Thursday, May 16, 2013


A friend recently asked me for some non K-pop Korean music recommendations. For those of you looking beyond PSY and 2NE1, I would recommend 넬 (Nell) (perhaps not indie, but great either way), 짙은 (Zitten), Peppertones, eAeon (이이언), Epitone Project, 박지윤 (Park Ji Yoon), and Heart Shake.

Below are a few selections.

Disclaimer: There is likely little to no connection to my life in terms of the lyrics of most of these videos.

Yeah sorry if you thought the cactus song was going to be cute. If you want to feel even more emo with the same band, click here (not recommended if you have emotions). If you would rather feel better about life, proceed to the next two videos:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Weekend Recap

Friday we had a case team event scheduled at the partner's house in Riviera de São Lourenço, on the coast of São Paulo state.

Surprise #1: The landscape of São Paulo is quite beautiful, dominated by verdant mountain ranges outside the city. A surprise because the 10 million-strong city (and the doubly populous metropolitan area) is dominated by concrete towers. After we drove past the city, the suburbs (still concrete towers), the favelas, and some surrounding pastureland, the drive was almost as picturesque as the destination itself.

But still, only almost:

Surprise #2: A churrasco (which translates to 'barbeque' and was the highlight of the trip) is not the feeding frenzy I expected. As a team member described, the primary offering is caipirinha. There happens to be some (very good) grilled meats and cheeses which come out in small portions over the course of several hours, just enough to keep you from getting hungry without soaking up the cachaça.

(Non-) surprise #3: Where there are Brazilians colleagues and anything larger than a conference room's worth of space:

(Non-) surprise #4: Not even fair how beautiful the sunsets are here:

Saturday, back in the city:

Surprise #5: Even the concrete jungle is beautiful once you're high up enough. Based on a recommendation, tried to get to the observation deck of the Banespa building, originally built to house the headquarters of the Bank of the State of São Paulo. Found out it's not open on Saturdays, so I headed to the nearby Edifício Itália for the following view:

Surprise #6: Livraria Cultura. It's the largest bookstore in Brazil and basically a city for nerds. A giant bookstore/art/cultural complex on Avenida Paulista, with separate shops for Companhia de Letras authors, art books, music, foreign books, hobbies, research, special interests, etc. Here's a photo of one of the many shops:

Surprises #7/8/9: Feira de mau gosto. Jogos e desafios internacionais. Feira de bom gosto e dois mapas para adicionar à coleção, graças a Fodo!

Back to Rio!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thoughts on Verdi and Wagner

I had the opportunity this past weekend to attend two different performances at the Houston Grand Opera: Verdi's Il trovatore and Wagner's Tristan and Isolde. Below are a few thoughts on the two productions, which conclude the 2012-2013 HGO season.

Saturday night's performance of Il trovatore was, as expected, a stirring, high-energy feat carried by Italian tenor Marco Berti (Manrico) and soprano Tamara Wilson (Leonora). It's easy to understand why Il trovatore was Verdi's most popular opera during his lifetime, and why it is still widely considered the most melodic opera ever written. The tale itself is quite dark, culminating—spoiler alert—in a loving mother witnessing the execution of her adopted son, which simultaneously avenges the death of her own mother. In fact, something I have always found unusual about the work is the contrast between the sing-along-esque melodies and the gory details of burning at the stake, baby killing, torture, sexual anger, etc. That said, the action is so swift and propulsive, with characters entering the stage "as if shot out of a cannon," in the words of Eduard Hanslick, that one cannot help but be swept up in the work's unhesitating life-affirmingness (and then feel grateful for it).

A bowl of pork ramen (1), a few hours of sleep, brunch at Lakeside, and an iced Turkish coffee at Phoenicia (2) later, I was back at Wortham Theater (3) for the Sunday matinee performance of Tristan and Isolde.
  1. New favorite downtown late-night spot: Goro and Gun (306 Main). Craft cocktails and homemade ramen until 2 am—what's not to love? Also, they have a stuffed lion.
  2. Try the new iced Turkish coffee at Phoenicia.
  3. 3 + 4.5 = 7.5 hours is a long time to sit at any one spot in a 24-hour period. But the Wortham is definitely not a bad place to do it. Plus consulting is building up my Sitzfleisch (one of my favorite German words, literally "sitting flesh").
Back to Tristan and Isolde. It's difficult to overstate the importance of the work in terms of Wagner's career, as well as, in fact, within the context of the development of Western music (see Tristan chord). The narrative itself, Wagner's reinterpretation of a Celtic myth, is a "profound spiritual journey through the minds of the two title characters," writes HGO artistic and music director Patrick Summers. "For some, Tristan and Isolde is the greatest love story ever told. For others, it is about oblivion itself."

The co-production with London's Convent Garden was extraordinary—as cited in the WSJ's review "A Liebestod to Die For," thanks to "a magnificent soprano, a laser-focused production and an energetic conductor." Indeed, the performance by Swedish soprano Nina Stemme (Isolde), one of those once-per-generation talents and, for good reason, the most internationally sought-after Wagnerian soprano today, was both stunning and provocative. (Canadian tenor Ben Heppner's rendition of Tristan, on the other hand, though critically acclaimed, seemed a bit strained, at least during Sunday's performance. To be fair, in addition to originally being considered impossibly demanding for orchestra, the opera's title roles were at first considered unsingable, and the original Tristan, Ludwig Schnorr, allegedly died from the strain of singing the first four performances in 1865.) Another highlight was German director Christof Loy's insightful staging, which divided the stage into two distinct areas: a rear area that alternately served as the ship and the royal court, and a stark front area that served as the setting for the main characters' tortuous psychological developments. The delicate interplay between the two areas and the moving curtains between them elevated the dialogue between light and darkness, life and death, the "world of day" and the "realm of night" to a new level.

What made attending the back-to-back performances particularly special, apart from them both being excellent productions, was being able to compare landmark works by two 19th-century contemporaries—both composers were born in 1813, Verdi a few months after Wagner. As the program notes explain:
The differences between these two artistic giants and their divergent approaches to music and theater reveal a story in which we are still characters. Obviously, the world has indescribably changed since their lives, but we are still wrapped in the same conversation about art's purpose and role, and even the very definition of culture.
Patrick Summers writes:
Il trovatore and Tristan and Isolde intriguingly illustrate the differences between the two composers; Verdi's music seems to well up from the earth itself: solid, stalwart, immediate, and comforting. Wagner's is from another realm entirely, from something just beyond ourselves, from the spheres perhaps, but certainly not of this world. It is unsteadying, provocative, and challenging. Il trovatore's score has a powerful and propulsive energy; Tristan and Isolde portrays time as simply another dimension of the turmoil between the two lovers. Il trovatore's action is constant and quicksilver…the "action" of Tristan and Isolde occurs only in the final pages of each act, while the remainder of the work takes place in the minds of the characters. These workings of the mind—a set of exposed inner narratives—are revealed principally by the orchestra.
New fact I learned from the program notes that I would never have guessed before: Tristan and Isolde was originally conceived as a "small scale work that would deliver him the lucrative success of the Italian and French operas" of his time. Pretty surprising, considering the monumental nature of a complex work that marches on for near five hours as well as Wagner's disdain for commercially driven—and what he considered to be artistically inferior—Italian and French works (incidentally, the topic of a history essay I wrote senior fall). What began as a commercial project, it turns out, had dueling inspirations: Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophical treatise The World as Will and Representation and an affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of Wagner's Zurich savior and patron—evidently when Wagner and his first wife Minna fled to Zurich from Germany in the aftermath of the revolutionary movement in which Wagner took part, the wealthy Otto and Mathilde Wesendonck provided the Wagners with a house adjacent to their villa, where Richard Wagner developed an intimate artistic and personal relationship with Mathilde.

(In case you wonder, as I have, why Wagner seems to gloss over the forgiving King Marke's less-than-expectedly unhappy demise at the end of Tristan, consider that after sh*t hit the fan when Minna grew jealous of Mathilde and threatened a public standal, Wagner grew jealous of an academic who was teaching Mathilde Italian, Minna was sent to a spa for health issues, the Wesendoncks left Zurich to travel, and Wagner was left heartbroken and bankrupt, Otto once again intervened to settle Wagner's debts in Zurich before providing him with funds to travel to Venice.)

At any rate, a final word on Wagner from the program notes to end this post:
Wagner was vilified in his lifetime, an embarrassment to most of his fellow artists, an enigma to philosophers like Nietzsche, and thought by many of his contemporaries more madman than visionary. In hindsight, we can see more of the brilliance of his creations, even as his views and character account for endless debate and always will. He is uniquely uncooperative to analyze and write about, which the approximately 30,000 books about him can attest. His repulsive anti-Semitism has been examined and argued, sometimes simply dismissed as typical of the time, but that argument can't and mustn't erode the fact that Wagner used a portion of his fame to promote a set of ideas that became murderous in the twentieth century. Perhaps the fact that such a controversial and morally fallible man could write works of such unutterable beauty and depth can give us some hope for mankind.
Tristan and Isolde cast

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spring in Houston

Listening to:
Darius Rucker - "Come Back Song"

Feels good to be home (even if only for 48 hours).

Discovery Green
George R. Brown Convention Center
Niki and Jeremy on the lawn

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Porta dos Fundos

I used to check the weather every morning in Rio, as I normally do wherever I am. Turns out, there's really no point—in all likelihood, it will be hot (although this is starting to change now that fall is here), and there's a good chance it will rain.

Seriously, this is what the weather forecast sounds likes:

Another funny video by the same group, Porta dos Fundos, this one about Brazilian television/dubbing:

Monday, April 29, 2013


Another great weekend in Sampa. Gringos bringing down the house in Liberdade, feiras, Lina Bo Bardi's former residence/museum, and Fodo's plans to rule the world.

Wish I had spent more weekends here earlier during my time in Brazil...

Karaoke in Liberdade. Two months ago she didn't speak a word of Portuguese...
Residence-turned-museum of Lina Bo Bardi, MASP architect
Federico meets a cat (whose owner we later ran into at dinner)

Listening to:
Bob Schneider - "King of the World"

Sunday, April 28, 2013


More than a year has passed since my last post. And what a year—spring break, the rest of senior spring, graduation, summer travels, the move back home, the real world, a new job, new friends, new countries, old habits, and a whole lot more.

Why the long break? I could answer in part by copy-pasting what I listed senior fall as reasons for my lack of posts then.

There's not any single overwhelmingly compelling reason for restarting at this particular moment, but for starters, it's been bothering my (borderline-) OCD personality for months now that my last post was written with no idea that it would be the starting point of a yearlong hiatus. In addition, considering that my current life/work/writing is almost entirely in Portuguese, it will be comforting to share some thoughts in cyberspace in English. (In a Skype conversation with an old friend last week, I couldn't remember the word 'luggage'. Pretty embarrassing...)

Finally, I think that after the most change-filled year of my life (at least since puberty?), I have a few things I would like to say, as trivial and indirectly expressed as they might be.

In order to fill in the gaps as well as to indulge my unproductive fondness for nostalgia, I am going to pick up where I left off, halfway through spring break last year (with approximate dates), while simultaneously trying to provide updates on my current goings-on. Not going to pretend that I will be able to capture the exact details and emotions of every significant life event since then, but hopefully I'll be able to pause occasionally and reflect on some of the forces that shaped me during a year that has often felt like a constant sprint.

On a thematically related note, here's a Portuguese sonnet by Luís de Camões:
Mudam-se os tempos, mudam-se as vontades,
Muda-se o ser, muda-se a confiança;
Todo o Mundo é composto de mudança,
Tomando sempre novas qualidades. 
Continuamente vemos novidades,
Diferentes em tudo da esperança;
Do mal ficam as mágoas na lembrança,
E do bem, se algum houve, as saudades. 
O tempo cobre o chão de verde manto,
Que já coberto foi de neve fria,
E em mim converte em choro o doce canto. 
E, afora este mudar-se cada dia,
Outra mudança faz de mor espanto:
Que não se muda já como soía.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The finest gentlemen this side of Istanbul
Armin van Buuren NYE concert