The interview was conducted in English by Skype between Los Angeles and Geneva.
LMJ: You were born in Belo Horizonte (Beautiful Horizon), Brazil. When we speak about your linguistic career, it will seem to the readers that that name  augured a wonderful professional career, which included developing your own highly successful translation agency, and the senior interpreting positions you held at the United Nations, culminating in your present position as “Head of Conference Management Service” for a UN specialized agency.
 The name of the great discoverer whom we know as Magellan was Fernão de Magalhães.
EM : Yes, the capital of Minas Gerais, a state of rich culture, history, fertile land, great weather and awesome cuisine. BH is also surrounded by mountains, which I guess makes us quite curious and inquisitive as to what lies beyond those peaks. At age six, I moved to Brasilia, where I spent most of my life. In the heart of Brazil’s central plateau, the place stood in drastic contrast to my experience in my home town: vast expanses of land, desert-like humidity, scrubby vegetation and not a rolling hill in sight. That greatly expanded my horizons and set me well on my way to the many changes I would experience in life, geographically and otherwise. I later transited through California, Washington, D.C. and Geneva, where I currently live with my lovely wife, two of my three children and the family Yorkie.
LMJ : You showed an interest in reading at a very young age. I understand that your father was the driving force behind that early start.
EM: Both of my parents had a passion for teaching and literature, and the house was filled with books. Mom would often recite poetry to us at bed time, and she would often give us books for gifts. There was a lot of music around the house, too. My dad, a true intellectual who would later become a political speechwriter, let me play around with his battered Remington typewriter, and I spent endless hours punching keys at random, in hopes of stitching words or phrases together, all to no avail. One day it all dawned on me. I must have been five or six, but I still remember it vividly. I was crossing an intersection in my hometown, my father towing me by the hand, when the hazy neon light in the distance suddenly collapsed into a meaningful string of letters: “c-i-n-e-m-a.” The feeling was transcendent, as if a veil had been lifted.
LMJ : Did you learn English at school? How were you able to acquire such a command of English as allowed you to embark on an interpreting and translating career?
EM: Like any boy, I wanted to grow in my father’s image, and speaking English was one of the many features I admired him for. So, I took any opportunity to learn the language, and went way beyond the weekly classes I had at school. Cable TV and Internet were not yet around, and I had to make do with the occasional comic books we bought at the airport and a few extra teaching aids I could find around the house. Also, travelling was not as easy as it now is. I was 26 when I set foot outside of Brazil for the first time.
At around the same time, I checked out George Orwell’s 1984 from a local library and plowed through the book in English, armed with a shabby pocket Webster’s dictionary that still sits on my bookshelf. It was a tedious effort. I spent more time looking words up in the dictionary than I did reading the book! I had read the story in Portuguese, so I knew the plot well enough not to get lost. Upon finishing the book, my level of English had increased tenfold.
LMJ : What was your first interpreting assignment?
EM : My very first gig as an interpreter was in 1992, and I got to interpret for none other than Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. I was then a clerk at the Lower House of the Brazilian Parliament, and known to some to speak good English. The visit was announced at the last minute, and they had to improvise someone in the role of interpreter. They asked me if I would do it, and I jumped at the opportunity (as Thucydides once said, “ignorance is bold!”) Before I knew it, I was squeezed between the Prince and the Speaker of the House, in a room packed solid with journalists and TV crew. At that point, I seriously doubted my judgment (what was I thinking!), but there was no turning back.
LMJ: How did you manage that assignment?
I survived it mostly unscathed, but towards the end I found myself confronted with a rather delicate situation. With his proverbial sarcasm, His Royal Highness let slip an unbecoming joke that might have been regarded as offensive. I hesitated for a second, wondering whether I might have misheard him, and raking my mind for an acceptable rendering. I panicked at the thought of eventually causing a diplomatic incident that could end my career before it even started. I eventually chose to omit the unflattering remarks altogether. In retrospect, I think I did well. Diplomatic interpreting – which was what I was doing that day – requires the interpreter to intuit what is really meant through and beyond words. I took a chance, and even made a name for myself as a self-assured professional. Little did they know I was just trying to cover my back.
Details of that first, chance encounter with Prince Philip are the first chapter in my book, Sua Majestade, o Intérprete (Parabola Editorial, 2007).
LMJ : You began to acquire your academic qualifications relatively late in life.
In the early 1990s, in Brazil, college-level training for interpreters – or translators, for that matter – was hard to come by. You had to learn by doing and in the process run a lot of risks. I jumped into the water and, much to my surprise, I managed to swim.
After interpreting successfully for about 15 years, and running my own translation agency for about as long, I started offering intensive workshops that became very popular for aspiring interpreters in Brazil. I had built a solid reputation in Brazil, and travelled extensively in the U.S. and Lusophone Africa. I had published a book on interpreting and I was presenting myself as an authority in the field. Yet I lacked the right academic credentials.
I then decided to put my career on hold and go for the right degree. And in 2007, at the age of 44, I relocated with my family to California, to pursue an MA in Conference Interpretation at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. I was put through a series of rigorous translation exams, consecutive and simultaneous interpretation, and was finally admitted into the Advanced Entry program with English as an A language and Spanish as my B
Soon after graduation, I started collaborating with MIIS as an Adjunct Professor, offering seminars and organizing a roundtable to discuss the prospects of a future Portuguese program at MIIS – which materialized a few years later.
LMJ : Did your MA from Monterey advance your career?
EM : Oh yes, and faster than I thought possible. On the very day I received my MA I got to perform in front of a panel of observers from the UN, the State Department and the EU institutions. As soon as I got out of the booth, I was offered the opportunity to sit the State Department conference-level interpretation tests in Washington, D.C. (by invitation only), which I passed a few weeks later, with flying colors. Soon thereafter, I started to receive offers for high-level conferences from State and other Washington-based organizations.
My credentials and hard work had prepared me for that opportunity, but I would be remiss not to acknowledge the generosity of a few chief interpreters who opened their doors to me. My colleagues were also very welcoming and assisted me greatly as I settled in Washington.
LMJ: You have interpreted for many VIPs, including Presidents Barack Obama, Cristina Kirchner, Lula da Silva and other heads of State.
EM: I interpreted at several world summits, like the G20, the Nuclear Summit, the World Bank and IMF annual meetings, to name a few.
LMJ : From what languages to what languages did you interpret?
EM : I worked mostly from English and Spanish into Portuguese, and from Portuguese into English. I also had a chance to render a short speech by Berlusconi from Italian into Portuguese at one of those summits.
LMJ : Did you get to meet any of those heads of state?
EM : To say that I met them is inappropriate, but I did get to shake hands and rub shoulders with a few world leaders during those summits. I also got to interact professionally with a few of them, one on one, at bilateral negotiations (e.g. former President Lula, the Dalai Lama, and Prime-Minister Paul Martin.)
With the Dalai Lama (and the Speaker of the House, Mr Michel Temer -- who is currently the Vice-President of Brazil), 1997.
President Lula, first Lady Marisa, and pop singer Lenny Kravitz, Brasilia, 2003.
EM: Another interesting encounter took place at the end of the Pittsburgh Summit, in 2009. Coming back from the closing press conference, President Obama ran into a large group of interpreters backstage and insisted on taking a picture with the “translators.” I was the first to shake his hand, and we exchanged a few pleasantries. The moment was captured by the White House photographers.
The group picture with President Obama in the back, slightly to the right, was taken at the end of the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh (2009), as he was coming back from a Press Conference. The picture was taken by the White House photographers, at the President's request.
LMJ : You work for ITU, one of the 15 UN specialized agencies, which include the ILO, UNESCO, WHO, etc. Some of these are in Geneva but others are in Paris, Vienna, London, Rome or Montreal. www.itu.int/en/about/Pages/default.aspx
EM : Yes. In 2010 I was appointed Chief Interpreter of the International Telecommunication Union, the UN specialized agency for information communication technologies, with headquarters in Geneva. My job was to manage a pool of some 500 freelance interpreters who regularly assist us, in the six official languages of the United Nations. I took office just two weeks before the Plenipotentiary Conference, in Guadalajara, where I had to manage a team of 74 interpreters, most of whom I hardly knew. The most recent four-yearly cycle of UIT conferences culminated in another successful Plenipot (October-November, 2014), and in 2015 I was promoted to the post of Head, Conference Management Service. I continue to indirectly oversee the interpreting operations, as the new chief interpreter reports to me, but I now have a larger scope that includes conference logistics and room management.
ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP-14)
Busan, South Korea
LMJ : Portugal has a population of over 10 million and Brazil has a population of 200 million. There are five former Portuguese colonies in Lusophone Africa, and other small remnants of Portuguese colonialism in Asia. How does Portuguese rank as an international language?
EM : There is no denying the geopolitical importance of Brazil's continental dimensions and the role it plays in stabilizing Latin America. The same can be said of Angola, in Africa. Brazil has more than once been a non-permanent member of the Security Council, which bears testimony to the importance it plays in ensuring the safety of our world. I believe Portuguese will eventually become a UN language. Perhaps the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP) will intensify its role in promoting Portuguese, which is certainly one of the most poetic and beautiful romance languages out there.
LMJ : To end this interview with a question relating to both your fields of expertise - translating and interpreting - would you agree that interpreters are usually extroverts whereas translators are usually introverts?
EM: I consider myself an extrovert, a true people person, and I have worn both hats (I was a translator for many years before I started interpreting), so I guess the distinction doesn’t always apply. In fact, some of the best interpreters I have worked with tend to be rather quiet and withdrawn.