Sunday, 15 January 2017

El beso del canguro: Vida de Lázaro y de sus fortunas y adversidades

by Eugenia Rico

I chose this book for my Christmas holiday reading (dark, cold nights in Brussels suburbs) by employing my favourite strategy, viz. opening it at a random page and reading one paragraph. This one:

La isla de Fuerteventura es hermosa pero reseca como el coño de las viejas. Allí me mandaron a hacer el servicio militar y allí aprendí lo que es la sed.
Now that made me curious. Is there anything else he’s got to say about Fuerte?

Not much, it turned out. Inspired by Lazarillo de Tormes, the 16th century classic which I never read, this is a modern-day take on the picaresque novel. Lázaro dreams of travelling to Australia but instead goes wherever life takes him, to Barcelona, Madrid, Córdoba, Fuerteventura... I guess the story could have taken place elsewhere in Spain or beyond. Except Australia, that is. (Eventually the author grants Lázaro his wish, but, in a clever move, his adventures down under won’t commence until after we close the book.) Anyway, we don’t get to see much of Spain through the eyes of our hero — nicknamed Ojos de Lluvia, Eyes of Rain, by one of his lovers — for he is far too busy to indulge in sightseeing. Lázaro appears to be a loving and lovable boy, to the extent that prostitutes in Fuerteventura entertain him free of charge. I wonder if the author ever met her protagonist, for some of his adventures are so unbelievable they only could have occurred in real life.

I loved the language of this book. With intermediate-level Spanish, you won’t have too many problems reading it. I needed to consult the dictionary now and then though — I had no idea there were so many synonyms for prison and recreational drugs!

Sé que todas las heridas cierran pero a menudo cierran mal, y que todo el mundo se enamora al menos una vez. Y sé que a ti también te llegará. Creo que no merece la pena querer a quien no te quiere, que debes luchar por quien amas, que es mejor llamar por teléfono que esperar a que te llamen y que si no luchas a muerte por la persona que te importa luego no tienes derecho a quejarte. Me gustaría que besases con los ojos abiertos y decidieses con los ojos cerrados. Creo que las cosas son mucho más fáciles de lo que creemos. Creo que es posible un mundo mejor y me gustaría que tú fueras una de esas personas que luchan por ello. Creo que no puedes llorar toda la noche ni reír todo el día. Sé que cuando te canses de llorar te darás cuenta de que tienes enfrente a alguien capaz de hacerte sonreír. Creo que sólo existe el ahora y que es nuestra obligación y nuestro derecho disfrutarlo.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


by Angela Carter

On the first attempt, its strange, viscous language stopped me one-third-way through. A year and a half later, when the nights became longest, I unearthed this book and resumed reading. It gave me nightmares. The stories feature solitude, mirrors, incest, rape, murder and execution, in a variety of combinations — at times delicious, at times revolting. My three favourites are Penetrating to the Heart of the Forest and Master, both taking place in some Márquez-esque selva, and a delightfully gothic horror of The Loves of Lady Purple. Next time I need some verschrobene texts to keep my English students suitably bamboozled, I know where to look.

Saturday, 24 December 2016


by Joni Mitchell as interpreted by Morgan James and Roy Dunlap

iTunes killed the album. People don’t listen to — let alone buy — the albums anymore. New generation don’t even know what the albums are.

What nonsense, I say, and that’s me being generous, what with the spirit of Christmas and such. Here we have Morgan James (vocal) and Roy Dunlap (piano) performing Joni Mitchell’s classic album in its entirety, live, in one take.

Incidentally, it is also available on iTunes.


  1. All I Want
  2. My Old Man
  3. Little Green
  4. Carey
  5. Blue
  6. California
  7. This Flight Tonight
  8. River
  9. A Case of You
  10. The Last Time I Saw Richard

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Black Fox

by Yuri

27 July 2008. While sifting through the piles and piles of schoolwork that kids brought home, I found this poem. By some reason, I took care to type it up. And a good thing too, since we didn’t keep most of those papers. Not a single character was changed.

21 December 2016. On the longest night of the year, found this poem again.

The Black Fox

Slipping over the rocks,
Creeping over the grass,
Silent and sleek as a cat,
The black fox watches the grass.
She jumps and snaps,
And gets up with a mouse in her jaws.
Silent as the dead mouse,
She skips back to the den.

Back at the den, safe and sound,
She feeds her cub and watches him play around.

On soft, padded paws she slips out again that day,
Walking silently along, ears pricked, all senses alert to find the way.

While she walks further from home, her baby waits,
waiting all alone.

Waiting all alone.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

A Distant Neighborhood

by Jiro Taniguchi

So. Travelling in time. Ah, to be fourteen-year old again. To find yourself in your family home, with your mum and dad and little sister and granny. To go to your old high school, seeing old friends, allowing yourself this time to fall in love with a beautiful classmate. Leaving behind, that is, far in the future, your wife and children. Wondering if they are worrying about you, whether you’ll ever see them or, indeed, whether you’ll ever have a wife and children.

Hiroshi tries to change his present by changing his past, and also doing his best not to change it. Naturally, you can’t do both things at the same time. You would need at least two time trips, and we all know how easy it is to hitch just one. More interesting dilemmas, apparently not involving any time travel, concern Hiroshi’s father. What happens if you live someone else’s life? It’s difficult to live, difficult — but not impossible — to escape.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

El mundo amarillo

by Albert Espinosa

Incidentally, in case anyone is interested, my favourite colour is yellow. Brandy-bottles, buttercups, cowslips, crocuses, daffodils, dandelions, sunflowers, yellow chrysanthemums and yellow roses. Sun and sand, lemons and bananas, beer and cider, honeycomb and corn on the cob, Cornish clotted cream and tortilla española, yellow leaves, chanterelles and, since we discovered them three years ago in Finland, yellowfoot mushrooms. Spanish post boxes; scooters that postmen and postwomen ride here; padded envelopes with new books and CDs that they deliver. Free rental bikes in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. The smiley face. And this happy Chinese character:

Yellow Brick Road. Yellow Submarine. And now, The Yellow World.

I thought this book could make anyone happy, just by virtue of its name. For me, it turned out to be as frustrating as it was fascinating, with insightful and original sitting quite comfortably next to incredibly trite.

I have to note that I read it in original Spanish — by the way, very well written and easy to read — and I guess a lot of it is lost in translation. For example, the similarity of words amor, amistad and amarillo. The very concept of amarillos, those special people who touch our lives, might suffer from literal translation, not least because of all those negative/dangerous/derogatory connotations (yellow card, yellow fever, yellow journalism, yellow star, jaundice, ambulance, various hazard symbols, giallo films, жёлтый дом, жёлтый билет...) Tricky, tricky. I myself don’t particularly like the words yellow, gelb, jaune, giallo, жёлтый, žut... Amarillo is good though. Translators, leave it as is!

The most touching, funny and inspiring part of the book is the one describing the happy (!) ten years that Espinosa spent in hospitals fighting cancer. He divided his experience into 23 lessons — lessons for him, that is. There’s no guarantee that any single of them is applicable to anyone else’s life and death. Paradoxically, it was the chapter dedicated to the amarillos that really disappointed me. Where the author’s sense of humour has gone? But don’t take my word for it. Read the book, its flaws notwithstanding. It won’t be a waste of time, I promise.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Father Christmas: The Truth

by Grégoire Solotareff

Have you ever wondered why around this time of year bears are so unhappy? Don’t know what to do if the phone rings and the person on the line says, “Hello, this is Father Christmas”? Still unsure whether artichokes make good presents?

Let me tell you what makes a good present, Christmas or otherwise. A very good friend introduced us to this timeless classic * — first, as Dictionnaire du Père Noël that we saw at his house in Leeds, and then as an English version that he gave us as a gift. It has been our daily reference to the man in red (or, as Timur just put it, “the book of the most useless facts about anybody”) ever since. In the States, it was published by Chronicle Books under the extremely silly title The Secret Life of Santa Claus but this shouldn’t put you off. Enjoy (responsibly) and remember, Father Christmas is not just for Christmas.

* Dictionnaire du Père Noël, a timeless classic since 1991.