Thursday, September 21, 2023

“A Julia de Burgos”, by Julia de Burgos, and its echo of Friedriech Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud

In her poem "A Julia de Burgos" (which she apparently wrote in 1943), Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) contrasts the "tú" she addresses as "Julia de Burgos" with the "yo" that speaks the poem, with "yo no" running through the stanzas as a mesodiplosis linking the contrasting points: "Tú eres como tu mundo, egoísta; yo no; / que todo me lo juego a ser lo que soy yo." The second of these lines recalls both the subtitle of "Ecce Homo: Wie man wird, was man ist" (1888, published in 1908) and the end of Sigmund Freud's "Neue Folge der Vorlesungen zur Einführung in die Psychoanalyse" (1933): "Wo es war, soll ich werden." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 21 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Ted Gioia remembers Jim Croce on the 50th anniversary of his death, and I remember beloved artists I lost when I was young

Today, Ted Gioia wrote a tribute to singer-songwriter Jim Croce (11943-1973) on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, noting that "Croce’s death was perhaps my first experience with the senseless death of a young artist I’d actually seen in concert." This made me think of my first experiences of losing beloved artists when I was relatively young: the murder of John Lennon (1940-1980) on 8 December 1980; the death of Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986) on 14 June 1986; and the apparent suicide of Primo Levi (1919-1987) on 11 April 1987, whose work I had discovered a year or two before that with "The Periodic Table" (1975, translated into English in 1984). (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 20 September 2023)


Tuesday, September 19, 2023

An evening walk in Kannenfeld Park in Basel, with no witches

To get a few more steps in before the day ended, I took an evening stroll around nearby Kannenfeld Park in Basel and listened to the latest episode of Peter Adamson's "History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps" podcast, which is on Shakespeare, "Macbeth", and Witchcraft in the Shakespearean era. I'd like to report that I glimpsed witches between the darkening trees, but the few other people in the park were on the paths with me, and the only hint I got of anything weird was a blinding light that, after a moment, I determined was a headlight from a car that happened to be pointing right at me for a moment. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 19 September 2023)

Monday, September 18, 2023

From “Your Mother Should Know” to Brad Mehldau and finally David Bowie

Some turn of phrase or an echo of melody led me to hum Paul McCartney's "Your Mother Should Know", from the 1967 Beatles album "Magical Mystery Tour." That led me to listen once more to Brad Mehldau's 2023 release "Your Mother Should Know: Brad Mehldau Plays The Beatles", a live recording of a 2020 concert in Paris. On the album, the penultimate tune, McCartney's "Golden Slumbers" from "Abbey Road" (1969), made me turn it up on this rainy morning to listen more closely to Mehldau's beautiful and meandering eight minutes of melody. And that primed me for the equally beautiful final tune, David Bowie's "Life on Mars?", from 1971's "Hunky Dory". (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 18 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

A text-message exchange about how to address my teenage daughter in text messages

My daughter Sara emailed me a file she wanted printed out, so I saved it, printed it for her, and sent her a WhatsApp message: "Your printout is on your desk." She wrote back, "Thanks, Dad", with three heart emojis. So I wrote, "You've welcome, Sara", with three heart emojis. She quickly responded, "Ewww, don't call me that." When I wrote back, "Don't call you Sara???", she clarified that I never call her "Sara" when texting with her. I explained that I'd thought about writing, "You're welcome, daughter", but I decided to say "Sara" because I thought she would find "daughter" annoying! Her last message in this exchange was simple: "True." (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 13 September 2023)

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Deciding not to play: Eva Klesse at her quartet’s concert in Basel this evening

Sometimes, a jazz musician decides not to play. When pianist Philip Frischkorn began an unaccompanied coda at the end of his composition "Die Dämmerung" at this evening's concert by drummer Eva Klesse's quartet at the Tinguely Museum in Basel (with Evgeny Ring on alto saxophone and Marc Muellbauer on bass), Klesse put down her drumsticks, prepared her brushes, held them up to play her cymbals, and lowered them. As Frischkorn let a concluding chord ring, her brushes hovered over the cymbals again, but again she didn't not play. — Or perhaps she was playing a series of rests of varying lengths, each adapted to the nuances of the diminuendo of Frischkorn’s coda. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 12 September 2023)

Monday, September 11, 2023

11 September 1683 in Vienna, 1924 and 1973 in Chile, and 2001 in the United States

Shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States on 11 September 2001, I learned that the Battle of Vienna, when the Ottoman Empire was defeated by a combined Habsurg and Polish-Lithuanian army, had begun on 11 September 1683. That marked the end of the Ottomans' westward expansion. I also learned that the 1973  coup d'état in Chile that the government of President Salvador Allende and established the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet had taken place on 11 September. Today, I read that the Chilean date was chosen in memory of a previous coup that overthrew a progressive Chilean government on 11 September 1924. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 11 September 2023)

Amateur Radio, Poetry, Hardcore

[Originally published March 2011. Edited to remove an image that is no longer available, 11 September 2023]

Dominic Rivron wrote a post recently about his love of amateur radio, with some details about what amateur-radio enthusiasts do and how the whole thing works. It reminded of something I have been thinking about for several years now—a passage from "Poetry and the Problem of Taste," an essay by Brian Phillips that appeared in Poetry in September 2007. Here, Phillips is discussing a "line of thinking" exemplified, for him, by Dana Gioia's essay "Can Poetry Matter?", which leads him to the comparison that has stuck with me:

Starved of a general readership, poets are writing only for other poets, like shortwave radio hobbyists who build elaborate machines on which they can only reach each other.

I've been pondering various ways of thinking about this comparison, but only Dominic's post made me wonder what the passage might sound like to "shortwave radio hobbyists," who are surely being disparaged here (not by Phillips, of course, at least not directly) as providing nothing of value to the larger culture.

One of the lines of thinking I have been following is to wonder whether it might not be better for poets to embrace their similarity to "hobbyists" of various kinds—embrace, that is, the idea that we are only talking to each other and not to the rest of the world. In the light of Robert Archambeau's recent discussion of Tennyson, Yeats, and Eliot, which I commented on in my last post, such a self-isolation (whatever its merits in terms of reduced anxiety for poets might be) would reduce the poetry that we produce (by eliminating the productive tension between hermetic aestheticism and various forms of desire to have an influence on the world).

But last night I went to a hardcore concert. I do not usually listen to hardcore, though I enjoy hearing it live once in a while, and I wanted to go to this particular concert because my friend Andreas's band Flimmer was playing, and I have been wanting to see him play for years. And one thing about hardcore is that it is a world unto itself: anyone who plays hardcore does not do so because of any ambition to be a success with it in the larger world. The only reason to play hardcore is that you love it.

Similarly, the only reason to do amateur radio is that you love it. And what if poets stopped worrying about the age when Tennyson sold zillions of poems that clarified and confirmed the world to his readers, and instead focused our attention on the joys of talking to each other? Writing "inspired notes," as Tranströmer said.

There's more to say about the comparison between poetry and radio (and poetry and hardcore), but I'll save it for another day.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Remembering trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (1950-2023) playing with Bill Frisell and with the Jazz Passengers

Jazz trombonist Curtis Fowlkes (1950-2023), who died on 1 September, played on guitarist Bill Frisell's 1996 album "Quartet", which also featured trumpeter Ron Miles (1963-2022) and Evyind King on viola. I saw that band play a show of what I called there "psychedelic dixieland" in 1997 at the Atlantis in Basel. I also saw Fowlkes with the Jazz Passengers there a year later; singer Debbie Harry of Blondie was touring with them; the set featured memorable arrangements of Blondie's "Tbe Tide Is High" and (if I remember correctly) "Heart of Glass", as well as the standard "If I Were a Bell", which Frank Loesser wrote for "Guys and Dolls" in 1950. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 10 September 2023)

Saturday, September 09, 2023

An unusual gray shape while birdwatching along the Birs river

While birdwatching along the Birs river this morning with a group led by my friend Dave Garbutt, I walked ahead of the group with the Birs on my left and saw a pond through the trees to my right. At one end of the pond, I could see a concrete landing above the water, and on the landing was an unusual gray shape. I first thought it was a sculpture; then I thought it was a round basin with a bird sitting in it. When I found it through my binoculars, though, I discovered it was a gray heron drying its wings in the sun – the basin-like shape was its wings. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 9 September 2023)

Friday, September 08, 2023

Richard Davis (1930-2023) with John Carter and Van Morrison

I saw jazz bassist Richard Davis (1930-2023) with the John Carter Quartet (Carter on clarinet, Bobby Bradford on cornet, and Andrew Cyrille on drums) at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in Half Moon Bay, California, in February 1987 (according to the date of a photo I found of Cyrille at that gig). By then, I had been listening to jazz steadily for four years, and I knew many records with Davis's superb bass playing. But Davis also played acoustic bass on an album I'd known before I began listening to jazz: Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks", where Davis's melodic bass lines both drive the rhythms and sing along with the songs. (Andrew Shields, #111Words, 8 September 2023) 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

Dr.O.G.E at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 6 September 2023

The trio at the Bird's Eye in Basel last night played psychedelic jazz-prog-rock based on melodies from children's songs. In their often very loud walls of sounds from DRums, Hammond Organ, and Guitar (hence the band's name – Dr.O.G.E, with the E for Ensemble and "Droge" the German word for "drug"), Dave Gisler on electric guitar would pull out one of those simple tunes — "Frère Jacques" and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" were two I recognized — and play it beautifully with a powerful sustained tone. The dynamic Dominik Blum ranged from dissonant textures to aggressive grooves on Hammond organ, with powerhouse drummer Valeria Zangger responding with total attention to her bandmates' rhythmic variations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 September 2023)

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

The “Flunky Beadle” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake"

In James Joyce's "Finnegans Wake" (1939), Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker writes a list "of all abusive names he was called" (FW 71.5-6). The page-long includes this insult that you can sing if you like: "Flunkey Beadle Vamps the Tune Letting on He's Loney" (FW 71.32-33). Like a soldier aspiring to fashionable, "Yankee Doodle" here becomes a lonely improviser and pretender who is doubly subordinate to those he serves, both as a flunky and as a beadle (a minor parish official, such as Mr. Bumble in Charles Dickens's "Oliver Twist", 1838). In our reading group, we wondered if "Loney" was an echo of a particular aristocratic name for the beadle to pretend to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 September 2023) 

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Toiling to jot down words without a particular sign

Lipograms pick a sign to omit and talk about things without words that contain that sign. This can fill paragraphs with unusual combinations of words, but many normal constructions will also still show up anyway. I'm happy to jot down so many words that follow this constraint, which brings about astonishing thoughts that I did not know I could count on occurring. On occasion I ask my pupils to try to find lipograms for short constructions in this idiom that I got to talk from birth on. Many pupils who do not talk this idiom that way pupils find it funny but may toil to coin lipograms in such an idiom. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 September 2023)

Monday, September 04, 2023

Another job advertisement appealing to people bored with their jobs

On Saturday, I discussed Basel police department's advertisement for new police recruits, the gist of which was that you could leave your boring job for an exciting one. I'd driven past the advertisement often, but only on Saturday did I walk past it so that I could take a picture of it. On Sunday morning, at the Migros supermarket at the main Basel train station, I saw a similar advertisement, but this time without the excitement of the threat of violence behind the police ad: "Zufrieden mit deinem Job? Wir bieten Alternativen für [...]" ("Satisfied with your job? We offer alternatives for [...]). This was followed a list of supermarket positions. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 September 2023)


Sunday, September 03, 2023

Day Trippers

We walked downstairs and caught a tram, walked across a street to another tram, walked through a station to a train, walked through another station to another train, walked around and found a bus, walked across a street and caught a cable car up a mountainside, walked around the side of the mountain for an hour or two, took the cable car back down, walked to a swimming pool (and noticed we'd forgotten our swimsuits), walked to a boat landing, took the boat across the lake, got off the boat and went to the train station, caught another train, walked to catch a bus, changed to a tram, and walked upstairs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 September 2023)

Saturday, September 02, 2023

The irony of a recruiting advertisement for the Basel police department

The police department of the canton of Basel-Stadt has advertised for new recruits with a numerical slogan: "Vergiss Deinen 08/15 Job und starte eine 117er Karriere" ("Forget your 08/15 Job and start a 117 career"). While "08/15" can be translated as "run-of-the-mill", "117" is the emergency phone number to call the police in Switzerland. In other words, leave the dull routine of your current job for the excitement and variety of being a police officer. The irony is that the expression "08/15" comes from a standard machine gun used by the German Army during World War One. I wonder if the creators of the advertisting campaign intended that irony or not. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 September 2023)

Friday, September 01, 2023

On being diagnosed with rosacea

The tip of my nose was sore and slightly swollen for a few months, and then one morning two weeks ago it had a scab on it. I couldn't get an appointment with the dermatologist until this past Tuesday, but I got some advice and some lotion from a pharmacist, and it looked a lot better by the time the doctor saw it. But she could still diagnose rosacea, and she prescribed a lotion to put it nightly until the condition clears up. I got the lotion from the pharmacy, but only when I got home did I notice on the box, to my amusement, that Soolandra's active ingredient is Ivermectin. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 September 2023)

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Kafka writing “in einem Zug”: not “on a train” but “at a stretch” or “in one go"

On 23 September 1912, Franz Kafka wrote in his diary about writing "Das Urteil" the night before "in einem Zug". In Ross Benjamin's new English translation of Hans-Gerd Koch's 1990 edition of Kafka's diaries, the passage reads (as quoted by Frances Wilson in "The New York Review of Books"): "This story 'The Judgment' I wrote at one stretch [in einem zug—literally: 'on one train'] on the night of the 22 to 23 from 10 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning." But that's no train: doing something "in einem Zug" is like swallowing a drink in one go – just as Kafka wrote the story "at one stretch." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 August 2023) 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Subscribing to Offbeat Jazz in Basel for the first time this millennium

On 27 April 1995, the day of my job interview in Basel, I saw a poster for the Jazz Festival happening at the time, so I ended up at a John Scofield concert that night at Atlantis (which I didn't yet know was a legendary club). After attending many concerts put on by Offbeat Jazz in the following years, I had a subscription for their events in 1997-1998 and 1998-1999. But with Andrea pregnant in summer 1999, I didn't renew my subscription. But today, after I noticed that it would cost less than all the concerts I want to attend in the coming year, I bought an Offbeat subscription for 2023-2024. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Martín Espada’s poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100” and Juan Antonio Corretjer’s poem and Roy Brown’s song “Oubao Moin"

Martín Espada's 9/11 poem "Alabanza: In Praise of Local 100" was the title poem of his 2003 "New and Selected Poems", a collection I first read in 2004. Over the years, I've used "Alabanza" in many courses. In preparing my forthcoming course on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico", I read poems by Juan Antonio Corretjer and discovered Puerto Rican singer-songwriter Roy Brown's songs based on Corretjer's poems, including "Oubao Moin", whose coda repeats "alabanza" with a joyous melody. I wondered if Espada was thinking of Corretjer's poem and/or Brown's song when he wrote "Alabanza", and today, in Espada's book, I saw that his epigraph is from the end of Corretjer's poem. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 August 2023)

Monday, August 28, 2023

On Charles Dickens as “sentimental, theatrical, moralistic, and controlling” (Zadie Smith) — and the end of “Our Mutual Friend"

In "Killing Dickens", in "The New Yorker", Zadie Smith writes that, after a childhood reading "far too much" Dickens, she developed "the usual doubts and caveats about him—too sentimental, too theatrical, too moralistic, too controlling." In my three years of reading Dickens, I saw the sentimentality of the early novels disappear, enjoyed the theatricality, and ignored moralizing. But I found the ending of the otherwise wonderful "Our Mutual Friend" (1865) "controlling": when Bella Wilfer's story ends with her discovery that John Rokesmith/Harmon's courtship of her was staged by him and her benefactors the Boffins, I wondered why she didn't become paranoid but instead appreciated how her friends had manipulated her. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 August 2023)


Sunday, August 27, 2023

Bassist Romy Brauteseth with two bands at the Bird’s Eye in Basel

At the two concerts I saw by bassist Romy Brauteseth at the Bird's Eye in Basel on Thursday and Friday, she presented two projects (in her debuts as a bandleader): a quintet with Marcus Wyatt (trumpet), Lukas Wyss (trombone), Ewout Pierreux (piano), and Siphiwe Shiburi (drums), and a two-bass quaret with Wyatt, Shiburi, and bassist Raffaele Bossard. The music for the quintet peaked in several codas with polyphony from Wyatt, Wyss, and Pierreux over the driving rhythms of Brauteseth and Shiburi; the music for the quartet was "spacy" (as Brauteseth once put it) and full of textures, with one highlight being Shiburi adding the wall behind him to a drum solo. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 August 2023)

Friday, August 25, 2023

Three years of reading Charles Dickens’s novels in chronological order

Yesterday, I finished reading all of Charles Dickens's completed novels in chronological order (I started about September 2020): "The Pickwick Papers" (1837); "Oliver Twist" (1838); "Nicholas Nickleby" (1839); "The Old Curiosity Shop" (1841); "Barnaby Rudge" (1841); "Martin Chuzzlewit" (1844); "Dombey and Son" (1848); "David Copperfield" (1850); "Bleak House" (1853); "Hard Times" (1854); "Little Dorrit" (1857); "A Tale of Two Cities" (1859); "Great Expectations" (1861); and "Our Mutual Friend" (1865). (I also read the five Christmas novellas.) If pressed to recommend a starter, I'd still fall back on my favorite from before I started this reading project: "A Tale of Two Cities", with "Hard Times" and "Little Dorrit" tied for second place. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 August 2023)

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Suddenly nervous when the time comes to deliver the message

When he was on his way down to carry the message to her, he felt confident that he could deliver it without any difficulty, but after he knocked and heard her saying that he could come in, the soft tone of her voice made him hesitant, and when he saw her as he stepped in, her beautiful face framed by her hair pulled back tight behind her ears left him speechless. As she welcomed him, he did not know what to do with his hands and stepped back and forth from one foot to the other. Only when his wings stopped fluttering could he deliver his annunciation to the young woman. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 August 2023)


Jost Haller, Annunciation, ca. 1450/1460, Kunstmuseum Basel

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

The whiteness of Google search results

To make Spanish vocabulary flashcards with Anki, I look up images using Google Mexico ( When I need images of people, as I did today for the word "subir" (to go up, as in up the stairs), it strikes me again and again how the people in the pictures are overwhelmingly white. The effective (but unintended?) default of a web search using the world's main search engine gives me images of white people going down stairs (or, with another word I searched for this morning, "viuda", images of white widows). If for some reason you doubt the world's biases, pay attention to your search results: they'll reveal those biases to you. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 August 2023)

Monday, August 21, 2023

Forty years ago, 20 and 21 August 1983: The Grateful Dead at Frost Amphitheater, plus Stevie Ray Vaughan at the Keystone Palo Alto on Sunday evening

Forty years ago yesterday and today, I went to the two Grateful Dead concerts at Frost Amphitheater at Stanford on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. The Saturday show was the first time I heard "Shakedown Street" live, while the Sunday show was the first I heard "Let It Grow" live, which went on to become one of my favorite songs by Bob Weir. That Sunday evening, I then also went down to the Keystone Palo Alto to hear Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble, who were touring on their debut, "Texas Flood", which had come out in June. I don't think I've ever gone to two different concerts on one day again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 August 2023)


Sunday, August 20, 2023

West Virginia University will drop language teaching even though 2,700 students are taking language classes

With West Virginia University planning to eliminate its Department of World Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, students there who want to learn languages will be offered “alternative methods of delivery such as a partnership with an online language app or online partnership with a fellow Big 12 university.” In other words, they'll be outsourcing language learning to other institutions or to private companies like Duolingo (who will surely add this to their claims about having more learners than there are in public educational institutions in the United States). Yet the department "is teaching more than 2700 students this semester", over ten percent of the students at the university's main campus in Morgantown. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 August 2023)


Saturday, August 19, 2023

Fatigue, a heatwave, a fan, a thought for those experiencing even higher temperatures

I wasn't actually exhausted when I wrote yesterday about words for "exhausted" in English. I'd just noticed how many such words I've learned in Spanish, which made me ponder the English words. But later yesterday afternoon, the heat really got to me, so I didn't go to the free music festival in downtown Basel last night (Em Bebby si Jazz). And the only reason I went out today into the heatwave was to buy another fan for the apartment, as we were one short. But though 35 Celsius is high for Basel, it would surely seem like a cold snap for many of the other regions currently experiencing record high temperatures. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 August 2023)

Friday, August 18, 2023

The English language has (at least) thirty-two words (or phrases) for “tired"

The idea that the Inuit languages have "fifty words for snow" is assumed to mean that the Inuit need to distinguish types of snow because of the physical environment they live in. If this were true, then the large number of words in English for "tired" would also mean that English speakers are tired in so many ways that they need many words to distinguish types of fatigue: all in, beat, bushed, clapped out, cream-crackered, dead (on your feet), dog-tired, done in, drained, drowsy, enervated, exhausted, fagged, fatigued, flagging, jaded, jiggered, knackered, lethargic, sapped, shagged out, sleepy, sluggish, spent, tired (out), tuckered out, wasted, weary, whacked, wiped out, worn out, zonked. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 August 2023)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Robert Lakatos, Raffaele Bossard, and Dominic Egli at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 17 August 2023

From the first moments of tonight's concert at the Bird's Eye in Basel by Robert Lakatos (piano), Raffaele Bossard (bass), and Dominic Egli (drums), I could relax into the music and hear the musicians interacting with each other. One peak moment came late in the frist set at the end of Ray Evans and Jay Livingston's 1956 tune "Never Let Me Go", in a coda with cascades of sound from Lakatos, vigorous and ominous bowing from Bossard, and thundering mallet rolls from Egli. The first set then closed with a superb performance of Keith Jarrett's 1978 tune "Bop-Be", and the second set continued with more beautiful playing from the whole trio. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

The first night of Rá’s journey in Laura Mora’s “Los Reyes del Mundo” (2022)

On the first night of his 350-kilometer trip with four friends from Medellin to Nechí to claim the land he inherited from his grandmother, nineteen-year-old Rá (Carlos Andrés Castañeda) enters a truck stop, goes to the counter, and orders two bags of chips and a soda. The man behind the counter opens two bottles of beer and takes them to customers sitting across the room. When he returns, Rá places his order again, but the man continues to ignore him. From this point on in Laura Mora's Colombian movie "Los Reyes del Mundo" (2022), the five travellers confront a world where they never can tell whether they will be listened to. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

The Writers Guild of America strike and the absence of late-night comedians

The Writers Guild of America strike started on 2 May 2023. For me, its primary effect has been that I don't spend time every morning watching excerpts from "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert", "Late Night with Seth Meyers", and "The Daily Show." In the absence of their overviews of major news in the United States (such as Trump indictments), I can still get information from other sources. But I miss their takes on other things, such as the brawl on the dock in Montgomery, Alabama, last week. I can read about it online, but I would have loved to hear Roy Wood, Jr., respond to it on "The Daily Show." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 August 2023)

Monday, August 14, 2023

“Sonora”, a 2019 movie from Mexico by Alejandro Springall

Alejandro Springall's movie "Sonora" (2019), which I watched on Netflix last night, is set in Mexico in 1931 when the United States closed its borders because of the Great Depression. The movie gradually gathers characters who are trying to get to Mexicali for one reason or another, including Lee Wong (Jason Tobin), a Mexican butcher of Chinese origin, and his wife Maria (Patricia Ortiz) and daughter Anita (Abbie del Villar Chi), who are leaving their home because of Mexican racism against the Chinese. It's a road movie, but most of it is off the road, as the characters cross the Sonoran Desert where there is no paved road to be found. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 August 2023)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

On the number of people in the United States learning languages in schools or with Duolingo

There are always brief statements when a Duolingo exercise is loading on the app. One says something to the effect that there are more people in the United States learning foreign languages with Duolingo than in schools. My second thought was that that's not very surprising: Duolingo is used by people of all ages, while schools teach foreign languages only to those eighteen and under. But my first thought was that it is also an effect of the underfunding or elimination of the public teaching of foreign languages in the United States, which is part of the ongoing drive for the privatization of public goods there (and in other countries, too).  (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 August 2023)

Saturday, August 12, 2023

My first concert, 11 August 1978, Linda Ronstadt and Livingston Taylor, Centennial Hall, Toledo, Ohio

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of the house party in the Bronx where DJ Kool Herc laid the foundations for hip-hop when he selected instrumental breaks from funk and soul songs, strung them together with two turnables, and did some improvised rhyming to encourage the dancers. I was eight years old at the time, and lived in Palo Alto, so of course I wasn't there! But yesterday was also the forty-fifth anniversary of the first live concert I attended: Linda Ronstadt, with Livingston Taylor opening. By then I lived in Ottawa Hills, Ohio, and the venue was just under a mile away: Centennial Hall (now Savage Arena, as I've just learned). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 August 2023)

Friday, August 11, 2023

Heidi and the Sesemann family move from Frankfurt to Florida

When the Sesemann family moved from Frankfurt to Florida, Miss Rottenmeier moved with them, and Klara insisted on taking Heidi with her and having her go to school in their new city of Orlando. One day, Heidi came home from school with a form to be filled out by her parents to allow her to be called "Heidi" rather than "Adelheid" at school. It turned out, though, that Miss Rottenmeier was acting as Heidi's guardian, and just as she herself refused to call Heidi by her preferred name, she refused to sign the form to authorize her teachers to call her Heidi. Already homesick, Heidi grew increasingly depressed and even suicidal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 August 2023)


Thursday, August 10, 2023

My early assumption that “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” was an old folk song

In October 1971, when I was seven years old, Joan Baez released her version of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down". Although I had grown up surrounded by the music my parents were listening to (Bob Dylan, Baez, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors), I must have never listened to The Band until I was in my mid-to-late teens, because for many years I assumed that Baez had recorded an old folk song from the nineteenth century. When I finally listened to The Band's eponymous 1969 album that features the song, I was surprised to discover that it had only been written by Robbie Robertson (1943-2023) for that album. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Florian Arbenz’s “Conversations #9 – Targeted” with Arno Kryger and Greg Osby

I briefly noted the concert in June by drummer Florian Arbenz's Truth, with Arno Kryger (Hammond) and Percy Pursglove (flugelhorn), during the Bird's Eye Jazz Club's Hammond week. I didn't mention the wonderful arrangements of Eddie Harris's "Freedom Jazz Dance", Victor Feldman and Miles Davis's "Seven Steps to Heaven", and George and Ira Gershwin's "I Loves You, Porgy". Along with three Arbenz originals, the three tunes feature on Arbenz's excellent album "Conversations #9 – Targeted", with Kryger on Hammond and Greg Osby on saxophones, which came out in April this year. "I Loves You, Porgy" is particularly haunting as it hovers with shimmering organ chords and Osby's slow and beautiful melody lines. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 9 August 2023)

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

Dreaming a chapter of “Don Quijote"

In early 1983, I read selections from Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quijote" (1605-1615) for a course (in English). I read chapter VIII with great pleasure one afternoon – the adventure with the windmills. I hadn't planned to keep reading, but I did. But while reading chapter IX, I fell asleep, and when I woke up and started chapter X, I was confused. I started paging back through chapter IX to find where I had fallen asleep, and discovered I had dreamed an entire chapter of the book, and even turned the pages while dreaming. By the time I figured out what had happened, I had forgotten that imaginary chapter of the Quijote. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 August 2023)

Monday, August 07, 2023

Remembering Professor Karl Pestalozzi (1929-2023)

In the Winter Semester of 1998-99, his last semester at the German Department at the University of Basel, Professor Karl Pestalozzi (1929-2023) taught a seminar on Contemporary German Poetry that concluded with a live reading by the poets discussed during the term, including Peter Waterhouse, Michael Donhauser, Brigitte Oleschinski, and Durs Grünbein. Each poet was introduced by students from the seminar. As part of our group's Grünbein introduction, I read a German translation of my "Waves of Clear Water", whose title comes from a Grünbein poem, and which recounts how I first read his work. After a long and productive retirement, Professor Pestalozzi died last week at the age of 94. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 August 2023)

Sunday, August 06, 2023

Immortality and Mortality in Duolingo

At first, I didn't come across any of the odd sentences that Duolingo is famous for, but then for several lessons in a row there were many sentences about how the horses closed the windows, the cows opened the doors, and the pig or the dog cooked dinner at the farm. Then those sentences disappeared, and everything seemed normal for a while, until the other day one sentence was that Duo (the owl in the Duolingo logo) is never going to die. That swaggering sentence made me laugh, but this morning a new sentence took an unexpectedly grim (if realistic) turn: "Todo el mundo tiene que morir" — "Everybody has to die." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 August 2023)

Saturday, August 05, 2023

Don Quixote in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

I've commented already during my reading of Charles Dickens's novels on his references to Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel and character Robinson Crusoe. One such reference is in a list of characters from David Copperfield's childhood reading that also includes Don Quixote. Just now, I found another reference to Quixote in "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), when the newly-wealthy Mr. Boffin becomes obsessed with books about misers: "[He] pursued the acquisition of those dismal records with the ardour of Don Quixote for his books of chivalry." My personal twist here is that I have also just read the passage in Miguel de Cervantes's "Don Quijote" (1605-1615) when his neighbors burn those chivarly books. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 August 2023)

Friday, August 04, 2023

Discovering the riveting poems of Manuel Ramos Otero

One anthology for the course on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico" includes Spanish-language poems from Puerto Rico and four Central American countries. I was already familiar with Julia de Burgos (1914-1953) before I began preparing the course and found the two anthologies in libraries at the University of Basel. I've previously noted my further appreciation for Juan Antonio Corretjer (1908-1995) and Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959). Today, I finally read the poems by Manuel Ramos Otero (1948-1990), a poet who died of AIDS in San Juan in 1990 after living in New York for many years. They are powerful and riveting, especially the work from his posthumous collection "Invitación a polvo" (1991). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 August 2023)


Three poems from the anthology are here, with Portuguese translations. 

Thursday, August 03, 2023

A sisterly scene on the tram in Basel

On the tram, several sisters, aged about eight to eighteen, were talking both Turkish and German to each other. The youngest then said something that was clearly in English, though I didn't catch the words at first. The oldest reached out her hands to the youngest, reminded her how to hold them, and asked her in German if she was ready. Then they began chanting and clapping: "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can." I realized then that the girl had said "Pat-a-cake". When they finished, she squealed with delight and shouted something in Turkish that must have meant "again" — and they did it again. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 August 2023)

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A new sense of “drain the swamp” in a statement by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis

The expression "drain the swamp" goes back to President Ronald Reagan, who used the figure to refer to Washington DC as a swamp of corruption and bureaucracy. Even former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke of "draining the swamp" in 2006. But Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's statement in response to the latest indictment of former President Donald Trump implies something else: "Washington DC is a 'swamp' and it it unfair to have to stand trial before a jury that is reflective of the swamp mentality." DeSantis is counting on his listeners' understanding that a DC jury might be "swamped" by African Americans, like the whole city is known to be. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 August 2023)


See this piece by Kevin Kruse for the DeSantis statement. 

A long list of "drain the swamp" references can be found here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

“The property of strangers” in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865) and “the kindness of strangers” in Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1947)

In Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), in a conversation with John Rokesmith, the Secretary for her benefactors the Boffins, Bella Wilfer says what it felt like to have almost been married off to a man she'd never met, John Harmon, and then to suspect after Harmon's death that Rokesmith himself was interested in her: "Am I for ever to be made the property of strangers?" (She does not know that Rokesmith is actually the still-alive Harmon.) When I read that line, I thought of Blanche DuBois's final words in Tenneessee Williams's "A Streetcar Named Desire" (1947) as an inversion of Dickens: "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers." (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 August 2023)

Monday, July 31, 2023

“Thingummies”, “whatdoyoucallums”, and “whatshisnames” in Charles Dickens’s “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

When Lady Tippins in Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865) canvasses for Mr. Veneering's campaign for Parliament, she speaks to someone who “can only consent to be brought in by the spontaneous thingummies of the incorruptible whatdoyoucallums.” Later in the same novel, Lavinia Wilfer asks about her sister's benefactors: “After all, you know, Bella, you haven't told us how your Whatshisnames are.” Such phrases for words you've forgotten or want to avoid also appear in earlier Dickens novels, with examples from "Dombey and Son" (1848) appearing in quotations in the Oxford English Dictionary. "Thingummy" goes back to the 18th century, while forms of "whatdoyoucallum" and "whatshisname" go back to the 17th. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 31 July 2023)

Sunday, July 30, 2023

“Gaslight” in the novels of Charles Dickens, especially “Our Mutual Friend” (1865)

When I came across a reference to a "flaring gaslight" in Charles Dickens's "Our Mutual Friend" (1865), I chuckled at how the word "gaslighting" has since taken on a meaning that Dickens could not have guessed at, but I also wondered if it was the first reference to gas lighting in Dickens. A concordance search revealed that I missed references to "gaslight" in Dickens's earlier novels "Martin Chuzzlewit" (1844), "Hard Times" (1854), and "Little Dorrit" (1857), but gas lighting must have been getting more and more present in England in the course of his life, as six of the eleven appearances of "gaslight" in his novels are in "Our Mutual Friend". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 July 2023)

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Jorge Luis Borges and the theme of justifying one’s life

In Jorge Luis Borges's "Borges y yo", "yo" writes that "yo vivo, yo me dejo vivir, para que Borges pueda tramar su literatura y esa literatura me justifica." Now the same idea of justifying oneself appears in Borges's "El milagro secreto", when Jaromir Hladik addresses God as he waits for his execution: "Para llevar a término ese drama, que puede justificarme y justificarte, requiero un año más." And then the theological theses of Nils Runeberg in Borges's "Tres versiones de Judas" "justificaron y desbarataron su vida." The repetition reinforces my sense in "Borges y yo" that Borges himself really was concerned about the issue of justifying his life as a writer. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 July 2023)

Friday, July 28, 2023

Puerto Rican songwriter Roy Brown’s songs based on poems by Juan Antonio Corretjer and other Puerto Rican poets

While reading poems for my forthcoming course on "La Poesía de Puerto Rico", I discovered that Puerto Rican songwriter Roy Brown (b. 1945) has set many poems by Juan Antonio Corretjer (1908-1995) to music, as well as poems by Luis Palés Matos (1898-1959) and Julia de Burgos (1914-1953). I've bought two Brown albums so far: "Distancias" (1977), all of whose songs are based on Corretjer's poems, and "Casi Alba" (1980), whose title cut is based on a poem by de Burgos. The music is lively and wide-ranging, with catchy refrains and excellent jams. I'm looking forward to exploring more of Brown's music, as well as music by other Puerto Rican musicians. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 July 2023)

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Sinéad O’Connor (1966-2023), folk songs, and Bob Marley’s “War"

I began yesterday evening listening to videos that friends were posting on Facebook after the death of Sinéad O'Connor (1966-2023). A performance of "He Moved Through The Fair" led me to her performances of other folk songs, including brilliant versions of "Molly Malone", "The Foggy Dew", and "Danny Boy", with the last in an a capella performance. I left the United States in June 1991, so I only heard from a distance about O'Connor's a capella performance of Bob Marley's "War" on Saturday Night Live on 3 October 1992 and the ensuing controversy. NBC and SNL apparently still censor the clip, but a video with Spanish subtitles is available on YouTube. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 July 2023)


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Deleting my Twitter account after eleven-plus years and over 23,000 tweets

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how I first heard about Twitter in 2008 and then joined it in 2011. Yesterday, I deactivated my account. If I don't log in again for 30 days, it will be deleted. In the course of my eleven-plus Twitter years, I posted about 23,300 tweets (according to the version of my account I saved last November). That comes to just over 2000 per year, or six to seven tweets a day. Although it always had problems with bots and trolls, Twitter was once a good place to hang out online, but I finally decided it was time to leave it to Musk and his ilk. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 July 2023)

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Luis Estrada’s “El Ley des Herodes” (1999) with Damián Alcázar

In Luis Estrada's “El Ley des Herodes" (1999), Juan Vargas (Damián Alcázar), a long-term but insignificant member of Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, takes over as "municipal president" of San Pedro de los Saguaros, a tiny village whose previous president was murdered by the residents for his corruption. Although Vargas at first resists becoming corrupt himself, he eventually begins accepting bribes, exorting citizens, and even leaving a trail of dead bodies behind him. The movie is set in the 1940s, and now Netflix is recommending Estrada's "La Dictadura Perfecta" (2014), which also stars Alcázar (again as a man named Vargas), and which takes on political corruption in the era of fake news. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 July 2023)

Monday, July 24, 2023

Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell’s 1998 standards album “Songs We Know”, including “My Little Suede Shoes” and “It Might As Well Be Spring"

A post on Mastodon about Charlie Parker's "My Little Suede Shoes" reminded me of the lovely version on pianist Fred Hersch and guitarist Bill Frisell's 1998 standards album "Songs We Know". In an interview I read at the time of its release, they said they went into the studio with a bunch of originals to play, but they had so much fun warming up with standards that they ended up just recording the standards, the "songs they knew". Of the many other great tunes on the album, the opener of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might As Well Be Spring" is among the most beautiful three minutes of music I've ever heard. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 July 2023)

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Jason Aldean’s “Try That In A Small Town” and the Las Vegas mass shooting

I've never listened to country singer Jason Aldean's music, so I would not have heard about his song "Try That In A Small Town" if it hadn't been criticized for sounding like a call for lynching people who for some reason don't belong in the stereotypical small town. But I had heard Aldean's name before: He was the singer who was performing when the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas took place on 1 October 2017. But the "small town" song mentions "a gun that granddad gave me," so even surviving such a massacre didn't turn a gun-rights advocate like Aldean into a supporter of gun control. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 July 2023)

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Duolingo and its sentences about where people learned a language

I started Spanish in November 2020, but I only started using Duolingo this June. And I only went to take a course in Spain this month. Right now, Duolingo has many sentences about where people learned languages: they learned German in Dresden or Spanish in Mexico. As someone who laid the groundwork for all his non-native languages in countries where the language isn't spoken every day (French and then German in the United States; Spanish in Switzerland), it struck me as odd that a website that wants to help people learn languages wherever they are has so many sentences that imply that you should learn a language where it is spoken. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 July 2023)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Reading Evaristo Ribera Chevremont (1896-1976) and making vocabulary cards for his poems

Today, I read the selection of poems by Evaristo Ribera Chevremont (1896-1976) in one of the two anthologies my student Isabel Jimenez and I are using for our course on Puerto Rican poetry this fall. I was pleased to get the same sense reading Ribera Chevremont that I get reading fiction in Spanish: I may read slowly, but I can get a good sense of the texts even when I stop to look up words. I had already made electronic vocabulary cards (with the program Anki) for two of his poems, but today I almost completed making cards for words in the rest of his anthologized poems — 106 cards in all! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 July 2023)

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Max Heinegg’s fourteen-song album of poems set to folk-rock music, “Through Traveler"

On "Through Traveler" (2021, available on Bandcamp), poet, songwriter, and guitarist Max Heinegg has composed folk-rock music for fourteen poems, from Christina Rossetti to Cornelius Eady. Many of the poems, from the opening "Song of the Open Road" (Walt Whitman" to the closer "So We'll No More a Roving" (Lord Byron), are in keeping with the album's titular theme of travel, but two tracks take up poems about fathers to create especially haunting songs that travel into the poets' pasts: "Those Winter Sundays" (Robert Hayden) and "My Father's Waltz" (Theodore Roethke). There's also a quick and powerful 57-second version of Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool", with lead vocals by Linda Morose. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 July 2023)


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter’s “The Wheel” live and in the studio

At the beginning of "Space" at the Grateful Dead concert at the Berkeley Greek Theater on Friday, 13 July 1984, I heard a telltale phrase, turned to the stranger next to me, and said, "They're gonna play 'The Wheel.'" Live, Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter's song always had beautiful meandering introductions. Today, I listened to The Good Ol’ Grateful Deadcast episode about Garcia’s 1972 solo album “Garcia”. Co-producer Bob Matthews tells the story of the song's writing and recording: Garcia and drummer Bill Kreutzmann first improvised a basic track Matthews happened to record, and for lack of space, lyricist Robert Hunter wrote words while holding his notebook up against a wall. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 July 2023)


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

On not re-reading Milan Kundera

About ten years ago, I thought I'd reread Milan Kundera, whose novels I had been so engaged with in the mid-1980s that I even made a few (failed) steps to learn Czech. Instead of picking up an English translation of one of his books, I turned to the French translation of "L'Insoutenable Légèreté de l'être"; after all, Kundera and his French translator went through the translations of his works in the late 1980s, and he authorized their use for translations into other languages. But soon after I started reading, I stopped. I'd somehow accepted it back in the 1980s, but now I was put off by "the unbearable misogyny of Kundera". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 July 2023)

Monday, July 17, 2023

My Stanford English Department honors thesis on Milan Kundera (and my electric guitar)

After discovering Milan Kundera's fiction in 1985, I asked the English Department at Stanford whether I could write my BA honors thesis on him. The faculty had to discuss this: nobody had ever asked to write about translated literature before. But I got the okay to do so. My advisors were German Professor Russell Berman and English Professor Gilbert Sorrentino. I even got a grant to write the thesis, which I ended up calling "Structures of Identity in the novels of Milan Kundera". I don't really remember what I said, but I still have a copy – and I still have the electric guitar I bought with part of my grant money! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 July 2023)

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Discovering Milan Kundera (1929-2023) in 1985 and giving “The Joke” to my father for Christmas

In summer 1985, I first read the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1984, translated by Michael Henry Heim), by Milan Kundera (1929-2023), and I immediately preceded to read his earlier works. My father spent the 1985-1986 academic year in Toronto, and as I prepared to visit him for Christmas, I wanted to buy him a copy of "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", but the only one the bookstore had was "The Joke" (1967, also in Heim's translation). Luckily, he said the book struck him more than any book since he had first read Albert Camus's "The Stranger" in the mid-1950s. He went on to read and enjoy all of Kundera. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 July 2023)

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Let the summer day end with a lightning storm.

Let the summer day end with a lightning storm. Dark clouds will roll across the late sky; dusk will rush in with the rising wind. The first lightly spattering drops of rain will scatter across the lawns and pavement. When lightning streaks down from the swirling clouds, thunder will let sleepers dream of how far away the lingering storm is drumming the ground with hail. When the last sounds of driving wind and rain are lost in the speechless distance, there will be long seconds to dream to some music that lifts the spirit in the day’s end. A light shuffle of drums under layers of saxophones defines a new time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 July 2023)

Friday, July 14, 2023

Two performances of “Tears” by the Sarah Chaksad Large Ensemble at the Bird’s Eye in Basel

On the first two nights of the Sarah Chaksad Large Ensemble's four-night run this week at the Bird's Eye Jazz Club in Basel, Chaksad dedicated "Tears" to the people of Iran (her father's homeland), especially the women. On Wednesday, bassist Dominique Girod's unaccompanied introduction developed a melodic rhythm with harmonics, while his Thursday solo took the same rhythm to build to a climax with the harmonics. And in Chaksad's soprano saxophone solo on "Tears", a passage accompanied only by pianist Julia Hülsmann took shimmering arpeggios to distinct places each night. There are two more shows to go, if you want to come join me, today (14 July) and tomorrow (15 July). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 July 2023) 

Thursday, July 13, 2023

The tricky path to getting Taylor Swift tickets for Zurich

Luisa (in Maine), Andrea (in Kassel), and I all had codes to buy tickets for Taylor Swift's Zurich concerts next July 9 and 10 (a Tuesday and a Wednesday). Luisa got a ticket for Wednesday on her first try (and a friend of hers got two more). Andrea and I kept trying to buy four regular tickets, but it it kept saying the tickets weren't available. Eventually, I thought it was sold out, so I gave up and chatted with Luisa. Then suddenly Andrea said that she had bought two VIP tickets for Tuesday, so I tried and got two more, so we three can go to the concert with Sara. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 July 2023)

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

My history with Twitter from 2008 and 2011 until today

I first heard about Twitter around 2008 when my friend Adrian Chan posted something about it on Facebook (I couldn't find his post with Facebook's terrible search). For a long time, I saw no reason to join up, though, but on 8 July 2011, I wanted to locate my friend Doug Cook, and the only way I could figure out how to do so was through his Twitter handle, so I joined up and wrote my first message, which asked him to email me his phone number. On 11 December 2022, I locked my account; I only keep it to occasionally read #rotblaulive tweets (and so nobody can use my handle). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 July 2023)

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

From admiring Taylor Swift’s songwriting in 2015 to wanting to get tickets this week for her Zurich concerts next year

In November 2015, music journalist Marc Krebs interviewed me to promote a presentation I gave on writing lyrics for the Basel music series Mitten in der Woche. At the end of the interview, he asked me what pop act I thought had unexpectedly good lyrics, and I immediately said, "Taylor Swift". I specifically mentioned "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" and "Mean", as well as how my daughters Luisa and Sara, then 11 and 9, loved her songs. Now it's eight years later, and on Thursday, Luisa, Andrea, and I will be trying to buy tickets for her concerts in Zurich in July 2024. We've all got the presale links! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 July 2023)

Monday, July 10, 2023

Sarah Chaksad at the Bird’s Eye in Basel, 12-15 July 2023

I saw Swiss saxophonist and composer Sarah Chaksad with a seven-piece band at the Bird's Eye in Basel on 9 January 2020 and adored her wonderful horn charts, which were so reminiscent to me of the work of the late British trumpeter Kenny Wheeler. After the show, I mentioned that echo to her, and she said that Wheeler has been a great influence on her. I haven't had another chance to see her since then, but this week she'll be playing four shows at the Bird's Eye with her thirteen-piece Large Ensemble, so as part of my ongoing quest for musical transformation, I've decided to go to all four of them! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 10 July 2023)

Saturday, July 08, 2023

The reflection of Albert Sanz’s hands and Javier Colina’s fingers

From my perspective at the Albert Sanz concert in Valencia last night, I could see the piano keys clearly, with the reflection of Sanz's hands in the shiny black wood above the keys. But the positioning of the jazz quartet on the stage was unusual: because of the orchestra, the piano was front and center, with the conductor behind it, the drums behind him, and the vibes hidden from my view by the piano. So besides Sanz, I could only see bassist Javier Colina clearly — as well as the reflection of his right hand above the piano keys, in which his fingers plucking the strings looked unusually long and somewhat surreal. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 8 July 2023)

Albert Sanz and Aleph Abi Saad: two concerts in one evening in Valencia

I'd been waiting all week for the concert this evening at Valencia's Teatro Municipal by pianist Albert Sanz (with Jorge Rossy on vibraphone, Javier Colina on bass, Borja Barrueta on drums, and the Orquesta de Valencia), and the show lived up to its promise. But I had no idea the evening would end with a free concert at the Plaza del Ayuntamiento by Lebanese pianist Aleph Abi Saad and his orchestra, which featured a superb player of the qanun, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument that I don't think I had ever heard before. Unfortunately, I did not catch his name, nor the names of any of Aleph Abi Saad's other musicians. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 7 July 2023, posted at 12:15 am on 8 July) 

Thursday, July 06, 2023

The cotorra argentina: An invasive species in Valencia and Spain

On Monday, I wrote about the small green parrots I had seen in the Jardín del Turia in Valencia. It was delightful to see them among all the other birds there. But yesterday, my Spanish teacher told me the cotorra argentina (the monk parrot or Quaker parrot) is "a plague" in Spain, and I was quickly able to confirm that they are seen as an invasive species in Spain, as well as elsewhere in Europe. And I also learned that they steal and eat eggs from smaller species like the common blackbird, and they compete for space with blackbirds and magpies. On Monday, I loved them; today, I think they're trouble! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 6 July 2023)

Wednesday, July 05, 2023

The Fallas in Valencia: A fiery sculptural tradition

Today, I learned about the Valencian tradition of the Fallas, first in class and then at a museum. Every year in March, gigantic sculptures of combustible material are displayed all over the city and in towns in the region. On 19 March, all of them are burned to the ground — a fiery and dangerous spectacle. The tradition began in the eighteenth century, and since 1934, one sculpture has been chosen by popular vote to be saved from the fire. Those sculptures are on display in the museum my Spanish class visited today. By coincidence, my three favorites were all made by the same artist, Vicent Agulleiro Aguilella, between 1979 and 1984. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 5 July 2023)

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

An impassable park and a flock of house martins in Valencia this morning

This morning, when I walked through the same park in Valencia on my way to Spanish class as I did yesterday, there were gigantic puddles everywhere after the storm with thunder and giant hailstones yesterday afternoon and evening. Ultimately, I had to leave the park because the path I was on became impassable. Just as I headed up a long ramp to the busy street above the park, the sky overhead was filled with birds I hadn't yet seen in this city: house martins. I looked up their name in Spanish and was amused to learn that they are called el avión de común, which could also mean "the common airplane". (Andrew Shields, #111words, 4 July 2023)

Monday, July 03, 2023

Swifts, blackbirds, collared doves, and parrots in the Jardín del Turia in Valencia

This morning, I walked to my Spanish course through the Jardín del Turia, a long and winding park that follows the earlier course of the river Turia through Valencia. There were many runners, and people walking dogs or riding bikes and electric scooters. Then I heard the telltale call of swifts overhead (my favorite birds). After spotting blackbirds and the local pigeons (specifically, Eurasian collared doves), I was thrilled to spot several small green parrots, which live wild in the city. And on my way back to my hotel this evening, I heard dozens of them calling in the trees, and saw several, too. Perhaps they were discussing the stormy weather. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 3 July 2023)

Sunday, July 02, 2023

On the (far too) sunny side of the street in Valencia

While walking around Valencia late this hot afternoon (about 30 Celsius), I found myself on the sunny side of a street where traffic prevented me from crossing to the shade. Then I remembered "On the Sunny Side of the Street": "Life can be so sweet / On the sunny side of the street." With the Valencia heat making it not so sweet, I then stuck to the shady side. Now I've looked up the song; it was written in 1930 by Jimmy McHugh, with lyrics by the wonderful Dorothy Fields. They also collaborated on "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and "I'm in the Mood for Love", among other songs. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 2 July 2023)

Saturday, July 01, 2023

Visiting Spain, the 16th European country I have been to

Tomorrow, I'll be going to Valencia for a one-week Spanish course (with, by coincidence, the chance to see a concert with Basel-based Spanish drummer Jorge Rossy on Friday). I've never been to Spain before — it will be the 16th European country I have visited, after the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Hungary. I have lived in three of them: the United Kingdom when I was nine years old; Germany from August 1991 to September 1995; and Switzerland from then until today. I also had a second apartment in France when Andrea lived there from 1996 to 2000. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 1 July 2023)

Friday, June 30, 2023

Eliminating Affirmative Action in the United States as a restriction on membership in the country’s elite class

As James Fallows of The Atlantic pointed out yesterday, with reference to date from the website College Transitions, the number of college and university applicants influenced by the United States Supreme Court decisions in the Students for Fair Admissions cases is actually quite small: the highly competitive schools that accept under 20% of their applicants or less account for around 4% of students enrolled in the entire country. In other words, the resistance to affirmative action does not prevent minority students such as W. E. B. DuBois's "Talented Tenth" from getting higher education at all; it just makes it that much harder for them to become part of the country's elite. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 30 June 2023)


See also this study

Thursday, June 29, 2023

William James and the “harlot” of the “multiverse” in 1895

In his 1895 lecture "Is Life Worth Living?", William James coined the term "multiverse", but he did not mean it in our sense of many universes. Rather, he meant that the universe does not offer humanity a singular morality: "Visible nature is all plasticity and indifference, a moral multiverse, as one might call it, and not a moral universe. To such a harlot we owe no allegiance; with her as a whole we can establish no moral communion [...]." The figure of the "harlot" that James uses to characterize this actually amoral multiverse must have been the most striking one he could imagine for a talk given at the Harvard YMCA. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 29 June 2023)


Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The “dgiaour” in James Joyce’s “Finnegans Wake” (1939) and Lord Byron’s “Giaour” in Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” (1817)

As my fellow readers pointed out at this evening's "Finnegans Wake" reading group, the "dgiaour" in "dug of a dog of a dgiaour" (68.18) is a "giaour", a Turkish word for non-Muslims. I only knew the word before because it is mentioned in Jane Austen's "Persuasion" (1817) as one of the works discussed by Anne Elliot and her new acquaintance Captain Benwick during Anne's visit to the seaside town of Lyme: they first consider "whether 'Marmion' or 'The Lady of the Lake' were to be preferred", works by Sir Walter Scott from 1808 and 1810, respectively. Then they compare "the 'Giaour' and 'The Bride of Abydos'", 1813 works by Lord Byron. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 28 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

The day when Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” takes place

Today is the day when Shirley Jackson's short story "The Lottery" (1948) takes place, with its bucolic opening sentence: "The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green." The story was first published in the New Yorker on 26 June 1948, to the shock of many readers; as I have learned in classes, it still triggers discussion today. Although I hope that this day starts as beautifully for you as it has for me this morning in Basel, let's hope that it doesn't end for us as it does in the story. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 27 June 2023)

Monday, June 26, 2023

“Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” trailers and their links to “Asteroid City"

One trailer at last night's showing of Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" at the Kult Kino Atelier in Basel was for Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer", with Cillian Murphy as the J. Robert Oppenheimer. Another was for Greta Gerwig's "Barbie", with Margot Robbie in the title role. The "Barbie" trailer began with a parody of the opening scene of Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968), complete with Richard Strauss's "Also Sprach Zarathustra", in which girls in an ancient landscape smashed their dolls after seeing a Barbie doll. The atomic bomb then came up in "Asteroid City", as did sassy girls (the triplets I mentioned yesterday) – and even Margot Robbie in a brief role. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 June 2023)

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Ella, Gracie, and Willan Faris in Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (2023)

Wes Anderson's "Asteroid City" (2023) features not only actors from his usual ensemble (such as Jason Schwartzman, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Adrien Brody, and William Dafoe) but also Scarlet Johansson for her first live-action Anderson film (after her voice work in his 2018 "Isle of Dogs") and Tom Hanks in his first work with Anderson. But the stars of the movie are the triplets who play Schwartzman's character's young daughters Andromeda (Ella Faris), Pandora (Gracie Faris), and Cassiopeia (Willian Faris), who respond to a waitress who calls them "princesses" with the announcement that they are a vampire, a mummy, and a fairy, respectively. And they just get better from then on. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 25 June 2023)

Orange County triplets Gracie, Ella and Willan, left to right, were 6 years old and just out of kindergarten in 2021 when they spent two months in Spain on director Wes Anderson’s new film, “Asteroid City.” The film opens Friday, June 23, 2023 just a few weeks after the girls turned 8 and finished second grade. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)
Gracie, Ella, and Willan Faris in Wes Anderson’s “Asteroid City” (2023)

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Dave Garbutt and the Thin Raft workshopping method for creative writing

I met my friend Dave Garbutt in 1996; the first thing I remember doing with him was attending a Neil Young and Crazy Horse concert in Zurich that June. Later that year, we began to organize the Thin Raft writing group that began meeting in early 1997 at the English Department of the University of Basel where I had started working in October 1995. Although I stopped attending around 2010 or so, the group is still running, as far as I know. Dave has just written a Medium post summarizing the procedures for Thin Raft meetings, which are very effective and which I still use in my poetry and songwriting classes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 24 June 2023)


Friday, June 23, 2023

The Summer Solstice, the latest sunset, and the earliest sunrise

The other day, on the Summer Solstice, I came across a surprising astronomical fact: while the Solstice is the longest day of the year, the sun does not immediately begin to set earlier. On the contrary, even though the days do begin to get shorter right after the Solstice, the latest sunset of the summer is a few days later (on 27 June this year). And the earliest sunrise correspondingly occurs a week or so earlier than the Solstice (on 15 June this year). As the original post I read about this pointed out (which I cannot find, but which several sites confirm), this is caused by the Earth's elliptical orbit. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 23 June 2023)

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Reading the FAZ and then the taz in summer 1991 in Weimar

In August 1991, my girlfriend Carolyn and I went to the Eurocentre German language school in Weimar, Germany, for three weeks (she took beginning German; I took advanced German). Every morning, there were several newspapers available to read, and I began reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. After a couple of days, I spoke to my teacher Mathias Hahn and confirmed my impression  that the FAZ, as it is called for short, was a relatively right-wing newspaper. The next morning Mathias showed up with Die Tageszeitung (or taz) from Berlin, which was founded in 1978 as a left-wing alternative to the mainstream German press (including the FAZ) and is still published today. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 22 June 2023) 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Things I learned about Williams Carlos Williams from John Felstiner, plus one correction

In the chapters on William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) in John Felstiner's "Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems" (2009), I have learned several things about Williams: he attended school in Switzerland in his mid-teens; his mother was from Puerto Rico), while his father, though born in England, grew up in the Dominican Republic; "during the flu epidemic of 1918 he made sixty house calls a day"; he called Emily Dickinson "my patron saint"; and his mother Raquel Hélène Hoheb Williams lived to be 102. But this last point is apparently wrong: according to her gravestone, Raquel Williams was born in 1856 and died in 1949 at 92. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 21 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Spanish with Anki, García Márquez, Borges, Agathe Cortes, and Duolingo

When I began learning Spanish since November 2020, my sister introduced me to the Anki flashcard system, which I use for vocabulary and verb conjugations. In early 2021, I began slowly reading books by two of my favorite authors, Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges (and raiding them for more vocabulary). In early 2022, I added a novel by our friend Agathe Cortes. Now that I'm planning to co-teach a course on Puerto Rican poetry in the fall, I've begun using Duolingo to work on listening comprehension, and I'll be taking a course in Valencia next month, as well as another course in Basel just before the fall semester starts. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 20 June 2023) 

Monday, June 19, 2023

The absurdity of arguing that someone was “just a man of his time"

Among the papers of Mark Hatfield, Governor of Oregon (1959-1967) and then a Senator (1967-1997), historian Seth Cotlar recently found letters from right-wing constituents about Hatfield's participation in a 1961 event in Portland with Martin Luther King, Jr. These letters used talking points provided by neo-Nazi Walter Huss. But Cotlar also comments on a compelling pro-King letter from a white school janitor from Eugene, Ezra C. Baker: "So we’ll have none of this 'Walter Huss was just a man of his time' nonsense, because Mr. Baker was also 'a man of his time' [...]." The "man of his time" argument is always undermined by contemporaries who were critical of such men. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 19 June 2023)


Sunday, June 18, 2023

Explaining baseball and explaning football (soccer)

My five 111-word texts explaining baseball should help someone not be completely lost at a game (especially if they found themselves next to someone who could answer any questions that arise), but I think that it would take several more just to finish covering the basics. In contrast, an explanation of the basics of football (soccer) would not need nearly as many words, even with an explanation of the offsides rule and some of the subtleties of when a hands violation is called or not. There'd still be a lot to describe in terms of strategies and tactics, but I'm still a long way from such issues in my baseball explanations. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 18 June 2023)

Saturday, June 17, 2023

The fifth step in explaining baseball: A summary of the most common results of each pitch

So the most common results of each pitch in a baseball game are a ball, a strike, or a foul ball, as well as a flyball out, a groundout, or a hit (a single, double, triple, or homerun). With the last three, the batter is either out or on base, and it's now another batter's turn. With the first three, the batter will face another pitch – unless the pitcher has thrown four "balls", in which case the batter gets a "base on balls" or a "walk", which is yet another way to get to first base. If the pitcher has thrown three strikes, that's a "strikeout", and the batter is out. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 17 June 2023)

Previous step in the explanation: 

Friday, June 16, 2023

A fourth step in explaining baseball: The outcomes when the batter hits a fair ball on the ground

When the batter hits a fair ball on the ground and runs toward first base, the pitcher's teammates try to get to the ball and throw it to the "first baseman" (who plays near first base) so that the ball gets there before the batter does. If they succeed, the batter is "out". If they fail, the batter is "safe" at first base. This is called a "hit"; if the batter reaches first base, it's a "single". If the pitcher's teammates cannot get the ball to a further base before the batter, the batter might reach second base (a double), third base (a triple), or even home plate (an "inside-the-park homerun"). (Andrew Shields, #111words, 16 June 2023)

Previous steps in the explanation:

Thursday, June 15, 2023

A third step in explaining baseball: What the teams are trying to do

I've approached explaining baseball with the possible outcomes of each pitch, but before I turn to what can happen when the batter hits the ball into fair territory and it hits the ground, it's worth considering what each team's overall goal is. The team with the pitcher and the catcher, along with their seven teammates on the field, tries to get the batter "out"; after three "outs", the teams switch sides. The team with the batter tries to get players all the way around the four bases for a "run" (first, second, and third base, and then home plate). At the end of the game, the team with more "runs" wins. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 15 June 2023)

Note: this continues from the first and second steps.

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

I write a spontaneous poem; Roli Frei sings a spontaneous song

I went to Viertel Dach early for this evening's Roli Frei concert so I could eat something before the show. When Roli sat down nearby to prepare his set, I him if he would play his lovely version of The Smiths' "There is a light that never goes out", but he said he hadn't played it in too long. While I ate my cheeseburger, I composed a few lines to describe the evening on the roof, so I asked Roli for a piece of paper, wrote my poem down, and gave it to him with the challenge to improvise a song based on it. And late in his set, he did! (Andrew Shields, #111words, 14 June 2023)

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Dancing to Tinariwen in 2016 and 2023

When I first saw Tinariwen in Basel on 17 November 2016, they performed without their bassist, Eyadou Ag Leche, who was in the hospital. Despite his absence, I was still able to dance cathartically throughout the concert. It helped that the Kaserne was crowded, but not packed. Tinariwen's concert at the Mühle Hunziken in Rubingen last night was packed – at least on the floor, where my son Miles and I were first standing. After a few songs, we headed upstairs, where we couldn't see the band (except on screens), but there was more room to dance. So dance we did! My phone counted almost 6000 steps between 8 and 10 pm. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 13 June 2023)

Monday, June 12, 2023

A Tinariwen concert to wrap up four days of oral exams

The Spring Semester at the University of Basel ended on Friday, 2 June, so I began my "Vorlesungsfreie Zeit" ("lecture-free time", as they say in German) with a concert that evening. Starting last week, I participated, as I have for years now, in the final English exams of students at the Gymnasium Bäumlihof in Basel. The first session was on Wednesday, 7 June, and the fourth and last one was this morning. I went to the Bird's Eye in Basel from Wednesday to Saturday for their Hammond-organ week – and tonight I'm going to Mühle Hunziken near Bern to hear one of my favorite bands, Tinariwen (from Mali), for the second time. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 12 June 2023)

Sunday, June 11, 2023

The second step of explaining baseball: the possible outcomes when the batter hits the pitched ball

When a batter hits the ball, where does it go, and how? If it goes into the air, it could land in the stands and be either a foul ball (explain this) or a homerun (explain this). Or it could fly over the grass where the pitcher's teammates are and be caught by one of them. The batter is then "out". If the ball bounces (or goes into the air but lands before being caught), then it could land in the stands or outside the white lines on the field ("foul territory") and be a foul ball. If it lands between those lines ("fair territory"), there are again several possible outcomes. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 11 June 2023)

Note: This continues from yesterday’s post.