Saturday, 29 September 2012


You say Vesuvius, I say... Vesuvius the classical name; Vesuvio in modern Italian.
You can climb it, but it's a long way. Buy a bus ticket at the Pompeii Sclavi station on the Circumvesuviana railway. The bus takes you about half-way. (Incidentally, the countryside around here is incredibly messy: rubbish, domestic and building, gets dumped everywhere.) Half-way up you transfer to a bus-jeep which takes you lurching up through the beautiful National Park forest. When that peters out you climb the last ten minutes up to the crater. Vesuvio is about 4,000 feet. My water bottle exhales a brief sigh as I open it.
A short lecture from a volcanologist (included in the ticket), and you are free to wander around. Go early: it gets crowded. It's a huge hole in the ground. Not much more really, but really huge, awesome, with vertical sides, a massive 600 metre-wide cannon. In the last eruption (1944) it managed to block its vent with 8km of rock. But the magma chamber is still there below that, and as the pressure builds up, more gas is produced. All you can see on the surface are a few faint whisps curling into the morning sun. Look closer and you see deposits around the vent, foul-looking yellow and brown: a message from the inside of our beautiful planet.
Before 1944 it used to have minor eruptions every 20-odd years, but now it's blocked its own vent. It could erupt from the side, which has happened before. With all that gas and magma building up, pyroclastic flows are likely, travelling at up to 100 miles an hour at 600 degrees celsius. Or it could simply blow its top off. Last time that happened on any scale was the Indonesian Tambora in 1815. It was heard up to 1,000 miles away. Naples is hardly 1,000 miles from London, but in Indonesia the sound would have travelled across the sea: travelling across land, and the Alps, would probably reduce the bang. In 1816 there was no summer. The temperature hardly got above freezing.
But the real threat might not be Vesuvio but the Campi Flegrei ('flaming fields') caldera, a 'supervolcano' a few kilometers west of Naples. The Vesuvio vent is 600 metres across. The Campi Flegrei caldera is 13 kilometers across. Much of it lies under the bay of Naples. The earth goes up and down, there are vents and frequent tremors. Between 1968 and 1972 it rose more than 1.2 metres, and in the mid-80s the entire area was evacuated, but there was no eruption. The earth started to subside. Over the past eight years it's been rising again. Scientists have been trying for years to get the consent of the Naples authorities to drill down into it to find out what is going on, but there has been concern that drilling into it could precipitate an eruption. Fears seem to have been put to rest, and I believe drilling is beginning. Campi Flegrei was regarded by the Romans as the mouth of hell.
The effects of a major eruption in Europe would put any damage to the economy by bankers, speculators, the last government (whichever one it was), in the shade, in some very deep shade indeed, not to mention under the covering of a thick blanket of ash. The loss of life could be horrendous. In the Naples area there are plans for the emergency evacuation of some 300,000 people, but 4.5 million people live in that area. The chaos of 3 or 4 million people fighting to escape. & the likely damage seems to be calculated on prevailing wind direction, so check which way the wind's blowing before you visit. I certainly wouldn't want to live in the area. I've been in a few minor tremors and I wouldn't want to feel the ground shaking under my feet in Pompeii.
...a huge hole in the ground:
yes, those are trees on the
scree slope inside.

Thursday, 27 September 2012


I've just noticed a post by Silvia Ceriani on her Tete y Silvia blog from a while back. It's about a recent album called Reina Noche by Alfredo Rubin. The guy has a great tango voice, perhaps a bit like Goyeneche. He's the author of the poems, the singer too I guess. & poems they are, the old tradition of poem and music renewing itself in the present. Voice and guitars, like the beginnings of tango cancion 90 years ago, simple and direct, without the expense of a full orquesta. Well worth checking out Silvia's post (and the music). Some beautiful things about the milonga, about El Beso, and she's gone to the trouble of making a full translation of the poem Regín from the album, complex, allusive language.
It's on Spotify Alfredo Rubin – Reina Noches. I've been listening to it all evening. & it would be interesting to dance to, too. Very spirited milongas. Nice. There's a couple of other Rubin albums on Spotify too, so a few evenings of new tango music. Very welcome.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The invisible worker

This blog is mainly so I don't forget things: things I read or see, events, things like the sequences I learned from Tete and Silvia, their advice and the kind help of other teachers too. 
& things like this quote from an interview with Jean-Claude Carrière, who collaborated with Bunuel on the script of many of Bunuel's later films, the ones in French, including Belle de Jour, Diary of a Chambermaid, and that extraordinary last film Bunuel made, That Obscure Object of Desire, which sees a world in which car bombs, planted by obscure (Catholic) religious sects, go off in the streets with monotonous regularity. It seems a little less far out now than it did in 1977 when it was released. Looking down the list of films he's scripted on IMDb I find many titles I've enjoyed watching over the years. & he's still at it: two more films were released this year. 
"When a good idea occurs, it has been prepared by a long time of reflection. But you have to be patient. We all have what I call the invisible worker inside ourselves; we don't have to feed him or pay him, and he works even when we are sleeping. We must be aware of his presence, and from time to time stop thinking about what we are trying to do, stop being obsessed about answers, and just give him the room, the possibility, to do his work. He is tenacious, you see. He never loses hope." 
Encouragement to us all. 

Friday, 21 September 2012

On crossing the street in Naples

My first night in the city after a long day's travel from a 6am dawn in the south of France: I go out to find my first Neapolitan pizza. But before I can get to it I have to cross the street.
I stand and watch, my jaw dropping, as a wild stream, a slew, an onslaught of vehicles, like a stampede of wild horses, pours across an intersection, a dense volcanic rush of cars interwoven in impossibly slender spaces by scooters. & into that maelstrom step a young guy and his girlfriend. They are chatting to each other. They pause a moment as a scooter brushes past them, walk on in front of an onrushing taxi that brakes momentarily. It's as death-defying, cooly nonchalant as any high-wire walk. They reach the opposite pavement and walk carelessly on, just as the little red man turns to green, and the tidal wave of traffic comes to a halt. They weren't the only ones: other people too were simply wading across. That's how you cross the street in Naples.
There aren't that many little red men to help you: often enough you just have to walk. I kind of got used to it, but I have to admit I'd often run the last few paces, which must have shown me up very obviously as a tourist. I never saw Neapolitans run. They walk, as if disdainful of the traffic, of the risk of death. In London I'll walk into traffic, but it's because my head has seen the speed of oncoming traffic and the distance across the street, and I know for sure I've got time. That's calculating, it's not daring the traffic to give way. & it works, assuming the oncoming driver isn't talking on a mobile and arguing with a passenger while lighting a cigarette. Ah, Napoli.
& those scooters. Nowhere else is not wearing a helmet the norm. In Napoli, men and women, often enough they don't even wear a helmet to protect an elbow, as you sometimes see in other parts of southern Europe. It really is death-defying, without a safety net, a kind of reckless bravery, an insouciant self-affirming pride in not being safe.
The pizza was excellent.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Great to read recently how Melina challenged a poor dancer, was rebuked for it, and was pleased to see later that he'd taken the criticisms to heart and was trying to improve.

It reminded me of a recent incident at one of our local milongas. A couple had been creating some disturbance for a few weeks. Theirs was a kind of nuevo - maybe we should call it Todaro tango - but badly done, a few moves of great centrifugal violence, during which she seemed to have not two but dozens of pointed heels, like the teeth of a circular saw. I used some creative floorcraft on a number of occasions to make sure I was nowhere near them. & there were injuries.

A week or so later they turned up - and halfway through the evening I suddenly wondered where they were. I hadn't noticed them, but they were still there, actually trying to dance salon tango! Not well, since their wild nuevo had hardly concealed the fact that they actually knew very little. But at least they were no longer in anyone's way. & they were spending time watching the floor, and pointing things out to each other. Needless to say, they never danced with anyone else.

Thinking back I'm certain that at least one of the two people who run that milonga had had some serious words with them. Both organisers are forthright and plain-spoken people, and anyway no organiser wants anyone to get injured at their milonga. The change was dramatic. This couple was forced to recognise that their dance was inadequate, but they obviously liked tango, and came back and made an effort to change. 

It`s not unusual for organisers in Buenos Aires to ask people to leave if their behaviour or dance doesn't suit the milonga, and I`m glad that it's becoming more common here. It`s also an indication that the quality of dance is improving: our milongas are no longer anything goes. And although no one will challenge nuevo done well and with regard for the floor, the norm at least where I dance has become a kind of salon, often partly open, but recognisably salon.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Ricardo Vidort: the statement

Jantango recently published the full text of a `statement' on tango by Ricardo Vidort: I found an extract from it a while back and quoted it without knowing where it was from. It seems so clear and definitive, and it's great to have the complete version, and to be able to thank Paul and Michiko for putting it together in the first place. It shows how much he thought about tango, as well as dancing it. Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but in a few short paragraphs it makes most of this blog redundant... The reference to the fourth chakra confirms what I'd already understood: that Ricardo thought more widely the longer he lived. I also heard that became interested in T'ai Chi late in life and found connections with tango. I know there is a lot more about him: videos that have yet to be released, and conversations on tango and on mortality from his last years. He lived with dying for quite a time, and was aware of it rather than trying to shut it out. He was not only a dancer who is a great model, but also a human being who thought about life, a philosopher. I do hope more of this will come to light soon.