Walking home from work one day

Oh, darn. We live in interesting times. Like all of us plugged in to the internet I receive international news and views and I struggle to digest the world’s currents and tides. While history is marked up for a hefty new chapter, I live my peaceful Spanish existence in my little flat on the Costa Brava and mull over my small preoccupations. I’ve got a few things to consider. Like when I’m walking home from work I can’t help but notice how humans feel about their habitat. Respect isn’t the word.

Captured plastic flies no further.

As I walk, I sometimes listen to narrated books. Currently I’m listening to Scott Aiello read a pretty tough book called Getting to Green by Frederic C. Rich. It’s been Getting Me Down. (I’m doing it so you don’t have to.)

http://fredericrich.com/getting-to-green/

Fredric C. Rich thinks the Green movement has failed on a number of fronts, particularly on preventing Climate Change, and they ought to do better. He’s got some ideas.

Twisted vines and grass come to terms with cast off packaging

The book holds many delights, the historical perspective, for one. Republican Teddy Roosevelt’s heart-felt belief that at least some of the Nation’s assets lay in lands and waters that needed protection for future generations (ie conservation AND capitalism). This philosophy is alive and well in successful Land Conservation Trusts where grassroots folk around the world have saved beloved pieces of land, even if those lands remain in private hands – not part of Government.

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1061428

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1061428

Democrat Lyndon B. Johnson was famous for his Natural Beauty Message; ‘For centuries, Americans have drawn strength and inspiration from the beauty of our country.’

http://www.azquotes.com/quote/1060638

Surprisingly, Republicans used to be proud of their deep and loving relationship with the land that is America. And it was Richard Nixon who established the much maligned EPA.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Qd4LJcSz8Vk?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Back in the sixties, when Rachel Carson sounded the alarm, rivers were burning. Air was unbreathable. Birds were falling out of the sky. You could see the problem. Industry was rampantly careless about their waste. Nixon’s admin had to act because that’s what everyone wanted. Twenty million people marched on the first Earth Day in 1970 and extensive clean-up programs sprang into being.

Redbull can lies on its side in the grass

Today’s problems are fuzzy. You can’t see the climate change. Environmentalists turn into communist the-end-is-nigh-fearmongers. It snows when Obama worries about global warming.  George Marshall calls climate change the Wicked Problem. Unless you happen to be in the way of one of those worst storms ever seen. Even then you’re only going to want to get straight back to normal, not cope with terrifying scientific mumbo-jumbo.

Leftovers

Please note Getting to Green’s subtitle; Saving Nature; a Bipartisan Solution. Okay. I’m all for getting to Green. I’d even like to save Nature. But, can we talk about this Bipartisan thing? Mr Rich describes the Great Estrangement (abyss) between the Republican Party and the Democrats.  He’s not alone in noticing this, of course. The Guardian talks about The Age of Anger. The magnificent Van Jones tries to listen to the opposition. George Monbiot pulls the curtain aside to reveal the gold paying the piper. Someone’s comments lead me to watch George Lakoff talking about framing. Speaking to a clearly Democrat audience, Lakoff looks at political dualism in terms of the American Family; the strict father vs the nurturing parent. The Democrats want all the nuturing for themselves. The strict father believes in tough love. If the kids can’t succeed on their own, tough. And the GOP want the message out there, training leaders and getting Think Tanks organised. A lot.

A flying rag and a cup

When I was at university in New Zealand we joined protests about apartheid in South Africa. Hundreds of miles away, the plight of Africans captured our compassion. But the opposition, in government, community and student flats, wanted the chance to watch a good game of rugby. The rights of the individual sports fan against the rights of the many oppressed. Either/or. Versus. Wrong against Right. Left against Right. Communists against Capitalists.

Drain with objects

Mr Rich thinks the Greens need to pull in their heads regarding negative comments about capitalism. The NSW Greens of Australia are struggling with this emotive debate right now. Mr Rich fears Naomi Klein is not helping matters. Mr Rich worries some Deep Green thinkers would even like nature to overwhelm humans. (Hmmmm … ) If only it were this simple.

Supermarket with ironic name leads the way to bridge over littered water

When I did economics at school I was a bad student. I worked hard to disrupt the class and annoy the teacher. But she persevered and I think I remember learning something about cycles. (This may have been Biology?) However, to persevere, does not an industry grow from a seed? If looked after, it may prosper and live a long and happy life. It sustains itself and the humans that work within. For a time. If it is sustainable. If not, it withers and dies. Like a rock and roll band. (Shit, maybe it was music?)

Roadside litter assortment

Clearly there’s a few nuances I missed because I don’t understand how capitalism can keep propping up coal power stations. Visibly polluting, getting older and not part of a clean energy future, how can capitalists possibly back coal? Is not capitalism about buying low, encouraging start-up and making the most of growth? Van Jones’s book, The Green Collar Economy, points out just how many valuable jobs could arise from forward thinking business minds. Corporate, capitalist interests are supposedly represented by the right, the GOP. But, it seems the Republicans’ big ol’ Tea Party is a little out of control. The heavy-weight CEOs now in charge have tremendous power. They can do anything they like. They can even change the rules to get more power! To what end? Interesting times indeed.

To my mind, this Estrangement is not only about two parties. It’s also about the missing middle. That’s three sides. At least. A bipartisan schism would be an obvious diagnosis if everyone voted and there were only two parties. 9% of enrolled Australians didn’t turn up to the latest election and it’s compulsory to vote in Australia. In the UK 72.2% of voters turned out to chose whether to stay or leave the European Union, missing over a quarter of the eligible voting population. In the States, only 55% of the population turned up. What was the other 45% thinking? There’s obviously more than two sides to every story. Maybe there are fifty shades of red? Blue? Purple? Green? Sounds like a bruise, doesn’t it.

Limp plastic bag beside the road

At the risk of sounding naive, what if we act like King Arthur and bring in a Round Table? Instead of the oppositional parliamentary system Australia and NZ inherited from Britain, what about everyone coming to the table with no head? What if parliament was reconfigured (the UN is a semi-circle – that’s a start) and representatives worked together to solve problems? What if there was no dualism but only folk bringing information to help find effective solutions for the greatest number of people?

Fanta can in grass

The Gandhi Experiment is a new initiative for Peace. Does a debate need cutting, slashing argument? Winner takes all? Or could teams work, not in opposition, but together, towards a solution?

Flat out after obstructing arteries

There is one sure way of uniting people. Bring in a common enemy. When the new administration in the USA threatened to sell off 3.3 million acres of public land, environmentalists were joined by hunters and fishers who fiercely lobbied to protect their common lands.

Blue plastic attachment on roadside

Can you imagine caring for your local lands so much you’d fight for them? Clean them up? Enjoy their beauty? Regard them as a Natural Asset? Guess I might just have to get involved. Suppose I could take along a rubbish bag and some gloves on my next walk home. Big job. Someone’s got to do it. Take a look at Walkers Against Waste. I think it’s up to us. It’d be easier with friends, of course. I’d better find some like-minded people!

Soft plastic jelly-fish amongst the grass

Finally, in case you haven’t seen Valarie Kaur yet, can you imagine the light at the end of the tunnel?

https://www.sikhnet.com/news/video-valarie-kaur-delivers-rousing-speech-church

(All three of these links are to a speech delivered by Valarie Kaur. I hope it works for you.)

 

 

Odsherred – protecting land formed in the Ice Age

People have inhabited Odsherred for centuries

I was incredibly lucky to spend Christmas in Denmark, the smallest Scandy country. Denmark is made up of a peninsula, Jutland, attached to Germany, and 443 islands, including the highly populated Zealand. (Copenhagen is on Zealand.) The tallest point of Denmark is 170.86 metres, on Jutland. The tallest point of Zealand is 122.9 m. This is before the elevation of buildings and burial mounds …

As a general rule Denmark is low rise …

At the top North-West tip of Zealand is a UNESCO Geopark in an area called Odsherred. It’s about an hour and a half by train from Copenhagen.

An information sign near Asnæs shows Odsherred. The area I visited is up to the left, overlooking the curving bay.

Created in 2014, this Geopark exists to protect and enhance landscapes created by the Ice Age. In general, European Geoparks exist to protect items of interest, geological, historical or ecological and promote development of the surrounds, mainly by tourism. Many information signs are available throughout the park, especially on the many walks. Apparently when the thick layer of ice melted it left deposits of silt which provided fertile soils useful for farming.

Informative signage dotted through the Geopark reveals how ice formed the land and stories of the earliest settlers.

Much of the smooth landscape was reclaimed and drained from swamp. It’s now used to grow potatoes and carrots. You wouldn’t think a park would encourage farming, or in fact any industry. But whole towns and many lives are entwined with the Geopark.

Wintery farmland Odsherred showing the curves of the land. I just missed a little family of three deer trotting down the hill.

I’ve been listening to a podcast, ‘Scotland Outdoors’ from BBC Radio Scotland. On a recent episode, The National Parks Special, the discussion ranges between Scot and American park experiences, both of which have to include people. Scotland encourages development in their two National Parks; housing, communities and schools grow within park boundaries. In the USA, the rangers are aware that in order for parks to survive, indeed, nature to survive, people have to visit, have to experience looking up and looking out into distant vistas. There’s just no getting away from it. The Scots and Yank’s problems are the same. How to manage the amount of people using the park so that the treasured beauty and original purpose of the park is preserved for the next generations while still encouraging people to feel free enough to enjoy the place – without trashing it or doing something humanly possible.

Mike Reynolds from the National Park Service in the USA said, “People that visit National Parks come to generate babies in these parks and then they come to bury ashes of their relatives. The full spectrum of the human experience is often lived through these places, and they’re very personal and they bring solace to people and they bring inspiration … ”

Not so sure about the generation (especially in chilly winter!) but burial is certainly true of Odsherred.  The Ridge path takes in several Bronze Age burial mounds.

Bronze Age Burial Mound

Aproaching a Burial Mound

Another Odsherred burial mound!

A Celluloid Age burial mound houses the ashes of film-maker Ole Olsen and his wife, close to Bronze Age mounds.

Modern Burial Mounds require doors

Esterhøj Reunion Stone celebrates the peaceful agreement to decide Germany’s and Denmark’s borders. The citizens voted to decide which country they’d prefer to live in. There’s no doubt this stone is well and truly in Denmark. It stands on a Bronze Age burial mound at 89metres above sea level.

Sejerø Bay nestles into the curving beach

The inspiration part of Reynold’s comments hold true for Denmark too. Many artists have lived in Odsherred, trying to capture the light and curves of the landscape. Two artists, excited by the creation of the UNESCO Geopark, worked with the schools of the area to create a celebration of people in the landscape. Even though there wouldn’t have been too many humans in the vicinity in the Ice Age, the park is all about people now. Lots of them!

There will be nearly 5,000 of these masks

All schools in the area contributed to the project

As well as geology, Bronze Age artifacts and medieval churches, holiday makers and visitors to Odsherred could take a look at Dragsholm Castle, the largest edifice in the area. Named after a stretch of water where Vikings would ‘drag’ their ships instead of getting caught up in dangerous northern waters, the Castle has been there in some form for over 800 years. The Baron of a century or so ago ordered nearby lands to be extensively drained and donated to the poor to see if they could scrape some subsistence living out of them. (Things have come a long way since then.) The castle has been used as a fort, a prison and now, a fancy restaurant. Apparently there are ghosts, including poor old 4th Earl of Bothwell, whose body was kept in the dungeon for seven years before they decided to bury him.

Dragsholm Slot really love their Christmas trees

There’s even a special treehouse at Dragsholm

Dragsholm Castle outbuildings overlooking remnant water

A forest of Odsherred

I imagine the forests, now still and leafless, must be completely different in their summer green wear. Even so, the forests are effective shields to wind and can block outside views even while cold and brown.

The coast is never far away in Odsherred with incoming storms quickly blown away and replaced by weak wintery sun.

Looking back to dry land from Korevle, where a sand spit has evolved into a large barrier creating the beginnings of a lagoon

Even though Odsherred is an evocative place in winter, I would love to return in Summer, when the Viking museums and art galleries are open. And, although I did enjoy the enthusiastic fireworks of New Year celebrations, I suspect I might prefer the more restrained bonfires of the summer solstice! There will be more people in summer, enjoying the amenities of the Geopark while learning about Sun worship and protecting our environment. For if we don’t have parks to share information and space to play in nature, we won’t have nature. And that’s us. It’s personal, in the end.

 

Have Yourself A Sh#*@!tty Christmas!

A Catalan Christmas is a shitty Christmas and that’s good. It’s tradition.

http://www.barcelona-metropolitan.com/blogs/family-matters/holiday-season-in-catalunya/

http://www.barcelona-metropolitan.com/blogs/family-matters/holiday-season-in-catalunya/

I was lucky enough to be introduced to the Catalan traditional Christmas by the youth of the English classes where I am a conversation assistant. They told me about the pessebre (nativity scene) where the main focus, for them anyway, is Balthazar, Meltor and Gaspar. That’s what they told me. Because, for them, it’s all about the presents. The Maji get into your house and deliver cool stuff on January 6th. Mind you, the Three Kings do keep the good v. evil balance going. They’re going to hand over some coal if you’ve been bad.

The Pessebre at the Blanes Library

The Pessebre at the Blanes Library, featuring the Three Kings.

The young folk didn’t use the concept of the Twelve Days of Christmas and none of the young people in the five classes that told me about Christmas in Catalunya actually go to church. Jesus did cop a mention but only in passing. Most houses will have their own nativity scene as will the local community.

The Blanes Pessebre has everything. Including the sounds of the steam train parked at the railway station and a working farm.

The Blanes Pessebre has everything. Including the sounds of the steam train parked at the railway station and a working farm.

Pessebres can extend to an entire village, including workers and trades. There is also a hidden figure, a the down-to-earth figure, the Caganer.

http://nightflight.com/more-crap-for-christmas-the-catalan-tradition-of-the-crapping-caganer-in-the-santa-hat/

http://nightflight.com/more-crap-for-christmas-the-catalan-tradition-of-the-crapping-caganer-in-the-santa-hat/

Apparently the tradition of the Shitter, hiding amongst the animals and shepherds, has been traced back to the seventeenth century, so it’s no modern comment on the current state of the church but is perhaps a leveller – all people do it. Either that, or the Fertiliser.

http://www.elperiodico.cat/ca/noticias/gent/arriben-els-nous-caganers-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-5415931

http://www.elperiodico.cat/ca/noticias/gent/arriben-els-nous-caganers-hillary-clinton-donald-trump-5415931

That’s not all the shit that goes down at Christmas. Catalan parents tell their children that a log creeps down from the forest, magically comes into their house and the family have to look after it. For around four weeks before Christmas Eve.

One of the kids from 3 ESO made this during class for me.

One of the kids from 3 ESO made this during class for me.

They put a blanket over its hind quarters. They can tell which is the back because someone has painted a jolly cute face on the front. Someone has also made two little legs, sturdy and balancing up the face for happy onlookers. And someone has put a little hat on the log. It’s Tió! Carga Tio! (That means shitty uncle, or log in this case.)

The Tió de Nadal at the Jam Hostel in Barcelona - going to eat that mandarin for SURE

The Tió de Nadal at the Jam Hostel in Barcelona – going to eat that apple for SURE

Once the Tió is in the house, and modestly covered, it has to be fed. It likes madarin and banana peels and bits of bread.

The giant Tió at Blanes. No mere blanket here - they've built a house for the log to defecate into .

The giant Tió at Blanes. No mere blanket here – they’ve built a house for the log’s defecation.

The teacher told me its actually quite stressful having a Tió because you have to remember to clean up the food each day. Her children worried last year when she forgot and the kids thought the Tió was sick and wouldn’t give them presents. Oh, yes, that’s why the children feed the log, you thought they were sorry for it, didn’t you. WRONG!

Blanes Christmas market. In case your Tió hasn't crept in from the forest yet.

Blanes Christmas market. In case your Tió hasn’t crept in from the forest yet.

It’s Christmas Eve. Everyone is anticipating fun and frivolity!

You can even get a knitted Caga Tió

You can even get a knitted Caga Tió

First up, the children need to go into their rooms and sing or pray for presents. On return to the Tió, (now suspiciously lumpy behind) the family sing a special Carga Tió song and they take a stick and HIT the Tio! They beat the Tio! Until the log has done its natural business. The song encourages the log to shit quality items or it will be hit. While it’s being hit.

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/dB_N7-HXTlI?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

The log poops out presents for the children. Apparently it goes over big with the under 7s.

https://www.reddit.com/r/polandball/comments/2ocsw2/countdown_to_christmas/

https://www.reddit.com/r/polandball/comments/2ocsw2/countdown_to_christmas/

The 14 year olds who informed me of this ancient tradition told me earnestly it was not true. Gosh.

Fabric Tió in Barcelona

Fabric Tió in Barcelona

One of the young people told me a happy family beat their log not knowing that one of the gifts was a puppy. Apparently the poor thing stayed quiet during the beating but was never quite right again.

They're everywhere, I tell you!

They’re everywhere, I tell you!

So, you’ve got your presents on Christmas Eve and on the 6th of January. Hang on, haven’t we forgotten someone? Santa Claus! Yup, he’s invited to Catalan Christmas as well! Strangely, I could find no images of Papa Noel shitting.

http://www.oulala.info/2012/12/linvention-du-pere-noel/

http://www.oulala.info/2012/12/linvention-du-pere-noel/

These kids get three bites! Tió only brings small stuff, like socks and sweets, while Santa, on the 25th of December, might get you something good. The big stuff comes with the Kings.  No concept of Winter Solstice. No longest night. No reason to celebrate except getting presents. Sounds okay? What about the fact the Tió creeps in from the forest, Santa comes down the chimney and, the Three Kings? How do they invade your home? One of the kids informed me they teleport.

http://maryandbright.blogspot.dk/2012/12/poop-log-poop-aka-merry-christmas.html

http://maryandbright.blogspot.dk/2012/12/poop-log-poop-aka-merry-christmas.html

The Lie of the Land in Granada

The Alhambra from Mirador San Nicolás

The Sierra Nevada behind the Alhambra

My visit to Granada, in Andalucia, was too short, of course, but I was greatly impressed by the place. It was easy to see how the lie of the land created the terrible human dramas that unfolded there. One side of the valley is heavily wooded, with constant running water streamed in from the melting snow of the Sierra. That’s where the great fortress complex, The Alhambra, looms over its surroundings. The Alhambra was built on Roman ruins by Mohammed ibn Nasr, founder of the Nasrid dynasty

Granada valley from the Abbey del Sacromonte. The Alhmabra is to the left.

Granada valley from the Abbey del Sacromonte. The Alhmabra is up to the left. You can see the ancient city wall along the crest of the hill to the right.

The land is dry on the other side of the river. That’s where cactus and caves are found. It’s a dramatic demonstration of power and wealth on one side of the river, and poverty, desperation and flamenco on the other.

View of the city wall from the Alhambra

View of the same thousand-year-old city wall from the Alhambra

 

view-behind-abadia

The valley behind the Abbey de Sacromonte

The hills are steep. The Alhambra was well protected from invasion. It lasted three centuries before Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand got their hands on it. They are buried in Granada.

The Alhambra is up at the top of the hill - and there's a river at the foot of this valley. No casual visit from t this angle!

The tower of Iglesia San Pedro y San Pablo. The Alhambra is up at the top of the hill – and there’s a river at the foot of this valley. No casual visit from this angle!

What made the Alhambra’s position even more inviolable was the constant availability of water. Long term survival was possible even if besieged by the strongest forces.

Water courses were entirely practical

Water courses were entirely practical

 

Often decorative, all the buildings centred around water and often had water inside the rooms to add tranquility and bring down the summer temperatures

Practical and decorative. All the buildings in the Alhambra centred around water and often had water inside the rooms to add tranquility and air temperature control

The medieval water channels, still delivering water around the buildings and gardens of the Alhambra, are over a thousand years old

The medieval water channels, still delivering water around the buildings and gardens of the Alhambra, are over a thousand years old, possibly Roman ruins that lie under the Alhambra.

 

In extreme contrast, the other side of the river is baked by the sun into dry, hard territory. But here, people managed to scratch out a living for hundreds of years. People who were disbarred from society. People who were oppressed, expelled and hunted down to die. The Spanish royalty had ways of getting rid of those they considered undesirable and it was hard and terrible. But in the cracks and crevises of this forbidding dirt they managed to raise families and eek out a living.


cave-potteryflamenco-heart

And yet.

Is it not strange that, when today’s daily 7,700 visitors enter the grand palace at the Alhambra, they walk into man-made caves?

caves-inside-alhambra

 

 

 

 

Blanes. Winter is coming.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Saturday morning in the middle of Blanes.

Blanes is a popular seaside resort on the Costa Brava of Spain. I’m lucky enough to be staying here while I work as an English conversation assistant in the next town, Palafolls. As you can see, the town centre of Blanes is a bustling metropolis. The farmers’ market takes place every morning but is particularly busy on Saturday.

In contrast, where I live, on the outskirts of town near the Camping Grounds, winter is coming and the shops are shut. Most of the apartments are empty and the hotels are boarded up.
blanes-masage-theraputico blanes-restaurants blanes-shut blanes-super blanes-wrapped blanes-backstreet
blanes-fast-food

blanes-mini-golf

I should add I took these photos on a Saturday at lunchtime.

The built environment

The built environment and the blustery day of Blanes in winter

There is one population though, that owns Blanes in the chilly temperatures.

blanes-cat-park

blanes-black-catblanes-catsblanes-cat-hotelTo the extent that some animal lovers have created Gatolandia – a cat hotel – to feed and provide shelter to our feline friends.

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

Gatolandia Birthday Celebrations

The area is very quiet. I am exceedingly lucky. Here is my apartment block. I think about half the flats are inhabited.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

My flat is the top right hand corner. The sea view is the bottom left hand corner.

 

This is the view looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

This is the view from my little clothes-drying balcony looking back towards the sea. I think about four of these flats have people living in them at the moment. The others are locked up tight.

In the other direction, looking toward the Tordera River and Palafolls, you can see the empty caravans of the Campings and the hills of the Parc del Montnegre i el Corredor, one of the national parks of Barcelona province. This ever-changing landscape is swept by winds from the Bay of Biscay. The cloud formations can be spectacular, or absent! On the point of the closest hill is Castell de Palafolls, now a ruin, which some of the young people at my secondary college have promised to show me.

My view in the morning

My view in the morning

 

My view in the evening

My view in the evening

Even though there’s nothing very natural about these built up areas, I’m sure there’s something still untamed up in them there hills …

Slices of heart wood

Hola from Spain! I am currently living here, working as an auxiliar de conversacion de inglis in a small secondary school, in a tiny town on the Costa Brava. I’m very lucky. I’ve visited much of the country, especially the North when I walked the Camino del Norte y Primitivo. I’m still trying to process my impressions of the last few months but here’s a little taste of the Camino – all 876km.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my little flat overlooking the hills of the Parc del Montnegre y el Corredor, I have time to return to this blog. I am learning how to be an English conversation assistant and hopefully, along the way, be better able to teach English. In between days at school, and typing, I am still restless. There is much to see locally, of course, but I do feel the need to tick off some of the big towns of Spain. I visited Valencia on the recent long weekend. It is a wonderful town of history together with a heady vibrant energy of rejuvenation. But one visit really tumbled me and it was La Memória dels Arbres, in the University of Valencia Botanic Gardens.

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

sun strikes Toi Toi in the grass section

I wandered around these gardens, a formal zoo for plants that was established in the sixteenth century, with no great aim. It is a lovely oasis. Living in one of the flats overlooking these neat and tidy sections would be idyllic. Birds flittered about. A sweet little grey bird with a pale orange chest chirped away above me as I sat on one of the many shady benches. It sounded like a little metal hammer tip tip tapping on a tiny fragile stained glass window. Or a miniature suitcase, wheeled along tiny cobblestones, tirruping along. The parrots came alive later as the sun rayed into the tops of the trees. I couldn’t see them but I thought they would have red heads and green bodies like the ones I’d seen earlier flying around the Palace. Strange how some of the flats face away from the gardens. And in this Botanic Gardens there are many cats!

cats listen to 'Imagine' by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners

cats listen to ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon sung lustily by a school of English learners in the school nearby

Finally I came upon an exhibition building where I found:

poster for La Memória dels arbres

Suddenly the world was coloured by layers of music and the smell of freshly sawn timber. The building itself has a beamed ceiling of heavy wood but it was the languorous guitar that took me down through the circles of time into this extraordinary exhibition.

Silhouette of tree in Valencia, Jardī Botanic

Created by two men who apparently went into the forest, hewed, carried by backpack and arranged the pieces:

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

Miguel Ortega & Jesús Julio Camarero, the men responsible for the memories of wood

I tried to think why I was so greatly affected by this selection of lumber CAT scans. Partly because I am recently from Prague, where I learned to carve wooden marionettes with Mirek Trejtnar of Puppets in Prague. Often Mirek would encourage us to respect the wood, respect the grain, feel the timber.

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

Pieces of Puppets carved by Mirek Trejtnar from Puppets in Prague

The wood memories selected showed the rings of ages. Clearly some were very old indeed and, given the changes and torments wrought over the land of Spain, had stood while many human lives had fallen. The slices showed the effects of insects, cold, drought and fire. They looked soft and so like medical specimens that once again I was reminded how human beings have much in common with other species. Even plants!

Slice of sabina

Slice of sabina-negra

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Although this looks bumpy it is in fact as smooth as silk

Almond wood

Almond wood

Heart wood

Shy and Retiro – the parque to be in Madrid!

The Prado is one of the most important, and popular, museos in the world. Here are some queues on the first of May to prove it!

Here are the queues I walked right by because I bought my Three-Museo Pass (Prado, Reina Sofia & Thyssen) the day before!!

The Prado is filled with history, not only of art, but also of humans and their relationship to nature. There are gods, of course, love, sex and death all captured by the male gaze; Goya, Velazquez, El Greco … It is an overwhelming place of virtuosity and glory. One needs to have a break. Go to the Parque, perhaps?

The Gate on Calle de Alphonso XII - put your back to El Prado and walk right in!

The Gate on Calle de Alphonso XII – put your back to El Prado and walk right in!

I sat under this tree and ate my bocodillo for lunch. It is a cypress.

I sat under this tree and ate my bocodillo for lunch. It is a cypress.

Remember when Babar the Elephant got to be King? One of the many kind things he did for his people was to make a lovely park where they could promenade and play. I’m quite sure Jean de Brunhoff modelled the King’s park on this one.

Imagine having an apartment over looking this park!

Imagine living in an apartment over-looking this!

El Retiro, or Buen Retiro Parque, in Madrid, used to be the Royal playground until it was given to the people in the nineteenth century. Like Babar’s park it’s formal, organised into different areas of play and people use it all the time. Lots and lots of people. It was known as the great art wonder of the world and is jammed full of buildings and sculptures. Even a Crystal Palace!

Amazingly there were hundreds of people walking around on this day but not in this photo!

Amazingly there were hundreds of people walking around on this day but not in this photo!

It’s a reasonable size, 1.4km squared or (350 acres in old measurements, which considering the Imperial nature of this place, is probably suitable). While there are other parks around Madrid (the biggest is Casa de CampoEl Retiro is the most formal, and the most central.

Fuente del Ángel Caído - perhaps the only sculpture of the devil in the world?

Fuente del Ángel Caído – perhaps the only sculpture of the devil in the world?

One of the highlights of the park is the statue of the Fallen Angel. The Devil, writhing in agony, was built by Ricardo Bellver, while the base, with the cheeky devils and creatures, was added later by Franciso Janero. They say it really is 666 metres above sea level.

Cheeky Devils!

Cheeky Devils!

Dappled shade for a quiet moment

Dappled shade for a quiet moment

There were people everywhere! Rowing on the ‘Pond‘. Picnicking. Canoodling. Walking, running, skateboarding, practising their swing dancing … There were folks chucking frisbees, bashing balls with bats, kicking balls and there were dogs. Lots and lots of little dogs. Some big ones, some running about chasing a ball and a white pit bull pulling her owner. And some cats.

Not the only cat in the park

Not the only cat in the park

Imprisoned rose garden

Imprisoned rose garden

At the foot of the Cuba memorial, the fountain plays

At the foot of the Cuba memorial, the fountain plays

The base of the Cuba memorial

The base of the Cuba memorial

Monument to Cuba

Monument to Cuba

There is a House of Cows (not open) and Velazquez has a palace! (Also not open), both exhibition spaces.

The rotunda not good enough for this band!

The rotunda not good enough for this band!

Buskers busked, cafes sold pizza, coffee and coke. The smell of sweet chestnut blossoms mingled with flying balloons and everyone seemed to be having a really good time. Perhaps they’d enjoyed the puppet show or one of the playgrounds?

Retiro_balloons

The competition to have your show run here is fierce

The competition to have your show run here is fierce

I approved of some unkempt areas where quiet souls lurked in shady nooks.

Gone to seed

Gone to seed?

It's not possible to escape battles and warriors, this is Spain.

It’s not possible to escape battles and warriors, this is Spain.

The atmosphere hummed. If there was shouting it blended into the happy relaxation burble that was Madrid’s Public Holiday.

It was the 2nd of May.

http://marcaespana.es/en/culture-and-singularity/arts/paintbrush-and-chisel

http://marcaespana.es/en/culture-and-singularity/arts/paintbrush-and-chisel

 

Three Fountains in a Paseo

Madrid is full of sculptures. You might remember these from ‘La Comunidad’ by Alex de la Iglesia.cranesI’m obsessed with Madrid’s roof top sculptures generally. I have no idea how they got them up on the buildings. Nowadays, clearly, they wrap ’em in bubble wrap and stick ’em on a crane. But, then, how? Slaves? Stood end to end? How did they hold them steady when they put the cement under them? Built scaffolding? These things are made of iron! There’s a horse, rearing, with his legs full of lead, down by the palace. That’s only a couple of metres but these things are ENORMOUS! On four or five storey buildings!

So much art in Madrid one must visit the Golden Triangle of Museos, The Prado, the Reina Sofia and the Thyssen. I bought a three Museo pass and went every day of the long weekend. Here is my brain after three Museos. 3-museo-confusionSo I went for a walk. What did I find?

Three big fountains; all in central Madrid, all in a line in the Golden Triangle of Art, or the Paseo del Prado, and two of them have magical powers. For football teams. Now, I’m sorry, I can’t go into details about teams and football stuff but given the theme of this blog we will explore earth, sea and fire. Let’s start with the sea.Neptune01The first big marble guy is Neptune, the God of the Sea. He’s in front of the Prado, the Thyssen and the Ritz. Location, location, location! Traditionally, if his team (whatever) won, all the fans would jump in, climb up and celebrate with him. After the enthusiasts broke bits of him off – trident ? – the powers-that-be now protect the sculpture, allowing only one fan to get in and wind their favourite scarf around the king’s neck. Neptune‘s got some traffic going on around him, quite a nice flower garden and generally high regard.cib-wideOn the further side of the Paseo is the Goddess of Earth or Nature, Ceres, or Cibeles, with her own plaza. She represents fertility and the lions represent our relationship with fiery nature. She’s got the big traffic roundabout. A lot of traffic. She’s also suffered at the hands of her football tribe over the years. They even found one of her hands when they drained the ‘pond’ at El Retiro. So she gets big protection, with just the one scarf, after a big game as well. cibmidshotCibeles has got some major company in the location department with the magnificent, highly ornate Communications building (art gallery, post office and town hall combined), America House (furthering Latin American relationships), and the Bank of Spain. Myth has it that the Bank’s gold vaults lie under the sculpture. Apparently, if an attempt is made on the bank, the fountain’s waters will flood the corridors and drown the burglars. Our tour guide is reasonably sure that’s why the fountain is currently under repair. He reckons there’s a few drowned robbers under there RIGHT NOW!cib&missile-buildingThe other thing about Cibeles is this weird missile building. I think you’ll agree there’s something a bit unsettling about it.

Finally in our tour of three fountains, is the least important to football fans, ApolloApollowidePoor Apollo. Stuck in the middle. The lost one. At least he’s got the Four Seasons so he won’t get lonely but he certainly sees very little traffic. He represents fire. He’s also supposedly the God of Art, Music and Beauty, but, according to our tour guide (Ramon from Sandeman’s Majestic Madrid Walking Tour), Carlos III, the king not exactly known for his well-balanced features, decided the face should be modelled on him. The sculptor (apparently Alfonso Giraldo Bergaz) did his very best but we all agreed it was probably ideal the head is far from the ground. Apollo-very-CU

All these elemental sculptures are in the Paseo del Prado. You can see the lot in 7 minutes. Originally designed as a promenade for wealthy people, this is now a Paseo for Tourists and very lovely it is too. That’s just three sculptures. Imagine what glory is in the three Museos? I just can’t tell you.Screen-Shot-fountains

Three gardens in Madrid

The golden angel sculpture is on top of a bank.

The golden angel sculpture is on top of a bank.

The centre of Madrid is a brilliantly-lit, highly-decorated, antique dreamscape. There’s people everywhere but let’s ignore them for the moment. Let’s look up. The buildings are ornate, very grand and to Australian eyes, very old. The sky seems close, I suppose because there are no tall towers, or even trees, blocking out the clouds. When you do look up, it’s to sculptures. It seems every building is topped by some grand beast or muscular god holding a weapon, wrestling with their own mythology. And nearly every building that appears to be a majestic castle, turns out to be a bank or the Department of Agriculture!

Ornate government building in Madrid

Ornate government building in Madrid

Over the centuries there’s not much that untrammelled nature can do in these city streets. Potplants cling to tiny balconies tesselated along the walls of the thinner side streets, the angular stalks of the spider’s web that is Madrid’s traffic structure. Eager trees lean into light that strikes into plazas or sidles into thin one-way alleys. There are, of course, many parks in Madrid, most central and famous being El Retiro, a royal retirement haunt featuring a large pond, a Crystal Palace and a statue of the Fallen Angel at 66.6 feet above sea level. It does seem on first glance that Madrid has successfully tamed and trained nature!

Botanic influences abound

Botanic influences abound

But three different gardens in just one small corner of the city captured my imagination. The first is the formal Royal Botanical Gardens, a kind of zoo for plants.

Orderly formal displays

Orderly formal displays

It’s on the Paseo de Prado and it’s structured into formal parterre on three different levels displaying plants from all around the world.

Tiny hedges for tiny plants

Imagine having to trim the hedges?!

Tiny hedges box in neatly planted varieties that sometimes, like banksia roses, do their level best to explode out of their cages.

Escaping plants?

Escaping plants?

The Botanic Gardens are surprising for the tranquil atmosphere in the centre of a busy highway. Joining the motos and the sirens, marching just a little further down the Calle, past that Department of Agriculture, one comes to another ornate building. Par for the Madrid course, it’s not a castle at all, it’s a railway station.

Atocha Railway Station

Atocha Railway Station

Inside this amazing hangar is a jungle. Known as the Greenhouse at Atocha Station, there’s a pool of turtles clustered together like insects at the foot of the ferns. TurtlesMist sprays over the plants and it’s possible to see some of the palm trees must take a beating in the summer. What a great place to come to the restaurant or one of the bars before heading for a trip on a very fast train!Atocha-int

Finally in this botanical tour of a very small section of Madrid is a vertical plant wall outside the CaixaForum.longshot-wall

looking-down

Looking down

From a distance this looks like a painting or a carpet. Close up it smells lovely.

wall-cu

Looking up

Rows of plants buoyantly fly into the sky. A pleasing way to spend an afternoon. And on the way home, why, what’s that building?

The Department of Public Administration.

The Department of Public Administration.

 

 

Oh, I love a good book club!

And, as I’ve mentioned before, the first evs Ceres Bookclub was a GOOD bookclub! CERES is a sustainability centre in the suburbs of Melbourne. There’s a cafe, nursery and education about renewable energies. What a cool place to get reading!

http://ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts/

http://ceres.org.au/tamil-feasts/

Our bookgroup centred around a feast, much intense, amused discussion and lots of inspiration. Three books were featured, Atmosphere of Hope by Tim Flannery, The Future, by Al Gore, and Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall. Tim was there in person with his reflective book and his science mind all filled with notions of mitigation. Of course, the mirror-like quality of his cover is supposed to reflect YOU – you are the hope for the atmosphere.

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/atmosphere-of-hope

https://www.textpublishing.com.au/books/atmosphere-of-hope

Each of these books were presented by smart, highly qualified speakers, experts in climate change, education and entertaining in their own rights. After an able introduction from the bookgroup organiser, Lorna Pettifer, Tim Flannery spoke about Hope, describing technical and scientific suggestions to prevent serious damage from climate change.

https://www.algore.com/library/the-future-six-drivers-of-global-change

https://www.algore.com/library/the-future-six-drivers-of-global-change

The second tome was Gore’s vision of The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change and Sarah Houseman was kind enough to distill that enormous amount of research into a digestible titbit.

http://www.climateconviction.org/

http://www.climateconviction.org/

The final book was the only one I’d had time to read properly (it being shorter!). Kirsty Costa presented Don’t even think about it, Why our brains are wired to ignore climate change.

http://www.climateaccess.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-even-think-about-it

http://www.climateaccess.org/blog/don%E2%80%99t-even-think-about-it

As George Marshall was unable to join us in Melbourne (he lives in Wales) he created an affable video, welcoming us to the bookgroup and introducing the major themes of his book. As we munched our delicious Tamil fare we warmed to his main theme, which I think was ‘share’. Here’s a basic primer:

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/IHyH3MPgZDo?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>iframe>

George is far more sophisticated than that, proposing tangible strategies for activists. He’s all about cooperation and converting the UNCONVERTED in a non-threatening manner. He took a tea caddy to a parley with the Tea Party in Texas.

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/419749627748518988/

https://in.pinterest.com/pin/419749627748518988/

He sat and chatted with a gun-toting woman, her family and friends for hours. He visited with survivors of a wild fire and toured New Orleans with survivors of Katrina to discover that the last thing survivors of disasters want to think about is climate change. As a general rule, folk don’t want to think about climate change at all. He notes that climate change is described by various thinkers as a ‘perfect’ or ‘wicked’ problem, in that there are so many reasons us human beings find it difficult to come to terms with.

George collects contrary thinkers. He discovered that denying climate change doesn’t mean denying all possible threats to the planet.

http://whyfiles.org/106asteroid/3.html

http://whyfiles.org/106asteroid/3.html

One of the biggest funders of an Information Centre warning of potential collisions with meteors or asteroids is a global warming denialist, Benny Peiser. This particular fellow even has an asteroid named after him, 7107 Peiser, officially listed on NASA’s website. ‘Peiser’s own website, meanwhile, routinely savages NASA’s climate scientists.’ (Interestingly, I can’t find Peiser on NASA’s website.)

George Marshall also examines funding difficulties faced by museums.

Smithsonian: David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins www.washingtonpost.com

Smithsonian: David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins www.washingtonpost.com

The Smithsonian is the biggest museum in the world. Its exhibition exploring climate change through time is ‘directly funded by those nefarious Koch brothers‘. That’s ‘twenty million dollars for the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins.’ The Science Museum in London has an Atmosphere Gallery. The primary sponser is Shell Oil.

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-12/03/science-museum-climate-change

http://www.wired.co.uk/news/archive/2010-12/03/science-museum-climate-change

Mr Marshall observes that writer Michael Crichton was invited to present scientific evidence at a US Senate Committee hearing, resulting from his eco-terrorist novel, State of Fear. Dr Crichton held a Bachelor in Science and he was a medical doctor. Hard to know his qualifications in atmospheric science. Certainly knew how to create a page turner and make a PILE of money!

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#/media/File:MichaelCrichton.jpg

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Michael_Crichton#/media/File:MichaelCrichton.jpg

Don’t even think about it is such an interesting book, I really encourage you to find it in your library. George writes about interviewing young folk at the coz play convention, Comic Con. He assumed these kids would be tech savvy, informed and interested. He asked them what they imagined for their future. He points out that we all knew what the future held when we were kids 50 years ago – it was Tomorrowland! But youngsters today? Go on, ask some for yourself.

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/a-special-edition-of-the-current-for-november-30-2-degrees-1.3343179/our-brains-are-wired-to-ignore-climate-change-says-george-marshall-1.3343261

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/a-special-edition-of-the-current-for-november-30-2-degrees-1.3343179/our-brains-are-wired-to-ignore-climate-change-says-george-marshall-1.3343261

Another aspect he explores in the book is personal culpability. Are YOU to blame for climate change? Did you DRIVE to work? FLY across the world for a HOLIDAY? Take a good long hard look at yourself (in Tim’s book perhaps!) George Marshall points out that conservatives particularly HATE being told what to do, particularly by governments and ideologues and GREENIES – conservatives REALLY hate environmentalists – BAH to turning off water! HUMBUG to switching light globes!

http://www.theguardian.com/profile/george-marshall

http://www.theguardian.com/profile/george-marshall

Don’t even think about it is an easy, entertaining and persuasive read. If nothing else, herein you will find strategies for dealing with rich Uncle Dan over the port after Chrissie dinner. George suggests listening to Uncle, trying to understand what his fears are, sympathising with his grief and stress co-operation rather than unity. Be prepared to learn from religions – they’ve managed to keep followers for centuries. Drop over-used environmentalist culture such as polar bears and Save-the-Planet type slogans. Mr Marshall describes his surprise when he recognised the Tea Party Activists had much in common with his own tribe of environmental colleagues.

What have we in common?

If nothing else, I’m guessing we ALL love a good BOOKCLUB!!

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/Dy68L5jglAg?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>
ceres