syncategorematic: (guitar)
( Apr. 17th, 2014 03:01 pm)
A marvellous piece of music journalism, even for someone like me who knows almost nothing about the blues: The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie, the story of seeking out the story of two brilliant African-American women blues musicians of 1930.

A must-read; the twists and turns of this history just keep building up.
syncategorematic: (kramskoy-creative and dignified)
( Apr. 9th, 2014 08:44 pm)
I sent off my check for Clarion 2014 today. Since I am very grateful for the stroke of luck that made me personally not have to worry about the choice between Clarion and rent/food, I'd like to point my current friends towards my potential friends who do need some financial help getting to Clarion:

Ellie Rhymer - she has her submission story online.

Nicole - she is from Chicago.

Haralambi - he is from Bulgaria and so needs more support than most in order to fly across the Atlantic.

If you cannot contribute, I would appreciate you sharing these links in case other people in your circles can. The reason I can afford this is that back in 2008, someone believed in me. I'd like to pass it on and believe in other people too.
syncategorematic: (me)
( Nov. 10th, 2013 11:40 am)
Originally posted by [ profile] tammypierce at Typhoon Haiyan
Those of you who have been following the news know that Typhoon Haiyan's impact on the Philippines has been shattering, with a count of the dead and missing beyond belief.

I know the holidays are coming up and times are hard, but if you can help, here are some places to try. Those of you who attend places of worship may already be helping through collections there.

Oxfam International: those of us in the U.S. can click on the Oxfam America button to donate through them

The Red Cross, Disaster Relief donations. Keep in mind that Haiyan is now headed for Vietnam. Donations to international organizations will go where they are needed most, which is a good thing.

World Food Programme

If you can't donate, please boost the signal. The folks in East Asia need all the help they can get.
syncategorematic: (erythraean sibyl)
( Sep. 9th, 2013 07:36 pm)
We skip ahead in our scheduled storytelling to tell you of "Riddick", which I watched with Mcwetboy and Fritzkat on Sunday afternoon at the already-moribund (attendance-wise) World Exchange Theatre.

You may have noticed recently that I have a tendency to judge movies much more leniently than some; that I am willing to defend movies with poor dialogue or an unimaginative plot because of various justifications, as we saw in my essay on "Pacific Rim."

Well, there are indeed movies out there that I consider Bad.

"Riddick" is Bad.
Read more... )
So after Monday evening Colin and I came out of "Pacific Rim" at the SilverCity Gloucester (where there were possibly a dozen people for the Monday night showing), I said, "Neon Genesis Evangelion this is not, but I enjoyed myself."

"This reached entirely new levels of bad," he said.

"Yes, but it was visually BEAUTIFUL," I insisted, with a rather giddy grin.

I think it was Madeleine L'Engle who said that the good thing about getting older is that you are still all the other ages you ever were. And one of the ages I have been was a girl of seven or eight, who did not yet understand English that well, but who adored watching "Batman: The Animated Series", and whose few glimpses of "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" and the animated "X-Men" set a fire inside her and a longing for more that has not quite died in twenty years.

I didn't _care_ that the dialogue may have been awful; I didn't have the English to care. Yes, there are people who say that this is why Hollywood blockbusters with dumb scripts do so well in overseas markets. I say, "And is that a bad thing?"

The more subtle the script, the more each line of dialogue sings and packs a punch, the more inaccessible it would be to people outside the culture. Even with a good translator. A great script relies on being more than the basic words on the page by picking up the audience's absorbed cultural knowledge; someone from outside the culture would just have the words on the page, and to her some of the ways the characters behave may simply be incomprehensible. I would adore to pieces a work that referenced Shakespeare, Auden and Yeats every third line; someone who had not read Shakespeare, Auden and Yeats would find it as bewildering as you would if you read some brilliant parody of something you’ve never heard of and went, "Why is this listed as a humorous work?"

A skilled translator can do a lot, but it takes a certain kind of genius in its own way to convey genius into another language. I've done enough of this kind of stuff that I know.

What does translate is beautifully-shot SF that does not depend on a particular cultural sphere. The other cultures make their own movies, hopefully, that have the delicately subtle scripts that reference their own poetry and political slogans and advertisers and pop songs and the truth of living there (and subtitled versions of which which people in the Western English-speaking world get dragged to by their arthouse-film-fanatic friends and go "I don't get this at all, and I was bored out of my skull”). What they go to Hollywood for is to do what Hollywood does best: throw a bunch of very beautiful CGI for an easily translatable concept.

You know what else is easily translatable, on a grand scale, with dazzling visuals and music, overblown emotions, and often criticized for dumb plots? Opera. Afterwards, reading about the film on Wikipedia, I encountered the quotation from Del Toro: "Del Toro conceived the film as an operatic work: "That was one of the first words I said to the entire team at ILM. I said, 'This movie needs to be theatrical, operatic, romantic.' We used a lot of words not usually associated with high-tech blockbusters …" This. This is totally it.
Read more... )
Was thinking last night about alternate stories where Cinderella has a wicked stepfather ...and realized that this could not happen.

The reason for Cinderella's predicament was her wicked stepmother --- who is in a predicament herself.

Consider this, if I'm the stepmother: I had a first husband and two daughters I loved very much, and then I lost the husband (to war, illness, a hunting accident, whatever). By rights, his daughters should get everything of his.

But unfortunately, I have to get married again, because for whatever reason, this society can't help a woman alone deal (maybe I need a loan, and the bank just won't give one to a respectable widow without a man signing off on it).

And now my new husband, whom I married for convenience or survival, owns everything I own, by the customs of this nation. Including all that used to be my beloved first husband's. And he's got a kid, and she'll get everything he has, so she'll it ALL. Including what should have been my Drucilla's and Anastasia's. Just because I needed that bank loan so they won't starve now, they'll starve after he dies. All because I'm a woman and had the tactlessness to survive my husband (and maybe he'd died without a specific will that all the money goes to his daughters, or his will gets overridden because heck, I'm the only one who was witness and I'm a woman).

Frack, I'll be wicked too. It's not a bad stepmother that's Cinderella's problem, it's the patriarchy.

(The wicked stepfather/real father problem is Donkeyskin.)
Originally posted by [ profile] kristincashore at Can you help with an issue of disability discrimination in Massachusetts?
Over at Rebecca Rabinowitz's blog, a woman who needs MA state licensure for the job for which she's qualified is having a terrible time getting that licensure, because the state is failing to provide her with the assistive technology she needs to take the licensure exam. According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Jeanette Beal is entitled to a fair chance at taking this exam, but she's not getting that fair chance. Beal has a master's in special education and specializes in assistive technology for disabled people. Any chance you can help? Please go read Jeanette's letter, repost (in full, please), link to my or Rebecca's post, offer to help if you can. Thanks.

Passing on the signal in the hope it reaches some effect.
syncategorematic: (mystical)
( Mar. 8th, 2013 08:33 am)
Dreamed that animals were beginning to grow intelligent and sentient: seagulls were captured on video having a (rather cartoonish) jumbo jet fly low overhead, and they rush towards the camera to bow and worship it. I am trying to write, and a grizzly bear with enormous claws comes up beside me and nods that it should write as well. I let it, and run off to ask my mother where I put my camera, looking for my camera as the bear continues to write.

Tales of yesterday's adventures will resume shortly.
syncategorematic: (me)
( Feb. 15th, 2013 03:07 pm)
I'm following this from Ms_danson's journal, as I think this is a very good and worthwhile meme:

1. Tell me one thing you love about me.

2. Tell me two things you love about yourself. Make it good. No self-deprecation allowed!

3. Look through the comments ~ when you see someone you know, tell them three things you love about them.

4. Do this in your journal so I can tell you what I love about YOU - and if you've already done it, tell me so, so that I can go back and give you some love. (Optional, of course.)
syncategorematic: (libyan sibyl)
( Jul. 29th, 2012 11:07 pm)
I guess I'm on a kick of translating Vysotsky's car songs, then, after "Song of Two Beautiful Cars" yesterday (or maybe I am just building up my next submission to the Wysotsky Group). Actually, I've meant to translate this one for a long while now, as I love the extended metaphor in it, particularly after the tempo and tone change. 

The Horizon
They've swept it clean so there will be no tracks to trace.
Come with your catcalls now, your shaming and outcrying:
My tape is the horizon, and the world's end is my race;
I must be first to the horizon line! 
 Not everyone approved this bet's unusual terms.
 Reluctant shook the hands when it was sealed.
 The terms are these: to drive the highway, with no turns,
 And just the highway, never turn or yield.
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles
        As I drive parallel to parallel wires. 
        But every so, in front, a shadow's flitting -
        Someone in black, or some black cat or kitten.
I know more than once they'll stick it in my wheels today,
I'm guessing as to what and how I'll be beguiled.
I know where a wire will stretch across my way
And where they'll intercept me with a smile.
 But my dials are ablaze - at such a speed as this
 A sand grain has the power of a bullet,
 And so I clutch the wheel, to shudders in my wrists,
 To make it before they reach the bolt and pull it! 
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles,
        As I drive on, straight up towards the wires.
        Hurry and make the nuts a little more tight,
        Else they will raise the wire right to throat height.
The tarmac melts below, the fuses are on fire,
My throat goes dry, the climax now too close for its bearing,
And with my bare chest I break the blocking wire -
I live! Take off the mourning bands you're wearing! 
Whoever drove me to this cruel bet and deal
Had been a dirty calculating fighter.
I'm high with racing thrill, but, however I feel,
On slippery turns I'm braking all the tighter.
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles,
        Ahead or overhead, to spite all wires,
        Just calm the losers, in that moment near
        When out on the horizon I'll appear! 
It draws no closer still, my horizon finish line.
I didn't break the tape, though I'm done now with the wire.
The cable didn't snap across my neck and spine,
Though from the trees they shoot still at my tires. 
It hadn't been the cash that led me to this race -
"Don't miss it," they had asked me, "Understand it,
"Find out if there's a limit, there beyond the world's face,
And can even horizons be expanded?"
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles
        My treads, I will not let the shots defile...
        But my brakes fail and - what do you find?!
        I overshoot, the horizon's left behind! 

- V.Vysotsky

Quite interesting video of a painting by a fan named Herbert Goering (sp? his name is in Cyrillic) showing what he thought of when he heard that song. I like it.

Notes: What I translate as a wire stretched across the road is in the original sometimes a cable and sometimes a rope or hawser; I decided to use a wire as it's easier to rhyme and, from what I know, commonly used for these kinds of purposes. English uses "wire" for a bunch of different meanings that Russian differentiates; thus, the line about "ahead or overhead" wires is my own, where he lists three different words: "to spite hawsers, cables, (electrical) wires."

The actual ending cry in the second-last line after the brakes fail is "coda!" I am not sure whether he used it just to rhyme, as it is a rare word outside of music in discourse --- and doesn't rhyme with much in English. Traduttore - tradittore, oh well.
Since I haven't done a Vysotsky translation in a while, and since my procrastination efforts are tireless, here, a translation of one of my favourites.  It was fun to do the wordplay on car terms (yes, I tossed a few more car model names in to help the rhyme, and the original had "spark plugs" but I think that is too awkward to be easily singable in English) and I've always found the meaning quite poignant. 

Burning tires on the tar
Without tracks or laws or bans,
Out from city nightmares, cars
Rush beyond to autobahns,
Lumbering as tanks they go,
Lincolns, Fords and Maseratis,
Benzes, Citroens, Renaults,
Elegant Mustangs and Bugattis...

Like they know sparks are worth it, this game.
Like blood feud on the cities this will be declared.
Hurry, pray the ignition won't flame,
Carburetors, and whatever else they have there...

Limousines on limousines,
You can't see the road, even:
Like two inkspots, in between
Two exquisite cars are weaving;
Like a chain is their connector
(And the weakest link will tear) ---
Accelerators and injectors
Will find nothing to do there.

As if they know --- sparks are worth it, this game ---
They'll just make it out, settling every affair!
Or perhaps he will sing her her name
On the klaxon, or whatever else they have there...

All this jam of cold machines
Their hot anger at you hiding.
Hear me, pale gray limousine,
Do not lose her from your highbeams!
Up ahead the road will split ---
Now, more risk, more faith now, go!
Or you'll miss her --- that was it ---
Oh, pale gray, you were too slow!

They had known sparks are worth it, this game ---
And now what can the signals and billboards still blare?
Or --- a load off his back maybe came,
Off his hood, or off whatever else they have there...

No, it branched, a shutting door,
Lanes apart, and you're not here.
Could it be that never more
Could split highways bring us nearer?
This one's merging, one more way!
And in seventh, on the metal,
The great limo, pale and gray,
Forgot to hit the braking pedal...

So then meeting is just empty dreams?
Or is this the blood feud on the cities declared?
And the tires went bouncing, the beams,
And the hearts... or whatever thing else they have there...

- V. Vysotsky


Video, as always: 
Additional notes:

In my dialect of Canadian English, "ban" does not actually exactly rhyme with "autobahn" --- at least, I learned enough German that this influences my pronunciation of the latter --- but the possibility was too tempting, so I ignored this.

Vysotsky mentioned a lot of foreign car makes that at the time, most of his listeners in the Soviet Union would have never seen: Ford, Lincoln, Selena (sp? which long browsing on Wikipedia made me totally unable to identify, unless he refers to the defunct Italian manufacturer Serenissima), Mustang, Mercedes and Citroen. Ironically enough, although I live in the West, the only time I have seen a Maserati, a make I added, was in a Moscow car dealership.
I don't think I've translated a Yuri Vizbor song before; he has a somewhat more mainstream-bard temperament than the songwriters I usually translate, as he has somewhat less sophisticated melodies. But this song is kind of stuck in my head today. I'm not sure why, but the last four lines make me tear up a little. 

I am teaching to play the guitar now,
To a guy on an icebreaker crew.
As the ice shatters under the bow,
Sasha grips the frets tighter anew.
I have gotten a stubborn apprentice,
He is tugging the strings with his soul:
On his table a telegram sent is:
"I've stopped loving you. Bye. And don't call."

Right along among bergs rolling ramming,
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see:
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

My guitar skills are not very mighty, 
And the frets send me fretting at times - 
I had learned from the local teen fighters 
In Moscow yards lined with poplars and limes. 
But to Sasha I'm god, as I'm claiming:
Without music he's now a lost man. 
Vizbor Yosich*, he weirdly named me, 
Showing me his respect as he can. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

Oh, the iceman's harpoon so long-ranging 
Has a treacherous stroke to be sure. 
And the seven worn strings that need changing 
Are now left as protection and cure. 
He says, "Nitpicking, this, anyhow, 
So she made a mistake in her mind..." 
I go teach folks to play the guitar now, 
And I'm learning from folks to be kind. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

- Yuri Vizbor

*the proper respectful title for Vizbor would have been Yuri Yosifovich, or Yuri Yosich in short - Sasha using his last name as a first name does make for a weird name.

Video, as always:
Yesterday I went and saw The Avengers alone, at last, in the World Exchange theatre. The screen is fairly small as screens go, and there were maybe twenty people in the theatre (half of whom either did not know or did not care about the post-credits scenes, as they walked out before them).


- As IMDB observes, the Cyrillic sign seen just before Black Widow's interrogation scene with the Russian mobsters has random Cyrillic characters on it.
- Black Widow herself being Russian, well --- they credit Rosetta Stone in the end credits, and that movie should be an indicator that no, Rosetta Stone will not make you a native speaker. The Russian was grammatical, for the most part --- except for the line that is something like "just another pretty face", which is word-for-word correct, but infelicitous: you don't use that expression in Russian, you skip the "another" word. Black Widow's reply, "You think that I'm pretty" uses "krasiva", the short form of the predicative adjective, which sounds unnatural. And the repeated phrase "to move tanks" - "tolkat' tanki" actually means "to push tanks" and I automatically parsed it as meaning "sell on the black market" as in "push drugs" but I never quite figured whether they meant it as tank sales or tank transportation.
- The syntax may be mostly okay, but the phonology was atrocious. Somebody should have sat them down with the IPA, rather than using Rosetta Stone. In Soviet Russia, consonants palatalize you, and it was the consonant palatalization that Black Widow and the "mobster" kept missing on. Both their accents were horrible. My brother agreed with me, saying that he was snickering in the theatre when he saw it with a friend, and people were staring at him, because that moment in the scene is not at all funny.
- What bothered me was the actor playing the mobster. Sure, you want Scarlett Johansson for the female lead. But what was wrong with getting a Russian-speaking actor to play the mobster, instead of someone who spoke in some mix of a Polish and American accent? (Jerzy Skolimowski, apparently, who is a Pole and speaks like it.) The Tom Clancy movies hire Russian actors for the minor roles: the only reason I saw "Sum of All Fears" is for the thirty seconds in which a family friend of ours plays the Russian Minister of Defense (the Russian President's wife in that movie spoke way better Russian than the President, Ciaran Hinds, did). Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy had two well-known Russian actors in the Russian roles. Why pick a Pole for a Russian job?

It made me be deeply suspicious of whether the little girl speaking Hindi actually spoke it well, but M'laah Kaur Singh does apparently speak Hindi and Punjabi, although she was born in Illinois.

After the foreign-language scenes were over, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. I liked the pacing of the dialogue, that they give each other no chance to breathe before the next line. This is the kind of movie you sit back and soak in, rather than racing ahead of the plot. I want to own it on DVD, so I could watch it several times over.

It occurred to me as I watched the battle scene that the plot of Avengers 2 could be the wives and husbands and parents and children of the slain Chitauri coming back to, ironically, avenge their slain. Although apparently they're biorobots. Still. They may be ugly, but they had lives and feelings, and being slaughtered in another universe, with no chance for the ones who loved you to even see your body again, is a very lonely death.
syncategorematic: (kramskoy-creative and dignified)
( May. 28th, 2012 02:27 pm)
Note to self: do not read Paarfi of Roundwood books before writing a linguistics assignment.

Or any other kind of nonfiction that values brevity.
A friend and I were discussing writing in the first person POV, and it motivated me to try this experiment:[Poll #1838997]

If you are conscious of what cues you used to make your decision, I appreciate knowing, but if you just went by your gut, that is fine too.

Oh, and I'll appreciate it if some of you ask your friends to do this poll as well. The more the merrier, because I am really curious how people perceive narrative voice, and whether that varies with how they read books in general. Please don't give your reasoning for your precise answers in the comments at this time, just general statements and impressions. I will reveal the answers, and the source novels, in three or four days, or when I get twenty or more responses, whichever comes later, so if you want to know the answers, come try the questions!
- Moved to the United States
- Attended ESSLLI
- Visited Slovenia, or any part of Yugoslavia
- Hit a high C - repeatedly
- Attended CLS and WSCLA
- Eaten ruggeleh - seriously, this staple of Chicago coffee shops has never appeared in any other Canadian or American coffee shop
- Staffed the ICT
- Sung in Xhosa, Georgian, Sotho, and Bulgarian Church Slavonic
- Sung Poulenc, Satie, Schubert, Rachmaninoff (both choral and solo), and Shostakovich
- Won money in a trivia game
- Owned a weighted-key keyboard
- Played Settlers of Catan and Munchkin (hard as the Reach for the Top team I coached tried to teach me, way back when)
- Hosted for several days at my own place a person not genetically related to me
- Used Skype (astonishing, isn't it)
- Visited an observatory and identified Cassiopeia and Aquila in the night sky
- Seen the International Space Station in the night sky
- Had a speaking part in a play that charged money for admission
- Drunk scotch (didn't like it, though, although the people offering it to me are wonderful)
- Got a professional haircut, surprising as this may sound
- Read John le Carre. Among many others.
- Watched Citizen Kane and Babylon 5
- Owned a Macbook, and associated software
- Put up video of myself on the Internet
- Recorded music I myself composed both lyrics and melody to
- Visited the Art Institute of Chicago
- As far as I know, the first time I made people cry with my music
- Got convinced of the validity of null linguistic items
- Attended a chamber opera
- Attended an American Thanksgiving dinner

There are surely many others.
Given that Rachmaninov has been showing up in my musical life from several different directions lately, I've been thinking of a scene I never forgot from Natalya Sats's memoirs, "Sketches of My Life".

Natalya Sats (1903-1993) was the director of the Moscow Musical Theatre for Children (and according to the Russian Wikipedia, the world's first female opera director). She helped Sergei Prokofiev produce the famous children's musical story "Peter and the Wolf" (and apparently when the famous radio play of "Alice in Wonderland" that involved Vysotsky's songs, was discussed, she accused the studio of "corrupting children with Vysotsky's mostrous songs --- see, I can like both of them despite this).

She was the daughter of the composer Ilya Sats, who was best known for composing the children's musical "The Blue Bird," and she herself received a musical education.

From the surrounding paragraphs, this scene must have happened when she was about eight years old (translation by me; apparently an official translation of that book exists, but I haven't been able to find it; the tense shifts are in the original, and I think capture the child's perception of the event):

Once I was home all alone. I sat readng. The doorbell rang and I opened the door. There stood a tall thin man in black, clean-shaven, severe-looking.

"Is Ilya Alexandrovich home?" he asked me in a grim voice.

"He'll be coming soon," I replied, feeling that this was someone special, and I grew a little frightened.

He came in, took off his hat, then his leather gloves --- each finger separately. He put his gloves in his hat. He wiped his feet, even though it was dry outside. He took off his coat and hung it up. His movements had some kind of stony formality, and his face, too, was of stone. No, he can't be one of the actors.

The dry man in the stiff collar didn't smile to me; his mouth was tightly locked, you can't talk to him. He was very cleanly shaven; he had little hair on his had, and a very high forehead. He seemed somehow completely separate, like an island. Tilting his head, he followed me to Papa's office --- he seemed to feel cramped under the low ceiling of our apartment. I offered him a chair, then shut Papa's door and stood pondering on the other side. What if Papa won't come for a long time? What will I do with this stranger?

Our Papa always has his tie and everything all askew; the "island" has everything very straight, with many buttons on his suit jacket which are all precisely buttoned.

I stood there, not knowing what to do. And then suddenly from Papa's office I heard an entire orchestra, a much bigger one than the one I had heard under the stage of the Theatre of the Arts. How astounding! Papa's old upright piano couldn't possibly sound like that!

The sounds insistently demanded some truth; they would unite in the most powerful chords I have ever heard. They raced apart and merged back together with unearthly speed. These sounds, like some unknown current, snatched me up and carried me away --- nothing of the mundane usual was left around me, just those sounds around me and in me... Was this tall man a wizard?! Did he have twenty fingers?

We were not allowed to open the door when there was music playing. Respect for the arts, for musicians, was instilled in us almost from birth. But on that forever unforgettable day, when I suddenly felt so wonderful and so frightened, I slightly opened the door and saw the stranger sitting at Papa's piano, playing. There he was, big, straight, stony-faced, only his fingers moving; his hands were huge, soft, strong, he orders them, and they...they sing in the sweetest voices, they light up the sun, they destroy foes... They could do anything, these wonder-working hands! It's interesting that he is somehow grayish-yellow, dry, all made of corners, and his hands are young, soft, completely different from the rest of him. Oh! He is going from middle C to the A of the second octave above it --- almost two octaves with one hand!

He is playing something like a polka. My feet start dancing despite me, and my mouth is smiling. How hard it is to stand by the crack of the door while this polka is playing! But it gets more amazing the further it goes: it is as if a hot wave floods everything inside you, and you feel like it's now a holiday, to everyone's joy.

Now he is playing something else: one huge someone and many little ones; a giant and some amazingly quick little elves! The Wolf and many Red Riding Hoods? They are so quick that one can't tell at all who will win.

How, how could ten simple fingers play like that! What a miracle, what marvellous luck that must be!

Perhaps he is just pretending to be so wooden, so that no one could tell from his face how good he is, but when he is playing, he can't hide that...

A bell rang in the front hall. It was Papa. Without saying a word, he quickly took off his coat, buttoned up all the buttons of his suit jacket, quickly fixed his tie, even smoothed his moustache, and went into his office. Ours was a one-story home, a "breeze-through", Mama called it; of course, Papa had heard that music even outside, and had understood who had come.

The amazing man greeted Papa, polite and friendly, and said, "I really like your polka from "A Man's Life," while the music to "The Blue Bird" is simply charming."

Such a man is saying that to my Papa? I am filled with pride.

But why did they shut the door? And the most important thing in the world right now was that the "amazing one" play again. No, he keeps on talking, and not playing. His voice is gray, only on one or two notes, even when he is saying nice things.

I was shocked how one could play at times so softly and tenderly, at times so forcefully, like great bells. My playing was always somehow in the middle: a little louder, a little softer, well, just ordinary. Now Papa's music is playing in Papa's office, and I...for the first time in my life I am mad at Papa! I so want the other one, the big one, to play again.

About twenty minutes later the stranger left --- he must have valued his time --- but what a completely new world had opened to me!

I had thought that my Papa plays the piano better than anyone --- because I hadn't heard anyone except him! But now...! How could I have possibly imagined that a musician's fingers could obey his will so well, could run about so, could sing like the sweetest of singers, could sound like a hurricane, a storm, a war... How did he make our little old upright piano say so much, say something so important that it couldn't even be said with words!...

I sat by Papa. He was in a good mood.

"Papa, you won't be angry? He plays the piano better, so much better, than you. Why is that, Papa?"

Papa answered warmly, without the slightest hint of being insulted, "Because he is Rachmaninov. Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov. He is a wonderful composer, but he is also a great pianist, a genius at the piano. I play the piano to tell people what I have to tell them, to help them understand the play, the show. I play to feel my music better. But Sergei Vasilyevich has unlimited command of the piano. Why, did he play long without me?"

- Natalya Sats, Sketches of My Life, 1985.
I've been toying around with a few Okudzhava songs now, and I like this one.

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The Prayer of Francois Villon

While the Earth keeps spinning, while the light shines on,
Lord, I pray, give to everyone that of which they have none:
Give you a mind to the wise ones, a horse to the cowardly,
Give money to the lucky... And don't forget about me.

While the Earth keeps spinning, Lord, thine is the power and will,
Give one who longs for power, power unto his fill,
Give rest at least till sunset to those who give generously,
To Cain himself give repentance... And don't forget about me.

I know you can do anything, I believe truly, you are wise,
As a soldier slain on the field believes that he lives in Paradise,
As every ear believes you that the words you whisper are true,
As we all keep on believing, knowing not what we do.

My Lord and God Almighty, my beloved green-eyed God,
While the Earth keeps spinning, and she herself finds it odd,
While she still has enough of time and of fire to see,
Give out a little to everyone... And don't forget about me.
- Bulat Okudzhava
This is apparently Okudzhava's most-covered song.
I have gone reading about musical settings to Russian poetry, and found myself toying with how I would translate these two poems by Nikolai Gumilev (founder of the Russian Guild of Poets and the Acmeist movement in poetry, and one-time husband of Anna Akhmatova and father of her son).

The first one was called by the critic where I sourced it "key to all of Gumilev's poetry", advice from an experienced poet to a young one in the performing arts. And it casts a chilling irony when one knows that Gumilev was himself shot by the secret police in 1921 for alleged involvement with a conspiracy after an informant named him.

(I am not completely pleased with my translation, as it has too many consonant clusters to be easily singable, although Gumilev did not write it as a song lyric. It proved surprisingly difficult for so many easy rhymes --- but the Acmeist motto was "All the right words in the right order" so I've got to try to keep the right words as much as possible.)

(Link has music by V. Dashkevich, called 'the Mozart of Soviet cinematography',
performed by Elena Kamburova)

My dear boy, you are so happy, ever merry, bright and smiling,
Do not ask for this sweet fortune that has poisoned worlds away.
You don't know, you don't know, you don't know what is this violin,
What dark horrors lie in store for one who dares begin to play!

If a player's hands commanding take the violin and bow,
Peaceful light is gone forever from the eyes that make that choice.
Rabid wolf packs wander, hungry, on the roads where fiddlers go.
Fiends and demons love to listen to the fiddle's regal voice.

Ever, ever must these strings go on and sing and cry and wail,
And the maddened bow must leap and dance all through the nights and days,
Under sun and under snow, under blizzard, under gale,
Even when the west is burning, even when the east's ablaze.

You will tire, you will slow, you will stop for just one note,
And the power will be gone from you to breathe or make a sound,
And the wolves in rabid bloodlust will at once lunge at your throat,
And their claws will crush your ribcage as their teeth will drag you down.

Then you'll know the cruel mockery of all that sang around,
And your eyes will see the over-late but overwhelming fear,
And the mournful cold will wind around your body like a shroud,
And your friends will bow their heads then, and your bride will burst in tears.

Go on, boy! You will not find either joy or treasure here!
But I see that you are laughing, there are sunbeams from your eyes.
Here, take the magic fiddle, face the monsters others fear,
And go die a death of glory, the dread death that fiddlers die!

Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921), 1910

Gumilev was fascinated by Africa, and had visited it four times, but this poem, one of his most famous, is not about Africa, not really.

(Link has music written and performed by Elena Vaenga.)

Today I can tell that your gaze is especially sad
And your arms are especially thin as they clasp round your knee.
Listen, I'll tell you how far, far away, on the shores of Lake Chad,
An exquisite giraffe wanders free.

He has been created so languid and graceful and slim
With dapples in magical patterns adorning his hide,
So only the moon in her beauty compares with him
As she shimmers and breaks on the crystal lake's rippling tide.

He looks like the many-hued sails of a ship from afar.
He floats in his gallop as birds do in joy of their flight.
I know that the earth sees much wonder when at the first star
He hides in a cavern of marble to wait out the night.

I can tell of mysterious lands and of laughter and bliss,
Of the maid black but comely, of the passioned young chief on the plain...
But you, for too long you've inhaled the weight of the mist,
You do not believe there is anything other than rain.

And how can I tell you of the scent of the grasses that play
Beneath slender palms, and how tropical gardens there lie...
You're crying? Just listen... on the shores of Lake Chad, far away,
An exquisite giraffe wanders by.

Nikolai Gumilev, 1908

I used to write a draft of the write-up on a phonetics paper that I'm supposed to submit for Phonology class. Apparently, it believes I feel very affectionate about it.