Wednesday 30 November 2011

Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts

My late grandmother on my mother's side used to invoke the Divine Providence whenever something went her way. She would raise her eyes to the heavens, beam out that broad smile to which we had all grown accustomed by then and forth her gratitude would pour to whom she believed to be her Maker for his alleged guardianship. Hers was one of those phrases which, no matter where you found yourself on the religious spectrum, had a certain comfort to it. Like the butternut squash and sweet potato soup my wife makes in winter time.

Recently I had cause to also thank a similar Divine Providence, although this one was of the earthling variety and likes writing in the kind of language I call colourful and others label pretentious. The reason for my delight was Will Self's recent essay "The symphony and the novel – a harmonious couple?" (The Guardian Review, Saturday 8th October). In it, good ol' Will explores the reasons why both art forms, although having developed almost at the same time, in the 19th century, have supposedly moved in different directions; whilst one (music) has retained its risk-taking approach, the other (literature) has pressed its finger firmly on the "safe mode" button.

At first sight Mr Self's article smacks of snobbery. He reprises the usual line about novelists not living up to and failing to capitalise on their innovative and modernist moment in the first decades of the 20th century, namely, James Joyce's Ulysses, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and Virgina Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. Had it carried on in the same vein, Will's article would have ended up in the recycling bin. But his outing contains so many gems, that not discussing them with you, my dear readers and fellow bloggers, is tantamount to treason.

For a start his insight into composing a score and how it compares to writing a novel is thought-provoking. Earlier this year, I mused in this very space over the influence of music on the process of writing. On that occasion, however, I was focused more on the effect certain melodies have on authors, journalists or bloggers and less on the similarities that might exist between the score and the written word. Yet, Will goes one better. For him the symphonist and novelist share key artistic objectives: "The search for motifs, or themes, the creation of an alternative world in words, the struggle for authenticity of narrative voice, the counterpointing of different protagonists' views".

One of the aspects that differentiates us, rational animals from non-rational ones is the way we come up with pictures in our heads of people and situations we haven't seen yet but which fit neatly into the alternative world we want to create. We're capable of widening up the scope of our objective and material world in ways that defy categorisation. In that sense, the writers mentioned by Will did deserve to be included in his list as pioneers. My only grievance is that in his essay he stopped half way through the previous century. But more on that later. The musician works in a similar way to the writer. In my opinion, the composer has an image, a picture in his or her mind that represents the notes that will make up the score. That this language sounds and is more abstract than the written one should not deter us from the fact that it still contains a narrative and characters.

A typical symphony will be structured in different movements. Some will be slower, others faster. But the intention is the same: to induce a state of mind, to manipulate, or tap into the listener's own emotions and feelings. Writers usually work towards a similar goal through a variety of "movements": introduction, development and conclusion. That some authors play around with this formula, tweaking it here and there, doesn't mean that the conflict they present to the reader hasn't got a solution by the end of the story. It just means that the emphasis is on the "how" and not the "what".

On writing about the composer's "sonic cosmos", Will Self addresses the perennial questions with which artists (whether writers, painters or film-makers) are faced: how much do I reveal about my unique inner world? And will this chime with the reader/viewer/listener? The answer is: you reveal as much as you like, or as much as your manager/publisher/agent allows you to; and you might or might not care one jot about what your future audience thinks of you work. Which, some of us might say, is almost career suicide.

And yet without the bolder approach question two demands, we wouldn't have had the likes of Astor Piazzolla and Jorge Luis Borges.

Borges' inclusion was not accidental. Mr Self only gives examples of novels, mainly from a distant era. It's as if Kundera and Rushdie had never happened. As chance would have it I've just read two books (plus a third one, being digested as I write) that could well serve as an example of Will's thesis despite the fact he refuses to acknowledge contemporary fiction. The Road is a sparse and laconic novel which takes place in an apocalyptic future. The language used is redolent of literary thriftiness, bereft of tropes and as bare as the grim and cold environment the book depicts. We could probably compare it to a piece by Phillip Glass. The Road was followed by Interpreter of Maladies, a fantastic collection of short stories that functioned better as a well-written exercise in voyeurism than as straightforward literature. It reminded me of Mozart's Symphony No. 25 in G Minor (or Little G Minor Symphony). The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, the novel I'm reading now, falls within Will's remit of "struggle for authenticity of narrative voice" and "the counterpointing of different protagonists' views". The main character suffers from Asperger's syndrome and everything we experience in the novel is perceived from his point of view. It's challenging for the reader, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for the writer. The musical equivalent? One of piano prodigy Art Tatum's short compositions.

And therein lies the rub, too. Will mentions jazz briefly at the beginning of his essay (John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk) and you can see why. Jazz, especially in the States, became one of the most revolutionary art forms after the Second World War. Against the safe, rhythmic patterns of a Gershwin or an Armstrong, you suddenly had the likes of Charlie Parker blazing the trail with the hard sound of his bebop. But in literature there was also a shift. The Beat generation, just to give one example, possessed that "self-enclosed expressiveness", which Mr Self attributes to Monk and Coltrane. Their writing might not have had the same degree of experimentation Joyce and Woolf displayed, but there was inventive craftmanship aplenty.

On the whole Will's article is a beautiful elegy to two art forms that have brought pleasure and joy to millions and whose essence remains (despite the current Ikea approach to fiction- and song-writing. Your work is already boxed in; all you have to do is assemble it) the creation of alternative scenarios in which the human experience can be seen in all its glory. Whether guardianship of a Divine Providence is included or not, it doesn't matter. It's still welcomed all the same.

© 2011

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 4th December at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 27 November 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

Imagine a world in 2D. Picture an Earth in which everything is monochromatic and where objects that are usually inanimate constantly move towards us - eternal static beings - and not the other way around. Think of a situation in which randomness is the rule: we breathe every now and then and not in regular intervals, there's not such thing as patterns and shapes lack geometrical sense.

In the same way a world like the one described above is impossible to envision, so is the annual Christmas charade utterly predictable. And every year it seems to arrive earlier. Back in August I saw a display of mince pies on a shop window.

It is more than fourteen years since I first came across the yuletide season. To me it felt as if all my life I'd been travelling through a desert only to find myself all of a sudden in the middle of a never-ending oasis. In the post-Castro Christianityphobic Cuba of my childhood the only (clandestine) celebration around the 25th December was our very own "Nochebuena", Christmas Eve. This was for most Cubans, a very family affair with the usual accoutrements: a hog roast with rice'n'peas, fried plantains, yucca and salad. Occasionally as the clock struck twelve and the 24th of December morphed into the 25th someone (in my house, it was my late grandmother) would produce an image of Jesus Christ, kiss it and say a prayer. But that's as far as we dared to go.

Over here it's the other way around. There's no way to escape the tinsel and baubles as soon as we move the clocks back and November arrives. My first exposure to Crimbo was Oxford Street's dazzling Christmas lights display. They're usually switched on by a celebrity, a singer, perhaps, who will probably perform a couple of songs after the official opening ceremony's over. After all these years I still remember the overhead beaming arch formed by the lights and decorations, and the way they seemed to invite me to lock arms with passersby whilst singing "Al ánimo, al ánimo, la fuente se rompió...", a game I used to play as a child.

Christmas then became for me, a Johnny-come-lately in London all those years ago, less about its religious significance and more about time off to be enjoyed and spent with my newly-created family. To my surprise I found out that I was not alone.

We know that we don't inhabit a 2D world and that in order to live we need to breathe at regular intervals. Likewise, we're fully aware that if ever a bearded geezer came down our chimney in the middle of the night holding a sack and saying "Ho ho ho!" we ought to get on the blower straight away and call the police. So, why does Christmas still hold us in thrall? My response is that it's got more to do with our psyche and less with the actual holiday.

As products of an ongoing evolutionary process, we, humans, have developed a whole range of conflicting emotions and unpredictable behaviour. We work long hours for weeks or months on end, but then try to get rid of our stress over a weekend. We destroy ourselves little by little through various vices, unconsciously most of the time, but then come up with perfect excuses as to why our course of action is right. In short, we lie to ourselves to make us feel better. Christmas, from that point of view, is a big lie.

Not a Big Lie, as in capital "B" and "L", but rather self-deception in a small scale. The perception we have of reality from the moment we're born is as accurate as our senses allow us to have, unless there's some kind of pathology involved. This means that in order to navigate through the outside world, we use the information we absorb. However, when it comes to responding to different stimuli, we make conscious decisions based on our prejudices and prejudgements. I have employed these two last terms in the most neutral way possible. For instance, we might be prone to boosting our self-esteem through a variety of actions: working or studying hard, raising our children in a particular way or challenging ourselves physically. If we were to come across someone who sits on the opposite end of the spectrum in regards to these activities, we might make a mental note of his/her traits as shortcomings.

This phenomenon is not new and neither is it consequence-free. We (that's the journalistic "we", by the way, as in most of us, not every single person on the planet) practice self-deception at some point in our lives because it makes us feel good. The downside is that it also makes us vulnerable to predators, i.e., industries whose main remit is to tap into and exploit those half-truths we tell to ourselves. Marketing is the first example that comes to mind. And marketing within the Christmas period is ideal cannon fodder to ramble on about the negative effects self-deception has on us.

At present there's an ad on telly in the UK that has stood out from the word go for its mix of simplicity, innocence and sweetness. If you reside on these isles, by now you're probably aware that I'm referring to the "Please, please, please" John Lewis commercial. This just-under-two-minutes clip is about a boy who can't wait for the morning of the 25th December to roll in. So far, so predictable. He counts down the days, the hours, the minutes, the seconds. Until the big day arrives and he gets up, whizzes past his own presents, rummages in his wardrobe, produces a red box with a nicely done ribbon, runs down the corridor to his parents' room, wakes them up and with a beautiful smile on his face holds out his Christmas present to his folks. The tagline? "For gifts you can't wait to give".

The advert works. A few commentators have already written about welling up by the end of it. It's been lauded by marketing specialists and its soundtrack has been singled out as a masterstroke by John Lewis, since it is a cover version of The Smiths' "Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want". Not that Messrs Morrissey and Marr will be complaining too much about selling out when they check the balance in their bank accounts at the end of the month. Above all, the ad taps into our self-deception.

Amidst the greed displayed by the members of parliament involved in the expenses scandal and the recklessness of the bankers, the message of a boy wanting to give a present to his parents resonates with many of us, eternal optimists who think a better world is possible. Coupled with a soundtrack (performed by sweet-voiced Slow Moving Millie) that will remind people of a certain age of their rebellious youth will be an addendum. Throw in the mix the Occupy protest movement at St Paul's Cathedral with their socio-economic, political reform agenda and you couldn't have a more perfect backdrop.

And yet, it is self-deception, although of a higher quality. We don't know what the boy is carrying in the box. It could be a voucher for Alton Towers for which his parents will have to fork out half the money because you know, it's an adult half price and the other one full whack and as usual, terms and conditions apply. All right, all right, the box is big. Maybe it's a small voucher wrapped in old copies of The Daily Telegraph. But if that's the case, it's hardly a selfless act. We're also aware that the ad, The Smiths' blessing notwithstanding, is by and about John Lewis, a retailer which, despite the best of intentions, is only interested in the Kerching! sound at the till. To me the key element, though, is the word "give". It's the clincher at the end of the short clip. The child can't wait to give. Whilst the other chains can't wait to take your money and insist that you shop until you drop, John Lewis wants you to give... them money so that you can bring happiness to other people.

If "give" is the key element in the ad, money is the ghost in the room. We feel its presence and yet we're too spooked to mention it. We're led to think that he only reason why the child is doing that countdown till Crimbo is because he can't wait to open up his presents. Which probably left his mum and dad remortgaging their house. Money is the euphemism we daren't address. Self-deception is built on a "creative" and liberal use of our everyday language and that vocabulary includes dosh, too. We like to "indulge", to have some "me" time, to "chill out". But when asked to discuss how much these pleasures cost, we beat around the bush. In the UK, I've noticed a funny relationship between people and questions around money. A lot of us don't like talking about our earnings, our expenses or our lifestyle. However, "Money makes the world go around/The world go around/The world go around/Money makes the world go around/It makes the world go 'round" as Liza Minnelly and Joel Gray both averred in Cabaret. Maybe our reluctance to discuss the choppy seas of finances is more to do with the reputation money has, therefore self-delusion is the more appealing solution. We want to be as far away as possible from the message Pink Floyd gives in its eponymous song: "Money, get away, you get a good job with good pay and you're okay/Money, it's a gas, grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.

For a lot of people, I think, it's hard to admit that Christmas is less to do with the birth of the most important figure in Christianity and more to do with feeling good about spending an enormous amount of money on presents, both on other people and on themselves. That's why sales from Boxing Day to New Year's Day always bring out the crowds. And by then Christmas is over. We're fully conscious that this attitude takes the sheen off the season of goodwill and brackets us as money-minded creatures or penny-pinchers, in the case of sales. Hence, a healthy dose of self-deception. Which is, come to think of it, akin to thinking that the world is monochromatic and bi-dimensional.

© 2011

Next Post: “Of Literature and Other Abstract Thoughts”, to be published on Wednesday 30th November at 11:59pm( GMT)

Sunday 20 November 2011

Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana

You’re never quite sure how it starts. This pilgrimage, this rite of passage. One day - or night -, you switch the radio off, look outside your bedroom window and there it is: that vast concrete serpent, stretching for miles on end. The wall that separates the oily blue and the potholed road; that divides the hopeful dreams and the daily grind; that splits the daytime hustlers and the night-time revellers.

On one side we hear the sound of the hiccupping waves slapping against the rocks. On the other, the din of the polluting traffic: cars, lorries, and buses shaped as even-toed two-humped Bactrians. Malecón, we don't come to you, you beckon us over. On your hard, historic wall we take flights of fancy, sing at the top of our voices until we go hoarse, bid friends goodbye and drink ourselves to oblivion.

5th Avenue tunnel at one end. The gaping ecphonesis that spits out the first perpendicular street numbers: O, Calle 18! O Calle 16 (and the famous beauty parlour)! O Calles 14 and 12 (and the pool at the Echevarría Social Club where Beny and I used to splash the lady with the striped bathing suit when diving)! Should I mention you Calle 10 with El Kastillito on the corner, fountain of unforgettable terpsichorean memories?

Malecón, Spanish opening exclamation mark that preambles lines bursting out with vim and salitter. You are the canvas in which we all inhabit. The living, moving 3D Cuban version of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper. But instead of a dozen apostles surrounding the “Chosen One” from Galilee, there are hundreds taking turns at being Bartholomew, Thomas or Jude Thaddeus. Or Jesús. Jesús, like The Newly Arrived Emigrante, back from Amsterdam, blond, blue-eyed wife perched up by his side. The guy who made it. The bloke who runs a small electric goods business in the city of bicycles, tulips and cannabis coffeshops. And who has stories to tell, eyes to open, minds to unwind (or wind up). He is the remedy to your old, malfunctioning clock that is in need of quick repair because it can no longer tell if it’s going too fast or too slow. He is the snappy fix that finds you with the midmorning sun warming the hard stone that presses painfully against your buttocks. But discomfort matters not. Here’s your mate, your pal, your yunta, who left for Holland three years ago and now has got a group of followers gathered around him, like in days of yore when people sat around a fire to tell each other stories. Like Peter leaning over to John, ready to let him in on that “little business” to do with Jesús. It’s like the perfect scene for a photo. The photo that will survive all attempts to loosen the hold it will have on us. The al fresco image that no matter how torn and damaged it becomes, will still mesmerise us in years to come.

Snap! Your friend will start talking about the Van Gogh Museum (where you’ll lose your ear if you’re not careful, he quips), the Canal District and the open-air concerts by artists from the Dutch Antilles and Suriname. In the shadow of the Riviera Hotel (where your mate is staying with his silent but smiling wife, and where he woke up about six hours ago and couldn’t get back to sleep. Damn jetlag!), he attempts to pronounce a few words in Dutch and they all come out with a harsh, guttural Caribbean rasp. You’re hanging onto his every word until he decides to go all BB King on you, Havana and Malecón because for him “the thrill is gone/The thrill is gone away/The thrill is gone baby/The thrill is gone away/You know you done me wrong baby/And you'll be sorry someday (…) You know I'm free, free now baby/I'm free from your spell/I'm free, free now/I'm free from your spell/And now that it's over/All I can do is wish you well…” and you think, “free?”, free from what? You can see his point, though. He has just arrived from the city in which lawns are manicured to perfection; where autumn is real autumn, no chin-chin drizzle; where spring blossoms every year in an orgiastic explosion of colour. You watch him and in his eyes you see his scorn at the post-earthquake craters that decorate this hard, long wall. Later on, he will jeer at the long queue at La Piragua pizza parlour where the "siete pesos" will mingle with the "Camilitos", students from medical school and the regular gang from the Faculty of Economics in La Colina. You will all end up at the Maine monument with its mix of colonial history and sexual double-entendre every time you bend over. And all because it was blown up. And your friend, El Emigrante wants to be free of this. Do you ever want to be free of it, of El Malecón? El Malecón, where people strut, stroll, perambulate, but never ever walk? Where at ten o’ clock now, mid-morning, your mate, his (silent, but smiling) wife, your other friends and you are almost throwing a party? No, bro, the thrill ain’t gone, it never will be. But then, again, a few years hence, you yourself will land in Gatwick airport, London.

Snap! The Jose Martí sports centre and the famous track that is nothing but a mountain of rubble and yet runners still insist on doing laps around it. Plus jumping over the hurdles. She’s facing the ocean, the vast open sea; he’s facing inland, the Ladas, Fiats and Volgas going at sixty per hour down Malecón Avenue. She wants out. Like Da Vinci’s creation, sitting in the middle of her own tableau, she fears betrayal. He’s trying to find a philosophical, Marxist and Leninist solution. Her denial, plus his of hers, isn’t that the source of development, of the moving forward, of the next stage, the panacea, en brèf, communism? No, she retorts, the “no” is rotund, round and solid. It’s a “no” with intention. It’s the “no” to machismo, to backwardness, to empty rhetoric and false hopes. Besides… besides? He asks. Besides… she doesn’t answer. The immense blue swallows up her response.

Snap! Afternoon. We’re celebrating. End of college. Year 12 is but a distant memory, never mind the fact that it’s only a few weeks behind us. A couple of hours before, Calle 25 across from the Mariana Grajales monument. The wait. The long wait. Then, the teachers pinning sheet after sheet on the glass with the results of the university entry exams. Who got what? Did you manage to get into medical school? Will you be doing engineering? The names of the faculties ring out endlessly in the suffocating, summer heat: Economía, Periodismo, ISRI, Biología, Derecho, ISPLE. No more Saúl Delgado. From September onwards, it will be only ISPLE. And we, the temporary Chosen Ones (both leading and supporting roles), march down to El Malecón. Calle D all the way, without stopping. There’s hardly any breeze and humidity is in the 90s. We sweat profusely but we fail to notice it. We’re what? Seventeen, eighteen. We steamroller to Malecón. We buy some beer on the way there and sit on the wall, the one to which you made that first pilgrimage all those years ago. The one which, through the hard rocky surface, understands you more than your parents. In silence you confess your problems to it. You hold a conversation with it regardless of the fact that you've both pressed the "mute" button. No need for words. Telepathy is the game. We lie back or sit against the wall on that uneven surface, talk gibberish and see the sun slowly come down.

Snap! You and your girlfriend. In a world of your own. Recently hooked up, seldom separated. There’re not enough hours in the day for you two to be together. You read her poems, she reciprocates. You don’t realise that you’ve gone past Calle K, no, you’re still in your own little world. Mi china, this, papito, that. Let me tickle you here, I will tickle you there. From a passing car, a window is rolled down and a voice calls out: "Suéltala, desgracia'o!", to which your reply is the usual one: "Tu abuela, sapo!". Why involve grandmothers and toads when someone tells you to let go of your girlfriend? Now, you’re caught in the twilight, both the day’s and politics’. You have stopped (innocent, little lambs!), a few hundred yards past Calle L. You don’t hear the voice: iracund, unintelligible, loud, booming towards you. You don’t hear the voice, and you also fail to hear the steps, thundering across the pavement, onto the road, the hand motioning the traffic to stop. The voice (¡Compañero, Compañero, COMPAÑERO!), the heavy boots screaming: Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the blood of transgressors!. By the time the uniformed guard touches your shoulder, turns you around, asks you for your ID card and questions you on your motives to halt your march right there, you have suddenly come to life, or at least, returned to this world. And all the time he’s talking, you’re looking past him at the ominous building, the tall edifice across from which you have stood so many times to protest against the embargo. You have even joined in the shouts of “¡El que no salte es yanqui, el que no salte es yanqui!” jumping like a child high on fizzy drinks. Unbeknownst to you, in the near future some of your closer friends will be queuing up outside this building, down Calzada St. from the small, wee hours in the morning, in search of a dream ninety miles to the north. Now the light of the late afternoon sun bounces off the glass of the offices in the tall building and spreads a silver carpet over the blue sea. You mumble a few words, your girlfriend looks embarrassed and the guard keeps jabbing his finger at you. Leonardo would have loved to paint this scene.

Snap! It’s night. New York never sleeps, they say. El Malecón is always awake, I could retort. Here’s the musician who did his civil engineering degree in Berlin and washed up again in my city because the going got tough after the Wall was knocked down and the “skinheads” didn’t like dark-skinned foreigners. The economics graduate student who works in nearby Cohíba Hotel as a receptionist. The secondary school English teacher who doubles up as a Spanish tutor in her free time. Five dollars per hour is her going rate and she never lacks willing students. The comuñanga who just finished carrying twenty-two buckets of water up to his flat on the seventh floor of the building he shares with his mother, father, sister, sister’s husband, nephew and niece (his sister’s children) in Alamar. There are more, more than ten, certainly more than twelve. For we haven’t congregated here to find out about betrayal. We’ve been betrayed somehow all these years. By a superlative, gigantic political psoriasis that has blighted the skin of an entire nation. And it is here on this avenue against the backdrop of a chamaleonic sea that the scaly patches are more visible. The clandestine pizza vendors who put melted condoms instead of cheese in their products, thus ensuring that their pockets bulk up whilst the local A&E ward is kept busy. The impromptu trio-turned-quartet-turned-quintet-turned-sextet... ad infinitum, that delights tourists with their various versions of La Guantanamera. The "5th Avenue Flowers" (© Silvio Rodriguez Dominguez) who have extended their garden - and their constant pursuit of foreign fairy godfathers (and some mothers) - beyond the tunnel to the west, 23rd Avenue to the south and La Catedral to the east. The "pingueros" and "culeros" (tops and bottoms), part of Havana's underground gay culture, who crawl out at night, forming an almost straight line from the Yara cinema down La Rampa to Malecón. The "bisnero" (hustler) whose voice lowers to a whisper as he approaches your group and offers you "cinco por uno" (in '87), "ciento veinte por uno" (in '94). He is our FTSE, our Stock Exchange, he regulates the valuation of peso vs dollar. This canvas is less like Renaissance and more like Surrealism. No, we don't gather here to learn about deception but because this is our headquarters, our DNA, our hajj, our fifth pillar. We don’t just do it once in our life. We do it regularly. We come to be mesmerised by these waves, which, during hurricane season, resemble giant cobras raising the front of their bodies, ready to strike. We’re Pepe, Yusimí, Antonio, Clara, Mirtica, Sandra, Pedro and many more. Malecón is one step beyond Simon and Garfunkel’s Feeling Groovy; it’s a full-on assault of “Suave, nena, suave, suavecito, nena, eh, eh, eh…”. Malecón, Havana’s own throat coughing up black gold the closer you get to El Morro Castle. We gulp down the homemade rum, chispa’e tren, the cheap booze that someone got from Felipito’s house on Gervasio St. Gervasio, one third of the famous patronymic made famous on the sketch show Alegrías de Sobremesa: Gervasio Escobar y Campanario. But tonight, at around midnight you’re only interested in the Gervasio bit. Someone’s brought a guitar. Silvio, of course, and then, Pablo, the bottle does the rounds, the voices rise, more people join in. A feeble sea breeze offers some succour in this July heat. The guitar changes hands and now we’re going back in time. In the midnight hour we go soft and cheesy, we’re all about José José, Roberto Carlos and Emanuel. We go through the entire songbook they sell for one peso, twenty cents at the Abel Santamaria book shop, on Calle 25. All of a sudden, the melodic sound of the acoustic guitar mixes with the heavy drumming wafting out of one of the houses on the corner of Galiano and Malecón, near the Deauville Hotel. The ritual order of the oru, oru del igbodu and oru del eya aranla keeps the crowd on its feet. Only with the latter is the audience allowed to dance freely. The party spills over onto the pavement, a pavement whose cracks resemble a country road, whose lines crave to be read and to be interpreted. Who knows what life’s got in store for you? At four in the morning, the party across the road is still in full swing, the guitar’s changed hands several times: DJavan, Donato, Mercedes, Santiaguito… The apostles become orishas. No more Judas and Simon, but Oshún and Obbatalá. And behind us, the eternal blue of Yemayá.

Snap! Red eyes, croaky voices, bodies leaning on each other, old relationships reaffirming their love, new relationships breaking new ground, the lonely… still lonely. Slowly, a weak, early morning sun breaks through the flaking, damaged canvas and travels down Malecón east to west, from the Plaza de San Francisco (and the convent), El Templete, the Real Fuerza Castle to Prado Avenue. Early-rising fishermen dot the coastline like pick-up sticks released by a giant hand. It won’t be long before the hard stone is warmed by the generous sun and the revellers go back home and crash on the couch in the lounge after yet another pilgrimage, another journey to the majestic wall, the vast concrete serpent: Malecón.

Fiat lux!

© 2011

Next Post: "Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music", to be published on Sunday 27th November at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 13 November 2011

Birthday Q&A and Other Pearls of Wisdom

Since it's my birthday in three days (16th November) and since I'll be turning forty (cue drumroll and fireworks) I feel in the mood to do pretty much what takes my fancy these days. That's why recently I put my Zorro mask on, adjusted my cape, pulled my boots on and with a Z on my chest glowing in the dark night, I carried out a small heist near King's Cross train station. I broke into the offices of The Guardian and The Observer newspapers and nicked their Q&A and "This much I know" sections. These are insights into celebrities' lives and obligatory reading for me whilst having my breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. For a sample of the sort of guests they have, click here and here.

Anyway, I thought, what better way of celebrating the arrival of my fifth decade (did I get that right, I'm rubbish at Maths. Let's see; 0-10; 10-20; 20-30; 30-40; 40-50. Yes, I think I got it right) than by sharing some snippets of my life with you, my dear readers and fellow bloggers? 31 questions (and answers) and 9 statetements to be more accurate. Hence, my daring attempt to steal the Q&A and "This much I know" in the middle of the night. When I called the newspapers, both editors-in-chief, were reluctant to let me use it. I had no other recourse that to play the Cuban Antonio Banderas and the result appears below for you to read. Hurry up, though, for I can hear sirens wailing and the slammer beckoning. Oh, well! One doesn't turn forty everyday. I hope the judge will understand my predicament.


1-When were you happiest?
Today (whenever that today is).

2-What is your greatest fear?
Losing my mind, behaving in a way that is completely unlike me and being unable to do anything about it.

3-What is your earliest memory?
In hospital, aged five, and my mother teaching me patiently how to read and write. I was in and out of hospitals when I was a child due to a stomach condition. My mother wasted no time and went from reading me children's stories to teaching me how to read them myself. By the time I started Year 1 in primary school I was able to read and write much better than the other children. I believe that my love for literature comes from those early years.

(left) A younger version of me, forty years ago

4-What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Not listening to other people enough. I sometimes rush through things too quickly without taking into consideration the other person's opinion. I can also go from one extreme to the other very swiftly. Then, again, I'm a Scorpio, what did you expect?

5-What is the trait you most deplore in others?
To answer this question I need to quote Whoopi Goldberg. In an interview on the programme "Inside the Actors Studio" some years ago she mentioned two types of ignorance she'd come across: voluntary and involuntary. I suffered from the former in Cuba due to the regime's censorship on books, music and films. But I hate the latter and it's the one that I encounter more often here in the UK. People who have access to a wealth of culture and information and prefer to remain dumb. Not only that, but also they feel entitled to express their uneducated opinions even when they have no basis to do so. I'm still involuntarily ignorant, and who isn't? Knowledge is infinite but our capacity to acquire isn't. However, I still remain as inquisitive and curious as ever.

6-What was your most embarrassing moment?
There have been so many. But one has stuck in my mind for many years. It's a long story, so in order to cut it short, I'll go back in time and place myself on the corner of 23rd Avenue and L St, bang in the heart of the borough of Vedado, Havana, in the mid 90s ('94 or '95). It's early December and therefore the Latin American Film Festival is in full swing. I've just finished watching my fourth flick that day and I'm trying to hitch a ride from the Yara movie theatre to the Charles Chaplin cinémathèque. It's early evening and a Cubanacán taxi stops at the traffic lights. I know it's very unlikely the driver will allow me in, but then I notice that on the front seat is Danny Glover. Danny Glover! Sitting comfortably on the front seat of a Cuban taxi (albeit for foreigners). His family is in the back, the lights are about to change, I need to get to the Chaplin pronto, I'm still gobsmacked and out comes the fateful phrase: "Danny, man, I love you!" Yes, me, cinephile, long-time admirer of one half of the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, makes a fool of myself right there on the corner of 23rd Avenue and L St. I mean to say, obviously: "Danny, man, I love your movies", but the famous US actor just smiles, the taxi driver revs up the engine and as soon as light changes to green, he disappears, leaving a twenty-something-year-old man wondering whether Danny Glover thought for a moment that I was coming on to him.

7-What is your most treasured possession?
Now, most interviewees in the actual section reply very often that their children and/or their spouses are their most prized possession(s). I always find those responses disconcerting because family is not property. So I will break the rule and say that my most treasured possessions are the bookcases and CD racks in my house.

8-What would your super power be?
It's not a superpower at all. I would like to be able to play the piano again. I miss playing it but I daren't sit at it. I never learnt how to read music, nor was I ever interested in doing so. Ear was what led me to the blacks and whites and I hope one day to recover that super power again and be guided to the piano by my ear.

9-What makes you unhappy?
Rudeness, bad manners, gratuitous swearing, dog owners not cleaning up after their pets, walking through the woods and finding litter all over the place, bigotry and ignorance.

10-What do you most dislike about your appearance?
At almost forty? Nothing. I used to dislike my ears and my forehead. My ears stuck out when I was twelve or thirteen and my forehead was too broad. With the passing of time I found out that the reason my ears stuck out was because of my ability to appreciate good music and my forehead was ample because I thought problems through.

11-If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
Old, ancient languages that evolved into our current lingoes. I'm not just referring to Latin, but also to obscure dialects, like for instance, the Basque language, whose origin remains uncertain. I hasten to add that Basque is not dead, contrariwise, it's alive and kicking and as mysterious as ever.

12-Who would play you in the film of your life?
In an ideal world, I would get an actor to access a portal in my brain and I would play myself looking through that portal, like John Malkovich in the movie based on him, or his head, as he remarked to John Cusack whilst smacking it repeatedly.

13-What is your favourite word?
In Spanish, English, French or German? You know what, I'll go for Portuguese, one of my favourite words (there are plenty) is "saudade". Click here to find out why.

14-What would you wear to a fancy dress party?
I would go as the newborn baby on the cover of Nirvana's "Nevermind". Minus the one-dollar note.

15-Is it better to give or to receive?
Are we talking in life in general or...? Oh, forget it. To give, of course, to give.

16-Which living person do you most despise?
It's been such a long time that I don't think it's worth despising her anymore.

17-Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Another question that is difficult to answer. If I leave anyone out, I'm sure that I'll cause offense. So, here's the shortlist (living and dead combined) of what would be a veeeeeeeeeeeeery longlist: first of all, I would invite my family (including in-laws, of course) and friends. Then, Virgilio Piñera, Alberto Pedro, Maria Luisa Bemberg, Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, Chico Buarque, Elis Regina, Mario Benedetti, Mercedes Sosa, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Beny Moré, Lázaro Ros, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Santiaguito Feliú, Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz, Nicolás Guillén, Gigi (the Ethiopian singer), Susheela Raman, Lila Downs, Nelson Mandela, Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Hanif Kureishi, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Rachelle Ferrell, Fiona Apple, Ben Webster, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Freddie Mercury, Beverley Knight, a few fellow bloggers who are regular of this parish, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, Malcolm X... the list goes on. That would be a hell of a party, I can assure you.

18-Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
In Spanish, "¿(me) entiendes?", in English, "you wiv me?" (a lil' bit of London accent there), in French (whenever I get to speak it, very rare these days), "ah, c'est vrai", which comes out as a cross between a question and a statement; and in German (even less frequent than French), "nicht wahr?".

19-What is your favourite smell?
White musk.

20-What is your guiltiest pleasure?
God, I haven't had any since I used to listen to Twisted Sister and the rest of the poodle rock brigade (Poison, Mötley Crüe) back in the 80s. I don't have any guilty pleasures because I don't have any guilty feelings.

21-What song would you like played at your funeral?
Songs. Let me make that clear. Sábanas Blancas by Gerardo Alfonso, Havana's unofficial anthem; To Be Continued by the Azerbi pianist Aziza Mustafa Zadeh, because death doesn't signal end but transformation. And I just love the energy in the piece. Because by The Beatles, a song that has some of the better harmonies the Fab Four ever came up with and whose lyrics are some of the saddest ever written. Águas de Março by Tom Jobim and sung by Elis Regina (the live performance on youtube, though, not the studio version) because it showcases Elis's talents brilliantly. And last but not least, we come full circle back to Cuba. La Comparsa is one of those melodies that you will never forget after hearing it for the first time, especially when executed by two of the best pianists my beloved island has ever produced, Chucho Valdéz and his father, Bebo.

22-What has been your biggest disappointment?
That I'm not a good swimmer. I try to make up for it with my running, but it's not the same. Water is my element.

23-If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Tricky question because I have to take into account my skin colour. In some of the places I would like to travel back in time to I would be chased out of town or shackled into submission. So, in order not to spoil my own birthday post, I will choose the moment when Chopin composed his Étude Op. 10, No. 12 in C minor, known as the Revolutionary Étude because it was written against the backdrop of the Russian invasion of his native Poland in 1831. I would like to be in the same room as him, see his face and attempt to decipher what was going through his mind as he magicked the score onto paper.

24-What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I'm married to a woman I love dearly and we have the two most beautiful, sweetest and polite children on earth. That's good enough achievement in my book.

25-Tell us a secret.
When I'm out running with my mp3 player on I sometimes imagine that I'm playing the piece I'm listening to on the piano and all the notes are coming out the way they should. It helps me jog faster but I've had a few scares and close encounters with cars. Occasionally, I add a harmonica to my daydream.

26-How do you relax?
Reading, listening to music, doing the ironing whilst watching (these days) interesting programmes on Sky Arts 1 or 2 (I know they're Murdoch-run, but they're really good) and running.

27-What is the closest you've come to death?
When I was thirteen I dived into a natural pool by a rocky beach in western Havana without finding out first how deep it was. I couldn't swim at the time and I almost drowned. I was saved by two of my mates; incidentally I almost drowned one of them, too.

28-How would you like to be remembered?
As a bloke who lived life to the full and who always had a smile on his face.

29-What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
In the grand scheme of things we're this insignificant particle in the firmament. Yet, each of us has a unique personality that allows to achieve feats that, though not great in that grand scheme of things, contribute to our and each other's well-being. Just saying hello with a smile to someone else on the street could make that difference. We're all born with two languages: our mother tongue and a smile; the latter needs no translation.

30-Where would you most like to be right now?
Where I am as I write this. At home.

31-Tell us a joke.
(The Chancellor of the Exchequer) George Osborne knows exactly what to do with the economy.

This much I know about myself

I fell in love with rock aged thirteen and never looked back. The groove, the energy, the rebellious attitude, they were all part of the same package that seemed to stick two fingers up to the establishement in 80s Cuba.

The only time I've ever smoked in my life was a couple of joints on two occasions in the same house. This Swedish? Danish? Norwegian? actor went to Cuba and he and I struck up a good, short, but solid friendship. He threw two parties in a row and every single person there was someone I trusted. Still, the weed did nothing to me, so I haven't touched it since.

I like to think that I've managed to get the better out of both my parents, personalitywise. From my mum, I've developed a strong parental instinct, a bit overwhelming sometimes, I know (ask my children), but based on unconditional love and an indomitable character. From my dad, I've probably acquired a more analytical, cynical and pragmatic view of life.

Talking about marijuana, I've only broken the law a few times in my life. And on every single occasion I've been fined for petty transgressions. Once, when I still used to commute to West Hampstead I sat in the first class carriage on the overground, although I had a standard economy travel card. At the next stop an inspector got on and asked me to show him my ticket. I thought of pretending not to understand English, but I had a copy of The Guardian (the old version) sprawled on my lap.

I have had to learn how to manage my temper over the years. Time was when I would fly off the handle at people over anything. But my wife taught me to trust human nature more. She definitely is patient, I must admit.

The most alluring and mysterious part of the human body for me is the brain. I'm fascinated by it. Not in a scientific way, although I do do my fair share of reading from a layperson's point of view. I'm more attracted to the idea that we still don't know how capable and developed our brains are and it's very unlikely we ever will.

I'm an atheist but a very peculiar one. Other than organised religion, you won't hear me raising my voice against believers just for the sake of it. Each to their own. I think that religion as a cultural phenomenon is an interesting subject matter.

Deep inside I'm a softie. But you have to work through the layers. Recently I went out for a jog very early on a Sunday morning. I was working my way up a steep hill when the sun began to rise and all of a sudden Bach's "Air" came on my mp3 player. By the time I came down the hill on the other side my eyes were watered.

I would love to travel more with my family. I would love us to go to west Canada and ride on horses (I wouldn't know how to, though, for I've never done it), backpack our way through South and Central America, especially since we all speak Spanish and I have a fair grasp of Portuguese. I would like us to cycle through Europe (my wife would take some convincing, though, and even I would have to train hard for it as I haven't cycled since my bike got nicked back in the summer). I would love us to drive from coast to coast in the States, visit Africa (the whole continent, actually. I'm very keen to get to know Africa as a solid entity made up of different nations and not just a generic name). I would like to spend more time than we usually do in Malaysia and pop by the neighbouring countries. I would like to explore more my Chinese ancestry by staying in Canton. Australia is a destination that's always fascinated me. It's that whole expanse of land that captivates me. Oh, yes, I would like us to travel more indeed. In the meantime, I'm just breezin' through life, ploughing on the best I can.


Next Post: “Pieces of Me, Pieces of Havana”, to be published on Sunday 20th November at 10am (GMT)

Wednesday 9 November 2011

While my MP3 Gently Plays

This is one of my favourite sections on my blog, the one where I get to play DJ every now and then and share my favourite melodies with you, dear readers and fellow bloggers. Not that I need much encouragement to upload the music I like listening to on my mp3 player.

To kick tonight's post off, we have one half of one of the most famous musical partnerships in the history of Spanish pop. Both on and off stage. On this occasion, though, Ana Belén's left her regular partner, Victor Manuel back home and has teamed up instead with the poet-cum-singer or singer-cum-poet (whichever way it goes, he's simply a great lyricist) Joaquín Sabina to regale us one of those songs that lingers on in the mind long after it's finished. A la Sombra de un León is about a (mad)man who falls for a statue, the famous Roman goddess Cibeles (the "Lion" in the song title refers to one of the felines that accompanies Ceres), and to which he proposes one night after running away from the asylum where he is interned. Touching story, isn't it?

From Spanish Ana to her Brazilian namesake. Ana Carolina is also part of a famous duo, in this case with her on/off stage partner Seu Jorge. Not only is she a superb songwriter, but also a terrific guitarist. Garganta is full of passion and desire from the opening lines: Minha garganta estranha/Quando não te vejo/Me vem um desejo/Doido de gritar. What's with the video, though? I love it, but can't make sense of it. Still, great tune.

I always make sure that I have one of the "oldies" on my mp3 player. It helps me overcome a steep hill, for instance, if I'm out jogging. Blondie's Heart Of Glass fulfills this function perfectly.

I like my music groovy and funky but I also love heavy melodies. Whether it's The Zep, Nirvana or Iron Maiden, hard rock has a place secured on my little gadget. That's why I always welcome Deep Purple's Highway Star when it comes on. This is one track that will send your pulse racing.

Ever since I came across his music on Radio Paradise I've become a fan of K-os' creative output. His is the brand of hip hop that I love: non-confrontational, without the macho stand and focused on the melody and lyrics.B boy Stance is no exception.

© 2011

Next Post: “Birthday Q&A and Other Pearls of Wisdom”, to be published on Sunday 13th November at 10am (GMT)

Sunday 6 November 2011

Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music

One of the more enduring memories from my childhood is how painful writing was. Not physically, though. And think not, either, that I'm referring to the process of forming letters, words and characters on a sheet of paper in order to convey a message, but rather to the act of making said message legible and clear. My handwriting was awful. It was so dire that I was perennially punished by my teacher with countless exercises on how to improve it.

That's why I've always been amazed at how elegant and beautiful my children's handwriting is. In that respect, I'm sad - but relieved - to say, they didn't take after me. Probably after their mother, whose own efforts are a hundred times better than mine. The labyrinth of lines and shapes I produced at my primary school caused my teacher once to quip: "What's that prescription you're making out to me for?". At the time I failed to understand the joke until eventually I came across doctors' hieroglyphical handwriting and so I was able to appreciate her humour better.

Yet this skill, which, to most of us is instinctive, is bound to go the same way as the bank cheque: into partial extinction. According to a recent article in the Times Education Supplement ("Not so might any more", TES, 14th October) plans are afoot to eventually phase out the teaching of handwriting in primary schools in the UK. A quiet revolution is in the making and this time the victim is one of the oldest crafts in history.

At the beginning of this column I mentioned the pain inflicted on me by handwriting when I was little, but what I forgot to add was that in time leaving (un)uniform scratches on the paper's surface became a pleasure in and of its own. I still remember the straight lines in my notebook, the pencil nestled between my thumb and forefinger and the letters appearing, as if by magic, on the blank piece of paper in the wake left behind by the graphite. It's remarkable how much we underestimate our efforts when we write. There's a whole combination of physical and mental factors at play: body posture, shoulders-arms-forearms-hands synchronisation and our ever attentive gaze on the ensuing words. Thoughts materialise and are brought forth on the empty sheet, woven together by the wizardry of our skilled hands. And that's just the beginning.

Are you in the same league of the Hunchback of Notre Dame when you write or do you model yourself perhaps on a straight-backed Sylvie Guillem instead? Handwriting is more than the mere formation of words, it's part of our personality and self-expression. Letters leaning backwards or forwards, joined-up or separate, they all tell a story of who we are.

And now this art, this craft is under serious threat. From the mighty keyboard. In the TES article, Year 6 teacher Andrew Beswick, from Greave primary school in Stockport, is quoted as saying that “The world is changing very, very quickly. Less and less, I’m thinking that you need to teach children to write by hand beautifully. More and more, they need to master the keyboard and the skills they will need there.” As if the blitzkrieg unleashed on us by smartphones, iPads and Blackberrys wasn't enough. The QWERTY Generation march on unchallenged.

It's true that the original idea arrived in these shores from the US where keyboard proficiency has taken over from handwriting in the curriculum. It's also realistic to expect the younger generation to be more fascinated by a shiny, interactive iPad screen than by a blank sheet of paper. However, even the staunchiest technophile will come to rue the demise of the once mighty pen. Already we've seen the decline of the seaside resort saucy postcard (usually sent a day into one's holiday and handwritten). Why bother with witty, sexual innuendoes when you can send a picture of yourself larking about with your mates from your iPhone? Now it's the turn of the once conspicuous Biro. The worst case scenario will give us generations of children devoid of traditional skills for whom the only knowledge required to cope in the world will be that of tapping, copying and pasting. Originality and creativity will give way to impersonality and inanity.

Cursive also has a life outside the world of penmanship. In music for instance, who can forget the handwritten lyrics that appear on Pink Floyd's The Wall? I was never able to decipher the writing and yet that was part of its allure.

Mind you, all is not lost. According to a superb article in the Nov/Dec issue of Intelligent Life ( "Handwriting: an Elegy", I strongly recommend you read it), sales of fountain pens in Britain have increased by 70%, and those of quality writing paper by 79%. A desire for a luxury item? A last-minute Christmas purchase? Or a well-thought present for someone you really care about? You decide. I still have a fountain pen given to me by my ex-colleagues from the travel agency when I left. I only take it out occasionally but it's so precious that I don't want to use it. Recently when I holidayed in Cornwall with my family I bought a beautiful pen with a Celtic encryption. It's the one with which I jot down my thoughts and ideas for columns like this one.

No matter how fast we type on a keyboard, the sense of intimacy, which we develop through our personal writing, is lost. If, like mine, your scrawls on paper look like labyrinthine, endless corridors (minus the Minotaur), then you'll be grateful that blogposts are typed rather than handwritten. Otherwise I wouldn't have any readers or cyber-friends. Except those professionals who took a Hippocratic Oath at the beginning of their working careers. Still, though, whether the letters loop backwards or forwards, or whether we hunch down over our notebooks or merely sit upright, handwriting remains one of those forgotten but essential arts that has added an extra dimension to our human experience. Enough reason to preserve it, ideally whilst using a Parker.

© 2011

Next Post: “While My MP3 Gently Plays”, to be published on Wednesday 9th November at 11:59pm (GMT)

Wednesday 2 November 2011

The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Review)

It's only fitting that one of the most playful contemporary authors gets to write a novel about two rock'n'roll stars and a no less rock'n'roll photographer. The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which originally came out in 1999, finds Salman Rushdie in a mirthful, but still pensive mood.

Spanning forty years, the novel focuses on the relationship between rock star Ormus Cama, the surviving half of twins, music phenomenon Vina Aspara, half-Indian, half American and the "invisible" Rai whose real name is Umeed Merchant.

Through these three main characters and a wild array of supporting ones, Rushdie weaves a tale about love, myths, religion and humankind. There's even time and space for paranormal activity, as exemplified by Ormus's communication with his dead twin brother. Both Ormus and Rai fall for Vina on the same day in 1950s Bombay, whilst on a day out with their families. By then, the teenage girl had had her own share of grief, including a bloodbath in her previous house in the US. Of the three leading characters, Vina's is probably the richest and most interesting. Hers is a mix of iconography - rooted in the ancient Abrahamic traditions -, feminism and femininity. The latter two turn her into a symbol of Diana, the late Princess of Wales, magnitude.

In such a long novel (my copy boasts more than five-hundred and seventy pages), Rushdie cleverly brings real people from the world of rock'n'roll to orbit around his characters. Thus, we get cameos from the likes of Elvis, Dylan and U2. In fact, the Irish band went the extra mile and recorded the song that, in the book, serves as the nexus between Ormus and Vina. The clip appears below at the end of this review. In addition, Salman also scatters these three stars (Rai turns out to be one of the better photographers of his generation) all around the globe, rooting them firmly especially in Bombay, London and New York.

There are parallels between the author's life and the story he tells, although he would probably scoff at notions suggesting that The Ground Beneath Her Feet is autobiographical. However, anyone familiar with Rushdie's social interactions might come to the conclusion that Ormus and Vina's shoulder-rubbing with the rich and famous might be a bit too similar to Salman's love of glamour and glitz. And they wouldn't be completely wrong.

Where to me the two strongest poinst of the novel lie is in its exploration of myths and its meditation on belief. The former reeks heavily of Princess Diana's death and the cult it inspired with the thousands of wreaths adorning the gates and fences of Buckingham Palace and the very public outcry it unleashed. This, in a land famed for its stiff upper lip. It's a similar situation with Vina Aspara when she's swallowed up by an earthquake in Mexico (fret not, I'm not giving the plot away; in fact, that's how the novel starts). The outpouring of grief at her death is so much that a whole industry based on her life and work does not take long to spring up and cash in. In regards to beliefs, Rushdie's always been very vocal against organised religion, especially in the wake of the fatwa issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini. However, in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman is far from a staunch, dyed-in-the-wool, Richard-Dawkins-style atheist. He is more interested in musing over the relationship between gods and humans, including those artists whom some people worship as semigods. Lennon comes to mind. He uses the imagery of ground-cracking or ground-shifting to show progress, evolution and also backwardness and procrastination, not from a biological or historical point of view, but rather from an artistic and human one. Above all, it's the way he plays (and I use the word in the sense of "toying") with reality and a "parallel world". One that we can only access through Ormus's double vision.

Although The Ground Beneath Our Feet came out twelve years ago, its message of love and humanism is as relevant as ever. Another great read by master Salman which I totally recommend.

© 2011

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 6th November at 10am (GMT)


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