Monday, 31 July 2017

Summer jazz in Valencia

During my six-week stay in Valencia, I didn’t go to as many jazz concerts as I could or wanted. For variety of reasons, but chiefly because of my overall tiredness and forgetfulness. Why, I even managed to miss La Nit de Berklee, a free event featuring John McLaughlin himself. Damn.

And if not for a Facebook notice from my friend (and fellow Arco Iris alumna), I would have never discovered Mar i Jazz (16—18 June 2017). This festival took place in the Parque Dr. Lluch, next to the beach. I came on Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed it a lot. There were two scenes but no two bands were playing at the same time, so, in theory, one could wander back and forth and listen to it all. It was very relaxing and family-friendly, with lots of cute toddlers (and their parents) crawling around. I met old and new friends, spent some hours sitting/laying on the grass, had a nap and even ventured to the beach for a quick dip. In my opinion, Sunday had the better programme, Le Dancing Pepa Swing Band and Elektrik Jazz Mantra being the highlights.

Next Saturday, 24 June, I went to see the colourful and noisy Pride Parade (Orgullo 2017) boasting an apparently endless supply of samba bands. I really came there to cheer that very friend and, naturally, her band appeared the last! After that, I walked to Palau de la Música to see, wait for it, Gran Canaria Big Band. Far cry from Frank Sinatra Tribute, their programme Jazzethnic (which I’ve also mentioned in my other blog) is a fascinating mix of modern jazz with Canarian folklore.

As I was saying, there is no shortage of samba bands in Valencia. For two Sundays only, I (in company of Harold the Hedgehog) joined one of them. And that made me want more samba! Alas, my last Sunday in Valencia there was no rehearsal. I had to compensate for it with my second helping of the beach.

Finally, on Monday, 17 July, I went to Jardines de Viveros to see Chick Corea and Béla Fleck. (After missing McLaughlin, I thought I would never ever forgive myself for another mishap of such magnitude.) I can’t say I was impressed with the logistics. The website suggests that there is a limited supply of seats and so you have to hurry up with the booking. (The only type of tickets my friend could book on Monday were meant for people with reduced mobility.) Wrong! The seats in Viveros were of a plastic garden chair variety that you can buy in any bazar here for a few euro each. And at least a third of them were empty! Not only the tickets were pricey: this place sells the most expensive beer in Spain. No, for this kind of music, one needs a smaller, preferably air-conditioned, venue.

Enough complaining: the show was well worth it. I liked it all, but especially Children’s Song #6, Señorita and (suddenly!) two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. (Ah, that banjo sounding like harpsichord... pure magic.) The encores were, maybe unsurprisingly, Spain and Armando’s Rhumba: all these years and countless performances later, still as good (or better) as one could expect. But — back to complaining mode — I was really annoyed with the audience that night. It was like nobody, apart from me and my beautiful neighbour on the left that is, wanted the show to go on. You guys paid a lot for the tickets; couldn’t you shout “Otra! Otra!” a bit louder and for longer time?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Yuri @ Oxford Street

by Philip Sharkey

In retrospect, I feel grateful to the Russian Consulate for insisting on those special black and white passport photos. Which is just as well because that establishment didn’t give me any other reason for gratitude. And so, one grey winter day we took Yuri to Passport Photo Service at 449 Oxford Street, just opposite Selfridges.

The article about Passport Photo Service published in The New York Times on 20 July 2003.

From the walls, we were greeted by Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Winston Churchill and all four of The Beatles. Now there’s no reason why one shouldn’t decorate their walls with photos of The Beatles, no matter where taken. But in this place the pictures were telling us, “We are made here. Fancy joining us? What are you waiting for?!”

Naturally, Yuri joined them. In a few years’ time, we all joined them. Philip Sharkey, the owner, told us that he keeps all the negatives. If we wish to make more prints, we are welcome to pop in at any time. Sure enough, a few months later we came back. The negative was promptly found, and we’ve got this fabulous black-and-white portrait — this time bigger than passport-size.

Yuri, 1997

Since then, the studio moved to 39 North Row. I wonder if they still have the negatives.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Three minutes to departure

Ten days ago, I became an unlikely hero of Barcelona Aerport T2 rail station.

Allow me to explain. After sleeping through most of the Norwegian Air flight Gran Canaria—Barcelona, I woke up refreshed (stiff neck notwithstanding) and quite ready for some food and drink. The station attendant at the Aeroport T2 kindly informed me that the next train to Barcelona-Sants is delayed by about ten minutes. I had half an hour to kill. Naturally, I found myself in a station café enjoying a good company of a pincho and a caña. The anxiety that kept hold of me for the last five days had finally relaxed its grip. I’ve landed, man.

Quarter an hour later, I was surprised to see the ostensibly delayed train showing up. Suspecting that it would attempt to depart on time, I paid, grabbed my backpack and promptly left.

In the train, I found a cozy seat next to the window. There was a middle-aged couple sitting opposite. Just to be sure, I asked them whether this train was indeed going to Sants. It did, they confirmed. (Unless I totally misinterpreted their Catalan.) When there was about three minutes left to departure, I realised that something was missing from the picture.

That’s right. My luggage.

What followed would have put Usain Bolt in shame. I left the carriage, ran out of the platform, into the café — the suitcase was exactly where I left it, viz. near the bar stool I occupied until a few minutes ago — the barman and the patrons just stared in astonishment — grabbed the suitcase, did a 180° turn and left the café without slowing down, ran back through the gates — the station assistant, apparently frightened by the expression on my face, quickly opened them for me and shouted “Corre, corre!” — and so I did. A few seconds later, I was sitting, panting, in the very same chair opposite the middle-aged couple who were nodding their heads and showing me thumbs up as the train began to crawl away from the airport.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

In memory of Sergey Valkov

Таких людей на самом деле не бывает. Они из книг, из сказок — никак не из нашей реальной жизни. Серёжа был на самом деле.
People like him do not actually exist. They are from books, from fairy tales, but by no means from our real life. Seryozha actually did exist.
Yuri Demin

On 11th June 1997, I received an email with a header: “Your friend is dead”. The body of the message was not much longer. That’s how I learned of the death of Sergey Valkov1.

I met Sergey for the first time in 1978 or 1979, can’t be more precise, at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, of all places. I was in the animation group, he was with the camera operators.

Apart from our love of cinema, we were both interested in guitar. Sergey was a poet and a singer, a self-taught cantautor. He was dreaming of making his own film. He wrote script and songs, found actors (well he himself planned to play a role), but he didn’t have any equipment on his own, and it proved to be impossible to shoot in the Cine-Photo studio without the approval of худсовет (“arts council”) of MYPP.

Performing at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, ca. 1980

Saturday, 3 June 2017

El paraíso perdido

by Pablo Auladell
based on the poem by John Milton

I’ve never read Paradise Lost and don’t plan doing it any time soon. Not in the 17th-century English, anyway. But this book, I couldn’t resist. Naturally, without reading the original, I can’t / shouldn’t / don’t even want to comment on how well Auladell reinterprets the Milton’s magnum opus. For me, this dark comic is a masterpiece in its own right. The illustrations work magnificently even without those few bocadillos (speech balloons). But, as I was reading them, I was thinking that they must be sung in a kind of opera or musical.

Satan/Lucifer is a flawed tragic hero. You don’t have to like him, but he earned my respect fair and square. He appears to be physically fit, has a pair of good-sized wings and spends most of his time wearing nothing apart from a trilby hat. I imagine him singing in dramatic baritone. His enemy, God the Father, is a neuter-gender beardless fatso in flowing robes that hide its anatomy. Its voice must be heldentenor until it breaks into screeching falsetto. It is a deeply unpleasant character, as I always suspected. Eve is lovely, intelligent, curious and independent. On the other hand, her husband comes along as a needy baby. Adam’s face is indeed a likeness of GTF albeit he is unmistakably male. I am pretty sure that Eve is a lyric mezzo-soprano while Adam most probably is a lyric tenor, although he’d better be quiet.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

by Becky Chambers

Last year, Timur won a photo competition in his school. He chose this book as his prize. When he finished reading it, I thought I’ll have a go. Timur warned me that I might find some scenes embarrassing. And he was right, although I think we two were embarrassed by different bits. Guess what, I read the first chapter and gave up.

The second attempt, this May, was more successful. Sure enough, the first few chapters still made me cringe. And then I got hooked.

The universe of this book is more intriguing than its heroes, and humans, who are the majority on the tunnelling “you’ve got to build bypasses” ship Wayfarer, make the least interesting characters. Most of them are thoroughly two-dimensional, while the dimensionality of the protagonist-ingénue, Rosemary, is somewhere between 1 and 1.5. It looks like she was introduced as a listening device on whom various technical details, apparently well known to those who know them well — say, how to build interspatial tunnels, or history/politics/mating patterns of various species inhabiting the Galaxy — are patiently and wordily unloaded.

Now the Galaxy is governed by the Galactic Commons, a United Nations of the sorts with many features of Vogon bureaucracy. Deeds such as: existing without a wristpatch (that is, an ID); inter-species coupling; providing an AI with a body kit; sapient organism cloning, or being such a clone — are illegal. Luckily for the reader, the Wayfarer crew, otherwise law-abiding goodies, get directly or indirectly engaged in a variety of banned activities. All that — nice touch, by the way — without blasters, lightsabers or other weaponry on board.

It’s well written but still reads as a novelisation rather than a novel in its own right. I’d love to see the comic or a 2-D animation of it. Less words, more action, I say. Not live action though: my favourite personage is the ship’s pilot, Sissix, a friendly, cuddly, affectionate, polyamorous, pansexual female lizard-like creature. She is the most alive of the Wayfarer family and having her as a CGI character would be creepy.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We set off to sea

by Yuri

I found this poem in a pile of old coloured paper. I think it was written about ten years ago.

We set off to sea.
We were excited.
The boat rocks so I might get ill.
But we keep going on.
We can see birds, fish, dolphins and water.
I feel warm, a little ill and happy.
We hear birds, waves lapping and I hear the crew.
I can taste the sea air.
We smell the fish and the sea.
We see our destination so we made it!