Monday, 13 November 2017

Canteca de Macao: El último trago

A few weeks ago, chatting about Spanish music with one of my students, I mentioned that Chambao announced their plans to play their farewell concert in January 2018. “The same story with Canteco de Macao!”, she exclaimed.

Really? That very evening, I went to check the band’s website only to find this...


Ha llegado el día de daros la noticia. Quizá la más difícil y emotiva que hemos dado nunca. Después de 14 años de aventura, Canteca de Macao se despide como banda. Es la hora de cerrar un ciclo que ha marcado nuestro camino como individuos y como parte de una generación. Se agolpan muchos sentimientos que traduciremos en música durante este año y queremos compartir con vosotros cada segundo siendo conscientes del valor que tiene estar sobre el escenario formando parte de este sueño que ha sido posible gracias al trabajo de mucha gente y, sobre todo, gracias a vosotros. El sentimiento que nos invade es ante todo la nostalgia. Nos vienen miles de recuerdos. Nos miramos a los ojos sabiendo que es el momento de hacerlo y nos fundimos en un abrazo común para desearnos suerte, para consolarnos en cierta forma, para saborear todo lo que ha significado para nosotros esta banda que ha sido nuestra vida misma. Es la hora del cierre y de brindar con el último trago. A lo largo de todo este tiempo, hemos visto cómo nos colábamos en la banda sonora de vuestras vidas, os hemos visto crecer con nosotros y hemos recibido vuestro calor y vuestro cariño. Por eso os invitamos a brindar con el último trago en la única y gran fiesta de despedida que tendrá lugar el ..... de Noviembre de 2017. Un concierto único y a lo bestia en todos los sentidos, donde los sentimientos estarán a flor de piel y que significará el cierre de una etapa que llevaremos siempre en el recuerdo y en nuestro código genético.

Salud, compañeros. Ha sido el mayor de los placeres. Desde lo más profundo de nuestro corazón:


Although their 2015 album, Lugares comunes, already sounded like a farewell, I couldn’t quite believe what I just read. I first saw the band five years ago in Fuerteventura and was hoping to see them again ever since... And here was my (and anyone else’s) last chance. Still incredulous, I went to Ticketea and, without much thinking, bought a ticket for the last ever concert of Canteca de Macao, to take place on 11 November 2017 in Palacio de Vistalegre, Madrid. Next day, I read on the band’s Facebook page that the concert was sold out.

Madriz!!! Until now, I’ve never been to Madrid. By some reason, I avoid places which are far away from the sea, but this time I had no choice. Believe it or not, the cheapest (as well as the fastest) way to visit Madrid that weekend was to fly with Iberia. Crazy but true: one-way ticket from Santander to Madrid costs more than return ticket. Madrid was a pleasant discovery for me. A big city, however quite negotiable by public transport and with easy-to-get-around (by foot) centre.

As farewell concerts — I never been to one until now — go... this one could have been organised better. The never-mentioned-before teloneros (support band) played some nondescript Anglophone pop for three-quarters of an hour. I wonder who invited them. What surprised me the most was the enthusiastic singing-along by many Canteca “fans”. I wish people didn’t smoke joints in a closed space. I wish the security (the very same security who checked my bag and didn’t allow anyone to bring bottled water etc. inside) could do something, anything, when a brawl involving some drunkards erupted. I wish all of them were banned from the future Canteca concerts. Oh, wait.

Just before the show, I decided to take a photo featuring Harold the hedgehog (not shown here).
“Is this a hedgehog?”, enquired one young concert-goer.
Yes, I confirmed (the obvious).
“Do you always take him with you?”, she went on.
No, I said, but we always go to Canteca de Macao concerts together.
“Enjoy”, she said, apparently satisfied with my answer.

CdM played non-stop for some two and half hours. As much as I wish they didn’t disband, I applaud their decision to sing their swan song now, at the top of their powers. Sure, it was sad, but in the same time happy and funny and full of positivity; also, of confetti and balloons. This is how CdM wanted to be remembered. I am glad I made it there. I wish you were there too.

Somos la vida que viene, somos la vida que pasa, somos la lumbre que queda y que la llama lo mantenga...

So long, Canteca. It was a honour.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Live music in Santander and beyond, October 2017

Three years ago, on Halloween, I published my first report of this kind. I’m happy to tell you that it’s not the last — I leave Santander at the end of November.

  • 4 October: Klezmer Clarinete Band @ Rvbicón, Calle del Sol 4, Santander
      For the last time, you don’t have to be Jewish or anywhere from Eastern Europe to play klezmer already. This lovely local project (all players live in Cantabria) features Héctor Abella (bass clarinet), Katia Aboli (clarinet), Antonio Gutiérrez (clarinet), Manuela Pozo (clarinet) and Víctor Aja (percussion).

  • 7 October: Benavent/di Geraldo/Pardo @ Teatro Campos Elíseos, Calle de Bertendona 3 bis, Bilbao
      Carles Benavent (bass), Tino di Geraldo (drums) and Jorge Pardo (sax and flute). It was a pleasure to see one-third of the Paco de Lucía sextet (CB and JP) some 21 years since I last saw them. Coming to Teatro Campos Elíseos straight after the Barinatxe beach was probably a mistake.
  • 11 October: Pau & Hamer @ Jimmy Glass Jazz Bar, Calle Baja 28, Valencia
      An unusual combination of French horn and electric guitar (Pau Moltó and Manuel Hamerlink, repectively) proved to be unexpectedly suitable for charming jazz ballads.
  • 13 October: Berklee Showcase VII @ Amstel Art, Veles e vents, Valencia
      Six up-and-coming bands made up of students of Berklee Valencia: Emma Sundvik and All Cats (jazz), Precious Perez (pop/R&B), Dan Caton & The Ladies in Waiting (American folk), giantQUEEN (neo-soul), Oro Velvet (Mediterranean folk) and Stereo Pocket (funk fusion).
  • 18 October: Rotem Sivan Trio @ Rvbicón
      On his European tour, the New York-based guitarist Rotem Sivan was accompanied by Rubén Carles (double bass) and Alessandro D’Anna (drums).

  • 21 October: Dani Nel·lo @ Kafe Antzokia, Calle San Vicente 2
      Dani Nel·lo (tenor sax) presents his new project, Los saxofonistas salvajes, featuring Pere Miró (baritone sax), Dani Baraldés (guitar), Hector Martín (guitar), Matías Míguez (bass), Anton Jarl (drums) and Albert Sabater (percussion). If you ever wondered if anyone still plays rock’n’roll as if 1960s never happened, here’s the answer. And a damn good one at that. The support band, Ghost Number & His Tipsy Gypsies, were not bad either.

  • 22 October: Homenaje Tom Petty @ Rvbicón
      I have to admit that I don’t know much of Tom Petty’s music beyond Traveling Wilburys, so for me this tribute by local musicians who came to play one, two or three songs each was not only emotional but also educational. Unfortunately, I don’t know (and didn’t make any note of) the participants apart from Yenia Popova of Chebú, whose performance was simply breathtaking.
  • 25 October: Ales Trío @ Rvbicón
      Saúl Crespo (violin), Antonio Romero (double bass) and Joansa Maravilla (oud, guitar and percussion): fusion of Spanish, Middle Eastern and Balkan music with jazz. Original compositions and themes such as Anouar Brahem’s Astrakan Café and Kroke’s Sun.

  • 29 October: The Hillbilly Moon Explosion @ Escenario Santander, Avenida de la Constitución 39 (Parque de las Llamas)
      Oliver Baroni (slap bass, vocals), Emanuela Hutter (vocals, guitar), Duncan James (guitar, vocals) and Sylvain Petite (drums) played their idiosyncratic mix of rockabilly, rock’n’roll, surf and swing. Fantastic show, shame about the venue (dark and far from anywhere) and (lack of) publicity: I learned about this concert just a couple hours before, and that was only because I went for a lunch in Taberna Santoña (Calle Peña Herbosa, 18) and saw there this poster.

Monday, 16 October 2017

Schau mich nicht so an

a film by Uisenma Borchu

I didn’t do any research prior to watching this film in CASYC (calle Tantín 25, Santander) and assumed (wrongly) from the title, “Don’t look at me that way”, that it is shown in its original English language. I was right about the “original language” though. It was screened in German and Mongolian, with Spanish (and German, in Mongolian sequences) subtitles.

This film defies easy categorisation. There is a fair amount of comic scenes, nudity and sex, however it is neither comedy nor erotica but something completely else. The fact that the protagonists, Hedi and Iva, are played by the first-time actors (Borchu and Catrina Stemmer, respectively) makes it feel very spontaneous, at times even documentary-like. At other times, the borders between reality and dream are blurred. When the shocking final scene comes, you are left wondering to which world(s) it belongs. Don’t look at me that way: it’s up to you what way to look at it.

The poem read by Iva’s father (Josef Bierbichler) is nothing else than Brecht’s Erinnerung an die Marie A. (Reminiscence of Marie A.); you may have heard the David Bowie version from Baal.

Bertolt Brecht
Erinnerung an die Marie A.
Bertolt Brecht, translated by John Willett
Remembering Marie A.
An jenem Tag im blauen Mond September
Still unter einem jungen Pflaumenbaum
Da hielt ich sie, die stille bleiche Liebe
In meinem Arm wie einen holden Traum.
Und über uns im schönen Sommerhimmel
War eine Wolke, die ich lange sah
Sie war sehr weiß und ungeheuer oben
Und als ich aufsah, war sie nimmer da.

Seit jenem Tag sind viele, viele Monde
Geschwommen still hinunter und vorbei
Die Pflaumenbäume sind wohl abgehauen
Und fragst du mich, was mit der Liebe sei?
So sag ich dir: Ich kann mich nicht erinnern.
Und doch, gewiß, ich weiß schon, was du meinst
Doch ihr Gesicht, das weiß ich wirklich nimmer
Ich weiß nur mehr: Ich küsste es dereinst.

Und auch den Kuss, ich hätt’ ihn längst vergessen
Wenn nicht die Wolke da gewesen wär
Die weiß ich noch und werd ich immer wissen
Sie war sehr weiß und kam von oben her.
Die Pflaumenbäume blühn vielleicht noch immer
Und jene Frau hat jetzt vielleicht das siebte Kind
Doch jene Wolke blühte nur Minuten
Und als ich aufsah, schwand sie schon im Wind.
It was a day in that blue month September
Silent beneath a plum tree’s slender shade
I held her there, my love so pale and silent
As if she were a dream that must not fade.
Above us in the shining summer heaven
There was a cloud my eyes dwelt long upon
It was quite white and very high above us
Then I looked up, and found that it had gone.

And since that day so many moons, in silence
Have swum across the sky and gone below.
The plum trees surely have been chopped for firewood
And if you ask, how does that love seem now?
I must admit: I really can’t remember
And yet I know what you are trying to say.
But what her face was like I know no longer
I only know: I kissed it on that day.

As for the kiss, I’d long ago forgot it
But for the cloud that floated in the sky.
I know that still, and shall for ever know it
It was quite white and moved in very high.
It may be that the plum trees still are blooming,
That woman’s seventh child may now be there
And yet that cloud had only bloomed for minutes,
When I looked up, it vanished on the air.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


by Paco Roca

Wrinkles? I don’t mind wrinkles (Arrugas, Rides etc.), in all this ageing business it’s memory loss that scares me the most. It’s not a laughing matter and definitely not a comic material.

Or so you’d think until you read this comic book. You won’t laugh out loud, but it’ll make you smile more often than you’d expect. Just try to get quickly past the first few pages which I found rather depressing.

A few days ago, a friend told me about the Valencian collective Les Veus de la Memòria, the first and only choir of Alzheimer’s patients in Spain. As I was watching the trailer of the documentary, I couldn’t help thinking who of its protagonists could be Emilio and who Miguel.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Live music in Santander, September 2017

The fourth edition of Raqueros del Jazz, organised and hosted by my beloved Rvbicón, is the first (and so far the only) jazz festival I’ve managed to attend in its entirety. It is unclear why the word raquero (according to one theory, derived from the English word wrecker) was used to name the festival, apart from giving it a Cantabrian flair. (There is a great interview with Marcos which still doesn’t shed any light on this.) I’d rather see it named Revolucionarios del jazz, because that’s exactly who these musicians are. If you are not convinced, look at the artwork. All the concerts took place in Rvbicón except the closing Big Bang de Santander which happened just outside of Rvbicón.

  • 5 September: Juan Sebastián Blue Note Trío featuring Bob Sands
      A friendly warning to all prospective parents: if you name your child “Johann Sebastian”, don’t be surprised if he turns a composer and virtuoso keyboard player. On the opening night of the festival, the young pianist Juan Sebastián Vázquez was joined by Francisco Manuel López (double bass), Daniel García Bruno (drums) and Bob Sands (saxophones). As much as I enjoyed Bob Sands’ emotive sax solos, the best two compositions this evening were sax-less.

  • 6 September: Juan de Diego Trío
      The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of this trio are Juan de Diego (composer and trumpeter; also, the brother of Víctor de Diego whom I saw in the very same venue in July), Dani Pérez (guitar) and Joe Smith (drums). If you have a chance to see them live, you won’t need me telling you that their music is nothing short of revolutionary.

  • 7 September: Noa Lur Quintet
      Noa Lur is an amazing jazz singer and certainly my biggest discovery on this festival. She mostly sings in English, but also in Spanish and even sang two songs in Basque, which, until now, I considered the second (after German) least suitable language for singing on planet Earth: Errua, from her latest album Trouble Maker, and Badakit, from her debut album of the same name. She was accompanied by David Sancho (piano), Ander García (bass), Alberto Brenes (drums) and Mauricio Gómez (sax).

  • 10 September: Jairo León
      Jairo León says that he is not really a pianist, just a Gypsy who uses piano to express himself. Ignore that, just listen to what he plays. He is the flamenco pianist. On this occasion, León was accompanied by Rubén Pérez (percussion), Yoni León and Yon Gabarri (handclaps), Juan Saiz (flute) and Dani Simons (bass).

  • 13 September: The Machetazo
      The Machetazo consists of Jorge Castañeda (piano), Daniel Juárez (sax), Nacho Fernández (guitar), Darío Guibert (double bass) and Mikel Urretagoiena (drums). Their album, 1290 Prospect Place, is named after the ridiculous brick house the members of the band were sharing in New York. (Look it up on Google Maps!)

  • 14 September: M.A.P.
      “M.A.P.” is simply the acronym of the surnames of the musicians Marco Mezquida (piano), Ernesto Aurignac (sax) and Ramón Prats (drums). They played for an hour or so without a single pause, fusing their highly original compositions in one single track. I wanted to buy a CD but they only had a two or three with them which were sold as soon as the concert ended. I told the sax player, perhaps a bit abruptly, that they came unprepared. To my surprise, he agreed with me and kindly ran to the hotel where he stayed to bring some more!
  • 24 September: Big Band de Santander
      Perhaps the least revolutionary of all, the BBS nonetheless provided a fitting end to the festival. The concert was originally scheduled on 17 September but moved to the following Sunday in the hope of improved weather. And the weather turned out to be really good. The Big Band de Santander featured Carol Martín (vocal), Antonio Pérez (alto sax), Luis Arroyabe (alto sax), Francisco Villanueva (tenor sax), Adolfo Noriega (tenor sax), Manuel Cavero (baritone sax), Benjamín Blanes (trumpet), Miguel Angel Duart (trumpet), Alberto Vaquero (trumpet), Jose Manuel Bolado (trumpet), Edu Diz (trombone), Jose Ávila (trombone), Rafael Santana (piano), Antonio Gutiérrez (double bass) and Rodrigo Irizábal (drums). The highlights included Big Spender, The Pink Panther Theme and Oye Como Va.

A couple more of musical events that I’ve been to this month included one utterly underwhelming and the other über-wonderful.

  • 20 September: Luz Odey & Co. @ Rvbicón
      The vocalist Luz Odey was accompanied by Gerardo Ramos (guitar), Jorge Ramos (sax) and Joansa Maravilla (drums).
  • 22 September: The Buttshakers @ El Almacén de Little Bobby, Calle del Sol 20
      Almost three years after I first saw them, The Buttshakers were back, even more buttshakingly awesome.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Live music in Santander and beyond, July—August 2017

Two years and two months after that goodbye to Cantabria, I once again set my foot on the Santander soil. This time I have considerably less free time than I had back then and so not able to see live music as often as I’d like. Still, I’d better write down what I’ve seen here in what was left of July and almost all of the August, minus a week in Finland.

I have to say that nowadays most concerts in Rvbicón start at 22:00 and are not free. However, the modest price of the ticket (€5) often includes a drink, which makes it even better value.

  • 26 July: Mabel Sierra & The Soul Band @ Rvbicón, Calle del Sol 4
      Not one, but two concerts of Mabel in one week! They couldn’t have been more different. The first one: jazz, blues, funk and, well, soul... The Soul Band consisted of Iván Velasco (guitar), Miguel Sánchez (bass) and Natxo Miralles (drums).

  • 29 July: Mabel Sierra @ Plaza Porticada
      ...and the second one, (mostly) boleros, played on the occasion of finale of the Semana Grande (Fiestas de Santiago). The evening was warm and sunny, all the seats (garden variety) were taken, and I was hanging near the right-hand side of the stage, trying to listen to music (I couldn’t see much) and ignore the skateboarders and mobile-phone chatterboxes.
  • 29 July: Víctor de Diego Organ Trío @ Rvbicón
      After the bolero show, I managed to get to (surprisingly empty that night) Rvbicón, just in time to see the trio of Víctor de Diego (soprano and tenor sax), Abel Boquera (organ) and Carlos Falanga (drums). Very cool modern jazz with even cooler 1960s sound.

  • 5 August: La Lunfardita @ Rvbicón
      La Lunfardita consists of Carol Dubois (vocals), Simon Gumbo (guitar) and Jesús Peñaranda (accordeon). This trio effortlessly fuses Argentine tango with Manouche swing. Or, as somebody else put it, “Esto suena como si Carlos Gardel y Django Reinhardt se fueran de juerga.” It was raining outside, the bar was packed with lovely people who did their best to sing along... it was probably the happiest music evening in Rvbicón I’ve ever been.

  • 16 August: Reunión Trío @ Rvbicón
      This was the last live music event I went to in Santander before leaving for Finland. The Reunión Trío is Iván San Miguel (double bass), Javier San Miguel (saxophones) and Diego Gutiérrez (drums). I’d buy a CD of their music if there was one for sale.

  • 26 August: Freedonia @ La Plaza Nueva (Plaza Barria), Bilbao
      It was a long flight from Helsinki to Bilbao that day, with an eight-hour stop in Frankfurt airport. I used that time to visit Frankfurt proper, where, by some reason, I’ve never been before. I have enjoyed the sunny morning, a stroll around the city, the market square, a glass of beer and an enormous Frühstück (“breakfast”, more like a dinner) in a Turkish restaurant. Rather than heading to Santander straight away, I stayed that night in Bilbao. And what a night it turned out to be! This happened to be the closing night of Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia (Semana Grande). They say that the best things in life are free, and this is especially true when the free things come in form of Freedonia, after the fireworks. The current line-up is:
        Maika Sitte: vocals
        Alex Fernández: tenor sax and flute
        Ángel Pastor: guitar and harmonica
        Fran Panadero: bass
        Israel Checa: drums and percussion
        Antonio García: trumpet
        Roberto García: keyboards
        Israel Carmona: trombone
        David Pérez: baritone sax

As a side note... Life is full of interesting, at least for me, coincidences. This was my second time in Bilbao (I don’t count the airport visits) and, just before the Freedonia concert, can’t explain how, I found myself in the very same pintxo bar where I was taken to by my first ever Couchsurfing host in September of 2014. And you know what? I still can’t remember how it was called.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Мастер и Маргарита

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Among many 50th anniversaries his year, one has a special importance for me (and, I suppose, for many millions of Russian literature lovers): 50 years since the publication of The Master and Margarita. I was first introduced to it by my mum’s friend, the late Aunty Sonia. (That’s how we called her, she wasn’t really my aunt.) Aunty Sonia taught Russian Language and Literature. She was Jewish, single (or divorced, I never asked) woman in her fifties, with beautiful eyes, unruly African hair and most amazing laughter. She lived at the edge of forest, in a log house which had a proper Russian stove and was full of books. I don’t know why Aunty Sonia took a liking to me and would ask my opinion on this or that. It might be that she couldn’t help testing me, or show off, or both.

Sonia: “Do you remember what David Samoilov (Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, etc.) said?”
I: “Er... Who is David Samoilov?”
Sonia: “A Jew. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
She used to wear jeans at home (well she was not my teacher, so I can’t say whether she was wearing jeans at work too), walk barefoot on snow, and chop her own firewood. One evening, we came to visit her. The conversation steered towards Jesus Christ Superstar which we both were fond of. Auntie Sonia said that she did not believe in God but believed in Jesus as created by Bulgakov. When she mentioned the scene of Yeshua’s death from The Master and Margarita, I confessed that I had no idea what she was talking about. “What?!!” she cried, “but this is impossible!” She fetched the book, found the page: “Here, young man, read it!” (She would boss me around, as teachers do, but always in a friendly way.) I was impressed. I can’t explain why I didn’t borrow the book back then though.

Fast forward five or six years: I finally got hold of it. This was a samizdat-style, A4-size tome (each page was a photocopy of a two-page book spread). And a few years later, a “proper” book. And then, another one. Annoyingly, all post-Soviet “Made in Russia” editions suffer from embarrassing spelling and punctuation mistakes that almost make me nostalgic for the Brezhnev era.

After all these years, I decided to read it in English, just to see how much is lost in translation. Now I finished the version by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and have to admit that it isn’t as bad as I feared. It could be that the 80-year-old Soviet realities do not translate as well as two-thousand-year old Judaean realities, but I guess most English readers won’t complain about that.

Margarita is my favourite female character of all Russian literature. Her devotion to the Master is admirable, but it was the transformation into a witch that made her my perfect heroine.

Маргарита ощутила себя свободной, свободной от всего. Кроме того, она поняла со всей ясностью, что именно случилось то, о чем утром говорило предчувствие, и что она покидает особняк и прежнюю свою жизнь навсегда. Но от этой прежней жизни все же откололась одна мысль о том, что нужно исполнить только один последний долг перед началом чего-то нового, необыкновенного, тянущего ее наверх, в воздух. И она, как была нагая, из спальни, то и дело взлетая на воздух, перебежала в кабинет мужа и, осветив его, кинулась к письменному столу. На вырванном из блокнота листе она без помарок быстро и крупно карандашом написала записку:
«Прости меня и как можно скорее забудь. Я тебя покидаю навек. Не ищи меня, это бесполезно. Я стала ведьмой от горя и бедствий, поразивших меня. Мне пора. Прощай. Маргарита».
Margarita felt herself free, free of everything. Besides, she understood with perfect clarity that what was happening was precisely what her presentiment had been telling her in the morning, and that she was leaving her house and her former life forever. But, even so, a thought split off from this former life about the need of fulfilling just one last duty before the start of something new, extraordinary, which was pulling her upwards into the air. And, naked as she was, she ran from her bedroom, flying up in the air time and again, to her husband’s study, and, turning on the light, rushed to the desk. On a page torn from a notebook, she pencilled a note quickly and in big letters, without any corrections:
Forgive me and forget me as soon as possible. I am leaving you for ever. Do not look for me, it is useless. I have become a witch from the grief and calamities that have struck me. It’s time for me to go. Farewell.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Summer jazz in Valencia

During my six-week stay in Valencia, I didn’t go to as many jazz concerts as I could or wanted. For variety of reasons, but chiefly because of my overall tiredness and forgetfulness. Why, I even managed to miss La Nit de Berklee, a free event featuring John McLaughlin himself. Damn.

And if not for a Facebook notice from my friend (and fellow Arco Iris alumna), I would have never discovered Mar i Jazz (16—18 June 2017). This festival took place in the Parque Dr. Lluch, next to the beach. I came on Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed it a lot. There were two scenes but no two bands were playing at the same time, so, in theory, one could wander back and forth and listen to it all. It was very relaxing and family-friendly, with lots of cute toddlers (and their parents) crawling around. I met old and new friends, spent some hours sitting/laying on the grass, had a nap and even ventured to the beach for a quick dip. In my opinion, Sunday had the better programme, Le Dancing Pepa Swing Band and Elektrik Jazz Mantra being the highlights.

Next Saturday, 24 June, I went to see the colourful and noisy Pride Parade (Orgullo 2017) boasting an apparently endless supply of samba bands. I really came there to cheer that very friend and, naturally, her band appeared the last! After that, I walked to Palau de la Música to see, wait for it, Gran Canaria Big Band. Far cry from Frank Sinatra Tribute, their programme Jazzethnic (which I’ve also mentioned in my other blog) is a fascinating mix of modern jazz with Canarian folklore.

As I was saying, there is no shortage of samba bands in Valencia. For two Sundays only, I (in company of Harold the Hedgehog) joined one of them. And that made me want more samba! Alas, my last Sunday in Valencia there was no rehearsal. I had to compensate for it with my second helping of the beach.

Finally, on Monday, 17 July, I went to Jardines de Viveros to see Chick Corea and Béla Fleck. (After missing McLaughlin, I thought I would never ever forgive myself for another mishap of such magnitude.) I can’t say I was impressed with the logistics. The website suggests that there is a limited supply of seats and so you have to hurry up with the booking. (The only type of tickets my friend could book on Monday were meant for people with reduced mobility.) Wrong! The seats in Viveros were of a plastic garden chair variety that you can buy in any bazar here for a few euro each. And at least a third of them were empty! Not only the tickets were pricey: this place sells the most expensive beer in Spain. No, for this kind of music, one needs a smaller, preferably air-conditioned, venue.

Enough complaining: the show was well worth it. I liked it all, but especially Children’s Song #6, Señorita and (suddenly!) two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. (Ah, that banjo sounding like harpsichord... pure magic.) The encores were, maybe unsurprisingly, Spain and Armando’s Rhumba: all these years and countless performances later, still as good (or better) as one could expect. But — back to complaining mode — I was really annoyed with the audience that night. It was like nobody, apart from me and my beautiful neighbour on the left that is, wanted the show to go on. You guys paid a lot for the tickets; couldn’t you shout “Otra! Otra!” a bit louder and for longer time?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Yuri @ Oxford Street

by Philip Sharkey

In retrospect, I feel grateful to the Russian Consulate for insisting on those special black and white passport photos. Which is just as well because that establishment didn’t give me any other reason for gratitude. And so, one grey winter day we took Yuri to Passport Photo Service at 449 Oxford Street, just opposite Selfridges.

The article about Passport Photo Service published in The New York Times on 20 July 2003.

From the walls, we were greeted by Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Winston Churchill and all four of The Beatles. Now there’s no reason why one shouldn’t decorate their walls with photos of The Beatles, no matter where taken. But in this place the pictures were telling us, “We are made here. Fancy joining us? What are you waiting for?!”

Naturally, Yuri joined them. In a few years’ time, we all joined them. Philip Sharkey, the owner, told us that he keeps all the negatives. If we wish to make more prints, we are welcome to pop in at any time. Sure enough, a few months later we came back. The negative was promptly found, and we’ve got this fabulous black-and-white portrait — this time bigger than passport-size.

Yuri, 1997

Since then, the studio moved to 39 North Row. I wonder if they still have the negatives.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Three minutes to departure

Ten days ago, I became an unlikely hero of Barcelona Aerport T2 rail station.

Allow me to explain. After sleeping through most of the Norwegian Air flight Gran Canaria—Barcelona, I woke up refreshed (stiff neck notwithstanding) and quite ready for some food and drink. The station attendant at the Aeroport T2 kindly informed me that the next train to Barcelona-Sants is delayed by about ten minutes. I had half an hour to kill. Naturally, I found myself in a station café enjoying a good company of a pincho and a caña. The anxiety that kept hold of me for the last five days had finally relaxed its grip. I’ve landed, man.

Quarter an hour later, I was surprised to see the ostensibly delayed train showing up. Suspecting that it would attempt to depart on time, I paid, grabbed my backpack and promptly left.

In the train, I found a cozy seat next to the window. There was a middle-aged couple sitting opposite. Just to be sure, I asked them whether this train was indeed going to Sants. It did, they confirmed. (Unless I totally misinterpreted their Catalan.) When there was about three minutes left to departure, I realised that something was missing from the picture.

That’s right. My luggage.

What followed would have put Usain Bolt in shame. I left the carriage, ran out of the platform, into the café — the suitcase was exactly where I left it, viz. near the bar stool I occupied until a few minutes ago — the barman and the patrons just stared in astonishment — grabbed the suitcase, did a 180° turn and left the café without slowing down, ran back through the gates — the station assistant, apparently frightened by the expression on my face, quickly opened them for me and shouted “Corre, corre!” — and so I did. A few seconds later, I was sitting, panting, in the very same chair opposite the middle-aged couple who were nodding their heads and showing me thumbs up as the train began to crawl away from the airport.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

In memory of Sergey Valkov

Таких людей на самом деле не бывает. Они из книг, из сказок — никак не из нашей реальной жизни. Серёжа был на самом деле.
People like him do not actually exist. They are from books, from fairy tales, but by no means from our real life. Seryozha actually did exist.
Yuri Demin

On 11th June 1997, I received an email with a header: “Your friend is dead”. The body of the message was not much longer. That’s how I learned of the death of Sergey Valkov1.

I met Sergey for the first time in 1978 or 1979, can’t be more precise, at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, of all places. I was in the animation group, he was with the camera operators.

Apart from our love of cinema, we were both interested in guitar. Sergey was a poet and a singer, a self-taught cantautor. He was dreaming of making his own film. He wrote script and songs, found actors (well he himself planned to play a role), but he didn’t have any equipment on his own, and it proved to be impossible to shoot in the Cine-Photo studio without the approval of худсовет (“arts council”) of MYPP.

Performing at the Cine-Photo Section of the Moscow Young Pioneer Palace, ca. 1980

Saturday, 3 June 2017

El paraíso perdido

by Pablo Auladell
based on the poem by John Milton

I’ve never read Paradise Lost and don’t plan doing it any time soon. Not in the 17th-century English, anyway. But this book, I couldn’t resist. Naturally, without reading the original, I can’t / shouldn’t / don’t even want to comment on how well Auladell reinterprets the Milton’s magnum opus. For me, this dark comic is a masterpiece in its own right. The illustrations work magnificently even without those few bocadillos (speech balloons). But, as I was reading them, I was thinking that they must be sung in a kind of opera or musical.

Satan/Lucifer is a flawed tragic hero. You don’t have to like him, but he earned my respect fair and square. He appears to be physically fit, has a pair of good-sized wings and spends most of his time wearing nothing apart from a trilby hat. I imagine him singing in dramatic baritone. His enemy, God the Father, is a neuter-gender beardless fatso in flowing robes that hide its anatomy. Its voice must be heldentenor until it breaks into screeching falsetto. It is a deeply unpleasant character, as I always suspected. Eve is lovely, intelligent, curious and independent. On the other hand, her husband comes along as a needy baby. Adam’s face is indeed a likeness of GTF albeit he is unmistakably male. I am pretty sure that Eve is a lyric mezzo-soprano while Adam most probably is a lyric tenor, although he’d better be quiet.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

by Becky Chambers

Last year, Timur won a photo competition in his school. He chose this book as his prize. When he finished reading it, I thought I’ll have a go. Timur warned me that I might find some scenes embarrassing. And he was right, although I think we two were embarrassed by different bits. Guess what, I read the first chapter and gave up.

The second attempt, this May, was more successful. Sure enough, the first few chapters still made me cringe. And then I got hooked.

The universe of this book is more intriguing than its heroes, and humans, who are the majority on the tunnelling “you’ve got to build bypasses” ship Wayfarer, make the least interesting characters. Most of them are thoroughly two-dimensional, while the dimensionality of the protagonist-ingénue, Rosemary, is somewhere between 1 and 1.5. It looks like she was introduced as a listening device on whom various technical details, apparently well known to those who know them well — say, how to build interspatial tunnels, or history/politics/mating patterns of various species inhabiting the Galaxy — are patiently and wordily unloaded.

Now the Galaxy is governed by the Galactic Commons, a United Nations of the sorts with many features of Vogon bureaucracy. Deeds such as: existing without a wristpatch (that is, an ID); inter-species coupling; providing an AI with a body kit; sapient organism cloning, or being such a clone — are illegal. Luckily for the reader, the Wayfarer crew, otherwise law-abiding goodies, get directly or indirectly engaged in a variety of banned activities. All that — nice touch, by the way — without blasters, lightsabers or other weaponry on board.

It’s well written but still reads as a novelisation rather than a novel in its own right. I’d love to see the comic or a 2-D animation of it. Less words, more action, I say. Not live action though: my favourite personage is the ship’s pilot, Sissix, a friendly, cuddly, affectionate, polyamorous, pansexual female lizard-like creature. She is the most alive of the Wayfarer family and having her as a CGI character would be creepy.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We set off to sea

by Yuri

I found this poem in a pile of old coloured paper. I think it was written about ten years ago.

We set off to sea.
We were excited.
The boat rocks so I might get ill.
But we keep going on.
We can see birds, fish, dolphins and water.
I feel warm, a little ill and happy.
We hear birds, waves lapping and I hear the crew.
I can taste the sea air.
We smell the fish and the sea.
We see our destination so we made it!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Марш Энтузиастов № 2

by Isaak Dunaevski and/or Dmitri Shostakovich

One day, when Timur was practicing the famous Waltz No. 2 on violin, Tamara pointed out the uncanny similarity (the meter difference aside) between the first part of the Shostakovich’s waltz and the chorus of March of Enthusiasts. This latter song, composed by Isaak Dunaevski with lyrics by Anatoli D’Aktil, appears in the film Светлый путь. Which prompted me to revisit the said lyrics. What can I say... It’s a curious mix of good-natured idealism with typical of that time gung-ho patriotism. The lines

Ты по степи, ты по лесу,
Ты к тропикам, ты к полюсу
made me think of the “poem for children” from Ilf and Petrov’s short story Всеобъемлющий зайчик:
Ходит зайчик по лесу
К Северному полюсу...
But what’s this?
К станку ли ты склоняешься,
В скалу ли ты врубаешься...
My first association was the lines from Vysotsky (Бал-маскарад):
Она мне:
— Одевайся!
Мол, я тебя стесняюся...
Once it has settled in, it won’t go. I thought we can use more of that:
Раздали маски кроликов,
Слонов и алкоголиков...

И проведу, хоть тресну я,
Часы свои воскресные...

Одетые животными,
С двумя же бегемотами...

Monday, 15 May 2017

some peculiarities of Russian

First published 15 May 2017 @ sólo algunas palabras

This post is based on a presentation prepared by Tamara for her Spanish class.

Many people believe that Russian is a difficult language to learn. While it isn’t difficult for me, and shouldn’t be that difficult for speakers of any Indo-European language anyway, there are several important differences the Spanish (as well as English) speakers should be aware of. She also used some examples from Finnish, just to put things into perspective.

а. Alphabet

Modern Russian uses a variant of Cyrillic alphabet with thirty-three letters. These include ten vowels, twenty one consonants, hard sign ъ and soft sign ь. It looks like this:

Even though it may appear a bit frightening, I recommend to learn the Cyrillic alphabet as soon as you start learning Russian. Reading Russian in transliteration will only confuse you. For example, the character y is often used instead of two rather different letters (and sounds): the vowel ы and the consonant й. It is also used to indicate the “softening” of consonants (see below). As a result, the words you pronounce won’t sound anything like Russian.

б. Sounds

Some sounds in Russian present a difficulty for Spanish and/or English speakers.


  • Е: after a consonant, pronounced as /e/ or /ɛ/; in all other cases (at the beginning of a word, after a vowel, after the hard and soft signs) pronounced as /je/ or // in Spanish yerba /ˈjeɾ.βa/ or English yes /jɛs/.
  • Ё: after a consonant, pronounced as /ö/, like in German mögen; in all other cases pronounced as /jo/, as in Spanish cuyo /ˈ or English yolk /joʊk/.
  • Ы /ɨ/. There’s nothing like this sound in either Spanish or English. Just listen: 🔊. A commonly suggested trick to reproduce the sound of ы is to bite a (clean) pencil or pen so to spread the corners of your mouth while saying //, as in cheese /tʃiːz/.
  • Э: /ɛ/ like in English pen /pɛn/.
  • Ю: after a consonant, pronounced /ü/; in all other cases pronounced /ju/ as in Spanish yuca /ˈju.ka/ or in English yoo-hoo /ˈjuːˌhuː/.
  • Я: after a consonant, pronounced /æ/; in all other cases pronounced /ja/, as in Spanish cuya /ˈku.ja/ or English yard /jɑːd/.
  • Spanish has only five vowels, /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/, which always sound the same, stressed or not. There are more vowels in Finnish but they also always pronounced the same way, irrespectively of stress. As for English, they do not even know how many vowels there are, let alone which ones to use. The only thing everybody seems to agree is that most unstressed vowels in English are reduced to schwa /ə/. Vowel-wise, Russian is somewhere in between these two extremes. The stressed vowels always sound as expected. Unstressed а and о are usually pronounced as something between /a/ and /o/; unstressed е, и, э and я, between /e/ and /i/; unstressed у and ю, between /o/ and /u/. The good news is that even if you pronounce all vowels Spanish (or Finnish) way, you still will be understood.


  • Б and В: /b/ and /v/, respectively. Unlike Spanish, there is always a clear distinction between these two sounds.
  • Г: normal /ɡ/ as in Spanish guerra or /ˈɡera/ or in English get /ɡɛt/; in Southern Russian dialects, often pronounced /ɣ/ as in Spanish lago /ˈla.ɣo/.
  • Ж /ʐ/, similar to /ʒ/ in Portuguese janeiro /ʒaˈnejru/, French jour /ʒuʀ/ or English measure /ˈmɛʒə(r)/.
  • З /z/, same as /z/ in English zoo /zuː/ but not Spanish zurdo.
  • Р /r/ (rolled r), same as /r/ in Spanish perro /ˈpero/.
  • Х /x/, same as /x/ in Spanish ojo /ˈoxo/ or in Scottish loch /lɔx/.
  • Ц /t͡s/, as /ts/ in English nuts /nʌts/ or in Italian pizza /ˈpit.tsa/. This sound is not normally found in Spanish.
  • Ш /ʂ/, similar to /ʃ/ in Portuguese caixa /ˈkajʃa/, French chic /ʃik/ or English sheep /ʃiːp/.
  • Щ /ɕɕ/, which is not a combination of š and č in spite of being often transcribed as shch. It is similar to /ʃˈʃ/ in Italian uscita /uʃˈʃita/.

з shouldn’t be a problem for English speakers, ditto р and х for Spanish speakers.

  • Most Russian consonants come in two variants, “hard” and “soft”. The “softening” of Russian consonants before vowels е, ё, ю, я is often transliterated in English with letters y or i, which makes learners to pronounce, say, a phrase “Юля, я тебя люблю” (“Julia, I love you”) as /ˈjulja ja tiˈbja ljubˈlju/ instead of /ˈjulæ ja tiˈbæ lübˈlü/. The “softening” achieved with the soft sign ь alone is practically impossible to transliterate. You just have to listen and speak!
  • The consonants ж, ц and ш are always hard (even if followed by soft sign), й, ч and щ are always soft.

On the other hand, Russian does not have /ð/ and /θ/ sounds so common in English and in Peninsular Spanish, as in Madrid /maˈðɾi(θ)/. And there is no /w/ sound, so when transliterating English names, one has to decide whether to use в or у. For example, “Watson” could be transliterated as either Ва́тсон or Уо́тсон.

в. Declension

  • Modern Russian has six grammatical cases: nominative, genitive, dative, accusative, instrumental, and prepositional. This sounds like a lot, as neither Spanish nor English have cases. But this is only two more cases compared with German (with which Russian shares four cases) and same number as Latin. Compare that with Finnish (15 cases), Hungarian (18) or Tsez (64) and stop complaining.

    Here’s how the word дом (house) will change in all six cases:

    case singular plural
    Nominative дом дома́
    Genitive до́ма домо́в
    Dative до́му дома́м
    Accusative дом дома́
    Instrumental до́мом дома́ми
    Prepositional до́ме дома́х

    And here’s what Finnish can do with their house (I didn’t bother with the case names):

    talo house
    talon of (a) house
    talona as a house
    taloa house (as an object)
    taloksi to a house
    talossa in (a) house
    talosta from (a) house
    taloon into (a) house
    talolla at (a) house
    talolta from (a) house
    talolle to (a) house
    talotta without (a) house
    taloineni with my house(s)
    taloin with (a) house

  • Russian has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter. Cf. Spanish (masculine and feminine), and English (traces of).
  • Russian nouns, pronouns, adjectives, present and past participles, and numerals are subject to declension: they change their endings to indicate number, gender and case.
  • In Russian, there are three noun declensions conveniently named “first”, “second” and “third”.
  • Adjectives, present and past participles, and ordinal numerals have to agree (in number, gender and case) with nouns and pronouns.
  • Russian cardinal numerals два (two), три (three) and четыре (four) make the count noun to change differently compared to plural, as if they were “not quite” plural:

    singular один дом one house
    “few” два до́ма two houses
    “few” три до́ма three houses
    “few” четы́ре до́ма four houses
    plural пять домо́в five houses

г. Verbs

  • In Russian, there are only three tenses: past, present and future. (Some linguists go even further and say that Russian has only two grammatical tenses: present-future and past).
  • In the present and future tenses (or present-future), there are two conjugations; like in Spanish, each has six different forms: 1st singular, 2nd singular, 3rd singular, 1st plural, 2nd plural, 3rd plural.
  • In the past tense, there is no difference between 1st, 2nd and 3rd, but the verbs are number- and gender-specific.
  • There are no such things as perfect, imperfect or pluperfect tense. Instead, most verbs come in two flavours, imperfective (несовершенный вид) and perfective (совершенный вид).
  • There is only one type of verb “to be”: быть (unlike Spanish ser and estar). This verb is hardly ever used in present tense, so some apparently complete sentences do not contain a verb, for example «Я — русский», “I (am) Russian”.

д. Articles

  • That’s easy: Russian does not use articles. (Nor does Finnish.)

Friday, 5 May 2017

Wind / Pinball: Two Novels

by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen

This beautifully presented hardback book contains Murakami’s two early novels, Hear the Wind Sing and Pinball, 1973. There’s nothing fantastic or surreal in them, if you discount the never-explained appearance of twins in “my” (i.e. the narrator’s) bed. (A young man’s wet dream come true?) The main themes and cultural references are all too familiar from the later Murakami books. Which is not bad as such, unless you expect to find something new in every book you read. Both novels are very short, yet could benefit from being abridged even further (really, all these minutae of endless drinking or lighting up and extinguishing their ciggies don’t add much to the story). Most of the female characters lack names. Come to think of it, so do most male characters too. “I” make a (relatively) big deal out of friendship with the Rat who did not strike (real) me as remotely interesting. In fact, in Pinball there is no interaction between “me” and the said Rat at all.

The most fascinating parts of Wind are those that deal with Derek Hartfield, a Murakami’s version of Kilgore Trout. Of Pinball, the pinball machine.

There were so many questions I could have asked. Why did you choose my place? How long will you stay? Most of all, what are you? How old are you? Where were you born? But I never asked, and they never said.
Pinball, 1973
It had been a long time since I felt the fragrance of summer: the scent of the ocean, a distant train whistle, the touch of a girl’s skin, the lemony perfume of her hair, the evening wind, faint glimmers of hope, summer dreams.
But none of these were the way they once had been; they were all somehow off, as if copied with tracing paper that kept slipping out of place.
Hear the Wind Sing