Monday, November 26, 2007

Paper moon…

    Say, its only a paper moon
    Sailing over a cardboard sea
    But it wouldn't be make-believe
    If you believed in me

The flag reads:
We demand peace!
I was over at the typographic office earlier this week. We have a couple of places where you can get Xerox (pronounced kserox here for some reason) copies made, but the Pinsk Typographic office is the place that does the "professional" or maybe "official" printing, if the latter is a better word. I went there to get some cards made up for the teaching job I mentioned in yesterday's post. I had been using a local copy place but they ran out of black toner for their color printer and this lapse has lasted almost 10 days. Using the typographic office was three times more expensive but the cards do look much better. Well, the cutting was obviously done by hand because the borders were not so even (I did a better job myself using the copy shop's antique, standard-issue, USSR chopper), but it wasn't so much more money and I needed the cards so, what the hell.

While I was there though I also asked again about getting paper copies made of the book: BEING HAD. I have it available over the net in either WORD or PDF, but I have always dreamed of having at least a few paper copies lying around. I don't know; Christmas gifts? I had spoken to them about a year ago about how much it would cost to print a few dozen copies but hadn't ever done it up until now because there has never been enough money. It is not I have been afraid to invest; there has just simply never been anything to invest with. I mean, when you are counting the cost of food and electricity into your financial plans, you tend to work on a much smaller scale. So without the extra few hundred dollars to spend, the idea had just sat there. From time to time it would wake up for a moment or two when some potential patron showed a mild interest, but basically the book has been just sitting lonely in a corner; an interesting but extravagant thought with apparently no genuine reality to look forward to.

But actually standing in the typographic and spending money on advertising had me thinking again and so while I was there, I asked the director if the prices for printing were still the same. What I got back was actually a very interesting answer. Yes, the cost per copy for BEING HAD would still be the same however, she was not sure she would even be able to do the job. I didn't understand.

"Well you see, the book would be written in English and therefore I don't know that we would have anyone who could read it."

"Why would you need to read it? I have edited it myself. There are probably a few dozen errors but basically I feel that the text is clean enough for publication."

"No, you don't understand; the book needs to be approved by the Ministry of Information before it can be printed by this office."

"What does my book have to do with the Ministry of Information?"

"They must approve all material which comes through this office. It is illegal to say anything against the state or to even print material that is of any "unofficial" political character."

"But the book is about my experiences in Poland. It really has nothing to do with Belarus exact that probably about 50 times I say that I was waiting to come back to Belarus."

"Still, it must be approved." I could see she was serious. I started to think about what it would cost to go through a standard bureaucratic effort here. There would have to be an "official" translation- I have no idea what translating 465 pages would cost, or even how long it would take. Well, I could guess; if we used the standard translation fee which is $5 a page, we would be speaking of… wait, let me get out the calculator…a lot. Even if this was not how much it would cost and I only paid for the translator's time, we would still be talking about at least several months to a year before the copy would be ready for approval. And then there would be the approval process itself.

"I am not going to do that." I said.

"And what is more", she continued "you must also supply an additional 21 copies for the various organs around Belarus."

"Who would this be?"

"The national archives, the National Libraries, the various ministries, etc."

"And I suppose I would also have to pay for those additional 21 copies."

"Of course." I knew I was beat but I also knew that one should never go down without at least pretending to put up a fight.

"Look, I understand what you are saying. But I have no intention of publishing the book on the territory of Belarus. The book is in English and not in Russian and all I would ever do is send the thing out via post should anyone ever decide to buy it. I would never sell it at the book stores here."

"I understand you perfectly but you see my hands are tied. We are a state-run typographic office. We have a license which allows us to operate and we follow rules so that our license will remain viable." She smiled showed me two open palms "This is our country."

I could see that she was taking pleasure from this situation. Locals love having an opportunity to laugh at outsiders and situations like this, which highlight the base difference between east and west, are like a fresh slice of chocolate cake with whipped cream and a cherry on top.

"But look," I started. My heart wasn't really into it but I decided to ask again anyway, "the book has been on the internet for several years now. During that time I have written over 500 essays about Belarus and produced over 250 on-line gazettes about Belarusian news, both good and bad, and as you can see I am still standing here. Obviously I am not any sort of serious antagonist to the state."

"Yes, but you are speaking of the internet. This is print."

"But none of this was spoken of the last time. Is this a new rule since the last elections or something?"

"No, this is a very, very old rule. Probably it is one of the first rules from our revolution." She smiled her 'This is our country' smile again. Of course nothing has ever really changed. Hadn't I learned anything by now?

She stood up, took her keys and walked with me down to the printing office. After shaking hands with my old friend Andre, we went over to set up my business cards on another computer. After adjusting it for size, Andre ran it through Corel Draw one time for clarity and then printed a copy for me to check. After, the director walked me to the business office to discus the price. Just before leaving me there, she explained to the two secretaries that even though I did not seem to fully understand the licensing issues that would go along with printing an English language book, I might be bringing over a copy in PDF format to show to the director anyway. They should therefore take a moment and speak to me about any technical questions concerning the size of the book, photos and font sizes etc. And with that and one more of those nice, 'Welcome to Belarus' smiles, she was off.

Well, what can I say about this? I actually don't have the money to print right now anyway. I thought I might have had it but one patron, who had promised that this time it would be 100% that there would be some money made available, as usual didn't come through. So even without thinking of either the ministerial rout or the envelope under-the-table rout, it looks like this book deal is not going to happen locally. And you know, it was never really so much that printing here would be cheaper than doing it in Europe, I think all I wanted was to be able to stay local and give Pinsk some business. Well, maybe that and to have that "Printed at the Pinsk Typographic Office" signature at the bottom of the back cover. That would have been nice too.

Anyway, if you would like to have a copy of the book BEING HAD, I would be more than happy to send it to you in either Word or PDF format. If you are interested, just drop me a line and let me know. And while you are at it, please hit the Pay Pal button; all donations and contributions to the cause are, of course, most appreciated.

More soon…


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