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McGill Reporter
November 21, 2002 - Volume 35 Number 06
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Kaleidoscope

Magdalena Romanska: Silver tongue, golden touch

Photo PHOTO: Owen Egan

Magdalena Romanska grew up in Krakow during the dark days of Polish communism. The State controlled almost all enterprise, discouraging entrepreneurship. Her family -- like many Poles at that time -- struggled to get by. For four years in high school she had to skip a meal every day.

Spending her days studying Russian, Italian and English, the young Magdalena had dreams of going to Italy -- just once.

Over a decade later, Romanska is expecting her first child, who is unlikely to ever need to skip lunch. Romanska came to Canada in 1996, started her PhD in Russian literature and did freelance translation. Two years later she set up her own translation company, Ad Verbum, in her home. Today it earns $400,000 a year.

Why translation? In her 31 years Romanska has gained at least some competency in about a dozen languages, according to her resumé. "I never count," she said.

She doesn't have time. Right now Romanska is preparing to defend her thesis on Modern Russian Poetry on December 10, and her first child is due less than a week later ("There have been a lot of jokes around the department about that").

Romanska's journey from Krakow to running her own business in Canada began on a tour bus. After graduating from high school, she got a job as a tour guide -- her knowledge of Polish and Italian made her a logical choice to lead tourists between the two countries. She met her husband then, also from Krakow, whose studies took the couple to Italy, California and Sweden, and finally here. While he studied nuclear physics, she continued to collect languages like some people collect baseball cards -- already fluent in Russian, English and Italian, she learned Swedish, French, basic Japanese and a reading knowledge of Danish, Dutch, Norwegian, Spanish and Portuguese.

When Romanska and her husband arrived in Montreal, she had no business experience. When she decided to launch her own company, others were skeptical. "We have no family here, no relatives, no contacts. People were saying to us, you won't make it, you're going to fail," she recalled of this time.

Undaunted, Romanska took her entire student loan and invested it into her company, then printed up 20,000 brochures to distribute to downtown businesses. She signed on her freelance clients. She took out ads for other freelance translators and paid for certified translators to test their quality. Romanska insists that her translators only translate into their first language -- therefore, she only translates documents into Polish. All documents are triple checked for accuracy and quality.

When her ad in the Yellow Pages came out six months later, the business really started rolling in. Ad Verbum's client list now includes the Government of Canada, Pratt & Whitney, Bombardier, Biochem Pharma and a host of others.

With a pregnancy, a booming business, two classes to teach and a doctoral dissertation to defend, how does Romanska relax?

Sports, mainly. Romanska is an accomplished tennis player, making the quarterfinals in a recent tournament on Nun's Island. Until her pregnancy slowed her down, she also ran --eight miles a day.

"I was doing sports right up until my seventh month -- I can't wait to get back to running," she said.

With so many of the world's languages at her command, what will Magdalena and her husband name their baby girl when she arrives? The answer is somewhat surprising -- Malaya, or perhaps Amaya. The names are Hawaiian, learned on a vacation she took while living in California. And what language will the girl speak?

"Oh, she'll go to a French school, and we speak English and Polish at home," Romanska says. "Also Italian, because it's fun."

quote

A lot of writers have got their ideas from the Bible.... And who did the writers in the Bible get their ideas from? It goes on and on. Is there such a thing as an original story?

English professor Robert Lecker talks to The Gazette about the kerfuffle around Booker Prize-winner Yann Martel drawing inspiration from Brazilian writer Moacyr Scliar. Martel's Life of Pi is the story of a boy on a raft with a tiger.

Foundations

Photo

Care to dance?

There is a room in the Faculty Club that is guaranteed to put a spring in your step. Not because of the hand-carved mouldings -- or their gold leaf covering. Not even because of the four faux pink granite pillars that hold up the vaulted ceiling. No, the spring in your step will come from the ballroom floor -- whether you're dancing or not.

The Faculty Club ballroom dance floor's oak wood is spring loaded for your dancing pleasure.

Photo PHOTOS: Owen Egan

"This floor was transferred from the Montreal Hunt Club in the 1800s. It was for the crème de la crème of Montreal society," explained Faculty Club general manager Nicholas Bourbouhakis.

Bourbouhakis has spent years on the restoration of the Faculty Club. He points to the moulding that graces the pillars and windows, each of which was hand carved by European craftsmen, and each of which is unique. The pillars, which are crafted to look like marble, are in fact steel and alabaster.

"It's an old technology -- it's basically plaster," said Bourbouhakis of the convincing pink columns. "It's cheating the eye."

Montreal sugar magnate Alfred Baumgarten added the ballroom to his existing mansion for the "coming out" of his two daughters in 1902.

The young ladies probably descended the lion head-adorned curving mahogany staircase in the back of the room, which runs beneath the "minstrel's gallery" where the band would have heralded their grand entrance.

Back then, the young ladies would have waltzed with the offspring of Montreal's finest families. Now the ballroom is used for business meetings and social events -- the house was sold to McGill in 1926. The mansion was used as a residence for the Principal and visiting professors for a while, before being turned over to its present use.

Photo

One of the recent social events held here was the "Tango Passion" fundraiser for Centraide. An avid ballroom dancer, Lydia Martone, a manager office in the of the Vice-Principal Administra-tion and Finance, took the opportunity to use the special facilities.

"It's like the difference with power walking when you're walking with athletic shoes instead of your office shoes," she said of the floor, rating it one of the best places to dance in the city.

"It's definitely tops -- if it was on a scale of one to ten I'd say it's a ten. The floor is wonderful, and the space is great."

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Finance Minister John Manley is mistaken in calling Canada a Northern Tiger. It is just a very, very fat Northern pussycat. The tiger to the South is wounded. But it's still the only tiger in town.

Management professor Reuven Brenner tells the National Post what he thinks about the US economy.

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