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)