The 47th Annual ATA ConferenceA first timer’s perspective

By Luis-Salvago-Toledo

As New Orleans continues to rebuild in the now-distant wake of Hurricane Katrina, translators from around the country gathered there in November to show their support for this multicultural city, so important in the American landscape—and to the American psyche. A former resident—but a first time attendee—reports on the ATA Convention. 

There are characterizations that, no matter how hard their detractors try to reduce them to simple clichés, survive unscathed. “Southern Hospitality” is one of them. In my merchant marine years (the ‘60s), New Orleans was for a while my homeport. During that time, I enjoyed the warmth and friendliness of the locals. And so I did again during the 47th annual ATA Conference, held Nov. 1-4, 2006. But that was only the beginning.

The Sheraton Hotel, across the French Quarter and a stone’s throw from the Mississippi, provided a convincing setting: big but cozy. Its cathedral-ceiling lobby had many corners with comfortable seating in which to enjoy a conversation with like-minded attendees, or just to close one’s eyes and recharge the batteries between sessions.
 

Making a plan

Early planning is key to getting the most out of the event. The October ATA Chronicle includes the Conference’s preliminary program, and since it already describes the bulk of what the final program will be, this is the time to start selecting—provisionally, at least—the seminars, sessions, and activities you’d like to attend. Different languages and different areas of specialization are identified with different colors. Yet, avoid the tendency (I didn’t) to concentrate on events pertaining to one’s divisions of choice and become color blind to others. Fine as far as the former goes, but also take a look at everything else.

Two of the sessions I now declare as “must go” were not in my original list. Luckily, the ATA staff suggested them in its informative early gathering. So, to them I went. They were Business Setup and Success: The Basics and Ensuring Payment Before, During, and After the Project. Although both were recommended for beginners, a number of the attendees who weren’t, especially freelancers, beamed afterwards the same never-too-late expression in their faces as love-struck folks of any age do. I’m confident both sessions will also be offered in 2007.
 

On the go

Registration time was hectic, even for those of us already registered but in need to pick up our packages. The area was bursting with attendees in a hurry to get going. ATA staff, typified by member Roshan Pokharet, was energetic, resourceful, and of a helpful disposition.

The continental breakfasts (included in the package) offered good networking opportunities (there were many others). People were in a fresh, early-in-the day mood willing to exchange experiences.

Following the Thursday, November 2nd breakfast, the Opening Session got underway, big and delightfully noisy. The Storyville Stompers quintet provided a local, creative touch in the best Dixie tradition, entertaining us through a couple of sets.

Later that day, voting for three directors and two Bylaws Changes took place. The elected directors were Gabe Bokor, Claudia Angelelli and Virginia Pérez-Santalla.

Both of the proposed Bylaws Changes passed: 1) No need for chapter elected officials (other than chapter presidents and vice-presidents) to be ATA members; and 2) [abridged] Condemnation of torture in any form, requiring of translators and interpreters who become aware of it to report it to those capable of taking preventive or corrective action; expects governments to refrain from retribution against interpreters and translators when they refuse to participate in or cooperate with; urges translator and interpreter schools to include in their curricula training in ethical behavior.

A nod to ATA

It didn’t take me too long after witnessing the ATA at work to sum up in one word my opinion of the Association: maturity. Evidence for this was threefold: the organization of the event, the smooth running of it (or most of it, anyway; more on this later) and the Association’s readiness to tackle suggested improvements. Therefore, I tip my hat to the members of the board. These selfless men and women devote many years of their lives to the Association. The least they deserve to hear from us is that, once again, their experience and maturity shows.

The educational sessions were included in the price of the conference, while the pre-conference seminars weren’t (there was one free exception, with the rest costing $50 per seminar). After attending at least two of each, my conclusion was that the extra cost was not an indication of the seminars being superior in any sense, merely that they were longer. For the most part, I enjoyed both types of presentations equally well, and my only two disappointments were one of each. In the case of the seminars, not much could be done: a $50 waste. The sessions, however, presented a more promising picture. When attending one, it’s a good idea to have an alternate in mind. Try to get an aisle seat. If after the first ten minutes the what-am-I-doing-here feeling sets in, it’s time to move to the second choice.

Of satisfaction, and room for improvement

I want to emphasize that my positive check marks were in the overwhelming majority. That is, given the opportunity to have my money back in exchange for not keeping a trace of what I experienced, my reply would simply be, “thanks, but no thanks.” At the same time, some of the so-so areas didn’t require a lot to present a better face. I’ll mention a couple:

  • Lack of session/seminar handouts. Being a below average note-taker, I may be more sensitive than most to this issue. Yet, I doubt that, given the choice, the majority of attendees wouldn’t have preferred to have from the very start a copy of the material to be presented. Why, then, is this the exception rather than the rule? Because, I presume, not enough people exert enough pressure on the issue.
  • The Spanish Language Division became the victim of its own size. Its Appetizer Reception ($30 extra, no drinks) attracted huge numbers. The buffet line turned very long and slow moving (when moving at all). Impatience and complaints surfaced. I felt that by simply setting up two buffet areas instead of one the problem would have gone away. Additionally, there were very few tables and chairs in the room. Munching vertically is not my idea of enjoying a meal. Would I attend it again? A resounding yes, for the atmosphere was contagiously festive. No music was needed for the air to vibrate with Caribbean flair and accents.

The NCTA presence

As for the NCTA presence at the conference, we had some nice touches of our own. Tuomas Kostiainen and/or Yves Avérous were the usual occupants of our table. In the two evenings I replaced them, I received compliments from a number of onlookers from a variety of places, ranging from Argentina to Turkey. Three touches elicited their praises:

  • The document holder displaying conspicuously the NCTA readers and topics for the day.
  • The magnetic refrigerator cards, available to all, announcing the site (San Francisco, of course) and dates (Oct. 31 – Nov. 3, 2007) of the 48th ATA Conference.
  • The centrally located bowl overflowing with Chinese fortune cookies, the bearers of good tidings this Conference to the next.

Concerning the latter, it surprised me to realize that many had not seen fortune cookies before. All seemed to enjoy them, however. Hence Tuomas’ insistence on making the cookies generously available at all times. Since then, I haven’t been able to disassociate his identity from the one of that lovable character of Sesame Street fame.

Yves portrayed an equally unforgettable image. The evening I replaced him at the NCTA table I found him by himself, but not alone. His Mac filled the vacuum. He showed me a couple of things he could do with it. His ample knowledge aside, I was even more impressed with the interaction: a man/machine dialogue carried out with merriment and intimacy. To my eyes, he handled his Mac as a sculptor handles his chisel. Blessed are those who love the worthy things they do … and the tools of their trade!

The Golden State was well represented. According to the final figures California topped the list with 130 attendees, followed by Texas (100), and New York (98). Canada led the international presence with 49 participants; Argentina sent 22, and Mexico 19. The total number of attendees was 1,261.

On to San Francisco!

By the time these lines are part of the Translorial, fewer than nine months will separate us from the 48th Conference. Little doubt exists in my mind of what an event it’ll be. Reasons, some already expressed, abound, not the least its location: The City That Knows How.

And that’s not a cliché, either.

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