Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ulysses for Dummies

Today is Bloomsday. In case you haven't yet managed to make it all the way through "Ulysses" (admit it, you know you've been putting it off), here's a little cheatsite:

Each chapter in a single-page animation. What more could you ask for?

I love the dove

(a poem, of sorts)

I love the dove.
I do yoga today.
Anita washes the bath.
The abbot gave rice to the vixen.
Vixen, we already have rice!

Don't see the point? Who could blame you? Let's try it again, in Spanish:


Amo la paloma.
Yo hago yoga hoy.
Anita lava la tina.
Dábale arroz a la zorra el abad
¡ Zorra, ya hay arroz !


(a poem, of sorts)

Senile felines!
Solo gigolos!

Was it a bat I saw?
Was it a cat I saw?
Was it a rat I saw?

Wontons? Not now.
Race fast, safe car.
Do not start at rats to nod.

Wontons? Not now.
No lemons. No melon.
Race fast, safe car.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

4.2 million Spaniards can't be wrong

el internado es la mejor serie k e visto en mi vida y markos es un xiko wapisimoooo me nkanta su acento su dulzura y la parte peoleona k tiene es perfectoooo!xiko 10 e ivan tabien me gusta pero lo de marcos uf!!me a enamorado!!!!esta serie va dar muxo k ablar por k es genialllll!!!!!

Let's try that again, shall we? In Spanish, this time:

El Internado es la mejor serie que he visto en mi vida. Y Marcos es un chico guapísimo. Me encanta su acento, su dulzura y la parte peoleona que tiene es perfecto! Chico 10. E Ivan también me gusta, pero lo de Marcos, uf!! Me ha enamorado!!!! Esta serie va dar mucho que hablar, por que es genial !!!!!!

Apparently my favorite TV series, "El Internado : Laguna Negra" has at least one other fan, judging from the first paragraph above, taken from a bulletin board about the series. In her eagerness to pay tribute to the talents of bad boy Iván and goody two-shoes heartthrob Marcos:

the author hardly does justice to the fine ensemble cast in this show. And there is good news for all "El Internado" fans. This week's episode ("Message in a Bottle") garnered "un excelente 23.5% de share y 4.200.000 espectadores", an increase of 3 percentage points "de share" from last week (when some 600.000 espectadores had the audacity to watch a live interview with President Zapatero instead; bet they are sorry now). This made it the 4th most-watched program of the week, beating out House. The only series more popular this week was CSI.

How do I know all this? Because - thank the Lord - the series now has its own blog (whether maintained by an avid fan, or by a functionary of Antena3 remains opaque - it could be one of them flogs we hear about). Here is the link:

I thank the Lord because - frankly - summarizing the assorted plotlines would be quite a task at this point. But now I don't have to, because you all can go straight to the source above.
Before I get to plot, a picture of Carolina, the adolescent temptress who alternates between kissing badboy Ivan and goodboy Marcos (often in a well), seems long overdue. That's her, on the right.

As I said, it would be impossible to do full justice to all of the plotlines. Let's just say that the adults (assorted teachers and Maria, la limpiadora loca, but not wise old Jacinta) are bopping around in all possible permutations and combinations, catching one another doing so by generally lurking and loitering in back-passages. The teens spent much of their time this week in the well, and it didn't look like a lot of fun, what with being frightened by the Freddie-Kruger handed journalist, the thing in the woods, and the scary film with deformed looking orphans on it (which just happened to be spooling in one of the little hidden chambers at the bottom of the well).

Let's finish up by summing up what we know so far about the critter in el bosque:

  1. It walks on two legs.
  2. It knows how to drive a car.
  3. It is ugly (we know this from little Paula's drawing, and from Fermin - the kitchen boy who is a spy in his spare time - and who we saw last week staring something down in the woods with a pistol and a very frightened expression).
  4. It has better hand-eye coordination than I do (we infer this from its ability to retrieve Paula's message in a bottle to her parents from the lake, in record time).
  5. It can read and write, from which it's not too much of a stretch to think that it might be able to maul horses as well.
  6. It clearly is developing a soft spot for little Paula. Why else would it compose a letter for her and hand it to Jacinta (!) at the end of the episode, prompting J to warn it away from getting too close to Paula.
  7. It also appears to have access to a film projector.

Damn! (¡Jolin!) I wish we had had a better chance to count the eyeballs in that specimen jar last week.

Only 3 more episodes this season. El Internado : un lugar donde todo puede suceder.

Chasing perfection

For those of you tracking my linguistic progress, I should mention that, earlier in the week, I was bumped up another level, this time to level C2, the so-called curso de perfeccionamiento. To be honest, it seemed a little premature to me, but I would prefer to be in a class that's a little too advanced than in one that's too easy.

Perhaps all that time spent watching cheesy TV programs ("El Internado : Laguna Negra") hasn't been completely wasted. Another episode tonight!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The evolution of language

I have to face up to the fact that, where languages are concerned, I'm a total geek. Two links that I find fascinating, and hilarious, are:

Wikipedia : definition of "snowclone" and list of examples

Cats can has grammar.

Near-brush with greatness

Earlier this evening I wandered out in search of a CD of "Turandot", my favorite Puccini opera, largely inspired by this clip. As I crossed the Gran Vía, headed toward the FNAC store, I noticed that there seemed to be an unusually large police presence, clustered around one of the cinemas on Gran Vía. Barricades. Screaming teenagers. What was going on?

The premiere of "Shrek Tercero", that's what! Complete with red carpet, mangy fake green astroturf and plastic bushes on the sidewalk. And to judge by the screaming fans, the presence of at least one Hollywood star. Or starlet.

The temptation to lie to my readers at this point and to state that I saw Cameron Diaz on that red carpet is all but irresistible. But this blog is dedicated to truth in reporting, so it is with regret that I have to admit that I saw no such thing. What I did see were dozens of people all engaged in the identical one-sided conversation with their cell phones:

"¿You´ll never guess who I just saw outside the Cinema Palacio? ¡Cameron Diaz! ....
no, I swear .... etc etc etc".

Which, when you get right down to it, is no more interesting than the "We´re just getting off the plane ... now I'm on the moving sidewalk in the terminal ... " kind of idiocy that cell-phone users typically inflict on innocent bystanders.

Half an hour later, as I passed by the cinema, things were almost back to normal. Security guards were removing the barricades, as the cinema employees removed huge swaths of astroturf, under the watchful eye of a large and impassive Shrek mascot. As they rolled up the red carpet, a final speck of stardust glittered in the evening light, and the crowds of madrileños reclaimed the pavement as their strolling ground.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

What's in a name?

Spanish terms or names I find amusing or interesting:

  • Taberna de Colon: this is the name of a pub just up the street from me
  • Pan de molde: sliced bread
  • Epi & Blas: Bert & Ernie
  • La rana Gustavo: Kermit the frog (en España)
  • La rana René: Kermit the frog (en Hispanoamerica)
  • Los pitufos: The Smurfs
  • Bob esponja: Spongebob Squarepants
  • mandar un emilio: to send an e-mail (slang)
  • nombre de starbucks: the name that a foreign student whose name is difficult or impossible for Spaniards to pronounce even approximately correctly will give to the barista at Starbucks when asked. Most students from Asia and India will settle on one within a week of arriving in Spain, and it is (apparently) not considered rude for the teachers at school to ask "¿cual es tu nombre de starbucks?" of a new student if they are having difficulty with that student's name.
The nombre de starbucks, in particular, amuses me no end. If for no other reason than because it raises the following question:

Q: ¿Cual es el nombre de starbucks de "starbucks"?
A: ¡ Estarbucks !

It was a dark and stormy night

A sentence irreversibly linked with Snoopy. But taken originally from the 19th century writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton, pictured above. Here is the full sentence in all its glory:

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

The kind of wretched Victorian excess that characterizes this sentence (the opening sentence of the novel "Paul Clifford") didn't exactly burnish Bulwer-Lytton's posthumous literary reputation, and led to the by-now-infamous annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which contestants have to supply the openings of terrible (imaginary) novels.

On a more positive note, it is to Bulwer-Lytton that we owe the phrases "the pen is mightier than the sword", "pursuit of the almighty dollar", and "the great unwashed". But it doesn't stop there. Consider, if you can stand it, the product "Bovril (TM)".

If you have never come across this stuff, dear reader, consider yourself lucky. According to Wikipedia: Bovril is the trademarked name of a thick, salty beef extract, sold in a distinctive, bulbous jar. It can be made into a drink by diluting with hot water. It can also be used as a flavouring for soups, stews or porridge, or spread on bread, especially toast, rather like Marmite. (It can also, presumably, be flushed down the toilet, or thrown in the rubbish, either of which would be preferable to actually ingesting the stuff: the word "Marmite" should be sufficient explanation).

The connection with Lord Lytton? Again, from Wikipedia:

The first part of the product's name comes from Latin bos (genitive bovis) meaning "ox" or "cow". The -vril comes from Bulwer-Lytton's once-popular 1870 "lost race" novel, The Coming Race (also reprinted as Vril: The Power of the Coming Race), in which a subterranean humanoid race have mental control over, and devastating powers from, an energy fluid named "Vril."

Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton : is there no limit to the cultural debt we owe this man?

Technological Glitch

How many dogs do you see in this picture? I swear I uploaded just one.

Doctor, my Eyes

No, this is not a coy reference to my new glasses. No, it's time for the update on my favorite TV series here in Spain (rapidly shaping up to be one of my all-time favorites). Forget Tony Soprano. You've guessed it. Time for this week's update on:

"El Internado : Laguna Negra" (Un lugar donde todo puede suceder)

Things really started to get interesting in Episode 3 on Thursday night. Bad boy Ivan continued to do what he does best - strut, pout, and be mean to his Mama. To be fair, he doesn't yet know that Maria, la limpiadora loca, is his Mama, just that she has taken to stalking him around the school in a disturbing fashion, so a little teen annoyance seems justified. But this week it was boring good boy Marcos's turn in the spotlight. The episode starts with Marcos activating the secret trapdoor while lurking in a wardrobe, which leads to the secret room in the attic, complete with a specimen jar full of eyeballs, and a hoard of newspaper clippings referring to the mystery of Laguna Negra (Five vanished orphans, from 1973. Hmmm. How many eyeballs were in that jar again?). That's all in the first 90 seconds.

From there, it's just a hop skip and jump to the roof where he "stumbles on" the 30-year old sketchbook of one of the missing 5 orphans, then to being trapped in a well in el bosque with the girlfriend of badboy Ivan, a young lady whose name unfortunately escapes me, but whom I will refer to here as TB (short for "training bra", not the disease). With predictable consequences.
The plain people of Ireland: Could you be a little more specific?
The management: You know very well what I meant. Snogging in the well. Sweaty adolescent fumbling. That kind of thing. Now, clean the drool from your keyboards and stop interrupting me. I have vital plot details to communicate.

Did I mention the horse who was mean to Marcos's bratty little sister Paula? And is subsequently mauled by some beast of the forest and has to be put down. The flying wolf-creature? The mysterious annotation in the sketch book:

First came the light; then the crimes began.

The mysterious light in the woods at night? The bus stop in the woods? That 5-year old Paula, on what was, by my count, her fourth runaway excursion into the forest, finally meets up with someone, or something, that shows that this kind of reckless behavior may not be such a good thing, no matter how darling you look in your little runaway outfit, complete with suitcase?

Paula, front and center, ready to roll.

That's her brother, good boy Marcos - and insufferable bozo - in the duffel-coat.

Plot incongruities were flying thick and fast this week, at a rate that would never be considered acceptable in the U.S. of A. Here in España, I guess they call it magical realism. Or something. Here is a picture of my favorite character from this week's episode:

Yes, gentle readers, the creature from the "Laguna Negra" appears to be none other than a two-headed bunny rabbit. What happens next? Tune in, this coming Thursday evening, at 10pm on Antena3, for episode 4 of "El Internado : Laguna Negra". Truly a place where anything can happen.

2-minute trailer (in Spanish)

Monday, June 11, 2007

Gafas Galore

As promised, here are pictures of my stylish new glasses, mentioned in an earlier post.

I'm nowhere near as dopey as I look in photographs.
The plain people of Ireland: Dopey doesn't even begin to describe you. But who's yer wan in the bottom picture?
The management: None of your business, curs!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Eustace Tilley, I love you

I've been here in Spain for almost 3 months, and have been deliberately limiting my reading in English, to try to force myself to focus on learning Spanish. But my friend PB was here visiting this past week, so I got to relax my self-imposed limits. So the four recent New Yorkers that she brought with her, and left here for me to read now that she has gone, have been an absolute gift.

I wish I could report that I have shown some discipline in reading them, but the fact of the matter is that I fell upon them with a voracity that would put any self-respecting plague of locusts to shame.

What a feast! David Sedaris being his inimitable, hilarious self. Anthony Lane writing about Tintin. Peter Hessler on the Great Wall of China, Paul Theroux on Turkmenistan. Fiction by Colm Tóibín, William Trevor, Nadine Gordimer, George Saunders. Adam Gopnick on Lincoln. Nicholas Lemann on the diaries of Ronald Reagan, Anthony Gottlieb on atheists with attitude. And cartoons!

It's as if Santa and the Easter Bunny came together for my birthday, which has been magically translated to early June.

I'd gush some more, but I have some reading to do. PB, I miss you already, but I will be thinking of you as I consume every terrific page.

The plain people of Ireland: It's not your birthday, is it? You come across more as one of those Capricorn types.

The management: I am indeed a Capricorn, not that it's any of your business. And if you read more carefully you would see that I was using a figure of speech.

The plain people of Ireland: So, are we going to see any pictures of this lady friend of yours?

The management: My lady friend, to whom you so presumptuously refer, is entitled to her privacy, which will be respected.