Thursday, 22 February 2018

Black Panther

a film by Ryan Coogler

Yesterday, Timur and I went to see Black Panther. It was released last Friday and already broke all kinds of records and earned a lot of acclaim. Not just because it is a black film, but because it is a damn good film. Certainly the best superhero movie I’ve seen. But, of course, it is a black film. (And why it shouldn’t be, for vibranium’s sake, if Wakanda is in Africa!) It’s written and directed by African-Americans and starring black actors from all over the place. They even speak Xhosa in Wakanda. True, there is a minor white goodie (Bilbo Baggins) and a secondary white baddie (Gollum); both of them, however, were meant to be outsiders.

Although we watched the Spanish-dubbed version, not only the name of the movie was left as is (not Pantera Negra), they also use the expression “Black Panther” throughout as the king’s title. (I know, I know, it’s Marvel Universe, nobody should really translate Spider-Man as Hombre Araña either, although they do.) Could it also be because pantera is feminine and doesn’t sound right applied to a male? And here’s the problem: T’Challa can only survive because he is surrounded and helped by smart and ass-kicking women. I mean, he is the king all right, I don’t mind him, it’s just “his” (they are not his) women are so much better. Why can’t Wakanda be ruled by a woman, or, better still, by women?

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Muchos hijos, un mono y un castillo

a film by Gustavo Salmerón

If you were to make a documentary on a subject of your choice, what would it be? Think of three topics:

Thursday, 15 February 2018

La ridícula idea de no volver a verte

by Rosa Montero

This is the first book by Rosa Montero I ever read. It took me a while.

That’s how it starts:

Como no he tenido hijos, lo más importante que me ha sucedido en la vida son mis muertos, y con ello me refiero a la muerte de mis seres queridos. ¿Te parece lúgubre, quizá incluso morboso? Yo no lo veo así, antes al contrario: me resulta algo tan lógico, tan natural, tan cierto. Sólo en los nacimientos y en las muertes se sale uno del tiempo; la Tierra detiene su rotación y las trivialidades en las que malgastamos las horas caen sobre el suelo como polvo de purpurina. Cuando un niño nace o una persona muere, el presente se parte por la mitad y te deja atisbar por un instante la grieta de lo verdadero: monumental, ardiente e impasible.

Although it is written in easy enough Spanish, it is no easy reading. (As far as I know, there’s no English translation yet.) Montero chose to deal with her personal tragedy, the death of Pablo Lizcano, in a beautiful and creative way. And she succeeded to convert the mourning into — I hesitate to say “a masterpiece”, but a literary gem nonetheless.

But why Marie Skłodowska Curie? I am not sure. Of course, there are parallels — as there must be. Perhaps not too many though. Montero is fascinated with coincidences, as I am*. Along the way, she comes up with some interesting albeit sweeping generalisations which, as generalisations go, sound pretty accurate. In any case, I am grateful to the author for her choice. I don’t usually read biographies (this book isn’t one) and knew surprisingly little about Marie Curie.

So... was/is Mme Curie “a splendid role model and a feminist icon” or a “token woman”? Rosa Montero sees right through Marie’s unsmiling exterior and reveals a beautiful human being, a true friend, a passionate lover... To do that, however, she had to go (and take the reader with her) through Marie’s diary, and I was not comfortable with that. Diaries are not meant to be exposed to the outside world.

I read most of The ridiculous idea... feeling that Montero focuses a lot on Marie and (her loss of) Pierre but not that much on Pablo, who is the reason of her research and the book itself. Turns out, I was not the only one wondering about that. It gets explained in the end — to be precise, in the chapter called Escondido en el centro del silencio. The author’s self-censorship is understandable and must be respected. Still, the few paragraphs which actually speak about Pablo are among the most beautiful parts of the book.


* I am not a fan of hashtags and honestly can’t see any point in placing them (e.g. #HacerLoQueSeDebe or #HonrarALosPadres) in the paper book, but here you are. To make them a bit more useful, Montero even provided the Index of Hashtags (p. 211), in place of, er, just index. And which hashtag do you think is the most popular? #Coincidencias!

Sunday, 11 February 2018

ST Fusion live

Yesterday, at 20:15, Timur and I were waiting for a bus to Auditorio. One bus, marked FS (Fuera de servicio, “out of service”) but still packed with mythical creatures, passed by. The no. 17, which we eventually boarded, was late and full of unicorns. I don't know where all of them were heading for none stayed till the last stop. As for us, we went to see ST Fusion. This Japanese-Canarian band had to compete with multiple carnival events in Las Palmas and, next door in the same Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, Pastora Soler. Never mind that: ST Fusion had the audience of true jazz lovers.

In his liner notes for Birds of Fire (not the original LP but a CD that I bought in 1994 and still have with me), Gene Santoro wrote:

Fusion is a dirty word, almost an unword. And this despite the fact that fusion is simpler and more accurately descriptive than some mealy-mouthed coinage like “worldbeat”. But it just goes to show once again (thanks, Mr. Orwell!) how a word can crystallize powerful misperceptions, then flatten and distort our understanding of history and culture. Fusion has become a dirty word because of the 1970s jazz-rock hybrid it got pasted onto, and is practically unusable in any other context.
That was written, I reckon, in the late 1980s. Since then, as Bob Dylan said, things have changed: I heard the word “fusion” applied, with sufficient justification, practically to every kind of modern music, including reggaeton.

So... what kind of fusion is ST Fusion’s fusion? I’d say it’s still firmly rooted in that original MO/RTF/WR jazz-rock fusion, and thank goodness for that! But wait, there’s more to it: classical music, hard rock, MPB, (Japanese) folk, even (Japanese) rap... And?

Ted Gioia said: “A style which includes everything ceases to be a style — it has become an encyclopedia of tech­niques.” I am happy to report that, apart from formidable technique(s), ST Fusion has got a style, man, and quite a unique one. I came to listen to instrumental music and did not expect to hear, let alone enjoy, Satomi Morimoto’s soprano singing. Guess what, I really did enjoy it, together with her piano playing and most of the stuff the band were doing. But especially these:

  • A Japanese folk song (fishing song) with Tomás L-P Cruz swapping bass for shamisen*
  • Diagonal — a dedication to Barcelona’s famous avenue and un temazo
  • Halfway through the second song (its title escapes me now), Miguel Manescau broke a string and continued his solo as if nothing happened
  • Frozen City: Satomi said that she wrote it thinking of Tokyo, “frozen” referring not to its climate but to the people who are far too busy running to and from their work and, for example, nobody stops to ask “¿Que tal, mi niña?” when you are waiting for the bus. I have a theory that not many people in Tokyo even can say that phrase.

ST Fusion

    Satomi Morimoto: piano, vocals
    Tomás López-Perea Cruz: bass, shamisen
    Miguel Manescau: guitar, bass guitar
    Akior Garcia: drums

* If I were in charge, I would give the sound engineer a warning; for instance, I couldn’t hear very well Satomi’s singing in this one.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Pasión Española

I only learned about this concert a few days ago. I did not even know that we have a wind orchestra (aka concert band) in Canarias. Wind orchestra is basically a symphony orchestra without the string section, save for double bass. GCWO were formed in 2014 and played their anaugural concert three years ago, also in the Auditorio Alfredo Kraus, in February 2015. Nor did I know any of the composers in the program apart from Isaac Albéniz. The new works of Valencian composer Luis Serrano Alarcón were performed for the first time in Canarias. So, a few discoveries in store for me.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Let’s Speak English

by Mary Cagle

Mary Cagle, aka Cube, is a young American lady who, after graduating from college with a respectable “degree in drawing comics” (her own words!), spent two and a half years teaching English to elementary school students in Kurihara, Japan. Timur became a fan of her comic some time in 2016 and liked it so much that he decided to support the author’s Kickstarter Project. The physical book arrived last summer, but I only finished it last week.

In my humble opinion, US $20.00 (plus P&P) is a bit steep for a “100-page(ish) softcover”. But... without Timur’s patronage, I wouldn’t read this book at all (as I normally don’t read comics online). The paper quality is good. Most of the comic strips are in vertical yonkoma format, but, unlike the “real” manga books, this one is printed Western-style, i.e. “front-to-back” — something to change the next edition maybe? I liked Mary-sensei’s self-deprecating humour and learned a Japanese word or two. Besides, Ms Cagle’s adventures in rural Japan reminded me all too vividly of my own close encounters with young learners in rural Cantabria, and yes, winter sucks. I can’t be objective.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Алиса в стране чудес

First published 25 January 2018 @ sólo algunas palabras
a play by Oleg Gerasimov
songs by Vladimir Vysotsky
Что остаётся от сказки потом,
После того, как её рассказали?
What remains of the tale
After the tale was told?

Tamara asked, “Is there a way of saying «банка из-под варенья» in English? Or Spanish?”

No, there isn’t. (Yes, I checked with Spanish speakers.)

In Russian, «банка варенья» (without any preposition) means “a jar of jam” while «банка из-под варенья» means “an empty jar which formerly contained jam”. Here, из-под points to the former use of the jar as a container. (Yes, in Russian it is also possible to say «банка для варенья», that is, jam jar).

Of course, this is not only about jam jars. In English, an (empty) beer bottle (“a bottle designed as a container for beer”) is clearly different from a (full) bottle of beer; a wine glass (“a type of glass that is used to drink and taste wine”) is not the same as a glass of wine. The same story with their Russian equivalents: «пивная бутылка» vs «бутылка пива», «винный бокал» vs «бокал вина». In Russian, we use adjectives (пивная, винный) to indicate the purpose of a container. Likewise, in English, we use words beer and wine as adjectives by placing them before the nouns. This still doesn’t provide an elegant way to translate, say, the lines by Bulat Okudzhava:

В склянке тёмного стекла из-под импортного пива...
In a dark glass bottle of for which previously contained imported beer...
In a dark-glass imported-beer bottle...

Why did we talk about that in the first place? Because of a Russian meme:

Банки из-под варенья никогда не бывают пустыми.
It could be roughly translated as “jam jars are never empty”.

Google it. In many cases, it is attributed to Lewis Carroll. In fact, it comes from Алиса в стране чудес, the Soviet-era musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, released in 1976 as a double LP. It was created by Oleg Gerasimov (1929—1997), actor and director of Moscow Art Theatre (МХАТ), and contained songs by Vladimir Vysotsky (1938—1980). Both Gerasimov and Vysotsky were among the voice actors in the play. I was introduced to it in 1977 by my cousin and, after a few listenings, knew it by heart (as, I’m sure, did millions of Soviet citizens). For me, it was also the first encounter with Carroll’s story.

Back to our meme: What did Carroll actually say about the jar?

She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled “ORANGE MARMALADE,” but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody underneath, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.
To my great disappointment, jars are never mentioned again.

OK, I thought, maybe the theme of jars was further developed by Russian translators. The play was based on work by Nina Demurova. Here:

Пролетая мимо одной из полок, она прихватила с неё банку с вареньем. На банке было написано «АПЕЛЬСИНОВОЕ», но увы! она оказалась пустой. Алиса побоялась бросить банку вниз — как бы не убить кого-нибудь! На лету она умудрилась засунуть её в какой-то шкаф.
Well, this is quite faithful to the original. Just in case, I had a look at another Russian translation of Alice that was widely available in the USSR at the time, viz. that of Boris Zakhoder:
С одной из полок Алиса сумела на лету снять банку, на которой красовалась этикетка: «АПЕЛЬСИНОВОЕ ВАРЕНЬЕ». Банка, увы, была пуста, но, хотя Алиса и была сильно разочарована, она, опасаясь ушибить кого-нибудь, не бросила её, а ухитрилась опять поставить банку на какую-то полку.
Finally, I checked out the version by Vladimir Nabokov:
Она падала вниз так плавно, что успела мимоходом достать с одной из полок банку, на которой значилось: «Клубничное варенье». Но, к великому её сожалению, банка оказалась пустой. Ей не хотелось бросать её, из боязни убить кого-нибудь внизу, и потому она ухитрилась поставить её в один из открытых шкафчиков, мимо которых она падала.
Nabokov took the liberty to replace orange marmalade with strawberry jam, probably because he doubted that a seven-year-old girl (or any Russian reader) would fancy orange marmalade. Nevertheless, once again, this passage is the first and last time we hear about jars. We only can conclude that the maxim of never-empty jars was created by the play authors. Russian Wikipedia lists a number of other discrepancies with Demurova’s translation attribited to Gerasimov and Vysotsky.

What’s it all about? According to CliffsNotes (CliffsComplete Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland),

The jar in and of itself is only a jar. Placing a label on it that reads “ORANGE MARMALADE” might indicate that the object we call a jar contains a substance called marmalade. However, this jar contains nothing, rendering the label deceptive. The label would more accurately read “Empty.”
Yes, that would be more accurate but not 100% accurate. Now it is technically possible to clean and evacuate a jar (which formerly contained marmalade, jam etc. etc.), say using a vacuum pump. But it still won’t be completely empty, completely free of its past content, of its past story.

Так что же остаётся, когда съедена банка варенья? Что останется, когда спета песня?
So what remains when a jar of jam is eaten? What will remain when the song is sung?

Alice, you may recall, asks a lot of questions.