Wednesday, 30 January 2008
Sometimes I wish I was a bird and glide over the throng of cars populating our avenues, roads and streets. To be able to work out whether car A will move into the space that car B just vacated. To witness the amalgamation that occurs whenever there is heavy traffic near a roundabout. The red car will join the green car even though the driver forgot to signal left as the law dictates. Motorists changing minds at the last minute. Unpredictability galore.
Music is like that. And as I get older it is this type of music, bastardised, mulattoised and mixed that I drift towards. This is not a post for those purists who swear by unadulturated music, but then again, this is a blog that celebrates difference with a difference. Recently and on another blog I was discussing Silvio Rodríguez' song 'Melancolía' and how the tune is based on Beethoven's sonata 'Pathétique'. Amazing.
My first offering has the wrong name for this time of year. Yet, here's one of the better versions I have ever heard of 'Summertime'. In fact, it's my favourite one. Thanks, Janis. Spellbinding.
A classically-trained musician, Nina Simone started singing by accident and yet it was that kind of accident that turned many of us into devotees of this exceptional singer because of her strong stage persona. I would dare to say quite boldly that not many artists have been able to match the Great Nina in vocal prowess and piano-playing skills. Stunning.
My last track comes courtesy of a singer I came across the other day whilst reading the paper. She is Israeli, yet sings in Spanish in a style known as Ladino, very popular amongst Jewish groups in the Iberian peninsula. I was immediately captivated by her voice and by the fact that Yasmin Levy is living proof of the amalgamation process different cultures and by default their music go through. Touching.
And this is all for this week. Happy driving!
Vale hacer un aparte en este punto de la narración. La razón por la que era solamente mi segunda etapa al campo fue por una enfermedad que arribó cuando apenas tenía cinco años y no me dejó en paz por otros diez aproximadamente. Primero fue una úlcera estomacal que se fue convirtiendo poco a poco en una gastritis crónica a causa de la cual estuve en un entra y sale del antiguo Infantil (Pedro Borrás) que me aprendí de memoria los muñequitos que tenían en las paredes.
En séptimo grado y cursando estudios en la ESBU Jose Martí de Centro Habana, tuve que decirle que no por razones médicas a lo que eran en aquel entonces solamente treinta días en el campo. El reemplazo fue la antigua ACDAM donde mi madre trabajaba y aún trabaja, antiguamente situada en Línea y G (la ACDAM, no mi madre). Fue allí que por primera vez di con Tolstoy y su “Guerra y la Paz” y Dostoyevsky y su “Crimen y Castigo”.
Pero me desvío, y es que cuando el asunto es de dar muela, no hay quien me gane. Fue en onceno grado que pude finalmente disfrutar los placeres de la etapa al campo en Pinar del Río. Me acompañaba una maleta de madera, de color crema claro, aunque por haber cambiado tanto de manos tenía las bisagras medio “cachicambiá’”. Era espaciosa y tenía ese olor característico de la madera seca y lisa. Yo deslizaba mis manos por su estructura rectangular y cual judío o musulmán parado frente al mar Rojo pensaba en la libertad que estaba a punto de abrirse frente a mí.
Ya en duodécimo grado y aunque con un grado de cinismo todavia mínimo pero perceptible a consecuencia del famoso incidente de la “baranda” en el Saúl Delgado, mi maleta y yo nos encontramos en el campamento II Congreso en Consolación del Sur. Ella primero que yo. La llevaban en unos camiones grandísimos amontonadas con el resto de sus compañeras y entre los baches y las “tirazones” se le habían salido ya un par de clavos cuando nos vimos de nuevo.
Y así empezamos aquella vivencia que era más una subsistencia. El de pie a las 6, el desayuno a las 7, en el ínterin un “lavaíto” a lo cobarde con temperaturas entre los 10 y 12 grados. Después de la leche caliente y quemada a montarse en los camiones y partir para los surcos.
Mientras que la labor principal que me tocó desempeñar en undécimo grado fue la de recoger cítricos, la situación cambió radicalmente cuando llegué al decimosegundo grado. Aquí si que había meterle al tabaco de verdad. Las muchachas fueron para la casa de tabaco enseguida a ensartar hojas mientras que los varones nos quedamos con los habituales. El jefe de brigada tenía que decidir si íbamos a entrar a las 8 o a las 10 al surco. La diferencia era: entrar a las 8 significaba que todo el rocío de la noche le caía a uno en el cuerpo y lo dejaba como a un pollo moja’o, mientras que entrar más tarde cuando el sol estaba rajando las piedras quería decir que toda la baba del tabaco se le pegaba a uno en las manos manchándolas. Idenay, el jefe de brigada decidió dividir el grupo en dos y de una forma muy democrática dijo que cada día un grupo iba a entrar a una hora y el otro a otra, y así nos íbamos a turnar. Yo de una forma muy anárquica me largué para la casa de tabaco con David, Beny, José y Duhamel y mientras los demás hacían como que trabajaban, nosotros hacíamos como que majaseábamos. Por supuesto nosotros ganamos en nuestra representación porque fuimos más creíbles.
La vida en el campamento era normal. Lo primero que hacía cada varón era instalarse con una jevita que le resolviera todo lo de la lavadera, y después irse a satear al bailable por la noche mientras que su compañera se quedaba con el bulto (y perdonadme todos los lectores, pero ya yo no abogo por esa discriminación que para eso plancho, cocino y hago de todo en la casa). Mi maleta me sirvió de almohada ya que yo no había llevado ninguna y como fuente de instrumento de percusion cada vez que ponían ‘We Will Rock You’ de Queen en el estéreo del campamento. Como el yunta mío, Beny, dormía en la litera de abajo, Idenay en la de al lado (conveniencia de tener al jefe de brigada como el socio de uno) y David y el Jose al otro, el núcleo del piquete mío se concentraba en mi litera.
Un día mientras mi nuca acariciaba una vez mas la estructura de pinotea detrás de mi (y de verdad que hay cariños que matan, como dice el dicho), y mientras reposaba el almuerzo, la música que salía por la bocinas del campamento paró por un instante tan sólo para darle paso a las cuerdas de una guitarra acústica y una voz que me hizo dispararme para arriba en mi litera y abrir bien las guatacas. Poco podía entender lo que decía el cantante pero si estaba al tanto de que sus palabras eran en inglés. Lo único que si pude entender fue una frase que nunca he olvidado desde entonces: ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds’. Una vez que la canción hubo terminado corrí a donde estaba el “DJ”y le pregunté quien era. El se encogió de hombros y me dio la caja del cassette que tenía en la grabadora. Era Iron Maiden, pero para mi era muy bien claro que Bruce Dickinson no era la persona quien me había cautivado unos momentos antes. No fue hasta un año después en el antiguo ISPLE, que mi socio Ihosvanni me introdujo a la obra de Bob Marley. Ihosvanni tenía ‘dreadlocks’ y le encantaba la misma música que me gustaba a mi. Pero fue Marley el que nos hizo trabar una amistad duradera que ha perdurado hasta ahora que él vive en Canadá con su esposa y su hija, después de haber morado en Argentina por más de diez años. ¿Y su firma electrónica es? ‘Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/none but ourselves can free our minds’.
La maleta de campo mía estuvo presente en una de las etapas más interesantes de mi vida. De un lado estaba aprendiendo el valor de las amistades, del otro fue una de las primeras ocasiones en las que me tropecé con el racismo benévolo que padecían muchos negros como yo en Cuba, a los cuales, como a mi, nos "subían" de categoría cuando hablábamos "fino" y demostrábamos conocer de otros asuntos que no fueran la santería y la salsa, en mi caso, fueron las culturas griega y romana. Fue testigo mudo mi maleta de mis intentos de ser más sofisticados en mis acercamientos a las féminas mucho antes de que la primera escena de “El Lado Oscuro del Corazón” se convirtiera en la frase bona fide para todos aquellos que queríamos impresionar al sexo opuesto (”Me importa un pito que las mujeres tengan los senos como magnolias o como pasas de higo;un cutis de durazno o de papel de lija. Le doy una importancia igual a cero al hecho de que amanezcan con un aliento afrodisíaco o insecticida. Soy perfectamente capaz de soportarles una nariz que sacaría el primer premio en una exposición de zanahorias. Pero eso sí, -y en esto soy irreductible-, no les perdono bajo ningún pretexto que no sepan volar, si no saben volar pierden el tiempo conmigo”). Por aquellos tiempos todavía Neruda y sus “Puedo escribir los versos más tristes de esta noche” todavía eran la frase salvadora de muchos adolescentes como yo. Aunque si la situación se mostraba desesperada yo le metía mano al viejo José José con aquello de que “casi todos sabemos querer, pero poco sabemos amar”. Mi maleta también presenció las charlas, tertulias y conferencias del viejo Alfredo, un profesor de inglés que causó una gran impresión en mí y en mis compañeros, a pesar del rumor de que el tipo era “cundango”. Yo me apoyaba de codos en la ocamba maleta mientras que el Matusalén del Saúl Delgado debatía a Fouchet y Goethe. Mi maleta se quedó solitaria muchas veces mientras nosotros nos desgañitábamos a gritos afuera en el sereno de la noche entonando canciones de Charly, Fito, Baglietto, Pablo, Silvio y Santiaguito. Y tambien presenciamos la primera vez que se cantaron aquellas estrofas que poco más tarde saldrían al aire en el programa "Hoy" de Radio Ciudad de La Habana: "Negra no pares, sabes lo que quiero/soy Athanai soy un blanco rapero/mi raza eres tú, deja todo atrás/anda, llévame al séptimo cielo". Fue también mi maleta testigo de aquella noche en que alguien grito: “¡Caballistas!” y yo me tiré y aterricé en un par de botas que pensé que eran las mías y corrí a refugiarme en las letrinas. Cuando volvía al albergue después de que nos dimos cuenta de que era una falsa alarma caí en que las botas no eran mías, sino del Beny (él usaba un pie menor que yo) y tenían dentro los restos de los huesos de pollo que, incluyéndome a mí, le habíamos dejado todo el piquete, una cortesía de todos nosotros que queríamos gastarle a una broma a mi compadre. Cazador cazado. Mi maleta conoció de o se imaginó duchas desoladas, excepto por los mirones que queríamos ver de cerca el funcionamiento de la anatomía femenina. Mi maleta fue el almacén del mejor fanguito que se hiciera por aquellos lares, y el cual, si los yanquis se hubieran enterado, hubieran patentado para darle a las tropas que dos años después se encontraron en el desierto iraquí combatiendo contra las huestes de Sadam Hussein. Con ese fanguito en la barriga los gringos no hubieran parado hasta Tokío. Por estar en una posición mas elevada salvé a mi maleta en varias ocasiones del peso descomunal de aquellos desconsiderados que depositaban sus glúteos sin pensarlo dos veces en dondequiera que les entraba el deseo de sentarse. Yo fui uno de ellos. En otras maletas.
Mi maleta no sobrevivió aquel año. No sé si la hicimos leña y la botamos en la basura cuando regresé del campo (muy probable) o se la di a alguien más, prolongando así la cadena del pasa-pasa (muy poco probable). Mi maleta, por tanto, en aquel año 1989 nunca se enteró de que el Ayatollah de Irán había decretado un fatwa contra Salman Rushdie (yo tampoco a propósito hasta unos años después), de que casi cientos de fans del Liverpool habían muerto en el desastre de Hillsborough, se perdió el discurso de Fidel en el Congreso de la FMC donde mencionó el período especial por primera vez, no se enteró de las protestas en la Plaza de Tiananmen (ni nosotros tampoco hasta mucho después) de los estudiantes chinos y mucho menos disfrutó el espectáculo de los miles, sino cientos de miles de alemanes derrumbando el Muro de Berlín. Mi maleta no asistió al triste espectáculo del desquebrajamiento de la sociedad cubana, la ruptura del nucleo familiar, la prostitución de miles de sus hijos e hijas, la corrupción gubernamental que se acrecentó en los 90 y el 5 de agosto del 94.
Si no hubiera sido por este blog y por la oportunidad que me ha brindado Yvette, jamás hubiera pensado que en esas tardes quietas de escuela al campo una amiga, cuya amistad pasiva hasta ese momento ni siquiera sospechaba, se hubiera convertido en receptora de tan inolvidables momentos.
Sunday, 27 January 2008
I long for my mother's bread
My mother's coffee
Childhood memories grow up in me
Day after day
I must be worth my life
At the hour of my death
Worth the tears of my mother.
And if I come back one day
Take me as a veil to your eyelashes
Cover my bones with the grass
Blessed by your footsteps
Bind us together
With a lock of your hair
With a thread that trails from the back of your dress
I might become immortal
Become a God
If I touch the depths of your heart.
If I come back
Use me as wood to feed your fire
As the clothesline on the roof of your house
Without your blessing
I am too weak to stand.
I am old
Give me back the star maps of childhood
So that I
Along with the swallows
Can chart the path
Back to your waiting nest.
Has a voice ever taken over yours turning your thoughts into their lines, uttering the similes and metaphores with which to describe a person you love? Have you ever felt so completely mesmerised at the beauty of a poem and yet embarrassed that it was not your pen that glided over the paper on which it was written?
It was the line 'And if I come back one day/Take me as a veil to your eyelashes' that tore me apart exposing my beating heart for all to see. Who would not want to be there to look after that who looked after us when that malicious fever took hold of our body rendering us incapable of even lifting one hand all those years ago? Who would not be willing to sever their right arm to save the life of that who gave us ours?
Thanks, Mahmoud, for giving my voice a poem.
Mahmud Darwish: As the Land is the Language. Dir: Simone Bitton & Elias Sanbar. 60 mins, Israel/France 1998. Documentary on the famous Palestinian poet, his life and works. Q&A after the screening with a panel of specialists.
The ArtsZone, 54 - 56 Market Square, London, N9 0TZ
Wednesday 27th February. This film is part of "Women's Cinema from Tangiers to Tehran" festival.
7pm (doors will open at 6.30pm)
Box office number 020 8 887 9500
Admission: £5/£4 concs (OAPs, students, people on benefits and disabled people, proof of ID required).
Early Bird Discount: Book before Wednesday 13th February and pay only £3
For more info click here
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
And there you have it. As we say in Cuba, not even hot chocolate, Spanish-style, could be clearer. Amongst the many elements of the relationship I enjoy with my wife and that bind us together, music is one of those that really stands out. We have similar musical tastes and this makes for plenty of joyful moments together in our car. We both like seeking out new music and as the following videos will attest, the range of compositions we listen to, is wide and varied.
This duo arrived in my life by surprise. I was just minding my own business as you do, when I heard these two delicate voices streaming out of the kitchen stereo. I stuck my head in and asked my wife who they were. It turned out that singers Tracey Moore and Mercedes Martínez had already put a previous record out which unfortunately went unnoticed. But their second album, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ (and the one my other half was listening to), met with a little more success. Enjoy!
If there is a type of music that my partner and I not only share a passion for but also master as a dance couple is salsa. She became my dance companion by default in Cuba when we started going out as boyfriend and girlfriend. And what a partner she was, and still is! Always willing to learn new steps and with such a natural rhythm that all those traditional conventions about Europeans not being able to keep pace with Cubans went out of the window the minute we took to the dance floor.
So it was not a surprise that she became keen on the man who claimed, apparently, that in the 'soneros' pantheon he was number three, only because the second spot was vacant and the number one position was occupied by the Great Beny Moré. In 1983, Oscar D'León arrived at the International Varadero Festival, Cuba, with almost no publicity preceding him and a double bass for eternal companion. By the time he left, he had bequeathed us, Cubans, a unique way of performing and two catchphrases: 'Vladimirrrrrrr!' which he used to attract attention to his diminutive sidekick and 'Dame cable, dame cable, dame cable!' (Give me some cable!) with which he harangued the technicians and support staff behind the cameras everytime he sashayed around the stage.
Thirteen years later my consort and I were walking down Obispo Street, Havana, when we spotted a tape of the famous musician. With the embargo on his music already lifted by the Cuban government, he had become our 'Oscar' once again. She asked me about him and I told him how that man had led Cuban salsa performers to go back to the drawing board and come up with new routines and compositions. The old generation, Los Van Van, Elio Revé and Son 14, were given a boost, whilst the grounds were laid for the new wave of salseros like NG La Banda, Charanga Habanera and El Médico de la Salsa to come to the fore.
Nowadays, Oscar D'León's music still accompanies us in our little car jaunts around this lovely country. Superb!
Back when she was learning to speak Spanish in Malaga, my wife came across with ‘El Calvo’s’ (The Bald One) music for the first time. It was his song ‘Ojalá’ (I Wish) that her teacher used in classes to study the subjunctive mood in Spanish. And on that basis, she bought the record and listened to it all, turning her into yet another admirer of the man who has sung not just to the Cuban nation, but to the whole Iberoamerica. Grandiose!
Two albums turned both of us into Nitin Sawhney’s devotees. ‘Human’ and ‘Prophesy’ came hand in hand as a double CD and they have been intermittently played in our house and in our car for the last two or three years. Recently our fondness for this Asian British performer’s music took on another dimension when we saw Akram Khan masterful choreography at Sadler’s Wells backed up by Nitin Sawhney’s soundtrack. Splendid!
Tuesday, 22 January 2008
'Right! Five minutes for both of you to leave your bedrooms tidied up!' Two pairs of eyes gazed at me astonishedly. 'Don't look at me like that, your rooms are not that messy, so five minutes should be enough.
Son went off to get the job done straight away, yet, Daughter hesitated a little bit and with a pleading voice said: 'Five minutes are not enough, Papi! You know that!'. 'Well, if you keep talking and standing there without getting on with it, of course you won't have time to get it all done! I'm going to put this timer on and in five minutes I'll be back upstairs to check that everything is organised.
In between doing the washing up and listening to Astor Piazzolla's superb live recording 'Libertango' I lost track of the time. However, I was sure that the five minutes that I had allocated to the children had already elapsed. I checked the microwave clock and it was almost 7.10pm, therefore they had been engaged in the tidying-up chore for almost twice the time I gave them. Yet, I was sure the timer had not gone off. I mounted up the stairs silently and on entering Daughter's bedroom she jumped up as if she'd just seen a ghost. 'Time's up'. 'No, it's not', came her reply, 'the timer's not gone off yet.' I strode to the bathroom and there were still a couple of minutes left. I went back to Daughter's room, but this time with an inkling as to what had happened.
- Did you touch the timer?
- No, I did not.
- Are you sure?
- Yes, I am.
- So, how come I set it for five minutes and it is still going, despite the clock downstairs displaying the correct time, that is ten minutes past seven?
- I don't know. Her eyes were fixed on the floor now.
- Are you telling the truth?
- So, you did not alter the time on the timer?
- Hmmm... A puzzled look crossed her tiny face.
- How many minutes did you alter the timer by?
- How do you say 'minutes' in Spanish?
- Oh, c'mon, you know that, I'm using the word now.
- Cinco minutes.
- OK, thanks for telling the truth. Don't do it again, please.
- No, I won't. How do you say 'minutes' again in Spanish?
- And 'hours'?
- You know that, too. Horas.
- And 'days'?
- C'mon, you're pulling my leg now, darling, off to bed, c'mon.
And as I descended the stairs I could still hear her talking to herself: 'minutes, no, minutos, horas, días...'
Saturday, 12 January 2008
To me, the piece works in three acts like a play with a short epilogue that barely amounts to half a dozen pages.
Part I opens with Mira Ward, the main character, hiding in the ladies' room. Yet, this scenario is nothing but an excuse to throw the reader into the vortex that this woman's life had become and see it in retrospective. And what a life. Like the saying that goes 'still waters run deep', Mira's life, whilst apparently placid on the surface, reverberates a mile underneath. This first part deals with Mira's pursuit of the American Dream. A panacea to which many women, not just in the US, but also around the world, suscribe, without many times realising what is at stake. Mira marries young and dies young, metaphorically speaking. After her second son's birth, her husband, Norm, neglects her to the point where a glass of wine, and on occasions a whole bottle, become her companion par excellence.
Part II picks up from this calm destruction into which Mira's life has contracted. With Norm's success comes a change in her life as they up sticks and move into a posher neighbourhood. New friends obliterate memories of her previous ones and her daily existence takes on a more stay-at-home Mum-role. At this point in the book the first signs of disquiet emerge and it is not long before we witness how her marriage founders. The surprising note in this section is that it is Norm who leaves her with no indication whatsoever that this is an outcome he would have considered at some point. During the divorce settlement Mira 'submitted a bitter bill, totting up the cost of her services for fifteen years.' Needless to say the word 'amicable separation' was not once on their lips.
Part III finds Mira suddenly thrust into freedom. And as it becomes evident there is no better freedom than that from a slavery one did not know it existed. Shackle-free, Mira turns her energy into university studies and new friendships. The latter lay the grounds for what becomes the heavier emotional section in the novel. The group of women, and some men, Mira meets at her university serves as a very accurate portrayal of the heyday of social and radical politics in the late 60s and early 70s in the USA.
The novel ends with Mira travelling through Europe with her divorce money, returning to the US and on realising that the market for over 40s Harvard-graduates has dried up, decides to go to live in a little 'community college near the coast of Maine where she walks the beach every day, drinks brandy every night, and wonders if she's going mad.'
To me 'The Women's Room' was an eye-opener in terms of gender politics, an issue with which as a Cuban-born man, I had not fully engaged. Despite having lived with four women (my Mum, granny, auntie and cousin) in a one-bed flat in downtown Havana since my early teens (when my Dad left), women's situation in my island was off my radar. Saying that, some of the themes explored were familiar to me from a different viewpoint.
Let's forget for a minute that we are dealing with 1950s suburbia in the US and that the world the novel tackles is full of mainly WASP wives. The issues of exploitation, housework being taken for granted, abuse, both physical and sexual, low self-esteem and the existence of a glass ceiling ring the same bells no matter in which part of the world you are.
Women are at the bottom of the ladder. This is a point I made briefly whilst writing about 'Until the Violence Stops', a gritty documentary I screened at the arts centre where I worked for five years. Women's position in society was a phenomenon I grew up with, although unaware of its complexities, in my native Cuba. And in 'The Women's Room', the parallels were there for me to see.
The formation of the FMC (the Cuban Women's Federation) after The Revolution came to power, was supposed to 'liberate' Cuban women from their drudgery and low expectations of life. Whether it has achieved these ambitious targets or not remains a moot point but what cannot escape the observer like me, with a more critical and empirical eye, is that over the years the FMC has merged with the status quo and accepted blindly the social norms that the system imposes. Women are still at the bottom of the ladder in Cuba. True, there are more working women in the Caribbean island that there were 50 years ago (including those 'night flowers' on 5th Avenue, Malecón and Rampa), women hold senior managerial roles in stark contrast to the position they were in half a century ago and equal rights protecting women are part of the Cuban Constitution. Said constitution was first drafted in 1940 by the way.
A male supreme leader, an almost-all male Parliament, a heavy military presence in government (in fact it is the last government in the Americas where the statesmen still wear military fatigues), also male, and a system that caters to and protects the male of the species cannot be conducive to a total, or even a partial 'liberation' of women.
The key words here are 'looking after' and 'help'. For in Cuba, and I am a victim of this mindset myself, women are looked at as creatures in need rather than as beings on a par with men. When Mira meets her new friends at the beginning of the book at one of the many parties that are thrown in her neighbourhood and both men and women part ways in opposite directions, I was reminded of the segregation I witnessed at the parties I used to go to (soirées I am referring to here). Women talking about women's topics, children and housework, men debating baseball. When Mira finds out that some of her female friends' husbands are sleeping around including with some of her own chums, her initial reaction is anger only to abate quickly and be replaced with apathy. As I read those passages I had flashbacks of the women in my household discussing the 'secret' affair that Mr So and So was having with 'this or that woman' who lived next to the baker's or the fishmonger's. This was normally followed by a shrug of their shoulders. When Mira's best friend's daughter is raped and is put through the terrible ordeal that can only be the whole legal tribulations of trying to snare a rapist, I was reminded how since my early teens the general consensus in school was that 'no' was actually 'yes'. Well, guess what? 'No' is 'no'. Pure and simple.
The novel throws up other issues, although more marginally. For example, Mira's racial prejudices to begin with, not apparent at first, but more obvious when she meets Val's daughter's black boyfriend. By way of explanation the author, Marilyn French, points at Mira's background amongst mainly middle-class, same-age, white people. This issue unveils a deeper schism between the liberal, white, middle-class Mira belongs to and the black minority referred to by Angela Davies in her ground-breaking book 'Women, Race and Class' and also addressed by yours truly in my analysis of 'Native Son'.There is also Mira's relationship with her two sons, one of the more beautiful passages in the novel as the generational conflict that flares up is solved in an organic and natural way and serves as a contrast to Val's indictment of men following her daughter's rape trial. To Val all men are potential rapists. The epilogue acts as a reminder that this is not the case. Homosexuality, too, gets a walk-on part in the form of Iso, whose heart gets broken when her long-term partner leaves her to start a new life in a different city.
'The Women's Room' is a timeless reminder of why our complacency has led to women not having had a 'Holocaust' or 'Transatlantic slave trade' moment. Whilst the entire world witnessed the effects of the Shoah, and only lately we have come to terms with the barbaric outcome of the slave trade, the truth is that we are not able to apportion the same degree of gravity to women's exploitation. To me the reason lies in its on-going, non-stopping nature and the intricacies of the phenomenon. Can you campaign for the same rights for Cuban women as you do for their British counterparts when the former lack even the wherewithal to live day by day? What is the first step in the struggle, food, childcare or pay gap?
Marilyn French leaves me with more questions than answers and that in itself is a positive outcome. As a man, I take things for granted because I live in a world that favours me and caters to my needs. As a black man, these opportunities are reduced. As a black immigrant in the UK, the choice is cut even more. Take away the identity of the main character of 'The Women's Room' and substitute it for Jew, black or gay and we are all in this together. And it is time to change it.
Suddenly I remembered.
- Oh yes! León (Lion)! She opened her mouth wide.
- Tigre (Tiger)! Her teeth were clenched now.
- Jirafa (Giraffe)! It was her tongue's turn to come out.We had finished our little routine.
For the last two or three months Daughter has developed a system whereby everytime it is my turn to brush her teeth (after she has done it herself) she asks me to use the name of these three animals so that she can perform their actions. Thus, León, means opening her mouth wide so that I can reach into and brush the smaller crevices where remains of food are more likely to lodge and settle down to live happily ever after. Tigre means to clamp her teeth together whilst the toothbrush gladly slides down her molars and canines. The last call-out is Jirafa and in tandem with that mammal, she sticks out her tongue so that I can give it a brush.
Where Daughter came up with this routine from, I haven't the slightest clue, but the truth is I love it. It takes me right back to a time when I was still in Uni and being the inquisitive student I was, the search for new words was of paramount importance to me.
Names of animals and plants in English always eluded me throughout my language degree. There were certain myths around at ISPLE when I was still a pupil there and one of them concerned one of my favourite teachers, Nivaldo. It was said that he could name every single dog breed there was out there in English, besides various species of animals and plants. Impressive, I said at the time, and good luck to you, mate. As for me, all I need to know is how to say German Shepherd, chihuahua, cocker spaniel and pit bull and I'll be fine. Alas, I was caught out recently.
Son was given a new animal toy by Wife. So was Daughter. But Son's was a meerkat. And as I expected it he asked me what the translation was into Spanish. I hesitated for a moment and told him that it was probably some kind of animal related to the lemur, not realising that this tiny creature belongs rather to the primates. He looked at me quizzically as he really knows his animals. I kept quiet about and changed the topic. Later, surreptitiously I went upstairs and fetched his dictionary, which is really Wife's, but we let him have it. Damn! The word 'meerkat' was nowhere to be found. Stealthily I came back downstairs and switched the computer on. Wikipedia provided me with a helpful hint, meerkats are part of the mongoose family. And they live in marshes. So that solved it. Triumphantly I strolled into the kitchen and announced to all and sundry 'Meerkat can be translated as "gato del cenagal o pantano" and it comes from Afrikaans.' I still don't know whether I am right or wrong, all I know is that in between Daughter and her Lion/Tiger/Giraffe teeth-brushing routine and my Son's new exotic animals, I will end up going back to Uni, but this time instead of languages I will do Zoology.
Saturday, 5 January 2008
Disclaimer: This post is not an endorsement of bad driving and the blogger cannot be held responsible for any actions resulting from reading this post. Also, the following should NOT be attempted under any circumstances whilst doing your driving test. You will fail!
A few months ago I was driving around the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill and Crouch End where the landscape varies dramatically from one road to the other, especially in the former case. Sometimes it is flat, sometimes it is slopy. On approaching a mini round-about half-way up a hill I looked to my right and noticed that a few cars were coming down the street. As it is customary in these cases, I brought the car to a halt softly, put my handbrake on and the gear into neutral. That did not last long, though, as I revved the car slowly until the needle went up to 2 and brought the clutch back up delicately whilst at the same time releasing the hand-brake. The vehicle remained motionless for a few seconds and as soon as the traffic cleared from my right I was ready to go.
This course of action is not a lesson you are taught when you are learning how to drive by your instructor. He/She would deem it unwise and unsafe. In fact, it was actually my wife who first suggested it as a way to be prepared to continue my journey without delaying the traffic behind or stalling the car. It got me thinking, though. Some songs are like that. A journey through a musical spectrum where suddenly they go uphill and come to a round-about similar to the one I encountered on that occasion and then they stop. Momentarily, however. Just for a few seconds. Far from putting their hand-brake up, though, they dither a bit and let the car gears reach the biting point. It is normally no more than a few seconds, until the green man changes to red, until the last car on their right hand-side has passed. And then the journey continues.
To illustrate this I have gathered a selection of clips from youtube.com as usual. My first offering comes courtesy of one of the most prolific and influential musicians Cuba has ever produced. He has already been featured on this blog in my 'Autumn Songs' selection and at the time the feedback was very warm and effusive. So, I thought it was apposite to bring him back. Ernesto Lecuona, El Maestro. By the way, at 2:46, watch the pianist's right hand as it glides over the piano ready to come down softly on the black and white keys in order to continue the journey after the uphill start. Think of the biting point. Sublime!
One of the most common mistakes people make when they choose not to put their handbrake up whilst doing an uphill start is that their car rolls backwards. This is a very serious error which could cause an accident (read the disclaimer at the beginning of this post). To avoid this, as you go up a slope and are coming closer to either a round-about or a set of traffic lights you should stop slowly and ease back into first gear the same way Caetano Veloso does it in this live rendition of 'Girl from Ipanema', the eponymous composition by Joao Gilberto. At 1:02 look how Caetano joins in without interrupting the musical flow. Brilliant.
He was extravagant and eccentric in the 70s. But what you can never deny is that his musical output was second to none. And in the same way a car manoeuvre like the one I have been referring to so far can seem odd, his choices were sometimes criticised or just derided. But where would pop music be without David Robert Jones aka David Bowie? Classic.
It's Roger on percussion that really does it for me on this track. The way he bangs on those conga drums so ominously, keeping the beat going, weaving bass, guitar and vocal into one thread is a joy to see. But what also kills me (pun unintended) is watching Freddie shortly before his untimely death. His voice singing to the inevitable. That split second before the cars coming on your right pass in front of your eyes and continue their journey is the same split second in which your whole life is shown to you as a slide show before you are gone. Masterful.
Uphill starts are unpredictable and certain bands music is, too. Uphill starts where clutch is slightly raised whilst the right foot is firmly glued to the gas pedal keeping the needle in number 2 and the handbrake stays down have chutzpah. The same goes for some bands. The same goes for this band. They had a carefree joie de vivre, a raw energy that consumed the listener. Recently they staged a comeback at the O2 arena in London and their insouciance was still there for everyone to see. Watch the way guitar and voice enter a playful battlefield where little skirmishes here and there build up the momentum in this famous track. Led Zeppelin never did things half-way and you, too, should be prepared to take your chances when it comes to heading up that hill and braking slowly just before that big road ahead of you. Just enjoy that tiny instant when all the gears in your car are huffing and puffing to provide you with the magic of the 'biting point' moment. Amazing.
This is all for this week. Happy driving!
- ¿Alguna vez has tenido la sensación de que hay una zámpara en la lámpara? (Did you ever have the feeling there's a zamp in the lamp?)
Wednesday, 2 January 2008
However, as I mentioned before, music did come into my mind right there and then and the first track that I would have chosen if I had been trapped in that big misty cloud last weekend would have been any song by Elis Regina's daughter, Maria Rita. It is a big burden on the young shoulders of the progeny of the woman many people consider to have been the best Brazilian singer ever. Yet, she performs this song with such aplomb and gusto that on a foggy day she would be my number one choice.
Fog also smacks of smokiness and dim lights. Recently I came across this singer for the first time whilst watching a programme on BBC Four. She reminds me of jazz bars and folk venues. Ciggies, booze and nodding heads. Her voice touches the surface of the Earth like a cloudy mist that wants to get closer to the ground and its density goes in crescendo as the song carries on. Enjoy.
Of course, that I would not like to go out on a foggy day unless absolutely necessary. This post deals only with what would happen if I was to find myself in the midst of one and with enough musical arsenal to defend myself from the lack of visibility. And wonderful Stevie is good for any day, but this track would definitely lift my spirits up and help me brave the weather.
Even if the Notting Hill Carnival, the biggest celebration of that nature in Europe, was taking place whilst I was driving in a fog as thick as the one I witnessed the other day, my perception of the world outside the car would still be one of total silence. And I would like to close this week's session with one of the better songs ever written by two of the more charismatic performers the folk and pop world has ever begotten.
And this is all for this week. Happy Fogless New Year!