Prior to the conference, I discovered that one of the presenters is from Slovakia. Several years ago he had a Fulbright to study in the States and worked at the university from which I have my degrees. I emailed him prior to the conference, and he was enthusiastic about my interest in working on modern Slovak music. At the conference he gave me an electronic copy of a major work on the topic by his mentor. Hopefully this will prove to be a fruitful contact, as most of my previous attempts to make research-related contacts in Slovakia have been dead ends.
Since I didn't know many people at the conference well, and since I'm not on the editorial board, etc. (although I was asked to chair a session, which came off pretty well), I spent my time outside of the sessions on my own. Since I'm with someone usually, it's a little awkward to get used to eating at restaurants on my own, but I was certainly determined not to hang out, hoping to tag onto groups or individuals, just to have people to eat with (and risk potentially awkward conversations the whole time). Fortunately my hotel was within easy walking distance from the conference site, so I was able to come back and take breaks for prayer, to read, write, and refresh my energy.
Among the things I did was to bring my copy of Samezdin Mehmedinović's Nine Alexandrias with me. This is his second book of poems, and unlike his first--Sarajevo Blues, which was begun in Bosnia and focuses on the war--this one was written entirely in the States. Most, if not all, of the poems were written post-9/11. His translator is an interesting man named Ammiel Alcalay. He is a Sephardic Jew whose parents came from São Tomé and Príncipe, which I recently learned is the second-smallest country in Africa, and the smallest Portuguese-speaking country. It's an island nation that was claimed by Portugal in the 15th century and became a convenient place to which to expatriate Jews and other "undesirables". It became a slave-trading post and also developed a plantation economy and was one of the last places from which slave labor was eventually outlawed. Alcalay has focused his scholarly and translation work mostly on writers from the former Yugoslavia and, more recently, Israeli writers. Their work is an interesting partnership.
OK, it's time for me to get ready to go back home.