Monday, June 28, 2010


It might happen anyday, for all a foreign person knows. It would look like a normal day in a normal town; if it's a weekday people would be busy, if it's a weekend, our hypothetical foreign person would probably be stricken by the calmness. The many national flags hanging on windows of homes and cars would be a telling clue, but if our foreign person is American he or she wouldn't even notice. There would be certain nervousness, anticipation if you like, but with such laid back people I understand, it's really hard to detect.

Then, just like that, the streets would be absolutely empty. No cars, no pedestrians, probably no public transportation either. Our foreign person would wonder if there is going to be an attack and people are told to stay indoors. The same streets that 10 minutes ago were bustling with activity (or so it would seem now) are now desert. Some stores might be closed, with no apparent indication on whether it's their normal opening hours or they just went out of business.

After a while, the silence gets oppresive. Not a wailing siren of an ambulance or fire brigade, no obnoxious neighbors pumping up the jam, just an elderly lady crossing the street and a beggar sitting on the corner with his dog. The day might be cold, but not that cold. It isn't a national holiday, our foreign person knows for sure because he or she checked that before. It might...

Suddenly a deafening sound erupts, and it's mostly human voices. Cars blare their horns, there might be some firecrackers, a glimpse of people holding each other in elation. Silence again, and a while later mayhem breaks out and people take over the streets. A foreign person would probably wonder what great thing the locals are celebrating, and probably would find the answer quickly.

The foreign person has just witnessed one Fifa World Cup gameday in Montevideo, Uruguay, in June 2010. The Uruguayan national squad was unbeaten during the four games it played during that month, and regardless of what's in store for it in July, it's quite a solid reason already to celebrate. Which is what they do.

It is what we do while it lasts. May it last a long time.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Real genius

I was a kid when the movie Amadeus was released, and I remember when I watched it first with my parents, sister and grandmother in a cozy pizza, drinks and conversation one winter Saturday evening by the fireside. My mother plays the piano and in the 80's both my sister and I were taking music lessons too, so we did know who was this Mozart person well before seeing the film. We knew he had lived long ago, that by our ages he already mastered the instruments we played, but we weren't really conscious of his time and space and we were really impressed by the movie.

Curiously enough, it weren't the lavish costumes or the luxurious classical interiors displayed in the film what caught our attention, but rather was the notion that for all his talent and consequence Mozart was probably an unhappy man. Around that time we also saw the documentary From Mao to Mozart by Isaac Stern (my sister played the violin and her teacher lent us the tape) and the swedish film The magic flute by Ingmar Bergman, so it was clear that the movie was about Mozart's life but not his work.

In spite of the exposition to Mozart's work (we both were able to play some simple tunes) in the classical musicians' popularity ranking we ran at home, he wasn't the one at the very top. It wasn't Beethoven either, Haydn, Schumann or even Hanon or Kaiser (the authors of our exercises books), but the one and only Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach deserves every music student and amateur's respect, but now I suspect our devotion was rooted more in the conservatory we attended and the teachers we had (all members of the same family) rather than personal choice. Anyways. After watching Amadeus we ground my mother on biographical information on Bach, anecdotes of his whereabouts and whether he had also lead such a glamorous and chaotic life.

Turns out that we found soon that Bach was a product of his time and place. As it was usual then, his craft was his ancestors' and he passed it on to his descendants. Like everyone who hadn't a nobiliary title he worked hard, occasionally struggled with poverty, married a woman who died of birth complications or illness (but with today's medicine she had probably survived) and then married a second one, had many children but not all of them survived childhood, never traveled far, and never did anything outrageous or exceptional in his long life - unless he was at work. But his work, we realized, spoke by itself and his life wasn't movie material.

I'm not excessively fond of musicians' biopics but after watching two about Beethoven, I've always wondered about a film on Johann Sebastian. My guess was that it had to be a very boring movie, or an incredibly technical one explaining some of the wonderful innovations he made to the art - likely to be stone boring, too.

But in the past months I've found out that not one but two, yes, TWO different groups of people (at least) have taken the challenge. And maybe because I'm older now I found them quite satisfying actually.

The older film is from 1968 and its title is Chronik der Anna Magdalena. It's European arthouse at its prime: there must be maybe 3 minutes of acting and the rest is a female voice in the background reading letters Anna Magdalena wrote while musicians in period costumes play period instruments. Every letter comprises only one piece of music and is shot in only one take and plane - the camera doesn't move at all. Some pieces don't have the off voice, but it's just the performance. Boring? Well, for audiences expecting another version of Amadeus, yes, probably. But it conveys the life and times of the Bach in a surprisingly timeless fashion (which is more than I can say of Amadeus, which hasn't aged very well).

The newer film was released in 2003 and it's Mein Name ist Bach, and again it's more about life in Bach times than a biography, but unlike every other musicians' biopic I've seen before (not that they are too many), its focus is all about character. Well based and with only a couple of assumptions that can be argued from existing documents, it describes a meeting between Johann Sebastian and his two sons Friedemann and Emanuel with Frederich II of Prussia. Issues like family bounds, popularity, employment, health and aging are in our favorite composer's mind. Power, expectations, abilities are on the monarch's. Together they play a cat and mouse game with music, instruments and performance as their hostages, but not their real interest. Given that the works of both Bach and the King have survived until today but there has been little delving into their personalities, I think this is a great film in spite of the poor reviews.

While nobody argues Bach's genius, I think it does take some hard work to figure out how to tell his story, even a little of it. Some hard work, and maybe even some real genius.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Perils of Facebook

A lot has been said on data and personal safety matters and Facebook. Often I read articles in the newspapers saying this or that. Still, a big issue hasn't been mentioned.

How it is to find that your former schoolmates still write as if they were in school? How about finding that your colleague loves gore movies, that your childhood friend believes that UFO's are coming, or that your cousin wants to reveal the world your worse fashion missteps?

Facebook is dangerous indeed. I'd never guessed there was so much to be left unsaid.

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's never too soon to feel like a relic from the past

Recently I read the book "Twilight", by Stephenie Meyer and the excerpt available at her website with the tale told from the point of view of the male protagonist. I'd read very good comments about the movies, and was curious about the book.

I must say I found "Twilight" deeply disturbing at many levels. I'll explain:

1. Bella, the owner of the voice telling the story, (a voice we can "hear" also in her thoughts) has a very low self esteem. While I don't think that's unusual for teenagers, I got the nagging impression that it was positive she didn't have a good image of herself. That's a terrible message for teenage girls! Putting yourself down is not a good strategy to start a relationship with a boy, and even less to build it.

2. Bella's relationships with her parents are sick. The mother is very immature and there was a shift in the relationship (sad but I've seen that in real life) but the father is a whole another story. They are practically estranged but he longs for her, he tries hard to rebuild the relationship and all he gets is a slap in the face and a lie "for his own good" when she leaves. While I know the hardships of the interactions of teenagers and their parents, I thought Bella was cruel to her father and it completely tainted her character. Twilight isn't meant to be a guiding book for teenagers, but I thought it was wrong to picture a person who's finding her own path into adulthood in a story where adults' feelings and views aren't taken seriously. Adults here seem to be more of a prop for the purpose of bothering.

3. Edward, the voice telling us the counterpart, is unreal. I know, I know, Twilight is a work of fiction, but I thought there were so many wrong things that the story (at least the story of feelings and Bella's coming of age) is distorted beyond admission. First of all, Edward is ageless. He isn't an adult and he isn't young either. He's seen a lot, but a lot of the same thing. He hasn't really grown up in a long time, and since his appearance won't change his life and attitudes won't, either. Secondly, he's beautiful. And while he deeply admires Bella, he doesn't think of her in sexual terms and he despises a popular teenager in their high school who has "dirty" (a.k.a. sexual) thoughts about her. Third, he's a talented piano performer and composer.

I think teenage girls should know that boys: a. Will grow up or are in the process of, b. Don't particularly appreciate being seen as "beautiful", c. Probably care more about hobbies and activities that are important to other boys (so sports are more likely than classical instruments) and d. Really think a lot about sex. Everything that is so charming about Edward is actually against western manliness, and I think he doesn't make any sense as a male hero.

4. Edward is kind of dangerous. Because he's a vampire, and even "vegetarian" vampires as he and his band are not the most commendable source of company, especially when he finds her smell so enticing. So he's a tortured soul, in the struggle of his deepest impulses (cash her in) against everything I said in the previous point (he's a true artist at heart). To add a little grit to this mushy guy there are superpowers: he can read minds, move faster than light and he's very strong. So he protects her even though he would like to kill her and he doesn't plan (at least at the beginning) on starting a relationship with her. Confusing, eh?

This was probably the most disturbing fact of the whole book. Edward is a dangerous guy and Bella shouldn't be with him. In the book, Edward is a vampire (I know, I know) but in real life there are plenty of seductively dangerous people a teenage girl should avoid. A teenage guy too for that matter, but I think teenage boys might not be as sensitive to the message as girls.

So I ended the book thinking: the message here is if a teenage girl with low self esteem and a crappy relationship with her parents finds a dangerous guy, her innocence will enable her to change him for good and he will protect her from any harm with his (outlawed, even if it's physics laws) tools. Any belated effort made by her parents to ensure her well being will be just to bother her and prevent her from achieving her real happiness, so as in the process of growing up, they should be left behind.

Am I so wrong? Did the story hit nerves I didn't know I had? Or there should be an uproar against these books? I don't know... I'm not good friends with obscurantism, but here I feel these books should have been edited more carefully and maybe, it's just that it's never too soon to feel like a relic from the past.