Thursday, June 30, 2005

Verushka Trublondibova

E-mail is for sissies...

Glamour from yesteryear... Posted by Hello

Now, some friends of mine refuse to follow my whereabouts by plugging into and write e-mails instead. I can see the glamour of a direct , personal piece of electronic exchange between and but entering each other's spread blogs is a rather more hardcore-type experience. Come on, be a sport!..

Professor Marcelo

Political lecturing as show-biz...

The venue for tonight's show... Posted by Hello

Last night, those of us present in the Cervantes room of the Westin Palace Hotel were exposed to the powerful oratorial talents of a retired politician. Retired? Once a political leader, now a mass-audience TV personality, how can one dare to assume he has retired from active politics? The Professor says so. We all pretend to believe him.

Very entertaining stuff. The economy is in dire straits? ... the Professor is smiling with mischievous bright eyes.. the figures on Public Finances are dismal? .. the Professor manages a bon mot ... the new New-Europe members are queuing up to leave us embarrassed in comparative statistics? .. the Professor brilliantly takes another oratory rabbit out of his intellectual hat..

A bit like a no-pain, no hard-feelings colonoscopy.. lots of bad news with the sugar coating of verbal pyrotechnics..

A political lecture at this level of a true Tribune's skills becomes stand up theatrics..

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

H.C. Andersen, La Fontaine, Grimm Bros & Co

Once upon a time... in Madrid

How can one gets Snowhite's cellphone number... Posted by Hello
O Dear, when does a blog intending to convey serious stuff turns into a sort of social column?.. "What? Not another party, please!" - the Honorable Reader interrupts, and is right to do so. But I am told that this is special. This is the main yearly party event in about to be deserted full-Summer Madrid. Every year a different theme for an already decade-long tradition. Last Summer the party was Jungle-inspired and a Tiger, a real one, strolled among the guests. ( I wonder if it was the same tiger I patted in a party at "Cielo" a few months ago. Surely the most socialite tiger of all times). Last night it was "Fairy Tales".
The grand and beautiful invitation card, in size and paper quality more like a menu of a State Banquet, had the "Once upon a time..." opening line, followed, inside, by "... there was a night where Tales became reality". The motto was underlined by the crooked-nose Witch offering poisoned apples on the entrance; three gay-ish shaven-head "piglets" strolling around with their wine-corker tails; the acrylic fured Big Bad Wolf wearing Grandmother's night bonnet and sleeping gown; Tinkerbell, with an Elite model body, waving her magic baton to the guests; Snowhite, with Andalusian features, throwing her virginal smile at us - well, the Honourable Reader would have got the picture by now. Around the garden, the Castle with the obligatory tower for a Razpunzen-Damsel in distress to wave at the potential saviours..
After the pre-dinner bubbly we took our seats in the round tables decorated with the candy bars of the Marzipan House in the Forest, each table named after a character of a fairy tale. Mine was, in literal translation, "The Blue Prince". I'm told that it is the Castillian version of "Prince Charming".. Funny!.. Blue in my country is for the "Blue Beard", the predator of defenceless ladies, while here it's the monogamous suitor who ends up with the King's daughter..
Let's have an intellectual, High Culture, break at this point, will we? I swear I'm not being pedantic but with my first glass of the Marques de Riscal my thoughts were on the "Psychoanalysis of Fairy Tales" by Bruno Bettelheim ( Googling afterwards I find the full name is " The Uses of Enchantment - The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales"). Remember that book? Highly in fashion in those days when Uncles Karl and Sigmund ruled the University World... (It's no longer the case, and not a moment too soon..). The psychoanalist's point of view was rather forceful, in fact. He claimed that children were able to deal with very difficult Fears (like the loss of their parents, to begin with) by going through, by proxy, the pains of the heroes they would identify with. In fairy tales orphans survive well, abandoned children managed to escape their grim fate. So, reading Fairy Tales was in fact a form of precocious self-help literature. End of arty-farty paragraph.
Back to the party, an enormous dragon, who looked , in my neighbour's opinion, like a gigantic lobster ( gastronomical wishful thinking?) was threatening the curly haired entrapped Princess.
The first course was excellent and introduced in the menu by an excerpt of the Tale of the Prince and the Dragon ".. Y para el banquet, el Rey invito a todo el pueblo. Los Pescadores regalaron sus mejores capturas y los Campesinos aportaron lo mejor de sus huertos...". The main course was excellent again (at this point I must confess I get weak on my knees in the presence of white truffles) and in line with Pinochio's story (".. Y a la vuelta a casa, Gepetto cocinó para Pinocho el plato de carne más rico que jamás soñar pudiéramos..". By the time we got to the postre, the wine-consuming neighbourhood was rather merry. We were served little chocolate houses (".. Y alli en el bosque, como si de un sueño surgiese, se levantaba una Casa entera de Chocolate y Azucar...") which some of us trespassed with care while others, no doubt with Benidorm in mind, bulldozered ferociously.
The Honourable Host made a nicely worded speech on the need to keep on having the same beliefs ( Principles? Values?) we all shared, once upon a time, when we were reading or being read the Fables of our Youth. His tranquil desmeanour made his point more convincing, I should say, than in the hysterical equivalent ("Do you believe in Fairies? Clap your hands, quickly!") of JM Barrie's "Peter Pan".
Among the two-hundred adults, and two delighted children who will for sure never forget that party, all the male population was wearing a tie. Well, not all. This blogger of yours, believing in the casualness of warm Madrid nights, had opted for a Loro Piana linen pink shirt and a pin-striped black Loewe suit, with no tie. I felt the stubbornness and self-indulgence I'm sure Richard Branson has experienced all his life. ( The Princess - in flesh and blueblood, for a change - doubted, laughing, that I will ever achieve as much as the Virgin brand billionaire)
My left-hand neighbour at the Blue Prince Table, to whom I'm in debt for attending this wondrous party and for introducing me to some of the Ciudad's A-listers, danced flamenco-ish DJ music with gusto. She had travelled that same morning from the highly dignified political burial of the Galician Prince. My right-hand neighbour was wearing a dazzling diamonds necklace which would have made Snowhite rush for the Prince Charming's Platinum Card (She has the same name of the famous cigar brand mentioned in Thomas Mann's "The Magic Mountain". Sorry, too good a pedantic quote not to tell it). In between tasting the esparragos trigueros , the gambas and the solomillo, we discussed such deep themes such as the Shoe-Battle of the Century (who will win, Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik?) . I heard some good stories which might, one day, meet a brilliant blogging future.
As we left, ladies were offered oversized cuddly frogs, no doubt eager to be kissed. Gentlemen (even tie-less ones) were offered a toy-horse. ("... Y tras despedirse de los siete enanitos, Blancanieves y el Pri­ncipe se alejaron a caballo..")
Great fun! Who wouldn't keep believing in Fairy Tales after such a Party?

Viscount Horatio Nelson

Would two-faced heroes survive tabloid press?..

Enacting Lord Nelson Posted by Hello

If already in place 200 years ago, would the tabloid press crucify Vice-Admiral Nelson in its front pages? Would some paparazzi be sent hastily to Naples to uncover the "true story" of the forbidden love between the gallant mariner and HM's Ambassador's wife? Would there be heartfelt "confessions" from stunned servants of Emma, Lady Hamilton? End of a career? Trafalgars no longer possible?

The end of privacy for public figures surely comes at a price...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

C.S. Forester

Commemorating Trafalgar...

Horatio Hornblower, the control freak of the Royal Navy (RN) in Napoleonic times, was my hero. Long, long before Valmont occupying that spot.
When, two decades ago, I made a data-base of my books, I gave the number 00001 to Kipling's "Kim" alright, but the first candidates to book-binding were - had to be - the Horatio Hornblower ones. Nice green leather, golden anchors in the cover and the smell of lost youth in the yellowed, dog-eared pages.

Hornblower books were genuine adolescent entertainment, the playstation-like quality time of my generation. There was adventure (implying more skill than force), there was history (hard not to become an anti-napoleonist after the third novel of the series) and there was romance too. The first time Hornblower and Lady Barbara Wellesley are by themselves on a West Indies sunset my heart was thumping like mad. I shamelessly identified myself with the courageous and self-doubting commander and was ready to conquer both Fame and the Beautiful Lady.
Is this a proper way to commemorate the battle of Trafalgar? - the Honourable Reader might rightly ask. All I can say is that those of us who read Forester's saga will always see Nelson with special spectacles on.. lens rose-tinted, perhaps.. giving a warm glow to the various Her Majesty's Ships.. the viewpoint of a boy with endless Time and Glory in front of him.. just before the crash of adulthood.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ralph Fiennes

Web-citizens, blog-countrymen, lend me your ears...

I went twice to the Teatro Espanol this week, to see Mr. Fiennes performing as Mark Anthony in the steps of the Capitol. "Twice?" - the incredulous Honourable Reader might ask. Twice indeed. If you can do it (and afford it) there's no better way to engrave in your memory something of which there will be no video or DVD or electronic recording of any kind. I did it just a few times, in fact. Among them a "Nutcracker" at the Gulbenkian Foundation, some thirty years ago, where my ballerina-sweetheart at the time had a minor role, and Stoppard's "Arcadia" at the National Theatre (of course!). More recently a Comedie Française production of Tchekov's "Platonov", where I took in successive nights two very different sweet friends. The essence of scientific method (Claude Bernard's "la methode experimentale") is to repeat experiments where only one variable stands out. Everything else must remain constant (like temperature, forces applied or chemical environment) . When the "variable" is the person seated next to you, some original conclusions might be extrapolated from the experimentation.

Another type of "scientific experiment" in the case of "Julius Cesar" was to compare what Ralph Fiennes could do to me, when mourning the death of Cesar, that could add to the same job brilliantly performed by Marlon Brando in Manciewick's film. A very difficult task, I rush to say, because the black and white film belongs to the precious small list of films my father deliberately decided to take his young children to watch as part of their education.

I was not being rigorous at all. How can one compare cinematic apples with theatrical oranges? The fact is, the praise of the dead Cesar by his friend and chief of staff Mark Anthony remains the most important operative political speech of all times. The bravura performance under such adverse conditions is a masterpiece both in oratory and in manipulative skills. And both are essential to charismatic political leadership. Brando had so much charisma that the Roman populace would follow him anyway. But could Fiennes pull it off? Could he convince his Roman fellow-citizens and the audience at the Teatro Espanol? (Neither Miss Wednesday nor Ms. Sunday had seen Brando, demonstrating that relative movie illiteracy is not linked to a particular generation).

When you are seated in row 5 at the center-left side of the stalls ( or in row 4 in the center-right side) the whole experiment becomes extremely unfair to cinema and to Uncle Marlon. Ralph Fiennes gives it all and displays the full range of skills of an exceptional actor. As all demagogues know the trick to move the masses is to pretend to be one of them. Brutus couldn't hide he was addressing the Forum from a patrician, albeit democratic, perspective while Fiennes/Mark Anthony was the portentous demagogue, making the audience feel his real grief for the loss of Cesar and simultaneously taking political advantage of the sympathy generated by precisely that moving exposure of his emotions. Modulation of volume output, histrionics and, above all, the absolute mastery of rhythm and timing made the difference. (The almost metronomic quality of timing is the foremost quality of all great populist political speeches, not mattering if taking place in Nuremberg during a NSDAP congress, or in the Central Squares of Castro's Havana or Peron's Buenos Aires, or at the Westminster Parliament - dear Old Winston being probably the best orator of them all).

Deborah Warner's mise en scene of "Julius Cesar" is breathtaking. Playing with our shared imagery and experience of contemporary political leaders (the "suits", the hungers-on), of mega rock concerts (for many the sole experience of a rally for the masses) and of contemporary military interventions in Kuwait and Irak (Brutus in "Desert Storm" batlledress is awesome) , Ms Warner brings the play into immediate political relevance for us. Brilliant and much more effective than any documentary or journalistic research with an agenda.

The Plaza de Sant' Ana, where the Teatro occupies a side, was tropical rained on Tuesday, echoing the wondrous rain in Rome just before the Ides of March. On Sunday, pleasantly and invitingly warm, theater goers decided to have supper there. It took ages to get the tapas of anchovies and cheese, and a client who had arrived much later than me, who was seated at a neighbouring table, got his food much quicker. But then again he was Mr. Ralph Fiennes..

Domenikos Theotokopoulos

Old Spain in Toledo..

The painter's son in El Greco's
"The Burial of the Count of Orgaz" 1586 Posted by Hello

I am very thankful to the Honorary Caliph of Moraleja and his Persepolis wife, to the Hunting Crusader and to smiling Otter for the quick progresses I have been making in the sociological study of the Vieja España.
At a recent sea-bass and Pommerol outdoors dinner, hosted by the magnificently yellow ethnic dressed Taj al~Sultan I was honoured to encounter the Iconic Marquis, famous both for his wit and for his grand parties in Aranjuez. Halas! Those parties are no more, but their full impact in the listeners amazed faces could still be discerned. A wholesome representative of that gentlemanly, puertadehierro-only, monarchists' monarchist Spain that keeps a low profile and practices a kind of reversed apartheid ( choosing a self-imposed ghetto policy). Known as Old Spain, a bit to tease the roturiers who dare to show off in the ghastly "heart" press.
Another source of data on Finis Hispaniae (to adopt the apocalyptical viewpoint of those who do not share a particular enthusiasm for the policies of Irak withdrawals, gay marriage and flash divorce...) are the happy guests of the Hunting Crusader, at his delicious multilingual socialite dinner parties.
But most recently, thanks to Otter, I witnessed a full 200 guests-size Old Spain party, in Toledo.
The Host, let us call him Loyolla, has an unpronounceable short name for a non-Spanish vocal apparatus. He is one of six (or is it seven?) brothers, and the family Cigarral in the outskirts of the City of The Greek is a genuine marvel. ( Carmelo in Cordova, Cigarral in Toledo, and Cason God-knows-where, how can one ever learn the intricate taxonomy of Spanish country estates?). With a Gothic-Romantic taste for old archeological stones and for building follies, his father showed a prolific taste. The resulting mix of edenic garden and cultured architectural details was a perfect scenery for a Saturday gathering of Old Madrilenos and Old Bilbainos of the forty-something average generation.
Just like in Old Lisbon, men do not dance. They stand upright with their whiskies or vodka-tonics as their guarding swords while their dames enjoy themselves with rumbas or flamenco-rocks. Only very few, including this modest blogger of yours, dear Honourable Reader, ventured into the almost women-only dancing grounds. At least before the third vodka. Nothing can surpass the eroticism of a rumba, no matter the age of the blood that flows in one's veins. And the green-dressed Colombe mesmerized me with her oscillating hips. Some of the ladies were beautiful, a few extremely so. The crown must lay in the head of the eponymous of the Troy beauty. She had both a heart-slaving melancholic side and a jack-in-the-box mischievous side. Fall for her at your own risk, Honourable Reader!
I managed to make good progress in my linguistic research of Spanish slang, and I'm now almost able to manage the subtleties and inflections of the interjection "joder!". Other words, near unpublishable, I will deal with in a forthcoming blogtext.
Tosca was a very glamorous rubia, who told me that her Grandmother, from Cartagena de Indias, was a great admirer of Puccini and named her daughter after the famous female operatic character. Her mother followed the tradition. Caribe biography, melodramatic opera and Hispanic genealogy make a rather interesting ground for a collector of stories, doesn't it? I ask Tosca if she is aware of the tragic fate of namesake. She nods affirmatively.
Uniformed watchers of alcohol consumption being on the loose in the motorways, the after-party night was spent in Toledo. There was time for getting acquainted with the splendid Medieval City, including the obligatory jaw-dropping view of El Greco's painting of Old Spain's Count of Orgaz.

Friday, June 24, 2005



Nice picture, hey? Posted by Hello

More than one Honourable Reader has been complaining that what I write is very difficult to read. In fact, some even suggest that the stuff I post in my blog is unreadable. So, today, for once, I’ll try to write more clearly. Short sentences, no made up words and clear grammar. Right? Right.

An Honourable Reader asked me recently if I was conscious that the general content of my blog indicates that I might be falling into madness. I told the Honourable Reader I was not aware of that. Another Honourable Reader told me that in a recent get together my blog was visited. Here’s the reaction: “We all smiled. Nobody could understand a thing”. Yet another Honourable Reader asked me to be frank in my answer to a question he was going to put to me. The question was: “The self-glorification and exhibitionism of your blog are deliberate or you just don’t get it?” I replied that it was not deliberate, it’s just the way I am, I suppose. A number of Honourable Readers congratulate me on the pictures. Most of them only see the pictures anyway, not bothering to read the text. That’s alright with me. I enjoy the process of selecting and editing the pictures almost as much as writing the texts.

I hope all Honourable Readers can understand the paragraphs above.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Johan Strauss

Waltzing Mathilda...

Two Missing In Action buttons... Posted by Hello

A Ball for debuting in Society is an anachronism.. everybody surely agrees on that? ... Wouldn't it be better to splash in the liquid wonders of my beloved Lisbon instead? But, as we all know, blood is thicker than water.. and what if all the balance of the Universe could depend on that Blue Danube smile on Daddy'sDaughter face?.. would one risk a bizarre catastrophe in the Southern Hemisphere, with giga-mega casualties, just for the sake of complying with the rules of the Anti Debutation League?
I thouroughly enjoyed myself except for the need to be aware at all times of the fate of the two remaining Dunhill buttons of my dinner-jacket shirt. The photo above depicts the last time in History the three of them were seen together. Sometime, early this year, one of them just could not take the strain anymore and quit. This time round I was ferociously protective of the twins but to no avail. I went out of the Ball Room for a second, lowered my guard .. and upon returning to the waltzing area only one button was on duty in his place.
In risk of showing my embarrassing low-suntan chest skin I had to improvise. Hoping nobody would notice it I discretely used - for a brief period - the pin I was wearing of the Order of ... in a totally inappropriate way.
Girls were glowing with excited happiness. Some rare Mothers managed to be both elegant AND beautiful, but none more so than the Dubliner.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Gert Holstege

Updating Kinsey & Hite research with the help of a brain scanner...

Brain areas are shut off during female orgasm Posted by Hello
Professor Gert Holstege, from Groningen University, is doing some elegant and handsome research on the neurological dimension of sex, thanks to latest generation brain scanners.
Volunteers, 11 men and 13 women, came to his Neuroscience lab with their respective partners, having agreed to be injected with a dye that shows changes in brain function on a scan and to lay on the scanning machine bed in hankypanky experimental conditions.
For studying orgasm the experimental apparatus revealed itself useless for men. A pattern of brain activity that takes less than two minutes is not detected by the scan so the few seconds of men's ejaculation is like a non-event in the sex-seismograph..
Women are different though, they climax for a sufficient amount of time for the brain scanner to show wonderful changes in coloured areas of the computer generated image.
Forget about media hype on 'fake-orgasm detectors' by your bed, what is really impressive is this find that during orgasm "there was strong, enormous deactivation in the brain". The parts of the brain that govern fear and anxiety are switched off, apparently. You can elaborate on that in two ways. On one hand it means you have a concrete neurological evidence to substantiate the well known subjective feeling of "loosing yourself" at the time of Big O. When, so to speak, something happens in a territory beyond fear and other negative vibes. On the other hand, it might be said that in the absence of fear and anxiety it might be easier to reach orgasm (a bit like re-inventing the wheel, really).
Anyway, the idea that one of the most deliberately addictive phenomena in the animal kingdom (crucial to keep reproductive instincts alive) is not only the active endorphin-producing flash, we took for granted, but also a Zen-like switching off of all "useless" brain areas has a certain philosophical beauty..


Mind games...

One less sudoku to solve in the world... Posted by Hello

The latest fashion in exercising your brain cells in an innocent way is to solve a Sudoku. Less glamorous than Rubik cubes and less susceptible to merchandising too... Recycled crosswords addicts and other puzzle solving nerds hear the call!.. Sudoku is here to stay..

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Terry Guilliam

A Cult Movie Blockbuster...

"Twelve Monkeys" Posted by Hello

Is it the Piazolla music, the retro-future or the sheer no-clue complexity of the plot? I just can't get enough of "12 Monkeys" and I'm glad I managed to convince Fritz the Boy to watch it again. My Collector's Edition DVD has a extremely enlightening documentary about the " making of ".. I wish I had only strictly legal DVDs with all the bonuses and special features instead of all these Wild Capitalism second-rate pirate copies (which happened to found their way to my DVD-library around the time of my stay in Moscow) ...

Bruce Wayne

Super-Daddy Activities...
Posted by Hello
Gotham City, his bat-inhabitant and the "MID" building in Moscow
This week-end was a Batman double-whammy for me. I braved the raucous "circensis" masses at the Warner Bros. Park in the outskirts of the Ciudad, where I delighted in the roller-coasters and the bat-plane flight simulation; and I went to see with Fritz the Boy the latest cinematic installment ("Batman Begins").
The architecture of Gotham City in the first Batman films (Tim Burton's) was superb and I'm glad that what they replicated in a theme park has a bit of the feeling of the original. The best "Gotham City" building is of course the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in Moscow. Almost a ready-to-use set for chiropter's adventures...
I just wished there were less prominent warning signs about the risks of rollercoasting when you have heart disease, or backache, or neckpain... It makes those of us no longer teenagers slightly uncomfortable.. I had to say a eve-of-military-operation goodbye - including stressing how pleased I was to have met Frizt the Boy, and how honored I was of being his father - each time the safety belts were adjusted and the rolling started...

Felipe II

The Rise and Fall of the Spanabsbourg Empire...

Sofonisba Anquissola's "Felipe II" (1573) Posted by Hello

Thanks to the invitation from the Visiting Soprano, I found myself seated, Friday evening, at the excellent butaca 4 of row 7 in the stalls of the Teatro Real watching "Don Carlo".

This 2001 production is very much a "Mise en Scene d'auteur" . Hugo de Ana, is not only the Director but also both the Scenographer and the Costume Designer. The sets are about grandiloquent Renaissance grandeur, to make us - the mere subjects of the Sovereign- share the awe for the personification of Imperial Power. In that sense the story of Don Carlo becomes a Mythology. Felipe-Jupiter presiding over the whereabouts of nymph-goddesses (like Elizabeth and the Princess of Eboli) and demi-gods (like Carlo and Rodrigo). The dark "Grand Inquisidor" is the only god-like figure that can be said to be in the same league as the King.

Where does this take us? What is the point of blogging this thoughts, the Honourable Reader might ask.. Well, as I said to Tatiana in the after-performance supper, we are in Lost Empire Syndrome (LES) territory all over again. States that have at some point acquired Imperial status of world significance, and then return to normalcy, produce spoilt unbalanced child over-bragging about the uniqueness of their heritage or forever whinnying about insufficient attention paid to them and their unique country. (I am told that in a recent launching of a new book on the Escorial Palace a Ministerial Authority said with utter seriousness that "without referring to the Escorial one cannot understand the history of Spain? the history of Europe? the history of the World". That is the type of LES-related delirious hyperbole I'm talking about).

LES is a fate that affects all of us who had their glorious "moment" (as they say in script-writer's lingo) in History. That includes my own, I rush to say. Many clever things have been told about Britain/Classical Athens enlightening America/Ancient Rome as a new role for LES-ridden UK; or about the world power projection of the European Union Project as the new chance for LES-affected France; or the megalomaniac celebrations of S.Petersburg Centenary as an obvious compensation for the acute form of LSE Russia is experiencing since she has lost Soviet Union-related Superpower Status.
So, I'll argue that seeing "Don Carlo" in the heart of Hapsburg Madrid in an awesome imperial scenographic approach dangerously becomes a political manifesto..
(ps. Roberto Scandiuzzi (Filippo II) and Olga Guryakova (Elisabetta) were the most credible as impersonations of royalty and tormented love pursuits. Dolora Zajick (La Princesa de Eboli) sings like an (slightly overweight) angel and makes life very difficult in the bravometer for the other feminine lead role. (In any case,in the score of "Don Carlo" Verdi has treated the Mezzo much better than the Soprano... Some affair he was conducting at the time?)

Friday, June 17, 2005

Olga Guryakova

Backstage with a Soprano and a Prima Ballerina ..

Ms. Guryakova ( )
in a recent production of Die Fledermaus Posted by Hello

The Honourable Reader of this blog has been promised some first-hand account of the inner loins of the Teatro Real and he should not be kept waiting.

Tatiana had put my name down on the list of people to be granted access to the backstage area and I duly followed on. Immediately after the clapping and the "Bravo!" shouts died down, I follow my instructions. As I leave the Stalls I turn right, then right again after the small Cava Bar and walk through two successive varnished wooden gates, like upper-deck doors on a nonchalant cruise liner. ( As I walk briskly I keep remembering my other example of theatrical speleology, at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow).

A young attendant, with a black T-shirt with the logo of the Teatro Real and a red scarf that reminds one of the Red Pioneers (the Stalin Youth) asks with kindness: "And you are a visitor to...? ". I smile, check that are three little clusters of people on that corridor, and decline the name of the Guest Soprano. We are in a neat passage-way with the Main Stage right next to us. Signs both in English and Spanish give strict instructions like the ones you can see in a small factory or in the wings of an Iberia Airbus.

(To get to sanctum sanctorum in the Bolshoi I had to be escorted by a member of the Staff of the Royal Ballet from the deepest foyer-bar of the Theatre until a security manned toll gate on a narrow confluence of corridors (one would have taken us to the Artists' Entrance, another to the Dressing Rooms). Miss Smile, feeling an accomplice in crime, has warned me to act like an old trooper since she had had no time to get me a Pass. I use my spy-like skills of supreme self-confidence (or should I say my experience as gate-crasher of VIP areas in trendy Oligarchs-only clubs?). The Security Guard decides to concentrate on the timid customers of his Check Point Charlie instead. I can spot the cavernous huge stage of the Bolshoi and the tiny passage we are asked to take.)

The conductor, Don Carlo and The Grand Inquisitor plus my very own Queen Elizabeth of Valois pop up in the corridor, utter a beginning-of-summer-holidays brief comment (like " This is it. No more classes") and engulf themselves in their respective dressing rooms. Well, not the Maestro ( no make-up to remove). He deals with his visitors straight away. Time passes, all clusters have dissolved, I remain in the corridor, where a CCTV monitor shows the quick progress in stripping bare the Main Stage.The black T-shirted Red Pioneer makes some inquiries in low voice at the door of Tatiana's dressing room, signaling that her visitor is now waiting outside. She returns back to me with an apologizing smile "Ms. Somethingova is having her shower".

( Mentally back to the Moscow Opera, I remember that when I walked through the passageway, going down first and then upwards into some pre-historic iron steps, the stench of cat piss was unbearable. The SwanLake Princess had warned me about it, with a mischievous smile. The dressing room was delerict but full of the right atmosphere. More like Barnum Circus on the road around turn of the century than serious operatic gilded palace, but charming. I could see members of the Russian staff, baboushkas with generous bosoms and varicose legs, carrying the enormous dresses of Odile, of the Princess, and of all the velvety anybody who was anybody in that production.)

Back in The Plaza del Oriente, a short energetic woman leaves Tatiana's Dressing Room with an imposing dress, obviously weighting a ton, and rushes towards a staff only area. She returns shortly afterwards, enters the room and extricates herself again, carrying a new dress (the Coronation one , I think). She repeats that again, this time carrying the final dress of the Queen, the one that follows the Prado portrait inch by inch. I'm at last invited to enter the Soprano's private quarters. A well-lit spacious cabinet with a en-suite bathroom, like a neat room in a private clinic. One wall is occupied by an holywoodesque mirror framed by light bulbs, another by a vertical Steinway and the third one has a cosy two-seats burgundy red sofa where I'm seating right now.

I congratulate Tatiana-Olga for her performance, feeling that she's eager for approval but at the same time too much exhausted to listen properly. A bit like congratulating an athlete after the full ten thousand meters. She's ready to leave and we go out taking a different route, with Russian language around us, because of the retiring Grand Inquisitor finding us. We leave by the Artists' Entrance, with sleek aluminum electronic card-operated revolving bays, like Metro station ticket-reading devices. We found ourselves in the warm night of the Ciudad, and think of a starting place for "tapeo".

( As the Princess and I leave the Bolshoi, through the old and modest Artist's Entrance opposite the TSUM commercial galleries, the ambivalent Moscow night calls us to supper. )
A night at the opera house with a metaphorical "Access Stage" plastic red pass...

Juan Miro

A sculpture in a quiet room at the Reina Sofia..

Miro's "Personnage" bronze 71 x 32.5 x 16 cm, 1969 Posted by Hello

Pablo Ruiz Picasso

Waiting to be called by a painting, at the Reina Sofia...

Sacrilegious manipulation of the Guernica Posted by Hello

I took Tatiana, who can from now on be called by her real name, following her explicit authorization, to the National Museum and Art Collection Queen Sofia. I took Ms Olga Guryakova, then, to the Reina Sofia.
The Second Floor, with its famous Picasso, Miro and Dali Rooms, was a powerful enough shower of freshness to counterbalance the 34º C outside which were baking the stones of the Plaza at ground level. The studies for Guernica, the photographic following of the Guernica-Work-in-Progress and the 3 point 5 by 8 gigantic canvas itself are awesome. ( I tell Olga that I saw Guernica in that very same trip to operatic New York, and that definitely it looked better against a non-white background.)
I remember, as always, the tip from Professor Juvenal ( Renaissance man in his own right, about whom I will blog one of these days) regarding Art Gallery visits: "Don't worry about loosing anything, relax and stroll peacefully... the paintings that matter, that will matter to you, will call you.. You just have to pay attention to their call.. then walk towards them... and spend some time there".
I regret to say that Guernica didn't really call me, although, contradicting the late Professor, I did spent obviously quite some time there. (A small bronze sculpture by Miro, "Personnage" , of 1969, did talk to me some three rooms further down).
I felt like doing something about the sacred status that painting end up acquiring .. It's like there are different Stations in a Secular Via Cruxis of Anti-Fascism, and the "Guernica" is one of them... Too much pomposity gets one close to mischief. Maybe a deliberate virtual act of cultural vandalism is in order. All it takes is the appropriate software and a digital picture of "Guernica" downloaded from the Reina Sofia website...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Elizabeth of Valois

Operatic late-afternoon...

Sofonisba Anguissola's 1565 portrait and a modern-day live version Posted by Hello

A phone call out of nowhere.. names of Moscow friends are dropped.. a meeting point is thereafter hastily arranged.. I find myself waiting at the Entree des Artistes of the Teatro Real for "Elizabeth de Valois" to arrive.
Tatiana, let's call her like that, has come to the Ciudad to perform in "Don Carlo" the role of the French Princess. "Drastvuitie!" - I tell her in my very best Russian, when she arrives, dressed in white and with the usual Slavic svelte long arms and beautiful long fingers, although paradoxically suntanned.
Sipping our respective drinks, in the warm afternoon, we talk opera, a subject rather warm to my heart, the way wine-buffs elaborate on the merits of a particular vintage of Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande. Tatiana complains that, with the almost Visconti-like obsession with the historical veracity of every detail on stage, she is made to wear a dress that weights more than herself. An exact replica in fact of the dress of Madame de Valois in the famous portrait (depicted above) one can see at the Museo del Prado. "And the collar, you can't believe it! How is one supposed to sing comfortably wearing that?".
I tell her of my shock when, many years ago, attending an Uncle Placido's performance of "Don Carlo" at the Met, I recognized, among the flags depicting the possessions of King Felipe, the Coat of Arms of the Kingdom of Portugal. Historically true, of course, but it always tastes as if one has to host a small living pachyderm in one's oesophagus...
She was amused with the recollection of my visit to the dressing rooms of the Bolshoi, when I was honoured to witness a Royal Ballet grand ballerina removing her make-up while all the fuss of an end of a tour was going on. ( Another Elizabeth, now that i think of it). Efforts will be made to replicate the experiment in the insiders' areas of the Teatro Real.
What one is prepared to do for the sake of maintaining the standards of this blog...

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


Unforgettable characters....

Camilo, D. Camillo and Camilo Posted by Hello

( A bit far-fetched, I agree with the Honourable Reader. To be able to distinguish in the hypertrophied pixels above the features of three distinct Camilos. The severe spectacled face of Camilo Jose Cela... Fernandel with a priest's bonnet immortalizing Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo.. and the typical features of a nineteencentury gentleman-writer, Camilo Castello Branco.. They are related, the three of them, to that quintessential English double-edged expression "Joe Bloggs? ... Ah! Joe Blogg is a character". Meaning that the grey colour is an honourable pursuit in life and flamboyance or any kind of fuss, although a source of dinner-party enjoyment, should be best avoided. The two writers , "characters" in that sense themselves, were of course responsible for giving life to a gallery of characters who were "characters" in their own right. And Don Camillo... what a "character" ! )

Why am I in Camilo mood, the Honourable Reader might ask? Something, no doubt, to do with yesterday's dinner-party, where the ghost of Nobel Prize winner Cela could easily be invoked. A charming hostess, with a blessed mix of Galician and Andalusian blood, something like a strong-headed Aries mellowed by a Pisces ascendant... Old Spain manners all around... a white-suited Georgetown-educated Bogota beauty... a nice white-dressed Lady aware of the existence of Tula (Russia) for moving reasons... a distinguished couple of inhabitants, until recently, of Belgrave Square's diplomatic Arcadia... a smiling Manager-Engineer nostalgic of the Colombian verb "rumbear"... The by-the-pool pavilion a perfect set for the almost square-shape dining-table where goat cheese morsels, curried langostinos and mint and chocolat postre slices followed one another with perfect rhythm.

Each dinner-guest can/could be turned into a "character" if the literary need arises... Camilo Jose would have understood that... Camilo too...

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

John Frederick Lewis

Orientalist Painters (III)

"Women" Posted by Hello

( After some googling I recommend )

Eugenio de Andrade

A Poet is dead...

Pomegranate / Granada/ RomãPosted by Hello

"Still Life with Fruit"

The morning blood of raspberries
chooses the whiteness of linen to love.

Morning filled with sparklings and sweetness
settles its purest face upon the apples.

In the orange, the sun and moon
are sleeping hand in hand.

Each grape knows by heart
the names of all of summer’s days.

In pomegranates, this I love—
the stillness in the center of the flame.

(Selected from "Forbidden Words: Selected Poetry of Eugenio de Andrade." Translated by Alexis Levitan, published by New Directions)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Luis Vaz de Camoes

National identity should be a laid-back thing...

The Greatest of us all... Posted by Hello

(The Nuncio has just finished Mass. Our National Day being the reason for the event, the secular patriotic indulgence of singing hymns that tell of a special relationship between the Virgin Mary and the Portuguese should be understood and forgiven. The co-patriots are now arriving in a steady flow and look eager on the rissoled goodies that are on offer in the big airport-like restaurant area. We now move to a different stage, on the opposite corner, and are supposed to say a few words to the hungry and thirsty masses, thus preventing them to start feast immediately. I sense the futility of a romantic-patriotic speech under the circumstances and opt for strictly no-nonsense welcome everybody short words. But my Children were in the room and I felt the acrid taste of frustration at not being able to flog them, in a good way, into understanding the beautiful meaning of the day.)
So many countries honour in their respective National days some political figure ( say, a Sovereign) or an historical collective event, like a revolutionary success or a bloodbath with significant political impact, that one should be proud that we do things differently, this once. That the National Day was set in the day a Poet died (in the annus horribilis of 1580), is an amazing thing in itself. Let us forget the origin of that tradition (from the Republican agenda following the fall of the Monarchy in 1910 to the Nationalistic program of the Far Right in the 40's ) and concentrate on the fundamentals. We all accept that a Poet, Luis Vaz de Camoes, is the focal point of our National Day. Neither a war, nor a Independence struggle or a boring constitutional event, but something to do with an exceptional man who wrote unbelievable beautiful lines. It's like if the Englishmen had decided to adopt the birth or death of Shakespeare as their National day, or if the Russians had opted for a "Tolstoy Day".
I believe it's a proud achievement, a mark of civilized behaviour (like abolishing the Death Penalty). I always remember that every 10th of June. I hope my Children, who won awards at the karaoke competition at the party and seemed reasonably pleased with the time spent there, will end up sharing my pride. Somewhere in between nationalistic barking and post-colonial apologizing each of us has to find the healthy patriotic shores and sandbeaches. To lay down and smile.
Viva Portugal!

Noel Harry Leaver

Orientalist painters (II)

A Moorish City (detail after digital manipulation) Posted by Hello

Elizabeth Nourse

Orientalist Painters (I)

The Mosque, Tunis 1897 (detail after digital manipulation) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Roald Amundsen

Norway: young at 100-years old...

A South-Pole inhabitant Posted by Hello

Norway is birthdayparty-ing: one hundred years old as an Independent state. I do like Norway and for many reasons, including some non-bloggable ones. Their most celebrated hero is Amundsen who, playing fair, first discovered the South Pole. A land towards which I must confess a special interest since I'm the proud owner of a taxidermised Penguin (Ysmail, depicted above) from a species that used to overpopulate the area.
As a suggestion to honour and congratulate the non-EU but NATO member of the European Family why not doing something Norwegian in the coming days? Apart from the "usual suspects" (like Grieg, Ibsen , Munch... or Liv Ullman) why not reading the tremendously powerful novel by Ms. Herborg Wassmo, "Dina's Book"? The Honourable Reader will not regret it.