tommy Lee Jones' opening and closing speeches in "No Country For Old Men," and it kept me tossing all night."I always liked to hear about the old timers. Never missed a chance to do so." "I don't want to push my chips forward, and go out and meet something I don't understand." Wow.

Cyndy said...

I love both of those movies and look forward to seeing them again. The light yesterday was indeed gorgeous and apparently inspired us to take very similar pictures yesterday!

Hilarywho said...

Seems like Spring in a place like DC, and all that activity, would be stimulating and invigorating. Why moody? Your descriptions make me envious. I'd sure rather be there than here.

Butternut Squash said...

I love looking at the White House. It is a day dreamers paradise. I look into the window and catch someone's eye and they send a secret service man out to bring me in for tea... Parts of me are still 9 years old.

My head doesn't want to think heavy thoughts today, I will think light, unbearable only in the magnificence of it's beauty.

Lizzy Frizzfrock said...

I love that phrase... I love your post. Oh to be visiting D.C. in the spring...

Amy said...

Reya,

When navigating my way to your blog just now, I landed on your profile views. I logged on at exactly 12,000 views! You're on fire, Lady!

Your pictures have a way of stirring emotion around insided me. I love our White House. To see it in full blown Spring mode helps restore hope. Thank you.

R.L. Bourges said...

Thought you might like to know Kundera wrote the book in French and published it in France, before it was translated into Czech. The original title in French 'L'insoutenable légèreté de l'être' means exactly the same thing as in English - afraid I can't help with the Czech, though.

Reading Kundera is not... joy-inducing, let's put it that way. (But Juliette Binoche was fabulous in the movie.)

The 'almost unbearable' you describe and illustrate here is much nicer, no doubt about it.

Enjoy the light, Reya.

Elizabeth said...

I think yesterday was one of those days in New York too!
Everything fizzy with life and light and energy.
I think we have to jump up and down when this happens.....
love the title 'unbearable lightness of being' even if it was a poor translation.
Funny about this weight/light thing.
(Hate to be political in blogland, but don't we feel so much lighter this spring as if a a great weight has been lifted?)

Reya Mellicker said...

I never liked the White House until Obamas moved in. Now I really enjoy gazing at it. Butternut I love your fantasy of being invited in. A friend of mine had lunch underneath the Oval Office last week. Can you imagine?

R.L. THANK YOU! No I didn't know the book was written in French, and it's wonderful to know that the English title is a perfect translation. I forgot Juliette Binoche was in the film version. I've always loved her.

12,000 profile views? Wow. Remember though that I've been blogging for years - same profile, two different blogs. I think I've been blogging for five or six years.

Hilarywho - spring makes me moody. It always has. I'm sensitive, so when overstimulated I tend to get overwhelmed. Wish you were here!

And yes Cube, like you, I'm very picky about what I read or watch. Gotta go check out your link list. Cool!

deborah said...

gorgeous
A woman with cancer from fallout from Hiroshima wrote of peace and in every translation I could find she said, "I will write peace on your wings and you will fly all over the world."

Now I believe that every bird has peace written on its wings and each is covering some part of the world.

Love you so

A Cuban In London said...

My dear, Milan Kudera DOES have an official translator whom I contacted for one of my posts on linguistics. I did not receive any reply but it is the same person he has used for pretty much every book he published after 'The Joke'. A nasty incident with that novel made Kundera almost give up on translating his work into English and this fellow, who happens to live and teach in your country (ha, lucky you!), stepped into the picture. The title of your post is troublesome. It was translated into Spanish and French (I have read the book in both languages) as 'La Insoportable Levedad del Ser' and 'L'Insoutenable Legerete de l'Etre' (excuse the absence of accents in French). As you can see it's only in English that the title is '... of being' and not 'of the being' which to anyone who has read the novel might matter loads. At least it does to me. Why is this? I have no idea.

Good post. Enjoyed it loads. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Meri Arnett-Kremian said...

Fantasies of being invited to the White House. Just thinking of the White House tours brings back a memory of one of my oldest son's claims to fame. When he was less than three months old, I managed to score tickets to the Christmas season White House candlelight tour. I suspect it was during the time when my mother's Congressman a big party mucky-muck and she was visiting the new baby grandson. But at any rate, off to the WH we went, Brendan tucked inside the Snuggli carrier resting on my chest. When he woke up hungry, I just rearranged things under cover and he had dinner in the White House. And no one was the wiser.

Susan said...

To observe, to see, to wonder, to experience awe--requires stillness. So what I enjoyed about this post was your observations (pigeons flying figure eights for some unknown reason, the sound of the Iranian protest ebbing and flowing).

Thanks for the beautiful spring photos, and the even more beautiful sensory pictures that your shape with words.

Jeninacide said...

I agree that the "Unbearable Lightness of Being" is a beautiful way to describe life... although I read the book a year or two ago and it was rather depressing... not at all badly written though!

Merle Sneed said...

Spring in Washington is a sight to behold. Out here in the desert, spring is not so flamboyant, because it never really goes away completely.

rothko said...

I love when the birds do that -- fly off from a tree and go in a big sweeping circle and then come right back to the tree. It looks so choreographed. We're having a great day, here too, finally. Though we're about two weeks behind you in greeness. It's coming a long, though. The buds on the trees in my back yard are getting more full. Purty.

Rebecca Clayton said...

Spring in D.C. is awesome--almost too much! I love your little bee guy, hamming it up for your camera.

"Der Himmel" means "Heaven," but also just "the sky" sometimes, just like in English, Heaven/the heavens. So, it's both "Heaven Over Berlin," and "The Sky Over Berlin." I like that ambiguity, and I loved that movie, though I haven't seen it in a long time--maybe it would mean something different to me now.

Steve said...

It looks so much springier there, with those bright tulips and all that sunshine.

I love when pigeons fly like that. It's like they're all communicating with each other somehow and practicing take-offs and landings.

Washington Cube said...

Susan: You nailed it. Even though she's moving around, she is internally still and absorbing. Don't be mislead by the pretty picture of the White House...it is pretty, but where she was sitting is a crazed area, just frentic with working, tourist, protesting energy...and Reya and her camera and her pigeons.

Lover of Life said...

Sweet little bee picture. I love bumble bees - even the big ones. They are usually very passive - just big.

Reya Mellicker said...

Unbearable lightness of THE being?? Cuban, thank you! That really makes a huge difference.

And thanks, Rebecca, it's Heaven or Sky Over Berlin, eh? Love that.

C.M. Jackson said...

reya--
one of my favorites

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Angels

City of Angels was the remake but no where near the original.

Kundera is amazing as are your photos--

thank you--

C

Ronda Laveen said...

I have not read this book so can not comment. Some comment on a heaviness the belies its title.

I am trying on the costume "moody in spring." I am getting stuck on how it must feel to be moody during spring. To me, I am swept away, high. DRUNK. Drunk on light and bliss. Balloons tied to my a** happy. As bright as your tulips. Don't know why. Just am.

Ronda Laveen said...

P.S. Loved the bee photo and story. Those big, slow, fat Spruce Goose flying bees always amaze me. It is like he understood you and posed.

Reya Mellicker said...

Ronda, the flying high bliss is definitely one of my springtime moods. Some days I'm irritated, some days blissful, sometimes full or righteous indignation. The Sufi acupuncturist tells me it's just the fluttering of my liver meridian and is quite normal for the season.

ChannelingHemingway said...

I stumbled on to your blog by pure chance - the kind of serendipity only a Google search can bring.

The unbearable lightness of being is a beautiful saying. It refers to all of wishing to be light but never allowing ourselves to be light; we always add things to ourselves to make us heavy because lightness is more than we can bear.