Category Archives: being me

More keys…

I have a playlist on my phone called Music I am Learning.

I put it together when I tore the world apart looking for the transcription Alexandre Tharaud did of Dance of the Blessed Spirits, which is from Orfeo and Euridice by Gluck. There are a couple of transcriptions of it floating around; I had trouble tracking down this particular one which is on an album of encores that Tharaud put out a few years ago. There is some lovely stuff on it. The net result is I have a bunch of different recordings and arrangements of it, all in that playlist. I started adding other stuff to it.

At the moment, on repeat, is Comptine d’un autre été: l’Apres-midi. It’s by Yann Tiersen, and it, along with Sur Le Fil, are in the list of Music I am learning. I own two books of Yann Tiersen sheet music, and both pieces are in the first collection.

I live in a building with four apartments. There are pianos in three of the apartments; mine, upstairs and the top floor. Upstairs is also learning Yann Tiersen; also learning Compte d’un autre été, L’Apres Midi. She has had more time to devote to it, and I know from past experience of listening to her through the ceiling, that she is probably better at reading music than I am. For me there are challenges; I may dive into sight reading from time to time, but every new piece of music I have played lately I have learned by ear and arranged myself. Someone asked me for the transcription of one piece in particular, and now I find myself having to develop the skill to do this; I’m cheating by using an app on my phone. Much to my surprise, the technology to listen to an audio recording and transcribe it isn’t really there yet. So best that I do it by trial and error.

The recordings of the two Tiersen pieces I am learning are by Jeroen van Veen. There is something incredibly relaxing about them which, I think, is why I want to learn them. In an ideal world, I would get up at 6, and play for an hour and then face the rest of the day. The day job. The walk/bus to work. The weather. It isn’t happening because I tend to burn the midnight oil at the other end. But L’Apres Midi is not impossible to play and all told, repetition is what I need. It might help my fingers to toughen up.

Somewhere in one of my swimming instagrame accounts is a comment that if you really want to do something, you’ll find a way, if not you’ll find an excuse. I have many things I want to do. Maybe if I were single minded it would be better.

I ordered more sheet music tonight; transcriptions by Vyacheslav Gryuznov. I came across him on a concert recording from RTE Lyric where he had just played some Rachmaninoff. He did one of the transcriptions as an encore so I went investigating and discovered he had a album of them, along with published sheet music. I’d like to have a go at two pieces which I know are beyond me but there’s a freedom in trying stuff anyway even if you know it’s going to be hard. This is one of them:

I already know it’s going to be hard. But if I learned some of it, it would be great. I really wish I had all the time in the world.

I went looking at second hand pianos at the weekend. I’m kind of on a journey – I don’t expect it to end for a few years but some time ago I read The Piano Shop on the Left Bank and in it, he referred to some French manufacturers, including Erard and Pleyel. Two came up for sale so I went and had a look. They were both about 35 years old, both built in Germany by Schimmel, under licence, so it was hard for me to treat them as French pianos when they weren’t manufactured there. The dealer told me that Pleyels would be manufactured again, but in China. He was not positive about that prospect. It got me thinking – there is an ongoing debate about the difference between German and US built Steinways, for example, and also, there is some debate sometimes around the difference between Indonesian and Japanese built Yamahas.

Of the two German built pianos, I favoured the Erard although I believe it still had some servicing ahead of it.

Luxembourg has an annual project called My Urban Piano where they lodge a few pianos around the place – I played one of them before I went to play the Erard and I played another one when I came back. I’m hoping to find all 21 although time is running out for me and I am busy this weekend. I know that a piano went into Connolly Station in Dubin, so I think that means there is one in Heuston, Connolly and Pearse. I do love in Metz and Paris Est to go and play the pianos there. The piano in Paris Est is a decent enough Yamaha and appears to be in very good condition despite the hard life I imagine it has.

Where I live in Luxembourg, you can often hear the sound of a piano. It seems to be just done here that people learn and this might explain why it’s easier to hire digital pianos – something I just could not do in Ireland. I think it’s a good thing; I suppose I think people learning any musical instrument is a good thing.

For me, it helps me to dream. In the meantime, the Gryaznov book should arrive by the end of the week. I am so looking forward to finding out just how hard it is. And I am wondering about lessons again.

keys…

A couple of weeks ago, I played in public for the first time in many years. It was of mixed success so we will gloss over that. I played the piano.

I have a piano here in the apartment – it is a digital piano and I’ve rented it more or less since I moved in. Last week I had a mild yen to change it to a silent system upright so that on occasion I could get the feel of a real piano. I’m sure the manufacturers of digital pianos would grimace at the thought their pianos are not real pianos but there is a whole lot of vibrations missing. Digital pianos don’t touch the heart the way a strung instrument does. Anyway,  I wandered down to the piano shop to see about silent pianos – when you are hiring a piano you are at the mercy of what is available, and they did not have one which interested me on the occasion so the change of piano will have to wait. But it’s a piano shop full of acoustic pianos and usually, when I’m done talking business, I take a look at the pianos and play them for a while. I don’t allow myself to fall in love – or at least I say this to myself – but I’m lying.

For a very long time, my heart was given to an 1882 Bechstein which Pianos Plus in Dublin had in their show room – I don’t know if it is still there because it is almost 2 years since I was there – but I’ve always recognised that it and I were not destined for one another. It cost more than I could conceivably save for in while I was working in Ireland. I’ve generally assumed I would be ordering a brand new Kawai baby grand at some point. Mostly I have chosen not to like Yamahas or Steinways and on occasion I’ve come across second hand Kawais, about 30 years old which were beautiful pianos. I’ve always known that the piano will be a confluence of time, house, what’s available and how much money I have at that time so while I think it’s safe to assume a brand new Kawai is achievable, deep down I would prefer a slightly older piano. Leaving aside the chance that they can be less expensive as well, the fact is, they tend to be a little softer to the touch. One of the reasons I don’t like Yamahas is that I have played some very hard pianos. Resistant touch. I am not such a fan.

But against that, I’ve met some beautiful secondhand Yamahas, all at least 30 years old. Pianos Plus had what I think was a G3 – it was already sold when I got to touch it but it was a beautiful piano. Huebner in Trier had a beauty the last time I was in there and I think it was a G3 as well. Today, I played an S4 exdemo in Kleber in Luxembourg and it was a breathtakingly lovely instrument to play. If I had the required 40,000+ it was on its way to me but…I didn’t.

The thing is, it was not the piano I loved the most either today or last week. Kleber’s big Steinway concert grand was in the showroom – it wasn’t the last two times I was in there – so I asked if I could play it and that was okayed

I have a meh relationship with most of the Steinways I’ve played. I’ve played quite a few brand new baby grands, say around 6 feet – various model numbers but what they all had in common was they had an imperiously bright sound. Because they were brand new, I tended to find the keyboards stiff as well. In Dublin, it was much easier to turn to a 140 year old Bechstein whose keys were like extensions of my fingers. But I hadn’t ever played any of the big concert grands, the nine foot or so pianos. While the dream of a grand piano might be somewhat unicorn level in terms of dreams, I’m realistic to know that I’m unlikely to ever have a place I can justifiably put one. But something caused me to play this one because I could.

Unlike a lot of the Steinways I’ve played, it has a gloriously comforting sound. Wrapped around my soul. I truly fell in love with the piano which was unusual for me with a Steinway. I loved it enough to think, you know, I could actually see myself buying a Steinway grand if it felt like this. Coincidentally, there was a baby Steinway in the showroom too, a second hand one. I don’t remember seeing a build date but I’m willing to bet it was about 20 years old. The keys were not stiff and the sound was a soft enveloping sound rather than the very bright sharp sound I’ve been used to from pretty much every other Steinway I’ve ever played.

It gave me pause for consideration. I’ve at least 2-3 years before I can consider buying a forever piano so that gives me time to save. A secondhand Steinway is going to take a lot of saving and of course, it is never going to be a nine-foot concert behemoth. But I think, when the time comes, and I start the journey of selecting my piano, I’d like to have enough money that a second hand Steinway might be an option. So I need to start planning now.

Cold days in December

Today I added yet another sport to the list of sports I have tried. Today I tried curling.

Now, to be honest, when I woke this morning, I did not say “I must try curling”. I said “Where is all that bleeding snow MeteoLux has promised and why am I not seeing a blizzard”.  But life turns out interestingly, and somehow, I accidentally wound up trying curling.

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The new transport system went into operation in Luxembourg today – this means a brand new tram, a brand new funicular and all sorts of changes to the buses and rail system. The current changes don’t suit me at the moment – I’m moving from a direct bus to a bus and change to tram which is ludicrous for a 2km journey but sometime next year the tram will extend to where I live and I will have a direct tram journey to work which will be handy if somewhat sweaty for the height of summer. Today it was somewhere approximating the depths of winter as it snowed all morning and this evening, we’ve got gales to look forward to.

Anyway, here’s the funicular. It takes a minute to go from top to bottom and vice versa.

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And here’s a video of the trip up with some arty out of focus sections.

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I had trouble getting the video to work on the way down.

The tram was running, and to be frank, was packed but I suspect in part that’s because all of the useful buses have been re-routed.

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Tram in the winter sun.

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As part of their celebration stuff, they set up Luxembourg Curling club with a temporary (plastic) curling rink and you could have a go, if you were so inclined. I had a go. I had several goes. I have looked up the Olympic curling set up to see if I could like, compete for Ireland and it transpires I need four other Irish people with an interest in curling.

That might be a tall order. My options for Olympic greatness continue to be limited.

But curling is compelling.  It’s basically simple. Stand here, and give this circular stone thing an almighty shove up the rink and hope for the best that you get it into the circles. It took me 4 goes to shove it hard enough but so what. It was fun. In fact, I don’t know why it was fun given how simple it is. But it’s more fun than Candy Crush, that is for sure.

There is a curling club in Luxembourg. I’m going to join as the bunch who were there this afternoon were great fun, mad supportive and dead helpful. And they let me have quite a few goes.

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CFL, Luxembourg National Railways, also had an ice sculptor in.

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After all that excitement, I went off to Auchan (on the tram) (which was packed) to do my my grocery shopping in a shopping centre which was not that busy so I was in and out quickly. I also bought one Christmas present and looked at a watch which I want but will have to save up for.

I blame Google

I’ve found lately that social media – by which I mainly mean Twitter – has become unsufferable. The scale of insufferability has gone through the roof. In some respects, I blame Google. I particularly blame Google for the strength of Facebook and Twitter because Google did one thing which contributed more to centralising social media than anything else at all. They shut down Google Reader and…I’d argue they did some damage to the blog reading eco system. What was nice about the blog world was that it was basically decentralised. You didn’t have to be on Twitter. You didn’t have to be on Facebook. All you had to do was publish an RSS feed. I use Newsblur now but the whole blog world is also very different.

I edge towards switching Twitter out of my life. The apps are gone from both my mobile devices and access to twitter is purely via a webbrowser. Twitter keeps asking me if I want notifications. I don’t want notifications, no. I want the nice chatty atmosphere which allowed me to learn stuff quite quickly which Twitter used to be. Now, it’s just a place where people come to demand that I be outraged about stuff.

Be outraged about Trump. Be outraged about Clinton. Look I don’t even live in the US and I’m sick of finding out about which of their politicians is acting the maggot lately, for a given scale of maggot ranging from some mild corruption to dating 14 year olds. It is not that I don’t care, it’s just that in certain parts of my life, I don’t want to have to care. You don’t need to outrage me about rape culture. I know about it. Suicide rates, too, and homelessness. I have a neverending wall of despair coming at me from the newspapers and the radio. I’d like it if it wasn’t coming at me from twitter too. But it does because people retweet stuff and expect me to be outraged. I must be outraged all the time or I am not a worthy human being.

I mute. I block. I have muted people I considered friends because they were polluting their threads with stuff designed to make me feel angry, and annoyed, and outraged that I really couldn’t handle it. I like Pinterest and Instagram because they are not constantly haranguing me to be angry.

The reinforcement of Twitter and Facebook to some extent (I mute I block there too) has its roots in centralising social discourse on the internet on those sites and one of the things that drove that was Google shutting down Reader. You have a hugely decentralised social media ecosystem which was basically interoperable but which had one big reading central. In theory, I imagine they expected us to kind of get Google Plus to pick that up but they did it in the most stupid way possible. People now access blogs via assorted newsreaders, email newsletters and who knows what. Serendipity about finding out about blogs has died as well. And in the end, it’s not like Google Plus waltzed up and blew up the competition.

I’m torn with what to do about Twitter. I like the interesting stuff which crops up. Yesterday I read a fascinating piece which turned up on a Twitter link. These are the things Twitter is really good at (and blogs used to be too). I have friends that I interact with mainly through twitter. I’m filtering and muting to beat the band. But it’s getting close to a point where I’m starting to think…you know, what’s the point?

Luxembourg International Motor show

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It’s been a while since I carried a real camera and now, if I want to take Photographs, I have to do so within the limits of my phone camera. I never cease to be amazed at how much they have to offer and with a little judicious Photoshop.

I kind of like taking photographs of cars, and I don’t get the opportunity to photograph supercars very often. If you’d asked me before today what supercar I’d buy if I ever had the choice, I’d have said, with a lot of regret, a McLaren F1. The car is more than 20 years old and there aren’t a whole lot of them around so that’s never going to be anything other than a pipe dreak.

But this Honda NSX is rather attractive. I wouldn’t buy it in white – it’s not really my colour. I think a car like this deserves a brooding grey metallic paint job.

I was marginally disappointed with the shortage of supercars on show. There were a couple of Lamborghinis, and some Ferraris but nothing which really excited me beyond this one Honda.

More pens

I decided a while ago – after I bought a brand new Pelikan M205 which of course I didn’t need but had fallen in love with and well – that I didn’t want any more pens…So it was entirely a bad idea to go to the Antiquités and Brocante yesterday and in particular, I really should not have been looking at pens.

I didn’t buy all around me. Specifically I left a few Montblancs behind me – they were priced above my Gamble On an Old Fountainpen limit which is 25E per fountain pen. But I rifled through a box of pens that were 3E each or 2 for a fiver and surfaced with a Pelikan and a pretty but probably originally dirt cheap English pen. For 2.50 each though, they were worth the gamble. Both take cartridges and both are writing okay.

The other two pens were more of a gamble. They came together at the top of my Gamble on an Old Fountainpen limit and necessitated some serious research when I got home. The Waterman, which is the hall of mirrors-esque one on the left turns out to be a Lady Patricia dating from the 1980s. I give the date because Waterman produced a model with a similar name in the 1930s also. This definitely dates from the 1980s. It takes international cartridges although having spent some time with it yesterday, it really only takes Pelikan 4001 cartridges and they slide into the barrel with a little difficulty. I will see if the barrel needs to be cleaned if I can. But the pen has a beautiful broad nib and writes rather nicely. It’s a slight challenge for my hand because I have quite fine handwriting which I need to scale up a bit for wider nibs.

The last pen I knew to be a Parker when I picked it up. I’m not certain why I bought it. I’d see the words Vacumatic on it when I examined it and I decided a long time ago that any Parker 51 that I bought would have to have an Aerometric filling system as they don’t give any trouble, even in pens 60 years old. I have a Parker 51 from the end of the 1950s which although it was battered a bit when I bought it, I love to pieces because it is just such a joy to use.

So I took the Parker with the Waterman and brought it home to examine it. It looks to be one of the entry level Vacumatics, and there’s a marking on the side of the pen which strongly indicates that it was manufactured in 1935. Its filling system aligns with a production date of pre 1937 as does the brand marking on the pen. So the pen is around 82 years old and is by some distance the oldest pen I own.

Other research says the ink filling internals have to be serviced as they have a habit of cracking and breaking.  I toyed with selling it on on eBay but made the emotionally unwise decision to try and write with it by dipping the nib into a bottle of Parker Quink black. And I fell in love.

I own a lot of pens and deep down, up to today I would have said that of all of them, my favourite to write with was my Parker 51. This is even better. Sufficiently better that it’s going to break my heart to send it to the UK for a service.

The down side of these older pens is that I tend to be very conservative about what ink goes in them. There are horror stories about modern inks destroying the insides of older pens. For this reason, the only ink that goes into my Parker 51 is black Parker ink and when this Vacumatic come back from hospital, it took will only get Parker ink although I might get a bottle of blue ink for it. This is one of the reasons I retain all my modern pens – I expect them to take pretty much any ink I put into them. I have one pre1993 Pelikan which I expect to take Pelikan on the ground that I expect a manufacturer to provide ink that doesn’t damage its own pens which gives a little more leeway. But the two Parkers…they will not be getting radical modern inks in them.

I don’t like the term “digital detox” per se but

I have to confess I took Twitter off my phone and my iPad.

The iPad was the first to fall but I questioned whether I could live without it on my phone. I’ve a lot of friends on Twitter, I’ve tended to get a lot of my news from there and lately, I seem to have found it causes me to feel angry a lot. I don’t think I’m alone here.

I also started reading books recently and on balance, I seem to feel a greater sense of achievement for reading a book, even if its on a kindle, than I do for reading 8000 tweets. For one, some tweet will turn up at least 30 times (cf, NYT piece on Tuam or the Irish Times piece on the Gate Theatre last Saturday – and no, I am not linking them). I don’t need to be told to read the same article that often.

I was kind of busy yesterday – it was Urban Sketching day in Luxembourg – so today is really the first day that I’ve had time but no twitter. I can’t be bothered retrieving the password so that I can sign into it on the browser and anyway, that’s not the point. What is the point is that I got a spectacular amount of things done around the house (I’m on my holidays) today up to and including 3 trips to the recycling centre, mostly paper it must be said as I had accumulated many magazines and newspapers. I got laundry done. I went out to lunch and browsed pinterest and tried to find out how much a pair of pointe shoes would cost me on the Repetto website.

In a way, I think Twitter has lost its way (well I would, and then you could also ask, did it ever really have a way). It’s hard for users to tune although at least you can be allowed to get tweets more or less in chronological order except the execrable decision to allow you to see when other people like other tweets, which is how I regularly get to see links to the same articles in the mass media ALL the time). They make a big deal of features people don’t want, like 280 character messages, which they then give to people like Julian Assange for who knows what reason. I don’t have 280 characters and I dislike the feeling of it being used as a class marker in Twitter like the blue tick mark is.

But the problem is, the noise to signal ratio has gotten more noisy and when it boils down to it, is my life going to be noticeably worse off if I get my news through the BBC website rather than retweeted five dozen times on Twitter? I’m not staying out of it completely but an interesting change in my life once I stopped being a developer is that I spent significantly less time at my home desktop writing code for no real reason. The net result is I will be spending less time on Twitter for the foreseeable future. I can occasionally be found on Facebook if you’re badly stuck to contact me.

St Nicolas is coming.

I arrived in Luxembourg at the start of December and got side tracked by the Christmas markets. This means I missed the Christmas section in Auchan where I do about half my grocery shopping. Also I was living in Bonnevoie at the time and did all my shopping in the Cactus over there. No recollection at all of whether they had much chocolate at all but then I was dealing with sleepless nights caused by endless drum and base from one of my then housemates.

As Halloween is gone, the supermarkets have decided The Time Has Come. I walked into Chocolate Wonderland today.

I have never seen ANYthing like it. I didn’t know Lindt had so many product lines. I cannot tell you how many different brands of marron glacées are to be acquired. There are selection boxes the like of which would put our paltry options to shame.

The only thing they really didn’t have was a tin of Roses.

Swedish Death Cleaning

I recently started cleaning out my twitter feed which means roughly that the signal to noise ratio has improved a little and the amount of Trump and Brexit has fallen somewhat. This makes me happier, and more likely to wash the ware

This also means that sometimes I see stuff that I might not have seen in the array of automated messages about weather, tides, news and you name it. Today, it was a reference to Swedish Death Cleaning. Initially I wondered was this anything like a Swedish equivalent of Rammstein getting involved in hoovering but apparently not. Per google, Swedish death cleaning is when you start clearing out your belongings before you die so your relatives don’t have to do it. It seems morbid. One of the very few people I know who live in Sweden says it does not exist.

I think myself there’s a PhD to be written about the need for native English speakers around the world to sign up for mystical foreign things like tidying (Kondo, Japan) and, well I still haven’t worked out where to put hygge (Denmark).

I sometimes wonder how much of it is linked to people not being very happy and also, wonder how happy applying the techniques described in these things will make people.

Whether it’s displacement, in other words.

I’m going to be honest and say I tend to need order in my life but I’ve suspect that comes less from reading Kondo (because I haven’t) and more from having spent nearly 15 years as a developer and still working in IT. It causes you to start thinking about things in discrete units which can be controlled.

I’ve spent a lot of time looking at organisational videos, blogs and stuff over the last 3-4 years and I’ve concluded that the only motivation for that is that I didn’t feel in control of much but at least I could control that. (I thought).

I’m not sure looking at my life through the focus of considering what’ll be left for people to look for when I’m dead is all that healthy in that context. My focus lately has been on structuring a life that I enjoy rather than being regimentedly organised about everything and anything.

Addicted to a feeling

I’m attempting (with some difficulty it must be admitted) to get addicted to a couple of feelings. Just two. They are

  1. the feeling of relief that comes with having a tidy kitchen before you go to bed; and
  2. the feeling of sanctimoniousness that comes with going swimming.

My kitchen has been in chaos for two days. It’s quite impressive because I don’t have much in my kitchen at the moment. Well over 90% of what I own by way of household kitcheny goodness is in storage in Ireland and that was about 50% of what was left after I went donating and recycling before leaving Dublin. But I’ve had broken nights so things…accumulated.

It’s all tidy now and I feel FANTASTIC. If I could bottle that feeling – but you know, I could get it every night if I only ensured that every night, instead of 5 out of 7 or 2 out of 7 on a really bad week, the ware was washed and the kitchen was basically ready for use the next morning.

It’s the same with the swimming. Mostly I attempt to have a swimming bag ready to go so I can decide to go at the drop of a hat. Currently that’s not the case here because after the last swim, which was basically fantastic, I discovered that the goggles were no longer keeping out water (bad goggles – they haven’t been used so often), and I need to replace a noseclip from the kitbag too.

I don’t want to wax on about how great swimming makes me feel because actually, I am swapping up to a 50m pool at the moment so there are moments of abject failure, and near drowning, usually around 45 minutes in, but in general, I feel better for having gone swimming than for not having gone swimming. There is no point in trying to bottle that feeling either; I can get it simply by going swimming.

So I’m trying to train my brain into getting addicted to those feelings so that I automatically clear the kitchen at some point before I go to bed, and that I have literally no way of talking my way out of picking up the kitbag and leaving the house. It is still better than most things that people get addicted to all the same.