April 11th, 2012


Links I found interesting for 11-04-2012



Well, I had a tremendous time at Eastercon. The unprecedented fact that it had sold all available memberships beforehand boded well; and the hard work put in by the team paid off in almost every way. 

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But it's the people that make the event. I realised quite early on that I couldn't possibly keep track of all the conversations I was having and enjoying, or even just of the people I was meeting for the first time after conversations here on LJ over the years, or indeed who I had never interacted with before at all. I did feel I might have tried a little harder to talk to people I didn't know, but the heaving fullness of the event somehow made that difficult; also this was actually my first convention for several years, so there was a lot of catching up to do. And there were still a couple of people who I knew were there and did not manage to talk to. If you think you are in that category, you are probably right and I wish we had not missed each other.

Caroline Symcox admires Charles Stross's new Kindle;
Paul Cornell seems to admire Charlie's haircut!

And there were some lovely moments of shared joy as well - Paul Cornell dancing with glee at his Hugo nominations, Colum Paget returning the James White Award money to double next year's prize, the wonderful video taken from the International Space Station which was shown at the closing ceremony, the general sense of achievement at the Guardian's positive write-up on the Monday. Certainly there were things that went wrong, but there was an obviously shared culture of wanting to get it right. So thanks once more to those who made it possible, and I expect to see you again.

Speaking in tongues

I was disappointed with the difficulty I had in reading a short book in French last year, and my heart sank both last week and today when I realised that a business meeting I had expected would be in English was actually going to be in French. I can use French OK for chatting to Francophone neighbours, taxi driver and restaurant staff in Brussels, or for shopping in Wallonia (the nearest open supermarket on Sunday afternoons is in Hamme-Mille), but doing more significant stuff is a bit daunting.

But in fact it was fine. It helped that neither interlocutor was French or Belgian, so perhaps more merciful to non-native speakers, and that my programme assistant, whose native language is Spanish, has much better French than I do and was present in case of communications breakdown. The only tricky moment was in last week's meeting, where we were talking to a diplomat from a non-European Francophone country, who has only recently arrived in Brussels; I completely threw him when I said "nonante" rather than "quatre-vingt-dix", meaning "ninety". (We Belgians also say "septante" rather than "soixante-dix" for "seventy"; Swiss Francophones do the same.) I was unapologetic; it's not just local slang, it's officially written on my son's birth certificate ("L'année mille neuf cent nonante neuf", ie 1999).

I remember when Anne and I first visited Brussels on holiday, long before we moved here, and the bus driver told us the fare, moving from his own word to French French to Dutch/Flemish to English: "Septante! Soixante-dix! Zeventig! Seventy!" In how many other cities would a bus conductor know to ask for a fare in three and a half languages?