Secrets from Mexico

Way back in the Autumn, as the leaves fell (or were untimely ripp’d from their trees) there was rather a lull in the production of blog posts.  During this hiatus, we here in Southampton enjoyed Mexico Week!  (Please insert your own andales and arribas, as you see fit and your conscience allows.)

I think Mexico week may well have been more widely observed across these Isles and certainly 2015 was a big year for Anglo-Mexican cooperation: no I hadn’t notice either, but apparently it was.

I made it to two main events during the week – which was focused around El Día de los Muertos – both of which yielded unexpected secrets (OK, spoiler alert: one of the secrets was not that unexpected)Winding backwards through time, the second event was a concert of Mexican-composed guitar music given by Morgan Szymanski: with added artworks inspired by each piece.  This was an excellent concert and the CD purchased therefrom is now my preferred choice of lullaby music, when played at low volume as I attempt to breach the high walls Morpheus has placed around his citadel.

Prior to the gig, there was a free workshop in danzón, which whilst Cuban in origin is actively pursued in Mexico.  There was also a chance to attempt some mambo.  The event was graced by a very good live band, comprised (I think) of students from the university.   It was at this workshop, and despite the best efforts of the teachers and my fellow learner dancers (several of whom were from Latin America and all of whom risked physical injury), that the final nails were hammered into the coffin of my hopes to be a dancer.  I have no natural rhythm, I can merely count and then mechanically attempt to reproduce the four, very simple steps involved in danzón.  I’m pretty sure that the Japanese have built robots that could out-dance me – and look more human while doing so.  On the plus side, the dread level of concentration required to produce even this dismal performance left my a sweaty and exhausted wreck: so this my offer an alternative method to encourage sleep.  Not for me the counting of sheep, but the imaginary attempt to reproduce a simple dance.

I pin my remaining (undead) hopes on freer forms of dance: I’m rather tempted by break-dance at the moment.  I think my gymnastic skills could be used to conceal (or at least, distract from) issues in other departments.

The first event was a lecture on Art and Power in Mexico by Dr Jago Cooper: who in addition to his sterling work on BBC4 documentaries is also in charge of the Americas at the British Museum.  Whilst his talk on Mexico was very interesting, the highlights (and secrets) came from the insight into how BBC4 documentaries come to be.  We learned that on BBC4 the academics are allowed to use more and longer words than when aiming at the thickies who watch BBC2 and are even permitted the use of subtitled interviews!  Even so, the word count is surprisingly low: at about the level of an undergraduate essay.  The History department is also rather restrictive on the subjects about which documentaries can be made: apparently, no-one is interested in the Americas (please don’t tell the Yanks or the special relationship will become an even more ironic appellation than is already the case).  If you want to make history documentaries, you better pray your subject area is on the National Curriculum!  (This make explain the TV obsession with the Tudors and National Socialism).  As a result, all of Jago’s work has fallen under the purview of the Art department.

I was reminded of this fact when watching the closing credits for one of the episodes of Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent recent BBC4 series on Spain (yes, it did include long words and subtitles).  These revealed that the series was made by the Religious Affairs department: though I suppose he may of had a few pence out of the History department as he did mention the Armada.  This has now become a new project for me: try and guess which unexpected BBC department has been convinced to make any History series I’ve been watching.

My belief that BBC2 history shows will have been seriously dumbed down to avoid alienating its apparently brain-dead audience might explain a degree of inattention when I was (nominally) watching Joann Fletcher’s new series on Immortal Egypt.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that she stated, quite categorically, that Hathor was (among other responsibilities) the goddess of Lovejoy (and I can assure you that I have no trouble at all with the Barnsley accent).  I assume that Hathor’s TV-based brief runs wider than just Lovejoy: but does she extend to other antiques-based programming or lovable wide boys from eighties TV comedy-drama.  I.e., does she offered divine protection to Bargain Hunt or Minder?  Could Hathor have been the never seen, but always feared, ‘Er Indoors?

Now, how many of you can honestly say that you saw that conclusion coming?

Anthemic

This afternoon, I went to see SUSO (the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra) – the Southampton equivalent of CUSO (who I will be seeing next weekend).  Southampton does have an equivalent of CUMS, called SUMS, but perhaps wisely this acronym has been nabbed by the Mathematics Society.  I presume no-one else in Cambridge wanted CUMS so the Music Society had free rein.

The orchestra provided a very full programme of music from the Americas – well, to be more accurate the US and Mexico, but “the Americas” sounds better than “NAFTA less Canada”.  Within this very enjoyable programme was Danzón No. 2 by Arturo Márquez: described in the programme notes (which hopefully compensate in accuracy for what they lack in style) as having been embraced as the unofficial national anthem of Mexico.  I have no idea what the official national anthem of Mexico sounds like, and am far too lazy to resort to Google to find out, but I seriously doubt it could hold so much as a rushlight (let alone a candle) to Danzón No. 2.  Our own national anthem is positively dirge-like by comparison.

In contrast to the rather martial air lent by the march which forms the basis of so many national anthems, Danzón No. 2 takes its inspiration from dance (rather to my surprise as I was convinced that bailar was the Spanish verb “to dance” – but I guess Mexico is a long way from Castille).  I would agree that the piece lacks any stirring words (or indeed, any words whatsoever) to sing along with at times of great national passion, but I feel this may be no bad thing in these days of heightened nationalism.  Both Flanders and Swann and Mitch Benn (to my certain knowledge) have attempted new national anthems which disparage Johnny foreigner, but no-one has attempted a new anthem for the UK (or the mostly UK of England, Wales and Northern Ireland) based on indigenous dance.  Morris is always a possibility, but I wonder if it would lack the gravitas for the international stage.  Perhaps the Dashing White Sergeant (assuming we retain the Scots in the Union)?  Or if that seems too military, the Gay Gordons as a celebration of equality?  The UK has brought the world many a dance – some of which I was introduced to at primary school, anyone for the Circassian Circle? – and surely one of these could provide the basis for a new national anthem in the hands of a suitable young composer?  The right choice could leave our international “partners” literally reeling!