Category Archives: Art

Searching for Mervyn Peake in Sark

Arrrr, those pesky pirates! You know the sort; nasty, violent, GREEDY? Take what they want, arrrr, and care not one whit for the contentment of the many, nor even of the few wealthy owners, nor even for that super royal family to whom tax is most certainly due.

Peake pirate from https://i.pinimg.com/originals/ce/f1/86/cef186f038796cc4d647be6035063f1f.jpg

Queen Elizabeth I (arrrr) knew all about pirates and she didn’t like them. She’d seen too many ships disappear, together with her income, and she wanted the pestilence fixed. Looking toward the Continent, she could tell Jersey and Guernsey were populated and policed enough, but Sark, a teeny island, a craggy outcrop of rock, drilled through by the sea until it resembled Swiss cheese, was trouble. Sark, even now holding the honour of the most caves of the Channel Islands, was riddled with pirates.

Peake’s first published work was Captain Slaughterboard, written and illustrated by Mervyn himself

Queen Liz wanted Sark cleaned up. She gave the entire island of 4.5 square miles (Sark 2017 Official Map) to a Lord, The Seigneur, and charged him with protecting her waters and getting rid of the blasted bandits.

The Seigneur, in his turn, allowed thirty-nine of his closest armed friends to rent a cheap piece of Sark so long as they kept guard. All they had to do was keep it free of pirates and enjoy the sort of dreamy rural existence made romantic by HE Bates. It can’t have been easy, I’m sure. The early settlers might even have had trouble finding topsoil on that windy place. But they soon found enough to grow sheep, vegetables and send their children off to fee-paying English schools and eat delicious French food. They invented lazy summer holidays and horse-drawn tourist peace and all was well.

After a few hundred years came World Wars and German invasion. This was difficult but eventually the locals overcame the barbed wire and life went on in the same idyllic manner. But, what if, after 450 years of dutiful protection, the locals became complacent? What if they forgot their obligations to the crown and their duty to protect Sark? What if modern pirates began circling the island in their helicopters with their fancy new technologies? What would happen if the Sarkese didn’t realise they were under attack until it was too late?

Peake apparently knew Treasure Island by heart http://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/ea29c77f532850e2945dc298b35da651.jpg

I was awarded the Titus Groan trilogy for debating at a small girls’ school in Dunedin, New Zealand. Even when staring at the pencil illustrations on the covers, I knew I’d been handed the key to another world.

http://mervynpeake.blogspot.com.es/2011/05/illustrated-gormenghast-anticipation.html

The Gormenghast books were satire, adventure and a description of enclosed society. Mervyn Peake, artist and writer (as much as those two roles can be separate in his life) conceived and wrote much of the trilogy when Peake and his family lived on Sark. Much has been written about his childhood in China and how that experience might have contributed to the strangeness of his creation, but having visited Sark, I think that’s where he found the core of Gormenghast.

The Peakes moved to Sark in 1946 and lived an arcadian lifestyle for three years as he planned the series. As a single man he had lived on Sark for four years before the war, in an artist’s colony. He was an eccentric fellow with a pet cormorant and a penchant for nudism. He became an art teacher and a war artist later. 

https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw07779/Mervyn-Laurence-Peake

Seventy years on, I went to Sark in search of Peake, hoping to find evidence of his inspiration. He was the first world builder I’d ever encountered, in words or pictures.

“My voice has all the lushness
of what I can’t abide

And yet it has a beauty
most proud and terrible
denied to those whose duty
is to be cerebral.”

To me, Peake was more than a friend. He was a soulmate.

Waiting to buy tickets for the ferry at Granville

To get to Sark, one must travel by sea. Port de Granville of France was not colourful. The buildings were grey, beige or cream or a clotted mix and the sea was slate grey. The sky was filled with ashen clouds. The boats were once white with an odd faded blue for contrast. As I waited for the ferry I watched the floating world go by. As the ferry prepared to leave, I watched two men and a clump of fishing rods bump out of the protection of stone walls in a surprising bright yellow inflatable.

This is not the ferry. A fellow traveller.

It’s difficult to imagine how those old sea walls could possibly have been built without the aid of cranes and heavy engineering equipment. I suppose each wall, built on the remains of the previous, becomes stronger over the ages, like nearby Mont Saint-Michel, a dramatic medieval castle-cathedral, which may also have influenced Peake.

Mont St Michel

Au revoir La France! A bientôt!

From Granville we sailed to Jersey. “In Transit” whilst at Jersey meant walking off the boat, waiting for customs to look at the passport, getting a new boarding pass, walking to the waiting room and, without sitting down, getting in the queue to return with treble the amount of people wanting to visit Sark. In less than an hour we were on our way again, past a proud fort crouched on the Jersey coast fringed with cranes poised this way and that. Jersey, as far as I could tell, was an island plagued with developers.

Jersey fort

On board the ferry, I stood on deck, leaning into a bend in the rail, loving the rise and fall, the spray from the ploughed waves stinging my face. The wind was icey but there was warm sun on my back and soon enough we neared Sark waters. Rocky waters. Great dark craggy outcrops jagged from the white water all around the cliffs. A black tidal mark or plimsoll line bruised the rocks just above the water where the waves have engraved a thinner waist for the island.

Black lichen high water mark around Sark

Extraordinary harbour walls featured steep steps up to a road, which wound through a tunnel in the cliff. I found it difficult to imagine the grasping hands and burning backs, tearing muscles and broken legs; the vision and the technology that had to be utilised to build these sea walls.

Maseline is the main harbour of Sark, where the ferry and the mail boat visit – and not every day. The weather conditions are extreme. The sailors must be very skilled indeed to negotiate their paying customers up and down the steep steps to the ferry.

I puzzled, how could those early tenants have tamed the fierce thundering waters long enough to build towering stone walls right into it?

Welcome to Sark

There, through that proscenium cliff archway, was a walk up the hill. You could catch a tractor ride if you preferred but I chose the lovely green twisty path, and on, straight up the dusty thin carless road to the Sark Visitor’s Centre.

Leading us up the Sark garden path

My first impression of Sark town centre was ‘English Country Garden’. It was all very picturesque and human scale, apart from the giant vibrant begonias in all the bridesmaid colours of the world. I had no idea they could grow that big!

Over-sized begonias in the Sark garden experience

Sark seemed almost too good to be true.

The information officer told me that not many people come to Sark to seek Peake. What? REALLY?! The only reason I came was Peake. What else could there possibly be?

On the way up the main road it was difficult to ignore the amount of shops for rent and closed businesses. One entire side of the street was empty. Shut. This was peak tourist season – the middle of summer – August. The information woman told me crossly it was because of the cost of electricity. Far too high. (And not one solar panel in sight.)

I trooped off to La Vallete Campsite (a couple of paddocks on the cliff edge of a farm) where I put up my borrowed tent. When I fronted at the campsite ‘office’, more a mud-room entry space really, Linda said she found all her emails blurred into one – which camper was I? What did I want? Exactly? Just a place to lay my weary head.

Incredibly grateful that Roseann, Olivier and Mike lent me their tent!

I was unused to camping, unprepared and unskilled. I chose a site close to the edge of the cliff, though fenced in on two sides with blackberries. It appeared someone had desecrated the corner with some toilet paper streamers. They had been rained on. I tucked them back into the blackberry bush with the tent-peg mallet, of which there were several on offer. I put the small end of the tent into the prevailing wind but who knew where the wind would blow next?

There were a few puffy clouds looking thoughtful and attractive about this intense blue sky while the sun beat down meaningfully. Several charming yachts were drifting below, parked in La Grève de la Ville like a school of tethered white and blue tuna.

What sort of pirates sail the high seas?

What to do next? Obviously I had to go to the Vicar’s Fête, one of the Sark calendar highlights. Apparently the Peake family had lived nearby in a housed called Le Chalet. While I struggled to decide what book to buy at the bookstall (couldn’t) the auction began. I assumed the auctioneer was none other than the vicar himself and he proceeded to give a progress report of the Fair. There was a loud cry of despair from two women next to me when they heard there were no cakes left. A chap muttered to the bookseller, ‘Well, I’m not surprised. There weren’t many to start with.’ Suddenly I looked left and right. Was I in an episode of Midsummer Murders? The all white and cashmere Vicarage workers were certainly over fifty years old (many harking back fondly to their seventieth birthday). A small gang of vaguely Gothic teens/early twenties lounged on the grass to prove the exception.

The Bank. Summer outfit.

As I left the Fête, I noted a few summer visitors – I suspect you wouldn’t get called tourists – harrying their children around on bicycles. Because there’s no cars and you can easily hear a tractor on the way, or one of the horse-drawn carts, children hoon about freely.

Up by the path to the lighthouse (now an Airbnb with no public access) I found a well-placed bench overlooking the yachts to my left and several rugged rock islets scattered over the waters to my right. The waves were rustling below, tickling the shore. I could hear seagulls crying out somewhere and behind me in the bush grasshoppers (or crickets) sang a high-pitch bed of noise.

With lighthouse to the right and La Grève de la Ville to the right, my dinner bench was a peaceful spot

As I ate my dinner I watched currents moving under the water. The current coming around to the right (towards Maseline Harbour) was smooth, in contrast to choppy scuff marks sweeping the current along. It was as though someone had come through with a big wooden spoon and made a curvy pattern across my sea view. A speedboat ripped across the water. Dark navy depths rejoined as the white zipline faded away. The water then had a nap, brushed wrong way in a pleasing curve around me and smoothed further out like a rainbow arc but all tones of navy stripes. Then came a flotilla of small jet boats – possibly fisher folk returning for their dinner? Possibly cocaine smugglers for cocktail hour?

Les Fontaines where there are definitely smugglers caves just out of frame

The next morning I skittered down steep stairs to La Fontaine Bay, a sheltered and rocky smuggler’s cove where the sun blasted down. A seagull in the distance tangled with a plane far too high, altogether there were far too many planes roaring overhead. There were two great caves on the opposite side of the bay. I thought the tide was out because the seaweed was still fresh wet on the rocks. I thought of Peake, and Titus, as he might have walked these rocks and pathways, and how the woman in the tourist information office said, ‘Well, he’s not everyone’s cup of tea, is he.’

A local grandfather made the Epeguerie rock pool many years ago. It’s leaking now. And, look, there’s George’s boat taking a load of tourists around the island!

I spent a good part of the day in my togs staring in a rockpool instead. The rock pools were heaving with little fish. When I assumed the gazing position, rubbernecking into the shallow twinkles, two fish came to look at me as if they were watching telly. They watched me watching them. Another swam through. Quickly. Then another. One of the watchers changed position, coming a little closer. They all kept a steady eye on me.  A darker one took shelter on an outcrop, just under the surface. As a fragile cluster of guppy things swam by, the dark one up above slapped the water somehow, making a surprising snappy clapping. I took up various positions around this Grandpa-made pool, leaking slightly now, but still absorbing viewing.

I marched up to the nose of the island, Bec du Nez, where seagulls sit like complacent white crowns on royal lumps of rock, their soft feathers littering the sheep-gnawed grass around them. It’s called the common and the guide suggests counting butterflies. Too many flutter by and I take it the counting is a joke. Mostly quiet brown creatures, perhaps with a spot or a bit of pale and some colourful ones too with flashes of orange and yellow. I mainly walked around the Eperquerie area, eating far too many blackberries. I wanted to get to the historical society in time to enquire about the ruins up there and ask what that black stain is. I took a bit more of a stroll to examine the Buddist carving on a rock. Not sure why it’s there. And then a snooze in the sun.

Perhaps the Buddhist carving is simply for us to ponder while relaxing in the sun or, maybe, it is to protect the island from evil.

When I eventually regained enough strength to eat more blackberries I got back on track and hit town too late for the historic society. Turned off by the Sunflower Café but admired the Sunflower Project, a two acre field donated by the farmer to grow sunflowers and other plants for birds and insects. Very happy to see Shenanigans Café open where a friendly young lady from Cardiff lent me her charger, made me a coffee, and a cherry jam sandwich. They even employed a solar panel or two. All well with the world.

Although impressed by the ancient windmill, I was saddened the bakery was no longer used. In fact, there’s no bakery open at all on the island. Here’s an opportunity for someone to run the place the way it used to be. Or stick up a new windmill to get things cooking. (Could they afford the thousand-pound-a-week plus rent the owners are asking for the bakery on the main road?)

The windmill’s wings are clipped (off)

The next day I woke to the tent flapping briskly in the wind. I had a dream in which I was picked up (while still in the tent) and moved to a hall. In my dream hall, many people were sleeping next to each other. I woke up (in the dream) to find myself between two bickering young men. One stretched out, over me, to annoy the other and I slapped his arm lightly. He was upset but I didn’t care. A young doctor came to look at my prone self. She looked worried. They hadn’t been able to wake me previously. I reassured her that I was in fine fettle. I must have fallen into such a deep sleep because I’d been awake after I thought I’d lost my wallet.

This last bit was true. I wanted to see the famous Dark Sky so when I woke I jumped at the chance to wander over to the toilet block. But I didn’t need a torch. The sky was bright. There was a full glorious moon. As I watched she pulled an elegant cloud-veil across her face. I dreamily went to watch the lighthouse flashing around the bay. This was the sign-posted lighthouse, now closed to the public, certainly a working warning light so that was reassuring. No big boats about to crash into the cliff. When I arrived back to the tent I discovered my wallet missing. Panic. Flashed the torch everywhere it might have been. Raced back to the loo and the lighthouse viewpoint. Started planning survival strategies. Got back to tent, tried to avoid dew soaked tent flap, began sorting and found wallet straightaway. Thank goodness. Asleep immediately to dream the wind picked me up. But it didn’t.

It was all just the wind in the tent. 

La Coupée is a very thin and wind vulnerable connection between Sark and Little Sark. Note the droppings left by the most popular form of tourist transport.

The next day I walked over the steep, curving La Coupée, a road built and fenced by prisoners of war, to Little Sark. Believing strongly in discretion above valour, I decided not to climb down to the Venus Pool alone. Looked arduous and I still had time to return to the historical society. If no one hears you scream did you actually fall to your death off a rocky cliff?

At the peak, I lounged on a soft patch of vivid green with tiny stalks bearing little cups of crispy white petals. Sark. Blackberries, sweet as desire. Butterflies, light and mobile as an already forgotten thought.

Sun bore down in full force, sea birds wheeled around and overhead. Many spattered brown birds – herring gulls? No wonder Peake thought of angels when he came to write Mr Pye, his book actually set on Sark. The jagged landscape is covered in fluffy white feathers.

I was so KEEN. Arrived at the historical society office 12:25 with plenty of time before they shut. Popped in to the loo, no potable water there and came to stand in line at the Heritage Room. Or rather, I waited in the corridor. A man held forth to a small elderly lady. She did not see me but I sort of bowed to the gentleman to indicate that I intended to move into the room, was that allowed? He met my gracious greeting with a blank stare I took to be assent so I moved into the space. Glass cabinets and folders of information about Sark surrounded me. I looked up the meadow pippet in birds of Sark, as the meadow pippet is my favourite bird. I think I may have seen a rock pippet near the old mines. I could find, as I slowly perambulated around the room, precisely nothing about Mervyn Peake. Nothing about pirates or the dark plimsoll line.

Meanwhile, the man held forth about the crimes of the British education system. He used to be a headteacher. He despaired at the constant measuring to which children are subjected in the current British system. As does his wife, a sixty percenter, but working full-time. As it turned out, you wouldn’t believe it, he, Richard, came from Wollstonecraft (or somewhere), which is EXACTLY where the thin, elderly lady’s brother and sister-in-law reside. Extraordinary coincidence. After that they spoke about the exhibits in front of them, neolithic axe heads and other items of geological interest. I believe he may now be a geologist of some sort. They were getting on splendidly and I’d perused the flowers of Sark and the rocks of Sark and the moths of Sark and the interesting beads, possibly made from Baltic amber found around Sark, when I realised these two had just begun to warm up. I took my departure (unnoticed) and headed to the Post Office where I intended to buy and post postcards.  And there, at last, in The Gallery Stores and Post Office, I found Mervyn Peake and his creations.

After dealing with postcards I went back to request the nearest potable water tap at tourist information. While I waited I looked through a beautiful coffee table book, ‘Art for the Love of Sark’. This is the record of an inspirational visit to Sark by twenty artists from Artists For Nature (http://www.artistsfornature.com/projects/sark/) It is a remarkable venture and I urge you to peruse the website and buy the book, if you can. One of the artist members, Rosie Guille, runs a delightful little gallery on the main street of Sark where you can pick up the book, perhaps one of her own evocative paintings or practice the art yourself. Here is her online gallery: https://rosanneguilleart.com/

 

http://www.sark.co.uk/958-958/

Back in the Sark Visitor Centre, the kind officer offered me the still warm water from her kettle. She preferred to boil the bore water. They have a good water table. Don’t need to go down too far. I remarked upon the lack of visible water tanks and that bore water is, of course, finite. She felt not. A good water table is a water table for good. I continued in my strident, visitor knows best sort of way, surely that’s the problem in California? She said, ‘Sark gets more rain than California.’ I said, ‘Isn’t that a good reason for water tanks?’

Didn’t seem like a smooth conversation did it, so I bought up Mervyn again. I wouldn’t let him go, I just couldn’t, and I said what a shame it was there was no shrine to this great writer. She said, ‘There’s a lot of artists that came from Sark. They couldn’t possibly commemorate them all.’

I said, ‘Like who?’ She said, ‘Cheeseplate and Topless’, people I hadn’t heard of so I added, ‘Oh yeah,’ I muttered dismissively, ‘And let’s not forget Victor Hugo!’ 

One of the closed hotels features a bar honouring Victor Hugo

Wasn’t it amazing that Victor Hugo had only been on the island for two weeks and he had a cave and a bar named after him while Peake had lived here for seven years? ‘Oh, she said, ‘Hugo was here longer than that.’ I said, ‘Not according to the pamphlet over there … ‘ And she looked askance at me.

Well, they hedge their bets, don’t they …

In order to lighten the atmosphere I added that I had started to see Gormenghast as a satire about Sark itself, what with all that inherited fifedom, and the enclosed nature of the island. She hadn’t read it but agreed that although many people had wanted democracy in 2008, many had wanted the island to stay the way it was. Is that so? To swing it all back to Mr Peake and his glory, I said it was a shame there was nothing available in the tourist information shop about him and she said, ‘Perhaps there’s nothing of his available to sell?’ And I said, ‘Well, there is in the Post Office!’

After a desperate pause in which we both wanted to be polite, she said, ‘Did you know he used to live there?’ And I said, ‘No, really?’ (Which was a lie because I did know by then) and she said, ‘Before it was the Post Office, of course. They had some pictures up once, showing him painting there.’ After making all the correct admiring sounds I said, ‘I had heard when he first lived here, when he was freezing in a barn, he worked in the fields to get money and had a pet cormorant.’ She looked askance again, ‘Well, you know better than I do, for sure.’

So I said that she was lucky to have the books to look forward to, that they were wonderful and thanks for the water. I could have reminded her that the books were all available in the PO but you know, I’m proud of myself. I knew when to stop.

There was the dead bakery on the main road. CLOSED. Another shop on the main street, CLOSED. Then, on the way to Dixcart Bay, a great swimming bay, I passed a large fancy hotel. CLOSED. What was going on? Time for some research.

Sark, straight ahead?

The price of electricity has little to do with the price of politics in Sark. Turns out Sark does have a darker side. Sark really is too good to be true.

Under all those pots of petunias, pretty tree-lined laneways and those quaint seventeenth century stone buildings lies a squawling ten-year-old democracy, fighting a 450 year-old-fifedom. Or is it?

Shady laneway in Sark – around the bend?

The democracy was apparently born of twin media barons, David and Frederick Barclay, trying to buy their way into tax-free law-making power. Come on. Did Mervyn Peake write that stuff? (NB: There were twins in the drama of Gormenghast but they were victims. Cora and Clarice were killed by Steerpike, a young man thirsting for power.)

Peake certainly loved pirates as described by Rob Maslen in a fine blog post but I don’t think Mervyn would much care for these boys. The Barclay Brothers have caused a sort of disease, a kind of cancer, in the form of untended grapevines, empty hotels and falling down buildings holding up the land.

Vines in apparent summer disrepair

I really felt at home in Sark but what a beastly thing this duo of billionaires have done. They’ve bought a good percentage of the ancient tenements but have not yet managed to sway the democratic elections enough to get their chosen people in power to make the legal changes they require. They want to make their bit of the island a separate tax haven. They normally live in Monaco but they’ve built a showy castle on a their private mini-island called Brecqhou.

They’ve installed a helipad and roads and landed cars – against the rules, nay ethos, of Sark. They own all the empty shops and most of the main island’s hotels; those now standing empty. So there’s no work in those CLOSED hotels and no paying visitors. Which means the population of the island was half its normal summer number last year.

You can watch a Panorama episode available on You Tube that explains how these two media moguls have been trying to play monopoly and throw the board over when things aren’t going the way they like. (I’ve seen my sister do it. Definitely a thing.) 

The next morning was cloudy. I eyed the tumbling impending rain clouds suspiciously as I rushed to finish my breakfast before it came down again. I managed to bring everything over to the shed where there was a sort of veranda. I stretched the tent out over the ground and sipped my coffee while weak shards of sun stroked the damp nylon into submission.

Once I figured everything would not rot away if rolled up, I packed and left the stuff ready for the appointed pick up. I managed to walk the delightful garden dell path to the harbour five times that day. Once, when the friendly bank ladies thought George wouldn’t go out in this weather and I imagined I’d better take a look at this enclosed bay, Creux Harbour, to see how small and cute it really was, and how the water smashed up through the stairway.

While waiting for the Non Pareil to arrive I strolled around the picturesque Creux Harbour

I strode back up to find a phone which just ate my money and refused to connect with anyone. Luckily I ran into Rosie rather than have to face the Information Officers again. She put in a call to George for me and we were in business. Back down the windy path I went. On the way past, I couldn’t help myself, I popped into the smart corporate looking real estate company office. The smartly-attired business woman at the desk agreed there were a lot of closed shops on the main road and, yes, it was a shame.

I mentioned I came from Australia and there was an interesting phenomenon, started in Newcastle a few years back, called ‘Renew‘. The idea was that local officials would make empty, run-down shops or premises available to artists and small desktop computer type start-up businesses for peppercorn rents in order to bring life back into blighted areas. There was quite a lot available on the internet about it, I pressed on, Renew had been a great success. She agreed wholeheartedly, making no move to search her computer. She pretended to take a note in her diary and promised faithfully the Chamber of Commerce would be discussing it at the very next meeting.

I marched back down again and found the eighty-year old George and his son, Morgan, waiting in a jolly little boat, the Non Pareil. They took us from hightide Creux harbour, round the island with the most caves in the channel (Sark, remember?) and back to a low tide harbour. Here could be a clue for a renewable energy source – tidal power must surely be an option on Sark. Watch Morgan move the Non Pareil quick smart out of there!

George had met Mervyn Peake. He reported he was a very nice man. And George’d been in the tv series, Mr Pye, too. In fact nearly everyone on Sark had been involved!

Low tide at Creux Harbour reveals how those harbour walls might have been built!

When we went past the castle, George spoke unenthusiastically about the lack of community spirit of the Barclay boys.

George and his son Morgan take the tourists around Sark in all the weathers

These modern pirates, the Baron Boys – Barclaydum and Barclaydee – came in helicopters, spread fake news that makes German propaganda look like nursery rhymes and when they didn’t like the way their game of Monopoly was heading, they threw the board over so no one could finish the game. They made several families, true descendants of that first Seigneur, the friend of Elizabeth I, walk the financial plank. They bought up houses, hotels and disgraced the local Doctor Kindness himself.

The sad thing is that this isn’t a draft of the fourth (or fifth) Gormenghast book. This is life on Sark today. Unless the Royals, who happen against all reason, to be good buddies with the Barclay Media Barons – those very same Media Barons relishing once-private information about royals, celebrities and other saucy scandals – unless Prince Charles – whose architect pal built the pseudo castle on BB island with, I kid you not, real canons balanced on ramparts artlessly covered in Spanish stone, unless the Crown can come to Sark’s rescue somehow, it’s difficult to see how this stalemate will end. The Pirate Twins themselves are now old men kept alive by the wonders of modern medicine. What of their heirs? What will become of Sark in the long run?

If the parliament or the Lord (Seigneur) could somehow regain control of the tenements belonging to the main island, I wondered if it might be possible to let the Barclay Barons have Brecqhou Island on a long-term lease? Surely they did not sell the land freehold? If the community could retrieve the hotels and shops on the mainland, they could get their own economy functioning once more.

Sark’s situation put me in mind of another David and Goliath story, that of Cuba. There was a thrown monopoly board if ever there was one. In my humble opinion Sark urgently needs to bring in permaculture experts, as they did there (Power of Community: How Cuba survived peak oil) particularly those knowledgeable about burning rubbish and making renewable energy. The stench of foul smoke overhanging the harbour is awful. Sark clearly has wind potential, and the tidal variation is powerful. Sark could surely become self-sufficient in energy one day.

Is it possible the Barclay Twins, their heirs and the Royals could join the community to build such a forward-looking and clean energy exemplar for the British protected Channel Islands?

My dream? Where I was picked up by the wind? Have I been asleep all this time? Like some residents of Sark?

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

2 Sciencey Art (or Arty Science) in the public eyeball

Living in Melbourne can be inspiring. Wandering through Federation Square, as you do, on the way somewhere else, I found a few aluminum viewing stations scattered in the Atrium.

Vessels for developing platelets

Vessels for developing platelets

They turned out to be part of ‘Science in the Square‘, Melbourne’s first Art in Science exhibition.

 

Cancer Protein

Cancer Protein

Hosted by The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, there are many events to discover.  

Lung cells

Lung cells

Plus!! Underneath Melbourne, the once grungy, now Dirty exhibition space Flinders tunnelrunning from Flinders Street Train station to Degraves Lane has been revitalised.

Flinders sign

The first exhibition, Prevaricated Frequencies, has been handed over to a bunch of arty engineers, Skunk Control.flinders heartFish eye flindersEach of the Dozen windows are filled with prismatic elements and all the passers by are captivated. They must be for they are all taking photos with their phones, as was I!Cone caves flindersBecause those circles of prisms spin, the images change all the time. This is an exhibition you need to see for yourself. Catch the train! Flinders circles
Both these exhibitions encourage the viewer to reexamine assumptions both about science and art. How do we look at the world? What are we seeing?




 

Link

It’s not all about talent

Chatting to my sister on the phone over the weekend, we talked about the Bowie exhibition and the film about Amy Winehouse. Her remarks about talent gave me pause. Is it all about the talent? But what is talent? Or is it something else?

http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3139096/dark-set-to-climb-new-mountain/

http://www.thecourier.com.au/story/3139096/dark-set-to-climb-new-mountain/

Opera singer Jacqui Dark in her blog ‘My advice to my younger self’:

I love the Calvin Coolidge quote: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

The most talented people do not always win. Many of them are deeply, DEEPLY insecure (in fact, the MOST talented people I know are also the most full of self-doubt) and fall by the wayside at the first or second rejection. If you really want this career, you are going to have a million little rejections along the way: not getting roles you desperately want, working with difficult colleagues or bosses/conductors/directors who bully you or belittle you, being slammed in reviews. If you can’t cope with rejection, get out now.

Amy. The product. The film about the product. The film about bear-baiting. The film about prodding a little caged bird with a stick, ‘Sing! Sing!’ Amy the person lost, abandoned, crushed. She said at the outset she felt lucky to be able to sing. It was something she enjoyed doing, wanted to do well and was glad she could do it. But it wasn’t about being famous. Or rich. She just wanted to do her own thing.

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jan/08/amy-winehouse-alcohol-poisoning-inquest

http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jan/08/amy-winehouse-alcohol-poisoning-inquest

Her final concert; the treatment by her record label representatives, fellow musicians on stage and audience made me consider that human beings, together as a species, have bulimia. We don’t know when to stop stuffing ourselves with the good things, things we like, like pretty singers and booze and fish and fossil fuels and porn. Maybe we’re all looking for someone to tell us what to do. To be a friend. To bring us into line. To manage us. Amy portrays a desperately sad story of management gone seriously, badly, wrong.

Is this human nature?

On the other side of the talent coin, Bowie on exhibition, shows all the stuff out of his shed (admittedly it’s a way cool shed). He was allowed to grow up, possibly he was a physically stronger person to start with and he survived. The man was a dancer, trained with Lindsay Kemp. Incredibly disciplined, focused and energetic.

https://www.pinterest.com/nemer12/arts-i-love/

https://www.pinterest.com/nemer12/arts-i-love/

It’s obvious when you watch the clip of Bowie as a mime artist struggling with a mask, he is extremely fit and muscular; must have been taking all sorts of classes as well as conniving amazing frocks and sets and writing songs and finding new people to work with. Remembering that ‘collaboration’ means ‘working with the enemy’, Bowie sought input and inspiration from a wide assortment of recently graduated stars. Determined, ambitious and curious, Bowie kept seeking new things, including drugs.

Tony Bennett said about Amy, that he would have told her to slow down, that life teaches you how to live, eventually. If you live that long.

The arts are tough. There are many talented folk who want a go in the limelight and the people who spin the golden wheels need only a few to put through the grinder at any one time. And how do the ingenues come through the grind? Some survive and go on to a happy relaxed retirement, the odd brilliant cameo and wonderfully photogenic grandchildren. Really?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2220403/The-real-hate-crime-persecuting-decent-man-beliefs.html

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2220403/The-real-hate-crime-persecuting-decent-man-beliefs.html

All we want is an audience, and I’m speaking for myself here, just some helpful souls to recognise the work and listen/absorb/contemplate the ideas. I don’t know about creating demand for more. That’s not factored in to my story. But for those who can, who know how to take a cut, who want to be friends so they can benefit? (Lucky I don’t know anyone like that!)

At an arts forum the other night, an empresario encouraged the ‘artists’ present to think of themselves as somehow different, as the ones with ideas, the creative ones. But I think he’s wrong. I think everyone is creative, more or less, everyone has ideas, it’s human nature. You’ve just got to be allowed (by yourself as much as anyone else) to shape them and share them. So do. Make that thing! Sing that song!

Just beware human nature.

And remember Amy.

All watched over by machines of loving grace

Did you know SBS ondemand has a terrific collection of interesting items to view? (In contrast, ABC, what are they doing to you?)

Amongst the documentaries is All watched over by machines of loving grace, a BBC production from 2011. The title comes from a poem by Richard Brautigan.

 I like to think
(it has to be!)
of a cybernetic ecology
where we are free of our labors
and joined back to nature,
returned to our mammal
brothers and sisters,
and all watched over
by machines of loving grace.[1]

Excerpt from All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (1967)

There are three episodes, all written and directed by Alan Curtis.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Curtis

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adam_Curtis

This is great television. The shows are never boring. Disparate film clips underly or contrast or uplift the narrative. Moments are held, like the footage of Monica Lewinsky gazing at Clinton slowed and replayed, while other flashes, impressions, glimpses of investors or sharemarket floor workers slide into in-depth interviews with economists or analysts of the time. The editing is almost pop-video edgy while the accompanying music evokes all sorts of emotions with the likes of of Nine Inch Nails, Leonard Cohen, Roy Orbison and even Wagner.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-global-computer-network-concept-image25296527

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-global-computer-network-concept-image25296527

The basic idea of the series is that machines (computers) twist the way our society apparently runs, giving rise to the notion that there can be, in a system or ecology, a stable way of organising, not just a computer network, but our entire planet. Neat and tidy and balanced.

Picture of the planet in darkness

Royalty free image of Earth

The first episode looks at the rise of the global economy. It begins with an interview from 1959 with Ayn Rand and charts her influence, particularly on Alan Greenspan, one of her most loyal acolytes. The rise of the power of the individual was never more obvious than in the eruption of software entrepreneurs in Silicone Valley. From there the nineties saw the dreadful outcome of the free market captital shift, leading to the Asian Miracle, the burst bubble and the International Monetary Fund’s rush to rescue Western Investment. Finally, the role of Chinese monetary control causing the global (American) financial crisis and the banks bailout from their ever compliant allies, politicians.

http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/10/dysfunctional-global-economy-can-things-get-worse-rediscovering-price-money/

http://freedomoutpost.com/2013/10/dysfunctional-global-economy-can-things-get-worse-rediscovering-price-money/

This analysis, told in jigsaw, edgy but entirely clear interviews, sound grabs, pictures and music, is utterly fascinating, popular, but revelatory. The main strand of my book, Man of Clay is set in 1998 to 1999 and in my research of that time I did not understand the whole picture. I saw that the Lewinsky scandal had been used to distract Clinton but I didn’t see the financial selfishness nor the Asian market collapse as part of the IMF’s corrupt need to rescue themselves.

http://www.ceelmacaan.com/imf-reviews-somali-economy-for-first-time-in-25-years/

http://www.ceelmacaan.com/imf-reviews-somali-economy-for-first-time-in-25-years/

It is magic, sleight of hand, the distractions and nonsense that powerful are able to show the people, (kittens and porn) to keep them amused and calm, while there are great shifts of control going on behind the scenes. Whistleblowers and leakers are painted in terms of treason as us little folk just get poorer and more trammelled by the very few wealthy.

Looking at the way Australia is being run now, I wish Alan Curtis could bring his editing team along to examine what is really being done in our name and with our money. For instance, the secret Transpacific Partnership negotiation is destined to allow international corporations to own, control and make money from their assets for ever, much the same as the miners and the energy companies have control over the electricity demands of this country. Watch Waleed Aly explain the TPP here. How will this play out in the long term? Who knows? We can’t even know what’s in it to start with!

Yet, when I recently asked a shop attendant where he would most like to live in the world he unhesitatingly said, ‘Norway’. Another fellow present snorted and said, ‘Low taxes?’ and the attendant replied, ‘Highest tax in the world. Good for the people, mate, everyone gets looked after.’ The other fellow looked confused. Paying tax is good? That’s not what his newspaper tells him. Not what his TV tells him. Of course not. Media is owned by the rich. People don’t question who feeds them information. If they are used to that channel having some gravitas or apparent status, they will suck it up along with all the recipes for red wine jus, cricket stats and pictures of pretty celebs.

Years ago, after a performance of my play, Not the end of the world, I chatted in the foyer to a woman who asked me why I had to feature the economy in a cute little puppet play? We had an inflatable two headed puppet – the face of Credit and the other Debit – who argued with each other and Economy eventually exploded to reveal a cute little Green Economy inside. Like a slimming ad. This woman thought it unnecessary, she thought it brought the fun of the puppet play down, made it too serious. This was a play about endangered species.

It is serious! What is more serious than extinction? And almost certainly the way our economy is run, our capitalist system, is destroying the planet.

 

The second episode is called The use and abuse of vegetational systems. It is more closely aligned with the themes of this blog – the idea of ecosystems and the (much exagerated) ‘balance of nature’ influencing human thought. It reminded me of that poem by Wallace Stevens called The Rock which I can’t find on the internet. Wallace Stevens often wrote about human’s need for order but always in terms of change and seasons. Growth and death and change were inherent in everything.

And look, here’s an idea that might be helpful:

<iframe src=”https://player.vimeo.com/video/41245873″ width=”500″ height=”281″ frameborder=”0″ webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/41245873″>La Minga: Episode 101 of The Perennial Plate</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/theperennialplate”>The Perennial Plate</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p> <p>The ideas of cooperation and working together are central to many movements in Latin America. Nestor Escobar has brought those ideas to Louisville, KY where he coordinates a large urban farm that hopes to share his philosophy.<br /> www.theperennialplate.com</p>

http://www.upworthy.com/he-wanted-to-bring-his-traditions-from-el-salvador-to-the-us-so-he-started-this-cooperative-farm?c=ufb1

 

Heartlands, aim and reach …

What have Greenpeace and John Wolseley got in common? They’re both hanging around Fed Square in Melbourne, inside and out, trying to communicate their love of nature. Why?

Do they succeed? Can you share this love or just walk right past?

In their latest campaign, Greenpeace fight to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Last Thursday half a dozen young activists learned basic circus skills and swung themselves over the wall outside at Federation Square to dance/swim in projected animations to a jazzy whale sound track. They encouraged us to end the age of coal and ‘Take another look.’
Greenpeace-Reef-01

It was sold as a ‘spectacular’ and Greenpeace fans were encouraged to book tickets. Spectacular in comparison to what? A basic banner unfurling? Or Legs on the Wall? Not fair? How many people did Greenpeace want at this event? There may have been a hundred and fifty – including innocent bystanders – entertained and encouraged by Rod Quantock. Is that enough to Save the Reef?

Half the reef has died in the last thirty years.

What can Greenpeace, anyone, do to Save the Reef? How can activists grab attention and create action? You could look at some pictures online? Are you moved? Will you act?

In contrast you could wander inside to the NGV at Fed Square and check out Heartlands and Headwaters. This show is supposedly laid out in the shape of a tree, with big works on the walls surrounding the trunk. Well, it’s a nice attempt but there’s no getting away from the white box and clean lines of an urban modern art gallery. (Next time think Herring Island or Heide, perhaps?)

The most dramatic piece for me was ‘Dystopia – the last wetland Gwydir 2184’. In this work, Wolseley attempts to show cotton farms engulfing nature. Dystopeia-01

You can see the dead pelican print (lower right) more closely below.

pelican-print

You can see Wolseley making this work here. And here are the cotton farms:cotton farms

He is trying to get inside nature, show his connections, his own nature. Inside the rythyms and tensions, the cycles and evolution. He is certainly ambitious. The works around the walls are extensive, like this ‘From the edge of the great floodplain Garrangari and Garrangali’ in the Northern Territory.

floodplain

Inside this luminous paper work are smaller collaged worksfloodplain-detail-02

bringing such detail and evoking such life and depth that the piece seems to breathe.

floodplain detail 01

Floodplain took three years to make. In the words on the wall Mr Wolesley describes learning from an elder, also artist, about the use of some of the plants and mentions ‘deep time’ as compared to shallow time where humans are present.

heron-power-station

In ‘Natural History of Swamps III’, a heron examines CO2 at Loy Yang Power Station. Wolesley makes no demands on his audience. We are not expected to sign a petition. We are invited to wonder and perhaps to wander as in ‘Simpson Desert Sandunes moving across the Finke River’ in South Australia. Simpson-desert

You can see the smaller more detailed collages inviting closer examination.audienceHere you get a sense of the attempted tree down the middle of the space.

dancing-paper

These are examples of the paper he rescued from the burnt mallee – some he’d left there for months, one is even marked by roots after a burial. These papers are bent and stiffened by the elements and marked by the charcoal fingers of the scrub. Some are trapped in perspex boxes and turned into precious objects by their presentation. Others, like these, fly loose across the walls like china ducks. Am I influenced by his art? His skill? His humanity? Does his love for Nature get beyond the paper?

If we know not Nature, then how can we protect it? 
Thoreau

If we only see Nature writ large on the wall of a gallery, then how can we love it? Can our love be enough to save Nature?

How can we be moved to change?

<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/aEnfy9qfdaU?rel=0″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>