Monday, 21 February 2011

Smart Phones, Tablets and Readers

As Jane Austen could have said, it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of an iPhone. But except to report the not infrequent faults on our fixed telephone line, we hardly use a mobile phone. We don’t own a tablet and we certainly don’t use a smart-phone for browsing the web. The costs of mobile data connections here are ridiculous!

Archos 101 - click to enlarge
So when we met Geoff and Lisa last week, and Geoff was enthusing about his newly purchased Archos tablet, it was almost my first contact with such things. I decided to see how long it would take to browse to a particular website and I was pleasantly surprised. The touch screen was very intuitive and using the device was very agreeable. The on-screen keyboard worked without too many errors and it even played Youtube videos quite well.  Lisa said that Geoff likes to read his downloaded books on it in bed at night, and look at the news whilst he is still in bed in the mornings. She also said that she sometimes thinks that, as far as Geoff is concerned, the sun shines out of his Archos! Geoff was advocating throwing away all of his paper book collection. I am not sure whether he intended to replace some of them with electronic versions or not!

iPad - click to enlarge
The next day I fished out a recent copy of PC Pro magazine, which had a review of most of the tablets on the market. Whilst the Archos came out quite well, the review put the iPad first and I knew that Liz had one, as well as a Kindle and an iPhone, so I decided to ask her for her opinions. To my surprise she said that whilst she liked her iPad, she would not be without her Kindle and really enthused about it. She also said that the weight of an iPad (680gms) as against the Kindle (290gms) was a major consideration, particularly for reading in bed. She was frustrated that Kindle downloads usually cost more than the paper equivalent and are not discounted, which is apparently a form of madness promulgated by the publishers and not by Amazon! Another example of publishing insanity is that the Harry Potter series is not available electronically! I think that more than five centuries of tradition are causing publishers to see the world through a glass darkly, fogged by inky fingers.

Kindle - click to enlarge
It seems that, very quickly, the current generation of young book readers, by the time they reach my age, will no longer be concerned about accommodating shelves full of books. If they are sensible they will be worrying more about how to back up their Kindles onto something secure enough so that their books will still be there after the next couple of technological revolutions.  Perhaps onto a "cloud" based data service. Long before then Kindles and their competitors will no longer be in black and white text only, but will have colour and be able to include pictures and diagrams. That would mean that I could read books about science, art, gardening and photography on them.

So! Is it perhaps a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a modest fortune must be in want of a Kindle?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine’s Day

For my solos for Barbara’s singing workshop in April I've decided on “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” from Carmen and “Una Furtiva Lagrima” from L’Elisire d’Amore. Having transposed “La Fleur” down to A flat, I've been learning it by heart for the last three or four weeks. I find that remembering the words is the most difficult and I've been practising them in my head whenever I had five uninterrupted minutes.

Weeks ago I booked a lesson with Corinne at lunch time on Valentine’s Day, and the opportunity to give Corinne a surprise, and Christiane a romantic Valentine’s Day present was too good to miss! My performance of “La fleur que tu m’avais jetée” for Corinne certainly got all her attention! That was, of course, before she started picking out the sections where it could be improved. I'd already decided that the aria demands a very direct interaction between Don José and Carmen. It is after all a powerful declaration of love! She encouraged me to cast her in the role of Carmen, and as I sang I tried to include gestures, but about the only thing I could manage was to go down on my knees at the end and take her by the hand. Even that disturbed the singing, so more practice is required. I also need to perform it more consistently. Corinne suggested additional places to breathe, and others where I should take a bit longer or change the character of the voice, all of which was very helpful. We were both so absorbed in the task that we ran over time without noticing. As I left she said that it will be a wonderful present for Christiane and that there will be a few tears!

The performance for Christiane was just before dinner and Corinne was right about the tears!

If you want to see it performed properly have a look at the video of Jose Carreras below or Roberto Alagna here. I have included the words and the translation below it.

La fleur que tu m'avais jet_é_e,
dans ma prison m'était resté_e.
Flétrie et sèch_e, cet_te fleur
gardait toujours sa douce odeur;
The flower that you tossed to me,
In my prison stayed with me.
Withered and dried, this flower
always kept its sweet odour
Et pendant des heur_es entièr_es,
sur mes yeux, fermant mes paupières,
de cette odeur je m'enivrais
And for whole hours,
closing my eyelids,
I became intoxicated with this odour
Et dans la nu_it je te voyais!
Je me prenais à te maudir_e,
à te_dé_test_er, à me di_re:
and in the night I saw you!
I surprised myself cursing you,
detesting you, saying to myself:
Pourquoi faut_il que le destin
l'_ait mi_se là sur mon chemin?
Why has destiny
put her there on my path?
Puis je m'accusais de blasphèm_e,
Et je ne sentais en moi_mêm_e,
Je ne sentais qu'un seul désir,
Un seul désir, un seul espoir:
te revoir, O Carmen, oui, te revoir!
Then I accused myself of blasphemy,
and I didn't feel myself,
I only felt but one desire,
a sole desire, a sole hope:
to see you again, oh Carmen, yes to see you again!
Car tu n'avais eu qu'à paraître,
Qu'à j_e_t_er un regard sur moi,
Pour t'emparer de tout mon être,
For you had only to appear,
only to toss a glance towards me,
in order to take hold of all my being,
Ô ma Carmen!
Et j'étais un_e chose à toi.
Carmen, je t'a_im_e
Oh my Carmen!
And I was yours.
Carmen, I love you!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The Egyptian

Last night we met some friends in Fulham and they took us to a concert in their church given by a young soprano and a guitarist. The performers had chosen a programme of Spanish and Portuguese music including one piece by Joaquin Rodrigo called “En Jerez de la Frontera”. With the news from Cairo still in my mind, and as the songs of passion, love and threats of violence unrolled I was soon remembering a trip to Andalucia, years and years ago, when I stayed in Arcos de la Frontera.

Arcos de la Frontera
From 711 until 1492 this part of Spain was called Al-Andalus and was ruled by the Moors, who were Muslims from North Africa. They were in conflict with the Christians to the north and the towns including the words “de la Frontera” in their names were fortified strongholds on the border.  Arcos de la Frontera is no exception.  The castle on the top of the outcrop has been converted into an expensive hotel, part of the excellent Spanish chain called the Paradors. Unfortunately the Parador was full and so we stayed in a smaller, less grand hotel down in the town, which was not lacking in interest. That interest included the husky voiced young lady receptionist, who seemed very willing to give me a Spanish lesson, well more of a "point and say the word" sort of exchange, but I was a happily married man and not inclined to get too involved.

This small hotel had no restaurant and I asked her where we could eat.  I thought she said something about an Egyptian in the plaza. I didn’t fully understand her, but when we arrived in the plaza there was only one restaurant, so we went inside.  I think it must have been the weekend because we arrived early and, unusually for Spain, the restaurant was soon filled with half of the inhabitants of the town, who also had nowhere else to go.

The owner took our order. He had quite a presence. He was very dark haired, powerfully built, about forty something and clearly Arabic. I decided that I had heard the word Egyptian after all. A young girl of about 18 came in and stood at the bar chatting to the owner. After a short while it became obvious that she was infatuated with him! She tried to be inconspicuous when his small harassed-looking wife appeared from the kitchen, and she completely ignored his son, who was also helping out from time to time behind the bar. Perhaps this was because his son had inherited his mother’s light brown hair and small frame. I watched with growing interest to see how the Egyptian would react. Whilst he must have been flattered by this attention from an attractive young girl, to his credit, as far as I could tell, he didn’t seem to take it seriously, at least not while half the town was watching! Perhaps he was happily married!

While these scenes were flashing through my mind I was also listening and watching the soprano’s singing technique. (It's only women who say men can’t multi-task)! She was very definitely breathing with her diaphragm because her stomach would occasionally popup out, with a speed that I can’t imitate, as she took a rapid breath.  As well as singing, she was also, very engagingly, acting out the mood of the songs with her facial expressions.

I think that she would be good in the role of Micaëla in Carmen. Although she is Scottish, like Marie McLaughlin below, she has the right looks for someone from Navarre and a lovely lyric soprano voice. I can just imagine her pleading with Don José not to forget his mother and his village in Navarre. Her name is Marion Wyllie and she doesn’t seem to have a website or even her photo on the web yet!