La Nit de Sant Joan

La nit de Sant Joan, és nit d’alegria
Estrellat de Flors, L’estiu ens arriba
De mans d’un fillet que li fa de guia.
Primavera mor, l’hiverm es retira.
Si arribes l’amor, mai mes moriría.

Yesterday night was the Nit de Sant Joan and Jaume Sisa composed this song in its honour. Jaume Sisa, composer and singer, has created some of the most iconic songs of contemporary catalan popular music. El setè cel, Qualsevol nit pot sortir el sol or Nit de Sant Joan belong already to the catalan collective subconscious.

Among the catalan festivities, there are two that, in my view, stand out as faithful “avatars” of the “catalan soul”.  One of them, el Dia de Sant Jordi, the day on which men give roses to their significant ones and everybody gives books to everybody, is quite well known even outside of Catalonia. Not so much with la Nit de Sant Joan, celebrated on Saint John’s eve, the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June, around the summer solstice. With roots in pagan times (probable but not proven), it is a night not to sleep…but to eat, drink, dance…a night of love…and pleasure…of fire, of fireworks and bonfires…a celebration of excess and of life.

There is a saying stating that the character of Catalonia fluctuates between el Seny i la Rauxa. El Seny, “reasonableness, integrity, common sense, right action”, would be Sant Jordi. La Rauxa, “passion, excess, sentimentality”  would be la Nit de Sant Joan.

If you ever visit our land, care to include one of these 2 festivities (or both!) in your schedule. And if it is la Nit de Sant Joan be ready to let loose because…”Si arribes l’amor, mai mes moriría.”

Alexandra Leaving, Alexandria Lost

Suddenly the night has grown colder.
The God of love preparing to depart.
Alexandra hoisted on his shoulder,
They slip between the sentries of the heart.

… … …

Even though she sleeps upon your satin;
Even though she wakes you with a kiss.
Do not say the moment was imagined;
Do not stoop to strategies like this.

As someone long prepared for the occasion;
In full command of every plan you wrecked
Do not choose a coward’s explanation
That hides behind the cause and the effect.

And you who were bewildered by a meaning;
Whose code was broken, crucifix uncrossed
Say goodbye to alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to alexandra lost.

Say goodbye to alexandra leaving.
Then say goodbye to alexandra lost.

Today Financial Times publishes an article by Philippe Sands, “Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson: a special relationship”, that describes and explores the nature of the friendship between the poet/musician Leonard Cohen and the songwriter/vocalist Sharon Robinson. In it the process of creation of the song “Alexandra Leaving” is described. This song is based on a poem by Constantine Cavafy titled “The God Abandons Anthony”. Some excerpts:

“As we explore the lyrics of “Alexandra Leaving”, I ask whether she might sing the song. “Right here, in the bookshop?” Yes.”

“Downstairs, in the shop’s poetry corner, I come across a copy of C P Cavafy’s Collected Poems, translated by Daniel Mendelsohn, whose commentary on “The God Abandons Antony” explains that the title is taken from Plutarch’s Life of Antony. The poem describes the last night on earth of Mark AntonyCleopatra’s lover, as his troops desert him. As Mendelsohn notes, “All Alexandria knew that Antony’s cause was totally lost.” Subsequently defeated, and believing Cleopatra to be dead, Antony takes his own life. Plutarch’s account emphasises the importance of the act of hearing, a “vehicle for apprehending the true significance of what is taking place”. ”

“The connections between the song and the original poem are close. A beloved city (Alexandria, in Egypt) becomes a beloved woman (Alexandra), offering what Cohen has described as “a certain take on loss”. ”

Also today Monty Pelerin’s World publishes “Tyranny Rules”, where the unrelentless process by which the American Republic slides into tyranny is explained. Some Excerpts:

“The Founding Fathers knew the dangers of power and were especially concerned about preventing abuses. They established boundaries beyond which government and its agents were not to exceed. These constraints were codified by laws, a government made up of three equal branches and strong independent states. The Constitution provided the initial laws and defined allocation of power and responsibility among the branches of government and the federal and state governments.”

“Over the course of more than two centuries, these constraints have been under assault by those desiring more power. Time and opportunists have seriously eroded the original intentions and boundaries. “

“Historians in the future will use the concept of freedom to explain America’s decline. Just as increasing freedoms brought success, the diminution of this freedom (tyranny) will eventually be used to explain the downfall. The fall of freedom is the same as the rise of tyranny.”

“America is now run by political sociopaths, unrestricted by laws, ethics or tradition. That characterizes both political parties. It does not matter whether we elect a “good man” next. No country survives dependent on the masses electing the right man.”

“Countries survive with systems that protect them against the wrong man. We have lost that protection.”

Aware of this process it is difficult to avoid the feeling that what Cavafy’s poem and Cohen’s song both convey, of something valuable irretrievably lost, can also be applied to us, that our Alexandria, in western societies, is also lost, and that some of us, too, experience “a certain take on loss”.

Across the Borderland

“When you reach the broken promised land
Every dream slips through your hands
And you’ll know it’s too late to change your mind
’cause you pay the price to come so far
Just to wind up where you are
And you’re still just across the borderline
Now you’re still just across the borderline
And you’re still just across the borderline”

Ryland Peter “Ry” Cooder, born March 15 1947, is an American musician. He is known for his slide guitar work, his interest in roots music from the United States, and, more recently, his collaborations with traditional musicians from many countries. Ry Cooder grew up in Santa Monica, California. His solo work has been eclectic, encompassing folkbluesTex-Mexsoulgospel, rock, and much else. He has collaborated with many musicians, notably including Eric ClaptonThe Rolling StonesVan MorrisonNeil YoungRandy Newman, and The Doobie Brothers. He briefly formed a band named Little Village.

Across the Borderline is a 1993 album by Willie Nelson. It includes songs written by Paul SimonJohn HiattPeter Gabriel, Bob DylanLyle Lovett, and Nelson himself. The title track, “Across the Borderline”, was written by Ry CooderJohn Hiatt, and Jim Dickinson. It is a remake of a song by Freddy Fender, which was featured on the motion picture soundtrack for The Border starring Jack Nicholson.

Is there life on Mars? Of course.

“Life on Mars?” is a song by David Bowie first released in 1971 on the album Hunky Dory and also released as a single. Neil McCormick of The Daily Telegraph ranked it as #1 in his 100 Greatest Songs of All Time list. He also commented on the song:

“A quite gloriously strange anthem, where the combination of stirring, yearning melody and vivid, poetic imagery manage a trick very particular to the art of the song: to be at once completely impenetrable and yet resonant with personal meaning. You want to raise your voice and sing along, yet Bowie’s abstract cut-up lyrics force you to invest the song with something of yourself just to make sense of the experience. And, like all great songs, it’s got a lovely tune.”

“Take a look at the Lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?”

Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen

When he was about 60 Leonard Cohen (LC) decided to withdraw from public life and spend a long time in a Zen monastery in California. Meanwhile, somewhere else, his accountant was stealthily removing his earthly possessions, perhaps trying to help & foster LC’s spiritual quest. Who knows, but coming back from deep meditative bliss LC has had the courtesy of giving his fans a few more years of his presence, his voice, his hat…and the delicious Webb Sisters. He is now back on tour

“I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah”