31 agosto 2004

Síndrome post-vacacional:

Until recently the best cancer prevention advice has been: don't smoke, don't get fat, and cross your fingers. But a strange-tasting drink from South Africa could provide new hope.

Scientists say there are three major ways to cut the risk of cancer. Don't smoke, don't become fat, and follow a balanced diet. Now from South Africa comes a potential fourth tip: drink rooibos tea. If you have never heard of it, you are not alone. Rooibos has been one of the more esoteric products in the herbal-remedy section of health shops, a strange-sounding name to match a strange taste drawn from the needle-like leaves of a plant found only on the slopes of the Cederberg mountains outside Cape Town.

For centuries, indigenous bushmen have sworn by the health-giving properties of the tea. European settlers who picked up the habit agreed there was something special about rooibos - Afrikaans for red bush - and even bathed their children with it. Now science suggests they may have been on to something. New research provides tantalising evidence that the tea can help ward off cancer. Rats and mice that drank it were found to have effective protection against a variety of cancers.

[read on at The Guardian]

Somewhere in the middle pages of “1984,” Winston Smith is being inducted into the shadowy and, as it turns out, nonexistent “Brotherhood” of resistance to Big Brother, and, to celebrate, the Inner Party member O’Brien pours him a glass of wine. Winston has never had wine before, but he has read about it, and he is desperately excited to try it, since he expects it to taste like blackberry jam and to be instantly intoxicating. Instead, of course, the wine tastes the way wine tastes the first time you taste it—a bit acidic and bitter—and a single sip, or glass, isn’t intoxicating at all. The intensity of this experience as a model of disappointment was significant enough for Orwell so that he inserted it in his dystopia right there among all the greater horrors—as though the future weren’t bad enough, that whole wine thing will go on, too.

[read on]
Tonto el que no entienda.

Cuenta una leyenda
Que una hembra gitana
Conjuró a la luna
Hasta el amanecer.
Llorando pedía
Al llegar el día
Desposar un calé.

"Tendrás a tu hombre,
Piel morena,"
Desde el cielo
Habló la luna llena.
"Pero a cambio quiero
El hijo primero
Que le engendres a él.
Que quien su hijo inmola
Para no estar sola
Poco le iba a querer."

Luna quieres ser madre
Y no encuentras querer
Que te haga mujer.
Dime, luna de plata,
Qué pretendes hacer
Con un niño de piel.
Hijo de la luna.

De padre canela
Nació un niño
Blanco como el lomo
De un armiño,
Con los ojos grises
En vez de aceituna --
Niño albino de luna.
"¡Maldita su estampa!
Este hijo es de un payo
Y yo no me lo callo."

Gitano al creerse deshonrado,
Se fue a su mujer,
Cuchillo en mano.
"¿De quién es el hijo?
Me has engañao fijo."
Y de muerte la hirió.
Luego se hizo al monte
Con el niño en brazos
Y allí le abandonó.

Y en las noches
Que haya luna llena
Será porque el niño
Esté de buenas.
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna
Para hacerle una cuna.
Y si el niño llora
Menguará la luna
Para hacerle una cuna.

Música y letra: José Maria Cano
[there's an somewhat clumsy English translation available if needed]

30 agosto 2004

It's been a while since I last heard (or rather read) about Habermas (ahhh, do I miss my Marxist Literary past) so it's always nice to come back to him. The interview has an enticing start (for a Spaniard):

Q: Professor Habermas, let me begin by congratulating you on receiving the Prince of Asturias Prize and also the gold medal of the Bellas Artes Foundation of Madrid. You must have surprised many Spaniards, as you did me, when you confessed your admiration for two fiercely existentialist writers, Miguel de Unamuno and Miguel de Cervantes.

A: This love goes back to school days and my university years. After the Second World War, when the Keller Theater was presenting masterful productions of French plays by Sartre, Mauriac and Claudel, Existentialism gave expression to our sense of life. A book by the Tuebingen philosopher, Friedrich Bollnow – who would now be 100, like Adorno – brought Unamuno’s Don Quixote to my attention at that time. By similar paths, I also found my way to Kierkegaard, to the later Schelling, and to the Heidegger of Being and Time. That I turned my back on Being and Time, and busied myself, rather, with social-, political-, and legal theory, had one simple reason: In the rather tattered mental and moral world of the Bundesrepublik, one could grapple better with what Jaspers called “limit situations” in the language of Marx and Dewey than in the “jargon of authenticity.”

[read on in the printer friendly format page]

27 agosto 2004

Now there's scientific proof: according to 60 of the most influential scientists in the world, including British biologist Richard Dawkins and Canadian psychologist Steven Pinker, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982) is the best science fiction film. Late Mr. Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) finished 2nd, followed by George Lucas' Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980)."
Robado sin complejos de Janela Indiscreta:
[basado obviamente en Las meninas de Diego Velázquez]

[In Waltercio Caldas’ interpretation of Velázquez´s Las meninas, he subtracts the human figures from the famous painting, suggesting that a space devoid of recognizable forms can constitute a utopia.]
Scene: A large posh office.  Two clients, well-dressed city gents, sit

facing a large table at which stands Mr. Tid, the account manager
of the architectural firm.

Mr. Tid: Well, gentlemen, we have two architectural designs for this new
residential block of yours and I thought it best if the architects
themselves explained the particular advantages of their designs.

There is a knock at the door.

Mr. Tid: Ah! That's probably the first architect now. Come in.

Mr. Wiggin enters.

Mr. Wiggin: Good morning, gentlemen.

Clients: Good morning.

Mr. Wiggin: This is a 12-story block combining classical neo-Georgian features
with the efficiency of modern techniques. The tenants arrive here
and are carried along the corridor on a conveyor belt in extreme
comfort, past murals depicting Mediterranean scenes, towards the
rotating knives. The last twenty feet of the corridor are heavily
soundproofed. The blood pours down these chutes and the mangled
flesh slurps into these...

Client 1: Excuse me.

Mr. Wiggin: Yes?

Client 1: Did you say 'knives'?

Mr. Wiggin: Rotating knives, yes.

Client 2: Do I take it that you are proposing to slaughter our tenants?

Mr. Wiggin: ...Does that not fit in with your plans?

Client 1: Not really. We asked for a simple block of flats.

Mr. Wiggin: Oh. I hadn't fully divined your attitude towards the tenants. You
see I mainly design slaughter houses.

Clients: Ah.

Mr. Wiggin: Pity.

Clients: Yes.

Mr. Wiggin: (indicating points of the model) Mind you, this is a real beaut.
None of your blood caked on the walls and flesh flying out of the
windows incommoding the passers-by with this one. (confidentially)
My life has been leading up to this.

Client 2: Yes, and well done, but we wanted an apartment block.

Mr. Wiggin: May I ask you to reconsider.

Clients: Well...

Mr. Wiggin: You wouldn't regret this. Think of the tourist trade.

Client 1: I'm sorry. We want a block of flats, not an abattoir.

Mr. Wiggin: ...I see. Well, of course, this is just the sort of blinkered
philistine pig-ignorance I've come to expect from you non-creative
garbage. You sit there on your loathsome spotty behinds squeezing
blackheads, not caring a tinker's cuss for the struggling artist.
You excrement, you whining hypocritical toadies with your colour TV
sets and your Tony Jacklin golf clubs and your bleeding masonic
secret handshakes. You wouldn't let me join, would you, you
blackballing bastards. Well I wouldn't become a Freemason now if
you went down on your lousy stinking knees and begged me.

Client 2: We're sorry you feel that way, but we did want a block of flats,
nice though the abattoir is.

26 agosto 2004

Ramón (Javier Bardem) lleva casi treinta años postrado en una cama al cuidado de su familia. Su única ventana al mundo es la de su habitación, junto al mar por el que tanto viajó y donde sufrió el accidente que interrumpió su juventud. Desde entonces, su único deseo es terminar con su vida dignamente. La llegada de dos mujeres alterará su mundo: Julia (Belén Rueda), la abogada que quiere apoyar su lucha y Rosa (Lola Dueñas), una vecina del pueblo que intentará convencerle de que vivir merece la pena. La luminosa personalidad de Ramón termina por cautivar a ambas, que tendrán que cuestionar como nunca antes los principios que rigen sus vidas. Él sabe que sólo la persona que de verdad le ame será la que le ayude a realizar ese último viaje.

Basada en hechos reales, narra la historia de Ramón Sampedro, un hombre tetrapléjico que durante 25 años luchó para conseguir una muerte digna y cuyo caso desencadenó un gran debate social. Prohibida la eutanasia en España, Sampedro acudió varias veces a los tribunales expresando su deseo de morir, pero fue inútil. El joven pero consagrado director Alejandro Amenábar lleva ahora su dramática historia al cine. Por el momento ya ha conseguido excelentes críticas por parte de los críticos de cine.

Mar adentro se estrena el 3 de septiembre.
Aquí puede leerse el testamento de Sampedro después de su muerte habiendo mandado a las autoridades un video que filmaba su muerte. [here's in English]
Y una entrevista con Javier Bardém sobre la película y la persona de Ramón Sampedro.

"The minute a young Chinese girl bagged the gold medal in the women's table-tennis singles final on Sunday, a Beijing TV network reporter stuck a microphone under the nose of her parents. The father, without batting an eye, told the audience that his good daughter was a good Communist Party member and her success was a tribute to the party organization. We can only imagine the hyperbolic tributes, straining credulity, when Beijing hosts the 2008 Summer Olympics."

[read on]

Cuba, the elusive island

25 agosto 2004

Einstein e Picasso

Em 1904, num bistrô boémio de Paris, o “Lapin Agile”, Pablo Picasso e Albert Einstein encontram-se pela primeira vez (numa reunião que nunca aconteceu realmente). Aí se trava, na procura da atenção de uma jovem e do respeito de todos os outros, uma hilariante batalha de ideias sobre arte, probabilidade, desejo e o futuro do mundo, num texto do famoso actor norte-americano Steve Martin. Um ano depois, Einstein, publicará a Teoria de Relatividade e três anos depois, Picasso, pintará Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. “Picasso no Lapin Agile” foi premiada em 1996 com o New York Outer Critics’ Circle Awards para a melhor peça e para o melhor dramaturgo.
No Teatro da Trindade em Lisboa a partir de 23 de Setembro.
No democracy can flourish against plutocratic, imperial forces, says Cornel West, without citizens girded by Socratic questioning, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope...

"The greatest threats come in the form of the rise of three dominating, antidemocratic dogmas. These three dogmas, promoted by the most powerful forces in our world, are rendering American democracy vacuous. The first dogma of free-market fundamentalism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as idol and fetish. This glorification of the market has led to a callous corporate-dominated political economy in which business leaders (their wealth and power) are to be worshipped—even despite the recent scandals—and the most powerful corporations are delegated magical powers of salvation rather than relegated to democratic scrutiny concerning both the ethics of their business practices and their treatment of workers."

[read on PDF for the printer-savvy ;)]


It was about time:

Los republicanos españoles que, hace 60 años, participaron en la liberación de París han sido homenajeados como "campeones de la libertad" en un emotivo y solemne acto en la capital francesa, en el que participaron ex compañeros de armas y personalidades parisinas y españolas.

A través del homenaje de París a los veteranos españoles de la división Leclerc y, en particular, de la compañía conocida como 'La Nueve', que entró en París el 24 de agosto de 1944, se recordó a los miles de exiliados de la Guerra Civil española que, integrados en las tropas de la Francia libre o en la resistencia, lucharon por liberar a Francia y Europa del yugo nazi"

[read on in El Mundo]

Coverage in French in Le Monde. More on the liberation of Paris
on The Paris Review.

24 agosto 2004

Meet the sticky note of the future, in the present: TurboNote

23 agosto 2004

[David Burdeny]

[Peter Steinhauer]

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that, the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Lee Frost

Simone de Beauvoir: Lost in Translation

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,'' Simone de Beauvoir wrote in ''The Second Sex'' in 1949, shocking readers with her contention that the wife-and-mother destiny was a myth devised by men to deny women freedom. Rejecting such notions as the maternal instinct, her book attracted both controversy (it was banned by the Vatican) and sales (it sold more than 20,000 copies in France in its first week).

Today ''The Second Sex'' is widely acknowledged as the founding text of modern feminism. The English translation, a best seller when it was first published in this country by Alfred A. Knopf in 1953, has sold well over a million copies. A staple of women's studies courses, the Knopf translation -- available in Vintage and Everyman editions -- is still the only version in print in the United States today.

Yet American readers may not have been reading the real ''Second Sex.'' In ''The Legacy of Simone de Beauvoir,'' a new collection of essays edited by Emily R. Grosholz, several Beauvoir scholars contend that the English-language translation is so badly botched that it distorts Beauvoir's intent and presents her as an incoherent thinker. One scholar, Nancy Bauer of Tufts University, says that she has counted ''literally hundreds'' of mistakes in translation ranging from elementary bloopers to misunderstandings of scholarly jargon. ''Philosophical terms with a precise meaning in French are turned into the opposite of what Beauvoir says,'' according to another contributor, Toril Moi, a professor of literature and romance studies at Duke University. As a result, ''Beauvoir comes across as a sloppy thinker in English.''

Of course, even Beauvoir's devotees don't claim that ''Le Deuxieme Sexe'' is perfect as she wrote it. Elizabeth Hardwick's assessment of the English translation -- ''madly sensible and brilliantly confused'' -- could probably speak for the original text as well (and the French critical reaction to the book was if anything more hostile than the American). In either language the book is often difficult to wade through, with few footnotes to guide the way, and it has a breathless, rough-and-ready quality that feels as though the author had been bursting to get all her thoughts down on the page at once -- a reflection of Beauvoir's having written quickly, over a period of about two years also devoted to other projects. And the tone of the book itself -- analytical, almost cold -- invited one of the most frequent criticisms: that she was unsympathetic and even hostile to women and to motherhood. ''She has written an enormous book about women and it is soon clear that she does not like them, nor does she like being a woman,'' as Stevie Smith, the British poet and novelist, wrote in a review in 1953. Later, feminist critics complained that Beauvoir seemed to consider motherhood fundamentally incompatible with an independent life.

[Read on: NYT Sunday Review]

20 agosto 2004

The Racketeers' favourite books of 2003

1 Waterland by Graham Swift
2 The Honorary Consul by Graham Greene
3 Brick Lane by Monica Ali
4 Surfacing by Margaret Atwood
5 Black Boy by Richard A Wright
6 Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
7 The Secret History by Donna Tartt
8 The Golden Age by Gore Vidal
9 Stars and Bars by William Boyd
10 Cheaters by Eric Jerome Dickey

And who are The Racketeers, you might ask? An all-male reading group who gathers in a pub to drink and talk - it reminds me of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and others, only these ones actually wrote :-).

Find out more in The Guardian

Language may shape human thought

Language may shape human thought – suggests a counting study in a Brazilian tribe whose language does not define numbers above two.

Hunter-gatherers from the Pirahã tribe, whose language only contains words for the numbers one and two, were unable to reliably tell the difference between four objects placed in a row and five in the same configuration, revealed the study.

Experts agree that the startling result provides the strongest support yet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines our thoughts. So-called “linguistic determinism” was first proposed in 1950 but has been hotly debated ever since.

“It is a very surprising and very important result,” says Lisa Feigenson, a developmental psychologist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, US, who has tested babies’ abilities to distinguish between different numerical quantities. “Whether language actually allows you to have new thoughts is a very controversial issue.”

Peter Gordon, the psychologist at Columbia University in New York City who carried out the experiment, does not claim that his finding holds for all kinds of thought. “There are certainly things that we can think about that we cannot talk about. But for numbers I have shown that a limitation in language affects cognition,” he says.

“One, two, many”

The language, Pirahã, is known as a “one, two, many” language because it only contains words for “one” and “two”—for all other numbers, a single word for “many” is used. “There are not really occasions in their daily lives where the Pirahã need to count,” explains Gordon.

In order to test if this prevented members of the tribe from perceiving higher numbers, Gordon set seven Pirahã a variety of tasks. In the simplest, he sat opposite an individual and laid out a random number of familiar objects, including batteries, sticks and nuts, in a row. The Pirahã were supposed to respond by laying out the same number of objects from their own pile.

For one, two and three objects, members of the tribe consistently matched Gordon’s pile correctly. But for four and five and up to ten, they could only match it approximately, deviating more from the correct number as the row got longer.

The Pirahã also failed to remember whether a box they had been shown seconds ago had four or five fish drawn on the top. When Gordon’s colleagues tapped on the floor three times, the Pirahã were able to imitate this precisely, but failed to mimic strings of four of five taps.

Babies and animals

Gordon says this is the first convincing evidence that a language lacking words for certain concepts could actually prevent speakers of the language from understanding those concepts.

Previous experiments show that while babies and intelligent animals, such as rats, pigeons and monkeys, are capable of precisely counting small quantities, they can only approximately distinguish between clusters consisting of larger numbers. However, in these studies it was unclear whether an inability to articulate numbers was the reason for this.

The Pirahã results provide a much stronger case for linguistic determinism, says Gordon, because, aside from their language, they are otherwise similar to other adult humans, whereas there are many more factors that separate babies and animals from adult humans.

However, scientists are far from a consensus. Feigenson points out that there could be other reasons, aside from pure language, why the Pirahã could not distinguish accurately for higher numbers including not being used to dealing with large numbers or set such tasks.

“The question remains highly controversial,” says psychologist Randy Gallistel of Rutgers University in Piscataway, New Jersey. “But this work will spark a great deal of discussion.

[From the New Scientist]
What has Tibor Fischer learnt from judging this year's Booker Prize? That publishers don't have a clue about books – or bribes

One of the most puzzling phenomena about the success of publishing in this country is the publishers themselves. Once, on a slow day, a senior literary agent (Nobel laureate in his stable) wagered his colleagues that he could sell anything to anyone. They could pull any manuscript out of the slush pile and name any editor, he boasted, and he'd do the deal.

The deal was for "a substantial six-figure sum" – and the book didn't fare badly in the end either. I kept thinking of this story (not in the least apocryphal) as I digested the 126 novels that, as a judge for this year's Man Booker Prize, I was required to read, because it's clear most publishers don't have a clue what they're doing.

Ordinarily, when we say: "I think this book is better than that one," what we mean essentially is: "I enjoyed the former more than the latter."

Taste: there's no escape. Nevertheless, there are books that I don't like, but I can see they are proficiently written and that others might enjoy them. Yet some entries were so execrable I reckoned they must have been submitted as a joke.

Those that were a discredit to the industry numbered no more than half a dozen. More remarkable was the number of novels that were pointless. Not bad, not reproachable in any way except one: they were utterly nondescript (mind you, there's always been a clique in literary London who feel that real literature should be dry, colourless, a bit of a penance – if you're enjoying it, it can't be literature). I'd estimate nearly a third of the submissions fell into this category.

Spotting talent's a doddle. Lawrence Norfolk and I edited the New Writing 8 anthology; we debuted four writers. Three of them – Dan Rhodes, Hari Kunzru and David Mitchell – promptly went on to the Granta Best of Young British list, international success, awards, groupies, etc. It's that easy if you have judgement.

I can understand publishers putting out something unbrilliant out of loyalty to an author (admittedly unlikely) or putting it out because they've already paid for it, but I can't understand them sending it in to the Man Booker.

Publishers usually indulge in a great deal of secrecy, and, indeed, lying about which titles they submit (each imprint gets two entries, plus anything by a previous winner or a short-listee of the past 10 years), so let me show my solidarity to my fellow novelists: get in touch and I'll tell you whether you were entered.

So what about the good books? I became acquainted with some authors I hadn't got round to, met some old friends and was introduced to some newcomers.

The small presses contributed some colourful material: David Madsen's witty A Box of Dreams and the comely wackiness of Suhayl Saadi's Psychoraag (although if you aren't familiar with the Asian Dub Foundation and if you have trouble understanding Glaswegian, it's not for you). An intriguing insight into Castro's Cuba was afforded by Rey Ruben's Patria, which, unlike many entries, had wonderful stories to tell, but was let down by its prose.

No, regrettably, I suspect the real contenders will come from the big houses. This has been a bumper year for Henry James. Both Colm Toibin and David Lodge have produced entertaining novels inspired by the Master's life (if you want a laugh, go for the Lodge). In addition, Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty has a Jamesian workout in almost every chapter.

The old lags have dun good. VS Naipaul, James Hamilton-Paterson and Justin Cartwright are, however, matched by their younger peers. Neil Cross, Philip Hensher and Nicola Barker all get stuck into present-day Britain with gusto and flair, and then there's David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, which gets stuck into just about everything. My contemporaries Nicholas Shakespeare and Louis De Bernieres play away in East Germany and Turkey respectively and take on some heavy history.

Two first novels, Becoming Strangers by Louise Dean and The Last Song of Dusk by Siddharth Dhanvant Shangvi, appealed to me. But there are many other goodies, and in any case, the other judges may not agree with me.

What have I learned? Distaste for the middle class was one common denominator. Writers are entitled to berate and conjure whatever they want, but it was curious to see how the middle class (particularly the white, home-counties middle class) got clobbered: racist, xenophobic, childkillers or just generally evil.

Any prostitute, beggar, asylum-seeker or non-caucasian was likely to have a heart of gold. The conformity was such that I felt sometimes that only members of the Socialist Workers Party were allowed to publish novels (I never want to see the words "miners" and "strike" adjacent again on the page).

Being a judge, strangely, appears to impress more than getting short-listed for the Booker and, take it from me, it's a lot harder to write a novel than to read one; but the prospect of reading over a hundred novels seems to terrify most people, even those in the trade.

With no job and no kids to look after, I didn't find it at all taxing. I simply spent a few months on a balcony in Budapest tanning and perusing, but I must pay tribute to the fortitude of my fellow judges who do have other responsibilities, but who still bayed for more at the call-in meeting.

Finally, judging isn't that hard. Only a few key questions ought to be weighed up. Is this novel written by a friend of mine? A good friend of mine? What could they do for me in the future? Would they deliver? Isn't this novel by that reviewer who panned my last book?

And as for sleaze or corruption, what I'd like to know is: where are they? My offshore bank account is in a consumptive state. I haven't even had a free lunch, let alone the suggestion of a holiday. The most damning charge I can make against British publishers is that no one has tried to nobble me.

What sort of feeble bumblers are they? In any other country or in any other business, the sweeteners and largesse would have been flowing my way. The Man Booker Prize is the most important literary prize in the English-speaking world; it can make a huge difference to the short-listed writers (as I discovered when my first novel, Under the Frog, was selected, after having been rejected 56 times – publishers, eh?).

I believe that its prestige should be measured in terms of the backhander I get. So I'm giving publishers a final chance to redeem themselves. The Booker longlist is announced on August 26. My rates are as follows: £5,000 (untraceable fifties, upfront) for a long-listing, and £10,000 for a short-listing.

Obviously, I can't guarantee a winner, but for £20,000, I promise to do my best (and I'm bigger than the other judges). I'll be by the phone.

[From the Telegraph]

19 agosto 2004

Dentro de Mim, Helena Almeida, 1998
(descaradamente) roubado ao Gato Fedorento:

The Dr. Stephen Hawking Action Figure stands approximately 5 1/2-inches-tall and comes with a mug of beer and a flying wheelchair. Place Dr. Hawking on any compatible Springfield Environment to hear him talk! Recommended for ages 4 and up.
Stephen Hawking in The Simpsons:
Skinner: I'm sure what Dr. Hawking means is --
Hawking: Silence. I don't need anyone to talk for me. Except this voice box.
Lisa meekly asks the crowd to stay calm, but a full-scale Springfieldian riot quickly develops. Hawking figures it's time to make his escape and activates ... his automatic toothbrush. Oops -- wrong button.
Hawking: Your theory of a donut-shaped universe is intriguing, Homer. I may have to steal it.
Homer: Wow, I can't believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me.
Moe: All right, it's closing time. Who's paying the tab?
Homer: [imitating Hawking's voice box] I am.
Hawking: I didn't say that.
Homer: [still imitating] Yes I did.
[a glove comes out of Hawking's wheelchair, bopping Homer in the face]
[still imitating] D'oh.
Os Gatos rant about disability, insofar as humour is key to lessen excess dramatisation of it, so here's an excerpt equally «borrowed» from them from Seinfeld:
George: Must be one of those rich, spoiled handicapped people, who didn't want to do any work, and just wanted to sit in her wheelchair and take it easy.
Salesman: This is out best model. The Cougar 9000. It's the Rolls Royce of wheelchairs. This is like... you're almost glad to be handicapped.
Kramer: So now, what's this got?
Salesman: Inductive joystick, dynamic braking, flip-up arms, it's fully loaded. I put Stephen Hawking in one of these two months ago, he's lovin' it! It's rated number one by Hospital Supply and Prosthetic Magazine.

18 agosto 2004

Paris. St Germain des Prés.
Simone de BEAUVOIR.

Pop Esoterica!

espite prevailing gossip in the groves of academe, people still like their Renaissance, with its prancing nymphs, striplings in hose, and Venus on the half-shell, an endless Primavera with Lorenzo de' Medici presiding benignly over the pagan rites. The fact that this Renaissance is a myth gives them no pause whatsoever, nor should it: the Renaissance was always a myth, and also, on occasion, a chivalric lay or an instructive fable, depending on who told the story, why, and to whom. For Angelo Poliziano, currying the favor of Lorenzo and his brother Giuliano with superabundant talent, the Medici brothers posed as modern Arthurian knights in Stanze per la Giostra, or Verses for the Joust. Botticelli, in the same years, acted as the city's great mythographer, painting glossy riddles in tempera for a restless Medici cousin, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco. If Machiavelli sent it all up with masterful cynicism in The Prince, he did so believing in another myth of Florence, the city as free Etruscan republic. Whatever their individual cynicism or dashed hopes, they all persisted in regarding Florence as a divinely favored place, every one.

People today still like this Renaissance of Poliziano, Botticelli, and the brothers Medici, because it stands for an idea of civilization, no matter what the poststructuralists say, and in these strange times an idea of civilization is something we desperately need. The depths of that need can be judged from the tone--and the popularity--of thrillers otherwise as disparate as The Da Vinci Code and The Rule of Four, both of which take Renaissance Florence as their shining image of civility, and quite specifically of Western civility. In a world where a rich turbaned sheik takes aim at skyscrapers, discotheques, and train stations in the name of holy war, these books argue, with their genre's implicit conservatism, that the West has contributed something more to humanity than McDonald's, cowboy presidents, and the stock market. The extraordinary success of such pointedly cultural thrillers indicates a longing to take the Western heritage seriously, to accord it some degree of honor rather than subject it to yet another critique. This is not by any means a discouraging development.

[read on] [Advisory: printed-friendly version upon payment?, what the f***?]

17 agosto 2004

Circle of clichés, or a guide to reviewese

When did you last come across the words "coruscating" or "magisterial"? It's unlikely to have been in a holiday brochure or a recipe. Surely it was on the back of a book or in a book review.
achingly beautiful
anything-fuelled – narratives of a new, edgy type of fiction sometimes called Britfic tend to be fuelled by a range of uppers – amphetamines, caffeine, cocaine, Robbie Williams
as good as any novel – why should writers of fact aspire to the standards of novelists? Cf the truth is often stranger than fiction, infra
at its core, **** is a deeply moral work – a handy way for a critic to say that those who don't like the shocking book under review simply don't understand it
breakneck speed – no successful thriller will go any slower
bursting to get out – of novellas in vast, sprawling epics
by this stage, I was ready to hurl the book across the room
cocktail – the result of stirring one author in with another: "a cocktail of Hergé and the Marquis de Sade"
coruscating – to be confused with "excoriating"
cracking pace – slower than breakneck speed; too slow
darkly comic (cf wickedly funny)
deadly earnest
deceptively simple – the simplicity of the phrase itself belies how complicated it is. Is the book/poem/style simple or isn't it? Or does it remind us that to mere readers, something might look simple, and that they need clever critics to undeceive them?
divided like the state of India itself – useful way of describing confused characters in post-colonial novels
dogged investigation
editor should be shot – wouldn't it be better to shoot those who write "the editor should be shot"? The phrase normally appears in connection with a list of minor quibbles. But to punish editors with this ultimate sanction would lead to a smaller number of editors, not only through their execution but also by discouraging people from becoming editors in the future. The grim consequence of this would be a major increase in minor quibbles
emotional rollercoaster
epic – as if synonymous with "long"
event – "a new epic by Homer is always an event"
exhaustive, not to say exhausting
feisty – of heroines, usually with mention of hair colour – "step forward, feisty redhead DI Dubrovnik"
fluent prose – cf Molière's Le Bourgeois gentilhomme: "Good heavens! I've been talking in prose for more than 40 years without realising."
has it all – as a rule, chicklit stories should feature a twentysomething heroine who has it all, with the customary exception of Mr Right
has **** written all over it
heady mix – cf cocktail, supra
high-octane – of the fuel needed to keep thrillers going at breakneck speed
hits the ground running – of stunning debuts
icon – as if synonymous with anything famous or even recognisable
in an iron grip (holds the reader's attention)
in his inimitable style – incidentally, inimitable people often turn out to be quite imitable: "the inimitable Sean Connery"
in true postmodernist fashion he/she constantly invents and reinvents him/herself
it reads like a Who's Who of contemporary poetry/fin-de-siècle Vienna
laughoutloud, as in laughoutloud funny. - Ohmygod. Come to think of it, reviewese could soon become a completely textable language, with:-) or:-( to indicate whether or not a book is good. At the time of writing, though, reviewese still uses laughoutloud as an adjective rather than an interjection
leafy - not strictly reviewese, but curious: I once saw Harlesden described as leafy
lightness of touch
like William S Burroughs on acid
magisterial (of non-fiction) – any two-volume biography or history can be called magisterial. For single-volume works to qualify, they must reach 700 pages not including notes, bibliographies and appendices
**** meets **** – the most quoted example of this construction was the work of Arrow's publicity department: they described Come Together by Emlyn Rees and Josie Lloyd as what could happen if "Bridget Jones met Nick Hornby at a party given by the housemates of This Life". For some, what happened when Emlyn Rees met Josie Lloyd was troubling enough
minor quibbles, as in, "But these are minor quibbles"
(the) name of that young German corporal was Adolf Hitler
overnight sensation – I do enjoy how slightly rude that sounds
panoramic sweep
penetrating insights
politically correct – an appealingly easy target, hence "political correctness gone mad"
pure/complete unadulterated bliss/codswallop
rattling good read/yarn
(the) rest, as they say, is history
searing indictment

searingly honest
shines through
should be set reading for David Blunkett and his advisers – the phrase shows a welcome faith in the power of literature to change the world. By now there are be a large number of books that should be required reading for George W Bush and his circle, although who knows what difference this reading would make. Compound phrase: this searing indictment of the British judicial system should be set reading etc
steeped in scholarship
stunning debut – in American reviewese, a young writer can debut stunningly
surreal - as if synonymous with odd, wacky
sympathetic portrait – cf warts-and-all, infra
take one ****, mix in some ****, add a dash of ****, leave to simmer, and what do you have?
that rare thing – perhaps it's worth quoting Edwin Muir on Thomas Mann's Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man: "Here is that unheard of, that supposedly impossible thing, a good German comic novel…"
things are not as they seem
tour de force (of literary scholarship) – the minimum length for a tour de force, not including notes, bibliographies and appendices, is 400 pages
(the) truth is often stranger than fiction – variants of this observation are that fact mingles strangely with fiction, and that life imitates art
uncanny resemblance
vast, sprawling epic – it is polite to congratulate short-story writers for being able to "compress into a few pages what lesser writers fail to achieve in vast, sprawling epics"
Viagra – coined by Charles Spencer in this paper's notice of The Blue Room, starring Nicole Kidman; he alone should be allowed to use it, but the conceit is now standard reviewese
vibrantly alive (poetic)
warts-and-all – just as American English can make verbs from other parts of speech, so reviewese can turn whole phrases into adjectives (qv laughoutloud, unputdownable)
was, in effect, the first conservationist/feminist/Communist/librarian
wears her erudition lightly
wickedly funny – less dark than darkly comic
will appeal to the serious scholar and general reader alike
will stay with you long after the last page is turned
woefully inadequate – of notes, bibliographies, appendices and most often indices
workmanlike biography
writes like a dream
Esta é a milésima vez que afixamos qualquer coisa (tinha que fugir ao termo que, para variar, não se tem traduzido, post).
Conheci-o na América. Nos Estados Unidos da América, no estado que se pretende mais emblemático, a Califórnia. No coração do Silicon Valley - que não se podia ter revelado mais disperso nem maior - porque somos ambos tradutores informáticos. Grande palavrão, muita parra pouca uva, isto depois de sermos ambos ratões de biblioteca e apaixonados por línguas. Somos ambos ibéricos - coisa que não podia ser mais díspar, tanto que nunca me dá para dizer isto - eu sou portuguesa e ele é espanhol. Tem havido mais amizade e cooperação do que a pertença à mesma multinacional deixaria entrever.
Em língua franca, a inglesa, ou a americanizada. E por isso gostamos sempre da América. Viva a blogosfera, até daqui a mais mil posts! (e pronto!)

Esta es la milésima vez que vamos a publicar algo. Ya parece que fue ayer cuando echamos a andar este blog, con el nombre de Nepenthe, un lugar escondido (doy fe) en Big Sur, en una California inesperada y remota. Dos cosas se cruzaron aquel día de entonces: un intenso amor por los libros y sus lenguas y un empeño casi imposible por aprender más, por conocerlo todo.
Este blog no es sino un reflejo de esa manera de comunicarse entre las dos Iberias, las dos que siempre se han mirado de reojo y se dan la espalda. Aqui nunca. Portugal y España siempre han ido de la mano en este blog porque siempre hay otros mundos que conocer pero, como decía Paul Éluard, "están en este". No hay nada más hermoso que descubrir lo que se tiene a mano todos los dias. Y eso es lo que me ha pasado con Portugal.
En cualquier lengua...
Nos vemos dentro de otros mil artículos...

O bailado D. Quixote é pleno de vivacidade e emoção, é uma história cómica com um final feliz. A aparição em cena de D. Quixote com o seu romantismo idealista proporciona o pano de fundo ideal para a resolução bem humorada do conflito, de outra forma insanável, entre um pai e uma filha.

D. Quixote serve de enquadramento para este bailado que se concentra na história de amor entre Kitri e Basil, encontrada no segundo volume do romance de Cervantes.

A descoberta deste episódio deve-se a Maurice Petipa que terá escrito o primeiro guião e concebido a primeira coreografia. A estreia húngara em 1997 apresentou uma versão criada especificamente para a companhia.

Coliseu dos Recreios

[lembrança da Carlita :-]

16 agosto 2004

[In] a certain Chinese encyclopedia…it is written that animals are divided into:

(a) those belonging to the Emperor
(b) those that are embalmed
(c) tame ones
(d) suckling pigs
(e) sirens
(f) fabulous ones
(g) stray dogs
(h) those included in the present classification
(i) those that tremble as if mad
(j) innumerable ones
(k) those drawn with a very fine camelhair brush
(l) others
(m) those that have just broken the water pitcher
(n) those that look like flies from a long way off

Jorge Luis Borges

[thanx to Marc :-]

Apostillas al post:

Ya que hablamos de Borges, he pensado conveniente poner aquí el original
en español:

[En sus remotas páginas está escrito que los animales se dividen en

(a) pertenecientes al Emperador,
(b) embalsamados,
(e) amaestrados,
(d) lechones,
(e) sirenas,
(f) fabulosos,
(g) perros sueltos,
(h) incluidos en esta clasificación,
(i) que se agitan como locos,
(j) innumerables,
(k) dibujados con un pincel finísimo de pelo de camello,
(1) etcétera,
(m) que acaban de romper el jarrón,
(n) que de lejos parecen moscas.]

El "artículo" completo puede encontrarse aquí: El idioma analítico de John Wilkins.

También aprovecho para incluir algunas citas de Ficciones:

En el suelo, apoyado en el mostrador, se acurrucaba, inmóvil como una cosa, un hombre muy viejo. Los muchos años lo habían reducido y pulido como las aguas a una piedra o las generaciones de los hombres a una sentencia.’ (‘El sur’, Ficciones, 201).

Sólo tres días y dos noches del invierno de 1782 requirió William Beckford para redactar la trágica historia de su califa. La escribió en idioma francés; Henley la tradujo al inglés en 1785. El original es infiel a la traducción.’ (‘Sobre del “Vathek” de William Beckford’, Otras inquisiciones, 136-37)

Había aprendido sin esfuerzo el inglés, el francés, el portugués, el latín. Sospecho, sin embargo, que no era muy capaz de pensar. Pensar es olvidar diferencias, es generalizar, abstraer.’ (‘Funes el memorioso’, Ficciones, 131).

Borges hay que leerlo en español (claro que yo leo Saramago en español, pero el traductor de Saramago era MUY bueno, hola Pilar...).

[Aqui puede encontrarse una edición muy barata de Ficciones]
[Borges em português Ficciones]

Eu tenho e já li Ficções em PORTUGUÊS ehehehheheheheheheheheheheh

Writing on January 28, 1754, to the British diplomat Sir Horace Mann, Horace Walpole—an antiquarian and son of Prime Minister Robert Walpole—boasted about a recent discovery he had made in an old book of Venetian arms:

This discovery I made by a talisman, . . . by which I find every thing I want, a pointe nommée [at the very moment], whenever I dip for it. This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity.

As Walpole himself was the author of the term, he felt obliged to give Mann its derivation:

I once read a silly fairy tale, called The Three Princes of Serendip [the ancient name for Ceylon, or Sri Lanka]: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand Serendipity?

The word did not appear in the published literature until the early 19th century and did not become well enough known to use without explanation until sometime in the first third of the 20th century. Antiquarians, following Walpole, found use for it, as they were always rummaging about for curiosities, and unexpected but pleasant surprises were not unknown to them. Some people just seemed to have a knack for that sort of thing, and serendipity was used to express that special capacity.

[as applied to Science in American Scientist]

15 agosto 2004

Summer reading specials in The Guardian:

"The weather gods may not have noticed yet, but summer is well and truly here - and as ever, you can't open a paper without coming across a list of summer reading recommendations from the current crop of in vogue writers and celebrities. But when it comes to the success or failure of a holiday book, factors other than the quality of the prose come into play - as anyone who has embarked on a holiday romance while reading Pride and Prejudice or spilled sun cream over the concluding pages of their Ian Rankin will testify. We asked Guardian Unlimited writers to tell us about their very best - and very worst - holiday reading experiences."

Also, five unbreakable rules on what books you and your bibliophile better half should take on holiday. No need to agree, again, what's wrong with reading Auster? Excerpt:

"1. Do not allow him to take any books that are more than 600 pages long. Men toil under the misapprehension that, on holiday, they really will read That Big Book, even though it has been gathering dust on a shelf at home for, ooh, only eight years."

From the NYT, Who's to blame for global warming?: "Indeed, when the author investigates why the United States is virtually the only advanced nation in the world that fails to recognize the severity of this growing crisis, he concludes that the news coverage is 'a large reason for that failure.'"

13 agosto 2004

The Genius of Language

If possession of one language gives us such a leg up on this material world, two ought to be doubly advantageous. As the contributors to this collection suggest, however, things are not that simple, especially for writers. Joseph Conrad, born in Poland, succeeded in forging a unique and powerful style out of his acquired English — but he was an exceptional talent, even among great writers. Can other writers follow his example?

To explore the problem, Lesser, an editor and critic based in California, recruited 15 writers whose mother tongue is a language other than English but who now write in English, at least part of the time. Perhaps the best introduction to the collection is an essay by Amy Tan, a writer of Chinese heritage. In this essay, she tackles head-on the famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is of interest not just to writers but to anyone interested in language. The thesis roughly states that an individual's perception of the world is moulded by his or her language. There's something to this theory, Tan writes, and she cites "Eskimos and their infinite ways to say `snow,' their ability to see differences in snowflake conflagrations, thanks to the richness of their vocabulary."

[read on]

12 agosto 2004

Alzheimer's linked to lowbrow jobs or Mentally stimulating careers may protect against dementia
A mentally stimulating career may help to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease, research suggests. According to a study carried out in the United States, those who develop the debilitating form of dementia are more likely to have had jobs that do not tax the brain.
The discovery lends weight to the 'use it or lose it' theory, says Kathleen Smyth of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, who led the research. Experts have previously suggested that keeping the mind active, through reading or crossword puzzles, can help to stave off dementia in old age.
The latest work, however, shows that mental stimulation throughout life can influence the development of Alzheimer's. The researchers examined 122 people with Alzheimer's disease and 235 healthy subjects, and compared the mental demands they had faced throughout their careers, from their twenties right through to their fifties.
The average level of mental strain on the two groups was equal during their twenties. But those without Alzheimer's tended to have had jobs that were more mentally taxing from their thirties through to retirement, the researchers report in the journal Neurology. "In their thirties, forties and fifties there was a divergence that persisted," Smyth says.
High-powered jobs
The researchers are not sure exactly how the effect works. Perhaps Alzheimer's disease has an early impact that prevents sufferers from entering mentally demanding professions such as writing, accountancy or law, Smyth suggests.
But it may be more likely that the brain really does benefit from sustained activity, rather than a lifetime spent working in a factory. Smyth suggests that people who stimulate their minds might build up a reserve of nerve cells in the brain. This would allow them to remain clear-headed even as their brains became clogged with the clots of protein that characterize Alzheimer's.
Alternatively, those who exercise their grey matter might simply be better practised at thinking. This would make them more likely to perform well in the mental tests used to diagnose the disease, suggests Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer's Society, a British charity. "Are they really at lower risk of the disease or are they just better at doing tests?" he asks.
Ballard also suggests that, as people with intellectual careers tend to enjoy higher socioeconomic status, they may have better access to healthcare. He points to the recent suggestion that hormone-replacement therapy may protect against Alzheimer's. In actual fact, he stresses, the effect is probably due to the more privileged lifestyles of those who use the therapy.

Ballard does concede that the latest study is an improvement on previous efforts to compare Alzheimer's sufferers with healthy controls. "Case-control studies are always tricky," he says. "But what is different about this is that it is done decade by decade, so it is better informed."

JOB opportunity :-)
Theatre officials hope captioning plays could capture reluctant audiences
For people who have trouble following a stage production of Shakespeare, here's hope. It's called CART, for Computer Assisted Realtime Translation, or captioning.
Captioning differs from the surtitles that have helped popularize opera. Surtitles, usually flashed on a screen running across the top of the stage, summarize in English the Italian, French or German of most operas performed in the United States.
Captions are smaller, and give the full text of plays being performed in English - including the difficult English of Shakespeare.
"I love it," said Carol Anderson, an usher at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "I even turn on the captions on the TV at home."
A sold-out matinee on Sunday at the Kennedy Center, one of the pioneers, furnished CART as a moving sign in red on a black background. Placed at one side of the stage, it scrolled three lines at a time of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie as the actors delivered them.
The sign could be read easily from the first 10 rows of the orchestra. These seats are sold first to those who request them, often people whose hearing loss is such that ordinary hearings aids don't help catch voices from the stage.
With good eyesight - though opera glasses would help - the sign can be made out from pretty much any of the 1,130 seats and the standing room at the back of the orchestra.
The Kennedy Center gives at least one performance with CART for each production. No extra charge and anyone is welcome.
Beginning Thursday, the Kennedy Center will host a three-day conference of specialists on accessibility to the arts, including legal problems and new technologies.
Lisa Carling, who directs the Theatre Access Project in New York, reports some success in promoting captions both on and off Broadway, beginning in 1997. Her group has sold more than 18,000 tickets to captioned performances, compared with fewer than 10,000 over the same time period to shows with sign language interpreters, Carling said.
She hopes captions will recapture older audiences who love live plays but go to the theatre more and more rarely as their hearing grows worse."
It helps all of us with unfamiliar words, foreign phrases, heavy accents, punch lines that go by too fast to catch the key word, or unintelligible lyrics in a quick paced song," Carling said.
The technology is already in use elsewhere, including California, Kentucky, New Jersey and Texas."
We have a lot of adult children purchasing tickets for parents or family members who will request seats (and) say to us, 'My Mom/Dad/Grandpa won't admit they have a hearing loss - but they do,' " said Stacy Ridgway of the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Providing CART for live performances requires an operator, similar to a court reporter who transcribes a trial as it happens.
The National Association of Court Reporters has held its first exam for members who want to be certified as captioners for live performances. Nearly two out of three candidates passed, said Peter G. Wacht, the association's senior director of communications.
Style: a Pleasure for the Reader, or the Writer?

The premise that in many cases writers entertain, move, and inspire us less by what they say (their matter) than by how they say it (their manner) would seem irrefutable. To name some obvious examples, Charles Dickens, Ernest Hemingway, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, and Dave Barry are read and honored hardly at all for their profound insights about the human condition, much more for their intoxicating and immediately identifiable ways of expressing themselves -- their styles.

This idea, that the how is more important and revealing than the what, goes without saying when it comes to other creative endeavors. Think of Michael Jordan and Jerry West each making a 20-foot jump shot, of Charlie Parker and Ben Webster playing a chorus of "All the Things You Are," of Julia Child and Paul Prudhomme fixing a duck à l'orange, or of Pieter Brueghel and Vincent van Gogh painting the same farmhouse. Everyone understands that the content is constant, frequently ordinary, and sometimes banal; that the (wide) variation, the arena for expression and excellence, the fun, the art -- are all in the individual style.

How odd it is, then, that style in writing is so overlooked in popular, contemporary books that purport to be about style in writing. The paragon is The Elements of Style, which grew out of a self-published pamphlet that William Strunk, an English professor at Cornell in the early decades of the last century, handed out to his students, one of whom was E.B. White. In 1959 White updated the manuscript and added an introduction and a new chapter. It has been in print ever since and, as I write, is No. 136 on the Amazon.com best-seller list.

[read on]
PATENTE DE CORSO (weekly column)
La mariposa y el mariposo
Arturo Pérez-Reverte

Todavía quedan flores a uno y otro lado de la carretera, y los campos manchegos aún no están del todo abrasados por el sol del verano. De Argamasilla de Alba a Sierra Morena, el viajero que sigue la ruta de don Quijote, el recorrido inmortal de la primera y la segunda salidas del hidalgo, se enfrenta a la desilusión propia de cuando uno emprende en España esta clase de cosas. En Francia, por ejemplo, pueden seguirse las huellas de la historia o de la literatura a simple vista; y en cuanto a Inglaterra, la mitad de su oferta turística vive de Shakespeare y la otra mitad de Nelson. España es otra cosa, claro. Aquí vivimos de las playas, de la sangría y los discobares bajunos para chusma guiri. Alguna vez les he contado que en el barrio de Madrid donde se imprimió el Quijote, donde está enterrado su autor, y donde vivieron, a pocos pasos unos de otros, Cervantes, Lope, Calderón, Quevedo y Góngora –barrio que si fuera parisino o londinense sería centro de peregrinaje cultural lleno de museos, bibliotecas, placas y monumentos–, tienes que buscar con lupa las mínimas referencias a tan ilustres vecinos. Y en La Mancha, lo mismo. O peor. Sólo con un poderoso esfuerzo de la imaginación, proyectando lecturas y buena voluntad sobre el paisaje y el paisanaje, es posible encajar, a ratos, lo imaginado sobre lo real, lo cervantino con el prosaico panorama que se ofrece a la vista.

No se trata ya de que esta tierra se parezca poco a la que conoció Cervantes, con sus pueblos, corrales, ventas y polvorientos caminos; es que no tiene nada que ver. Cuando uno les echa un vistazo a las viejas fotos de pueblos manchegos, advierte que estos lugares cambiaron menos entre 1605 y 1960 que en los últimos cuarenta años. A principios del siglo XX, John Dos Passos o Azorín aún podían recorrer La Mancha poniendo el pie sobre las huellas de don Quijote y Sancho. Hoy es imposible. El desarrollo y el aumento del nivel de vida, tan deseables y necesarios, dejaron atrás, como cadáver en la cuneta, la memoria y la cultura. Excepto escasas y honrosas excepciones, la piqueta, la desidia, el mal gusto, la arquitectura absurda e inapropiada, el arte cutre de tercera fila, envilecen las poquísimas referencias cervantinas que aún salen al paso del viajero. Como mucho, quedan para marcas de lácteos y embutidos: quesos Dulcinea, chorizos Sancho Panza. Política aparte, claro. En uno de los pueblos más quijotescos, la estatua de Cervantes, con una mano partida, no simbólicamente –aquí no hilamos tan fino– sino por un animal indígena, languidece bajo una enorme pancarta que reza: Vota al Pepé. Y tiemblo de pensar en lo que nos espera el año que viene, quinto centenario del Quijote, con todo cristo mojando en la salsa y haciéndose la foto, como suelen, la tira de políticos y políticas mangantes y mangantas analfabetos y analfabetas –espero que las feministas de género de los cojones estén satisfechas con mi lenguaje de académico no sexista– puestos en plan aquí mi tronco Cervantes y yo, o sea, amigos y compadres de toda la vida. Ya verán, ya. Para echar la pota.

Pero el caso es que, en mitad de esa Mancha a menudo incapaz de estar culturalmente a la altura de lo que su honroso nombre exige, no todo es desolación. Niet. La vida sigue y se perpetúa. Allí, de esa cuneta florida de la que les hablaba al principio, salen de pronto dos mariposas. Una mariposa y un mariposo, supongo, pues esta última, o último, persigue a la primera con ávido revoloteo. El viajero –o sea, yo– las ve salir del lado izquierdo de la carretera, con reflejos dorados del sol en el amarillo y rojizo de sus alas. Y en el preciso instante en que el mariposo, con una amplia sonrisa de oreja a oreja, o de antena a antena, está a punto de alcanzar a la hembra, en ese momento, como digo, mi coche pasa a ciento veinte kilómetros por hora, zuuuas, y los estampa a los dos en la parrilla del radiador, chas, chas. Y algo más tarde, cuando paro a echar gasolina y miro el radiador, los veo allí esclafados, la mariposa y el mariposo listos de papeles, más tiesos que mi abuela, mientras pienso: hay que joderse. No somos nadie. Si hubieran sido mariposas francesas o inglesas, lo mismo las habría cazado Vladimir Nabokov y ahora estarían pinchadas en un corcho, en una colección exquisita y tal, de las que salen citadas en los suplementos literarios selectos. Inmortales como Lolita. Pero ya ves. Se las ha cargado el Reverte con un puto Golf. En La Mancha, hasta las mariposas van de culo.

Guiri : slang for foreigner
Mano partida : Cervantes was left one-handed after the battle of Lepanto, thus his nickname, "el manco de Lepanto".
Pepé : PP, Partido Popular.
Mangantes/as : Thiefs
Tronco : Mate, Buddy
Listos de papeles : slang expression for smth done with, dead, in this case.
Van de culo : To have an, let's say, ominous futuro.

11 agosto 2004

Dos meus queridos amigos do Pavilhão do Conhecimento, aqui vai um exemplo do seu inestimável contributo para a feitura da National Geographic Portugal

From The Guardian, the lost (and sixth) essay that Virginia Woolf wrote for
Good Housekeeping (yikes) magazine about London:

"Nobody can be said to know London who does not know one true cockney - who cannot turn down a side street, away from the shops and the theatres, and knock at a private door in a street of private houses. Private houses in London are apt to be much of a muchness. The door opens on a dark hall; from the dark hall rises a narrow staircase; off the landing opens a double drawing-room, and in this double drawing-room are two sofas on each side of a blazing fire, six armchairs, and three long windows giving upon the street. What happens in the back half of the drawing-room which looks upon the gardens of other houses is often a matter of considerable conjecture. But it is with the front drawing-room that we are here concerned; for Mrs Crowe always sat there in an armchair by the fire; it was there that she had her being; it was there that she poured out tea.

That she was born in the country seems, though strange, to be a fact: that she sometimes left London, in those summer weeks when London ceases to be London, is also true. But where she went or what she did when she was out of London, when her chair was empty, her fire unlit and her table unlaid, nobody knew or could imagine. To figure Mrs Crowe in her black dress and her veil and her cap, walking in a field among turnips or climbing a hill where cows were grazing, is beyond the scope of the wildest imagination.

There by the fire in winter, by the window in summer, she had sat for 60 years - but not alone. There was always someone in the armchair opposite, paying a call. And before the first caller had been seated 10 minutes, the door always opened and the maid Maria, she of the prominent eyes and prominent teeth, who had opened the door for 60 years, opened it once more and announced a second visitor; and then a third, and then a fourth.

A tete-a-tete with Mrs Crowe was unknown. She disliked tete-a-tetes. It was part of a peculiarity that she shared with many hostesses that she was never specially intimate with anyone. For example, there was always an elderly man in the corner by the cabinet - who seemed, indeed, as much a part of that admirable piece of 18th-century furniture as its own brass claws. But he was always addressed as Mr Graham - never John, never William: though sometimes she would call him "dear Mr Graham" as if to mark the fact that she had known him for 60 years.

The truth was she did not want intimacy; she wanted conversation. Intimacy has a way of breeding silence, and silence she abhorred. There must be talk, and it must be general, and it must be about everything. It must not go too deep, and it must not be too clever, for if it went too far in either of these directions somebody was sure to feel out of it, and to sit balancing his tea cup, saying nothing.

Thus Mrs Crowe's drawing-room had little in common with the celebrated salons of the memoir writers. Clever people often came there - judges, doctors, members of parliament, writers, musicians, people who travelled, people who played polo, actors and complete nonentities, but if anyone said a brilliant thing it was felt to be rather a breach of etiquette - an accident that one ignored, like a fit of sneezing, or some catastrophe with a muffin. The talk that Mrs Crowe liked and inspired was a glorified version of village gossip. The village was London, and the gossip was about London life. But Mrs Crowe's great gift consisted in making the vast metropolis seem as small as a village with one church, one manor house and 25 cottages. She had first-hand information about every play, every picture show, every trial, every divorce case. She knew who was marrying, who was dying, who was in town and who was out. She would mention the fact that she had just seen Lady Umphleby's car go by, and hazard a guess that she was going to visit her daughter whose baby had been born last night, just as a village woman speaks of the squire's lady driving to the station to meet Mr John, who is expected down from town.

And as she had made these observations for the past 50 years or so, she had acquired an amazing store of information about the lives of other people. When Mr Smedley, for instance, said that his daughter was engaged to Arthur Beecham, Mrs Crowe at once remarked that in that case she would be a cousin twice removed to Mrs Firebrace, and in a sense niece to Mrs Burns, by her first marriage with Mr Minchin of Blackwater Grange. But Mrs Crowe was not in the least a snob. She was merely a collector of relationships; and her amazing skill in this direction served to give a family and domestic character to her gatherings, for it is surprising how many people are 20th cousins, if they did but know it.

To be admitted to Mrs Crowe's house was therefore to become the member of a club, and the subscription demanded was the payment of so many items of gossip every year. Many people's first thought when the house caught fire or the pipes burst or the housemaid decamped with the butler, must have been, I will run round and tell that to Mrs Crowe. But here again, distinctions had to be observed. Certain people had the right to run round at lunchtime; others, and these were the most numerous, must go between the hours of five and seven. The class who had the privilege of dining with Mrs Crowe was a small one. Perhaps only Mr Graham and Mrs Burke actually dined with her, for she was not a rich woman. Her black dress was a trifle shabby; her diamond brooch was always the same diamond brooch. Her favourite meal was tea, because the tea table can be supplied economically, and there is an elasticity about tea which suited her gregarious temper. But whether it was lunch or tea, the meal had a distinct character, just as a dress and her jewellery suited her to perfection and had a fashion of their own. There would be a special cake, a special pudding - something peculiar to the house and as much part of the establishment as Maria the old servant, or Mr Graham the old friend, or the old chintz on the chair, or the old carpet on the floor.

That Mrs Crowe must sometimes have taken the air, that she did sometimes become a guest at other people's luncheons and teas, is true. But in society she seemed furtive and fragmentary and incomplete, as if she had merely looked in at the wedding or the evening party or the funeral to pick up some scraps of news that she needed to complete her own hoard. Thus she was seldom induced to take a seat; she was always on the wing. She looked out of place among other people's chairs and tables; she must have her own chintzes and her own cabinet and her own Mr Graham under it in order to be completely herself As years went on these little raids into the outer world practically ceased. She had made her nest so compact and so complete that the outer world had not a feather or a twig to add to it. Her own cronies were so faithful, moreover, that she could trust them to convey any little piece of news that she ought to add to her collection. It was unnecessary that she should leave her own chair by the fire in winter, by the window in summer. And with the passage of years her knowledge became, not more profound - profundity was not her line - but more rounded, and more complete. Thus if a new play were a great success, Mrs Crowe was able next day not merely to record the fact with a sprinkle of amusing gossip from behind the scenes, but she could cast back to other first nights, in the 80s, in the 90s, and describe what Ellen Terry had worn, what Duse had done, how dear Mr Henry James had said - nothing very remarkable perhaps; but as she spoke it seemed as if all the pages of London life for 50 years past were being lightly shuffled for one's amusement. There were many; and the pictures on them were bright and brilliant and of famous people; but Mrs Crowe by no means dwelt on the past - she by no means exalted it above the present.

Indeed, it was always the last page, the present moment, that mattered most. The delightful thing about London was that it was always giving one something new to look at, something fresh to talk about. One only had to keep one's eyes open; to sit down in one's own chair from five to seven every day of the week. As she sat in her chair with her guests ranged round she would give from time to time a quick bird-like glance over her shoulder at the window, as if she had half an eye on the street, as if she had half an ear upon the cars and the omnibuses and the cries of the paper boys under the window. Why, something new might be happening this very moment. One could not spend too much time on the past: one must not give all one's attention to the present.

Nothing was more characteristic and perhaps a little disconcerting than the eagerness with which she would look up and break her sentence in the middle when the door opened and Maria, grown very portly and a little deaf, announced someone new. Who was about to enter? What had he or she got to add to the talk? But her deftness in extracting whatever might be their gift, her skill in throwing it into the common pool, were such that no harm was done; and it was part of her peculiar triumph that the door never opened too often; the circle never grew beyond her sway.

Thus, to know London not merely as a gorgeous spectacle, a mart, a court, a hive of industry, but as a place where people meet and talk, laugh, marry, and die, paint, write and act, rule and legislate, it was essential to know Mrs Crowe. It was in her drawing-room that the innumerable fragments of the vast metropolis seemed to come together into one lively, comprehensible, amusing and agreeable whole. Travellers absent for years, battered and sun-dried men just landed from India or Africa, from remote travels and adventures among savages and tigers, would come straight to the little house in the quiet street to be taken back into the heart of civilisation at one stride. But even London itself could not keep Mrs Crowe alive for ever. It is a fact that one day Mrs Crowe was not sitting in the armchair by the fire as the clock struck five; Maria did not open the door; Mr Graham had detached himself from the cabinet. Mrs Crowe is dead, and London - no, though London still exists, London will never be the same city again."

10 agosto 2004

A funny thing happened on way to disbelief

Time magazine spurred public debate 40 years ago with a startling question on its cover: "Is God Dead?" Some estimate that half the world's population was then nominally atheist. And many in the West were predicting that scientific progress would eliminate religious belief altogether by the next century.

The tide has dramatically turned, however, and Alistar McGrath - a theologian at Oxford University who was once in that camp - charts the shift in currents of thought in "The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World."

In this accessible intellectual history, McGrath explores how atheism came to capture a wide swath of the public imagination as the road to human liberation and progress, and why, in a postmodern world, its appeal has faded. Yet he also makes clear that, despite the resurgence in faith, Western Christianity has not fully recovered from the crisis of the '60s.

Depicting atheism's heyday between the fall of the Bastille in 1789 and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, McGrath highlights the specific contributions of the major philosophers, scientists, and artists who shaped the secular world, from the famous, such as Nietsche, Marx, Freud, and Darwin, to the less familiar, such as D'Holbach, Fuerbach, and Monod.

McGrath contends that the origins of atheism lay primarily in a protest against the power, privilege, and corruption of church institutions - beginning with the French Revolution and later in Germany. Early proponents believed, he says, that "human happiness depends upon the triumph of atheism, which alone can liberate humanity from tyranny, war, and oppression - all of which have religious roots."

McGrath, who is Protestant, also contends that Protestantism itself played a role in divorcing the sacred from many aspects of life, thereby helping create a sense of God's absence. And, he argues, a cerebral Christianity - the emphasis on theological correctness, on doctrines, and having the right idea of God - engages the mind but leaves emotions and imagination untouched.

Atheism gained strength from a symbiosis with the scientific revolution and the developing perception of an inevitable conflict between science and religion. Mathematician William Kingdon Clifford argued, for instance, that it's wrong to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.

As science began to replace religion as the interpreter of human experience, artists joined the revolt against God, and poets such as Shelley, Keats, and Swinburne turned to nature to experience the transcendent. Christian imagery lost its attraction, and God increasingly became an absence in the popular imagination.

Atheism envisioned a glorious future for a humanity freed from outdated religious dogmas and restrictions, with unlimited potential provided by scientific advancement and the human imagination. Human beings could not only be good without God, but much better.

The reality has been very different. Along with progress, scientific advance brought environmental devastation and the potential to eliminate human life. Atheistic regimes dominating a huge proportion of the globe created new forms of tyranny (including mind control) and executed unprecedented millions.

At the same time, many arguments failed to hold up. "No major historian of science now takes seriously the idea that science and religion are in perpetual conflict," McGrath says.

While some, like Richard Dawkins, continue to insist on atheism, his fellow Darwinist, Stephen Jay Gould, countered that Darwinism has no bearing on the existence of God: "We neither affirm nor deny it; we simply can't comment on it as scientists." A 1996 survey showed that 40 percent of scientists hold religious beliefs.

McGrath also shows that some arguments of proponents, such as Sigmund Freud, rested not on scientific evidence so much as on a personal antipathy toward religion. Yet others were based on a criticism of the moral character of a God that would perpetrate such doctrines as eternal punishment.

He acknowledges that atheism, like Marxism, has always been more popular in Europe than in the US because of the fight against entrenched institutions. In telling the story of Madalyn Murray O'Hare, he suggests the unattractiveness of the US atheist community is another reason.

McGrath does not venture into the community of humanists, which has considerably more intellectual heft, and which might give a more comprehensive sense of the contemporary picture (including a new group calling itself the "Brights"). But this is incisive, valuable, and provocative historical analysis, which stirs a host of intriguing questions.