Friday, 20 July 2018

Yuri’s 21st

Here are seven analogue-era, “made in Britain” photos taken in different years by Tamara.



Cromer, 1998

Yuri and Timur, Saffron Walden, 2000

Autumn in Cardiff


Peak District, 2006

And this video I found on my old netbook before taking it to Cash Converters.

Aarhus (back then Århus), 2009

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Cheese time

On Friday 18 May we went to the XXV Concurso Oficial de Quesos de Gran Canaria (25th Official Gran Canaria Cheese Competition) where, I am told, for the first time the public could both taste, buy, and vote for cheese. To do that, one had to travel to atrociously-named INFECAR (La Institución Ferial de Canarias) located in one of the more horrid parts of the city. Nevertheless, we successfully navigated there (and back) by public transport. The place itself is not so bad but seems underused. The cheese tasting took place in a spacious foyer of the Palacio de Congresos. Next to the entrance, there was a little stall with cheese for sale.

While the experts were going around the tables where the cheeses were piled (it looked like they were given one latex glove each, so they used their gloved hands to hold iPads and poke the cheeses barehandedly), we also had a look around.

According to the catalogue that I took from one of the tables, there are about 80 queserías artesanales (artisanal cheesemakers) in Gran Canaria. Here, 31 cheesemakers presented 65 cheese varieties competing in 13 categories. Most of the cheeses were made with unpasteurised milk.

We limited ourselves to sampling and eventually purchasing three wedges of cheese, leaving voting to others. (The full list of winners can be found here.) All three cheeses were classified as semicurado (variously translated as semi-cured, semi-hard, semi-soft, take your pick).

  1. Cortijo de Daniela Semicurado/Tuno Indio by Airam Rivero Bethencourt and Esmeralda Santana Falcón (Lomo del Pilón, Espartero, Teror)
      This sheep’s milk cheese got our attention mostly because of the spectacular purple colour given to its rind by the fruit of cactus Opuntia dillenii, known in Canarias as tuno indio, penca, penco, pencón, topete or tunera. We loved the taste of freshly cut cheese. Rather disappointingly, after spending just a couple days in the fridge it was not as nice anymore. So, a word of advice, if I may: don’t buy if you don’t mean to eat it the same day.
  2. El Cortijo El Montañon by Flora María Gil Mendoza y Domingo Moreno Moreno (Pico del Montañon, Caideros, Gáldar)
      Very tasty, crumbly sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese.
  3. El Buen Pastor by Juan Andrés Vizcaíno Guedes (Casa Pastores, Santa Lucía de Tirajana)
      This sheep’s and goat’s milk affair is similar to the above but a bit softer (in more than one sense).

More photos of cheese @ Shutterstock.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Live music in Las Palmas, May 2018

The summer is upon us, and suddenly, suddenly we are spoiled for choice. Here’s mine:

  • 20 May: La Hormiga Contra La Abeja @ Fabrica La Isleta, Calle Princesa Guayarmina, 54
      It’s been a while — almost three years! — since the last time I’ve been to a jam session at Fabrica La Isleta. (Come to think of it, that was my first and last time.) The price went up from €2 to €3, which is still cheap, although I find it a bit cheeky to charge (a potential performer) for a jam session. Not that I was up to jamming recently. Timur and I went to see La Hormiga Contra La Abeja (“The Ant vs. The Bee”), the project of bassist and composer Tana Santana. And it was great. My favourite compositions were La Hormiga Contra La Abeja and El baile del vivo. The band played for about three quarters of an hour, then the guests started to join for a jam. We stayed for two standards, ’Round Midnight and Lullaby of Birdland, before heading home (Timur still had classes on Monday). Judging by number of guests with musical instruments, the jam went for at least one hour more.

    La Hormiga Contra La Abeja

      Tanausú “Tana” Santana Garrido: double bass, voice, composer
      Xerach Peñate Santana: drums
      Chago Miranda: electric guitar
      José Ángel Vera: sax

  • 26 May: Perinké Big Band @ Teatro CICCA, Alameda de Colon, 1
      Timur and I went to see Perinké Big Band with guests, presenting their new album, Canary Islands Standards for Big Band. The themes were composed and/or arranged for big band by Rayko León. As Rayko explained himself, the goal was to fuse Canarian folklore with 20th century styles, not only those of “classical” big band but also of Latin jazz, dixieland and funk. I cannot honestly say it was a seamless fusion. For example, I was not exactly convinced with songs such as Maspalomas y tú and Mi tierra guanche (those who grew listening to Широка страна моя родная would understand). The numbers I enjoyed the most were Afro-Cuban flavoured La Aldea (with great support of La Parranda de Teror) and Polka majorera. I loved the vintage sound of the orchestra. The musician I was impressed the most was the violinist Raúl Bermúdez.

    Perinké Big Band

      Ximo Martínez: music director
      Rayko León: piano
      Eduardo Naranjo: alto sax
      Héctor Guerra: alto sax
      Echedey Angulo: tenor sax
      Eliseo Bordón: tenor sax
      Candy González: baritone sax
      Marcos Pulido: trumpet
      Juan Antonio Guerrero: trumpet
      Silvia Jiménez: trumpet
      Antonio Ojeda “Tonono”: trumpet
      Luis Hernández: trumpet
      Orlando González: trombone
      Javier Herrera: trombone
      Franklin Cárdenes: trombone
      Antonio Peña “Ñito”: trombone
      Samantha de León: double bass, electric bass
      Samuel Medina: drums
      Amelia Gutiérrez: percussion


      Juan Manuel Alemán: clarinet
      Raúl Bermúdez Cárdenas: violin
      Moneiba Hidalgo: vocal
      Lorena Román: vocal
      Mari Carmen Segura: vocal
      La Parranda de Teror
  • 27 May: The Josés & Cristina James @ Clipper La Puntilla, Calle Caleta
      I don’t know if this is the time and place to bring it up; I’ll do it anyway. I’ve heard quite a few Spanish bands playing what they call “standards”, “soul standards” or “R&B standards” (whatever “R&B” stands for). And here’s what really pains me: astonishing level of musicianship meeting poorly, carelessly selected repertoire. There are thousands of great songs, why oh why they keep playing the same tunes ad nauseam? Is Summertime obligatory? Can we give Stevie Wonder some rest? What Michael Jackson is even doing here? Ah well. The rant is over. The band playing this Isleta Sunset was solid and inventive, the singer has soul and definitely can sing the blues.

    The Josés & Cristina James

      José Alberto Medina: piano
      José Carlos Cejudo: electric bass
      José Víctor González: drums
      Cristina James: vocal
  • 29 May: Efecto Pasillo @ Plaza de Santa Ana
      I heard of Efecto Pasillo before, not so much their actual music though, and had absolutely no idea that they are hailing from our beautiful island. And, would you believe it, I learned that they were to perform on the eve of the Día de Canarias, hours before the show started, thanks to Tamara. And what a show! What wonderful and positive music — just what I needed. The band administered their medicine of “buenrollismo con la precisión casi farmacológica” from 22:40 till about ten past midnight, followed by a firework display.

    Efecto Pasillo

      Nau Barreto: guitars
      Javier Moreno: drums
      Arturo Sosa: bass
      Iván Torres: vocals, guitar

Hasta luego, Las Palmas. I’ll be back before Christmas.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Galotia Manifest

I’d never heard of this drink until a couple of weeks ago when Tamara and I visited La Feria Ecológica y de Sostenibilidad organised by Cabildo de Gran Canaria. It was a pleasant Sunday morning becoming a no less pleasant Sunday afternoon; a jazz trio was playing; at long last, it felt like real summer.

And there it was, between stalls of organic produce: Galotia Brewery, based in Vecindario, proudly presenting its friendly reptile-themed craft beer. (The brewery is named after Gallotia, the genus of lizards endemic to Canary Islands.) Cervecita! Exactly what we needed.

There were several kinds of beer; we sampled the “hoppy table beer” Manifest which was served in a paper cup — probably the worst type of tableware to taste this beverage from, not to mention its, ahem, environmental impact. (Something to think about for the next edition of Eco-fair, guys.) Atrocious container notwithstanding, it turned out to be hoppity-hop delicious. So we made sure not to leave without a Manifest.

Low alcohol content (3.7%) and high (by Canarian standards) price (€2.10/33 cl bottle) ensure that you won’t get drunk too fast. It’s also virtually gluten-free (<10 ppm), in case you were worrying.

More photos of beer @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 18 May 2018

A Closed and Common Orbit

by Becky Chambers

This book is as much a sequel as a prequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, or, better, neither of these but something that happens in the same universe. The protagonists appear in the first book only briefly, and whatever happens with them now has little to do with Wayfarer and its crew, and all the better for that. With fewer and better-developed characters, the novel is noticeably tighter and more interesting than The Long Way. Who could think that AI named Sidra (I wonder what’s her favourite drink is) would ever be interested in getting some ink? In one of the chapters called Sidra (there are many and they are not numbered — get used to it), Sidra manages to fool not only her human friends but also the reader. (OK, I confess, she fooled me. I had to re-read that chapter.)

The best parts, in my opinion, are the least sci-fi ones but those that deal with human experiences. For example, this: 19-year-old Jane tastes spices for the first time in her life.

Inside the cupboard were dozens of little jars and bottles, all labelled with words she could read but didn’t recognise. Crushberry leaf. Ground huptum. River salt. She didn’t understand.
Jane stared at the hard little clumps. This . . . wasn’t food. She didn’t know what this was. She sniffed it. Her sinuses shot open in response. Timidly, she stuck out her tongue and dabbed up a few of the mysterious grains.
Her mouth exploded, but oh, stars, in such a good way. Everything was hot and sharp, but delicious, too, and smoky and dry and — and like nothing she’d ever tasted. Nothing ever. She licked up the rest, not caring about the pain that came with it. The pain almost made it better, in a weird way. Her eyes watered and her nose cleared. She was the most awake she’d felt in days.
Rather disappointingly for such a good start and middle, when two quasi-parallel stories — one in the past, another in the present — finally meet, a rather predictable happy end follows suit.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Nothing That Is: A Natural History of Zero

by Robert Kaplan

I just finished re-reading, with many long breaks, this book. The first time I read it was on my 2006—2007 New Year holidays in Stockholm and Helsinki. This time I enjoyed it more.

Zero, nought, nil, null, zilch, cipher... So many names for something that isn’t there. We take zero for granted, but it wasn’t always the case. The ancient Greeks had no word for it — or maybe they did? Odysseus introduced himself to Polyphemus as Outis (Οὖτις), “Nobody”; three thousand years later, Prince Dakkar followed his example by adopting the pseudonym Nemo.

Kaplan brings together mathematics, physics, history, philosophy and literature in a marvellously poetic way. Just listen:

So long ago in Greece, when Socrates was young and Parmenides old, the latter laid down a challenge we have sought ever since to pick up. All you can think, he said, is: ‘Being is’. You cannot think non-being, nothing, the void. Using negation, he told us we cannot use negation. All we can think is ‘Being is’. We cannot think motion, change, difference, past or future, here and there, you and me, since each requires thinking ‘not’. We can only think: ‘Being is’. How easy to trivialize Parmenides by teaching him to suck eggs: you cannot outlaw negation and proceed to use it. But Parmenides was a poet, and you miss the music if you point out to a poet that his love isn’t really a red red rose. Parmenides wanted us to stop talking and listen. Like the background hum from the Big Bang, Being pervades. It fills and is the world.
Two millennia later Leibniz heard what he said and recognized with joy the fullness of things. There were no gaps, there was no void, the small became smaller but never nothing. Just as the numbers were choked to bursting with numbers, the world they described was so silted up with beings that it was a continuous whole, a garden whose every leaf was again a garden.
“A Natural History” of the subtitle is a bit of a misnomer though.

Claudius Ptolemy (2nd century AD) used the modified omicron, ō as “Hellenistic zero”.
The Hindu–Arabic numeral system, complete with zero, reached Europe by the 11th century.
In Mandarin Chinese, (Pinyin: líng 🔊) is a word for number zero.

More photos related to numbers and sea glass @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 27 April 2018


by Prosper Mérimée
translated by Mauro Fernández Alonso de Armiño
illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe

The last time I read Carmen was more than thirty years ago, in Russian, in a paperback collection of Mérimée’s selected works. Right now, I don’t remember what else was in there. In any case, I was not planning to reread it until I saw this gorgeous edition in our library among the new books, right next to graphic novels. So I took it and embarked on reading, this time in Spanish.

I loved it. I don’t speak (or read) French, so the chances of me reading it in original are slim. And what is “original” anyway? After all, the narrator is in Spain and talks to his heroes in Spanish. Moreover, it is speculated that Carmen was inspired by Pushkin’s poem Цыганы (The Gypsies), which Mérimée read in Russian and translated it into French in 1852. In the meantime, I want to say that the translation by Mauro Armiño is masterful, although it would be so much easier to read if the whole text of the novella were not printed in white on a black background.

Here’s something that I completely forgot since 1980s: the story of Carmen is told to the narrator by don José who is condemned to death. Throughout, we hear not only misogynist and racist notes but the whole (all too familiar) song of an abuser and murderer blaming his victims for their fate. Striking illustrations by Benjamin Lacombe reflect this: handsome José is presented as a victim of a spider-like femme fatale. I think this Carmen in 3-D would make an excellent Falla.

♦ ♦ ♦   Frankly, José is pathetic. He appears to lack any sense of humour. Carmen, on the contrary, has a lot of it.   ♦ ♦ ♦

— Escucha, Joseíto — dijo —, ¿te he pagado? Según nuestra ley no te debía nada, porque eres un payo; pero eres un mozo guapo y me has gustado. Estamos en paz. Adiós.

Le pregunté cuando volvería a verla.

— Cuando seas menos idiota — respondió riendo.

Luego, en tono más serio:

— ¿Sabes, mi niño, que creo que te quiero un poco? Pero esto no puede durar. Perro y lobo no hacen buena pareja mucho tiempo. Quizá si abrazases la ley de Egipto gustaría convertirme en tu romí. Pero son tonterías: eso es imposible. ¡Bah!, créeme, muchacho, has salido bien librado. Has topado con el diablo, sí, con el diablo; no siempre es negro, y no te ha retorcido el cuello. Aunque visto de lana, no soy cordero. Vete a poner una vela delante de tu majarí; bien se la ha ganado. Bueno, adiós otra vez. No pienses más en Carmencita, o hará que te cases con una viuda con pata de palo.

The Annex contains one of Letters from Spain. Published some 13 years before Carmen, not only does it provide insight into the evolution of Mérimée’s (anti)hero (from José María el Tempranillo, a real-life noble bandit à la Robin Hood, to don José) but also is a jolly good read in its own right.