Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Sunday, 6 December 2009
Thursday, 3 December 2009
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Sunday, 8 November 2009
By 1959 New Yorker saxophonist Sonny Rollins, frustrated with what he perceived as his own musical limitations, took what would become the first and most famous of his musical sabbaticals, in order to improve his technique.
During this period Rollins, a resident from Manhattan's Lower East Side, would go to the nearby Williamsburg Bridge, in order to spare a young pregnant neighbour of his the sound of his practice routine.
His comeback album, published three years later, was named "The Bridge". The mythical sight of a lonely saxophone player on a bridge, playing by himself, his dark silhouette over the Moon, is Rollins's.
Sonny Rollins - Without a song, from the album "The Bridge"
Tonight we've been lucky enough to listen to Sonny Rollins live. He has been welcomed by standing ovations even before saying a single word. At 79, the elderly man standing on stage, looking frail and walking with a stoop, has just needed to take his tenor saxophone in his gigantic hands and got two notes from it to make clear that we were in front of a true jazz legend. An experience that will be surely hard to forget.
(*) At least, that's what I understood on my first Autumn living in Salzburg. Someone told me about this great "Chess Herbst" festival, which should be worth attending to. At first I imagined people playing chess all over town. It took me some minutes to realise I was being confronted with the native pronunciation for the word jazz. German speakers tend to close a too much (they don't know about the schwa and the very subtle nuances of neutral vowels) and do not seem to be able to distinguish between the sounds /dʒ/ (as in job or jazz) and /tʃ/ (as in chop or chess).
Sunday, 11 October 2009
This post should have been called water's virtuous circle, but then I remembered the first book I tried to read in German, more than five years ago, which I must admit I was not able to finish.
I somehow managed to read two chapters of John Irving's "Die wilde Geschichte vom Wassertrinker" (*), but when you are spending more time looking up words on a dictionary than reading the book, at some point you'll just let go. Probably now, having already higher walls (Thomas Bernhard, Robert Walser, Erwin Schrödinger, ...) behind me, I will give it another try, because I like John Irving and also because the book is not mine! Even though my friend K might have long forgotten that I borrowed it, it is still a nice excuse to meet him... :)
What I actually wanted to talk about is the unexpected chain of valuable consequences that the simple fact of drinking water regularly can start. Vicious circles are unfortunately well known, but we should not forget that virtuous circles do exist as well. They are kind of a reinforced loop of events that, once set off, produce all kinds of beneficial effects.
Let us start with the recommendation to drink at least 2 litres of water a day. If I want to follow this piece of advice on a normal working day at the office, let's say I want to drink 2 liters without counting standard meals, if I spend 8 hours at the office then I have to drink 0.25l per hour, if I did the math correctly. It means I have to try and drink a glass water every half hour.
Let's see the chain of positive effects that starts as we drink that glass of water:
(i) we are drinking (more than) 2 litres of water a day, with all the health good effects that it brings forth
(ii) we have to leave the chair and stand up every time we have to go to the kitchen to refill the glass. Our muscles are activated and our eyes are granted a rest from staring at the computer screen (if your work consists mainly of sitting in front of a computer monitor, it is good to try to focus on a distant point every now and then)
(iii) one of the most noticeable effects of drinking half a liter water an hour is that the frequency of your WC-needs is going to raise remarkably. With that we boost the function of our kidneys and bladder.
(iv) frequent visits to the WC mean -as in (ii)- the same beneficial effects for our muscles and eyes as when going to the kitchen
(v) after the WC business we, of course, wash hands, with which we get a very important prevention factor against cold and flu. Which, in present times, is not uninteresting.
(vi) to finish, in a kind of job as mine, where you often need to "go up a little" to look at the problems from above, where you need regularly a happy idea at the right time in order to make everything simple (or, at least, manageable), introducing some physical activity (going to refill a glass, being in the WC) is really useful to unconsciously reorganise your thoughts and then get back to your computer knowing what's the next step.
Fred Trumper, the hero on Die wilde Geschichte vom Wassertrinker, had to drink lots of water because of an abnormally narrow uro-genital tract.
In my case, it is just about sparking this wonderful virtuous circle that only needs a glass of water to start.
(*) lit. "the wild story of the water drinker"
Sunday, 20 September 2009
Saturday, 12 September 2009
On 11th September 1609, British explorer Henry Hudson, under patronage of the Dutch East India Company, set off the Atlantic coast of North America on board of the Halve Maen (half moon) to explore a promising estuary, thinking it might lead to the much desired Northwest Passage to India. Crossing The Narrows, he soon reached the southern tip of an island that was called to become the center of the world. It was called Mannahatta, "land of many hills", by the Lenape people who lived there.
Now, 400 years later, we have the opportunity to see this island through the eyes of Henry Hudson. The Mannahatta Project makes it possible.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
The end of summer is near.
The sun that used to enter relentlessly through my office window each afternoon, hides behind the fir trees on top of the mountain faster and faster. A sun that, incidentally, I prefer to face with an open window that, at least, lets some breeze go through, than to follow one of these unfathomable Austrian schools of thought that advocate for closing windows in order to keep the air inside cool. In my opinion, a more than debatable idea that, at most, would be valid in combination with a blind or something opaque for that matter. But this is an invention that still has not made it to my office, unfortunately.
The end of the summer, as I was saying, is near. Summer is the season whose ending I am most excited about. First of all, because summer ending marks the beginning of autumn and this one is truly my favourite season. Secondly, there are many minus points that go away with the summer: it stops being too hot, garbage stops stinking, you are able to sleep at night and people, you know, stop smelling (so) bad... And last, but not least, summer sun is way too intense and its rays fall way too vertical, just to shed light over a uniformly dull green colour that does not allow many fun with photography.
Because, I have to admit it, even if it means being despised by my neighbours, I don't like summer. In fact, summer is the last in my list of favourite seasons: first comes autumn, in quite challenged second and third places winter and spring, and way way back, summer.
Anyway, a good thing about summer are those lazy Sunday afternoons, with nothing more to do than taking a sandwich and your bike, ride half an hour to Hellbrunn, lay down on the grass and let time go by, reading a book, sleeping, eating your sandwich, playing around with nice puppies that come over and, in sum, enjoying today's favourite word: Müßiggang, meaning idleness, otiosity.
Let this Müßiggang ride along with us on our way back home...
Saturday, 15 August 2009
You know I have a thing about dandelions. I find these plants fascinating in many senses, although this does not really seem to be a popular opinion among lawn-owners.
One of the fascinating facts about dandelions is the way they reproduce. Many dandelion species do it by apomixis, which means they do not reproduce sexually, which means there are no two individual "parents" that produce offspring, but a single individual that produces exact genetic copies of itself.
This kind of reproduction, based on an exact duplication of genetic material, is not very different from the cellular division that happens in our bodies all the time, say when our hair or nails grow or when new red blood cells are created in our bone marrow. In a sense, dandelions or other species that reproduce asexually, challenge our conception of what an organism is.
In his book The Extended Phenotype Richard Dawkins makes a mind-blowing point about dandelions and organisms (emphasis is mine):
"Janzen (1977) faces up to the same difficulty, suggesting that a clone of dandelions should be regarded as one 'evolutionary individual' [...], equivalent to a single tree although spread out along the ground rather than raised up in the air on a trunk, and although divided up into separate physical 'plants' [...]. According to this view, there may be as few as four individual dandelions competing with each other for the territory of the whole of North America. [...]"
Dawkins, R.: The Extended Phenotype, Oxford University Press, New York, 1982, p.254
It is mid-August now and the peak of dandelion flowering season is long gone. Long gone? If you pay attention, you still might see some late-comers, those poor lazy ones that are always too late.
And if you come down close enough, you almost can hear them asking themselves: What is going on here??? Where is everybody???
Sunday, 9 August 2009
An image, alone, is nothing. Light reflected on different objects, on different materials, that absorb different parts of the rainbow each.
But when this same light crosses our pupils to be projected, upside down, on our retina, there begins the journey of interpretation, the search for meaning. And this is a journey that happens independently in our heads and hence it is something absolutely personal and subjective.
On the long way between the photosensitive cells deep down in our eyes and the formation of a picture, of a memory, of a remembrance in our mind, nerve impulses must travel at lightning speed across thousands of milions of neural connections that are arranged the way they are because this is precisely what makes us how we are, what makes us who we are, and not somebody else.
The image, those thousands of electrical signals that travel across our neurons, takes form in our minds through a process whose complexity we only begin to grasp. This image, or the model of it that exists in our neurons, is checked against hundreds of thousands of other shapes, colours, textures, that we have been linking throughout our lives to feelings, emotions, remembrances, ... meanings. And even though these meanings have a lot to do with our culture, they still are something unique and personal for each individual.
An illuminated blue cube on top of a pole with a white U letter would mean, on every German-speaking country, something as trivial as a subway station (in German, U-Bahn, abbreviation for Untergrundbahn, lit. "underground railway"). In my present situation, on the shores of the Mediterranean, in the city that welcomed me as I was 17 years old, the picture of such a cube has a very different meaning. This U indicates here an ambulance entrance to the hospital where I am writing this post from.
Today this U means for me the battle that I have just witnessed. A battle fought against those evil cells that, at random, out of pure egoism, decide to turn immortal.
Luckily, a battle that has been won.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
Our neighbours, Paca and Gertrud, taking a refreshing bath against the high temperatures.
Don't they look happy? ;)
(*) lit. "bath weather", meaning something like beach weather, is what the local weatherpersons say when temperatures over 25°C are forecast.
Saturday, 11 July 2009
Monday, 15 June 2009
I have seen a world of ice covering the land, whose incomparable beauty on the reflections of the delta Sun would have brought tears to the eyes of any mortal.
I have seen the ice melting, leaving space for a vast primeval ocean in whose womb everything began.
I have seen the thunderous clash of continents, I have seen land masses emerging, I have seen green organisms conquering them.
I have seen the rising of mighty rocky mountains to the West.
I have seen a very bright explosion to the Southeast that brought cold, famine and death.
I have seen a shallow sea leave place to a sea of grass, its vast ranges pastured by gigantic bison herds, further than the eye can see, reaching beyond the limits of my extensive dominions.
I have seen Red People living in balance with the Nature, feeding on bison but revering them at the same time.
I have seen the Great Stream to the East.
I have seen the first White People come from the South, moved by their greed in search of the descendants of the seven bishops of Mérida, in search of the mythical cities of Cíbola and Quivira. I have seen them fail.
I have seen the second wave of White People come from the East, at first on poorly constructed wagons, later riding smoky iron steeds, restless marching on shiny paths.
I have seen White People hunting millions of bison to sell their skins and bones and leave everything else to rot away. I have seen the bison being driven to near extinction by pure greed.
I have seen White People forcing Red People to move away, into the West or into reservations.
I have seen millions of settlements under the Homestead Act, I have seen the land divided in great numbers of 500 acre farms, poor White People trying to make a living out of them.
I have seen technological achievements cause deep open wounds to the land. I have seen ploughs that had the power to wipe out the soil, the same soil that kept moisture even in dry periods.
I have seen people mistakenly thinking that the climate of the region had changed, that rain really followed the plough. I have seen the land being converted into a massive granary for the contenders of a distant world-scale war. I have seen mechanization. I have seen the land being squeezed to the last of its riches.
I have seen the return of drought. I have seen the uppermost layers of the land literally being blown away in my arms. I traveled on dust storms, I brought the soil thousands of miles away, I deposited much of it on the bottom of the ocean. I created black blizzards on half a continent.
I have seen millions of people having to leave their homes buried under the dust. I have seen them load all their possessions in poor trucks and set out for the West, where oranges grow and honey flows... at least that is what they thought. I have seen misery, hunger and starvation.
I have seen thousands of ghost towns.
I have seen strange circles sucking water much faster than it can possibly be recovered.
I have seen slender white towers growing on the land. I am going to gracefully give them a little amount of my endless energy.
(all images taken from Wikimedia Commons)
Saturday, 30 May 2009
Since I went away I have been missing you. Strange, isn't it? Before meeting you I expected I would like you a lot, but I could not advance that I would be attracted to you so bad that I would want for you from the distance.
Lately the wish that has been there all these months is changing to a biting yearning to which I do not seem to find a remedy.
Damn you, dumb American TV series!
Saturday, 9 May 2009
Never again will you wait until everybody has sit down to eat to ask going out.
Never again will you fall asleep in an impossible position.
Never again will you follow the one who's sweeping the floor in order to check if it is done properly.
Never again will you raise your head and close your eyes when I scratch you under your chin.
Never again will you chase my feet when I'm wearing slippers.
Never again will you run in circles around the flat in your daily five minutes of madness, from the living room to the balcony, to the bedroom, to the corridor, to the living room, ...
Never again will you call from the door for the one who's just gone out to take out the rubbish.
Never again will you have that ironic look in your golden eyes, as if you already knew everything.
Never again will you ask someone to turn the tap on for you to drink water.
Never again will you gently lick our finger tips with your scratchy tongue.
Never again will you miaow us to complain when we come back home after having left you alone for one or two days.
Never again will you rub your head on my knees as I duck to say hello, recognising me every time I come back home and marking me as your property once again.
Never again will you threateningly hiss guests who try to stroke you on your back.
Never again will you hide your paws under your body if it's cold.
Never again will you foretell my mother's intention nor will you ever run again to hide under the bed before she gets you into the bathtub.
Never again will you get yourself into paper bags nor will you ever again be afraid of plastic ones.
Never again will you quietly ask us for food as we eat, gently touching our arms with your paw.
Never again will you go out to scout the stair landing, the most mysterious part of your indoors world.
Never again will you keep us in suspense as you walk on the railing of the balcony.
Never again will you fall down to the courtyard from a third floor and get only a scratch on your snout.
Never again will you leave the thinnest grey hairs on our clothes.
Never again will you set up a big fight every time we take you to the vet.
Never again will you fall asleep on our coats just minutes before we have to leave.
Never again will you make us worry about your ageing ailments and the bad health of your kidneys.
Never again will I marvel at the softness of your fur as I stroke you nor will you ever again show your acknowledgement by purring.
I know that the next time that I'm home, in Tarragona, my heart will hope to find you behind any door, but I will never see you again.
Now sleep, sleep forever, sweet Grisona. Go back to the soil and keep shining in our memories.
Monday, 4 May 2009
You'll probably remember my story about a parasitic elder growing on top of a maple tree.
Well, now the "maple" has finally grown its own leaves and I discovered that it is not a maple tree at all! It has pinnate leaves, instead of the well known maple tree leaves. Its trunk does not quit look like the other maple trees either and the branches have thorns.
Those leaves remembered me of some acacia that grew in my birthplace as I was a child. I liked the oval form of its leaflets very much. After some internet research, I came across what I think is the real identity of my mystery host tree: it is no acacia, but a black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia), also known as false acacia, because it bears a striking similarity to them.
Now I'm not so sure that the elder slowed down the false acacia in growing leaves. Maybe it's just that maple trees are much faster than false acacias. But I discovered some (not parasitised!) false acacias quite close. They have all their leaves, too, but I don't know when did they grew them.
I'm going to have to continue my field research next year!
Monday, 27 April 2009
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Monday, 20 April 2009
Sometimes Nature surprises us with scenarios seemingly taken from a horror film, for instance this tree, which is taking revenge on those who hammered a traffic sign into it, slowly but without a rest...
I happen to meet another such scenario, not as horrific but still quite surprising, in my way by the river from the office to the bus stop. At the side there are some maple trees. Last year I realised that one of them has an elder on top of it, don't really know how. I was able to spot it because elderflowers are quite easy to recognise, because of the looks and the smell. "Strange", I thought, "how did this fellow manage to grow up there?"
These last weeks I am observing the maple with an elder, and I've seen something interesting. All other maple trees at the pathway already have lots of leaves, green and well formed. But the one with the elder on top has just started putting out little shoots, while the elder not only has all of its leaves fully formed, but also has sprouted the first elderflowers.
The maple with an elder (left) and a "normal" one (right). The latter has already lots of leaves, but on the former the only one with leaves on it is the elder!
That means, then, that the elder is, undoubtedly, a parasite of the maple tree. You'll never be too old to stop getting surprised...