Thursday, 28 April 2011

The Anonymous Novel. Sensing the Future Torments

by Alessandro Barbero

Written in Italian as Romanzo russo. Fiutando i futuri supplizi and translated into English by Allan Cameron, it does read as if Bulgakov authored it. (Mind you, I am not the only one who noticed that. Look no further than the caption on the cover, which I kept ignoring until today.) Also, the book’s very appearance is that of samizdat. The action begins in Moscow on 7 November 1987. (How remarkable, I thought, I remember all too well what I was doing on that very day.) The events develop in the course of the next three years in Moscow and Baku. At one point, we follow the heroes to the Krasnaya Presnya bath house. (Insert here my memories of that place back then. No, I don’t miss those times or places. Actually I do a bit, safe in the knowledge that I am not going back. Shudder.) Authentic. (Authentic? Yes, authentic.) Gripping. Well-crafted. (Insert more clichés here.) Thoroughly recommended.

It’s time we left the Yugo-Zapadny district and went to the Lenin Library. We’ll take the underground, of course. The end of the line is right here — just a short walk away. Why not take the same carriage as Tanya. Here she is seated in a corner: a chubby, well-built girl with a bagful of textbooks and notebooks on her knees... What was that? No, you cannot sit beside her. The train is packed at this time of day; it is her good fortune that she managed to find a place. However, we can get inside her head and listen to her thoughts. This is no problem from a technical point of view, and if we don’t exploit this possibility to the full, what the hell are we doing here?

Monday, 25 April 2011

Fado Tradicional

by Mariza

I never was a big fan of fado as a genre. I find its over-the-top drama and affectation incredibly annoying. And if there was a single fadista who has managed to annoy me even more than any traditional fado singer, that would be Mariza. It is true that she is constantly pushing the boundaries of fado — to the degree of complete unbearability. (I like her hair though.)

Her latest album, however, pleasantly surprised me. No strings here, thank goodness. Here she is accompanied “only” by the guitar trio (Ângelo Freire, Diogo Clemente and José Marino de Freitas: my respect), so her voice is given plenty of space. Several up-tempo songs, such as wonderful Dona Rosa, provide a welcome change from the standard “oh, this pain of mine” fare. The drama is still there but now Mariza sounds more in control of her emotions. Last but not least: at only 35 minutes, it is over before it starts feeling samey. OK I have to admit: I loved it.

Songlines places Fado Tradicional “in a class all of its own”. I wouldn’t know that — I’d have to listen for some more fado first and I am still not convinced I really want to.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Сантехник, его кот, жена и другие подробности

by Слава Сэ

Some people think that blogging is intrinsically inferior to the Big Literature™. Well. The plumber, his cat, his wife and other details is a testament to the fact that a good blog can be published as a best-selling book. On good paper. And I was thinking there was no humourous Russian literature anymore.

У Ляли в попе дырка. Это ужас. В молодости её не было. Но вчера Ляля выросла и пошла мыть попу сама. И нашла в себе ужасную новость.
Раньше-то хорошо жилось с весёлой, а главное, целой попой. Форма, цвет, аромат, звучание — всё было безупречно. Персики считали этот зад лучшим среди себя и старались подражать во всём. И вдруг, в самом центре датского королевства находится дырка, тревожная, как свист в ночи.
Lyalya has a hole in her bottom. It’s a horror. She had no such thing in her youth. But yesterday, Lyalya grew up and went to wash her bottom all by herself. And found the terrible news.
It was a good life before, with a cheerful and, most importantly, intact bottom. The shape, the colour, the aroma, the sound — everything was perfect. The peaches believed this arse was the best among themselves and tried to imitate everything it did. Then, all of a sudden, bang in the middle of the State of Denmark there is a hole, alarming as a whistle in the night.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Urban Gypsy

by Shukar Collective

What a band! With founding members named Napoleon Constantin, Tamango and Clasic, the greatness is guaranteed, don’t you think? Just wait till you hear the music. At sixty-five minutes, Urban Gypsy could be a tad long to listen in one go, but hey, there always is a pause button.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

K: The Art of Love

by Hong Ying

Based on “the true story”, if one can call that an affair between a young English poet, Julian Bell, whose main claim to fame was to be the son of Vanessa Bell and nephew of Virginia Woolf, and a married Chinese woman, K. This is how Julian referred to her in letters to his mum; in the novel, K is given a name, Lin Cheng. I don’t care that much about the true identity of K, or the truthfulness of the events in the book. What I have in front of me is a curious but rather mediocre piece of fiction. How, how could Lin, a prominent writer as well as master of the Taoist Art of Love, possibly fall for this arrogant, cowardly Westerner? I don’t know whom to blame — the author or her translators — for the missed opportunity. This could have been a great erotic novel. (No, this one is not erotic.)

I would not bother to write this post if not for several free-verse poems in the end of the book: “Lin’s poems to Julian”. I thought they were good.

Our self-portraits

Can’t you see what I see
in this twig foaming with plum flowers?
A whole quarry-load of granite eyes
have cracked, waiting for it to blossom —
but now the explosion is finally happening,
as your words light the fuse to my heart:
‘Till old, we sleep.’

I look away to a winter vase-landscape
thinking: that’s where I lived before I met you.

Then I rub two plum petals together,
their dried blood dripping from my fingers
into a frozen stream.

I still see precisely how things stood
when your own heart burst into flames.

Saturday, 9 April 2011


by Kit Downes Trio

Whitney Balliett famously described jazz as “the sound of surprise”. And the more conventional the format, the greater is the surprise. Take jazz piano trio. By mid-1990s, I thought that Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio, prolific as they are, said all there was to say piano-trio-wise. Then I heard E.S.T. and thought, maybe not. And now, these youngsters: Kit Downes (piano), Calum Gourlay (bass) and James Maddren (drums). Definitely not.

For me, the stand-outs here are Jump Minzi Jump, a lively jazz waltz Tom’s Tune, and ever-changing A Dance Took Place — is it a tango? jazz ballad? swing? But there are no weak links on the album, and a lot of surprises. To quote Peter Bacon,

I urge you to buy this disc — it really is not only the bee’s knees but the bee’s ankles, hips and all the other bee-like joints, too.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Acer Aspire One A150-Aw Netbook

by Acer

I bought this cute netbook two years ago. Almost all of this blog’s posts were created on it. I took it with me to Fuerteventura three times, and it was priceless: a lot of eating and drinking places have free Wi-Fi, and it even fits in teeny weeny safe deposit boxes. Since it came with Linux, I was leading Microsoftless life with a little (or not so little) help from Macles, which was a great source of wisdom on Acer Aspire One.

Apparently, this particular netbook is discontinued by Acer. The new models are as compact but have the 10.1 inch display (mine is 8.9 inch) and longer battery life. However, I am yet to see the newer Aspire One/Linux combination.

The photo above shows the correct mode of operation in the garden at the ambient temperature of 295 K or higher. The red picnic blanket that I got in South Africa proved to be even better buy than the netbook. I am determined to put it to good use this weekend.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

by Robert M. Pirsig

I borrowed this book from the reception of a hotel where I was staying during my last visit to Corralejo. This was probably the only book in English there. I heard so much about this work before but never bothered to look it up, although the full text is available on the web. Now I had my chance to read it while relaxing on the beach. I honestly intended to return it there on my day of departure, which was Sunday. Alas, it turned out that the reception was closed until 9 am — but I had to go. Never mind, I will bring it back next time.

I am not sure that it is any good as a travelogue. True, I never travelled across the States on a motorbike. But it seems that it wouldn’t be much different if it was Canada or Australia or any other big and mostly empty country where you can drive a motorcycle. The only geographical link to the narrator’s past, some godforsaken Montana town where Phaedrus used to teach in a college, even that is totally interchangeable with any other place. Curiously, some important philosophical points are cross-referenced as made “just after Miles City” or “back in South Dakota” instead of, say, chapter numbers. Maybe this was done on purpose, to remind the reader that the journey was real.

On the other hand, Pirsig’s meditations on the nature of Quality, care, gumption ring all sorts of bells. Whether you work in industry or academia, it is quantity, not quality (areté, dharma, excellence) that your employer is after. How many papers are published, how many people are employed, how many hits that corporate website gets, this sort of stuff. Finally, there is motorcycle maintenance. Pirsig says about his book: “It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.” And yet I feel that this is writing of a master of this art. I would trust him to look into my motorbike if I had one.

This is the most poetical book on philosophy (or motorcycles) I’ve ever read.

It was some years ago that my wife and I and our friends first began to catch on to these roads. We took them once in a while for variety or for a shortcut to another main highway, and each time the scenery was grand and we left the road with a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment. We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious: these roads are truly different from the main ones. The whole pace of life and personality of the people who live along them are different. They’re not going anywhere. They’re not too busy to be courteous. The hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about. It’s the others, the ones who moved to the cities years ago and their lost offspring, who have all but forgotten it. The discovery was a real find.
I’ve wondered why it took us so long to catch on. We saw it and yet we didn't see it. Or rather we were trained not to see it. Conned, perhaps, into thinking that the real action was metropolitan and all this was just boring hinterland. It was a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth”, and so it goes away. Puzzling.
But once we caught on, of course, nothing could keep us off these roads, weekends, evenings, vacations. We have become real secondary-road motorcycle buffs and found there are things you learn as you go.
We have learned how to spot the good ones on a map, for example. If the line wiggles, that’s good. That means hills. If it appears to be the main route from a town to a city, that’s bad. The best ones always connect nowhere with nowhere and have an alternate that gets you there quicker.

Monday, 4 April 2011


a film by Francis Veber

A hilarious French film about unlikely friendship of Quentin (Gérard Depardieu) and Ruby (Jean Reno). Enough said.

Saturday, 2 April 2011


by Rodrigo y Gabriela

The third studio album by the Mexican dynamic duo is quite remarkable. Not only give they a rest to Metallica (or any) covers. For the first time, Rod y Gab came up with something like concept album. Each of the eleven original compositions is dedicated to a musician or a band — OK, that could have been boring if it were not so frighteningly brilliant. I don’t know if they still maintain that “we don’t play flamenco” attitude but it is awfully nice of R&G to pay respect to the artists who influenced them. In the liner notes, they even list their favourite albums! Like this:

Paco de Lucía
We have met people that still don’t know who he is! The worst part is that a lot of them “work” in the music industry... Shame on them... Paco de Lucía is the music itself.
Recommended albums:
All of them!!!
The deluxe edition comes with a bonus DVD which, frankly, adds very little, especially if you saw Rodrigo y Gabriela playing live. And the tutorial for Buster Voodoo? Good luck with that one.