Literature

Stravinsky in Spain

I knew that Stravinsky was in Spain in 1916 (a lot of Spanish people does’t even seem to know this), I knew it was with the Ballet Russes, but I didn’t know anything else about it. But now I read about it, as I’m in the process of reading Stravinsky’s autobiography, which I ordered via AbeBooks (along with 26 other books, as a Christmas/Three Kings present to myself), and I’d like to share with you the passages where he describes his impressions of what I nowadays call my country:

I awaited Diaghileff’s return from America with impatience and excitement. He sent me word in March of his arrival in Spain, and I at once took the train to join him. He told me of the terrible fears which he had experienced in crossing by an Italian ship, laden with munitions of war, which had constantly had to change its course by reason of warnings of submarines. They even had a rehearsal of an alarm, and I still possess a photograph which Diaghileff gave me in which he is wearing his lifesaving apparatus.

It was my first visit to Spain, and I was struck by much that I saw directly I crossed the frontier. First there was the change in railway gauge, exactly as in Russia. I expected to find different weights and measures; but, not at all! Although the railways were different, the metric system prevailed as in the greater part of the globe. At the very boundary the smell of frying oil became perceptible. When I reached Madrid at nine o’clock in the morning I found the whole town still fast asleep, and I was received at my hotel by the night watchman with lantern in hand. Yet it was spring. The people rose late, and life was in full swing after midnight. At a fixed hour every day I heard from my room the distant sound of a banda playing a passodoble, and military exercises always apparently ended with that sort of music. All the little characteristics of the Spaniards’ daily life pleased me immensely, and I experienced and savoured them with great gusto. They struck me as marking a vivid change from the monotony of the impressions generally received in passing from one European country to another, for the countries of Europe differ far less among themselves than all of them together do from this land on the edge of our continent, where already one is in touch with Africa.

[…] I must record the tremendous impressions made on my by Toledo and the Escorial. My two short excursions to them showed me a Spain for which I should have searched in vain in historic treatises. My glimpses of these two places evoked in me visions not so much of the horrors on the Inquisition or the cruelties of the days of tyranny as a revelation of the profoundly religious temperament of the people and the mystic fervor of their Catholicism, so closely akin in its essentials to the religious feeling and spirit of Russia. I especially noticed the difference which exist between the Catholicism of Spain and that of Rome, which impresses all observers by the impassive grandeur of its authority. I found a logical explanation of that difference in the consideration that the Chatholicism of Rome, as the Metropolis and center of Western Christianity, must necessarily wear a more austere and immutable aspect than the Catholicism of the outlying countries.

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Read: The Da Vinci Code

Da Vinci Code

As I already suggested to myself in my last “read” post, I finally read The Da Vinci Code. I seemed to remember that a few years ago it was a real hype, everyone loved it, it seemed to be the best book ever written, but when I looked up some reviews they mostly told me to not read the book, that it was a bad story and largely overrated.

I did read it. I finished it yesterday night at 2pm, so that says something already about how much I liked it. I had trouble picking it up and read, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop. I wouldn’t call The Da Vinci Code the best book ever written, but I did like reading it, it has a lot of great things, alongside some minor flaws that keep it from being a master work.

First of all I think the title is somewhat misleading. This is a search for the Holy Grail, not for some dark secret that has to do with Leonard Da Vinci. That it all starts with two of his paintings doesn’t justify the title.

Secondly the thing that disturbed me most of the story is that the whole story takes only about 24 hours and that the characters just continue as if they’re not human and don’t need to sleep. Of course, that is also the reason that you can’t stop reading, there is just no rest in the story. But still, the overall tempo of the story is too fast.

Meanwhile I don’t see the genius of the codes, and I got especially enervated when it took the main characters, professionals in code and symbology, an awful lot of time to figure out the clues. And then afterwards, Dan Brown explains the solution for the next few pages, which for me seemed to be just page filling material.

I did like the overall story, and even the writing style of the author, which is very unamerican. Recommendable for a good quick read during a warm summer weekend.

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More reading

As I read a lot, and I can’t possibly take all my books with me to Spain next year, nor have money to buy as many I’d like, I bought myself a little gift:

Sony PRS T2

The Sony PRS T2 e-reader. I don’t want to start a Kindle/Sony discussions, and I have no experience with Kindly, nor with any other e-reader, so I’m just going to make a list of all the things that I like about this wonderfull invention.

– the small weight is such a relieve after hauling around with the 800 pages and more books I like to read

– internet conection

– note making with text or by drawing on the screen

– configuration with Evernote, so I can make notes while reading and use them afterwards on my computer

– changing the direction for sliding the page, very handy for lefties (me in particular)

– fast zooming in of pdf files

– putting your books in different categories

– SD slot for micro SD

– easily changing the direction of the page

– jumping to any page you want

– being able to change both the standard visualisation as the visualisation of each particular document

And I’m not going to bore you with anything more. If you have questions or doubts you can ask me. Meanwhile I’ll be out on the terrace reading.

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Read: The Secret Supper

La cena secreta

It seems I’m into mystery novels lately. But only good ones. La cena secreta is all about da Vinci’s Last Supper and the secrets it contains. Javier Sierra is not a great writer, it’s not one of those novels you can’t put down. But he did provide us with a brilliant story. The search for secret writing in the painting, the mysterious deaths, the different small stories that are all related to each other. The basics of this novel are put together very well, it’s just that Sierra’s writing style is nothing more than a dry telling of this great story.

I would recommend this book. I really liked it. But for those who don’t understand Spanish, I hope that the translator has a better feel of their language.

And I’m starting to think I should read The Da Vinci Code, as it is also about Leonardo. After reading  La cena secreta I’m intrigued by the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. I recognize in him a bit the person I would like to be.

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Read: The Flanders Panel

La tabla de Flandes

The first book I finished this summer and also the first Reverte I ever read is La tabla de Flandes. Art, history, chess, and a mystery all come together in this brilliant novel. Maybe the characters are a little stereotypical; I would have liked to know more details about Julia’s character and past, instead of having to deal with her smoking habits. “She lighted a sigaret” is just a line filler; if it doesn’t have any relevance to the story, it could’ve been left out to make place for some more interesting information.

The outcome of the story is a big surprise, nobody can argue about that. I devoured the last chapters without stopping, just to know all the details about the master plan of the killer. The very ending seemed a little as if the author thought a lot about the story, but not about what had to come after that. We can only imagine how it could’ve been different.

I often looked up the drawings of the chess board to imagine how the game went, and to understand the psychological meaning of the chess pieces and their movements as Muñoz describes them.

I don’t usually like mystery novels, but I like art, and I like chess, and I like thinking, and the combination of all of those made me really interesting in reading the book. I didn’t regret it. Reverte is a great writer as well as a great storyteller and I look forward to reading more of his books.

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Always the same, but different

2013-02-26 23.29.45

I just finished reading Os dous de sempre (The same two as always) by the Galician writer Alfonso Castelao. It is the only novel he has ever written, and in the introduction he tells us that even though he hopes we like it, he just wrote this novel to kill the time. Let us be clear, it wasn’t a waste, I really liked it.

It describes two boys growing up, two opposites, called Pedriño (later Pedro) and Rañolas. It describes life in Galicia at the begining of the 20th century. And from time to time it makes you laugh. For example in the very beginning, where he describes the house of aunt Ádega and how it looks like a face and sometimes even winks.

Or that time where Pedriño, who’s life revolves around eating starts eating the apples that have just been fed to the pig:

Unha tarde a criada do crego apañou no chan do pomareiro un mandil de mazáns e botoullas ó porco. Pasou por alí Pedriño e, coidando que ninguén o vía, aproveitouse da ocasión para tomar unha enchente. Pedriño e mailo porco comían mazáns, como dous compañeiros, cando saíu dunha fiestra da reitoral a voz grosa do señor abade: ¡Deixa comer ó porco, lambón!

I know most of you don’t understand Galician, but it gives you a bit an idea of how it looks (and maybe sounds) like. I haven’t really studied Galician yet, but I could follow quite well what was going on in the story. I even noticed some differences with contemporary Galician (this book was first edited in 1934), and I learned some new words.

This book is a critic towards a certain kind of people, towards the then ruling forces, although it is never really said out loud. The title, even though it literally means that this is just a story about two people who we meet again and again throughout the book, may be a hint to the fact that, although it seems they do, things never change. Or as Mark Twain once said:

History doesn’t repeat itself, but is does rhyme.

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Composing Kafka

André Laporte, the composer I wrote about in my last post, is apparently a fan of the writings of Franz Kafka, he has them all in his personal library. Some of his compositions (including the Reflections) were inspired by the ideas of Kafka, and he even wrote an opera to the story of Das Schloß, The Castle. When he told us there is a possible influence of Kafka in Reflections, I joked: “Well, then we should read Kafka.” We all laughed. But, later, I started to take my remark more seriously, and I went to the library and got the complete oeuvre of Kafka (translated, although I normally don’t read translations, but I guess the work of such an important writer will be translated quite well, and it will safe me some precious time, as in Dutch, I can read vertically, which in German I can’t).

Kafka

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