More visitors and more action

THESSALONIKI – More visitors than ever, some 70,000 over four days, plenty of action with publishers doing deals, and a varied program of professional and cultural events made the 2007 Thessaloniki Book Fair a thoroughgoing success. Even the official opening at Helexpo on May 17, hitherto a series of speeches to be endured rather than enjoyed, was livelier this year with orchestrated lighting, music and the sudden appearance of people carrying luggage, in keeping with this year’s travel theme. Pros and cons As the TBF grows, and local publishers in particular learn the ropes, the fair has become a regular date for the book trade. And there is still plenty of learning to do. Some veterans of international fairs were heard to mutter that Frankfurt Book Fair international relations director Barbel Becker’s talk, «How to do Frankfurt,» was pitched at too simple a level, but the truth is that his advice to make appointments, for example, is one that not all Greek publishers have yet taken on board. For those who do want to mingle, the fair needs a central information point, where foreign publishers can find out who else is there and arrange to get together. Some publishers have used their experience and imagination to create a strong profile at the fair. One notable example this year was Nefeli’s stand, where Nikos Hatzinikos and his students performed music throughout the fair. Other publishers organized presentations of work by several authors focused on specific themes: Hestia had writers speaking about the Greeks of Istanbul, and Typothito had several authors tackling the topic of the nation state as a romantic fantasy or a killing machine. Other stands, though well designed, made a dismal impression because the people staffing them didn’t know how or couldn’t be bothered to approach the public. The Education Ministry’s stand was a case in point. What is the point of putting together an exhibition of old school documents if your representatives simply sit around scowling, sucking iced coffee over a collection of overflowing ashtrays, and refusing to make eye contact with interested visitors? In striking contrast were the Children’s Corner and the travel theme exhibition, both designed for maximum appeal. For children, who came in their thousands in school groups or with their families, the fair offered a range of delights. Boats made from driftwood hung from the ceiling of a room painted blue with simple stenciled shapes of boats on the walls. A library in the shape of a train, cushions on the floor, paper and pencils, and a team of puppeteers, storytellers, illustrators and actors helped make their encounter with the book fair memorable. Yiannis Psilakis’s stunning photographs of his travels to remote corners of the world, displayed in a central position, formed a visual link to the overall theme and a physical link between the two main pavilions. Geography Geography was a bit of a problem. The fair itself was intelligently laid out, but Helexpo is a vast collection of buildings that are inadequately signed. The lack of signage made for a lot of wasted time as visitors circled the block in muggy heat or torrential downpours seeking entrances that were unmarked and sometimes closed. Compared with last year’s fair, there was much more use of interpreters to make presentations and discussions accessible to speakers of languages other than Greek, which is vital if foreign literary agents, publishers and critics are to gain any familiarity with Greek books and authors. The program indicated, accurately in most cases, when translation was available. Sometimes opportunities were lost to make more of an impact. The European Translation Center (EKEMEL) ran a presentation of recent works of fiction by six Greek writers, for which they had prepared translations, in cooperation with the International Writers’ and Translators’ Center of Rhodes, in no less than nine languages. Publisher and writer Aris Marangopoulos did a commendable job of presenting the books, but why couldn’t EKEMEL, or the publishers, have brought the writers to meet the people from abroad who were keen to know them and their work? And why, given that both EKEMEL and the Rhodes center promote translation, couldn’t we be given the names of all the translators? The TBF is a perfect opportunity to spread the word about contemporary Greek literature among people in the book business. Let’s hope EKEMEL can offer more next year. From strength to strength Overall the fair has gone from strength to strength. It has more than met the longstanding need for a professional book fair that Dimitris Nollas, president of the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI), noted in his opening address. And, thanks to the many cultural events and discussions, it goes further still to do what Greek President Karolos Papoulias referred to when opening the fair. He praised those who work with books «so that we don’t lose the art of thinking that we can only cultivate through books.» EKEBI has more than met the initial challenge and can set its sights higher for next year’s TBF, May 29 – June1.