Friday, January 30, 2009

"which is the real one?"

i read this...thing a couple years ago and it still sticks with me as one of the most affecting little pieces of literature i've ever read. this is a translation from french.

"Which is the real one?" Charles Baudelaire

I once knew a certain Bénédicta who filled earth and air with the ideal, and whose eyes scattered the seeds of longing for greatness, beauty and glory, for everything that makes a man believe in immortality.

But this miraculous girl was too beautiful to live long; and so it was that, only a few days after I had come to know her, she died, and I buried her with my own hands one day when Spring was swaying its censer over the graveyards. I buried her with my own hands and shut her into a coffin of scented and incorruptible wood like the coffers of India.

And while my eyes still gazes on the spot where my treasure lay buried, all at once I saw a little creature who looked singularly like the deceased, stamping up and down on the fresh earth in a strange hysterical frenzy, and who said as she shrieked with laughter: "Look at me! I am the real Bénédicta! A perfect hussy! And to punish you for your blindness and your folly, you shall love me as I am."

But I was furious and cried: "No! no! no!" And to emphasize my refusal I stamped so violently on the earth that my leg sank into the new dug grave up to my knee; and now, like a wolf caught in a trap, I am held fast, perhaps forever, to the grave of the ideal.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

three years back

you'll notice the blog archives here are mostly filled with blogging that was meant to keep my friends in the loop as to my adventures in europe. it's been three years since the beginning of my most recent trip across the pond so i thought i'd recall and rehash a few things that happened on my two trips to spain (july-august 2004 and january-july 2006).

the most enduring things from spain and europe that i continually think about if not daily, then at least weekly:
people i knew there (and still keep in contact with)
places i went (specifically bigger cities that are in the news)
spanish fútbol (most notably my team sevilla)

that's it, i guess. and hmm...that's not such a novel thing, either: to have "people" and "places" as two of my most-often evoked items. that seems pretty consistent with what traveling and living abroad is. so i guess the novelty i was aiming for has not been met; yet i am not discouraged in my blogging objective.

"people" comes up this week in particular because i talked on the phone to some of the people who were cornerstones of my two experiences. paco and pilar gómez were my host family (read: grandparents) during my summer in toledo. they were wonderful hosts and very kind. they genuinely care about the progress of the students that stay with them, and thus are very warm and encouraging for rough spanish speakers. this is also evidenced by paco's righteous anger and refusal to give students the password for his then newly-acquired (in 2006 when i returned for a visit) wireless internet. the unfortunate girl who stayed with them that spring received all of paco's ire when she would talk to her boyfriend back home on video chat programs until 3 am. you should have seen the bags under his eyes as he explained with open exasperation (as the spanish are known for) how little sleep he had been getting with all her chattering down the hall. he just wanted her to speak spanish! "es que estos americanos creen que están de vacaciones cuando aquí. ¡y no es así, aarón!" [these americans think they are on vacation when they come here, and that's not true!] he told me yesterday. paco's grandpa tendencies only make him more adorable though, as i could go on for hours.

the second "people" that i talked to this week was bahiya, my friend from sevilla. we arrived in sevilla from different parts of the world: she being born in morocco and having studied in pennsylvania, was preparing to enter a masters program at georgetown. and i, of course, from the midwest with no real aspirations for anything post-college. there are a few people in life that i have found that i can be friends with without the slightest effort or intention. that was a special connection that i shared with bahiya. i guess i don't know about her end of that, but my view of our friendship was (is) one of effortlessness. i think we just understood each other very well. both our senses of humor and our more serious moments of conversation meshed with ease. so we caught up with each other last night. it had been a year or so since we last spoke on the phone. it's just a genuine pleasure to know her as a friend. we have lots of good memories, to be sure, but more than that we found a lot to enjoy in our friendship. the picture below shows how much fun we were always having together with our other friends.

i think that's enough for this one. i'll probably continue this series of memories on occasion as i also read through my journal from the sevilla trip over the next 6 months. below are photos of paco (and pilar) and bahiya. ¡hasta luego!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

fray luis de león

this blog (from myspace) is from last fall in my first semester of grad school. i still occasionally read some fray luis. he was a poet in Spain's renaissance in the 15th century. in this photo, you see a picture of me under a statue of him in Salamanca where he studied. well, i'm studying too. for a golden age poetry exam this afternoon and i happened to be focusing on one of his poems, "En La Ascención" about the ascention of christ. it's pretty awesome, so i thought i'd put it on here:

¿Y dejas, Pastor santo, And you leave, holy Shepherd,
tu grey en este valle hondo, escuro, your flock in this deep, dark valley,
con soledad y llanto; with solitude and crying;
y tú, rompiendo el puro and you, breaking the pure
aire, te vas al inmortal seguro? air, leave to the secure immortal?

Los antes bienhadados The previously well found
y los agora tristes y afligidos, and now sorrowful and afflicted,
a tus pechos criados, at your breasts brought up,
de ti desposeídos, of you dispossessed,
¿a dó convertirán ya sus sentidos? to where will they turn their senses?

¿Qué mirarán los ojos, What will their eyes look to,
que vieron de tu rostro la hermosura, those that saw the beauty of your face,
que no les sea enojos? that will not be but troublesome to them?
Quien oyó tu dulzura To he who heard your sweetness
¿qué no tendrá por sordo y desventura? What will not be deafness, misfortune?

Aqueste mar turbado This turbulent sea
¿quién le pondrá ya freno?, ¿quién concierto of whom will it be calmed? Who to arrange
al viento fiero, airado? the fierce and angry wind?
Estando tú encubierto, Being you concealed,
¿qué Norte guiará la nave al puerto? What North will guide the ship to port?

¡Ay!, nube envidiosa Ay!, envious cloud
aun deste breve gozo, ¿qué te aquejas? even of brief delight, What to grieve?
¿dó vuelas presurosa? Where do you fly with such haste?
¡cuán rica tú te alejas! How rich as you move away!
¡cuán pobres y cuán ciegos, ¡ay!, nos dejas! How poor and blind, ay!, you leave us!

i guess it's never occured to me the kind of emotions that must have been going on in that moment. the people that spent their lives with him and lived for only a few days outside of his light. to have to realize that they were about to return to that darkness (although this time with new-found light and hope). it must have been quite a painful moment. anyone (jeremy) that has thoughts on the translation can help me out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

the list 2008

i've decided to jump back into the blogging universe.  once again, a year-end list is the topic, but i promise this is not the extent of my blogging interests (evidence aside). besides travelling and music lists, there's not much to speak of.  i haven't used this space for much "real" blogging, but have instead used myspace, which i don't like anyway.  so, i plan to copy/paste a few posts from that blog here and maybe elaborate with some more current thoughts regarding whatever i had to say at the time.   sounds fun to me!

so...onto the list. people have said that 2008 was a rough year for music.   i don't know what that means, but i will say that this year has found me listening to more albums that i wasn't super in love with.  and so, when it comes to plugging these albums into an at times rigorous top 10 list, we see some difficulties emerge, specifically when 10 worthy albums cannot be found.  at the risk of not conforming, though, i have relented and picked the 10 best albums i heard - in particular order.

10. M83 - Saturday = Youth


this one just baaaarely sneaks on the list because it truly does have some great moments.  most notable are: Kim & Jessie, Graveyard Girl and Too Late.  unfortunately, all the good times i had while listening to this one were almost destroyed in one fell bad-concert-experience swoop.  "don't go see m83 with high expectations" would be my advice to any and all fans of their music.   this was one of my favorite albums of the year at one point.  it's sad that the show could bring it down that much, but my fellow show attenders (jeremy and kim) agree: too much pre-programed music and not enough of the great guitar tones found all over the album.  good album, m83.  i wish i hadn't seen you try to play it.  oh, and "up!" is the year.   i'm still not sure i want it on this list.

listen here

9. TV on the Radio - Dear Science

this is a good album by a better band.  there, i am now a music writer.  it's not as awe-full as their previous album, which blew me away.  so, i guess they get to be on this list because i think they have a pretty good collection of songs here that i mostly enjoy.   there's no standout like "wolf like me" or "i was a lover", but these guys certainly caught my attention with the furious "dancing choose" among others.   their 2006 disc "return to cookie mountain" (ugh, that stupid title) is still their peak so far in my opinion.   we'll see where they go from here.  there's still lots to love.

listen here

8. Azeda Booth - In Flesh Tones

i just heard this album for the first time four or five days before this posting.  i think the cover is fairly indicative of the warm pop movements that are found here.  this is the kind of album that i can only get in to when i am actively listening, otherwise it tends to blend into the background of whatever else i happen to be doing (driving, list-writing, etc).  but when i have taken the time to sit down and hear it, and even though that time has been very little, i have found a gentle familiarity on standout tracks like "i ran", "big fists", and "well" that reminds me of all the reasons i invest time in music.  it's the subtle hooks, the changes of pace, the highs and the lows that really pull this album together.  they couldn't produce the same effect on their own that they do collectively here, and, to me, that is the art of album-craft.

listen here

7. Sigur Rós - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

so this is what sigur rós has come to: butts.  first (well, second) it was an alien fetus.   SHOCKING!! then it was the "two sausages kissing" cover.   THEY ARE WEIRD!  then it was a nicer little boy stencil.  OH THAT'S PRETTY.   and now we get butts.  well, let's all be grateful that the album cover doesn't have much to do with the sound.   no farting here.  there is, however, a nice reinvention of the classic sigur rós formula that often included: slow build, high peak, long fall into nothingness, slow build, peak, end of song.  instead of 9-minute rises and falls, we get our sigur in bite-size form.   and they taste good that way.  you'll just have to hear it if you haven't.  i'd recommend "gobbledigook" and others.

6. Beck - Modern Guilt

thank god that beck hasn't given up on us yet.  if i were him, i would be so sick of people telling me how past my prime i was, that i'm not creative anymore, etc etc etc.  this album should shame them a little bit.  it feels like beck is finally comfortable with himself.  tracks like "modern guilt," "profanity prayers," "gamma ray," and others showcase beck's unflinching song-craft skillz.  i'm pretty content with this album.  maybe six is a bit too high, but i'll give him this vote on track record alone.

5-1 to come sometime soon...

top 5 of 2008

i actually posted this one after the previous one, but for the sake of going in reverse numerical order this post is now second.

5. Deerhunter - Microcastle

i like liking music. i say that to be kind of contrary to the kind of hipster idea that it's cool to not like certain music just because. it keeps up the image of a discriminatory listener. but really, liking music you hear is so much more satisfying. that brings me to deerhunter and all of last year's megahype that i really didn't get in to.  i decided to give this one a go and have been very pleased. this is what i think of when i hear the words "indie rock". it's pop music but with a hitch in its step. whether that hitch is production quality, off-kilter vocals, angularity or ambience, there's always some kind of quirk that either draws you in or alienates you. in deerhunter's case, that hitch is one of a couple things: bradford cox. wait, that's only one. either way, this music is my little shiny pearl in an otherwise underwhelming year for indie rock.

4. Cut/Copy - In Ghost Colors

i've never been to a rave. wait, yes i have: when i listen to this album! hooo! never ever has my love for the 80s been much more than some kind of nostalgic irony. cut/copy made my butt shake in a way that all the 80s songs i "love" only made my head bob.  i could seriously see myself almost wanting to take ecstacy if i were at their show.  well, kind of.  let's just say that this album makes me *that* out of control and high on life.  the best ones: "out there on the ice," "lights and music," "heart on fire" and several others i can't remember now.  every once in a while, it's really nice to hear such an immediately pleasing album.  i can't say that i loved every album on this list the first time through, but this one will definitely be on heavy rotation into 2009.

3. The Dodos - Visiter

i already wrote a review of this album for the Forge journal, so i'll (cut)/copy/paste some parts of it here:  "I have thought the dynamics of the relationship between melodic and percussive elements to be the opposite of what I hear in the Dodos.  Whereas I would normally assume the melodic element to be the dominant, attractive force of the music, I have come to recognize the irresistible rhythmic pull that this album has over me.  Besides the guitar and percussion, almost all of the additional instruments (of which there are very few) seem to have less melodic impact than rhythmic.  This is the kind of album that opens its listener up to new musical possibilities, and just like all great albums, it clothes its unique pop in a recognizable form."  Standout songs are: "Fools," "Jodi," "Ashley" and many others.

2. Deerhoof - Offend Maggie

deerhoof have the unique position of being the only band that always surprises me.  their music is such an odd rock 'n' roll circus that purchasing every new album feels like a crazy adventure at the check-out counter.  this album, however, is filled with as much instantly gratifying, chair-kicking rock satisfaction as it is with subtle ear worms.  "my purple past" has the best rock hook i heard all year.  second and third place are also on this album: "the tears and music of love" and the bombs away coda of "numina o".  it's no wonder if i ever felt the primitive need to ...just...rock...out, this was the album i turned to.  i gave myself plenty of neck aches from these tracks and probably nearly caused several car accidents all with sincere intentions of keeping up with all the RAWKING OUT deerhoof are doing here.   that's not to say that "family of others" isn't the most sublime harmonic soundscape of the year, because it is.  deerhoof has always been a rather diverse-sounding band, and i think those endless possibilities are what keep me coming back.  i never know what i'm going to hear, but i always know their deviant song-writing and allegiance to RAWKING OUT will rattle my cage and make me wish more bands could make music this free and creative.

1. Department of Eagles - In Ear Park

this album did not come out of nowhere.  i've been building a steady admiration over the last couple years for DoE's main band Grizzly Bear.  one of the main songwriters for that band is Daniel Rossen, who has written the majority of the music for this album with some help from fellow Grizzly Bear members.  i have a hard time saying exactly what it is that makes this album so stunning.  Daniel's vocals are haunting and float effortlessly over the phenomenal song writing.  this album feels like a walk through an abandoned house: the piano is dusty, the guitar strings are rusted, the harmonies are ghostly, the percussion deepens the echo, the wind chime clangs out a lonely welcome, and yet there is such warmth in that darkness - a measured, slow-plodding elegance.  when i found out that the album is dedicated to the recently deceased father of Rossen, everything i had been sensing about the album's tone made sense.  the memories are audible and otherworldly present.  i have carried the weight of these songs with me more often than any others this year.  Rossen's song-craft is the shining centerpiece on songs like "waves of rye," "no one does it like you," and "floating on the lehigh."  the tracks here are the most moving i heard all year, powerful in their subtlety and eerie familiarity.  needless to say, i can't wait for the new Grizzly Bear later this year.  : )

that's the list.  i'll begin normal blogging later this week or next.