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.