"The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned." (Maya Angelou)
Tuesday, 18 December 2007
Road Songs (Nocturne)
I was recently driving back home from Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, relishing a marvellous early winter sunset when I began to ponder on the joys of night-time driving. As the car headlights helped me cruise through the Ridgeway back to Enfield, nature's twilight hour brought a myriad creatures to the full beam of my front lights, thus, thrusting me into the whirpool of this lawless, carefree and unadultared animal world. Night-time driving music divests the listener of optical detours whilst ensnaring them in a type of Wild West grip.
Night-time driving music doesn't need/have to necessarily be slow, schmaltzy, ballad-type. Many a time I've caught myself humming quite loudly to a Fela Kuti's song or a track by Los Van Van. The only requirement(s) it must meet is leave you with that eerie and unearthly feeling of being part of the unknown, especially when driving in a motorway or in a countryside road.
The first clip is a testament to the wonderful world of networking. As social fora for like-minded folks, the internet and blogs, specifically, have become an essential part of the human existence and on this particular occasion I have fellow Cuban, journalist and blogger Ivan Darías Alfonso to thank for introducing me to the music of Souad Massi, an Algerian singer who has made inroads into French culture via her haunting and beautiful voice and, if the comments on youtube.com are anything to go by, the depth of her songs. Which I cannot understand as she sings in Arabic. I have just ordered her CD, 'Deb', after listening to a few tunes in the aforementioned website and I can't wait for it to arrive on my doorstep. Thanks Ivan and Merry Christmas to you and Elena.
This band should not have worked out. And the same goes for some night wildlife when you see it through the glass of your windshield. Some of it just doesn't make sense. Ditto with this group. The Doors had a guitarist rooted in flamenco music, a drummer with a jazz background and a keyboardist and pianist whose leanings were more towards Bach than The Beatles. And then they had Jim. And it worked. Beautifully. This song weighed on me in my teens and it still does. Pure musicianship.
The Cranberries took me by surprise when I first heard this album back in the mid 90s, just like night-time driving can throw up a few surprises hither and thither, sometimes not very nice ones. The opposite happens here. O' Riordan's voice is so delicate and yet so strong . Enjoy.
I've always been a Tori Amos' enthusiast. The passion with which she attacks the piano, her lyrics and the feeling of being on the edge of the unknown, or maybe the known unknown for I get a sense of comfort in being in her music's company. Just like when I'm driving at night collecting my son from Woodcraft Folk and we are both looking forward to the weekend. A known unknown which we both know will be worthwhile. And I want to set the mood for it right from Friday night.
Well, there ain't no sunshine at night, Bill. And how many times do you say 'I know' in that tune? It doesn't matter, it's the pure feeling wafting through the track, it's the guitar-playing skills, it's the heart-rending delivery, it's just pure, soulful, unadulturated music. Like night wildlife. Like night-time driving.
I was one of the lucky ones who managed to sneak into the Karl Marx Theatre in 1994 to see Manu Chao and Mano Negra in their only visit to Havana, as far as I know. And that concert has always stayed in my mind. The relentless energy, the camaraderie, the bond and the closeness of each and every musician on stage was mind-blowing. I must admit that I don't have all the songs I upload on this blog on CDs. I do have loads of CDs, but I also upload tracks which I would like to play in the car as I drive around the streets, roads and motorways of Britain and this is one of those songs.
And that's what night-time driving is about. The magnitude of the road, the smallness of the car, the infinite power of music.
This is all for this week. Have a Merry Christmas.
Living in a Bilingual World (Vivo)
I just could not help it and burst out laughing incontrollably (caveat for parents who are teaching their children a second language, NEVER laugh AT the little cherubs, but WITH them!). Son looked at me puzzled and with eyes wide open. What had he said that had caused my giggle? Did I know beforehand what he was about to communicate to me? Was I able to read his mind?
After sitting down, having a drink of water and reassuring Son that I was laughing with him and not AT him, I finally let him know the cause of my sudden mirth.
- In Spanish we don't say 'dos piezas de noticias', I would say 'Tengo dos noticias, una buena y una mala'.
It's a common mistake that I will keep returning to in future posts. English and Spanish do cross roads sometimes. Words, phrases and grammatical constructions do sometimes meet in the middle. The other night as I was reading them another short story from that essential children's book called 'La Edad de Oro' we came across an expression that made the children feel relieved that sometimes a common ground can be found between their two linguistic worlds. It was 'terca como una mula' and it appears in the tale 'El Camarón Encantado' (The Enchanted Shrimp). Son was the first one to translate it and he was glad to find a direct conversion into one of his mother tongues, 'as stubborn as a mule'.
But when these two very different languages lock horns the results can be very confusing. I've referred in the past to false cognate words. These are words that although spelled similarly they have different meanings. Take 'exit'. A Spanish speaker will think that it means 'éxito' (success), not realising that even the word 'success' is a false cognate as such, because a Spanish speaker will think it means 'suceso' (happening, event). Confusing? Yes. Amusing? You bet.
Son and Daughter do tend to force English constructions into Spanish sentences to my chagrin. But by now, they know my reply like the refrain to a very annoying song: 'Please, don't speak English in Spanish'.
Ah, and about those 'two pieces of news'. The good one was that they'd decided to watch the X Factor final another day after having recorded it last Saturday, thus not disturbing my Sunday evening newspaper-reading arrangements. The bad one was that they would be watching it on Monday evening in the lounge, which is normally the time when I come back from jogging and finish my work out and stretches. Oh, well, at least Son learnt a valuable Spanish lesson!
Monday, 10 December 2007
Road Songs (Andante)
If you turn left and take the second exit at junction 5 of the M25 going westwards near Sevenoaks onto the A21 Tunbridge Wells-bound you are presented with a spectacle of breath-taking beauty. As the road bends down in a precise and mathematical curve the shrubs and bushes lining up on either side of the highway take on a deeper and darker shade of green and nature seems to become an architect in its own right. The British countryside looks welcoming and inviting and the traveller basks in the summer sun streaming through the window.
Recently in August I undertook my first trip behind the wheel down the M25 motorway in order to go to my father in law's. As I was soaking up the natural perfection of my surroundings I thought of long-lost melodies or strange musical combinations I've come across over the years. Duets that have been completely mis-matched, improvised sessions that have pulled it off, associations that would have been better left in the planning stages and alliances that have confirmed my faith in music.
The latter is my first choice today. Take fellow Zodiacal sign Scorpio Canadian folk and pop music doyenne Joni Mitchell. Her personal and self-consciously poetic song-writing is miles away from the more combatant and soulful style of Marvin Gaye's. Yet in this cover of 'Trouble Man' it works wonders and the otherwise demure Mitchell even sashays on stage as the bassline keeps the song together. Also, it's such a joy of the 'oh-my-God!' type to hear her saying the words: I come up hard, baby, but now I'm cool /I didn't make it sure, playin' by the rules /I've come of heart, baby, but now I'm fine /I'm checkin' trouble, movin' down the line /I come up hard, baby, but that's OK /'Cause Trouble Man don't get in my way
I heard about this singer back in the summer and found a few clips of her on youtube.com recently. Her delivery is good, her voice crystal clear and her songs, though pretty basic, strike a balance between lyrics and rhythm. The fact Ayo's still based in Germany is also a plus for me as most artists these days feel that if they don't reside in an English-speaking country they won't be able to break through. Well, Ayo proves them wrong.
When I became hooked on rock'n'roll there were three basic guitar riffs that determined pretty much the music we played in parties. The opening of 'Whole Lotta Love' by Led Zeppelin, the first notes of 'Smoke in the Water' by Deep Purple and the funky and sultry sound of 'Satisfaction' by The Rolling Stones. I'd hazard to say that these three, together with The Kinks' 'You Really Got Me' and latterly The White Stripes' 'Seven Nation Army' make up the bulk of the must-learn-by-heart melodies that any aspiring modern guitarist keeps working on over and over. However, my favourite guitar solo belongs to a group that escapes classification and this is purely on the merits of their music.
Pink Floyd's 'Wish You Were Here' album arrived in a hazy adolescent cloud and now, more than twenty years after I first listened to it, still makes my eyes water. Its complexity lies in its simplicity. The opening track 'Shine On You Crazy Diamond' took on a deeper meaning when I found out who it was dedicated to. In fact the whole record was dedicated to one Syd Barrett, original member of the band and enfant terrible who went off the rails and died a year ago. With him the Floyd created a sound that defined psychedelic Britain. But that would be limiting the music prowess of a band that have always defied labels. Most people opt for the more commercial 'Dark Side of the Moon' album or 'The Wall'. To me 'Wish You Were Here' remains the stalwart piece of their career and personally a poignant memento for me. Also, the length of the opening guitar solo stretches in the same way as the M25 on a nice summer day.
Afro-Cuban music has filled up my life since I became involved with the Conjunto Folclórico de la Universidad de la Habana back in 1994, but even before that I was already venturing in Yoruba territory. With a grandmother who wore sackclothes on the 17th of each month and on 17th December made the pilgrimage to El Rincón, St Lazarus sanctuary in Havana, there was no way that I could escape the African influence at home. Also, my late aunt used to invite babalawos for religious consultations and I grew up with her lighting a candle to Elegguá every Monday morning. And rest assured, I never ate his sweets! So, it was with a lot of gusto that I threw myself into the vortex of Afro-Cuban teaching in the UK back in 1997 when I first arrived in Albion. And over the years I have grown even fonder of my students at Jackson's Lane and at The Basement now and the musicians I work with. The level of respect and seriousness I've witnessed in my sessions and in other tutors' puts the London Afro-Cuban scene in pole position. This respect and professionalism was multiplied recently with the creation of the Lucumi Choir, under the guidance of both Marta Galarrága and Daniela Rosselsson. I went to their first performance and I admit that I was a bit apprehensive. Why? Well, the reasons is simple. Back in the summer of 1997 I performed with Olorun at UNEAC (National Association of Cuban Writers and Artists) and the experience was mind-blowing. I knew about their work through the recordings they made with the now late maestro Lázaro Ros (ibaé), but the level of preparation before the performance was beyond my expectations. I did Elegguá and I enjoyed it immensely. So, it was with some trepidation that I came to a pub, whose name escapes me now, in the winter of 2006 to witness the making of history. Because ladies and gentleman, the Lucumi Choir pulled it off. The fact that some of its members have been dance students of mine, restores my faith in the central tenet of Afro-Cuban culture, the singing-playing-dancing synergy. And when I now play 'Changó' in the car, sung by the great Lázaro Ros I know that his legacy, at least in this part of the world, is safe.
And this is all for today.
Living in a Bilingual World (Vivace)
- E-equis (chuckle)-pe-ele (chuckle again)-o-de-e.
Saturday, 1 December 2007
Living in a Bilingual World (Moderato)
Road Songs (Andantino)
One of the pleasures of driving I have found in my short life behind the wheel is the way inconsequential moments become enjoyable and trascendental even if they happen only for half a second. Or a couple of minutes, as it were.
Take reversing. Or reversing down a slope. Or reversing down a slope in your driveway. And now, cast your mind, if you will, to that split second, when you take the hand brake off, lift your foot off the clutch pedal and your car rolls backwards very slowly. There is no gas and you are allowing Newton's law to gently decide the motion. At the same time you keep checking your rearview mirror, your blind spot and you half-turn around to make sure that there is no one behind you. Yet that little instant registers in your mind as a magical moment, where all the gears conjure up a self-expressive movement. Like dancing. Or music.
And some bands have the same gear movement. Take Portishead. It was a fortuitous incident that led me to become acquainted with the music by this British band, so-called dinner party artists par excellence, a distinction that I suppose will not have gone down very well with Beth Gibbons et al. After all, Portishead exudes quality and élan. The way their songs ease in, unannouncedly and discreetly is bewitching. And in this live version you can see why. Whenever I watch this video, I think of the gears of my car rolling one into the other, moving forwards... or backwards. And though I'm not a smoker, that ciggie in Beth's hand is bewitching, to say the least.
Back in April 1997 when I visited Britain for the first time there was one artist everyone kept talking about. Very often my then girlfriend, now wife, had her album playing in the car wherever we went. Back in Havana a month after, my love for her music showed no signs of abating, contrariwise, it increased. And although she has not enjoyed the same success her debut album brought her, Erykah Badu remains an example of what R&B should be about, good lyrics, good rhythm and a never-ending desire to innovate. I saw her at Brixton Academy a few years ago and it was one of those concerts that lodge in your mind to stay and never depart. Smooth voice, just like a car's rolling gears.
Only recenlty I've been able to play the Buena Vista Social Club album again. And it is not a coincidence that this happened after I passed my driving test. When I arrived in the UK for good in November 1997, it seemed to me that wherever I went, the minute they found out I was Cuban, they would plug in the Buena Vista Social Club record as a way to show that they were in tandem with what was going on in my tiny island. Little did they know that many Cubans in Cuba DID NOT LIKE the record and thought it dated. Timba was the beat to dance to. Only when it started reaping prizes and rewards a little bit more of attention was paid to it back in my country. I even remember on one occasion when we went to someone's house in Highgate and the bloke had Lou Reed's 'New York' album on the stereo. That's probably my favourite Lou Reed's record ever and then I saw the neat pile of CDs resting near the stereo: 'Buena Vista Social Club', 'Introducing Rubén González' and 'Afro-Cuban All Stars'. Inside me I was pleading with him not to change the music and I could see the puzzlement in his eyes as to whether to switch to what he thought would make me feel more at home or dig his heels in and keep Reed on the stereo. In the end our little telepathic moment worked and he left Lou Reed on. Recently I was in the car with Dave Patman, one of the better percussionists this country has ever produced and someone I respect and whose work I appreciate a lot. Also we have worked together on many occasions. I had a song on by the Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and we both noticed that the tune had the same melodic structure as 'Chan Chan' by Compay Segundo. If you can lay your hands on the title track of Baaba Maal's album 'Missing You (Mi Yeewnii)' you'll see what I mean. In the meantime, enjoy this musical alternative to the more traditional hand brake, clutch pedal and gas combination.
Saturday, 24 November 2007
Road Songs (Andante)
Salsa has a social conscience, a fact that seems to escape some people sometimes. It's not just shuffling your feet back and front, 1,2,3, 'Enchufla y castígala'. This song is a testament to that. Written on the back of the assassination of Archbishop Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador in 1980, it has since become a paean to freedom and independence in Iberoamerica.
And this is all for this week. As I gear up to go on the road once more I know which songs I'll be taking with me on my journeys. How about yours?
Living in A Bilingual World (Allegro)
Monday, 19 November 2007
Autumn Songs (coda)
Living in a Bilingual World (Adagio)
Friday, 16 November 2007
Happy Birthday my Grand Dame (Allegro Moderato)
You see, you and I have travelled together. But me being the much younger sibling, I've learnt more than I thought by being together with you, you and I, entwined at the hip for 26 years. And now I would like you to relate to me, to us, to this audience, your experience in this almost 500-year jaunt.
I would like you to narrate to us how you felt about the move from Cuba's southwest coast up to the west of your now renowned bay, the one our Mother Goddess, Yemaya, bathes in all its glory. Was it the mosquitoes that did not let you sleep? Or was it the swamps? I would like to know who planted the first ceiba tree around which it became a tradition to walk three times on your birthday's eve.
And you don't mind me writing to you in English, do you? After all this language is not alien to you. You withstood the siege by the British in 1762 fiercely and heroically, only to be betrayed by the Spaniards at the eleventh hour. We even got a song out of the conflict dedicated to the Guanabacoa Mayor, Don José Antonio Gómez, otherwise known as Pepe Antonio, the only one who challenged the European invaders with poorly armed troops and no military support from the incumbent Spanish government. Under the rule of the Brits you prospered economically, albeit on the back of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Africans brought to our country under the most appalling and inhumane conditions ever. And yet, where would we be without their influence? Where would we be without their rhythms, dances and languages? As our National Poet, Nicolás Guillén said:
lloro en yoruba lucumí.
Como soy un yoruba de Cuba,
quiero que hasta Cuba suba mi llanto yoruba;
que suba el alegre llanto yoruba
que sale de mí.
y cuando no soy yoruba,
soy congo, mandinga, carabalí.
Atiendan amigos, mi son, que empieza así:
Adivinanza de la esperanza:
lo mío es tuyo
lo tuyo es mío;
toda la sangre
formando un río.
La ceiba ceiba con su penacho;
el padre padre con su muchacho;
la jicotea en su carapacho.
¡Que rompa el son caliente,
y que lo baile la gente,
pecho con pecho,
vaso con vaso,
y agua con agua con aguardiente!
Yoruba soy, soy lucumí,
mandinga, congo, carabalí.
Atiendan, amigos, mi son, que sigue así:
Estamos juntos desde muy lejos,
jóvenes, viejos,negros y blancos,
uno mandando y otro mandado,
San Berenito y otro mandado,
negros y blancos desde muy lejos,
Santa María y uno mandado,
todo mezclado, Santa María,
San Berenito, todo mezclado,
todo mezclado, San Berenito,
San Berenito, Santa María,
Santa María, San Berenito
Yoruba soy, soy lucumí,
mandinga, congo, carabalí.
Atiendan, amigos, mi son, que acaba así:
Salga el mulato,
suelte el zapato,
díganle al blanco que no se va:
de aquí no hay nadie que se separe;
mire y no pare,
oiga y no pare,
beba y no pare,
viva y no pare,
que el son de todos no va a parar!
In recent years I've heard people, who've visited you, complain about the noise, the dust and the collapsing buildings. Sometimes, though, and call me a hopelessly romantic fool, we need the scratching sound of an old record to appreciate its value. Your imperfections make you human. You remind me of that line in Dulce María Loynaz' poem 'Ultimos Días de una Casa' where the author states:
La Casa, soy la Casa,
más que piedra y vallado,
más que sombra y que tierra,
más que techo y muro,
porque todo eso soy, y soy con alma.
You, my dear old Havana, are like that. I cannot articulate your cracks, potholes and fissures. They have a language of their own. It's the language of unshaven quality. It's what makes the migrant long for your touch, it's what makes the current denizen create anthems that will be sung by future generations across the world whereever your progeny has been dispersed to.
Because, my beautiful dame, you have witnessed the exodus of some of your more doting sons and daughters. Never has a song sounded more truthfully than when it claims that 'if my eyes ever deserted you/if life banished me to another place on this Earth/I swear to you that I'll die of love and angst wanting to walk your streets, your parks and places.'
Personally, you gave me so much. You gave me a sense of safety and comfort when I was still a teeny weenie child roaming your streets, playing baseball or hide and seek, or 'it', or knocking on doors and running away. You gave me 'Playita 16', the most imperfect and dysfunctional beach there can ever be, and yet, so inviting. You gave me parties in faraway places to which I went behind my mother's back. Luyanó, Santiago de las Vegas, Santos Suárez, Santa Amalia, Siboney, names that are forever enmeshed with my own flesh. One day I will have the same creases and crumples on my face as you have now. Let's hope I can bear them the same way you do yours.
You went from being the 'Key to the Gulf' to being 'one of the dirtiest cities in the Americas'. Why? We're the only ones to blame. We could not look after you. We let you down. We're like the teenagers who leave home only to return after a few years and litter it carelessly. You have not been protected.
But still, you persevere. I walked down your streets earlier this year, now with my wife and kids. And you welcomed them, too. We saw some of the blemishes, though. Those 'Night Flowers', sung to by our very own Silvio Rodríguez, still populate your famous roads, Fifth Avenue, 23rd Street, Malecón.
Ah, Malecón! Has there ever been a wall so loved? Emperor Hadrian would be jealous. The Chinese don't know what to do with theirs and the Germans got rid of their own partition. And you're still there, my little old friend, where so many revellers wind up, where dreams are splashed by sea water mixed with the oil from the ships entering the bay. So many songs we sang on your cold surface, so many nights on which we sat by your littoral and warmed your stones, so many early mornings that found us hoarse and voiceless, but satisfied and optimistic.
Happy Birthday my Grand Dame! I hope someday to walk three times around your big ceiba tree again, maybe this time with my wife and our very own offspring. I hope to be part of your Latin American Film Festival again, wander up and down 23rd Avenue, going from the Yara cinema to the Chaplin, and from there to the Riviera, before ending up at La Rampa, in the knowledge that my intellect has been challenged and that you contributed to its enrichment.
Above all, I hope that you're still there, confident, beautiful and welcoming.
From your doting Habanero Son.
Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Living in a Bilingual World (Grave)
Autumn Songs (1st Mov 'Allegro', 2nd Mov 'Lento', 3rd Mov 'Moderato'
Hi, don't stay there, outside, it's a bit nippy these days, chilly mornings and misty windows. Come in, passe em casa.
Wednesday, 7 November 2007
Living in a Bilingual World (Allegro)
As with everything in life, I had to start from a very simple English-speaking film as I was aware that Son was not used to the Mexican Spanish norm with its 'changos' and 'cuates'. The film we chose, 'Around the World in 80 Days' was a UK production, winner of five Academy Awards and easy to understand. Well, easy to understand for me, who'd already seen it when I was younger. Son was a little bit floored by the plot and I had to explain certain parts of it to him. However, when I saw the excitement on his face about sharing this piece of Father's life with him, all I could think was: Thank God for foreign languages!
And this was corroborated by a report showing that the French and German languages have almost perished amongst the options for students doing their GCSEs this year. One of the secondary schools Wife and I went recently to have a look at for Son, had just scrapped its Spanish course.
Why? Well, the reason is simple. English remains the lingua franca in the world today, a landscape shaped mainly by the aftermath of the Second World War, when the US took over from the ex-colonial powers as the ultimate economic force. Yet, with 44m Spanish-speakers living on US soil now, el Castellano is fast becoming the language to speak if you want to make inroads in business. Currently most presidential hopefuls have to at least make a third of their speech in Spanish if they're to have a chance at the polls with the fastest growing community in that Northamerican country.
Because the UK hasn't got the same pressing case (although it boasts the largest Columbian community outside Columbia) it can afford to be more complacent. The most commonly used phrase on Spanish shores is 'Quiero dos cervezas, por favor', which explains both the age group that travels to the Iberian nation and the fact that Brits buy everything in pairs.
Son did find the first part of 'Around the World...' amusing and I'm sure that in weeks to come I'll be able to show him the other films, with the same Mexican actor, I was lent in pure and unadulturated Spanish. And that, readers/posters/fellow bloggers, is the beauty of delving into another culture without the need for translation: enjoyment and self-enrichment!
Autumn Songs (Tempo Commodo)
With autumn now on the verge of becoming winter and my synaesthesia producing only dark reds and yellows whenever I hear the soft rustle of a well-played guitar, I open this session with one of the most under-rated singers this country has ever produced. When I purchased her debut album my DiscMan would not let it go away for a single minute. Martina Topley-Bird's voice can be soulful, rocky and playful, sometimes the three at once. My favourite song from her record 'Quixotic' is not available on you tube yet (Soul Food), but I found this little gem that attests to her wonderful voice.
And so, we plough on. And so we arrive at the majestic erstwhile The Police frontman, Sting (reunions count, but only as money-makers) and a dilemma as to which song to choose from his prolific music career. You see, I'm a Sting fan. I've seen 'Bring on the Night' approximately twenty times and I can quote some of the dialogues by heart. But nothing prepared me for the second track on his album 'Brand New Day'. The inclusion of the Algerian raï isinger Cheb Mami was a wise move for the northeastern bassist and the result, 'Desert Rose' helped internationalise raï sounds, plus catapulted the song to the top of the charts. And I just love it. Really. I do.
Lastly, this man's voice drips with pastel shades, yellow chromes and nostalgie. Ignacio Villa (Bola de Nieve), our very own show-man, was born in the legendary town of Guanabacoa, Havana, a hotbed of Afro-Cuban culture and one of the first few places where the Carabalí culture from southeastern Nigeria settled down and created its first cabildos, thus becoming the Abakuás, the only surviving secret African society in the Americas. Bola's voice was seductive, mirthful and full of joie de vivre, even when singing sad songs like the one below. The video is a collection of photos of him rather than a performance, but still that voice is incomparable.
As autumn is drawing to a close, I've been thinking about doing a similar series of winter songs. Just do not expect Christmas tunes. Thanks for your feedback, it's always appreciated.
Sunday, 28 October 2007
Autumn Songs (1st Mov 'Andante', 2nd Mov 'Lento', 3rd Mov 'Andante' 4th Mov 'Lento'
Living in a Bilingual World (Prestissimo)
Sunday, 21 October 2007
Meditations on Britain (Adagio Cantabile)
Living in a Bilingual World (Vivace)
Thursday, 18 October 2007
Autumn Songs (Andante)
My third choice this week comes courtesy of Mssrs Miles Davies and John Coltrane. The sound of jazz is the sound of autumn, or viceversa. Its crisp, clear notes sound like the crunchy leaves we tread on as we walk. And having these two maestros together is a relic from the distant past that we must dig out and listen to just like that old sleeveless woolie vest you insist on wearing over your shirt or blouse as soon as the first October winds announce autumn's arrival.
And that's all we have time for today. Expect some flamenco to come your way next week, plus a little bit of fado, a rhythm whose middle name is 'Autumn' and as the nights grow longer and the days shorter, my dear readers/posters/fellow bloggers, I think that Marisa's soothing voice will become our companion for the next six months, or so.
Friday, 12 October 2007
Living in a Bilingual World (1st Mov 'Grave') (2nd Mov Allegro)
Thus spoke Daughter recently, or rather shouted at me. And yes, my dear reader/poster/fellow blogger, I hold up my hand in shame. I suffer from severe linguistic obsession.
You see, it's difficult for me to let grammatical errors slide by and glide aimlessly into the void generated by half-said phrases, onomatopoeias and grunts which are actually words, only that they sound like grunts. I'm obsessed about my children learning good Spanish and on occasions I've been known even to correct Wife, who's a fluent speaker of the language I grew up with. I was aware that something was wrong when in a normal conversation I would be more attentive to her use of the subjunctive mood than the real content of the message she was trying to convey to me. And now, the problem has been compounded by my children's involvement in my condition. To their chagrin, I'd dare say. So, mea culpa. That's me.
How did it all start? And when? Well, the when I can point out. Uni. Yep, that's when all hell broke loose and I suddenly found myself immersed in this competitive environment from which I could not escape, nor did I want to. Because although it pains me to admit it, I loved linguistic competitiveness back in my Uni years. Over the years, and when I added German and French in that order to the cluster of languages I spoke fluently I developed a strong attraction towards both the minute details and the more noticeable aspects that made those two languages, plus Spanish and English so different from each other and yet so alike. I learnt that 'water' in English probably came from 'Wasser' in German, as the former is a Germanic language, too. Same with 'eau' (French) and 'agua' (Spanish), both romance languages. But when it came to in-laws, well, the situation got funny and both funny, ha-ha and weird. In German father-in-law is 'Schwiegervater', in French it's 'beau-père' and in Spanish 'suegro' or 'padre político'. So whilst in French they praise you and compliment you on your physical beauty, in Spanish they're thinking of snap elections.
The how is harder to explain. I guess that I was sucked into this linguistic vortex because of my natural inclination to question my surroundings, an attitude that as long as you restrict to languages in Cuba keeps you on the safe and sane side. And now I'm paying the price, because whereas Son is capable of translating entire books (posts passim) Daughter is beginning to go through the same motions he went through a few years ago. And we're clashing. Big time. I guess, I'll have to bide my time and be more patient because she's equally intelligent and capable as Son is. I am the one who have the problem. On the same note, living in a bilingual world in the UK makes me anxious. British culture is a very strong force with a strong identity (despite the alleged crisis) and language is one of the ways in which children with parents from different backgrounds, especially as in my case, with one of them born in Britain, can assert their individuality and build upon both sets of identities. The way we speak Spanish in Cuba is very peculiar and carries with it myriad cultural references that I'm positively sure will enrich my children's lives. And for that I'm prepared to change and be more patient.
Now, about that shouting...