Saturday, 26 December 2015

La chica de Los Planetas

by Holden Centeno

So what should a guy do if a girl stops responding his calls (emails, tweets, whatsapps, whatevers)? There are a few options, some of them less annoying than others. For example, he can try to get over her. Holden Centeno (taking his nom de plume, or, rather, nom de Twitter after the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye) decided to create a blog dedicated to his failed relationship epic love as a big letter to his ex... and monetise it. Am I alone in finding this somewhat creepy? I say, the chances of her coming back to him after this must be slim to none. Unless there never was such a girl as la chica de Los Planetas in the first place. In which case, he still can get lucky.

I borrowed this book from the library since I read the opening passage of the very first story, El profesor que pudo ser una guitarra, and got hooked:

Un año en la universidad, en una asignatura, me tocó con el profesor más hijo de puta que había en toda la facultad. Lo juro. Cada vez que otros compañeros me preguntaban cuál era mi profesor, me decían: «Olvídate de aprobar con esa cabronazo. Es lo más parecido a Satanás, aquí, en la tierra.»
The first two parts of the book, Vida y encuentros and Muerte y eternidad, are quite short and consist of five stories each. Because of their randomness and self-sufficiency, I found these stories greatly superior to those from the last part, La chica de Los Planetas proper. Can’t say why, but I expected more from the main dish. Or, rather, less, for a good short story writer should know when to stop. The best story of this lot is Madrid—Cariño, thanks to the absence of the very chica.

I have a theory that most human males go through the Holden Caulfield phase during their ontogenesis. Some, however, do stuck there for quite a bit.

Friday, 25 December 2015


by Russian Red

RR’s second album is very different from I love your glasses but every bit as charming. A touch of country here, a dash of gypsy swing there, a mystery of song names — why, for example, Tarantino? Or Nick Drake? And what the title track has to do with my favourite island? And why should I care?

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Alphaville: une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution

a film by Jean-Luc Godard

After a year and a half living here, we just started to discover various free events and activities in Las Palmas. On Friday, we went for a free bus excursion organised by the Cabildo de Gran Canaria to watch a (not quite yet) winter solstice sunrise and visit a cave village called Acusa Seca. And on Saturday, there was a free open-air movie night. Godard’s Alphaville was closing Futuro, a cycle of sci-fi films screened at Palacete Rodríguez Quegles.

Sunrise at Acusa Seca, 18 December 2015. More photos of Acusa Seca @ Shutterstock.

Now I can think of a few pastimes more satisfying than watching a 50-year-old black and white French film noir. In French. With Spanish subtitles. Outdoors. None of them would be as cool though. (In fact, it was positively chilly last night. Next time we have to bring a blanket.) I mean, Lemmy Caution, aka secret agent 003, aka Ivan Johnson, a journalist for Figaro-Pravda — can it get Frenchier than that? Not exactly a comedy but full of deadpan humour (the car chase scene is priceless). Of course, Lemmy, played by Eddie Constantine, is nobody else than an early cinematic incarnation of Lazlo Woodbine, so expect a lot of gratuitous sex and violence, now and then unashamedly accompanied by “dun dun dun”. A great cast featuring Anna Karina and Akim Tamiroff; names like Leonard Nosferatu, Prof. Heckell and Prof. Jeckell; and fireworks into the bargain — well that was not a part of the original movie but that’s what you can get when watching in the open air. Marvellous.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Song of the Sea

a film by Tomm Moore

Once again, brought to us by Timur: a strange, not-quite-coherent story, beautifully, almost entirely hand-drawn animated. IMDb’s Parents Guide states that the “climax can be intense for some”. Which turned out to be true. Timur noted that, in spite of all the sadness, it still left more people happy, unlike The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, where nobody was happy in the end.

Saturday, 12 December 2015


a film by GoPro

Looks like, at long last, scorchio made its way into Spanish language: ¡Buenos días desde Radio El Scorchio!

In this great new commercial for GoPro’ HERO4 camera, Scottish cyclist Danny MacAskill takes you for a crazy and colourful ride — guess where — across the roofs of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. And when I say “crazy”, I mean it. Don’t try this at home; don’t attempt this outside home either.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Buika Sinfónico in Las Palmas

If you know anything at all about me, you’ll know that spending a Sunday evening listening to symphonic orchestra is not my idea of a good time. In my early days, the (otherwise joyous) burials of the Politburo members were invariably but puzzlingly accompanied by sombre classical music on the radio and Swan Lake on the telly. But what a man won’t do for the love of Buika? Surely enduring a bit of orchestral noise is a reasonable price for a sheer pleasure to see and hear her live.

This was the first time we went to the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus. I mean inside. It is a beautiful venue, however I wasn’t much impressed by its acoustics. At least from where we were sitting. On this occasion, Buika was supported by Orquesta Sinfónica de Las Palmas conducted by Toni Cuenca, Iván “Melón” Lewis on piano and Ramón Porrina on cajón. It’s a shame that during the first two songs, Mi niña Lola and Nostalgias, Buika’s voice was practically drowned by the orchestra. It got better later though. Either my ear got used to it, or, what’s more plausible, the sound engineer finally found the voice fader. Not that the orchestra was bad; rather the opposite (and you hear that from someone who firmly associates symphonic music with Soviet-style humourless pomposity). I really enjoyed the orchestral work in Throw It Away. But the true magic happened on two or three occasions when, as if to illustrate that, after all, this orchestral grandeur was totally superluous, maestro Cuenca put down his baton and picked up the double bass. Frankly, I did not expect him to be that funky! Concha Buika accompanied by piano trio; just piano; just cajón; cajón and bass; Buika singing and dancing on her own, pure passion and joy. Encores included Que Nadie Sepa Me Sufrir and Siboney. Ahhh... Wish you were there.

Saturday, 28 November 2015


a film by Isao Takahata

When I was about ten, I came across a book of Japanese folk tales (in Russian translation) and read it from back to back in a few days. I was fascinated by them, not least because they were very different from the “classic” fairy tales I was accustomed to. Most of the Japanese tales were dark (if not menacing), refreshingly moral-free, and had no obligatory happy ends. Now Timur bought another Studio Ghibli DVD and we watched it over two evenings.

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which is based on the folk tale, is a work of beauty. I don’t know how exactly this animation is made but it looks like watercolour, pastel, charcoal... It has got a lot of humorous moments. Maybe because of that, against my better judgement, I was hoping for a happy end. Well it is not very happy, unless going to the moon with Buddha and his entourage is your idea of happiness. Absolutely worth watching, although I still prefer My Neighbors the Yamadas.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Scandinavian Nights (Live in Stockholm 1970)

by Deep Purple

For Deep Purple Mark II, 1970 was truly an annus mirabilis. Not only because of In Rock — wait a minute, I’ve got a 25th anniversary edition CD which is 20 years old already; shall we expect a 50th anniversary edition in five years’ time? — but also because of Jon Lord’s Gemini Suite Live and Jesus Christ Superstar superstarring Ian Gillan. I was practically growing up on this latter album.

What about Scandinavian Nights? It was recorded in Stockholm exactly 45 years ago, on 12 November 1970, so it’s not clear why “nights” in plural. But trust me, behind its rather uninspired cover art you’ll find simply the best live recording of this, or any, Purple line-ups. Sure enough, there are Child in Time, Into the Fire and Speed King (in my view, vastly superior to their respective studio versions) as well as half-an-hour monsters of Wring That Neck and Mandrake Root. But also, please, don’t forget the cover of Paint It Black.

Monday, 2 November 2015


by Pascal Blanchet

I hesitate to call this book a graphic novel, but then, what else is it? In any case it does not look like one, with one panel per page spread or per page, often with blank black verso (or recto). The Cole Porter’s song In the Still of the Night provides the obvious background for the story, or stories. But there’s more. In the end of the book you can find a discography, which I took the liberty to reproduce here. It also prompted me to do a bit of research (if you can call a web search that). I could not find any info on the singer called Anne Scheffer outside of the Blanchet’s book context. I was able to identify all the tracks in this discography and supplementary material apart from those featuring Scheffer, even though the orchestras she supposedly recorded with did exist and indeed had those songs in their repertoires. So... who exactly is this mysterious “queen of the radio waves”? Doris Day, Jo Stafford, Margaret Whiting? I may never learn, but I’ve discovered for myself a new artist as well as music of André Mathieu.


  1. In the Still of the Night — Anne Scheffer with Paul Weston & his Orchestra, 1948
  2. Love on a Greyhound Bus — Kay Kyser & his Orchestra, 1946
  3. Street Scene — Harry James & his Orchestra, 1955
  4. Lonely Woman — June Christy with Stan Kenton, 1955
  5. A Tree in the Meadow — Anne Scheffer with Frank De Vol Orchestra, 1948
  6. City of Glass, Second Movement — Stan Kenton & his Orchestra, 1951
  7. Dancing in the Dark — Jo Stafford with Paul Weston & his Orchestra, 1957
  8. Nature Boy — Frank Sinatra with The Jeff Alexander Choir, 1948
  9. It’s Magic — Anne Scheffer, Orchestra under the direction of George Siravo, 1948
  10. André Mathieu, Concertino n° 2, Opus 13, II. Andante — Matthias Bamert & London Mozart Players
  11. Haunted Heart — Jo Stafford with Paul Weston & his Orchestra, 1948
  12. Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child — Fred Waring & The Pennsylvanians, 1957
  13. Antonín Dvořák, Symphonie n° 9 en mi mineur, II. Largo — Ferenc Fricsay, Berliner Philharmoniker
  14. That Lucky Old Sun — Frankie Laine with Harry Geller Orchestra, 1949
  15. In the Still of the Night (from Silk Stockings), M-G-M Orchestra

Supplementary Material

  1. Ennui — Stan Kenton & his Orchestra, 1951
  2. The Night We Called it a Day — Frank Sinatra, Axel Stordahl Orchestra, 1947
  3. Free — Helen Humes & The Contrastors, 1948
  4. Again — Doris Day, 1949
  5. Bess, You Is My Woman Now — Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Isaac Stern
  6. Long Ago and Far Away — Jo Stafford, 1944
  7. Lazy Afternoon — June Christy, Orchestra conducted by Pete Rugolo, 1957

Saturday, 31 October 2015


a film by Hayao Miyazaki

Not all witches are wicked. Kiki, a 13-year-old witch-in-training, is certainly not wicked. She reminds me of young Kayo from The Wind Rises and one of my former pupils in Cantabria. (That latter one has every chance to develop her wicked side though.) Riding a broom and ability of understand her black cat are Kiki’s only magical powers, and then she loses even them, albeit temporarily. On the contrary, the film has lost none. We watched it with Timur, for the nth time, just a few days ago. I told him that the town, Koriko, was mostly based on Stockholm.
“Where is that?”, he asked.
“We went there together. It was as recent as last year.”
“Did we?”
“Yes. We took a ferry from Helsinki.”
“Aaa”, Timur said. Obviously he didn’t remember.
“Well. It looks pretty much like this.”

Saturday, 24 October 2015

A Lupita le gustaba planchar

by Laura Esquivel

This is the latest novel of the best-selling author of Como agua para chocolate, which I borrowed from the library on the strength of its cover art alone. It is written in rather easy Spanish, yet it took me about a month to go through its 200 pages. Just like the book, each chapter is named after a particular activity (or two) favoured by its unlikely but likeable heroine, Lupita. Lupita the policewoman, Lupita the alcoholic, Lupita mistreated by her ex-husband, Lupita the killer. Lupita who liked to watch the sky. Who liked solitude and silence. Lupita who liked to ask the questions and to deduce. Good quality reading overall, it is let down by its finale. The very last chapter, A Lupita le gustaba hacer el amor, starts as promising as it is named but, in spite of all that, turns disappointingly anticlimactic. I would prefer her getting pissed and/or having steamy sex with her real-life lover rather than experiencing that all-encompassing love for all and everything caused by ingestion of 5-MeO-DMT and bufotenin. (Apparently, compounds derived from psychoactive toad are “good” drugs, in contrast to “bad” drugs associated with the narcobusiness.) Incidentally, this chapter features the highest concentration of imperfecto del subjuntivo to be found anywhere in Spanish-language literature; I wonder if this has anything to do with psychoactive drugs.

Para Lupita las personas que no bailan eran por lo general seres egoístas, solitarios y amargados. El baile exige que uno le siga el paso al compañero y que se mueva al mismo ritmo que él. Una buena pareja de baile es la que logra hacerse “uno” con el otro, el que la siente, el que la adivina, el que en un juego de armonía anticipa los movimientos del otro y los acepta como propios. Ahora bien, Lupita sabía que había hombres que, aunque bailaran, también eran egoístas y amargados. Eran los técnicos. Los que se aprendían los pasos de memoria y eran incapaces de improvisar. Los que ni siquiera miraban a los ojos a su pareja, los que trataban de “lucirse” antes que nada. Los que buscaban la aprobación del público antes que la de su compañera de baile y realizaban movimientos desconsiderados como el darle de vueltas y vueltas sólo por lo espectacular que éstas resultaban ante los ojos de los demás. Ése era precisamente el caso del cabrón con el que estaba bailando.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015


a film by Ron Fricke

Saṃsāra (Sanskrit संसार) is the ongoing cycle of birth, life, death and rebirth. If this is supposed to give you a vague idea what such-named movie could be about, it won’t prepare you for, well, anything. Perhaps not as groundbreaking as 1982 Koyaanisqatsi, Samsara will take you as far as an apparently plotless film can ever take — and beyond. A lot of imagery is stunning, some other lot is disturbing, and yet some other lot is as stunning as it is disturbing (such as a scene of pilgrims circumambulating the Kaaba in Mecca). But it is the CPDRC Dancing Inmates and 1000 Hands Dance that leave me some hope for humankind. If there is any message, it is rather simple one: people should produce less and dance more.

Friday, 9 October 2015

I love your glasses

by Russian Red

Another week, another discovery. Look what I found in our public library: a debut album by a Spanish artist duo band project Russian Red sung in English. (In contrast to what Wikipedia says, the sleeve notes specify that “Russian Red is Lourdes Hernández & Brian Hunt”.) Intrigued, how could I not borrow it? More crucially: why I never heard of somebody who recorded Fuerteventura? (Why, indeed, didn’t I record an album called Fuerteventura myself?)

Back to Glasses: no, it’s not perfect, but beautifully flawed. It reminds me of Nina Nastasia’s earlier work. Maybe not as dark but with lyrics as witty and, at times, as weird.

Kiss My Elbow

And every five minutes I look at the door
and I see you naked.
And there’s a question that comes up to my mind
I wonder whether you are blind.

But if I try to find, it’d be the same old story
time after time.
Oh, oh, show me your eyes, please do
Oh baby, show me your eyes.

And every five minutes I look at the door,
and there you are with your clothes on, you changed this time
now you are kissing my elbow, is that how you say it?
I really have doubts and questions about.

But if I try to find, it’d be the same old story, story, story?
Oh, oh, show me your eyes, please do
Oh baby, show me your eyes.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Es chino básico

First published 1 September 2015 @ sólo algunas palabras

When we hear or read something incomprehensible, we say “it’s all Greek to me”. Naturally, Greeks would use different expression. In Greek, German, Dutch, French, Portuguese and many other European languages, they say “it’s all Chinese to me”. Spanish go one step further: Es chino básico, “it’s basic Chinese” (implying that you probably should forget about mastering intermediate-level Chinese). But you know what? We all know a bit of Chinese. Here are ten or twelve Chinese words that you should be familiar already, even if you didn’t realise that until now.

  1. chá: tea. Turkish çay and Russian чай are the variation on this theme. In Min Nan, the same word is pronounced as ; thanks to the Dutch East India Company, this plant and drink is known in Europe as tea. 烏龍茶 / 乌龙茶, wūlóng chá, literally “black dragon tea”, is oolong tea.
  2. dào: a word of many meanings, among them “word”, “method”, “road”, “way”. Tao (or Dao), “The Way”, is a central concept of Taoism.
    The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and Earth.
    The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
    Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 1 (translated by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English)
  3. 點心

  4. 點心 / 点心 diǎnxīn (“to refresh one’s heart”, from / 点 “to light, to kindle” and “heart”): snack, light refreshment, better known in its Cantonese pronunciation, dim sum. It is customary to serve it with 茶.
  5. 風水

  6. 風水 / 风水 fēngshuǐ (from fēng “wind” and shuǐ “water”): feng shui, the art and philosophical system of harmonising everyone with the surrounding environment.
  7. 功夫

  8. 功夫 gōngfu: another word with a variety of meanings, such as “time”, “effort”, “achievement”, “art”, “skill”. In the West, kung fu is mainly used to refer to Chinese martial arts, also called 武術 / 武术 wǔshù.
  9. 荔枝

  10. 荔枝 lìzhī: lychee, Litchi chinensis. Once the delicacy at the Chinese Imperial Court, nowadays it is available in supermarkets all over the world.
  11. 麻將

  12. 麻將 / 麻将 májiàng (from 麻雀 máquè, “sparrow”): the game of mahjong, believed to be developed by nobody else but that bird lover, Confucius.
  13. 人參

  14. 人參 / 人参 rénshēn (from “man” and / 参 “root”): ginseng, so called thanks to the human-like shape of its root.
  15. 颱風

  16. 颱風 / 台风 táifēng (“big wind”): typhoon.
  17. 太極拳

  18. 太極拳 / 太极拳 tàijíquán (from 太極 / 太极 “Great Ultimate” and “fist”): the martial art and exercise system t’ai chi ch’uan. The symbol for 太極 / 太极 tàijí, , is called 太極圖 / 太极图 tàijítú.
  19. 陰陽

  20. 陰陽 / 阴阳 (from / 阴, yīn “dark” and / 阳, yáng “light”): yin and yang.
    The Tao begot one.
    One begot two.
    Two begot three.
    And three begot the ten thousand things.
    The ten thousand things carry yin and embrace yang.
    They achieve harmony by combining these forces.

More photos by Tamara @ Shutterstock.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Norwegian Wood

by Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin

Haruki Murakami might have denied that Norwegian Wood is an autobiographical novel, but I am pretty sure that it is exactly that. Toru Watanabe, aka “I”, is the same age as Murakami, studies drama (Euripides and stuff) at a private University in Shinjuku, and even works part-time in the record shop. What more evidence do you need?

How unhurried was life back then. Toru lives in a dormitory and doesn’t have a phone. His favourite communication mode is letter-writing. Now try that in Japan, or elsewhere.

If there is a moral to the story, it is that you shall not kill yourself grieving for a loved one. The two most tender and uplifting moments of the novel are a kind of memorial service for Midori’s father (after which Midori falls asleep in Toru’s arms) and an alternative “funeral” for Naoko organised by Reiko (followed by Reiko and Toru’s full night of proper sex). And the dialogues between Toru and Midori are simply great.

“Know what I did the other day?” Midori asked. “I got all naked in front of my father’s picture. Took off every stitch of clothing and let him have a good, long look. Kind of in a yoga position. Like, ‘Here, Daddy, these are my tits, and this is my cunt’.”
“Why in the hell would you do something like that?” I asked.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to show him. I mean, half of me comes from his sperm, right? Why shouldn’t I show him? ‘Here’s the daughter you made.’ I was a little drunk at the time. I suppose that had something to do with it.”
“I suppose.”
“My sister walked in and almost fell over. There I was in front of my father’s memorial portrait all naked with my legs spread. I guess you would be kind of surprised.”
“I s’pose so.”
“I explained why I was doing it and said, ‘So take off your clothes too Momo (her name’s Momo), and sit down next to me and show him,’ but she wouldn’t do it. She went away shocked. She has this really conservative streak.”

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Chinese ceremonies for beginners

First published 15 August 2015 @ sólo algunas palabras

The Russian expression без китайских церемоний (literally, without Chinese ceremonies) can be translated as “without formalities”, “simply”, “casually”, or even “bluntly”. Chinese ceremonies in question can be expanded as “tedious and unnecessary conventions; excessive display of politeness; meaningless etiquette”. In his short story Китайская церемония (1924), Mikhail Zoshchenko humorously refers to the habit of shaking hands as a Chinese ceremony, even though Chinese have nothing to do with it.

Chinese, however, see nothing wrong in being excessively polite. The more excuse mes, can I asks and pleases, the better. Instead of rather blunt 你好吗 “How are you?” (literally “You good?”), you are more likely to hear 你吃饭了没, “Have you eaten rice yet?” — because if you did, things cannot be too bad. Interestingly, the polite response to 谢谢 🔊 “thank you” is 不客气 , literally “don’t be polite”. If you are at all interested in learning Chinese, you could do worse than start with a few polite expressions.

Han charactersPinyinMeaningEtymology
trad.請問qǐngwènExcuse me請 “please” + 問 “ask”
trad.抱歉bàoqiàn(I’m) sorry抱 “to carry” + 歉 “apology”
trad.謝謝xièxieThank you; thanks
trad.不客氣bù kèqiYou’re welcome不 “not” + 客氣 “polite”; literally “don’t be (so) polite”
trad.您好nín hǎoHello (formal, said to a single person)您 “you” (formal) + 好 “good”
trad.你好nǐ hǎoHello (informal, said to a single person)你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good”
trad.你們好nǐmen hǎoHello (said to a group of people)你們 / 你们 “you” (plural) + 好 “good”
trad.你好嗎?nǐ hǎo ma?How are you?你 “you” (informal) + 好 “good” + 嗎 / 吗 (question tag); literally “you good?”
trad.你吃飯了沒?nǐ chīfàn le méi?How are you?你 “you” (informal) + 吃 “to eat” + 飯 / 饭 “cooked rice” + 了 (perfective aspect tag) + 沒 / 沒 “have not”; literally “have you eaten cooked rice?”
trad.早安zǎo ānGood morning早 “early” + 安 “peace”
trad.晚安wǎn ānGood evening; good night晚 “late” + 安 “peace”
trad.再見zàijiànGoodbye; see you later再 “again” + 見 / 见 “to see / to meet”

Friday, 4 September 2015

El azul es un color cálido

by Julie Maroh

Until recent I didn’t know and didn’t care much about graphic novels, comics and suchlike. I remember all too well my own righteous indignation at the sight of young adults reading nothing but comics. What about real reading? For the record: that was in 1994, in Italy. Nowadays, I just marvel at teenagers who actually read paper books instead of staring at their mobile devices. (Now that sounds like a line from a 1960s sci-fi book.) The thing is, in my tender years I simply was not exposed to comics. So, not just cultural references, but an entire genre passed me by. Never mind that. It’s never late to start, well, anything, why not reading comics then. Ah, to be a teen again!

You may know by now that my “method” of choosing the reading material is to grab something from a stand of new books in the library. And there it was, a Spanish-language version of Le bleu est une couleur chaude.

From the start you know it’s gonna end bad. Mainly because the story starts in the end, when Emma learns about the death of Clémentine. (Yes, the death of the protagonist: the fundamental difference between the book and Palme d’Or-winning film adaptation.) But knowing its happy-end-less made me to appreciate more the happy moments in the lives of two lovers.

El amor no puede ser eterno, pero nos hace eternos

Thursday, 27 August 2015

900B Golden Superior Classical Guitar Strings

by La Bella

RIP the old strings (CL4 Black n’Silver)

Almost five years later, I can report: these strings survived the journey from the UK to Fuerteventura, two years there, a long winter in Finland and one more year in Gran Canaria. At last, the D string broke. No, wait. It did when we were in Finland, but as it snapped close to the bridge, I was able to re-tie it. On Sunday it broke again. So on Monday Timur and I journeyed to the nearest music shop to look for a new set. For such a small shop, it has quite a good choice of classical guitar strings, but there was only one make of black nylon, viz. La Bella 900-B. And, as Timur wanted the black trebles, we’ve got black.

This time, Timur was helping to replace the strings. We also used this opportunity to clean the fretboard thoroughly.

The new set (La Bella 900-B) before being fitted

I have to say that I had these strings on my Clarissa some years ago and really liked them. Compared to (new) Black n’Silver, both bass and trebles have slightly softer sound. The bass strings are wound with American wire polished golden alloy and are considerably less squeaky (thanks to “polished”, I doubt that gold makes that much difference).

Next day, the G string on Timur’s violin broke...

More photos of nylon guitar strings @ Shutterstock.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Diccionario de Literatura para Esnobs y (sobre todo) para los que no lo son

by Fabrice Gaignault
translated by Wenceslao-Carlos Lozano
introduction by José Carlos Llop
illustrated by Sara Morante

From (in)famous through relatively obscure to utterly forgotten, this lovely book does not pretend to be in any way comprehensive, objective, or useful. All these things would be thoroughly unsnobbish. Kathy Acker, Dominique Aury, Aubrey Beardsley, William Burroughs (who seems to be mentioned on every single page of the book), Winston Churchill, Ian Fleming, Christopher Isherwood, “una estajanovista del sexo a mogollón” Catherine Millet, Andy Warhol, and that little-known brother of his annoyingly famous sisters all make an appearance; Albert Camus, Jack Kerouac and Jean-Paul Sartre (who are among the authors of “ten books hated by the literary snobs”) do not. I would probably leave it where I saw it — that is, in the library — if, leafing through it, I did not come across the entries on Oblomov (see below) and Trieste. I just had to borrow it.

I enjoyed Gaignault’s (sometimes black) humour a lot. I presume this book is as funny in French. But if you read it in Spanish, don’t miss the preface by José Carlos Llop, who has this bright idea to replace the faces that appear on the cover of Sgt. Pepper with those from this Dictionary. I hope somebody does exactly that for the English edition.


Gentleman británico de compulsiva lubricidad que, al amparo del anonimato, contó en el siglo XIX su Vida secreta en un caudaloso texto por el que corren cataratas de semen. No menos misteriosa que la de Jack el Destripador, la identidad de ese estajanovista del coito, para quien «la jodienda es la gran humanizadora del mundo», sigue planteando un sinnúmero de interrogantes. ¿Quién se oculta tras ese Fornicator de partícula, ese insaciable Walter Fucker? Misterio. En cambio, los exegetas admiten que Anonymous, abuelo priápico de Catherine Millet, supo darle brío a su elegante pluma como entomólogo de coños y culos. Razón más que suficiente, a ojos de determinados esnobs, para poner esta «Busca del tiempo perdido con las mujeres (y los hombres)» al mismo nivel que la obra, menos obsesivamente carnal, del tío Marcel.

Cuello vuelto

Instrumento de identificación muy en boga entre los existencialistas y los Angry Young Men — esos jovenes airados británicos — que nunca llego a convencer a los Brummell de las letras. Volvió a ser un hype entre determinados pensadores y escritores franceses, en una calamitosa variante acrilica, lo cual lo convierte en objeto definitivamente repulsivo para sus más encarnizados enemigos. «Nunca leí a Marguerite Duras ni a Michel Foucault por llevar ambos jerséis de cuello vuelto negro» (Frédéric Schiffer en Tratado de la añoranza).


Obra maestra de Iván Goncharov (1812—1891) e inapelable coartada para todos los esnobs adeptos del aquabonismo radical y de la procrastinación elevada al rango de las bellas artes. Iliá Ilich Oblómov (de oblom, ‘fractura’, o de oblomok, ‘cascajo’) es un entusiasta de la posición horizontal, de las lecturas inacabadas, de la fuerza de la inercia como motor de la existencia, del sueño como única razón para vivir. Primo linfático de Xavier de Maistre, este viajero alrededor de su cama puso todo su empeño en demonstrar que de de nada sirve servir para algo, ya que tarde o temprano la condición humana impone la irrisoria inanidad de toda acción. Y demuestre convincentemente que la pereza no es tanto un vicio como una forma de sabiduría.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

El increíble viaje del faquir que se quedó atrapado en un armario de Ikea

by Romain Puértolas

I thought Amor en tiempos de Ikea had exhausted all possible IKEA-related jokes in 30 minutes. Then I saw this book in the library and realised that I ain’t heard nothing yet.

L’Extraordinaire Voyage du fakir qui était resté coincé dans une armoire Ikea hit the bookshelves in 2013 and, apparently, became an international “soon to be a major motion picture” bestseller I never heard before. It was also published in English as The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe, but I happened to come across the Spanish version. The author shares translation credit with his wife Patricia Sierra Gutiérrez, and I think it’s a good translation.

The protagonist, Dhjamal Mekhan Dooyeghas (pronounced “Llámame cuando llegues” — the book is full of these pronunciation tips), aka Ajatashatru Lavash Patel in original French, reminded me of The Great Combinator Ostap-Suleyman-Berta-Maria-Bender-bey, albeit lacking the latter’s organisational talents. At some point, rather predictably, he comes to realise that being a (rich) writer in Paris is better than to be a (poor) fakir in India. With this moral transformation of a professional swindler to a honest and generous person Dhjamal started to lose his charm for me. Luckily, he still needs his fakir skills to survive, and in the (happy, happy) end it does not look like he’s going to abandon them altogether. This restores my faith in humanity.

Y así es como he acabado en su baúl, señora — concluyó Dhjamal con media sonrisa.

Desaparecer en el fondo de una maleta en Barcelona para reaparecer en Roma era, de lejos, el mejor truco de magia que había hecho en su vida. Houdini no lo hubiera hecho mejor.

La bella joven de ojos verdes y pelo color avellana lo miraba fijamente, entre sorprendida, escéptica y asustada, lo cual era preferible a la crisis de histeria que la había asaltado cuando lo había descubierto al abrir el baúl. Dejó en su sitio la lámpara de la mesilla de noche que había cogido como arma. La historia no parecía tener mucho sentido, cierto, pero había algo, algo verdadero, algo sincero, en el tono de voz del hombre. Además, ¿cómo podría haberse inventado una mentira tan grande?

Friday, 7 August 2015

Javier Infante, Jose Alberto Medina & Amit Mishra live

I saw the duo of Javier Infante and Jose Alberto Medina performing last month in Vegueta as a part of Canarian International Jazz Festival. There was a great atmosphere but I would rather see (and hear) them playing in a more chamber setting. Fabrica La Isleta (c/Princesa Guayarmina, 54) provided exactly this. I counted less than 30 people and there was not enough chairs for everybody. That’s what I call a small venue.

I have to say that, once being “invited” (Facebook-wise) to the event, I duly ignored the follow-up messages which looked exactly the same to me. Which was a mistake since, apart from the concert at 20:30, there was a tabla masterclass with Amit Mishra at 18:30, which I think I’d have enjoyed. Not that I often get a chance to practice any kind of drumming.

The performance started (almost on-time) with two themes played by Jose and Javier. Then Amit joined on tabla. His tabla playing brings a whole new dimension to flamenco-tinged chamber jazz music of the duo. I don’t think they had too much time to rehearse, and the result was beautiful in its spontaneity. For an encore, we were treated with Alfonsina y el Mar, with Jose on melodica and Amit providing an unusual vocal line.

We came to the concert unarmed with a camera, which was a shame — I’d love to have a video of a song or two. There were CDs on sale but none of them features this particular line-up. Oh well. There’ve been many great concerts that I’ve missed; I’m happy this one isn’t among them.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


by Better Than TV

When I was in Cambridge earlier this year, my friend Sergio told me that his band is about to release their debut CD any day now. When it finally was released, he promptly sent me a copy to Gran Canaria.

I heard one of incarnations of Better Than TV performing live in Cambridge some years ago, and then again what was (approaching) its current line-up rehearsing at Sergio’s house in 2013, the very day I unsuccessfully tried to enjoy, also on Sergio’s suggestion, the May Bumps. So it was not exactly unfamiliar stuff, but I still was impressed by quality of music on this record. (For the record, all tracks were captured live, something I would not say, er, without looking at the CD sleeve.)

What is Late? Not exactly cutting edge of modern jazz but, as Bertie Wooster could have put it, there is a time for cutting hedges and a time for not cutting hedges. In fact, I am quite happy away from being cut by any edge provided that I am not bored. And Better Than TV — indeed, quite unlike TV — won’t keep me bored. They could have easily put in a few standards (and make a good job of that too) but no, we’ve got nine originals, all penned by Sergio, and quite diverse at that. Latin-ish groove here, funky theme there, blues yonder, a bulería at 5 pm, a samba later, and so on and so forth in a stylistically united variety. My favourite so far is Morse, a beautifully hummable upbeat jazz-waltz, with just right balance of discipline and improvisation (incidentally, it is the shortest track on the album). But really there are no weak cuts here, and the band consistently shines without showing off. Respect.

The only minor annoyance is the not-so-well “hidden” track in the end. Why anyone still bothers to hide the tracks anyway? Just call it track #10 and tell me when it was recorded.

Independently produced, not even on an “independent” label but without any label, Late is a quiet but confident debut of a label-free band. Given that it was recorded two years ago, one should expect a follow-up soon... please?


  1. 1000 and one
  2. Standing with Sally
  3. Elliulogy
  4. Morse
  5. pm
  6. FEAB
  7. Samba per mi
  8. Se volete
  9. Late
  10. Standing With Sally (alternate take)
All tracks written by Sergio Contrino

better than TV

    David Burgoyne: piano
    Ed Blake: drums
    Gavin Spence: trumpet, flugelhorn
    Sergio Contrino: electric bass
    Tom Green: trombone
Recorded live at Churchill College Music Centre, Cambridge
Tracks 1—5 recorded by Tom Howe on 10/6/2013
Tracks 6—9 recorded by Andy Cross on 8/12/2013
Mixdown Engineer: John Ward
Mastered at Metropolis Studios, London by Andy ‘Hippy’ Baldwin
Produced by Sergio Contrino and John Ward

Friday, 24 July 2015


by Terry Pratchett
    ☠ Boy saves the princess but chooses not to marry her.
    ☠ Alternate realities can co-exist.
    ☠ If you want Death’s job, learn how to speak in all caps. Now.

Mort was the first book of the great fantasy master that I read, some time at the end of last millennium. It was borrowed from the then newly-discwoverled (by me) Saffron Walden library. It took me exactly one evening and one full night. I finished reading about five in the morning, and I was working that day. I don’t remember if I came across a read this absorbing ever since. On the darker side, no other book of Pratchett I read was quite up to the standard set by Mort.

Now that I re-read Mort fifteensomething years later, I enjoyed it even more. I think most of its humour was lost upon me the first time round. A lot of brilliant ideas, barely mentioned here, could easily have been developed into fully blown novels. (Maybe they were.) And, while I did remember most of the book, some parts of it completely slipped off my mind, like the scene of Mort’s very first solo job.

The witch stood up, leaving her body behind.
“Well done,” she said. “I thought you’d missed it, for a minute, there.”
Mort leaned against a tree, panting heavily, and watched Goodie walk around the log to look at herself.
“Hmm,” she said critically. “Time has got a lot to answer for.” She raised her hand and laughed to see the stars through it.
Then she changed. Mort had seen this happen before, when the soul realised it was no longer bound by the body’s morphic field, but never under such control. Her hair unwound itself from its tight bun, changing colour and lengthening. Her body straightened up. Wrinkles dwindled and vanished. Her grey woollen dress moved like the surface of the sea and ended up tracing entirely different and disturbing contours.
She looked down, giggled, and changed the dress into something leaf-green and clingy.
“What do you think, Mort?” she said. Her voice had sounded cracked and quavery before. Now it suggested musk and maple syrup and other things that set Mort’s adam’s apple bobbing like a rubber ball on an elastic band.
“. . .” he managed, and gripped the scythe until his knuckles went white.
She walked towards him like a snake in a four-wheel drift.
“I didn’t hear you,” she purred.
“V-v-very nice,” he said. “Is that who you were?”
“It’s who I’ve always been.”
“Oh.” Mort stared at his feet. “I’m supposed to take you away,” he said.
“I know,” she said, “but I’m going to stay.”
“You can’t do that! I mean—” he fumbled for words — “you see, if you stay you sort of spread out and get thinner, until—”
“I shall enjoy it,” she said firmly. She leaned forward and gave him a kiss as insubstantial as a mayfly's sigh, fading as she did so until only the kiss was left, just like a Cheshire cat only much more erotic.
“Have a care, Mort,” said her voice in his head. “You may want to hold on to your job, but will you ever be able to let go?”

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Theo Croker & Nettwork live

Yuri and I went to see Theo Croker and Dvrk Funk performing at Plaza Santa Ana in Vegueta. It was a pleasant surprise to discover this American band. Yes, a classic jazz quintet format (Theo Croker, trumpet; Michael King, keyboards; Kassa Overall, drums; Anthony Ware, reeds and Eric Wheeler, double bass), playing mostly original compositions, melodic, full of interesting rhythmical twists and, indeed, funky — not all the time, just enough time to keep the audience happy. Hardly groundbreaking stuff, but then again, sometimes you need to keep the ground intact and concentrate on delivering the quality music. What they did.

When they finished, Yuri went home. Judging by his saying that is was not exactly his cup of steak, he didn’t enjoy the music as much as I did. I wonder what would he make of the next act, which was a totally different, er, bucket o’shrimp.

Featuring Charnett Moffett (electric bass), Stanley Jordan (electric guitar, keyboards), Casimir Liberski and Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums), Nettwork could be called a jazz supergroup. Jordan is one of my all-time axe heroes, and his Stolen Moments (also featuring Moffett) is one of the finest jazz guitar recordings ever. I was really looking forward to see them live. But there’s an inherent danger with supergroups: the whole is often less than the sum of its parts. Don’t get me wrong, it was not bad at all, for a bunch of guys jamming together, but I expected more than that. Take the first composition (don’t know the title, for Nettwork didn’t bother to introduce their songs): imagine the intro to Speed King played for fifteen minutes. I mean, you only can play so much of one chord, even with yummy solos. For me, the band did not compare favourably with Dvrk Funk who were more “together” and took less time to deliver their message. Oh, and they should lose that singing.

As for Stanley Jordan, he appeared to lose none of his magic touch. I hope to see him playing again.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Noumoucounda Cissoko & Zara McFarlane live

This double act kick-started the Canarian International Jazz Festival 2015 on Friday 3 July. So I boarded the bus #8 from Las Palmas to Vecindario (where I’ve never been until this day) and arrived to Plaza de San Rafael just in time to get one of the last free seats and a caña of Heineken (€1) before the show started.

Senegalese singer and kora player Noumoucounda Cissoko was supported by Kissima Diabaté (vocal, djembe), Frederic Hirschy (electric bass) and Yoann Julliard (drums). What a feast for the ears and eyes! It might be not exactly what you’d call “jazz” but who cares when it’s groovy? A group of young Africans turned up and started to dance, at first in front of the scene. Then, for the encore, they joined the musicians on stage, while the audience went completely wild.

The name of Zara McFarlane sounded vaguely familiar but I never heard her music until last Friday. The young British singer was accompanied by the trio of Peter Edwards (piano), Max Luthert (double bass) and Moses Boyd (drums) in what would appear like a mainstream jazz idiom, especially after Cissoko’s extravaganza. Yet mainstream it ain’t. There wasn’t a single standard; instead, soul-flavoured original compositions with clever lyrics and quite unique singing style. Oh, and a wonderful, happy smile.

Both acts featured some magic call-and-response improvisations: machine-gun-speed djembe/kora duel of Diabaté and Cissoko; seductive, almost erotic scat vocal/drums exchange between McFarlane and Boyd. And I was about to start complaining about lack of quality live music on this island!

The night was growing rather chilly and the wind was interfering with Zara’s microphone. At midnight, the show was over. I had to rush to catch the night bus (#5) back to Las Palmas. By the way, it stops at the airport. Good to know in case you need to get out of there in the middle of the night.

Friday, 3 July 2015

The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood

by James Gleick

Apart from furnishing me with great quotes for my blogs, this may be one of the most fascinating books on information theory I’ve read. Considering that I was reading this book once a week, while travelling by train from Santander to Bezana and back (11 minutes each way), I managed to finish it, well, under four months.

I feared that, after the great start, it would continue in a less spectacular fashion, gradually losing the steam and eventually reaching the thermodynamic equilibrium with the literary noise around me. I’m glad to report that this didn’t happen. True, as we move closer to the present day, it becomes progressively out-of-date: think about the future of the cloud computing in post-Snowden era (the book was published in 2011). Thankfully, the author seems to be well aware of that.

After “information theory” came to be, so did “information overload”, “information glut”, “information anxiety”, and “information fatigue”, the last recognized by the OED in 2009 as a timely syndrome: “Apathy, indifference, or mental exhaustion arising from exposure to too much information, esp. (in later use) stress induced by the attempt to assimilate excessive amounts of information from the media, the Internet, or at work.” Sometimes information anxiety can coexist with boredom, a particularly confusing combination. David Foster Wallace had a more ominous name for this modern condition: Total Noise. “The tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective” — that, he wrote in 2007, constitutes Total Noise. He talked about the sensation of drowning and also of a loss of autonomy, of personal responsibility for being informed. To keep up with all the information we need proxies and subcontractors.

Monday, 29 June 2015

So long, Cantabria

My first sense of Santander was not unlike the one I had of Trieste some twenty years earlier. In both cases, I knew nothing of the place before. Both are situated between the sea and the mountains. Both are distinctly European, but one can easily get confused where exactly in Europe they are. Trieste didn’t look like an Italian city to me. Of all Spanish cities I’ve seen so far, Santander did feel least Spanish. Later, I found similarity between these two places on a deeper level.

I find this mermaid near Palacio de la Magdalena rather sexy. Unlike her caudal fin, the Latimeria-like pelvic fins make perfect sense to me.

I got my first impression of santanderinos the following day, on boarding the city bus. Two things did strike me:

  1. It was too quiet.
  2. Nobody was smiling.
Let me explain. In Canarias, people board guaguas to talk as much as to travel. People shout “Hola, guapa” or “Chao, mi niña” across the bus cabin. The seats closest to the front door usually get occupied by talkers who spend the rest of the journey distracting the driver. People do ask each other things (and answer). If you ask anyone about your destination, half of the bus joins to explain where you have to get off and what to do next, mi niña. And they do smile at you.

Not here. Even though that first impression was shaken one Friday night (the bus was full of drunk and loud youngsters), it still holds true.

At first, I could’t believe that people here really speak Castellano Castellano. They say “Voy a Madrith”, €10 is “dieth euros” (not “dieh euroh” like in Canarias), and they use vosotros.

When I arrived (on a slow FEVE train from Bilbao), the sun was shining. “Just you wait”, I was told. I was waiting for a month. Patiently. I spent the two last days of October on the beach. On the 1st of November, the floodgates of the heavens opened and winter began. I had to invest in an umbrella and a pair of welly boots. Again! Maybe leaving most of winter things in Porvoo was a mistake after all. (Clothes! Layers and layers of them. I hate it.) February was particularly horrible, with thunderstorms and hailstorms every other day and simply rain in between.

I made good friends in Santander, just like I did in Trieste. None of them are native of either place. This may, or may not, suggest that you can’t make friends with santanderinos. In any case, I can’t prove it. As a rule, Cantabrians are proud not to be from Santander; or, if they are, they hide it well.

If you follow this blog, you know that Santander is full of live music and other cultural events, many of which are free. There even are free dance classes — bachata, kizomba, tango... Thanks to the weather, not that much was happening outdoors. (Maybe now, when the temperature is in mid-twenties, it is not raining and I am not there any longer.) The Carnival did not impress me at all, and a couple of Semana Santa processions that I’ve seen almost freaked me out. So what. Cantabria is more than Santander, and there is a lot to sea.

I was working in Liencres, a town about 9 kilometres west of Santander, where you can find some of the finest beaches in Cantabria. I mean, Santander’s own El Sardinero and Playa de Mataleñas are great by any city beach standards, but once I’d discovered La Arnía, Covachos, Somocuevas and Valdearenas, there was no way back.

Covachos is probably the most beautiful naturist beach I've ever been. You can only access it by foot when the tide is out.

Every second Sunday, there was a walk-cum-language exchange organised by La Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Santander. Thanks to these excursions, I got acquainted with some corners of Cantabria I’d never get to on my own, such as “the capital of the world” Arredondo or spooky Túneles de La Engaña.

Cantabria is small (Canary Islands have larger area and population), but, disregarding the weather for a while, it has everything one can dream about. There are mountains — not the hills called “mountains”, like in England, no, the real mountains with snow on top, Picos de Europa. On a good day, I could see them from my school window.

Meltwater lake near Fuente Dé.

There are rivers — again, real rivers, not barrancos with puny streams of water which disappear during the dry months.

Ghostly face of la Cascada del Asón in Collados del Asón Natural Park.

Then, there are forests. (Yes, you’ve got it, the real ones.) España Verde, of which Cantabria is a part, is not called Verde for nothing. I did not realise how green it is until went to Málaga for a long weekend in the beginning of May. When I flew back to Bilbao just three days later, the visual impact of The Green took me by surprise. Now, at the peak of Canarian summer, I miss you, Holy Chlorophyll.

Loads of green stuff near Barcenillas.

And then, there is a sea. English may call it Bay of Biscay and French Golfe de Gascogne, but here it is called much more respectfully: Mar Cantábrico.

I should have explored España Verde beyond Cantabria a bit more, but I didn’t. Just before Christmas, I went to San Sebastian with Toastmasters Sardinero group. I liked it. Could have been nicer if it were not raining all day. Then, I went to Las Palmas for Christmas/New Year break. The cheapest flights I was able to book were from Bilbao (to Las Palmas) and to Santiago de Compostela (back). I decided to stretch my journey back to Santander over three nights, staying in Santiago, A Coruña and Oviedo. Back to work, I told my colleagues about my holidays.

— ¿Te ha gustado Bilbao?
— Sí, claro.
— Yo soy de Bilbao.
— Ah. Por supuesto, me gustó mucho.
— Mucho mejor que Santander, ¿no?
When I mentioned Oviedo, another colleague of mine, who seemingly was not paying attention, turned to me and asked:
— ¿Te ha gustado Asturias?
— Sí, mucho.
— Soy de Oviedo.
— Lo se.
— Es que Bilbao es feísimo, sabes?
— ¿Pero qué dices? (The first teacher chips in.)
— Es verdad verdadera.
My last week in Cantabria was supersaturated. Every day I was saying goodbyes on an alarming scale. Also, in a knowledge that these were my last days of sleep deprivation, I almost gave up sleeping. Luckily, I had two school excursions, to the two places I wanted to go myself but somehow never did, Cabárceno and to the Cave of Altamira, so I did not have to prepare classes for those days.

The conversations with my colleagues kept revolving around my imminent departure.

— Ay Kirill, es tu última semana aquí, ¿verdad?
— Sí.
— ¿Cuando te marchas?
— El viernes.
— Jolín, es muy prontito.
— Eso es.
— Que guay. Este finde vas a la playa con tus hijos, con tu mujercita...
— Sí, claro.
— Vas a compensar el tiempo perdido, ¿no?
— Por supuesto.
A lump in my throat prevents me from giving longer answers.

Yes, I knew I was going to stay in Santander for eight months. I did not expect my stay there to be exactly eight months. I have to thank Ryanair cheap direct flight scheduling (Santander — Gran Canaria, one weekly flight) for the fact that I flew back home on my last working day. Which probably spared me a few more days of heartwrenching farewells.

Somocuevas as I last saw it

Adiós, Cantabria. Te echaré de menos.