Friday, March 30, 2012

Favorite Song Fridays VIII

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, "Dununya (The World)"
A few summers ago there was a great song (as there always is) on my favorite local radio station (93.9 The River) that played all the time. It was "Living Stone" by Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, which I found out via the station's very helpful playlist website, where they publish every song they play and the exact time they play it. I've used this feature a lot when I want to find out what a song is -- just take note of the time you hear the song, and find it on their playlist. Anyway, I found "Living Stone" and decided to buy their whole album. "Dununya (The World)" quickly became my favorite track. Now that the weather here is spectacular and summery, there's nothing like putting this song on and swaying around my apartment with all the windows open, summer air and sunshine streaming in. I love the reggae-like rhythm and the sweet chord progression. I find myself humming along to all the different harmonies, and I can't help but smile when that trailing guitar riff comes in during the last few verses. Happy Friday!

(This is the first time I've tried linking to a track I've uploaded to my computer; I couldn't find a video of this song on youtube, so I hope this works out. Let me know if you can't access it!) 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bichos (Bugs)

Except for the fact that leaving the bars at 4am is considered early, Spain is a very civilized country. I haven't been living the last four years in a jungle or on the beach (well, actually...), or in a lonely desert. The most threatening wild animal I've seen near my house are mangy stray cats, who actually do quite well for themselves. There aren't even any stray dogs. And I am not one to be squeamish about bugs and the like (except spiders, but they are not bugs, because bugs are insects and spiders are arachnids). But, you guys. The flies in this country. Are. HUGE. They're not the biting type, like the horse flies or deer flies at home. They're just your run-of-the-mill, average, regular housefly -- except that they're GIGANTIC. Now that the weather has turned nice (no, spectacular), it is a common occurrence for a small torpedo, the size of a large green grape, to fly in through one of the open windows and wreak havoc on my house. No, ok, there is no havoc being wreaked. But hot damn that's a big fly.

Ps. The bees are huge too.

Monday, March 19, 2012

From Logroño to Roseburg, and Back Again

A few years ago, my uncle Tim met a woman on a flight from Great Falls, Montana, to Hartford, Connecticut, where he was traveling to for my mom's first art show opening. Being from the West, and oh-so-friendly, he struck up a conversation with Marjorie, his seatmate, and found that she was living in Great Falls, but that she was originally from Hartford. Tim explained his reasons for traveling east; Marjorie mentioned she was also a painter. He invited her to the opening, and she, oh-so-friendly and living in the West, eagerly accepted. Sure enough, she drove from Hartford to Brattleboro, Vermont for the opening, and met my mom. So began a very close friendship, full of bridge playing and painting and cooking and wine and cross-country phone calls as Marjorie moved from state to state with her cardiologist husband.

Fast forward a few years. I go to Spain for a year right after college to "improve my Spanish", "live abroad", "gain life experience", "drink wine before 2pm" etc, etc. That year turned into two (which turned into three, and now four...), and that second year, an American friend of mine lived with a Spanish girl named Marina. Although she was shy at first, especially when it came to speaking English with all of us, we soon became fast friends. Marina is from a city called Logroño, which is about three hours by car from Santander in the province of La Rioja (yes, where the wine comes from). She's working on her PhD in Geotechnical Engineering right now; as you have probably guessed she is really quite slow, mentally. She's been one of my closest Spanish friends for the last few years, and even came to the US with her lovely sister Elisa last summer to visit me and some other american friends. Marina has a cousin named Jaime, who she is very close with; they're more like brother and sister, from what I can gather. Jaime is getting married to a lovely girl named Bea this May. This information may seem like a non sequitur, but it will be important later. Bear with me.

While I was getting to know Marina in Spain, my mom's friend Marjorie moved a few times, and finally ended up in Roseburg, Oregon, where she and her husband built a house and are working on opening a vineyard. I guess Howard, the cardiologist, is in to wine. My mom has flown out to visit them a few times, coming back every time positively raving about Oregon. The last time she was there, Marjorie and Howard were hosting a young Spanish man who was doing a world tour, learning about wine in places like New Zealand and France and Roseburg, Oregon, researching to revive his family's vineyard in Spain. I have no idea how they got matched up with Jose, why of all the wineries on the West Coast he should have found theirs, which is barely even in full operation yet.

It just so happens that Marina and Elisa were visiting me on the East Coast while Jose, the young Spanish gentleman, was staying with Marjorie and Howard. It also just so happens that my mom was visiting them at the same time. Upon meeting Jose, my mother promptly fell madly in love with him and decided that he and I had to meet, fall in love, and get married immediately. Ha, mom. She also found out that he is from La Rioja. Not too strange, considering La Rioja is the most important Spanish province for wine production. It follows that he should be from Logroño, it being the province's capital and largest city. What a coincidence! We said. How funny! My mom, picking poor Jose's brain mercilessly and emailing me excitedly with all her findings, found out that he was a few years older than Marina, that he'd studied engineering at the University of La Rioja, and that he knew several of Marina's older cousins from high school and university. Oh ha ha! What a coincidence! My mom's friend knows a guy from Spain who knows my friend from Spain's cousins! It gets better. Remember Bea, the lovely girl who Marina's cousin Jaime is marrying in May? Yeah. She's Jose's cousin.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Favorite Song Fridays VII

Well, the song that I've been listening to over and over this week isn't one of my favorite songs (shh, don't tell), but it certainly has been stuck in my head, and I have certainly been listening to it almost nonstop. I can't tell you what it is, because it's a surprise. 

A few weeks ago I ran into some satellite friends (you know, those people who you've met a few times and are friendly with. You're excited to see them when you bump into each other but you'll never call them on a Sunday afternoon when you're bored and want to take a walk. That type of friends) in the (fantastic) bar that occupies the ground floor of my building. After chatting for a few minutes, one of them, who I actually hadn't remembered meeting, said he had a "proposal" for me. I assumed it was about private English classes. It turns out he's an amateur composer who writes soundtrack-like music in his free time. My sneaky friend Raquel, who insisted for a long time that I send her recordings of myself singing, sent them to this guy without my knowledge. Evidently he likes the way I sing, and wanted to know if I would work with him on a project or two. Obviously I said yes. Flattery will get you everywhere, my new composer friend. 

Last weekend I met with him to look over the piece and do some test recordings. I sounded awful, I will freely admit that: I'd been at a barbecue on a mountainside all day, yelling REF camp songs at the top of my lungs while scampering through the woods, breathing in wood smoke from the fire where our pork ribs crackled away, drinking beer cooled in an icy stream, and doing other not-voice-or-singing-friendly activities. I was not supporting properly, was coming down with a cold, was nervous, and didn't know the song. Soooo it was pretty shaky and awful. But he loved it (poor thing is either lying through his teeth or has never actually heard nice singing), and is very excited to keep working together. So he sent me the mp3 of the song and I've been trying to learn it by ear. I've also been transcribing it as an ear training exercise, and so I have a score to look at while I'm recording. So apologies for the lack of an actual song in this edition of FSF, but I promise that when the final product is finished I'll post it on here for you all to enjoy. Or laugh at.

Wherein a Waiter Makes my Day (in a good way, not in the Clint Eastwood way)

I always go to the same cafe for a coffee when I have a break between jobs. It's right downstairs from the English academy where I work, and it has a terrace in front of the ancient town hall, and the people are nice, and the coffee is cheap(ish). (Side note: here, "Tomar un café," or "Have a coffee" is often a euphemism for going to a bar to drink/eat something and chat. I regularly enjoy this Spanish ritual and don't know how I will cope once I have to move back to the espresso-less United States).

Last Friday I went at kind of a weird time: it was too late for the after-lunch coffee, and too early for the evening-snack-coffee, so there was no one outside on the patio where I chose to sit. It was a little chilly, but I had to take advantage of the late-afternoon sunshine as much as possible before returning to work. It took a while to get waited on, which is slightly unusual at this place. Maybe since I was the only one outside they didn't realize I was there. In any case, I'd put my headphones in to listen to my audiobook before they brought me a newspaper to read, so I was startled when I saw something out of the corner of my eye. Thinking all manner of bag-snatching, loogy-hawking, kleenex-selling street people were watching me, I turned around. There, in his fuschia sweater-vest, was the bald, cross-eyed, snaggle-toothed waiter who is always so very nice to me, an espresso in a doll-sized cup balanced in his hands like an offering.

Me: (laughing in surprise) "Is that for me??!"
Awkward cute waiter man: (with a small, slightly embarrassed smile) "Yes, of course, if you want it." 

Of course I accepted; I always order the same thing there, and they know me. This only served to hammer that home. It felt so nice to be included, known, and paid attention to. A part of a mini community in a bustling city. But every time something like this happens it breaks my heart a little bit. Because I am reminded how painful it will be when, someday, I have to leave it all behind.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Favorite Song Fridays VI

Amos Lee, "Supply and Demand"
Amos Lee is one of the artists I've been avoiding posting about here. Not because I don't love him, because I do. But because, like Patty Griffin (my favorite singer-songwriter ever ever in the whole wide universe), he just has too many songs that I love and that mean a lot to me. How was I ever to chose?! But the answer came to me in the form of me not being able to get enough of this song all week. This song came on while I was listening to all the Amos Lee albums I own while cleaning (read: futzing around) my apartment. It caught my attention, and I haven't stopped listening since. 

There is a real lack of good ol' harmony singing in much of the (popular) music being produced these days, so I love listening to this song's classic three-part vocals. I'm pretty sure they're all Amos, but whatever. I sing a few of his songs (namely "Colors" and "Southern Girl"), and have toyed with the idea of putting this one together, with some conveniently harmony-friendly friends. But it's a really hard song to sing! Packing all those lyrics in, keeping an even tempo, enunciating, harmonies...He makes it sound so easy. Sigh. Oh Amos.