Monday, October 31, 2011

Who cares about tomorrow!

Let’s hear it for the weather forecasters!  They got it right.  At least at the moment. It is Sunday morning and the weather is fine: a bright sun in a flawless blue sky.  And it’s a Sunday with Monday and Tuesday “off”.  Apart from wanting more days, what could be better!

Saturday was one of those lazy days when by staying in bed until 9.30 am I actually had a three hour lie-in when compared to my normal time of getting up!  Such a luxury!

Lunch was in the centre of town and, wearing shirt and shorts we sat outside and I, at least had an excellent lunch.  I know that most Spaniards regard my liking for arroz a la cubana (rice with tomato sauce and fried egg) as unmentionably juvenile but I love the stuff and this time there was an imponderable extra something in the dish that made it simply delicious.  Toni’s choice of meat balls (four in number) padded out with more of the fried potato squares that he had for his starter of patatas bravas with alioi were not such a success.

I had grilled salmon with caliu for my main course and it was just right for lunch.  That was followed by white chocolate cheesecake and thing rounded off with a coffee with ice.  The red wine with the meal was drinkable and for about ten quid all-in I think it would be churlish to expect more!

The choice of “free” e-book available for download seems, at first glance to be amazingly extensive, but when you get down to the things that you would actually like to read the choice is a little more restricted.  There are great classics there which would form the backbone for any Eng-Lit University course, but -  And perhaps I should stop there and think about exactly what does constitute an Eng-Lit course in our modern universities.

Swansea University, or University College Swansea, of the University of Swansea of whatever it is calling itself these days had a severely historical approach to English Literature.  We started with the barely readable pre-Chaucerian poems made our way to Chaucer, then wandered through the arid wastelands of literature between Chaucer and Shakespeare and then got stuck into the seventeenth century and we were away.  The course was relentless and impossible: the number brick-like books that we were expected to read during the part of the course devoted to the nineteenth century was simply impossible and books like “Vanity Fair” were only read by my good self many years after leaving college.  To my shame it must be admitted.

But I had read all the works of Shakespeare and Marlowe.  Most of Milton apart from Paradise Regained; all of the poems of Pope and Swift in English and swathes of the Great Poets of the nineteenth century and at least a chunk of the wall that you can make from nineteenth century novels.  The twentieth century was my special paper and we read monumental novels from Dostoyevsky to David Storey, taking in along the way the only novel to make me ill “The Magic Mountain” by Thomas Mann – not I hasten to add because I hated it, but because I became more and more involved with the central character of Hans Castorp.  One of my friends came to call on me while I was going through the novel and fell back aghast at the ashen faced and sinisterly shrunken figure hunched in the chair reading under the light of a single lamp – me!  A great book, though when I tried to re-read it I found that it had lost some of its, well, magic for me.  Something for my retirement perhaps.

I have spent an inordinate amount of time on just one part of the teaching that I am supposed to be doing in school – the history of art, or at least the part that I am supposed to be involved in, Making Sense of Modern Art or MSOMA as Suzanne and I termed it making the course sound as trendy as some of the major galleries in the world which are known by initials like MMOMA or MNAC.  I use the excuse of a school course to justify the buying of any number of books vaguely connected with any aspect of what I am or even might be teaching.

Admittedly it is difficult to fit Holbein into the period that I am teaching which stretches from the Fauves to Pop Art (with notable gaps in between) though I suppose I could make a case for the skull in “The Ambassadors” as influencing a charlatan like Dalí; or perhaps “The Dead Christ” being a clear guide for the more bleak art of the Expressionists and one can always link his obsessive detail with the Surrealists because you can link whatever you like to that particular group – almost as a critical reflex action!

Two of my latest purchases  “El siglo XIV” and “El siglo XX Vanguardias” published by “Los Siglos del Arte” by Electa books can be justified as leading up and containing the period I need to teach, but the third “Arte de la A a la Z – Los mejores y más famosos artistas del mundo y sus obras” by Nicola Hodge and Libby Ansonis less easy to explain.

If indeed explanation for buying a book were needed!  It is worth the money on two counts: firstly because it forces me to use my Spanish to find out what the hell is going in the paintings and secondly the alphabetical arrangement makes for stimulating juxtapositionings like Duccio and Duchamp; Dalí and Daumier; Léger and Leighton; Mondrian and Monet; Palmer and Paolozzi; Turner and Twombly; Guardi and Guston.  The more you look at the side-by-sides the more implied comment is made by the choice of images.

In the Degas and Delacroix for example the Degas is a typically rugged oil of a washerwoman whereas by contrast the Delacroix is “Liberty leading the people” – a contrast if ever there was one between myth and reality; humility and the epic; sketch-like and finished; anonymity and representation; degradation and elevation – and then there are the similarities in terms of choice of central character, nationality, tonal choice, even the trust of the pictures which is with a central character off-centre and the movement in a left to right up and down manner with both finding a certain stasis within action.

The more I look at this book the more I find links both playful and insightful.  The Mondrian/Monet connection produces a double page spread of astonishing beauty while the Turner/Twombly link merely shows up the utter vapidity of the latter.  I recommend this book as a pure delight.  The original English edition was entitled “The A-Z of Art” and was published by Carlton Books Limited.
On television there are the final stages of the F1 Grand Prix in India and here, more than many other venues in the world, the true obscenity of this thoroughly unjustifiable sport is shown up.  Quite apart from the inherent unfairness in the fact that the cars are clearly not equal, the essential mind-bogglingly astronomical sums of money expended on this excuse for excess in all its aspects when compared with the general standards of living of ordinary Indians makes this even less acceptable.  It puts me in mind of the grandiose displays that Communist regimes put on to convince the rest of the world that the system was working.  I’m sure that the millions of homeless poor in India will take courage and faith from this disgusting display of ostentatious waste and, as they look forward to their early deaths die happy that their country has joined the upper echelons of the super wasters of scarce resources.

And I don’t like the way that the winners spray giant magnums of Champagne over each other rather than drinking them.  Idiots!

Now is the traditional time (tea time on Sunday afternoon) for “tristitia magistri” or the “sorrow of teachers” to hit with the realization that tomorrow is Monday and a school day but, you know what, this is not true for tomorrow, not yet for the day following!  And yet I am paid (admittedly a lowly wage) for them.  Life is goodish.

This evening we are going up to Terrassa for an evening meal to celebrate All Saints.  The Bank Holiday is actually on Tuesday but many organizations have made Monday an Occasional Day to give workers a long weekend so the police are going to be out in force and, as always in Castelldefels.  The number of times I have returned from Terrassa to find a road block before you hit the beach part of my town is well, almost without number and at times of fiesta it is simply not worth even taking the risk of an alcoholic drink. 

Which makes Terrassa the only place where I drink Fanta. 


Friday, October 28, 2011

Culture 'aiint cheap!

“I’ve been defrauded!”

Not everyone would recognize that from an English translation of the libretto of The Makropulos Case by Janacek, but the phrase came to mind yesterday in the Liceu as the soloists came on to the stage after a few very final sounding chords and took their bows.  The orchestra rose and was applauded as were the choirs that made up the singing forces for the performance of “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust” by Robert Schumann last night.

I was left thinking that they hadn’t played it all and while Faust was undoubtedly dead he certainly hadn’t been transfigured.  I was bemused and a little angry and made my way down to the foyer and saw hordes of people donning their coasts and making their way into the rain of a thoroughly depressing wet Barcelona night.  After only an hour and a quarter.  There was nothing in the programme to indicate that there was an interval.

I sat down on a seat in the foyer of the theatre and took stock of my situation.  Where was the rest of the concert?

My bemusement took me to the Liceu shop so that I could look for the next work that I had to get to know.  I was somewhat comforted by the fact that the more experienced looking opera goers (believe me you can tell them) looked as though they were still there and waiting.  I began to relax.

After buying a grossly expensive version of  “Le Grand Macabre” as the next on the list of operas in the continuing education tprogramme hat this season is going to be, I made my way back to my seat.  As many other people signally did not for the start and enjoyment of the second half!  I was able to lounge luxuriously across two seats to enjoy some of my favourite music in the opera, or music with singing or oratorio or whatever you want to call it, out of which I was not cheated - unlike those others who did not know the music as well as I did!

The piece did not start well when the Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu under the baton of Josep Pons gave a pedestrian performance of the Overture and the dead acoustic promised a dreary evening of music.

Faust (Michael Volle) was a commanding presence and his mature voice gave gravitas and a genuine musicality to the evening.

The opening scenes of the piece are not my favourites and when the whingeing Gretchen has her long and uninteresting solo my attention began to wander.  Ofèlia Sala has a voice which is harsh and forced for me and lacked the power and subtlety that I would have preferred.

For me the evening came alive when the Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu under the direction of José Luis Basso started their participation.  The wall of sound that they produced was exciting and suddenly the acoustic didn’t matter!

The children’s choir, Cor Vivaldi-Petits Cantors de Catalunya, under the direction of Òscar Boada were impeccable in their performance and added the dimension that only a well-trained young chorus can give.

All the soloists, with the exception of the principal tenor who was simply not up to the demands of the part, were more than acceptable.

The orchestra warmed to the music throughout the evening and my applause was heartfelt at the end of the performance.

More importantly for the future, my seat is fine with good sight lines and, although further away from the stage than I like, is an acceptable distance for the price I paid!

Bring on the next opera.

The evening started well with my finding the centre of the city without too much effort and then finding out that El Corte Ingles had a 50% reduction on some of their opera sets.  I bought.  I then went to the “bargain” book shop and bought again.  Some things are simply too good to leave on the shelves.  A large silk bound book of paintings by Holbein with a disc of music contemporary to the paintings was reduced because of a slightly ripped dust cover and was snapped up by my good self.

Dinner was in a place just off Las Ramblas and good value for money and tasty with it.  The glass of wine was drinkable and generous.

The crowning glory was found in misery.  I have always popped into PC City (the Catalan version of PC World) on the Ramblas, but some time ago was devastated to find that the place had, unaccountably, closed.  Imagine my delight to find that the site has now been taken over by - a book shop!

I virtually leapt through the doors and was delighted to find that they had a reasonable selection of books in English, but more importantly a small bargain section of art reference books which had to be bought.  So I did.  I did not buy them all, but I think that this was false restraint and I should go back and buy the rest during this extensive holiday which we are calling the long weekend ahead of us. 

Especially as I was given a stamped card which entitles me to a further reduction! 

Nothing like feeding a habit!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sophistication Starts! Later.

There is something to be said for a day when, just before the second lesson of the day a colleague presses a bar of chocolate into your hands!

This offering was by way of an apology as it represented the failure of a quest.  Some months ago I went into a supermarket that I do not usually support and found an unlikely bar of white chocolate with rhubarb!  It was so unexpected that I bought it, even though I do not like white chocolate.

It was astonishingly delicious.

Ever since that time I have attempted to find this fabulous (in both senses of the word) bar and have signally failed to do so.  One of my colleagues who is a fanatic for chocolate offered to continue the Quest as if anyone could dedicate time and effort to such a worthwhile cause, it was she.

The bar I have been given is white chocolate with a hint of vanilla.  Failure, but the chocolate is by Lindt so, gracious failure.

A quick check on the Internet does not reveal any white chocolate and rhubarb bar at all – the nearest is a white chocolate and strawberry rhubarb melange which was certainly not what I found.  The search goes on.

This evening when the teaching is finally done there is the opera.  I have re-read the libretto such as it is – which may seem a little dismissive as the words are by the Immortal Goethe, but in translation they appear, well, naff – and I am not sure that I am fully sympathetic with the ending with its glorification of the “Eternal Feminine” in quite that way that Goethe means it.  But, there again, I am reading the libretto in English which must take away something of the magic of the original.

After all my work on this particular piece of Schumann I am looking forward to hearing the music even though I will be half dead with exhaustion.  It is not really practical for me to go home and then trek out to the Liceu and trains and busses become problematic at the time of night when I have to return, so I park in the centre and try and steel myself not to pass out when I come back to the car park and pay the astonishingly exorbitant charges for leaving my car there.

The next piece of music to learn is Ligetti’s “Le Grand Macabre” and I am hoping that the Liceu will have the CDs in the theatre shop so that I don’t have to download them from the Internet.  I will, however check the price of the downloadable versions to make sure that I am not being ripped off by the Opera company!  There is just so much that I am prepared to pay for prettily printed discs and a thin, poorly illustrated booklet!

I shall comfort myself by finding a decent hotel and having a good meal and leisurely cup of tea or coffee to while away the hours that I have before the music starts at 8.00 pm.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Counting down

Today has been enlivened by the chaos which is endemic to this school.  The occasion for the chaos (as if occasion were needed) concerns the photographs which need to be taken of the student and working population of the institution.

The “timetable” for things to happen well deserves the inverted commas as it has been, in the words of Captain Barbarossa about the Pirates Code, “more like guidelines” with classes appearing at odd times and the poor old photographer (who I suspect is not poor and was certainly not old) was left devoid of students and looking at his lists with only the occasional desultory photograph of a passing member of staff to keep himself amused.

My photograph has also been taken “for the intranet” presumably so any parent can identify and target any member of staff that their progeny might finger!

I have now ended up with a first year class as the teacher has been called away to stay with her wayward form as they go to have their likenesses taken.

The one advantage of burgeoning technology in this place is that the class is provided with a computer for each class member and so, by sitting firmly at the head of the class and not being foolish enough to look at what they are doing or supposed to be doing, I have the leisure to type and they are presumably profitably employed – and I certainly d not intend to find out if the opposite is the truth. 

I am also, in a very real sense of the word not teaching which is always a positive aspect in any true teacher’s life.  True I have a class in front of me, but I am not being asked to do more than contain the anarchy which is always a possibility when the young of our species is gathered into one fairly cramped space.

I am now eating lunch again, but restricting myself to a diet of salads in school.  I might (as the only adult I know) be tempted to partake of arroz a la cubana which I do like.  This is a very simple dish of white rice, topped with tomato sauce which is itself topped with a fried egg.  Delicious!  Though my colleagues regard it as infantile and spurn it as ‘twere a rabid dog.  The only positive aspect in favour of our school when compared with the palatial establishment (they had an indoor swimming pool you know that I visited last Friday was that their version of arroz a la cubana lacked the fried egg, making the dish vapid and as ashes in my mouth!

Yesterday in my haste to get out of a school in which I had taught six periods I forgot a scheduled meeting with a small group to discuss the Credit of Synthesis or Personal Research that takes place to general rejoicing at some point in the term.

Usually this event has been an occasion on which teachers do little more than sit out the front and watch students get plugged into their computers and do what they will.  This laid back and admittedly generally unguided from of time wasting has now been seized by those who would Improve The Standard of Teaching so that there is more planning (meetings after school) and ownership (teaching) in the new version.

In the last meeting I caused hysteria by suggesting that we teach the works of Chaucer, which was increased to wild panic when I recited the opening of The Canterbury Tales in what I take to be Middle English!

My absence allowed the cowards to change the theme from the Middle Ages to Heroes.  Alas!  I feel that my suggestion of therefore studying the fascinating story of Palamon and Arcite might not have gone down well either.

As I missed the meeting (thank god) I will now have to make up for it by producing a photocopied course of work which will Show That I Care.

Being an English teacher my first thoughts obviously go not to the stated theme but its antithesis: the anti-hero.  I remember one of sixth form students saying that she would always remember me as the man whose two heroes were Iago and Satan.  Perhaps we could do extracts of Paradise Lost.  Perhaps not.

I certainly think that there is some mileage in the Classical concept of the hero and the attributes of the hero based on the writings of Aristotle about the tragic hero.  Heh!  Heh!  That should give my colleagues something to think about.  Especially when teaching all that to the first form!

I will have to do some research and produce something soon if my tattered reputation for inventiveness is not to be lost!

Tomorrow the opera and Scenes from Goethe’s Faust.  I have been listening fairly intensively to the work and now sort-of know my way around it.  I do not think that this is a staged version so it is just as well that I have made the effort to learn the music, as there won’t be very much to look at on the stage, though I will take my high-class opera glasses with me.  One must appear to be professional at all times.

Let the culture commence!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

6 Classes!

A glass of red wine; a can of John Smith Special and a glass and a half of Cava and I feel as if I have had a real session!  How times have changed!

Although there were only eight people in the little get together for United Nations Day, the fact that two of them were small children made the event feel like a full blown overcrowded party.  Their inability to stay still for more than a nano second; their conversation always at the level of shout; their complete disregard for the niceties of tidiness and cleanliness – all contributed to leaving Toni and myself prostrate with exhaustion at the end of the evening.  I can only conjecture (with horror) what it must be like to wake up day after day knowing that they are in the house and prepared for another full day’s excitement!

I have just been told that the meeting yesterday went on until 7.45, making the full meeting two and three-quarters hours long.  Another fifteen minutes and that would be the whole period of the passion of Christ on the Cross and, while I am not comparing the suffering with what He went through, it is not far short!  Thank god I had the selfish, self-centred sense of self-preservation to get out of that mind-rotting meeting when I was still reasonably compos mentis!

Today I have what would be impossible in Britain: six classes!  How right Mista Kurtz (he dead!) was in his view of the world!  I am not alone in this intolerable (yet tolerated) imposition.  There are enough teachers to form quite a sizeable club of unfortunates who have the same teaching load today.  I am more than half inclined to produce badges for us – just as I should have done during a past election when the slogan I wanted to emblazon on the pins was “Kill a Conservative for Christ”.  Alas, another missed opportunity!

As soon as the bell goes the teaching becomes a relentless succession of classes and it is only lunchtime that affords any respite at all.  Never mind, such a day of horror has its own small reward in actually reaching the end and still being reasonably sane!  Especially with the double hour with Year 9 at the end of the day!

All things come to an end, and so did the day.  And escape was at last possible.

The evening was spent pleasantly enough by reading a book which I was given electronically by a member of 2ESO who had chosen the book as the subject of his talk to the rest of the class.
“Old Man’s War” by John Salzi is a novel “in the tradition of Robert Heinlein” and it is an interesting idea competently worked out.  The central conceit is that when old people reach the age of 75 they can volunteer for the colonial space corps where they will be rejuvenated and given the bodies of twenty year olds.  It is a good forgettable read, but a compulsive page-turner.

Thursday the opera and Friday a blood test: such a varied life!