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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

No Complaints

Once again, I just like to post about the weather from time to time so that in years to come I can look back and compare. This has been one of the coolest summers that I can remember here in Valencia. I had to close most of my windows last night to keep out the cold, yes, cold. This morning I put on a cotton t-shirt when I usually languish around my apartment bare to the waist because of the heat.

Monday, August 21, 2017

4) Weight Loss?

I noticed the supermarket had toothpaste with “triple action.” I asked the lady if they had quadruple action. She just stared at me like she was waiting for someone to come along and throw a net over me but I thought it was a legitimate question. We can put a man on Mars but we can’t make quadruple action toothpaste? Our scientists suck. 

It just seems logical that if they have quadruple action toothpaste and you're only using triple action you are wasting your time, like doing a 30 minute work-out when you should be doing the 15 minute version.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Monuments of Shame and Division

Sic transit gloria mundi

Article 15. Public symbols and monuments.

In the exercise of their powers, the Public Administrations shall take appropriate measures to remove shields, insignia, plaques and other objects or mentions commemorating the personal or collective exaltation of the military uprising, the Civil War, and repression of the Dictatorship. These measures may include the withdrawal of subsidies or public aid.

The provisions of the previous section shall not apply when the mentions are of strict private remembrance, without exaltation of those confronted, or when there are artistic, architectural or artistic-religious reasons protected by law.

The Government will collaborate with the Autonomous Communities and Local Entities in the elaboration of a catalog of vestiges related to the Civil War and the Dictatorship for the effects foreseen in the previous section.

Public Administrations may withdraw subsidies or aid to private owners who do not act in the manner provided in section 1 of this article.

Spain knows a little about tearing down monuments that offend a good part of their population. Across Spain there has been a race to eliminate the exaltation of the Franco dictatorship. Not only likenesses of El Caudillo have been torn down but also those of his henchman in his dictatorship. Streets, plazas, and schools have been renamed to reflect public sentiment against the 40 year reign of Franco.

Removing statues isn't rewriting history as many are saying. We are just deciding that not all the people we once chose to exalt are worthy of our praise, to put it lightly. The fact that we have been exalting the architects of the Confederacy has undoubtedly contributed to the racism and ignorance that we see rearing its ugly head today in places like Charlottesville. Praising the leaders of the Confederacy paved the way for 100 years of the ugliest sort of racism and segregation in the South after they were soundly defeated in the Civil War. I think it's time once and for all to set the record straight so we don't breed yet another generation of Southerners who think the rebel cause was noble.

Our delusional image of the noble South has gone on for far too long and praised by too many. Our popular culture is mostly to blame in how Americans today view the legacy of the Confederacy. I would guess that most of them have never read a book on the subject and many have probably never read any book in their adult life. Or perhaps they’ve read Gone with the Wind, one of the most popular and beloved novels in American history. I read it in high school and was fairly appalled but its suggestion that perhaps Black people were better off under the benevolent slavery of the gentrified South than they were after the victory of the Northern Mongols who flooded into the hallowed grounds of Tara.
I wish that I had kept track of every Western movie Hollywood has cranked out over the years which portrays the Southern rebel army as the nobler of the belligerents. The Outlaw Josey Wales, Cold Mountain, and The Undefeated are three that I can think of off the top of my head that fit this vile description of apologists for the slave holders.
Freedom of expression shouldn't give you the right to carry the flags of our sworn enemies like the Nazis and the Confederacy. Why not just carry the ISIS banner while you’re at it? You could put all three on a single mast.

If you are unable or unwilling to distinguish between people carrying torches while screaming racist and anti-Semitic filth from people who are protesting against that sort of vile human garbage what does that say about you? Contrary to the opinion of our president, people who oppose White supremacists and Nazis are not just the other side of the same coin. If merely saying “Black lives matter” offends you then you are no friend of mine. In fact, this would make you my enemy.

Friday, August 04, 2017

I Never Talk About the Weather but...

Everyone and I mean everyone is complaining about how hot it is lately. It seems like it isn’t as hot as it’s been in years past and certainly not among the hottest of summers that I have experienced. This is completely tolerable for me although I don’t go out much at mid day. I sleep well with only a fan which is a good thing because I don’t have AC. I have to admit that when I walk into the supermarket below my flat I really enjoy how cold it is there. As far as I can remember this has been the most pleasant August since I have lived here.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Fan Letter to My Favorite Modern Composer

After a ten year absence I finally returned to playing piano. Without a bit of false modesty I have to admit that I was always crap. I began very late in life and when you add to this handicap the fact that I’m not exactly bursting with musical talent you end up with mediocrity…on a very good day. This time around I have a lot more hope of achieving a lot more on the instrument thanks to a few new items in the mix.

First on this list of my new advantages is my Yamaha P45 electric piano. It’s an amazing instrument and infinitely better than almost any keyboard available back when I used to play. I had an upright acoustic piano in my apartment in Seattle and back then I swore that I'd never have anything but a “real” piano. Times change and technology changes at an astounding pace. My new piano is light and portable, two essential things when you live in an apartment building sometimes without a lift. If you're lucky enough to have a lift it probably won’t be big enough to accommodate even a very small piano. Moving a piano with a mechanical lift from outside the building will add at least 150€ to the purchase price.

My snobbery about the superiority of "real" pianos kept me from buying a keyboard so I lived without music. I didn't even listen to music. I finally reached a point back in February of this year (2017) in which not playing became intolerable. I shopped around and bought the Yamaha. I'm thrilled with it so far and I think that I made a very wise and lucky investment. So far I have one very minor complaint in that the force necessary to play keys between the black keys is a bit harder that it should be. The sustain pedal is pretty crappy but I can buy a better one. Another huge advantage is that I can play it wearing headphones so my neighbors won’t be disturbed. This means that I can bang away in the early morning or late at night which greatly increases my hours of practice.

The next new thing which has helped my progress immensely is YouTube, something that didn’t exist when I played back in Seattle over ten years ago. YouTube has been an amazing resource for finding new music to play as well as instruction. The videos posted by Brian Trobee (his video below) have steered me in the right direction at every step of the way. His explanations of technique, rhythm, and everything else musical have helped me to gain a much deeper understanding of just what it is that I’m trying to do when I sit down to play. I used to pay a lot of money for private lessons where I learned very little except that I was crappy.

Because of YouTube I now have a much better idea of what is necessary to become some sort of musician. I have learned how to make the most out of my practice time. I know how to practice and just how long I need to play if I want to see some improvement. I never lacked discipline before but I honestly didn’t know that if I was really serious I needed to practice a hell of a lot more. I’m practicing a hell of a lot more now. I also practice fingering exercises from The Virtuoso Pianist book by Hanon. I knew about these when I played before but I just thought that they were some technique developed to torture students. I can’t say if they are helping my technique or not but I can say that I’ve improved a lot in playing these exercises. They can also be fun, believe it or not.

When I played piano before almost everything I played was in the classical genre, simple pieces that most new students learn. I always admired ragtime piano but felt that it was much too difficult for me to ever think about learning. This time around I have discovered a composer of piano music especially intended for students. Martha Mier is an American composer who has written perhaps dozens of books of original songs intended for instructional purposes. She has a special emphasis on easier pieces to introduce students to ragtime, jazz, and blues styles.

These short pieces are so much funner to play than the classical stuff I suffered through before. I don’t even know why but they're just a blast to learn and play. I love the fact that this time around on the piano I’m exploring boogie, jazz, blues, and especially ragtime. Many years ago I was in some bar somewhere in Seattle that had a piano. My friends asked me to play something so I sat down and plucked out some classical piece. Someone asked, “Can you play something a little livelier?” I couldn’t. Now I can. 

Perhaps you've never heard of Martha Mier but if you're learning the piano you probably know her work. If you take a look on YouTube you’ll find thousands of videos of people playing her music, and not just hacks like me but quite a few accomplished pianists as well. Her music is so cool.