Friday, November 20, 2015

Anything but the essay!

My displacement syndrome has driven me to write a poem rather than complete the first part of the three essays that I have to write before Thursday. Amazingly enough it is a poem about swimming. Well, sort of. It certainly starts with my irritation about a young swimmer who was substantially faster than I and sort of turns into a musing about all things transitory. Or very few things transitory as I restricted the poem to a sonnet's length – even if I didn't follow any of any of the sonnet rules apart form the line numbers. Anyway, it is on my poetry blog at stephen m rees new poems or possibly its all one word, but in some combination of my name and new poems you will find any new poetic writing which I have been shameless enough to post.

The OU essay writing is going amazingly slowly and, given the number of days left before I have to hand in three academically respectable pieces of work on the Renaissance, it is going to have to speed up in fairly short order. I always tell myself that I work better under pressure – though my only real concession to that is cancelling my attendance at the Wednesday meeting of the Poetry Group in Barcelona. And that is the day before I have to hand the bloody things in. Which doesnt say a great deal about how I feel my planning is about to go! Never mind, I can always settle my nerves by telling myself that anything is better than nothing. Not quite the standard that I was aiming for, but let's be real about this!

You may have noticed that there has been a variety of fonts and styles in the presentation of the blog. This is because I have changed my computer (or one of them at least) and, under strict instructions from Toni I am only using free-source programs, so this page has been created in LibreOffice Writer – and it does not seem to interact exactly in the same way as Word. The fault is probably mine: the User is always wrong! And I am working to try and find a way that the program will start behaving in a way that I want it to, rather than doing what the hell it want to in spite of what I try. It is an education. Of sorts.

And this is the first of my experiments.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A necessary draft!

As is so often the case, I open by bemoaning the fact that my writing is not going well. Not that I do not have much to say, that is not the problem, it is matching what I have to say with the dictates of the essay title we have been given. As is also the case, I am heartened by the cries of despair that emanate from the forums which are there, ostensibly, to keep some sense of calm cohesion among the disparate student body of a distance learning community. It doesn't work of course. The forums are much more efficient of whipping up hysteria than allaying it. Still, I gain a perverse sense of well-being from the heartfelt cries of academic desolation, as they tend to show up the triviality of my own sense of mild frustration!

Come hell and/or high weather I will have a rough draft of the first of the three essays that I have to write by the end of the night. Or not. One mustn't set one's expectations too high! It is a sure sign of my exasperation that I have been driven to write notes for the essay! Clearly following (at last) the strict advice that I have given to generations of schoolchildren. Following your own advice! How bizarre is that?

The first essay is a sort of compare-and-contrast – which should, of course, be academic bread and butter to me. And it is, to a certain extent, but it is the little bit 'extra' in the title that is causing all the problems.

We have to account for the differences in the artworks that we are comparing by relating our observations to the way in which they were made. As the artworks are respectively a gilded bronze plaque and a group of three statues, you could well ask what the hell I know about casting and gilding bronze and producing sculpture!

Well, I have to admit, I know a little more about the lost-wax method of casting than is probably natural for someone who is never going to get even remotely near to anyone adopting it (I have, after all, watched the sections of the CDs that we have been given as part of our course) and, as for statues, I always remember reading Michelangelo's supremely unhelpful observation that sculpture was quite easy, all you have to do is chip away the bits of stone that you don't need to allow the figure to emerge. That reminds me of one of my frighteningly intelligent tutors in university who helpfully told us that he always started with the bits of a work of art that he didn't understand. - the exact opposite to what I taught the kids!

But, there again, I didn't have the sort of first at Oxford where the faculty had to stand up and applaud when he went for his viva for his degree! Or was that just a story told us to make us in awe of him? What I do know is that he once slept on the floor of my room in Hall for political reasons that now escape me. And it was because of him that I made my first and only nervous telephone call to The Daily Worker (does that Communist rag still exist?) and delivered a report written by him, down the line, to a journalist! God, I haven't thought about that for umpteen years! And he must now be a professor somewhere or other, or professor emeritus now given the passing of time! I must look him up.

I have and he is. And, what is more I think that I will order some of his books. His High Anglican faith comes as something of a shock, but I am sure that it just as valid as my Anglican Atheism!

All this typing is displacement activity (again) when I should be writing pellucid prose studded with coruscating insights into Renaissance Art. With a capital 'A'!


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Music and other concerns!

To say that the Liceu's production of Benvenuto Cellini was 'busy' is an understatement along the lines of saying that PP in Spain is 'dishonest'. With stilt-walkers, drum beaters, giant swinging skulls, an enormous golden head, back projection, front projection, acrobats, flag wavers, moving sets, fire, dramatic lighting and a camp pope, there is enough going on to keep even the most reluctant opera goer amused.

Whether it all works, of course is something else.

This production is designed and directed by Terry Gilliam, with co-direction and choreography by Leah Hausman, and Aaron Marsden also credited with design, so a certain amount of scenic Surrealism is to be expected. It may have been the lacklustre audience that the production I saw had, but the participants seemed to be working too hard for too little response. The circus troupe parading through the auditorium with a coloured paper ticker-tape shower was perhaps giving too much too soon and added to that much of the 'acting' was hammy in the extreme.

And that is one of the problems with the piece: what exactly is it? The opera exists in various versions and experts have said that it is difficult to know exactly what Berlioz had in mind for it. Originally it was conceived as an opéra comique with spoken dialogue and musical numbers, but this was not the opera that was performed in 1838 when the piece had become a through-sung performance. The opera was then cut and revised so that there are now at least three 'versions' of the show to choose when contemplating a (rare) performance.

Perhaps this lack of clarity is reflected in the sense of discomfort that I had in watching parts of the opera. There are elements of pure farce (in the best Brian Rix - there's a name from the past! - tradition) with lovers hiding when the father of the object of their attention comes home; there is the 'tables' approach to the action which could be funny; individual characters are presented as absurdly pompous or as outrageously camp, the latter most blatantly in the character of Pope Clement VII (well sung by Eric Halfvarson) who arrived on stage processing through a pair of massive swing doors, atop a wheeled set of stairs and encased in a sort of armour of over-the-top ecclesiastical garments which opened to allow him to descend the stairs in a mincing fashion to join the action. His appearance was like a cross between the ancient emperor from Turandot and Bella Lugosi, except, of course, I cannot remember either of those wearing an ostentatious gold cross and false glittering metallic finger stalls! And there's a murder, a real death in all this visual melange.

And the fact that I haven't mentioned the music yet speaks volumes for this production.

It is not music that I know, apart that is form the snatch of melody from the fiesta which later was used by Berlioz as the basis for the Roman Carnival Overture. So I came fresh to this opera and was open to be impressed.

The title role was taken by John Osborn, who sang it competently, but not in a way to take me with him through the production. I felt that he was straining in the upper register – but then, what tenor would not given the music written for him by Berlioz – and I found his acting a little wooden.

Teresa (the love interest) was played by Kathryn Lewek and she was more than a match for challenge of the role, though she was sometimes drowned by the excellent orchestra, the Orquestra Simfònica del Gran Teatre del Liceu conducted by Josep Pons, a fault I am prepared to forgive because of the magnificent performance the orchestra gave.

For me the stand-out performance was given by Annalisa Stroppa as Ascanio a replacement for Lidia Vinyes-Curtis who was scheduled to sing the role in the performance I saw. This is a 'breeches' role and it is always a delight to see what characteristics are adopted by the singer to emphasise the masculinity of the character: Stroppa was a delight to watch as, legs akimbo, chest out, hands on hips she made the man! Her singing was exceptional and she was always a commanding presence on stage.

I was surprised not to see on the cast list credits to the troupe of jugglers, acrobats and dancers who added so much to the feel of this piece. The sinisterly androgynous Master of Ceremonies with his painted skin and cracking whip added a touch (perhaps more than a touch) of depravity to an opera that always seemed on the cusp of descending into total mayhem and incoherence.

Did I enjoy this opera? On balance, yes I did. Not only is it an opera that I can now tick that I have seen and heard, but its Piranesi influenced scenery and sheer vitality will stay with me for a long time.

And, of course, the sound, the sheer sound of the chorus (Cor del Gran Teatre del Liceu) which in many ways was the true star of the production.

The first of the OU essays is slowly getting written. I have decided that today will (WILL) see a draft of the first of the three pieces that I have to write – anything less will make the timetable for completion impossible. Though, there again, I always hear David's, “Don't worry Stephen, it will get done!” echoing in my head. And I suppose that's true, but I am aiming to do more than simply get the essays done.

I am enjoying this course on the Renaissance much more than I did the Modern Art course just completed. I suppose that artists or 'artists' had not yet got into their pseudo-intellectual stride and so much of what the practitioners wrote was more practically orientated than wallowing in theory. And it is a bloody sight easier to read and understand!

I take it as a good sign that the opera was about Benvenuto Cellini who was, after all, himself a Renaissance man, or at least goldsmith (or godsmith as I first typed it! Given what he managed to create, perhaps the typo is not too far from the truth!) and I am going to take his easy way with evidence as my inspiration for the sort of writing that I am going to produce for my essays. Cellini's 'Autobiography' which I read when I was in college in the Penguin Classics (black & serious) edition was an absolute delight to read. It was recommended by the English and the history departments- though, to be fair I think that it was regarded as 'informed literature' by both!

I have a great deal to do to find out details of the art works that I am supposed to be writing about, and I will give you some of the questions that I need answers to: Who commissioned each work of art? Was there a contract? Does that contract exist? Who designed the font? Who decided on the artists? Where exactly was the font positioned? Who the hell is the sculptor, of whom I have never heard? Were the statues supposed to be where they now are? What is the cross of St John made of – surely not marble? What is the significance of the bird (eagle?) on the base of the half column behind the three statues? Were the blind windows (and is that what they are called) intended to be the background for the statues? And so on. In a way I am delighted that I am in a position to have to answer, or bluff my way through, these questions. And I am paying (heftily) to do so!

I have discovered that one other person (as well as an appalled Toni) listened to my infamous but-he-doesn't-speak-the-language radio interview – Ramon, the owner of the take-away (how little that description tells you about the foodie delights that he provides) who merely said that he was listening to the radio and heard a voice which he told himself could only be me!

This is not the first time that this has happened. A very early broadcast (!) of mine was for WNO when I had to enthuse about an opera that I had neither seen nor heard. This was broadcast live on a Sunday evening when no-one was listening. But, come Monday morning, I was greeted by one of my pupils who asked if I had been on the radio the previous day! In a similar way one friend recalled driving in North Wales along narrow and difficult roads while listening to the radio and almost swerving to oblivion as my dulcet tones emanated from the loudspeaker! It is nice to have an effect or affect – or possibly both depending on how you read the sentence!

And now writing. A simple draft before bedtime will suffice.

Thursday, November 12, 2015



Still reeling from the onslaught against the Spanish language that my interview yesterday represented, Toni has decided to produce an English translation of what exactly I said. He is dressing up this enterprise in the guise of an exercise in IT which aids his course, but I know it is part of his attempt to expose my astonishing lack of linguistic ability in any language other than English to the wider world! Luckily my self confidence (bordering, some would say, on downright arrogance) was enough, not only to provide me with sufficient reserves of energy to get through the interview, but also was sufficient to encourage my positive enjoyment of the whole experience!

          People will soon be able to judge for themselves as the whole débâcle will be readily available to enjoy and digest!

The interesting times in which we live have now extended to the immediate political situation here in Catalonia. The local government has taken the first steps in declaring Independence from Spain. The whole situation is complicated by the fact that the acting president of Catalonia is tainted by his close association with Puyol (the ex president of Catalonia) who is fighting against the avalanche of overwhelmingly damming evidence which demonstrates that he and his clan have been little more than a “criminal organisation” (as they have already been termed in the press and by some legal authorities) and their criminality is being used by the terminally corrupt national government of PP to deflect attention from their own nefarious doings so that the population at large fears that an Independent Catalonia will be corruption writ large.

          The FACT that there are numerous criminal cases pending which demonstrate with shocking clarity the bare faced rapacity of the ruling PP party has now been shunted into the background of the general population's consciousness and they are concentrated instead on the very real threat of Catalonia breaking away (totally and utterly illegally according to the hands-wet-with-blood government of Spain) and the breathtakingly audacious corruption of notable Catalans. Thus showing clearly and indisputably that Catalonia must be kept securely in the safe hands of irremediably rapacious ignoramuses which form the so-called legal government of Spain. The fact that this group of kleptomaniacs and compulsive liars can even think about presenting themselves as some sort of legitimate force for good just goes to show that any old group of mendacious curs can get away with anything as long as they keep their nerve and keep on lying as proficiently as they have been doing for the whole time that they have been in what they like to term 'government.'

          When I say that I have more respect for the Evil Old Bitch (you know who I mean) than for Bromo, my name for the so-called President of Spain, it just goes to show how much contempt I have for the be-suited cretins who occupy positions of power in the present sad joke that is Spanish government.

          I tend to think that I do more work trying to attribute Machiavellian intelligence to the way that events are presented by the dead heads in PP than they actually deserve. With the build up to the General Election on the 20th December, they are either being deucedly clever or astonishingly stupid in the way that their strategy is developing.

           Having listened to some of the half-brains who seem to speak for this apology for a government with some sort of assumed authority, I can hardly believe that they have a coherent political brain cell to spark to action, yet it is possible to work out a terminally cynical approach to the electorate which speaks of some sort of primal intelligence.

           As an intelligent member of PP is an obvious oxymoron, I have to admit (and indeed we know because of the way that their finances have been laid out to an unbelieving public) that they have enough cash from various crooked sources to buy in the intelligence that they do not possess themselves. And shame on those with Neanderthal Plus brains who have sold themselves to the amoeba-like slime that sits on the PP benches in parliament to further their despicable causes, i.e. themselves.

           So, at the moment, we here in Catalonia are waiting for the political parties that make up the majority in our local parliament for independence to come to some sort of agreement about who is going to be president. The last vote for Artur Mas to be president was defeated – and rightly so. But what the immediate future holds is difficult to say. Bromo has stated that he, himself, personally will not allow the break up of Spain – which is a bit like saying that the magma refuses to allow the volcano to blow. He and his party seem to have gone out of their way to antagonise Catalans and then they act with shocked surprise when Catalans respond as if they are ungrateful for their abuse.

          When I first arrived in Catalonia I was all in favour of a united Spain, feeling that the country would be much more powerful and coherent if all the constituent parts of the country were linked together. I still feel that is true, but the present PP government with the dictatorial use of their absolute majority have changed my mind markedly. PP have gone out of their way to make it clear that they despise Catalonia, only valuing the money they can suck from the country. Well, enough is enough.

          PP and PSOE (the equivalent of Conservative and Labour in British terms) have colluded in the creation of a completely unconstitutional so-called king, they are colluding in the suppression of Catalan independence, they are colluding in the suppression of a multi-party democracy and, above all, they are colluding in maintaining the status quo to ensure their own position in the troughs that they have fed from for far too long. A plague, as the Bard rightly said, on both their houses.

           Spain has a democratic system whereby you vote for a 'list' of candidates for each political party. The number of votes given to each party determines the number of candidates 'elected' on each list. Thus, if you are candidate 1 on PP's list you are guaranteed a place in parliament, and so on down the list according to the number of votes cast. In other words the scheming, conniving, corrupt members of a party do not need to worry about a particular constituency to get elected; as long as they are near the top of the 'list' they will succeed. It also follows that individual members of the party owe more allegiance to the party rather than to any constituency made up of voters in a particular location.

          It also means that utterly disgraceful party hacks like Rita from Valencia, who ripped off the people of that region to satisfy her own inflated opinion of what she felt she deserved, are not cast into the otter darkness (with wailing and gnashing of teeth) after her party (PP!) is justly thrown out, but is instead promoted to the Senate, where the overblown apology for honesty can continue to milk the state!

          Whatever you think of Cameron and his exclusive brethren of upper class take-it-all opportunists, they look like honesty personified when compared with their openly rapacious parallels in Spain!

Peregrinating Kate of the Barcelona Poetry Group is going back to California for the winter, but her crown as leader of our group has been gifted to another member who is going to take over the task of ensuring that the meetings continue until the middle of December when we will have a Christmas recess until the middle of January.

           Last night's meeting was on the theme of 'Returning' and I read out the opening page of Rebecca as my contribution to the initial responses. Sandy read a stunning poem which referenced her post traumatic shock syndrome from her time as a military doctor. It's poems like that which make me even more eager to read through her latest book which has accompanying poems by her sister. The publication date is December 1st and that is something to look forward to as I have demanded that her sister in the states send copies to Spain as soon as it is published!

           Kate brought up the idea of producing a book which could be a co-operative effort from members past and present of the poetry group. I have thought about this and so was able to share my ideas about how to make it a practical reality. This is something which can see a publication by the Spring (or more likely early summer) of next year. I hope that I will be allowed to edit the publication and see it through its various stages of production.

          The OU course continues and I am finding out just how little I know about the Renaissance – which I have said before, but each new day merely shows how superficial my previous knowledge was!

          This week sees me making a tentative start on the long three-part essay-like assignment that we have to complete. Other events and meetings are stacking up in the time left for its completion so I will have to exercise a certain amount of discipline about how I spend my time if it is to be done to my satisfaction.

          Another factor claiming time is the work (now delayed by still sitting in a folder on my desk) about the early history of swimming in public pools, which should, in time, link up with the previous work that I have done on Guevara and his paintings. It is getting to the stage where I will need to produce one of those 'fantastic' timetables that I am only forced into drawing up when there is already too little time left to do what I want to do. The notorious one that I drew up for my finals actually proved to me that I didn't have anything like enough time left to revise with anything like the thoroughness that I had intended to use. Still, lots to do – including filling out the absurdly long form for my pension. Though, thinking about it, I was able to use it as part of a poem for my next book!

Now, enough writing indulgence, time to start work.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation!

It has to be said that a personal Rubicon of Amazonian proportions has been, not so much crossed, as waded and staggered through: I have given my first Radio interview (dramatic pause) in Spanish!

I have left a decent paragraph space for that to sink in. Toni, who made the mistake of listening to it, is still in a state of shock.

Only I would have the bare-faced arrogance to go for a radio interview in a language that, it has to be admitted I do not speak, and wade into it live on air after having had no opportunity to consider the questions beforehand! And I didn't even have the good grace to be nervous before, during or after this event.

Let's get things into proportion. The Radio Station was our local one in Castelldefels and not the BBC World Service, and my contribution was an incidental literary segment in a programme that lasted a couple of hours. But still. Radio! And in a foreign language!

This was all in aid of publicising Flesh Can Be Bright and, it has to be said, I am prepared to do virtually anything to get publicity for that book. On Toni's strict instructions I asked for an audio copy of the whole sorry event and when it arrives I will post it on the Praetorius Books website, or at least on the Facebook Page so that the interview can add to the jollity of nations – because it adds little to the art of interviewing!

Toni says that on at least two occasions I ignored the question and went off on a path of my own and he has threatened to translate both questions and answers to show just how oblique my responses were.

When I came home (in triumph) after the event he was still slightly hysterical having listened to the interview while frantically pacing up and down the living room clawing at his face as he tried to work out what the hell I was saying. He obviously was not in the best position to follow my explanations because he actually speaks Spanish, a knowledge of which was not necessarily a help in following my discourse!

Still, the deed is done and it adds to my Spanish portfolio which also includes the interview in much more convincing Spanish (because it was translated by Toni) in our local give-away newspaper.

Having now conquered newspaper and radio, I have set my sights on television as my next target. Don't laugh, having got this far, it is only a matter of time before the bastion of the moving image falls to my mangling of the Spanish tongue!

Although the foregoing may appear to be light-hearted in its approach, I was obviously deadly serious as I truncated by usual metric mile morning swim to a mere one thousand metres so that I could arrive at the radio station in good time!

Meanwhile the OU course continues with the first of the double length essays waiting to be completed. Or started even. On the good side, I have noted that there are a series of notes from the tutorial held a couple of days ago in Durham. For some reason best known to the OU, all European students are linked with the North of England Region, where the number of EasyJet flights to the city are fairly limited. We far-flung students usually have only one face-to-face tutorial during our course and that is likely to be in London and in February.

Not the most appealing time to have a short break in England, but I hope that Toni and I will make the most of it and try and find time and a reasonable hotel to make the most of the opportunity to see more of the city. I would like him to see Clarrie's empire and who knows, we might even have time to make a wintry visit to Brighton and see just how near the sea Andrew is! Something to think about and plan.

My lessons in Padel have ground to a halt. The ten days of birthday celebrations were the ostensible reason for their pause, but there is no reason apart from physical pain that they should not restart. I am not sure how may lessons I have left from the course that I purchased, but I should take full advantage of that expensive investment – even if I have little belief that I will become a regular player of the game.

For me, the fact that Padel needs four people to make a match (it is only played as a doubles game) is a signal disadvantage as my playing of tennis, badminton and squash has always been as singles. Although I have broadcast to the city via the radio in one of the tongues of the country, I am not sure that I am quite so confident about participating in Spanish (or indeed in Catalan) in the badinage that is a necessary part of a doubles game. Though, thinking about it, that might be a powerful incentive to get to grips with a particular form of the language!

I must learn to end anything that I write with some sort of injunction to BUY THE BOOK. So I will start here and urge whoever is reading to go to the Facebook page for Praetorius Books and find out more about Flesh Can Be Bright and Autumn trees.

That is hardly the most inspiring encouragement to part with hard earned cash and splurge it on a well-worth-it book of poetry, but it is the best I can do at the moment. I will work on something which is more professional!