Fun horoscope

Horoscopes are fun. Regardless of whether you believe in them. But that’s what makes it fun: something to be taken light heartedly. Sometimes a nicely written one is like a little pick-me-up. I flipped a magazine over morning coffee and chanced upon this one:

SAGITTARIUS (Nov 22–Dec 21): Italian composer Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868) didn’t like to work hard, and yet he was also prolific. In fact, his desire to avoid strenuous exertion was an important factor in his abundant output. He got things done fast. His most famous opera, The Barber of Seville, took him just 13 days to finish. Another trick he relied on to reduce his workload was plagiarizing himself. He sometimes recycled passages from his earlier works for use in new compositions. Feeling good was another key element in his approach to discipline. If given a choice, he would tap into his creative energy while lounging in bed or hanging out with his buddies. In the coming weeks, Sagittarius, I recommend you consider strategies like his.

Non-strenuous exertion and feeling good while being productive? Rossini’s my man!

Prokofiev’s whales

I’ve been binge listening to Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 1 recently. Premiered when he was 21 years old, the work is a unique combination of classical, romantic, dissonant and contemporary elements that will be emblematic of Prokofiev’s style to come. The grand overflowing polytonal theme in the beginning of the first movement is enough to send me over the edge. The same theme is heard again twice through the work. Prokofiev once called these 3 passages “the three whales that hold the piece together”. How apt!

Here’s Argerich wrestling with the whales.

The second movement could easily fit into a James Bond-esque movie.

Istanbul – a photo essay

It’s been a while since I wrote a travel post. I don’t have many words for Istanbul now; this trip to Turkey took place last October. I will write a few more posts of the other cities in Turkey. For now, I have chosen some photos that I have taken in Istanbul, photos that I liked. Writing a photo essay is quite a contradiction: photos capture a fleeting moment frozen in time. Yet our memories stretch and contract fluidly with time. Photos are the anti-thesis of memory, really.

I walked past the famous Grand Bazaar a couple of times and finally it was opened as I was there. As bazaars go, it was underwhelming despite its size. Walking out of the bazaar, I was hungry for meatballs and this was where I found myself for lunch, people-watching off the cobbled streets in the Sultanahamet district (old city) of Istanbul.

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Still in the Sultanahamet district, off the main streets in a quieter section, second hand shoes are being sold. These shoes wouldn’t have lasted this long in equatorial climate.

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On pigeon-flocked Taksim Square, where mass protests that reportedly drew 200,000 protestors took place just less than one and a half years ago.

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I wanted to walk through Istanbul University, just to have a feel of what being a student was like in this modern transcontinental city steeped in history. Alas, the university was closed off to those without the appropriate passes. There were guards and gantries at every possible entrance (I did try to look for a place to slip-in but to no success…) Outside some of Istanbul University’s entrances were stationery sellers like this one.

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On the surface, Istanbul could be easily mistaken for a European city if not for a skyline dotted with minarets and regular resounding calls to prayers. Some people may find this exotic. Or strange. Or uneasy. But I spent most of my growing years waking up to prayer calls from a mosque near where we stayed. The morning azans were literally my wake-up calls, that sometimes get earlier and earlier, depending on the time of the year. In the Sultanahmet, the most famous mosques would be the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye. And in spite having been to many mosques in several countries, the intricate arabesques of these still inspire awe and reflection. One particular thing that stood out to me was how there were staff/volunteers on hand to explain the religion of Islam to foreign visitors who wished to learn more. This is a wonderfully smart move, something that many Muslim countries including Malaysia, could learn from. The other famous landmark, the Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia), was a Byzantine (Greek Orthodox) Church which was later converted into a mosque, and now secularised as a museum.

Walking across the Galata Bridge in the evening – flanked by anglers, chaotic traffic, after-work crowds, prayer calls reverberating in the air against the backdrop of undulating hills and the silhouette of minarets and voluptuous domes – is an atmosphere that simply cannot be captured by the camera.

I really liked this mural.

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For a few days, I stayed in a small street off Turan Caddesi, not far from Taksim Square. A stark contrast to the vibrancy on Istiklal Caddesi – where parties, music and dancing go on to the wee hours of the morning – these quiet streets house residential buildings or short-term stay apartments. In the evening, children play football on the streets.

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Istanbul is Europe-meets-Asia sliced across by the Bosphorus Straits (photo at the end of this post). In the Asian-part of Istanbul is Kadikoy, which is primarily a residential area, with trams serving the district that is also dotted by charming cafes, shops and bookstores.

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Still in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul. Adorning the flats are portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who, following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, was said to have founded the modern republic of Turkey.

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And how can anyone who visit Istanbul miss the mighty Bosphorus Straits? The straits join the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. On my first day in Istanbul, I spotted a pair of dolphins. I would return to the straits a few more times.

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This photo belies the massive amount of traffic that flows between the two continents. With a population of 14.1 million, Istanbul is not just the largest city in Turkey, it is said to be one of the largest cities in Europe, that is, if Turkey can be considered as part of Europe. Accession talks for Turkey to join the European Union started in 2005 and it is still ongoing.

Lupines in Iceland

June 2014

As the plane descended into Keflavik, massive fields of lupine spread out as far as the eye could see. In the days to come, these lush purple dominated the greener landscapes of Iceland that we saw.

Originally from Alaska, the lupines were introduced to Iceland in the 1940s. They grew like wildfire and are now considered to be an invasive species in Iceland.

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Evans, Satie & Chopin

This is not a music blog. Yet my recent posts seem to revolve around music. Maybe because I have been listening to music more often. Listening to familiar favourites can evoke past epiphanies. Sometimes new insight comes along. It’s like rediscovering a place that you thought you knew so well.

Here are 3 musicians who did not cross paths physically. And yet there is a common thread in all three works listed here:

  • They have a simple recurring bass line, where the same notes recur throughout the entire work. This is sometimes known as ostinato, or persistent repeats. Or basso ostinato, literally meaning obstinate bass.
  • The melody is carried out in the treble line. This sometimes blossoms into something great.
  • Piano! Piano! Piano!

In reverse chronology:

1. Peace Piece by Bill Evans (1929 – 1980)

A chance discovery on the radio in my teens, Peace Piece left a deep imprint. That also got me started on Bill Evans.

2. Avant-dernières Pensées by Erik Satie (1866 – 1925)

Music of the master of minimalism.

3. Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57 by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)

Chopin fully utilised the treble line to show off his composer chops, and for a pianist to show off his or her dexterity.

A berceuse is a lullaby. There are moments where it feels like butterflies fluttering over calm waters.

Finzi’s Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano

On the theme of bucolic music (see my post on Troldhaugen), I’m reminded of English composer Gerald Finzi. At a friend’s recital last week, the programme had included a couple of Finzi’s Bagatelles for Clarinet and Piano. The whole set consists of 5 bagatelles and makes for a satisfying listening experience.

The Bagatelles are perfect examples of how well the clarinet and piano complements each other. The clarinet – which is often said to have the range “closest to the human voice” – is personable: it sings and moves the listener’s heart gently, never forcefully. The first three of the set were written shortly before he was drafted to work for the Ministry of War Transport in 1941. Together with a fourth, the Bagatelles was premiered in 1943. perhaps uplifting the spirits of war-weary recital goers. The finale to the set – a lively fast-paced piece – was added a year later.

What I like about the Bagatelles is that it’s down-to-earth. I read somewhere that ‘bagatelle’ means “a short, unpretentious instrumental composition”. In urban slang, it probably means no-bullshit music.