Saturday 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas ...

... but don't feel guilty if it isn't. That only makes it worse. Merriment is optional.

If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider making a donation to Centrepoint, right now. They are short this year.


Friday 23 December 2011

New toys

Since I started doing regular classes in Brazilian Samba*, for fitness, and because it's good for my figure, I've got stronger in the muscles that go around the body from the top of the hips to the shoulders. The column firms up and gets more mobile and obedient to command, especially at the back between hips and ribcage.

A side effect, which I would never have thought of, is that now my tango partners can clearly feel through my embrace, not only which foot I am on and where it is, but exactly where my hips are in rotation. You can lead one of those little forward and back floor-level boleos, where the free leg just does a little curl around the standing leg, and you can feel the whole movement happening. I can tell that they can tell exactly how I am doing it, softly or sharply. A movement that seemed nice-looking but otherwise fairly pointless, suddenly becomes a true sensual pleasure for both of us, and a way for my partner to hear my music.

Everybody wants to play with it!

*It doesn't look like the ballroom version at all.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Hilarious Translations Department

This post is a present for those of my Argentinian friends who get wound up by bad English translations of song lyrics.

One of the ways I like to practice a language is to read something too difficult for me. I'm relaxed about not understanding two-thirds of it, I learn lots of new words, and I get a sense of achievement from just making sense of the structure of a sentence.

In pursuit of that, I have been dipping into a book borrowed from my Dad - a translation into Spanish of a not-particularly-good English detective story. It hasn't been a good choice, except for one line.

Early in the tale, the writer quotes the well-known couplet attributed to John Ball, preacher of the 1381 Peasants' Revolt in England:

"When Adam delved and Eve span,
who was then the gentleman?"

Don't say "Adam". (Ball's point, for my non-native-speaker readers, was that no-one is a "gentleman" by birth: if all humans were descended from the same parents, the feudal hierarchy of nobles and peasants could not be based on the law of God).

It looks pretty straightforward, to me. But what they've put is this:
Cuando Adán sondeó y Eva se revolvió,
¿quién fue entonces el caballero?

And I said to myself: that can't possibly be right, can it? "Span" is the past of "to spin" - and yes, that can mean to revolve quickly on one's axis, but here it doesn't mean that at all. It means to make thread by twisting together fibres, such as wool or flax. Which, of course, is what Eve was doing while Adam was delving (that is, digging) the earth, to grow food. 'Se revolver' can't possibly mean that - why would it be reflexive? She wasn't standing there and turning around, like Malvolio in Twelfth Night. She was spinning fibre.

I was a bit doubtful about 'sondear'. I wondered if the translator was seeing both "delve" and "spin" as metaphors for some kind of deep thought. They're not - they mean using a spade and a spindle, respectively, to grow food and make textiles. In this English sentence, neither of them can possibly be taken in any other sense.

My dictionary being inconclusive, I checked with a Spanish native speaker. Not only is the 'spinning' wrong, but it seems 'sondear' is catastrophically wrong too. It actually means 'to sound' or to 'take soundings' - in the maritime sense of to measure the depth of the sea using a long rope with a weight at the end. Nothing to do with spades at all.

So what they've written is:

When Adam took soundings and Eve revolved, who was then the gentleman?

Which sounds like some sort of Dada-ist poetry; it is bizarre, dreamlike gibberish. And there's a place for bizarre, dreamlike gibberish; but not as a translation of this direct, forceful utterance, persuading the workers to throw off their chains.

Disastrous. My informant pointed out that the choice of a perfect tense rather than an imperfect is also questionable. It should probably be 'araba' and 'hilaba,' because the digging and spinning are usual actions rather than a single event; but I think that's minor. Maybe they wanted to make it rhyme.

Anyway. While thinking about this, I wondered, did Eve really spin? How far back in the history of humanity, as opposed to religious stories, does spinning really go? I remembered reading about this research, which uses the genetics of human body lice and head lice to infer that the practice of wearing clothes goes back at least 83,000 years and perhaps 170,000. If these clothes were made of skins, spinning was not necessary; but if they were made of cloth, the thread must, I suppose, have been spun.

As for evidence of spinning itself, it seems to go back a very long time before recorded history, but nobody really has any idea how old it is, as far as I can tell. Ancient pots are embellished with patterns created by pressing a cord into the wet clay. The Greeks of Homer said that spinning was taught to humans by Athene, who turned Arachne into a spider for getting too good at it. The Navajo say they learned it from Spider-Woman.

From what I can find, it seems to be old; at least in the tens of thousands of years. I don't know if there are humans anywhere that don't traditionally spin, but there are climates where clothes are a useless burden, and where local plants and animals do not provide any suitable fibres. So even if there are, they might have forgotten how, rather than never learned. There's no obvious upper limit on how old it might be.

Here is someone spinning, in the Himalayas.

And here is a Navajo elder doing the same thing with a longer, but otherwise similar, spindle, while explaining the technique. There are many different techniques, and many forms of spindle, but the essence of the process is much the same.


Monday 12 December 2011

Miscellaneous lessons learned

Going out when you wouldn't otherwise have gone out, merely because someone else is going, is virtually always a mistake. The dance or conversation you intended to have will not happen, and the perfectly good reason why you wouldn't otherwise have gone there, will still be true.

If you're going to do it anyway, (which, if you are anything like me, you will, just because you have to roll the dice sometimes) always have an alternative point to the evening. Even if it's a humourous one.

Wednesday 7 December 2011


Barcelona - brilliant sunshine, 10-15°C.

The Tolkien Facade

The Sagrada Família was designed by Antoni Gaudí, but what it looks like, is J.R.R. Tolkien and H.P. Lovecraft got drunk together in Bali. One of the facades definitely has a tentacle thing going.
Detail of the Tentacle Facade

It has fruit on its pinnacles. He persuaded the Catholic Church to build this thing?

Miranda Hats

I last visited Barcelona about 20 years ago, and at that time, I don't think you were allowed inside yet. Since then the building works have progressed very well, and the inside is absolutely enchanting - a forest of limestone, granite, basalt and porphyry-clad columns, full of dappled light.

The forest

Fifteen metres above the congregation are galleries with capacity for about 1,000 singers - you can see them clearly in the picture above. The organ was played briefly while I walked around inside - it sounded good, without annoying echoes.

The canopy is stunning:


And, looking down -

Sky Turtle holding up a pillar

- look at the little Sky Turtle!

Thursday 1 December 2011

Out of Office Message

I'm off the grid again - back on Tuesday or Wednesday.