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  • Ruth Simpson

METM23: snippet slams, singing and sbrisolona

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

I never thought I’d enjoy a crumble without the apple, but that’s just one of the many things I learned last week at the Mediterranean Editors and Translators conference in Mantua, when I tried sbrisolona. The delicious hybrid of buttery biscuit, crumble and cake is a local delicacy, and as luck would have it, the conference weekend coincided with a festival in its honour. Good news for my sweet tooth, not so good for my peri-menopausal waistline.

Determined as always to make the most of an opportunity to "discover a bit of culture", my great friend and colleague Louise Normandière and I met for a whistlestop tour of Milan and Verona a few days before METM23 kicked off. The sun beat down, we sampled the delights of unbelievably generous Italian aperitivi and revelled in the late-summer holiday atmosphere.

In Verona, we even got to overhear a concert from the Roman arena by Italy’s answer to Phil Collins/Rick Astley/Cliff Richard (references may be slightly off), Ligabue, while we enjoyed a delicious – and gluten-free for Louise – meal in the warm evening air.

Then we sped off to Mantua! As always with MET, the location for the conference was perfect. Mantua is a bite-sized town packed with history and associated with a cast of famous characters including Virgil, Mozart and Rigoletto. It also boasts cheap and excellent ice cream.

But we were there to work, honestly. MET offers a wonderful workshop programme before the conference really gets going, and I'm often running one myself on wine translation. This year I decided to take a break from that and I was very pleased to be an attendee.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of my conference experience. Laura Bennett gave a fascinating session on translating for the art world. I often translate museum brochures and never feel quite as credible as when I'm in my wine/cosmetics comfort zone. I was relieved to hear that many of my colleagues had queries like mine: should I translate the name of that painting? Is it oil or oil paint? How on earth can anyone call that monstrosity art? I came away keen to take on more art translation projects and with a much-needed confidence boost for my work in that field.

I also enjoyed two sessions given by Sarah Bawa-Mason, one on working with translator associations and the other an interactive editing session, in which she was ably assisted by former Chair of MET, Kim Eddy. Both women ensured that the experience was interesting, fun and useful, pacing the session well and providing keen insight into the editing process. We worked in small groups and discussions were lively. It’s so good to spend time with like-minded people mulling over whether there should be a space here or a dot there.

Another chance to geek out on punctuation was provided by the highly experienced and very entertaining Joy Burrough-Boenish, who managed to captivate her audience with examples and explanations of bracket (mis)use. I watched her session from the brilliantly designed Muppet-Show booths around the edge of the auditorium, thinking I’d catch up with some work at the same time, but Joy was such an engaging speaker that my MacBook stayed closed for the entire session.

Two more talented women facilitated an interactive French-to-English snippet slam session, during which we worked in groups to suggest translations for short and thorny French texts. I have the honour of being in a snippet slam group with Aleksandra Chlon and Severine Watson, and was proud to see them take control of the event with such panache.

It was then that I began to wonder: where were all the men? The pre-conference workshops had been facilitated by both men and women, but the conference proper (other than one of the keynotes) was made up entirely of women speakers! I'm a big fan of equal representation, so it would be great to see at least one or two men take the plunge and pitch a talk next year.

The conference’s two keynote speakers could have really brought down the mood with the serious nature of their presentations. Federico M. Federici – Professor of Intercultural Crisis Communication at University College London – spoke about translation in acute crises on Friday afternoon, and Luisa Bentivogli – Senior Researcher in the Machine Translation (MT) Group at Fondazione Bruno Kessler in Povo, Italy – shared research and insight into the influence of artificial intelligence and large language models on the world of translation.

Both speakers brought charisma and energy to the room, and though the issues they covered were serious and thought-provoking, they managed to keep the tone light and retain everyone’s attention right the way through.

The MET Annual General Meeting concluded the conference proper, and some important issues were raised, such as how to make the conference even more sustainable. A huge effort was made this year to avoid unnecessary waste and printed paper, and other conferences of all kinds could definitely learn a lot from MET.

Another suggestion at the AGM was to provide content for a wider audience in languages other than English. Since MET is run entirely by volunteers, everyone is welcome to make content and pitch proposals throughout the year, so the programme for every MET conference is entirely the product of its members' little grey cells.

When I was a fresh-faced METM rookie, I suggested that more corporate content should be offered for translators like myself working with brands in the business world. The council thanked me for the idea and made the firm but fair suggestion that I offer something myself. While I admit to having been taken aback at the time, I've since understood that all the conference content is indeed developed by the organisation's own members. After that meeting, I knuckled down and created a workshop on wine translation, which I have now given at several MET events.

This year, my corporate translation offering was a presentation on translating in the world of cosmetics, which is another of my specialisms, and I delivered it in the spacious auditorium on the Friday afternoon. I was pleased with the turnout and feedback I received, so thank you to everyone who encouraged me! If you're reading this far I presume you're interested in MET, so please do think about what you could contribute to next year's conference. It's much better to be doing it yourself than sitting back and expecting someone else to come up with the goods.

As always, the Off-METM programme was packed to the gills with networking opportunities and chances to sample the local food and wine. For the Food and Wines of Lombardy dinner group, Michael Farrell had scouted Vino Esclamativo !, an excellent wine store and restaurant, where Karin Rockstad ensured that everyone had a wonderful time. Mantuan specialities were paired with local and not-so-local wines. A standout course for me was the starter: delicious Italian salami with aged parmesan and mostarda, a condiment from Northern Italy made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavoured syrup. It was paired with a delicious sparkling white that was the first in a series of delicious wines. As always, the off-METM events are great for meeting new members and expanding your network.

The closing dinner on the Saturday night was a huge success. With the starters and desserts served outside, I had plenty of opportunities to mingle and catch up with people I hadn’t spoken to during the conference itself, and the warm weather made dancing outside until 1.30am a real joy! Let's hope it's warm enough for a similar set-up next year.

I was hugely proud of the choir’s performance. Michael Farrell had already done an amazing job organizing an arrangement of Seghan de dì, a very funny folk song from Lombardy (think The Two Ronnies but in Italian) but really knocked the ball out of the park in his charming flat cap and cheeky solo. Elina Nocera worked wonders explaining the song in English, and pitched her input brilliantly, keeping the audience in stitches. I was thrilled to be able to join in on my ukulele as well, and it was a breeze to plug into the DJ's sound system.

Our English song was the 1960s favourite, Blue Moon. Again, I couldn’t have been prouder of the people who come to sing in the choir, and every year I’m bowled over just how far we get, from the beginning of the first practice to the performance on the Saturday night, even with just two hours of rehearsal time. On a personal note, I was deeply touched by the number of people who came to see me after the performance and said they would love to join the choir next year. Please do, everyone is more than welcome!

I'd like to thank the MET Council and all the helpers who made the conference happen. As always, the more you put in, the more you get out, so I hope that even more people step up next year. The 2024 conference will be in Carcassonne, so that means a French METM for the very first time. I can’t wait to finally be proficient in the language of the conference country!

A bientôt !

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