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.