Friday 27 May 2011

Everyone on Facebook is real?

Am I the only one to laugh when I read a report that Mark Zuckerberg said that everyone on Facebook is real? I hope it was a misquote.
I have a problem here, because, on the one hand I would like to give a personal, first hand account of hearing someone say that had set up a Facebook account using a fictional identity. On the other hand, if such a thing had happened, the person responsible would be guilty of all kinds of offences and certainly could be barred from all Facebook appearances, as that action clearly contravenes the conditions we all accept when we sign up to be one of the 600million. So I am not going to actually say that I heard this…
Let’s just say that I am pretty sure that it is absolutely not true to say that everything on Facebook is real and that everyone is who they say they are.
I remember seeing some 11 year old students at one the places I have worked, logging on to Tuenti, the Spanish networking site, to see silly photos posted by all their 10 and 11 year old friends . Its managers say the site is aimed at 14 to 20 year olds:  Such is the reputation that Tuenti has established, that, according to this article in leading Spanish newspaper El País, it was bought last year for 70 million euros ( which is not 70 million dollars, but is still quite a big chunk of cash):   
When you tell children that this site and others are restricted to 13 year old and over, and in Spain to 14 and over, they laugh their heads off and tell you they write whatever they want on their profiles and nobody ever checks. They use aliases and nicknames and somehow manage to follow each other’s tracks.
I think it’s quite funny, all these financial experts are spending millions to convince advertisers they can influence the outflow from  the bank accounts of young adults, and the audience they are really getting is a bunch of children with little more spending power than a couple bags of crisps (that’s potato chips in the USA...)
I suspect that getting behind many  Facebook profiles would tell a similar story of fiction rather than fact. You see, it’s a fashion among alumni of a certain school I know to write on their Facebook profiles, as their school: British School of Washington, when it is clear to hundreds of people who know them that it’s not true. So much so that on another Facebook page, two fellow students have written a message criticising the double identity fraudsters, and using a certain word beginning with F which the school in question is not happy to have associated with it....    
So what? Are we going to close down all social networks because a certain proportion of members tell porky pies (for US readers, porky pies is cockney rhyming slang for lies….)
For those who think impersonation started just after Mr. Z left Harvard, here are a couple of pointers from real life.
At a certain place I worked I found a piece of paper which had been cut and pasted and photocopied to use the  official  notepaper background, with a signature of a fictitious director in a stern To Whom It May Concern tone. The purpose of this prank? To take to a dodgy travel agent in the city centre who issues fake id cards showing an over 18 status to anyone with 30 euros, a photo  and any form of “official” documentation.  The precious over 18 id is the Open Sesame to late night discotheque sessions, and an escape from the alcohol free early evening discos where young adolescents are dropped off by parents who sit in their cars at 10.30pm on Saturday nights to pick their kids up, just like when they were at nursery school.
And do these fake id’s work? Yes, and no. Yes, when the doormen on the late night clubs just want to fill their place up. No, when, as in one case, a young man, clutching the ticket for over 18’s he had bought at great expense, was in a queue to get into a prized rock gig, and held the fake id card so tight in his hot, sweaty hand that the plastic peeled off: needless to say,  the gig went on without him. The question is, did his underage friend stick with him and forego the supreme pleasure of a close up experience with rock’s hall of fame glory, or walk in once the doorman had been fooled by his equally fake id? Can’t tell you, as the second young man in the story is well known to my family….
That was Madrid, and I can tell you in New York it’s more or less the same story. When I was with a group of students visiting a very prestigious private school in the Big Apple, I asked them if they had got to know how the local students spend their free time under the strict over 21 only alcohol laws. No problem, said my students, all the “clever” ones have fake id’s.  
Madrid and NY yes, but not in London: when I was with my 16 year old Madrid students in London, they were adamant they would get into any venue they chose, convinced their expensive clothes and expert make up would do the trick.  I took them to the night life area of their choice in the West End, and arranged a meeting point. I said we would meet in 10 minutes, after they had been booted off the front step  by the bouncers, they said they would see me in a couple of hours after a night of sophisticated socializing. Ten minutes later there they were, not physically bruised, but their pride was certainly dented: the bouncers hadn’t even got as far as asking for their id’s, they just laughed in their faces…
So, honesty did not start or stop with the Facebook. The same caution that we need now has actually also been needed before. If you want your children to be safe, talk to them, listen to them, care for them and teach them the right ways to behave. In the end, not everyone in the physical world is to be trusted, just as not everyone on Facebook is real.  
Here’s an article from today’s Guardian that I read on the way to work this morning and got me thinking about all this. You will find similar ideas much more elegantly expressed:

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Shepherd University from West Virginia: a musical banquet

Yes, a banquet, that’s what it was. It was more than just a concert, it was yet another example of the best of US education bringing excellence, in this case in music, half way across the world.
Last Sunday I went to a concert in nearby Getafe, at the amazing theatre, a mix of Art Deco and Soviet style architecture: here's a photo to prove I was there:

I knew that there was going to be a Spanish choir as part of the evening, but as there was no programme it was all a bit of a surprise, but I knew the first group on was the local one because the photocopied scores are always the give- away. The choir was the  Coro de la Capilla Renacentista, led by Dr. Carlos Delgado Acosta.  I do not know where they are based, maybe at the local Carlos III university? Can anyone tell me? They performed a really accurate rendition of several movements of a Latin mass by Schutz, a solid start to the evening, so thank you.
Then came the first contribution from students from Shepherd University. Right, I had never heard of Shepherd University. Kara Madden, at the Fulbright Commission office in Madrid, always challenges students to look around the USA to find quality institutions they have never heard of, and this is definitely one  students should be looking at. This is what the web page says:
“Shepherd University is a state-supported institution within the West Virginia system of higher education. From its beginnings over 130 years ago, the University has evolved into a comprehensive center of higher learning, serving a number of related, yet distinct roles”
 Read it for yourself here:

So, here’s the Chamber Choir, conducted by the charismatic Dr. Erik Jones. What a beautiful unison sound of the women’s voices together, superb blending, the Emily Dickinson poem setting was really moving. When I see  a mention of 20th century Swiss composer Frank Martin a shiver goes down my spine: when I was a music student, same age as these wonderful young people, I struggled for months with some piano pieces by this composer and totally failed to master them. I know now, but did not understand then, that I did not relate to his musical language and that the music was beyond my technical grasp. Fortunately, neither is true of this chamber choir and their excellent director: you would think they were born to this music, they sang it so well. The closing bars were magical, the hairs on the back of my neck are reacting now, two days later, as I think about those moments. 

Then we had  the large choir right? See, I did not take notes. Anyway the large choir sang just as beautifully and with wonderful dynamic and tonal range. I did not take note of the titles, but I remember the Seal Lullaby, and a spiritual, and of course the joint item with the local choir, Joshua. Wonderful singing, great control and a lovely blend of tone.
I do not know Dr Jones, but his stage presence reminds me of Elton John, dynamic movements at the end of songs (take that as a compliment, I’m listening to the man himself as I write these notes).

And finally to the symphonic wind band directed by Dr. Mark McCoy: more than 40 players, including 10 trumpets, sheer delight. I really felt for these players, as lots of them had been sitting on stage for an hour and a half before playing a note. But when they played, wow! Amazing Grace was gorgeous, a really beautiful example of solo and ensemble playing. Sorry I do not know the solo trumpeter’s name, but her playing brought tears to my eyes.
The great thing about not having a printed programme is you don’t know what’s coming up next. I would guess this is the first time Mahler has been performed in this theatre in Getafe, and it was beautifully performed by the band with a soprano solo, whose name  is the name of a famous person, but this was not the famous person, it was  a Shepherd student, hmmm, anyway well done. Excellent enunciation in  German, and a beautiful sound.
And then, to finish, some crowd pleasers, because Dr. McCoy, apart from being a fantastic musician and director,  is a clever man and knows how to send everyone home happy: a Spanish composer’s Danzón, a Mambo, and even a Pasadoble.

Here are  couple of photos, not great because I didn’t want to get too close, but I have in mind the sound, the beautiful sound of the wonderful choirs and band from Shepherd University, West Virginia. Thanks for a great evening, I really enjoyed it. Thanks, too, to Wens Travel, specialists in music tours, for arranging everything for the big night: 

Sunday 22 May 2011

Madrid Tap Fest - May 2011

I went to a great show the other day: it was the launch event for the Madrid Tap Fest, held at the beautifully decorated Café in the basement of the Teatro Arenal in central Madrid.  I’ve been to this theatre several times before, as they have a regular flamenco show at 6pm for a very reasonable price, aimed at giving a genuine mini version of live music and dance to tourists: I’ve taken groups from China and from France to these shows and they’ve been a great success. The Café area itself is really welcoming, take a look at their photos:

Anyway, back to the Madrid Tap Fest.
The Tap Fest is the brainchild of hyperactive TJ Jazz, ok a crazy name for an artist, but you can see who she is at her Fb page:
The show featured items by a number of dancers including TJ Jazz herself, of course, plus Rafastaire, Mónica Puebla, Lucas Tadeo, a group called Ginger Ale, a group from the Blanco y Negro Estudio Dance school, Gonzalo Larrazabal, and a guest tap artist from Greece, called  Thanos Daskalopoulos, who left the national debt at home, thank you very much, as it’s causing us enough problems here in Spain already. Before the finale, a free for all involving the night’s leading dancers, there was an amazing swing tap duo by my friend John O’Brien and Fernanda Pardo: a virtuoso example of speed, inventiveness and acrobatic expertise.
Here are a couple of photos from the programme the Madrid TapFest group took part in on Spain’s national radio RNE: I’m featuring the photo of John O’Brien starring in a tap solo on the radio, I think it’s really unique. As you can see, he’s listening to the playback of the music through the headphones, and has a board to amplify the sound of the tap shoes.  A little bird tells me they had lots of funny looks from security as they walked in with the wooden  board.

Here's the group: Alejandro De Mesa Palau, Charlie Faber - Sateli3, Tj Jazz, Lucas Tadeo and John O'Brien 

I really enjoyed the live music accompaniment to various of the dance numbers and to TJ Jazz’s singing, provided by the trio: Javier López, Héctor Oliveira and Roberto Natal, very nicely played, thank you.
So, yes I enjoyed the evening and thank you to the Madrid Tap fest committee: TJ Jazz, Mónica Puebla, Jessica Flores and Ruth Pereiro. This is a great initiative which has obviously caught the attention of the dance community as the theatre was full to bursting, and there is much more to come over the weekend.
Read all about it...

Monday 2 May 2011

CaixaForum, Madrid: a model for museums the world over

There’s that really bad joke where the teacher says: Mr Smith, your son is a model student … unfortunately not a working model.
In the case of the CaixaForum, nothing could be further from reality, it is working in every sense of the word, in the quantity and diversity of activities it provides and in the effectiveness of these activities in attracting a wide range of audiences. The CaixaForum is operated by the Barcelona based savings bank La Caixa.

This weekend I called in there again and walked past a room with a children’s activity  and into an exhibition of black and white photos. New technologies were used to involve the little kids in a creative activity that placed themselves very much in the picture of sustainable use of the environment on a video screen, and the photographs were  by  French artist Jacques Henri Latigue (1891 – 1986). On another floor there is a viewing room for film and video, with comfortable sofas and  even mattresses for those who wish to stretch out full length. On top of all that there’s a mid-price restaurant operated by the Arturo company, I mean literally on top: it’s on the 4th floor and offers views over the city centre rooftops on one side and the tree-lined Paseo del Prado on the other, as this wonderful institution is just across the road from the Botanical Gardens and the amazing Prado art gallery.
Even before getting inside the CaixaForum, creativity and a commitment to respecting the environment are evident in the 4 storey high vertical garden, literally a profusion of plant life which fills the entire wall.

I have written admiringly about the social actions of La Caixa in a previous post “Social Inclusion in Music Education”, and the same level of commitment is a constant in the choice of exhibits at the Caixa Forum.   Currently there a series of short documentary films from around the world, featuring persons at risk of social exclusion. I saw a film telling the tragic story of a peasant community in El Encanto, in Colombia who have returned to the countryside to reclaim land which was once theirs, and from which they were evicted by armed groups of uncertain origin. I noted the words of one particular man, courageous even in his grief: “I was born in poverty, and I have lived in poverty… I am comforted by some of my children, others I have lost along the years,  killed by gunfire for reasons they did not understand…”

Thank you, CaixaForum, for making my Saturday afternoon so worthwhile, with something for body, mind and soul.

Flats for sale in Madrid for 90,000: “Chinese welcome”

Today has been a public holiday in Madrid so we went for a stroll around the neighbourhood. A simple little sign in the window of one of the local banks caught my attention. Take a look and maybe you’ll see why:

In Spanish the sign says that the bank has a stock of flats in various parts of Madrid for 90,000€. Okay, no big deal. We all know that, due to  really terrible lending policies by the banks and defaults by property companies, the banks are now owners of properties they find hard to sell.   The striking thing is that the sign is also given in Chinese. I’m guessing that’s what it says, as I don’t read Mandarin.
Here in our district many nations are represented: very few English (just as well, I hear you say), a large community of Peruvian origin, plus people from Russia, Poland, and, in larger numbers, from Rumania.
So, here’s the sign again:

My question is: why is the sign not in Russian, Polish, Rumanian, or even English? Why only Chinese? We all know that all the immigrant groups, yes even the awfully-bad-at-speaking-foreign-languages-English, manage to grasp Spanish and communicate effectively.
The Chinese community in Madrid have specialized in the retail bussines, opening corner shop convenience stores and clothes outlets where speaking with the local Spanish people is part of their routine. They are capable of reading signs in shop windows and in the bank window.
 So, I think that writing the sign in Chinese is not so much to communicate the information to the Chinese residents, but rather to say that they are welcome to come along and do business, to allay their fears that they would not be trusted or accepted by the local banks.
This is the first bilingual sign like this I have seen in my district. If it leads to more genuine integration of more persons into the community, so much the better.
I told you I saw this sign on a walk today. Here’s a photo of some beautiful roses, planted and cared for in a public space by gardeners who work for the local district administration.

Thanks to the gardeners, and the administration, for this and other actions which improve the neighbourhood for all of us, whatever language we speak.