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Oh Early on Ivan’s Day (Pesnyary)

I have been exchanging a lot of videos recently with a friend of mine, who eventually said: ‘You send me English and French musical videos, but what about Russian ones?’

I was somewhat lost for words, to be honest, not because sending something in Russian has never crossed my mind, but rather because I felt I would need to explain too much, which could kill the joy of liking something just because it is likeable. Another point is that Russian (or Soviet) music scene has never been completely cut off the “Western music”. Indeed, it was difficult to get access to it, but surprisingly, those rare contacts seem to me to have been more beneficial for the musical progress, than Russia’s current openness to the Western musical trends. Then, of course, one can say that until recently the Western music was better, so no wonder its influence was benigne.

There’s a plenty of good Soviet pop and rock songs out there, which I could translate and put up here. But I opted to introduce you to one of my favourite musical groups, a Belarussian band called Pesnyary. Pesnyary (the final syllable is stressed) means bards, and the group’s speciality was modern arrangements of Belarussian folk songs, as well as original songs inspired by the Belarussian folklore. Since their formation in 1969 by the now late Vladimir Mulyavin, the band has seen many changes in its membership, but their creative vision has remained unrivalled. They covered several Beatles’s songs and put Shakespearean sonnets to music. They composed larger musical pieces, including an opera and a masterful interpretation of Robert Burns’s cantata, The Jolly Beggars.

The song posted here is called Oh Early on Ivan’s Day, and is an arrangement of a Belarussian folk song dedicated to the Midsummer Night holiday, which is celebrated on July 7 (St John the Baptist Day). It opens with a stupendous a capella, and the use of harmonies mesmerises you later on. It has got some medieval overtones, which yet again might remind us that medieval music has got a lot to offer to a musician. I intentionally left Belarussian/Russian equivalent to the name John, Ivan, in the title. The picture shows a performance of this song on Soviet TV in 1971.



official website (in Russian)
Wikipedia entry (in Russian)
a site about the band (in Russian mainly)
– about the band at PNP Records (in English) – a very good overview of Pesnyary’s inventive musical outlook from a records collector from St Petersburg.

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Victory Day

Although I don’t normally use this blog to write anything too personal, this is the day when I would like to do so. It is 9th May, and in Russia this is the state holiday – the Victory Day.

I grew up listening to my grandmother’s story of her life during the war. Between June 2005 and January 2006 I was taking part, as a story-gatherer, in the BBC’s campaign, People’s War. The aim of the campaign was to create the living archive of wartime memories. And since stories from all countries were accepted (as long as they were in English), I contributed my grandma’s account of her life during the war.

I have always adored my grandma, Lydia, despite the fact that we belong to the two quite different generations, which results in occasional “culture clashes”. She was a working pensioner when I arrived, and when I was two, she left her job altogether, to stay with me. (Another reason was that I adhorred a nursery, and after three attempts my family realised that I wouldn’t be staying there, so someone would have to stay at home with me).

My grandmother held a BA in Law and has always been telling me to use my logic, as well as recalling various stories that had taken place at the Central Forensic Laboratory in Moscow where she used to work. She left when she met her husband, Alexei Sokolik, a Ukranian sportsman of Czech origin, and went to live to Lviv (Western Ukraine) with him. She eventually had to return to look after her parents. My mother was already born in Moscow, and my grandfather died of cancer in 1970. Since her return to Moscow until her retirement, my grandmother had worked for the Soviet Railways as a cinema instructor. Being a member of the Cultural Office at the Committee of the Railways Trade Union (Dorprofsozh – ДОРПРОФСОЖ), she supervised cinema clubs, cinema releases and box offices across all 15 regional railway committees.

So, what I decided to do is to republish the story from the BBC archive. Being a copyright holder, I nonetheless would like to acknowledge the fact that this story has originally been posted on WW2 People’s War website (Article ID: A8998933). It is one of the recommended stories in the archive, and I would like to say that I cannot praise my grandmother enough for collecting her strength to talk on the phone while I was recording. I subsequently translated her account directly from the tape.

This is what you’re about to read (quoted from my own entry on the website):

The story of evacuation of the Alekseev family spans from 1941, when they left their village with the last bus, until 1943, when they were given a derelict house to live in just outside Moscow. In these years there were many moments of joy, as well as of desperation. The evacuation camp set up in the Old Orthodox community was anything but friendly. Upon leaving it, the family was then caught up in Yaroslavl in the winter 1942/43, during the Stalingrad battle, when the prospect of Hitler’s victory created panic in the city. Throughout these years there was a constant fear for two brothers and a sister who joined the forces, which culminated in grief when the eldest brother was killed in 1943.

There are several reasons for republishing this story. It is dramatic, and many years after I heard it for the first time its dramatism has finally caught up with me, and I wondered how I would be able to survive in the similar conditions. I am sure some experiences will echo other people’s, and at best this memoire illustrates exactly where our grandparents got their will of steel. Then, of course, I am an historian, so I can also read my grandma’s story as a historical source. This is also a testimonial of a formidable personal memory, but also makes one wonder how a person goes on living with this experience. Ultimately, such stories should remind us of the devastating effect wars have on the civilian population. The Victory Day, which is celebrated as a state holiday in France (8th May) and Russia (9th May), is the good time to think about it.

The story is quite long, so I will break it up in chapters, which will all be collected under ‘My Life at War’ label. I also won’t do this in one go, so the chapters will appear in the course of this week.

I understand that, as I am publishing this and subsequent posts, they will be read and possibly shared and/or commented by my readers. However, I hold the image and text copyright, and also the BBC holds a non-exclusive right to sublicense and use the content. May I therefore ask, please, that you 1) read carefully the BBC’s Terms of Use, and 2) link to ‘My Life at War’ label and a specific post whenever you’re planning to quote from them. Otherwise, please feel free to leave a comment.

The Legend of Pygmalion

There is a legend of Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor who abhorred all women for their lasciviousness, but fell in love with an ivory female statue that he carved. Eventually he pleaded to Aphrodite to animate his Galatea, – and gods did not refuse him his bit of happiness.

The Wikipedia article draws quite a full picture of various interpretations of this legend in the centuries that followed since Ovid had narrated the story in his Metamorphoses. An extract from Ovid is also published online. The legend was an inspiration for many painters and sculptors, as we can see from the images displayed.
For my part, I particularly like Paul Delvaux’s interpretation. Delvaux revisits the legend and broadens the context in which one can think of Pygmalion’s story. Sculpture has long stopped being a “masculine” type of art, hence it can be a woman who creates the statue of a man and falls for it.
The context can be broadened further: Galatea is Pygmalion’s ideal woman, but I often like to disregard any restrictions or conventions implied by gender. Therefore, I accept any gender combination, when rereading this legend, and, as a consequence, I allow for a possibility that love which Pygmalion expects his statue to share can never emanate from his creation.
In the poem below I wanted to entwine the theme of unrequited feeling with the legend of Pygmalion. Furthermore, since Galatea embodied a certain ideal, I suggest that a statue needs not to be seen as a piece of sculpture. “Statue” can be understood as something “static”, that which is immovable, either physically or emotionally; hence “stone” is not exactly the marble, but anything cold or distant which is unlikely to liven up. Like Pygmalion is not necessarily male, so Galatea can be drawn on canvas, or described in words, or exist merely as a dream. Whichever interpretation we may prefer, Galatea is the symbol of Beauty which Pygmalion doesn’t want to give up, but whose cold demeanor drives him to despair.

Когда владеешь тем, что бы отдал,
Впредь никогда об этом не жалея;
Или скорбишь о том, что потерял,
Едва ль по-настоящему имея, –
Все блекнет, если ты, Пигмалион,
Дни проводя перед твореньем милым,
Любви ответ найти желаешь в нем, –
Но жизнь вдохнуть и богу не по силам.
© Юлия Шувалова 2007
When you possess that which you would refuse
And never have the outcome bemoaned;
Or when you mourn the loss of what you used
To think was yours but hardly ever owned, –
All this is vain, if, like Pygmalion,
Your spending days with the adored creation,
You wait to see how love ignites the stone, –
But no god can liven your possession.
© Julia Shuvalova 2007)

Links and references:
Wikipedia entry on Pygmalion
An extract from Ovid’s Metamorphoses from The Internet Classics Archive

Images used (from top, from left to right):

Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson, Pygmalion et Galatée (1819) – courtesy of La Tribune de l’Art
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Pygmalion and Galatea (1890) – courtesy of Wikipedia
Etienne Maurice Falconet, Pygmalion et Galatée (1763) – as above
Paul Delvaux, Pygmalion (1939) – courtesy of CGFA
Jean-Michel Moreau, Pygmalion (1806) – courtesy of Pygmalion Design
Edward Byrne-Jones, Soul Attains from Pygmalion and the Image series (1878) – courtesy of Mark Harden’s Artchive

The Return of Surrealism (Early Morning at the Bus Stop. Landscape with the Bin and the Umbrella)

This is the scene I saw at my bus stop recently.

………………………………………Early Morning at the Bus Stop. Landscape with the Bin and the Umbrella.
It instantly reminded me of Lotreamon’s quote that had exerted a rather profound influence on the minds of surrealists:

Beau comme la rencontre fortuite sur une table de dissection d’une machine à coudre et d’un parapluie (Beautiful, like the fortuitous encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissection table).

There is no dissection table here, and the sewing machine’s place is taken by a bin. But these subtle changes do not make this scene any less surreal, do they?

Mancunian Bloggers Meet…

… at The Hare and Hounds today at 3pm. No doubt I’ll write about it, but at the moment you can read about the meeting here and here. The exterior of the pub can be seen on the left (many thanks to qualitybob!). For me, it’s the most convenient venue I’ll be going to since I graduated from school in 1997. My school was in five minutes walk away from my house. The Hare and Hounds is exactly opposite Shudehill bus and tram stop, exactly where my number 8 stops. Absolutely fabulous!

On the sad side, in Moscow today my former classmates are meeting to celebrate the tenth anniversary of graduation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to the reunion, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the fifteenth anniversary!


Wonderful weather in Manchester! Many people went into town dressed as if it was the middle of last year’s summer – sweaty hot and burning. Not me, though. It’s still April, and I don’t think it’s so hot yet.

We suspect therefore that it was the weather that did not permit some people to turn up at The Hare and Hounds at 3pm. Richard Fair said in advance that he wouldn’t be going, so he’s forgiven (he and Robin will have to organise another meeting at the BBC Bar to rectify this 😉 ). Craig McGinty was there, as well as James from YerMam and guys from Indie Credential. I know I’m missing out on a couple of people, so please mention yourself in the comments! Especially the person who’s fascinated by Bulgakov’s Cat Begemot from ‘Master and Margarita’.

We had a nice time, and people were still staying in the pub when I left. The pub seems to be quite old, with lots of period paintings and photographs on the walls. Its karaoke is very popular, with people taking the centre stage to sing anything from Neil Diamond, The Monkees, and Van Morrison. As I was leaving, I witnessed a man in a yellow duckling suit (so I think), with a glass of beer in hand; the suit was unzipped on the back. I suspect he was dropping in after a hard day’s entertaining children or giving out leaflets.

I must admit at one point I got distracted by the TV that was showing Deal or No Deal. The lady did amazingly well, knocking out all little sums and eventually leaving with £50,000. We sarcastically whispered that this sum would still be taxed, but… it’s still £50,000 after all.

Amidst all the pleasure and excitement there is only one minus – I have to wash my hair. The entire room where I sit at the moment is already filled with the stale odour of cigarettes.

On the left is the frontal view of our venue. It is really the best-located venue I’ve ever been to. Immediately as I took this picture I got on the bus that was already at the stop and soon I was on my way home.

See you all again next time!

The Name for the King

The text that you’re about to read was written in late December 2005. It was literally inspired by a TV news report about Prince Charles considering to take on the name George when he eventually ascends the throne. The explanation was such that the name Charles was somewhat unfortunate: Charles I was beheaded, and Charles II was perhaps a bit too promiscuous.

Immediately upon hearing this, I thought about many things. Indeed, I thought about many kings and emperors and about whether or not their names ever pointed out to something bad or good in their fate. The result of my musings was posted first on Exzibit.net, which I then moved to another site. However, the beauty of Blogger is in that I can accompany the text with pictures, also choosing the best position for them on the page. Also, following the advice from Craig McGinty, I think this will be a good use of a previously written text.

I also believe this is a good way to celebrate the 1st of April. I know that all jokes on this day are usually played before noon, but, to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, “history is merely a list of anecdotes. It can only prepare us to laugh yet again”. Therefore, have fun!

The Name for the King

Shortly before Christmas, one of the TV news programmes broadcast a special report on Prince Charles. They said His Royal Highness is considering a change of the name and is thinking of using his middle name George when he eventually ascends the throne. Is the Prince being unnecessarily superstitious, or is name really a big deal for a king?

There are different opinions on a theory that personal names pretty much define people’s life. Some equal the theory to astrology and call it a “sham”; others quite honestly believe that name is highly important. Ultimately, it all depends on whether or not we believe in fate. If we do, we will probably avoid calling the child an old-fashioned or “unfortunate” name, like Marmaduke or Caesar. If we have no such hang-ups, our choice will be opulent (Queen), or health-friendly (Apple), or urban (Brooklyn).

The abovementioned report has left mixed feelings. For those who cannot give a damn about monarchy, Charles’s intentions certainly look ridiculous. Perhaps, even monarchists cannot quite understand him. Although the present Windsor monarch shares her name with Tudor Gloriana, she is neither as remarkable a politician, nor could she protect her royal house from public jeer. Of course, these things are not exactly to be blamed on her, but the truth is: as much as Elizabeth is a great and promising name, it could not and it would not allow Elizabeth II to fully match her famous namesake. Therefore, why to be so concerned about the past?

Now that the Prince’s plans are rumoured, and some historians have already expressed themselves on the subject, let us see if their fears are historically valid. Let us start with Charles. In England, Charles I was beheaded, and Charles II was raised in exile and is remembered for his promiscuity, the Plague and the Great Fire of London. Both, though, were the patrons of arts: under Charles I, van Dyke’s paintbrush flourished, under Charles II – Wren’s architectural genius. On the other hand, Charles I was sometimes unbearably idealistic. At the dawn of his youth he travelled to Spain incognito in an attempt to win over the Infanta’s heart. The quixotic heir mistook politics for windmills, wholeheartedly believing that his boldness and courage would make up for not converting to Catholicism. Of course, it did not work.

Continental rulers named Charles, Carlos, or Karl usually were not predestined to anything spectacular or disastrous. The Carolingian dynasty in France was named after Charles Martell and Charlemagne. The latter’s reign was famous for political prominence of the Frankish state, as well as for one of the fascinating periods in European culture, known as the Carolingian Renaissance. Charles VII’s astonishing victory over the English in the Hundred Years War is not outshone by his infamous abandonment of Joan of Arc. Some French Charleses were not very fortunate, however: Charles VIII died at 28, having accidentally run his head into a stone lentil; and Charles X was deposed as a result of the July Revolution, in 1830.

In Spain, Carlos IV’s reign was gloomy. First, he had to entrust his realm to Manuel Godoy, a terrible politician and the lover of his wife. When Napoleon invaded Spain, Carlos had to abdicate. Eventually, both he and his son Ferdinand were deposed, and Carlos fled the country and died in exile in Rome. Unlike Carlos IV, the present Spanish monarch Juan Carlos I will forever be remembered for his democratic reforms after he ‘inherited’ the realm, following the death of Franco. Indeed, Carlos is only a part of his name, but it did not seem to have diminished the political input of its bearer.

And in Germany the well-known Karl V Habsburg propelled the Holy Roman Empire of the German People to the unprecedented heights. His influence on politics, arts and religion cannot be underestimated. Neither should be the fact that the decline of the state that began soon after his death, later coupled with the dissolution of the Empire, had played a crucial part in creating the feeling of national humiliation. This feeling contributed decisively to both the First and the Second World wars.

Most royal names in English history never gave any definitive reason for great expectations. William I the Conqueror was an outstanding, although unwelcome, foreign monarch; William II Rufus was killed by conspirators; and in William IV’s reign the Reform Crisis had begun. The most “bearable” name was Henry in that the only English monarch to be murdered was Henry VI, while the other seven Henries normally lived long and remarkable lives.

If we look over the Channel, we will see exactly the same situation with the name Louis in France. Louis XVI was beheaded, and Louis IX died of dysentery in Tunis, but Louis XIV, The Sun-King, is never to be forgotten. True, the last three Louises on the French throne did not manage to equal their great predecessors, but it is their reigns that show: no matter what your name is, time will always have the last word.

In Russia, Alexander II well matched his grandfather, Alexander I the Liberator, who famously drove Napoleon out of the country. Grandson’s sobriquet, the Reformer, was inspired not only by abolition of slavery in 1861, but also by his gradual and cautious attempts to “democratise” Russian monarchy. However, the political climate of 1860s-70s in which the grandson had to rule was altogether different from the early 19th c. The disdain of monarchy’s rigour grew to the extent, when the attempts on Alexander II’s life were carried out repeatedly. He was eventually killed in 1881 on his way to the palace – to sign what could become the first Russian constitution.

Against all listed examples that show a relative unimportance of the name in a monarch’s life those who believe in the connection between name and fate could weigh one, and truly gruesome, counterargument. It comes from English history, where the really “unfortunate” name was Edward. Edward II was violently murdered, Edward IV was deposed and exiled, an infant Edward V was killed by his uncle, another boy-king Edward VI died before he reached 16, and Edward VIII abdicated. Edward VII was possibly as much an admirer of the fairer sex, as Charles II, and even Edward III is of dubious fame. In addition to throwing his country into the turmoil of the Hundred Years War, he also committed the least conceivable blasphemy by making a garter the symbol of his chivalric order. The only “normal” king left is Edward I, praised by the English for the Eleanor Crosses and loathed by the Scots for all good reasons.

The name George that Charles is considering to take on, according to the media report, also cannot boast blissful history. George III was repeatedly “losing his head” (figuratively speaking), while the bedroom feats of George IV have allegedly reached a stupendous number of 7000, – much like Charler I and Charles II, respectively. The reign of George V saw the outburst of the First World War, the reign of George VI – of the Second World War. For a truly superstitious person, the perspective of ruling the nation at war (even nominally) should be just as horrible as that of decapitation or sexual notoriety.

Among some of the best-known and admirable historical Georges one was a father-founder of the United States, another – a brave defeater of Napoleon at Waterloo. But they were not kings, and are not likely to be used as parallels by the public opinion. The latter might instead recall the Bush “dynasty”, whose both members seem to be very belligerent: if anything else, they show great deal of consistency in motives, as in targets.

Historically, Charles’s two other middle names, Philip and Arthur, also do not give much hope. Philip is not an altogether new name in the history of British monarchy. Queen Mary I Tudor was married to Philip II of Spain, and the present Queen’s spouse is Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh. But Mary’s husband, although styled “King of England”, had rather limited powers and left the country where he was disliked after a little more than a year. The Duke of Edinburgh was never granted the title of Prince-Consort and does not enjoy much popularity in the masses. Those who trust in names will certainly speculate on whether a royal contender named Philip can ever become a King in England, let alone a popular one. The Glastonbury legends claim that King Arthur shall rise one day, and centuries ago in a society more poetic and less cynical the Arthurian Cycle would provide an enviable background to royal representation. If the Prince was to adopt this name today, the public opinion would be more than happy to dismiss him as the “wrong” Arthur.

As succession is not imminent, it may be that Charles decides not to undergo the name change. What is useful to remember is that both history of mankind and history of monarchy show two things. Fame and tradition, either good or bad, can be changed; and monarchy, with all its dependence on both, is no exception. As for people, their names are only remembered for their acts – and never otherwise.

The images used (from top):

Charles I, King of England, from Three Angles (by Anthony van Dyck, 1636)

Charles II (by Sir Peter Lily, c. 1670)

Karl V Habsburg at Muhlberg (by Titian, 1548)

Alexander I of Russia (by Franz Kruger, 1812)

Alexander II of Russia (a contemporary photograph)

Nigel Hawthorne as George III (Madness of King George by Nicholas Hytner)

How King Arthur Saw a Questing Beast and thereof Had Great Marvel (by Aubrey Beardsley, 1893-4)

Views of Manchester

I remembered listening to a short talk by Slavoj Žižek on Channel 4 last year, in which he discussed (very briefly) Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Great Dictator. Although the image of a dictator was unambiguously drawn on Hitler, the *true* dictator, metaphorically speaking, was the sound. Chaplin manipulated this comparison by alternating scenes with a silent Jewish barber with those with a hysterical quasi-Nazi leader, thus showing us the potential, but also the drawbacks, of using and hearing a person’s voice.

The drawback is not in the possibility of an actor having a weird voice, which may not fit their appearance or character. The drawback of a sound movie is in that it minimises the dramatic effect. Some will certainly argue otherwise, and it is indeed almost impossible to imagine, say, Kieslowski’s trilogy, Trois Couleurs, without the use of sound (especially in Trois Couleurs: Bleu). But however helpful it may be, sound imposes on us not only a directorial vision, but also a specific vision of our own. We may begin, for instance, to associate a certain tone of voice with a particular type of character; or a certain type of music with a specific kind of films. Those who have seen Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, and especially those who attended a Q&A session with Mark Rothemund at Cornerhouse in October 2005, will remember that some film critics thought the music theme in his film has reminded them of Jaws’ soundtrack. The conclusion is easy to draw.

But methinks sound is not the only disputable gain in the media and arts world. I love colour photography, but some scenes, I believe, are made to be captured on black-and-white film, or mastercoloured in sepia. At best, it can teach a viewer that such colours, as black and white, don’t really exist. It can also make familiar sites look unfamiliar and more dramatic. Last but not least, b/w and sepia photos allow the viewer to use their imagination, instead of restricting them to a specific shade of colour palette.

I do think it is important to lift up this restriction through colour and sound and to revert to one’s intellectual (directorial, perhaps?) effort in filling up a silent “monochrome” space with colours and sounds. Which is why I’ve found myself continuously taking b/w and sepia pictures in Manchester. Captured this way, they remind me of some Parisian endroits I’ve seen in books, on early daguerreotypes, and on the photos by Eugene Atget.

The first two pictures were taken last Sunday, when I was killing time, walking in Castlefield, between watching Manhattan and Eraserhead at Cornerhouse. The image on the left is the passage of the Town Hall extension, which has got an Italian air about it (again, as far as I am concerned).

Although I might have appeared as if I didn’t like the use of colour or sound, this is obviously not true. Sometimes colour is invaluable – like on the shot below. As I wrote in the picture’s description on Flickr, I haven’t watched the sunset for quite a long time. And when I finally got the chance this Thursday, I absolutely could not miss it.

Histoire de Melody Nelson (Serge Gainsbourg)

As you might have noticed from the Links section in my side bar, as well as from my profile, I’m a fan of Serge Gainsbourg. The first time I heard him, I was just as innocent as France Gall (who reportedly didn’t have a clue about the sexual innuendos in the song ‘Les Sucettes‘ (The Lollipops)). In fact, I was younger than Gall because my discovery of Gainsbourg’s music started with the notorious ‘Je T’Aime Moi Non Plus‘, with me having no idea about the meaning of some specific sounds on the record.

For years, Gainsbourg has been hovering over the French music scene. His versatility at both music and lyrics, as well as his lifestyle, not only turned him into a monumental figure of European music, but in later years also inspired many *interpretations*. As someone noted on YouTube, Kate Moss and Pete Doherty look strangely similar to Birkin-Gainsbourg duet, except that Doherty’s influence on modern music is not as decisive, as was Gainsbourg’s. Then again, as Philip Sweeney remarked a year ago in The Independent, “Gainsbourg was an enthralled recycler of English and American trends, themes and phrases“, which may signal to somebody that Gainsbourg was not necessarily original.

This, however, is not the case, as Sweeney notes himself, because Gainsbourg’s songs are extremely difficult to translate into English and, in fact, into any other language. Consider this passage from his song ‘Variations sur Marilou‘:

Dans son regard absent
Et son iris absinthe
Tandis que Marilou s’amuse à faire des vol
Utes de sèches au menthol
Entre deux bulles de comic-strip
Tout en jouant avec le zip
De ses Levi’s
Je lis le vice
Et je pense à Caroll Lewis

It makes sense in English, if translated, but, as often happens, the difference in pronunciation takes away this lingering quality of original French lyrics. Furthermore, because of this difference the last three lines don’t produce the same effect. The emphasis on ‘-iss’ in the French text reminds one of a gentle murmur, of mussitation; the English version would never capture this effect.

So, on to Histoire de Melody Nelson. It was Gainsbourg’s 1972 conceptual album, which cover you may see on the right. Containing 7 songs, “Melody Nelson is a weirdly jewel-like micro-opera featuring a vintage Rolls-Royce, a male obsession for the eponymous 14-year-old garçonne, and demise via New Guinean cargo-cult, rendered by Gainsbourg’s voluptuous drawl and Birkin’s Lolita whisper, and a richly idiosyncratic instrumentation by Gainsbourg’s close collaborator Jean-Claude Vannier, owing as much to Abbey Road, George Martin and the film soundtracks of John Barry as to anything from Paris“. (Philip Sweeney, The Independent, 16 April 2006).

You can obviously find the album on Amazon.com, where the featured cover comes from. You can browse the links below, to read more about the album and/or Serge Gainsbourg. But on YouTube you can also find the videos to the songs. The videos, like the songs, are psychedelic, and feature the paintings of Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux, Salvador Dali, Felix Labisse, René Magritte, Henri Rousseau, which makes Gainsbourg’s album even dearer to my heart because I’ve been a devouted student of French surrealism for years.

The video I’m putting up here is the 5th part of the album. It is called ‘L’hôtel particulier‘, and uses predominantly the works of Paul Delvaux, with a few glimpses of Felix Labisse’s images. If you want to read the lyrics to the song, follow the link to Alex Chabot’s translation.


Serge Gainsbourg’s site – in French. Very informative – be careful if you’re a serious Serge’s fan and didn’t know about this site: you may very well spend the entire night reading the story of a remarkable talent.

Alex Chabot’s translations of Gainsbourg’s texts.

Specifically L’hôtel particulier (from the above).

Philip Sweeney, Serge Gainsbourg: Filthy French (The Independent, 16 April 2006). Also: LookSmart’s FindArticles – Filthy French

Notes on Histoire de Melody Nelson – some interesting and somewhat sentimental facts about the making of this album from Movie Grooves.

Histoire de Melody Nelson on Amazon.com

A Short Post on Jean Cocteau and Cinema

There must be some curse that doesn’t let me see La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau. Every time it’s on TV I either forget or cannot find time to watch it. Naturally, when I received an email update from Cornerhouse telling me that on Sunday this classic was being screened, I jumped up and down with joy.

I was going to Cornerhouse relishing the thought of sinking into a chair in a dark hall and watching one of Cocteau’s masterpieces. At the counter there was a small queue, which I joined. As I approached the counter, I suddenly noticed a big A4 sheet of paper telling me that all tickets for Cocteau’s film had been sold out.

‘What, completely?’ I asked the guy behind the counter, still refusing to believe that I was missing this film yet again.

‘Yes, completely’, he nodded, ‘we’re sorry’.

Don’t think I blame Cornerhouse, or those people who bought tickets before me. I don’t even blame myself, as it never occurred to me that there might be a lot of people like myself. So, I’m trying to be philosophical and say: never mind.

Sunday was fully rectified on Monday morning, when I woke up to the long-awaited news of Dame Helen Mirren and Martin Scorsese each winning an Oscar. I didn’t watch this year’s ceremony. On the one hand, as I have to get up early in the morning, I wouldn’t be able to stay awake at work. On the other hand, I didn’t watch any of this year’s nominated films, but that has to do with personal reasons, rather than an overall change in my attitude to cinema. In addition, last year I was almost compelled to watch the Oscars, as I interviewed Mark Rothemund and Gavin Hood, who were both nominated in the Best Foreign Film category. As we know, Hood’s Tsotsi has scooped the award, and I had one of the biggest balls in my entire life.

Back to Cocteau, I’ve seen Orphee. Cocteau brilliantly reworks the ancient myth, not only through cinematography and imagery of the film, but also through the narrative proper. In particular, in this revocation of the myth, Orphee cannot look at Euridice even after he’d safely transported her from the world of the dead, otherwise she will disappear again.

What I find most interesting is the scene in Cocteau’s film, when Death (Maria Casares) sacrifices herself for Orphee (Jean Marait), so he could return on Earth and continue to please people with his art. As I haven’t yet read Les Ombres Errantes by Pascal Quignard, I cannot say whether in his text the following quotation is somehow related to this scene, or not. Evidently, though, that Cocteau’s scene symbolises the immortality of Art, and Quignard says in his novel:

Les artistes sont des meurtriers de la mort (The artists are the murderers of death).
And as everyone would agree, the myth of Orphee plainly states that ars longa, vita brevis. As do the works of Jean Cocteau.

And to conclude this little post, a brilliant quotation from Jean Cocteau which he dropped in the interview, describing a postal stamp with his portrait of Marianne, France’s national symbol. He explained that Marianne was in fact a secretary’s wife, for which reason he didn’t want to create anything pompous. His Marianne indeed looks like a secretary’s wife, complete with a perm. And he said:

I think this stamp is too conventional, but perhaps it is better this way. When one is licked by so many, it doesn’t pay to be too singular, lest one is licked in disgust.

(The image is taken from the site covering the works of many artists, including, apart from Jean Cocteau, Lee Miller, Albert Camus, Andy Warhol, etc. Pay a visit and discover the amazing work by some of the greatest artists of the past).

BBC Manchester Bloggers Meeting – Second Time Lucky!

Like many other people in Manchester tonight, I’ve just returned from the BBC Blogging Workshop. No winds could stop us this time, but no winds were blowing, anyway.

The goal of the workshop was to bring together the Mancunian bloggers of all degrees of proficiency and to cover a variety of topics, from choosing the right platform to making money with your blog. The BBC Editorial Guidelines were also briefly looked at, and the meeting was led by Robin Hamman, with participation of Richard Fair and Craig McGinty. I also did a bit of talking.

……………………………………………………..Robin Hamman & Richard Fair in the BBC Club Bar

After the workshop some of us headed to Lass o’Gowrie, an Irish pub up the street from the BBC in Oxford Road, where we took this photo:

Back row, left to right: Thomas McEldowney, Robin Hamman; front row, left to right: Paul Griffiths, Craig McGinty, and Andrew (who is not a blogger yet, but will certainly have become one after he leaves the pub tonight).

The recurrent topic, which I can’t help finally picking upon, is: what blogs are for, and who reads them. As Richard Fair likes saying, one absolutely must have a degree of arrogance to send their thoughts *into space*, expecting that someone somewhere will read those musings. But, methinks, arrogance is supported on this occasion by such simple fact that on this planet, inhabited by several billions of human beings, there WILL always be someone who stumbles into your writing. Add to this the fact that blogging allows you to develop your own editorial guidelines and house styles, and voila! you no longer depend on a prospective publisher. You simply publish a post, it becomes instantly available, and who knows what happens next? You may be read by millions of people all over the planet Earth.

My very first post on this blog was exactly on this topic. After months of indifference and several weeks of intense research and thinking of what I’d write about had I become a blogger, I created Los Cuadernos. And I still vividly remember staring at the screen for ten minutes, having no idea of what to say. Eventually I said it.

Blogging used to be understood as either a journo’s platform, or a personal diary. This is how I also understood it, until I looked at various blogs and realised that your content is by no means restricted by those two types of writing. Still, blogging is associated with journalism, just like writing is associated with “serious” literature. When one considers becoming a writer, they don’t want to be unknown writers. They want to belong to the same league, as Tolstoy, Joyce, etc. Same for bloggers. The very thought of sending your musings into the same virtual space, where Nick Robinson publishes his texts, must be scary, as well as exhilirating.

And that’s the thing about blogging. It’s purely virtual, yet the effect it has on your life and the life of your readers is quite tangible. Once you realise that your content is interesting, you strive to maintain the level or even to raise it. In terms of writing and research, this has never been a problem to me. But I was conscious that I wanted to use as many opportunities of the Internet as possible, including uploading or embedding videos, audios and images. And in just half a year after I started Los Cuadernos I’ve learnt technical skills that I thought I’d never need.

Why is this necessary? Because, as we know, scientia potentia est (knowledge is power). In the end, you’re not obliged to publish on the web under your real name, in which case you’ve got unlimited opportunities to explore the audience’s reaction to various styles, topics, etc. And if you don’t enjoy it, you can always stop. But if you’re totally new to internet and blogging, you’ll pick up a plenty of new skills, which can be used for many purposes. And if you know that you’re being read, and when you hear people telling you that they enjoy your content, you feel that those late hours you’d spent typing a post *for nobody* haven’t been in vain.

And to finish it all off, I’ve just subscribed to Richard Fair’s Mind, which I enjoy reading and have been reading for some time (as Richard knows from my comments). But – which is exactly relevant to tonight’s meeting – Richard hasn’t got that flashy orange icon that signals to everyone that they can subscribe to his blog. I always used to type Mind’s address directly into the browser. Luckily, tonight I remembered that those icons often appear on the right side of one’s browser window. Richard’s icon was there, and from now on I will be reading him in Google Reader.

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