One Night at Norman's


Tel Aviv, 1980 

I used to go to Norman's every Sunday and Wednesday night, after dance class, around nine. It was still relatively quiet at that hour, and the three of us – Judy, Ellen, and I – used to burst in flushed, exhilarated, perspiring, and always laughing at Ellen's latest racy anecdote. We'd head straight for the bar and make ourselves comfortable. Natalie was behind the bar, and she was always so generous –   her gin and tonics had more gin than tonic.

Considering its somber exterior, uninviting and uninformative, it was amazing that the place was so popular – amongst a certain clientele, that of expatriates in Tel Aviv of the late seventies and early eighties. If you weren't in the know, you'd never find it. From the street, all you'd see were three small, totally opaque windows set in a featureless stucco wall, and a heavy black door subliminally suggestive of stairs leading to a forbidding, dark, dungeon. It didn't even have a proper handle on the outside – just a large, round metal knocker. To get in, you had to push hard with your shoulder. No sense in knocking –   no one would hear you.

Inside, the light was yellow and warm, the décor dark wood and shabby, burgundy-colored plush upholstery, and the music was country-pop speckled with romantic mush.  Though we habitually sat with our backs to the door, we kept track of everyone who came in. When the heavy door creaked, signaling a new arrival, how could you not turn round and look?

Ellen, long-legged, enterprising and quick of tongue, was our dance teacher and pub scout. Born and bred in Brighton, England, she was on an indefinite stay in Israel that had begun as a trip in the footsteps of a man now nearly forgotten. She seemed the sort of person who always lands on her feet, an impression that intensified the longer I knew her. It was Ellen who'd discovered Norman's, and the rest of us followed her like kittens following Mother Cat. Judy was an uneasy new immigrant from Texas, who hadn't yet found her place in Israeli society and probably wouldn't as long as she clung to Ellen. As for me – a bit of a misfit in this Isle of Publand -- I had seen Ellen's hand-crafted ad in local shop windows, thumb-tacked on to tree trunks in the boulevard, taped to the walls of bus-stop shelters – announcing the opening of a new dance class at the studio around the corner, and thought it might be fun; which it certainly was. Besides, Ellen's dance class offered several perks, such as going out to party after each dance class, and getting to meet cute, foreign men – American, Brits, Aussies – who gravitated to Norman's in search of a familiar type of atmosphere.

Starsky – one of the Americans – used to walk in about half an hour after us. Only he came to Norman's every night, Natalie assured me. He used to sit at the left-hand table nearest the bar, under one of the loudspeakers which poured waves of country music into the cool air. He sat alone, drinking draft beer, humming along with the music, gazing in the general direction of the bar through his metal-rimmed glasses. I thought he was staring at Natalie, but she said rubbish, he was just looking at her 'cause he knew her and was too shy to look at us.

I wasn't used to shyness in men; most of the ones I knew were either coolly supercilious or annoyingly over-familiar and pushy. Starsky intrigued me. I had gathered that he worked as a consulting engineer for Israel Aerospace Industries, probably on the Lavi fighter aircraft project, and never discussed his work. Perhaps his semi-secret work gave him an aura of mysteriousness. I stole glances at his rounded chin, plump cheeks, soft-looking lips and general air of cuddliness, and found the ensemble somehow appealing, though I wouldn’t admit it. He was pudgy, for Heavens' sake! I liked my guys sinewy and muscular, lean and hungry – more easily identifiable as "security" types. I couldn't be attracted to that plump, bespectacled teddy-bear, could I?

The only person Teddy Bear seemed to talk to was Natalie, the Australian barmaid. She was well over thirty, "an older woman" to my twenty-something year-old eyes. A husky-voiced brunette with knowing eyes and a warm, outgoing attitude, and extremely efficient, she seemed to me a kind of sophisticated big sister who could show me the safe way to exotic adventures and secret pleasures.

"My, don't you look fetching tonight!" Natalie greeted me one Wednesday night, as we settled on our bar-stools as usual. Glowing and rosy-cheeked from the dance class and the brisk walk to the pub, I was safe from the embarrassment of being caught blushing. But she was right. I had made an effort, new leotard and all, to look – well – fetching, as Natalie put it. Or sexy, as I would put it. Would he notice?

I'll never know, since he didn't show up that night. That I am certain of, because I stayed there till the last call.

When he wasn't there again on Thursday, I broke down.

"Natalie," I said, as nonchalantly as I could, which wasn't very non, "you wouldn't by any chance know where Starsky is, would you?"

Natalie grinned. "I wondered when you'd ask! … And when I saw you coming in on a Thursday, after having been here until – “

"Oh Natalie," I interrupted quickly, "do spare me your keen observations…"

"Keep your knickers on, Luv," she said, not unkindly. "If he ain't here he must be on one of his business trips. Though you could call him and find out for yourself – what do I know!"

I hesitated. Calling a guy was a bit forward, but not unheard of. Besides, if Natalie suggested it, it must be okay… and I put out my hand, giving her a challenging look.

She handed me a business card. It said Gabe Starsky, Engineering Consultant, in no-nonsense black lettering. And the coveted phone number. A Tel Aviv number, its first two digits indicating that it belonged to that neighborhood; he must live pretty near; all I had to do was call. There was a phone at Norman's, of course, but I wouldn't dream of phoning Teddy Bear within Natalie's hearing.

"Hold my drink, will you," I said to Natalie and headed for the phone-booth just around the corner, feeling for the token in my pocket. I took a deep breath and dialed quickly, before I lost my nerve. No reply. I tried again. And again. Damn! For all I knew he may be away for weeks! What am I going to do? Haunt Norman's or try that number night after night? …

Deflated but not defeated, I returned to the bar and my drink, fidgeting unhappily.

"There was no reply", I blurted without preamble when Natalie took my glass to refill it.

"Told you, Honey," she said brightly. "He's probably away on one of his business trips."

"How do you know so much?" I asked, catching myself barely in time to make the question sound amused rather than suspicious.

"I don't know so much. But when his Fuego isn't parked over there near the Pizza place, it usually means he's away on business."

"You mean that beautiful, slinky, sexy, silver Renault Fuego is his?" I said, rather impressed. "I thought it belonged to the owner of the pizza place. Don't you think a man would want to show off a car like that?" For me, carless and with no hope of a car in the foreseeable future, having the latest, most coveted model of a European car was something worth showing off.

 "Not him. I'm sure he parks it there on purpose. I know he adores his car – seen him talk to it and stroke it… but he wouldn't flaunt it. Uh-uh, not him."

"Thanks all the same, Natalie," I said, and then she got busy with some other regulars. I was left with the feeling that she knew a lot more. Not surprising. Bartenders usually do, don't they? Over time, they could probably learn quite a bit even about guys who just sit there, minding their own business and not being very communicative, just by observing them. But Natalie was a professional, she had her ethics; one didn't blab to the other customers. She'd done more than enough by giving me a clue, I could take it from there; I could easily walk by the Pizza place every day…

Several Fuego-less days went by. But on the following Wednesday, on my way to dance class, taking a somewhat roundabout route, there it was, a bit dusty, standing in its usual spot. While my legs plié-ed and relevé-ed as usual, my mind was hugging a bespectacled teddy-bear.

Once again into the cool, dimly-lit cave that was Norman's. Once again, Natalie's refreshing tall drinks. But no Starsky. Will he or won't he? Should I or shouldn't I?

"Natalie, keep an eye on my drink please…" I mumbled, and dashed out.

Please God let the phone be in working order… Please God make him be home… The line was busy. Busy busy busy. I backed out of the booth and let an impatient man make a phone call which he promised would be brief but seemed to me to take forever. Then I snatched the still-warm receiver and dialed again. No reply. Hell! Must've just missed him. Better go back to Norman's and see if he'd beamed himself over or something. I'd at least get to finish my drink.

I pushed open the squeaky door. Starsky was there, at the bar, on the stool next to the one I had occupied, grinning at me, as if welcoming me back.

"Hi," I addressed him directly for the first time "I could have sworn you weren't there a moment ago. Where did you pop up from?"

His puffy cheeks creased in a contented little smile. "Oh, I just had this phone-call saying that there was a young lady asking about me… so I thought I'd oblige and come downstairs… pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss." And with that quaint speech he held out his paw.

As I shook the warm, firm hand I glanced at Natalie, who winked at me and turned down the volume on the tape deck. My hand was still in his when I looked back into Starsky's eyes. He had removed his metal-rimmed specs in a slow motion which I identified as a lowering of defenses; I used to be bespectacled myself in the pre-contacts era. Bears don't have bright-gray eyes, I thought to myself. But teddy bears can.

Suddenly I was shy. I wanted to know all about him but didn't dare ask. It was impolite to pry, my mother had taught me; you don't ask a total stranger personal questions. Oh yes you do, Ellen had tried in vain to teach me; otherwise, how on earth are you ever going to find out?  But it seemed as if Starsky had been brought up by someone like my American-born mom; he didn't ask me any of the usual questions: what did I "do", where was I from, where and with whom did I live… I found it a relief, not having to give routine answers and not having to refuse to answer what I thought was nobody's business but my own. So, actually, we didn't talk much. We drank leisurely. Gazed into each other's eyes. Smiled a lot. And made some disjointed comments about Natalie's predilection for Country music; he said he preferred Blues, I said I had a pretty good Rock collection. We touched on the shabby yet homey upholstery at Norman's; agreed on the delicious onion-dip on Friday afternoons' Happy Hour, and wondered whether Nick stood a chance of beating Graham at the darts board.

It wasn't even midnight when he got off his perch and stretched.

"Gotta go," he said matter-of-factly.

I was off my own perch and standing beside him expectantly before I knew what I was doing.

"Going home?" I asked, and hated myself instantly.

"No. You hungry? I'm going to grab a pizza first."

I hesitated. It didn't sound like much of an invitation.

"C'mon," he urged good-naturedly, "I'll buy you a pizza."

We ate the pizza standing in the warm night air, leaning on the Fuego. He washed it down with a Coke.

"Helps keep me awake," he explained. "Need a ride home?" he added as an afterthought, his hand already on the car-door handle.

"No thanks," I forced myself to say, "I'd rather walk. It isn't far. Thanks for the pizza. Good night."

"Good night."

He just stood there, looking at me with a faint smile. Guess it's my move, I said to myself, stepped towards him, put my hand on his shoulder, and kissed him slowly on the mouth. His right hand was on the car-door handle, but his left hand drew me close to him. I shut my eyes and inhaled deeply. Dove soap. Eau Sauvage. The intoxicating scent of a man's sweat. My nose was just under his collar bone. I heard his heartbeat. Then he let go of me gently, still smiling. We said "good night" again, and I turned around and floated home, not looking back.

Thursday was a blur. I didn't dare show up at Norman's. Now it was definitely his move. Would he bother to ask Natalie for my phone number? Would he make an effort to contact me, or would he just wait for me to re-appear? Would he expect to pick up where we left off? I doubted it. Something about him suggested that he expected nothing; he merely accepted.

But on Friday I couldn't very well not go. For months I'd been showing up for Friday Happy Hour; it was fun; it was truly the happiest, jolliest, busiest hour at Norman's, and I had promised Natalie to help out.

I made sure to arrive with my friends – Ellen, Judy, and a couple of guys. I needn't have worried; Starsky wasn't there. My disappointment was not unalloyed with relief: If I came in and he was there, I couldn't very well ignore him; but if I arrived first, and he later, it would be up to him to acknowledge my presence. But when Happy Hour was almost over and sheer disappointment set in, Natalie came through:

"He's gone down to Eilat, " she volunteered, à propos of nothing, unless it was my continuous wild glances towards the door each time it creaked open. "Be back next Friday," she continued. "If you come in same time next week he should be here. Said I could tell you so, in fact."

"He did?!"

"Don't be fooled by those innocent-looking eyes. He's a sharp one. And a real doll. Looks to me like he's taken a shine to you."

"Bless you, Natalie," I said as I absorbed this fascinating bit of information. "I'll be here! With my hair tied up in a bow! No, better not. Makes me look twelve."

During the week that followed I gave Starsky all the unoccupied space in my heart and mind. There was plenty of space. My clerical, pay-the-rent job at the PR department of a bank in the center of town was not very taxing; dance was a hobby, a way to have fun and keep limber. Dating foreign men I met at Norman's was far more fascinating than trying to strike up an acquaintance with the stuffed shirts at the bank.

So I spent my time conjuring up Starsky's image, going over every detail of his physique which had been visible to me. I replayed every sentence I ever heard him say, be it "Fill it up please, Natalie" or "Tum-tum, da-di-da, tum-tum". I wanted to see more, hear more. On the Sunday and Wednesday, after dance class, I shamelessly pumped Natalie for information, repeating whatever I learnt as if cramming for an exam. His parents lived in New York City. His work for the IAI was on a special contract basis. He lived alone in a spacious flat on the top floor of the old building where the pub was located. He was around 35 years old. He had had a relationship with a woman in the States, but they broke up before he came to Israel. There had been rumors of an Asian wife or sweetheart during his Vietnam days who had been killed, but Natalie said no-one knew the true story, since Starsky wouldn't talk about it. In the short time that Natalie had known him, he hadn't dated anyone, as far as she knew. But, best of all –   listen to this! – he said he liked me. Unobtrusively keeping his eye on us –   me, Ellen, and Judy – from his corner table, he preferred little me to any of the others. Said he never heard me say anything vulgar or bitchy even after three of Natalie's notorious gin-and-tonics, and that that was more than he could say for many a girl.

I could have kissed Natalie. I didn't, though. Instead, I made a silent vow to cut down to two gin-and-tonics and not take a chance of my luck running out and my tongue betraying me.

I'd be terrific for him, I reflected. I'd make him forget the love he left in Vietnam, or New York, or wherever. I'd make him fall madly in love with me. He'd want to see me every day, spend all his free time with me. We'd go for long pleasure drives in his Fuego. It would be my second home. I'd leave a few personal things in the glove compartment. Soon he'd let me drive it. Would I go to bed with him the next time we met? Should I play hard to get, or throw away games and pretenses and just do what comes naturally? Would we go to his place or mine? If we went to his place – yes, I think that's better -- I'd probably spill something on my shirt accidentally, and borrow one of his in the morning. I'd rinse out my shirt and leave it there to dry. Perhaps my panties, too. We'd become an item at Norman's; they'd say our names in one breath, as if we were one. He'd write to his parents about me… Naturally, they'd want to meet me. So he'd take me home, to New York, for Christmas… Even his parents would see that I was right for him. They'd see the intimacy and understanding between us; the way we finished each other's sentences, the way we complemented each other…

Friday came. The morning at the bank crept painfully until closing time, at one. At home, I was too excited to take a nap, though I did want to look fresh and relaxed. I chose my clothes thoughtfully. Now that I knew he cared, I didn't want to be blatantly provocative. The white trousers and flimsy peach tunic would do very nicely. A touch of peach blusher, brown mascara, and a fine mist of Chanel 19, a fresh yet sophisticated fragrance, a current favorite with airline hostesses. I checked the contents of my handbag one last time, making sure I was prepared for anything, and walked along Dizengoff street to meet my love, heart pounding. The silver Fuego, still dusty from its trip to Eilat and back, stood in its usual place. I smiled at it.

There I was in front of the familiar black door. I wiped my clammy hands on the seat of my trousers, then took the plunge.

The place was hopping. Elton John and his piano made merry. The smell of fresh, hot popcorn hit my nostrils, combined with cigarette smoke, frothy beer, and an assortment of colognes, after-shaves and deodorants, carried on the streams of cold, synthetic air-conditioner air. My searching gaze bobbed from head to head. Blond ones and brown ones, curly tops and bald ones. Some of the heads swiveled, some faces smiled. They meant nothing to me. I squeezed through the happy bodies and made my way to the bar. Starsky's place in the left-hand corner table was occupied by someone else. I felt a momentary resentment and annoyance, then inwardly laughed at myself. Starsky didn't need his corner perch anymore. By all means let somebody else try it! But where was he, anyway? Darts board? Toilet? Kitchen? I tried to catch Natalie's eye. Her hands were full, she was laughing with one of the regulars, but managed to greet me with a nod and raised eyebrows.

I had almost finished my first drink, given to me by Natalie's helper, before Natalie extricated herself from a crowd of guffawing men and made her way to me.

"Well?" I said, like a teacher demanding an explanation from a recalcitrant student.

"Well, I'm sorry, honeybunch, but he ain't coming today. He's left for the States. Had an urgent call from Head Office."

I think I just gaped. I can't be sure. Then I mumbled something about his car.

"Yes, I know. I'm supposed to take care of that. He came back from Eilat early this morning. Must've driven half the night. Called me while he was packing. Asked if I'd take care of a few things for him…"

"When is he coming back?" I asked, trying to be practical.

"He isn't, honey. His contract was almost over anyway, didn't you know that? They just called him back a bit early, that's all."

"But his car?… His things?…" I repeated, probably sounding as dumb as I felt.

"I just told you, I'm taking care of his things. He's left some terrific cassettes! Would you be interested in any? I'll sell them to you cheap. Oh, by the way, he brought you something from Eilat –   said you mentioned you had a collection – “ And with that she went behind the bar and handed me two of the most nondescript pieces of rock I have ever seen.


I don't go into Norman's anymore. Besides, the place has changed hands and it just isn't the same; no heavy black door – all glass and chrome. I don't know what became of Natalie. I still turn to look at every silver-colored Fuego. Luckily, there aren't many of them around. And I buried those two featureless rocks deep down at the bottom of my collection.

                            *                *                *

ITA Conference 2020 - Day 2

Day two was good, too (pardon the obvious pun.)
The only problem is, that I waited too long to write this post, have forgotten much of what I heard, and must now rely on my skimpy notes. On the positive side, this might turn out to be a shorter post, and less time-consuming for you guys to read! Always look on the bright side, etc etc.

On the second day I made my life easier by deciding to skip the first session, which meant I could get up at 07:00 instead of 06:00 (sheer torture for me). I didn't mind missing Moshe Devere's talk about MemoQ for newbies, because I don't intend to get into CAT tools; (of course I can always change my mind!) and I didn't mind missing Liron Kranzler-Feldman's session about developing translator-client relationships because I'm not looking for clients. Ah, the privileges of being retired!

So once again I was in ZOA's Marlen Hall. This entire session, until lunch break, was in the hands of eight capable and interesting speakers representing the Israeli Union of Literary Professionals. Sounds better in Hebrew: איגוד אנשי הספר - Igud Anshei HaSefer - people of the book. (Sorry - the site is only in Hebrew. Someone should probably suggest that it be translated into English and other languages, hint hint, nudge nudge.) Each speaker was limited to ten minutes.

The first speaker was Yinon Kachtan, committee member of the above Union. If you're not in the field of writing, translating, publishing etc, you have no idea what we're up against, how underpaid these professions are, and how important it is to unite, achieve solidarity, and together strive to improve our rights and terms of work. So we should all be thankful that Kachtan and his colleagues have picked up the glove. His professional website is fascinating; pity it's only in Hebrew.

Next was Yaniv Farkas, a freelance English>Hebrew translator. Unfortunately, the cryptic title of his talk, "Mapping Israel's book market players onto Game of Thrones' finest", was lost on me, because I don't watch Game of Thrones. Luckily, my son read A Song of Ice and Fire (by George R. R. Martin), on which the TV series is based, and explained Yaniv's Hebrew title -- שוק הספרים בישראל: בין בנק הברזל להולכים הלבנים. So now I get it: Yaniv used the Iron Bank and the White Walkers as metaphors for the powerful, ruthless elements which we, the people of the book, must deal with in order to make a living.

Asaf Bareket, owner and chief editor of Ocean Publishing House had the brilliant idea of creating the Adventure series, which is dedicated to beautiful new editions of children's and young adult classics. Nostalgia had me qvelling in my seat, as I re-lived, for a few blissful moments, many happy reading-hours: Bambi, The Glass Slipper, The Prince and the Pauper, Black Beauty, Tarzan of the Apes, Oliver Twist, Pollyanna, Peter Pan, Around the World in Eighty Days, and many more.
Thing is, most of these books had been translated into Hebrew ages ago. As we know, the Hebrew language has developed and recent translations sometimes sound to us (old timers) a bit too "modern". In many instances, we're emotionally attached to the old version. The trick is to retain the feel of, say, 19th century England, yet make the text fluent and accessible to today's youngsters. I got the impression that the Bareket brothers chose their translators carefully, and hope to god that they did a good job. Once my grandkids get their hands on some of these books (with my encouragement and help, I hope) I will find out for myself. (Yes, I know I can find them in the local library! But who has time to go to the library?...)

Dr. Hamutal Ben Dov, co-manager of Bear in Mind publishing, spoke about the desirable cooperation between publishers and the Union of Literary Professionals. The company's online shop, with its selection of educational books and games that feel more like fun than like "learning" or "studying", is very attractive. It reminded me of the [defunct] educational software company LOGAL, whose software at the time was groundbreaking, fascinating, and fun. (Worked there for 10 years!) Anyway -- I regret to say that I didn't take any notes during Dr. Ben Dov's talk, and have nothing more to say... Except that I wish the site was available also in English.

Much-needed brief coffee-break.

Next: The Odd Couple ;-)  Just kidding - they're not odd, they work really well together, and are both entertaining and edifying: Rachel Halevy, editor; Yaniv Farkas, translator. The first time I saw them "perform" was at the 2005 conference, in their joint talk/presentation about their Hebrew translation of Huckleberry Finn. I must have been busy enjoying the show, because I didn't take any notes. Besides, I have worked with Rachel Halevy once, on a novel. I don't usually translate from English to Hebrew, so felt a bit insecure, and having Rachel as editor was a blessing. Every few days I'd send her a Word document with a table: on the left was the problematic sentence/s in English, on the right my question or suggestion. She'd get back to me with clear, super-helpful replies. The book in question was The Last Summer (of You and Me) by Ann Brashares.

Hamutal Yellin, a literary translator and editor, and active board member of the Literary Union mentioned above, accomplished a helluva lot in her allotted 10 minutes. She gave a wonderfully succinct and clear presentation of the current literary-translation market in Israel, from our point of view. "Our" meaning us, professional literary translators and editors, who work hard for every shekel. The situation sucks. Publishing houses don't pay well, don't give raises over time, aren't fair or consistent in their methods of calculating the payments due, and overall do not treat us fairly. Which does not bode well for the future of this profession, for the future of people practicing it, and the future of translated literature in the country.

Implications of the current situation

What can we do about it?
We join forces!

We join forces, that's what; we unionize. Together we're stronger.
We share information; it's easier for publishers to get their way when we don't have the full picture.
We negotiate and haggle, for better rates, better terms of payment, all reflecting our true worth.
We support and help each other.

Inbal Sagiv Nakdimon, with a track record of over 160 translated books, plus more on the front and back burners, needed to find a subject she could squeeze into 10 minutes, and chose "Measure for Measure". How do we decide when to change miles into kilometers for the sake of Hebrew readers, the feet into meters, the ounces and pounds into kilograms? Surely Jane Austen's heroines didn't think in kilometers-per-hour, when discussing the time it would take their horse and carriage to trot from their "humble" home to the next town?
And while I'm at it: Inbal gave another presentation later on, dedicated to Gideon Toury and his essay about optimal translation. This is top-notch academic material which I shall not go into here. You can read it in Hebrew on Inbal's website, and watch her presentation on YouTube.

Back to Yaniv Farkas, solo this time, with 30 translation hacks. Sharing one's tricks and tips with fellow translators is a mitzvah. Farkas began his talk with technical stuff like his preferred computer screen ("portrait" as opposed to "landscape" orientation); preferred keyboard (a certain Lenovo, with the red dot - TrackPoint); then went on to essential work-habits such as making backups. Last but not least: Take a deep breath before answering annoying clients ;-)

Below are links to a few work tips I wrote and spoke about in the past:
Lunch break!

Yael Sela, my longstanding fave translator and speaker, has been [Hebrew] Language Manager  at Google since 2014, helping Google improve its Hebrew capabilities. She spoke with her usual vim and vigor about Goliath -- the project of making light of Google's Hebrew. In my professional past,  I had the displeasure of trying to edit and improve the Hebrew UI of various [educational] software, usually written quite badly by programmers, may they forgive me for this generalization.
Yael's task is to make Google's Hebrew, as it appears onscreen to the average Hebrew speaker, more inclusive, friendly and accessible. Their guiding motto is "Google is for everyone"; its instructions, commands, messages should all be understandable and friendly towards kids, golden-agers, and women everywhere. You can easily read more about Google's Diversity approach.
As it happens, I don't use Google in Hebrew, so wasn't aware of these specific changes. But the project is still going on strong, and I'm curious enough to try the Hebrew version and see for myself.

Vicky Teplitsky Ben-Saadon, of the Hebrew Language Academy, is terminology coordinator in the science section of the Academy, and very aware that a living language is constantly changing by its speakers. When it comes to scientific terminology, most scientists are not linguists. The Academy believes that language should serve all spheres of life. This implies that there's no point in creating words that make sense only to a small, limited sector. Also, there's no point in artificially creating Hebrew alternatives to foreign words which have become part of our everyday life, e.g., pizza, sushi, pop, rap, hip-hop, blog, blogger, etc. My notes mention that the word סימלון, simlon, has been suggested for emoji. I don't know whether this was a serious suggestion; I suspect not -- I think emoji is here to stay. The same goes for the much "older" word -- date, as in "I asked her/him out on a date."
How the Academy decides on creating a Hebrew term
Though I was thoroughly enjoying Vicky's talk, I left before it ended, since I'd intended to switch to the Academia room, where Shirley Finzi Loew was speaking.
So imagine my disappointment when I reached the room only to realize that Shirley was at the tail end of her talk. She was discussing the challenge of translating Italian dialects into Hebrew. Most of us, whose Italian encompasses the basic ciao, bellissima, arrivederci, buongiorno, and perhaps a handy expletive or two, aren't aware of the dialects, let alone coped with explaining their nuances. If I'm lucky, I might get another opportunity. If you'd like to read a brief summary of Shirley's talk, you can scroll down my colleague Ruth Ludlam's blog-post about the conference.

Inbal Sagiv Nakdimon's second talk, which I mentioned above, was the last on the agenda. During the ensuing break, many said their goodbyes. Those who stayed spent a relaxed hour or so enjoying a musical performance by Ronit Ophir and her accompanying musician, singing old favorites with lyrics by Natan Alterman, Natan Yonatan, and Natan Zach.

Until next time -- Arrivederci, folks!

ITA Conference 2020 - Yes, it was worth it!

Yep, the bottom line is that it was good.
Why was it so good?
- Ah, I'm glad you asked.

I was nearly late for the first session, having forgotten what public transport is like during morning rush hour. So I barely had time to hug and/or wave at colleagues before settling in. From the corner of my eye I glimpsed the very-colorful round buns (=sandwiches) on the bar next to the entrance to Marlen Hall, but had to forgo them. (Temporarily.)  The event took place at ZOA House in Tel Aviv, like in 2017 and 2018. The interior design has undergone noticeable refurbishing, or redecorating, without major changes that could have altered the venue's character and "vibe". The chief annoyance at ZOA remains the lack of a place to hang one's coat!

Day One. The keynote speaker was writer and translator Assaf Gavron. I haven't read anything by him; but I have now added him to my reading "wish list", and fervently intend to actually make that wish come true. Thing is, by now I'm also wondering what the English version of his books sound like... So whichever book I choose, I'm likely to get it in both languages, and end up comparing the two. Which is what I did with Dror Mishani's crime novel, The Missing File, for example, after hearing his talk at the 2016 ITA Conference.

Mind you, I'm not sure I'd be up to translating Gavron's novels and stories -- they seem quite complex (in the good sense of the word) in terms of plot, characters and language. Those of us who've had some experience in translating Israeli novels into English are aware of the many hurdles. And not just because the IDF lingo, slang, missions, atmosphere and so on are nothing like that of the American or British armed forces.  Gavron provided many amusing and edifying examples of the problems and pitfalls involved. Luckily, Gavron's command of English is far better than the average Israeli's, having been brought up by British parents in an English-speaking home and has lived, inter alia, in the U.S., England, and Canada. He himself even translated one of his novels -- the intriguing Tanin Pigu'a (= Almost Dead for the U.S. market and Croc Attack for the British) into English, with the help of British editor/writer James Lever. Gavron said that he thinks the English version ended up being even better than the original. I am not surprised; understanding and collaboration between author and editor or translator can work wonders.

While on this subject, do you remember Amos Oz's talk at the 2017 ITA conference, on translating A Tale of Love and Darkness into English? Oz collaborated with his translator, Nicholas de Lange, and gave him the go-ahead to leave out several sections of the novel, which were either of no interest to the American reader or too difficult or cumbersome to explain. And a propos A Tale of..., Gavron also translated into Hebrew the its English script written by Natalie Portman. As well as the script of one of my fave movies, Pulp Fiction. I don't suppose the script included the "Quarter Pounder with cheese" dialog...

May the god-of-translators forgive me for patting myself on the back, but I believe that I, too, have improved a few books and short stories while translating them from Hebrew to English. In my case it was relatively easy, once I had the consent and collaboration of the author. As we know, much depends on one's client and his/her attitude. I once had a client who hit the ceiling whenever he saw that my [English] sentence was not a 100% match with his [Hebrew] sentence; whereas another client has full confidence in me, is very flexible, open to discussion and appreciative of my suggestions and contributions to his original text.

Gavron translated a good number of books, scripts and short stories into Hebrew, and as far as I know had very good editors, such as Aliza Ziegler. I could go on and on, but I recommend that you  simply go to Gavron's website. Have fun!

As usual, the plenary was followed by a break. The colorful buns were a bit weird-looking but tasty, the cookies were very moreish, the coffee was bleh, but for 12 shekels you could get a half-decent latte. Then came the usual difficulty of choosing which track to attend. Briefly, here's what I listened to:

Nathalie Haddad, managing director of Transtitles, spoke about -- surprise, surprise -- translating subtitles. I think she did a good job of explaining the challenges involved. Most of the TV series I watch are in English, with no subtitles. But when I do watch TV with Hebrew subtitles, I am always acutely aware of both brilliant solutions and amusing or ghastly failures.

Next was Yael Valier, an experienced and talented speaker, as I discovered during her presentation on translating children's poetry at last year's conference. The emphasis this time was on translating texts designed to be heard -- an aspect most of us don't deal with on a regular basis.

Lunch break. Baby-bourekas instead of confectionery. But for those who wanted something more substantial, there are plenty of good cafes and eateries within easy walking distance. As stated, the main inconvenience was having to schlep one's coat and bag while simultaneously balancing a small, recyclable plate of food & drink and trying to find a temporary resting place. Meileh -- lo nora! (= Oh, forget it, no harm done; we survived to tell the tale...)

Break over. Back to Marlen Hall:
Avi Stainman basically told his audience what his company, Academic Language Experts, does, and why it's important. I totally agree that Israel's academics are, for the most part, in need of the services offered. Translating, editing, and formatting academic papers can be a huge headache which I for one was glad to stop doing. IMHO, most of what Avi said was plain common sense. But a little common sense can go a long way ;-)

Yael Cahane-Shadmi, a versatile translator and experienced lecturer, gave a short talk about an important aspect of our work: What do you do when a text you are asked to translate revolves around a subject, or promotes an issue, that is morally or ethically contrary to your principles. Obviously, if you can afford to pick and choose, you simply turn down any texts you dislike for whatever reason. But when the issue at hand is more serious, and you need the money, where do you draw the line?
Yael's presentation is available on her blog; but note that it is only in Hebrew. You can also enjoy an earlier presentation of hers, on assertiveness, which comes in handy when you want to turn a client down. :-)  This presentation, too, is in Hebrew.

Ruth Ludlam's presentation was about the process of publishing an academic book. This is something I would dread, and have done my best to avoid. But if you must do it, it's good to know what you're getting yourself into. For example: every publishing house has its own guidelines and demands, so if you get turned down by one publisher, you don't give up in disgust -- you try a different one, or two, or three... And even once you've established an understanding with a certain publisher, your contact person might suddenly be replaced by someone else, kicking you out of your comfort zone. You can read more about it on Ruth's blog.

Liath Noy spoke about the state of translation studies in Israel. A touchy subject, it seems. Once upon a time, like fifty years ago, there were no "Translation Studies" in Israel. I studied English Literature, Linguistics, some French and Spanish; and later a few courses in Comparative Literature, and a two-semester workshop in play-writing -- all interesting and fun, but not exactly geared towards translation. At present, my alma mater, Tel Aviv University, no longer has a translation department.
Translators' work often calls for an acquaintance with (or education in) a wide field of knowledge --  linguistics, modern language studies, comparative literature, cultural studies, philosophy, creative language, and more. But in day-to-day reality, that's not enough. The late Prof. Miriam Schlesinger believed in translation studies that prepared its students for the real world. (Which is why she invited me to give a guest-presentation in 2005. More about that in a separate post, I hope.) Today's academic programs are trying to adapt to the 21st century, with more emphasis on hands-on practice, technological aspects and business aspects. Among other things, Liath teaches how to use MemoQ - a successful translation software. If I were still working full-time, I'd definitely try it.

Last coffee-break for the day, followed by two brief talks:

Haddar Perry spoke about excess words in translation. I've been following Haddar's blog (in Hebrew, duh!) for years; her knowledge of the Hebrew language, past and present, is amazing in its breadth and depth. Her talk was a short version of the blog post mentioned above. The blog post contains no less than 47 examples of the way Hebrew-speakers use lengthy, often superfluous phrases when translating from other languages, including English. As we know, Hebrew is, by nature, a succinct language. In many cases the translator or editor looks at the tiny Hebrew (translated) sentence, which seems to him/her somehow insufficient, not respectable or impressive enough... and immediately pads and plumps it up with a few unnecessary words.

Micaela Ziv's two most important projects for the ITA over the past few years have been the Recognition project, and representing the ITA at Lahav - "the NPO whose goal is to lobby for and protect the rights of freelance and self-employed workers". Many of us have been asked by a prospective client to provide proof of our expertise, a professional certificate. And no, a university degree is not enough; it says nothing about your experience. But I can attest that my Certificate of Recognition does the trick.
- Anyone here up to being our new representative at Lahav?
- Anyone here willing to become a mentor for translators into Hebrew? If so, contact Micaela.

That's all for now. I can hear you sighing with relief... One day, I'll report about Day 2.
To see photos from the conference: