And the words slide into the slots ordained by syntax, and glitter as with atmospheric dust with those impurities which we call meaning.

Anthony Burgess — Enderby Outside

• • •

A Cold Hand On a Warm Forehead


Much like an athlete preparing for weeks to run a marathon, I’ve been circling around Karl Ove Knausgård’s Min Kamp, a six book series (and thousands of pages) of an autobiographical novel. Every review reminds me of Proust and of how difficult it was to read In Search of Lost Time for the first time (or tenth). That said I think I’m now at an age where I can perhaps better grasp the subtlety of a structure which at first glance feels like there isn’t one at all.

I can’t speak for other writers, but I write to create something that is better than myself, I think that’s the deepest motivation, and it is so because I’m full of self-loathing and shame. Writing doesn’t make me a better person, nor a wiser and happier one, but the writing, the text, the novel, is a creation of something outside of the self, an object, kind of neutralized by the objectivity of literature and form. The temper, the voice, the style. All in it is carefully constructed and controlled. This is writing for me—a cold hand on a warm forehead.

The Paris Review — Completely Without Dignity: An Interview with Karl Ove Knausgård

• • •

The Unexamined Life

I suspect that my grandfather’s life was real in a sense that my father’s life hasn’t quite been, and my life is not at all. The crucial difference is the lack of self-consciousness, and that self-consciousness is yet another hallmark of the perpetual, infantilised adolescents we have all become, monsters of introspection hovering twitchily on the edge of self-obsession, peering into the abyss of our own inner disconnection, occasionally aware that while the unexamined life may not be worth living, the life which only exists to be examined is barely manageable; barely indeed a life.

Michael Bywater — Big Babies, Or: Why Can’t We Just Grow Up?

• • •

Philosophy Is Like a Tree

I drink, therefore I am . . . drunk. Ha ha! I thought this would be easier after my sixth glass of wine, but alas, it is still absolutely terrible. Oh, how my world grows smaller when I think of you not in it, and—no, you know what? Let me start over. Philosophy is like a tree, and it has all these branches that extend outward, but you’re like a shrub. Cute and small, but not well versed in rationalist thought. Do you get what I’m trying to say?

René Descartes

More hilarity at Philosophers’ Breakup Letters Throughout History (The New Yorker).

• • •

Where Life Is


There is an infinity of purposeful silence during the microscopic pauses of the torpid white noise.

• • •

Harvest Moon

I know I should toddle off to Marco’s now and have a good cry and listen to his sweet useless pep talk and pretend to make sense of it all. But there’s nothing in me but weariness. I’m weary of moving through life in this way, punished for my capabilities, betrayed by the glib promises of love. I’m weary of managing these disappointments. I’m weary of my body’s gruesome tick. And I’m weary of telling women it can be different.

In this mood of enervation, I wander the docks, the old schooners burdened under ornate masts, the colonial cemetery dressed in gravestones, names and years in elegant rows, and roasted garlic everywhere, everywhere tourists in their pink summer legs and dusk on the bricks, rain gutters fat with pigeons and rooftops sprigged with antennae, the sediments of beauty, I mean, and the widows on their stoops, done with the suffering of men and silent before the soft click of bocce balls. There is so much time in this life for grief. So many men lying in wait. And here, tonight, there is a harvest moon, which hangs so heavily yellow above the sea it might be God, or my heart.

Steve Almond — The Evil B.B. Chow

• • •


The moral world has no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.

William Thackeray — Vanity Fair

• • •

Tira la Música por las Ventanas

…or at least that’s how Debussy described Isaac Albéniz’s music, mostly known for his epic Iberia. These “rumours” were inspired by the beach of La Caleta, in Cádiz, where every rock has a specific name.

It’s hot outside. Open the window and sleep tight:


• • •

Cent Mille Figures

Si comme la vérité, le mensonge n’avait qu’un visage, nous serions en meilleurs termes. Car nous prendrions pour certain l’opposé de ce que dirait le menteur. Mais le revers de la vérité a cent mille figures et un champ indéfini.

Michel de Montaigne — Essais

• • •


Sie können sich vorstellen, wie das ist, wenn man sich selbst aufschlägt wie ein Buch und lauter Druckfehler darin entdecken muß, einen nach dem andern, auf jeder Seite wimmelt es von Druckfehlern! Und alles ist trotz dieser vielen hundert und tausend Druckfehler meisterhaft! Es handelt sich um eine Aneinanderreihung von Meisterstücken!

Thomas Bernhard — Frost

• • •

Love Letters

I’ve always wanted to write magnificent love letters and plenty of them and one of my greatest regrets is that I don’t know how; wired as I am to always be certain that words can make a difference, when it comes to laying my soul bare, I invariably end up coming across like a puppy desperately yapping for crumbles of affection: it’s painful to write and ridiculous to read.

For that alone I envy Leoš Janáček who after a failed marriage and a string of affairs fell in love with a married woman who was to become his muse. Not only did he compose music for her (which could well be considered the most sublime form of the love letter) he also wrote actual letters, over 700 of them over a period of ten years, sometimes daily. How he could wax poetic on love for someone who didn’t (but also did) want to hear about it is almost pathetic in its determination.

I also pity him. His music came at the cost of that unrequited, undefined relationship of ten years to another man’s wife — without fail a recipe for endless amounts of pain and deception — but especially the death of his daughter Olga: having three daughters of my own I can’t even bring myself to continue this sentence.

I think I’ll keep my missives in the desk drawer then: I am almost certain that I could never survive such affliction if it were the price to pay for writing the supreme love letter.

Perhaps there is no such thing.



• • •

Hopeless Idiot


Immense beauty doesn’t need labels, context or explanation.

I don’t think you need to know anything about what you’re hearing, seeing or reading to truly feel its effect, even in the most secret depths of your soul, if your soul is willing to fully absorb it, be it by design or by choice.

How small and speechless do you feel before Górecki’s Symphony of Sorrowful Songs without even having to know who Górecki was or what the piece is about? Is is truly not important you see: it is an unique opportunity to let your capacity and amplitude to resonate soar with much deeper sensations than words can explain, much less ones of factual explanation.

I cried the first time I heard it (and was very surprised that I did) and don’t even know why or rather couldn’t find the words to explain it. Better yet I may have glimpsed that there aren’t, there will never be in fact, words to describe it at all and the sensation was overwhelming, terrifying in its finality and incredibly recomforting at the same time.

(I’m not going to post the piece here, I can’t: it is to me an extremely private experience, one for you to look for if you are curious. I simply cannot share it in the same vein as other works I’ve published before because I’d need to be next to you, silent next to your silence and also need to be as certain as possible that those are indeed silences that can resonate with each other and elevate us.)

Words and facts are for the hopeless idiot like myself who, by some ironic twist of fate, is genetically condemned to amass infinite amounts of random trivia, fragments which he sometimes manages to connect to each other. They are for the idiot who wants to understand the beauty of the beauty itself in an endless contrapuntal canon of patterns. They are for the idiot who desperately tries to find sense and structure in sentiments too beautiful to explain yet just when he might have, chooses to not say them out of fear of sounding arrogant, inadequate, inappropriate or simply stupid. They are for the idiot in me, forever silent always at exactly the wrong moment.

I wish I wasn’t such a hopeless idiot. I wish I could take it all back and start over.

I want to go home.

• • •



Poor Johann Pachelbel, whose Canon and Gigue is invariably lumped with Albinoni’s Adagio and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: we have advertising to thank for that and for turning those and many other pieces of classical music into something utterly trivial and cheap, which they clearly are not. Pachelbel was a friend of the Bach family (Johann Cristoph was his pupil, who in turn was his younger brother Johann Sebastian’s teacher).

I’ve always loved the Canon for its formal, predictable and yet playful form in opposition to some of the Adagio‘s more melancholic moments. It could be an illustration of a life that we long for but never get to live, one where every single experience is one of peace, tranquility, enlightening conversation, absolute love and summer sunsets.


• • •


It is at the very least curious that Tomaso Albinoni should be known almost exclusively for his Adagio, when he probably didn’t even write it himself: it seems that it was in fact a musicologist by the name of Remo Giazotto who, having found a manuscript after World War II in Dresden (how fitting) consisting of a bass line and a fragments of the violin score, actually wrote it whole. As such, the Adagio was unknown from the 17th century until after the war.

None of this should tarnish Albinoni’s competence of course: after all not many musicians of his time have had the honour of having his music used as subjects of a few of J.S. Bach’s fugues.

Slowly now:


• • •

Failing to Belong

Tony’s eyes wandered around the room and then came to rest on a beautiful young coloured woman wearing a beautiful shimmering silver chemise and a dramatically tied headscarf. Why didn’t he know any young coloured women? Why didn’t he know people who tied their headscarves in a dramatic way? He didn’t care about Bill’s success, he thought. He liked it. It was great. And he didn’t worry about whether he was missing out on life. What Tony really wanted was to walk into a room somewhere and feel like he was at home in it.

Years later, Tony would discover that writers never felt they belonged anywhere. That was one of the reasons they became writers. It was strange, however, failing to belong at a party full of outsiders.

Nick Hornby — Funny Girl

• • •


I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

Hunter S. Thompson — via Open Culture

• • •


It is said that Haydn (who died on this day in 1809) was a gentle, considerate, well-respected and generous person: this probably explains why he’s been for so long considered a second fiddle to Mozart’s genius, despite the fact that the transition from Baroque to Beethoven would have probably never happened so soon without him, and also why his generosity went as far as promoting Mozart’s work (his friend and his junior by 25 years) instead of his own.

He was famous enough in his lifetime, honoured and well-liked by all but still chose a life of quiet and introspective isolation:

There was no-one there to confine me, so I was forced to become original.

I suspect that it was this gentleness of manners that led to the one misguided decision in his life: frustrated by the love of his life becoming a nun, he made the mistake of marrying her sister, a person with no relationship to music and no notion of her husband’s work and whose letters he never even opened.

He was generous to a fault even after his death: it was Mozart’s Requiem that was played at his funeral.

Here’s a lazy Sunday sunrise as an hommage to generosity. Open the windows and play it loud:


• • •

Dots and Threads


I’ve had the incredible luck of having parents naturally inclined to confront all of their children with copious amounts of beauty in any shape or form, even if sometimes complex for very young minds. Not only was reading books, listening to music or appreciating art very much encouraged but also developing a sense of superior harmony in manners, kindness, humbleness and sense of humour.

I’m not absolutely certain that the way I’ve led my life has always made them justice; come to think of it very often it has not, but be it as it may, the dots are still here in the sense that I hope that what they meant is that our quest was never one for absolute perfection but rather for a continued clarity and modesty in bettering our ways.

They are responsible for my first contact with classical music: it was a book-and-record version of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I couldn’t have been older than ten and at that age, at least to me, music wasn’t “classical”, “modern” or anything else, there were just two kinds of music: good music and bad music.

Prokofiev made a profound and long-lasting impression on me not the least because Peter and the Wolf is one of the few pieces of classical (or rather, “classical”) music written specifically for children. It should come as no surprise that there is an animated version by Walt Disney, which was the one I first experienced. Since it is a piece specifically for narrator and orchestra, the combination of story and music, for a child of ten, is simply too potent a fix to resist: I was hopelessly hooked.

I loved everything about it (still do) especially the way the characters are portrayed by different instruments which makes it fascinating to identify them and their dialogues throughout the music: Sasha the bird is a flute, Sonya the duck an oboe, the french horns play the wolf, the strings play Peter, the grandfather is a bassoon and the hunters Misha, Sasha and Vladimir are woodwinds and martial trumpets, their guns the percussion instruments. For a portuguese kid at the other end of Europe just those names alone were a promise of wonder. My favourite however was always Ivan the cat, played by the clarinet. I’m not a cat person at all and have always liked dogs better but that clarinet sweeping like a comfortable, gentle and familiar breeze over the music is simply fascinating. It’s not an obvious instrument to like of course and I have no other explanation to offer other than the fact that Sydney Bechet’s music entered my life at approximately the same time.

There’s a movie version somewhere which I can’t find but here’s the original book version:

Prokofiev naturally led to Fantasia, still one of my top ten movies of all time and one which incidentally made me both very afraid and very curious about Mussorgsky: listening to Night on the Bald Mountain at that age gave me actual nightmares. I don’t know if it still does because I remain a little afraid of discovering that it will.

At this point I was an addict and there was no going back.

I needed my dose at regular intervals and it thankfully appeared in the form of a Sunday afternoon television program called Young People’s Concerts, where Leonard Bernstein explained and demonstrated everything about classical music with such an apparent simplicity that to this day I still hold them as the very best way to create new addicts out of anyone, young or not. It has everything you’d want to know about concertos, symphonies, music modes, melodies, sonatas, waltzes, orchestras small and large and even jazz.

There is a DVD for sale (9 DVDs actually) and I’m sure you can find the individual episodes on YouTube (all 53 of them), but do try to watch them in the proper sequence. It will change your life, I promise.

Since then, it’s just been a matter of connecting the dots, sometimes adding new ones, making sure they fit with the existing ones in a way my parents would likely agree with even if they were new to them too.

In the end what my parents gave me, knowingly or not, is priceless: they planted a few or many dots (it doesn’t really matter how many) but more importantly they made me aware of everyone’s natural curiosity to connect them and set them alight. They made me see that beauty lies in connecting those dots in as many ways as you can with endless and gleaming threads of light.

They made me see that that’s precisely and simply where love (love, yes) is.

And it never stops.

• • •

The Phrygian Mode

This is almost too beautiful and delicate to share, given that that the internets do not take well to something that demands more than thirty seconds of your attention. Still, I need to bid you goodnight: if one hour is what it takes, well, indulge me.

Scarlatti was a perfect example of what being an european means: born in Italy, friends with Handel (who was born in Germany, but became English), life-long teacher of queen Maria Barbara of Spain (and daughter of king João V of Portugal), spent most of his life between Lisbon, Seville and Madrid and composed  an astounding 555 single-movement sonatas, all meant as exercises for the queen, who became an extremely talented pianist, his pupil for more than 35 years.

Oh the title, right. “The Phrygian Mode” is a musical mode produced by raising the third scale degree of the mode, used mostly in Iberian and Arabic music (by way of maqām Ḥijāzī) and usually foreign to the music of time, including Bach (of whom Scarlatti was a contemporary). In simpler terms, you can sometimes detect whiffs of flamenco guitar chords but played on the piano.

Sleep tight.

• • •
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