Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grace Cavalieri's The Poet and the Poem Radio Series at the Library of Congress

Read all about it here.

Buy Your Ticket to the Aura Estrada Benefit in Mexico City

Message to all in Mexico City:
This November 25th is the Aura Estrada benefit, which will feature good jazz, canapés, free drink and a reading of Aura's work at the Zinco club on Tuesday, November 25. There will also be a silent art auction featuring works by Francisco Toledo, Boris Viskin, Daniel Lezama, Phill Kelly, Yoshua Okon and Artemio. Tickets are 1,000 pesos in advance and 1,300 at the door. Poet and translator Tanya Huntington will be coordinating the art side, and novelist Alvaro Enrigue will be there as well. Here's Aura's website for more information:

Sergio Troncoso's New Blog, Chico Lingo

Excellent new blog by my amigo, writer Sergio Troncoso: Chico Lingo. P.S. If you missed it, be sure to read his guest-blog post on money and writing here at Madam Mayo. More anon.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guest-Blogger Russell Cluff on Remembering Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

It has not escaped Madam Mayo's notice that one recent and otherwise very fine anthology of 20 Mexican short stories includes work by only three--- count 'em, three--- women. Are the mexicanas literarias all going around in burkhas or what? That's a subject for another blog post; suffice it to say for now that perhaps the greatest of all American literary figures was a woman born in a tiny Mexican town in the seventeenth century-- Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Today's guest-blogger, Russell Cluff, first crossed paths with Yours Truly when he and his colleague L. Howard Quackenbush sent me their translation of an extraordinary flash fiction by Mexican writer Guillermo Samperio (which appeared, in both English and Spanish in the third issue of Tameme, back in 2003). When I heard that he had done something so original as to make a musical CD of the poetry of the greatest of Mexico's poets, I immediately invited him to guest-blog and am honored indeed that he accepted. Over to you, Russell!

Remembering Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: My Contribution

Background: After her death, certain figures in the political world of New Spain (Mexico) exerted a tremendous effort to erase Sor Juana’s memory from the minds of the populace. The principal players in this endeavor were her confessor, Antonio Núñez de Miranda, and Archbishop Francisco de Aguilar y Seijas. Her crime: her one and only foray into the area of theology (an exercise forbidden for women) in the guise of a critical analysis of a sermon by a Portuguese Jesuit by the name of Antonio Vieira. The result was that of the 300 plus years that Sor Juana has been gone, it is believed that most Mexicans forgot her for over one hundred years. However, since her books had been published in Spain, her memory sprang to life anew in the nineteenth century. From that time forward, she and her work only become more important by the day.

Reference: One of the quickest and most accurate bios on this incredible genius from seventeenth-century Mexico City (her dates are 1651-1695) is to be found in Margaret Sayers Peden’s introduction to her translation of Sor Juana’s prose: A Woman of Genius: The Intellectual Autobiography of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, second edition.

Why make the songs: It is Sor Juana’s importance—- and the musicality of her verse—-that inspired me to create a musical album that I call the “Return of the Tenth Muse...” My project might rightly be considered Quixotic, since I currently live in a world vastly disparate in terms of time, distance, language, culture, and musical tastes from that which saw the development of one of the Hispanic world’s greatest poets. Be that as it may, once begun this project was not to be denied…

Retooling: I have often told myself that making a musical CD with the poetry of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz’s poetry was one answer to a deep-seated need in me for a fresh, complete education. But, really, that would be an untruth! It’s the other way about-- the effect of a particular cause. As all artists know, the creative urge comes first and all subsequent actions required to bring the desired art to fruition present themselves--- each in it’s own time—demanding attention, never taking no for an answer.

Dream Talking: It’s as if a chimerical dialogue had blossomed right in my face: “Well, if you want these lyrics with chords to become a melody that other musicians can play, you’ll have to get a notation program and get it down!” / “But I don’t know notation…” / “Then learn it. You can download a program from the Internet like those sold by Finale, such as PrintMusic. And, of course, there are others. Do your surfing!”

For anyone making an album, this sort of exchange continues from composition to recording to marketing to disc production to placing the product for sale on the Internet-- in lieu of a record contract.

Phase by Phase: My choices for these Phases were the following:

Recording: this was accomplished in Rosewood Recording, a professional studio a block and a half from my house.

Marketing: for the CD front I paid a student computer guru about 300 bucks to morph me into a digital photo of the nun’s most famous painting by Miguel Cabrera (she wearing her robes, I wearing mine). For the back, I had him perch Sor Juana above me while standing in front of a Colonial shrine in Mexico City. In the first instance, I’m sneaking up on her; in the second, she’s observing me observing architecture that persists from her world). Photos of Cabrera’s painting can be found all over the Internet. (Note: that link is also a good place to download errorless Spanish versions of all her writings.)

Disc production: I chose Disc Makers.

Internet sales: CD Baby, now owned by Disc Makers. This was my choice because I can sell the physical disc as well as digital downloads all on the same page. However, let me clarify that the notion of “audience” is much more important to me than sales. Also, my music is downloadable at 18 different places on the Internet, such as DigStation, where the CD brochure can also be downloaded ( Beyond that, Google me, Russell M. Cluff.

Why Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz? From my studies as a student of Latin American Literature, I knew that Sor Juana had been a musician who had written a treatise on music (though it is no longer extant), she was the music director (cantora) for her convent for eight years, she has an important poem about music (generally designated as poem #24), and she once said that her music created to be played in the cathedrals had been accompanied by guitar and tabor (small hand drum).

Baroque music for a baroque poet: From start to finish, I intended to create a simulacrum of baroque music, based on the following elements: total respect for the text over the music (so as not to force a word into a space where it does not fit or stress a word in the wrong place), the use of instruments that were feasible for the 1600s in Colonial New Spain (insofar as possible), monody (a single melody), and the use of basso continuo. Tonality-- pitching the melody around the tonic chord-- is also a baroque value that was followed in this body of work. Where I willfully vary from baroque practices is with the use of more recent Latin rhythms, such as the bolero beat (ONE, two-two, One), the rumba, and one tune with a bossa nova beat. Among the instruments used, one will hear: hand drums, flute, recorder, penny whistle, piccolo, clarinet, guitar, mandolin, cello, and the four strings. I broke the rules a couple of times by using the piano (invented in 1711) and one or two other instruments, mainly to thicken the sound a bit.

Reference: For an excellent review of the baroque in music, see Nicholas Anderson’s book, Baroque Music: From Monteverdi to Handel (London: Thames and Hudson, 1994). According to this author, the two most important achievements of the baroque was the establishment of monody and the supremacy of the text over the music—an attempt to avoid the distortion of the words.

Composition: My choice of poems for this first volume-- boldly, I included the words “Vol. 1” in the title so as to goad myself into making Volume 2-- was guided by the knowledge that I would be the only singer on this album, a male baritone. Therefore, I chose (with two exceptions) poems with either a neutral or a male point of view. This will not be possible for Volume Two, since it will mainly be centered on the female point of view and will require women’s voices.

For this album, I used 13 sonnets (11 syllables each) and one romance (ballad: a narrative poem with eight syllables per line). Sor Juana never made titles for her poetry; therefore, I used shortened versions of the first verse as the titles (they will never match with English renditions).

More References: For the best poetically rendered English versions of seven of the 14 poems included in the album-- Regreso de la Décima Musa, Vol. 1. 14 Canciones con Letra de Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz-- consult the following two books:

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Poems, Protest, and a Dream, published in Penguin Classics with an introduction by Ilan Stavans and all texts translated by Margaret Sayers Peden.

A Sor Juana Anthology, published by Harvard University Press, 1988, with a foreword by Octavio Paz and all translations by Alan S. Trueblood.

English versions-- mainly prosaic-- of the remaining seven poems can be found both in print and on the Internet. For the most complete study ever done on Sor Juana see Octavio Paz’s Sor Juana or, the Traps of Faith, published by Harvard University press, 1988, translation, once again, by Margaret Sayers Peden. It has been argued that this work tipped the scales in the decision that gave Paz the Nobel Prize in 1990.

-- Russell Cluff

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hockey Mama for Obama

Via my favorite bee blog, Global Swarming Honey Bees. Golly, the election's over, don't know how I missed this one.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Five Favorite YouTube Videos, 2008

Madam Mayo's annual tradition continues. Herewith my top 5 favorite YouTube videos for 2008:

1. Jill Bolte Taylor's TED Video
This will, literally, blow your mind.

2. Takagi Masakatsu
A fascinating and beautiful art video, which suggests the myriad possibilities for the form.

3. Trajan: The Movie Font
Smart and super silly. Love the chihuahua in the popsicle-blue Santa suit.

4. Alex Gopher's Motion Typography
Via Right-reading, one of my favorite and most eclectic blogs.

5. Fabrizio Moro's "Pensa"
Italian anti-mafia rap. Not for those prone to seasickness.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Los Hermanos O'Gorman

Long chat today with a Mexican historian, who reminded me of the importance of Edmundo O'Gorman's Mexico: El trauma de su historia. P.S. Read a bit about about the O'Gorman brothers here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Madam Mayo Quite Dislikes Cell Phones

Will it blend? See for yourself.

Links at Literal Magazine

I'm a big fan of Literal magazine. And by the way, editor Rose Mary Salum just sent me an e-mail that they've updated their links page--- an excellent resource for anyone interested in literature, Mexican literature, literary translation, and more. More anon.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Guest-Blogger Nicholas Gilman on Five Favorite Funky Foods and Where to Find Them in Mexico City

Gotta eat! Today's guest-blogger is Nicholas Gilman, author of Good Food in Mexico City: A Guide to Food Stalls, Fondas and Fine Dining. A painter and teacher, he has shown his work extensively in the USA and Mexico. He studied gastronomy at UNAM, cooking at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, and is founding member of a Mexico City chapter of Slow Food International, and is a member of IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals). He was editor and photographer for Jim Johnton's Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler. He also writes regularly about food for The News in Mexico City. Over to you, Nicholas!
My five favorite funky foods and where to find them

I treat myself once in a while to flautas which are not on anyone’s diet. Flautas the quintessential Mexican antojito and my favorite one. Elongated rolled tortillas (hence the name “flute”) are filled, fried golden brown, then topped with cream and salsa verde, and sprinkled with grated queso fresco and shredded lettuce. Flautas are usually served with caldo de gallina, a chicken soup better than any Jewish grandmother can make, and they are a calorie-laden guilty pleasure. My favorites come from a nameless stand on Calle Chilpancingo (fourth from the corner of Baja California by the metro Chilpango stop). A chilled mango Boing is the perfect accompaniment.

In the middle of the Coyoacan market you’ll find a gastronomic art installation at Tostadas de Coyoacán--- dozens of huge plates of mouth-watering tostada toppings. Shrimps, chicken, crab, mole, the list goes on. I start with their succulent lemony ceviche, topped with bright green salsa, then move on to pulpo, then maybe cochinita pibil... I’ve eaten as many as four at a sitting, but I don’t recommend this. To drink, order agua de melon from the stand next door. (Be sure to choose only Tostadas de Coyoacán-- their competitors are not as good.)

I love a warm hearty soup on a “cold” winter D.F. day (how dare I complain about the weather here...) Two blocks from Santa Maria de la Ribera’s groovy old Kiosko Moro is the extraordinary La Casa de Toño (Sabino 144), a pozolería set in a 19th-century mansion. Rich, red hominy laden pozole with all the trimmings is the house special, although sopes. tostadas and other antojitos are also offered. At $34 pesos for a pozole grande you’ve got a real bargain, too. The appropriate maridaje is horchata.

“But eet ees confit!” my French friend exclaimed when I showed her a pit where carnitas were cooking in their own fat. They should be served unceremoniously on a plastic plate, with an array of red and green salsas, cilantro, onions and limón...and tortillas, of course. There are thousands of carnitas joints all over town, but finding a great one is a task. I was drawn by the crispy brown crust and roasty aroma of these porky treats at La Reina de la Roma, my current favorite. They’re located at Campeche 106 (in front of the Mercado Medellín) in Colonia Roma. Proper quaff would be a crisp refresco de manzana (in a vintage bottle), or beer.

Chef, researcher and high priest of Mexican cuisine Ricardo Muñoz Zurita created his Azul y Oro in the middle the UNAM campus. It’s a fabulous and inexpensive Mexican restaurant, worth the schlep down there. And they serve the best hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted. His secret Oaxacan blend includes 30% almonds. Churros are gilding the lily; the chocolate should be drunk solo.

--- Nicholas Gilman

---> For the archive of Madam Mayo's guest-blog posts, click here.

P.S. Check put Nicholas Gilman's blog at: Also, he offers an extensive glossary of Mexican culinary terms on his website.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

This Blog Endorses Barack Obama for President

I'm going to be working for the Obama campaign in Virginia today and tomorrow. If you're undecided, ask yourself, if all that the McCain camp is saying (and implying) were true, would the Washington Post, New York Times, the Economist and the Financial Times have endorsed Obama? Well, wake up and google it, they all did. We need change-- desperately. And our next president is going to have to do the equivalent of herd cats, and simultaneously twirl plates and juggle a watermelon, a cement brick and eleven balls of mercury. Perhaps an impossible task for any human being. But I for one am grateful that a politician as tough, intelligent, discerning, and open-hearted as Barack Obama has shown such passion and commitment for the opportunity to try. More anon.