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.

Monday, 5 December 2016


a film by Ron Clements and John Musker

Timur and I went to see Moana, renamed by some reason Vaiana in Spain and a number of other European countries. The Spanish reason is to avoid the potential trademark conflict, with Moana being a part of trade names for a deodorant and eau de toilette manufactured by Casa Margot, S.A. situated in, wait a minute, Calle de la Naval, 59, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

What can I say. It is good. But you would expect that from the duo behind The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Hercules and Treasure Planet, would you? Even so, the visuals are stunning and the heroine is, well — maybe not exctly an “ultimate anti-princess” but as cool and independent as Merida of Brave (with which there are many other parallels). The story, though, could have been a bit better, and I would give a miss to a few songs.

I should say that I like the name “Vaiana” (“Soy Vaiana de Motunui” etc.) better than “Moana” (she is not the one to moan about anything). Still, I’d like to watch it in the original English now, not least because I want to hear the voice of Auli’i Cravalho, apparently the last person to audition on the last day of casting — that’s the ultimate Disney princess story, no?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Sex at Dawn

by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

I found it ridiculous that quite a number of academics took an issue with Sex at Dawn’s methodology and conclusions as if it were a standard peer-reviewed scientific publication. (In retrospect, it might be a good thing that the book was rejected by Oxford University Press. Their books are expensive for no good reason but the name.) Likewise, some readers felt offended by the authors being biased as if there is any unbiased popular science literature. If the authors’ (not so thinly) veiled political agenda is “make love, not war” and sex-positive feminism, I’m happy that so many people actually bought and read this book. Now, that we’ve got a pussy-grabbing bigot as the soon-to-be Leader of the Free World, this book is probably more important than six years ago.

Also, it’s a jolly good read.

Theorists supporting genital echo theory have noted that swellings like those of chimpanzees and bonobos would interfere with locomotion in a bipedal primate, so when our distant ancestors began walking upright, they reason that some of the female’s fertility signaling moved from the rear office, as it were, to the front showroom. In a bit of historical ping-pong, the dictates of fashion have moved the swelling back and forth over the centuries with high heels, Victorian bustles, and other derrière enhancements.
Though Darwin proved to be a very loving husband and father, these pros and cons of marriage suggest he very seriously considered opting for the companionship of a dog instead.
Maybe matriarchal societies are so difficult for Western male anthropologists to recognize because they expect a culture where men are suffering under the high heels of women — a reverse reflection of the long-standing male oppression of women in Western cultures. Instead, observing a society where most of the men are lounging about relaxed and happy, they conclude they’ve found yet another patriarchy, thereby missing the point entirely.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Animales fantásticos y dónde encontrarlos

a film by David Yates

Confession time: I didn’t read a single Harry Potter book and feel fine about it. Nor did I know about (let alone read) the Newt Scamander’s classic treatise until today. Of all films featuring the annoying wunderkind, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the only one I would recommend. Fantastic Beasts is a different story altogether. Imagine Stephen Hawking coming to Big Apple in 1920s, inadvertently destroying it, then fixing the mess and erasing the New Yorkers’ memories, then buggering off again. Pretty cool, eh?

Never mind the beasts. My favourite character is Queenie, played by A Fine Frenzy. I wonder if she is going to appear in the subsequent installments, maybe singing something of the era.

Just like Doctor Strange, this film would benefit from some restraint. No need to show that many fantastic beasts in the first movie of the series! Also, Colin Farrell being Johnny Depp in disguise is both creepy and unnecessary. Ah well. There is no pleasing some people.

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Problemas del primer mundo

by Laura Pacheco

So, what are the First World Problems?

Sounds familiar? These are real problems, not figment of your imagination. Please take them seriously, not like this book does. Any chance of solving them this century? Hope dies last.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016


by Joni Mitchell

I was a relative latecomer to the world of Joni Mitchell, and even that probably wouldn’t happen till much later if not for my former office-mate who was a huge fan of Charles Mingus. At some point — I think it was in 1999 — he introduced me to Mingus, which was the first Joni’s album I heard. I was fascinated with Jaco Pastorius’ work there and wanted to hear more of Joni Mitchell. One not-so-sunny Saturday, I and Yuri went to Cambridge. We wandered into Andy’s Records on Fitzroy Street (sadly, this shop doesn’t exist any longer) and there I bought both Mingus and Hejira. I loved this latter even more. Hejira, released 40 years ago today, is probably the best of her studio work. Beautiful lyrics, amazing musicians, even more amazing performance.

He asked me to be patient
Well I failed
“Grow up!” I cried
And as the smoke was clearing he said
“Give me one good reason why”
Sharon I left my man
At a North Dakota junction
And I came out to the “Big Apple” here
To face the dream’s malfunction
Love’s a repetitious danger
You’d think I’d be accustomed to
Well I do accept the changes
At least better than I used to do
In a highway service station
Over the month of June
Was a photograph of the earth
Taken coming back from the moon
And you couldn't see a city
On that marbled bowling ball
Or a forest or a highway
Or me here least of all

And while we are on subject of lyrics: complete lyrics, together with guitar transcriptions, can be found at the Joni Mitchell’s website. Note that Joni uses a lot of different guitar tunings. Should you have a go at any of these, Howard Wright wrote a very useful guide to Joni tuning notation.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Doctor Strange

a film by Scott Derrickson

Silly plot and overabundance of CGI notwithstanding, watching Doctor Strange, even in Spanish, is not too bad a way to spend a Sunday evening. (In Spanish, “Doctor Stephen Strange” will be “Doctor Esteven Estrange”.) I enjoyed the interplay of Rachel McAdams and Benedict Cumberbatch: Irene Adler meets a different Sherlock Holmes (and vice versa) while Holmes, just for fun, pretends to be a doctor (Who?). And Dormammu’s Dark Dimension appears to be as brightly lit as Hong Kong but undoubtedly more fun of a place — just imagine a disco there. With Cumberbatch dancing.