Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Now What?!

by Deep ?urp!e

Back in olden days, Deep Purple Mark II were recording seven-track long albums (that includes Made in Japan and Scandinavian Nights, still seven songs each) and I thought that every single track was great while every album was a masterpiece. Wait. I still think so. But that was in the 1970s. The band has moved on.

In spite of the name, Now What?! is not a bad record. It is just does not glue as an album. Which is a crying shame because it has some damn good material there. Maybe they should have chosen seven best tracks out of eleven? Smokey-bluesy Blood from a Stone, hilariously gothic Vincent Price, eclectic Uncommon Man all definitely should be there. And Hell To Pay, too: the guitar and organ solos sound like the DP of old. Just as does the short and brilliant guitar—Hammond duel (21st century schizoid Speed King?) in Après Vous, which my favourite song of the set. I am sure that Jon Lord, to whom the album is dedicated, would give his approval.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Address to a Haggis

by Robert Burns and Samuil Marshak

My first encounter with haggis happened exactly 19 years ago, in the canteen of the University of Leeds. I was told that this is the dish to eat on Burns Night (and, by extension, on Burns Day). As far as I remember, I quite liked it. I can’t say the same about neeps and tatties.

To my surprise, I’ve just learned from the (last year’s, but still, better later than never) Russian TV programme Москва в твоей тарелке (Moscow on your plate) that now you can order haggis, or something looking like it, in one of two Scottish restaurants in Moscow. The programme is presented by Russian poet, gourmand and my old friend Yuli Gugolev. At least, I hope he still is my friend. I last saw him, let’s see, about 30 years ago.

Where were we? Oh, aye. As I was saying, I don’t mind haggis at all. I don’t miss it either. What I do miss though is a Burns Night as it used to be organised by my former employer (typically a week or two after the actual Burns Night): dancing, whisky sampling, food, more dancing, more food and drink, piping of the haggis... actually, skip that, I can’t stand bagpipes... and of course, Address to a Haggis (followed by more food, drink and dancing).

Robert Burns
Address to a Haggis
Роберт Бёрнс, перевод С.Я. Маршака
Ода шотландскому пудингу «Хаггис»
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my airm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An cut you up wi ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like onie ditch;
And then, Oh what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmaist, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
‘Bethankit’ hums.

Is there that ower his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him ower his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit:
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
Oh how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his wallie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if Ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!
В тебе я славлю командира
Всех пудингов горячих мира, —
Могучий Хаггис, полный жира
И требухи.
Строчу, пока мне служит лира,
Тебе стихи.

Дородный, плотный, крутобокий,
Ты высишься, как холм далекий,
А под тобой поднос широкий
Чуть не трещит.
Но как твои ласкают соки
Наш аппетит!

С полей вернувшись, землеробы,
Сойдясь вокруг твоей особы,
Тебя проворно режут, чтобы
Весь жар и пыл
Твоей дымящейся утробы
На миг не стыл.

Теперь доносится до слуха
Стук ложек, звякающих глухо.
Когда ж плотнее станет брюхо,
Чем барабан,
Старик, молясь, гудит, как муха,
От пищи пьян.

Кто обожает стол французский —
Рагу и всякие закуски
(Хотя от этакой нагрузки
И свиньям вред),
С презреньем щурит глаз свой узкий
На наш обед.

Но — бедный шут! — от пищи жалкой
Его нога не толще палки,
А вместо мускулов — мочалки,
Кулак — орех.
В бою, в горячей перепалке
Он сзади всех.

А тот, кому ты служишь пищей,
Согнет подкову в кулачище.
Когда ж в такой руке засвищет
Стальной клинок, —
Врага уносят на кладбище
Без рук, без ног.

Молю я Промысел небесный:
И в будний день, и в день воскресный
Нам не давай похлебки пресной,
Яви нам благость
И ниспошли родной, чудесный,
Горячий Хаггис!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case

a film by Hettie MacDonald

Tonight, Yle has treated us to the final episode of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. What?! How could it be? I thought Hercule Poirot is immortal. But here he was, old, ill, wheelchair-bound... as always, expertly portrayed by David Suchet. The rest of cast are great too. Aidan McArdle is excellent (scary!) as Norton, and Hugh Fraser returns as trusty Hastings.

In spite of the overall gloom, quite a few moments made me chuckle — like Poirot confessing (from beyond the grave) that his moustache were fake. I knew it!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Code Book

Continuing with last-century books, or rather, the books that I so meant to read last century. Yes, I distinctly remember reading a review of The Code Book in The Guardian, or Independent, or maybe both. Some 15 years later, I can confirm at last: it is good. It reads like a detective story... Well it is a collection of detective stories, mostly to do with cryptography and cryptanalysis — featuring Mary Queen of Scots, the Beale papers and, of course, breaking of Enigma — with a delightful digression into history of decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics and Linear B.

The closer to the modern day, the more out-of-date the book becomes. Singh’s statement that “Possibly the greatest allies of the civil-libertarian cause are the big corporations” sounds surprisingly naïve even for 1999. Of course, September 11 attacks, War on Terror and NSA leaks all happened this century. Time for a new edition perhaps? Yes please, and a new challenge please!

The book is concluded with the Cipher Challenge, a set of ten messages encrypted in ten different ways. Needless to say, by now the web page where the updates on the challenge were supposed to be posted is gone. Luckily (for those, who is still interested), the author maintains the archive of this challenge. The £10,000 prize was claimed by a team of Swedish researchers one year and one month after the challenge was originally published.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Tango Diary

by Duo Milla Viljamaa & Johanna Juhola
diary text by Elina Lajunen
“It lasts four minutes. It’s a four-minute love story. You don’t have to marry them! In fact, you’d better not”, my tango teacher said when I was pondering on the difficulty of dancing with so many men. I want to find my true love, on and off the dance floor! Four minutes times four, the length of a tanda, four tangos. The first tango sweeps you off your feet. It can feel like a soft, downy pillow or a nerve-wreckingly exciting blind date. You spend those first minutes trying to find the abrazo, the embrace. The second tango seals the connection. Maybe you tuck a stray curl behind your ear or hope the tanda will end soon. The third tango is like a pearl, it can give you wings! Such a sublime experience will leave you with an ecstatic smile on your face. The fourth tango is the last one and it rings with the echo of goodbyes. The story ends, a new one begins. Tango is tactile, ephemeral poetry. There is no past or future, only this moment. “Give it your all, with love”.

The new album by Milla Viljamaa and Johanna Juhola is as great as expected, or even more so. This could be a perfect gift for any tango lover... except you have to find the real thing first. Amazon sells the MP3 album, but you can’t really give that as a gift. The booklet that accompanies the CD contains, surprise, Tango Diary (in Finnish and English), written by Elina Lajunen, “Finnish artist, performer, director, hatmaker, writer and musician”. Read it!

The album begins with Neljän minuutin rakkaus (Four minute love story), but the love story does not end there. Ten tangos. Ten diary entries. Forty-four minute love story.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Guns, Germs and Steel

by Jared Diamond

I was so inspired by the course on Global History of Architecture that I felt an urge to read more of world history of something. And this book was laying around the house just waiting for me to read it.

Naturally, there was a bit of scientific progress since the book was published 15 years ago. (For instance, now we know that there was at least some interbreeding between Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon people. In this book’s context... it does not change much.) But I was struck how well the book has aged. And it does a great job busting some mildly racist myths which, sadly, are still around. Such as that the (Northern) Europeans are so good (in science, technology, economy) because they have to work hard in harsh climate, or spend their long winter nights inventing or whatever, while the people from warmer climes are just plain lazy.

I couldn’t help being fascinated by the geographical take on global history, even though I am not entirely convinced with some of the theories Diamond puts forward. Is it true that murder is the leading cause of death in tribal societies (because of lack of law-enforcing structures)? Maybe it is so in New Guinea. The best examples and stories come from New Guinea. The whole book, apparently, was inspired by a New Guinean’s simple question: “Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?

For the last 33 years, while conducting biological exploration in New Guinea, I have been spending my field time there constantly in the company of New Guineans who still use wild plants and animals extensively. One day, when my companions of the Foré tribe and were starving in the jungle because another tribe was blocking our return to our supply base, a Foré man returned to camp with a large rucksack full of mushrooms he had found, and started to roast them. Dinner at last! But then I had an unsettling thought: what if the mushrooms were poisonous?
I patiently explained to my Foré companions that I had read about some mushrooms’ being poisonous, that I had heard of even expert American mushroom collectors’ dying because of the difficulty of distinguishing safe from dangerous mushrooms, and that although we were all hungry, it just wasn't worth the risk. At that point my companions got angry and told me to shut up and listen while they explained some things to me. After I had been quizzing them for years about names of hundreds of trees and birds, how could I insult them by assuming they didn’t have names for different mushrooms? Only Americans could be so stupid as to confuse poisonous mushrooms with safe ones.