Sunday 19 December 2010

Enrique Morente

Martinete, from Enrique Morente Sueña la Alhambra

Enrique Morente, the leading flamenco singer of his generation, died earlier this week, aged 67. He is much mourned, and will be much missed, and not only in the flamenco community.

As a singer, Morente, from Granada, was capable of expressing an intensity of feeling with superb control in a wide range of traditional flamenco palos or styles. Throughout his career he was also one of flamenco's leading innovators, forever searching for ways of bringing the centuries-old forms and themes of flamenco into meaningful contact with the modern world.

These two sides of his work can be seen in some of his earliest records, produced in homage to three leading cultural figures of the early 20th century.

The work of the Republican poet Miguel Hernández was banned in Spain throughout the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975). In defiance of this censorship, in 1971 Morente became the first artist in any sphere to produce a complete work in his honour, Homenaje flamenco a Miguel Hernández, performing a set of his poems in flamenco style. 

A year later the Catalan popular singer Joan Manuel Serrat issued his own collection of songs based on Hernández poems, which gained immediate popularity in Spain; several of Serrat's songs became anthems for movements of resistance to dictatorship across the Spanish-speaking world. He has issued a further set of songs for the Hernández centenary this year, and has given scores of sell-out concerts throughout Spain and Latin America. Serrat's older songs are immediately recognised, and sung along with, by Spanish audiences, and some of the new ones probably will be, too.

Morente's songs, meanwhile, are virtually unknown. This is a great pity, because I think his versions more successfully capture the spirit and the sense of Hernández's poems in music than those of Serrat.

Morente then followed up in 1975 with Se hace camino al andar, in remembrance of Antonio Machado, generally regarded as the leading Spanish poet of the 20th century, and a major cultural figure in the Republic of the 1930s.

He was criticised by some, partly for straying from traditional flamenco themes in works like these, but also on racial grounds - he was from Andalucía, where flamenco is rooted, but he was not a gypsy. Some of the traditionalists held - some still hold - that flamenco can only be performed by gypsies.

His response was to issue a record in which he sang from the repertoire and in the style of Antonio Chacón, one of the first flamenco singers to be recorded, in Homenaje a Don Antonio Chacón (1977); Chacón was not a gypsy and was not considered authentic by some of the traditionalists - the same charge that was levelled at Morente.

It is difficult for outsiders to comment on disputes like this; it would be a family dispute, except that one side holds that the other isn't a member of the family in the first place. Many others singers and musicians have stretched the boundaries since then, but Morente continued to be regarded with suspicion by some, who probably couldn't forgive him for having started the rot.

There was a strong Granada connection to much of his work, though he sang palos from all over Andalucía. He recorded poems of Federico García Lorca, and one of his last works was the suite Morente sueña la Alhambra (2005), dedicated to the iconic fortress-palace of the Moors, which dominates the city. The stunning martinete in the video-clip above, based on the words of the Latin Good Friday hymn Omnes amici mei, is from this suite.

Morente worked with music and musicians from any and every tradition that attracted him, including African, Cuban, Algerian, and classical, and wrote a flamenco mass. The only pity is that a good deal of this material was apparently never recorded.

His most controversial project was Omega (1996), a collaboration with the Granada punk band, Lagartijo Nick, in which the flamenco sometimes gets swamped by the punk, or the punk by the flamenco, depending on where you're coming from.

The esteem he is held in can be seen in the roll-call of Spanish cultural figures who came to the chapel to pay their respects the day after he died: they included the cream of contemporary flamenco, such as Paco de Lucía, Tomatito, Miguel Poveda and José Mercé; popular singers Miguel Ríos and Alejandro Sanz; singer-songwriters Paco Ibáñez and Joaquín Sabina; film directors Carlos Saura and Pedro Almodóvar; and from the political world former prime minister Felipe González, amongst others.

Morente's daughter Estrella is now one of the leading figures amongst the younger generation of flamenco singers. Spanish television broadcast this clip of the song she sang to his coffin:

We saw Estrella in London a couple of years back, and she finished her concert with the martinete at the top of this post, with the singers in the same tight circular arrangement. Spine-tingling. She'll be back over in a couple of months - I hope she does it again, in honour of her father.

PS: I've no idea what the horse is doing there . . .

Friday 17 December 2010

Mikileaks: New nationwide lottery

Mikileaks researchers have uncovered Demolition Government plans to launch a new, nationwide lottery early in the New Year. Millions working in the public sector have been entered in the draw, and those selected - who could number over 100,000 - will find out when a letter drops through their door by 1 January or shortly after. This lottery is unusual, in that all winners will receive the same prize: their very own redundancy notice, signed with 'best wishes' by D Cameron, N Clegg, G Osborne and E Pickles.

Remember - "We're all in this together!"

All of sudden

10 minutes later . . .

Israel visit 2010

King David and his harp
I spent a week in Israel in November, and have now managed to get all the photos up online. It was mostly family - a wedding, and cousins both old and new on both sides; the wedding and family photos are separate, any family or friends who would like to see them, please email me.

There was also time for a number of visits and excursions, and an opportunity to get to places I hadn't seen on my previous trip last year.

On the first day I met up with cousins Halina and Harry for a trip to Jerusalem, and although I'd been to some of the places before, it was still a fascinating and moving visit. We started the day on the Mount of Olives, with its fantastic views of the cemetery and the Old City, and then walked round the Old City, where I managed to lose the group for a while (as you do). I'd only stopped for a moment, to take the photo of King David above, and when I turned round they'd disappeared. Just like that.

We met up again for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is an amazing jumble of churches, chapels and shrines in different corners and on different levels, all belonging to different sects. It's the focal point for Christian pilgrimages from all over the world, and the people are as fascinating as the stones.

We then went to Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial. I'd been last year, and found it just as shocking this time. You are not allowed to take photos inside the museum, for obvious reasons, but I did take a few outside.

The following day cousins Maureen and Franklin came over to Old Jaffa, where I was staying, and we had a walk around the old town. As the day before, it was great to spend a day with cousins that I rarely see - even though we had to go all the way to Israel to meet up!

After the wedding, and a few more family visits, I stayed for a couple of nights at Kibbutz Daliyya, saw Roman and ancient Jewish remains at Zippori near Nazareth, failed to get down to the sea at Ma'agan Michael, and came across Roman waterworks at Nachal Taninim.

I hope to put up some brief posts here about these latter visits, before too long.
Note: you can see the Jerusalem posts from last year's Merkavah 09 trip for fuller comments, and many more Israel photos from that trip.

Miguel Hernández Centenary: photos

Falla Experimental - 001

A Collection of photos from my visit to Orihuela for the Centenary celebrations for the poet Miguel Hernández at the end of October.  

There are 11 Sets of photos, including an international conference, a week of public art, performance and participation in the park, a homage at the poet's tomb, poetry readings at the house he was born in and the one he spent his childhood in, a few from a concert by Joan Manuel Serrat, the creation of 100 metres of poetry, and the burning of the fallas at the end of the week. I will write more about some of these in later posts.
Note: in any of the Sets, you can browse the thumbnails, then select a photo to see a larger version; from there you can navigate using the right and left arrow keys, or pull down the Actions menu to View All Sizes and select a larger version. You can also choose to see a Slideshow, from the Set page or from the Actions menu; you can let the slideshow run, or pause and continue as you wish.
You can see a few other posts on the Centenary here on this blog (more to come), and my translations of some of Miguel Hernández's poems are on There are Nightingales that Sing, along with the original texts, a range of video, audio and visual material, and links to useful websites.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Mikileaks: We're all in this together

Mikileaks can reveal that many of the members of the Demolition Cabinet are quite rich! In fact, most of them are millionaires. I bet that surprised you as much as it surprised us. It's OK though, our society and institutions are safe in their hands.

We don't usually reveal our sources, for obvious reasons, but this report's from a reputable daily newspaper.

And remember - we're all in this together.

Mikileaks: "Sorry, we sold out”

From a Mikileaks informant:
I phoned the Lib Dem Head Office this morning and asked for a copy of their manifesto. They said, “Sorry, we sold out”, I said “I know, but can I have a manifesto?”
Police: "Protesters have failed to stick to the agreed route."
Member of public: "To be fair, so have the Lib Dems."

Tuesday 14 December 2010

Mikileaks: He's a Liar Liar

Mikileaks hears that the Posh Boys have been caught telling Porky Pies! The evidence collected by Captain Ska and his friends is incontrovertible, and very catchy. It is available from iTunes and other online music stores, for Xmas No 1 (proceeds to: Crisis, Disability Alliance, FalseEconomy and Women's Health Matters).

Remember - "We're all in this together"!

Monday 13 December 2010

Mikileaks: Posh Boys wreck the joint

Mikileaks Exclusive

Insider sources have confirmed the identities of several of the students responsible for the current spate of violent attacks on our institutions. Amongst the gang leaders are Master D Cameron, Master G Osborne and Master B Johnson. It is believed all three harbour ambitions to "be something" in politics.

Cameron expressed the group's strategy succinctly to our undercover agent: "Things got a bit out of hand and we'd had a few drinks. We smashed the place up and Boris set fire to the toilets".

Mikileaks calls on members of the public to remain vigilant. This gang is dangerous and are clearly intent on wrecking anything they can get their hands on.

Lewes against the Education Cuts

Sat 11 Dec

Over 300 Lewesians turned out to protest against the Coalition Government's proposed Education Cuts, in particular the three-fold rise in university tuition fees, and the withdrawal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance available to over-16s who remain in full-time education.

As was to be expected, a special target of local anger is the local Liberal Democrat MP, and government minister, Norman Baker, who joined other LibDem ministers in voting for the cuts even though they had specifically signed a pledge before the election earlier this year to oppose any rise in fees, and indeed proposed they should be phased out.

The demonstration was called by local school pupils, at two days' notice - fantastic! Congratulations!!

There are some photos from the demo in the slideshow above, including some of the witty placards, and you can also hear some of the witty chants :-) :

Norman Baker - Shame on you - Shame on you for turning blue!
They say "cut back" - we say "fight back"
No ifs, no buts - no education cuts
Lib Dems, hear us say - "give us back our EMA"

Monday 6 December 2010

The 10 Commandments of the Mediterranean Diet

This picture has been viewed on Flickr 75 times since May. Who by, or why, I've no idea. It's a plaque I saw in Soria, in northern Spain.

When I put it up, I didn't bother giving it a proper title, nor any form of description or comment, so there's no way it could have been googled. I've just noticed it's already been viewed twice today, so I've added a quick translation in fulfilment of point B at the end.

The 10 Commandments of the Mediterranean Diet and Culture:

1 - thou shalt have Olive Oil every day of thy life
2 - thou shalt not forget bread and cereals
3 - fruits shall accompany thy meals
4 - thou shalt eat salad daily
5 - thou shalt include vegetables, greens and legumes
6 - thou shalt not live without fish
7 - thou shalt drink milk every day
8 - thou shalt not eat too much saturated fat
9 - thou shalt take walks on work days and holidays
10 - thou shalt always seek company

These 10 commandments are summed up in two:
A - thou shalt love the mediterranean diet like thou lovest thyself
B - thou shalt pass on its benefits to others

Friday 3 December 2010

Lewes going nowhere

Big Snow - 21

Fri 3 December

Lunchtime today. This is the main railway line between Lewes and London. There have been no trains on it since Wednesday at least.

Lewes isn't exactly cut off from the world, but with no roads in or out of town for 24 hours or more, few shops open until today and a run on bread and milk, with all schools closed and many local services suspended, with no trains and hardly any buses for 2 days, with Gatwick Airport closed, and with broadband erratic and, horror of horrors, no Guardian delivered, it has certainly felt like it at times.

The snow began on Monday, which was a bit odd, because as we know it never snows in southern England in November . . . I'd been to the University to do a lecture, got some shopping on the way home - and didn't leave the house again until this morning (Friday).

It snowed more on Tuesday, and folk had fun of various sorts: building snowmen, throwing snowballs, sledding, falling over, that sort of thing. In Brighton they're a bit more up front with their snow fun: they have adventures with a tea tray, and spend the morning on the beach; in Lewes we're more sophisticated: we have things like Wolfie's blog and Long Slow Distance's unexpected visitor, and we grow icicles and decorate the war memorial with snowballs. We dig up our old cartoons, and we paddle our own surfboard, and have a nice sit down when it all gets a bit much.

Then it came down long and hard on Wednesday evening, and everything ground to a halt. On Thursday it froze, hard; overnight temperatures were said to have gone down to -10ºC, which is the sort of cold we get once a decade here. 

Today it has hovered around zero. I ventured out to do my bit to keep the local economy going, and didn't slither once, which pleased me no end as I had a bottle of milk on my back, and I have a tendency to trip, slip and fall over things like paving stones, blades of grass, pockets of air, things like that.

Here's some of my photos from this week; I've seen plenty of superb and atmospheric shots from others, many of which I've lost track of, but here's a few to be going on with: evening walk, saunter past castle, Lewes FC football ground, street view, some of Viva Lewes' photos of the week, Railway Land, the Cliffe Christmas Tree, railway station, and a gorgeous set from Richard Gailey.

Throughout the week the Viva Lewes Twitter feed has been invaluable, retweeting information and comments from all around, and pointing towards much of the excellent photo and video material above. Great fun, and very useful, although I can't say it's as satisfying a read as The Guardian . . .

PS: plus some great pix from Kirstie Fuller

Wednesday 1 December 2010

57 varieties of hypocrite

(from today's Guardian)

For those not familiar with UK politics:
- the Liberal Democrats have 57 MPs (members of parliament)
- they are propping up the Conservatives in a coalition government
- during the general election campaign earlier this year they promised to abolish students' tuition fees, if elected
- they won a number of university town seats on the back of this pledge
- the senior Liberal Democrat Vince Cable is the minister in charge of the government department which is currently introducing a huge rise in tuition fees, alongside a massive cut in the funding of university teaching
- a wave of student occupations and demonstrations is taking place all over the country against these cuts and charges
- one leading Liberal Democrat said the pledge was 'a legitimate position for an opposition party', but 'a very different position for a party with responsibility' (see dictionary definition of hypocrisy below)
- many Liberal Democrat MPs are getting cold feet over the parliamentary vote on this issue, due next week - should they vote for? against?? abstain??? individually???? all together?????
- the Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell does Cable as a baby elephant
- Heinz (of baked beanz fame) used to boast they sold 57 varieties of tinned food
- the Liberal Democrat logo is a bird with far too many wings - or is it a worm?
- the lobby is where MPs go to cast their votes in the House of Commons
- 'lobby fodder' is an expression used to refer to MPs who always vote the way their party tells them to

- hypocrite: when someone pretends to believe something that they do not really believe or that is the opposite of what they do or say at another time (Cambridge Dictionaries Online)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words - well I've used over 250 here but I'd far rather look at Steve Bell's cartoon . . .

Oh, and by the way, I - and I'm sure many others in Lewes - will be very interested to see how our own Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker, votes on this issue.

Big snow now!

Big snow in Lewes, 9pm. Well it is December. Do you think I've summoned it up by getting out those old cartoons (Snow Humour, First Aid Post, Who put that there)? Spooky!

Who put that there?

Speaking as one who unfailingly trips over the only stone in the field, I know just how that poor fellow feels - hurt, resigned, and stupid.

Another one I've kept for years, though it's not as yellowed as the other two (Snow Humour, First Aid Post).

First Aid Post

Ian Gammidge, 1960s (?)

Another one in the same vein (see Snow Humour), but with a subtle difference. Isn't Life just like that?

This one had to be folded over to fit in my wallet, and then sat on for 40 years, to produce the artistically creased effect.

Snow humour

I've been sitting on this for 40 years and more. I've kept a cutting of this cartoon in my wallet, in my back pocket, ever since I first came across it. It's now a yellowing, faded, nibbled shred of paper. Every now and then it falls out, and I remember it, and wonder, and  smile.

And here's a photo of the original incident.

Brighton students dance against the cuts

"If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution".
Emma Goldmann (the quote's apocryphal, but who cares?).

Tuesday 30 November 2010

Monday 29 November 2010

November snow

With one day of November left, snow falls in Lewes - the earliest I can remember it in the 20 years I've been living here. We're probably the last part of the country to get it. A bit of a change from the 30ºC I left in Israel a week ago :-).

Brighton students say no to Posh Boy cuts

Students at the University of Brighton have been occupying a lecture room since last Thursday, in protest at the Coalition Government's plans to raise tuition fees and slash funding for teaching. Similar occupations are taking place at a number of other universities around the country, and more are likely after tomorrow's Day of Action.

I was at the Falmer campus this morning, for the lecture I do on Contemporary Spanish Cinema, and as I came away I was approached by a couple of students with petitions and leaflets.

- Excuse me, are you a student?
- Erm, well, no, actually I'm a retired lecturer . . .
- Great. We'd like to ask for your support for the action we're taking over the cuts.

None of the students taking part in the occupation have been involved in anything like it before. No-one has, since 1968. So they're learning as they go along, and they're learning fast. Marches, demonstrations, leaflets, petitions, banners; food, cleaning, and doubtless sleeping arrangements; discussions, debates, lectures; they're also reaching out to other sectors hit by the cuts. They've only been there a week but they're going full-swing.

So the Posh Boys look as though they've managed to politicise a whole new generation, in just five weeks since the cuts were announced. Big Society indeed.

The Brighton students are using social media to good effect - they have a blog: Brighton Students Against Cuts , a Facebook group: Brighton University Stop The Cuts, and a Twitter stream: UoB Occupation; the picture above comes from their image site: Pavilion Parade Occupation, and they have a video channel too: Brightonstopthecuts - see Brighton drivers honk their support:

Saturday 27 November 2010

Brick Lane and beigels

Brick Lane
Sun 14 Nov

My brother Brian and I had a look round the Brick Lane area a week or so ago, with our second cousin Jeff, who was on a visit from the US. It's where our grandparents settled, and where our Dad was brought up, along with all his brothers and sisters, getting on for 100 years ago. Grimsby Street is still there, though the terrace they lived in has gone, unsurprisingly, and the looming red-brick railway arches have been replaced by a characterless, but probably safer, viaduct. There's barely a hint that for the best part of a hundred years this was a teeming, thriving Jewish area, the hub of East European Jewish immigration to London. We did manage to munch a beigel (pronounced 'beigel' where we come from) in the street, though, for old times' sake.

We'd never met Jeff - or any of his family - before, and until a a few years ago were only vaguely aware of their existence. This was the start for me of an intensive week of family encounters - the following day I set off for Israel, where I saw more relatives I'd never met before. I'll post a bit about the trip here, and the pictures are finding their way gradually up onto Flickr.

Friday 22 October 2010

Toffs and Turncoats

The happy phrase is Nick Passmore's, not mine. Here they are, delivering what they patronisingly term their 'Comprehensive Spending Review'.

There are actually four Toffs in this picture, although we can only see three of them unless we really know where to look. And please don't strain your eyes trying, you'll only end up at the optician's, and it'll cost you a fortune, even more than a bus ride.

Two of them are also Turncoats. Turncoat No.1 can be identified by his subtle yellow tie; along with Toff No.1 he is attempting to nod sagely at what he wants us to think are the words of wisdom of Toff No.2. And Turncoat No.2? Well, he's hiding behind Toff 2; we surmise he's licking that part of 2's anatomy nearest to him, as he has been doing for the last 6 months.

Toff 2's speech can roughly be summarised thus: 
We and our kind got us into this mess, so you lot are going to have to get us out of it. We're all in this together, but we know our place, and we know yours as well. This is going to hurt you more than it hurts us. That's what we're here for. We're looking after our lot, you can look after yours.
Jobs, pay, pensions, welfare, transport, health, education, arts - even the police and the armed forces - all trashed in an orgy of smug, smarmy, hypocritical, prevaricating self-righteousness. And aimed disproportionately at those least able to withstand it; but they're not likely to vote Toff anyway, if they vote at all, so what do they matter?

Someone described it as a performance of smoke and mirrors - how apt. The Toffs manipulate the mirrors, trying to get us to believe that less is more, down is up, cut is paste; meanwhile the Turncoats pump away at the smoke machine, hoping to prevent us from seeing what's going on.

And on a personal note - Oi, Norman - were you listening to this garbage? Are you going to vote for it? Or are you going to use your loaf?

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Paul Brady in Lewes

Sorry, that should read "The legendary" Paul Brady - Saturday 26 February at the Town Hall, Lewes. We get nothing but the best :-)

More info from SpyBoy. Music to our ears indeed!

Sunday 10 October 2010

101010 today

Today's date is 10-10-10.

101010, as a binary number, is 42 in decimal.

'42' is the 'Ultimate Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything', as explained by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. So we know the Answer - however we can never find out what the Question was. How like life.

The original radio series was first broadcast by the BBC in 1978, at 10:30 on Wednesday evenings. I recorded each instalment on cassette, and I still have these recordings somewhere - though they'd probably disintegrate if I tried putting them through a cassette player now. Anyway, they're all available on CD, digitally remastered and no doubt in much better quality. Then there are the books, the film, the DVDs.

If you're sceptical about all this, just search for "the answer to life the universe and everything" and you'll see that Google's calculator gives you: = 42.
So it must be true.

Hitchhiker has had a huge influence on popular culture in the UK, and a number of phrases and quotations from the series have passed into common English usage.

h2g2 (HHGG, from the title) is an Earth Edition of the Hitchhiker's Guide, inspired by Douglas Adams, and run now by the BBC; it's a collaborative encyclopedia, and contains many unexpected goodies, not all related to the original Guide.

I used the tag #h2g2 on a Tweet I posted just after midnight - and it looks like hundreds of others have as well.

Elsewhere the day has been designated the 'Global Day of Doing' by the 10:10 campaign, which aims to cut carbon emissions by 10% a year for 10 years. Perhaps this is the Answer we're all searching for?

Hitchhiker fans have set up 42 Day, to encourage us to devise ways to honour the day, such as: "hop on a bus - nearly every city in the world has a number 42 bus". If you want to find out what they're doing, they are on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter (hashtag: #42day).

Special dates
10.10.10, you will have noticed, has the same digits for day, month and year. There are only 12 of these per century (01.01.01, 02.02.02 . . . 12.12.12). Most of us will only have two more of these in our lifetimes: 11.11.11 and 12.12.12, so perhaps we should make the most of them!

We also have coming up shortly another form of repetition: 20.10.2010 - or even, if we  include the time as well, 20:10 20.10.2010. And in three weeks' time there will be a palindromic date: 01.11.10; it's the second one this year, if you count 01.02.2010.

What does all this tell us about Life, The Universe and Everything? Hmm, if only we knew . . .

Friday 8 October 2010

Show us some values, Ed

A letter in The Guardian calls for the new leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, to live up to his promise to base foreign policy on "values, not just alliances", by declining to become a patron of the Jewish National Fund, which raises money for the purchase of land for Jewish settlement in Israel and the Occupied Territories. The letter accuses the JNF of complicity in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from villages on the West Bank.

There are over 40 signatories to the letter, including Leon Rosselson, the singer-songwriter. Leon is a relative of mine, and his name caught my eye as I skimmed the page in this morning's paper. He has long written and sung of the injustices of the occupation, most movingly in The Song of the Olive Tree. Someone has recently put up this clip of Janet Russell singing it, and I would like everyone who reads the letter to listen - including Ed Miliband.

Saturday 18 September 2010

There are Nightingales that Sing

I've now finished translating the Miguel Hernández poems I've been working on, and have put my efforts onto a web site: There are Nightingales that Sing. The poems are from the anthology 40 Poemas published earlier this year by my friends in the Asociación Cultural Orihuela 2010, as part of the celebrations marking the centenary of Hernández's birth.

You are welcome to browse the poems, which are all accompanied by illustrations by local artists - see my earlier post about the 40 Poemas folder. I've also put in links to online versions of the original poems in Spanish.

This is the first time I've attempted to translate poetry - or anything else, really. It came about when I was invited to give a talk a few months back about Miguel Hernández and his poetry to English-speaking residents of the area around Orihuela, who number tens of thousands. It was quite a relief when 'only' 50 turned up for the talk!

I was staggered to find when I was preparing the talk that there were no English-language versions of Hernández's poetry in print on either side of the Atlantic. I needed English translations for the talk so had no option but to do them myself.

We used about twenty of the poems in the talk, and the friends who read them out with me - Dee, Sarah, and Teresa - were a great help in straightening out some of the awkward phrasing in my original drafts. The other twenty have not yet made their bow in public, so I hope they flow OK.

There are a number of features I'd like to add to the site, including more information about Miguel Hernández himself and the times he lived through. I'm hoping to be able to put up the presentation I used for the talk, including the audio clips; we also have some audio and video recordings from the evening, including a stunning cante jondo performance of Nanas de la cebolla (Lullaby of the Onion), which I'll get up somewhere.

If you have any comments or suggestions, about the site or the translations, please let me know.
NB: I have put the translations under a Creative Commons licence - teachers and students are welcome to use them for educational purposes, but they must not be used for commercial gain.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Soria and Antonio Machado

Soria - 04

Tue 11 May

Antonio Machado (1875-1939) is probably the most highly-regarded amongst the poets of 20th Century Spain. He only lived in Soria for 5 years, between 1907 and 1912, but he is forever associated with the town, and it with him. He taught French at the secondary school, which now bears his name, and there is a rough-hewn bust in the street outside to remind us as we pass by.

He loved going for walks in the town - his favourite routes are now signposted - and in the surrounding countryside; some of his best-known poems were inspired there, including the book Campos de Castilla (Lands of Castile), published in 1912.
¡Oh sí! Conmigo vais, campos de Soria,
tardes tranquilas, montes de violeta,
alamedas del río, verde sueño
del suelo gris y de la parda tierra
. . . .
Me habéis llegado al alma,
¿o acaso estabais en el fondo de ella?
Oh yes! You go with me, lands of Soria,
peaceful evenings, hills of violet,
poplars by the river, green dream
of the grey soil and of the drab earth
. . . .
You have reached into my soul,
or perhaps you were already deep within it?
In the town there was - and still is - the stump of an elm tree:
Al olmo viejo, hendido por el rayo
y en su mitad podrida,
con las lluvias de abril y el sol de mayo,
algunas hojas verdes le han salido.
. . . .
MI corazón espera
también, hacia la luz y hacia la vida,
otro milagro de primavera.
The old elm tree, split by lightning
and rotten to its core,
with the April rains and the May sun,
has put forth a few green leaves.
. . . .
My heart too awaits,
turning towards the light and towards life,
another miracle of spring.
In Soria he fell in love with Leonor, the daughter of his landlords, a girl some twenty years younger than him. They married as soon as she turned 16, but unfortunately she contracted tuberculosis, and died three years later, in August 1912, aged just 19. Machado felt unable to stay in the town, and moved to another French teaching post in Baeza in Andalucía, where he wrote a series of touching poems to Leonor.
Una noche de verano
-estaba abierto el balcón
y la puerta de mi casa-
la muerte en mi casa entró.

One summer's night
-the balcony and the door
of my house were open-
death came into my house.
In the 1930s he moved to Madrid, where he became a leading figure in the cultural life of the Spanish Republic. During the Civil War (1936-39) he spoke out strongly for cultural and democratic values, but as the Nationalists advanced across Spain the Republican Government and national institutions moved to Valencia, and later to Barcelona, and Machado moved with them.

Eventually he was swept up in the mass retirada (retreat), in which some half a million Spaniards fled across the border into France in a few short weeks at the beginning of 1939. He found accommodation in Collioure, on the coast some 20km from the border, but fell ill and died within the month. He is buried in the cemetery there, and his simple grave has become a shrine - every day there are visitors, and many of them leave flowers, poems and drawings.
Y cuando llegue el día del último viaje,
y esté al partir la nave que nunca ha de tornar,
me encontraréis a bordo ligero de equipaje,
casi desnudo, como los hijos del mar.
And when the day of the last journey comes,
and the boat which never returns is ready to leave,
you will find me on board, travelling light,
almost naked, like the sons of the sea.
If you're looking for a philosophy of life, try this, from a series of short poems - Cantares - in Campos de Castilla:
Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino, y nada más;
caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.

Traveller, your footprints
are the path, and nothing else;
traveller, there is no path,
we make the path as we walk.
If you'd like to read some more, there don't seem to be many English translations of Machado poems available online, though the 15 or so by A. S. Kline give a good flavour. Other than that, you'll have to resort to paper . . . Lands of Castile (Aris and Phillips, 2006) is an excellent dual-language version, with translations and commentary by Paul Burns and Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres. The Poesía en español site has an extensive collection in Spanish.

Here's a few Machado-in-Soria photos from our morning walk. There's much more on the Antonio Machado en Soria site (Spanish only), which has a Machado gallery and a Soria Gallery. Plus here's some from an earlier visit to Collioure.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Nájera: of storks and pilgrims

Nájera - 1

Nájera (La Rioja)
Mon 10 May

Nájera is a small town in the wine-rich region of La Rioja, not far south of the mountains which separate the Basque Country from the rest of Spain. It lies on the Camino de Santiago, the historic pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, and is a convenient staging post between Logroño and Santo Domingo de la Calzada.

I don't know how many pilgrims pass through the town, or stay overnight on their journey, but we saw several - it was mid-afternoon - and we seemed to be the only visitors who weren't engaged on the Way. The pilgrimage is significant enough to warrant its own section on the local council's website, and you can find lots of pilgrim accounts on the web.

We had a strange conversation with a Dutch couple (in English, of course), who asked if there were any food shops in town - they'd been walking through Northern Spain for several days, and hadn't yet found anywhere they could buy food to take with them as they walked. In fact, the question was more like "Are there any food shops in Spain?".

On reflection, I suppose the daily stages of the journey mostly take pilgrims across country; the towns, where the food shops are, are at the end of a stage, and by the time they get there, it's probably Spanish lunchtime (2pm-5pm), and the shops are shut. There's a message in there somewhere.

We spent an hour or so on a fruitless search for the medieval Jewish quarter - la Judería - which I had seen references to; there was a street-name, and a bar, but nothing else to suggest the town had once been home to a substantial Jewish population. We also failed to catch sight of the castle, which apparently dominates the town.

Many moons ago I stayed in the town's campsite, located within the former bull-ring. It is said that campers are sometimes woken in the middle of the night by the sounds of thunderously pounding hooves, angry snorts, and cries of '¡Olé!'. Or that may just have been the Rioja speaking.

The storks, by the way, were everywhere.

Here's a handful of Nájera pictures.

Saldropo wetlands

Saldropo - 1

Saldropo (Vizcaya)
Mon 10 May

This is one for later - a lunch stop that turned out to be an intriguing spot - a wetland fed by the confluence of a whole series of mountain streams. However we didn't really get to see much wetland as we didn't have time to explore it properly.

We'd stopped for a coffee at a truckers' caff on the N240 Bilbao-Vitoria road, and as we drove off we noticed a sign pointing up a track. We followed it, hoping to find an idyllic spot crying out to be picnicked in, and found ourselves drawn further and further into the forest. A thousand shades of green.

Somewhere in there is the wetland.

Saldropo is part of a Natural Park based around the Gorbeia mountain, which forms the boundary between the Basque provinces of Vizcaya and Álava. You can easily imagine an army of Romans getting tangled up in the undergrowth, and the Arabs that came later must have found the territory even less to their taste. No wonder Euskara, the Basque language, shows few signs of being related to any other language on earth.

Guernica and Guernica

Guernica - 39

Sun 9 - Mon 10 May

Guernica (Gernika in Basque) is a small market town, upstream from Bilbao, but it has been a place of major significance for the people of the Basque Country since at least the mid-14th Century, with a communal and political rôle which belies its size.

Throughout history the Basques have always been fiercely independent. Over a period of a thousand years they resisted successive conquests by Romans, Arabs and other invaders, and from the Middle Ages through to modern times would only accept the authority of the rulers of Spain if their own laws and privileges (fueros) were respected.

For several hundred years each new King of Spain swore an oath to this effect under the symbolic oak tree of Guernica, a custom revived by the current King Juan Carlos some 30 years ago, during Spain's transition to democracy after 40 years of fascist dictatorship.

During the Spanish Civil War, Hitler's German Air Force, in support of the rebellion of the Nationalist forces under General Franco, bombed Guernica on market day, destroying most of the town and killing hundreds of people. This attack, on 26 April 1937, was the first time a civilian population had been the target of aerial bombing, and it caused shock-waves throughout the world.

The Spanish Government had asked Pablo Picasso to submit a work of art to represent Spain at the Paris International Exhibition later that year. He produced a massive, monochrome painting commemorating the bombing, an immensely moving portrayal of the horrors of war, which has become one of the world's best-known works of art.

Picasso's painting is currently housed in the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid, although many Basques feel it rightly belongs in Guernica itself. The picture heading this post is of a reproduction in ceramic tiles, displayed in a matter-of-fact way on a street corner in the town; the caption calls for the painting "Guernica" to be returned "to Guernica".

There are many other pointers in the town to its history and significance, including the Basque Assembly, with its stained glass depictions of Basque people and places, and several incarnations of the Guernica Oak in its grounds, and a nearby park with monumental peace sculptures by Eduardo Chillida and Henry Moore. There's also a statue to George Steer, the British journalist who was the first to report the bombing; it's on the pavement at a central junction so must be passed by thousands every day.

Over 45 years I have found my way to many parts of Spain, but this was my first visit to Guernica, and I'm so glad that we managed to include it in our journey this year.