Category Archives: Travel

Posts about my travel – real and planned.

Aspiring to have enough Spanish to read Marquez

I have been learning Spanish vocabulary consistently for 6 months now – after years of intermittently learning words as a background interest and through frequent trips to Spain largely connected with studying Tango.

I have been using vocabulary lists and e-readers to source new words, and entering those into a smart flash card app that manages the testing of each word according to how well you know it.

As I reached this 6 month marker I became curious as to how far away I am from my aspirational goal.

It is an interesting task to estimate your current vocabulary.

Personally I am as of today learning just over 3,000 words in my current flashcard system – the majority  of these are very much in progress and there were many simple words I already knew and so never entered into this learning system.

I also know that I can read easy readers at the B2 level of learning without too much trouble – although of course there are always new words. These are well defined as needing a 4,000 word vocabulary. B1 are a bit easy for me at 2,000

The next level up in the official classification is C1 – which doubles the vocabulary needed to am impressive 8,000 words.

A very interesting hour of research has led me to the fact that for comprehension of written material such as a novel you need get to the level where you cannot understand only 1 in 50 words. More than that will mean you lose the meaning. This fascinated me – I had never come across these kind of statistics.

In conjunction with the fact that further research indicates that a complex novel needs a vocabulary of 9,000 words to understand this becomes super informative.

So I took out a Marquez short story and measured accurately the number of words I did not know using a reasonable sample size of a few pages. This turned out to be 1 in 15.

As the required level is 1 in 50 this is perfectly in line with the fact that I cannot yet read Marquez at all. Nowhere near it.

In the format of this particular book it tunes out that I need ( at 49/50 known ) to only have 7 unknown words on each page. At my current level it is in fact 23. Three times too many.

So drawing all this together this means that I estimate my current vocabulary is around 4,000 words. Slightly less than half the requirement for my goal.

Due to the joys of data in decent software I can see on my efforts for the last 6 months I have been consistently learning an average of 16 new words every day – or 500 a month. Again most of these are in progress rather than truly learnt.

As I have every intention of continuing at exactly the same rate – I need 5,000 more words – which will take 10 months.

But then I need to turn those into learned rather than in testing – so I am allowing another 2 months for all of this to happen – as that on average is how long it takes me for a new word to go through the different levels on my app.

So after all this it looks like one more year. This does seem super optimistic – but let’s see!

I have therefore booked out the evening of Sunday 1st September  2019 as my next attempt to read Marquez.

If it is still a struggle  – which I am fairly sure it will be – I will enjoy spending that Sunday evening instead measuring again how many words I do not know – and comparing that new figure to my current 1 in 15 and the well researched target of 1 in 50.

Till then he’s back on the shelf and it’s easy readers and slow steady progress up the mountain of learning.








Tango and Italy .. and another evening gone..

Another evening has just sunk from sight into the all consuming quicksand of Tango.

It all started as I was listening – for the hundredth time – to this absolutely beautiful late Di Sarli tango – Domani – sung by Mario Pomar. I just love this tango so much.

And then for some reason I thought  – why is it called Domani?

The  lyrics are Spanish of course. A bit of google translate shows that the protagonist – as usual crying in the bar – is called Don Giovanni. And once again – the orchestra  is Di Sarli.

And then I just started asking questions about the influence of Italians in the development of Tango. Fortunately I unearthed a wonderful paper by Llaria Serra :  ‘ “Italian Tango” Between Buenos Aires and Paolo Conte ‘ .  This is downloadable from here.

I just wanted to note some of the things from this paper that really interested me. There is much more of course..

  1. To quote Piazzolla himself “Sobre el tango flotan las melodías de los italianos”.
  2. The formative years of tango were 1890 – 1920 .. and Italians comprised 60% of the total immigration to Argentina before 1890.
  3. Italians were the organ grinders who first brought tango’s notes to the streets, and Italian men were among the first tango dancers.
  4. The tango had not yet reached downtown; it lingered in the suburbs, on the sidewalks, in front of the tenements where men danced accompanied by the hand-organs played by their owners, Neapolitan and Calabrese men with shiny black hair.
  5. One of the most beautiful definitions of tango in Argentina belongs to a famous composer and son of an Italian immigrant, Enrique Santos Discépolo: “Il tango è un pensiero triste che si balla” (“Tango is a sad thought that you can dance”).
  6. The harmonic structure of the first tango, according to Ucci, came from Italian opera and the Neapolitan canzonetta, with a preference for melodramatic themes of love and betrayal, and a lyrical style of violin and guitar playing.
  7. Just looking at he surnames Italian origin musicians that played tango throughout the golden age Matteucci lists 231 “bandoneónistas” (from Enrique Alessio to Marcelo Zoppolo); 138 piano players (from Juan Abbondanza to César Zagnoli); 179 violin players (from Juan Abatte to Orestes Zungri); 154 among viola, cello, double bass, guitar, flute and clarinet, and drum players; 57 poets and lyricists (from Santiago Adamini to César Vedani); and 55 singers.
  8. And going beyond their adopted names – who would have thought that Roberto Chanel’s real name was Alfredo Mazzucchi? or that Canaro – of course born in Uruguay – was actually called Canarozzo ? or that Firpo was born into a Italian family? And De Caro.. and Troilo ..

This wonderful paragraph completely intrigues me :

Today, tango in Italy has become a recreational dance. Lessons provide a meeting place for socialization but also a locus of difference in which to escape daily life. Tones of exoticism and positive otherness blend with “mysterious elements of virility, feminine beauty and sentimentality,”  and this “hybrid producer of otherness” has become an “example of a globalized postmodernity that can become an identity.”

I stopped myself – I had actually typed ‘locus of difference’ into a Google Search – but as my hand hovered over the enter key I felt the atypical urge to stay sane.

Another night, perhaps.


Meeting my Tango Idols

As a Tango student of just 3 years I am so fortunate to have teachers that I respect so much and with whom I love to work with.

But as someone who so wants to learn I have of course also a few idols – dancers that I had never met, never seen in the flesh – but have watched so many hundreds of times on Youtube, astonished that anyone can ever get to be that skilful.

And although there are many world class dancers – for me two couples have always stood out – for such different reasons – Chicho Frumboli with Juana Sepulveda – and Carlitos Espinosa with Noelia Hurtado.

When the chance came to travel to a 4 day festival in Zurich last weekend and not only watch them perform but also to study with all of them in  workshops every day – of course  I had to go.

Actually I was scared – because an idol is just that – and to meet someone, to see their imperfections,  to touch the reality of them might destroy an illusion that has been so incredibly inspirational for the last couple of years.


My fears were misplaced – they were my idols and they are still exactly that – just more human and real. More alive. They showed humour, playfulness, pathos, grace, poise and a 3 dimensional beauty that was at times breathtaking in both the perfect detail and also the balance and flowing improvisations of the moment.

But what moved me by far the most was being taught by Chicho Frumboli. Even being in the same room felt like being in the presence of Tango itself.

Paradoxically I had thought he would be the least interested in the role of a teacher – but in fact it was the complete reverse. Before every workshop he would compose himself, reflect, and then start to speak in that low voice  – setting everything in the context of decades of his personal experience and in the history of Tango. He describes Giros from a milongueros perspective of containing within that sequence so much of what Tango has to offer – rhythm changes, dynamism, embrace flexibility – energy flows and rotating axis points – sacadas, reversals and level changes.

He has a deep, broody presence – creating an expectant silence as soon as he ambles into the room. Dark sunglasses, rock star clothes – he was a hard but fair task master as he walked us through the exercises and the various concepts he wanted to explain. He appreciated us when we concentrated – and made it clear when we were allowing old habits to rule our movements and not the purity of his teaching.

He seems to have the highest of work ethics – urging us to work again and again until we finally understood.

As he put it so well when we were all stumbling to achieve what he wanted :

There are no secrets in Tango – just hard work and practise

I have many images, thoughts and emotions to treasure from those 4 days. But one of the strongest was early evening in glorious low sunshine. I looked out of the studio window and saw the unmistakable figure of Chicho walking slowly across the empty  square, the ever graceful Juana by his side. They were moving away from me across the square and already in the distance – but as I watched I could still sense his heavy, weighted, bear-like presence and feel the ground under him yield to every step.

Such is the presence and pedigree of this man – if you can, find a way to be a student of his – even if just for a few brief hours. You will feel changed by the experience – and he will for sure remain an idol – but a three dimensional one.

Federico Frangi – A Photographer with a lot of drive, humility and talent

I briefly met Federico Frangi last week in Barcelona. We chatted for a few minutes, I admired his work, I bought a small version of the one that he is showing me in this photo.


I admired so much about what he told me. Travelling thousands of kilometres on a motorbike across India. Using a camera that did not need a battery, printing on rice paper. Thinking about the meaning of each of his projects. Projects that took months of effort to conceive execute and present.

Many of his images are available here.

He described how in the photo I purchased Federico had been frustrated because the man had closed his eyes at the moment he took the image. But from that came the idea of presenting the project as this mans memories and dreams.

He talked about his plans to go back and find again the girl who had become one of his most popular images – to help her.

Thank you Federico and I wish you all the best with the next project – and I really hope you find her.

Let me know.




Capturing Seville

For me when I travel to Seville I think of the light, the music, the dancing and the surprising street theatre that just pops up and entertains you at the most unexpected times..



So these are a couple of images from last week – a band having fun at lunchtime on a cafe terrace and a woman playing with soap bubbles on the Plaza de Espana.

The warm light was everywhere.


Photography Project while here in Seville – Conversation

I never normally set myself a ‘project’ – but I have watched friends do this with great results and so I have set myself the challenge for the last two days to capture images that in some way reflect what we mean by a ‘conversation’

I have tried to interpret it broadly – some conversations look forward, some backward – I even allowed myself images where the subject seemed deep in an internal conversation, or just invited interaction because they were so interesting. I have also processed some in black and white because the bright sunshine in Seville seemed to distract from the topic.

The idea came about because on Friday before I left I was in a bar in Hove and was watching two profoundly deaf men signing with each other.

I know so little about sign language, but they were using a kind of miming of words to compliment the signs – perhaps conveying context or emotion? But the result to me was two men who alternately just focussed on each other, calmly watching every movement.

This was a conversation as few men experience it – listening, giving space, focus, patience – a calm and genuine donation of “all of my attention” that so rarely takes place and yet is so healing and wonderful when it does.

This started me thinking about ‘conversation’ in a much wider sense – so it was on my mind when I arrived.

And I have already asked if I just used Photoshop to create the couple on the balcony. The answer is ‘no’ – these kind of illusions are quite common in Seville – normaly exactly like this – figures on balconies – and they are called Trampantojos. As I now understand it – thanks Beatriz! – they are used frequently in Spain to create an illusion of something that perhaps people can’t have – for example expensive stone walls.




Photos from a couple of hours in London

What a great city London is.

In just a couple of hours I found so many images and places to get me thinking.

So many times, if I want to capture images I just need to get out there. Travel of any kind is so stimulating, and there’s nothing wrong when a very short train ride can provide the same kind of response as an international flight..

I particularly enjoyed taking the featured image for this post. Some free runners practising created this opportunity when the woman appeared in the distance.