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Thursday, 27 February 2014
Wednesday, 26 February 2014
Francisco Sánchez Gómez, better known as Paco de Lucía, the greatest flamenco guitarist of all time, died this morning aged 66.
I was lucky enough to see the man himself performing with his sextet, plus a dancer, almost twenty years ago, when I was living in Trieste. To be precise, the concert was on 27 October 1994, in the (long gone) venue called Discoteca Hippodrome di Monfalcone. I am sure one day somebody will compile a complete list of Paco’s concerts, but today it is all that I can find. I went there with several friends and colleagues, none of whom knew anything about Paco de Lucía. We were a bit late, driving all the way from Trieste and waiting in a long queue, but it was OK because the concert started late anyway, almost one hour after the announced time, by which point I thought my friends are going to murder me. It was noisy as in a real hippodrome and everybody was smoking. And then the lights went off, and Paco was on stage. He started the concert with two or three pieces performed either solo or with hand-clapping as the sole accompaniment. One of these songs was La Barrosa.
The second and last time I saw Paco was in Liverpool in 1996. (Can’t remember or find neither the name of the venue nor the exact date. Sorry!) It was a weekday, so I took a day off. Tamara and I were travelling from Leeds. We arrived way too early, spent a few hours walking around the city and did not like it much, and (very wisely) timed how long does it take to get to the bus station. The concert started... you got it, one hour after the announced time. It was as great as the Monfalcone concert, although I think the band had better rapport with the Italian audience. We had to leave during the encores to catch our late night bus back to Leeds.
Today, searching for Paco’s music at YouTube, I came across this 1986 Soviet documentary containing the live performances in Moscow earlier that year. I hope my Spanish-speaking friends can filter out the (rather embarrassing) Russian voice-over and enjoy the music of Paco & The Sextet at the peak of their powers.
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
Boring? Technical? Just the opposite. I found Inventing English more than well-written: fascinating. In the introduction, the author warns that it is not that much “a history of English in the traditional sense” as “a portable assembly of encounters with the language”. Fair enough. Somehow I doubt that “proper” multivolume history of English would make such a good bedtime read. And, of course, the author does not tell us which English is correct and which isn’t.
There are a few minor flaws whose absence would make the book simply great. For example, one paragraph on p. 14 contains two typos: Buchstab instead of Buchstabe, baptiserium instead of baptisterium. Chapters 14 and 15 quote the same passage from Huckleberry Finn — wait! — as cited in John Algeo’s Problems in the Origins and Development of the English Language. That’s a bit sloppy. I’m sure the author could find two different quotations all on his own. At times, especially in the closing paragraphs of his chapters/essays, Lerer tends to sound rather pompous.
Finally, in this particular hardback, I couldn’t find the name of the cover illustration artist anywhere. It’s a shame, given that it was the cover art, reminiscent of paper cutting designs, that prompted me to borrow this book in the first place. A quick internet search reveals the artist’s name: Martha Lewis.
What really was the genesis of jeep; why do we call soldiers GIs; where did gremlin come from? No chapter on war and language can ignore them, for their study reveals the mystery of their coinage and the mythologies surrounding them. They distill what many still want that impact to be: the creation of humorous terms for culture-changing gadgets; the making of people into acronyms and abbreviations.
Scholars love these words. Jeep was a particular favorite of Mencken, who devotes two pages in The American Language to reviewing, and debunking, possible etymologies, claiming only that it “seems to be authentically American”.
We love these words because they are safe. They make war into something funny sounding, fill it with cute creatures, turn killing men and machines into toys (GI Joe was the action doll of choice for my childhood, and the American Motors Gremlin puttered through suburban streets during my high school days). They also bring out national identity in war. Mencken looks for something “authentically American”, little realizing that the truly authentic American creations — verbal and material — of that war were napalm (coined in 1942) and atom bomb. British lexicographers use gremlin to distill what many might imagine as the quintessence of Englishness: a land filled with mythic creatures, a barely controlled ability with new technologies, a stoic muddle-through-it-ness that makes life simply inexplicable. Gremlins, writes a contributor to the journal American Speech in 1944 (in a quotation used by the OED), “are mythical creatures who are supposed to cause trouble such as engine failures in aeroplanes, a curious piece of whimsy-whamsy in an activity so severely practical as flying”. We are, here, not in Shirer’s Berlin or Mailer’s Mediterranean (or, for that matter, Herr’s Vietnam or Swofford’s Iraq), but in the Wind in the Willows or the Hundred Acre Wood. War is just another bedtime story.
Thursday, 13 February 2014
Club Balkan Fever was born on May Day 2009.
It became a shining beacon of good times for a very heterogeneous crowd: young and old, Finnish and foreign, lawyers, kebab cooks, university students, folk musicians, pop music nerds, ad agency hustlers, traveling moustache wax salesmen, municipal infrastructure workers... It was like a harbor bar in a Kusturica movie based on a Hugo Pratt comic.To celebrate their 2½ (!) anniversary, the club released this epic compilation album. I doubt you’ll find it anywhere but Finland. Which, depending on perspective, is either a shame or one more (good) reason to visit Finland. The CD showcases “crème de la rakiya” (I keep quoting the album’s liner notes) of Finnish Balkan music. (I have to admit, “Finnish Balkan” sounds a bit weird. Last time I was checking, Finland was not in Balkans. But modern Balkan music does not have to come from Balkans, just like flamenco does not have to come from Andalusia or, indeed, Finnish music does not have to come from Finland. Even though it often does.) And then something else entirely: rap by Paleface, ska-style polka by Liljan Loisto, Finnish bhangra by Shaya, and prog-jazz from “prophets of fictional world music”, “half-Satanic klezmer punkers” Alamaailman Vasarat.
Balkan Fever Helsinki
Produced by Arwi Lind / Helmi Levyt & Balkan Fever Ry
Artwork by OH design
Mastered by Esa Santonen @ Liiteri
Liner notes by Arttu Tolonen
Monday, 10 February 2014
For some time now, I have been eyeing (and occasionally squeezing) these fancy plastic containers in Alko shops. With mixture of interest and suspicion. Why would French abandon the old glass bottles in favour of PET (polyethylene terephthalate) ones? No, I don’t believe PET itself is more environmentally friendly than glass. Especially here in Finland, where they don’t even bother to recycle the household plastics. (Yes it goes into mixed waste.) However, I do believe that lighter bottles can reduce the carbon footprint of wine by cutting the carbon cost of transport. I also believe that the bottle is “virtually unbreakable”: good news for festival goers, not that good news for the environment. But you can return the bottle to Alko and get your 40 cents back. At least, I hope the Alko guys know what to do with it.
With all this in mind, we decided to give this Cabernet Sauvignon from Languedoc-Rousillon a try. It is reasonably priced (by Finnish standards, that is: one-litre bottle costs €10.48). The label provides some friendly info for the arithmetically challenged:
This one-litre recyclable PET bottle contains 33% more wine than a standard 75 cl bottle.Finally, the content. I couldn’t feel “blackcurrant and brambly notes” promised on the label but then I never do. What matters is that it is 100% unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon, which tastes like unoaked Cabernet Sauvignon. With a hint of antimony trioxide. (Just kidding. Even if it is there, I wouldn’t feel it anyway.) It is a good bottle of wine. When it’s finished I may even consider buying another one.
Sunday, 2 February 2014
Just finished watching the last episode of Sherlock. Man it was good. I loved all three episodes; The Sign of Three probably is the best. Series 1 already had quite a few comic moments, but here we are dealing with a full-blown comedy: Watson marries Mary (Amanda Abbington — a great addition to the team), Sherlock is the best man. What could possibly go right?