Feliz cumpleaños Rafael Alberti

One of the Spanish poets of the “Generation of ’27” the flowering of Spanish poetry in the inter-war period which has been called the Silver age of Spanish Poetry.  Cernuda, Lorca and Guillén were all members.

Alberti left Spain at the end of the Civil War (1936-39) and refused to return until Franco died.  He moved to Paris and shared an apartment with Pablo Neruda until the Germans occupied Paris.  He died aged 96 and his ashes were scattered in his favourite place in the world, the bay of Cádiz.

Here is an ode to that city.

Cuba Dentro de un Piano

Cuando mi madre llevaba un sorbete de fresa por sombrero
y el humo de los barcos aun era humo de habanero.
Mulata vuelta bajera.
Cádiz se adormecía entre fandangos y habaneras
y un lorito al piano quería hacer de tenor.
Dime dónde está la flor que el hombre tanto venera.
Mi tío Antonio volvía con su aire de insurrecto.
La Cabaña y el Príncipe sonaban por los patios del Puerto.
(Ya no brilla la Perla azul del mar de las Antillas.
Ya se apagó, se nos ha muerto).
Me encontré con la bella Trinidad.
Cuba se había perdido y ahora era verdad.
Era verdad, no era mentira.
Un cañonero huido llegó cantándolo en guajiras.
La Habana ya se perdió. Tuvo la culpa el
Calló, cayó el cañonero.
Pero después, pero ¡ah! después…
fue cuando al SÍ lo hicieron YES.

Happy Birthday Pablo Neruda


Ricardo Eliécer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto was born this day in 1904.  He ‘borrowed’ his pen name from a Czech poet, Jan Neruda.  A brilliant poet, a nobel laureate, nationalist and politician.  He was murdered under orders of Augusto Pinochet by a doctor treating him for cancer.  Pinochet staged a Coup D’état against the legally elected government of President Allende.

Pinochet was able to do this because he was supported by the US Government and received direct support from the CIA.  That’s American democracy for you!  Democracy for Americans who live in the United States, just not for all Americans, unless it is the right kind of democracy.

Enough with the politics, July is the month of tomatoes.  I planted Marmandes this year.  See the photo!


Ode to Tomatoes: by Pablo Neruda

The street
filled with tomatoes
light is
its juice
through the streets.
In December,
the tomato
the kitchen,
it enters at lunchtime,
its ease
on countertops,
among glasses,
butter dishes,
blue saltcellars.
It sheds
its own light,
benign majesty.
Unfortunately, we must
murder it:
the knife
into living flesh,
a cool
populates the salads
of Chile,
happily, it is wed
to the clear onion,
and to celebrate the union
child of the olive,
onto its halved hemispheres,
its fragrance,
salt, its magnetism;
it is the wedding
of the day,
its flag,
bubble vigorously,
the aroma
of the roast
at the door,
it’s time!
come on!
and, on
the table, at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth,
and fertile
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.


Happy Singles Day!


Today in the Far East, especially in China, millions of dollars are being spent on self-gifting.

In the West we observe November 11th as remembrance day.  The Great War (1914-18) ended on the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month.  We bow our heads in solemn contemplation of the lives lost on battlefields by generations of young men who answered the call for reasons they did not understand.  There is a brisk business in the symbols of remembrance, poppies in Britain and the Commonwealth and Cornflowers in France but if you move outside of these countries traditions change, celebrations differ, symbols are not so prominent.

In China the alignment of 4 1’s in the date (11/11) have come to symbolise the self.  Each 1 stands for the single person, and this is the day of the year with the most occurrences of the number one.  It is a day for celebrating the self, and in particular a celebration of single status.  Singles day is the antidote to Valentines day.

Pioneered by the Alibaba website the day has become a huge commercial celebration in China, and is starting to spread.  For young people this is an occasion that is exciting and relevant and fun.   Who wants to stand in the cold looking at paper poppies and people crying while they listen to mournful music when they could be having fun with their friends deciding how to treat themselves this year.

Self-gifting is a really interesting form of consumption.  Much of the pioneering research in this field was carried out by David Glen Mick of the University of Virginia.  You can access a number of his journal papers here:   http://gates.comm.virginia.edu/dgm9t/research.html  It is a rich source of revenue that has barely been addressed in the West, but has been seized upon in the East.  Why should we not celebrate ourselves and our achievements?  Who best to know exactly what gift I want but me?  All I need is the excuse to reward myself, and not look too selfish!

Retailers would do well to understand the mind of the self-gifter.  How can you set up a display or communicate a product so that it says “you deserve it, now take it”?  Mick established three important dimensions of the self-gifting process that the retailer must understand.

1.  Communication:  This object/experience communicates something about you.

2.  Exchange:  You deserve this, it is a personal self-validation that you are GREAT.

3.  Specialness:  This object/experience is almost a sacred/ritual element that will complete who and what you are, because it is special and you are special and together you are unique.

Gift-giving is a ritual cycle.  I have written previously about the importance of ritual to human society.  Every retailer is aware of the power of gifting occasions to stimulate purchase.  Mothers day, Valentines day, Christmas, Birthdays, Retirement, Birth, Marriage etc.  If you can validate self-gifting for a person then it also becomes a ritual.  Singles day was established in China to embed self-gifting in young adults.  It establishes a habit of self-gifting which is likely to remain with people for the rest of their lives.

When you get married, why should you stop giving yourself a gift on singles day?

I predict that in 10 years, or less, 11/11 will be singles day in the West.  A lot of grumpy old soldiers will stand around the Cenotaph and moan about the erosion of values and crass consumerism.  They may as well try to stem the tide.

If You Forget Me; by Pablo Neruda

I want you to know
one thing.

You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
that sail
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.

Well, now,
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.

If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.

If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.

if each day,
each hour,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.