Invalides. The word was suddenly cumbersome, heavy with its historical meaning which the habit of French pronunciation and daily passage through its turnstiles usually kept at bay: “Invalides,” I said in English, trying to keep my voice down though the difficulty of getting over this key nugget of information was prompting me to shout into the phone. “Invalides, line 13, Invalides. It’s a metro stop, after the river – Ah, Invalides.” You stressed the final syllable, “desse,” and the word again shed all its military bearing. “You see it? Okay great, two o’clock. Call me if you can’t find it when you get there.”
Of the fifteen or so people who had joined the first makeshift workshop, eight crossed town to the unlikely address of the University of London Institute in Paris, perched on the edge of the great empty Esplanade in front of Napoleon’s gold-domed hospital for wounded soldiers of the Empire, now a museum, in an area of museums, and palaces and ministries. All had crossed the desert, the sea, found their way past the administrative and security obstacles that make the continent of Europe an increasingly distressing place, to Paris, but the chances of them getting to the right place in the 7th arrondissement seemed slim to me as I stood under its broad, bright sky, looking out for the conspicuous appearance of young black men. But those were my own doubts speaking, my own doubts about what the right place for this sort of encounter would be. Your focus on even the slightest opportunity to gain some ground in this long battle to have a life would see you through the disorientation of a teeming city and its ambient hostility to young black men. Like reaching for a branch as the current is pulling you out and down. The University of London in Paris: for the first time, perhaps, in a number of years the possibility of that combination struck me, all that might hang on the idea of the University of London for a Sudanese student fleeing Darfour, but here in Paris, and not there, beyond the ever more impenetrable barrier of Calais, its fences and jungles, and the sea again beyond those.
We will be updating this page as the work of the translation laboratories unfolds – please do keep checking on the development of the project. You can read more on the Centre’s other activities on ULIP’s dedicated research pages - Allophonia.
The results of these laboratories will be exhibited in London’s Senate House as part of this year’s Being Human festival next month. Join us on Friday 18th November for a presentation of the project and on Saturday 19th November for a final translation workshop and exhibition. For more information and to book, please see the event webpages.