Wednesday, 26 December 2012

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrated by Iain McIntosh

An absolute classic. How come I didn’t read it until now?

This special edition hardback (no. 126 of 1200), with black-and-red illustrations by Iain McIntosh, is a beauty. Maybe one day there will be such thing as an e-book signed by both the author and illustrator. Maybe. I don’t care really. I prefer the real thing.

She knew the railway station slightly. It was a place that she enjoyed visiting, as it reminded her of the old Africa, the days of uncomfortable companionship on crowded trains, of slow journeys across great plains, of the sugar cane you used to eat to while away the time, and of the pith of the cane you used to spit out of the wide windows. Here you could still see the station — or a part of it — here, where the trains that came up from the Cape pulled slowly past the platform on their journey up through Botswana to Bulawayo; here, where the Indian stores beside the railway buildings still sold cheap blankets and men’s hats with a garish feather tucked into the band.
Mma Ramotswe did not want Africa to change. She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa. She would not be anything but an African, never, even if somebody came up to her and said, ‘Here is a pill, the very latest thing. Take it and it will make you into an American.’ She would say no. Never. No thank you.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Searle’s Cats

by Ronald Searle

This is the book no cat lover — or hater — should be without.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Wireless Double Charger for Wii® Handle

by Chin Fai Electronics

The moment came when I got tired of endless requests to change the batteries in the Wii remote controls. So I’ve ordered this docking station. Once you unpack the charger, take out the conventional AA batteries and put the (supplied) battery module instead. This is the first and hopefully the last time you have to open the battery compartment of the remote. As this is an induction charging device, there’s no need for electric contact. You don’t even have to take the silicone jacket off the remote. Then plug the charger in, put the remote(s) on top of the charging board... and wait. It took slightly more than 24 hours to completely charge the remotes (as indicated by the steady green light instead of flashing red), but they could already be used after six or so hours of charging. It’s almost like magic.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Fuerteventura

by Kompass Karten

After more than a year on Fuerte, the time has come to get a proper map of this island. At last. Google Maps is useless for place names: in the best case, they are not there. In the worst case, they are years out of date. (No, there is no street in Corralejo named Avenida del General Franco). I don’t know about GPS. I never seen anybody using GPS here anyway.

This 1:50000 Kompass map is... good. Not perfect — well, nothing is perfect — but way better than any other map I’ve seen. It is big too: 117 x 74 cm, to be precise. (The dimensions 19.5 x 11.6 x 0.9 cm quoted by Amazon refer to a folded map.) So if you find the art of map folding nontrivial, you may wish to practice. Even so, our beautiful island is rather long, so they had to print its southern part on the other side. The legend is in German, Spanish, English, French and Italian. Naturally, the place names are in Spanish, but one can come across a number of random German words or phrases (usually printed in red) which are left on their own. Here they are for you:

100 Jahre alter Plattenweg100-year-old paved path
Achtung! Gezeiten beachtenAttention! Beware of the tide
Baden gefährlich!Swimming is dangerous!
Bauernmuseumfarming museum
Felsenkapellerock chapel
Freilichtmuseumopen air museum
Genehmigungspflichtig (Rathaus La Oliva)subject to permission (from La Oliva Town Hall)
nur mit Genehmigungonly with permission
Kulturlandschaftcultural landscape
Landschaftsschutzgebietlandscape conservation area
Museumsdorfmuseum village
Naturdenkmalnatural monument
Schiffswrackshipwreck
Siedlung(early historic) settlement
Surfschulesurf school

Finally, the enclosed Lexicon (a short guide to the island) is in German only. But you don’t buy a map to read a guide. Pretty much disposable, unless you really want to know how to say gofio in German.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Artist

a film by Michel Hazanavicius

Remember “I’ll get me coat” guy from The Fast Show? He complains that Bergmann’s film was black and white, subtitled, nobody got shot or took their kit off. Surely he would say the same about The Artist. It is a bit of a miracle that the movie, not your typical Oscar material at all, proceeded to win five Oscars (the first French film ever to win Best Picture!), six Césars, seven BAFTAs and so on.

But does the most awarded French film in history live up to the hype? You bet. If you did not see it yet, do yourself a favour: watch it.

And you know what, Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo really can dance!

Friday, 23 November 2012

Spanish Short Stories 1 / Cuentos hispánicos 1

edited by Jean Franco
First published 23 November 2012 @ Saffron Walden Lessons

Finally, I made it to the end!

My first attempt to read this book was in 2006. Alas, I got stuck in the very beginning; to be precise, in the middle of the first story, Emma Zunz. That was frustrating, for I read this story before (not in Spanish, though). Had I known then that this is one of the easier stories in the book, I would be even more frustrated.

Seven years later, one of them living in Spain: yes, apparently I can read Spanish literature. It took me “only” about two months to go through the eight stories. And then, without parallel text, it would take even longer. The overall mood of these stories is fluctuating from nostalgia to despair, with many shades of melancholy, pain and desire to kill in between. Is this selection supposed to be representative of twentieth century Hispanic fiction? My favourite stories are El presupuesto and La romería.

  1. Jorge Luis Borges, Emma Zunz (translated by Donald A. Yates)
    Classic Borges story told in his laconic, matter-of-fact, almost emotionless style.
  2. Mario Benedetti, El presupuesto / The Budget (translated by Gerald Brown)
    I couldn’t help noticing certain parallels with Gogol’s Шинель here. The Second Clerk even buys himself an overcoat (el sobretodo) in anticipation of salary increase.
  3. H. A. Murena, El coronel de caballería / The Cavalry Colonel (translated by Gordon Brotherston)
  4. Gabriel García Márquez, Monólogo de Isabel viendo llover en Macondo / Isabel’s Soliloquy: Watching the Rain in Macondo (translated by Richard Southern)
    Originally, written as a part of One Hundred Years of Solitude but not included in the final version.
  5. Juan Carlos Onetti, Bienvenido, Bob / Welcome, Bob (translated by Donald T. Shaw)
    I spend far too many days reading this story, thanks to the author’s love for long sentences.
  6. Camilo José Cela, La romería (translated by Gordon Brotherston)
    An outing of a middle-class family dominated by two harpies. Absolutely brilliant.
  7. Carlos Martínez Moreno, Paloma / The Pigeon (translated by Giovanni Pontiero)
    En la ciudad de un millón de habitantes hay ya más de cien locos que crían palomas.
  8. Juan Rulfo, Talpa (translated by J.A. Chapman)
    I liked Rulfo’s writing style, but the story itself is rather depressing, even by the standards of this book.
Esa paz ya resuelta y casi definitiva que pesaba en nuestra Oficina, dejándonos conformes con nuestro pequeño destino y un poco torpes debido a nuestra falta de insomnios, se vio un día alterada por la noticia que trajo el Oficial Segundo. Era sobrino de un Oficial Primero del Ministerio y resulta que ese tío — dicho sea sin desprecio y con propiedad — había sabido que allí se hablaba de un presupuesto nuevo para nuestra Oficina. Como en el primer momento no supimos quién o quiénes eran los que hablaban de nuestro presupuesto, sonreímos con la ironía de lujo que reservábamos para algunas ocasiones, como si el Oficial Segundo estuviera un poco loco o como si nosotros pensáramos que él nos tomaba por un poco tontos.
Mario Benedetti, El presupuesto
This settled, almost absolute, peace that weighed down on our office, leaving us resigned to our little destinies and somewhat sluggish on account of not losing any sleep, was shattered one day by some news brought by the Second Clerk. He was a nephew of a Head Clerk in the Ministry, and it turned out that this uncle (speaking properly and without disrespect) had learnt that there was talk of a new budget for our office. As we didn’t know at first what person or persons had been talking about our budget, we smiled with that particularly luxurious irony that we reserved for certain occasions, as if the Second Clerk was a bit mad, or as if we realized that he thought we were a bit stupid.
Mario Benedetti, The Budget

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday beach clean-up

Sick of all the rubbish on the beach? Then get off your arse and do something about it!

Today, Yuri, Timur and I joined thirty or so volunteers for a beach clean-up organised by Clean Ocean Project. We met at 11 am on Punta Elena (Rocky Point), to the left from the Bahia Real hotel. There was a Clean Ocean Project flag and a truck, so it was difficult to miss the meeting point. Armed with the rubber gloves and refuse bags, we started to move slowly towards the Corralejo harbour.

While collecting the glass, plastic, ropes, nets, cigarette butts, paper, broken tiles, rotting food — in short, toda la porquería — some very uncharitable thoughts were entering my mind. On the subject of disposal of this rubbish. I am not going to share them here though. On the other hand, it was a pleasure to work side by side with all these wonderful people, most of them younger than me. (My own children included.) Ah yes. Where they are?

“Hang on, we are not going to clean every single beach here?”
“Yes we are.”
(Sulk)
We finished just after 12:30 pm close to Galera Beach; the same truck was there waiting there for us and our bags of rubbish. Then we went to Muelle Chico to take part in Marea Blanca — a human chain across the beach, the action of protest against the oil prospecting off the Canary Islands.

A couple of observations, or (digitised) mental notes for the future clean-ups. Although the refuse bags were provided, next time I will bring several shopper bags with me. It was rather windy this morning, and kids were struggling with big black bin liners: until a bit filled with rubbish, they were trying to escape. Besides, even the heavy duty bags can be ripped by glass shards, so it’s good to have back-up. Ditto the disposable gloves: by the end of the operation, they were falling apart. A time to invest in garden gloves methinks.

“Dad, are we really going to clean all the island?”
“Not today, I’m afraid.”
(A sigh of relief.)
But eventually we will clean it all. I hope.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

A Life Unpredicted and other stories

by Joanne Phillips

A friend of mine posted a link to the Kindle edition of this book when it was given away for free. And that was the reason why I downloaded it in the first place. I admit it freely. I don’t have my own Kindle but I can read the books in the cloud with Cloud Reader from my laptop. Suits me, especially in case of short stories. I mean, really short ones.

In most of them, I enjoyed the style, their very shortness and the open-endedness. But, by and large, they failed to touch me. Or make me like their protagonists. Parenting Class and Dear Jean are only two stories which have some traces of humour. Oh well. As the author herself says in the preface, “you don’t have to like every chocolate in the box”. True. But I still prefer the boxes where I like all the chocolates.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Soliluna

by Magos Herrera and Iraida Noriega

Soliluna (as in sol y luna) is a creation by two Mexico’s top jazz vocalists, accompanied by Mark Aanderud (piano), Augustin Bernal (bass) and Alexandre Kautz (drums). Caution: if you are expecting to hear “authentic” Mexican jazz, you probably should look elsewhere. Sung in Spanish, Portuguese, English and scat, it is neither especially Mexican nor Brazilian (given that bossa nova now is as mainstream as twelve-bar blues). I’d say it’s thoroughly, solidly American. A good mix of originals (from both singers) and standards (in original arrangements). My favourite is the title track, beautiful fandango by Victor Martínez.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

El Gaucho

by Müller and Makaroff

From Christoph H. Müller and Eduardo Makaroff of Gotan Project fame comes something very different: the music from and inspired by El Gaucho, a film by Andrés Jarach. Tango electrónico it isn’t.

It’s all about nostalgia, of course, and nostalgia rarely comes in better packaging, in every sense of the word. The cardboard CD sleeve even has a pop-up model of a corral, the gaucho and a horse. How cool is that? As for the bonus multimedia material, one of my PCs can play it and another can’t, and in any case there’s nothing that isn’t on El Gaucho website. Check out the Gaucho Glossary, if you want to know what the words (and song titles) el piche, jinete and payador mean.

The opening song, Andrés Retamal, is zamba featuring vocals of Daniel Melingo and Mavi Díaz and musical hand-saw by Rodrigo Guerra.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Страна, где ночует солнце

by Ivan Smirnov

A few years ago, an old friend of mine send me the DVD published by TeRiRem Productions. I am not sure if this DVD is/was available anywhere outside Russia. Which is a great shame, for Ivan Smirnov is one of the finest guitarists Russia ever produced. Back in 1980s, I saw him in two very different incarnations of Kozlov’s Арсенал (Arsenal), playing... well, very different music indeed. Страна, где ночует солнце (The Land Where the Sun Slumbers) is a live concert of Smirnov’s quartet recorded on 30 January 2002 at Le Club. The double CD of the same name (“currently unavailable” in its physical form, on Amazon or elsewhere, but you can listen to it for free), contains more material from the same concert. (Five songs, to be precise.)

It’s all achingly beautiful stuff but — or should I say “and”? — a bit on the melancholy side. And (or should I say “but”?) then, when you think you got the idea, comes the final number: Tipsy Dance, a sort of Russian folk-inspired tune with a healthy dose of humour... and heavy(ish) blues riffs. What does it prove? Once a jazz-rocker, always a jazz-rocker.

Иван Смирнов — Страна, где ночует солнце (DVD)

  1. Долина эха / Echoes in the Glen
  2. Страна, где ночует солнце / The Land Where the Sun Slumbers
  3. Братан / Buddy
  4. Черная Бабочка / Black Butterfly
  5. Среди пустыни / In the Heart of a Desert
  6. С тобой / With You
  7. Долгое озеро / Long Lake
  8. Дикое поле / Steppe Frontier
  9. Наигрыш / Folk Tune
  10. Когда сжигают золотые листья / September (by the Fire)
  11. Хмель / Tipsy Dance
Иван Смирнов — акустическая гитара
Михаил Смирнов — клавишные, аккордеон, перкуссия
Сергей Клевенский — кларнет, свирели, рожки, волынка
Дмитрий Сафонов — акустическая гитара

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Brecklands Dawn Chorus

produced by Andrew Flintham

I heard of the recording called Brecklands Dawn Chorus before, but it was the article on BBC website that made me actually get the album and listen to it. Amazon.co.uk credits this CD to “Various Artists”, and in a way they are right. They just don’t know the artists’ exact names. Apparently, most of them are birds performing a dawn chorus. In Breckland.

The CD has just one track, 70 minutes 16 seconds long. So, on my (rather old) CD player, I cannot simply go back a few minutes in case I missed something. But maybe this was the idea? The audio track is unique as it is uninterrupted and unedited. Recording like that is impossible nowadays because of increased noise pollution. In fact, I can hear almost uninterrupted sound of distant motorway (A11?), plus some aircraft, on B.D.C. too. (Oh wait, wasn’t it my washing machine? No.) Back in 1993, The Brecks were not exactly the most isolated part of Britain: RAF stations Lakenheath and Mildenhall are both located there.

It doesn’t matter really. This is an epic record. It also may be referred to as “relaxing” and “soothing”, at least that’s what they write on the CD sleeve. And then there are a few moments which I’d call comical, although I should study bird songs a bit more comprehensively before being able to understand the joke fully. What creature(s) produce(s) the splashing noises at this time of day (4 am?), I cannot tell.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Roll Pad Notebook Cooler

by Gigabyte Technology

This is one of a very few computer-related things acquired in my previous life that are still working. According to the description, it is “silent 0 dB” with “no power needed”. Which hardly seems surprising given that the cooler is a sushi-roll-shaped affair consisting of aluminium tubes. It’s usually found underneath my netbook and it does it job. Silently. A shame that Amazon does not sell it any longer (maybe it is not produced any longer), I wouldn’t mind having couple more of those.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Золотой телёнок

by Ильф и Петров

Paul Janse writes that

Ilf and Petrov are underestimated as stylists. In my opinion their style is no worse than Bulgakov’s and certainly better than that of Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak.
I agree with that completely. Unfortunately for a non-Russian reader, there is no definitive translation of their masterpiece Золотой телёнок (the follow-up to Двенадцать стульев, in case you don’t know). I just learned from Russian Wikipedia that the novel was first serialised in the Soviet literary magazine Тридцать дней throughout 1931. Curiosly, it was first published as a book entitled The Little Golden Calf in 1932 by Farrar & Rinehart, New York, in English translation by Charles Malamuth, before it appeared as a single edition in Russian (1933).

Город всегда любил живопись, и четыре художника, издавна здесь обитавшие, основали группу «Диалектический станковист». Они писали портреты ответственных работников и сбывали их в местный музей живописи. С течением времени число незарисованных ответработников сильно уменьшилось, что заметно снизило заработки диалектических станковистов. Но это было еще терпимо. Годы страданий начались с тех пор, когда в город приехал новый художник, Феофан Myхин.
Первая его работа вызвала в городе большой шум. Это был портрет заведующего гостиничным трестом. Феофан Мухин оставил станковистов далеко позади. Заведующий гостиничным трестом был изображен не масляными красками, не акварелью, не углем, не темперой, не пастелью, не гуашью и не свинцовым карандашом. Он был сработан из овса. И когда художник Мухин перевозил на извозчике картину в музей, лошадь беспокойно оглядывалась и ржала.
С течением времени Мухин стал употреблять также и другие злаки.
Имели громовой успех портреты из проса, пшеницы и мака, смелые наброски кукурузой и ядрицей, пейзажи из риса и натюрморты из пшена.
Сейчас он работал над групповым портретом. Большое полотно изображало заседание окрплана. Эту картину Феофан готовил из фасоли и гороха. Но в глубине души он оставался верен овсу, который сделал ему карьеру и сбил с позиций диалектических станковистов.
Ильф и Петров, Золотой телёнок

The city had always loved painting, and four artists who had inhabited the town from time immemorial had formed the group The Dialectical Easel Painters. They painted portraits of managerial staff and fobbed them off on the local art museum. As time passed, the number of managers who hadn’t been drawn yet dropped significantly, which lessened the Dialectical Easel Painters’ earnings noticeably. But they could have lived with that. The real suffering began as soon as the new artist Feofan Marmeladov arrived in town.
His first work caused quite a stir. It was a portrait of the director of the local hotel trust. Marmeladov left the Easel Painters far behind. The director of the hotel trust was portrayed neither in oil paint, nor in watercolor, nor in charcoal, tempera, pastels, gouache, or lead pencil. He was constructed out of oats. And when the artist Marmeladov carted his picture off to the museum in a horse-cab, the horse kept looking around restlessly and snorting.
In the course of time, Marmeladov started using other grains, too. Portraits in wild millet, wheat, and poppyseeds, daring sketches in corn and buckwheat, landscapes in rice and still-lifes in millet all enjoyed thunderous success. Now he was working on a group portrait. The large canvas depicted a meeting of the District Planning Committee. Feofan was concocting this picture with beans and peas. But in his heart of hearts he remained true to the oats that had made his career and knocked the Dialectical Easel Painters off their pedestal.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Deeper Meaning of Liff

by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd, illuminated by Bert Kitchen
First published 8 September 2012 @ sólo algunas palabras

If you ever wondered what placenames such as Wendens Ambo, Tooting Bec or Penge really mean, this book is for you.

More importantly though, if you ever were struggling in vain to remember a name for a thing for which there isn’t a word in English or any other language you know, this book again is for you. Of course, the words for this second use would be impossible to find if not for Index of Meanings which goes like this:

M E A N I N G L E S S
    components, small: Pimlico
    holes in brogues: Tockholes
    letters to editor: Dalderby
    noises, distant: Amersham
    smiles, shiny: Ewelme
The picture on the cover of this particular edition is that of Glenwhilly.

Epping (ptcpl. vb.)
    The futile movements of forefingers and eyebrows used when failing to attract the attention of waiters and barmen.
Exeter (n.)
    All light household and electrical goods contain a number of vital components plus at least one exeter.
    If you’ve just mended a fuse, changed a bulb or fixed a blender, the exeter is the small plastic piece left over which means you have to undo everything and start all over again.
Gretna Green (adj.)
    A shade of green which makes you wish you’d painted whatever it was a different colour.
Ipswich (n.)
    The sound at the other end of the telephone which tells you that the automatic exchange is working very hard but is intending not actually to connect you this time, merely to let you know how difficult it is.
Swaffham Bulbeck (n.)
    An entire picnic lunchtime spent fighting off wasps.
Thrupp (vb.)
    To hold a ruler on one end on a desk and make the other end go bbddbbddbbrrbrrrddrr.
Yarmouth (vb.)
    To shout at foreigners in the belief that the louder you speak, the better they’ll understand you.
Zumbo (n.)
    One who pretends not to know that the exhaust has fallen off his car.

Friday, 7 September 2012

2S Flare

by Timur Kulikov

While Apple is still battling Samsung over who first thought of rounded corners, Timur came up with a design of two-screen smartphone. It is solar-powered, so when you are not busy smartphoning, you can still sport your gizmo whilst not looking like a complete moron but, on the contrary, like an eco-conscientious nerd. I suppose the Fuerteventura residents (who, naturally, will be the first buyers of 2S Flare) will be getting a free pair of oven mitts, to safely handle the freshly charged appliance.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

London 2012

For years, London was a place I tried to avoid. I was going there only when I needed to, which typically involved either long-haul air travel or visits to embassies, consulates and other establishments bent on depriving you from money and will to live. The only time I was in the National Gallery was back in 1995, after four long hours spent in the American Embassy. Shudder.

It took me moving to Canaries to be able to appreciate London. (I can’t say “fully appreciate” or “truly appreciate”: for that, one has to live there for a while, and I am not sure if that is ever going to happen.) London was cleaner, friendlier, more exciting and more impressive than any other time I’ve been there. Also, even more expensive than just a year ago.

I’ve been there? This is the first real time I’ve been there. Till now, I’ve only been through London. Greenwich, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, Tower Bridge, V&A — I’ve never been to any of these before. Well worth a return visit, and that says not-a-museum-goer. One day I’ll be back, please keep ’em open for me.

The fact that my stay in London coincided with the Olympics may be, well, just a coincidence. But my new appreciation for the city is probably not. I thought I could not care less about the Games. I was wrong. The Opening Ceremony (which I watched on the telly) was great, what with the Queen and James Bond and Sir Paul. But the bit that really made me — I am going to say now something I never expected to say — temporarily proud to be British was, of course, Mr Bean sketch.

More photos of London @ Shutterstock.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Salmon Fishing in the Yemen

by Paul Torday

A tragicomic story of one man’s crazy and wonderful dream, told as a series of e-mails, letters, diary entries, interviews and Hansard extracts. Although I do not agree with Sheikh Muhammad’s maxim that “faith comes before hope, and before love”, I do hope that there is still love in wait for Harriet and Fred. And where is love, there is hope.

Throughout the book, the comic relief is provided by Alastair Campbell Peter Maxwell, Tony Blair’s Jay Vent’s director of communications. In the excerpt below he is being interviewed by Boris Johnson Boris Johnson:

Peter Maxwell: It’s a long time since I had a proper holiday, Boris. My colleagues are always suggesting it, but I don’t think any of them have the faintest idea of what would happen if I wasn’t there to look after their interests. I did go to Ibiza, once, for a weekend, and I suppose I’d like to go back there again if ever I had the time.
Boris Johnson: And what about time off for a bit of exercise?
PM: Well, as you probably know, I’m a bit of a fitness freak so if I can take a few hours off, often it’s all about physical exercise. I think it’s well known I’m a keen salsa dancer. It’s probably less well known I got into the Islington area finals two or three years back. I’m not saying I’m any good at it, but I suppose I can’t be doing everything wrong, to nearly win the North London Salsa Cup.
BJ: Any other sports or recreational activities of that sort which appeal to you?
PM: I suppose the boss and I play tennis a bit...
BJ: The boss being the prime minister, I suppose?
PM: Exactly.
BJ: And who wins?
PM: Well, Boris, I think my job might be at risk if I told you that! Seriously though, it’s pretty even between us, which is great. I think when you have a fairly intense desk job — on the phone or watching the screen all the time — anything that gets you outside and takes your mind away from the daily pressures and stresses has to be good.
BJ: Mens sana in corpora sano — all that sort of thing, you mean?
PM: I’m not following you there again, Boris.
BJ: Any other interests outside work you can tell us about, Peter, apart from sports?
PM: I like music a lot. Of course I like salsa music, that goes without saying. But I also like the classics. The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ is one of my absolute favourites. I think it is a fabulous piece, so evocative.
BJ: What exactly does it evoke for you?
PM: It always makes me think of that wonderful scene in Apocalypse Now when they play it from loudspeakers on the helicopter gunships while they napalm a Cong village. A really moving bit of cinema history, and the music to go with it.
BJ: We’ve moved on a bit from those days, Peter, haven’t we? I mean, napalming insurgent villages isn’t anything we would do nowadays, is it?
PM: Are we straying from the subject here, Boris?
BJ: Possibly. What about reading? Do you have any favourites?
PM: Hansard.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Montezuma’s Very Dark Chocolate

This is no ordinary chocolate. The quality of the organic beans from our friends in the Dominican Republic don’t just shine through it, it almost burns a hole in the carton! You get a full and balanced flavour without any overpowering bitterness. Don’t judge chocolate by cocoa content, judge it by flavour and consider the beans, climate, soil, weather and about another zillion things more important than the number.
Helen Pattinson, Co-founder

Although I agree with Ms Pattinson that numbers are not what chocolate is all about, one particular number won me over. Not 70, not 80, not even 75 per cent: precisely 73% cocoa. I never even heard about Montezuma’s Chocolates until yesterday’s trip to Waitrose, but I simply had to buy their organic 73% cocoa bar. Now my curiosity satisfied, my tastebuds crave... more Montezuma’s please!

Friday, 17 August 2012

Brave 3-D

a film by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman

Finally, a Pixar/Disney film featuring a princess who does not need a prince charming. Stunning visuals (I wanted to say “as usual” but that would be a lie: even better than “usual” Pixar standard) and lovely Scottish voices. And our not-so-small-anymore children did not pooh-pooh the movie, they actually enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

a film by Christopher Nolan

My kids enjoyed this film. I can see why. To me, this was the most absurd, humourless, pompous, right-wing piece of cinematography I ever had to suffer. It lasts 165 minutes and is compounded by Hans Zimmer’s apocalyptic score. I’m glad we didn’t go for the IMAX experience.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Backatown

by Trombone Shorty

I never heard about Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty until a month or so ago. I was actually looking for a real trombone instrument on various Amazon websites — you’d be surprised what a difference the extension (.com, .co.uk, .de and .fr) makes, especially on the budget side of the spectrum. If and when I manage to buy a trombone via Amazon, I will say more.

In the meantime, I bought this album because it was... one of those “smart” suggestions by Amazon, and for once, it was a good suggestion too. I did a bit of research before ordering it though. (You can hear the complete album on Spotify, for instance.)

Backatown is a pleasantly surprising impossible-to-categorise record. Andrews himself calls his music “supafunkrock”, where “supa” apparently is “shorty” for a mix of soul, hip-hop and Balkan brass with New Orleans jazz. The vocal numbers are not my favourites though; I would leave all of them but Allen Toussaint’s On Your Way Down out.

If the album is good, the live show of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue must be mindblowing, as this performance of In the 6th and Neph demonstrates.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Wandlebury Family Picnic Concert

Remember I wrote last year of Luton Carnival being my last gig with Arco Iris? Well, never say never.

Today Arco Iris played at Wandlebury Family Picnic Concert as a part of the Cambridge Summer Music Festival. As it happens, I am in London now, so I made my way to Cambridge for this occasion. We had a smallish but good band today. The weather was nice, the audience was sitting/laying/crawling on grass, and we’ve got some children engaged in rhythmical clapping. And it seems that I remember most of caixa parts.

Monday, 23 July 2012

African Healing Dance

with Wyoma and the Dancers and Drummers of Damballa
First published 23 July 2012 @ zumbafuerteventura

Of my small collection of dance fitness videos, this one is perhaps the most enjoyable. Wyoma must be a brilliant teacher. The programme was recorded in 1997 but it does not look dated in any way. The picture quality, however, is not that great. The whole DVD appears to be little more than a direct transfer of the original VHS tape. But don’t let this spoil your experience.

Also, don’t be confused or annoyed by the word “healing”. No matter what your relationships with African deities are, the dances are guaranteed to make you feel better.

The body teaches. The more you learn about your own natural body rhythms, the healthier you can be.
The workout is fun. It starts with Wyoma teaching some body isolations. Then she proceeds to show — and explain the origin of — the traditional African dance moves: imitation of animals such as snake, elephant, birds; the elements (air, fire, water and earth); and daily routines (picking berries, grinding grains and so on). The warm-up is just the right length and effort level. In the DVD booklet (a nice touch, by the way) it is explained that the warm-up is not traditionally done in Africa as the “dancers there have already spent much of the day walking miles to gather food or water or to attend school, so their muscles are typically loose and ready for the joys of more rigorous movement”. Then we are taught the real African dances.

The African-Caribbean Dances section includes only two dances, both of them are loa dances of Haiti, of Benin origin. I was especially impressed by Yonwalu. On the video, it is danced first at slower pace, with Wyoma breaking down the moves, then at the faster tempo.

The Healing Journey is some sort of free-style dance/meditation:

Bring your curiosity, freedom from judgement, and sense of play to the dance floor... Dance a dream or fantasy, or dance with no thought at all.
Oh, did I mention the open-air setting and live drumming? It’s all there too!

Finally, in the very end of a short cool-down, Wyoma encourages you to take whatever you’ve learned and share it with someone. Isn’t it wonderful?

African Healing Dance

  • Dance as a means of healing body, mind, and spirit
  • Body Isolations
  • Animal-based movement
  • Dance based on everyday movements
  • Dance based on the four elements
  • The warm-up
  • Traditional African Dances
    • Sowu — “The Dance of Life” (Ghana)
    • Gbêgbé — Journey to find a new home (The Ivory Coast)
    • Focodoba — Post-initiation basket dance (Guinea)
    • Umoya — Bringing energy from heaven and earth (South Africa)
  • African-Caribbean Dances
    • Nago — The warrior dance (Haiti)
    • Yonwalu — Dance for Damballa, the Serpent Deity (Haiti)
  • Improvisation: The Healing Journey
  • The cool down

The Dancers

  • Nii Armah Sowah
  • k. osiris wade
  • Lisa Wittner

The Drummers

  • Clifton Robinson
  • Heidi Alina
  • Eric Robnett
  • Saphyre

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Live at the Basement

by Jon Lord with The Hoochie Coochie Men

Oh Lord, what a band! And when I say “Oh Lord”, I refer to the great late Jon Lord. Of course, he was — and always will be — known as a founding member of Deep Purple as well as for his orchestral works. But among Lord’s later recordings, this double album is an underrated masterpiece. Lord is in top form here — just check his Hammond solo in Howlin’ Wolf’s Who’s Been Talkin’, also featuring Jim Conway on harmonica.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ice Age 4: La formación de los continentes 3-D

a film by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier

Well, well, well. For a completely unnecessary sequel, this one is not that bad. Besides, I will always remember it as the first film watched in Spanish cinema. Naturally, in Spanish. Curiously, children understood the dialogue better than me. Maybe that’s because I stopped paying attention to the storyline quite early on. Or maybe it’s just how the things are.

Three years ago, I wrote about Ice Age 3:

It probably makes the best use of ‘3-D’ effect in animation I’ve seen so far.
And you know what, this was true for Ice Age 4 as well.

All in all, it was a nice evening out: first the movie, second our favourite sadwich bar in Puerto del Rosario, Mundotaberna. When I was about to pay the bill, Timur confessed that he forgot his bag (with a book, mobile and MP3 player inside) at the cinema. So Tamara and kids rushed back to the movie theatre. To everybody’s pleasant surprise, the bag was handed back instantly and without any questions. In the UK it would be either nicked or removed by the police and destroyed.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Fuerteventura en Música 2012

No, this is not Glastonbury, WOMAD or Cambridge Folk Festival. Although I never been to any of these myself, I am sure that Fuerteventura en Música festival is something else altogether, judging from the following:

  1. I was able to attend it
  2. It is a free event (no tickets)
  3. It was not raining
The festival is one of Fuerteventura’s many “best-kept secrets”. It’s not that anyone is paid to keep it secret, it’s just not publicised well. So, take a note: Fuerteventura en Música happens every year about this time in El Cotillo, on Playa de la Concha. It takes about quarter an hour to walk from the bus stop, and the stage is difficult to miss.

The first day, or should I say night, I came to El Cotillo with Yuri. Opening the festival were majorero sambistas Crazy Drummers, drumming crazily all way from the beach and finishing in front of the main (and only) stage. The first band on stage was a rock trio Electrolapas, also from Fuerte. Afterwards, Yuri said that he enjoyed this band the most.

The programme continued with Senegalese-Canarian reggae outfit Nayaband. That was my favourite band of the evening. I love African music and dance, and Nayaband provided the treat.

Cuban Chila Lynn has great voice, and her piano playing is not bad either. It’s just not the kind of music I like to listen to: well-crafted, commerical-sounding neo-soul sounded out of place here, and the (lack of) public reaction confirmed that.

We went to catch the midnight bus to Corralejo. Special bus services were organised, departing to Corralejo and Puerto del Rosario from Campo de Fútbol, about 20 minute walk from Playa de La Concha. Five or six policemen were busy diverting traffic in the centre of the village. I asked them where exactly the bus stop was. They assured me that at this time there are no buses to Corralejo or anywhere and suggested to take taxi. Thinking that this is just another manifestation of the festival best-kept-secretness, we went to the bus stop opposite of the Campo de Fútbol and found there two ladies waiting. The bus duly arrived and departed exactly on-time.

On Saturday, all four of us went to El Cotillo. The second evening kicked off with Los Jables del Timple, the majorero jazz-funk band featuring the timple virtuoso Althay Páez, pianist Domingo Saavedra, bassist Carlos Cabrera and drummer Leo Olivares. I was considerably less impressed by Marujita, maybe because of their singer’s voice. Once the band was playing an instrumental, with Althay Páez joining on timple, it started to sound much better.

They were followed by the Belgians Krema Kawa — kind of Manu Chao meets Gogol Bordello uptempo reggae-ska-gypsy-Afrobeat fusion, very energetic and danceable. (By that time, Tamara and kids left, first to look for more civilised cafeteria and then for bus.) I would enjoy Kawa even more if not for annoying branding (I mean, we got the message, no need to repeat the band’s name ad nauseam).

Both nights, Guatemalan DJ Meneo was filling the gaps between the acts with electronica ranging from mildly amusing to mildly irritating, but never really good. Even so, some people were spotted dancing to it while the others made their way to the refreshment stalls. I wish these breaks were shorter though.

The last band I saw were my copyleft heroes Canteca de Macao. No gimmicks, no chitchat, no pauses, just pure music from start to finish the moment I, sadly, had to leave to catch the 1:30 bus (and if I didn’t, I would have to wait until 4:30 am). I hope to see their performance in full another time.

Even though by now we know that one can rely on buses, next time I would prefer to stay in El Cotillo for both nights. I like the idea of camping on the beach (didn’t like the act, went to the tent) but I also need little luxuries such as proper bathroom. Well, I have a year to sort the accommodation out.

More photos of El Cotillo @ Shutterstock.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

a film by Guy Ritchie

Sequels are rarely better than originals, and A Game of Shadows is not an exception.

Debit

  1. Holmes does not do much “deducing”
  2. An embarrassingly long list of anachronisms
  3. Unimpressive Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris)
  4. Schubert

Credit

  1. If in the first movie the slow-motion fight scenes were explaining exactly what is going to happen, here the “reality” goes not as expected — I quite like that
  2. Sherlock’s disguises are getting even more hilarious
  3. Stephen Fry as Mycroft “the other” Holmes (“You mean there’s two of you?”) is simply brilliant
  4. Gypsy music!

All in all, it still makes a damn good viewing. Good night.

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Knights of Argoth

by Timur Kulikov

Knights of Argoth is a video game that is being developed endlessly discussed by Timur and Yuri. If/when it is eventually realised as a game, it will be awesome. Or so I think. I know nothing of video games, I just look at Timur’s graphics.

I especially like this drawing of a rather menacing dude in wizard’s hat and trench coat. It looks like the cover art for a yet-to-be-recorded prog-rock album.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Двенадцать стульев

by Ильф и Петров

I don’t think there is anybody who was born in the USSR and never read this book. I thought I knew it rather well. I was wrong. Re-reading it recently, I came across the passage from which I only remembered the famous slogan #3.

Старухи, неся впереди себя в обеих руках жестяные мисочки с кашей, осторожно выходили из кухни и садились обедать зa общий стол, стараясь не глядеть на развешанные в столовой лозунги, сочиненные лично Александром Яковлевичем и художественно выполненные Александрой Яковлевной. Лозунги были такие:

«ПИЩА — ИСТОЧНИК ЗДОРОВЬЯ»
«ОДНО ЯЙЦО СОДЕРЖИТ СТОЛЬКО ЖЕ ЖИРОВ, СКОЛЬКО ½ ФУНТА МЯСА»
«ТЩАТЕЛЬНО ПЕРЕЖЕВЫВАЯ ПИЩУ, ТЫ ПОМОГАЕШЬ ОБЩЕСТВУ»
и
«МЯСО — ВРЕДНО»

Все эти святые слова будили в старухах воспоминания об исчезнувших еще до революции зубах, о яйцах, пропавших приблизительно в ту же пору, о мясе, уступающем в смысле жиров яйцам, а может быть, и об обществе, которому они были лишены возможности помогать, тщательно пережевывая пищу.

Holding iron bowls full of porridge in front of them with both hands, the old women cautiously emerged from the kitchen and sat down at a large table, trying not to look at the refectory slogans, composed by Alexander Yakolevich and painted by his wife. The slogans read:

FOOD IS THE SOURCE OF HEALTH
ONE EGG CONTAINS AS MUCH FAT AS A HALF-POUND OF MEAT
BY CAREFULLY MASTICATING YOUR FOOD YOU HELP SOCIETY
MEAT IS BAD FOR YOU

These sacred words aroused in the old ladies memories of teeth that had disappeared before the revolution, eggs that had been lost at approximately the same time, meat that was inferior to eggs in fat, and perhaps even the society that they were prevented from helping by careful mastication.


According to Wikipedia, there were no less than twenty adaptations of this novel. For me, the one and only Ostap Bender is Andrei Mironov in 1976 film directed by Mark Zakharov.