Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Twilight and into the Next Day

Not a Ring Cycle to ‘keep’, I think.

I have just (well, yesterday, though it stretched into today by the time the curtain came down) sat through The Twilight of the Gods and thus have seen the whole of the Liceu’s present Ring Cycle.  I know when confronted with such a towering masterpiece of musical genius (though very much a flawed man) I should set forth my analysis and remember my academic pretentions and write something perceptive and appreciative.  Perhaps I will.  But another time.
            For me this Cycle was marked by a pleasing amount of real fire and a confusing amount of rubbish.  I mean the latter in no pejorative sense, but rather in a literal one.  The reforging of Northung, in a previous part of the cycle, was accomplished in a junkyard with the central prop being a dilapidated small caravan which exploded.  The Rhine Maidens moved their sinuous way through tyres, a bath and other oddments that I took to be rubbish thrown into the Rhine, until Siegfried seemed to be able to move about through it with equal ease.  The Norns appeared to be char ladies with mops with the ropes of destiny being looped around stacked furniture which looked as though it was in some depository, and so on.
            The production was subfusc with gods and demi gods wearing ordinary to the point of tedium clothes.  Seeing who was wearing heels and who was wearing flats and why became one of the more interesting design questions to ponder during the more tedious arias, because, let’s face it, it is very difficult to maintain full attention for hour after hour in what rapidly becomes and uncomfortable chair.
            But such concerns were forgotten when the transcendent chorus of the Liceu came on stage during the second and third acts of the opera.  Not that the orchestral playing before then was not of a superlative quality, but the wall of sound that the Liceu chorus produces sends shivers down the spine!
            It was Brünnhilde’s night and deservedly so; her ovation was well merited.  She had some opposition from the bass singing the role of Hagan, but the star of this performance of Götterdämmerung was Brünnhilde.  Perhaps, in another post, when I have more time I will give a more considered view and actually write in the names of the great and the guilty in this production!

I have been backsliding this week.  My diet has taken a hit because of the visit of Maggie.  I felt it would be churlish to insist on agua fria when they were buying a bottle of wine, so I did not and drank avidly.  But this is a new sort of avidity for me where one bottle was sufficient for three and at one notorious point in the early evening I put my hand over my glass to refuse a refill!  Self-denial can go little further.
            It was excellent seeing an old friend (and her friend, David) again, not only for the news that she had, but also for getting reacquainted with a conversational style that I have not heard for a frighteningly large number of years.
            We are both older, but we talk as we always did and it is the way that the talk is structured, the way that we pause and go off at tangents, the cadences in the voice that bring back so much more than mere information.  It was true time travel in the best way possible for me, via talking!


And Maggie bought a copy of my book, Flesh Can Be Bright, so I count the whole evening great success.  I look forward to keeping more closely in touch with her, but with her sort of event filled life, it might be difficult.  With golf, bridge, culture and travel she is constantly on the move and constantly ‘doing’ and I will have to run pretty hard to keep up with her.  But worth trying I think.
            One practical result of her visit has been to remind me that various arts organizations around the world now broadcast some of their live performances to cinemas.  The NT does, though I am not yet sure if they have an ‘outlet’ anywhere in Barcelona.  I know that there are ballet and opera opportunities, and I will keep my eyes open to try and expand my ‘live’ performance quota.  I used to go to orchestral performances in Barcelona until my opera going claimed my time and cash.  There is no reason why I cannot do both, especially as the Liceu is much more flexible about the changing of seats for their subscribers nowadays.  This really is a note to self and a call to action!

On the degree front, we are now all waiting for our pro-formas to be returned.  These are the OU approved ways of letting you tutor know what it is that you have decided to write your ‘long essay’ on for the last piece of work in the course.  I have chosen to study a painter called Lluís Dalmau whose most famous painting is called The Virgin of the Councillors and was painted 1443-1445.  

This is one of only two works which are unequivocally by him: one in Barcelona and the other, down the road in St Boi.
            My pro-forma outlined my approach and cited works which I will use in the final essay.  The tutor will look at what I have written and make suggestions which I will then take on board by modifying my approach in response to her guidance and then write the essay.  All simple and straightforward.  Not.  You only have to read the forums for our course to see the panic which is setting in and the desperation which drips from some posts!  I maintain a lofty position of superiority at the moment because I have found lots of references and I am ahead of the reading requirements of the main course which is still going on.
            This will, of course all change as soon as I start writing the last normal essay of the course and start on the long essay.  I will probably not post on the forums, but I will walk up and down in my shockingly untidy ‘office’ on the third floor – and will look longingly at the terrace as soon as the sun comes out!

            Tomorrow a meeting with Suzanne, a few art exhibitions and a menu del dia in MNAC – overpriced, but worth it!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Not knowing is the worst!

I have no idea what’s happening!  No, really!  I know that the world hasn’t ended because I am still here.  And, thanks to the wonders of the internet radio and (praise be!) Radio 4 I know that the Blond Buffoon has made his first Brexit speech in which he managed to do a very convincing vocal impersonation of The Donald by using sentences composed entirely of unrelated phrases and dismissive waffle.  What a repugnant, self-seeking, condescending apology for a politician he is!
            The Donald has some sort of reason for his putrid existence, as he is the logical outcome of the Republican excoriation of every breath that Obama has taken, irrespective of any logic or ideology – apart that is, from the pandering to the lowest possible common denominator of prejudice that they could find.  I am not sure that the previous sentence went any logical way itself, but in its own befuddled way it does at least express my sadness at what the party of Lincoln (whose speed of rotation in his monument must be approaching the speed of light at the moment) has created.

            But The Blond Buffoon is an entirely different creature.  I assume that his hair is natural (at least in its colour) but the buffoonery is entirely intentional on his part.  He is no fool.  He is capable of writing a mean sentence.  He has a sense of humour.  And he wants, oh how he wants, to be Prime Minister.  I don’t for a single solitary second believe that he went through anything even remotely approaching ‘heart searching’ to determine what position he should take on the question of Britain remaining in the EU.  The only thought, no, the main thought in his nasty tousled head was what would bring him closer to his main goal in life.  He has reasoned, because unlike The Donald he is capable of that, that opposition to British membership of the EU is likely to play best with the voters in the Conservative Party whether or not the UK votes in or out.  He has calculated that even if the vote goes against him, he can take the wishes of his discredited party towards his ultimate goal.

            The Capering Clot’s jovial mask slipped when it turned out that he (oh, sorry, not him, just one of his most trusted advisors) told senior officials in the London Mayor’s Office that they had to support his point of view or shut up!  It was, of course, a “cock-up” as he described it later, when the instruction had been discovered, using what he thinks of as the language of the common man, the man in the street (not the woman of course, they are only good for bedding and betraying) to show how blusteringly funny and out of character it all was.  Not a bit of it!  That is the man.  The privileged autocrat with the excruciating fractured conversational line of filler-filled marshmallow ideology to deflect opprobrium.

            You may wonder why this vitriol towards The Beast of Boris.  The answer is prosaic: Toni is visiting his family and I have not turned the TV on.  I am not sure that I know how.  I mean I know how to turn the television on, but not to get the programme that I want.  There is also a way of getting the language into English, but the complex button pressing to get that to occur is beyond my thumbs.  The end result is I have no idea what Spain is up to.

            You rarely hear anything about Spain on the national news on Radio 4, though I think the recent occasion of the Infanta (the sister of the present so-called king) being cross examined in court and, in answer to the questions that she deigned to answer, lying her head off – I think that made the news, and I think that Brits actually got to see pictures of her in court looking uncomfortable.  
As she should.  

But, apart from the more garish and outlandish elements in our news, the day-to-day corruption and the fact that we do not have a government are not deemed newsworthy.

            I can’t really blame the news outlets, because saying, “Oh, the Spanish Popular Party (Conservative) seems to have another case of corruption where their politicians have been stealing from the public purse!” is rather like saying, “Oh, IDS has told another corpse that it is fit for work!”  They are both so common that they are hardly noteworthy.

            But, there is a gleam of hope for Spain.  The right ‘lost’ the election and the ‘left’ won.  But the parties on the ‘left’ still have not agreed to pact – and time is running out before the so-called king has to declare another general election.

            There is a simple solution, and one in which a start could be made to try and rectify the terrible damage that PP has done to the country during their time in power.  But the two parties cannot agree and so, day by sad day, we march on to the unpredictability of a second general election.

            Even my OU studies are not helping, because I have now arrived at that part of the course where our thoughts have turned to Renaissance Art and Death.  Looking at various representations of the Danse Macabre, I feel like photocopying a few of them and sending them to the politicians who I feel are hindering the formation of a new leftist government.  Time is fleeting!  Get on with it!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The past is music to my ears!

Resultado de imagen de youtube

For the truly sad, there is always YouTube. 

Not that I’m knocking YouTube.  I wouldn’t dare with Toni so close.  His answer to virtually any question is, “Look on YouTube,” and to be fair, he has a point.  You can ask virtually anything and numerous videos will suddenly appear (usually made by teenagers from Minnesota) addressing, if not answering your query.  I am sure that if I typed in “What is the square root of minus one” or “Why chameleons?” there would be answers – or something approaching them in all the dazzling frightfulness of human possibility unchained!

But that is not what I am on about.  What I am concerned with is packing.  An activity that I, and every right thinking person, surely hates.  I was once beguiled by a ‘Top 10 packing tips’ electronic siren-picture in a side bar when I was supposed to be doing something else on the computer and I lost a couple of hours wandering through video mazes where human ingenuity had been concentrated on how to pack an entire wardrobe plus electronic equipment into a small case you could take on board a plane and still have space for souvenirs to bring home with you!

I cannot say, truthfully, that I retain much, except to realise that the principle of the Russian matrioshka doll (i.e. one doll inside another inside another and so on) had been taken to another level where electric leads inside socks inside shoes inside bags inside god knows what, was something that every thinking traveller had to do.  I also remember that shirts had to be rolled and not folded and that one of those perfumed tumble dryer tissues should be placed in the case to make the clothes smell sweet and not musty when you finally got to your destination.

I still hate packing.  And I have hated packing ever since I can remember.  I lack that let’s-treat-this-as-a-3D-jigsaw-puzzle approach that separates the anal from whatever the opposite of that is.  This hatred rose anew in me while listening to the CD player in the car.

As they are now so cheap I have become addicted to buying box sets of classical music that record companies are issuing to suckers like myself who still do not realise that all this music is available from somewhere else for nothing.  I must be the only person in the western world whose electronic music library can be directly sourced to CDs that I own.  Leaving that sad fact to one side for the moment, return with me to just before the motorway turnoff towards Terrassa and the first chords of an instantly recognisable tune.

It was the sort of music that comes with baggage.  It was jolly and upbeat, but there was also a sense of melancholy connected with it as well.  It took me a few minutes to realise that it was music from my college days, and music that was played at a specific time.

My first years in college were spent in Hall in Neuadd Lewis Jones (now demolished), one of three Halls of Residence on the campus of Swansea University: bed, desk and chair, rug, armchair and views over Singleton Park; breakfast and evening meal and a sort of full board at the weekends.  During the holidays the halls were needed for conferences and the like so, while we could store some stuff in a lockable part of the wardrobe, we had to clear out.  And that is where the packing came into play and my consequent misery. 


I found that the only way in which I could counteract my fatalistic torpor when it came to packing was to play music of a sort of compulsively jolly sort.  The very music was found on a sale price disk that I probably bought from one of the sales in Duck, Son and Pinker that I haunted.  This record was of ballet music by Gluck and Grétry.  Wonderful.  That disk saved my sanity on more than one occasion when the utter misery of how to pack so much in to so little seemed more than any arts students should be asked to contemplate.

It was a moment of horror when a speaker from my (first) Boot’s “stereo” record player gave the sacred disk a glancing blow during one of my epic packing stints.  This did not stop my playing the record, it just meant that at a certain point I had to brace myself for the needle to start skipping through a positively Stockhausian racket until the needle found the grove again and the happiness continued.

I had not looked at the contents of the boxed set that I was playing my way through in the car to Terrassa, it was merely the next disk, number 21 that went into the slot and the Straussian waltzes that came out of the speakers were more than acceptable, and the music matched the way Spanish drivers regard a three lane motorway as a sort of open dance floor to sashay their way around, sometimes with flickering lights to mark where they have been.

It was well into the CD when the music suddenly changed and the unmistakable tunes of Christoph Willibald Gluck came through the speakers and I started humming.  The orchestration was hopelessly wrong for the eighteenth century, but by god, it was music and orchestration I knew!  And then tune after tune in a sequence that I knew unfolded until the real gem of this collection started, the ballet suite arranged by Constant Lambert from various ballets of André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry.  Let me not for a minute pretend that I knew the full first names of these two musicians; I am copying from the notes!  But the music was second nature to me.

I have been looking for this recording for years.  My original record was ‘sold to Cardiff market’ by Paul when the floor of the attic in which my record collection was stored started to give way under the weight!  I never found a copy and now, unlooked for, I have it again!

I wonder if this is a sign that I will be moving again soon?

I sincerely hope not.  I prefer to listen and enjoy the jollity and remember the misery in the tranquillity of memory!

Thursday, March 03, 2016


Death against Father Time with the candle of life

The blustery weather of the morning has settled down to a sunny afternoon with breeze enough to move the topmost branches of the trees.  The actual weather may be settling down, but the political climate in Spain is reaching tornado force!

            Sin título

          As was obvious from the start of the ill-fated pact between the PSOE party (roughly Labour) and the new C’s party (right wing nationalist) as they did not have an overall majority between them, they failed to win the vote in parliament yesterday as everyone else (with one abstention) voted against them.  So we are now on for a revote on Friday when, unless something dramatic happens in the next few hours is likely to be a repeat of the last vote and therefore be the start of a new election campaign as the country is asked to vote again.
            The sticking point for PSOE, and what stops them being the government is a combination of old party arrogance; ‘barons’ in PSOE heartlands saying no; vested interests; fear of the break up of Spain, and hatred of Catalonia.
            PSOE could have won the vote on Wednesday if they had pacted with Podemos which is a left wing, recently formed party which is looking for a new way of doing politics in the country.  A country, I might add that, since the glorious death of the dictator Franco has gifted more power than it ought to have to the political parties as a way of ensuring the survival and growth of democracy.  However good the initial idea was, the reality over the past decades has seen the major political parties get too much power and begin to abuse it.
Protesters against corruption in Spain involving Partido Popular and Mariano Rajoy
Spain has been rocked by corruption scandal after corruption scandal - every day something new and breath taking!
            Although PP (Conservatives) seem to be systemically corrupt with laughable proportions of the party being accused of what looks like clear corruption, the other parties are not immune from dipping their greedy fingers into the public till.  It was this morass of corruption that gave birth to Podemos and the C’s – both in their own ways suggesting a way forward.
            PP (amazingly, given all the negative publicity they have had) has the largest number of seats of all the parties, but no overall majority.  Even with their natural allies, the right wing C’s they could not form an overall majority.  So they, through their so-called leader refused the King’s invitation to try and form a government.  There has been a risible offer of some sort of government of national unity with the present leader continuing as president, but that was dismissed by all the other parties.
            PSOE and Podemos would have an overall majority if they pacted, and the leader of PSOE would then become president.  But, the power of vested interests and what looked like pretty inept political footwork on the part of PSOE and Podemos meant that PSOE pacted with the C’s – with all the consequent problems.
            Now that PSOE and the C’s have failed, there needs to be a new approach.
            Podemos (quite rightly in my view) will not pact with the C’s – they have little in common with them and they believe that the C’s are just PP in another guise.  Podemos are still prepared to pact with PSOE and then they will form the government.
            The presenting problem (if not the real one) is that Podemos is a blanket term for a number of politicians who are separatist.  So, for PSOE to become the government, it would have to pact with parties whose avowed intent is to break away from Spain.  This is a difficulty.  Podemos have also offered Catalonia a referendum about independence.  PSOE will have nothing to do with that and say that the whole of Spain would have to vote on any region opting out.
            There are real problems about the present organization of Spain into regions.  Most of which are to do with money.  Catalonia says that for far too long it has paid far too much into the coffers of Spain to bail out other regions and has not had the development money that it deserves for itself.  This seems to me to be a fair point, though as soon as any discussion gets on to the topic then sensible debate is lost in simultaneous shouting!  Then there is the Basque Country!
            So, there are problems about PSOE and Podemos getting together.  But that is why we have politicians.  It is their job to get what should happen to happen.
            The only way PSOE is going to be the government is with Podemos.  So what do they have to do to make that possible?
            The referendum for Catalonia can wait.  If PSOE forms the government (with Podemos) then it could reform the present system for the regions and eventually present Catalonia with a fairer system of finance and representation.  If they did this and then give the region (sorry, country) a referendum then I think that the majority of the population would vote to stay in Spain and in the EU.
            The other objections to Podemos are mirrors and smoke and the reality of power would show just how insubstantial those were.
            If PSOE want power they have to pact, and pact with Podemos.  Simple.  The rest is details worked out by the wonks of both parties who like that sort of thing.  The entire name calling and blustering of the past few days is no more than that; the reality of power is worth compromising for.
            But will they?
            If logic ruled the voters then no one in their right mind would vote for PP.  It has been shown to be systemically corrupt and arrogant about its guilt.  No one resigns in this benighted country, no matter how clear their guilt is.  But logic is not the force you can put your faith in.  30% seems to be the bedrock of PP votes.  30% of this electorate will vote for PP even if they started slaughtering children on live television.  And if they use the key words and phrases like: ‘break up of Spain’, ‘soft on terrorism’, ‘economic strength’, ‘Venezuela’, ‘ETA ‘, ‘Catalonia’, ‘stability’, ‘Cuba’ and the rest of the language of the right then they could actually improve their position.
            The C’s have shown themselves prepared to pact with ‘socialists’ (though of course PSOE are nothing of the sort) and their base voters (and yes, I do mean that to be a pun) might feel that they have been betrayed by the pact that their photogenic leader agreed to in his lust for power.  Perhaps the voters, who saw the C’s as a breath of fresh right wing air, might now return to their previous masters in PP.
            PSOE are in the most difficult position of all.  They have made a pact with right-wingers and it has failed.  So far.  Although the leader of PSOE has tried to appear statesmanlike, without the reality of power it is just posturing.  He has pacted with natural enemies, in the hope that he would be able to get Podemos on board (or at least abstaining) with a raft of policies that he felt that Podemos would have to support.
            Ideally, PSOE would have wanted the C’s and Podemos together with themselves forming a progressive, reforming party with PSOE playing the C’s off against Podemos so that they could get what they liked.  That hasn’t (yet) worked.
            In the next general election who knows what would happen to the PSOE vote.  The leader would have been shown to have failed, and if he doesn’t pact with Podemos, there might well be an unholy alliance of PP and the C’s which might in the next election have sufficient seats to give the present government the extension they want.
            The situation is, to put it mildly, difficult.  No party can really trust what might happen in another general election – but my instinct is that the right will come out better than the left and that we will have another PP led government.  Which will be an absolute disgrace and an insult to decent Spaniards.
            PSOE will have to swallow hard and do the right thing.  They need power to clean up after PP.  Podemos is the only way that they are going to get that power.  QED.

            Do I think that PSOE and Podemos will pact?  My instinct says no.  And that makes me very sad.  Unfortunately I do not have a vote in the general election in this country, but I am prepared to give my time and effort to help Podemos make a difference.