Funny old five days at a symposium on ageing in Toulouse last week. Intense, lengthy,
(largely French) sociological theory saturated talk and discussion. This proved challenging for the translators, Julia and Luke, up in a viewing box above the auditorium. Translating for the small number of non-French speakers.
The days were long. Punctuated by buffet lunches made by women from a local
refuge. Delicious flans, salad, red wine and more discussion. Time wasn’t important though it was a feature in many presentations.
I stayed in Toulouse when I was about 15. On a French exchange trip. I remember the
municipal pool, Murray Head and the Carrefour. On this trip I travelled from the university by Metro and bus. Past the neighbourhood I stayed in all those years ago. To the hotel. Across the road from the Carrefour.
I thought a bit about my pen pal Valerie on these journeys and tried to imagine what she looked like now. Or if I’d recognise her parents among the passengers on the bus. I
remembered her elderly grandad who lived with them. How he’d take his slippers
off after each meal and rub his feet carefully and methodically on the floor.
Saturday afternoon, the Swiss academics stepped up. Discussing frailty, fragility and ‘handicap’. Up in the translation box, Luke was alone. The translator two had become one. There were pauses in translation. One presenter, talking about the experience of Alzheimer’s disease critically raised the argument that if someone has ‘gone in the head’ [quote] they no longer have an identity.
We came back to this in the questions. The presenter talked about the ease with
which people can be treated as not fully human if they’re thought to have no ‘identity’. The translation faltered and stopped. The person next to me summarised the remaining discussion. Five minutes condensed into one. It was to do with violence, power and vulnerability. And the responsibility we all had to challenge the way in which
certain people are treated.
The next morning I walked across to the Carrefour to buy some sweets to take
home. It was shut. On the way back to the hotel, passing some elderly people, my
rage again grew at LB’s death. And how it captures and symbolises the complete lack of regard and worth attached to certain people.