quinta-feira, março 31, 2016

Bleakest SF Author Writes Something not That Bleak: “Not This August” by Cyril M. Kornbluth, Fred Pohl

Published 1981.

‘“Satagraha,” Mr. Sparhawk said absently. “Soul force. It works, you know. Most of the time, that is. Their tendency is to assume that one’s probably all right and that anyway it’s not business of theirs.’

What I wouldn’t have given to read this without Pohl’s hand at re-writing…

I just want to say this. Just because I read and now I’m watching 11.22.63 a note to time travelers: I advise going back back to 1958, renting a car, and giving Kornbluth a lift. He has been shoveling snow out of the way all morning…

Robert E. Howard, Stanley Weinbaum, Charles Beaumont, Henry Kuttner. What do they have in common? They were gone pretty young. I don't know what any of them might have gone on to write, but we know beyond any doubt that, on that friggin commuter train platform in 1958, with Cyril Kornbluth's death, the loss to this sack of rattling hodgepodge I call SF was tremendous, not to mention the loss to every one of us working in seclusion and silence here in 2016 behind all these strange machines.

This is a story for people who are in love with classic pre-code SF. And also for those who may have accidentally tried a cup of herbal tea. There is no linear story arc, there's not a large amount of depth to the characters, but there are many snippets of a beautifully reimagined bygone SF age. Don't be afraid. It's super-readable, but you won’t find much humour in it. If vintage SF is your cup of tea, go for it.

NB: If you want to read the best of Kornbluth without Fred Pohl’s hand in the cookie jar, “His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C. M. Kornbluth” is a wonderful choice.

SF = Speculative Fiction.

quarta-feira, março 30, 2016

Booklikes Round Robin: Pre-1980 Movies

Thanks to Book Cupidity for coming up with fun meme. I'm copying the original instructions below:

Let's list favorite old (or older) movies. the list can be long or short, with a narrative or no, anything goes. The perimeters is that it has to have been made prior to 1980, I sort of arbitrarily picked this number, and sort of didn't -- for the young whippersnappers, Star Wars is the equivalent to some of our black and white favs. Plus, I think cinema in the 80's had a different feel.

So, tell me some of your favorites! Maybe we will discover new great flicks and new friends. Let's tag the post so that we can search it over the weekend - "Fav old movies'. I will also use the tag 'BL Round Robin".


And here it goes: "Johnny Guitar".

(Sterling Hayden)

Johnny: How many men have you forgotten?
Vienna: As many women as you've remembered.
Johnny: Don't go away.
Vienna: I haven't moved.
Johnny: Tell me something nice.
Vienna: Sure, what do you want to hear?
Johnny: Lie to me. Tell me all these years you've waited. Tell me.
Vienna: [without feeling] All those years I've waited.
Johnny: Tell me you'd a-died if I hadn't come back.
Vienna: [without feeling] I woulda died if you hadn't come back.
Johnny: Tell me you still love me like I love you.
Vienna: [without feeling] I still love you like you love me.
Johnny: [bitterly] Thanks. Thanks a lot.

It's definitely one of my favourite movies of all time and I watch it compulsively every year, sometimes more often.

Because of this post, I just had to watch it again.

There are a couple scenes that I find so strong they justify everything else in the film, like the one above, which I can repeat verbatim. I've always compared it to a Verdi Opera. Dramatic? Emotional music? Over-the top characters with punchy one-liners nobody would ever say in real life conversation? Yes, to all of them. I still remember the first I watched it. On a big screen. It happened at the Portuguese Cinemateca in the 80's.
It was raining cats and dogs and the tube had broken down between stations. Because of this I started the movie 20 minutes in, but once I locked on it, it was fascinating to watch. At the time I was simply mesmerized. I'd never watched something like it. At the end of the movie I just wanted someone to talk to.

I still can't give you a reason why I found it so fascinating, it was just intriguing...a very different movie. Try as I might, I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. I was hooked for life.

And the dialogues were just priceless! Totally surreal, baroque, and operatic. What more could I ask of a film?

Off the top of my head, other films of my life: "My Darling Clementine", "2001: A Space Odyssey". "Aurora / Sunrise", "Dishonored", "Senso", "Strangers on a Train", "Ordet", "Dial M for Murder", "Letter from an Unknown Woman", "Abfallprodukte der Liebe", "The Searchers", ...

terça-feira, março 29, 2016

Iceland in the 70s: "Oblivion" by Arnaldur Indridason

Published 2015.

Who’s Marion? I wasn’t able to determine whether Marion was male or female.  All indications of gender are absent, and because of that, the developing relationship between Marion and Caroline became more interesting than it might otherwise have been. The dynamics of the two characters don’t really shed light on it. Do they bond as they do because both are women in a largely male society (the time is the late 70s)? If one assumes Marion to be male, are we to see him as unusually devoid of the patronizing attitude toward women typical of the time? There seems to be little flirting between them if Marion is male, but quite a bit more if female. It's all interesting enough to make me nostalgic at never having learned Icelandic.

You won’t find car chases, hanky-panky, and drunk detectives. Sorry. I know I shouldn't drop all these spoilers, but sometimes I can't help myself…

segunda-feira, março 28, 2016

Can Art Last Forever? : "Buildings" at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

(painting without identification)

When one reads as I do, with such slowness, with the patience of Job, with such love and respect for those who can really write, I sometimes feel that I reach a point in which the bedrooms wherein I read are transformed into public squares, kitchens into churches, and the most humdrum domestic dialogue condenses a poetical mystical outlook, from which frustrated ambitions and broken dreams flow, together with individual and collective frustrations. I imagine it’s very difficult for people, in our society, to attain this process of disintegration. Using the “tools” of literature (poetry is but one of them), the poets create the possibility to confront such disintegration head on.

(Painting without identification)

Art talks about something that’s not there. It’s always difficult to say this, i.e., the art that resonates with me is the one that talks about absent things. I believe the things that interest me in art always correspond to the presentation of an absence, whether it be of a place, an idea, a decision, a lack, an error; it’s always an absence. There is no art without transformation: transformation of its own nature into another nature, one substance into another, one thing into another. It’s also a revelation, always, a revelation of something hidden. In art, that which is hidden is always more important and greater than that is displayed. It’s not an evocation but rather the presentation of absence or something which lies beyond the object. I see art a bit like an apparition, in the sense that one sees for the first time something that didn’t exist in the world before. Art should induce the amazement of the first gaze, the first vision. When I look at an object, either I can seize the moment, the purity of the first gaze of the newborn baby, or it’s not worth the bother.

(Painting without identification)

Everything else is everything else. For me, the difference between art and life is that all things in life are a repetition that’s been going on for many centuries: alL the emotions, dreams, deceptions, acts of courage, cowardice, fear, hatred, love, illusions, disillusions, all forms of violence have already been committed on millions of occasions and continues to be perpetrated every day. It’s always a case of eternal repetition. Art has the power of offering the first vision of something that exists for the first time in the world.

NB: The object above does not belong to the Delaunay Circle exhibition.

NB2: The pictures were taken by me at the exhibition on December 26 th 2015. 

domingo, março 27, 2016

Silence In a World Full of Sound: "Pferde Stehlen" by Per Petterson

Published 2006.

“Eigentlich wollte ich nur noch schlafen. Ich achte sehr auf die Stunden, die ich zum Schlafen brauche, es sind nicht mehr so viele, aber ich brauche sie ganz anders als früher. Eine Nacht ohne ausreichend Schlaf wirft noch tagelang Schlagschatten, macht mich reizbar und bremst meinen Schwung. Dazu fehlt mir die Zeit. Ich muss mich konzentrieren. Dennoch setzte ich mich wieder auf, schwang die Beine aus dem Bett, stellte die Fusse auf den Boden und suchte im Dunkeln nach meinen Kleidern, die über dem Rücken eines Sprossenstuhls hingen. Ich hielt die Luft an, als ich merkte, wie kalt sie waren. Dann lief ich durch die Küche in den Gang, zog die alte Seemannsjacke über, nahm die Taschenlampe vom Brett an der Wand und ging hinaus auf die Treppe. Es war stockdunkel. Ich machte die Tür noch einmal auf und schaltete die Aussenbeleuchtung an. Das half. Die rote Wand des Gerätschuppens warf einen warmen Wiederschein auf den Hof.” (Page 13)

My loose translation:

(All I wanted was to sleep. I have focused my attention on the hours I get, and although they are not many, I need them in a completely different way than before. A night without enough sleep throws dark shadows for many days ahead and makes me crabby and slows my drive. I have no time for that. I need to concentrate. Nevertheless, I sat up in bed again, swung my legs in the pitch black to the floor and found my clothes over the back of the post chair. I gasped when I felt how cold they were. Then I went through the kitchen and into the hall and pulled on my old nautical jacket, took the torch from the shelf and went out onto the steps. It was pitch black. I opened the door again, and switched on the outside light. That helped. The red-painted utility shed wall threw a warm glow across the yard.)

By chance I got this novel in a German translation from the Norwegian. I’m not sure I’d have felt the same had I read this in the English translation. When I read in German I always seem to have a deeper appreciation for the work at hand. On top of that, reading a novel as layered as this one in German ups the ante as far as I’m concerned. Back in the day, I thought literature was untranslatable.  Before I could read German, I found this thought comforting because I was completely unable to appreciate German literature, particularly the literature of the postwar period, namely Celan.  I thought I should just learn German and read these works in the original and then my problem with German literature would evaporate of its own accord. When I finish reading a book like this, I always think the original lives in another realm. Perhaps. I know that reading this in German made me think about it in a different way. I’ve written often about a work’s translatability, and I don’t mean whether a perfect copy of a text can exist in a foreign language, but whether its translation can itself be a work of literature.  Besides, it would be insufficient if I were to say that Petterson’s novel is translatable.  Rather, I have the feeling that the original text in Norwegian is peering into German.

“Mein ganzes Leben lang habe ich mich danach gesehnt, allein an einem Ort wie diesem zu sein. Auch in schönsten Zeiten, und die waren nicht selten. Soviel kann ich sagen. Dass sie nicht selten waren. Ich hatte Glück. Doch auch dann, zum Beispiel, inmitten einer Umarmung, wenn mir jemand Worte ins Ohr flüsterte, die ich gerne hörte, konnte ich mich plötzlich weit weg sehnen an einem Ort, an dem es einfach nur still war. Es konnten Jahre vergehen, ohne dass ich daran dachte, aber das heisst nicht, dass ich mich nicht danach sehnte. Und jetzt bin ich hier, und es ist fast genau so, wie es mir vorgestellt habe.” (Page 11)

My loose translation:

(All my life I have longed to be alone in a place like this. Even when everything was going well, as it often did. I can say that much. That it often did. I have been lucky. But even then, for instance in the middle of a hug and someone whispering words in my ear I wanted to hear, I could suddenly get a longing to be in a place where there was only silence. Years might pass and I did not think about it, but that does not mean that I did not long to be there. And now I am here, and it is almost exactly as I had imagined it.)

Silence. In a world full of sound, “silence” is something some of us crave for, or maybe we just want to be alone with our own thoughts. Trond’s much like the beautiful lake outside his cabin, i.e., it possesses a still surface, but there is something going on underneath all that ice. Maybe that’s why Trond's first­-person narration is so sparse at times and at other times so verbose and laden with rich language. This apparent inconsistency is maybe because Trond withdraws from the world around him creating silence, but his thoughts allow him to live as if he's conversing and interacting with people. If you think this is easy to achieve fiction-wise, maybe you’re not reading enough. I can assure you it’s anything but easy. Petterson just makes it seem easy.

I confess. I’m not able to write about this novel. It’s so textured that it’s neigh on impossible to do it justice. “Pferde stehlen” is a novel of memories, and within memories time tends to be flexible, and blurry at times. That’s how I felt when I tried to write this review. I cannot put into words what I wanted to say. Maybe it needs to gel a bit first. That’s always the mark of something worth reading.

I don't know whether there's an English edition. If there is, do yourself a favour. Read it!

sábado, março 26, 2016

Black Humor in the Sticks: "Savage Season" by Joe R. Lansdale

Published 1990.

"I didn't want to be anywhere near Trudy right then. I had a hunch she would have harsh words to say about me and Leonard, and I wasn't up to it. I didn't want her to get me near a bed either. She could really talk in bed, and if she talked long enough and moved certain parts of her body just right, I might agree to have Leonard shot at sunset."

I started reading "Savage Season" while reading Arnaldur Indridason’s "Oblivion”. Why? Because I misplaced it at home on a Friday and I didn’t bother to go looking for it (yes, my office is jam packed with books, and sometimes even books get lost in that jungle). Had it been a better book I'm pretty sure I couldn’t’ve been without it during the weekend. So I read around 100 pages of "Savage Season" before finishing "Oblivion". Already then I knew I would like Lansdale better than Indridason, at least when it comes to writing Crime Fiction (I’m not even sure Lansdale writes it).

Lansdale seems a bit more intelligent regarding plot twist and turn than what we can find in a run-of-the-mill Western/Crime Fiction novel. Still, this book is a thriller of sorts, so I wasn’t expecting my mouth to be wide open when by the time I was finishing it. This isn’t “City of Lies” or “A Quite Vendetta”, or “The Usual Suspect”. Don’t expect a Kaiser Söse kind of surprise. Having said this, Lansdale paints an interesting story behind the characters making it interesting to read. Besides, Hap and Leonard are two characters that don’t go unnoticed. Black humor… I love that!

Telegraph: Trudy is a sexy beast and in the subsequent years has come back to Hap, wrapped him around her finger, and her around his dick, and then dumped him.  Lansdale does not explore Hap's duality, namely his dislike of violence that still falls to his temper.  Hap's dislike of violence even though he is very good at it.  Hap wanting a peaceful life but always taking on violent work (*sigh* what can a Man Do?).

sexta-feira, março 25, 2016

Tough Guy Country Noir: "Mucho Mojo" by Joe R. Lansdale

Published 1994.

"I kept thinking I ought to wish Florida and Hanson well and be happy for them. That was the right thing to do, but I kept hoping she would miscalculate and get her period on her wedding night."

This is a very specific kind of read for readers with a very specific taste. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think a western is awesome, and those who don’t. I’m on the side of Westerns. Just so you know.

Because not every book needs to reinvent the wheel, Lansdale kept on doing what he does best: writing formulaic genre fiction. When compared to others in the same field, it surpasses any and all police procedural bullshit by leaps and bounds, but just doesn't come close to the masters. While the plot is its usual self and the dialogue as usual shines through, the plot is more than a little transparent. When the ending does come, it comes not with a sense of revelation, but a sense of inevitability and obviousness, as if it could not have ended any other way. In a Lansdale novel we don’t really have something as trivial as clues. This so-called clues are much more obvious to the reader than to the characters and that feels like a bit of a letdown. Post-racial America never made it to this part of East Texas. Be careful what you look for...tough guy country noir.

quinta-feira, março 24, 2016

Doing the Nasty: "Hap and Leonard" by Joe R. Lansdale

Published 2016.

“I went upstairs and locked the door and took off my clothes and slid under the sheets with Brett. She was sitting up in bed with pillows at her back. She had the shee pulled up over her. She had her reading glasses on, pushed down on her nose. She put the book in her lap.
‘I hope you don’t think you’re going to get any,’ she said.
‘Any what?’ I said.
‘Don’t act coy with me,’ she said.
‘I just got naked,” I said.
‘It has nothing to do with you. I’m comfortable naked. Some of us are quite comfortable with our bodies, our nudity.’
‘Oh,’ she said.
‘I’m reading, you know.’
‘How’s the book?’
‘So, you want to do the nasty?’
‘That is far from romantic,’ she said. ‘But lucky for you I think a lot of that stuff is nonsense. I’m not as girly as I look. And then again, the book sucks, so that makes your suggestion a little more interesting.’
She laid the book on the bed beside her. She dropped the sheet. She was naked as well.
‘Surprise,’ she said.

Language tartare galore...Lansdale’s style is almost impossible to describe. On top of that, I was laughing so hard in the first pages that it made me re-read some of the pages many times. The humorous dialogue and characters move the book along at a steep rate of laughs. The humour remains throughout all the stories, even during the shoot-to-kill moments. I think Lansdale wanted to help lighten the mood. I thoroughly enjoyed the approach and Hap and Leonard’s traits shone like a beacon from start to finish. As an added bonus you'll find a lot of politically incorrect snippets, just the way I like it:

“’I did fine about fifty years ago and it was a spring morning and I had just knocked off a piece of ass. I did fine then. Least that’s how I like to remember it. Might have been a hot afternoon in the dead of summer and it might have been a stump broke cow.’ “

quarta-feira, março 23, 2016

The Worst Day of My Life:"David Sylvian Comes to the Rescue"

This song always reminds me of the toughest time in my life. The day I bought an hamburger from a drive-thru McDonalds, and then when I got home, found that there was only bread, lettuce and cheese in the pack. As you can imagine, I was devastated. The sadness I felt, the shock, the grief, the profound sense of loss, it was almost too much to bear. I kept asking myself: why? Why did this happen to me? Somehow, I got through it. And today, I remind myself that if I could survive that, I can overcome anything...

Thank God, there's still stuff to take my mind off things...Still one of my favourite albums ever.

terça-feira, março 22, 2016

A Good Year for Shakespeare but an Awful One for England: “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro

Published 2015.

“Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.”

In Macbeth, “1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear” by James Shapiro

In the last 2 years I've been thinking a lot about Shakespeare. One of the things that always bothers me is this: "If all of Shakespeare's works and words somehow disappeared from the Earth today (due to a Bard-targeting virus or something), it would be as if his works still existed."

I'll try not to be snarky, but please read this in your nicest teacher's voice.

The answer to the conundrum is yes. He'd still exist because his words exist in everything we have.
By contrast, if Nicholas Sparks were to disappear tomorrow, along with all his books and the movies directly made from his books, future generations would never know he existed. His influence on humanity, culture, and history has been, let's say, minimal.

On the other hand, Shakespeare's works could be reconstructed from the evidence left behind.
Meloves a good Gedankenexperiment. Imagine we could identify authors so influential that if every copy of their work disappeared from the face of the earth, their literary contributions would remain essentially intact because their innovations and ideas were reflected a hundred times over in other lesser works from other writers. Because my mind is on Shakespeare lately, he's the classic example to think of.

Get rid of "Hamlet", "Lear", "Macbeth" and the stories have still been told and retold over and over. The characters are never quite the same, the language never quite as eloquent, specific plot points evolve over time, but the essence of the tale is embedded in our literary culture so thoroughly that the loss of the original at this point would leave behind a perfect impression like a fossilized shell immortalized in stone.

Out of curiosity I searched IMDB to know whether there were any Shakespeare movies in the making as we speak. I was quite surprised with the result:

Shapiro’s book belongs to this trend of “re-writing” Shakespeare, at least of our perception of him.
Shapiro’s “theories” as usual abound. I must say, however, the only theory I found rather far-fetched was the one where Lear is based on the Leir play. There are other key moments when a connection between an "historical event" and Shakespeare's work is satisfying but rather unlikely unfortunately.
I’ve read somewhere that some authors take it for granted that Shakespeare wrote Lear after reading Leir, but it's entirely possible, as other editors have suggested, that the idea was gestating as early as 1603, and took Holinshed as its primary source. Some have even suggested, based on close reading and verbal resonances, that it was actually Leir that borrowed from Lear. I've read too many theories spun out of whole cloth to be entirely comfortable with verbal resonances alone as evidence. It's because of this that I prefer to take as literal an approach as possible rather than take as true a historical claim based upon suggestions that could be interpreted in more than one way.

We do not know too much that is definite about Shakespeare, and I often think those who try to provide more "definite information" rely as much upon their imagination as upon indubitable evidence, not to mention a willing suspension of disbelief. Sometime it's not easy for readers of Shapiro's book to determine when assumption becomes assertion.

I really don't want to be a spoilsport. As a scholastic approach it's highly readable. It enhanced and enriched, in many ways, my appreciation of Lear and Macbeth. Forget about Fassbender's movie. If after reading Shapiro's take on "Macbeth" (“his take on the origins of the word “equivocation” is quite masterful: it’s a whole new world of “equivocation”, and the disturbing concept of “the fiend that lies like truth”), "Lear" and "Antony and Cleopatra" you're not inspired to read this three great plays again and thereby to liberate their author from the chains of speculative biography, Shapiro’s valiant attempt to re-create that mysterious year will not have been justified. Shapiro’s take on the time in the reign of King James I is something worth reading, pulling us in with a fresh perspective on Shakespeare’s works that has rarely, if ever, been considered before. Greenblatt’s “Hamlet in Purgatory” comes a close second. Shapiro chose to make it more personal, while Greenblatt went for the playwright's dramas, and drew larger cultural concerns over them, rather than presuming personal influence.

NB: Incidentally, for those of you more in tune with what’s happening in the world of Shakespeareana in this day and age now, the chapter exploring the link between “equivocation” and “Macbeth” is not something really new when it comes to Shapiro. In 2012 he did a 3 episode TV Series at the BBC where one of the shows was entitled “equivocation”. This series, all by itself, is a “must”, namely because it’s easy to make a comparison between the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods in terms of the Shakespeare plays. 1606 is commonly regarded as a pivot year “connecting” this change in Shakespeare. 

segunda-feira, março 21, 2016

World Poetry Day 2016, March the 21st: "Rub: Predicament"

Readers and writers must to be in the mood to read and write poetry respectively. I think if I'm too obscure or too down I lose people. But that's on them. I need to be who I am and not worried about an audience. That way what I want to write flows naturally. Poetry should be written for one's self, not the masses. Who cares if someone doesn't read it? Write it anyway! I believe people can't read poetry because they try to tackle it the way they do with fiction. Our analytical part of ours brains is overly concerned with understanding poetry; there is nothing to understand, as poetry is not expected to teach you anything, just like all other forms of art. The only thing poetry is supposed to do is to emotionally engage me, to make me feel emotions I did not even know I was capable of experimenting. If a poem does that, than it accomplished what it was meant to do. 

I have a friend who reads everything I write but keeps asking me: "why are you doing it?" Lately I've been given it some thought.

I'm sure I can get inspiration but at times it's hard for people to sit and dwell on it like we do. I know another friend who is very results-oriented. She thinks I am a dreamer. It's not that I'm lazy because I have a very demanding job (I'm a Computer Systems Engineer by academic background and an IT Service Manager by profession in a large corporation in Portugal), and yet I spend my off hours thinking about Life, Art, Cinema, Opera, Shakespeare, .... It's important to me and I guess, in the end, it's just how I tick.

My poetry may not get a lot of reading from outside of my blog, BL's, LM, however, it's a great place to express myself and get some peer-reviews. I firmly believe that writers should write something every day. That way they can hone their writing and observing skills. 

Poetry has always been my preferred choice writing-wise, but sometimes it's so damn hard. It addresses my emotional side, and my ability to recognize and appreciate beauty in everything around me. I think it's a question of sensibility and it's, most of the time, an acquired taste, as I've been told frequently.

Without dreams there is no hope, no goals and no drive left in my soul. I like to keep on dreaming, because only dreamers have plans and a reason to live and feel alive.

The poem above was shown at a Poetry Exhibition. It's been previously published, but because I think it's one of the most heartfelt things I've ever written, it was the one I chose. Shakespeare lurks behind it...Poetry puts life into words and as long as there is life there will be poetry.

My advice. Turn off your mind and let your soul take over. That's what poetry is for and nothing else matters.

sábado, março 19, 2016

Vatertag/Father's Day/Dia do Pai: 2nd and 3rd Language Acquisition

(My middle daughter is learning German now...Soon I'll have someone to speak German with...)

(My youngest does not really speak, but he's already hearing three languages at home...Here we can see he's also gifted with the pencil...)

(My toddler painting... "the perils" of being a Picasso...)

Je früher, desto einfacher! 
Eine zweite und dritte Sprache ist eine erstklassige Investition für Kinder, weil Sprachen bei der Entwicklung des Gehirns helfen, und die Kinder können auch leichter lernen. Kinder lernen neue Sozialfähigkeiten in der Praxis, sie lernen andere Lebensstile und Kulturen kennen und sogar neue Freunde...

My kids are 14, 10, and 1 and we started this process when the first two babies were still infants. I never directly taught them and they knew a lot through exposure. I tried to have them grow up in a bilingual home and I think they only benefited from the many-language exposure. I started with just simple phrases and I felt it was important to expose them at a young age to new languages. 

Simultaneous 2nd and 3rd language acquisition is great for young children.  At the time, some friends of mine told me that I was slowing down their Portuguese language acquisition by going down the bilingual path. This is NOT true. It's normal for children to "mix" the languages, when they are young having each sentence use words from both languages (I still do it; sometimes I want to say something in English, and what comes out is the German equivalent...), but what I saw and experienced was that this straightened itself out as they grew older and understood the mechanics of language better. My oldest daughter speaks English like a native. She wouldn't have if she hadn't learned English as a toddler. She was a bit late stringing words together, but she soon started getting the hang of it and spoke to me in English only and to my wife in Portuguese. 

I felt the important thing was to be consistent and not mix the languages. This meant I always spoke in English to my children and my wife in Portuguese irrespective of what language we spoke to each other. 

My aim was getting the best out of them. I think I was successful.

I still don't think I could have given them a greater gift. Now I have the chance to start this process all over again...

quinta-feira, março 17, 2016

The One Who Drifts Along Through the Air: "Roger Federer"

I’m a great tennis fan. I play it as a player, and I also love love to watch it, but not all tennis is pleasing to the eye. I predict my interest in men's tennis will fade when the game gets too muscly. There’s been an increase in alpha males slamming and screaming the ball over the net. Not that there's anything wrong with powerful tennis but if it isn't accompanied by the well-rounded game and versatility Roger Federer has, in my humble opinion, it stops being tennis. Brute force doesn't thrill me unless it's a freak shot for the fun of it. I grew up watching Borg, McEnroe, Sampras, Gerulatis, and back then, men's tennis was more about skill, tactics and alignment, than wrestling.

Over more than a decade I've tuned in to Roger Federer’s matches, and there's always something to take out of his games even when he loses because he's so graceful. He brings an otherworldliness to the court and I honestly think this is a major point of focus that a lot of other players overlook. I don't like seeing 'more powerful' muscle-tennis players beat him purely because they have faster legs and bigger serves (Raonic comes to mind). As much as he can rise to those challenges (and has done many times) a true winner is the player who stays connected to the inner game of tennis with grace and superior tactics.

Intelligence on the tennis court is a very powerful thing and when it gets brutalised by opponents who slog hard in a standard fashion, to me there's something amiss and it would be a shame for future generations of players to adopt that style over everything Roger has brought to the game. I say that with all due respect to every professional player. I'm fully aware of the dedication required on every level to become pro, so this isn't a stab at individuals per se, more of an observation of the direction tennis can take when the point is missed. No pun intended.

Everyone knows Roger Federer makes it look easy but I wonder if they ever asked themselves how? Maybe it's personal. I can assure what he does on the court he’s anything but easy. Maybe it's a reflection of who he is. Maybe there's another side to tennis that hasn't been explored by coaches. Maybe it's the inner life of the game that he brings to the court, and if it's discovered and tapped into on an individual level by coaches and players alike, it might be safe to make the assumption that muscle-tennis only represents the very coarse outer layer of tennis itself, no matter the fitness or the tactics. There could be a whole other world to this game that everyone can benefit from.

Maybe the mental game of tennis needs adjusting so everyone involved won't miss the opportunity to learn what Roger Federer possibly came to teach, whether he's aware of it or not. He's incredibly balanced in every respect and highly intuitive. Could be a good place to start for anyone wondering why their shots are slamming but they can't get ahead, or they beat the more graceful players on brute force alone. When the desire to win takes precedent over playing quality, connected tennis, well that's just corporate tennis, for want of a better term.

And so ended another Aussie Open. I was looking forward to watching Roger Federer play in it for all the reasons mentioned above. I still believe he has another Gland Slam in him. Hopefully everyone will learn from him no matter what happens on the courts.

It can't be that hard to pay attention.

quarta-feira, março 16, 2016

Hein Semke: "A German in Lisbon" at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian

The lines of the soldier’s left hand, that almost appear to be wounds. It seems to beckon me to go and meet its author, Hein Semke, who was an almost unknown entity to me. The sense of strangeness came from the juxtaposition of unexpected elements, such as the soldier kneeling. Semke was able to create a kind of world opposed to the world, a contra-world, a world within a world. But it’s difficult to describe this (image of a) sculpture. I’ve never believed in art objects per se, neither am I interested in them. What truly interests me is not their existence as such, their materiality or their presence, but rather everything which involves people’s lives, or their memories, or their future and thus everything which lies beyond their status as art objects. Upon looking at it, I’m left with echoes. 

                                                    (Kameradschaft des Untergangs)

Unfortunately this sculpture was destroyed a long time ago. We are only left with those echoes represented by the picture/image on exhibition (occupying an entire wall). This image on display has a very frontal presence, very self-absorbed, very much closed in upon itself, but it does not have a very palpable existence and therefore it reminds me of everything and everything conjures everything up. But they are only echoes. I stood in front of this man-sized image for a very long period of time. I lost track of time. For me, it was utterly incomprehensible if even it awoke “memories” in me, future or past, or something else.

NB: Pictures taken by me, perambulating the boundaries between Art and Life at Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon.

sábado, março 12, 2016

Dumb & Dumber: "X-Files: New Show 2016" by Chris Carter

Lately I've turned very cynical. Maybe I'm getting on in years, but I see plot holes in everything. The X-Files was no exception.

Does Chris Carter think we don't remember the show anymore??

The government conspiracy vs. alien conspiracy. The problem isn't that both conspiracies couldn't exist but rather Mulder's, and to a slightly lesser extent Scully's responses and reactions in this S10E1 and E02 don't make sense given what they both went through previously. For example, there is a sequence where what is said is that aliens fighting aliens and bursting into flames was hogwash and nonsense. That's really hard to cast aside like that when it was clearly experienced in the old series 14 years ago, but Mulder is apparently ready to write it all off as "misdirection".  The alien bounty hunter was misleading? Being trapped in the huge UFO in Fight for the Future was misdirection? What the hell? Do they think we are all morons? It doesn't make sense that Mulder and Scully would experience what they did and then so easily chalk it up to lies and misdirection. They may not have understood all that happened and why but their direct experiences weren't “wrong” and invalid. I’m not sure, I enjoyed it in weird way (more than I did with Star Wars). It was entertaining, sort of. But total guff too. The dialogue was bad and basic and written for a dumb audience as well. Maybe it's Fox's influence. But it was ok because honestly, who didn't expect it to be a guff x-files new series made to make money? The last two seasons of the old series were not that good anyway, i.e., they were flat out rubbish and Duchovny had long buggered off from it. Although it's still crap, but because it’s not the kind of crap I'd turn off, I'll still be watching the other 4 episodes left. "The Last Witch Hunter" or "Kurzel's Macbeth", now there's crap I turn off and draw the line. 

sexta-feira, março 11, 2016

I Will Get a Lot of Stick For This But...: "Shapes, Scenes and Strokes: Book Reviews 2015" by Myselfie

Over the last years, several people asked me whether I'd consider publishing a collection of my posts. Until 2015 I couldn't be bothered. Then someone offered to help me putting them out (I'm not at liberty to tell you who).

I've always wanted to collect my writing stuff. And to do that I always thought "Timelessness" had to be a factor, i.e., the essays had to be timeless. The last thing I would want to get is an essay book on the state of world peace...The essays needed to be written from an historical perspective as well, with the frame of reference being “...Book Reviews 2013, 2014, 20150,…” not “Last year,….

Two books I love are collections of essays by Umberto Eco ("How to travel with a Salmon") and John Clute ("Scores"). Both without much fanciness, but I don’t regret a dime buying them. If you like this kind of stuff, this collection of diatribes might be for you, otherwise stay well clear.

When I was thinking about publishing this 3rd book of my posts I asked myself why should I publish a book with my stuff in the first place. I mean, what is the advantage of having a book (and paying for it) over simply parsing through a list of posts and links (that my supposedly readers probably already know) online?

Has there ever been a collection of posts greater than the sum of its parts, i.e., the posts themselves?
I'm not sure. I think reading posts in a book format can be a significantly different experience than reading individual posts over the course of one year (in this case 2015). I find that I always get something new out of re-reading essays in compilation form. I have a queue of books much longer than I’ll ever get through, so I have to budget my time very carefully, but melikes a good compilation of reviews/essays. Sometimes I’d rather spend some time reading something old than reading new things in the hope I might get a new sliver of insight out of it.

I own several book collected from blog posts (not my own). To be fair, I love it when the book's contents is not all about blog posts. I did write some original content too. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you'll definitely recognize a lot. My main aim was to make it easy to read. I feel I can pick it up and set it down at my own pace. I firmly believe just because someone read a post on my blog in the past doesn’t mean she or he fully processed it.


I like the book format and I like being away from the computer when I read them. Although it's true that sometimes this is not the kind of literature I want to read when I want to relax or before going to bed because I kind of associate it to work...

If you have limited time for reading, I'd say you won't be reading this review compilation. Nevertheless here it is. If in the future the Internet folds up and I'm unable to read my own stuff (Goodreads deleted some of my reviews; those I'll never read again), I'll have it literaly in my hands to make fun of or to take with me to take to the proverbial desert island...

In the days of Mr. Google, the problem is no longer finding information, it’s being able to make sense of it, fit it together, and draw conclusions from it. That was my main reason for writing the three compilations of my book reviews, as well as writing for myself, and to understand what I read, as I've stated many times.

I'm not really sure about my target audience. I'm not expecting a huge fan base. Porn sells much more...

(On the cover of the book, Tram 28 which is a highlight of any visit to Lisbon-Not-In-Maine, my hometown ...).

I'd like to dedicate this collection to all the wonderful people I have met on Booklikes: Themis-Athena's Garden of Books, Troy's Blog, Bookstooge's Reviews On the Road, Char's Horror Corner, Reclusive Reads, BrokenTune, Bookaneer, RedTHaws Reads Randoml, The English Student, Book Reviews Forevermore, Awogfli - Bookcroc, Debbie's Spurts, Url Phantomhive, Murder by Death, Rachel the Book Harlot, The Mental Hoard of Bettie's Books, Lornographic Material, From Dark Places, The Grand World of Books, Thewanderingjew, 99 problems and a book ain't one, Lora's Rants and Reviews, To Read Is to Fly, I cannot live without books, Leopard, It's a Mad Mad World, It's a Hardback Life, Spare Ammo, WRGingell, Jessica's Book Thoughts, Constantly Moving the Bookmark, A Reading Life, ѦѺ, spocksbro, Lunaluss --- Because Books Lead you to Many Roads, Chris' Fish Place, Gregor Xane, Demoniacally Reading, Grimlock, Oldham Rocker's Mad Mumblings, Buchsalon, Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog, Sarah's Library, The Boat Was My Friend, SusannaG - Confessions of a Crazy Cat Lady, nospin, Gurglings of a Putrid Stream, BOOKWRAITHS REVIEWS, Dantastic Book Reviews and many others. It's really been fun.

NB: A word of advice. The book is a bit rough on the edges, but I think the content is more important than the form. Also when I read collections like these, I find I don’t mind skipping essays I don’t enjoy. So that's it.

terça-feira, março 08, 2016

Erhabene Poesie: "A Borboleta Vermelha" by Helena de Sousa

Published 2016.

“A Borboleta Vermelha” = “The Red Butterfly”

Bear with me, because this preamble is going to take a while.

The issue: "Free Verse vs. Blank Verse vs. Rhymed Verse".

Upon reading this volume, the poem that immediately resonated within me was “Limonada” (Lemonade), and I'll use it to make my reasoning:


I can see you as you are…
White burning flame
Coming with the tides of sea
Dazzled look upon the mist in the sky
Honored heart lost in the translation of times
I can see you as you are…
Summer flavored laughter
Impetuous spirit tied in chains
I can see you as you are…
Free in the deepness of the blue sea
I can see you…

Naqueles breves momentos
Em que as palavras de Rilke ainda ecoavam no ar
O meu coração palpitava em desassossego
E os teus olhos enchiam-se de emoção,
Permanecemos assim firmes na praia
Com o espírito cheio e inquieto
Contemplando a vastidão do mar
Como dois amantes
Envolvidos no abraço do vento…

In, “A Borboleta Vermelha”, Helena de Sousa, Chiado Editora, 2016

NB: The poem mixes Portuguese and English to my fullest satisfaction…The translation of the 2nd stanza into Portuguese can be quasi-translated (non-poetic translation) into something like this:

“In those brief moments
Where the words of Rilke still echoed in the air
My heart pounded in unrest
And your eyes filled with emotion,
We remained firm on the beach
With the spirit filled and restless
Contemplating the vastness of the sea
Like two lovers
Involved in a wind embrace...”

To cut things short, I'll give you an example of each kind of verse.

Everyone worth his or salt, knows William Blake invented free verse. One of the best examples by Blake I know it's this poem:

"I wandered through chartered streets
Along the banks of the chartered Thames, flowing through London
Every face I see,
Is marked with weakness and woe."

Does it work? It sure does. Not too long ago I've heard someone saying free verse had no quality. Well, that depends on the poem itself. Not all free verse poems have quality. That's obvious. What we shouldn't do is stating that because it's free verse it has no quality whatsoever.

As to blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter), everyone familiar with Shakespeare knows what I'm talking above. I'll give just an example from the play I've just finished reading, Henry V, where the Chorus conjures up for the audience the atmosphere of the English camp on the night before the battle of Agincourt. As you can see, the rhythm of the verse comes through even if you’re just reading it:

"Now entertain conjecture of a time
When creeping murmur and the poring dark
Fills the wide vessel of the universe.
From camp to camp through the foul womb of night
The hum of either army stilly sounds,
That the fixed sentinels almost receive
The secret whispers of each other’s watch:
Fire answers fire, and through their paly flames
Each battle sees the other’s umber’d face;
Steed threatens steed, in high and boastful neighs
Piercing the night’s dull ear, and from the tents
The armourers, accomplishing the knights,
With busy hammers closing rivets up,
Give dreadful note of preparation."

(Extracted from my Annotated Edition by A. L. Rowse)

As you can see, there are no rhymes (not even rhymed couplets).

On the other hand, rhymed verse, for example, can be consubstantiated by the poem "O livro e Flor" (The book and the flower) by Cabral do Nascimento, one of my favourite Portuguese poets:

"Um livro volumoso
De alta cogitação.
Obra de autor famoso,
Estilo precioso.
Boa encadernação."
(Rhymes in bold)

There's no way I'm up to the task of translating this into English and German in a way that I can maintain the rhymes:

"A large book
of high thoughts.
Famous author's work,
precious style.
Good binding."

Or in German:

"Ein Dickes Buch
mit erhabenen Gedanken.
Das Werk eines beruhmten Autors.
Erlesener Stil.
Guter Einband."

The translations into languages other than Portuguese, I think they can still be read in a very satisfatory manner. You tell me.

As you can see from the examples above, it's not a matter of its being free verse or not when evaluating whether a poem works. There are just as many bad poems using end rhyme and meter as there are bad poems in free verse. Free verse has to rely on other kind of literary devices to make it work, namely by using anaphora and metaphor, for example.

Coming to my example, "Limonada", we can see Helena Sousa making use of anaphora (using the phrase "I can see you") to give the poem a rhythmic feel while emphasizing certain themes. The elegantly and concrete phrases and wonderful descriptions which enabled me not only to read/hear the poem, but to "see" it as well. The use not only of concrete images, but the use of metaphor, can turn the poem into a whole as a metaphor for something beyond the words on the page.

Rilke has long been my soul’s companion and few seem to understand his depth. Like Shakespeare, and a few others, his words feel like they are my own memories. This is not something I tell people often, but I spent a few years reading all of Rilke, especially the Elegies. Poetry is always at the back of my mind. Why? Because it reminds me of when I had the time and energy to lose myself in books and art and think about anything and everything. When a Poetry book like this one comes along, I get in poetry mood. I’ve always believed Rilke’s poetry probably saved my sanity. I see him as being some kind of old and dead and a white man but, I mean, every angel is terrifying…If someone pointed a gun at my head making me “choose” my 3 favourite poets, Shakespeare, Rilke, and Celan, would probably be the ones. I know I can read them with the intent of understanding their work, but also read them and just live in the words which are beautiful all on their own, too. Sometimes I want an escape from meaning and I just want to hear beautiful words bound together so wondrously.

Helena's poetry is embedded with a kind of dreamy earnestness that only seems to exist when we read it. 

After reading Helena’s poetry book, I felt this is the essence of the reference. I see in her poetry references that may read space, the “object” that the word or phrase may be – as a form of binding. And it may be another “object” (be it a beach, laughter, sea, Rilke, or something else entirely) and its memory.

Just because I can, here goes one of my favourite stanzas from Rilke (from the 9th elegy):

“O nicht, weil Glück ist dieser Voreilige Vorteil eines nahen Verlusts.
Nicht aus Neugier, oder zur Übung des Herzens,
Das auch im Lorbeer wäre…
Aber weil Hiersein vie list, und weil uns schneinbar alles fas Hoesige braucht, dieses Schwindende, das seltsam unsangeht.
Uns, die Schwindendsten. Ein Mal jedes, nur ein Mal. Ein Mal und nicht mehr. Und wir auch ein Mal. Nie wieder. Aber dieses ein Mal gewesen zu sein, scheint nicht widerrufbar.”

(Extract taken from my edition of “Gesammelte Werke - IRIS®-Leinen” von Rainer Maria Rilke)

It’s quite untranslatable, don’t you think?

One of Floberla Espanca’s poems also comes to mind when I think about Helena’s poetry. Here is a poetic translation from Portuguese into German of the first stanza which I did back in the day  (in those days, German was almost my first language...):

“Ich träume, ich wär die auserwählte Dichterin,
die, die alles sagt und alles weiss,
und mit der reinen und vollkommenen Eingebung
in einem Vers die Unermesslichkeit umfasst.”

My quasi-translation (non-poetic translation) into English of this stanza, for the benefit of my English speaking friends:

“I dream I’m the chosen poetess,
The one that says it all and knows it all.
The one has the pure and perfect inspiration,
The one who gathers in a verse all the vastness!”

Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC - Uncorrected Manuscript Proof) of this book from the author in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
I was also one of the proofreaders involved in the process prior to publication.  This has in no way affected/biased my review.

sábado, março 05, 2016

Ham-Fistedness: "Cinco Esquinas" by Mario Vargas Llosa

(Original Review, 2016-03-05)

I'm really glad that Mario Vargas Llosa's “Cinco Esquinas wasn't the first of his books that I've read or I'd have abandoned his work forever. An unbidden, recurring image of him hunched over his keyboard, lickerish and drooling, haunted me as I read what were surely his pollutions nocturnes about the room-temp romps of a pair of married, fabulously wealthy, gorgeous best girlfriends, all the throbbier for the perils posed by the Fujimori regime. Very much is made of the contrasting fairness and darkness of their locks as well as their 'exchanges of saliva' [people who use that sort of expression always give the impression they're pretty lame kissers. That doesn't exclude best-selling authors (*the-vision-of-a-saliva-filled-billabong-is-putting-me-off-my-breakfast*)], enough to fill a billabong, and other copious saps as he deploys some seriously cloddish pillow talk. [2018 EDIT: Llosa's female translator of the English edition, Edith Grossman, seems to cash it in too. Surely she could have damped the effect of his ham-fistedness, though on second thought, her almost palpable embarrassment might have soured into outright spite.] He does throw the reader a bone with the pace of the novel which mercifully allowed me to barrel right through it. Couldn't say whether he wrote this as a cynical exercise out of boredom and vanity, taking his fans for mugs who will buy any old grot he purveys or whether he has literally and figuratively lost the plot.

[2018 EDIT: First-read in Castilian]