Friday, December 31, 2010

The boy has become a man!

(I am writing this as I am watching Cosi fan tutte on the ZDF Theaterkanal, which will be followed by a very funny production of Cinderella (the ballet), and a Berlinerised version of the Weiss Roessl Inn later - who needs to go out on a snowy winter's night?).

Last night at the Filharmonija it was the Kremerata Baltica with various soloists, but without Kremer. Note that one time Kremer, in one of his (many, largely complaining) biographical volumes, wrote scathingly about the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, which always plays without a conductor - he felt it caused total chaos. Not in 'his own' orchestra, presumably, even though by virtue of age his players are much less experienced.

The group started with an arrangement of pieces ('Trilogy') from the Art of Fugue (Bach), by three composers. One wonders how three composers (Alexandras Raskatovas, Stevanas Kovacsas Tickmayeris and Raminta Serksnyte - can't help feeling that the first couple of names were lithuanised) collaborate on the same piece; but since there were more than 3 pieces, the 'trilogy' may relate to the trilogy of composers rather than pieces, especially given the style of the pieces - some were much more modern than others. The Kremerata belted along, giving its best - but does the cello really lead the band? Nice, vigorous playing.

This was to be followed by the Telemann viola concerto with Ula Zebriunaite, but she was nowhere to be seen...So instead the violin and viola leader played a piece of film music by Nyman; ah well, we have to put up with anything. I thought the viola player would also be effective in a heavy rock band; he's a very vigorous player with a beautiful sound where he plays lyrically.

Then, in a daisy chain of repetitions, we heard the Bach concerto for violin and oboe again - had only heard it three days ago....Again the violin was not all that audible, but I wonder whether it is because an oboe can cut through a bunch of strings better than another string player. Agne Doveikaite who I think won third or fourth prize at the Heifetz competition a couple of years ago has matured very well since then, and seemed to have a lot of fun, as did Juste Gelgotaite on oboe.

After the interval we had some Gorecki. Older UK listeners will remember his third symphony which hit the top of the classical pops at the time. It's kind of wallpaper, or mood, music - does not say anything specific, but I suppose some people like it. I think Gorecki died this year, so maybe it was 'in memoriam'. All the same, there is more exciting music, though the Kremerata did its best to enliven it.

Finally we had Chopin's first piano concerto (which can be played with a string quartet, I have a recording with Luisada of this) with the young Lithuanian/Russian genius, Lukas Geniusas. He had won the second prize in the Chopin piano competition (which launched Marta Argerich in her day) with an all-Chopin programme. It was very nice - the first movement seemed a bit fast, and the last one a bit lacklustre - could he not have made the first theme a bit funkier? People had raved about his performance of the second movement at the competition. But generally it was a very sound performance, and he got a standing ovation from the rear of the hall. He seemed much more comfortable on stage than a few years ago; I hope he goes further. The first encore was another Chopin piece, stunningly performed - and then followed by a Piazzolla (?) piece with the orchestra (When I went into the concert I was sure we'd have some Piazzolla.) So he can play stuff other than Chopin - this one was fun! I hope his career gets going now!


Monday, December 27, 2010

Fashion on Parade!

The series of Christmas Week Concerts at the Filharmonija continued on Monday with the Concert by the Muzika Humana, the small chamber ensemble which more usually plays at the Lutheran Church on a Sunday evening (not every Sunday evening!). I have often commented on its conductor's style of conducting, his love of encores etc and will restrain myself this time.

The MH seems to have a new leader, Paulius Biveinis, whose career I have watched (from a distance) from when he had very long hair, very short hair, and now seems to have longer hair again. He used to be leader of the Music Academy's orchestra, played in the Chamber Orchestra, and now is in Muzika Humana (and maybe other orchestras as well since the MH is not full-time employment), but he's never quite hit the Big Time. Otherwise it was much the usual crowd apart from a young woman at the back of the first violins.

The programming was Bach and Corelli, starting with Corelli's Christmas Concerto. I always forget how long this is, with about 6 movements or so, and the 'famous bit' is about the fourth or fifth movement. Reliably played and all that.

Then we had some the first of a series of Bach; a couple of recitatives and arias for soprano (Raminta Vaiceskauskaite, an apparition in red) and bass (Ignas Misiura) from the Christmas Cantata. It was nice but a bit strange; only Ms Vaiceskauskaite was on stage first, doing her bit, very nicely, and then Mr Misiura strolled on, in an outfit that can only be described as a mixture between bell-hop and the hunter coming back from the hunt. A very short grey jacket, buttoned up to the neck, with one lapel hanging open, and a velvet collar and velvet pocket covers (or whatever you call those flaps above pockets). Mr Misiura is a very stylish man and appears to like following fashions, but I am not sure about the shortness of that jacket in a concert hall. How many female singers would you see in a mini-skirt whilst performing?

This was followed by Bach's first orchestral overture (hadn't we heard the first movement the day before?). I have to say I always find these boring, with all those stately dances and so on. I know the cello suites are much the same, also series of dances, but they seem to have more depth. This performance was solid and reliable, but did not set the heather alight.

After the interval we had the Bach concerto for violin and oboe, with Paulius Biveinis as the violin soloist and the inimitable Robertas Beinaris on oboe. A former trumpeter behind me muttered - this is not original. So I listened hard and thought that I had heard the first movement as an organ piece before, but Bach transcribed his own and other pieces, other people transcribed Bach's pieces ad nauseam - so who knows what was the original. Beinaris' performance was spirited, as always, Biveinis' might have been, had I been able to hear him. Not sure if it is his instrument, but his sound really does not cut across the orchestra - it sounded rather diffident. Technically it was sound but I would have liked more (audible) sparkle.

Finally we had the first movement of the Christmas Oratorio - at least something of it, it's so rare in Lithuania. The reason for the rarity may lie in the Soviet occupation; my trumpeter friend told me he performed it in 1976 in the Filharmonija - since under Soviet rules there was no god and no religion, the oratorio was performed in the spring, to quite clearly divorce it from any religious nonsense. Here the choir Jauna Muzika joined the band. What an apparition! It seems the JM has come into money - the ladies in individually tailored silk dresses according to their very different body shapes, with matching silk wraps or jackets (they often sing in chilly churches) in shades of brown and grey or grey-blue. What a change from the drab-looking church outfits!

Mindaugas Zimkus, tenor (normally dressed for a concert) and Jurga Prakelyte (alto, in a shoulder-less number in white with a black ribbon round the top) joined the others for this performance. Generally it was quite good, though the size of the choir overwhelmed the size of the orchestra. It also does not help when the reviewer knows every note and every word of this piece! Mr Zimkus really needs to work at his German pronounciation - it was pretty distant at times from where it should have been. There are textbooks for this. Overall there were notes missing, slightly sloppy entrances and exits, the timps did not quite sound as they should (I find this difficult to imagine, too, but they just were not quite right).... but at least it was the Christmas Oratorio! I suppose in Western Europe it is such routine that most performers can do it standing on their heads, which is obviously not the case in Eastern Europe.



6 months on, no music to report on in the meantime - cannot report on my own concerts in Botswana, nor other concerts there which are so dire (and I know the people personally) that normally I would ask for my money back, but if the concert is in Aid Of A Good Cause, what is a guy to do?

Anyway, my second concert in the Filharmonija in 2 weeks, and this week will be a busy week of concerts. It was the usual Christmas concert of the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra, which takes place on Boxing Day every year. Conducted by the Ukrainian Artistic Director, Sergey Krylov who was also a violin soloist in some pieces. Not much has changed in the orchestra; I spotted two new faces, otherwise it was the same group as before.

Aaaah, the bliss! It started with a beautifully executed overture from one of the Bach orchestral suites (got in too late to get a programme). Beautiful smooth sound - people do not realise how starving a guy can be for a good sound. Played more or less in the historically informed style, given modern instruments and all that, though some of the performers still struggled a bit with the bowing.

This was followed by a Mozart Divertimento, also very nice, and the audience applauded obediently between every movement. Never mind, at least they went to the concert, which was almost sold out (I had to stand in the second half).

Then Krylov was the soloist in a couple of pieces. The first was Schubert's Rondo for violin and orchestra (again I thought that Schubert tends to write very long pieces). Very nice, though the orchestra could have played this one in a more romantic style - here the Bachian historically informed style seemed a bit inappropriate. This was followed by 5 Paganini caprices, arranged for soloist and orchestra by E Denisov, a contemporary Russian composer. Not totally convinced about the arrangement - the background seemed to be mainly noise, rather than music. In the first caprice Krylov seemed not quite settled down - it was a bit like a bus driven by a drunk driver travelling along a narrow road with cars parked on either side, and with lots of tiny car crashes resulting in many cars being scratched. From the second caprice onwards it was a fine performance, were it not for this arrangement.

Finally we had Vivaldi's Gloria, with the aristocratic-looking Ieva Prudnikovaite and Ona ???? (no programme, website has moved on) as soloists. Both, like most young Lithuanian women, tall and slim as rakes - towering over the conductor. It was a very nice performance - I was word perfect for most of the piece (not that difficult ' gloria in excelsis deo', 'agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis', 'laudamus te, adoramus te, beneficimus te, glorificamus te' etc etc, not necessarily in that order). Ona ??? tended to drop off notes a bit, I felt - some could have been held longer, and Ms Prudnikovaite had a bit of a steely edge to her voice as she got lower; could have done with more warmth - might that be a factor of body weight? But otherwise it went well - the Kaunas State Choir at its best, though some of the dynamics could have shown more contrasts.

Very pleasant evening overall, and a nice end to Christmas.


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Oh, it's sooooo COLD!

That's the Batswana way of saying it: 'it's CCCOLD' or 'it's FFFAR', with emphasis on the first letter, in the case of distance.

And geee, it really is frigging cold! Temperature below freezing at night, during the day it still goes up to close to 20 or so, but overall it feels very nippy. I'm cycling to work, only one km, and my hands are ready to fall off - in Vilnius at a temperature of minus however many I survive without gloves, but here I really feel that I should have gloves - but gloves in Africa? Seems ridiculous!

Will be back home in a week's time, for a total of 18 hours, before rushing half-way round the world for a meeting, at which I will give a 30 minute presentation. No time to be there, into the meeting, out of the meeting, and straight onto a plane back home. But Im sooo looking forward to getting home, into my own flat, ....and looking at six months' worth of mail...


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Corruption at Vilnius Opera House

Here it says that millions of Euros are missing in the very expensive reconstruction of Vilnius Opera House. Interesting.

The construction/reconstruction has been going on for years, including externally new carpets, new seats (why are theatre seats always red?) and a huge amount of work in and around the stage, which by now should be able to do all the singing and dancing all by itself, without actual people. It really was millions and millions of Euros to be spent, much of it on a German company which had reconstructed a number of major opera houses around the world.

But clearly with procurement things can go easily wrong. We always moan about procurement procedures, and about how long they take, but they are really necessary to avoid funny business. European procurement regulations are pretty good, generally (Lithuania is subject to these, especially for large-scale public projects), but it looks like some whily people around the opera house have found their way around these.

In the past I had heard disgruntled artists mumbling about corruption in the recruitment of foreign performers etc, but you know how it is, if someone is disgruntled. It's not as if we can have the same Lithuanian artists performing every week.

The first comment under the article suggested that since the arrival of the Lithuanian President, a financial whizz, things have been getting cleaned up. I wonder if these investigations will spread? I can think of at least one other institution which I would love to have audited, but won't mention its name here, not even which kind of business it operates in. However much I would like to.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Museum of Innocence

Orhan Pamuk's new book of this title is brilliant! I've had some moments with his books, finding one or two of them quite putdownable - but this one is amazing.

It combines his (and my) love for Istanbul with the story of the main character's love for a woman, who, in good Turkish middle-class style of the 1970s, is unattainable. He did have a small fling with her, while approaching his prior-arranged engagement with someone else, but after the big engagement party (in which, and elsewhere, the Pamuk family makes a cameo appearance) she cut off contact - finally he finds her several months later, married to someone else. In the remainder of the book he describes his total anguish at missing her, spending time with her and not yet being with her. The feelings described make my heart go out to him.

Part of the book describes Istanbul; it also seems to be a love-story of Istanbul (Pamuk has recently written a number of books on his home city). I wondered if he had written the book after he left the city following the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink's assassination (in early 2007? I was in Istanbul on the same weekend) by some 16-year-old from the eastern provinces. Pamuk had himself been in some trouble with the law over mentioning the Armenian genocide. But it seems the book was certainly started in 2000 or so. It is set mostly in the same neighbourhoods in Beyoglu, and Nisantasi, which I so often walked through in my stays in that city (not least because I knew that Pamuk was from Nisantasi).

Like all Pamuk's books it's very slow, but I much prefer it to books like 'Snow' and 'Red' - this one I found very put-downable, and it's a must for anyone who loves Istanbul.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Are there any sane people in psychology?

I'm just asking myself that, after reading some books about psychotherapy, including 'My Therapy' by Marian Davies, who had a horrific childhood and whose book says little about her therapy from a technical point of view, other than mentioning her therapist's 'warm brown eyes'. Not that well written either - who thought of publishing this? Total 'misery lit'. At the same time this Ms Davies is training as a counsellor.... Another book, 'Who is it that can tell me who I am', by Jane Haynes (a psychotherapist/analyst), starts with a long rambling letter to her deceased analyst before it becomes more professional - she, too, had a fairly challenging childhood.

Now I've discovered that one of my psych tutors is being cyberstalked, to a serious degree, by a disgruntled student, who, on a social network, is a member of the clinical psychology students' group; presumably with an aim to treat people at some stage. Not sure that our level of course is really anywhere near clinical psychology....

It's a weird world out there!


Sunday, April 18, 2010

54 minutes 56 seconds...

...is how long it took me to cover the 10 km of the Phakalane Gaborone Marathon 10 km run. I am amazed! Obviously it helps to start smoking - adds the speed...Almost exactly two years ago I did the Vienna Half Marathon (on the day that the dreadful Fritzl story broke) I took 2 hours 2 minutes, or about 5.46 minutes per km; today it was 5.27 minutes. I suspect the official statistics may show a different figure; the starting time was counted from well before we in the rear guard crossed the starting line, and I am not sure how accurately the end statistics were recorded. Statistics, eh? But I had set my stopwatch precisely on the moment of crossing each line.

It helped me that there was a big field of 2000 (two weeks after the Vienna marathon I ran in a 10k race in Vilnius and gave up - the field was small and I was last the minute I stepped over the starting line I was last). Took the first half kilometre to get past the walkers and the slower ones, and after that it was ok - there were other people around but we were not tripping over each other. Some children were running barefoot...

I felt sorry for the 120 (full) marathon runners, though. That is not a big number....Watched the first 15 or so come in; the winner in a far from worldbeating time - but if a guy is running on his own it is boring, and there is no challenge other than himself. And a few minutes later the second, and so on. We waited for a long time for the first woman to arrive; again, whenever she did, it was not a record-beating time; we left because we were getting hungry. On the way home the remaining field, of about 100 people was spread out over a distance of maybe 15 km, with a gruelling 10 km of straight road to follow near the end. That must have been very very lonely!

My two friends did very well; one had never run the distance before and was worried about it, the other thought he would take 1.5 hours... in fact both came in shortly after me, within the hour (according to our timing rather than the organizers' timing). And the whole hash team finished the route very nicely.

Where is the next run?


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Gaborone - the filthiest city? I don't think so

It says here that Gaborone must be 'among the few most unkept (sic) capital cities of the world'. Suspect the author has not travelled very far. I can think of many cities that are far more unkempt than Gaborone.

He quotes a South African teenager as saying 'but it looks so rural'. That's not really surprising given that the large South African cities have populations well more than the whole population of huge Botswana (1.8 million). And it does look rural - there are very few apartment blocks, most houses sit in their own, fairly large, plot, and the population is only around 250,000. Even the slums (Old Naledi?) are fairly spaced out - and I don't mean it in a hashish sense. In any case, 'rural' is not exactly synonymous with 'filthy'.

There are many ways of describing Gaborone - well spread out, lacking a city centre with a heart, short on historic buildings, very car-dependent, with people congregating in shopping centres or churches, but filthy? I have seen much worse - in most parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Dushanbe in Tajikistan is also fairly rural, though its older city buildings are double the age of those in Gaborone), and indeed Western Europe (has the author ever been to London?), in other parts of Africa....

I wonder what spaces the author is talking about. Most businesses seem to employ more than enough cleaners to pick up every cigarette stub, or for one to wash the floor of the supermarket while her colleague stands beside her flapping a piece of cardboard to make it dry quicker. There does seem to be a problem with rubbish collection at the moment - I noticed the piles of rubbish bags near our office; but they are neatly placed in some large rubbish bag holders, for the moment. Apparently the city council has not collected rubbish since the end of last year due to a problem with machinery. Can't say I have noticed particularly - this place is not Naples...



As Vicky Pollard would say: yes, but, no but, yes but, no but...'

Problem is I was performing in the EU BIFM concert at Maitisong, Gaborone. I could lose all my friends - on the other hand, it was better than I expected!

A packed house, a very packed programme, with lots and lots of singing by three different choirs (Gaborone Musical Society, Sedibeng and KTM) and about 8 soloists. Plus lots of very funny introductions to the music by David Slater, maestro extraordinaire. No really. I am not just saying it because he is the conductor of the GMS I sing in - he is a really fine conductor. Perhaps it tells that he may have conducted many school orchestras in the past; he was able to manage all our motley crew, from teenage to old age. He takes everyone by the hand and guides them through the piece they are performing, but he is precise, he does not miss out any entries and he is funny - and seems to be enjoying himself. (We were told he is a 'physical mathematician' by trade - which could be taken to mean many things - but he would not be the first musical mathematician).

Our singing was pretty good, all things considered - the moments in rehearsals when we thought we could not do it, like one piece in which we ended up flat at the end of the first chunk of singing every time. In the concert we did not, and it went really quite well. Could still do better on the dynamics, though. And tenor notes around 'd' (next to middle C) are far from my comfort zone, but then I am not really a tenor. Our Faure (the Cantique for Jean Racin, a slightly cheesy piece) went better than expected, and supported by the huge Sedibeng choir our Beethoven's Choral Fantasy was quite good, really. I do have a better recording of it, and I heard an outstanding version with the delightful Russian pianist Alexander Paley and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra some years ago - he was having soooo much fun! Not sure that our pianist Olga was having fun, but she was doing a nice job, and her Eastern European training showed. There were some lovely contrasts between lyrical places and the more revolutionary stuff. And hey, it's Gaborone!

I missed the orchestra playing a Mozart symphony (the Paris one?) since it was just before our more challenging piece. Otherwise the band, the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra (which seems to have different members every year, I am told - much like the Vilnius Festival Orchestra, a mixed bunch of different players?) was not all that challenged, accompanying many bits of opera, for choirs and orchestra. I could have played that. I would have loved to play that, just for the sake of some playing.

The local singers had fine voices; one voice did not carry well over the orchestra; the soprano soloist, who seems to have a huge fan base, could do with having a more varied (and off-switchable) vibrato, but she is getting training somewhere in Europe - they can fix that. 'Don Giovanni' had a gorgeous voice - but I wondered if he (the character, not the singer - we are heavy on HIV here) would get laid with a velvety voice like that? Maybe he would - it might make the women feel safe and undress them all by itself; on the other hand I like my Don G to have a bit of steel, like a knife, or a sword (you get the idea....) to his voice; kind of a hint of menace. Women, I am told, find that sexy, too. Linking Don G and HIV, I am told he used a kind of leather arrangement for a condom.

So this has become a concert review after all....sorry for not mentioning more names, but I did not have a programme. (Hint to the organisers - the performers must get a programme. Individually!)


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Polish President killed in Plane Crash

Here it says that the Plish President, Lech Kaczynski, has been killed in a plane crash in Smolensk, Russia. Apparently he was going there for an event commemorating the Katyn Massacre, there was thick fog, the plane hit trees and went down. The pilot had been offered Moscow or Minsk airports but refused those. The plane was a (probably very old) Tupolev 154 - one of the type in which I have flown many times to Tajikistan.

Question of course is why was he flying in an old Russian plane? Not many of these are allowed in EU airspace. Was he trying to save money? Generally these planes feel very safe - they seem to be much less affected by turbulence than more modern planes, but does the Polish government not have its own planes? Why did he not fly with LOT? But of course thick fog is another thing; whether a LOT plane would have coped any better, who knows. Another question is whether the pilot would have insisted on Smolensk airport if he had not had a president on board.

Whatever we think of Mr Kaczynski and his brother's politics, I feel sorry for his twin brother.


Monday, April 05, 2010

Turning pages

The funniest video (thanks to Jessica) on page turning...


Guarding, Botswana style

I suspect that the guarding industry in Botswana is one of the industries with the highest number of employees. Guards are everywhere - many houses have guards, there are guards outside our office, in shopping centres, some town centre supermarkets (Spar) have guards who prevent me from taking my backpack in (not sure if I have seen any at the larger Spar in Riverwalk), and stamp each receipt, checking your purchases when you leave the shop - that's apart from those loitering in the aisles....It must make people feel really trusted. Given that the central Gaborone Spar is rather a grotty place with vegetables you really would not want to take home (who wants to buy mouldy courgettes?), floors who do not seem to see a cleaner from one day to the next, and often overcrowded, I am not sure what they expect people to steal. The doctor's surgery, used by many expatriates and I am sure quite a good earner, opposite my bedroom, is guarded during the day, all day - the guard sits under a tree underneath my window, from about 6 am till when? I don't know. No shelter, if the surgery is closed no toilet.... how do they treat these humans? I don't know if the guard sits there all night as well - that would seem to be a more logical time to guard the place, given the quietness of the street, with more opportunities to steal. The place in which I live is always guarded, with a second guard with a big fierce dog joining him at night. Luckily the guards don't seem to be armed most of the time, unlike in the Kenya shopping centre where I spotted four guys in fatigues, each sporting a machine gun.

Yesterday I was part of the team setting the route for the hash - leaving home at 7.15 am. We tootled round, past some ponds, and round and through some derelict greenhouses and wended our way back to the meeting point. At 10 am the hash, in full battle cry, set off. We reached the ponds - only to be almost barred by four female guards who were most sniffy about us passing. Luckily a hasher speaks Setswana and we got through. Around the derelict greenhouses another team of guards had turned up, who were ready to call the police - I mean, what's possible to steal there (though I had clocked some nice plant trays and toyed with the idea to rescue some of them for my balcony).

Finally when we got back to our meeting place, the police did turn up. Only to tell us that there were many thieves about and that we should be careful. We told them that a hasher had remained behind to watch the cars. (The chap in question has a gammy leg and walks with a crutch....).

So if you want to steal anything in Botswana, just pick a time when the guards are sleeping - there is much of that time....


My fly and I

...I am talking of the winged kind...

So it is Easter, four days at home, much of it in front of the computer. (Yes, I could have gone to see the wild animals up north, but am a bit busy here.)

For the last four days a little fly has been swarming around me while I am sitting at the computer. It sits on the computer, my coffee cup, my body - but can I ever catch the little bugger? I am prepared to catch him and put him out - but no luck. I don't like swatting a fly, especially not on my laptop - blood could get into all sorts of places, or I could smash the screen. What's the life expectancy of a fly? I hope it's only a few days...

He is driving me crazy!


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Tidy desks?

Interesting blogs here about tidy desks - which to the author suggest 'an empty mind', or that the person has nothing to do.

My desk is never tidy; yes, I would like it to be tidy, but I am always working on different pieces of work, and need to see them to be reminded to do them - that saves me using valuable brain space better used for thinking! Also, much as described in the paper, I do find things on my desk, or in my shelves, when I need them. Maybe those of us who use untidy desks have a different way of remembering things than those whose desks are tidy? There could be lots of psychological theories explaining memory and ways of constructing memories or where something is and what I should be working on. I do use a crib sheet (to do list) to make sure I don't forget important, or sometimes unimportant things - what may be important to me, on a high level, can be different to what is important to the organisation or its suppliers (writing contracts, dealing with payments, money allocations, organising keys for consultants and so on).

I remember working in an office which had a 'clean desk' policy - to allow the cleaners to clean the desks (mainly), though there were also issues with client confidentiality, where the clients' files were lying on the desks (some of those cleaners might also be clients). Not sure that I actually ever saw a totally clean desk....

So if you have an untidy desk, go ahead - if you produce the work you are required to produce then it's just your style of working. We are all different!


Thursday, April 01, 2010

Double standards?

Here it says that Haiti is getting 9.5 million USD from the international community for rebuilding itself. Congratulations!

However, when Georgia had its war in 2008, it received 4.5 billion USD for the same purpose. In Haiti 200,000 people were killed, and a million homeless. In Georgia a few hundred people were killed, about 160,000 homeless, so per head of affected Haiti is getting much less than Georgia.

Political reasons, or effect of the economic crisis?


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Autumn is coming

'tis getting cooler in Gaborone.... after spending the summer on my balcony, wearing little more than (boxer) shorts, soon I'll have to throw on a Tshirt at night. Shocking!

Meanwhile, the Gaborone Musical Society's concert (together with Sedibeng Choir and the Johannesburg Festival Orchestra) is coming on, the weekend after Easter or so. The first full orchestra I will have heard in Botswana since I got here last June. Ok, so our choir's contribution is only 4 minutes for the Beethoven choral fantasy, and maybe another four minutes if we do the Faure as well (Cantique for Jean Racine, bit of a cheesy piece, but that's Faure for you).

Have to say that our conductor, David Slater, or Mr Music of Gaborone is fantastic. It may be a year or two since his teenage years, but he is able to control both our somewhat older crew (not many of whom may remember their 40th birthday or even be looking forward to it), patiently coaxing the best out of us, as well as, at the last rehearsal, the very much younger Sedibeng Choir - a fantastic youthful collection of singers - he can relate to everyone and anyone, of whatever age group. Once he gets us to appreciate dynamics there will be no holding us back... He must have been a wonderful music teacher in his younger years. What would we do without him?


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Going to bed Botswana style

Sooo, in Europe I would be winding down slowly, taking a shower, wrapping up warm and all those things and gently subside into bed.

Here I find myself coming in from the balcony, wearing my boxers, following a huge moth into the flat. I've been through that before, when, after switching off the lights in the living room the bugger followed me into the bedroom. So, instead of winding down the pulse rate I have the choice of either rushing into the bedroom and slamming the door, leaving the moth outside (but will I remember that in the middle of the night?) or catching him and throwing him out. So I use the usual trick, the glass, the OU study calendar (a sheet of paper), trap him, rush out on the balcony, carefully closing the balcony door behind me but not so much that I will be locked out, and throw him off the balcony.

Pulse rate sky high - does wonders for the sleep!


Friday, February 26, 2010


This is Valencia market, on a normal shopping day, and suddenly the shop assistants (opera singers in real life) burst into song!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Oh that Marcel Marceau were here...

Friday Night, at the Maitisong in Gaborone, sponsored by the Alliance Francaise, an evening of mime with Laurent Decole, who describes Marcel Marceau as his spiritual father. I saw Marceau a few times about 4 years ago....

It was not looking good. The start was postponed from 7 to 7.30 pm - an old theatre hand like me knows that that means a short programme (I always remember the concert by Aurele Nicolet in Iserlohn, also about 40 years ago, where the first half was expected to last 32 minutes and the second 28 minutes ...perhaps net of applause, but short nevertheless.)

So we started (on time? did not check) with speeches; an announcer, followed by the head of drama at Maitisong. He seems quite a bossy sort - if he were my drama teacher, he would cause me anal retention with my creativity. First he ordered some children off the balcony where they were without their parents. Then he told everyone to be very quiet, particularly his pupils. Finally he went into long exhortations about mobile phones, and threatened that if he saw a lit-up screen he would come down and escort the offender off the premises. I did not get the impression he was joking! How can his students be relaxed and allow themselves to be really creative in such an environment?

Then there was a speech by the head of the Alliance Francaise, giving a bit of background on mime, and Marceau, and Decol who, after seeing Marceau perform when Decol was 18, decided to become a mime (I am glad I did not make that decision when I saw Marceau at about half that age).

Then there was an introductory act - a local hip hop band who had won some prize. It was a strange dance - the first half was hip hop, the second was pure acrobatics - and awesome they were. In the dance they could have been a bit more coordinated - they were not exactly synchronised swimmers, but the acrobatics more than made up for this.

Finally, at it must have been about 8 pm (we had been told the event would last 1.5 hours, but confusingly there was also mention of an interval), Decol arrived on stage, in the usual white mime's face. There were a variety of sketches, some, I am sure, filched from Marceau (but who holds the copyright on mime?). The sculptor who chops away at a rock to make a figure of a woman and ends up with a piece of dust; the people in the park, the guy who keeps getting trapped in walls encroaching on him (sounds like a nightmare come true), the sportsman trying out various kinds of sport and failing, and various others. Some were quite funny, others perhaps a bit heavy for the audience. It can be quite difficult to translate French life for Africa, even though probably most of the audience would have been well-travelled - would be interesting to do it in a village in the bush, to see if people would understand it. He could have done more entertaining stuff, eg showing a busy restaurant kitchen, a school class and so on.

He was quite a good mime, as especially became obvious when he got a boy on the stage from the audience (maybe one of the mime class at Maitisong, under that drama teacher?) and the difference showed. But it was also a bit boring, and he lacked the charm of Marceau, the little swagger he had and so on. Obviously he could not have had the hat with the flower on it (Bip) - that might have gone a bit too far.

Then at 9 he finished his act, and had to nurse the applause a little - perhaps most people were a bit underwhelmed. The guy who was sitting beside me and I felt a little bit embarrassed about it all. While the whole evening had lasted an hour and a half, there had been no interval. Maybe there was a second half? I don't know; a lot of people were leaving when I left. I had seen enough of him, and missed Marcel Marceau.


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Feasts of India!

Those of you who knew us in our Edinburgh period (1998 to 2001) will probably remember my friend Mridu Thanki, not only for her lovely personality, but also for her exquisite Indian cuisine, consumed round her kitchen table. Those were some of the best evenings I had in Edinburgh, not only food, but also fantastic company!

Since then, and perhaps before, Mridu had been talking about writing a cookery book to give us a chance to enjoy her sumptious food even when not in reach of her. And finally, just before Christmas, it came out! Available from Jaggnath Publishing, jaggnath.publishing (at) googlemail.com.

It is a fantastic book! Stunningly designed, with lovely illustrations, with our friend Sushil Mangoankar (then a budding artist) as the creative advisor, illustrations by Sandra de Matos, apart from that it is a family affair, with Mridu's son and daughter heavily involved in editing and proof-reading (and proof-cooking?).

The book is totally vegetarian (can be difficult for me in a country like Botswana with such beautiful beef), but gives enough recipes and menu recommendations for a balanced diet. For the last two weeks I have been eating almost entirely according to Mridu's recipes. This involves plenty of pulses (for some reason in recent years my body has been able to deal with pulses better), wonderful aubergine recipes, a pakora thing in a scrumptious yoghurt sauce (sorry, cannot remember the dish's name) .... the list goes on. Luckily here in Botswana I can get Indian spices easily enough, though they often come in packets of 100 or 200g, quite a lot, really. Unfortunately for me they are often labelled in the Indian name (I think), so it needs some sussing out to identify them. Mridu is also generous in her use of fresh coriander which is not available in every supermarket - so I bought a whole lot, chopped it, filled a muffin tin with it, adding a little water for each coriander 'muffin', and froze it. It's still better than the dried stuff which tastes of nothing. Have also made my own ghee... There's only one thing, Mridu - your estimate of the cooking time of black-eyed beans seems to be a little optimistic - mine take over an hour easily.

It's a great addition to my cookery world! Now and again I do also enjoy a steak, though!