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 cafe 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...
Marvellous.

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.

Vovels

  • 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 /ˈku.jo/ 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.

Consonants

  • 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

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Hrútar

a film by Grímur Hákonarson

I’ve never been to Iceland. And I still would love to visit this strange country. I can’t say that this film exactly inspire to do so. Iceland according to Rams must be the bleakest, the coldest, the most depressing place on earth. And that is before the scrapie epidemic strikes.

There are a few scenes one can describe as comic but this is not a comedy by any stretch, not even a tragicomedy. It is just an understatedly beautiful film. The interplay of two male leads, Sigurður Sigurjónsson and Theódór Júlíusson (in real life, they aren’t brothers but they look as if they are), is something you won’t see in Hollywood movies. And the minimalist score by Atli Örvarsson more than compensates for the lack of that Icelandic scenery I heard so much about.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mr. FeedBack live @ The Paper Club

As I’ve mentioned before, I hardly ever see tribute bands in action. To miss this tribute to Led Zeppelin, however, would be unforgivable. Timur and I went to see them last night to The Paper Club. This was the conclusion of “St.George’s Week”, and I thought the €12 ticket for both the movie (Quadrophenia) and the concert (including a drink!) was a good value. But wait. I was hoping for it to be good but the show exceeded my expectations.

Hailing from Bergamo, the band is surprisingly tight and playful at the same time. Not only are they passionate about the music they perform, they also make Zeppelin’s songs their own. Even though almost two hours of non-stop rock/blues/rock’n’roll call for “highlighting”, it’s not an easy task when there’s not a dull moment in the show. But if I must... For me, the melodic basswork of Nicola Mazzucconi’s stood out while Mr Brevi’s singing went, dare I say, beyond whatever Robert Plant himself did “in the days of his youth”. Apart of, I guess, obligatory Black Dog, Rock and Roll, Whole Lotta Love and Stairway to Heaven (all brilliant), they pleased the audience with some not-so-obvious material. I was happy to hear a few of my personal favourites, such as Immigrant Song and Ramble On, and got a serious goosebumps overdose from Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and No Quarter. Highly recommended.

Mr. FeedBack are:

  • Francesco Bertini: drums
  • Andy Brevi: vocals
  • Nicola Mazzucconi: bass
  • Simone Trevisàn: guitar

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Érase una vez la Volátil

by Agustina Guerrero

In the latest (tragi)comic book by the Argentina-born, Spain-based artist Agustina Guerrero, her alter ego Volátil quits a “toxic relationship” and moves to Barcelona where she shares an apartment with a gay friend. This, I understand, is a prequel to the other books about Volátil (none of which I’ve read so far). There is a lot of humour but also sadness and even despair. And nudity — whether it is a symbol of freedom or her favourite state of being, or, hopefully, both.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Quadrophenia

a film by Franc Roddam

There was a screening of Quadrophenia in Monopol as a part of, would you believe it, “St.George’s Week” (22—28 April), so Timur and I went to watch it.

The film turned out to be not quite what I expected, even though I didn’t exactly knew what to expect. I love the album which I bought back in my English life. Surprisingly little of it is heard in the film. But then, the album is the rock opera while the movie most categorically is not. The Who’s music is no more (albeit no less) than part of the soundtrack. Now if we forget for a moment about soundtrack, there is simply not enough story, or message, or lovable characters for a two-hour feature. In the same time, as movies go, this one feels very authentic, almost painfully so. For that reason alone, it is worth watching. Also, if anyone needs a cure from misplaced nostalgia for the “good old sixties”, Quadrophenia will supply it.

I mean, London we see is not exactly swinging — not yet, at least; “shithole” would be a more apt description. The idea of a well-spent weekend for Jimmy and his friends is to get high, ride to the seaside and to have a bit of a punch-up with Rockers. Fair enough, yet it all seems to be rather tame. The protagonists, being English, are perpetually embarrassed, on drugs or not, even when chanting “We are mods” (supposedly they have to be euphoric), even when they get lucky (sorry love, love does not enter here). Why, football hooligans must be more passionate. The only guy who has any class is “Ace Face” (played by Sting). Thankfully, there are sparks of humour which make the whole thing watchable.

A masterful film, but in the end I was grateful when it was over.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Más peligroso es no amar

by Lucía Etxebarria

According to the blurb, this is

el primer libro español que expone una investigación seria y profundamente documentada sobre el fenómeno del poliamor, una palabra que está de moda pero cuyo significado pocos conocen en profundidad.
(The first Spanish book that exposes a serious and profoundly documented research on the phenomenon of polyamory, a fashionable word whose meaning few know in depth.)
Wow. It really must be very deep when you find both profundidad and profundamente in one sentence! Wary as I am of the word “research”, I got intrigued.

In the first part of the book, El hundimiento de las estructuras tradicionales (“The collapse of traditional structures”), the author analyses “functional” and “fusional” models of relationships, debunks ten modern myths about romantic love, and embarks on her research on online dating. However flawed her approach may be (like, when she attempts to compare Tinder, Grindr and Wapa), it is fascinating.

The second part, Amar de otra manera (“Other ways to love”), which mostly consists of stories narrated by people who live or lived various alternatives to monogamy (including, believe it or not, celibacy), is even more exciting. Etxebarria insists that she did not invent anything, however the names and locations, understandably, were changed. (I really liked the story of a member of lesbian polyamorous commune who fell in love with a chap whom the rest of the commune at first believed to be gay; he tried, unsuccessfully, to teach these girls how to knit, but then gave up and made hats and scarves for all of them himself. You just can’t make this up.) The chapter dedicated to triads (triejas) is probably the best.

Some of these “non-standard” relationships work well, some don’t. There’s no warranty that any of them will last forever. Just like is the case with monogamy. And, while the author does her best to remain judgement-free (why, she even says that she knows some perfectly happy monogamous couples!), she does not make a secret that her ideal cup of tea is relationship anarchy.

The book is written in lively, colloquial Spanish and won’t present much of a problem for an intermediate-level reader. Sure enough, there are words that you are unlikely to find in your pocket dictionary — gafapasta, mariliendre, pajareo, putón, raruno, zorrón... — but that’s all part of the fun.

No me obsesiono con encontrar a una media naranja porque ya me siento naranja entera.
♥ ♡ ♥
El triángulo amoroso que forman la monogamia, la fidelidad y el amor romántico usa términos del propiedad y posesión para definirse. «Eres mío», «yo soy tuya», «te lo he dado todo», «te debo la vida», «me robaste el corazón», «voy a conquistarla», «te pertenezco», «me las pagarás». Y las palabras, lo sabemos, no son inocentes.
♥ ♡ ♥
Cuando perdemos el impulso de ser diferentes, perdemos el privilegio de ser libres.
♥ ♡ ♥

Friday, 14 April 2017

君の名は

a film by Makoto Shinkai

What, body swap and time travel in one film? What a treat! We all went to watch it in El Muelle last Sunday. Curiously, it was Spanish-dubbed but titled Your Name. (Naturally, I would rather watch it in Japanese but, after seeing the English-language trailer, I’d say I prefer the Spanish dub.)

For me, Your Name is an expanded and improved 5 Centimeters Per Second. Beautiful landscapes, snow, floating leaves, trains, loneliness... Gentle humour. The sequence of Taki’s friends accompanying him in search of Mitsuha’s hometown is priceless, and Mitsuha’s little sister, Yotsuha, provides consistent comic relief throughout.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Las 101 cagadas del español

by María Irazusta

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

When I saw this oft-quoted saying by Edmund Burke employed as an epigraph to this book, I thought I made a horrible mistake. In a typical grammar Nazi fashion, the author embarks on a crusade to protect the the language of Cervantes from numerous crimes committed by not only those pesky young internauts, but also “afiladas plumas”, no matter how erudite they are. Otherwise, you understand, the evil will triumph. These are Anglicisms, those are Frenchisms. Here she writes you can’t say that because RAE doesn’t permit it; there she criticises the very RAE for being too lenient to let the offending word slip into the dictionary. And so on and so forth.

Why then, you might ask, did I bother to read the whole thing, let alone to write a post about it? Because, if you can ignore for a while that crusader attitude, this book is bloody brilliant. Because when one is passionate about language and writes well, this passion is infectious. Because it is funny. Because the author admits that a vulgarism could be more elegant and evocative than an accepted form (as is the case with vagamundo vs “correct” vagabundo). Because she goes to great lengths to rescue some beautiful words from oblivion. Because, maybe for the first time, I understood what’s the difference between la/s and le/s. Last but not least, or maybe indeed first, because of its untranslatable title.

So... where exactly is el quinto pino? Why anyone would want to find gato encerrado? Is it appropriate at all to hacer el amor in public? Read the book.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Three music documentaries

Last week, Timur and I went to watch these movies at the Monopol Music Festival. In English, with Spanish subtitles.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

a film by Ron Howard

I’ve been listening to The Beatles for as long as I remember myself. I can’t honestly say that I learned a lot of new stuff about the Fab Four from this film. But I enjoyed it all the same. As for Timur, I hope his curiosity about The Beatles is not satisfied. The version we watched in Monopol (as we were warned beforehand) lacked half an hour or so of 1965 Shea Stadium concert. Thank goodness for that, it must have been terrible. Most of The Beatles footage was. On the other hand, the interviews are brilliant.

The film covers, so to speak, The Red Album years. (It also includes, for reasons unknown, a fragment of the famous rooftop concert which was the last public performance of the band but has nothing to do with “touring”.) John, Paul, George and Ringo were getting tired of the gigs but not of each other (yet). Brian Epstein was still alive. The future looked bright.

Score: A Film Music Documentary

a film by Matt Schrader

We went to see this film on Timur’s suggestion and it proved to be much more interesting than its description or trailer would suggest. Not only because, or even not so much because of giants like John Williams or Hans Zimmer who appear there. I was much more impressed by other composers — too many to list here and frankly I forgot most of the names — who also happen to be great musicians, arrangers and/or conductors. Perhaps inevitably, being an American movie, it mainly focuses on American film scores. (By and large, I find American movie music too intrusive for my liking. I wish there were separate volume controls for music, dialogue and ambient noises on the remote.) Even the scenes in London’s AIR and Abbey Road studios show “making of” Hollywood music. It would be interesting to see the idea of Score applied to contemporary European cinema.

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster

a film by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

This 2004 documentary portrays Metallica in the middle of their creative, existential, or midlife (delete as appropriate) crisis. I didn’t know much about the band before and watching the film didn’t make me a fan.

First, Lars Ulrich emerges as a biggest asshole in rock history (to his credit, Lars admits that himself) thanks to Metallica vs. Napster lawsuit. Then James Hetfield goes to Russia to hunt bears and drink vodka. Then Lars decides to sell his godawful paintings at Christie’s to raise some cash (quite a lot of it). All the while, they don’t stop bickering. The whole thing looks like they are unwittingly remaking This is Spın̈al Tap without being nearly as likeable as Spın̈al Tap. And they don’t show too much wit either.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Carmen Souza Trio live

Sometimes, life in Las Palmas presents impossible choices for a jazz lover. For example, yesterday. Should I go to see Xerach Peñate with her new project Tizziri in CICCA or Carmen Souza in the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus? (Incidentally, the tickets cost exactly the same, so that did not help.) I was pondering this dilemma for a couple of weeks till it resolved itself on Tuesday when Xerach wrote that her event was sold out. This finally prompted me to rush to the box office. Luckily, there still were five or six tickets left for Carmen Souza. So Timur and I headed to the Auditorio.

And it was good. The Trio (Carmen Souza: guitar, piano and vocal; Theo Pascal, double bass and electric bass; Elias Kacomanolis, drums) were presenting CS’s latest album, Creology (as in “creole”), but also some of oldies-goldies such as Parker’s Donna Lee, an up-tempo drum-less, vocal+guitar+bass version of Moonlight Serenade, and Calú Princezito’s Lua (which, until now, I only heard performed by Mayra Andrade). Carmen was charm incarnate, chatting away in fluent Spanish, making the audience laugh, clap, sing (in, I presume, Cape Verdean Creole) and dance. For an encore, the band played probably the most beautiful song of the set, Xinxiroti.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Un monstruo viene a verme

a film by Juan Antonio Bayona

There’s a big difference between Un monstruo viene a verme and A Monster Calls, as if they were two different films. The former was the best première of 2016 in Spain and proceeded to win eight Gaudí Awards and nine Goya Awards and other Spanish goodies. The latter was a box office disaster in the United States and wasn’t even nominated for any American award of note. Could it be that over there they just have difficulty to place this movie into a category? It’s not that child-friendly and it’s not violent enough. And the end is not exactly happy. Wait, it’s a European film. Or two.

Anyway, last week Timur and I went to see the former one. (There was a screening in the library.) I liked the story and the beautiful watercoloury animation segments. On the other hand, I found the Spanish dub as irritating as ever (in live action films). I guess I still have to watch the English-language version to appreciate it fully.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Forgetting Room

by Nick Bantock

Last autumn, while visiting almost impossibly pretty Vejer de la Frontera, I was told that Ronda is even prettier. Since then, Ronda has been on my list — next time I am in Andalusia, I just have to go there. Especially after reading The Forgetting Room.

In contrast to the Griffin and Sabine books and The Venetian’s Wife, there’s not much mail exchange and very little travel. Spatial travel, I mean. (So more reasons to see with my own eyes why Ronda.) At just over one hundred pages, not counting hidden dimensions, the book has enough mystery for a few full-length novels (whatever is that “full length”) and is crafted with such skill that you may even believe that you are holding in your hands “a limited edition of one”. First edition.

In my peripheral vision I noticed the profile of a very beautiful young woman sitting at a nearby table. Her hair was quite short, coal-black, and her neck was long and naked. For a few seconds I couldn’t help staring, her movements were painfully graceful. When I broke free and looked about, I realized I was far from the only one focused on her. It seemed that half the eyes in the room were pulled in her direction. I kept my gaze on the watchers, men and women compulsively drawn to her. However, something was amiss. There was a strange split in the audience, those on the left side of the room seemed to be responding differently from those on the right. When the young woman turned my way, I understood.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Mamá, quiero ser feminista

by Carmen G. de la Cueva
illustrated by Malota (Mar Hernández)
Hasta los diez años pensaba que en el mundo había muy pocos libros <...> Yo los leía como se lee a esa edad si no te has criado en una casa de padres lectores: de manera desordenada, siguendo el instinto más primario, es decir, la atracción por el título y la portada.

Well. I grew up surrounded by books, both my parents were teachers, but even now, when I chose a book in the library, I still follow that very instinct. For example: the only reason I picked up this book was the title and the cover picture. (Don’t worry, there are more illustrations inside.) So, another happy discovery.

Although I am not a woman, not Spanish, and not thirty anymore, Carmen’s experiences rang all sorts of bells for me, and rather loudly. Her desire to be like Pippi Longstocking (and ensuing conflict with her internal Annika). Encounters with of all sorts of taboos and euphemisms concerning structure and function of female body. (Are we still talking about Western Europe, the late 20th century? Yes we are.) Her love of books, her connection with their authors. Her outsidership: too bossy (for a girl), too independent, not too slim, not too interested in getting married... Her realisation, already in the university, of being a feminist, after being called one. Her foreign stints — Braunschweig, Prague, London, anywhere really just to escape her backwater pueblo, only to find herself back there again. Her dreams, doubts, despair.

Fair enough, but all this on its own is hardly enough to make a worthwhile book. The language, however, does the job, splendidly. Carmen writes about serious stuff, but she’s a fun to read, from Preface to Acknowledgements. And did I mention the illustrations? The nice final touch: the book is printed on a beautiful top-quality paper made from sustainable timber, certified as “Friend of the Forest” by Greenpeace.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Paris, Encore!

by Zaz

A French chanteuse, cheerfully singing covers of famous songs about Paris. Sounds dreadful, you’d think. Like I did. Now when Ms Geffroy sings not one or two but a whole album of such covers and, on top of that, names it Paris, it feels — and sounds — like the most natural thing in the world. I’ll tell you more: Paris by Zaz (not to be confused with Parises by Paris, Supertramp, The Cure, Paris Hilton, etc.) is a definitive one. It should have been named The Paris. I say, one has to wait another fifty years before undertaking anything as Parisian again.

The audio CD of Paris, Encore! is the same as Paris plus a bonus track, yet another beautiful version of Sous le ciel de Paris featuring Pablo Alborán. The DVD is a live recording of Zaz performing at Stuttgart Jazz Open 2015, with her own band and, on the last six tracks, with SWR Big Band, playing mostly Paris material but also a few hits from the singer’s debut album. The musicians and music are excellent; the production and sound quality, considering that it is 2015... well, will do. A duet of Zaz and Rhiannon Giddens (of Carolina Chocolate Drops) is the absolute highlight, I’d love to hear more of this pair.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Simon Johnson in Las Palmas

I’ve never been to St Paul’s Cathedral. Next time I’m in London I should drop in, knowing that Simon Johnson plays organ there. In the meantime, Timur and I went to see him in the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus. I was quite impressed by Johnson’s understated virtuosity and by the sheer diversity of the program. For me, A fancie by William Byrd, Bach’s Liebster Jesu, and Elegy by George Thalben-Ball were the highlights.

The acoustics and the organ here must be not as great as in St Paul’s, I’ll give you that. On the other hand, I can see the Atlantic ocean directly from the auditorium. I prefer that to whatever cathedral. With tickets as cheap (a bargain at €7), you’d expect the place to be packed, but no. In Canarias, there are other priorities, especially during the Carnival.

Simon Johnson, organ
Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
Sunday, 26 February 2017, 12:30

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

You Took the Last Bus Home

by Brian Bilston

Why, could you ask, should anyone want to buy a book by the “Poet Laurie Ate of Twitter” when one can easily get his poetry on, well, Twitter?

Because, you know, not everybody is on Twitter. For example, I. Not a fan. Especially of those who tweet. Bulltweet first, think later, if ever. There are notable exceptions. Brian Bilston is one. Maybe the only. Doesn’t he deserve a reward? Yes he does. Buy his book then, you won’t regret it. I assure you, it works beautifully even in a WiFi-free zone.

Bilston creates poetry everywhere and out of everything: Scrabble boards, flowcharts, Excel spreadsheets, Venn diagrams, curricula vitae, ex-partner’s post-it-notes... He draws inspiration from the Periodic Table and Fibonacci sequence, autocorrect and every song on the radio, unknown twats and celebrity twats, Jeremy Clarkson and Piers Morgan, “inspirational” quotes, commas, and Oxford commas; also, semicolons. Look out for acrostic and anagrams, palindromes and puns, missing letters and Schrödinger’s cat. My favourites are the lists, such as Haiky Horoscopes (Aquarius is a holy truth), Why I Have Never Read War and Peace: Ten Excuses (all legitimate), Thirty Rules for Midlife Rebellion and, of course, The Day That Twitter Went Down. So, shut up and buy the book already.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

El piano oriental

by Zeina Abirached
Un piano oriental... Esa extraña yuxtaposición de dos visiones del mundo que nada parece poder unir, su música doble, el sonido ligero del contoneo imperceptible de una nota en medio de una frase, los llevo dentro de mí. Ser un piano oriental es abrir una ventana en París y esperar ver el mar tras los edificios haussmanianos más allá, incluso.

It called to me from the very same comic book stand in the library that is responsible for all of my graphic novel reading. Drawn in bold black and white, it reminded me of Persepolis although even a quick leaf through was enough to reveal the stylistic differences.

There are two intertwined storylines in El piano oriental. One is the story of Abdallah Kamanja, inspired by the real-life Abdallah Chahine, a Lebanese musician and inventor of the titular “oriental piano”. Another is the autobiographical one, of a girl growing between Beirut and Paris. The leitmotif, underpinned by the author’s ingenious use of text as a graphical device, is that of bilinguality: East meets West, quarter-tones meet semitones, Arabic meets French... A beautiful book.

As far as I know, Le piano oriental was also published in Spanish, German and Italian but not English (yet).
Here you can see some pages of the book in English translation by Edward Gauvin.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Batman: La Lego Película

a film by Chris McKay

Here in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, we have our own Lego Batman ad, designed to promote the local public transport. It shows Batman saying “Solo cojo la guagua cuando Alfred está lavando el batmóvil”.

Yesterday, Timur and I went to see the movie. (Naturally, we took the bus.) It is fast-paced and roaringly funny. Also, quite inventive. I mean, Godzilla accidentally destroying Barad-dûr — why didn’t Peter Jackson think of anything as brilliant?

I prefer watching films in their original language whenever possible, but I have to admit that I loved this particular Spanish dub. (Spanish Spanish, that is. As far as I can see from the trailers, it is very different from the Latin American version.) But now I am curious. For instance, Batman addresses Robin as “my son”, then explains that it means “‘mi hijoen inglés”. How did that go in English, I wonder.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Racine carrée

by Stromae

I first heard (about) Stromae just a few weeks ago, thanks to this web article. I bought Racine carrée on the strength of three videos: quite literally formidable Formidable; Papaoutai, with its fantastic (break)dance routine; and Carmen, an animation directed by Sylvain Chomet (Les Triplettes de Belleville, L’Illusionniste). I have to warn you that, after watching this latter clip, you’ll never listen to Habanera with the same ears again and most probably will delete your Twitter account. The rest of the album is not bad either. I discovered to my surprise that the kora player on Bâtard is none other than Noumoucounda Cissoko. C’est formidable.

Monday, 6 February 2017

Zwartboek

a film by Paul Verhoeven

Raving reviews notwithstanding, I didn’t watch Black Book when it was first screened in England. All these (ten) years, it remained on my “to watch” list — in other words, every time I saw it in the library, I’d always find some excuse not to borrow it. A few days ago, they were showing it on Spanish TV, and I sat down and watched it from start to finish, without ever falling asleep.

Not exactly my first choice to watch after The Big Bang Theory, but man, what a film. Not only has it got everything the good war movie should have (and I don’t even like war movies that much), it’s got it all perfect: tight plot, attention to detail, life, death, sex, love, betrayal, a sympathetic Hauptsturmführer, a traitorous Resistance member, subdued colours, rather overdramatic 1950s-style music, plus some very 21st-century acting, and not only by Carice van Houten. By the end of the movie, I thought my Dutch and German have improved to the level I didn’t need Spanish subtitles any longer, until I realised they switched to English for a while.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Red

by King Crimson

Yes, musicians are also people. They die every year. 2016 though seemed to be especially brutal in this respect. Among many others, it claimed the lives of both Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, leaving Carl Palmer the only surviving member of ELP. Another prog-rock hero, John Wetton, passed away yesterday.

I was lucky to see both Wetton and Palmer performing with Asia in Moscow, in what still was called Soviet Union. It was a fantastic show throughout but the most beautiful part had nothing to do with Asia. Half-way through the concert, the fellow musicians left Wetton alone on stage to sing Book of Saturday and Starless.

Red was the first KC album I ever heard. It happened at the relatively late stage of my development, in the mid-1980s. Although I love all KC albums of the 1970s, I still regard Red as their finest. Frankly, after Starless, there was — there is — nothing left to say. So to disband after releasing Red probably was the only option at the time.

While Fripp & Co. continue to remix, remaster and repackage their material, I am quite happy with my 30th Anniversary Edition, which is a huge improvement on that noisy cassette tape I first heard it.

Starless
(Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, Palmer-James)
Sundown dazzling day
Gold through my eyes
But my eyes turned within only see
Starless and bible black

Old friend charity
Cruel twisted smile
And the smile signals emptiness for me
Starless and bible black

Ice blue silver sky
Fades into grey
To a grey hope that all yearns to be
Starless and bible black