Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Le scaphandre et le papillon

a film by Julian Schnabel

The movie is based on a real story of Jean-Dominique Bauby (Jean-Do), the author of the book of the same name (which I did not read). Jean-Do, who had locked-in syndrome following a stroke, was able to dictate his extraordinary book by blinking his only functioning eye. Even though I knew that there will be no happy end, I still was hoping for a miracle. One of the most powerful scenes is the telephone conversation between Jean-Do and Inès (his last girlfriend), assisted by Céline (his former partner and mother of his children). According to the F-Word review,

the Céline-Inès telephone translation scene was entirely the invention of the film’s makers. It does not appear within the book, which makes scant reference to either the mother of his children (Sylvie) or his girlfriend (Florence).
If so, then congratulations to the filmmakers.

Le scaphandre of the title (in English translation inexplicably rendered as “diving bell”, rather than “diving suit”) refers to Jean-Do’s paralysed body; le papillon (the butterfly) is his free imagination.

Sunday, 28 June 2009


by Oliver Sacks

This is the first book by Oliver Sacks I ever read, and it took me just under six months to finish it. By some reason, the reading pattern was: after one or two chapters, I would take a break — the longest one was over a month. Some chapters seemed to drag on and on, but it got better closer to the end of the book (‘it’ being either the book or my attention). The penultimate chapter, A Hypermusical Species: Williams Syndrome, reads like a good science fiction story: the author visits a summer camp which well may have been on another planet...

Friday, 26 June 2009

Cinema 16: European Short Films

A great collection of 16 short films from different countries and eras. In my view, these three are the best:

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Barnacle Soup

by Josie Gray & Tess Gallagher
Josie Gray, a County Sligo painter and father of eight, tells yarns with the same passion some men court beautiful women or bet on horses, although he’s been known to do the latter as well.

Barnacle Soup and other stories from the West of Ireland is a collection of the stories narrated by the Irishman, Josie Gray, and transformed into a literary work by the American writer, Tess Gallagher. A beautiful little book with very cute monochrome linocut illustrations by Ann Anderson.

From A stray bullet and sick cattle
Because, as I said, majors were scarce in the locality, we decided to manufacture one. We called him ‘the Major’. Major Donnelly never objected to the rise in rank of our Major, and could be heard calling him that himself on occasion. ‘Good day, Major,’ the Major would say. Maybe he liked having the company.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The Strangeness of Beauty

by Lydia Minatoya
It has been said that at any given moment, sixty percent of Japanese are involved in writing a novel. And all of them autobiographical.

This is how the novel begins. I have found this book in Oxfam (of course). Neither the name of the author nor the title were familiar, but the drawing on the dust jacket and rough-cut edge got my attention. Inside, there was a beautiful origami gift tag, probably used as a bookmark by the previous owner. As soon as I read a few lines, I knew I have to take it home.

It did not disappoint.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Miss Perfumado

by Cesária Évora

This is my favourite album of Cesária Évora. Like all of her music, it is full of nostalgia (Sodade, as the title of the first song), love, and hope. And it has Angola on it!

Ess vida sabe qu’nhôs ta vivê
Parodia dia e note manché
Sem maca ma cu sabura

Angola Angola
Oi qu’povo sabe
Ami nhos ca ta matá-me
‘M bem cu hora pa’me ba nha caminho

Ess convivência dess nhôs vivência
Paciência dum consequência
Resistência dum estravagância

Monday, 22 June 2009

Vanishing Africa

by Mirella Ricciardi

This is a beautiful book of (mostly black and white) photographs by Mirella Ricciardi. First published in 1971, it is now out of print. I bought my book last year after reading about Ricciardi’s exhibition in The Big Issue.

Turkana Girl, Lake Rudolf 1968

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Manou Gallo

by Manou Gallo

Manou Gallo, originally from Côte d’Ivoire, is a wonderful singer, songwriter and a funky bass player. The audio samples from her 2007 album (called simply Manou Gallo) are available here.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Lorenzo Raccolta

by Jovanotti

This is the only album of Jovanotti I have, and almost every song there is great. Penso positivo was kind of soundtrack for my life in Italy in 1994.

Io penso positivo perché son vivo, perché son vivo
Io penso positivo perché son vivo, perché son vivo
niente e nessuno al mondo potrà fermarmi dal ragionare
niente e nessuno al mondo potrà fermare, fermare, fermare


Today, Yuri brought me a hand-made greetings card with a postscriptum:

P.S: Your age is the answer to life, universe and everything, according to “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”.
Hmmm. Let’s see what they were up to 42 years ago. Boy, they really knew how to make things in those days.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Bourbaki Gambit

by Carl Djerassi

I first heard the name of Nicolas Bourbaki during Carl Djerassi’s lecture last year. After that, I started to come across it now and then (e.g. Bourbaki is mentioned in both Knots and The Music of the Primes).

The Bourbaki Gambit is a better read than NO — probably because Djerassi empathises with the narrator, professor Max Weiss, much better than with Renu Krishnan of NO. The novel investigates the role of very human passions in science. Forget the curiosity. The original motivation to create Professor Diana Skordylis (kind of Bourbaki of biochemistry) by a group of ageing academics, including Weiss, is revenge. Then, as they make a revolutionary discovery of the polymerase chain reaction, the desire of recognition kills their unique collaboration — and Diana.

Renga-style research doesn’t suit big egos.”

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Moishe’s Bagel

I didn’t know that such thing as Scottish klezmer exists until Yuri and I went to see Moishe’s Bagel in February. They played two hour-long sets, each song accompanied by a wonderful story told by one of the musicians. Before the break, Phil (the keyboard player) said, “We have some CDs for sale. We cleverly choose the songs for our program so if you want to hear all of them, you have to buy both our albums”. I had no choice.

It was already 10:30 pm and they were about to play encore. I said, “Yuri, our train is leaving in 20 minutes. Shall we go or you rather stay some more?” Yuri said, “I’d like to stay and listen to the music.” So we stayed. They played a beautiful song, a lullaby, about eight minutes long (I think). We still have managed to catch the last train from Cambridge station.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Madam & Eve Unplugged

by Stephen Francis & Rico

Minna gave Yuri this book as a Christmas present. Last Sunday, I finally got hold of it... (To those who, like me, until now were not acquainted with the world of Madam & Eve: this is a realy cool South African comic strip.) Right, I see. Now I start to understand the origin of some questions and expressions...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


a film by Vincent Paronnaud & Marjane Satrapi
“Stevie Wonder?”
“Julio Iglesias?”
“Pink Floyd?”
“Jichael Mackson?”
“Rouge à lèvres, vernis à ongles, cartes à jouer?”
“Iron Maiden?”
“C’est combien pour ça?”
“100 toumans.”
“Et toi, c’est quoi cette tenue?”
“C’est quoi, ces chaussures de punk?”
“Quelles chaussures de punk?”
“Ça, là!”
“Cette forme, c’est punk.”
“Michael Jackson, ce symbole de la décadence occidentale!”
“Mais pas du tout, Madame, c’est... c’est... c’est Malcolm X.”

A great scene — but then, Persepolis is a great animation, from the beginning to the end. If you can, watch it with an original French soundtrack.

Monday, 15 June 2009


by Harold Feinstein

A book of beautiful photographs by Harold Feinstein. It’s not all foliage though: the chapter Seeds of Change deals with seeds and fruits; Edibles has them too as well as roots and shoots (and an odd mushroom). In addition to the introductions by Sydney Eddison and Alexandra Anderson-Spivy, each chapter is accompanied by ‘botanical notes’ (as much as historical and literary) by Greg Piotrowski.

From Looking Beyond the Obvious by Sydney Eddison:
Adults lose the ability to relate to plants in this fearless, intimate way. We become too rushed and busy to look at nature’s handiwork with a child’s attentive curiosity. Given a pinecone, a child will turn it upside down, right-side up, examine it from all angles, and wonder what lies beneath the brown scales. Adults, however, may assume they know all they need to know about a pinecone.
From The Essence of Green by Greg Piotrowski:
The words grow, green, and grass are closely connected, all being derived from the same root word. Grow suggests the motion of plants, green refers to the color of actively growing plants, and grass is a common example of a plant combining the action of growth with the color green.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Africa Brazil

by Grupo Batuque

Back in 2000, a good friend of mine sent me this record of Grupo Batuque. I loved the music. I listen to it every now and then; afterwards, I can’t help singing Jongo Jade for days. (Well I don’t know the words and can’t find them on the web; doesn’t matter really.)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town & Other Stories

by Charles Bukowski

I’ve just finished reading this amazing collection of short stories by Bukowski. Many of them made me laugh; a couple of stories are so brutal, I won’t read them again. For most of them, the label “contains strong language” will be a massive understatement. The title story is a masterpiece.

From 3 Chickens
so. liquor store. 5th of whiskey. 5 or 6 quarts of beer.
we found an all night market. the place even had a butcher.
“we wanta bake a chicken,” I said.
“oh, christ,” he said.
I dropped one of the quarts of beer. it really exploded.
“christ,” he said.
I dropped another to see what he would say.
“oh, jesus,” he said.
“I want THREE CHICKENS,” I said.
“jesus christ, yes,” I said.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Somers Town

a film by Shane Meadows

Shot (mostly) in black and white, Somers Town (directed by Shane Meadows) is a film about teenagers, Tomo and Marek, two strangers in London. A funny and sad movie, spoiled only by the ‘happy’ colour ending (dream?) of reunion of Tomo, Marek and Maria in Paris.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Proxima Estacion: Esperanza

by Manu Chao

The way Manu Chao does not hesitate to rhyme ‘French-accent’ English words is sooo charming.

Last night we had a rendezvous.
How do you do? Comment allez vous?
We went to see a French movee.
Mais qu’est ce qu’il fait? Mais qu’est ce qu’il dit?
Hey Bobby Marley,
Sing something good to me, yeah
This world go crazy
It’s an emergencee, ooh
The only problem with Proxima Estacion: Esperanza is, you can’t get the music out your head. At least, not until you start listening to some other Manu Chao record.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

by Carl Djerassi

I first heard about NO the novel in December 2000, during the Biochemical Society meeting in Brighton, from Dennis Stuehr, one of several real experts on biochemistry of nitric oxide mentioned in this book by Carl Djerassi. However, it was not until last year that, after Djerassi’s brilliant lecture here in Hinxton, I bought and read it.

Nitric oxide (NO) has multiple physiological effects, but it is its importance for penile erection that made this simple compound the title of the book. Otherwise, the story is not about NO but about scientists who happen to be involved in development of Viagra-like drug. Carl Djerassi defines the genre as ‘science-in-fiction’. I do not have any problems with the science of the book but I do have a serious problem with the ‘fiction’ component. I did not love or hate or otherwise connect with any of the characters in the novel. They are not believable. Why on earth two women scientists, Renu Krishnan and Melanie Laidlaw, feel an urge to convert into Judaism? Renu’s letters to her ‘dearest’ brother in India read like Financial Times articles or something. To sum up: a fascinating read, touching upon many interesting topics, but, with all due respect, I wouldn’t call it great literature.

Alright, Still

by Lily Allen

I do not normally listen to pop music. Not to the pop music of 21 century anyway. But, after reading an article in The Big Issue, I thought I may give Lily Allen a try. Not bad, I have to admit, even if some songs there make me cringe. (No, it is not because of the ‘explicit lyrics’ — in my view, mostly justified. I was amused that you can find a ‘clean’ version of Alright, Still, where all the swearwords are somehow edited out.) Apparently, Lily herself said she cringes when listening to her debut album. I don’t think I will listen to it over and over, but still, thumbs up. My favourite tracks there (musically) are Everything’s Just Wonderful, ska-ish Friday Night and reggae-ish Friend of Mine.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Star Trek

a film by J. J. Abrams

Yuri and I went to see Star Trek the movie today. (I managed to catch a short nap in the first few minutes of the film and awoke when the opening title STAR TREK appeared on the screen; apparently, I did not miss much of the content.) I am no Star Trek fan, so I don’t have to compare ‘old’ and ‘new’ Star Treks. (In fact, it doesn’t matter if you are acquainted with ‘old’ Star Trek or not.) I liked the faded colours, red mini-dresses and overall 1960s feel about the whole thing. The acting is surprisingly good. Pavel Chekov the math genius (Anton Yelchin) speaks with a ridiculous but very believable Russian accent, while Scotty (Simon Pegg), predictably, speaks with a charming (but also ridiculous) Scottish accent.

Friday, 5 June 2009

The Music of the Primes

by Marcus du Sautoy

I spent my last Christmas holidays with my friend’s family in Torino. One day, we were talking about the books, films and music and my friend has mentioned the book she just finished reading, La solitudine dei numeri primi by Paolo Giordano (at the time, it was not translated into English yet). By some unexplicable coincidence, I was just about to finish the book by Marcus du Sautoy called The Music of the Primes which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. Recently, I came across the du Sautoy’s website designed by du Sautoy which includes, among others, such topics as maths in history, art, and music.

Anna M.

a film by Michel Spinosa

Anna M. is a story of a young woman who falls in love with the married doctor and becomes convinced that the doctor is in love with her too. So what? The plot itself is not particularly inventive, but the whole movie is working thanks to the amazing performance by Isabelle Carré. The scene where Anna and two girls she babysits are digging the tunnel (to the doctor’s apartment downstairs) is both hilarious and scary. In the end, we are left to wonder whether doctor Zanevsky existed at all and whether Anna was cured of her obsession.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Le Moine et Le Poisson

a film by Michaël Dudok de Wit

A beautiful animation by Michaël Dudok de Wit. I’d love to get it on DVD but can’t find it — maybe it does not exist.

The Monk and the Fish (Le Moine et le poisson)

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

The Hi-De-Ho Man

by Cab Calloway

Tonight at dinner time Yuri and Timur had a very highbrow discussion of jazz, what does in mean ‘jazzy’, etc. At some point, Yuri said: “By the way, my favourite jazz collection of what we were listening to <while driving> in Scotland is the one which has Everybody Eats When They Come to My House on it”.

Incidentally, this is my favourite compilation of Cab Calloway too. I never tire of listening to it, and it has the bestest version of Minnie The Moocher ever.