You’ve got to be awake to be vigilant

Roman Road

Roman Road in Spain. Personally I think hortensia is a much nicer name than hydrangea, don’t you?

You ever play ‘Risk’? It’s a game of world domination. You can’t play it by yourself. You have to play with others. You can’t play it above board. You have to play it in corridors of power (on the way to the toilet, in the kitchen, quickly on the veranda … ) And you never had those meetings. Your fellow players were mistaken. They never saw what ever they thought they saw. Allies are made and unmade in the space of minutes. It’s an all night, all weekend kind of game. It’s a lot of fun. Or not. Sometimes arguments are serious. People slam out the door, never to be seen again. But you can see the whole board at once. You get an idea of the big picture. And it changes. When it changes, it changes fast.

My father always told me I was a citizen of the world. Born in England to an Australian father and a mother who happened to be a New Zealander, I’m lucky enough to have been raised in those three places. I also lay claim to a bonus three years in Hong Kong as a child in the sixties. I may not have seen the whole world but I’ve seen the colonies. As I entered the last third of my life, I wanted to see a bit more of the board. I left Australia to travel to Spain in 2016.

Among the millions of people travelling the planet that year were people who were not playing above the board. As we now know, some meetings took place, which discussed alliances new and old. Some people swear they’ve forgotten all about them. Maybe they never happened. Or maybe they did. Or maybe you’re mistaken. Or maybe, what have you got to lose?

I was on the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Camino Primitivo, the first camino made effectively to keep the Moors down south) when the Brexit referendum result was announced. I walked up a Roman road with two Irish women. One was called Elizabeth and the other was called Mary. They both wore black leggings to mid skinny shin and only carried light bags because their husbands were carrying the big weights. They were staying in hotels along the way as opposed to my more humble albergue lodgings.

Queen Elizabeth I

Elizabeth I, The Ermine Portrait http://www.rmg.co.uk/discover/explore/queen-elizabeth-i

Mary

The Bloodthirsty Queen, Mary I
http://www.ancient-origins.net/history-famous-people/bloody-mary-marriage-reign-and-death-queen-england-004122

Victoria

Queen Victoria in her coronation robes http://qvj.chadwyck.com/marketing.do

And so it was that Mary, Elizabeth and Victoria marched up a two-thousand-year-old road in the North of Spain arguing about Brexit. Invasion irony.

The Victoria (that’s ME!!) carried a British passport and therefore had the most to lose. The Mary and Elizabeth were from the Republic of Ireland so their country was like to benefit from Brexit. It was rumoured that everyone was searching for their own personal Irish granny to get a nice Irish passport. Ireland would be part of the UK for the foreseeable future. Mary and Elizabeth were adamant that Brits who voted for Brexit, who believed those ads on sides of buses that turned out to be out and out lies, should be able to control their own religion. Religion? What sort of financial logic was this?

I began to feel uneasy. What sort of media were these people named for English queens reading? What was the priest telling them from the pulpit? Who was paying the piper? Was I merely feeling unsettled because I was travelling?

Not long afterwards I enjoyed one of those ‘free’ walking tours in Munich. They’re pretty good fun – for the price of a movie ticket you get some historical gossip and an introduction to the lie of the land and major monuments. The tour guide, a personable young blond fellow really from Munich, was laughing about the fall of London. Laughing. No, really, he thought it was hilarious that British people had been so careless with their place in the hierarchy. He thought, well, he hoped, Munich was next in line to the financial throne – as a growing metropolis with get-up-and-go technology and German ingenuity – Munich should be the next King. Lots of new jobs, lots of new businesses; the centre of Europe has to be in Europe, right? (Paris is looking good, Madrid has been mentioned … )

Brexit meant checkmate. The king (and the current Queen Elizabeth II) was out of the game. Europe’s financial king was dead. If you were playing Risk, and countries had formed a strong alliance, you’d want to break their stranglehold on the markets, wouldn’t you? You would want to take that alliance by the back of the neck and give it a good shake. You’d shake it so hard you’d rip its bloody head off. You would utilise the oldest strategy in the military book. You’d divide and conquer. How hard could it be? Who was likely to benefit?

Had Europe become complacent? Would Europe be safe from attack? WWII was regarded as the Hot War. Then came the Cold War. When David Hasselhoff brought the Berlin Wall down with a song, it was the dawning of the age of the Internet and if you weren’t wanking you were chuckling over dancing kittens. Communication became so personal it was impersonal. Information exchange went so viral it evolved into anonymous, flung itself into trolling and then started mining for gold. Not just Warcraft gold. Everyone was muttering, ‘there’s got to be a way to monetize this new-fangled social media’. Guess you could sell ads?

Russian poster depicting hammer and sickle in computer tape

A Russian poster from 1972 calls on us to ‘Advance with the times!’

And so came Trump. After Brexit I wasn’t even surprised. I’d suspected, after living through the desperate red-necked Australian male backlash against Gillard that a female Clinton would never get elected. Clearly there are some rich oligarchs who preferred an unpredictable buffoon to come out and dance madly on a strange glittery media minefield tweeting like a canary while they set about sucking the wealth from whatever backroom deals they could.

If you used to be the head of the KGB and you had amassed unimaginable wealth (think large dragon curled up on mountain of gold and jewels) why wouldn’t you want to disrupt the power balance of the world? Why wouldn’t you send a few Facebook messages out into the social media bubbles? What have you got to gain?

When Trump was elected I was living in a small town in Catalunya called Blanes. I used to go to Spanish lessons, which was silly really as most people in the small town spoke Catalan. The local lady in the bakery said, when I asked her if I should learn Spanish or Catalan, ‘There’s no point in learning Catalan. Catalan is a dead language.’ So I went to Spanish class. In our little group we had a Brit for a while and an Italian girl but mostly I had two slender young mums for company. The blonde was from the Ukraine. Her husband was a politician. She was a lawyer and lived in Lloret del Mar, a tinsel town disco dive the next stop up the Costa Brava. She had a couple of children who commuted to school to Girona. The darker woman had one son and she was from Russia. They lived near my favourite beach, Cala San Francesc. The area was crowded with houses owned by Russians who visited just once a year. There was a lot of Russian money in Blanes. I met Irina in the gym. She was from Russia and worked in reception at a Russian hotel nearby. I used to think it funny, the blonde from the Ukraine was the complete opposite to me. She never wore the same shade of lipstick twice, much less the same clothing. She loved shopping, preferably in Dubai. They had three houses, one in Lloret, one in the Ukraine and one in LA. She spent a few hours a day working online and then she was free to shop and go to the gym. What do you think she was doing online? I have no idea.

Girona was the first place I saw the giant banners that boldly stated ‘Si’ hanging next to the finger-drawn blood stripes in the yellow sand of the Catalan flag. There’s too much passion, blood, and dragons, in Catalan history.

Now I’m working in a primary school in Asturias, a place where locals are struggling to get their language, Asturian, recognised as an official language. Last week I watched a child leap from his desk, cross the classroom and attempt to strangle another child for merely looking at him. It’s just truth that some people believe they are more entitled than others. Some of us get jobs and others get sent to Manus Island. Snakes and ladders. But do you have to kick the ladder over as well?

If you were playing Risk, and you’d killed the financial king of Europe, why wouldn’t you want to destabilise the rest of Europe? You get Spain all stirred up, you might even break País Vasco – getting France hot and bothered for the price of one. And if the hot and bothered turns into war, why, just so happens you’re an arms dealer. And arms dealers are always open for business. Security Council rules.

Where did Napoleon come from? Where did Hitler come from? Where did Putin come from? How is Russia helping Venezuela? What’s China building in Africa? What are White Supremacists doing in America? Anywhere?

When change comes, it comes quickly. Can you feel the social media bubbles rising? What happens when we get to boiling?

What’s the price of peace? Vigilance.

Is anybody watching? Who is on duty? The FBI? The Spanish Government?

Trump says Putin didn’t do it.

Putin is brokering peace in Syria.

Theresa May scolded Russia, ‘We know what you’re doing.’

And what, Prime Minister, can you do about it?

 

Places of Power

Montserrat, Catalonia, Spain is a place of power and communications

The first time I understood the land itself could be a place of power was when reading Susan Cooper’s Over Sea Under Stone. Ley lines (pathways to and from geographic or historic structures) provided points where people of magic could travel through time and correct elemental balances. Bruce Chatwin explored this notion in The Songlines, a book about the network of power across Australia as utilised by different Aboriginal nations. Patricia Wrightson believed the land was the heart of Australia. She wanted to bring Aboriginal philosophy to white settlers as exemplified in her wonderful books, The Song of Wirrun

Many years ago I was fortunate to visit the Dharug National Park, near Sydney in Australia, to see the great rock whereupon ancient carvings depict a variety of creatures and symbols. As I watched my guide pour water into the channels to make them more visible, I imagined a great market place, bustling and full of invisible vigour. With no clear theory of their purpose, the carvings might have been signs of each product for barter or symbols of each tribe or hold ceremonial significance. But most certainly that smooth rock was some kind of meeting place, a place of transactions and a definite place of power.

American Gods, by the ubiquitous Neil Gaiman, resulted from his year-long road trip across the States. As he travelled he realised that certain road-side attractions were based on places of power. These were the locations where his homeless gods, brought by settlers from Europe and Africa, found their source of energy. I thought of places of power often as I followed the ancient pilgrim’s route across the North of Spain, El Camino del Norte.

Irun, the first Spanish town on the border with France, features a very old looking church

The gateway to El Camino del Norte de Santiago is in Irun

but it was not until Oviedo Cathedral that the concept of powerful places really began to crystallise in my mind. With its wealth of extraordinary relics, Oviedo, a kind of religious Disneyland, is the start of the Primitivo, the first Camino de Santiago.

Alfonso II of Asturias, the Chaste, the first official pilgrim immortalised outside Oviedo Cathedral. Check those walking legs!

The camino itself was designed as a kind of border patrol system by Alfonso the Chaste, who wanted to keep Moors down south – out of the pure and Christian North.

Which way to protect the border of Christianity, Pilgrim?

As we walked from Oviedo to Lugo, images of Saint James (Santiago) feature in most churches – the saint flying through the air on a gleaming steed, brandishing a sword and killing Moors left, right and centre.

Saint James (Santiago) lays waste to the Moors in Santiago de Compostela Cathedral

Luckily, your average modern pilgrim in breathable clothing just wants to think about peace and personal salvation and is probably humming ‘Imagine’ by John Lennon as they march along.

Santiago de Compostela Cathedral Pilgrims Mass – religion by technology

But these Cathedrals were most certainly built on places of power as are many monuments in Spain: the Cathedral in Santiago, the Alhambra in Granada and the Mesquita in Cordoba. The Mesquita (with Cathedral insert) exists now as a mash up of religious history but surely the site itself was a place of power to start with? Perhaps Neanderthals held parties there?

Saint James galloping through the middle of a mosque – the Mesquita, Cordoba

History tells us it was known as a Christian Visigoth temple and when Muslims invaded in 711, a mosque was built to share the site, allowing Christian and Muslims to worship side by side. In 784 the Christian side was demolished and a new mosque built on the site. Further additions created the second biggest mosque in the world after Mecca.

The Cathedral erupts in the middle of the mosque, Cordoba

In the thirteenth century Cordoba returned to Christianity but it was not until the sixteenth century that the Cathedral was inserted into the middle of the mosque. I suppose we should be grateful they didn’t bowl the mosque, as they did with fourteen other religious meeting places in Cordoba that were once mosques but the Mesquita was huge and probably prohibited its own destruction by its sheer force of existence.

This mosque could once hold 40,000 worshippers

From outside this block seems to dominate the area by the river. All roads lead to it, tourists are going and coming, and the surrounding merchants have set their nets accordingly. It is imposing with high straight walls and golden doors.

Exterior Mesquita by night

But from the inside? Overwhelming. As soon as I entered the Mesquita I wept.

Jesus in a Mosque

For over a thousand years people have come to this place to draw strength. Now, it is a Christian Cathedral but surely Muslims should be allowed to pray here too? Why not revert back to sharing?

Recently, visiting the monastery in Monserrat, another obvious place of power, I became intensely aware of sounds. The dog barking, the birds swinging across the sky and muffled chatter as we waited in line for the funicular, while the great stones of the mountain loomed over us.

Yellow belljar to take us up the hill – fun fair ride to the big attraction!

Waiting to travel, the cheery tourists took selfies, and the high tensile gnawing slowed to an intermittent grind as the yellow belljar aproached and docked, clunk, into the infrastructure. The noise of the cables muffled as we clustered together inside our tank, travelled over deep crevices in the land and people tried to record distant geology in their phones or ipads.

Recording geology on technology

In the information centre, sounds of the instructional video describe the origins of the monastery in 888 and the Napoleonic destruction in 1811. What compelled soldiers to climb the mountain? What were they looking for as they looted the monastery and printing press? What did they carry away in glee?

Taking photos and memories away from the Basilica, Montserrat. La Moreneta, the Patroness of Catalonia, is up and centre in the altar piece. Off to the right is a queue of people who will touch the sculpture. Eventually.

There were strange noises in the basilica, a distant roaring noise as if we were on a boat, and the tolling bells at 10:45 bringing the congregation into the church for 11am mass. The lights snapped on just as the crowd was exhorted to put away their cameras by quiet attendants. The orderly parade of monks entered, the first voice; clear, Catalan and commanding. The other monks more hesitant, following, elderly men, one trying unsuccessfully to cover his yawns (half dozen or so younger fellows around forty) most with thin white hair and bent backs.

The sounds of the organ rose, quiet but welling music – with a wide roaring of wind supporting the tones – not unpleasant but there. The individuals near me shaking hands, turning to greet their friends and neighbours, and hesitantly, me, saying Pau – peace, I supposed – and immediately caught into their own need to receive communion. Afterwards the eager pilgrims who rose up the stairs and arrived behind the altarpiece to touch the orb of the Black Virgin (another false idol like that adored statue of Santiago) who draws thousands to worship and adulate. They touch the globe of the universe. Tenderly. The rest of the statue is behind plastic.

They exit through a tunnel where people push hard, eager to buy a coloured candle, three euros for a big yellow, red or green tube to place in a line under a ledge of rock darkened by ages of wax smoke. The smell of dead bees and the warmth of the many flames urged me out and up to climb the mountain itself, seek the highest peak of Sant Jeroni, the clear air and whoops. Why, I even heard coo-ees as I reached the sunlit summit.

Heading up to the tallest peak of Montserrat, Sant Jeroni

How many people had climbed these concrete steps up the conglomerate stone lumps, like those sand castles that children dribble with wet sand as they play on the beach? How many Napoleonic soldiers took their sandwiches and lay under a wind tortured shrub to avoid the sun as they admired the view to the coast and down to the city of Barcelona?

Distinctive shapes of the conglomerate rock shapes of Montserrat – a massif that stretches for over 25 km.

The opening of the film Rabbit Proof Fence features aerial footage of the earth seeming, for all the world, to show the skin of the country as the surface of a breathing living being. The outcrops of rocks and sediments that make up Montserrat seem like a wart or growth on top of a natural force. Of course people would build shrines and contemplative structures here. It is a human urge to find a place of power to connect with each other, to communicate and seek strength, together.

Monastery tucked in among the hills of Montserrat

Donald Trump is currently visiting the great centres of religion in the world. Right now he is in Saudi Arabia, the place of Mecca, the home of Islam. Next stop, Jerusalem, the home of Judaism, and finally, he will go to the Vatican, home of Catholicism, proving all roads do indeed lead to Rome.

How deliberate is this journey to the great triumvirate of places of power? Is there something compassionate about the current President of the USA’s pilgrimage? Can we hope for communion, understanding and benevolence for fellow human beings? Dare we hope for peace? What do we think when we observe the enormous arms deal he takes with him? As described in Troy Kennedy-Martin’s 1985 tv drama, The Edge of Darkness, I recall Gaia’s black flowers that will grow to heal the world and feel that all we can do is hope.

Or perhaps there is more to do; may I humbly suggest finding your own place of power? Perhaps climb a mountain or find a ley line or some ancient place of religion and pray to your God/energy/force of choice? At least commune with like-minded people and gather strength from the earth. For, by God, it appears we’re going to need it.

 

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Seville, land of artifacts

Ah Sevilla, city of the sun …

El Torre del Oro – The Tower of Gold – built in the 13th Century – across the river Guadalquiver. Like Valencia, Sevillians tired of frequent flooding so they split their river in two. This is really only half a river. The rest is round the back somewhere, dilapidated and ignored. Smell that honeysuckle!

My recent visit to Seville highlighted the built environment; how, after centuries of habitation, cities were arranged, paved and decorated for the use of humans, exclusively. Why not? What’s wrong with living in a place and making it comfortable? It’s home, isn’t it?

Holy Thursday in Triana, across the Guadaliquivir from the centre of town

In Seville, the streets, shopping strips and housing areas were regularly hosed, swept and in many cases mopped with soapy water. The smell of bleach rose from the roads. Certainly in the tourist hub of Cathedral and Alcázar I imagined the use of weed killer to be high. There were no insects or creeping things to be found. I didn’t even see a cat in Seville, although that may have been due to the Holy Week (Semana Santa) processions underway each afternoon and evening. The crowds were so intense that all God’s little creatures may have decided to retire.

Parque de María Luisa : when a frog pond may not include live frogs

Some creatures were still in evidence; I saw pigeons and in the Parque de María Luisa, I saw a skink. There was a larger lizard climbing the wall of the Casa de Pilatos. There were plenty of horses dragging tourists around in shining carriages and lots of little dogs trotting through the crowds.

Compare the variety of wildlife on show today with those recorded in tapestry housed in the Alcazár.

I pondered the notion of our enclosing environment as I wandered around the picturesque streets of Seville, watching cheerful families, dressed in their finery, looking utterly glamorous, attending to the needs of the very young and the very old with assiduity. Small boys marched with toy drums. Small girls ate lollies.

With so many of the penitents being children there were a lot of helpful parents supplying water and treats to keep the kids going

In the processions, parents walked beside their disguised youngsters, some of whom gasped for air during the heat of the day, others handed out saint’s cards or sweets to audience youngsters with their hands out. The penitents walked with large candles, their heads covered by cones of different colours, high and pointed, best to reach heaven. After dark some canny kids collected wax from different candles as the processions waited, pausing in the streets, until they held large balls of wax drips.

Keen youngsters collecting wax from waiting penitents

Holy Week this year was marked by beautiful, consistent, sunny weather and, once lunch was over, people flocked to watch the processions. If not their own church and family, I guessed people knew where to find the best sounding bands (for there were some astonishing musical encounters that cut straight to the emotions) or perhaps where to see the best sculpts or flowers in the pasos.

A Paso waits by the Metropol Parasol (also known as Las Setas, the mushrooms) the largest wooden structure in Spain

The pasos did seem to be the biggest draw cards, the enormous weighty displays of the sacred family; grieving Mary and Joseph, or Jesus suffering under the weight of the cross.

Jesus Paso from above. I think the flowers were iris?

Thirty to fifty men labour unseen under each sculpture, which were heavily decorated in precious metals and fabrics as well as candles and flowers. They could weigh up to two tons.

Costaleros – sack men – who carry the pasos in groups of up to fifty men.

Each team had a different style; lifting and shifting the sculpture to bring the agonised sacred faces to life on their journey into the Cathedral for blessing. Shadows flickered across the carved tragic faces caused by banks of candles or flaps of thickly embroidered canopies shaking in a huge puppetry display. Some specialised in the beginning, perhaps a dramatic lift (like a Citroën) jerking powerfully into the air while others gained approval by a shimmery ending as they sank to their supports. Others needed to perform intricate turns in the twisty lanes of their way, shifting back and forwards in a dance.

Oasis Hostel watches a Semana Santa procession go by, just outside our window around 10:30pm heading to the Cathedral to be blessed. Then they came back again around 1:30am. Band still sounding good. Even through the earplugs.

The men did not come out for a breather. They were handed water in a cup under the velvet curtain and only once did I see the officials around them lift the heavy curtains around the base to let some air flow through. It was a feat of strength and teamwork, similar in my mind to the feat of Castelling that happens in Cataluña. While that teamwork endeavours to go up to heaven as high as possible, the outcome of carrying these pasos is to bear as much weight and decoration as possible, to work as one to bring a symbol of family and humanity to the Cathedral to be blessed. That’s how I saw it anyway.

Paso with tree near the Cathedral

A live tv broadcast showed the same Paso with tree. The tv was in a bar near the Cathedral where I enjoyed a refreshing gazpacho. I could hear the band playing outside as I slurped. Note the two young penitents refueling – not all the brotherhood were men.

As family groups gathered on the streets they bought bottles of water, packets of crisps, puffed corn snacks, and tons and tons of sweeties. There were packets of assorted nuts and lots of pipas – sunflower seeds – that folk chewed and spat out as they sipped their beers.

Settle in and make yourself comfy in the living room of Seville

People sat in lines on the edge of the road as they waited for the processions to pass – there were timetables printed in booklets or printed on posters along the way – seventy churches (or parishes or brotherhoods) would bring their offerings to the Cathedral during the Holy Week. Several different routes wound their way through the streets.

There’s no crossing the roads when the processions are moving. Even when they are waiting, the light says stop.

Bars were open to buy beer, pizza, calamari and tons of different ice creams or gelatos were available. And the rubbish piled up. Not just in bins but also near bins and, in the case of the folk waiting in line, just dropped at the feet. It was as though they were at home watching tv, knowing mum would be along to pick up after them. And she was; those ever-present cleaners got to work immediately after every procession. The last penitent, the last paso, the last official, the last band member filed past and the onlookers fell in behind like Titanic victims sucked into the vortex of the sinking ship (I know it’s a myth, I saw Mythbusters too.) In an hour the streets would be free of litter, the washing truck would have done its work and the officials would have removed all barriers and chairs to stack them neatly for the next day.

Nice and tidy by the Museo del Belle Artes early in the morning

Any plant life in this built environment had to be tough. Big fig trees featured in Seville, and in Cadiz, the first I’d seen since Sydney. Where in Sydney, lawn, or even a fringe of deep-green clivia knife-leaves might surround those big dripping trees, most of the Spanish figs I saw were surrounded by paving. There might have been a myrtle hedge or a spindly rose garden nearby but instead of lawn there would be weeds (whose days were clearly numbered). Attempting to avoid the crowds I decided to take a daytrip to Cadiz on the Costa de la Luz (Coast of light), another historic area.

Tempting soccer pitch in Cadiz

I love a good embrasure but this, in a seaside fort called Castillo Santa Catalina, failed to defend Cadiz from unsightly development

Looking over to Castillo de San Sebastián in Cadiz – an evocative fort that must have witnessed many a battle on land and sea. Note extensive paving.

Back in Seville, I relaxed in the famous Alcazár’s natural-looking grassy area called the English woodland. Surrounding it were formal paved gardens, always keeping nature in straight lines. Perhaps it was this contrast that made me realise just how much of Seville is paved.

Pot plants at the Alcazár

The patios I saw around Seville featured gorgeously decorated glazed tiles, pot plants and imprisoned trees. As I peered down from the Cathedral’s tower, the green of the orange grove looked park-like, but it was really just trees in boxes.

The view from the Giralda, the tower of Seville Cathedral. The Giralda is the former minaret from the mosque that the Cathedral is built upon. Check out that office tower! (Don’t you think town planning is an art?)

Vines in the Parque de María Luisa, particularly bougainvillea, with some wisteria or clematis, raised the riot-colour above pergolas while horses hooves clopped and scraped along the paved roadways. All those paved areas must be incredibly hot in the summer.

The Plaza de España is regarded as alien architecture, which is why it featured in Star Wars II. Also, this is not a horse.

Plaza de España was the site of the 1929 Expo. Given it was such a success, Seville thought they’d get into the act again and, in 1992, hosted another Expo. I explored that site with great interest.

Trains not running on time at Expo 92

No, really, there’s no train today at all

You’ll probably have to drive

Plenty of parking at Expo 92

The site of Expo 92 did not enjoy the same success as its predecessor.  Some industry has been injected into the area but mainly it’s a paved ghost town. Which leads to the question, can the processions not move to the more spacious part of the Seville built environment? No. They can’t. The pasos have to go to the Cathedral. Through ancient winding thin streets crowded with people.

From Genesis – ‘Let the waters team with countless living creatures and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of heaven,’ as quoted in Edward O. Wilson’s Half-Earth; our planet’s fight for life. Mr Wilson points out that wilderness is remaining land that is not used by humans. It may or may not be pristine, it might be weedy for instance, but it has been left alone. And clearly there’s very little of it in Spain and other European countries where humans have evolved, developed and paved. To me, coming from Australia and New Zealand where human footprints have left lighter scars, a thousand-year-old castle is almost beyond comprehension. And you couldn’t pave all of Australia. (Yet.)

One of the results of this manicured, cleaned and organised built environment was the paucity of diversity. There were plane, pine and palm trees aplenty. There were rose bushes. There was lantana and some oleander. But there was not great biodiversity. There were plenty of pigeons, doves and few ducks. But there were not thousands of species alive and well living in harmony with humans.

See the many different plant species surviving in the Alcazár.

See cute little tourist attractions at the Alcazár

Given the built environment in Seville, although lovely with Cathedral, palaces and windy streets, is not a great habitat for animals, I began to harbour doubts about how safe it might be for people (a kind of animal after all.) I happened to get caught up in a couple of stampedes, or avalanches, during the dawn service, La Madrugada, on Friday morning. Known as the highlight of the Semana Santa, the crowds pressed together to watch the pasos near the Cathedral all night long. I did not see any children.

The panic began as a swelling of sound, dreadful and ominous, and it swept up hundreds of penitents, thousands of onlookers and dashed us all amongst each other, screaming, weeping and falling. It was a demonic thunder in the night, the ground reverberating, people pushing and running and looking around to find it; the truck, the terrorist, the anything? It was just plain, simple, bare, terror. That was all. And it only lasted a moment.

Thank goodness, brave people, like a man near me wearing a grey jumper, lifted their arms and lowered them, palms down, urging the crowd to calm. Those various people saved lives, I’m sure, that night. As I turned back after the panic wave had landed me on the footpath, I noticed a shoe in the gutter in front of me. A cardigan lay crumpled to my left. A pair of glinting eyeglasses had been crushed under a hurried foot. Everyone could see there was no truck or shooter but equally everyone could see the man lying akimbo on the ground in front of the kiosk, and a girl weeping, sitting in the gutter, and all of us, shaken to the core, gasping and thinking of Christmas markets, Westminster Bridge and Nice. Police arrested eight people. They had incited the riot by shouting and crashing metallic objects together. Apparently in 2002 there were more serious incidents and I was told the penitents were schooled to go to the walls or lie down if there was a stampede. So the ones urging tranquility were indeed trying to prevent greater harm.

Just before my first stampede

And so the band played on, with their tiny trumpets carolling into the guts, the encouraging applause echoing from the buildings with the clouds in the sky acting as a roof, shutting in and magnifying the noise. The crowd approved and the procession continued, relief and alarm in awkward balance. As I made my way back towards my hostel the way became impassable. The panic happened twice more. People climbed light poles and trees. There was simply nowhere to run.

An elderly lady watched from a window above the procession. She looked so alarmed as people screamed and jumped out of the way of the phantom truck her hand went to her heart and then she too tried to press down with her hands, like that man in the grey jumper from before. Pressing down with all her might to smother the fears of the people surging in front of her. She made the sign of the cross over her heart and looked to the party-people crowded into the flat over the shop next to me, shrugged, sighed, shook her head, all the time trying to calm the crowd. I’m not sure but she could have said, or gestured, ‘It’s just panic’. The third time less people moved after something crashed and a high young female voice screamed in eerie isolation. The crowd remained skittish then, like cattle about to be drenched or horses led to the starting line, turning nervously and rolling their eyes toward any strange sound. An ice-cream parlour with five young employees lined up by their wares, obviously closing early, rattled down their metallic-grill door; a dad holding nervous girls in a duckling-line sought the least disruptive way through the continuing silently moving procession. This paso featured Jesus and his cross. He struggled on with his burden and the forty odd men under him worked together with all their might to bring heaven to earth for one night.

Once reassured, the paso was worthy of admiration and many videos

The golden light glowed as people regrouped, found their friends, realised they were safe with their families and prepared to leave. The elderly lady spoke at length on her telephone, her hand either on her heart or gesticulating with worry. Young people left the march with worried parents, distress and alarm writ large on their faces. After a while more parents pushed through to pick up their young people – the meetings clearly the result of texting – to embrace them and to carry them away even as they removed their cone hats, some walking in their socks or bare feet. As I left, further away, more people, with fresh picnic hampers, little fold-up stools and happy anticipation walked toward the epicentre. Perhaps dawn was near.

A few days later, back in Barcelona, I decided to visit the Maritime Museum. It’s near the port, at the end of Las Ramblas. (Well worth a visit for the Royal [slave] Galley.) Some colourful costume players who entertained the crowd of merry tourists grabbed my attention. A classic Alien creature, performed extremely well, slyly embraced a short hipster while his friends doubled up in laughter and tried to stop shaking enough to take their photo. On the other side of the footpath a duo of monster warriors had captured a father/son pair and were preparing to behead them with scimitars; warriors, costumes and scimitars all painted the same shine of silver. The father/son pair squirmed in hilarity while granny raised her phone to record their silly troubles. A jolly throng, dressed in colourful summery gear, soaking up the sun and Barcelona atmosphere, surrounded these ‘scary’ pantomimes. And so I continued around the corner and in front of me stood a giant, black, armoured vehicle, flanked by two large police officers holding machine guns at the ready.

In my lifetime the population of the world has more than doubled. Our home is smaller and smaller. There is no room for terror. There is barely enough room for us.

Seville, city of cleans

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