Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Andante)

Me: 'Bueno, ya tú sabes...' (Well, you know...)
Son: ...???
Me: 'Tú sabes como es eso...' (You know how it goes...)
Son: ...???
Me: 'Nene, que la cosa es...' (Baby, the thing is...)
Son: ...???

Well, I can't blame him, can I? Son had just been the victim of Cuban prolepsis.

He is ten, has been speaking in Spanish practically since he was in his Mum's womb (I used to play and sing to him Bola de Nieve's version of 'Drume Negrita' changing 'ita' for 'ito'. Yes, I know it doesn't rhyme, but what can you do? It's such a lovely lullaby and the Guanabacoense's voice is so soothing and mellow. I took good care not to drown the sound of his voice, but you can never be too careful, can you? Oops, I just realised that I am still in brackets), anyway, as I mentioned before, he has been speaking in Spanish for many years, but that doesn't mean that he can speak Cubanish. That's a different monster. And what a monster.

The natives of the largest island of the Antilles, that's us, Cubans, have the habit of stopping short of a word that the sentence seems to be leading to - as in "Well, you know ..." without specifying "it's difficult" or "it couldn't be any easier, mate". This phenomenon is called prolepsis and occurs in all languages. However, I have noticed that we, Cubans, do seem to enjoy this quasi-elliptical, linguistic, fortuitous occurrence more.

In German, in my experience, most people tend to finish their sentences, they don't expect others to do the donkey work for them. That's not what we do in Spanish. But whilst it's not a problem for us, dwellers of the Key to the Gulf, it's a nightmare for others. I am thinking of Wife now. I have lost count of the number of times when she has stood there in the middle of the kitchen, mouth wide open waiting for me to finish the phrase I had just started. Sometimes she even prompts me with: '... know... what exactly?' Now, she is well aware of this phenomenon, so I suspect she's playing me at my own linguistic game, but I have noticed that both Son and Daughter's faces remain blank and expressionless and I am afraid I might be laying the foundations for a future linguistic trauma that will unfold in years to come.

In French, and in English, too, especially in Britain, people tend to stutter (I've noticed these bouts of sudden stammer more amongst the chattering classes in both nations than in working class folk who usually tell it like it is, then again in Britain's case it could be a case of Hugh Grantinitis; he created a template against which most foreigners judge white, middle-class British men by. Oopsie daisy, I went over the top again whilst writing in brackets, sorry!); this stuttering might be conducive to prolepsis, but as in German, the idea being expressed is completed, the other person is satisfied with the reply and everybody goes home happy and with a spring in their step. In Cuba, on the other hand, the omission of parts of a standard syntactical construction is pretty customary and nobody bats an eyelid over it.

Son, then, has a steep, linguistic hill to climb, but one where culture, once again, plays an important role. I know he will appreciate it. In the meantime, I will do my best to finish my sentences off, close them, lock them up and keep the key in my pocket.

Because you know...

Copyright 2008
Illustration courtesy of Garrincha

Friday, 23 May 2008

Road Songs (Variations) (2nd Part)

This is the follow up to last week's column and there might even be a third part next week. Enjoy.

Copyright 2008

Road Songs (Masters Of War)

This is my favourite track from Dylan's 'The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan' album (the one with 'Blowin' in the Wind' in it). Third song in the record is this little jewel that became an anthem for pacifists and anti-war people all over the world. Here we have Pearl Jam's lead singer Eddie belting out a monster of a tune whilst remaining nonchalant but intense. Deep.

Road Songs (Animals - House of the Rising Sun)

Originally sung by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Nina Simone, this is one of those timeless songs that does not get old. This is one of my favourite versions. Stupendous.

Road Songs (Angelique Kidjo - Gimme Shelter feat. Joss Stone)

Road Songs (Variations) brings this week this cover by the amazing Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo alongside the Kent-born British performer Joss Stone. Originally released by the Rolling Stones, this was the opening track in their album 'Let It Bleed' and I think that both the African chanteuse and the daughter of Albion do the song justice. Superb!

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Polyphony)

Highgate Woods and playground, north London, Sunday morning, summertime, a few years ago.

Daughter, Son and I are promenading through the woods. Some people are jogging, some are talking and others can be seen in the distance chasing a football. And there are some people walking their dogs, too.

- 'Woof, woof', barks Son.

- 'Woof, woof', Daughter joins in.

- 'Do you know how to make the dog's barking sound in Spanish?' I interject.

- 'No', both answer in unison.

- 'Jau, jau'.

- 'Jau, jau?' Son eyes me suspiciously.' But it doesn't even sound like a proper bark'.

- 'Well, that's how it is'.

More walking, more people with their dogs. More 'woof, woof', but this time accompanied by 'jau, jau'.

A whole hour passes. We are now in the playground. I am reading the newspaper whilst Son and Daughter are playing in the swings. I check my watch, time to go. My class starts in about an hour and I need to warm up before my students come in.

- 'Off we go now!'

- 'All right!' they both answer.

On the way out we come across a dalmatian, a terrier and two chihuahuas.

- 'Woof, woof, jau, jau'. The sounds come out in both languages and you can barely tell them apart.

As we leave I can't help looking back and spot one of the chihuahuas coming closer to the terrier and I swear I can hear them muttering under their breath:

- 'Bloody humans. Who ever told them that they can speak Caninish? Did you see the girl? She couldn't even do the "v" right. Can you believe it?'

- 'Yes, and the boy tried to do a little CaninSpanish on me. Oh, wait until I e-mail my mate in Argentina! If that puppy knew what he was saying!'

Copyright 2008

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Ad Infinitum...

Garlic Prawns

This is a Nigel Slater's recipe which I first saw in one of The Observer's Food Monthly supplements.

Serves 12 (or more depending on how many prawns you put out)


Large live prawns, shell on - 48-64
Garlic - 5 or 6 large cloves
Olive oil
Butter - 200 g approximately
Lemons - 4

Rinse the prawns and put them in a bowl. Peel and finely crush the garlic and then add it to the prawns with a slug of olive oil. Toss the prawns to cover them in seasoned oil.

Cook them under a preheated grill until their shells have turned a brilliant orange pink. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan. Serve the hot prawns with the lemon, salt and the melted butter.
As in with my first recipe, Cat's Crumbs (Migas de Gato), this can be served as a snack, a starter, or a light meal, especially when you have a few friends around. And because you will get your hands mucky (all that tearing of shells and dipping in butter is as messy as it gets, isn't it?), try to have a good and long playlist ready. Remember, handling CDs with greasy hands is a no-no. Go for music that packs up a few punches. So, my suggestions for this week are:
Copyright 2008

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Road Songs (Variations) (1st Part)

Cars, cars, cars. They are useful, neccesary, some may even say indispensable. The truth is, though, that they make our life easier. Their function is very simple, they serve as a vehicle to transport us from A to B. So, why is it so essential to have the latest make of a particular car? Why do some people fuss over this or that Ford, or this or that VW? To me, there are just a handful of elements I would be concentrating on if I was looking to buy a new motor (something I have never done in my life). Colour would be one, blue or black being my favourite ones. Make, as in VW instead of Ford, although taking into account that our car is a Nissan and it's turned out to be very good, I would probably go for that one brand. And functionality. What do I want it for? For the daily grind? Then, there's no point in getting a Chelsea tractor (that's a 4x4, by the way, for those of you who don't live in Britain, or rather, in London). But if I need it for longer journeys, then an eco-friendly SUV would be a better option.

What I can't see myself doing and I am lucky to have a wife who doesn't do it either, is change our vehicle everytime a new model becomes available. I might be a consumerist, but I do have my limits.

Music is pretty much the same. Certain songs have stood the test of time and they remain classics for that reason. However, you always get second-rate musicians or even brilliant ones trying to re-invent the wheel and attempting to add their own input to what is already a masterpiece, only to ruin the original work completely. And please, Annie Lennox and Wyclef Jean, take no umbrage for this tirade. Your respective cover versions of songs penned by Bob Marley and Pink Floyd did not go down very well with yours truly. Neither did they with many folks I know.

So, what follows below is what happens when an artist truly respects the piece they are covering and not only injects their own energy but maintains the original idea. Sinead O' Connor did it with her take on Prince's song 'Nothing Compares to You', to the point where no one believed it was originally by the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. Ditto Led Zeppelin and their cover version of 'When the Levee Breaks', originally sung by Memphis Minnie. And as the proud owner of both records (the Zep and Memphies') I can safely vouch for the quality displayed by the British band in that track in their album Led Zeppelin IV (or the one with no title).

So, there you have it, when it comes to cars, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, and if it's still going, then, let it go a little bit more. As to music, the same rule appplies, if you're going to rework a classic, please, please, please, make sure that you have what it takes to make it work. The second part of this post will appear next week.

Copyright 2008

Road Songs (Elis Regina - Atras da Porta by Chico Buarque)

Sorry, Chico, I am a fan of your music. Always been. Since I heard 'Cálice' for the first time when I was younger I have never looked back. 'Samba de Orly', 'Flor da Pele'; all these are songs are embedded in my psyche. But this live version of your very own 'Atras da Porta' is unmatchable. Elis lives her songs (watch her performance of 'Aguas de Março' with Tom Jobim) with vim and vigour and those feelings come out in bucketloads in this tune. Unforgetabble.

Road Songs (Joni Mitchell-Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye)

Take someone as demure as Canadian singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell to cover one of the classics from soul era and you are asking for trouble. Then, why is it that I feel so drawn to this video? She even sashays around the stage and does the 'I know some places/And I see some faces/I've got the connections/I dig my directions/What people say, that's okay/They don't bother me, oh yeah/I'm ready to make it/Don't care what the weather/Don't care 'bout no trouble/Got myself together/I feel the kind of/protection/That's all around me' perfectly. It is a fantastic rendition and one I am proud to upload onto the blog this week. Funky.

Road Songs (Chucho and Bebo Valdez, Father and Son playing 'La Comparsa' by Ernesto Lecuona)

I have already uploaded this song on a couple of occasions and I will probably upload it a hundred more times. It is a piece intimately linked to my childhood as my Dad used to play it first thing in the morning. And it is the best example of how art can bridge peoples, sowing the seeds of unity where politics fails. At 4:28 watch Bebo's hands as they skip and hop around like a child playing in the park blithely. Majestic.

Road Songs (Ana Belén and Joan Manuel Serrat-Mediterráneo)

Anyone who sings: 'si un día para mi mal viene a buscarme la parca/Empujad al mar mi barca con un levante otoñal/y dejad que el temporal desguace sus alas blancas' has my utmost respect. This one plays in the car over and over and over and over and over... Grand.

Road Songs (Joan Manuel Serrat - Mediterráneo-año 1974 1/11)

Sorry, I just could not resist uploading the original. He even says something in catalán at the end. Any translators on line? Heartfelt.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Cantata)

Muggle or muguel? Quaffle or cuafel? Bludger or...? Oh, well, I owe you that one.

For the last couple of months I have been reading the Spanish translation of 'Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone' (Harry Potter y la Piedra Filosofal) with Son and the experience has been both rewarding and bonding.

However, the linguistic pedant that dwells inside me has noticed how certain words have been allowed to remain unchanged from the original text in English. And this conundrum has caused a nice debate between Wife and me.

I am of the opinion that when converting the words and phrases of a particular language into another one, one must observe the golden rule of translation: 'Translate ideas, not words'. And although it's close to two decades now since I first came across it, I have tried to follow that maxim to the letter. Yet, this rule does not explain what to do when one encounters made-up words in the language we translate from. Shall we leave them the way they are? Or shall we at least attempt to bring them into our own language spelling them in a way suggesting that that was the way the author would have done it had he/she written in our language?

I am pretty sure that opinions on the matter are divided. However, occasionally I lean towards the latter case. And 'Harry Potter...' is a good case to illustrate my point.

Since the book takes place in London and we all know that English is the official language spoken by the denizens of the British capital, it would be really silly to try to translate street names and main characters' monikers (I am sure some of them could do with a Spanish translation, but let's not get too pedantic, shall we?). The issue is when we enter the realm of fantasy. A muggle (a person with no magical powers) could well be a muguel in Spanish. The spelling is similar and the word's semantics would not suffer. Likewise, the quaffle (the ball used to play quidditch with), could perfectly become a cuafel. Even the pronunciation is similar, let alone the spelling. So, why not?

I reckon that one of the reasons why this approach is not taken into account is reverence towards success. If the Harry Potter series had not become the financially rewarding franchise it has turned out to be, it would have been far easier (or less difficult, for it's never easy for a translator to stick their hands in the fire without getting burned) for Alicia Dellepiane, the person credited with bringing the British hero to Spanish-speaking peoples, to 'improvise' with elements of her own volition. But because the series has done remarkably well, there's a sense of genuflection towards and awe of both the author and the novels that probably (I am speculating here) deters translators from 'mucking about' too much with the original text.

The second reason derives from the first one in that Harry Potter, like many other franchises before it, creates a universal language that both children and teenagers (and adults!) default to. And whether you speak French, German or Portuguese, you will know what a bludger is (yes, I haven't forgotten, I still owe you that one!). And who wants to break up this harmony? Moi?

The third reason is our 'beloved' Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. Note the quotation marks, please. With close to 320 million Spanish speakers worldwide, is it not time to do away with such an archaic institution? English, my second language and the one I majored in at university, owes much of its international domination to a fluid and modern system. Namely the absence of a central body dictating all the different Anglophone nations how to use their lexicon. It is not surprise that the two languages that have suffered the most since the end of the World War II have been French and Spanish. The former through the loss of its colonies and the demise of its empire, the latter through holding to an ancient system that requires proof of use for new words to be accepted officially. The truth of the matter is that many of these words have been used for years, if not decades, or sometimes even centuries. The most vivid example I have is with 'fortísimo' (strongest), the 'correct' way according to the Academy and 'fuertísimo', more widely used since it comes from 'fuerte' (strong). It took centuries for the latter to be accepted into the mainstream, but surprise, surprise! The mainstream, i.e., the people who speak the language, had already been using it. True, not on television, radio or any other type of official media, but it was out there and it made sense. So, why deny it?

And that's probably why many translators leave certain terms the way they are in the original language, rather than trying to convert them into a version that resembles more the words in the language being translated to. Wife insisted that this was important to maintain a sense of continuity and not destroy the intention of the original text. But my point is that it doesn't destroy it, it enriches it. Besides, I very much doubt that the same reader who digests the Harry Potter books in English will be doing the same in German, French or Arabic. So, no harm done. Wife's other argument is that certain names should not be changed at all, ever. I knew what she meant because on some occasions she has brought my attention to the fact that I say Támesis instead of Thames . But that's the same for English-speakers who say Havana instead of Habana. And since we're there, why the 'j' sound in the English version? 'J' as in 'jugo'? The Spanish 'h' has not sound, a phenomenon I remarked upon in a recent column and for which I used Hamlet's soliloquy (talk about globalised world, this is globalised theatre and language). In the end we both agreed that neither was I going to change Alicia's mind (the title's translation suggests that the stone is the philosopher and not that the philosopher owns the stone, rather different meanings, I would say), nor would my way of calling the famous river that divides London into north and south change.

As for Harry Potter and the translation of certain words from English to Spanish, maybe I should not beat myself up about it too much. Given the current legal climate in the JK Rowling's camp, hush-hush is a better policy than trying to come up with alternatives for the words she has already made up. A lawsuit is the last thing I need, believe me.

However I cannot resist imagining what bladyer would read and sound like au lieu de 'bludger'. Just don't tell anyone at the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, please.

Copyright 2008

Sunday, 11 May 2008

More Than a Thousand Splendid Words (Lamento Gitano)

A certain phrase in Spanish ascertains that 'segundas partes nunca fueron buenas'. This refers to the public's perception that a sequel will never do as well as the original oeuvre, be it a movie, music album or fiction book. This also applies to second outings by literary authors, film-makers or singer-songwriters regardless of their follow-up's relation to their predecessor. A tad bit fatalistic, yes, but that's Spanish for you.

Thank God, then, for writers like Khaled Hosseini, who can turn that aphorism on its head. In 'A Thousand Splendid Suns', the Afghan author demonstrates again (as if proof were needed indeed!) why he is such a masterful story-teller, capable of combining recent historical events in that Asian nation with fiction. The result is a much more mature and balanced book, without the melodrama of his debut novel 'The Kite Runner' and with a very unusual powerful insight into the plight of Afghan women.

And it was this unusual insight that drew me further into the plot. Very rarely we get the opportunity to glimpse into women's lives from a man's perspective. Be it maladroitness or laziness, most attempts to describe the female world by the male of the species end up in shambles. Khaled addresses this issue in an adept way. He passes no judgement on his female characters even when they commit the most heinous acts and uses historical events as a backdrop against which to project their decisions, or the lack of them thereof. He also has a peculiar way in which to voice these women's innermost feelings such as betrayal, loss and hatred.

The first leading female character we encounter is Mariam, an ethnic Tajik born out of wedlock, who grows up near Herat in western Afghanistan. This 'illegitimate child' tag is nothing but the beginning of a series of tribulations and ordeals that accompany her throughout her life. It, however, takes a turn for the worse when she discovers in the space of twenty-four hours that the father she has idolised for many years does not love her back and that her mother chooses to end her own life rather than put up with her offspring's alleged desertion.

Mariam is married off to Rasheed, a cunning middle-class shoe-maker who, having lost a son in a drowning accident years before forces Mariam to produce a male heir. When this fails to materialise (Mariam miscarries three times), the consequences are dire.

Into this mix comes Laila, a vivacious child from a Tajik family. Laila's father is an educated man with an open mind, whereas her mother is a rather enterprising woman with a knack for hard chores. After losing her two sons in the fight against the Soviets, Laila's mother falls into despair. With Moscow withdrawing its troops from Afghan soil, the country enters a civil war which claims both Laila's parents as victims.

On her own now, Laila goes to live with Mariam and Rasheed. Unbeknownst to her Rasheed is already making plans to marry the 14-year-old. When Laila finds out that she's pregnant with her childhood sweetheart's baby, she capitulates and accepts the marriage offer.

What follows thereafter is a series of incidents that best explain why women are still at the bottom of the ladder in the social order. I argued that point in my review of Marilyn French's novel 'The Women's Room' and it's worth returning to this issue. A woman, whether in a western society or in a tribal one, still does not enjoy the full benefits that are accorded to modern polities in the 21st century. Namely, respect, freedom of choice and flexibility (both at work and home). The recent debates on abortion both in the US and the UK, the issue of genital mutilation and the effect of civil wars (Sudan, for instance) and illegal invasions (Iraq) affect more the female population than the male one. There's a telling moment in the novel when Laila's father, Hakim, makes a passing comment to her daughter on how the Soviet presence has inadvertently brought women more to the foreground. Yet, it is these same troops that kill his two sons.

Through both Mariam and Laila's eyes we see the catastrophic effects of the ill-advised Soviet invasion and how the fallout of that conflict fuelled a crippling civil war culminating in the arrival of the Taliban in power.

Khaled takes a no-holds-barred approach when writing about his native country and leads us, curious readers, through a forty-odd year period which covers many social and political landmarks in the history of Afghanistan, from Mariam's childhood down to 2003, two years after the Taliban is ousted. There are tears aplenty and surely readers will avert their eyes in certain parts of the novel, but he also weaves these moments with photographic passages like the one where Laila's father takes her to see the Buddhas of Bamiyan. From the top of these famous statues, Laila's gaze embraces the natural beauty that Afghanistan has to offer. It's the destruction of this beauty and the hatred towards anything that resembles it that despairs her most.

The main strength I found in 'A Thousand Splendid Suns' is that the novel, unlike 'The Kite Runner', only ventures out of Afghanistan once and that is to neighbour Pakistan. It was this localised approach that worked for me when I read it and probably the reason why so many readers consider it a far superior work to that of its predecessor.

Now that Khaled has overcome the 'second book syndrome' (and I have also heard through the grapevine that a motion picture production based on the novel is in the pipeline) I can't wait for his third book to come out. That is also a side-effect of writers who succeed with second novels. When the British writer Zadie Smith released 'The Autograph Man' years ago, I had been waiting for it avidly, since I had already read and loved 'White Teeth'. Needless to say, 'On Beauty', her latest novel was anticipated with the same zeal and consumed with similar passion by yours truly.

'A Thousand Splendid Suns', thus, breaks that old adage about 'second parts never being good'. And Hosseini, in chronicling the lives and works of his countrymen and women in such a respectful and compelling way, leaves the reader fully satisfied...

... but craving for more.

Copyright 2008

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Road Songs (Presto)

Sun is shining, the weather is sweet
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here I am
Want you to know ya, where I stand

(Monday morning) here I am
Want you to know just if you can
(Tuesday evening) where I stand
(Wednesday morning) tell myself a new day is rising
(Thursday evening) get on the rise a new day is dawning
(Friday morning) here I am
(Saturday evening) want you to know just
Want you to know just where I stand

When the morning gathers the rainbow
Want you to know I'm a rainbow too
So, to the rescue here I am
Want you to know just if you can
Where I stand, know, know, know, know, know

We'll lift our heads and give JAH praises
We'll lift our heads and give JAH praises, yeah

Sun is shining, the weather is sweet now
Make you want to move your dancing feet
To the rescue, here I am
Want you to know just if you can
Where I stand, know, know, know, where I stand

Monday morning, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop
Tuesday evening, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop
Wednesday morning, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop
Thursday evening, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop
Friday morning, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop
Saturday evening, scoo-be-doop-scoop-scoop

So to the rescue, to the rescue, to the rescue
Awake from your sleep and slumber

Today could be your lucky number
Sun is shining and the weather is sweet

Sun is Shining
Bob Marley

You know what? Sometimes I just fancy driving around this beautiful city with the car windows rolled down whilst listening to some top-class music. Simple as that.

Copyright 2008

Road Songs (Chambao - Mi Primo Juan - Live)

A few years ago somebody put in my hands the debut album by this Spanish band and little by little they have grown on me. As they say in Spain, Chambao es 'de puta madre'. Intense.

Road Songs (Red Hot Chilli Peppers - Californication)

How can I leave the Chillies out from any music compilation to be played on a summer day? They are like good wine, they get better as they age. Now, all together: 'Dream of Californication! Dream of Californication!'


Road Songs - Miriam Makeba - Pata Pata

I admit that I have not got this on CD, and yet so many good memories come from listening to this record and watching Miriam Makeba sing this famous song. Perfect.

Road Songs Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit

This is as raw as rock'n'roll is supposed to be. I can never tire of watching this video and my son has started bobbing his head up and down as I play this tune in the car. If my window is rolled down, passers-by throw me the odd glance. What???!!! Yeah, I am a black man and playing Nirvana, man, so what, get a life, will you! Delicious.

Road Songs - Los Van Van - Sandunguera (Live in Miami)

I dare anyone to name me a more successful and revolutionary (in the broad sense of the word) band from Cuba in the last 40 years than this music explosion. As chameleon-like as Madonna and with a sound that has come to define many generations of Cubans. This gets my vote everytime summertime is here in dear ol' Blighty. In fact I have got the 'Ay Dios Amparame' CD ready to be played in the car tomorrow. Magnificent.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Food, Music, Ad Infinitum...

Cat's Crumbs (Migas de Gato)

This is a typical Afro-Cuban dish that is best served as a light snack or starter. I saw this recipe originally in a bookby Natalia Bolivar Arostegui.

Serves 10-12
Bread (loaf or buns)
Olive oil
Garlic (a couple of cloves)
Water (or milk)

First, take the bread and pull the dough out. Break it all up into bite size pieces and roll them all up using middlefinger, forefinger and thumb. Dab them in water (milk can also be used) and leave them on the side. Slice the garlic in thin strips (choose a nice, plump bulb) and brown them for about five minutes on the hot olive oil. Add on the dough balls and bring the heat down. Stir them well so they don't stick to the frying pan. After about 5-7 minutes, take them out, drain the remaining oil (I like leaving it on, but you might be on a diet) and serve. If you used milk, you'll realise that they are more compact and crunchier. Hmmm, tasty.


Because this is usually served as a starter or a light snack the music that goes with it (usually dinner party background music) is not very long. Recommended listening includes:

Copyright 2008

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Meditations on London (Adagio Sostenuto)

This is not a political blog. Politics is divisive and this blog's main aim is to serve as an instrument for me to express my ideas and views on the world that surrounds me and to that end it welcomes different opinions whether it be on music, language or books. However, politics is part of our culture and sometimes sneaks into my posts. Like now.

Today I am mourning for London. The clothes I am wearing may not be black, but my soul has darkened. My beloved adopted city has woken up to a new mayor. And as he is opposed to everything that makes the British capital a paragon of diversity. I feel despondent and angry.

I have lived here in London for close to eleven years now and what has fascinated me since I arrived is the sheer variety of its people. From the Orthodox Jews of Stamford Hill in the north to the Rastafarian community in Brixton in the south, London always has a different card up its sleeve for visitors. I also happen to be married to a Londoner who loves her city and has taught me how to enjoy what it has to offer.

Ken Livingstone, the outgoing mayor, also shares my wife's enthusiasm for this marvellous city. When he talks about London there's a special spark in his eyes and it's hard to imagine someone who will care for this city as much as he has in the last eight years.

And the sad truth is that the incoming mayor will not have the same attitude towards the British capital. A buffoon with a penchant for the grotesque and offensive, Boris Johnson, the new official in charge of London, is nothing but a public school boy with no other interest than waste the capital's money on policies that he does not even know whether they will work or not. Because he came into the post with no policies at all.

It's a gloomy day for my beloved London and my only hope is that these four years go by quickly.

It's paradoxical and contradictory that less than a week after London celebrated thirty years of Rock Against Racism with another landmark concert on the same spot where three decades ago The Clash, amongst other bands, sang against the fascist National Front, the city votes for a person who thinks black people are 'pickaninnies' with 'watermelon smiles'.

Today the tempo of this metropolis is adagio sostenuto. Let's just hope that in four years it changes to a grand finale presto.

Copyright 2008

Friday, 2 May 2008

Living in a Bilingual World (Allegro)

Just after 7pm, Daughter's room.

Me: Can you translate this bit here, then? 'Al oír esto, a la Sirenita se le cayó el alma a los pies.'
Daughter: Upon hearing this, the Little Mermaid dropped her... her... her... how do you say 'alma' in English?
Me: Soul.
Daughter: The Little Mermaid dropped her soul to her feet.
Me (giggling): No, try again.
Daughter: Upon hearing this, the Little Mermaid kicked her soul with her feet.
Me (laughing): Nooo! Try again!
Daughter: Upon hearing this, the feet dropped the Little Mermaid's soul.
Me (doubled up and collapsing on the floor with laughter): Nooo! 'se le...', the key words are 'se le...'

It was pointless, really. Other versions included, Little Mermaid's feet kicking her soul, Little Mermaid's soul dropping her feet, Little Mermaid's soul's feet dropping Little Mermaid. Anything except for 'Little Mermaid felt despondent', or 'Little Mermaid felt like it was the end of the world'.

But you know what, we did not care. We had fun.

Copyright 2008


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