Slavic Saturday

This post too is a sort-of crossover between Behind the Iron Curtain and Slavic Saturday.

Karel Gott was an important figure of Czech culture. He was a stable star of our music scene for sixty years – my whole life and some more. His parents wanted him to have a respectable working-class job, but he wanted to be an artist – specifically a painter. But by coincidence, he ended up famous not as a painter, but as a singer.

He was exceptional in one way – even during the communist regime, he became very popular in West Germany, to the point that the regime went to quite a long way to actually keep him as a valuable source of revenue. So after he once overstayed his visa, the president himself has pleaded with him to return. He was allowed to come back and he was not punished for flirting with emigration.

However, he has somehow managed to not tarnish his name by any shady collaborations with the regime – too much. Most of his support was by filling concert halls and selling records, and only once did he openly shill, by reading a pre-prepared speech chastising the movement Charter 77.

But his popularity was such that even after the regime fell, it did not suffer. He got involved in the velvet revolution just enough to show he knows where the political wind is blowing, and afterward continued as if nothing happened. There were attempts to dig up dirt on him, and he did indeed do some stupid things when he was young, but nothing could shake his star from the top of Czech musical heaven. He was a bit of a clueless idiot when it came to politics – for example, he thought that Trump is a good politician and that refugee crisis in Europe is a result of some conspiracy – but that could not tarnish his reputation either in a nation of clueless racist idiots, so there’s that.

Nothing could shake him. Nothing but death. He died this week after a prolonged battle with leukemia, at the age of 80.

I did not particularly like him. I do not know why, but his singing has always rubbed me the wrong way. I never found his voice to be pleasant to listen to, with some exceptions. But I have always felt some connection to him, partly because we share the first name and partly because he was simply everywhere.  I have also read his book “Říkám to písní” (I say it with a song) and he seemed like a reasonably nice person then. But his opinions about Trump and his conspiratorial theorizing were just daft babblings of a privileged dude who has no clue. I have mixed feelings now.

He recorded this song in 1966 when he was young and I was not born yet. But it is a song about the inevitable end of his star and his life and for some reason one of those that I like.

Holidays: Friday Feathers

Two marvellous birds from the Zoo

©Giliell, all rights reserved

©Giliell, all rights reserved

 

 

And as an unrelated bonus:

A video I stumbled across indulging in my love for Peter, Paul and Mary: Puff, the Magic Dragon.

What I love about the performance isn’t so much the artists, but the audience who is singing along, or at least mouthing the words, from the toddler to the grandpa.

Once Upon A Time in Madrid

Or should I say “madrid”? ;D

Second week of May, I spent a full workweek in Madrid for a working group meeting, and it was a fantastic time (as always). Besides the science-y, political-y days (there’s a lot of discussion about legislation and quality standards, not just the fun research and applications stuff), the organizers had planned out a couple of very interesting cultural evenings, and I found myself quite pleasantly surprised by the city in general. It had a very different feel from Rome (last year) – much cleaner, much more organized, more expansive – which I liked, but the organized part works mostly if you’re not driving a car – never mind the six lanes and wide roads, vehicle traffic in Madrid is atrocious (in my opinion!).

Anyway, the weather held out, the people were wonderful, and my first night the lovely hotel staff pointed me towards (what felt like a) very local cafe-restaurant, where, despite the language barrier and despite clearly being not local, I felt very welcome and extremely well-fed (I had octopus). I went back a second time prior to leaving, which I usually don’t do, but it had that perfect mix of being taken care of and being left alone, which was exactly what I needed.

I have a series on chandeliers in the Royal Palace, but for now, here’s just some small details from that particular cultural visit:

Just a small house… © rq, all rights reserved.

If I was a moth… © rq, all rights reserved.

… there would be so much to love. © rq, all rights reserved.

Secret lions peeking out everywhere! © rq, all rights reserved.

To be honest, they look a little sad. © rq, all rights reserved.

It’s all fun and games. © rq, all rights reserved.

And maybe some more serious faces. © rq, all rights reserved.

One thing that did leave an impression was the collection of Stradivarius instruments – it’s true that brands are often over-rated, and I’m not too big on the detailed decorations on my instruments, but as a former violinist, it still left an impact to see these famous instruments in one room. I’d have to hear them to judge their quality, but the craftspersonship of the construction (and the artistry of the detail) is undoubtedly something else.

© rq, all rights reserved.

© rq, all rights reserved.

Today’s music selection, which felt like it suits the historical theme, is from Latvian Voices – I found this particular performance of theirs via a post answering the question “what is it like to be a woman in the music business?” (that’s a link to their FB page, I don’t know how to link to that post specifically):

As a female group, we’ve been questioned many times about the topic of “how it is to be a woman in the music business?!” We took it very seriously and made research in music history looking on our female colleagues back in the day. As a result, we found ourselves willing to perform more music written by female composers or music which is dedicated to strong and powerful women all over the world.
Please, enjoy our contribution to Frau Fanny Hensel-Mendelssohn – the song “Die Mainacht”, poem by Ludwig Heinrich Christoph Hölty.

Video: Kaspars Teilāns
Sound: Andris Ūze
Make-up: Ilona Zariņa
Style Cita Rota

A Progression of Beautiful Mornings

It’s been a while and I’ve collected quite a few, so here, all at once, is a collection of mornings at the train station, from about mid-January to the very beginning of April. It all starts out quite dark, gloomy and melodramatic, as January ought to be – it is, after all, the depth of cruel winter, and the freezing grip of the season is unrelenting…

January. ©rq, all rights reserved.

February. ©rq, all rights reserved.

Beginning of March. ©rq, all rights reserved.

[Read more…]

Mystical Worlds

No, this will not be another black hole post, although if you haven’t seen it yet, quickly:

First ever direct image of a black hole! The supermassive black hole in the galaxy M87 — 6.5 billion times as massive as the Sun! The image is better than I expected!

As tweeted by Katie Mack (@AstroKatie).

Instead, I found some art! Some spooky art that speaks to me, because despite the darkness, they don’t leave me feeling sad – there’s a loneliness that I enjoy because it has strength and conviction. Anyway, may I introduce you to Dawid Planeta – Artist Illustrates His Battle With Depression as a Mystical World of Spirit Animals, via My Modern Met:

A small figure appears throughout the poignant series, perhaps representing Planeta himself. He’s seen wandering through the fog-filled labyrinth, bravely facing the ominous jungle animals who feature glowing eyes that illuminate the darkness. They seem to be guiding him through the deep jungle, “to find his inner strength, find the light and come back with it.” And, Planeta explains, “When he knows who he is, he goes there again, this time without fear. He goes there because it’s a part of who he is. It’s a part of human nature you can’t ignore. You need to know all parts of life, dark and bright.”

Despite the difficulty of dealing with depression, Planeta managed to channel his feelings into creativity. “Depression—it’s not easy to deal with, but when you try, you can stop thinking about it as a weakness and turn it into something brilliant,” he says. “That’s what I aim to accomplish with my art. Things I’m trying to depict are dark, mysterious and frightening, but if you look closely, you will find excitement, passion and joy. Just open your mind and see.”

One example before the cut, for more keep reading:

by Dawid Planeta

[Read more…]

A Long 2018

To finish off the year, I’d like to share a song that probably all of you have heard at least once before (if not many times), in the spirit of Giliell’s Soundtrack of Your Life series (see episodes here, here, here and here) and voyager’s original soundtrack post.

The Counting Crows have been among my favourite bands since grade 7 or so, and while I don’t listen to them nearly as often as I used to, I find I see their lyrics and angst in all kinds of different ways, depending on life stages and life events. Many of their songs have followed me through darker times, but have also given me pleasure during happier times.

While they have several songs I can listen to again and again, one of my all-time favourites is A Long December, although this year I have to disagree with the sentiment that ‘maybe this year will be better than the last’. In a global sense, that is – personal life will continue on in various ways, and professional aspects currently are tending towards some serious development. But! We shall see. In any case, I find the relevance of the sentiment – a not-particularly-celebratory feeling at the turning of the year – to be pretty much universal during all the new years I’ve had since mid-high school.

Also, here’s a happy crayfish who just received five worms before being released back into the pond (back in October). May all your 2019s be so fortunate.

©rq, all rights reserved.

Soundtrack to your life: 4

Yesterday we talked about songs not actually suitable for weddings but played there.

When I got married, we carefully chose our song.

It’s one of the most wonderful tunes I know, soft, with lyrics that are evocative, holding the promise of a future. The information leaflet of the civil registration office said “you can bring music on a CD and hand it to the clerk”. It didn’t say “make sure there’s only that one song on the CD, because our clerk is completely unable to play a specific track, despite it being 2007.” So the lady who conducted the ceremony simply put in the CD and pressed play so instead of getting married to  “Fields of Gold” (track #5) I got married to track #1:

 

I almost fell of the chair trying to suppress laughter, because holy shit, I was getting married to the lines “I send an SOS to the world, I hope that someone finds my message in a bottle”.  “Fields of Gold” is forever the song I didn’t get married to, but not in the sense all other songs carry that label.

 

But, it could have been worse. Because I wanted to play Queen “Don’t stop me now” at the end.

Track #1 on that CD?

Mama, just killed a maaaaaaaan!

Soundtrack to your life: 2

Going out into the world.

Lets move to 1997. I’m nominally an adult and for the first time I travel “alone”, i.e. without my parents or teachers. To make it even more exciting, it’s literally the first time I travel by plane and leave Europe to participate in a festival in Cuba. As you can imagine this was an extremely exciting occasion and it gets 2 songs.

1: Ricky Martin: María

María was censored or banned in many Latin American countries, because it was thought to promote drugs. With lyrics claiming that she’s “white as the day” “the hot cold” “like poison” and that you would want her ” even if you were going to die” that idea isn’t exactly far fetched.

Anyway, it sounded up and down the streets of Havana and Pinar del Río and I fell in love with Cuba, and the Spanish language. Thanks, Ricky.

The second one is Meredith Brooks: Bitch

For some reason, the plane had a 45 minutes playlist for a 10 hours flight and one of the songs was this one. To me, it’s still an anthem. Back then I was of course progressive and pro women, but I was also 18 and had that “women can be everything” idea many young women have before reality hits them. But Meredith said it, I’m a Bitch and that’s ok and if you can’t take it that’s your problem.