The Kleber International Conference Center in Paris, which was still being used by the French Ministry for Foreign Affairs, has been sold to a Qatari Real Estate Company and will be revamped by Vinci, a leading French company, before it re-opens in 2011 in the form of a luxury hotel.
I worked there as an interpreter on several occasions. I don’t remember the context of all the conferences, but the building was very old, with antique plush fitted carpets everywhere, the acoustics was appalling, so was the air-conditioning, two mutually-exclusive components when it comes to interpreting. If you opened the windows, the noise coming from the Avenue Kleber, close to Place de l’Etoile and the Arch of Triumph, meant we couldn’t hear what the delegates were saying. Bad if you must translate them. If you kept the windows shut, everyone was near boiling-point by the next hour.
But I also have some surprisingly good memories of it. One in particular. There was a very hard meeting of the European Pharmacopeia of the Council of Europe, done in consecutive with another colleague. Simultaneous interpreting would have been hard enough, but those were the days when consecutive was still very much used.
Consecutive interpreting is based on 2 prerequirements: a very good memory, and your own note-taking system. Both are equally necessary, although memory is essential, you cannot just rely on your notes. In this case, remembering long complex names was quite an achievement, so it was necessary to write a lot. So why was it a good meeting? We were in the room with the delegates, which created a collaborative climate making it slightly less difficult, as a meeting.
Before I conclude though, I’d like to remind the younger readers that the Kleber Center had a history of its own. As the daily Le Figaro reports here, during World War II, it was the famous Hotel Majestic where the German military government had established its headquarters. After the war however, it served more peaceful ends: the Paris Peace Agreement was signed here in 1973, putting an end to hostilities between the USA and North Vietnam. But more recently it was used for negotiations on Kosovo, Ivory Coast, and a long list of international issues.