by Nora Seligman Favorov
If you’re a history buff or interested in seeing how our profession has evolved over the past quarter century, or if you’re just messing around on the internet looking for something different to read, I would recommend some of the first issues of SlavFile recently posted to the SLD website.
Take, for example, the issue from February 1995. SlavFile was still in its infancy, and the RLD (not yet SLD) administrator Susana Greiss congratulated editor Christina Sever (sadly, no longer with us) and “Layout and DTP” editor Galina Raff (still doing layout lo these 25 years later!) for the great job they were doing. The switch to “Slavic” division was in the discussion stage, and division administrator Susana Greiss was asking readers for input. A “Calendar of 1995 Spring Activities” listed a number of in person (imagine that!) events (a “Russian Financial Terminology for Translators” event at a library in Seattle; “Breakfast at Denny’s,” also in Seattle; a couple of “accreditation examination” sittings, since the switch to certification still lay in the future). As a further reminder of how much things have changed, the list of resources for translators and interpreters consisted mostly of brick and mortar bookstores, along with “Top 1 Video (ask for Greg—Americanized name)” in Hollywood, California.
The May 1995 issue reflected the still relatively recent collapse of the Soviet Union with an interesting article profiling some of “Russia’s ‘New Translators,’” as well as strongly worded letters to the editor both pro and con the move toward a more inclusive Slavic Languages Division. And three cheers for Igor Vesler, whose engaging article “Ukrainian—An Emerging Market?” paired with his triple contribution to the Summer-Fall 2020 issue proves the man to be an asset with staying power. As Dagmar Kotlandova Koenig’s article in that issue, “Translating Czech in the United States” seems to demonstrate, the RLD had more success than the SLD has had attracting Czech participation, ironically enough. The Autumn 1995 issue contains a note “From the Editor’s Desk” in which editor Christina Sever announces her need to step down and a call for a replacement. Susana Greiss’s “From the Administrator” column in the following issue announced that the division was “fortunate to be able to recruit a new editor who, I think, will do us proud: Lydia Razran Stone.” She knew of what she spoke.
In case I haven’t yet convinced you to browse these 25-year-old issues of SlavFile, let me strengthen my case by quoting two funny stories from what might be only the second of Lydia’s “SlavFile Lite: Not by Word Count Alone” columns—in this case stories contributed by SlavFile’s then-assistant editor, Laura Esther Wolfson:
Funny Story No. 1: A young woman who wanted to perfect her Russian got a job working on an American exhibit demonstrating the wonders of capitalism to the Soviet masses. Her responsibilities included demonstrating a supermarket checkout scanner, which, in the interests of verisimilitude, was provided with props in the form of various grocery items made of plastic. The gaze of a Soviet visitor at the exhibit fell on a plastic sausage, and, leading the young woman to digress from the properties of the scanner, he asked what measures were taken in the U.S. to prolong the shelf-life of sausage. The young woman seized the somewhat phallic looking sausage, held it aloft and said, confident in her use of false cognates: “Они пользуются презервативами! [“They use condoms!”]
Funny Story No. 2: A woman who worked at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow in the seventies told me about a New Year’s party she attended in that city at the residence of a Western diplomat. At midnight, one of the guests exclaimed, ‘What a pity that some poor KGB agent has to see in the new year eavesdropping on us instead of having a good time with his friends and family!’ A few seconds passed, the phone rang, and the sound of a champagne cork popping was clearly audible at the other end of the line.
Nora Seligman Favorov is Associate Editor of SlavFile and a freelance translator of Russian literature and history.