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.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Queen Symphony in Las Palmas

I hever heard about Tolga Kashif’s magnum opus, Queen Symphony (2002), until the concert of GCWO earlier this year. And there you go, two months later they’re back to Auditorio Alfredo Kraus together with the Choir and the Children’s Choir of Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria. Timur and I went to see the show. (Tamara excused herself saying that “It won’t be real Queen anyway”.)

As symphonies go, this is on a longer side, about one hour. It is as epic as one would expect, to the degree that at times I wished it was less so. Who Wants To Live Forever appears in three movements. The first time, in the third movement, as a beautiful interplay of violin (Preslav Ganev) and cello (Marisa Roda). It comes back in the fifth movement and lasts, well, forever (or so I thought). Then, when you’d think you’ll never want to hear it again, it is reprised in the final movement.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

El desorden de los números cardinales

by Vicente Marco

I blame Francesc Miralles (the author of Wabi-Sabi) whose praise graces the cover of this slim volume of short stories for the fact that I read it in the first place. It took me a couple of months. No, this is not difficult reading per se, but I find all the stories here at least mildly disturbing. So I took breaks because I wanted to sleep some nights. And I am still not sure what to make of it.

The first (Rob y el conserje) and the last (Los cimientos frágiles) bookend the rest of the stories into some sort of conceptual whole although do not work on their own. El ojo y las vidas extintas, Los almacenes Tonyhebe and Su otro padre seem to be three rather inventive variations on the same theme; once you read one, you can predict how the others will end. Un plato demasiado frío almost made me sick. The title story and especially Un sobre para Rández are simply brilliant.

I spy many influences of, and references to, other masters of short fiction, from Borges and García Márquez to Bukowski and Nabokov, however what this collection reminds me most is Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected.

Strangely enough, I can’t find a table of contents anywhere in the book. So I made it myself.

Vicente Marco
El desorden de los números cardinales
  1. Rob y el conserje (p. 9)
  2. Un sobre para Rández (p. 21)
  3. El desorden de los números cardinales (p. 35)
  4. El peluquero (p. 45)
  5. Los almacenes Tonyhebe (p. 57)
  6. Por gentileza del Sr. Midas (p. 71)
  7. La mujer de la clínica (p. 81)
  8. Su otro padre (p. 93)
  9. Un plato demasiado frío (p. 101)
  10. El ojo y las vidas extintas (p. 111)
  11. Invadiendo el hemisferio vertebrado (p. 123)
  12. Los cimientos frágiles (p. 137)

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Vinila Von Bismark and Flor de Canela in Las Palmas

I first saw Vinila alongside La Mari at the Chambao farewell and loved her performance. And what a stroke of luck, she makes a detour from her Motel Llamado Mentira tour to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria!

I’m sure Ms Von Bismark could easily fill the whole Plaza de Santa Ana with dancing and singing crowd. Anywhere else, one might think, this concert would be sold out in hours. But not here. (On the bright side, that means, I was able to get in!) Is it a lack of publicity or what? The show started just after midnight and the venue was half (or more) empty. The little audience that was there looked like they came here as an afterthought, or were too tired after a week, or something. Little by little though, Vinila got them energised.

Now Motel, released last November, is an eclectic collection of well-crafted songs; my favourites are Sólo Para Mí, Vinila Masagua and Quiero Decirte al Oído. But it just did not sound as a coherent album to me, at least on the first listen. You have to see Vinila live to appreciate what powerful voice and stage presence she has. Then it all starts to make sense, as she flows quite naturally from rock’n’roll to cumbia, from reggae to blues, from ¡Ay, pena, penita, pena! to La Llorona, in her marvellously singular style.

As for the venue: this is the second time I am in The Paper Club (the first time was a year ago, to see Mr. FeedBack) and must say that the acoustics of the place leave much to be desired. OK, I expect there is a sweet spot somewhere, it’s just me who was consistently not there.

After the show, at half past one I reckon, I spotted a tiny merchandise table with, like, one CD, a couple of vinyl(a)s and some T-shirts. The sole CD was immediately bought by a fan in front of me. Luckily, I came prepared because I brought my own copy (to sign).

And now for something completely different and yet very much related.

Isleta Sunset is a series of open-air music events organised by Fabrica La Isleta. They take place on Sunday afternoons, predictably enough, in La Isleta, so people could enjoy the music and sunset. Tonight I came there to see in action Flor de Canela, a project of our very own (where “our”, you understand, refers to all places where I ever lived) Grancanarian drummer and percussionist, Xerach Peñate. Apart from her, this band features Núria Balaguer (vocals and percussion), Marta Bautista (bass, vocals, percussion) and Paula Vegas (keyboards, vocals, percussion), all of them young and almost frighteningly talented. I couldn’t see much of a sunset, what with all this drizzle, but the concert was well worth braving the elements. Their music ranges from Latin folk (like the song that gave its name to the band) to jazz and swing, with tasty bits of salsa and samba throughout. A bit more chamber act than Vinila’s perhaps but as happy and inspiring.

Why do I write all this? Because the country should know its heroines, and this weekend I just met five of them.

Saturday, 31 March 2018

The Hole Zero

created by Iñaki Fernández

Does anybody remember the New Year’s Eve of 1980? I do. It was nice and cosy enough and... not like The Hole Zero at all.

I missed The Hole 2 when it was in Las Palmas two years ago. Now, finding myself in rainy Valencia in the run-up to Las Fallas, I was not about to miss this one (Teatro Olympia, Calle de San Vicente Mártir 44, Valencia). The Hole Zero mixes song, dance, stand-up comedy and circus and is quite unlike any live performance I’ve seen so far. Then again, I’ve never been to a burlesque show before. To shock or, at the very least, to embarrass is a part of the deal. The girls are beautiful, to quote Emcee from Cabaret. The jokes are way beyond risqué. The acrobatic numbers are breathtaking. And es de traca! I can’t honestly say I understood everything: for example, “La Terre” was chatting away too fast. It matters not: it was funny all the same.

I know, it was just a coincidence, but The Hole Zero shares a lot with Las Fallas: fun, irreverence, exaggeration, and — no way to get around it, but why one even should? — boobs.

The Hole Zero

Created and produced by Iñaki Fernández
with Félix Sabroso, Víctor Conde, Ferrán González and Pepa Charro


    MC: La Terremoto de Alcorcón
    La Diva: Lorena Calero
    Conchi: Noelia Pompa
    Salomón: Axe Peña
    DJ Santera: Bilonda Mfunyi-Tshiabu
    Bola Disco: Julio Bellido
    Bianca: Alexandra Masangkay
    Lady 54: Carla Díaz
    Lucy: María Garrido
    Dios Caballo: Daniel Sullivan
    Golden Boy — Aerial Pole Dance: Oleg Tatarinov

Guest Artists

    Bungee Trapeze: Diana Sapronova, Ruslan Gusarov, Andrei Bogodist and Nikolai Gavryushev
    Rueda de la Muerte: William Torres & Andrés Daza
    Meleshin Brothers: Vadim & Anton Meleshin
    Trio Bokafi