The grandeur of ancient history as a backdrop to mid-career learning adds a certain dignity to the concepts we grapple with, seek to redefine and thereafter implement in our daily work. This was why I had been looking forward to going to Tarragona to this, my second METM, the annual conference of Mediterranean Editors & Translators, for most of the year.
When October came around and it was time to pack, however, I was somewhat reluctant. I had had a turbulent year so far, and things had only just settled down to a pace that I felt I could cope with. Besides, like incorrectly packed fruit, I do not travel well. I am a lover of the countryside in general, and averse to big cities where knowing how to read bus and train timetables is de rigueur.
This time, for this conference, I had vowed and declared that I would not arrive sleepless, as is my usual trick for such events. Well, I failed once again. I cannot blame the imperative of some crazy translation deadline nor can I blame my insistence on blogging into the wee hours because I have declared myself off duty. This time, lack of domestic organisation generally robbed me of sleep. Still more was robbed by a blocked drain in the kitchen causing a minor flood which entailed a good deal of mopping up – and quickly! I have missed trains to important meetings before, so rather than miss my bus to Seville and flight thence to Barcelona, I elected to stay awake instead of risking a three-hour sleep before my journey began. I have been known to ignore my alarm clock for hours, too.
That I arrived a my hotel in Tarragona precisely at the hour I had predicted was a notch short of bloody miraculous; it also meant that I could sleep for three hours, shower and change, and arrive at the venue on time for my first workshop as fresh as the proverbial daisy in springtime.
This is where the plan fell apart. I woke up five minutes before the workshop started, and it was a mad flurry to get myself together and arrive at El Seminari, the conference venue, in time for the second half of Rob Lunn’s “A Systematic Approach to Translating Contracts”. So much for Allison’s systematic approach. The handout, and the talk itself were so well-structured, I caught up in no time at all. Even though I do not share Rob’s language pairs, I have much food for thought now that I am back home where I can repent at leisure and embark on a rigorous examination of my own approach to translating contracts.
Enthusiastic greetings from colleagues upon arrival and half an excellent workshop were all it took for me to feel alive again. Despite my woollen jacket and cap being soaked through in the torrential downpour on the short walk down hill to the Irish pub, my spirits were not dampened in the least. The Irish pub was the venue of a most stimulating translation slam. Translators Sarah Griffin-Mason and Tim Morris had each translated a short piece from Spanish in such different styles that it served to underline once again the seemingly endless possibilities we face in our everyday work, even if the bulk of that work is not literary in nature. Expert moderation by Kymm Coveney, and the company at my table of lively and imaginative translators made this a rich experience indeed. Hosting a dinner group after that afforded me the pleasure of meeting two new colleagues, and getting to know two others better. It is true: time flies when you’re having fun.
Friday flew by. After doing a solitary, meditative visit first thing to the two chapels within El Seminari, and dotting a worksheet with a yellow highlighter where I thought the commas should go in a workshop after that, I attended a choir practice with the accomplished Christine Koch leading us, followed by an interesting pre-arranged lunch with Lucinda Brooks of eCPD Webinars. With the hustle and bustle of preparations for a local medieval festival in the background, we chatted – in person, finally, around the topic of the aspirations of Aptrad, the Association of Portuguese Translators and Interpreters. In all the years I have known how to make hamburgers, I have never thought to perch five mini versions of them on a long strip-like bed of mashed potato, all placed on an oblong plate, with a flourish of gravy to one side. I had to come to Spain to learn that.
Eating well at METM events is essential, and I certainly pulled out all the stops in that regard, if only to match the excellent catering provided by the METM organising committee, headed by Kelly Dickeson. This did not prevent me from feeling somewhat sleepy during the very full programme on Friday afternoon. Just when I thought I might safely doze off for a few minutes, someone said something intensely interesting, and I shifted and wriggled in my seat once again in an effort to remember these pearls of wisdom long after my temporary exhaustion had passed.
It was in this fashion that I roller-coastered through a panel discussion on the fresh challenges facing those in our profession and how MET networking and peer training can tackle them, and the presentation given by John Linnegar, of whom I am enormously fond, on what constitutes a light, medium and heavy edit, but whose careful analysis served only to galvanise my somewhat rigid ideas on the matter. A friend, who I suspect was also flagging a little, decided to skip the following presentation, on editing once more, and so we traipsed off to enjoy Oliver Lawrence’s half-hour presentation on the perils of textual ambiguity and how to avoid them.
Oliver provided an entertaining breather before the spectacularly energising keynote talk given by Dr Margaret Cargill on what sounds like an esoteric subject, but contained many a nugget for practical application in our work, academic in nature or not: “Editing and translating, ethics and education in academic publishing: What is needed to enhance mutual understanding of intersecting roles, responsibilities and practices?” I had a stray thought that Margaret Cargill managed to cover such a wide arc centred around the tricky aspects of editing and plagiarism because, perhaps, she had travelled all the way from Australia to be present at METM16. Half-way through her fast-paced talk, I dismissed this idea, and simply sat back in awe, and thanked my lucky stars for the privilege of listening to someone with such breadth of vision, all the while wondering what I had possibly done in my life to enjoy such moments. The rest of the evening served as an interesting interlude in the company of friends before what proved to be a fascinating Saturday.
I emerged triumphant on Saturday morning after a record seven hours’ sleep in one go. Just as well, because I was able to grasp fully one of the most coherent and cogent lectures I have heard in a long while, given by Valerie Matarese. She spoke without skipping a beat and seemingly without notes on “Author editing – the provenance and prospects of our profession”. My only regret is that a quick room changeover to the next presentation meant that I did not have the opportunity to speak to her afterwards.
Next, after making a difficult choice, I decided to see what Diego Bartolome had to say about machine translation, followed by Emma Goldsmith’s insights into the advantages of using Slate Desktop in combination with one’s own translation memory. I can certainly see potential in the latter, and privately wished there was a magic wand I could wave to take me past the planning and hard grind stage to achieve the same results. I know there are no shortcuts, apart from the keyboard variety, so at the end of that presentation ducked outside to have a cigarette to ponder this issue further in advance of the very important mid-morning coffee and snacks. I did not manage to stuff my face nearly as much as I would have liked, for someone was interested in hearing me expand on my views touched on in discussion in a presentation the day before, and I ended up talking rather a lot instead.
It was out of a sense of responsibility as a more experienced translator, and because it has been the subject of private conversations over at least the last several months in particular that I attended Sarah Griffin-Mason’s presentation which dealt with “Ways forward for professional associations and communities of practice in knowledge sharing and peer training”. Her views were refreshing and positive, and I hope that I can incorporate at least some of them into the activities in which I choose to get involved in the months and years ahead.
Repeated bad timing on my part meant that I always arrived at the venue bookshop when it was closed, and so was unable to purchase a copy of “Between You and Me” by Mary Norris, who started working as a copy editor at The New Yorker in 1978, when I was almost fifteen and knew for sure that I wanted to be a translator, and sometimes, at it happened, read that publication in dentists’ waiting rooms and such.
Mary Norris, on the other hand, knows a thing or two about perfect timing. The large audience sat riveted throughout her interesting talk on the work she has performed during three decades at The New Yorker. Her account was peppered with perfectly delivered punchlines revealing her naughty sense of humour, and an endearing but puzzling humility, given the extreme discipline required when juggling semicolons and commas, etc. I thought that perhaps the audience would be moved to give a standing ovation, or at least a Mexican wave or two at the end, but we are a mild-mannered lot when all is said and done – except when there is a disco ball involved, which was not the case in the Sala d’Actes just before the excellent cocktail lunch in the Sant Pau cloister that dovetailed neatly with book signing by this extraordinarily down-to-earth gem of a person who managed to put us all in high spirits.
After lunch, I thoroughly enjoyed Susan DiGiacomo’s talk on the very special type of writing style she believes suits the social sciences genre best. She ended her talk by reading us a fairly long excerpt exemplifying this style. It has been a long time since anyone has read anything to me. I found it soothing to hear the measured pace of the text being read in measured tones. Fittingly, it was only days later that I remembered that we had had a conversation the year before in which she had mentioned exactly what she spoke about on this particular day; a plea not so much for wordiness as amplitude.
Whatever possessed me to think I would have sufficient time for reflection on this particular weekend to add to my café scribblings in a gift of a Moleskine notebook given to me, appropriately with a fountain pen, by my mother is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it was the only notepaper I brought with me to Tarragona and was very useful when, under the guise of listening to Lucinda Brooks talking about webinars, I hastily jotted down a few notes in preparation for what should have been a much more ample, informative talk as joint tour guide with Sarah Griffin-Mason on the Sunday morning. I felt like a naughty school girl, which is strange, because I never was that naughty really when I was at school. I suppose I should be grateful at least that I opened the tatty Moleskine on the right page the next day, and that only one slug of vermout was required at the end of the walk as a result.
Sarah and I both decided to miss the next sessions, and meandered down through the stalls of the medieval festival back to our respective hotels to change in preparation for the MET General Assembly, followed by choir practice (for me) and the closing dinner.
Once again, I was not at my most efficient, and ended up taking an hour-long walk over quite a distance encompassing a fair bit of the city of Tarragona. This served to give me an aerobic workout while others were busy experiencing a relaxing yoga in a workshop on the hill, and to process the many thoughts and many different conversations I had had during the day.
I was hardly surprised that I arrived at my hotel later than planned, which necessitated a very rapid shower and good and proper scrub up to make myself presentable enough for the evening ahead. I took a second to be thrilled that my woollen jacket had indeed dried since day one, thanks to constant air conditioning in my room. With the assistance of a hastily hailed taxi, I arrived at the General Assembly only a few minutes late (the story of my life), and all was well once again.
Those of us in the impromptu choir, which has become something of a tradition at MET Meetings, sacrificed pre-prandial niceties with our colleagues to perfect our rendition of the two short pieces chosen for the occasion in a smallish function room of the hotel. I had enormous fun learning how to sound coquettish in Catalan while singing the alto line. I could swear we sound better in practice than we do in the actual after-dinner performance. As we sung the final notes, the collective feeling of triumph was priceless and matchless; its perfect harmony reverberates long after we all go our separate ways until, hopefully, we meet again for fresh perspectives in ancient surroundings next year.
©2016 Allison Wright