Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf animated version

As I was looking for material to carry out the forthcoming English Language Summer workshops for the children I came across an animated version of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf which I bought not knowing (then) I was buying a "gem", that I am sure the children of my colleagues and co-workers will fall in love with (the same way I have).

Last year I used a speechless animated story "The eyes of the lighthouse", which children gave voice to using the little English they knew or had recently been taught and despite being fearful as to their reactions and whether the English Language approach would work out the way I had envisaged it once I had them watch the film I soon realised that they were actually capable of taking on the challenge in a rather creative and "courageous" way (assumptions I confirmed later).

I can only guess what might happen the moment they "get to know" these outstandingly beautiful animated characters pertaining to the 2006 British-Polish co-production which has since then been awarded quite a few well-known prizes.


The unusual inexistence of dialogue or narration as in the other versions will be an encouragement to work with the children in a fairly open and creative way. The version itself has also been sujected to several changes, some of which differ from its original significantly. Amongst those are the bird's insecure flying attempts because of a broken wing and the last scene where the wolf is freed and allowed to run off as opposed to being exhibited.

There is intimacy between the characters and the viewers to which Prokofiev's music (performed by the Philarmonia Orchestra)  further adds a tinge of thrill.

An absolute must for children and adults alike not only honouring Prokofiev's commission to write a musical symphony for children with the intent to cultivate musical tastes in them from the first years of school, as well as a reminder not to be afraid to challenge established beliefs by taking risks.


Monday, 24 March 2014

Living, Thinking and Looking by Siri Hustvedt

Due to overburdened working circumstances I was "subtly" forced to abandon the reading of the rather erudite collection of essays by Siri Hustvedt "Living, Thinking and Looking", which I had started a month ago as I was reaching the "Looking" part of it, and I say "erudite" because I have had to read and reread several passages of the "Thinking" section, which would otherwise make no immediate sense as opposed to the pieces drawn from the author's life  assembled in the first thematic section "Living".

I have copied down two passages from among the many that have instantly caught my attention for future reference.

"(...) when we listen to a person tell a story, perhaps especially a person with whom we are intimate, that tale can spawn a mental image so vivid, it enters the mind as a subjective experience that originated outside the mind, not within it. The I adopts the recollection of the you. Memory, like perception, is not passive retrieval but an active and creative process that involves the imagination. We are always reinventing our pasts, but we are not doing it on purpose."

"(...) it is safe to say that reading is a particular human experience of collaboration with the words of another person, the writer, and that books are literally animated by the people who read them because reading is an embodied act."

I don't know how difficult (or easy) it will be to pick up this book again in a month's time and start reading it  as from the point where I have stopped. I don't quite like to leave things halfway through and that includes books ...

Armenian Food, fact, fiction and folklore by Irina Petrosian and David Underwood

I have just finished reading a book on Armenian food written by a couple, whose origins together with the thorough two year research  made on this particularly vast matter may be behind what I personally consider  to be an extremely complete and successful book that goes well beyond the realm of food, spicing it with Armenian legends, rituals, traditions and etiquette that made my delight and certainly any other reader's delight.

The fact that  Irina is of Armenian origin, whilst her co-author and husband is not has, in my opinion, contributed towards this unprecedented tour of Armenian culinary and culture as seen from within and from afar, thus providing numerous anwers to whichever questions any reader or potential traveller to Armenia might have. 
I don't think I had ever enjoyed embarking on a gastronomy voyage like this one since  having read The Taste of Portugal by Edite Vieira, which in spite of being rather  similar in  its approach to history and folkore focussed  a lot more on recipes.
I feel that an updated edition could be justified, with maybe more colourful pictures (and I have nothing against black and white photographs), for no other reason than to further entice potential readers to get into the Armenian "soul" and their art of cooking and receiving others. 

Friday, 21 March 2014

Praising theatre acting ... praising my daughter ...

I have always had the utmost respect for theatre actors, particularly those whose performances touch me, whether or not I like the play.

I must admit it may not always be easy to have an unbiased perspective if one of the actors on stage happens to be your daughter and yet I do confess that, more often than I would expect, it sometimes takes me a few seconds to identify her and that is not always connected to the physical appearance but rather the confidence and ability she has to step into the characters she plays and actually commit to them.

Though considered to be highly subjective, getting into the character's thoughts, feelings and even background, as well as being able to connect to the audience in a believable way is what, according to my personal opinion, makes a good performer. 

Having to live in a country where most young people are forced to put their dreams behind ... where Theatre and other forms of Art are not adequately supported by those who are in a position to ... where cultural events are rarely attended by those who would like to, yet don't because Culture is "costly" ... where society encourages "acting" at a different level ... I feel like praising those who have gone after and are still going after their dreams (at their own cost) and manage to get up on stage and give their best, committing to themselves, to the characters they have been assigned and the public ...

... and among those I would particularly like to praise my daughter for having had the courage to dedicate herself to Theatre acting and for continuing to do so in such a committed way ...

Around the English Language Listening and Comprehension skills in two days ... or "all is well that ends well" ...

This particular refresher course on Aviation oriented English Language Listening and Comprehension skills was carried out over the period of two days in what ended up being an almost non-stop series of "live" transcripts, that could have easily frustrated those trying to copy down what was being said.
Not only did we not have time to get aquainted with one another as we should (might) have, once the aerodrome flight information officers came from totally diferent regions in mainland Portugal, but also no extra time to breathe in-between messages and thus complain about their understanding difficulties. 
We nevertheless enjoyed the "adventure". I can't say it was the most difficult challenge I have had to withstand as a teacher, but it certainly was among the most strenuous.

Francisco (left). Rui, José, Jorge and Abílio (from left to right).

"All is well that ends well", and that's exactly what it turned out to be ... a successful "two day adventure", I will remember forever.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

The railway man

I very rarely speak about the films I watch on a weekly basis but the fact that I have watched what I consider to have been the best film I came across recently has had me voice a few considerations.

An adaptation of the best selling autobiography of the same name by Eric Lomax, a British officer captured by the Japanese during World War II and sent to a POW camp, The Railway man unveils the post-traumatic situation the main character has had to go through, which strongly affected his life as a married man but  it also approaches, though in a rather less intense way the reconciliation process he set himself to, which he partly owed to his  loving wife's effort.

It is interspersed by very brutal scenes of what are supposed to be "flashes" of the  daily life of those used as slaves by the Japanese to build the Thai-Burma railway but I suppose they are necessary to provide us with a realistic insight of the ordeal prisoners of war went through in those particular camps and the extent of their potential physical and psychological damages.

I was particularly impressed with the performances of Jeremy Irvine and Collin Firth, both of whom interpreted Lomax during and after World War II respectively.

Jeremy Irvine's critical praise earned him the reputation of method actor, after he went for two months without food, having opted to perform his own torture scenes in the film. In regards to Collin Firth amongst many other praises the following has been written "It is not easy to play an uncommunicative character in a medium that is all about communication, but nobody does it better than Firth." and I couldn't agree more.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

The "unexpected gifts" ...

Teaching is always a challenge but more so when one is not acquainted with some of the students who will be attending a particular course. To be able to "succeed" especially in non technical oriented courses, such as this one I feel that as a teacher one needs to get the "feeling" of what may or may not catch students' attention and what can be done to "trigger" their interest and creativity in and out of the classroom.

Uniqueness played its role again this time and because of it what might have easily turned out into rather dull classes ended up being uniquely interesting weekly "encounters", that we all hope will continue in the near future.

As we were analysing one of the films we watched in the classroom we learned what strong impact an "unexpected" gift" can have on the person who gets it and that was what actually happened on the last day, when I was invited by these students to have lunch out in a rather interesting restaurant and offered a few meaningful gifts, despite the fact that the greatest gift of all was simply being able to spend some extra time with them out of the classroom walls.

Words of appraisal were written by each of them on a notebook I was handed out and which I'll forever cherish. If a preface could be (or have been) added to it, it might simply state that teachers can only be as good as the students they have within the class and in the sharing of that precious time sometimes (not to say most of the time) teachers get to "learn" as much as the ones they have in front of them.

Monday, 10 March 2014

A feeling of not wanting to let go of ...

Today has been my last day with a particular group of students I have been working with since the end of January and despite knowing that I might eventually be with them again at the end of this year, in all honesty I felt I didn't want to let go of them.

Can there be anything better than sitting around with interesting people twice a week to discuss quite a wide variety of issues (in English) raised by a sequence of  English film episodes we try to thoroughly watch and analyse to the minimum details and having them further develop some of the surfacing aspects in written form (at home) so as to bring those forward to the following classes !...

Can there be anything better than being surrounded by a group of people, who in their uniqueness bring a panoply of added issues to the discussing table, some of which many of us wouldn't even think of, let alone consider !...

Can there be anything better than having a group of colleagues (who have since then become friends) committed to learning and to further developing their English oral skills ... unafraid of exposing themselves and above all unafraid of what others might say about them attending English classes !...

Today most of us brought some food and drinks into the classroom to share with the group, as one of us (and I say "us" because I do feel I belong to the group) was attending another course and wouldn't be able to come for the closing day unless I changed the class to around lunch time.

We did enjoy being with one another, as we continued discussing the film (this time in Portuguese) during the "lunch ceremony" ... and I'm almost sure we'll continue to feel so in the near future despite the feeling of not wanting to let go of ...  to let go of something we had taken for granted ... our "English oriented meetings" twice a week ...

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Calouste Gulbenkian Museum temporary exhibition, Lisbon - The Czars and the East, gifts from Turkey and Iran in the Moscow Kremlin - The 9th of March 2014

I have been absolutely mesmerised by the extremely rich and rather exquisite artistic works pertaining to a collection of gifts to the Czars from the Safavid period Iran and Ottoman Turkey, most of which dating back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, now being exhibited at Calouste Gulbenkian Museum until the 18th of May, in what is said to be its first exhibition in Europe.

Most of the very refined objects in display were used in the Czar's ceremonial acts, thus displaying very intricate forging, carving, engraving, gilding, gold damascening, silk threading and precious stone encrustation. 

What mostly surprised me was the wide variety of richly decorated horse saddles and other horse  harnesses accounting for the importance of the military campaigns in the life of the Russian court despite being associated with official ceremonies.

The photographing of the sixty six artistic works was not allowed, which was a pity, once it will be difficult to retain all of those images in one's mind and the small exhibition catalogue doesn't display but a few.

16th century Icon of the Mother of God (Gold, silver, pearls, precious stones and wood) - Novodevichy Convent, Moscow.

Istanbul - First third 17th century Bowl (jade, gold, emeralds, rubies, sapphires) - a gift from Yuriy Panagiot to Czar Mikhail Fedorovich in 1632. 

17th century Ceremonial Mace (wood, gold, emeralds, rubies, garnets, enamel carving and chasing) - Istanbul.

It is definitely worth being visited not only because of the displayed richness but equally for its uniqueness.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Quem quer ser irrevogavel? by Carlos Paulo at Café -Teatro da Comuna, Lisbon - The 7th of March 2014

In spite of having been told the synopsis of this reality show type of theatrical approach related to the current political state of affairs Portugal finds itself in, I must confess it turned out to be rather different from what I had envisaged it would be.

The main reason having been the fact that most of the political issues in the series of sketches were approached in a straight forward way (plain "direct" language), whether satirical or not, with the group of actors impersonating (some to the minimum details) the many political and media related characters we are (were) so familiar with.

According to the brochure handed out before the play "Portugal being a Republican country, accounted for its resistance, trickery and laughter ... often well praised and less well praised and yet almost always not adequately accredited for is nevertheless ours ... (...) unique, National, of exported longing, imported prestige and bearing the weight of having been born at the threshold of  Europe's doorway and continuously being drawn towards the sea without actually being able to swim! It is through the laughter one may be able to navigate today, amid the polluted seas and stranded boats. What one has to do is simply laugh, laugh and continue laughing till one bursts out and starts all over again with the joy, pleasure, intelligence, willingness, trust and with Pessoa relearn the longing towards the future." 


The motto " Who wants to be irrevocable?" set the tone of the whole two hour sequence which taking us through well known scenarios of our political and social day-to-day life made us once more aware of the ridiculously mediocre and unsatisfying atmosphere we have been subject to as a country and country's people. The sequence ended with  the calling down from heaven of two of the best known female characters in Portugal, Natalia Correia and Amalia Rodrigues (each of which played a comparatively different outstanding role whilst alive) to provide their opinion on the current situation from a "higher" perspective.

I had the privilege of sitting amongst my mother and one of my daughter's best friends, so as to watch and admire my own daughter Mia performing in a sequence of acting roles I had until last night never seen her  play in - the satirical type of theatrical approach which fitted her no less than any of the previous performances I had been able to watch her in, in the past (and I say past because she herself has gone through many of the difficulties most actors in Portugal have to face - not having permanent work to hold onto). 

The Café Theatre of Comuna was full and the desired laughter was heard throughout the whole spectacle. As a country we have fortunately not yet lost (or been deprived of) the capacity to laugh, whether we'll have the capability to overcome the current state of affairs is a different thing ...

An absolute "must" not only because of the theme but certainly also because of the performance of all the actors involved, which was next to none.

Authorship: Carlos Paulo, Hugo Franco, Karl Valentim, Almada Negreiros, Pedro Garcia, João Zorro, Rui Moniz, Diogo Fogaça, Bocage, Filinto Elisio, Abade de Jazente.

Coordination: Carlos Paulo.

Performing actors: Alvaro Correia, Carlos Paulo, Frederico Barata, Hugo Franco, Maria Ana Filipe, Marta Helena Jorge and Mia Farr.
Bruno Pascoa, Inês Godinho, Jaqueline Silva, Mara Boleta, Marta Nunes and Nireida Veiga (secondary actors).

Lighting: Paulo Graça
Sound effects: Hugo Franco
Choreography: Luis Moreira
Graphic Design: R2
Video and Photography: Rui Raposo
Light and Sound Operation: Carolina Caramelo
Seamstress: Mestra Aurélia Bras

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A captain's duty, Somali pirates, Navy SEALS and dangerous days at sea

I have read this true story of piracy and captain Philips' ordeal at sea in "bed captivity" whilst fighting a strong bout of influenza in which my reading capability was only partially affected.

What I mostly liked about the book was the fact that the "hero" of this extraordinary survival happens to be an ordinary man who feels he has become special by accident like many of us might if facing the same circumstances. 

His sense of duty did touch me as well as the humbleness with which he describes the events as they unfolded, but also his personal life prior to the ordeal.

Having had a grandfather who was equally a merchant marine captain, whose sense of honour prevailed in every moment of his life whether at sea or "safe land" did get me closer to captain Philips and what he represents.

I am now looking forward to seeing the film based on this unbelievable story, which  has had a strong impact on viewers so far and which I am sure will continue to even on those who have read the book.