Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Mandé Variations

by Toumani Diabaté

I thought I loved kora, and I thought I knew Toumani Diabaté’s work. Well I didn’t. Because, you see, until last week I didn’t have time to sit down and listen to one hour of solo kora music in one go. Now that I did it, I come back to it again and again. Especially to Elyne Road, Djourou Kara Nany and Cantelowes.

I know it may be an unreasonable demand, but try to find an hour of time and a quiet place. (No, not the car/bus/plane/airport.) Switch your computer/mobile/telly off. Then listen to The Mandé Variations.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Literatura de baño: 69 relatos para hacer popo

by Javier Pérez Gosálvez

This is another book that I discovered thanks to the library of Las Palmas (the other one was Wabi-Sabi). I saw it in the lobby among the new acquisitions. The concept and the title got me intrigued; I leafed through the pages and decided to borrow it... but I needed to visit the loo first. Then I went to check what my kids were doing (sitting downstairs, reading comics). When I got back to the lobby, the book had gone. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember neither the author nor the title. Was it something about the loo?

I found the book in the same place couple of weeks later and, naturally, grabbed it before it disappeared.

Normas de Uso y Disfrute
  1. Lee despacio cada relato. Detente en las comas, sí, detente... como ahora... detente, así... Muy bien...
  2. Cuando acabes de leer cada relato, vuelve a empezar. Te sabrá mejor.
  3. Y, por favor, no olvides limpiarte al terminar...
I like that the author does not take himself or his work too seriously. Still I think the title doesn’t do justice to the book. There’s nothing wrong with taking it to the bathroom, except in my case I would also need a good Spanish dictionary... that’s getting a bit awkward.

The stories sketches pieces anecdotes things may be short but for me it was no easy reading. Even without the rules 1 and 2, I had to read (and then re-read) each of them slowly. Sometimes the text is so short there is no context whatsoever to guess the meaning of a particular word or phrase, and some of the words are not in my dictionary anyway. I reckon some of the cultural references are lost on me too. But I enjoyed it a lot. Romantic, nostalgic, ironic, technical, angry, sad, humorous... The humorous $+@%!£$ things are the best, I wish there were more of them. #61 is a delightful collection of killer insults such as monocoño, culopollo and mierdófono (I got one of those). #69 consists of super-shorts, microrrelatos. #67 is one word. #14 has only a title. Poetry. #37 is my favourite.

— Tomo una copa o dos de vino en el almuerzo, un ron con el café y otro vino por la noche... Además, eso de hacer deporte... Mire, doctora... Estar en una piscina, por ejemplo, yendo de una pared a otra como un imbécil resulta absurdo. No hay creatividad maldita, aunque use el flotador azul y mañana el rosa... O pagar un monitor deportivo para que te haga sufrir físicamente es más absurdo si cabe: pago para sufrir, dicen que es saludable... — nunca han sufrido de verdad, de modo que se costean autodolor, ¡por dios...! — Ya se sufre bastante cada mañana cuando suena el despertador y evidencias que es de noche todavía...

As far as I can see, the book (which saw the light of day thanks to crowdfunding) is not available from Amazon and suchlike. You can buy it directly from the publisher.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Buying textbooks in Spain

Unlike the UK or Finland, where the school textbooks are provided free of charge, in Spain one has to buy them; at least, most of them. And they ain’t cheap. For example, for his first year Bachillerato, Yuri needs six (6) books, each priced about €30 in the bookshop, except Historia del Mundo Contemporáneo which costs €42! You can save a few euros shopping at; unfortunately, they don’t offer free shipping for Canaries. Moreover, I found one of the textbooks sold slightly cheaper by a vendor via but there was no option to deliver to Canaries at all.

So I decided to explore the second-hand market. In Fuerteventura, there are no second-hand shops; at least, when we lived there, they did not exist. There are a few in Las Palmas, but I don’t know any specialised bookshops. However I was able to find all the books for Yuri at (I used the same website a few months ago when I was looking for a house to rent.) I thought the most difficult part for me would be arranging meetings with the sellers: I hate phoning! It turned out to be a fun way of practicing my Spanish. To pick up one of the books, I had to take a bus to hitherto unknown (to me) part of Las Palmas, where I explored streets named Calle Polca and Calle Mazurca.

There is quite a diversity of school textbooks in Spain: you don’t just buy a math textbook for the 3º ESO, you need a specific one. And they tend to require the newer editions every year. Good news that some of Bachillerato books stayed the same for several years. I mean, there was not too much progress with Ancient Greek or Latin recently.

Finding the second-hand books for Timur was a bit more tricky. Luckily, I discovered Relibrea, an excellent web site dedicated to buying/selling of second-hand books. There was nothing available in Gran Canaria but eventually I found the sellers ready to send me the books from Madrid.

Result: of the lot (twelve textbooks altogether), the most expensive book did cost me €16 (plus postage), the cheapest €8; total saving at least €200.

Thursday, 4 September 2014


by Francesc Miralles

Speaking of coincidences: the other day Tamara mentioned the concept of wabi-sabi which, in its turn, had appeared in somebody else’s blog. “Do you know what wabi-sabi is?” — “Yes. As it happens, I am in the middle of a book entitled Wabi-Sabi”.

Incidentally, Wabi-Sabi was the first book that I had borrowed from the library of Las Palmas. I did not know anything about its author nor its topic, but I loved the sub-title: “Una novela sobre la belleza de lo imperfecto y lo efímero”. Also, it was the first novel which I had read in Spanish from beginning to the end without any on-line help. This is, without doubt, thanks to the author’s easy style of writing. (The fact it is short and written in short chapters helped as well.)

The adventures start when Samuel, the university professor of German in his mid-forties, receives a postcard from Japan with a picture of a lucky cat, maneki-neko, and a strange message:

I’m afraid I can’t tell you what happens next. Unlike its prequel, amor en minúscula (Love in Small Letters), Wabi-Sabi is not published yet in English. You better believe me that it’s good. Not perfect though: perfection would be very un-wabi-sabi. (Miralles’s liberal use of imperfect, I’m afraid, will be completely lost in English translation.) It has solitude, love and the end of love, songs in English, Japanese and the language of Atlantis (!), gentle humour and even some sort of happy end — again, as long as its imperfection, transience and incompleteness are accepted.

Here’s my favourite part. Samuel walks in a tiny bar in Kioto. The only other customer, an elderly gentleman contemplating an almost empty bottle of sake, all of a sudden bursts out singing.

La camarera subió el volumen para que el hombre pudiera cantar a placer sobre unos acordes sincopados que recordaban a la música popular rusa. La melodía vocal era muy repetitiva y kitsch, más aún viniendo de aquel ejecutivo que parecía haber huido de una pelea de gatos.

dokonoko no kinoko kono kinoko dokono
dokonoko no kinoko morino kinoko
morino kinoko wa rappa ni natte
onpu kumo made tondetta

puppuru pappa~ purupappa~
puppuru pappa~ purupappa~
sora niwa naisho no hanashi dayo
Algunas notas eran demasiado altas para aquel extraño personaje, que desafinaba sin vergüenza alguna. Con los brazos cruzados sobre un kimono de mangas anchas, la dueña parecía complacida ante aquel show para dos espectadores, contándola a ella.

Horrorizado, tomé conciencia de que sin quererlo había entrado en un karaoke solitario.

Tras un final ridículamente apoteósico a ritmo de polka, el hombre de los cabellos grises volvió a sentarse dignamente en su taburete.

A complete Spanish translation of the song can be found at the author’s Facebook page.