Monday, 16 October 2017

Schau mich nicht so an

a film by Uisenma Borchu

I didn’t do any research prior to watching this film in CASYC (calle Tantín 25, Santander) and assumed (wrongly) from the title, “Don’t look at me that way”, that it is shown in its original English language. I was right about the “original language” though. It was screened in German and Mongolian, with Spanish (and German, in Mongolian sequences) subtitles.

This film defies easy categorisation. There is a fair amount of comic scenes, nudity and sex but it is neither comedy nor erotica but something completely else. The fact that the protagonists, Hedi and Iva, are played by the first-time actors (Borchu and Catrina Stemmer, respectively) makes it feel very spontaneous, at times even documentary-like. At other times, the borders between reality and dream are blurred. When the shocking final scene comes, you are left wondering to which world(s) it belongs. Don’t look at me that way: it’s up to you what way to look at it.

The poem read by Iva’s father (Josef Bierbichler) is nothing else than Brecht’s Erinnerung an die Marie A. (Reminiscence of Marie A.); you may have heard the David Bowie version from Baal.

Bertolt Brecht
Erinnerung an die Marie A.
Bertolt Brecht, translated by John Willett
Remembering Marie A.
An jenem Tag im blauen Mond September
Still unter einem jungen Pflaumenbaum
Da hielt ich sie, die stille bleiche Liebe
In meinem Arm wie einen holden Traum.
Und über uns im schönen Sommerhimmel
War eine Wolke, die ich lange sah
Sie war sehr weiß und ungeheuer oben
Und als ich aufsah, war sie nimmer da.

Seit jenem Tag sind viele, viele Monde
Geschwommen still hinunter und vorbei
Die Pflaumenbäume sind wohl abgehauen
Und fragst du mich, was mit der Liebe sei?
So sag ich dir: Ich kann mich nicht erinnern.
Und doch, gewiß, ich weiß schon, was du meinst
Doch ihr Gesicht, das weiß ich wirklich nimmer
Ich weiß nur mehr: Ich küsste es dereinst.

Und auch den Kuss, ich hätt’ ihn längst vergessen
Wenn nicht die Wolke da gewesen wär
Die weiß ich noch und werd ich immer wissen
Sie war sehr weiß und kam von oben her.
Die Pflaumenbäume blühn vielleicht noch immer
Und jene Frau hat jetzt vielleicht das siebte Kind
Doch jene Wolke blühte nur Minuten
Und als ich aufsah, schwand sie schon im Wind.
It was a day in that blue month September
Silent beneath a plum tree’s slender shade
I held her there, my love so pale and silent
As if she were a dream that must not fade.
Above us in the shining summer heaven
There was a cloud my eyes dwelt long upon
It was quite white and very high above us
Then I looked up, and found that it had gone.

And since that day so many moons, in silence
Have swum across the sky and gone below.
The plum trees surely have been chopped for firewood
And if you ask, how does that love seem now?
I must admit: I really can’t remember
And yet I know what you are trying to say.
But what her face was like I know no longer
I only know: I kissed it on that day.

As for the kiss, I’d long ago forgot it
But for the cloud that floated in the sky.
I know that still, and shall for ever know it
It was quite white and moved in very high.
It may be that the plum trees still are blooming,
That woman’s seventh child may now be there
And yet that cloud had only bloomed for minutes,
When I looked up, it vanished on the air.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017


by Paco Roca

Wrinkles? I don’t mind wrinkles (Arrugas, Rides etc.), in all this ageing business it’s memory loss that scares me the most. It’s not a laughing matter and definitely not a comic material.

Or so you’d think until you read this comic book. You won’t laugh out loud, but it’ll make you smile more often than you’d expect. Just try to get quickly past the first few pages which I found rather depressing.

A few days ago, a friend told me about the Valencian collective Les Veus de la Memòria, the first and only choir of Alzheimer’s patients in Spain. As I was watching the trailer of the documentary, I couldn’t help thinking who of its protagonists could be Emilio and who Miguel.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Live music in Santander, September 2017

The fourth edition of Raqueros del Jazz, organised and hosted by my beloved Rvbicón, is the first (and so far the only) jazz festival I’ve managed to attend in its entirety. It is unclear why the word raquero (according to one theory, derived from the English word wrecker) was used to name the festival, apart from giving it a Cantabrian flair. (There is a great interview with Marcos which still doesn’t shed any light on this.) I’d rather see it named Revolucionarios del jazz, because that’s exactly who these musicians are. If you are not convinced, look at the artwork. All the concerts took place in Rvbicón except the closing Big Bang de Santander which happened just outside of Rvbicón.

  • 5 September: Juan Sebastián Blue Note Trío featuring Bob Sands
      A friendly warning to all prospective parents: if you name your child “Johann Sebastian”, don’t be surprised if he turns a composer and virtuoso keyboard player. On the opening night of the festival, the young pianist Juan Sebastián Vázquez was joined by Francisco Manuel López (double bass), Daniel García Bruno (drums) and Bob Sands (saxophones). As much as I enjoyed Bob Sands’ emotive sax solos, the best two compositions this evening were sax-less.

  • 6 September: Juan de Diego Trío
      The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of this trio are Juan de Diego (composer and trumpeter; also, the brother of Víctor de Diego whom I saw in the very same venue in July), Dani Pérez (guitar) and Joe Smith (drums). If you have a chance to see them live, you won’t need me telling you that their music is nothing short of revolutionary.

  • 7 September: Noa Lur Quintet
      Noa Lur is an amazing jazz singer and certainly my biggest discovery on this festival. She mostly sings in English, but also in Spanish and even sang two songs in Basque, which, until now, I considered the second (after German) least suitable language for singing on planet Earth: Errua, from her latest album Trouble Maker, and Badakit, from her debut album of the same name. She was accompanied by David Sancho (piano), Ander García (bass), Alberto Brenes (drums) and Mauricio Gómez (sax).

  • 10 September: Jairo León
      Jairo León says that he is not really a pianist, just a Gypsy who uses piano to express himself. Ignore that, just listen to what he plays. He is the flamenco pianist. On this occasion, León was accompanied by Rubén Pérez (percussion), Yoni León and Yon Gabarri (handclaps), Juan Saiz (flute) and Dani Simons (bass).

  • 13 September: The Machetazo
      The Machetazo consists of Jorge Castañeda (piano), Daniel Juárez (sax), Nacho Fernández (guitar), Darío Guibert (double bass) and Mikel Urretagoiena (drums). Their album, 1290 Prospect Place, is named after the ridiculous brick house the members of the band were sharing in New York. (Look it up on Google Maps!)

  • 14 September: M.A.P.
      “M.A.P.” is simply the acronym of the surnames of the musicians Marco Mezquida (piano), Ernesto Aurignac (sax) and Ramón Prats (drums). They played for an hour or so without a single pause, fusing their highly original compositions in one single track. I wanted to buy a CD but they only had a two or three with them which were sold as soon as the concert ended. I told the sax player, perhaps a bit abruptly, that they came unprepared. To my surprise, he agreed with me and kindly ran to the hotel where he stayed to bring some more!
  • 24 September: Big Band de Santander
      Perhaps the least revolutionary of all, the BBS nonetheless provided a fitting end to the festival. The concert was originally scheduled on 17 September but moved to the following Sunday in the hope of improved weather. And the weather turned out to be really good. The Big Band de Santander featured Carol Martín (vocal), Antonio Pérez (alto sax), Luis Arroyabe (alto sax), Francisco Villanueva (tenor sax), Adolfo Noriega (tenor sax), Manuel Cavero (baritone sax), Benjamín Blanes (trumpet), Miguel Angel Duart (trumpet), Alberto Vaquero (trumpet), Jose Manuel Bolado (trumpet), Edu Diz (trombone), Jose Ávila (trombone), Rafael Santana (piano), Antonio Gutiérrez (double bass) and Rodrigo Irizábal (drums). The highlights included Big Spender, The Pink Panther Theme and Oye Como Va.

A couple more of musical events that I’ve been to this month included one utterly underwhelming and the other über-wonderful.

  • 20 September: Luz Odey & Co. @ Rvbicón
      The vocalist Luz Odey was accompanied by Gerardo Ramos (guitar), Jorge Ramos (sax) and Joansa Maravilla (drums).
  • 22 September: The Buttshakers @ El Almacén de Little Bobby, Calle del Sol 20
      Almost three years after I first saw them, The Buttshakers were back, even more buttshakingly awesome.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Live music in Santander and beyond, July—August 2017

Two years and two months after that goodbye to Cantabria, I once again set my foot on the Santander soil. This time I have considerably less free time than I had back then and so not able to see live music as often as I’d like. Still, I’d better write down what I’ve seen here in what was left of July and almost all of the August, minus a week in Finland.

I have to say that nowadays most concerts in Rvbicón start at 22:00 and are not free. However, the modest price of the ticket (€5) often includes a drink, which makes it even better value.

  • 26 July: Mabel Sierra & The Soul Band @ Rvbicón, Calle del Sol 4
      Not one, but two concerts of Mabel in one week! They couldn’t have been more different. The first one: jazz, blues, funk and, well, soul... The Soul Band consisted of Iván Velasco (guitar), Miguel Sánchez (bass) and Natxo Miralles (drums).

  • 29 July: Mabel Sierra @ Plaza Porticada
      ...and the second one, (mostly) boleros, played on the occasion of finale of the Semana Grande (Fiestas de Santiago). The evening was warm and sunny, all the seats (garden variety) were taken, and I was hanging near the right-hand side of the stage, trying to listen to music (I couldn’t see much) and ignore the skateboarders and mobile-phone chatterboxes.
  • 29 July: Víctor de Diego Organ Trío @ Rvbicón
      After the bolero show, I managed to get to (surprisingly empty that night) Rvbicón, just in time to see the trio of Víctor de Diego (soprano and tenor sax), Abel Boquera (organ) and Carlos Falanga (drums). Very cool modern jazz with even cooler 1960s sound.

  • 5 August: La Lunfardita @ Rvbicón
      La Lunfardita consists of Carol Dubois (vocals), Simon Gumbo (guitar) and Jesús Peñaranda (accordeon). This trio effortlessly fuses Argentine tango with Manouche swing. Or, as somebody else put it, “Esto suena como si Carlos Gardel y Django Reinhardt se fueran de juerga.” It was raining outside, the bar was packed with lovely people who did their best to sing along... it was probably the happiest music evening in Rvbicón I’ve ever been.

  • 16 August: Reunión Trío @ Rvbicón
      This was the last live music event I went to in Santander before leaving for Finland. The Reunión Trío is Iván San Miguel (double bass), Javier San Miguel (saxophones) and Diego Gutiérrez (drums). I’d buy a CD of their music if there was one for sale.

  • 26 August: Freedonia @ La Plaza Nueva (Plaza Barria), Bilbao
      It was a long flight from Helsinki to Bilbao that day, with an eight-hour stop in Frankfurt airport. I used that time to visit Frankfurt proper, where, by some reason, I’ve never been before. I have enjoyed the sunny morning, a stroll around the city, the market square, a glass of beer and an enormous Frühstück (“breakfast”, more like a dinner) in a Turkish restaurant. Rather than heading to Santander straight away, I stayed that night in Bilbao. And what a night it turned out to be! This happened to be the closing night of Bilbao’s Aste Nagusia (Semana Grande). They say that the best things in life are free, and this is especially true when the free things come in form of Freedonia, after the fireworks. The current line-up is:
        Maika Sitte: vocals
        Alex Fernández: tenor sax and flute
        Ángel Pastor: guitar and harmonica
        Fran Panadero: bass
        Israel Checa: drums and percussion
        Antonio García: trumpet
        Roberto García: keyboards
        Israel Carmona: trombone
        David Pérez: baritone sax

As a side note... Life is full of interesting, at least for me, coincidences. This was my second time in Bilbao (I don’t count the airport visits) and, just before the Freedonia concert, can’t explain how, I found myself in the very same pintxo bar where I was taken to by my first ever Couchsurfing host in September of 2014. And you know what? I still can’t remember how it was called.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Мастер и Маргарита

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Among many 50th anniversaries his year, one has a special importance for me (and, I suppose, for many millions of Russian literature lovers): 50 years since the publication of The Master and Margarita. I was first introduced to it by my mum’s friend, the late Aunty Sonia. (That’s how we called her, she wasn’t really my aunt.) Aunty Sonia taught Russian Language and Literature. She was Jewish, single (or divorced, I never asked) woman in her fifties, with beautiful eyes, unruly African hair and most amazing laughter. She lived at the edge of forest, in a log house which had a proper Russian stove and was full of books. I don’t know why Aunty Sonia took a liking to me and would ask my opinion on this or that. It might be that she couldn’t help testing me, or show off, or both.

Sonia: “Do you remember what David Samoilov (Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, etc.) said?”
I: “Er... Who is David Samoilov?”
Sonia: “A Jew. Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!”
She used to wear jeans at home (well she was not my teacher, so I can’t say whether she was wearing jeans at work too), walk barefoot on snow, and chop her own firewood. One evening, we came to visit her. The conversation steered towards Jesus Christ Superstar which we both were fond of. Auntie Sonia said that she did not believe in God but believed in Jesus as created by Bulgakov. When she mentioned the scene of Yeshua’s death from The Master and Margarita, I confessed that I had no idea what she was talking about. “What?!!” she cried, “but this is impossible!” She fetched the book, found the page: “Here, young man, read it!” (She would boss me around, as teachers do, but always in a friendly way.) I was impressed. I can’t explain why I didn’t borrow the book back then though.

Fast forward five or six years: I finally got hold of it. This was a samizdat-style, A4-size tome (each page was a photocopy of a two-page book spread). And a few years later, a “proper” book. And then, another one. Annoyingly, all post-Soviet “Made in Russia” editions suffer from embarrassing spelling and punctuation mistakes that almost make me nostalgic for the Brezhnev era.

After all these years, I decided to read it in English, just to see how much is lost in translation. Now I finished the version by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky and have to admit that it isn’t as bad as I feared. It could be that the 80-year-old Soviet realities do not translate as well as two-thousand-year old Judaean realities, but I guess most English readers won’t complain about that.

Margarita is my favourite female character of all Russian literature. Her devotion to the Master is admirable, but it was the transformation into a witch that made her my perfect heroine.

Маргарита ощутила себя свободной, свободной от всего. Кроме того, она поняла со всей ясностью, что именно случилось то, о чем утром говорило предчувствие, и что она покидает особняк и прежнюю свою жизнь навсегда. Но от этой прежней жизни все же откололась одна мысль о том, что нужно исполнить только один последний долг перед началом чего-то нового, необыкновенного, тянущего ее наверх, в воздух. И она, как была нагая, из спальни, то и дело взлетая на воздух, перебежала в кабинет мужа и, осветив его, кинулась к письменному столу. На вырванном из блокнота листе она без помарок быстро и крупно карандашом написала записку:
«Прости меня и как можно скорее забудь. Я тебя покидаю навек. Не ищи меня, это бесполезно. Я стала ведьмой от горя и бедствий, поразивших меня. Мне пора. Прощай. Маргарита».
Margarita felt herself free, free of everything. Besides, she understood with perfect clarity that what was happening was precisely what her presentiment had been telling her in the morning, and that she was leaving her house and her former life forever. But, even so, a thought split off from this former life about the need of fulfilling just one last duty before the start of something new, extraordinary, which was pulling her upwards into the air. And, naked as she was, she ran from her bedroom, flying up in the air time and again, to her husband’s study, and, turning on the light, rushed to the desk. On a page torn from a notebook, she pencilled a note quickly and in big letters, without any corrections:
Forgive me and forget me as soon as possible. I am leaving you for ever. Do not look for me, it is useless. I have become a witch from the grief and calamities that have struck me. It’s time for me to go. Farewell.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Summer jazz in Valencia

During my six-week stay in Valencia, I didn’t go to as many jazz concerts as I could or wanted. For variety of reasons, but chiefly because of my overall tiredness and forgetfulness. Why, I even managed to miss La Nit de Berklee, a free event featuring John McLaughlin himself. Damn.

And if not for a Facebook notice from my friend (and fellow Arco Iris alumna), I would have never discovered Mar i Jazz (16—18 June 2017). This festival took place in the Parque Dr. Lluch, next to the beach. I came on Saturday and Sunday and enjoyed it a lot. There were two scenes but no two bands were playing at the same time, so, in theory, one could wander back and forth and listen to it all. It was very relaxing and family-friendly, with lots of cute toddlers (and their parents) crawling around. I met old and new friends, spent some hours sitting/laying on the grass, had a nap and even ventured to the beach for a quick dip. In my opinion, Sunday had the better programme, Le Dancing Pepa Swing Band and Elektrik Jazz Mantra being the highlights.

Next Saturday, 24 June, I went to see the colourful and noisy Pride Parade (Orgullo 2017) boasting an apparently endless supply of samba bands. I really came there to cheer that very friend and, naturally, her band appeared the last! After that, I walked to Palau de la Música to see, wait for it, Gran Canaria Big Band. Far cry from Frank Sinatra Tribute, their programme Jazzethnic (which I’ve also mentioned in my other blog) is a fascinating mix of modern jazz with Canarian folklore.

As I was saying, there is no shortage of samba bands in Valencia. For two Sundays only, I (in company of Harold the Hedgehog) joined one of them. And that made me want more samba! Alas, my last Sunday in Valencia there was no rehearsal. I had to compensate for it with my second helping of the beach.

Finally, on Monday, 17 July, I went to Jardines de Viveros to see Chick Corea and Béla Fleck. (After missing McLaughlin, I thought I would never ever forgive myself for another mishap of such magnitude.) I can’t say I was impressed with the logistics. The website suggests that there is a limited supply of seats and so you have to hurry up with the booking. (The only type of tickets my friend could book on Monday were meant for people with reduced mobility.) Wrong! The seats in Viveros were of a plastic garden chair variety that you can buy in any bazar here for a few euro each. And at least a third of them were empty! Not only the tickets were pricey: this place sells the most expensive beer in Spain. No, for this kind of music, one needs a smaller, preferably air-conditioned, venue.

Enough complaining: the show was well worth it. I liked it all, but especially Children’s Song #6, Señorita and (suddenly!) two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti. (Ah, that banjo sounding like harpsichord... pure magic.) The encores were, maybe unsurprisingly, Spain and Armando’s Rhumba: all these years and countless performances later, still as good (or better) as one could expect. But — back to complaining mode — I was really annoyed with the audience that night. It was like nobody, apart from me and my beautiful neighbour on the left that is, wanted the show to go on. You guys paid a lot for the tickets; couldn’t you shout “Otra! Otra!” a bit louder and for longer time?

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Yuri @ Oxford Street

by Philip Sharkey

In retrospect, I feel grateful to the Russian Consulate for insisting on those special black and white passport photos. Which is just as well because that establishment didn’t give me any other reason for gratitude. And so, one grey winter day we took Yuri to Passport Photo Service at 449 Oxford Street, just opposite Selfridges.

The article about Passport Photo Service published in The New York Times on 20 July 2003.

From the walls, we were greeted by Muhammad Ali, Woody Allen, Winston Churchill and all four of The Beatles. Now there’s no reason why one shouldn’t decorate their walls with photos of The Beatles, no matter where taken. But in this place the pictures were telling us, “We are made here. Fancy joining us? What are you waiting for?!”

Naturally, Yuri joined them. In a few years’ time, we all joined them. Philip Sharkey, the owner, told us that he keeps all the negatives. If we wish to make more prints, we are welcome to pop in at any time. Sure enough, a few months later we came back. The negative was promptly found, and we’ve got this fabulous black-and-white portrait — this time bigger than passport-size.

Yuri, 1997

Since then, the studio moved to 39 North Row. I wonder if they still have the negatives.