Saturday, July 25, 2009

Monday, 20 July 2009: Day 2 in Ljubljana, Slovenia

After meeting with an unintentional kielbasa for breakfast, I joined Kevin in front of Stari Tisler, where we met Barbara Simoniti, novelist, translator, poet, and, yes, nonsense scholar. We believe, of all the improbable things, that she is the only scholar of nonsense literature in Slovenia, having written her doctoral dissertation on Slovene translations of Alice in Wonderland, as well as a monograph called simply “Nonsens” that deals with certain astute theoretical issues concerning the mechanics of nonsense brought up in her dissertation, in addition to the manifestations of nonsense in Slovenia, particularly in terms of fool’s tales. We sat down at a table in the back of the open courtyard, ordered coffee and tea, and dove straight into our shared passion. Barbara was boiling over with tales of her entry into the nonsense world, her graduate work and seminal scholarship. We eased into easy shop talk only found with those who Know—with those who have breathed nonsense, and found it Good. She gave us a copy of her book and told us about her further discoveries in, as Wim Tigges puts it, the “anatomy of nonsense,” such as the idea of serial addition, and the constant use of “thing.” Because Slovene translators have not understood some of these (and other) basic components of nonsense, they have failed to produce solid translations. As opposed to many whom we have met who think that nonsense is impossible to translate, Barbara was confident that, with a proper knowledge of how it actually works, particularly in its performative aspects, nonsense translation was quite possible. Music to our ears! We talked about the Slovene fools’ tales, world turned upside-down folktales, and certain jokes without punch lines (like the one I knew as a child: Two polar bears were taking a bath. One said to the other, “Could you please pass the soap.” The other said, “Are you sure you don’t mean the radio?). She thought there might be some nonsensical graffiti in Ljubljana, as well. Lastly, we asked if she might write her own nonsense piece for the anthology, which seemed quite appealing to her. Overall, she seemed delighted to re-immerse herself in this passion that she had let rest for quite a few years, since the publication of her book.

Time passed quickly, and we had to part after a couple of hours, but we planned to meet the next morning to give her all the material we had received from Milena. After going back to our room, however, we thought it would be an Excellent Plan to continue our conversation later that same evening, so we called her and set up a time to meet in a city center bar.

One significant regret that I shall perhaps always have is that I did not make a recording of the band that was playing near the café where we waited. It included, of course, a keyboard’s synthesized drums, a four-piece boyish band that oozed the most insipid ooh-ahh Europop imaginable. The only mercy was that we could not understand the lyrics. Barbara arrived, saving us from the music and weak drinks, and we settled amongst the ice cream eaters in another riverside café, where we continued to talk about how we all came to run with wild nonsense. When the staff seemed willing to close the table umbrellas on our heads, we sloped homewards.

In the morning, as I avoided all giant kielbasas who seemed to have a design on me, we met again briefly with Barbara, when she showed us her doorstop dissertation, an incredibly thorough comparison of Slovene translations of Alice and where they went tragically wrong. We talked about plans to come, received a copy of her book that we will deliver to Wim Tigges, encouraged her yet again to send us her own original nonsense, and said our farewells. Meeting Barbara was, for me, a little like meeting Anushka Ravishankar, at the time the only published writer of nonsense in India, all those years ago: an improbable yet incredibly fortunate nonsense confluence. As we parted, Barbara summed it all up perfectly: “It is a very great occasion to be both stupid and clever.”

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