28 fevereiro, 2011

Espantos #285

Temperature amplitude: 8am 24C; 7pm -1C. Second tornado alert survived. Have a feeling these alerts are going to be regular...

27 fevereiro, 2011

Caprichos #159

American shops just need an excuse to make a sale. Yesterday at the Banana Republic store:

her ma'am have you got yours?
me sorry?
her (handing me a sealed envelope) in lieu of the oscars we are offering a special sale. You keep this envelope and at the registers when you open it, you find if your discount is 20, 30 or 50%. It works on all items around the store: shoes, perfumes, clothes, on sale, not on sale, everything!
me (smiling while taking the envelope) thank you.

So I continued checking stuff around the store and ended up trying a sweater that was originally market $110, had been marked down to $79.99, and was now marked $64.99... so $32.50 was the lowest possible limit and $51.99 the highest. I decided to take it. As I walk to the cashiers, the envelope woman walks up to me again.

her excuse me ma'am, do you have one of... (I wave the sealed envelope) Good, good.

The discount was 30%. Total price $45.49. Tennessee sales tax is 9.25%. Total tender $49.70... not bad!

Numa sala perto de mim #144

The King's Speech (2010) tells the story of a king who was not supposed to be, at a time when his duties went well beyond looking straight in portraits and waving at crowds while smiling. Remarkable performances by Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush.

Made me think about two different things: (1) the
difference between stammering and stuttering; (2) how speech difficulties are learned (after all no one is born with a stammer), what triggers them, the incredible hurdles one has to overcome to fight such problems, and how much a given person is predisposed to involuntarily follow that path.

Coisas que não mudam #153

Tragédias gregas

Filha sacrificada na guerra pelo pai, o rei. Filha salva secretamente pelos deuses e condenada a fazer sacrifícios humanos num templo longínquo para agradar aos deuses. Mulher, de desgosto, mata marido. Filho, de raiva, mata mãe e foge. Filha quase mata irmão até descobrir que se trata do próprio irmão. Trata-se afinal de uma tragédia grega com um invulgar final feliz em que pelo menos os filhos escapam.

Iphigénie en Tauride, live HD a partir do Met em Nova Iorque para todo o mundo. Este sábado com Susan Graham e Plácido Domingo (embora num sábado) como Iphigénie e Orestes... desta vez no Francês original.

26 fevereiro, 2011

Caprichos #158

Apropos of Faust and the "Jewel song", or L'Air de Bijoux aria. I would go one step further and call it the vanity song/aria... ain't it marvelous, though?!

Ah! Je ris de me voir
si belle en ce mirroir,
Ah! Je ris de me voir
si belle en ce mirroir,
Est-ce toi, Marguerite,
est-ce toi?
Réponds-moi, reponds-moi
réponds, réponds, réponds vite!
Non! Non! Ce n'est plus toi!
Non... non,
ce n'est plus ton visage;
C'est la fille d'un roi,
c'est la fille dun roi!
Ce n'est plus toi,
ce n'est plus toi,
c'est la fille dun roi;
Qu'on salut au passage
Ah s'il etait ici!
S'il me voyait ainsi!
Comme une demoiselle,
il me trouverait belle, ah!
Comme une demoiselle,
il me trouverait belle,
Comme une demoiselle,
il me trouverait belle!
Marguerite ce n'est plus toi!
Ce n'est plus ton visage;
C'est la fille dun roi;
Qu'on salut au passage!

25 fevereiro, 2011

Espantos #284

The wind is strong. The rain is heavy. The sirens sound. Flash flood alerts are on. Tornado warning. Turned on the radio and the regular programming is interrupted. The weather center is offering live coverage and it's almost like a football match live report. Here are excerpts... there's a lot of vocabulary I do not understand.

We continue monitoring the storm for you, it's supposed to affect Perry county, Davidson county, Robertson county, Rutherford, Williamson county... The worst probably over in Belvue... Potential for rotation, straight line winds... Franklin should take cover now, it's really getting pounded with heavy rain... Dickson, Franklin, Cool Springs, Nashville, Murfreesboro, Lebanon... Knocking things down right and left... it's in Belmeade now, 7.6 miles southwest of Nashville and moving northeast fast... Damage is expected in the downtown Nashville area as the storm starts arriving now... It's going to be brief but it is going to intensify and the rains that are heavy now are about to become torrential... It's that sort of moment that you hold your breath and hopefully it is moving fast enough... if you are in your home stay away form the windows and in the lowest floor of your house, that's always the safest place... in downtown Nashville it's already beginning to head off... if you took cover, hold for another 10 minutes or so, so that the water gets off the streets... it's still about 25 minutes from Murfreesboro, 35 from Lebanon... numerous wind reports from various weather stations, 60-70 miles an hour, several trees down in several places... 24,000 people without power just in Davidson county... we will continue tracking the storm for you...

It was fast indeed!

Ditto #177

The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don't have to waste your time voting.

--Charles Bukowski

... and yet... which is good!

22 fevereiro, 2011

Numa sala perto de mim #143

The Counterfeiters (Die Fälscher), best foreign language movie for 2007, tells the true story of "Operation Bernhard" the major counterfeiting operation taking place in the nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen.
The objective was to produce fake British pounds and American dollars in order to finance the German war effort. For that, the Germans hand-picked 142 Jewish prisoners with specific skills for the job (bankers, graphic experts and, of course, the major counterfeiter of all time Salomon 'Sally' Sorowitsch). These prisoners were given special treatment within the concentration camp: they listened to opera while working with the precise machinery; they slept in bunk beds with mattresses. It's a movie of repeated dramatic dilemmas.

Aglaia you could make a lot of money as an artist, you know?
Sally why should I make a lot of money making art, when I can make a lot of money making money? It's much easier!

Atirando sapatos...

Os episódios políticos que envolvem sapatos têm sido polémicos. Quem não se lembra daquele indivíduo que, em Dezembro de 2001 (já lá vão dez anos...) tentou activar explosivos escondidos nos sapatos em pleno voo? Certamente, ninguém se esquece dele nos aeroportos. E daquele outro homem que atirou dois sapatos a George Bush numa conferência de imprensa no Iraque em Dezembro de 2008?

Os recentes acontecimentos no Médio Oriente levaram a Economist a construir um índice de vulnerabilidade dos países à instabilidade política, ao qual deram o nome de "shoe thrower's index" (o índice do atirador de sapatos). Neste índice são tidos em conta vários indicadores que podem levar determinado país à instabilidade, como por exemplo a falta de democracia, a corrupção, ou duração do regime ditatorial. Os detalhes são discutidos aqui e o ranking final (Yemen, Líbia, Síria, Iraque, Egipto e Oman) dá que pensar.

21 fevereiro, 2011

No Times de hoje #125

Qaddafi's son made a televised speech warning his fellow Libyans that the green flag country would plunge into civil war if his father, in power for more than 40 years, were to be overthrown. This foreign plot is to be crushed with ensuing "rivers of blood".

A few days before stepping down
Mubarak claimed on a televised speech that he "was never interested in being a dictator" after thirty years in power in which he "served Egypt and its people".

The problem of dictators is that they tend to think they are the saviours of the land. This is by no means new. Historically, absolutist governments (monarchs or not) have identified their best interests with the interests of their country... without ever asking their country what its best interest is. There's probably no better way of putting it than in seventeenth century absolutist France:

As Cardinal Richelieu, the creator of French absolutism, explained to his master Louis XIII, his policies were aimed at ensuring that his majesty was absolutely obeyed by great and small and at eliminating all rival centers of power and resistance: "to reduce and restrict those bodies which, because of their pretensions to sovereignty, always oppose the good of the realm." And "the good of the realm" meant "the will of the king" (...)*

Another potential problem is that we may be running out of places to exile so many dictators. Given that these people are not slowly dying, is it sensible to assume that there will be carefully designed plans to send every former absolute ruler to a luxurious clinic in the developed/democratic/former colonialist world, for a prolonged health check? Or will Saudi Arabia take them all willingly? After all, if they are able to flee, they seem to pay quite well!

*De Long, Brad and Andrei Shleifer. "Princes and Merchants: City Growth Before the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Law and Economics 36, 2 (1993): p. 679.

20 fevereiro, 2011

Numa sala perto de mim #142

The Illusionist (2010): animation; almost continuous music tune that sticks in your head as you walk out of the theatre; minimal dialogues à la Tati, who wrote the script. The movie tells the story of a lone and modest French magician in the late 1950s relegated to meager audiences in third rate theatres. Without much hope in life, he travels to England where he continues performing in empty theatres. On a trip to a small town in Scotland he meets a poor young girl who is convinced he is a real magician. She accompanies him from then on as the daughter he never had who adopts the father she never met. His life gains meaning, though it remains difficult. Hers follows an illusion only true to her.

Two notes: (1) the magician's name is Jacques Tatischeff; (2) after the last scene and before the credits the screen shows "To Sophie Taticheff".

19 fevereiro, 2011

A minha amante nos olhos sol não tem

Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907, Gustav Klimt

A minha amante nos olhos sol não tem,
mais rubro é o coral que a sua boca,
se a neve é branca, o peito é escuro e bem,
se há toucas de ouro, negro frio a touca,
Vi rosas brancas, rubras, clamascadas,
não tem rosas na face, ao contemplá-la,
e há essências que são mais delicadas
do que o bafo que a minha amante exala.
Gosto de ouvir-lhe a voz, contudo sei
da música mais doce a afinação,
e uma deusa a passar jamais olhei,
a minha amante a andar põe os pés no chão.
Creio no entanto o meu amor tão raro
quão falsas ilusões a que o comparo.



Raro (adj.)
1. que aparece ou existe em pequena quantidade
2. pouco abundante
3. não frequente, invulgar
4. pouco denso, pouco espesso
5. (fig.) que tem muito mérito
6. (fig.) extraordinário, singular

Rare (adj.)
1. occurring far apart in time, unusual, uncommon
2. not widely distributed
3. having low density
4. marked by an uncommon quality
5. unusually excellent, admirable
6. valuable to a degree seldom found


Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II, 1912, Gustav Klimt

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet CXXX

16 fevereiro, 2011

Ditto #176

Facts do not "speak for themselves." They speak for or against competing theories. Facts divorced from theories or visions are mere isolated curiosities.

--Thomas Sowell

14 fevereiro, 2011

Numa sala perto de mim #141

Casablanca (1942). A história é por demais conhecida, pelo que não vale a pena sumarizála. Tampouco vale a pena lembrar as frases e as músicas que ficaram na história.

Gostei de ver pela primeira vez na grande tela e talvez por isso me questionei acerca da qualidade dos filmes antigos. Sem dúvida que a história é memorável e que o filme foi lançado em altura crítica, mas as imperfeições dos cenários são tão evidentes que ser a preto e branco é quase uma bênção. Talvez só agora essas imperfeições sejam notadas porque estamos tão habituados a ver filmes (ou séries televisivas) "perfeitos".

13 fevereiro, 2011

Mais ópera...

A ópera de John Adams Nixon in China retrata a visita do presidente Nixon à China em 1972, em plena guerra fria, sendo à altura Mao considerado um dos mais fortes inimigos americanos. Gostei especialmente do segundo acto e das cenas de bailado. Gostei também de, pela primeira vez, ver uma ópera cantada numa língua em que sou fluente. Foi também a primeira vez que assisti à transmissão em directo, e em alta definição, de uma produção do Met em Nova Iorque e recomendo vivamente.

Pensava eu que seria como ir à ópera: que a camera estaria fixa no fundo do teatro e que na tela do cinema se veria o palco. Mas não. É uma experiência bem mais parecida com o cinema. Dá para ver as expressões faciais e todos os movimentos em palco. É também possível ver a montagem dos cenários por trás do palco e de assistir a entrevistas nos intervalos, com o maestro (neste caso o próprio compositor John Adams), os actores/cantores, os coreógrafos, os designers, etc. Muito bom!

Caprichos #157

fresh feelings

11 fevereiro, 2011

Espantos #283

Para além da surpresa de ver tudo branco há qualquer coisa na neve que me fascina.

Penso que tem a ver com a sonoridade. Quando as condições são como acima se vê, isto é, quando toda e qualquer superfície está coberta por esta camada de água nem congelada nem líquida, os sons adquirem mais magnitude, não necessariamente em volume. Talvez em autenticidade. É difícil de descrever. Por exemplo, colocar alcatifa em determinada divisão da casa melhora-lhe a acústica, porque reduz o eco. Pois bem, aqui não é necessariamente o eco, mas qualquer som (vozes, pássaros, carros, passos) adquire um tom especial, como se pela primeira vez se ouvisse aquela voz, aquele pássaro, aquele carro, aqueles passos. Fantástico!

Coisas que não mudam #152

After the snow comes the ice... today the temperatures did not rise above 0C.

Depois da neve vem o gelo... hoje as temperaturas não subiram acima dos 0C.

10 fevereiro, 2011

Coisas que não mudam #151

Ao regressar a casa num dia assim

... ter rasto nas botas dá mesmo muito jeito!

09 fevereiro, 2011

Retirado do contexto #122

A couple of things I had forgot about...

... no reason to feel guilty then ;-)

...much warmer!

08 fevereiro, 2011

Espantos #282

Over the past few days the moon has been smiling at all of us:

I have tried pictures, but with a point and shoot camera at night without a tripod, nothing comes out acceptable. Much better to rotate a parenthesis!

Sem título #18

At lunch the other day I was chatting with an older friend about the 1945 movie A Brief Encounter. Here's the lovely story that ensued. A little background: my friend is an Israeli-American whose ancestors came to Israel from Russia.

My grandparents met in an unconventional way. Their friends arranged a blind date for them, which was very unusual back then, my father was born on 1914, so this must have been around 1910, before the Bolshevik Revolution. I think they had both been dumped at some point, they were older and had probably lost hope. The only things they had in common were that they were both Jews and they were both dentists, which is not much in common if you think of spending a life together. They also met at a train station. When my grandmother saw him, she thought I am never gonna marry this guy... you see she was tall, he was short; I saw pictures of her from back then and she was very good looking, he wasn't; let's say her first impression was not that great. I never knew my grandfather's thoughts on the occasion, he was not that open about these things.

In spite all of this, my grandmother still decided to talk to him, perhaps more out of politeness than real interest. In order not to just stand there, they started walking up and down the platform as they waited for the train. My grandfather may not have been good looking, but he sure knew how to talk. After three rounds around the platform she actually changed her mind...

As my friend and his descendants stand to witness, this was not just a (series of) brief encounter(s) on a Russian train platform a hundred years ago.

07 fevereiro, 2011

Foi neste dia #143 (1990)

Há vinte e um anos o comité central do partido comunista soviético concordou em renunciar ao monopólio do poder. Iniciava-se formalmente a dissolução da União Soviética que duraria até final de 1991. Durante as semanas seguintes as quinze repúblicas* anteriormente unidas organizaram independentemente eleições livres.

*Arménia, Azerbaijão, Bielorrussia, Cazaquistão, Estónia, Geórgia, Letónia, Lituânia, Moldávia, Rússia, Quirguistão, Tadjiquistão, Turkmenistão, Ucrânia e Uzbequistão.

06 fevereiro, 2011

Caprichos #156

She asked
How is it being back in the US? What are you enjoying the most that you missed?

I answered
I missed small things... sweet tea; walking into a starbucks and listening to the cool music they play; bottles of starbucks vanilla frapuccino; central heating. Then more generally, the kind of stuff that makes things work smoothly: people responding to emails, people doing (and not postponing) their job and allowing you to do yours. What I did not miss was essentially the snow, and the bureaucratic problems that you may have in this country that make you run from one agency to the next at times with no hope of getting matters solved under silly, but serious, threats of contract cancellation. The good news is that eventually these issues get solved on this side of the Atlantic, while they hardly ever do on the other, but there they don't threaten you with cancellation* either :)

*pretty much summarizes the institutional differences across countries, no?

Not necessarily stuff I missed but differences in general
- lower (in terms of height) toilets and the absence of bidets
- wider bath tubs
- beet sugar instead of cane (the last is much sweeter)
- larger portions at restaurants, huge water cups (for me it's a waste)
- wider roads
- driving automatic
- stronger water pressure
- profuse power plugs throughout the walls, always in pairs
- cloudless skies not coming around every day

04 fevereiro, 2011

Coisas que não mudam #150

Fixed ideas

Brains behave in strange ways... or maybe it's just my brain.

Lately my computer has been acting weird. Among other things the touchpad, at points, has completely reversed directions. That is, if you move to the right, the cursor goes to the left and vice-versa, and if you move up, the cursor goes down and vice versa as well. It is very counterintuitive to see the cursor move in the opposite direction your finger is moving, but after a while you're actually able to move your finger in the right-top direction when you want to move the mouse to the lower-left part of the screen. It means that you can actually train your brain to overcome the incorrect sight on the screen, which doesn't match the instructions your brain is giving your hand. Everything is a little slower than it would if the touchpad was working normaly, especially when you need to click on small links. Other than that, what's left is a mild annoyance of having to do this every time you use the mouse. As a result you end up using the keyboard more.

Now, what's really annoying is when the touchpad returns to normal after hibernating, or restarting... if those tricks work. Your (or shall I say my) brain is incapable of assimilating the change: it still tells your finger to move in the opposite direction of where you want the mouse to go... that is, you want to move the cursor top-left and you actually move your finger lower-right. Incredible! This is the time I tell myself everything is back to normal, why is this so hard? after which I can actually put the mouse where I want... 5 seconds later, when I use the touchpad again, I move in the wrong direction. Unbelievable! Last time it took me more than an hour to recover normal functioning. I wonder if it's just my brain... it's probably just my computer telling my brain that it's time to find him a substitute, but the brain doesn't react; yet! ;-)

Foi neste dia #142 (1799)

Garrett, para mim, vale mais a Rua que o escritor... ainda assim é bom ver que os logotipos do google chegaram a Portugal para ficar.

02 fevereiro, 2011

Espantos #281

Uma visita de um lugar chamado Balneário Camboriú...

Qualquer lugar com a palavra balneário no nome merece ser visitado... e olha lá que bonita surpresa:

Balneário Camboriú, fica no Estado de Santa Catarina, no sul do Brasil. Comentário ignorante de quem conhece pouquissimo do Brasil: para mim a cidade faz lembrar simultaneamente o Rio (com os montes na distância, e até tem um Cristo!) e o Recife com a concentração urbana junto à linha de água. Sendo Balneário Camboriú uma agradável surpresa, o sorriso* continua estampado na cara por haver uma localidade com essa palavra no nome... afinal há várias. Balneário Camboriú não é única em Santa Catarina. Também há Balneário Arroio do Silva, Balneário Daniela, Balneário Piçarras, e por aí fora!

*Nota: a palavra balneário no Brasil deve ter um significado diferente da mesma palavra em Portugal. Deve querer dizer algo como estância de férias balneares... mas fazer o quê?! Sempre a aprender, mas com graça!

No Times de hoje #124

A few thoughts on the troubled past weeks of Middle East's history.

Protests in Tunisia, bring protests in Egypt, bring protests in Yemen, bring protests in Jordan and let's see if it stops there. People on the streets generally shout for democracy (fortunately, no religious motives have been brought up so far, which is a sign that the movement may not be specific to the Middle East), while entrenched dictators find it hard to give up their seats. The spread of protests was significantly helped by the internet, so Egypt shuts down entire servers blocking regular internet service pretty much everywhere. Still,
technology prevails with a voice-base platform that allows voice messages to be recorded and then sent to twitter to be heard by all. Nicholas Kristof, for the New York Times, flies to Cairo and blogs from close to the center of events in Tahrir Square, whenever he manages to get access to satellite phones that allow for a very slow internet connection. Easy or hard, the world's netizens* are checking pulse on Egypt. Meanwhile Mubarak nominates a vice-president to dialog with protesters and a few days later pledges not to run for re-election in September, while in Jordan, king Abdullah II swiftly sacks government replacing it with a new cabinet to bring serious reform.

In a pre-emptive move,
China's (right, still not a democracy) major search engines block all searches including the word "Egypt"... hardly comes as a surprise in a country where the internet is already censored big time. Let's see what the near future brings us in the protest ridden Middle East countries. And dictators in general... wake up! The internet seems to be a very convenient tool to enable credible threats. There are however, unfortunate recent historical events to worry about. Tiananmen 1989. Tehran 2009. Let's hope we don't add Tahrir 2011 to the list.

Google does not cease to impress. After Earth, Maps, and Street View, just to say a few, Google has now plunged into the world of art. Google's Art Project brings the general Street View concept out of the street an inside the museum. Among adhering institutions are New York's MOMA, London's TATE gallery, Amsterdam's Van Gogh's Museum, and Madrid's Reina Sofia's, again, just to say 4 out of 17. Check out what the project is all about in this excellent article of the Times. Clicking on the Art Project link above will bring you directly to random (though famous) works of art... in astonishing detail!

*I was surprised to see how widespread the usage of the word has become in the press... these are changing times indeed!

Foi neste dia #141 (1986)

25 anos do Vitinho
(e uma razão para ter o google.pt como página de entrada)