Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Three minutes to departure

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

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

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

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

That’s right. My luggage.

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

Saturday, 10 June 2017

In memory of Sergey Valkov

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 3 June 2017

El paraíso perdido

by Pablo Auladell
based on the poem by John Milton

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

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

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

by Becky Chambers

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

We set off to sea

by Yuri

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

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

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Марш Энтузиастов № 2

by Isaak Dunaevski and/or Dmitri Shostakovich

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

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

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

Одетые животными,
С двумя же бегемотами...
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.)