Monday, January 29, 2007

Charles Dickens

Small isn't beautiful...

The "Larios Cafe" , upstairs...
This last weekend this blogger of yours took two young Russian ladies to a bit of Madrid-by-night. And one thing astonished us. The average height of the people dancing at the Disco in the basement of Larios Café was around 1.60 while the average height at the Castellana Ocho (ex-Jazzanova) was 1.70 at least. Has the predominance of Cuban music in the first stop attracted an Hispanic American population which tends to be shorter, on average, than home grown Spaniards? Has the presence of innumerous expats from Northern Europe in the second drinking dent shifted the bell-shaped height-distribution curve to the right?

That reminded me of one of my most shocking memories during my Military Service (the Right Honourable Reader, if from the British Isles, might be more familiar with the term National Service).
The first period of training, the induction into the Armed Forces, so to speak, was done in Military Barracks in the South where two Companies were being formed with the new “enlisted” soldiers.

1st Company, to which this blogger of yours was attached, was formed by “cadets”, candidates to a NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer) badge by the end of training. With University degrees all of us. Mostly medical doctors, engineers, economists, a couple of lawyers, an architect or two. Cheap highly qualified labour for the military institution, in fact. 2ndCompany, which did get a totally separate training, was made, on the other hand, of soldiers destined to be cooks, drivers, cleaners and “cannon fodder” (if ever one could still use this concept). They were mostly from Northern rural areas, with just primary school most of them.

We only get to parade together very near the end of training, close to the Honour The Flag ceremony. The two neat compact groups of uniformed young people, 1st Company and 2nd Company were closing ranks side by side for the first time. And then we became aware that something was not "right": they seemed to us a different “tribe” altogether! They were like pygmies, really.

The scientific explanation was simple and terrible. Our Company of “Officer-material” was composed of sons of rather wealthy people who had supplied their children throughout their growth phase with high-protein diets; while our Northern compatriots had had to struggle both against DNA (their parents being already not tall) and misery-related low-protein diet.

As I said, the Dickesian result was shocking and ashamed us, the privileged ones.

This was twenty something years ago. Things have improved quite a lot. But still…

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Francis Scott Fitzgerald

Riviera beauty...

Cybershooting Belén in the end of "Closer" at the Lara...

Ms. Belén Rueda has the allure, the blondness and the bone structure this blogger of yours has always imagined as atributes of the character "Nicole" in Scott Fitzgerald's "Tender is the Night".. Does the Right Honourable Reader not agree?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Arnaldo Otegi

The bomb rather than the ballot box...

Went to Barajas Terminal 4 to fetch a daughterly visitor. I saw these Beirut or Belgrade-like images. As if an heavy precision bomb has been dropped by a F-111 from 10 000 feet. ETA people still have not made up their minds in the bombs versus the ballot box dilemma. You can't have both, as the Provisionals will tell you. Grown-up politics are tough but there's only one decision to make. Terrorism might be an over-used concept but Democracy, no matter how many times you try to bend its meaning, is still the one and only safeguard that ensures that a political struggle is conducted in a fair and clean manner.

Rafael Cidoncha

Orientalism with a human face...

The Madrid venue of the multi-national Marlborough Gallery is showing a must-see exhibition. Works done in these last four years by Rafael Cidoncha while staying at Bernard-Henri Levy's pied-à-terre in Marrakesh. Can't beat the über-trendiness of the whole thing. With BHL as your intellectual patron you can even get away with the biggest display of painter-on-commission this blogger of yours has seen in ages. You share the meals with the High Priest of Shoe Fashionism, Christian Louboutin; you spend quality time with the utmost example of Parisian-Actress-as-RiveGauche-Icon, BHL's wife Arielle Dombasle, and with the quintessential Philosopher-as-Pop-Star, BHL himself; you sleep in their lovely villa in Marrakesh (formerly Talitha Getty's place). Then you paint that Court: their cactus, their faces with superb tan; the Moorish State Rooms; even the lovely blue colours of Ms Dombasle's bathroom.. And then you have a serious talk with your agent and the whole lot is put on display in a sleek Art Gallery. All for sale. Something like an auction of BHL's memorabilia.
The end result is a kind of Post-Orientalism. A new Delacroix, more attentive to the Aborigines' sensibilities for sure, but still very much Morocco as the exotic playground of the European (new) gentry.

Just as a catalyst of these layers of significance, just as a remarkable example of painting-as-narrative, Cidoncha 's exhibition is fascinating. But, of course, we wouldn't spent precious blog-time if the paintings were not valid, legitimate, artistic statements in themselves. This painter is good.

Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy

In Europe we keep saying that politics in America lack intellectual sophistication and that political actors are just marketing puppets... And then "they" deliver a TV-Series like "West Wing" and a film like Emilio Estevez's "Bobby" ... And your comforting and patronizing thoughts about the US start to vanish...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


To escape going on wandering in the streets of an icy-cold Madrid night we enter the first spot which looks alright. A club of a peculiar sexual persuasion, in fact. The music was funky and the video screens were all over the place.
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Belén Rueda

An actress 'Closer' to my heart...

The famous 'Aquarium scene' worked better than on the movie..

I bought tickets for a Madrid production of Patrick Marber's "Closer" not because I like every Natalie Portman-related event (even if very indirectly...); not because the film was actually quite adult, in a refreshing sort of way; not because theatre made with commitment and heart is always well worth watching - but because I have this thing about yummy Belén... She would be my favourite 40-years old if I would ever indulge a beauty of that age (I'm more of a twenty-something, some people might be tempted to say. Some people just say whenever comes to their mind.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gaston Hochar

Bekaah Reds instead of Beirute Blues...

A must have for wine lovers that defend biodiversity...

What Lebanese stories outside pure politics would help in making three-dimensional the conflict around the possession of the margins of the Litani River? Perhaps the epic tale of the wines of Gaston Hochar, from Chateau Musar, the Lebanese “Grand Cru”? With vineyards in the Bekaah Valley almost contiguous to the front lines, the continuity of that wine is an elegy to the Lebanese determination to move on. The ardour of the battles in 1983 right in harvest time made the oenologist son, Serge, to infiltrate clandestinely into their own properties to lead the vintage campaign. The family’s wine stronghold, the Ghazir Castle, was several times hit by artillery fire. There were even times when the caves of the winery had “dual-use”, employed to stock the barrels alright but also to serve as an improvised bunker for the near-panicking local population against bombardments. Can one “understand” the Bordeaux area never having tasted a Grand Cru? Isn’t it the case that each time I’m quietly enjoying a bottle of Château Musar I’m advancing an extra bit in the understanding of Lebanon? To make wine in the Arab world is always a sensible issue, and to have the arrogance to produce it according to classical canon, the French way, is quintessential Lebanese. It has something of transgression of the Coranic consuetudinary but also of a tongue-in-cheek challenging of European patronizing ways. It’s a wine one drinks with political enjoyment, so to speak. (I cherish the memory of the bottle of a 1967 I’ve opened this Summer to honour the cessation of hostilities on the way to a cease-fire).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Fidel Castro

Relax, be cool, have a cigar..

Enjoying a "Petit Robusto" from Hoyo de Monterey is a gesture of utmost civilized silent Ghandi-esque resistance against the anti-tobacco jihadists... we have to be secularists in what pertains to smoke... public displays of smoking are not to be encouraged.. but in the privacy of our gentlemanly castles a cigar puff is our quiet answer to the State smoke-free harassment outside...

Rudyard Kipling

"Kim", the great poem of the Indian Atlantis...

Sorry to bother the Right Honourable Reader with Lawrence Durrell again, but this time it's about something he said not anything he wrote. Durrell was born in Dharjeeling, in Raj times, and he considered himself a "colonial" and an "Anglo-Indian". (Surprising choice of term if one remembers that it is normally used for someone of mixed Indian and British descent, which was not his case. He was more like "white trash", as one would say now. Or a British "pied noir"). Anyway he said this:
"I was born into that strange world of which the only great poem is the novel "Kim" by Kipling " .

James Baker III

The Unbearable Hardness of the Peace Process...

A two-days conference on "Madrid Fifteen Years Later" at the Intercontinental, in the Castellana. Felt like going back in time, indeed. As Hanan Ashrawi said in her intervention, with a microscopic hint of self-consciousness: "we are older, hopefuly the wiser.. with a certain amount of cynicism .. but still very much engaged and commited to move things further.."
I managed to flash my older, wiser (more cynical) self to a number of carefuly selected attendants, including la Ashrawi herself. Later, back in my office, I flex the muscles of my keyboard-typing fingers, reporting my impressions. Felt good to be back in business.
I realize I'm still very much engaged and commited to move things further.

Noah Webster

A brand new lexicon..

Sheherazade e-mails me remarking that the 2006 winners of Mensa's Washington Post competition for new words (replacing, adding or subtracting a letter on an existent word) are about to be disclosed; and that last year's winners' were:

1. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying (or building) a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2. Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
3. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize that it was your money to start with.
4. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
5. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6. Foreploy: Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
8. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
9. Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Hipatitis: Terminal coolness.
11. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
12. Karmageddon: It's when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, and then the Earth explodes and it's a serious bummer.
13. Decafalon (n.): The gruelling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
14. Glibido: All talk and no action.
15. Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
16. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web.
17. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
18. Caterpallor (n.): The colour you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you're eating.

Maria Martha

Cambridge Circus...

Homerton College, Cambridge
Stop the press! Breaking news! She did it! My very own Gillmore-girl made it... All going well, next October I'll have my Little Seal at Cambridge... Well done, Girl..

As the moth said, while still inside the dark cocoon : "From here I will leave flying!".

Have a grand flight at Homerton, my beautiful Butterfly!

Matias Krahn

Forget the 'Rebajas' ..

Matías Krahn's "El Centro de Jade", 2007; oil on canvas; 1.60 x 1.60.

Decisions, decisions... Last Saturday, engaged in my routine of arriving at the kiosk in Calle Goya to buy the "Financial Times-Week End" just before closing time (at 1 p.m.), I'm stopped short at my "local" art gallery...

Like tasting a vintage of a Grand Cru "en primeur", even before it gets the attention of the retailers or the wine connoisseurs and critics, I'm showed a photo.

The very latest Matias Krahn, I'm told. Just out of the atelier and off the young Chilean painter's brush-and-colours attentions. Would I like to be top of a short-list of potential buyers?

Like a drug addict who cannot just say no, I confirm I am honoured by the status offered. Prices were not discussed at this junction.

So, in a week of "Sales!!" and "50% Off!" stickers at every shop-window, I keep my buying nerve and my wallet tightly shut. I'm economizing, you see.

I must have that painting, I must...

Sergei Lukyanenko

Moscow believes in in Vampire Tears..

Another morning with lots of goodies, (paid) courtesy Mstrs. Amazon, Co and Uk. These books were ordered after my Russian better-half insisted that the novels were even better than the movies, which were indeed great post-Soviet Moscovite fun.

In fact "Time Out" says about "NightWatch" that the book is "so good that the film feels like a trailer for it".

The Right Honourable Reader can rest assured that when I'll finish reading these two installments of Lukyanenko's trilogy (the third book awaits translation) I will not fail to share my thoughts with Him.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Alain Fournier

'Le Grand Meaulnes' awaits you..

A couple of weeks ago I found, with horror, that none of my "first-generation" children knew about the "Le Grand Meaulnes", the most romantic book an adolescent can read. The lack of reading skills in French in much of them meant I had to procure an English version of Alain Fournier's masterpiece. directed my hard-cover preferences towards one of these outsourced providers who seem to have proliferated in recent times.

Well, I can see why. The book arrived this morning still wrapped in plastic and with a library stick indicating a row in a shelf (AF AL). Inside one could spot several rubber stamps. A rectangular one indicates "Heathland School Library, class A, number 760280". Various circular ones, with "The Heathland School" in the margins mention "Library" in bold letters at its center.

Is this an example of keeping, knowingly, stolen goods? Am I in the wrong side of the law, here? My conscience is quickly satisfied with the thought that the school in Heathland must have closed its doors long time ago, the books in its library having been dispersed after a hastily organized auction.

But... what if the school and the library are still there, awaiting for the "AF AL" item to be handed back?
Children, I'm afraid you will have to read "The Lost Domain" really fast...

Edward Pace

Zebra cross-dressing..

"An attempt by troopers of the East African Mounted Rifles.. (...) "
in Edward Paice's "Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy in Africa".

In last week's "Spectator", on a review for a book on the First World War in Africa, this delicious photo on the art of camouflaging a pony, to make it a zebra at the eyes of the enemy's low-tech military spying.

As the reviewer speaks about the "heroic uselessness of the Portuguese, marinated in saudade and patriotism (...)" in Tanganyka's near-abroad, I suppose I'll have to read the book...

Lawrence Durrell

Post-modern approach to Durrell's Tetralogy...

The tetralogy of Alexandria from Larry Durrell has worked for me as few others books managed to do. Why is so? Well, there one has a question to consider at a leisurely pace in the few decades ahead of one. Meanwhile I keep enriching my Bibliotheca Durrelliana..

The latest opus from the BritLit crowd is this "Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet in Its Egyptian Contexts" by a Dr. Michael V. Diboll, an Arabist and a scholar. Not being exactly a mainstream book it cost me a hefty 78 Pounds sterling to amazon it my way. It had better given me some value for money, you might say. Amazingly enough it did.

Diboll was in Cairo, learning Arabic, despairing of not quite feeling the appeal for any of the traditional jobs it entails. He was not interested in any of these " career options open to the professional Arabist - 'intelligence', the military, the diplomatic service, the arms trade, or the oil industry”. Happy with some serious political-literary comparative literature research in his spare time, doing Maphouz versus Durrell, in the framework of post-British pre-Nasser Egypt, our future author went for a Ph.D. instead. Yes, on Durrell's oeuvre, you guessed it right.

It must have been a shock for him (as indeed for me, a die-hard durrellista if ever there was one) to read the reference to Uncle Lawrence in the "Rough Guide" dealing with Egypt. Yes, the very same guide that youngish clever travellers identify with, talks about The Quartet in these terms: "Endless sexual and metaphysical ramblings by one of the twentieth century's most over-rated writers, occasionally relieved by dollops of Alex atmosphere". This is not a bad review of a book - this is book-character assassination!

So, Dr. Diboll embarks on a mission. To rescue the tetralogy from obsolescence. To save from oblivion the living souls of Nessim Hosnani, Justine, Darley, Pombal, Pursewarden, Ambassador Mountolive, Melissa, Narouz, Clea, Dr. Balthazar and innumerable other inhabitants of the Alexandrinian novel.

How does he go about in his quixotesque endeavours? By teasing us, reticent readers of dead white guru-esque writers, about the relevance of Durrell's book to very contemporary trends.

He makes us contemplate the accuracy of post-colonial and post-Imperial narrative (last gasp of Imperial Britannia); throw at us Edward Said's paradigm of "Orientalism" as a bone to our destructive gnawing; elaborates on middle-eastern alterity, an Otherness with a hint of "darkness", invoking Conrad/Copolla in the process, to unbalance us; cleverly alludes to Zionism, Pan-Arabism, Wafdism and other such politically-charged concepts to keep us guessing. And I don't even mention the "New Age" exoteric stuff, with Gnostic neo-Plotinuses at every corner and for every taste.

All that is quite impressive. In my case, he was preaching to a convert, so, I've no way to tell if his highly dignified attempt of making us run to the shops and buy the damned Box Set of Justine+ Balthazar+ Mountolive+ Clea is really successful.

Personally, I always thought that the resistance of the literary establishment in the Britishy Isles towards Durrell's magnum opus had to do with the excesses of his imagery, his over-writing, the lack of tight-assed decorum of his prose. Brits used to say of a plate that actually tasted of something like "it's quite rich, isn't it?" (Excusing themselves for the lack of gastronomical decorum, for the audacity to break the rule of wholesome insipidity).

No Dr. Diboll, you are on a dead end if you try to wrap Uncle Larry's over-the-top writing (warts and all) with intellectual onion-peel layers of post-modern significance. You are in fact betraying our common hero. Durrell was a giant because he rejected stiff-upper lipping his language when describing a place where sun and war-intoxication demanded un-harnessed half-delirious words-magic.

It might be a literary flop, as "Apocalypse Now" is indeed a cinematic one, but what a glorious way to stumble! Even the mambo-jumbo of claiming Einstein’s space-time four-dimensional physics is a wonderful piece of structural kitsch.

We were all gasping with feverish awe when we first read about people being "wounded in their sex" in Alexandria. There. That's how you will get late teenagers and early twenty-something’s to read the Quartet.

Just choose a couple of juicy bits and stick it in the in-flight magazine of every easyJet plane doing London to Marrakech.

The Pet Shop Boys

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Franciscus Sylvius

"Castellana, Ocho", ex-Jazzanova

( Gin was invented, for medicinal purposes, by 17th-century Dutch physician named Franciscus Sylvius, who added juniper berries, spices and other botanicals to distilled spirits )

Helen Mirren

An unusual stand for my Casanova wig...

T S Eliot

You find yourself in a slightly strange party in the End-of-the-Night and then you meet Eliot at pee-time...

Earl of Proença-a-Velha

Praia Grande, a semi-sovereign State with a unelected monarch we all are loyal to...

Sergei Eisenstein

The Pet Shop Boys twenty years later....

Last Friday I took Gilda to the Palacio de Deportes to see the legendary The Pet Shop Boys.. The amount and density of non-heterosexual patrons in the venue was staggering... At the most holywood-like almost disco-sound sounding song a passionate kiss just in the row in front of us was a sobering experience... A tiny bald sweetie, with prince of wales red and black trousers, engaged in french-kissing with a bearded thirtysomething with the looks of a bureaucrat in the Internal Revenue Service... But multiculturalism oblige we just avoid eye-contact and try to keep on enjoying the gig..
The use of extremely youthful doppelgangers of the Pets was a a very successful device. Neil Tennant was in top hat and Chris in a yellow parka, subdued and quiet, while two pairs of top hat and yellow parka claded dancers were jumping and breakdancing like mad. Clever way to elude the lost-youth issue...
The projection on the screen of a bit of "The Battleship Potemkine", with soundtrack by the group, was a great moment of irony. Einsenstein would never have thought that his masterpiece of Bolshevique propaganda would be shown in a decadent mass concert, where corridors were saturated with the acrid-sweet smell of marijuana...
Twenty years ago I saw the Pet Shop Boys in London... As a matter of fact, in the Wembley Stadium.. Wait a second, Wembley Stadium does not even exist anymore!.. Oh Dear..
Go West!

Robert Fisk

Falling for the Middle East thing...

When one compares ones's written notes ( a Journal, rather) with the notes taken at the same epoch by a Middle East Correspondent about the very same portentous issues, some curious vibes are detected.

Having recognized the credibility of his views regarding my own times on that conflict theatre I have to trust him about the period I was no longer there. Like in Fundamental Science, one's objectivity in 'peaceprocessology' is crucial but very hard indeed to keep. You don't have to agree with Fisk's viewpoint at every step of the way but you can recognize an honest atempt at objectivity when you see one. A clearly commendable book.

Shane Warne

We were all bowled over by this sportsman...

Shane Warne about to release a missile...

The reason why this blogger of yours enjoys cricket has nothing to do with the more obvious part of it. Batting is like pop music for the masses while bowling is more like a shostakovitch-like complex composition. Mr Shane Warne, an extremely talented Australian cricket player, was able to marvel us with his deliveries. Almost against the Laws of Physics that govern motion. He is retiring from Test Match cricket after a whitewash of the England team, when Australia regained the Ashes.

I saw him at Lord's, almost two decades ago, having secured an unatainable ticket by bluffing all the way to the General Secretary of the MCC. The gentlemen with "bacon and egg" ties of that most English of clubs (Marylebone Cricket Club) were impressed that a barbarian from a non-cricketing country could be so enthusiastic about the Game. Howzat?

I tried to start a tradition when I was posted in London. Ensuring that at least one of the diplomats at the Embassy at a given time would be able to read the results columns of a cricket match. I'm afraid I was not successful.

I still remember reading hastily the booklet "Bluff your way in Cricket" on the eve of my first match at Lord's... It seemed intelectually challenging but with no real emotion on the pitch.. And then a certain Shane Warne started to run...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Michel Houellebecq

The End Of (sexual) History?....

Juan Echanove gives it all in the play directed by Calixto Bieito...

Why would one adapt Houllebecq's "Platform" as a play? Just to shock or to something altogether different? I'm thinking hard about it... I'll blog all about it in due course...

Françoise Hardy

The character in "Plataforma" wich has no speaking role, yesterday at the Teatro de Bellas Artes, during and after the performance...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

New-born babies listening to either Mozart or Vivaldi ( "El Mundo", today)

Coco Chanel

"L'Arroseur Arrosé"... The photo of the object next to its own photo.. (Shop-window in Calle Villanueva)

Aung Sang Suu Kyi

A 1m x 1m canvass with a gigantic pair of silk sleepers.. Sorry for not quite delivering the 3D stuff..

Charle-Edouard Le Corbusier

An interesting evidence of architectural decay...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ernest Hemingway

A boulevard in Paris under the blizzard...

Even in Winter, Paris is always a moveable feast... This photo was e-mailed to me, as Christmas card, by Ms Vera Undritzova, a Paris-based photographer who was born in Moscow not long ago... Best e-Xmas card received so far...