Thursday, 28 April 2011
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.
Monday, 25 April 2011
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
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.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
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
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.
Saturday, 9 April 2011
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
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
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 ever read.
Monday, 4 April 2011
Saturday, 2 April 2011
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 LucíaThe 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.
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.
All of them!!!