Tag Archive | Camino de Santiago

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?

 

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