Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The Navidad Incident: The Downfall of Matías Guili

by Natsuki Ikezawa, translated by Alfred Birnbaum

I never heard about Ikezawa before. I took this book from the library purely on the strength of its translator’s name. Could it be as good as anything by Murakami, I wondered.

I was not disappointed, although there’s no need to compare the two authors. The story is captivating and I even developed some sort of feelings towards its protagonist, President Matías Guili (undoubtedly, a criminal, but then all dictators are) and his long-time “secret partner” Angelina but, strangely, more yet towards his perpetually merry (hench)men, Ketch and Joel. The history of the fictitious Navidad Archipelago reminded me of that of equally fictitious San Lorenzo from Cat’s Cradle (“When England claimed San Lorenzo in 1706, no Dutchmen complained. When Spain reclaimed San Lorenzo in 1720, no Englishmen complained” and so on). The acute accent over the third a in “Baltasár” is never explained.

On the island of Gaspar, passengers are forbidden from drying their laundry on bus windows. During the Japanese occupation, when bus service was introduced between Baltasár City (then Shokyo, the “Showa Capital”) and the village of Diego (Dego), a rumor spread among the womenfolk that laundry hung on bus windows dried more quickly, so buses came to be used more as clothes driers than as transportation. The sight of brightly colored clothing fluttering from every window, however, conflicted with the aims of a modern conveyance, so the gravely concerned bus staff adopted a strict ban on “boarding the bus with wet clothing”. The phrasing “with wet clothing” failed, however, to specify whether the people were carrying or wearing the clothes. And in a land of sudden tropical showers, what use are buses that refuse service to someone who happened to get caught in a downpour? Thereafter, the rule was amended to read: “Passengers are forbidden from boarding the bus with wet clothing, except for what they themselves have on”.
Discussions were held between the women and the transport company; the drivers maintained there was no plausible reason why laundry draped out of bus windows should dry any faster than elsewhere, and the housewives claimed from personal experience that it most certainly did.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Free live music and other cultural events in Las Palmas, May 2019

Another month, another great choice of live music and more.

  • 1 May: Canarias FeelGood! by Arehucas @ Plaza del Pilar, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
      Sponsored by Arehucas (yes, the rum distillery), this one-day festival presented seven bands from seven Canary islands. I saw the last song Abel Cordovez & Benahoare Reggae Band (naturally, reggae, from La Palma), the complete performances of Barrabass Sound System (also reggae and dub from Lanzarote) and Guineo Colectivo (Afro-beat from Fuerteventura) and the first two songs by El Monstruo de Funkenstein (as you can imagine, funk, from La Gomera).

  • 2 May: Aubrey Logan @ Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Avda. Príncipe de Asturias
      Before playing two dates with Perinké Big Band, Aubrey Logan (of Postmodern Jukebox fame) gave an illuminating masterclass of jazz vocal and jazz improvisation.
  • 4 May: Rocío Márquez @ Parque Doramas
      The cantaora from Huelva was accompanied by Canito (guitar) and Agustín Diassera (percussion).

  • 16 May: Jonay González Mesa @ Teatro Guiniguada, Plaza F. Mesa de León, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
      I heard Jonay G. Mesa some three years ago as one-half of Touché! and last month with Althay Páez. I have to say that his masterclass, like the one by Javier Sánchez in January, was heavy on content — scales, harmony, rhythm — and light on interaction. There was very little of the latter. I loved the way Jonay plays samba/bossa nova and the fact he does not use any pedals or effects. In the end of the class, Jonay was joined on stage by his bandmates Ruiman Martin Leon (double bass) and Amilcar Mendoza Pros (drums) for a beautiful rendition of Someday My Prince Will Come.
  • 18 May: Noche Europea de los Museos @ Museo Castillo de Mata, Calle Domingo Guerra del Río, 147
      We’ve never been to Castillo de Mata before, and this year the European Night of Museums provided an opportunity. It was a free event but we had to get the tickets in advance (two tickets per person only). Altogether, there was eight one-hour long shows/installations/whatever you call it, four on Friday (21:00, 22:00, 23:00 and 24:00) and four on Saturday, with up to 150 people attending the show. The programme included:
      • La compañía Pieles: Barco y Acequia
      • Ana Alcaide with Bill Cooley and Rainer Seiferth: Luna Sefardita
      • Arte corporal: Los esclavos en la Isla del Azúcar
      • Ludovica Rambelli Teatro: 23 Tableaux Vivants of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
      • Jeringonza & Ballet del Atlante: Danzas del Canario y de las Hachas
  • 19 May: Moonlight Benjamin @ Auditorio José Antonio Ramos, Parque Doramas
      Last month I was wondering how better to call “the venue” in the Parque Doramas where I almost religiously go every week or so. Well, now it’s officially called Auditorio José Antonio Ramos, after the celebrated Canarian musician José Antonio Ramos (1969—2008). The Haitian-French singer (and Voodoo priestess) Moonlight Benjamin was the first to play in the newly christened auditorium. She presented her fascinating “voodoo-blues-rock” fusion in a company of Matthieu Vial-Collet (guitar), Yohann Marra (guitars), Quentin Rochas (bass) and Bertrand Noel (drums).

    More photos of Moonlight Benjamin @ Shutterstock

  • 29 May: Cristina Ramos @ Plaza de Santa Ana
  • 31 May: La Noche de Cuba @ Auditorio José Antonio Ramos
      Originally scheduled for 11 May, this concert was postponed until yesterday. Absolutely fabulous night of son, guaracha, salsa, mozambique and timba performed by vocalists Diamela del Pozo, Edulman Aragon Gonzalez and Sofiel del Pino and the band of Totó Noriega (congas, vocals) featuring Yoriell Carmona (tres cubano), Osvaldo Hernández (timbales), Fofi Lusson (bass), Armiche Jonay Moreno Suárez (percussion), Josue Santana (piano), Arístides Sosa Benítez (trumpet) and Fran Suárez (saxophones).

And so, May is over.

Sunday, 26 May 2019


First published 26 May 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras
Ну вот же прямо с нами в одном городе такое творится — ночи не спишь, всё выскакиваешь — где? Да вот же тут. Да вот тут, буквально.
Михаил Жванецкий, «Паровоз для машиниста»

Now that we know how to deal with time and date, let’s talk about place and space. Turns out, Russian employs all six (or seven) cases for these purposes.

This time, I’d like to start from the traditionally “last” case (in the table of cases), that is, prepositional, or rather, with locative, because this latter was originally the case used to indicate location. As discussed earlier, in modern Russian the locative, always used with prepositions of place в/во (in) or на (on), has largely merged with the prepositional case, which, apart from answering the question где? (where?), has other functions. What remains of locative are a few nouns that decline differently: cf. в лесу́ [Loc.] and о ле́се [Prep.], на мели́ [Loc.] and о ме́ли [Prep.].

Я в весеннем лесу пил берёзовый сок,
С ненаглядной певуньей в стогу ночевал...
Бой в Крыму, всё в дыму.
На двери́ висит замок.
In addition to the same в and на, the prepositional case uses при (near, by).
В степях зелёных Буджака,
Где Прут, заветная река,
Обходит русские владенья,
При бедном устье ручейка
Стоит безвестное селенье.
А. С. Пушкин, «Кирджали»
Давным-давно на белом свете...
The rest of prepositions of place, над (over), под (under), перед (in front of), за (behind) and рядом с (near), require the instrumental case.
Студёною зимой
Опять же под сосной,
С любимою Ванюша встречается.
Леонид Дербенёв, «Кап-кап-кап»
«Пролетая над Череповцом, посылаю всех к такой-то матери...»
Михаил Жванецкий, «Попугай»
The instrumental, without any prepositions, is also used to describe the path or trajectory:
Шёл я лесом, шёл я лугом
Со своим хорошим другом.
А умный в одиночестве гуляет кругами,
он ценит одиночество превыше всего.
И его так просто взять голыми руками,
скоро их повыловят всех до одного.
The same prepositions as used by the instrumental (под and за) and prepositional/locative (в and на) are employed by the accusative case as prepositions of movement. The prepositions через (across) and сквозь (through) also require the accusative.
Ехал Грека через реку,
Видит Грека — в реке рак.
Сунул Грека руку в реку
Рак за руку Греку цап!
The dative case is used to talk about the movement towards something or somebody and is obligatory after the preposition к/ко:
Неприметной тропой пробираюсь к ручью...
Николай Добронравов, «Беловежская пуща»
Ко мне, Мухтар!
Dative is also used with preposition по to point to the target of some actions (as in «Опасный момент, удар по воротам, ГОЛ!!!») or express the movement along or on (the surface):
Вдоль по Питерской, по Тверской-Ямской,
По Тверской-Ямской, по дороженьке...
Народная песня
Ты по степи, ты по лесу,
Ты к тропикам, ты к полюсу...
Ничего на свете лучше нету,
Чем бродить друзьям по белу свету.
As a preposition of place, по + dative is utilised in rather officially-sounding expressions like «проживать по улице», «проживающий по адресу» etc.

The genitive is used when we talk about the direction from somebody or something, as if that entity were a parent or a fatherland: из, из-за, из-под, от, с/со are all variations on the theme. Somewhat counterintuitively, the opposite, до (until, to) also requires the genitive.

Свет в городе давным-давно погас
Ты танцуешь рок-н-ролл со мною в первый раз
От Москвы до Ленинграда и обратно до Москвы
Пляшут линии, ограды и мосты.
Браво, «Ленинградский рок-н-ролл»
As do у, возле, около (near), вдоль (along), поперёк (across), мимо (past, by), and вокруг (around).
У самовара я и моя Маша,
А на дворе совсем уже темно.
Как в самоваре, так кипит страсть наша,
Смеётся месяц весело в окно.
Фанни Гордон, «У самовара»
— Мой конь притомился, стоптались мои башмаки.
Куда же мне ехать, скажите мне, будьте добры?
Вдоль красной реки, моя радость, вдоль красной реки,
До синей горы, моя радость, до синей горы.
You already know that expressions like «у меня», «у тебя» etc. are used in Russian to indicate possession. Such expressions are often used in combination with в/на + prepositional:
Я не знаю, как у вас,
А у нас в Саратове
В девяносто лет старухи
Бегают с ребятами.
After living for a while in a place, we tend to make it “our own”: «у нас в Кембридже», «у нас за полярным кругом», «у нас на Канарах» and so on.

Can we use the nominative when talking about place or directions? Sure we can.

— Это что за остановка
Бологое иль Поповка?
А с платформы говорят:
— Это город Ленинград.
С. Я. Маршак, «Вот какой рассеянный»
«Станция Речной вокзал
Поезд дальше не идёт.»
Мой адрес — не дом и не улица,
Мой адрес — Советский Союз!
Speaking of addresses. Soviet-time postal addresses went from more general (country, republic, region) to more particular (street, house, apartment). To paraphrase the song quoted above,
My address is starts with neither a house nor a street,
My address is starts with the U.S.S.R.
(for post from abroad, of course).

Now in Russia, like in the rest of the world, the addresses go from particular to general, and everything stays in nominative:

Фиолетовая улица, дом 33, квартира 16
село Странное
Ненужный район
Косоградская область
or, more often,
Фиолетовая ул., д. 33, кв. 16
с. Странное
Ненужный р-н.
Косоградская обл.
However, both in the Soviet times and after, there has been another way of writing down the address, usually in official documents:
Гражданин Невнятных Х. З., проживающий в квартире 16 дома №33 по улице Фиолетовой села Странное Ненужного района Косоградской области...
Here we can see a number of cases. The genitive dominates: once again, this address is like a Russian doll. The names of cities, towns or villages may be either left in nominative (города Москва, города Ленинград) or also changed to genitive (города Москвы, Ленинграда). The innermost doll, в квартире, is in prepositional. The type of street (по улице / переулку / проспекту / шоссе) is in dative, although the name of the street sometimes is left in nominative (cf. по улице Садовой and по улице Арбат) or, if it already was in genitive, it stays in genitive (по проспекту Вернадского). One can only hope this convoluted style becomes a thing of the past.

Case Usage Example
Nominative addresses, advertisements, diary entries etc. Москва, станция «Речной вокзал»
Genitive from из Москвы, с улицы Бассейной
from (above) с гор, со стены
from (below) из-под земли
from (behind) из-за поворота
from... to... от Москвы до Ленинграда
around вокруг озера
near у окна, около дороги, возле дома
along вдоль дороги
across поперёк дороги
Dative towards к лесу, к остановке
along по морю, по дороге
Accusative in, into в дом, в Москву
to на пляж, на улицу, в горы
towards на юг, на Москву
on to на гвоздь, на стену
beyond за реку
under под воду
after через две улицы
through через мост, через реку
Instrumental over над облаками
under под снегом, под крышей
in front перед входом, перед дверью
behind, beyond за поворотом, за окном
near рядом с окном
trajectory полем, тропой
Prepositional in (inside, surrounded by) в городе, в Москве, во ржи
on (the surface) на столе, на улице Бассейной
near, by при доме, при дороге
Locative in (inside) в лесу, в двери́
(surrounded, covered, stained) with в дыму, в крови́, в пыли́
on (the surface) на снегу, на двери́

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Nuestro tiempo

a film by Carlos Reygadas

You think Tarkovsky is slow? Try Reygadas. I mean, during the three hours of Andrei Rublev a lot of stuff happens. Nuestro tiempo takes almost the same time for no good reason.

(The same could, or should, be said about Reygadas’ debut, Japón. I watched it many years ago on DVD and couldn’t finish it in one evening. I have to admit that I didn’t remember the name of the director and discovered that it was the same Reygadas only after seeing Nuestro tiempo.)

This movie is miles away from Todos lo saben — yet, on another plane, uncannily similar to it. Another real-life couple, this time complete with their real-life children, playing a variation on themselves. Another totally unexpected predictable MFM triangle. Worst thing of all: in both cases, I couldn’t care less about the trio of protagonists.

Why, o why? The theme of infidelity (and fidelity, for that matter) in an ostensibly open relationship well could have been dealt with grace, sensitivity and humour. No such luck here. Maybe that was the idea, but we don’t see much of the affair of Ester with “gringo” Phil. Maybe the affair itself is not particularly interesting to Reygadas. Maybe. But the inability of Juan, who is posing as an open-minded, generous, gentlemanly intellectual, in reality your common or garden superpossessive macho man (a renowned writer turned fighting bull breeder — seriously?), to deal with this, is not that fascinating either.

Yet there is a lot of beauty in the movie. The photography by Adrian Durazo and Diego García is magnificent. I can understand why Ester fell in love with the part of the country where their rancho is. I can also understand why she’s got dead bored there. The long opening sequence of children playing outdoors and teenagers having a good time nearby is wonderful. Also, it does not lead anywhere: we won’t see most of them ever again. And that’s great. Getting rid of all scenes with boring protagonists would cut the film down to about one hour. It could be as good as Braguino then.

Monday, 20 May 2019

La Historia de Pingru y Meitang

by Pingru Rao, translated by José Antonio Soriano

I fell in love with this book — or rather with its cheerful, art naïf illustrations — the moment I saw it in the library. Now I finished reading and it didn’t disappoint. Did Pingru also fall in love with Meitang like that, the moment he saw her for the first time? Most probably not. Which makes their story even more amazing. What started as a “normal”, that is, arranged, marriage, lasted for sixty years, literally till death did them part. By then 86, Pingru started to work on what became Our Story. At the time, he did not think of publishing it: “When my wife died, I wanted to tell the story of our life to my children and grandchildren. Nothing more”, he says.

In 1958 Pingru was sent to a labour camp in for “re-education”. The government officials tried to persuade Meitang to divorce him. She flatly refused. Pingru stayed in the camp until 1979. The book concludes with some letters of Meitang to Pingru from that period. In spite of their largely mundane content (family, weather, expenses, food etc.), every single one is a letter of love.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Todos lo saben

a film by Asghar Farhadi

One of (many) great things about our library is that they have free film screenings every Tuesday. Thanks to the library, I watched great if rather obscure films such as Hrútar and YWF as well as “almost new” (i.e. recent but not in the theatres anymore) ones including Un monstruo viene a verme and, well, this one.

I went to see it knowing little more than the song, Se Muere Por Volver by Javier Limón. Not bad at all, but could have been so much better if it did not descend into a Bollywood-style melodrama. Most of the time, “” is overplaying so that you almost hear her fellow actors rolling their eyes. And how on earth is possible that the character of Javier Bardem is one of the last to learn that he is the father of a, wait a minute, sixteen-year-old girl while, as the title states, everybody (else in the village) knows? Then, when you expect another twist and turn, the movie just ends.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Animayo Gran Canaria 2019

I’ve never been to Animayo before, so this year I decided to give it a try. The pass for the whole festival costs €75 for general public and €50 for students, teachers and unemployed, while individual masterclasses are €15 per session (free for pass holders) and workshops €20 (50% discount for pass holders) — still, a lot of money. However, there were enough free activities to keep anyone occupied. I, for once, spent four evenings in a row watching animation for free.

Sección Oficial Internacional a Concurso I

I went to see the first (of four) sessions of the official animated short competition in Centro Cultural CICCA. As the inauguration of the festival was taking place in the same auditorium immediately before, the screening started half an hour later than scheduled. Luckily, there was no shortage (pun intended) of Tirma chocolate wafers (also free) piled at the reception to sustain the animation aficionados, myself included.

(The other three sessions took place at Teatro Guiniguada,where, I expect, everything was on time. At least this was the case with three feature films described below.)

The programme included nine short films that evening. We were given a ballot to vote for the Audience Award. Difficult choice! I liked Grandma’s Pie and Bloeistraat 11 very much, but my absolute favourite was Five Minutes to Sea.

  1. Alef b’Tamuz by Yael Reisfeld
  2. Echo by Borisa Simovic and Kosta Rakicevic
  3. Crow: The Legend by Eric Darnell
  4. Five Minutes to Sea by Natalia Mirzoyan
  5. Reboot by Ellen Osborne
  6. Bloeistraat 11 by Nienke Deutz
  7. One Small Step by Andrew Chesworth and Bobby Pontillas
  8. Grandma’s Pie by Camilo Castro and Ricardo San Emeterio
  9. Hybrids by Florian Brauch, Matthieu Pujol, Kim Tailhades, Yohan Thireau and Romain Thirion

تهران تابو / Tehran Taboo

a film by Ali Soozandeh

After reading the synopsis, I had my doubts if I wanted to watch it. Make no mistake, Tehran Taboo is a dark film. It makes Persepolis feel light and cheery. But then, even 40 years after the “Dark Revolution”, Iran must be a rather dark place. Especially for women. Paradoxically, or maybe not, it is the women who are the light of this movie.

映画 聲の形 / A Silent Voice

a film by Naoko Yamada

I missed this anime last year when it was screened in Monopol, so here was another chance. Stylistically somewhere between Only Yesterday and Your Name, A Silent Voice manages to deal with the themes of bullying and suicide in a sensitive way without being dead serious. I found the protagonists, Shōko and Shōya, not too convincing (unlike Shōko’s younger sister Yuzuru and Shōya’s little niece Maria). Also, as Tamara noted, the film could have benefitted from being shorter.

Jeszcze dzień życia / Another Day of Life

a film by Raúl de la Fuente and Damian Nenow

Based on Ryszard Kapuściński’s 1976 novel of the same name, this is a powerful war film combining cutting-edge animation with documentary footage. Long-time Kapuściński fans, Raúl de la Fuente and producer Amaia Remirez travelled to Angola to look for the book’s surviving protagonists, so we meet real-life Arturo, Farrusco and Luis Alberto some 40 years after the events. If you feel a bit confusão, that’s probably meant to be. And you can’t help falling in love with Carlota. Bring your handkerchiefs.

Monday, 6 May 2019

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

by Oliver Sacks

After re-reading, earlier this year, Sacks’ brilliant Musicophilia, I finally got to this book. Considered by now a classic (at least, the 2015 paperback edition appears in “Picador Classic” series, so it must be one), it’s a fabulous read. Although the book was first published not that long ago, in 1985, I find the language noticeably dated, while the words such as defective, hysteria, idiot, moron, retardate, retarded, simple, with or without quotation marks, just make me cringe.

Like Musicophilia, The Man Who... is a collection of case studies which are more like short stories that could be enjoyed in any order. For me, A Passage to India is the most poignant and most beautiful chapter in the book.

The Twins deals with two autistic savants who spend their days playing a strange game of exchanging six-digit numbers.

I already had a hunch — and now I confirmed it. All the numbers, the six-figure numbers, which the twins had exchanged were primes — i.e., numbers that could be evenly divided by no other whole number than itself or one. Had they somehow seen or possessed such a book as mine — or were they, in some unimaginable way, themselves ‘seeing’ primes, in somewhat the same way as they had ‘seen’ 111-ness, or triple 37-ness? Certainly they could not be calculating them — they could calculate nothing.
I returned to the ward the next day, carrying the precious book of primes with me. I again found them closeted in their numerical communion, but this time, without saying anything, I quietly joined them. They were taken aback at first, but when I made no interruption, they resumed their ‘game’ of six-figure primes. After a few minutes I decided to join in, and ventured a number, an eight-figure prime. They both turned towards me, then suddenly became still, with a look of intense concentration and perhaps wonder on their faces. There was a long pause — the longest I had ever known them to make, it must have lasted a half-minute or more — and then suddenly, simultaneously, they both broke into smiles.
They had, after some unimaginable internal process of testing, suddenly seen my own eight-digit number as a prime — and this was manifestly a great joy, a double joy, to them; first because I had introduced a delightful new plaything, a prime of an order they had never previously encountered; and, secondly, because it was evident that I had seen what they were doing, that I liked it, that I admired it, and that I could join in myself.
They drew apart slightly, making room for me, a new number playmate, a third in their world. Then John, who always took the lead, thought for a very long time — it must have been at least five minutes, though I dared not move, and scarcely breathed — and brought out a nine-figure number; and after a similar time his twin, Michael, responded with a similar one. And then I, in my turn, after a surreptitious look in my book, added my own rather dishonest contribution, a ten-figure prime I found in my book.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Hard or soft?

First published 3 May 2019 @ sólo algunas palabras

If you ever came across the concepts of hard and soft c or hard and soft g you may have wondered, like me, why on earth they are called so. I know, I know, the same character may represent two (or more) distinct phonemes, but this happens with many other letters all the time. And what exactly is hard and what is soft? These phonemes are just different.

In many languages, the hard c is the one that is pronounced as the voiceless velar stop /k/, as in the English word cat. In English, the soft c is pronounced as the voiceless alveolar sibilant, /s/, as in face. In Italian, the soft c is the voiceless postalveolar affricate //, as in ciao, and in Peninsular Spanish it is the voiceless dental fricative /θ/, as in cero. Similarly, the hard g typically is the voiced velar stop /ɡ/ as in get , while the soft g could be either the voiced postalveolar affricate /d͡ʒ/ (English gentleman, Italian giallo), voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ (French genre, Portuguese girassol), or voiceless velar fricative /x/ (Spanish gemelo).

As mentioned earlier, consonants in Russian also could be either “hard” (твёрдые) or “soft” (мягкие). This “hardness” / “softness”, however, is a totally different concept from that of “hard / soft c / g” and, believe me, it makes much more sense. To start with, when there is a hard/soft pair, we are talking not about two unrelated consonants but two “flavours” of the same basic sound. In phonetics, the process of “softening” is called palatisation, which means that the back of the tongue is touching the palate. Is that important? Yes! The subtle difference in pronunciation may lead to complete change of meaning, as could be demonstrated by minimal pairs быть / бить, об / Обь, воз / вёз, вол / вёл, кров / кровь, клад / кладь, вяз / вязь, лаз / лазь, был / быль, кол / коль, лыс / лис, лук / люк, мел / мель, мол / моль, мыл / мыль, пыл / пыль, угол / уголь, мал / мял, мыл / мил, вон / вонь, кон / конь, нос / нёс, пена / пеня, пыл / пил, рад / ряд, раса / ряса, хор / хорь, вес / весь, сом / сём, суда / сюда, ест / есть, жест / жесть, мат / мать, томный / тёмный, фон / фён etc.

The “softening” of Russian consonants before so-called iotified vowels (е, ё, ю and я) is often transliterated in English with letters y or i, which is both understandable (given that the very letters are transliterated as ye, yo, yu and ya, respectively) and unfortunate. Many people who learn Russian reading transliterated texts end up mispronouncing the soft consonants. Also, there is no difference between palatisation of consonants followed by iotified vowels and those followed by и. That IPA had adopted a superscript j as a “softener” symbol (as in // for soft б etc.) instead of developing the proper characters for palatised consonants does not help either. The softening achieved with the soft sign ь, especially that of terminal consonants, sometimes is marked with an apostrophe ’ but often is not transliterated at all.

б забыть забить
в кров кровь
г гэта гетто
д клад кладь
з вяз вязь
к укор ликёр
л пыл пыль
м мыло мило
н кон конь
п спать спят
р вихры вихри
с вес весь
т шест шесть
ф фарфор шофёр
х блоха блохи

Your Russian textbook most likely tells you that the consonants ж, ц and ш are always hard (even if followed by soft sign) while й, ч and щ are always soft. However, I see no intrinsic reason why ж and ц cannot be palatised. For instance, some Russian speakers pronounce words like вожжи /'voʑːɪ/, дрожжи /'droʑːɪ/, жужжать /ʐʊ'ʑːætʲ]/, заезжий /zɐ'jeʑːɪj/, позже /'poʑːe/ and even дождь /doʑː/ with soft ж. Although I can’t think right now of any “native” word utilising the soft ц, many Russian speakers can easily pronounce Ukrainian surnames such as Грицюк or Цюрупа. As for ш, its palatised version is щ. As is the case with other consonant softening, replacing ш with щ changes the meaning dramatically: cf. плюш / плющ, чаша / чаща, or шит / щит.

If the word finishes with either “always hard” or “always soft” consonant, what’s the point of using the soft sign at all? We have the same (hard) ж in both ёж and рожь, same (soft) ч in врач and ночь, same (hard) ш in both душ and сушь, same (soft) щ in лещ and вещь. Well, I think this is due to spelling regularisation of nouns: the soft sign, where present, is there simply to indicate that the noun belongs to the third declension. The soft sign is also found in the reflexive verbs infinitive ending -ться, as opposed to the third person present -тся, although both are pronounced /t͡sə/ (cf. нравиться and нравится, бояться and боятся).

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Free live music and dance in Las Palmas, April 2019

Spring is here for real. A lot of free music outdoors — sometimes there are two or three worthwhile concerts the same day. Which one to choose?

  • 11 April: Luis Suárez @ Teatro Guiniguada, Plaza F. Mesa de León, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
      Luis Suárez gave an illuminating masterclass of electronic percussion. I wish his drumkit was positioned at the same level that audience though: in spite of me seating in the first row, I could hardly see what he was doing. Luckily, his laptop was projected to the big screen.
  • 13 April: Althay Páez @ Parque Doramas
      I first saw Althay Páez almost seven years ago, performing at the Fuerteventura en Música festival. This time, he was accompanied by Jonay González Mesa (guitar), Johnny Olivares (percussion), Jairo Cabrera (brass and woodwind instruments) and Juanka González Trujillo (bass), with guest musician Julio Pereira (cavaquinho) and surprise appearance of Olga Cerpa.

  • 15 April: Bach Brunch I @ Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Avda. Príncipe de Asturias
      What, free music in Auditorio? Yes, as a part of the International Bach Festival Canarias there were two free concerts, at 12:30, half an hour each. Timur and I went to see both of them. The first one featured the Canarian pianist Evelia Rodríguez, who performed Bach’s English Suite No. 2 in A minor BWV 807 and Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 55, No. 2 by Chopin. She played an encore too, I just don’t know what it was.
  • 17 April: Bach Brunch II @ Auditorio Alfredo Kraus
  • 21 April: The Josés with Errol Woiski @ Clipper La Puntilla, Calle Caleta
      I saw The Josés almost a year ago and, sloppy repertoire notwithstanding, quite liked how they played. This Easter Sunday, Errol Woiski (vocals and guitar) joined them for some no-nonsense good old blues, so Timur and I also enjoyed what they played.
  • 25—26 April: Muestra de escuelas de danza española @ Teatro Guiniguada
      I only attended the first evening of this showcase, on 25 April. It was free but you still need to get a ticket beforehand. I came to the theatre by 5 o’clock and joined the long queue. As far as I could see and hear, it was dominated by mums of young dancers. The lady in front of me told me that “somos seis” (“there’s six of us”). People were leaving the box office waving wads of tickets. Some of them just could not leave — they were coming back to see their friends and relations and instruct them to get more.
      — Coño, chacha, tieneh muchah entradah. ¿Puedeh darme una?
      — Mira niña, todavía no sé si vendrán la abuela y mi cuñada.
      I think I was the only one who asked for just one ticket. The show started at 20:30. Next to me there sat a granny holding an amazingly well-behaved baby. The programme was presented by Javier del Real. There were four schools of dance participating, including the school of the very Javier del Real and school of Elena Sánchez, plus a group of former students of Coca Navarro, and a great variety of dances: not just sevillanas and flamenco, but also classical ballet (bits of  Don Quixote and Carmen Suite) and even one reggaeton number, with couple of really young dancers (I’d say, five- or six-year-olds).

  • 27 April: Zenet @ Parque Doramas
      Until last Saturday, I was unaware of Toni Zenet (Málaga, 1967). The actor, singer and songwriter turned out to be so popular that, although I came well in advance, the venue (let’s call the seating area next to the stage that) was packed. And the audience knew the lyrics of his songs! Presenting his new album La Guapería, “the Andalusian crooner” was accompanied by Raúl Márquez (violin) and José Taboada (guitar).

  • 28 April: AYWA @ Parque Doramas
      Featuring Adil Smaali (lead vocals, ngoni, qraqeb), Damien Fadat (flute, keyboards, vocals), Damien Hilaire (drums, vocals), Guilhem Chapeau Centurion (bass guitar, vocals) and Théophile Vialy (guitar, vocals), AYWA play irresistibly catchy fusion of raï, jazz, rock and reggae with Balkan and Celtic influences.

    AYWA caught in the act!

    More photos of AYWA @ Shutterstock

  • 29 April: Muestra de Danza Contemporánea @ Teatro Guiniguada
      More than 100 dancers from Canarias and beyond took place in this showcase on the International Dance Day. Among them, academies of Natalia Medina, Erre estudios, Carmen Cabrera, La Groove (Fuerteventura), Escuela municipal de danza de Candelaria (Tenerife), and NT estudios de danza. A bit of a mixed bag: some inventive examples of modern dance, including break dance, contemporary ballet, musical theatre, or even cabaret, interspersed with rather insipid Zumba-like routines set to reggaeton or hip-hop with explicit lyrics — sometimes I really wish the choreographers in this country knew English better.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Le clitoris

a film by Lori Malépart-Traversy

At just over three minutes, Le clitoris is a gem of an animation that is both informative and fun. I’d say it should be a part of sex-ed curriculum from primary level up. Also, many grown-ups will benefit from watching it. The protagonist is so cute. How not to love it? Yet it have had some powerful enemies, such as Sigmund Freud, who wrote that

Elimination of clitoral sexuality is a necessary precondition for the development of femininity, since it is immature and masculine in its nature.
What a pathetic quack — alas, just one of many who tried to “discredit, dismiss and delete” the clitoris. Mostly men, who can’t tolerate women having an organ dedicated to pure pleasure. Of women.

Speaking of pleasure: naturally, you cannot please everybody. One of the comments (from a man, of course) goes: “A longer, more in-depth version would be awesome.” Seriously?

If your French is a bit rusty, or non-existent (like mine), fear not: it has English subtitles. There is a Spanish-dubbed version as well.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Namrud: Troublemaker

a film by Fernando Romero Forsthuber

How often do you watch Austrian films? I think I’ve never watched one. Until yesterday, that is, when I went to see Documental del Mes by Filmoteca Canaria in Teatro Guiniguada. And if I didn’t google it beforehand, I would never guess, because this documentary has precious little to do with Austria. I went as far as to check out the reviews. All of them were in German.

Forget the reviews, I thought, let’s see it for real. It’s only €1.

The film turned out to be way better than one would expect from the trailer. True, it might be a bit puzzling to the first-world audience. So, Jowan Safadi is a Palestinian singer-songwriter. Not only he does not look like a troublemaker: if there is any controversy about his songs, it is just normal amount of controversy that you’d expect from any true author. He simply does what a singers-songwriter is supposed to do. So what if some people get offended? Some people always get offended.

In one scene — it looked more like someone’s kitchen than a studio — Jowan patiently explains to the organiser of an Israeli music festival the reasons why he was ignoring or rejecting invitations from other such festivals; the guy, in his turn, spells out why Jowan really has to perform there. Both have valid points.

Throughout the film, Jowan bonds with his 16-year-old son, plays with his dog, goes to the beach with his son and the dog, visits his parents, goes to the parties full of young people — in other words, tries to live a normal life in abnormal country. Oh, he also sings, writes songs, and makes a fun video clip — in Hebrew! Instead of falling asleep, I ended up enjoying it a lot. That’s €1 well spent, I say.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Paris sera toujours Paris

by Màxim Huerta and Maria Herreros

I took this book from the library just to look at the illustrations and ended up reading it from back to back. There’s no particular order you have to follow though.

No matter how much you love Paris, to call anything after the song by Maurice Chevalier, a bit of a cliché itself, is a cliché squared. Moreover, the title is deceiving: the book is more about some of the more fascinating people who happened to live in Paris than the city itself, and not toujours either but mostly in the first half of the 20th century. And what people! Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Brassaï, Foujita, Kiki de Montparnasse, Tamara de Lempicka, Mistinguett, Modigliani, Picasso, Man Ray, Gertrude Stein... Even Pascin and Lucy Vidil Krohg, of whose existence I was ignorant until just a month ago, make their appearance.

To get a taste of the book, have a look here.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

My mum used to say

Сердцеведением и мудрым познаньем жизни отзовётся слово британца; лёгким щёголем блеснёт и разлетится недолговечное слово француза; затейливо придумает своё, не всякому доступное, умно-худощавое слово немец; но нет слова, которое было бы так замашисто, бойко, так вырвалось бы из-под самого сердца, так бы кипело и животрепетало, как метко сказанное русское слово.
With a profound knowledge of the heart and a wise grasp of life will the word of the Briton echo; like an airy dandy will the impermanent word of the Frenchman flash and then burst into smithereens; finickily, intricately will the German contrive his intellectually gaunt word, which is not within the easy reach of everybody. But there is never a word which can be so sweeping, so boisterous, which would burst out so, from out of the very heart, which would seethe so and quiver and flutter so much like a living thing, as an aptly uttered Russian word!

I learned my Russian (I flatter myself that I know it rather well) from my mum. She wasn’t a language teacher: she taught PE, art and technical drawing at school. Although her mother tongue was Ukrainian, she spoke it rarely and did not attempt to teach us any. I remember just a few of Ukrainian sayings [1], and she would mark those as such, often introducing them with «как говорил/а ...» (“as ... said”) [2]. Her written Russian was impeccable (I don’t recall a single spelling or grammatical mistake in her letters, no corrections either, but clearly I am not objective here), while her spoken language was simple and sophisticated at the same time. And she always found a perfect time and place for that aptly uttered Russian word.

The sources of those words were too many, ranging from colloquialisms, folk songs and proverbs to Krylov, Pushkin, Gogol to modern authors, like Vysotsky and Zhvanetsky.

Sometimes she deliberately used a patently non-standard [3] or “illiterate” word, typically borrowed from her students (e.g. чумадан instead of чемодан).

Here is a list of some words and expressions of велимог [4] I heard from my mum a lot. It’s very incomplete but, as she used to say, хорошего понемножку.

  1. Here they are, all four of them.
    1. Їж, поки рот свіж.
    2. Коли як, коли як (коли збуваються, коли ні).
    3. На тобі, Боже, що мені негоже.
    4. Що ваші роблять? — Пообідали та й хліб жують!
  2. She would always give the due credit for Russian sayings too.
  3. For example, back-formed words, such as одуванодуванчик, пёхомпешком, толкачи ← толкачики.
  4. Short for «великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык», “great, mighty, true and free Russian language” (after Turgenev).
  5. The word фазенда (fazenda) became popular in the USSR after the Brazilian soap opera Escrava Isaura.