Saturday, August 02, 2003

Here's some staggeringly important news for the London metro blogosphere: Remei and I will be in London between about September 8 and 14. We're staying with our friend Elisabeth, who lives west of town near the Ealing Broadway tube stop. If any of you folks would like to get together while we're there--you know, spend an evening in a pub or the like--just drop a note in the Comments section or e-mail us at

I swear I'll dive over the balcony railing if I ever hear that damn song that goes, "Last night a DJ saved my life" again. I thought momentarily about writing a parody version, since I've got the damn song playing back in my head, and substituting "BJ" for "DJ", but I decided not to.

Thursday night Clark had a little party down by the beach, so I got to hang out with supermodels. Clark's girlfriend Clara and her Uruguayan friend Ana are advertising models, and are definitely much hotter than the average babe. We're talking nine on a ten scale here; they're both a lot better looking than Ann Coulter, for instance. there's just no comparison. Clara's little sister was there, too, visiting from Buenos Aires, and she's possible future supermodel material. No grass, however, on the infie--God, I can't believe I even thought about saying that. That's so gross. Forget I ever brought it up.

Chick goes into a tattoo parlor and says, "I love the Beatles. I want John Lennon's face tattooed on my left inner thigh, and Paul McCartney's face tattooed on my right inner thigh." So she strips off, the tat guy does the job, and when he's finished he shows the chick in a mirror, and she says, "That's terrible! They don't look anything like Lennon and McCartney. I'm not going to pay you for that." So the tat man says, "Look, I'll go outside and get the first person who walks by, and we'll show them the tattoos, and see what they think." The chick says OK, and the tattoo guy gets the first person walking by the shop. It's the town drunk. The tat man says, "Look, Mac, does the guy on the left look like John Lennon and does the guy on the right look like Paul McCartney?" The drunk tries to focus his bulging, yellowish-red, Pasqual Maragallish eyes and slurs, "I dunno about either of them two, but that dude in the middle looks just like Willie Nelson."

One awful thing about summer here, besides the stifling heat, is the "cancion del verano", the "song of the summer". Pop-music producers compete to see who can come out with the catchiest ditty that will take the country by storm. There's a different one every year. It's always hellaciously bad, and it's always a lowest-common-denominator disco-pop job calcualted to appeal most of all to fourteen-year-old girls. The most infamous recent examples are "Macarena" and "Asereje", but there are dozens of others from summers past that you will hear played by some goddamn pachanga gadinga-dinga band at every goddamn fiesta mayor in the whole goddamn country.

This summer, though, they've done a hell of a marketing job. I don't even remember what product it is, but the TV ads feature a bunch of goofy dudes and / or chicks, rather in the style of beer commercials, singing a silly new song that they have supposedly written in hopes of scoring the "cancion del verano". I believe there are three different ads with three different songs. Anyway, everybody loves the ads, and, guess what? Professional, polished versions of the silly songs have just been released. Get ready, world.

The other thing they have are disco record advertisements. They're all called "Ibiza Mix" or "Playa Mix" or "Cancun Mix" or whatever, and they feature what's called here "musica maquina", "machine music"--i.e. a repetitive pulsating drum-and-synth beat with a simple pop melody (often stolen from public-domain songs; I particularly remember an extremely obnoxious maquina version of "Camptown Races" from a couple of years ago) over the top. The canciones del verano only last three minutes. The goddamn disco-mix CDs last for what seems like hours when your neighbor's kid has one. The commercials are all the same, showing lots of silicone chicks in skimpy bikinis dancing around a swimming pool while some dork sprays them with a hose. Note the very obvious phallic symbol, so obvious that even fourteen-year-old boys get it.

Meanwhile, of course, good Spanish musicians get ignored. I mean, say, Juan Perro or Kiko Veneno may not be everyone's cup of tea, but you can't deny their talent.

There's a lovely scandal brewing down south. The real Jesus Gil, not our pal from Ibidem--which is off the air, I don't know why--but the crooked property developer, former owner of Atletico Madrid, and convicted felon, is the power behind the throne in Eurotrashy Marbella on the south coast near Malaga. His political party is the Grupo Independiente Liberal, GIL--get it? Gil himself has been banned from standing for office due to his enormously long rap sheet, but he runs things anyway, sort of like old Edwin Edwards used to in Louisiana. Anyway, get this, Gil's handpicked mayor, who is currently "enjoying an idyll" with, that is, shacking up with, diva singer Isabel Pantoja, who used to be married to the now-dead bullfighter Paquirri, has somehow pissed Gil off, probably by saying something like "Look, dude, it looks kind of bad if we approve more than ten of your nouveau-riche Mafia-aesthetic imitation-Vegas luxury-condo projects a year in this town". So Gil is trying to dump his own mayor and he's got the Socialist Party and the Andalucist Party backing him up. Imagine that George Steinbrenner put in his man, who was having an affair with Liza Minnelli, as mayor of Palm Springs, and then decided to force the guy out with the help of Ted Kennedy and Lyndon LaRouche. It's something like that.

The cops busted a safe house in Valencia where the ETA cell that set off the bombs in Alicante had been hiding out; the terrorists had left but a lot of their stuff was confiscated, including three kilos of dynamite. This cell will go down very soon, leaving only the cell operating in the North on active status. They won't last long, either. These guys are a bunch of poorly trained amateurs drafted from the youth movement. ETA is on the ropes. They just cannot commit crimes with impunity anymore. The government's strategy of not giving in, of not negotiating when there's nothing to negotiate about, and of using massive police pressure--just what the bleeding-heart Left, the "intellectuals and noted public figures", the Enlightened and Illustrated Among Us, repeated over and over would not work because it was "repressive"--is working.

Here's Andy Robinson in today's Vanguardia.

With a few exceptions, Americans--differently from Europeans--do not read foreign novels, a "dangerous" tendency in the world after September 11, according to editors and cultural critics in New York and Washington. But there are large discrepancies over whether the problem is one of supply or demand. The New York Times, in a recent story titled "America Yawns at Foreign Novels", depicts an American with a closed mentality, paradoxically more chauvinist because he believes that American multiculturalism includes all the diversity in the world.

Of the 100,000 books published in the US between 1999 and 2000, 11,500 of them novels, only about 300 of them are translated...The contrast between the US and Europe is important. All the important American novelists are translated to the principal European languages--which proves the caricature of the anti-American European to be false--and some, like Paul Auster, are more successful in France and Spain than in the US....Marketing experts reject many foreign novels because, as one said in the New York Times, "they are less action-oriented, they are more philosophical than we are used to".

Oh, Andy, Andy, Andy, where do we start?

1) Europeans are no more "cultured" nor "open" than Americans, whatever that means. The Great Unwashed in both continents is equally uninformed.

2) Are you saying that translated novels are not very popular in America because of our alleged fear of foreignness that appeared after September 11? So why are you using data from 1999-2000 to support your claim?

3) Remember, Andy, English is the language we use in America. That means that books from Britain, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Ireland, and also many from India, Pakistan, Africa, and the Arab world, which are written originally in English, ARE NOT TRANSLATED though they are "foreign" books.

4) English is by far the most creative language in the world, in the sense that it produces the most creative products, for lack of a better word, of whatever kind. The Summer Institute of Linguistics says that English has 322 million native speakers, of whom almost all are literate (they have the ability to read and write) and well-off enough to be consumers of culture, though that culture may be as lowbrow as pro wrestling, country music, and People magazine. I will be willing to bet that Japanese, with 125 million native speakers, is the second most creative language. German, with 96 million, would be third. French with 72 million would be fourth. Almost all these people are literate consumers of culture. Spanish has 332 million, but how many are both literate and well-off enough to consume cultural products? Half? Portuguese has 170 million; same thing. As for Mandarin Chinese with its 885 million, Bengali with 189 million, and Hindi with 182 million, while they are of course the languages of great cultures, not many of their speakers are literate cultural consumers.

But if we assume that the users of English, Japanese, German, and French are all equally culturally productive, then English produces more creative works per year than Japanese, French, and German combined, simply because of the number of speakers. And, if we consider the bell curve--that is, the more subjects under study, the longer the tails on each side will be--the peaks of English literature will tend to be higher than in other languages, because the competition for the status of "exceptional" is much greater.

5) I thought we'd all agreed that the New York Times was full of dog doo.

6) What do you expect a bunch of Manhattan literary types to say about their fellow Americans, anyway? That they're grateful we buy the stuff they put out and make them all rich? No, that we're a bunch of stupid midwestern oafs. There's nobody more anti-American than a snobby Manhattanite.

7) There's a great deal more cultural diversity in the United States than anywhere else in the world. The population of the US is about 11% immigrants. It's not chauvinistic to say so when you live on the same street with people from Colombia, Cuba, Poland, and India, as I did when I was a kid, or when you work with people from Nigeria, Vietnam, Ukraine, Iran, Korea, Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Egypt, as I did when I worked at the university.

8) What do you mean the "caricature" of the anti-American European is false? The books the Europeans translate are the ones that will play over there. They publish some Paul Auster crap for the pseudo-intellectuals and lots and lots of John Grisham and Stephen King and Tom Clancy and Danielle Steel and other such sub-high school stuff for the Non-Illustrated and Enlightened. You won't find anything by any conservative American authors in any Spanish bookstore except maybe Saul Bellow. And you won't find any American non-fiction, almost 90% of the books published in the US, translated, except for Noam Chomsky's gibberish and Who Moved My Cheese.

9) Also, we just agreed that it makes demographic sense that a lot more books are translated from English than into English.

10) You can't win either way with Andy. If you publish 100,000 titles a year, does he say, "Gee, the Americans sure publish a lot of books. That means they must read a lot and be cultured people"? No, he looks for the black cloud within the silver lining every time. Seems that not enough of these 100,000 books are translated from other languages for Andy's liking, though surely a great number come from other countries and were written originally in English. Like, say, the Harry Potter books, which are very British--they're just an update of the old Billy Bunter school stories--and not American at all in their cultural environment. Yet they sell in isolated, ignorant America, only interested in American things.

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