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.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

The Living Road

by Lhasa de Sela

The second album by Lhasa is a work of beautiful melancholy. I love her voice. Her Spanish singing is full of passion; in English, she sings with cute accent; but I like her French songs most. They are sensual, restrained, ironic. Best of all, La Confession.

Je n’ai pas peur
De dire que je t’ai trahi
Par pure paresse
Par pure mélancolie
Qu’entre toi
Et le diable
J’ai choisi le plus
Mais tout cela
N’est pas pourquoi
Je me sens coupable
Mon cher ami

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Oi Va Voi live

I like to think I’m stronger now
Victim of common sense
The truth is that I know I still
Confuse the past with the present tense
Condensing what we had
To a single frame
That sticks in my mind
When I try to move on
The same image comes back every time

Just back from Oi Va Voi gig at The Junction. I first saw them at the same place almost two years ago. The band, fronted by the (beautiful) singer Bridgette Amofah and the (stunning) violinist Anna Phoebe, is as good as back then, but the programme is mostly based on their latest album, Travelling The Face Of The Globe. (Amazingly, they even were selling the vinyl in the foyer.) From new songs, S’brent (sung in Yiddish by Amofah) was my favourite. Even though the new album, as a whole, is more consistent than the previous two, it was material from their first album, Laughter Through TearsYesterday’s Mistakes, Gypsy, Ladino Song and, of course, (encore!) Refugee — where the band was especially shining and the audience went wild... well, by Cambridge standards anyway. The instrumental Crimea just has to be seen live.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Cherry Hinton Festival 2009

24-strong Arco Iris was leading the parade at this year’s Cherry Hinton Festival. Which means, we could walk at our own speed rather than trying to close the gap between us and the floats. The promised heavy rain never materialised — it was a perfect Summer day! On the downside, there was Saturday traffic as usual so we had to keep to the pavements (and dodge lampposts and stuff). I think we managed to make some good noise nevertheless. Immediately after the parade, we had a short slot (about 20 minutes) at the Arena.

No more gigs is planned for a month or so.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Italiensk for begyndere

a film by Lone Scherfig

I hope that the DVD box sporting the quote “Charming, romantic comedy — The Sun” (yeugh) won’t put you off. Maybe not your typical romantic comedy, but Italian for Beginners, written and directed by Lone Scherfig, is a wonderfully funny and touching movie. Sure, there must be viewers who find it boring or depressing: it is almost completely devoid of both violence and sentimentality. (Well, there was violence behind the scenes: “There was some disagreement about the accentuation of a hymn. Pastor Wredmann got rather physical. He pushed the organist over the balcony.”) But it has life, death, funeral (x 3), love (x 3), some very Danish humour and, of course, Italian. Low budget, great result.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A Plum in Your Mouth

by Andrew Taylor

This is a delightful little book. And yet, reading it, I could not help thinking how much better it could have been. In the Introduction, the author states that “there will be none of the symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet”. It’s a shame, considering that throughout the book he endeavours to reproduce the nuances of English pronunciation by means of... English spelling, which, as he points out himself, is less than adequate for the task (see The Logical Fallacy in the last chapter). For instance, according to Taylor, the RP speakers say bath as barth and castle as carrsel — I bet this description makes little sense for those who actually can pronounce r. Or take the schwa, “the most useful and common vowel of all”, which is now and then represented with uh rather than with ə. Elsewhere, the book in not free from linguistic speak, so we meet “flat a”, “rounded u” and “glottal stop” quite a lot. And so on, and so forth.

Perhaps the printed page is simply a wrong medium here. What we really need is an audiobook, preferably narrated by somebody like Rory Bremner (who wrote a foreword) or Hugh Laurie. That would be a bestseller.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

a film by Joel & Ethan Coen

I doubt that Coen brothers would define their 2000 film as a musical comedy. But comedy it is, and music undoubtedly is one of its main heroes. The music also has acquired a life of its own, with Grammy-winning soundtrack album and live performances of real-life Soggy Bottom Boys and things like that. The opening song, Po’ Lazarus, sung by chain gang in the movie, was originally recorded back in 1950s by Alan Lomax as it was performed by real prisoners including James Carter. Aside from music — if such thing is possible here — great story, performances and dialogue (“We thought you was a toad!”). A film to enjoy again and again.

Saturday, 12 September 2009


by Peter Gabriel

The 1980s was not the best decade for rock music, but it certainly was the golden era of music video. And there is no better video from ’80s than Peter Gabriel’s classic Sledgehammer, animated by Aardman. According to Wikipedia,

Gabriel lay under a sheet of glass for 16 hours while filming the video one frame at a time.
I just love stop-motion films.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Tamara Walks on Water

by Shifra Horn

I guess it was hard for a girl to grow in Jaffa in early 20 century. Especially to grow while being called all sorts of names, like ‘carrot-head’, ‘Tamara another one’, ‘Tamara rooster’, ‘daughter of a hyena’ and ‘your ma is your grandma’. Especially when the said grandma, out of love to Tamara, tries to convince her that she is ugly and does not allow her to wear any pretty clothes, saying that those are “for whores”.

An enchanting book by Shifra Horn, far from being depressing, is very optimistic. At times, it is really funny too.

שפרה הורן
When I dissolved into tears enfolded in her arms, she wept tearlessly with me and warned me to beware of men because they are dangerous. They have a stick, she explained to me, a flesh stick, and when this stick enters a girl’s body, it brings forth babies.

That night, after she had fallen asleep with a sigh, I conferred with Yosef on a subject. We whispered and inspected the lower apertures of my body in the dim light of the streetlight, and deliberated on the matter. We made assumptions and rejected them, and finally selected the navel.
תמרה הולכת על המים

I wish there were more moments like this, instead of rather unconvincing love affair of Tamara and Archimandrite Christodolos. Still, what’s written that’s written, and it’s a great read anyway.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Los abrazos rotos

a film by Pedro Almodóvar

The latest film of Almodóvar features his dream team of fabulous women from Volver, including (of course) Pene Cruz, Blanca Portillo, and Lola Dueñas. It is all top quality stuff, even though by the second half of the movie I wished it was a bit shorter. The scenes of “revelations” did not reveal anything that I haven’t figured out already. The (writing of) vampire sequence it hilarious, and final scenes make you want to watch director’s cut of fictitional movie Chicas y Maletas (a ruder version of Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios?), starring Cruz and Carmen Machi as Chon, “una concejala de asuntos sociales”.

Yuri’s playlist

Yuri’s got a brand new MP3 player, 8-Gigabyte Sandisk Sansa Clip. It is small, black and beautiful. It does not need a separate charger since it can be charged via USB. Even before he’s got it, Yuri drafted the list of albums to put onto it. (That’s what we did on Monday.) Here it is:

Sandisk Sansa Clip 8GB MP3 Player (Black)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle

a film by Jean-Luc Godard

With all due respect to Jean-Luc Godard, I think that Two or Three Things I Know About Her is not his best movie, and certainly not “one of the ten greatest films ever made”. Saying that, it is well worth watching. I liked acting there, especially when Juliette (Marina Vlady) and other women characters talk straight to the camera giving us various bits of unsolicited information. One of the best scenes is the one where Christophe reads aloud his essay on Friendship.

In my new school, the boys and girls are all together. That makes it co-ed. Is friendship between boys and girls possible? Yes and no. Yes, because some girls are very nice. Maryse, Martine, Ghislaine, Roseline. With these girls we can talk. ‘Hello, kid’, I say. ‘Hello’, they reply. Then we talk until we disagree.
‘You’re impossible’, she says, I kick her, she throws an ink-ball at me, teacher comes in. In this case friendship is not desirable or possible. I’d rather be electrocuted with my feet in water. Both nice and nasty girls are quite clean... and most are nice, so I feel better about it.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Bathtime in Clerkenwell

by The Real Tuesday Weld

Music by The Real Tuesday Weld (London), animation by Alex Budovsky (New York). According to Budovsky,
This film is about The Great Revolution of the British Cuckoos, who bravely took over London, forcing all the people to move inside the cuckoo clocks.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Norfolk Terrace Street Party

Another good thing about Arco Iris events is that I get to know places in and around Cambridge that I would never visit otherwise. Today we played from 3 pm at a street party on Norfolk Terrace, a small street parallel to Norfolk Street. It was really great family atmosphere, with doors open, food and booze on the tables outside, people actually dancing to our music. (Some kids were even bouncing, but that’s because there was a bouncy castle.) The coziest gig so far.

Friday, 4 September 2009


by Angélique Kidjo

I guess it is difficult not to fall in love with (music of) an artist whose records are named Aye, Fifa and Djin Djin. But it is impossible not to fall in love with (music of) somebody who records an album called Oyaya! This was the first album of Angélique Kidjo I heard. I fell in love with her music and language (Kidjo invented her own language with words like Batonga) instantly. Five years later, I got hold of almost all her records, but Oyaya! remains on top of my desert-island record list.


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

a film by Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones

The Holy Grail may be not as coherent as Life of Brian; it is more like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a series of rather disjoint sketches interspersed with crazy animations of Terry Gilliam and shouts of “get on with it”. I have this two-disc box set, with second DVD full of assorted junk including the LEGO version of Knights of the Round Table song (with a guest appearance of an ex-parrot). Still, I prefer the original: you can’t do facial expressions with LEGO.

We’re Knights of the Round Table
We dance whene’er we’re able
We do routines and chorus scenes
With footwork impeccAble.
We dine well here in Camelot,
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.

We’re Knights of the Round Table
Our shows are formidAble
But many times we’re given rhymes
That are quite unsingAble
We’re opera mad in Camelot
We sing from the diaphragm a lot.

In war we’re tough and able,
Quite indefatigAble.
Between our quests we sequin vests
And impersonate Clark Gable.
It’s a busy life in Camelot...
I have to push the pram a lot.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Zap Mama

by Zap Mama

Over the years, Zap Mama recorded a number of great albums but their self-titled debut remains my favourite: funky all-girl a cappella singing at its best. As much European as African (in the States, this album was re-issued as Adventures in Afropea, Vol. 1), they even have a go at the Spanish Renaissance hit Din Din.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


a film by Mamoru Hosoda
“That’s the Time Leap. Time is irreversible, right?”
“Time doesn’t rewind.”
“But you rewound it. You leapt through time and returned to the past.”
“It’s not that unusual. It happens a lot to girls your age.”

Do yourself a favour, watch this animation in Japanese. Even if you, like me, do not understand Japanese, the voice intonations of characters there — and especially Makoto — are priceless.