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.”
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


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.