PEN Festival - the lowlights

My novelist & journalist colleague Jan Alexander missed the PEN events, so I took the opportunity to write to her what I would have put on the blog, if only my blog were functioning. I'm confident (or at least prayerful) that the Authors Guild will get it straightened out again (the moved to another server, and somehow blanked out my new blog entries), so here's what I had to say about the panels and celebrations at this week's festival. Some were just fun, others more practically useful. There's a short note in today's NYT -- too short, and Dinitia Smith thought that Salman Rushdie's closing joke at one panel was that "Literature is a loose cannon." I'm sure he was thinking "canon." I wrote up a note on the big Cervantes night and wanted to write others, but the Authors Guild (which hosts my website) has screwed up and no new entries are appearing in my blog for now. Bummer.

One of the oddest things I heard was from the Chukotka (I'll bet you didn't even know that was an ethnicity) writer from Siberia north of the Arctic Circle, who spoke in what I suppose is his second language, Russian. The panel was on "The Post-National Writer," basically about reaching audiences of different cultures from one's own, and naturally the question of translation came up, so the Chukotka, Yuri Rytkheu told, in scraps through his interpreter -- a New York Jewish joke. In New York City's New School. Rushdie, Francisco Goldman, Yoko Tawada, Eliot Weinberger and the others just looked out over the audience, too stunned to say anything. Here it goes:

Two Jews meet on the street in (Brooklyn?), and one says to the other, "Hey, Caruso's in town! I hear he's wonderful. He gave a concert last night." The other man answers, "Ah, Caruso shmaruso, he's not so hot. He sings off-key and he was flat." "What?" says the first guy. "You went to the concert?" "No, I didn't go to the concert. But Shapiro did, and he sung it to me."

That was about translation. It must have them rolling all over the tundra back home.

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