Oxford University Press conference in Budapest
For this conference I decided to give a talk entitled The ventriloquist that I hadn’t delivered for years. Those of you who haven’t had the misfortune to listen to it should know that it is a ventriloquist act. Well, sort of. I hold a dummy in my right hand, with whom I conduct a dialogue. When it’s the dummy’s turn, I change my voice and try not to open my mouth too wide in order to make the impression that it’s not me speaking but the dummy. I must be doing it quite well because there are always a few participants who come up to me after my talk, saying that they didn’t know I’d been trained as a ventriloquist. Of course I hadn’t.
By the way, my dummy lives in one of the chairs in my study. He keeps staring at me while I’m working. His reassuring smile does reassure me that what I’m doing makes sense – perhaps.
I’d been to Poland countless times – but never to Lublin. I’d read Singer’s novel The magician of Lublin, but that was all. When I got invited to the IATEFL Poland conference, I said yes without hesitation – I never turn down an invitation held in a town I hadn’t yet visited.
After arriving at Warsaw airport I took a taxi to the central railway station. As I had a couple of hours available before my train was due, I had time to marvel at what’s called the Palace of Culture and Science, the eighth tallest building in the European Union, as I’ve learnt from Wikipedia. Completed in 1955, the building was conceived as a „gift from the Soviet people to the Polish nation”. When I first visited Warsaw in 1966, my Polish friend told me that it was the ugliest building on earth and should be demolished – and I agreed. By now my opinion has changed – I find it quite an impressive edifice. Among so many things in the past half-century, my taste has changed too.
I felt very much at home at this well organised conference. As usual, I met quite a few old friends as well, such as Yuri Stulov, a most erudite friend of mine from Minsk. The two plenaries I delivered (Laughing Matters and Why won’t the little beasts behave?) went down quite well. Be that as it may, I’ve been invited to the next IATEFL Poland conference. Having done my bits, I escaped the conference site to see a bit of the old town. What a gem! As I was sitting on the terrace of a cafe in the main square enjoying my cappucino, I was a terrified onlooker of bicycles whizzing past at breakneck speed in a race. With a stroke of luck I survived.
At the beginning of October I attended the IATEFL Hungary conference, of which I’m the proud patron. This was the 24th conference in a row, which means that next year we’ll celebrate our anniversary with Alan Maley as the opening plenarist. Personally I’m very grateful to Alan because in 1990 he gave us tremendous support to found IATEFL Hungary.
Back to the present. Before my plenary at Veszprém there were lots of butterflies in my stomach because I was going to give my The dinosaur plenary for the first time. As IATEFL Hungary President Nóra Németh was introducing me to the audience, I was waiting behind the scenes in full gear: a dinosaur mask and a tail. When I slowly crawled onto the stage there was a round of applause, and when I finished I was given a standing ovation. East or West, home is best…
Salamanca is home to the oldest university in Spain and one of the oldest in Europe. In our days, too, it attracts thousands of international students from all over the world and as you stroll along the winding streets of the Old City you can see pretty young faces all around. Wherever you are in Spain you’re dazzled by the beauty of old cities. But Salamanca beats them all. You have to be a poet to describe its charm – which I’m not.
Fascinated by the Old City, I nearly forgot to mention that I was not a tourist but a presenter there. I was invited by the Spanish-Portuguese branch of Cambridge English Language Assessment. The by-invitation-only conference was held in the Hotel Palacio de Castellanos and this is not a marketing gimmick: it’s a medieval palace turned into a hotel and conference centre with all convenience. A dream place to stay!
Having arrived at Madrid airport I still had six hours to catch my plane back to Hungary, so I decided to leave my roll-on at the left-luggage office and make my way to Madrid. What can be a better thing than take a leisurely walk in Madrid, twenty-five degrees, sunny, luggage- and care-free?