Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The White Man in the Tree and Other Stories

by Mark Kurlansky

Mark Kurlansky is a best-selling author of non-fiction books such as Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World or The Story of Salt, of which so far I read none. Instead, I picked this one for my holiday reading. Fiction. It even has this, rather standard, disclaimer:

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental
And this is how the story Vertical Administration begins:
Jean-Claude Aubaille was approaching his 50th birthday and it could have been said that not much was going on in his life until Deputy Führer Martin Bormann was dropped into his lap.
Wait a minute (or whatever time you need to stop laughing). Now seriously: surely Bormann is not a product of author’s imagination? Most stories in this book are open-ended. Will Palle and Lanuwobi (The White Man in the Tree) ever get together again? Who was behind the mysterious “green gas attacks” (Beautiful Mayagüez Women)? Was it real Bormann? Kurlansky’s stories are humorous, poignant and unpredictable, and he leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Parker PM-20

by Parker Guitars

One year ago to the day, I was browsing through Cambridge music stores in a hope to buy a new Spanish guitar for myself. I did not succeed. Instead, I found this little beauty.

Well, I never had my own electric guitar before (I am not talking about bass guitars), but I’ve had a few in my hands. I liked this Parker better than any other instrument I tried so far: a pure pleasure to play. I just couldn’t leave it in the shop.

More photos of electric guitar @ Shutterstock.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Abbey Road

by The Beatles

Yes, I also used to have this single: БИТЛЗ, Вокально-инструментальный ансамбль (Англия) with songs Сад, Что-нибудь and Встреча (Octopus’s Garden, Something and Come Together, respectively). And another one: Солнце восходит (Here Comes the Sun), Потому что (Because) and Попурри (Golden Slumbers — Carry That Weight — The End). These singles were issued (or should I say, pirated?) by the Soviet Melodiya label. At least the songs were attributed to the band, not just some anonymous “vocal-instrumental ensemble” (a common trick by Melodiya in those days). It was not until 1979 that I heard Abbey Road in its entirety. It also was pirated, of course.

The 40 year-old album still inspires. Petra Magoni and Ferruccio Spinetti do a mean rendition of Come Together, but this cover by Bugotak is something else entirely.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Villa Lucia Chianti Riserva DOCG 2004

Just finished this great bottle of wine — and it feels good. I am always fascinated by people who can discern in wine the flavours other than grape. But, since I can’t do it, I declare that this is a load of malarkey. Wine cannot and should not taste of strawberry or vanilla or chocolate or any other ice cream flavours. Here’s a proof, if you need one. The label on the bottle says:

Il nostro Chianti Riserva è ottenuto grazie ad una attenta scelta delle migliori cuvées, successivamente affinate in botte e bottiglia per ottenere un Chianti che esprima le grandi doti di questo storico uvaggio. La Riserva di Villa Lucia si presenta complesso negli aromi, morbido e speziato al gusto con un tocco finale di fragola e pepe nero; si accosta egregiamente a tutta la migliore cucina.
Our specially blended Chianti Riserva reveals a great depth of dark chocolate and black cherry. Two years of oak ageing and further bottle ageing add complex aroma and refined finish. Superb with grilled meats and vegetables or pasta in a rich tomato sauce. Room temperature is suggested.
Now, if you forgive me stating the obvious: the English text is not a translation of the Italian one. Most likely they are written by two different “experts”. On the other hand, if I were paid to write labels like this, I’d have to write something. Wait, I’ve got a source, at least for an English-speaking wine drinker:
Pleasantly scented, very agreeable
Full bodied, with great character
See? Now I need an Italian version and I’m sorted.

More photos of red wine @ Shutterstock.


by Värttinä

I learned about Värttinä (among many, many other things) from the Songlines magazine. Miero: what a wonderful record. When I listen to it, I am glad I don’t understand any Finnish: the music is so great while the lyrics is so dark or depressing or plain weird. I wish I could see them live.


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Wisdom of Whores

by Elizabeth Pisani
When people ask me what I do for a living, I say, ‘Sex and drugs.’ I used to say I was an epidemiologist, which is also true. But most people looked blank. Epi— what? Perhaps something vaguely distasteful to do with skin.

That’s how The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS begins. And it gets better. (For more quotes, go to my other blog.) Be open-minded: to appreciate Ms Pisani’s style, you don’t have to agree with everything she writes. (I, for one, don’t share her enthusiasm for penile circumcision as an AIDS prevention strategy.)

She also has a blog of the same name, with a lot of fascinating, er, bits and bobs. I fished out the photo of this gorgeous dress as it was mentioned in the book on page 259.

Saturday, 12 December 2009


a film by Roland Emmerich

2012 is an ultimate disaster of a movie. You would think that, with budget of $200 million, they won’t have problem to find a few actors who could speak Russian properly. Or at least find native Russian speakers to dub them. But no such luck.

The most appealing character is Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), a not-so-mad conspiracy theorist, radio broadcaster and the author of This is The End blog (see the animation below). After he is killed, there is no point to struggle. The world is dying and the survivors are unbelievably dull. Do you want them to repopulate the Earth?

Friday, 11 December 2009


a musical by Jim Jacobs & Warren Casey

Yesterday, we went to see the production of Grease in Saffron Walden County High School. It was advertised as “Sing along evening & Dress up ’50s style” which was a good idea, except not that many people in audience did actually wear anything in ’50s style. A few boys sported pompadour hairdos and quite a number of girls did turn up disco-era outfits, that’s about it.

As for the show, I did like almost everything. Acting, singing, dancing and the live band were all pretty good. My main problem is with the material itself. Scott Miller says that
Grease is a prequel to Hair, every bit as well crafted, every bit as authentic, every bit as insightful, and just as truth about an incredibly volatile, fascinating moment in American history.
I am not sure about that. I love Hair too much, maybe that’s the problem. But what Grease is about? The outsider girl desperately tries to fit in. That is insightful.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

구미호 가족

a film by Hyung-gon Lee

As weird movies go, Gumiho gajok (The Fox Family) is actually quite enjoyable. The “fox” of the title is not a surname: we are dealing here with a family of horrifying charming kumiho. Definitely worth checking out, even especially if you can’t stand horror movies, circus, musicals and breakdance.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Candy is Dandy

The best of Ogden Nash

This book is just super. It starts with an introduction by Anthony Burgess written very much in style of Nash. It has very cute line drawings by Nash himself. In the end, there is an index of first lines and an index of last lines. Which is great: how else would you find a poem which starts with “There is an emotion to which we are most of us adduced” or ends on “And I think the Kremlin ought to work out some plan for taking it away from those who have it and giving it to those who need it” while the name of the poem is A Clean Conscience Never Relaxes? No way.

The titles of his poems (such as Portrait of the Artist as a Prematurely Old Man or A Dream of Innocent Orgies, or, The Most Unforgettable Characters I Never Met) and books (like I’m a Stranger Here Myself) are brilliant in their own right. And I think I’d never know the word “objurgate” if not for The Centipede.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Mill Road Winter Fair 2009

Today, Arco Iris played two sets at the Mill Road Winter Fair: at 2:15 pm by the Argyle Street Housing Co-Operative (next to the bridge) and at 4.45 pm by the Parkside swimming pool. It started to rain just before the second set, but luckily we had a great support from the audience who were braving the elements for 45 minutes or so. The photos and a movie to follow.

This was our last gig of 2009.

Friday, 4 December 2009


by Orchestra Baobab

Bamba was the first record of Orchestra Baobab I came across — in Saffron Walden library of all places. I never heard any Senegalese music before that and had a very vague idea where Senegal was. But I liked the name of the band, and a picture of a strange fox-like creature.

Bamba is a re-release of two records of Orchestra Baobab on one CD: Mouhamadou Bamba (1980) and Sibou Odia (1981). Now I got about half dozen of Orchestra Baobab albums, but if you want to invest in just one, this is the one.

Monday, 30 November 2009


by Jane Birkin

A live record by Jane Birkin, backed by amazing band featuring Algerian violinist Djamel Benyelles. My favourite tracks here are Élisa, Et Quand Bien Même and Fuir Le Bonheur (all by Serge Gainsbourg) and an instrumental She Left Home by Benyelles. Warning: this chanson with North African flavour can be addictive. Possible side effects: after Arabesque, the “original” versions of the Gainsbourg songs may not work for you.
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa saute-moi au cou
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa cherche-moi des poux
Enfonce bien tes ongles et tes doigts délicats
Dans la jungle de mes cheveux, Lisa

Élisa, Élisa, Élisa saute-moi au cou
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa cherche-moi des poux
Fais-moi quelques anglaises et la raie au milieu
On a treize, quatorze ans à nous deux

Élisa, Élisa, Élisa les autr’s on s’en fout
Élisa, Élisa, Élisa rien que toi, moi, nous
Tes vingt ans, mes quarante, si tu crois que cela
Me tourmente, ah non vraiment, Lisa

A Shot in the Dark

a film by Blake Edwards

Yesterday, Yuri and I went to see this movie in Saffron Screen. Starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau and Elke Sommer as sexy Maria Gambrelli, and with a score by Henry Mancini — yes, another classic that I’ve never seen before. Clouseau, naturally, speak English with ridiculous French accent, as French are supposed to do in France.
“I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”

Sunday, 29 November 2009


a film by Michael Haneke

Here’s one expertly crafted psychological thriller. The acting is phenomenal. The impossibly long shots where apparently nothing happens keep you glued to the seat. By the end of the movie, I didn’t expect all the ends to be tied. I didn’t expect them to be left that loose either. I would stay short of calling Caché a masterpiece, but it is a film not to be missed. A word of advice, if I may: “Stay seated while the credits roll”.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Abracadabra Brass

by Dot and Noel Fraser

For a few weeks now, I had this book (bass clef edition) for my trombone practice. It also can be used for baritone and euphonium. Every new note introduced is accompanied by a handy diagram of slide position for trombone (or valve positions for euphonium). Best of all, it has a great selection of simple (mostly traditional) tunes to annoy thy family or neighbour.

Now that I’ve mastered the low A, I can play God Save the Queen. According to Wikipedia, the first national anthems of Russia (Молитва русских), Germany (Heil dir im Siegerkranz) and Switzerland (Rufst du, mein Vaterland), as well as Norway’s Royal anthem (Kongesangen), were all set to this tune. So was American My Country, ’Tis of Thee. Well done, anonymous composer.

Friday, 27 November 2009

The Suicide Shop

by Jean Teulé

I like the concept of this book, but... Maybe it was intended to be a screenplay rather than a novel (it is all written in present tense), or maybe something was lost in translation, but it did not quite work for me. I think it would make a great creepy stop-motion film though.

Trombone harmonics

Before starting on trombone, I did not realise that on brass instruments one can play the whole series of harmonics in the same position, much like one can play a series of harmonics on a guitar string. That means I can play the first three notes of Also Sprach Zarathustra without moving a slide, just by changing the embouchure.

According to Wikipedia,

In the first or closed position on a B♭ trombone, the notes in the harmonic series begin with B♭2 (one octave higher than the pedal B♭1), F3 (a perfect fifth higher than the previous partial), B♭3 (a perfect fourth higher), D4 (a major third higher), F4 (a minor third higher), A♭4 (a minor third higher than the previous partial; this tone <...> is always 31 cents, about one sixth of a tone, flat of the twelve-tone equal temperament minor seventh <...> it may be avoided and played in an alternate position, though it has been the practice in Germany and Austria to play the note in position <...>), B♭4 (a major second higher), C5 (a major second higher), D5 (a major second higher), E♭ (a minor second higher, but almost exactly a quarter tone higher than it would be in twelve-tone equal temperament), F5 (a major second higher).
OK maybe in Germany and Austria they like their A♭ flat, but why it is flat? This page from the HyperPhysics explains that “the 7th harmonic shows the most severe departure from any equal tempered interval”. A♭4 is the seventh harmonic from the fundamental note (B♭1).

See photos of trombone @ Shutterstock.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Arco Iris on Ice

I thought, since I am not employed any longer, I won’t attend any more meetings. But no. Arco Iris had an AGM yesterday, instead of the second half of the practice. With chairperson, minutes, reports etc. Luckily, this only happens once a year, and in fact it was rather interesting, though it did not finish in time. I had to rush to train and did not exercise my right to vote (elections of the next committee).

Among other stuff, I learned that Arco Iris played impressive 36 (!) gigs this year. I am glad that I have contributed to some of these events.

Today was my tenth gig with the band. Also it was the longest set so far (one-hour set by the ice rink on Parker’s Piece, as a part of the Cambridge Music Festival). And the coldest. Maybe we did not sound our best tonight, but the ice skaters looked as if they were enjoying the music.

I need tea.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dr. Strangelove

a film by Stanley Kubrick

45 years after its première, I finally got to watch Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. My, now I start to understand all these cultural references! Peter Sellers stars in triple role of Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President of the United States, and Dr. Strangelove (who occasionally addresses the President as Mein Führer.)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Coffee concert

Today the DSWS Jazz Band gave a performance during the coffee break (11:00 to 11:30; actually 11:10 to 11:40). This was my first (and maybe last) gig with this band. When I started, back in September, I thought I will play bass. It turned out they already have electric bass and double bass, so I switched to guitar. Today’s program was:
    Beefeaters (Johnny Dankworth)
    Yesterday’s Blues Today (Alan Hare)
    Moanin’ (Bobby Timmons)
    Doghouse (Brian Harrison)
    Walkin’ with the Blues (Jim Bethea)
    African Waltz (Galt MacDermot)
Before I joined the band, I never heard any of these tunes except Moanin’. I hope nobody noticed that I played the second part of one song instead of second part of another one (the sheet music swap, easy as that). Four of these six are in F minor, so there is a good chance of playing in key. Keeping the volume down also helps.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Quick & Dirty Guide to Salsa, Part 1

In the first DVD of the series, Gigi and Pedro lead us through some basic Cuban salsa steps such as Exhibela, Dile Que No, Guapeando, Enchufla, El Uno and El Dos. Every move is repeated three or four times within each “lesson” none of which is longer than two minutes. Don’t worry about this DVD being a US import because it is all-region. A nice feature is that you can choose from three different angles (front, back or high). Gigi speaks with cute accent and has a fondness for words like “automatically”, “basically” and “walk, walk, walk”. She does not always count correctly though (e.g. she could say “5, 6, 7” instead of “1, 2, 3”), but if you can live with that, you’ll be fine.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009


by Deep Purple

You would think that Deep Purple could have done better than naming their 1969 album Deep Purple, but there you go. I always knew this album as April. Tonight I was listening to it again on my way to the samba practice. In the opening track, Chasing Shadows, Ian Paice manages to sound like a full band of African drummers. And then, bluesy Why Didn’t Rosemary? and The Painter, psychedelic The Bird Has Flown, orchestral April. A quintessential prog-rock record which never gets boring.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Smilla’s Sense of Snow

by Peter Høeg

A fascinating reading even though I can’t say I loved this book. It took me more than a month to conquer The City part — some days I cold not manage more than couple of pages. However, I think The City is the best part of the story. It has promise that is never delivered. Nevertheless, I was intrigued. I went through The Sea in three days and finished the last part, The Ice, last night (or rather this morning). There is more and more action towards the end, but it becomes less and less believable. The end is rather silly and lots of loose ends are left untied. Frankly, I expected the brave frøken Smilla taking on secret service and/or military looking for something not less than that American nuclear bomb lost in Greenland. Instead, her adversaries are a mad (and rather creepy) scientist and his (also creepy) accomplices interested in some lousy meteorite and mutant worms.

But forget the plot. Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen is great. She is a scientist, an anarchist, a detective. She has no supernatural powers and does not trust modern technology but my she kicks ass (and not just figuratively speaking). She swims in icy water and travels in a dumbwaiter. She even can make friends. I would trust her. Smilla rocks.

Monday, 16 November 2009

July Morning

by Uriah Heep

The very same day, 16 November 2008, after the Christmas Lights Switch-On (see the previous post), I was heading towards The Junction. I was torn between two choices: Uriah Heep or Mor Karbasi? It could be so much easier if they had these two concerts on different dates! In the end, I decided that Mor Karbasi is young and will be around for a while, while Uriah Heep are old and this is my only chance to see them live and alive. (I am glad that I was wrong: Heep played in Cambridge again this year.) Also, I wanted to see Uriah Heep for at least 30 years, that should count too.

No regrets then. Supporting act, the heavy rockers Maccara, were brilliant, especially the singer Hollie Evans. What a voice! But the main course was simply mindblowing. I never saw a ’70s band in such a good shape. (Also, it looked like I was younger than everybody else, except for Maccara guys.) The Heep were promoting their Wake the Sleeper album and played every single song. Plus some great oldies: Look At Yourself, Easy Livin’, Gypsy (starting with an astounding keyboard solo), Lady In Black and, of course, July Morning. That was a solid two-hour set which left me speechless (and half-deaf). Was it worth waiting for all these years? Absolutely.

There I was on a July morning
Looking for love
With the strength of a new day dawning
And the beautiful sun

At the sound of the first bird singing
I was leaving for home
With the storm and the night behind me
And a road of my own

With the day came the resolution
I’ll be looking for you

I was looking for love
In the strangest places
Wasn’t a stone
That I left unturned
Must have tried more than a thousand faces
But not one was aware
Of the fire that burned

In my heart, in my mind, in my soul
Uriah Heep live in Cambridge

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The Big Switch-On 2009

On Sunday, 16 November 2008, I went to the centre of Cambridge to see the Christmas Lights Switch-On. I joined the parade inconspicuously somewhere around Christ’s Pieces, behind a samba band. It was cold and miserable but I really enjoyed the experience.

One year later: The Big Switch-On again but now I am in the samba band and guess what, it was even better. At 4 pm, we started from Grafton Centre and paraded for about 45 minutes towards the Market Square, looking all festive and sparkly and making most glorious noise. Luckily, the weather was nothing like yesterday. And it is always nice to have people dancing and cheering and taking photos and asking: “What’s the name of the band?” or “Are these <hair> real?”.

What I use (as if anyone cares): Vic Firth® Alex Acuña “El Palo” sticks, Town & Country light duty gardening gloves (so my hands are warm and the sticks don’t slip) and Cool Glow™ accessories (six hours later they still glow).

Friday, 13 November 2009


by Sara Tavares

Hooray, the long-awaited follow-up to Balancê arrived this morning and that’s what I am listening to now. In Cape Verdean Creole, Xinti means “Feel it”. Que música maravilhosa! My favourite songs so far (if I had to chose, but luckily I don’t) are Di Alma, Só d’Imagina, Exala and Mana Fé — the latter is a hidden track after Manso Manso, so be patient!

I don’t know why at the Amazon UK they marked this album as containing “explicit lyrics”. The only song having any sort of English lyrics in it is Bué. Here it is in its entirety:
Cause I feel good
Very nice
Cause we’ve got
Good, good vibes.
I think the kids are safe.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Addenbrooke’s fireworks

Yes, it’s this time of year again. Tonight, Arco Iris played before and after the (very impressive!) fireworks display at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This is my second gig when I was playing caixa. Compared with surdo, you have to work much harder, which is a good news now the summer’s over: it was rather chilly tonight.

Photos of fireworks @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 6 November 2009


by Annie Whitehead

Annie Whitehead is one of the greatest jazz trombonists alive, who jammed with likes of Bill Wyman, Elvis Costello, Murray Head, Robert Wyatt and Deep Purple, but how many people even heard of her? My first encounter with her music happened some 13 years ago, thanks to the Leeds City Library. I used to go there every Saturday and browse through the jazz section. Now, there are not many jazz albums with cover photos like this: I simply had to borrow it. And what a great record it turned out to be!

The opener, To Dudu (dedicated to Dudu Pukwana), is a tasty Afro-reggae number that one cannot help but hum along. Don’t expect more of the same though: each following track is something very different — except the closing theme, See You Dudu, which brings us back to the beginning. All together, the funkiest jazz-rock record of the 1990s.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Book of Sand

by Jorge Luis Borges

It was more than 20 years ago that I first read (in Russian) this short story by Jorge Luis Borges. Now, I took the book (Хорхе Луис Борхес) where I thought I first saw the story. I couldn’t find it in the table of contents though.

But why should I bother with that if I always can look it up on the web? In a couple of minutes, I found the original Spanish El libro de arena, Russian Книга песка, French Le livre de sable and Italian Il libro di sabbia. One also can read it in more Borgesian style: the English version (translation by Norman Thomas di Giovanni) appears as a hypertext puzzle by Maximus Clarke and Java application by Ariel Malka.

It was at this point that the stranger said, “Look at the illustration closely. You’ll never see it again.”
Venice is exactly like the Book of Sand. Once you see something that you really really like, you better buy it straight away. Otherwise you may never see it again. This is a proven fact.
In the upper corners of the pages were Arabic numbers. I noticed that one left-hand page bore the number (let us say) 40,514 and the facing right-hand page 999. I turned the leaf; it was numbered with eight digits.
That is also very similar to house numbering in Venice.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

How to make a glass horse

I filmed this demonstration of glass-making at a Murano furnace on 25 October 2009. It looks (or, rather, the glass master made it look) very easy.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Addams Family

a film by Barry Sonnenfeld

According to IMDb’s MOVIEmeter, The Addams Family is up 400% in popularity this week. Do you see that often? Anyway, it’s Halloween and this movie probably deserves to be up 1000%. We went to watch it in Saffron Screen today. Apparently, they were giving a prize for the best Halloween costume — that could explain colourfully dressed children and their parents in the audience.

“We danced the Mamushka while Nero fiddled, we danced the Mamushka at Waterloo. We danced the Mamushka for Jack the Ripper, and now, Fester Addams, this Mamushka is for you.”

Friday, 30 October 2009

Fire walk in Cambridge

Tonight, we played for the Fire Walk Challenge at the Cass Centre in Cambridge. Yes, barefoot walk on burning coals. Plus fire jugglers, some of them very skimpily dressed. We were providing accompaniment to the fire walking/juggling, so I couldn’t film any of it. (Also, there was a footie game about 100 yards behind us at the same time, but I don’t think it was a part of the event. I hope they enjoyed our drumming though.) We played three sets, the second set was during the fire walk itself which did not last longer than 20 minutes. The whole event finished much earlier than I expected, probably because the fire jugglers got numb with cold.


Pohjan Laulu in Cape Town

A little more than a year ago (24 October 2008, to be precise), I and my friends spent a great evening at the Finnish Consulate in Cape Town. There was a double bill of Pohjan Laulu from Oulu, Finland, and Capetonian Pro Cantu Youth Choir. Now I am not a big fan of choral music. When Minna first told me about this event, I thought, man, it will be boring. What could be exciting about Finnish all-male choir, dressed in white tie, with most singers in their 50s? I couldn’t be more wrong. Both choirs were excellent, but I was more impressed with Finns (in white tie and in their 50s). Another prejudice gone.

After all the encores, even after Pohjan Laulu sang Finlandia (which, I was told, means no more encores), and after a few more drinks, something amazing happened: four Finns performed The Lion Sleeps Tonight. As they did so, they mocked the tricks employed by Pro Cantu (overtone singing, clapping and imitation of sounds of the forest). Luckily, I had my camera so I can share this gem with you.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Tea on the Blue Sofa: Whispers of Love and Longing from Africa

by Natasha Illum Berg

Last week, I borrowed two books from the library: Loving Sabotage by Amélie Nothomb and Tea on the Blue Sofa by Natasha Illum Berg. I did not know either author and chose the books solely because I liked the titles. Both novels are autobiographical and told from first person. Both, naturally, deal with love. And, by a strange coincidence, both are 136 pages long. But that’s where the similarity ends.

Tea on the Blue Sofa is not as much a novel as a long letter, or series of letters, from Anoushka (the alter ego of Natasha Illum Berg) to her murdered lover. Her grief is intense and real, and I am sure that she had no choice but to write. And that is a problem, at least for me: I felt as if I were reading someone else’s letters or diaries. It is far too personal (and how could it be otherwise?) to engage me. I was struggling to finish the book. Still. It may be not a great literary work, but it is a piece of respectable and unusual writing.

Also, I learned a few words in Swahili. For example: “A boma is a kraal.”

Tick, tock, tick, tock and then there are people who think that time is something that makes things grow, or shrink. But time has nothing to do with most things. A thousand years can not undo the split second it can take for a person to become a murderer, the rest of my life can not undo the few months of love that we had. Time is just a spectator like me. It brings nothing and takes nothing. What makes wounds heal is forgetfulness, not time. If your memory is good enough, time heals no pain and doesn’t blur blissful times.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Loving Sabotage

by Amélie Nothomb

Far too many books about childhood are sentimental, sweet and politically correct. Not this novel by Amélie Nothomb. The protagonist, a seven-year old girl (“I”, otherwise unnamed), is in fact Amélie herself and the book is a true story. (That’s what the author says in the afterword and I totally believe it. No one can invent all this crazy stuff; one has to live it.) I was reading Loving Sabotage on the train in Italy and was so immersed that I almost missed my stop. Nobody ever wrote about war and first love like that.

Take a crowd of children of various nationalities, enclose them in a restricted space built of concrete, and then let them loose, without supervision. Anyone who thinks the kids will extend the hand of friendship to each other is an idiot.
Later in life, when I had achieved either martyrdom or a Nobel Prize in medicine, I would accept these slightly shopworn honors without too much disappointment. For I could always remind myself that while the noblest part of my existence was behind me, it was mine forever. Till my death, I would be able to awe people with the simple sentence: “During the war, I was a pathfinder in Peking.”

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

La fille coupée en deux

a film by Claude Chabrol

Ludivine Sagnier stars in this film by Claude Chabrol as Gabrielle, an attractive and intelligent girl, who — rather unconvincingly — becomes involved with two much less attractive (for the viewer, at least) men. Why did she marry Paul (Benoît Magimel), who is obviously nuts, is anyone’s guess.

Sunday, 18 October 2009


a film by Pete Docter
The 3-D glasses come in handy: not just to showcase the subtle use of that technique — the film-makers rarely resort to attention-seeking tricks like throwing things at a camera — but to hide your tears.
Edward Lawrenson, The Big Issue no. 867.

Finally! Today, we went to see Up. It was well worth the wait.

Speaking of waiting. Do you have to wait all your life before going to Paradise Falls?


Saturday, 17 October 2009

The first five notes

Today we kept practicing the five notes shown below:

The first five notes

This is four notes more than two weeks ago, so now I can (more or less) play this exercise. Music for trombone is written in F-clef, which means that, in distant future, I can re-use some bass music I have.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Valentine’s Day

introduced by Alice Thomas Ellis

This book was an unwanted gift for, well, Valentine’s Day. You would think that neither subtitle (Women Against Men: Stories of Revenge) nor cover art (the famous Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi) are particularly suitable for a Valentine’s Day gift, but here you go. When I was found engrossed in the book, the owners (i.e. recipients of an unwanted gift) gladly parted with it. So in the end everybody was happy.

I wish all the stories in the book were really about revenge of women on men (Accident by Agatha Christie, Beware the Gentle Wife by Deborah Bosley, Stitch and Bitch by Jane Barker Wright and Widow’s Peak by Sylvia Petter are perfect examples), not just intention or desire of revenge. Even so, I enjoyed most of the stories. The French Boy by Amanda Craig is one of the happiest tales, although here men mostly escape unharmed. Instead, Mrs Stevens exerts sort of revenge on her teenage daughters and gets a “French Boy” for herself. The book is concluded with Set in Stone by Pat Knight, the diary of a prehistoric woman (“unfortunately pen and paper not yet invented so have to hack words onto cave walls with flint”).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Drastic Fantastic

by KT Tunstall

Dodgy title notwithstanding, the second studio offering by KT Tunstall is a solid rock/folk/whatever album with a lovable retro feel. I like her singing here much better than on Laughter Through Tears (good thing then that KT and Oi Va Voi parted ways: she’s got her solo career and Oi Va Voi have got brilliant Bridgette Amofah). My favourite songs here are Funnyman (it rocks), acoustic White Bird, and Caribbean-flavoured Someday Soon. I like the album design too: nightmarish black and white comics instead of song lyrics.

Drastic Fantastic

Sunday, 11 October 2009

The Beatles on Record

a film by Bob Smeaton

Yesterday, during the Music Technology lesson in Duxford, we watched a bit of this documentary. The point to illustrate was that, while now they use about eight microphones to record a drumkit alone, “in the olden days” they were able to record the bands like The Beatles with just two mikes. (And genius of George Martin of course.) And the sound was great, innit? Also, check out the mixing desk at about 3:30, apparently that was the state of the art at the time, and it still looks cool.

The Beatles on Record

Friday, 9 October 2009

The Weeping Meadow

by Eleni Karaindrou

Every time I describe anything as “beautiful”, I make a mental note not to use this word again. I really should try some other adjectives. Now, listen to music by Eleni Karaindrou and try not to say that it is beautiful.

I did not watch the film. According to many reviews I read, it is a great movie. I also know that it is profoundly tragic. So maybe one day, when I feel an urge to watch a Greek tragedy, I will do so. But for a moment, I am listening to the music.

Weeping Meadow

Sunday, 4 October 2009

La lectrice

a film by Michel Deville

“A seductive comedy for people who like to read in bed”. To be honest, I borrowed this film from the library on the basis of the header alone. And hooray, the film did not disappoint. I loved the story within a story within a story premise, clever and erotic and funny and tasteful. The scenes where the general’s widow (María Casares) asks Marie (Miou-Miou) to read her from Marx/Gorky/Lenin are hilarious. All these actors looked familiar — indeed, they all appeared in numerous (mostly French) films — but no, I couldn’t remember where I saw any one of them.

How to do a few things with trombone

Yesterday, I had my first trombone lesson in Duxford. Within half an hour, I learned quite a few things:
  1. How to blow a raspberry.
  2. How to blow a raspberry into a mouthpiece.
  3. How to assemble the trombone.
  4. How to hold the trombone.
  5. How to blow a raspberry into a mouthpiece when it is attached to the trombone. (The sound produced, I was told, is B♭. “Your family will love it.”)
  6. How to disassemble the trombone.
Armed with all this knowledge, I practiced a little today when there was nobody around.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Roots Controller

by Misty in Roots

Released by Misty in Roots in 2002 after 12-year break, Roots Controller remains their latest album. In fact, only the first six tracks are new (i.e. 2001) material: the rest are re-mastered from their older recordings, including two tracks from their Live At The Counter Eurovision album. No, the band is not dead: later this month, they play at the Musicport Festival in Yorkshire. True, MIR don’t record too often. But when they do it, they do it right.

Roots Controller

Friday, 2 October 2009

Операция «Ы»

a film by Leonid Gaidai

Back in the USSR, Операция «Ы» и другие приключения Шурика (1965) was a film we all were growing with. Often plain silly and occasionally embarrassing (like when Shurik was reciting a poem), but never dull.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Tango Fire

I went to see Tango Fire at the Corn Exchange. (The video on the company’s website does not do them any justice; good thing I did not see it before the show.) There’s no plot as such: it is all about tango. And tango is all about love and loss. The first half is staged as Café del Tango — where the band is playing and the couples, as one could expect, dance, without much interruption except for a comical (if stereotypical) macho pseudo-punch-up scene. The part two was more like showcase for both dancers and musicians (who played three tangos on their own). I preferred the more relaxed and social atmosphere of the Café to the ballroom/ballet/acrobatics of the second half, where the dancers appear to take themselves far too seriously. I wish there was less virtuosity and more spontaneity.

Even so, the encore was a beauty. The band started to play La cumparsita (what else), then the dancers came back to the scene. Then one of the dancers — I think it was Yanina Fajar, who is also the choreographer of the show — invited the bandoneon player, Hugo Satorre, for a dance. He was hesitating; it looked like he never danced tango before. After a few steps, he retreated back to his bandoneon. OK, maybe they do it every performance and this is just a part of the show, but it was so touching and erotic and as spontaneous as Argentine tango should be.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Girl Meets Boy

by Ali Smith

Imagine the present-day Iphis and Ianthe writing their slogans in bright red colour on the walls of public buildings in Inverness. (By the way, the word slogan indeed comes from Scottish Gaelic and means “battle cry” — I just looked it up.) Girl Meets Boy is a love story. You wouldn’t expect a book from Ali Smith which is not a love story. It is also about politics, women’s rights, and water. It reads like poetry.

Metamorphoses is full of the gods being mean to people, raping people then turning them into cows or streams so they won’t tell, hunting them till they change into plants or rivers, punishing them for their pride or their arrogance or their skill by changing them into mountains or insects. Happy stories are rare in it. But the next day dawned, and the whole world opened its eyes, it was the day of the wedding. Even Juno has come, and Hymen was there too, and all the families in Crete were gathered in their finery for the huge celebration all over the island, as the girl met her boy there at the altar.
Girl meets boy, I said. In so many more ways than one.
Old, old story, Robin said.
I’m glad it worked out, I said.
Good old story, Robin said.
Good old Ovid, giving it balls, I said.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Собака Баскервилей

a film by Igor Maslennikov

According to Wikipedia, “there are at least 24 film versions of The Hound of the Baskervilles”. Most of these adaptations are British and (curiously) German movies. For me, the one and only “true” version is the 1981 Soviet film, featuring incomparable Vasily Livanov OBE as Sherlock Holmes, Vitaly Solomin as Dr. Watson and Nikita Mikhalkov as Sir Henry Baskerville. Where the movie deviates from the novel, it does so in a way that Sir Conan Doyle would approve. For instance, Holmes tells Watson that detectives possess special sensory organs on the tips of their ears. Throughout the movie, Sir Henry is fed porridge which he hates. And so on. The mystery of Sir Henry’s boots (“But why didn’t you buy black boots? Why, Sir Henry?”) remains unresolved, which only adds charm to the story.