It didn’t cross my mind that there is something I would like to change about the agenda of the second conference of the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters (IAPTI) that took place in Athens, Greece, on September 20 and 21, 2014. The program was as balanced and well-rounded as the Doric columns in the conference logo. Presentations on important aspects of the translation and interpretation business were held parallel in two conference rooms, crowned by general sessions with keynote speakers (e.g.. Kevin Lossner’s “Confessions of an American MpT User” and Aurora Humarán’s “Cons and Cons of Post-Editing for Third Parties, Pros and Pros of Post-Editing for Our Own Business”), insightful and inspiring reports (including a major survey on translation into a non-native language by Attila Piróth and Maria Karra) or topics of general interest like an entertaining final act with Nikos Sarantakos, a seasoned translator for the European Parliament in Luxembourg (“Loanwords, Idioms, False Friends and Other Curiosities in a Translator’s Life”).
It was a great conference attended by great colleagues many of whom I had known previously only through emails or Facebook groups. There will probably be more detailed (and far more comprehensive) reports on the topics and issues discussed at the conference. So it didn’t cross my mind that there was something to be improved about or rather added to the conference program until I found myself listening to Maya Fourioti speaking about “The Secret Code and Meaning of the Greek Alphabet”. A casual question from Aurora Humarán, IAPTI President and mastermind, concerning the Greek letter in the word “taxi” made me realize, all of a sudden, “Hey, we are actually in Athens, Greece”. The demonstration in Syntagma Square only five minutes from the conference venue could mean using a taxi instead of public transportation (yes, the Metro station was closed), but what was the demonstration about? Didn’t the recent discovery of a sensational tomb rescue Greece from all economic worries? What is the name of this popular coffee drink that everybody seems to sip at? And does the Greek for “taxi” have something to do with the Greek for “taxes”, which might be similar to a linguistic revelation that I made in Italy two years ago?
In short, I suddenly felt that some background information about the here and now could be welcomed. “Translation is not about words but about what words are about”, as Kevin Hendzel put it. Greek might be the richest language to describe the cosmos according to Maya Fourioti, but what about more simple, casual things?
Since the tour of Athens was set for the day after the conference and I already had other plans for that day (read on…), I thought I just had to guess “the secret code and meaning” and rely on personal interpreting. After all, translating is interpreting, so, for the lack of better knowledge, why not try and translate the visual into the verbal myself?
In retrospect, a more timely opportunity to compensate for the lack of trivial information was perhaps the only thing that I would like to change about the conference agenda, but in the meantime I managed to somehow bridge the information gap. I cannot guarantee any accuracy of the results. The future of our profession lies “beyond accuracy”, here I totally agree with Rose Newell (and her presentation “Writers Worth Paying For” in the Business/Marketing panel).
So much for the disclaimer, now on to the facts!
1 My arrival in Greece started with a few serious disappointments. There was no VIP pickup service on arrival.
At the port of Piraeus, we were offered only very basic means of transportation.
Against all expectations, the donkeys were completely unbranded, so that not every donkey driver was in the know about the IAPTI conference that was to take place (“Conference? What conference?”, as quoted by Marta Stelmaszak immediately upon arrival).
But the worst thing was that IAPTI had to change the conference venue. Greek construction workers, true to their unfortunate reputation, simply failed to rebuild the Acropolis by the 20th of September. Instead of overhead projectors and LED displays, overhead cranes and scaffolding still dominated the site on the conference eve. We had to move.
2 One of the poshest hotels and the former residence of Aristotle Onassis were proposed to serve as an alternative conference venue. The hotel management were smart to incorporate the hotel’s USP into its name – Electra Palace Hotel. Since most of Greece’s electric power resources are used to operate the lighting equipment at the Acropolis building site at night, not every hotel in Athens can boast of electricity in its rooms. Luckily, the power outages during presentations in the Electra Palace Hotel conference halls were few, and even if they were, I finally learned how to use my iPhone as a torch (that came in very handy when dealing with the Greek menu during the night dinner, the menu was fully enjoyed).
3 Greeks are an Olympic nation. Once, I had a translation job for a German lawyer firm specialized in sports betting. The lawyers were approached by a new betting company from Russia to help them set up offices in Cyprus and Greece. As far as I remember it was vital for the Russian client to have “Olympic” in their company name. I didn’t realize at that time it was more a local target group than a figure of speech. A typical Athenian day starts with a visit to a sports betting office and ends when the lights of the “Play Zone” go out. (Unluckily, there was no “Play Zone” at the Electra Palace Hotel.)
4 The next big thing among the Olympians are bicycles. The IAPTI conference was by far the most important, but not the only show in town. The bike festival at Technopolis/Gazi not very far from the conference venue was huge.
This year, over 34,000 visitors were reported to be fascinated by a novelty called “bike helmet” (more than 250 helmet brands were featured at the exhibition). Rumor has it that the tremendous success of helmets for bike riders may even force the Greek government to lift the ban on helmets for women riding on the back seat of scooters and motorcycles in the Peloponnese part of Greece.
5 The Greek translation market is huge. Virtually everything ever published abroad is already translated into Greek. But not the other way around. I didn’t find a single book in any language other than Greek at the Book Festival in Zapeion (also within a five minutes walk from the Electra Palace Hotel) that ended on September 21st simultaneously with the IAPTI conference.
6 The only exception for translations from Greek into other languages is the poetry of the great Konstantinos P. Kavafis (1863-1933). On the second day of the conference, Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (“Increasing Quality in Retranslations? Cavafy’s Swift Conquest of Spanish”) compared 8 various existing Spanish versions of one famous poem and arrived at a conclusion that no one translation was perfect. Provoked by the remark that it took a translator of Greek classics, Robert Fitzgerald, 11 years to accomplish his work, Mr Kirti Vashee immediately announced in his blog (“eMpTy pages”) that his company, Asia Online, already achieved, through use of a special Kavafis-trained MpT engine in combination with automatic pre-, post- and meta-editing, more efficient results. Once again, as numerous times in the past, Mr Kirti Vashee was proven wrong. The Acropolis Museum's collection of stone carvings with Greek letters convincingly shows that post-editing was never an option, not now and not in the past. Many botched post-editing jobs done by Alexandrian scribes could be remedied only by a new translation from scratch.
7 Asia Online’s machine translations of Kavafis will be touched upon in an IAPTI webinar to be held soon. This time, Aurora Humarán and Valeria Aliperta will join forces to give an informal presentation under the working title “Pros and Pros of Post-Editing Kavafis for Your Brand, Cons and Cons of Post-Editing Kavafis for Nescafé”. Registration will be open soon!
8 For translators in a very competitive environment like translating into Greek (see above), there is no better place for studying marketing than the Central Market in Athens. Whereas the famous Fischmarkt in Hamburg, Germany, stages workshops only on Sundays, between 5 and 9 a.m., the Athens fish market provides courses in a variety of disciplines, including diversification and anti-commoditization techniques, each day with a focus on direct clients.
The Day After
As soon as the conference was over, Athens returned to its serene and peaceful self. There was no better time to start a healthy lifestyle change!
On the last conference day Sara Colombo came to Athens from
Tokyo London to persuade the audience of the “Business Benefits of Living a Healthy Lifestyle”. After hearing about various relaxation techniques, I was now confronted with a dilemma (δίλημμα): what should I do? Go fishing or go to Mt. Fuji Olympus. I chose the latter.
The way up Mt. Olympus was a very steep way. It was also scorching hot. But advanced origami techniques and a Greek paper make a great combo!
The view from the top makes up for everything. From here, Greece looks as if the conference never took place, although to state this would be the most blatant inaccuracy in this reportage.
In order not to multiply inaccuracies, I will refrain from claiming that this was the mountain where they usually light the Olympic torch to transfer it to another city to host the next event, in our case the IAPTI 2015.
All kidding aside, it was a great conference, and as a conclusion I would like to say a big thank you, ευχαριστώ, to all those who made it such a tremendous success. I am looking forward to meeting you at the next IAPTI conference. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!