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This is GOOP: Gwyneth Paltrow Goes Blogging

The word has it that some people don’t understand Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent motivation to do online publishing. Yes, it is true, the Oscar-winning actress is sending out the weekly newsletters, encouraging readers to make, do, see, get, be, and go. Viral marketing meets celebrity news, in a nutshell.

Well, if Stephen Fry, Demi Moore&Ashton Cutcher, and Britney Spears are all on Twitter, why shouldn’t Gwyneth Paltrow send signed newsletters to those who are interested? It all looks like a pretty good idea. Here are the two newsletters, the GO Newsletter dedicated to Paris, and the SEE Newsletter focusing on exhibitions in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, New Orleans, London, and Madrid.

So far there is nothing outrageously self-centred about these newsletters. The point to bear in mind is that Gwyneth kindly shares with us the aspects of her life, but it’s up to us to take something out of it. As with all online publishing, you can’t always predict exactly what you will get from it until you start. Amidst all sneer and jeer that the actress will undoubtedly receive for the brave move, I am sure she will be able to offer something positive…

…providing the website works OK. My biggest criticism at the moment is that some pages load too long. The URLs for some categories are too cumbersome. And, as if to raise the question of the purpose of it all, there seems to be no way to communicate with Gwyneth or her team, to say ‘thank you for sharing your memories of visiting Paris for the first time with your Dad‘, and such like. In the last few minutes I was unsuccessfully trying to view this week’s Newsletter, and on all occasions received the 504 Gateway Time-Out error message.

For my part, I see no problem with celebrities entering Social Networking platforms and sharing their photos, snippets of their lives, stories, etc with the huge retinue of fans and idle watchers. As celebrated as they are, they’re usual people, and it may be a very natural desire to rid themselves of inhibitions and restrictions and do something that less known folks do carelessly. However, it should be good. And for that Gwyneth could easily start a proper blog, offering an RSS and email subscriptions and sticking to the same six categories she has already identified. She wouldn’t need to change the tactics: she could still post on a weekly basis, but the circulation and response would arguably be wider and better. Last but not least, Gwyneth and her team would be able to moderate comments from readers, and I am sure there would be quite a few she’d be glad to receive and perhaps respond to. Somehow I believe that receiving heart-felt comments from her fans, responding in real time to her shared thoughts and experiences, would be very rewarding for Gwyneth.

Have You Seen Bette Davis Eyes?

We have heard Kim Carnes’s undying classic song, Bette Davis Eyes; and some of us have even seen the videoclip. But what about Bette Davis herself? Meryl Streep in her pre-Oscar interview to the BBC’s RadioTimes was thankful that at her age she’s not only still got the job, but the films actually hit the box office, and Streep herself goes up for an Oscar. The life scenario was quite different, unfortunately, for Bette Davis (visit her official website), although the performance she gave in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is haunting and poignant, as well as the story of many a wunderkinder’s predicament. The mutual dislike, if not hatred, between Davis and Joan Crawford owes to a few witty quotes from Davis, like this:

We are not simpatico. I admire her, and yet I feel uncomfortable with her. To me, she is the personification of the Movie Star. I have always felt her greatest performance is Crawford being Crawford.

And this one, which I actually find very admirable, although cynical:

You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good.

A while ago a masterful video was posted to YouTube that may give us a very precise idea of why Miss Bette Davis’s eyes were so inspiring. Thanks to the producer, and I’m sure we’ll all enjoy this work, accompanied by the distinct Kim Carnes’s vocals.

If you have your favourite Bette Davis film, discuss below.

The Da Vinci Portraits: Facts, Mysteries, and Chances

The Arts world was all shook up on Monday 23rd of February 2009 with the news that a portrait of Leonardo da Vinci was discovered by historian Nicola Barbatelli in the village of Acerenza in Basilicata region in the south of Italy.

The portrait (left) was previously thought to be that of Galileo Galilei, but while this portrait or its copy (right) aren’t likely to be contemporary with the scientist, it hardly suggests much similarity between the sitters. Among the facts that helped to authenticate the portrait were the initial examination which stated that the picture was produced in the Renaissance period and wasn’t a later copy. Further, the back of the oil panel bears the inscription ‘pinxit mea’ written from right to left. This by far has been the strongest evidence that the painting depicted Leonardo and could even be by the artist himself. A possibility still exists that the portrait was executed by Cristofano dell’Altissimo who also mastered the Uffizi portrait of the great Renaissance man.

(if you read this article previously, skip to the end of the post for an update on the ‘pinxit mea’ inscription).

Either way, the region where the discovery was made shouldn’t surprise anyone: Leonardo had had some ties with the Segni family who owned property in Acerenza. If the investigation does prove that this IS Leonardo’s portrait, then, in the words of Alessandro Vezzosi of Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, this will shed tons of light not only on Leonardo’s appearance, but also on his ties to Southern and Northern Italy. And, of course, as we know, Leonardo had spent his last years at the French court and died in the hands of the unconsolable Francis I de Valois. The story was commemorated by Giorgio Vasari and later pictorially eulogised by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (right).

What may be interesting to note, looking at Ingres’ painting, is Leonardo’s black beret and the kind of beard we’re used to see on his best-known self-portrait in red chalk (left). Leonardo’s portrait at the Uffizi gallery is by far the one that seems to seal the accuracy of identification of the sitter, in that there is the beard, but there is also a beret (right). Leonardo painted by Raphael in The School of Athens (where he is disguised as Plato, pointing to the sky and holding the book of Timaeus) once again depicts a bearded man (below, left). And so does the engraving that I found on Wiki Commons (below, right). Potentially quoting from the 1885 book, the image description states that the engraving was made after the painting by an unknown artist which in turn was based on the red chalk drawing. Chances are, thanks to the recent discovery, that the engraving was made precisely after the discovered painting, or its copy. Not without an interest is also the portrait by Francesco Melzi, the pupil, friend and heir of Leonardo, who around 1515 had drawn this portrait (left). Compared to the newly-discovered portrait, the similarity is rather striking, even though the angle at which the seater is portrayed is different.

Back in 2006, Victoria and Albert Museum in London hosted an extensive exhibition of Leonardo’s work. This year, on the occasion of the Prince of Wales’s 60th birthday, 10 Leonardo’s drawings from the Royal Collection are on display at Manchester Art Gallery until Monday 4th May 2009. I haven’t yet been to see them but per chance there may be more drawings that could support the seminal discovery?

Images in the post are courtesy of Times Online, Corbis, The University of Notre Dame, Wiki Commons, and the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Update: I noticed that quite a few people were searching for the meaning of ‘pinxit mea’. Well, we probably got too carried away with the news of the discovery and not paid attention to the inscription itself. It is in medieval Latin and means, literally, ‘painted me’. This ‘me’, however, is a feminine pronoun; it refers to the word ‘pinctura’ (picture). The possibility of Leonardo’s being the painter still remains, and perhaps even becomes more probable. However, the inscription is akin to other similar autographs, and doesn’t point to the identity of the sitter or indeed, the painter.

Another interesting discussion about Leonardo’s self-portaits.

From Shakespeare to Wagner (via Zizek)

Before the end of this week (before Friday 13th, that is) you have the chance to vote for the 13th member of the Shakespeare Hall of Fame. The names range from Sarah Bernhardt to David Tennant, with the inclusion of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Boris Pasternak. The Russian LiveJournal users (including me) would very much like to see the Nobel Prize winning Russian author Pasternak to be included. However, as I remarked jokingly in my LJ post, if I send the link to my Italian friend, he will certainly choose Virginia Woolf.

And now there is a plenty of time to plan your visit to Leeds on March 10th. You can do this either because of Richard Wagner… or because of Slavoj Žižek. In the talk and on-stage interview, chaired by Professor Derek Scott of the University of Leeds, Prof Žižek is going to delight his listeners with the talk titled “Brunhilde’s act, or, why was it so difficult for Wagner to find a proper ending for his twilight of the gods?” The event is at the Howard Assembly Room, and tickets cost just £3. Read on for more information. Many thanks to Kishore Budha for announcing the event on Facebook.

To finish, a quote from the very end of Maugham’s Theatre, very appropriate, given our different attitudes to theatre, Žižek, Wagner, and, well, even Shakespeare:

A head-waiter came up to her with an ingratiating smile.
‘Everything all right, Miss Lambert?’

‘Lovely. You know, it’s strange how people differ. Mrs Siddons was a rare one for chops; I’m not a bit like her in that; I’m a rare one for steaks’.

Someone Like Michel Legrand Happens Only Once

I deliberately quoted Don Black’s introduction to Monsieur Legrand from the concert’s booklet. I couldn’t think of a better title, given the electrifying performance from Legrand Jazz and the Master himself that I watched on February 3rd at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, the renowned concert venue. The triple Oscar and 5 times Grammy winning French composer, Michel Legrand, now in his 70s, takes the stage with a graceful authority and effortlessly conducts the orchestra to bring to the audience the liberating, inspiring music.


Ever since I was a boy“, quotes Stephane Lerouge in his article Michel Legrand, or Music in the Plural, “my ambition has been to live completely surrounded by music. My dream is not to miss out anything. I love playing, conducting, singing and writing, and in all styles. I do all these activities at once, seriously, sincerely, and with deep commitment“. Although his discovery of music had started long before he’d entered the Paris Conservatory, it wasn’t until Lucette Descaves’ music class that Legrand had felt “at home” with his vocation. This vocation quite literally took him far and wide, and by the early 1950s, still in his 20s, Legrand achieved his first international success in the United States.

From mid-1950s Legrand has been composing for the film. The film that brought him his first major awards (e.g. the Palme d’Or) and became the world-wide hit was, of course, Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg), with the very young Catherine Deneuve. I have seen it on Russian TV many years ago, but it is perhaps best-known for Je Ne Pourrai Jamais Vivre Sans Toi (I Will Wait For You) love song. As Lerouge tells us, the film was made against the pessimistic predictions but, as it happens sometimes on such occasions, was massively successful. Following this, Legrand started dividing his time between Europe and America, collaborating with directors like Orson Welles, Clint Eastwood, Andrzej Wajda, Claude Lelouch, and writing scores for Yentl (with Barbra Streisand), The Thomas Crown Affair (with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway), Never Say Never Again (a James Bond film), Summer of 42 (the war-time drama), The Swimming Pool (with Alain Delon), Wuthering Heights (with Timothy Dalton), Prêt-à-Porter (by Robert Altman, with the international cast including Marcello Mastroianni, Anouk Aimee, and Rupert Everett), etc. His music is always melodic (“melody is a mistress to whom I’ll always be faithful“), and the many awards he’d received, including 3 Oscars, are but “a piece of flattery“: “deep down, it doesn’t make you any better or worse as a composer, your strengths or weaknesses remain unchanged“.

A fantastic biographic article is published at Radio France Internationale. A bilingual non-official fan site is also a great resource.


If you have been following my Twitter updates (tagged #Legrand), you already know that the biggest thing that surprised and somewhat disappointed me was the age of the audience. By no means did I expect to see many children or teenagers, but the shift to 35+ (or even 40+) was just too obvious. Bridgewater Hall is no M.E.N. Arena, which is yet another reason why the age split became so apparent. And of course I don’t mean that those of Legrand’s generation shouldn’t have come to his concert.

It was a shame, though, that this versatile musician, singer, composer, and conductor hasn’t been seen performing live by many more younger people. This especially goes for the first half of the concert that was dedicated entirely to Legrand’s instrumental pieces. Surely, we have all seen amazing trumpet players and awesome drummers, but to have them all come together to play with the world-known musician is a very different thing. The enthusiasm and artistry of Mark Fletcher alone (drums) can make a huge difference to an aspiring young drummer.

As for me, had I been a little girl, I’d probably have decided to study harp, to play like Catherine Michel. Currently a Professor of Harp at the Zurich Musikhochschule, Michel joined Legrand Jazz to perform the score from Yentl. She is a perfect match to Legrand: you could see that she loves the harp just as much as Legrand evidently adores the piano. The passionate yet graceful performance transfixes the spectator, and I continued humming the melody well after the concert ended.

Just as the first half was inspiring and smooth, so the second wasn’t – or at least this is how it felt to me. The bluntest would be to say that Alison Moyet and Michel Legrand don’t go together well, but clearly they wouldn’t get that far in collaboration, had this been the case. Perhaps, it was the hall’s ambience. Maybe it was something else. Somehow the deep bluesy voice of Moyet didn’t convey the drama of the songs. Between Yesterday and Tomorrow, What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, Nobody Knows, I Will Wait For You, I Will Say Goodbye, Summer Knows, The Windmills Of Your Mind – it was a good singing, but more? Hardly. If you consider that the songs she performed were written for the films, it is impossible not to act when singing them. I don’t mean staging anything theatrical. The singer can do infinitely more with the voice that just hits the notes. This was particularly evident for me in I Will Wait For You, which is a tearful drama (especially if you’d seen the film). I couldn’t feel (or see) the same kind of passion that spilt over the stage when Legrand Jazz performed alone or with Catherine Michel.

There are still several nights left on Legrand’s UK tour. I absolutely hope that my not-entirely-positive review remains the only one such. And to round it up, here is a list of What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life? covers on YouTube, and a Barbra Streisand 1994 performance of the song.

An Englishman in New York Dies

This life does take us to different places. Two years ago Flickr featured Joe Ades, “the gentleman carrot peeler”, who was one of New York’s landmark characters, selling $5 vegetable peelers in Union Square by day and sipping champagne at the Pierre’s by night.

The comments on Gothamist (the site for all things New York City) reveal that Joe was an important part of many people’s lives. The two videos there also showcase his masterful preparation of vegetables, and commenters uphold Joe’s own view that his peelers were the finest ever made.

Joe, however, was a proper Englishman in New York, to quote Sting’s song; moreover, he was a Mancunian in New York. At a glance, it even looks like he was a rather happy and well-off Mancunian. Although some thought he was faking the English accent to sell the peelers, this turns out to have belonged to him.

Joe Ades passed away earlier this February, thus oddly putting Manchester on the map as the birthplace of this much-missed New Yorker. There is apparently a Facebook group in memoriam Joe Ades. Somehow, though, the final words in Sting’s videoclip may well be an epitaph to this business-savvy and hard-working Mancunian expat: “My ambition… would be to meet everybody in the world before I die“. Selling his famous vegetable peelers all over The Big Apple, Joe Ades must have been doing just that…

Photo is courtesy of Flickr.com

Using Social Media in a Music Venue

I‘ve never done this previously but certainly hope this works. I’m still fairly new on Twitter, but I know I can send tweets from my mobile to my profile. Unfortunately, I cannot instantly check if anyone replies to my messages and talk back, so conversation is a bit one-sided. However, if this is not a problem for you, then check my Twitter stream this evening, when I am hoping to do some “live coverage” from Bridgewater Hall where Michel Legrand is performing tonight. The concert starts at 7.30. I can’t see myself “tweeting” every piece he performs or every spectator’s reaction, but we’ll see. My Twitter stream is http://twitter.com/mundusvivendi, and I’ll use #Legrand hashtag to keep you updated. Of course, there will be a blog post later on, too.

The Flirtations – Website and Playlist

There is something good about Google’s contextual advertising that we get in our Gmails. Had it not been for a Google ad, I’d not have learnt that a popular 1960s Northern Soul band The Flirtations have now got their official website. To be fair, I probably have not got something installed to be able to browse it properly. But well, there is some general knowledge at hand, as well as the ever-reliable Wikipedia.

Also known as The Gypsies, the band sailed from South Carolina to the UK (with a stop in New York) where in 1968 they shot to fame with an awesome, dynamic record Nothing But a Heartache (written by Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington; this is a song with a story in all senses – click on the link to read more). The video to this song that has the lovely performers dance on the trumps of stone columns was recorded at the Tintern Abbey in Wales (browse the Tintern Village website; the photo of the abbey ruins is courtesy of the website).

In the playlist I created on Imeem, there is another hit song, Earthquake, with a few prolonged percussion sequences, first starting at about 3:23. It was recorded in 1977, and then its 12-inch version became a hit in 1983.

And below is the very recent story of The Flirtations visiting the Oldies Unlimited music shop in Wolverhampton in December 2008. Click on the link or watch the video report below, courtesy of Express & Star.


Happy Chinese New Year in Manchester

As they say, “better later than never”. I have mentioned a few times on my Russian blog that January 26th was the date of the Chinese New Year (of the Yellow Ox, no less), as well as the first solar eclipse of 2009. As you can gather, I have forgotten to mention the same here, although I didn’t forget to celebrate another important date on this blog.

Thankfully, though, I wasn’t too late – Manchester celebrated the Chinese New Year on Feb 1st. I didn’t go to Albert Square on Sunday, as I’d just returned from Preston where I was involved in one creative project. But when I was walking in town on a Monday evening I was caught up in the beautiful atmosphere of the Town Hall bells ringing a melody. The Chinese decorations were still in place, as you can see. Better yet, it was possible to look into the Town Hall’s windows and to have a glimpse of the stupendous inner decor. Ford Madox Brown, the unofficial Pre-Raphaelite, undertook extensive work on the decoration of Manchester’s Town Hall.

Manchester has got a large and established Chinese community. There is the city’s own Chinatown with the Arch (left); Chinese Arts Centre in Northern Quarter; and two namesakes of The City of Goats in Princess Street. I wholeheartedly greet my Chinese readers and visitors with the Year of the Yellow Ox. And once again wish that for all of us this year becomes a wonderful, successful, and a very happy one – in spite of all the economic and financial problems!

White Winter 2009 in Manchester

Pay no attention to these well pre-dated Easter adverts (left) – since the weekend, winter has settled in Manchester. I don’t know about you, but I am rather pleased.

It has taken 5 years (on my memory) for this (in)conveniently situated city to experience the proper winter, with temperatures falling well below the nil and lots of snow. The beauty of this snow is that you can make snowballs with it and, of course, snowmen (should there be enough snow and desire).

I called Manchester “inconveniently situated” because as we know the Pennines protect it from the extremities that befall higher situated places like Blackburn or Preston. In fact, my January has been very rich in travel that has taken me out and about Lancashire and Yorkshire. It was certainly great to ride past the snowy Pennines on the way to Blackburn in January. But it was even better to come back to Manchester from Preston on 1st of Feb and to watch the huge snowflakes flying outside my window.

The wintry weather didn’t go today, and I simply had to go out into town with my faithful camera and take a few shots of Manchester the way we’d rarely seen it before.

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