Friday, 25 October 2013

Guerrilla Girls: The Avengers of Art

Naming and shaming: the conscience of modern art
Before the likes of Pussy Riot, Femen and other gender-orientated activist groups that have recently sprung up and have somehow created a new wave of feminism that has, once again, put this issue high on the agenda (or at least, I would like to think so), there was a group of women who were true pioneers in shaming and reacting against the old and long-lasting male hegemony in the arts.
Guerrilla Girls, always hiding behind the gorilla masks, were born almost thirty years ago after a supposedly 'international survey' of contemporary art at MoMa in New York had featured only 13 female artists out of a total of 169.
Their direct and simple approach brought a new social conscience and awareness hitherto ignored or forgotten which was further enhanced when they incorporated racial inequality as one of their flags. Through banners, t-shirts, artwork, stickers and also protests, they managed to disseminate their powerful and indisputable message: how institutional art (galleries, museums, academia etc...) had failed to incorporate or take into account women and ethnic minorities, beyond sexual and racial stereotypes.
Art books and exhibitions were overwhelmingly populated by white male artists; these activists, with their gorrila masks as a symbol of anonymity but also what they understood as the beauty cannon, set out to challenge and debunk outdated realities in a post-colonial context.

Of course, things have changed since the mid-80s and we have the Guerrilla Girls to thank them for this. But as the previously mentioned Femen (a Tea & Sympathy old post has already covered this group), Pussy Riot and others have shown, there is still a long way to go; contemporary art, and the wider society, desperately need more combative voices prepared to challenge and raise awareness. There's plenty of issues out there worth the fight.

Friday, 27 September 2013


London is the place for me
Zadie Smith rose to fame as a young writer back in 2001 with her debut White Teeth, an ambitious book that won a few awards an introduced to the literary world a new .Despite its success and critical acclaim, I wasn't hugely impressed by a novel that failed to convince me. As an example, I much preferred and enjoyed Monica Ali's Brick Lane, a book that shared with Smith's a certain look at how migrant communities settled in North London.
The fact that both books had been written by two female writers, themselves examples of those very migrants who had arrived in Britain a generation earlier, seemed to herald a new era in multicultural Britain.
A few books on and it is fair to say that Smith's impressive talent hasn't faded away. In fact, quite the opposite, I think.
After the stylish and funny On Beauty, an acid satire of academia across the pond, this talented writer takes us now all the way back to North West London (hence the title); this way, the author stays home turf as this is where she was born.
The book follows the lives of four Londoners who grew up in the same North West council estate; two of them, Leah and Natalie, have been best friends ever since a dramatic event in a swimming pool brought them together. The other two, Felix and Nathan, had led their own lives but through different events, they will eventually encounter their old friends.
It has been said that no other writer has been able to capture London life like this since Dickens. That seems to me rather a statement which I don't feel qualified to agree with or even question. Regardless, Zadie Smith's prose is brilliant, it flows in such a way that one imagines and hears the characters' accents as though they were talking to you. That is where the merits of this novel lay.
NW  grabs you from the very first page with splendid and very well defined characters and a vibrant story (or stories) that resonates with anyone, Londoner or otherwise, who has experienced what urban life is like.
A highly recommend read.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Those who burn books

'Burn them to ashes, then burn the ashes'

Here's a proper classic, one of those books you are meant to read before you die, so I'm I glad I eventually did. Published in 1953, it's worth remembering that the McCarhty era was at its height, so in a way the story  makes more sense when seeing against a climate of censorship and fear, in which intellectual activity is regarded as suspicious by the powers that be.
Bradbury clearly struck gold by imagining a dystopian society that bans books and has firemen burning them rather than putting out fires; it's a bleak scenario indeed, one that at the very least engages the reader in a way that few other novels do, and that's where the true genius of Bradbury's creation lies.
I wouldn't be saying anything new if, as most people have, I link it with other equally unsettling  and disturbing novels such as, of course, Orwell's 1984 and Huxley's Brave New World.
All three share  a somehow prophetic and critical view of Western society, touching subjects that today, decades later, have become commonplace. Conformity, drugs and how our lives are controlled by the media and technology were advanced by these visionaries.
Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which book-paper catches fire and burns, apparently.Guy Montag, the main character, is one of those firemen in charge of burning books. However, his life changes when he meets Clarisse, a young girl who is 'seventeen and crazy' whose free-thinking attitude will challenge the fireman's approach and outlook.
It is easy to imagine the influence this book has had not only on other science-fiction writers of the time but also on people with some sort of critical attitude and dislike of totalitarian regimes, particularly given the book's powerful insight into what such a society will look like.
In short, this is a must-read that, sixty years from its publication, still dazzles and intrigues the reader.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Tweeting misogony

Jane Austen will feature on the £10 notes
It is worrying to see how certain people make use of the anonymity offered by certain social networks to spread hate and abuse. It is one thing to be a pathetic and sad troll who finds solace and -perhaps- a sort of  needed self-esteem by annoying and antagonising other people day in day out: it is a very different one to threaten and insult other users in unacceptable ways.
We have  lately witnessed  a trend whereby users- mostly men- issue death and rape threats to women who have been vocal against different issues affecting women's rights and injustices.
As I mentioned, there have been a few examples of women being subjected to abuse recently, including some well-known campaigners and journalists.
I was particularly interested in the case of activist Caroline Criado-Perez, the woman behind the campaign that asked the Bank of England to reconsider their decision of replacing social reformer Elizabeth Fry by Winston Churchill on the £5 notes. This would mean that no woman, apart from the Queen, would feature on the English bank notes An online petition asking Mervyn King, the Bank of England Governor, to reconsider this eventually succeeded and so Jane Austen will feature on the £10 notes from 2017.
I'd assume that most people would cheer this decision as an example of how a social media campaign has real consequences, even when it comes to powerful institutions such as the Bank of England.
However, this does not seem the case with those who chose to spit their anger and sexist attitude on Twitter, threatening Criado-Perez in such a way that saw the social network being questioned about its policies on how to handle these threats.
At least one man has been arrested by the police and the whole issue has been widely debated, which may or may not deter other people from cowardly hiding behind anonymous accounts to spread hate and get away with it.
Campaigners, regardless of their gender, should feel safe when using the social media to highlight and promote their causes. Let's just hope this is the case from now on.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Rewriting History: the people's viewpoint

A people's perspective on history
Howard Zinn was a historian (1922-2010) whose book written in 1980 A People's History of the United States became an instant success and one of the more influential accounts of this country's past. The reason for this phenomenal success ( the book has sold more that two million copies!) is Zinn's different approach, which completely demystifies the official version most students were taught at school. Instead, Zinn chooses to write its book from 'the other side', giving voice to those people whose fate was ignored by those mainstream books.
Its relevance and interest was such that a comic version was imagined and adapted  a few years ago (2008) by political cartoonist Mike Konopackin and senior lecturer Paul Buhle. This is great news for those who find the lengthy original book a bit too much and prefer the more dynamic and visual- albeit less academic- language of comics.
The comic sets off with that eventful  morning in New York on 11 September and the subsequent speecht made by George Bush, full of hatred and vengeance, announcing immediate retaliation. Zinn's answer to that is: they have learned nothing from the twentieth century's events.
After this reflection, the book delves into those events that have shaped the history of the United States but, as mentioned before, not as you know it. Here, you will learn how the white supremacists annihilated the Native Americans; you will learn about the dirty strategies and diplomacy used in Cuba and the Philippines; you will come across familiar names such as Rockefeller, Morgan etc.. early capitalists who amassed vast fortunes on the back of the exploited and humiliated working classes.
Thus, the book goes on to depict the portrait of a nation meddling in any affair that may be beneficial for U.S. interests leaving behind an atrocious trace of massacres and impunity.
Judging by the recent revelations in the form of espionage, WikiLeaks, Guantanamo etc...this nation may be still a long way from learning the lessons Howard Zinn was hoping for: the cycle of stupidity may still continue for a while.
In the meantime, reading this book is a good way of gaining a better understanding of the Empire. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Femen: the topless revolution

Breasts Feed Revolution

The protest movement that started back in 2008 in Kiev, Ukraine, under the name of FEMEN, has become one of the most recognisable brands worldwide.
One thing is clear about this group of young women activists: they pull no punches when it comes to make themselves heard.
Thanks to their trademark approach, which mainly involves organising topless protests against religious institutions, world leaders, international institutions (eg. FIFA), embassies and other targets, FEMEN have also alienated many people, not only from the (predictably) more conservative sectors of society but also from more supposedly liberal and progressive people who dismiss these tactics as counterproductive and even as 'racist colonial feminism'. Feminist groups and Muslim women, among others, have been very critical of FEMEN's strategies.
Nudity, it would appear, still makes people uncomfortable; women's nudity even more so.
Facebook had recently had its moment of glory (again!) when it decided to block FEMEN's account after accusing the activist group of 'promoting pornography and prostitution', something that smacks of double standards.
Either Facebook can't cope with the sight of women shouting and exposing the hypocrisy of a fundamentally corrupted moral system or- perhaps more likely- they find FEMEN's message hard to swallow (perhaps bowing to the pressure coming from high above?).
But they continue-unfazed- their mission, caring very little about what the breast-phobics have to say and if there is something I admire about them is their determination and courage. Their ability to expose the powerful (men) who allow themselves to preach morality is outstanding and remarkable.
You may or may not agree with their ways of protest but if there is something clear about the emergence of FEMEN is that they have brought back to the table feminism and what does being a feminist mean in the 21st century. And just for that, I think, they must be heard and respected.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Mau Mau Uprising

Fighting colonialism

The long shadow of colonialism was still very present last week in Nairobi when William Hague, the British Foreign Secretary, apologised  for the atrocities committed against members of the Kenyan resistance movement known as the Mau Mau in the 1950s on behalf of the British government.
This was a great victory for those 200 elderly members of the Kikuyu people who travelled to the Kenyan capital and, no doubt, the first of many other similar cases in which the UK will have to apologise and compesate financially victims of similar cases of torture and ill-treatment.

The Mau Mau Rebellion was an anti-colonial movement that fought the British in Kenya; like many other African nationalistic movements of that time, their aim was to send the white colonisers back to Europe and take their own destiny in their hands as they had become politically aware of a situation that was oppressing them in their own native land.
By applying the old 'divide and rule' technique, the British were able to undermine the Mau Mau, so widespread support for their cause was never really achieved.
The rebellion was finally crushed by 1956 but the way for a process that would lead to the eventual  Kenyan independence had been somehow paved with this uprising whose cause and brutal treatment received is now acknowledged.
It has taken 60  long years for a senior member of the British government to apologise, but future expressions of regret will be heard again.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Striking where it hurts

Taking a stand
There are few topics that bring so much controversy as the Israel-Palestine endless dispute; whether it be an article, a comment or a gesture, it's bound to create a heated and - in many an occasion- aggressive debate that very rarely becomes a constructive exchange that may somehow bring closer both sides, or at least some understanding.
The boycott of an Israeli conference earlier this month by one of the world's leading scientists as a protest for Israel's treatment of Palestinians was therefore the kind of political stand that would not leave anyone indifferent; and, of course, it didn't.
As predicted, the furore caused by the Cambridge University Professor was extraordinary; arguments on both sides tried to make their point and show how Hawking was right/wrong.
This is not the first time a well-known figure chooses to publicly condemn Israel for its behaviour regarding Palestine; and it won't be the last one.
What perhaps sets this protest apart is the fact that Stephen Hawking was always considered as a brilliant mind who rarely intervened in politics; that someone who is widely respected for his scientific achievements as well as his  fight against a degenerative disease decides to pull out of an academic conference in Jerusalem was perhaps an unexpected move.
By doing so, Hawking has brought to the table the old debate on the relevance/appropriateness of a boycott to Isreal,and  most particularly in this case, the academic boycott.
While I'm not 100% sure of the effectiveness of an academic boycott of Israeli per se, I can clearly see why Hawking decided not to rub shoulders with Shimon Peres, Israel's President, at a conference.
The debate is out there;unfortunately, there won't be a negotiated solution to the conflict any time soon (in my opinion, anyway) but Hawking's unequivocal gesture should make people think.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Angel's share

Distilling dreams of a better future in the Highlands

You may not associate Ken Loach with comedy but his latest -and brilliant- film Angel's share made me laugh out loud. After exploring the underworld and dirty businesses that Western companies undertake in post-war Iraq, Loach has turned to a familiar place,Scotland, and more particularly that utterly amazing ( I must confess, I love it) city that is Glasgow.
What does not change though, is Loach's and Paul Laverty's humanistic approach; in a miserable world there is room for poetic justice, those little victories that defeat the routine and brigthen up the lives of those who are always pushed aside and denied that opportunity that may change things for the better.
Focusing on a group of young Glasgewians sentenced to community payback who find their own angel in Harry, their caring and sweet supervisor, the film follows their trail to the Highlands in their pursue of a very rare whisky that is going to be auctioned; whisky auctions, like art auctions, are for the extremely rich, capable of paying outrageous amounts of money for that special sip.
However, things don't quite turn up as expected for the mighty-yet blissfully ignorant- millionaires.
Loach's eye is once again more interested in the fate of the unlikely heroes of a party they weren't invented to.It's their time to get their part of the pie.
The beautiful title of this upbeat film refers to the 2% of whisky that evaporates from the casks each year.
Played by non-professional actors, Angel's share is very well performed and very funny, far from the gloomy films that we saw in the past. There is hope and it must be shared.

Sunday, 14 April 2013


Thacherites by name, your faults I proclaim (Billy Bragg)
Margaret Thatcher's death last week has been met with countless debates and exchanges on the net and elsewhere, most of them pretty heated, to say the least.Hardly surprising for such a controversial figure, whose legacy still lingers on and whose ability to irritate and charm- depending on the side of the fence you were on- was peerless.
What most people seem to agree on, though, is the fact that the doctrines  she started in the early 80s are very  much alive and well and a whole army of Thacherites have assumed the lady's teachings with gusto.
Beyond the way Thacher's approach changed the Conservative Party itself, I think that it's hard to ignore the influence she had on the (New) Labour Party too; when the latter won the elections in 1997, they simply decided to continue the same path, albeit with a softer approach and with more social policies.
In fact, Thacherites became Blairites, and the rest is history...
The world will witness the Iron Lady's funeral this week, on a broadcast beamed to the world and with all the state honours reserved for its leaders; we won't bury, however, the policies she so stubbornly and arrogantly advocated.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cartooning for Peace

No laughing matter
Cartoon: such a simple yet wonderful word, vibrant and magic, evocative and innocent. Think of this word  and it is quite likely that it will immediately bring images of your favourite cartoons, those that made you laugh out loud, think and even cry. Think of a world without cartoonists and...well, I won't even dare.
Cartoonists, armed with their brilliant minds full of ideas and their pens, produce work that for all their simplicity manage to provoke the most varied reactions; sometimes these reactions are quite extreme and we all have in mind cases in which cartoonists land in trouble due to some 'controversial' cartoon.
To support and ensure that cartoonists work remains independent, a fantastic initiative to support and encourage cartoonists was created a few years ago, under the supervision of French cartoonists Plantu (Le Monde) and former UN Secretary General and Nobel Prize winner Kofi Annan.
As you may imagine, Cartooning for Peace ( aims to promote a better understanding between people from different cultures as well as fight and defend cartoonists right to freedom of expression.
This is all more interesting when we think about the massive cultural gap when cartoonists tackle issues related to religion, as the editors of French weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo know too well, whose headquarters were bombed after publishing a special issue featuring cartoons of Mohammed.

I was reminded of this whole issue concerning cartoonists' rights and freedoms while reading the graphic novel An Iranian Metamorphosis by Mana Neyestani; a personal account of the hell he went through after publishing a seemingly innocent cartoon and then becoming the scapegoat for a tyranical  and farcical regime.
Neyestani's story is a timely reminder of the prospects faced by cartoonists all over the world.

A Kafkaesque nightmare

Monday, 25 March 2013

Searching for sugar man

Sixto Rodriguez: alive and well

Each time the yearly ritual associated with the Oscar Awards ceremony takes centre stage and we are, invariably, flooded with the usual PR machine that sorrounds this, in my  humble opinion, uninteresting and boring event, I tend to ignore it. I'm aware that, in doing so, I may miss some interesting and even good films that are either awarded or shortlisted by the Academy.
It is the case with this year's award for best documentary; I had been told about Searching for Sugar Man months ago but it was only a couple of weeks that I managed to watch it.
The story of Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit-born musician, is really remarkable; and so is the documentary that follows the steps undertaken by two South-African fans, who had set out to confirm the rumours about the dramatic death on stage of Rodriguez. I won't spoil readers on what follows next but, really, I think it's worth finding it out for yourself.
It would be very easy to throw a few clichéd adjectives (heartwarming and uplifting are only two that come to mind straight away). I will refrain from doing so, mainly because much has been written about this documentary.
The fact that Sixto's career has been re-launched thanks to this documentary reminds me of what Ry Cooder had done with that bunch of brilliant Cuban musicians, who rose to a late yet well deserved music stardom  thanks to that stunning album Buena Vista Social Club.
The music featured in the film (Sixto's songs) is equally stunning and one can only wonder how on earth this man didn't achieve global success earlier on his career.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Whatever happened to Bradley Manning?

Shooting the messenger

Spare a thought for Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army soldier arrested in 2010 on suspicion of having released classified documents to the Wikileaks website. Last weekend a series of protest acts around the USA and other countries marked Manning's 1,000th day in prison without a trial.
This was a reminder of the tough prospects faced by a man whose act of disclosing highly confidential documents that led to the Cablegate, in which thousands of cables from the U.S. State Department were released, created an unprecedented diplomatic and political row.
It wasn't a war nor a terrible terrorist attack yet his impact and media coverage were huge.

While we often hear a lot about Julian Assange's case and his current confinement in the Ecuador embassy in London, it seems that Manning's case is somehow overlooked.
However,for many people he is a sort of hero who was catalyst in exposing the flaws, interests and hypocrisy of the the diplomatic relations amongst countries; some commentators also credit him with being instrumental in the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 and 2012.
Undoubtedly, he is of the most important whistleblowers of all time and the U.S government wants to punish him for that because they think that with his acts, he put the lives of many soldiers in danger by aiding the enemy.
His case is due to start in June but the immense pressure Manning has been exposed to has  become a problem and according to his lawyer, Manning's mental health  is 'almost gone'.
Let's hope that this 'heroic young man', in the words of Jeff Paterson ( a spokesman for the Bradley Manning Support Network), faces a fair trial.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Leading the way- Bristol Pound

The colour of (local) money    
Photo Chris Bahn
Perhaps one of the few interesting and positive things that the unprecedented economic crunch we're experiencing is the fact that scores of people have awoken from their slumber and realised that things shouldn't be left in the hands of those corrupt and incompetent fiddlers in grey suits. The numbers simply don't add up as the gap between the haves and have-nots widens; the 1% meet up in luxurious suites in five stars hotels whilst the remaining 99% reclaims its slice of the pie.We're in a mess and I find it hard to believe that those in charge have any idea whatsoever of how to get us out of it.

It is our aim to highlight and promote those projects that offer something and are not necessarily given the credit they deserve.There are plenty of initiatives that are worth mentioning here but what is taking place in Bristol is somehow an excellent example of what it was mentioned above: a community-led experience that has a real effect on people's lives.
This British city has always been an interesting and active city, which may explain why the Bristol Pound has become an example of an alternative currency aimed at promoting and boosting  the local economy.The idea is to support the city's independent retailers against the mighty large corporations whose huge benefits are barely reinvested in the local economy.

This scheme had already attracted attention and media coverage but it was last week when we heard again about this as the newly-elected mayor, George Ferguson, chose to be paid in Bristol Pounds; a rare example of consistency (he'd pledged to make Bristol a 'healthier and more sustainable city' in his  campaign) and commitment. We can only hope that more public and elected members lead by example and back this kind of schemes.

Monday, 28 January 2013

On the shoulders of a giant: George Orwell

Voice of (many) generations

It is highly likely that if you want to describe an oppressive political regime, you'll use the word Orwellian; likewise, big brother will spring to mind whenever your conversation or thoughts take you to issues concerning rogue states and/or organisations that exercise a rigid control on people. These are only two examples-thought police could be another one- that have become part of our daily language whose origin take us back to the influential and visionary novelist and journalist George Orwell (real name Eric Blair).
A series of  radio programmes  to be broadcast  by the BBC Radio 4 over the following days ( is the perfect excuse to delve into the work of this most formidable Englishman; it is also a reminder of how influential Orwell remains today, not only because some of those most perverse and bleakest premonitions he'd imagined in his fiction novels have today become real  but also because some of his less well-known journalistic pieces illustrated readers about  a range of key issues of the time: imperialism, totalitarianism, social justice...
Orwell's accounts of his different experiences -and he had a few- make him, in my and many others' opinion, a master of political and social journalism, a true craftsman, an example of how to tell the tale in a way that is direct yet deeply touching without being pretentious; and that isn't always easy to achieve.
 If that wasn't enough to justify his status,  here's another example: he once again was spot on when in his masterpiece 1984, he wrote this chilling message: ' Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past'. Frightening.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Unsong heroines: Mary Seacole

Keep her in the books: Crimean War heroine

 The UK Secretary  State for  Education, Michael Gove, is one of the most controversial figures of the  Tory-LibDem coalition, and one that the Left loves to hate.Admittedly, education is a sensitive issue that is taken very seriously by people and indeed most governments.Tony Blair understood this very well when he made it a priority and coined what would become one of most quoted soundbites of his years as PM ('education, education, education').
Every so often, heated debates and exchanges on any intended reform or change in the National Curriculum grab the headlines;therefore, it is hardly surprising to see that a proposed change by the mentioned Secretary for Education has caused a new wave of indignation among many people who see this as pandering to the right-wing and their recurring PC myth mantra (Polical Correctness).
So  this new row is because of the proposed removal from the National Curriculum of  Mary Seacole; she was a black woman of Jamaican origin who was involved in the Crimean War, whose role helping the wounded soldiers gave her the status of heroine in Britain at the time. Thanks to a campaign organised some years ago for her inclusion as a relevant figure and a black role model, Mary Seacole became the only black person to be included in the Curriculum who was not associated with either the civil rights movement or slavery, thus giving students a different perspective on the role of people of diverse origins and backgrounds in Britain.
 In response to this proposal, another petition  has been organised, this time to ask the government to keep Seacole in the National Curriculum, on the basis of her role in the Crimean War.
Regardless of the outcome of this initiative, we take this opportunity to bring to this blog the figure of an inspirational  woman who defied the odds and helped change attitudes towards people from different backgrounds.Let's hope Gove's proposal stays that way:just a bad idea once proposed that ended up in the bin.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

On a Bender- Interview with Craig Patterson

Tea & Sympathy goes On a Bender...

The Tea&Sympathy book club chose On a Bender, by Eduardo Blanco Amor, as its last reading of 2012. Reading a Galician classic in English was an amazing experience and let us discuss cross cultural issues and the trade of the translator. We also had the opportunity to chat with A Esmorga’s translator, Craig Patterson, lecturer at Cardiff University and a great devotee of Galicia.

What would going “on a Bender” be like in Cardiff?
Cardiff is renowned for its ‘intense’ night life and drinking culture, and is a popular destination for hen and stag night weekends. In fact its reputation for that kind of thing is quite pronounced. British benders are quite different to Galician ones, of course. They involve less food for a start…

You said somewhere that it was Luis González Tosar from the Galician Pen Club who asked you to translate A Esmorga. Would you have chosen another Galician novel to translate instead?
Actually it was my friend Xesús Fraga who asked me, on behalf of Luis González Tosar and the Galician Pen Club. They had wanted him to do it but he recognised that a native English speaker was needed, and I think he was right. For obvious reasons there are many Galician novels and texts that need translating, but I think A Esmorga was the great challenge on offer from Galician literature because of its vocabulary and deceptively-complex style. I cannot imagine any text in Galician being more of a challenge to the translator.

John Rutherford introduced you to Galician culture. Apart from this influence, what made you so passionate for our language and culture?
Actually John did not introduce me to Galician culture. I met him long after my Galician “epiphany”. I was aware of Galicia since the beginning of my degree in Hispanic Studies in 1992, and even before. However, the key moment came in February 1995. During 1994-95, I was an Erasmus student in Salamanca, Spain. Some friends and I hired a car and we drove up to Galicia for the weekend. We arrived in Santiago on a sunny winter afternoon just as the sun was dimming. Standing in front of the cathedral, in the Obradoiro, I fell instantly in love with Galicia and more or less from then onwards decided to dedicate my research to her. It was one of those moments in life that you cannot rationalise or even argue with – it was a powerful, life-changing event. What makes me passionate about Galician language and culture? Galicia is a unique place and her language is  unique. Politics aside, for that reason alone she is a nation as natural as any nation can be. I love Galicia’s otherness. Her uniqueness. The humour of her people. Their attitude to life (which is generally inspiring, sometimes infuriating). As I have said before in other interviews, there is a part of me that only comes alive when I speak Galician, and I feel very comfortable and natural when that part of me is “living”. Naturally I also enjoy Galician music, literature and art. Above all, I love Galician food and drink!

What was the most difficult aspect of the translation?
There were several difficult aspects. Capturing the voice of Cibrán was sometimes tricky, given that he speaks in essentially a low to normal register but attempts poetic flourishes from time to time in order to escape or delay justice. Blanco Amor’s unique syntax is can also prove very difficult to transform into suitable English syntactical structures. In terms of vocabulary, the words and and expressions that proved the hardest to translate were ‘fóra a ialma’ and ‘follateira’. Readers of the translation can see how I tackled these. Also, I published an article which goes into greater depth regarding these matters, as well as the issue of Blanco Amor’s self-translation of A Esmorga as La parranda:
‘Orígenes, retos y estrategias de la primera traducción inglesa de A esmorga, de Eduardo Blanco Amor’, in Xosé Manuel Dasilva & Helena Tanqueiro, eds., Aproximaciones a la autotraducción (Vigo, Editorial Academia del Hispanismo, 2011), 177-196

We all agreed in our praise of the translation of “Milhomes” for “Menaplenty”. Is that expression used in English or is just your creation?
It is not used in English to the best of my knowledge. As with the names that I thought had to be translated or lent themselves to being translated, I could not translate literally where this would produce something that did not ring true for the English idiomatic ear. ‘Menaplenty’ communicates for me the meanings of the nomenclature in Galicia: the ironical reference to the masculinity of the character, and the suggestion of extensive sexual knowledge of an experienced homosexual man.

Menaplenty is the most obvious gay character in the novel.  A Esmorga is meant to be the first openly homosexual Galician novel. Don’t you think it is a quite exaggerated consideration? Will the modern English readers be aware of that gay-factor?
I do not think the character was made to be explicitly and ‘openly homosexual’ in the novel at the time of its publication. That did not happen until later on in the history of Galician literature. However, Blanco Amor leaves nothing left to doubt regarding Milhomes sexuality and of course the strong suggestion of Bocas’ bisexuality. I think whether the modern English-speaking readers read my introduction (in which I explain these factors) or not, they will see the implications in Blanco Amor’s text. Certainly the first time I read the novel as a student I was aware of that dimension to the characterisation.

Blanco Amor makes clear in the novel how Galician and Castillian are class-connoted languages, as the main characters describe Castillian speakers as members of an upper class (or pretending to be of part of an upper class). Is that diglossia performance familiar to the British Readers?

I think British readers will understand the situation, although the sociolinguistic situation(s) in the British isles are different simply because of the different linguistic roots and origins of the native British languages – Welsh, Irish, Scots Gaelic and Cornish are Celtic languages and there is no grey area or ‘castrapo’ between them and English. Furthermore, today many more languages are spoken in Britain: languages of the Indian subcontinent, Polish and Arabic to name but a few.

How well-known is Galician literature amongst British readers? Are Welsh, Scottish or Irish readers more willing to know about other peripheral literatures than English ones?
Not very, although we should bear in mind that the UK is notorious for its lack of curiosity regarding foreign cultures and languages. However, largely through the translations of Manuel Rivas’ literature published with Harvill (London), and the series of translations published by Planet, based in Wales, Galician literature is certainly more visible than what it was twenty years ago. I have commented on this extensively, and believe that the Galician government and Consello da Cultura must take responsibility for this and set up initiatives in order to produce more translations and market them effectively in English-speaking countries. However, given the economic crisis and the politics of the current Galician government, I cannot see that happening in the near future…

What are Galicia and Wales main similarities and differences?
Similarities? They are both by the sea. They have both been conquered and colonised by a powerful neighbour whose cultural, political and linguistic influence continues to be mostly negative. Compared to other neighbours who have experienced a similar fate (Catalonia, Scotland, Euzkadi, Ireland), they both seem to be more ambivalent about protecting their linguistic, political, cultural and identitarian heritage (because the extent of colonisation was greater). Their native languages are both in decline. They are both essentially rural countries with all of the complex social realities that this engenders. Differences? Wales is possibly the only country in the world that can be characterised to some careful degree as ‘Celtic’. Welsh is a genuinely Celtic language; Galician is not, nor can Galician be called a ‘Celtic’ country.

Is there an interest in literature published in languages other than English, and most particularly in minoritised languages? 

See my comments above. Generally, not as much as there should be, probably because of Britain’s imperial past, the global domination of English, and the general decline of educational standards in the UK. All of this produces a reticence to publish translated work and to read it. However, there are exceptional cases where translated work breaks through by means of careful marketing, film and television tie-ins and also, of course, good writing triumphing. One example of this from Spain would be Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind. Scandinavian crime dramas on television and film have led to the success of Scandinavian literature in translation (eg. Mankell). The nearest Galician literature has come to this has been Manuel Rivas’ The Carpenter’s Pencil and The Butterfly’s Tongue. There is still a long way to go and it will take exceptional, decisive and in my opinion interventionist measures to bring about a serious change in the situation to Galician culture’s advantage in international terms.

Are there similarities between Welsh and Galician literature?
I do not (or rather cannot) read Welsh literature in Welsh, and therefore cannot answer with great authority. However, conversations with Welsh-speaking friends, and my own reading of Welsh literature in English, confirms that countries that have similar linguistic, historical, social, political and cultural contexts (I refer back to your question above) will express similar concerns in literature, and that is certainly the case between Galician and Welsh literature: personal and collective identity, rural stagnation and urban alienation, home and exile/travel.
Blanco Amor decided to narrate the story in the voice of Cibrán, and for that reason the novel is written in a very specific slang from Ourense.  However, you decided not to transpose that to a local slang from, for instance, Dublin. What are the reasons of that choice?
I am half-Irish and was aware from the first time I read A Esmorga in Galician that an Irish idiomatic voice could be layered very easily on top of the original Galician voice, in terms of syntax and common Catholic vocabulary and expressions. However, when we domesticate any translation, from literature to film subtitles, we sacrifice the cultural artefact’s ‘otherness’, or uniqueness, on the altar of ease. A Esmorga is a favourite with its Galician native readers precisely because it captures the loneliness of that otherness, the bewildering solitude of being on the edge in life and culture and society in so many different ways (class, language, sexuality, etc.), and I did not want to dilute that effect in English by confusing the reader with recognisable but nevertheless different cultural substitutes. When I look back on the experience of the translation and the first several months of its reception, I am glad that I did not. Galicia is not Ireland. Galicia is Galicia, and that alone should suffice.
Related with the former question, what is the translator’s job like nowadays?
I am not a professional or full-time translator, so I cannot answer the question with as much authority as I would like. However, from friends who do work full-time as translators, I am aware that it is often a (financially-)precarious way of life with pressures and deadlines as much as any other. We are still a long way away from the translator, whether professional or amateur, being given the respect that he or she deserves, especially in Britain. On another note, in the twenty-first century we have email, Skype and Google as well as dedicated and specialised electronic multimedia tools, and all of these speed up and help the translator enormously. The difficult translation of On a Bender definitely benefitted from these resources.
You are working now on a translation of Sempre en Galiza. What are the differences in translating Castelao’s political prose and Blanco-Amor’s “avant-garde” novel?
I have been working on and off on Sempre en Galiza for about a decade, an am now in the final year or two (I hope!). They are good projects to compare and contrast. Blanco Amor’s novel is of course much shorter than Castelao’s text, but infinitely more difficult for all of the reasons that we discuss above. Castelao’s opus is not very difficult in linguistic terms. The English translation will be a critical edition with footnotes, and what is time-consuming is attempting to identify unreferenced sources in Castelao’s work from where he quotes (and he often does this without reference), and providing explanatory footnotes on the Galician cultural and political context for the non-specialised target reader. In short, the challenge of the translation of Sempre en Galiza concerns scope, whereas with A Esmorga it concerned linguistic and creative complexity: the avante-garde quality to which you refer. Thank you for the interview: I enjoyed answering these questions.