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The Last Year Snow Was Falling

This post is dedicated to the Russian animator and cartoonist, Igor Kovalyov, who’s just received yet another award at the International Animation Festival in Hiroshima, Japan. The cartoon is called ‘Milk’ (‘Milch’ across the web) and has already been distinguished at the festivals in Ottawa in 2005 and at the Animafest in Zagreb in 2006.

Igor has got a website, www.igorkovalyov.com, that enlists the main works since he’s begun to shoot his features. Imdb.com (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0468335/) obviously provides ratings for those works, of which I’ve seen ‘Andrei Svislotskiy’ (1992) and ‘Hen, His Wife’ (1990).

BUT – Igor has also worked as an art director on production of the two VERY popular Russian cartoons, ‘A Plasticine Crow’ (1981) and ‘The Last Year Snow Was Falling’ (1983). I didn’t manage to find any decent stills from ‘Crow’, but I found a few from ‘Snow’.

‘The Last Year Snow Was Falling’ is about a Man, who lives in the village and was sent by his wife to the woods to find a New Year tree. The film is highly rated because it is, simply put, hilarious. Cinematography, given the fact that this is a plasticine movie, also adds to its appeal, and in short, this has been one of the favourite Russian cartoons for years. And I never realised I was only three when it was released.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this film is little known outside Russia, as its humour sometimes is rooted in the peculiarities of Russian grammar or pronunciation, which would be impossible to communicate in another language. Nevertheless, I translated a few phrases, and see if you can make sense.

For example, who is queueing up here to be a tzar? Nobody? I’ll be the first then!
Кто тут, к примеру, в цари крайний? Никого?! Так я первый буду!..

Who wants a hare, freshly caught?
Кому заяц свежепойманный?

Even when I’m tight, I’m doing so with all sincerity.
А хотя бы я и жадничаю, зато от чистого сердца.

And a couple of still, as I promised



Exercises in Loneliness – I: Directors and Writers

Exercises in Loneliness – 1

I remember speaking to one film director who deplored the fact that he had to write an article about his film. In his words, he’d be happy to talk about it for as long as he could, but writing was weighing him down. As the person who, instead of a silver spoon, was probably born with a pen, I obviously asked what he didn’t like about writing. His answer was that writing was ‘a lonely experience’.exercises-in-loneliness

Of course, as I’m writing this at an ungodly hour I have to admit that, physically, writing is the lonely experience. But mentally it can be quite stimulating and even scandalous, if one considers the works of Marquis de Sade, some of which he wrote in prison, and some – in asylum.

Back in 2006 being alone felt exhilarating. I craved independence, and I had got my hands full. Not that I didn’t want to share work or success, but I was determined to succeed alone, first and foremost. Unconsciously, perhaps, I was drawing inspiration from the famous New York, New York song, paraphrasing it as «if I can make it on my own, I can make it with someone else».

As I was to find out, we can all do things on our own but they often take awfully more time than if we did them in a company of like-minded people. Having gradually revisited my attitude to loneliness, I nonetheless kept my opinion of writing. It is not a lonely experience, for when I write I imagine the whole world that I inhabit both as an actor and a creator. My company is my characters, and even when I compose an academic essay or an article about a community leisure centre I am still surrounded by facts, figures and personalities. This is a thrilling experience, although I realise it may be more interesting, complex and fulfilling to operate a set of living people than the world that only exists in your head and maybe used to exist for real a good few centuries ago.

The longer you are alone, however, and the more you cherish your solitary state, the more you become insensitive to the outer world. Such scenario is not inevitable but loneliness becomes a habit, it blinds you, and it might take a bigger or lesser catastrophe to shake you out of this routine. You turn into Tony Camonte from Scarface, obsessed with power your solitude grants you and fully oblivious to the woes of others.

Other posts in the series Exercises in Loneliness.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

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In 2000 I was going through a ‘love affair’ with the works of Kurt Vonnegut. When I went on a research trip to St. Petersburg I finally  bought his Slaughterhouse-Five, the novel that alluded to Vonnegut’s imprisonment and survival in the Dresden raid.
Speaking of the raid of Dresden: I know exactly that until the year 2000 I had huge inhibitions writing about war. Russian literary accounts of the Great Patriotic War were by and large realistic, based on the personal experience of their authors. I had no personal experience, except for reading those accounts, viewing wartime photos, watching films (very touching) and listening to the story of my grandma’s evacuation, so I felt kind of trapped.

Slaughterhouse-Five and the Fluidity of Time

So I bought Slaughterhouse-Five. The rest, as usual, is history: I was researching in the day, and as soon as I’d get to my spartan hotel room and had a cup of soup I’d be reading the book. I’m aware that the way I’m speaking of this book makes it sound like it was un-realistic, if compared to Russian literature about war. This is obviously not true. What is true, however, was that on my then memory Vonnegut was the first author who reached out to my experience. The subtitle of his novel – The Children’s Crusade – and the fact that his characters were more or less of the same age as me simply forced me to put myself in their place and to read the book, as if it was my story.

What I quite love about Slaughterhouse-Five is its Tralfamadorian dogma of everything taking place simultaneously, namely the past, the present and the future existing together at once. I don’t share it, but I do appreciate its connection to the subtitle, and how the subtitle can give a focus to the novel.

The Children’s Crusade

The chidren’s crusade per se is a disputed historical fact. If chronicles are to be trusted, in the 13th c. multitudes of children from Western Europe assembled for the journey to the Holy Land, but on their way either perished or were sold into slavery. This is an irrational act, and in addition to telling us how strange were the Middle Ages, it also brings into question the validity of war (Second World War in our case). Regardless of whether or not this children’s crusade had actually taken place, it belongs to the medieval period. And in medieval painting, as we know, one and same picture (~a depiction of a saint’s life) very often told the story of an event in the past, in the present and in the future. The view is obviously very similar to how Tralfamadorians saw life. So, this is the first, ‘historical’, interpretation of the subtitle that gives a focus to the novel, as well.

Homo Ludens

The second, ‘psychological’ interpretation connects the subtitle to the children’s attitude to death (basically as something that is not real) and to the possibility of living through all things at once. Consider the games where in the space of a small room children build a ship, a castle and a battlefield; and also the games where events are shuffled, skipped or repeated, depending on the game’s scenario and rules. If we speak of children playing war, everyone always remains alive (otherwise no players would be left).

The two themes in the ‘psychological’ interpretation are explored in Johan Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (The Playing Man), published- incidentally – in 1938. In children’s games, everything that is happening is not happening ‘for real’, and whoever is killed will rise again. Billy Pilgrim’s journeys through time in Slaughterhouse-Five resemble this childish indiscrimination between the real and the imaginary. But when this inability (or unwillingness?) to underpin oneself in the boundaries of physical world reappears in an adult, the question rises: did these adults ever begin to see the difference between the real and the non-real?

The children’s crusade therefore becomes ever more emblematic, as it not only symbolises the selling of children to war and the irrationality of war, but also underlines this infant disbelief in the tragic nature of things as the form of fatalism that stems from a convinction in the unlimitedness of time, space and, ultimately, a human life. Children are therefore not simply those who are young, but those who take life for granted and play by the rules of fate, denying free will.

Bomber Command at the Imperial War Museum North

Before the programme covering the activities in Greater Manchester during the Bank Holiday weekend goes out on September 1 (the back-to-school day in Russia, incidentally), this is a report of some impressions, starting with the Bomber Command exhibition at the Imperial War Museum North.

The story of Bomber Command at the IWM North

Some of the activities at the Imperial War Museum North were linked to a new exhibition, called Against The Odds: The Story of Bomber Command in the Second World War (27 May 2006 – 7 January 2007). It traces the history of the mentioned part of the British Army in the Second World War, its Lancaster bombers, pilots and operations. The curators did not turn a blind eye to some difficult questions, e.g. whether or not some of the well-known operations were justified. The organisers have spent about a year working on this exhibition, which uses mostly the Imperial War Museum North archives.
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The assembly of a Wellington Bomber (Image courtesy: https://www.culture24.org.uk/)

The proverbial ‘against the odds’ can be applied to almost everything in the story of 1939-45 War, so of course it was interesting to know, exactly how it refers to the story of Bomber Command. In the words of David Hopkins, Special Exhibition Manager, Bomber Command as a military force had “against the odds” risen from a poorly equipped group at the outbreak of war to a vast and respected organisation by 1945. From the start it was a pivotal agent in the British and the Allies’ war effort, but its story was not always smooth or glorious, as the exhibition well illustrates.

Glory and Gore

Several displays are dedicated to personal experiences of soldiers, some of whom had never returned from the duty. One of the stands exhibits the log book, goggles, papers and medals of Leonard Cheshire, including the Victoria Cross that Cheshire, as the Master Bomber, had received for his outstanding gallantry. Other displays cover technical issues, such as the construction and operation of the Lancaster bombers. The very last sections cover major operations, presenting their outcome through the archival photos and films. The general sense, though, is that however important was an operation, one can’t help looking at it through the prism of the number of casualties and the images of the ruins of historic cities. The well-known Dams Raid in 1943 resulted not only in the destruction of the water dams on the rivers Eder, Mohne and Sorpe, but also in the death or captivity of many soldiers. And the infamous raid of Dresden, which still stands out as a senseless operation with devastating effect, has somewhat overshadowed the glory of both Bomber Command and the Allied Forces in general.

Identifying with the Past

During the Bank Holiday weekend, on Sunday 27 August, the visitors to the IWM North were given identity cards, which ‘ascribed’ to them the story of one of the pilots of the Bomber Command. I was identified as Geoffrey Pell Dawson, who was born in Manchester in 1923. An architecture student, he was in the forces between May 1942 and September 1946, serving as a Bomb Aimer and achieving the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

The last page of identity card contains some questions for reflections on the experience of the pilots, asking, in particular, how the exhibition had changed the way visitors feel about the events of the Second World War. The comments left in Reflections area give much hope to pacifists, as the majority of them are written (or even scribbled) by children as young as 7, expressing their resentment to war.

Plane Building for All Ages

And on Monday, 28 August, the activities were celebrating cultural diversity presented in the Museum’s collections. Children of all ages and their parents were invited to build a wooden (!) plane, to hear about the animals who took part in the war, and even to play on the computer. I listened to a couple of really nice stories about animals, including the one about two cows who were the mascots of a Scottish division. I also know that children enjoyed assembling the aircraft (with the help of a volunteer Sean, who admitted that the parts of the plane were quite heavy). But then I looked into a Learning Studio East, where computer-based activities were taking place. And there I saw someone’s father being totally immersed in a computer game of some kind. So, family activities at the IWM North were quite literally attracting all generations.

Britannia Rumba and the Caribbean Music

Still in Salford Quays, a short distance from the IWM North, another one Monday’s hot events was the performance of African and Caribbean music, in the same vein of celebrating the cultural diversity. The band in question turned out to be Britannia Rumba, a Manchester-based musical collective, performing what is usually called here ‘world music’, accompanied by a dance group of four girls in lovely green sarongs, tops and visors. The band was playing on the stage outdoors, it was a bit cold, and the wind was quite strong. Nevertheless, the Afro-Caribbean sounds have filled the surroundings completely, and children, parents and even some of the IWM workers were jiving gleefully. Soon after I packed my equipment and went to catch the bus home. I could long hear the drums and guitars, as I was walking away from Salford Quays.

More on Late Summer Bank Holiday 2006: Family Friendly Film Festival.

Dragostea din Tei: from Haiduc to Robin Hood to Outlaw

I always appreciate a good play on words and other peculiarities in translation. We normally find them in “high culture”, but a song Dragostea din Tei by O-Zone band offers its own example. 
 
dragostea-din-tei-o-zone-band
 
First, my examples. It’s been years since I fell under the spell of surrealism. So much so that I ended up using ‘avidadollars’ as my nickname or login on many forums and websites. This doesn’t tell anything about my love for, erm, dollars, but says aplenty about my admiration for both Salvador Dali (whose name was so deftly anagrammed by Andre Breton) and Andre Breton (who anagrammed so deftly the name of Salvador Dali). In fact, if for any reason you had doubts about Breton as genius, ‘avidadollars’ should convince you once and for all.
 

Anyway, this is as far as my enchantment has led me, and I doubt I go any further. On the other hand, I have recently read about a family who were such ardent supporters of the Chelsea Premier League Football Club that they changed their family name to Chelsea.

‘Ok’, I thought, ‘but I’ve heard something like this before’.

Turned out I was thinking about a Moldovan band O-Zone, who burst onto the European music scene a couple of years ago, dancing away on a plane’s wings (in their clip, at least) to the song ‘Dragostea din Tei’. It is something practically untranslatable, as Wikipedia tells us. The interpretation ranges from ‘Love of the Lime Tree’ through ‘Love among Young People’ to ‘Love at First Sight’. I knew they were singing the name ‘Picasso’ in one of the lines, but I never looked up the lyrics, to be honest. Two years later I finally found myself sufficiently intrigued, and as I don’t know Romanian, I had to go with a German translation. The line in which the Spaniard’s name was mentioned is:

Hallo Du,
Hier bin ich, dein Picasso.
Hello you,
This is me, your Picasso.


Nice one, even if purely for the purpose of rhyming. This Romanian Picasso was waiting for his Muse to come, but I assume the girl never turned up. Otherwise we would already have a painting of ‘A Girl under the Lime Tree’.

However – a peculiar point – in the very first verse of the song the word ‘haiduc‘ is mentioned. ‘Haiduc‘ is an outlaw, but in Moldovan and Romanian folklore the haiduc only robbed the rich, while protecting the poor. Reminds of Robin Hood, doesn’t it? And this is exactly how the Germans translated it.

I decided to look up the English translation. I found out that the English went for ‘outlaw‘ – so is this how Robin Hood actually regarded, never mind the popular admiration?

So, I wondered how the French dealt with it. Turned out, they decided not to translate the word at all

The Excommunication of Pluto the Planet

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Pluto is relegated from the Big Planets (Image credit: yahoo.com)

So, the planet Pluto has been disqualified (relegated) from the Planet Division and will now continue to whirl as a dwarf planet. The story is here http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5282440.stm. Apparently, the possibility has been discussed for a while, and now the action was finally taken.

I’m wondering how this is going to impact the work of astrologers. From what I could gather in the past, while surfing through various resources on the web, there is already a contention, as to whether to take into account the positions of asteroids in a horoscope or not (think of Lilith and Selena, first and foremost). With Pluto now being ‘diminished’ to the status of a dwarf planet, it’s interesting how this is going to be taken into account, if at all?

In simple terms, Pluto is associated with dramatic changes, and since the planet was given the name of the Roman god of the Inferno, it rules the 8th house – the so-called house of death – and is linked to the sign of Scorpio. It ‘rules’ crimes, revolutions, terrorism, but also the reproductive forces (cue in a connection between Eros and Tanathos).

Although the astronomers’ decision is purely scientific, it is quite curious in one respect. If one thinks of death, revolutionary events, or even terrorism, they are all of the size and influence of Pluto.  They are small, lurking from beneath the most common occasions, easy to go unnoticed, existing on the fringe of the system (be it solar or social). Yet they are powerful enough to overthrow empires and wage wars, as well as to push people towards the goals they wish to pursue (memento mori, perhaps?) In such context the planet Pluto being relegated appears almost like a manifestation of its usually huge impact, as much as of its marginal status.

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres

J’aime mieux tes levres que mes livres.
I prefer your lips to my books.

This is one of my favourite phrases by Jacques Prevert. Not only is it beautifully romantic, it also presents a nice example of what sometimes is lost in the process of translation.

The play on words is obviously lost, which you can notice, even if you don’t know French. The melody of the phrase is also distorted in English translation. ‘Lips’ and ‘books’ are two short and brisk, muted words, while ‘prefer your’ doesn’t capture the music of ‘jaime mieux’. I have no idea how this phrase was translated into English or other languages, and if a translator managed to recreate any effect of this phrase. I can only imagine it being communicated to some extent in Italian, through ‘labbra’ and ‘libri’, respectively.

Other posts in Jacques Prevert and Archives.

Update 2020: On another note, Man Ray’s famous rayograph The Kiss, produced in 1922, is vaguely related to the theme of Prevert’s saying. Being an artistic enquiry into a photographer’s private life, The Kiss may be seen as reinterpreting the quote the following way: j’aime mieux tes lèvres que mes lumières (I prefer your lips to my light). In both cases, be it a book or lighting, the authors clearly state that Love means more than Art.

jaime-mieux-tes-levres-prevert-man-ray
Man Ray, The Kiss. Rayograph (1922): another interpretation of loving lips more than the artistic medium

Los Cuadernos de Julia: Meaning and Content

I am sure a lot of readers wonder (or have done, or will do so) why I gave my blog a name in Spanish, Los Cuadernos de Julia. The truth is, i wanted to use it as my online notebook, but the URL containing the desired name was already taken, so I had to invent something… and here my avid readership came to the rescue.

los-cuadernos-de-don-rigobertoLos Cuadernos de Julia is a paraphrase of the title of Mario Vargas Llosa’s 1997 novel, Los Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto. I bought the book (published in English by Faber&Faber) in the summer of 2004, in WHSmith in Blackpool, but didn’t start reading it until after September, as I had to write my MA dissertation first. When I eventually began to read it, it practically blew me away. I know some critics described the book as ‘ambitious‘ (a word I very much dislike), but to me it is simply one of the most original books of the last century. Obviously, as I know no Spanish, I have to thank the English translator for doing a fantastic job. You can read reviews and purchase a copy of The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto (affiliate link).
Why cuadernos?

‘Cuadernos’ as ‘notebooks’ are a normal part of life of many writers, which is what I am. These present cuadernos are, of course, slightly different, since I decided that I’d be posting here not only random quotations that I’ve been collecting for years, but also reflections on films, music, works of art, phrases I’ve heard or read elsewhere, musings about news stories, etc. I’ve been doing a similar thing on a website for several months, but sometimes there’s more to post than just a couple of quotes from my beloved Jacques Prevert.

My own mother, who isn’t a writer, also used to have two cuadernos – dark thick exercise-books, in which she had collected quotes and poems. When I was 12 or 13, she gave them to me, and some content influenced me quite profoundly. And providing you have read Llosa’s novel, you surely know that cuadernos played a crucial part in the story. So, it is from these two experiences, plus a couple of ‘tangible’ cuadernos I have already had in my life, that the idea for this blog’s title has originated.

My blog as ‘cuadernos’

For a while I wasn’t sure whether to start a blog or not. Two things have finally compelled me to do so. First, the main page of my web radio programme’s website has become way too small for everything I want to put on it. Half of those things will never make it to the programme, like The Quotes on the Front Page, or some news stories, or various other stuff. Yet I do want to share these things with everyone who is interested, hence I have finally succumbed to blogging.

Secondly, I have never managed or even wanted to write a diary, if the diary is to be understood as a narration of one’s private everyday life. However, the notebooks are different, especially because I’m a writer. So, while using the form of a diary, I’m essentially creating no more or less than a writer’s open notebook. Many things will still be left behind, for one reason or another, but I’m glad I’ll be able to do what few publications would allow me to do, not to mention the restrictions of the radio format.

As for the content, it will hardly be up for any strict systematisation, bearing in mind that its author is also a qualified historian who knows a couple of languages and has many side interests. The only thing that consoles me is that even Umberto Eco’s brilliant ideas are reportedly jotted down on small pieces of paper that are scattered around his flat or stuck in the professor’s case. At least, I’ve got ‘categories’ and ‘tags’…

Other posts in Blogs and Social Media, Mario Vargas Llosa and Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose archives.

In the beginning….

As I was thinking of what to write in the very first post in this first blog of mine, I suddenly realised that you’re probably more compelled to produce something when you stare at the screen rather than when you’re falling short of breaking a pencil because nothing ‘worthwhile’ comes to mind. I guess in my case it had to do with the nature of the blog: once you finish typing  and click “Publish”, your musings will appear in the space where they can be read virtually by anybody, from a college student through a BBC broadcaster to a pensioner. I don’t know yet if the understanding of this may put any pressure on what and how you write. One thing I know for sure: when I was publishing articles online or ‘making’ a website with AOL Homepages, I didn’t have this feeling of being obliged to write something as quickly as possible. In part, I felt so because I wanted to begin to publish other stuff, but in part it was because an empty blog – my blog – looked terrible, so I needed to fill it with something, to write that notorious first blog post… and what could be a better filler than an introduction? 
 
Read other posts in Blogs and Social Media category.
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