Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Vegetarians are cruel, unthinking people.
Everybody knows that a carrot screams when grated.
That a peach bleeds when torn apart.
Do you believe an orange insensitive
to thumbs gouging out its flesh?
That tomatoes spill their brains painlessly?
Potatoes, skinned alive and boiled,
the soil's little lobsters.
Don't tell me it doesn't hurt
when peas are ripped from the scrotum,
the hide flayed off sprouts,
cabbage shredded, onions beheaded.

Throw in the trowel
and lay down the hoe.
Mow no more
Let my people go!

by Roger McGough

Sunday, December 04, 2005

(Some) Extreme Dictatorships

According to The Independent on Sunday these are the worst regimes in the world:

1. Belarus: Alexander Lukashenko, whose human rights record is nearly as bad as his comb-over, presides over Europe's last tyranny. Once, when likening Belarus's history to Germany, observed: "Germany was raised from the ruins thanks to firm aothority, and not everything connected with Hitler was bad." A Ukraine-style revolution is long overdue.

2. North Korea: While loathsome in everyway, Kim Jung-Il's regime can't be accused of doing things by halves. Not content with merely broadcasting propaganda, the amusingly named Democratic People's Republic of Korea manufactures televisions whose channels cannot be changed.

3. Turkmenistan: Not content with just renaming months of the year after members of his family, banning recorded music and commissioning an ice palace in the desert, darling of the foreign news pages President Saparmurat Niyazov's most recent noteworthy initiative was launching the Ruhnama - a compulsory book of his teaching - into space.

4. Libya: Self-styled "golden leader" Colonel Muammar Gaddafi may be an odd cove, but there's no disputing his diplomatic agility. Having spent years as the poster child for Arab terrorism, Gaddafi has reinvented himself as a moderate figure that the West can do business with.

5. Zimbabwe: Robert Mugabe was once hailed as a Mandela-like reforming hero. Bishop Desmond Tutu characterises his decline most eloquently: "It is a great sadness what has happened to President Mugabe. He was one of Africa's best leaders, a bright spark, a debonair, well-spoken and well-read person. But he seems to have gone bonkers in a big way."

6. Saudi Arabia: Britain's profitable friendship with the Saudis means we rarely pause to consider just how Talibanesque the place really is: its recent judicial brainstorms include sentencing one teacher to 750 lashes and 40 months in jail for "mocking Islam". Interestingly, Saudi Arabia is still the British arms industry's best customer.

Do you agree with this list? Or do you think the journalist forgot some other dark corners like a non-Cuban lawless prisson in Cuba? What about China invading Tibet? And Morocco invading West Sahara? And... just let me know your opinion, ok? Cheers.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

CCTV State

The Dream Police

Combing the snakes in his head
Reading a book in his bed
Getting ready for the night to begin
Waiting for daylight to end

In this court of law
This court of common pleas
The crimes that you committed
You claim were only a dream

Ev'ryone has the same dreams
On diff'rent days of the week
We are the watchdogs of your mind
We are the dream police

The judge has closed his eyes
The court begins to dream
Of crimes that you committed
While you were lying asleep

by David Byrne

Friday, December 02, 2005


Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Poem at 4.37am

Mirror Image

Tonight I saw myself in the dark window as
the image of my father, whose life
was spent like this,
thinking of death, to the exclusion
of other sensual matters, so in the end that life
was easy to give up, since
it contained nothing: even
my mother's voice couldn't make him
change or turn back
as he believed
that once you can't love another human being
you have no place in the world.

Louise GLUCK

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

A Ballerina

Monday, November 28, 2005

i'm bloggin' it

What are blogs for?
Are they a new kind of cyber-journalism?
The tool that any egocentric needs?
The perfect window for a voyeur?
A desperate cry in times of overcrowded mass-loneliness?
A modern version of the old stamp album collection?
A diary?
A try in putting that minority language in the cyber space so luckily an American can know that you exist? (The benign version of “War is the tool God uses to teach Geography to Americans”? Who needs wars when you have Google Hearth).
Are we in the beginning of something or is just another brick in the wall of compulsive consumism?
Are we going to make the world a better place with all this new-technologies bullshit?
Or is just that we want to save our souls mentioning Sarajevo, Hiroshima, Gernika, Auschwitz and the like?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Sunday Picture

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Saturday Poem

Our Own Land

There is no one in the world more tearless,
more proud, more simple than us.

We don't wear it in sacred amulets on our chests.
We don't compose hysterical poems about it.
It does not disturb out bitter dream-sleep.
It doesn't seem to be the promised paradise.
We don't make of it a soul
object for sale and barter,
and we being sick, poverty-stricken, unable to utter a word
don't even remember about it.
Yes, for us it's mud on galoshes,
for us it's crunch on teeth,
and we mill, mess and crush
that dust and ashes
that is not mixed up in anything.
But we'll lie in it and be it,
that's why, so freely, we call it our own.

Leningrad, 1961


Saturday, November 19, 2005

A picture

Sunday, November 13, 2005


The Year China Discovered The World

On 8 March 1421, the largest fleet the world had ever seen set sail from China. The ships, some nearly five hundred feet long, were under the command of Emperor Zhu Di's loyaul eunuch admirals. Their orders were "to proceed all the way to the end of the earth".

The voyage would last for two years and by the time the fleet returned, China was beginning its long, self-imposed isolation from the world it had so recently embraced. And so the great ships were left to rot, and the records of their journey destroyed. And with them, the knowledge that the Chinese had circumnavigated the globe a century before Magellan and Elkano, reached America seventy years before Columbus, and Australia three hundred and fifty years before Cook.

More information in:

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Saturday Poem

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Remember Saro-Wiwa

Kenule Beeson Saro-Wiwa (October 10, 1941 - November 10, 1995) was a Nigerian author, television producer and environmental activist.

Ken Saro-Wiwa was a member of the Ogoni, an ethnic minority whose homelands in the Niger Delta have been targeted for oil extraction since the 1950s. As president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), Saro-Wiwa led a nonviolent campaign against environmental damage associated with the operations of multinational oil companies, including Shell and British Petroleum.

Saro-Wiwa was also a successful businessman, novelist and television producer. His best known novel, Sozaboy: A Novel in Rotten English, tells the story of naive village boy recruited to the army during the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970). His war diaries, On a Darkling Plain, document Saro-Wiwa's experience during the war, when he served as the Civilian Administrator for the port of Bonny in the Niger Delta. His satirical television series, Basi & Co., is purported to have been the most watched soap opera in Africa.

In the early 1970s, Saro-Wiwa served as the Regional Commissioner for Education in the Rivers State Cabinet, but was dismissed in 1973 because of his support for Ogoni autonomy. In the late 1970s, he established a number of successful business ventures in retail and real-estate, and during the 1980s was able to concentrate on his writing, journalism and television production.
In 1990, Saro-Wiwa founded MOSOP, to advocate for the rights of the Ogoni people. The Ogoni Bill of Rights, written by MOSOP, set out the movement's demands, including increased autonomy for the Ogoni people, a fair share of the proceeds of oil extraction, and remediation of environmental damage to Ogoni lands. In 1992, Saro-Wiwa was imprisoned for several months, without trial, by the Nigerian military government.

In January 1993, MOSOP organised peaceful marches of around 300,000 Ogoni people - more than half of the Ogoni population - through four Ogoni centres, drawing international attention to his people's plight. The same year, Shell ceased operations in the Ogoni region.
Saro-Wiwa was arrested again and detained by Nigerian authorities in June 1993, but was released after a month. In May 1994, he was arrested and accused of incitement to murder following the deaths of four Ogoni elders, believed to be sympathetic to the military. Saro-Wiwa denied the charges, but was imprisoned for over a year before being found guilty and sentenced to death by a specially convened tribunal. The trial was widely criticised by human rights organisations.

On November 10, 1995, Saro-Wiwa and eight other MOSOP leaders were executed (hanged) by the Nigerian military government of General Sani Abacha, provoking the immediate suspension of Nigeria from the Commonwealth of Nations, which was meeting in New Zealand at the time.
A biography, In the Shadow of a Saint, was written by his son, journalist Ken Wiwa. Ken Saro-Wiwa's daugher Zina Saro-Wiwa is a filmmaker and arts journalist.

Statement made by Saro-Wiwa just before his execution:

"I repeat that we all stand before history. I and my colleagues are not the only ones on trial. Shell is on trial here, and it is as well that it is represented by counsel said to be holding a watching brief. The company has, indeed, ducked this particular trial, but its day will surely come and the lessons learned here may prove useful to it, for there is no doubt in my mind that the ecological war the company has waged in the delta will be called to question sooner than later and the crimes of that war be duly punished. The crime of the company's dirty wars against the Ogoni people will also be punished.

On trial also is the Nigerian nation, its present rulers and all those who assist them. I am not one of those who shy away from protesting injustice and oppression, arguing that they are expected of a military regime. The military do not act alone. They are supported by a gaggle of politicians, lawyers, judges, academics and businessmen, all of them hiding under the claim that they are only doing their duty, men and women too afraid to wash their pants of their urine.
We all stand on trial, my lord, for by our actions we have denigrated our country and jeopardised the future of our children. As we subscribe to the subnormal and accept double standards, as we lie and cheat openly, as we protect injustice and oppression, we empty our classrooms, degrade our hospitals, and make ourselves the slaves of those who subscribe to higher standards, who pursue the truth, and honour justice, freedom and hard work."

My brothers

My brothers,

and sisters

dance, dance, dance, dance

dance your anger

and your joys

dance the military guns to silence...

dance, my people

for we have seen tomorrow

and there is


star in the sky.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Spanish Inquisition

Inquisitorial campaign not over yet

With court case 18/98 due to start in Madrid on November 21st against 59 Basque citizens representing a wide range of social and political entities, the grass-roots campaign in support of the victims of this political witch hunt is warning that the Spanish law courts' offensive is not over yet.

Speaking on Tuesday, lehendakari Ibarretxe dismissed the recent trial in Bilbao against Juan María Atutxa, Gorka Knörr and Kontxi Bilbao [Gara English Weekly, October 26] as 'the tail of the comet launched by the PP [the right-wing party ruling in Spain until last year's elections] in the courts'.

Teresa Toda, speaking for the 18/98+ platform, disagrees emphatically. She believes the worst of Spain's inquisitorial strategy against Basque activists, set in motion by former president Jose María Aznar, is yet to come:

'The head of that comet, which denies the rights of individuals and of the entire Basque society, is still alive and society should be very aware of that fact, because while some talk about 'the tail end of the comet' we haven't had the head yet, and its about to crash down on Euskal Herria,' she warned.

Toda was speaking in Bilbao in an appearance with other members of the 18/98+ campaign who had met to assess the Kaiera campaign.

Mariano Ferrer, a popular retired journalist and supporter of the campaign, said that the different court cases included in the 18/98 macro-trial 'hold no water', which is why, in his opinion, 'they are having such a hard time getting the court trials started'.

'Eight years have passed since judge Baltasar Garzón had the [Basque newspaper] Egin shut down, and that trial still hasn't come up,' Ferrer pointed out.

According to the veteran current affairs analyst, these trials amount to rights violations: 'They represent a distortion of the justice system in any state subject to the rule of law, because these are politically motivated trials with a specific goal, in a well-defined political climate, which do not merely threaten but actually nullify the civil and political rights of individuals, businesses and a variety of entities.'

But, he said, such violations do not only affect those directly accused in the trials themselves but 'affect us all, because in a democratic society rights are indivisible; when a right is threatened and nothing is done to defend it, it is always a step backwards.'

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Sun Survey

I have just been wondering if I really like the new creamy background in my blog.
Clearly is easier to read the text but I wonder if the old black background was more stylish and suited better to my poetry-driven face...

Could my loyal 3 or 4 readers please place a comment making clear which is your choice?

One coffee One vote!
Popular democracy!
Power to the masses!

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Sat Poem

Mirror Image
Tonight I saw myself in the dark window as
the image of my father, whose life
was spent like this,
thinking of death, to the exclusion
of other sensual matters, so in the end that life
was easy to give up, since
it contained nothing: even
my mother's voice couldn't make him
change or turn back
as he believed
that once you can't love another human being
you have no place in the world.
by Louise Gluck

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Wed Joke

Sorry, I didn't post any joke last Sun. So here it is:

Cows & Politics Explained

A CHRISTIAN DEMOCRAT: You have two cows. You keep one and give one to your neighbor.

A SOCIALIST: You have two cows. The government takes one and gives it to your neighbor.

AN AMERICAN REPUBLICAN: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?

AN AMERICAN DEMOCRAT: You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. You feel guilty for being successful. You vote people into office who tax your cows, forcing you to sell one to raise money to pay the tax. The people you voted for then take the tax money and buy a cow and give it to your neighbor. You feel righteous.

A COMMUNIST: You have two cows. The government seizes both and provides you with milk.

A FASCIST: You have two cows. The government seizes both and sells you the milk. You join the underground and start a campaign of sabotage.

DEMOCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE: You have two cows. The government taxes you to the point you have to sell both to support a man in a foreign country who has only one cow, which was a gift from your government.

CAPITALISM, AMERICAN STYLE: You have two cows. You sell one, buy a bull, and build a herd of cows.

BUREAUCRACY, AMERICAN STYLE: You have two cows. The government takes them both, shoots one, milks the other, pays you for the milk, then pours the milk down the drain.

AN AMERICAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows. You are surprised when the cow drops dead.

A FRENCH CORPORATION: You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.

A JAPANESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk. You then create clever cow cartoon images called Cowkimon and market them World-Wide.

A GERMAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You reengineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

A BRITISH CORPORATION: You have two cows. They are mad. They die. Pass the shepherd's pie, please.

AN ITALIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows, but you don't know where they are. You break for lunch.

A RUSSIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You count them and learn you have five cows. You count them again and learn you have 42 cows. You count them again and learn you have 12 cows. You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

A SWISS CORPORATION: You have 5000 cows, none of which belong to you. You charge others for storing them.

A BRAZILIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You enter into a partnership with an American corporation. Soon you have 1000 cows and the American corporation declares bankruptcy.

AN INDIAN CORPORATION: You have two cows. You worship both of them.

A CHINESE CORPORATION: You have two cows. You have 300 people milking them. You claim full employment, high bovine productivity, and arrest the newsman who reported on them.

AN ISRAELI CORPORATION: There are these two Jewish cows, right? They open a milk factory, an ice cream store, and then sell the movie rights. They send their calves to Harvard to become doctors. So, who needs people?

AN ARKANSAS CORPORATION: You have two cows. That one on the left is kinda cute.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Sat Poem


Sand the most anonymous of soils,
of sand the pillars of un-paradise are made.
And the air of planet Earth
is made of sand,
of sand the satellites;
and Venus too
all sand.
Hearts expel sand
and draw it in. Sand.
But not only sand.
Along with the sand, the essential tear
and a glass full of blood.And there, too, amongst the blood,
yellowing letters,
broken clocks,
a Lilliputian dictionary,
a rusty shield of Sparta
-they all come too.
But in the evening, everything fades away,
as do you and the light.
Each night all that remains is sand
beneath the cruel moonlight. Sand.
Sand the most anonymous of soils,
Of sand the pillars of un-paradise are made.

by Bernardo Atxaga

Poemas & Híbridos (Visor, 1993). Translated by Margaret Jull Costa.

Closing the Cybergap

Blueprints for a $100 laptop aimed at children in poor countries have been unveiled by scientists. The machines would have a hand crank to power them when there is no electricity and their power adapters would double as carrying straps. They would be carried like slim lunchboxes and, for outdoor reading, their display would be able to shift from full colour to glare-resistant black and white. The wireless laptops would also have a rubber casing as "they have to be indestructible", said Nicholas Negroponte, of the MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He hatched the idea after seeing children in a Cambodian village benefit from having a notebook PC donated by a charity. He hopes to get up to 15 million machines in production within a year.

Countries like Brazil, China and Thailand are already interested in the project.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Did you know that...? (II)

11. More than 12,000 women are killed each year in Russia as a result of domestic violence.
12. The world's trade in illegal drugs is estimated to be worth around $400 billion - about the same as the world's legal pharmaceutical industry.
13. Landsmines kill or maim at least one person every hour.
14. There are 44 million child labourers in India.
15. People in industrialised countries eat between six and seven kilograms of food additives every year.
16. The golfer Tiger Woods is the world's highest-paid sprtsman. He earns $78 million a year - or $148 every second.
17. There are 67,000 people employed in the lobbying industry in Washington DC - 125 for each elected member of Congress.
18. Cars kill two people every minute.
19. More people can identify the golden arches of McDonald's than the Christian cross.
20. In Kenya, bribery payments make up a third of the average household budget.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

24 Oct 1975

Was a Friday and 90% of Iceland's women went on strike that day.
They were fed up of earning less than the average men and they organized a strike that, later, officially, was called a "day off".
Women left home early in the morning and went back late in the evening. They spent that day gathering, smoking more than in a normal day, drinking coffee and going down to the capital city Reykjavik for the bigest demo the country has ever seen: 25,000 marchers out of a population of 220,000.
It was a spur to action and many feel that the solidarity women showed that day paved the way for the election five years later of Vigdis Finnbogadottir, the world's first democratically elected female president.
But 30 years later there is also a feeling of disillusionment.
A statistic shows that Icelandic women earn on average only 64.15% of men's wages.
So next Monday, on the rally's 30th anniversary, women are being encouraged to leave work at 2.08pm, the time by which they would have earned their pay if they were earning the same as men.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Noam Chomsky, the linguistic professor who has become one of the most outspoken critics of US foreign policy, has won a poll that names him as the world's top public intellectual.

Here is the top five from the poll:

1. Noam Chomsky
Linguistics expert and critic of US foreign policy.

2. Umberto Eco
Italian writer and academic.

3. Richard Dawkins
Oxford professor of public understanding of science.

4. Vaclav Havel
Playwright and leader of Czech velvet revolution.

5. Christopher Hitchens
Journalist, author, pro-Iraq war polemicist.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Transcript is a bi-monthly review of books and writing from around Europe. Its aim is to promote quality literature written in the smaller languages and to give wider circulation to material from small-language literary publications through the medium of English, French and German.

Visit it, is a cool web:

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Sunday Joke

An American, a Russian, a Chinese man and an Israeli are at a street corner when a pollster comes up. He says, "Excuse me, what is your opinion of the meat shortage?"

The American says "What's a shortage?"
The Russian says, "What's meat?"
The Chinese chap says, "What is an opinion?"
and the Israeli asks: "What is 'excuse me'?"

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Saturday Poem


The old land swinging in her stomach
she must get to know this language
better - key words, sound patterns
wordgroups of fire and blood.

Try your classmates with
the English version of your name.
Maria. Try it.
Good afternoon. How are you?

I am fine. Your country -
you see it in a drop of water.
The last lesson they taught you there
was how to use a gun.

And now in stops and starts
you grow a second city in your head.
It is Christmas in this school.
Sarajevo is falling through

a forest of lit-up trees,
cards and decorations.
Mountains split with gunfire
swallow clouds, birds, sky.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Fab Four

The Beatles? Nope. ABBA? Neither. The Three Mosqueteers and D’Artagnan? Er… no. The four British “serious” newspapers: Guardian, Times, Independent and Telegraph.

I love British newspapers. I really do. You see in them a rare effort of independence towards institutions and political parties that is unthinkable in, say, South Europe. The press in the UK is vibrant and is a genuine democratic counter-balance in the face of the State apparatus, Government, the rich and the influential.

The current tendency in the eyebrow paper field is downsizing. The alleged reasons are practical ones (difficult to use for commuters) and symbolic (linked to an old-fashioned past).

First was the Independent who, with a big fanfare, changed to tabloid size. Then, more quietly, the Times followed. Both stopped the freefall in circulation and also made a bit of profit. The last move was made by the Guardian choosing a halfway size between the broadsheet and the tabloid: the so-called Berliner format. The Berliner is a quite “continental” shape, similar to those papers in France and Germany. The fourth broadsheet, the Telegraph, is going to launch a shake-up next week: they are going to keep the current size but will change the sections distribution, focusing in news, sports – in a tabloid supplement, curiously – and finances “told in a sporty way” according to editor Martin Newland.

So what’s the future for those serious papers market? It seems that the size changing was necessary in order to stop the bleeding and to attract few new readers but ultimately is the Internet, with its free electronic version papers, which is shaping the market.

Will the Internet make disappear the papers as the apocalyptic version says? I doubt it very much. Remember that the creation of the photo camera wasn’t the end of painting as many thought. On the contrary, it pushed for the genesis of abstract painting, a key artistic movement to understand the 20th century.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Dubya The Ape

"The problem with French is that they don't have even a word for entrepreneur".
George W. Bush

He is in the Oval Office getting the daily sit-rep on Iraq.
Rumsfeld says: "I have to tell you, Mr President, that yesterday three Brazilian soldiers were killed".
To his surprise Bush groans and buries his head in his hands, saying over and over, "That is just terrible, terrible news.
"Remind me again, just how many is a brazillion?"

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Spectacles and Sideburns

Atxaga on Ordorika

Towards 1970 there began to materialise the Basque City. Never before had the noun and the adjective joined together. One spoke of the Mountain, the Earth, the Nation, all of them Basque; but the privileged space where the world became truly wide seemed forbidden to those who whished to express themselves in the language that sustains the adjective, the Basque tongue. It was as if someone, the Spirit of the Time, for example, might have hurled out an order: "Either change your language, or change your place". Which in the case of Ruper Ordorika, meant: "Dear friend, either devote yourself to romantic music or to patriotic music. And if not, give it up". The message was clear. It meant solitude. And it was a curse. A snare.

Ruper Ordorika put up with the solitude, and against the long road he opposed his will and his intelligence. Ruper Ordorika forgot the curse: from his first records, his materials was diverse, general, non-religious: he could do with the laundry, a van, or a visit from a woman. Ruper Ordorika eluded the snare: instead of crossing to the other side of the border, he remained close to it and took on its history. He didn't become the chamaleon of the storybook tale, neither in a branch of the General Bank of Music, nor in the international Basque Singer for Tourists. He remained a personal creator, with committed lyrics and music towards his loved, hated, distant, close Basque City.

Bernardo Atxaga

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Too Old, Too Small, Maybe


This project was born as the result of a journey: a trip to New York, in March of 2003, that began a few days before the war in Iraq. We were to do some reading performances there, at the request of Elizabeth Macklin. We had instantly begun wondering what we, who work in a language of 600,000 speakers, would have to offer in a city that has neighborhoods of that size.
WH Auden once wrote that travel writing owes very little to its authors, and everything to the people they meet up with on the journey. That's exactly it. It's impossible for me to mention now all the people we met up with there. We'll save them up for ourselves. But I would like to mention two people, in hopes it will help you unedrsatnd the project.
I met the first of them after the performance at the Cornelia Street Cafe. I didn't learn her name. In the audience was an older couple, still carrying their antiwar placards, who had gone straight to the reading from the demostration. It was the woman who came up to us when the reading was over. She said she was a psychiatrist. She had worked her whole life with people suffering from schizophrenia. She told us how with some patients there's no understanding anything they say when they're speaking. They're ceaselessly speaking gibberish. But that this didn't matter. The speaking was the thing, putting problems into words. Because the worry we brood over inwardly is lightened when we speak it in words, when we've got someone in front of us to listen. And thought she didn't understand the patients' words, she said, she did in fact know what they meant to say. She hadn't understood a word of the Euskara, either, she went on then. But what we'd been meaning to say she had heard, clear as day, just as she did in the hospital with the patients. You have to know how to listen.
Then there was the remark made by a woman, a poet named Phillis Levin. She said that she'd heard of Euskara before as well, she'd seen things written in Basque. She'd looked them over and more than once had tried to read them, just to see if she could. She was wonderstruck at all the x's that turned up on the page. The language looks like a treasure map, she said to me. If you just forget all the rest of the letters and focus in on the x, it looks as if you could find out where the treasure is. I thought it was the most beautiful thing one could say about a language one didn't know, that it's the map to the treasure.
I'm certain you too will know how to read the treasure map, and at last find the treasure. Don't look too far afield, it's in your own self.
Kirmen Uribe
(To Aitzol)
He heard the first cukoo at the beginning of April.
Because he'd been feeling on edge, maybe,
from his inclination to order the chaos, maybe,
he wanted to know which notes the cukoo sang.
He sat waiting with his pitch pipe
next afternoon: when
would the cukoo sing?
He finally achieved it;
The pitch pipe told no lies.
Si-sol were the cukoo's notes.
The discovery shook the countryside.
Everyone wanted to prove whether truly those
were the notes that the cukoo sang.
The measurements were not in harmony.
Each had his or her own truth.
One said it was fa-re, another mi-do.
No one managed to agree.
Meanwhile the cukoo went on singing in the forest,
not mi-do, not fa-re, not si-sol, either.
As it had a thousand years before,
the cukoo sang cuccu, cuccu.
Lyrics by: Kirmen Uribe
Music by: Rafa Rueda.

The Saturday Poem


It began to snow at midnight. And certainly
the kitchen is the best place to sit,
even the kitchen of the slepless.
It's warm there, you cook yourself something, drink wine
and look out of the window at your friend eternity.
Why care wether birth and death are merely points
when life is not a straight line.
Why torment yourself eyeing the calendar
and wondering what is at stake.
Why confess you don't have the money
to buy Saskia shoes?
And why brag
that you suffer more than others.
If there were no silence here
the snow would have dreamed it up.
You are alone.
Spare the gestures. Nothing for show.

by Vladimir Holan

Friday, October 07, 2005

Golden Pages

"Don Quixote is the book you must read before you die"
Ben Okri

Don Quixote
by Miguel de Cervantes
Concerning the famous hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha's position, character and way of life
In a village in La Mancha, the name of which I cannot quire recall, there lived not long ago one of those country gentlemen or hidalgos who keep a lance in a rack, an ancient leather shield, a scrawny hack and a greyhound for coursing. A midday stew with rather more shin of beef than leg of lamb, the leftovers for supper most nights, lardy eggs on Saturdays, lentil broth on Fridays and an occasional pigeon as a Sunday treat ate up three-quarters of his income. The rest went on a cape of black broadcloth, with breeches of velvet and slippers to match for holy days, and on weekdays he walked proudly in the finest homespun. He maintained a housekeeper the wrong side of forty, a niece the right side of twenty and a jack of all traders who was a good at saddling the nag as at plying the pruning shears. Our hidalgo himself was nearly fifty; he had a robust constitution, dried-up flesh and whitered face, and he was an early riser and a keen huntsman. His surname's said to have been Quixada or Quesada (as if he were a jawbone, or a cheesecake): concerning this detail there's some discrepancy among the authors who have written on the subject, although a credible conjecture does suggest he might have been a plaintive Quexana. But this doesn't matter much, as far as our little tale's concerned, provided that the narrator doesn't stray one inch from the truth. (...)
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the son of a poor Spanish surgeon, was almost certainly born in 1547. He served in Italy in 1570, and as a regular soldier he fought in the naval battle of Lepanto and other engagements, until he was captured by pirates while returning to Spain in 1575 and taken to be slave of a renegade Greek in Algiers; he attempted unsuccessfully to escape several times, and was finally ransomed in 1580. For the rest of his life he was preoccupied with the difficulties of making a living, and spent two periods in prison. He had already written some plays and a pastoral novel, La Galatea, when in 1592 he offered to write six plays at fifty ducats apiece. He had no success until 1605, when the publication of the first part of Don Quixote brought him immediate popularity. The Exemplary Stories were published as a collection in 1613, and in 1615 appeared the promised continuation of Don Quixote. Cervantes died, as Shakespeare, in 1616.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ten Languages Die Out Every Year

Imagine, just for a moment, that you are the last native speaker of English. No one else you know speaks your language. You don’t see any point in teaching it to your kids, because no one will ever speak it to them, either. Imagine the loss you would feel. All those un-translatable English-language ideas – a stiff upper lip, a stitch in time, a New York minute – would disappear. No one would ever sing “baa baa black sheep” or “ring-a-ring o’roses” again. All those minute clues about history, culture, collective memory – all gone.

There are around 6,000 living languages in the world – and at least half of those are under serious threat. In every part of the world, languages are disappearing. In fact, one scientist has said that languages are facing a bigger risk of extinction than birds and mammals. Professor Steve Sutherland of the University of East Anglia calculated that the past 500 years have seen 4.5 per cent of languages die out – compared with 1.3 per cent of birds, and 1.9 per cent of mammals.

Some 300 languages have more than a million speakers. They’re the healthy ones – Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish are the most widely spoken. Ten major languages are the mother tongues of almost half the world’s population. But the median size for languages in the world is just 6,000 – so half the languages in the world are spoken by that number or fewer.

Languages, like so many other forms of human expression, come and go, and thousands have done exactly that without leaving any trace of ever having existed. Only a very few – Basque, Greek, Hebrew, Latin among them – have lasted more than 2,000 years. But it seems that the pace of their disappearance is becoming ever quicker. UNESCO claims that the rate of language extinction has now reached ten every year.

The Ethnologue, a database of all the languages spoken in the world, claims that 417 languages are spoken by so few people that they are in the final stages of becoming extinct. Spare a thought for the one living speaker of Luo in Cameroon, the single remaining exponent of Klamath in Oregon, the handful of people that speak the Saami Pite language in Sweden and Norway.

Where once languages flourished in small isolated areas, there are now very few that are not in regular contact with the rest of the world. Speaking an internationally recognised language is a clear advantage for people who want to make the most of the opportunities contact brings. Eventually, people may not realise their children are not learning their native tongue.

Languages may also be lost through migration, as people move from small rural communities to urban centres, or when environments are destroyed by the search for oil or timber. Natural disasters can also devastate populations, and along with them, their language – like the speakers of the Paulohi language in Makulu, Indonesia, of whom all but 50 were killed by an earthquake and tidal wave.

Governments also have a case to answer in the extinction of languages. The perceived need to establish “official languages”, in which a country would educate its children, conducts its political affairs and carry out its business, had a disastrous effect on many small languages. Up until the 1970s, Aborigines in Australia were forbidden to speak in their own tongues – which once numbered more than 400. Now, according to the Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger of Disappearing, only about 25 Aboriginal languages are still commonly spoken.

What is lost if a language is lost?

There are some who argue that the extinction of languages is merely a symptom of the gradual evolution of our species, where universal communication is prized, and increasing homogeneity is just an evolutionary side-effect. Obviously there could be great benefits if everyone in the world spoke the same language – some industries already reflect this, with English a must for pilots and air traffic controllers. But it’s clear that there is far more at stake than mere convenience. As languages are lost, whole ways of life and sets of knowledge may be lost along with them. Complex religious and social rituals disappear, oral histories die through lack of telling. Information about plants, animals and environments gathered through generations may never be passed on. And the richness of human invention, our unique gift of talking about what we see around us, would be much the poorer.

Put simply, language expresses something about identity, about our place in the world. Ani Rauhihi, a Maori teacher in New Zealand’s North island, sums it up: “If you grow up not speaking your language, you won’t know who you are”.

The need for a feeling of identity and connection to one’s past is a big factor in the resurgence of the Maori language. Maori is the language of New Zealand’s native population and was the predominant language spoken there before the arrival of the European settlers. But by the early 20th century children were punished for speaking Maori at school and very few schools taught the language. By the 1980s less than 20 per cent of Maori knew enough of the language to be regarded as native speakers, and many urbanised Maori people had no contact at all with their language and culture. Now one in four Maori people in New Zealand speaks the Maori language and around 40% of Maori pre-schoolers are enrolled in total-immersion schools. Maori is also an official language.

It is even possible for a language considered dead to be revived into a flourishing and dynamic tongue. Hebrew ceased to be used as spoken language in about AD 200, but continued to be used by Jews as a “sacred tongue”. In the late 19th century, a revival movement headed by Eliezer Ben-Yehuda aimed t re-establish Hebrew as a spoken language to provide a common tongue for Jews. The new language came to be a key factor in the Zionist movement, so that when Jews moved back to their homeland they would have a common language. Ben-Yehuda coined thousands of new words and pioneered Hebrew usage in home and school. Now Hebrew is spoken by more than 5 million people, 81 per cent of Israel’s population.

It seems the world may be starting to realise what is about to lose. UNESCO is actively promoting multilingualism and the need to preserve intangible aspects of culture as well as the more traditional monuments and national parks. Joseph Poth, head of its languages division, has spoken of the need for “trilingualism” – we should all speak our mother tongue, a “neighbour” language and an international language. Even teaching an endangered language in schools creates a rescue system, he says.

It may be too late for the languages where only a few speakers remain. Chances are they’re elderly, they speak their mother tongue very little and have forgotten many of the words they once knew. But it seems that at last the value of these languages is being recognised, and that is the first step to stemming the tide of loss.

From "50 Facts That Should Change The World"

by Jessica Williams. Icon Books.

Pages 171-174.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


by Bernardo Atxaga (right)

This novel is a unique literary event: a fresh and original voice from the Basque nation, one of the world's most isolated cultures. Already published in all of Europe's main languages, English readers will now see why Obabakoak was a literary sensation throughout Europe.

The title of the book means "events that happenned in Obaba", and Obaba is the village at the centre of this novel composed of linked tales and parodies written with a delicate sense of childlike innocence - as though Borges were writing about ordinary people.

A man relates in his diary the beautiful deception practised on him by his father many years before. A young woman teacher, friendless and lonely, makes a passionate mistake. A boy is transformed into a wild boar. Two friends tell each other stories while trying to solve the mistery of a chilhood photograph: can a lizard slip into your ear and eat your brain, so that memory and creativity are destroyed?

Gradually, we realize that there is a darker theme beneath these jokey and sad stories of loss, of events in a small mysterious land. All the good stories seem already to have been written, and the narrator of the book becomes a victim of his own tales and his "search for the lost word" that will give meaning to them.


(The author speaks of his language, euskera)

I write in a strange language. Its verbs,
the structure of its relative clauses,
the words it uses to designate ancient things
- rivers, plants, birds -
have no sisters anywhere on Earth.
A house is etxe, a bee erle, death heriotz.
The sun of the long winters we call eguzki or eki;
the sun of the sweet, rainy springs is also
- as you'd expect - called eguzki or eki
(it's a strange language but not that strange).

Born, they say, in the megalithic age,
it survived, this stubborn language, by withdrawing,
by hiding away like a hedgehog in a place,
which, thanks to the traces it left behind there,
the world named the Basque Country or Euskal Herria.
Yet its isolation could never have been absolute
- cat is katu, pipe is pipa, logic is lojika -
rather, as the prince of detectives would have said,
the hedgehog, my dear Watson, crept out its hiding place
(to visit, above all, Rome and all its progeny).

The language of a tiny nation, so small
you cannot even find it on the map,
it never strolled in the gardens of the Court
or past the marble statues of government buildings;
in four centuries it produced only a hundred books...
the first in 1545; the most important in 1643;
the Calvinist New Testament in 1571;
the complete Catholic Bible around 1860.
Its sleep was long, its bibliography brief
but in the twentieth century the hedgehog awoke.

Obabakoak, this book published now in this city,
the city of Dickens, of Wilkie Collins and of so many others,
is one of the latest books to join the Basque bibliography.
It was written in several houses and in several countries,
and its subject is simply life in general.
And Obaba is just Obaba: a place, a setting;
ko means "of"; a is a determiner; k the plural.
The literal translation: The People or Things of Obaba;
a less literal translation: Stories from Obaba
(and with that I conclude this prologue).


Bernardo Atxaga (real name Jose Irazu) was born in Asteasu, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country, in 1951. Studied economics in Bilbao and Barcelona and since the early 70s is a full time writer. Obabakoak won the Spanish national literary award in 1989 and sice then has been translated into 20 languages. Atxaga has been member of literary groups like Pott and publisher of literary magazines like Gartziarena.

Obabakoak (a novel)
by Bernardo Atxaga.
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Published by Hutchinson, London.
326 pages

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Katrina & Rita

Dedicated to the black and poor of New Orleans.

I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed -

I, too, am America.


Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Saturday Poem


So early it's still almost dark out.
I'm near the window with coffee,
and the usual early morning stuff
that passes for thought.
When I see the boy and his friend
walking up the road
to deliver the newspaper.
They wear caps and sweaters,
and one boy has a bag over his shoulder.
They are so happy
they aren't saying anything, these boys.
I think if they could, they would take
each other's arm.
It's early in the morning,
and they are doing this thing together.
They come on, slowly.
The sky is taking on light,
though the moon still hangs pale over the water.
Such beauty that for a minute
death and ambition, even love,
doesn't enter into this.
Happiness. It comes on
unexpectedly. And goes beyond, really,
any early morning talk about it.

by Raymond Carver

Friday, September 30, 2005

Did You Know That...?

1. The average Japanese woman can expect to live to be 84. The average Botswanan will reach just 39.
2. A third of the world's obese people live in the developing world.
3. The US and Britain have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world.
4. China has 44 million missing women.
5. Brazil has more Avon ladies than member of its armed services.
6. Eighty-one per cent of the world's executions in 2002 took place in just three countries: China, Iran and the USA.
7. British supermarkets know more about their customers than the British government does.
8. Every cow in the European Union is subsidised by $2.50 a day. That's more than what 75% of Africans have to live on.
9. In more than 70 countries, same-sex relationship are illegal. In nine countries, the penalty is dead.
10. One in five of the world's people lives on less than $1 a day.

More next time...

(*) From "50 Facts That Should Change The World" by Jessica Williams. Icon Books.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Literary Quirks

5 authors with unusual names

1. Wystan Hugh Auden

"Wystan" is an Anglo-Saxon name. The poet's father was born in Repton, Derbyshire, where the bones of St Wystan, a ninth-century Mercian prince and Christian martyr, once lay.

2. Rudyard Kipling

The author of "The Jungle Book" was given his unusual first name because his parents had met at picnic at Rudyard Lake in Staffordshire. They loved the place so much they named their first-born son after it.

3. Aphra Behn

Supposedly the first woman in England to earn a living from writing, Aphra Behn was named afetr a Hebrew town in the Old Testament. In Hebrew, the word means "house of dust".

4. Ngaio Marsh

The crime novelist, creator of the upper-crust detective Roderick Alleyn, was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1899 and her name derives from a Maori word meaning "reflections on the water".

5. Aldous Huxley

"Aldous" derives from an old German word meaning "old" or "wise". Used as a name in the Middle Ages, it had become very rare by 1894, when editor and critic Leonard Huxley chose it for his youngest son.

Monday, September 26, 2005

The National Anthem of Aotearoa

E ihowa atua o
nga iwi matuoura
me aroha noa
kia hua ko te pai
kia tau to
manaakitia mai

In Gold We Trust

The funniest joke

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump. I ran over and said: "Stop. Don't do it."
"Why shouldn't I?" he asked.
"Well, there's so much to live for!"
"Like what?"
"Are you religious?"
He said: "Yes."
I said: "Me too. Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
"Me too. Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
"Me too. Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
"Wow. Me too. Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
"Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?"
"Reformed Baptist Church of God."
"Me too. Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?"
He said: "Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915."
I said: "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.

If you didn't know this good joke you don't read enough Guardian! (You, heretic scum)

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Saturday Poem

The House

Come and live, they said,
In the house of science
With its solid floor of sense,
Its tiled and timbered roof,
Its foursquare walls of proof.

But I chose instead
The house of poetry
Under its rowan tree,
Half ruin and half grave
With green grass like a wave,

Nettles and moss for bed,
And its people coming and
Like seeds the wind might
Like words in the wind's song,
Their tenancy not long.

by David Sutton