Wednesday, December 31, 2008
It happened to us just now but it wasn't so much about Shannon, it more about the serious rioting occurring in the centre city. The trams and buses had stopped running through the city, due to rioters attacking parked cars, buses and trams ... somehow being kicked off the tram turned out to be very good news. If I had any doubts, the multitude of police vans cruising the streets were quite convincing as we were carrying most my camera gear.
So we're home and we're safe after a long journey to nowhere in particular.
Which photos? is always the problem.
Should I present a theme, a collection ... or simply send in a range?
In the end, I decided to send a range of material (just 15 but across different subjects) while knowing that I will probably go out and shoot a new collection of work specifically... that is, if I am invited to participate.
It couldn't have come at a better time, as I am in my most studious mode these days, reading my way through Alyson B. Stanfield's I'd rather be in the studio.
Creating an artist's statement, just as my wonderful web designer is on a programming mission to finish the new website. Reading this book that sells itself as 'the artist's no-excuse guide to self-promotion'.
The new website means that I have to crank up the volume of production for this soon-to-be newly-relocated blog, sorting some more photographs for the galleries and fine-tuning some of the interviews completed and ready to publish.
I can really see why people hire personal assistants.
We took a lottery ticket for the weekend ...
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Gert captured the Di creature while at the zoo - a visitor, not an inhabitant. I was so lost in my photography this afternoon that I had no idea he was photographing me. In honour of this rare achievement, I am posting the result.
The hat was made by a neighbour back in my Portobello days on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin and I feel an unreasonable attachment to it despite the fact that it falls over my eyes repeatedly. The scarf is Istanbul ... the weather, pure freezing cold mid-winter Antwerpen.
I was laughing over a lone duck, sliding and slipping on the iced moat that keeps the tigers from jumping the low wall here in Antwerpen zoo when it occurred to me to wonder if the ice would hold the weight of the tiger because ... the wall would only be a small leap for the stripey residents.
Gert and I decided to escape from work and things that needed doing today in favour of a trip to the zoo with our cameras ... despite the desperately cold blue sky day that almost finished us.
We have these inexpensive year-long passes that we don't make the time to use often enough ...
Saturday, December 27, 2008
It is of great importance for immigration purposes, as only those offenses which are defined as involving moral turpitude are considered bars to immigration into the U.S.
There's a quite list of crimes of moral turpitude over on wikipedia, as per above link.
So, if I want to visit those I really care about in the States, here's the process I would need to go through.
If you're a member of parliament here in Belgium and you're thinking of flying into the States on a successful Belgian businessman's private jet ... start applying much earlier, as the terms of entry are even worse than those listed below and you need to appear at the American Embassy in Belgium on the date designated by them or wait for the next available date if matters of importance (as in running a country) demand your attention. No one can appear on your behalf.
I had heard rumours of question (c) but thought a cruel and foolish joke being made about those who designed the form but no, they really do ask 'C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved , in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies? * Yes No'
My reading began with a simple search on ...Travel to the United States: New Requirements. Posted: 19 December 2008, 12:15 NZDT
The United States has introduced a new electronic visa waiver system that will come into force on 12 January 2009. From this date, all New Zealanders planning to travel to the United States for less than 90 days for business or tourism without a visa will be required to obtain an on-line travel authorisation before they go
Do any of the following apply to you? (Answer Yes or No)
Please select if you need additional help on any of these questions.
A) Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict? * Yes No
B) Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities? * Yes No
C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved , in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies? * Yes No
Waiver of Rights: I have read and understand that I hereby waive for the duration of my travel authorization obtained via ESTA any rights to review or appeal of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer's determination as to my admissibility, or to contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
In addition to the above waiver, as a condition of each admission into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, I agree that the submission of biometric identifiers (including fingerprints and photographs) during processing upon arrival in the United States shall reaffirm my waiver of any rights to review or appeal of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer's determination as to my admissibility, ...
P.S. What is 'moral turpitude? Is it a movable definition based on the personal belief system of each person asking the question or some kind of serious crime over there in the States?
Friday, December 26, 2008
And I was out wandering with my camera ... quite unable to resist this dude. And 'dude' he has to be, with a hairstyle like this.
It was cold out there, a blue-sky 2 degree celsius kind of day, with a cutting wind. Lovely conditions for photography though ...
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
Hugo and Maria are friends of Gert's and had accepted me into their world as an extension of Gert, and so it went ...
Married for 46 years, Maria had spent the last 17 years fighting an extraordinarily brave fight against breast cancer, surviving each crisis of health, in recent years actually confounding doctors who didn't see how it was possible for her to return from the places the cancer sometimes took her.
I was in Cairo when she died last week and it was with some sadness I returned for the funeral, feeling it more than any before because her fight strongly reminded me of losing my mother.
That Maria was special was surely seen in the huge numbers of people in church this morning, and further proven by the fact we stayed for the full catholic service in the big old stone cathedral despite a broken heating system on a cold winter day.
The February photo session had been full of grace on her part because she felt she was no longer beautiful. There was something so special about her allowing me attempt to show her the beauty I saw in her.
This morning I discovered this photograph we had created together on the front of the small in memory of card handed out at the service - her absence so visible in that space next to Hugo, the place we are all so used to seeing her.
She was truly stunning when she was young but so many years later, I can still see so much beauty in this woman, briefly captured as she was, in a small space between battles.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
One of the more delicious dream-like moments I had in Cairo involved this teashop in the back streets of downtown Cairo.
I was there to document a meeting on that 20+ celsius Egyptian day, meanwhile a few million interesting people strolled by and I tried to respect their privacy but by crikey, it took everything I had not to take photographs.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
I took this on my second day in Cairo ...
Sitting at an outdoor teahouse somewhere in downtown Cairo, listening to 2 incredibly interesting people do their thing while I took photographs of them and the world around me.
I have a political reception to photograph tonight - they're talking of a 3am ending and here I am, just a wee bit tired for some reason.
Anyway as is said here in Belgie, I hope alles goed in your world.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
No laptop, no photographs downloaded but later, when I return.
I'm traveling with the person who opened this world to me ... I shall quite possibly change my name to Alice (in recognition of the fact that I'm often in wonderland when wandering in this world).
Back soon ...
Sunday, December 14, 2008
I've always travelled quite lightly but this time it's about having everything on hand ... from batteries for the flash and the camera to enough memory cards to shoot everything with my settings on raw. Multiple chargers are needed for the cellphone, the flash batteries, the camera batteries, the portable hard-drive and the mp3 player. It's about the right lenses, the right-size camera bag, money, passport, e-ticket and the visa card.
I'll change my weather underground widget over to Cairo but a week in the mid-20s (70s for the States) is predicted.
I managed not to open the new book that arrived last week and I'm hoping it gets me through the 1 hour flight over to Zurich and on through the 4 hours it takes to reach Cairo.
The laptop is staying at home this time but I plan on buying a much smaller more portable one for travelling in the very near future. As the money comes in, it has to roll straight back out and purchase equipment but I guess that's how it should be.
I found a cheap little mp3 player and have loaded the best of my music, plus my lessons in Italiano. The embarrassing thing being the fact that I was onto my 5th pair of earphones before realising the mp3 player that was the problem. This 30euro mp3 player seemed like an investment long overdue.
So to pack ... writing this has put off the moment a while but everything other thing is done but for that.
Tot straks and have a lovely week.
Friday, December 12, 2008
I needed 3 extra 4GB memory cards for my camera, as I'll be shooting raw images in Cairo and then there was the portable photo storage drive that slipped into my bag to be rung up as a business purchase. Much as I don't like travelling without my laptop, the idea of carrying it all over Cairo, along with the photography gear, just didn't appeal ... so I will be laptop-less there.
But the best news of the day was the phone call ...
A sumptuous German magazine (actually, Gert looked and said 'Swiss magazine') wants 8 of my photographs from this series for its next edition. I'll let you know when they're published ...
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
I loved this empty seat near the castle on the edge of the river Schelde ...
I rarely work on my photographs in photoshop, as I don't have the skill for it, so this was untouched - the light really was that fabulous.
Peter will tell me the name of the church - it escapes me for the moment but the moon ...
Hyperthermia was setting in and my hands were going numb but it was worth it just to work with that 10 minutes of light.
I have a lot to do and no will to begin ... partially because of the sun burning down on me through the window next to my desk and partly because there is so much to do, I'm not sure where to begin.
I was working in Brussels yesterday and will be again tomorrow.
The new website is almost ready to launch and I hope to blog for it during my Cairo trip but perhaps that's too soon, as there's so much to load and prepare before launching it. Anyway, fingers crossed, we're almost done.
Eggs ... so very yummily displayed at the famous Mercat Boqueria in Barcelona.
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
Sunday, December 07, 2008
I live this life of mine on a shoestring, a fairly ragged one mostly. Most of my 'adventures' occur as a result of my photography, directly or indirectly, helped along by friends and kind strangers on occasion.
It feels like a good life.
This Middle Eastern adventure will culminate in a rather incredible October exhibition in Berlin (not of my work) that I'll write more about in the months ahead.
Tonight is about packaging up cds full of photographs bound for Brussels and London, then there is the series of recorded interviews done with Hunter before leaving New Zealand such a long time ago. Listening to snippets of our conversations, I heard the New Zealand birds doing their thing in his garden ... the bluebirds or tuis and others, chiming their songs as we talked.
Now to the next things on the list ...
Saturday, December 06, 2008
You can read more of the author here.
In Love in Exile Bahaa Taher presents multilayered variations on the themes of exile, disillusionment, failed dreams, and the redemptive power of love.
Unwilling to recant his Nasserist beliefs, the narrator is an Egyptian journalist in a self-imposed exile in Europe after conflict with the management of his newspaper and a divorce from his wife.
Absorbed in introspection over his impotent position at the paper and in ill health, he suddenly finds himself faced with two issues he cannot ignore: the escalating tensions in Israeli-occupied Lebanon and, more personally, an unexpected love affair with a much younger Austrian woman, Brigitte.
The narrator's familial exile has left him a long-distance father facing the difficulties of raising children from whom he is rapidly growing distant. His son is drifting into fundamentalism while his daughter falls under the materialistic sway of the west. After struggling mightily to remain part of their lives, he finds himself marginalized and rejected.
Brigitte, also an exile of sorts, encourages him to turn his back on the problems and pressures of the everyday world and cocoon himself in the warmth of their love. However, the horror of events surrounding the occupation of Lebanon in 1982 soon shocks them out of their contentment and safety.
Friday, December 05, 2008
It began to seem that wondrous things are often happening with the light around Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
I looked up during my afternoon visit and noticed this effect created by smoke floating skywards.
I loved the effect of it ...
Thursday, December 04, 2008
One of the gifts inside came with instructions that it had to be viewed at 6pm.
Being an obedient creature, I waited until 6pm and pressed play here on the laptop and guess what ... I am viewing New Zealand's 6pm Channel 3 News and it's truly excellent ... ads and everything!
I haven't been home for 4 and a half years so this is a wee slice of heaven. There is more in this package from home.
Grazie, dank u wel, gracias, tesekkür ederim, Mark.
Note: Did I mention, it's so very different to Belgian television.
I miss New Zealand tonight.
Nina's blog has become the place where I go when I need something thoughtful and beautiful and peaceful.
Her latest series on her time in Ocracoke is blowing me away. I chose her latest but it's part of a series.
Beautiful beautiful blog.
Oh the memories.
I was cackling like a small but very wicked witch as I sent him this.
He replied with this.
However, for the moment, I think I'm ahead with this .
To quote Mark, who said, shuddering via the phone ... That one was a weapon of mass destruction. You got me.
To be continued ...
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I love that kind of photography ... the documentation of a reception, with speeches. I imagine the feelings I have are akin to those experienced by a passionate big game hunter, although instead of going in for the kill, I'm hunting for that perfect photograph, a capture of something real and beautiful in people who don't even know that they are in my view-finder.
It did my soul good to get out there and I got to meet my first European Commissioner as a result. Rattling back through launches and receptions, I don't think I've met any others so far ...
It was a room full of good people, an excellent day really. One that began with Paola and an afternoon coffee.
Grazie Paola, it was just what I needed.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
And like all pairs of sisters, with that curious distinction of chosen territories: the mappa mundi boundary drawn between the civilised world of the responsible sister and the 'here be dragons' realm of the sister who wanders off.
Andrea Lee, extract from Lost Hearts in Italy
Monday, December 01, 2008
Books are my ultimate luxury ... can you tell?
When I have a little extra money, I buy books. Lately I've needed them for traveling and have returned to my habit of buying. Today, while Christmas shopping, I ended up with 3 for me.
They all look fabulous of course ... to me, with my peculiar taste perhaps.
There is Love in Exile by Bahaa Taher and Jason Goodwin's On Foot to the Golden Horn - A Walk to Istanbul and finally, Lost Hearts in Italy by Andrea Lee.
Viva De Slegte and the excellent bookshop on the corner near the end of Tram 11 here in the city, De Groene Waterman.
This morning, after dreaming of the big old gloomy house where the sad young couple lived with their small daughter who was dying due to an allergic reaction she had to eating melon at a child's birthday party ... I woke deeply depressed, both from the weight of the couples sadness and from the fact that my little sister, the nurse, had detailed the care the young couple had to give their daughter as she slipped away ... peach droplets on her skin but of course. And there was the exhaustion from keeping little Miss 4 quiet as we changed from our swimsuits in a room in their house after swimming in their pool. The sad young man was Colin Firth, as he appeared in Bridget Jone's Diary and the house had the look of the old house next to the place where I used to ride horses as a teenager.
This morning I tried slipping back into bed after breakfast was done but my daughter, the one who has loved sleeping since she was small, came and told me she was running a shower because we were going to the city to shop for Christmas presents.
Anyone who knows my daughter will laugh over the idea of her hustling anyone out of bed in the morning ...
I guess last night's dream was slightly less fraught than the one where the albatross was standing in the ruins of his wings which had dropped off for reasons I didn't get round to dreaming. I remember being devastated that I didn't have my camera to record this mind-blowing scene ... which wasn't as terrible as it sounds because the albatross was fine without his wings, as in he wasn't dying, although he was incredibly annoyed and did end up chasing me around something that looked suspiciously like a small village hall from my New Zealand past.
Liz, Fiona, Jessie and I did attempt to escape by scaling a tall chimney-like cliff nearby by, with me leading but at the top there were these bars. But that was the other night when, I just kept getting horribly terribly lost and further away from wherever it was that I was staying.
And parts of that particular dream, most particularly the 'lost' part, were close enough to recent realities to confuse me on waking.
So you see how it is ... my life is more bizarre once I am sleeping.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
I've loved them since I was small.
They allowed me to wander no matter how young or poor or busy I was...
Last week, I finally had time to visit De Sleght, my favourite second-hand bookshop here in Antwerpen city.
The more time that passes between these visits of mine, the more truly superb books in English I have to choose from. This time I bought a beautiful book called The Rare and the Beautiful by Cressida Connolly, finished as I rode towards Amsterdam last week.
And then I couldn't resist a book titled To the Wedding by John Berger because ... Michael Ondaatje, a much-loved favourite author of mine had written the following on the back of the book:A great, sad, and tender lyric, a novel that is a vortex of community and compassion that somehow overcomes fate and death. Wherever I live in the world, I know I will have this book with me.
It has been a 32 page free-fall into the story so far and I love it.
It opens with this:
Wonderful a fistful of snow in the mouths
of men suffering summer heat
Wonderful the spring winds
for mariners who long to set sail
And more wonderful still the single sheet
over two lovers on a bed.
A quiet day here in the land of low temperatures and grey winter skies, sneezes and sniffles as I sit here tonight. I hope your weekend was a good one and the week ahead is all that you need to be.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
And then there's this Belgian dessert, a custard and cherry concoction that slips down rather nicely with a daub of whipped cream afterwards ... oh, and Di's Pumpkin soup as a starter.
The madness and mayhem that has gone into this dinner prep, the jobs left undone so long that have finally been done ... here's to a good night in the apartment where the kiwi and the Belgian have made their home.
Have a lovely Saturday night, World.
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever...
If the rest of the world wants to help, it should run toward the explosion. It should fly to Mumbai, and spend money. Where else are you going to be safe? New York? London? Madrid?
So I’m booking flights to Mumbai. I’m going to go get a beer at the Leopold, stroll over to the Taj for samosas at the Sea Lounge, and watch a Bollywood movie at the Metro. Stimulus doesn’t have to be just economic.
Suketu Mehta, Op-Ed contributor, New York Times.
My mother always dreamed of a house by the sea when she retired.
My mother never lived by the sea, she died before she retired.
While I don't have a death wish, neither do I wish to be a victim of fear or buy into the idea that I'm going to live until I am an old woman. I remember reading that hijackers would now have a problem taking over an airplane ... since those passengers who fought back on that final plane in 9/11, managed to avert a greater tragedy than the one that they suffered.
Here's to the courage of Suketu Mehta in speaking out.
Friday, November 28, 2008
A truly stunning day where the mysterious project that involves travel, photography and me working as a documentary and art photographer was discussed over Mexican food at a restaurant in Amsterdam.
Then, as always happens whenever I'm on any kind of gig with this remarkable woman, I was swept off on her magical carpet to the city centre where we met with a hugely talented and interesting man and I almost wept because I wasn't carrying my camera however the conversations between academic and artist, between philosphers, between visionaries ... that was quite possibly as much 'powerful' as I could stand in these early stages.
It looks like Cairo for 5 days just before Christmas and from there ... well let's just see how it unfolds because at the moment I'm learning, just about anything is possible.
Note: the photograph is a little more of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The windows astounded me.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
The last 48 hours have been a bit of a nightmare, with sleep being the thing I most wanted to do, while fighting for normal left me exhausted and basic html coding knowledge was all but forgotten.
Here's to tomorrow being a better day ...
Thankfully I'm finally feeling okay as I sit here typing this out.
Tot straks from this tired kiwi creature.
I'll be visiting places I've read about ... Beirut, Tehran, East Jerusalem and Cairo, a place I have passed through on my way home ... Dubai and that place where I lived for a while ... Istanbul.
To see them from the angle I'll be working from will be truly superb and to be creating the record of a journey towards a spectacular exhibition in Berlin is a little bit of a dream come true ... if I had known to dream that particular dream.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I've spent most of the last 12 hours in bed. I disappeared to read just after 10pm last night and woke at 7.30am having not read a word. I had breakfast, said bye to everyone and fell into bed again until 10.30am.
I rarely sleep more than 6 or 7 hours so this was huge for me and while I feel beautifully rested, the impulse to begin work today has been a bit of an impulse missing in action..
I was in Brussels at the office yesterday and came home with the newsletter almost ready to publish, so that is my goal ... to wrap it up and get it out to our 1000+ subscribers.
Amsterdam didn't happen today so I'm just waiting to see how this Middle East project pans out. A photographer's life tends to lack certainties and is full of surprises. Best enjoyed when it's on and keep that second job for the certainties.
I loved this sculpture and photographed it in different light while I was in Barcelona.
I read what Josep Maria Subirachs had to say of it in his book and found this: Longinus, a Christian martyr from the 1st origin and of Isaurian origin, is identified as the soldier who plunged his spear into Jesus'side and later converted to Christianity.
We see him on horseback, plunging his spear into the right side of the Temple's façade, which Jesus is identified with (John 19,34).
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Nancy Mitford, from The Pursuit of Love
Monday, November 24, 2008
I wonder which is worse - the longing to travel or the return?
The new and the exotic break me out of my routine, the possibility of being lost or not understood changes my psychology.
And then there is the return to all that is known and while it is good, there is this process of return that I haven't quite mastered ... or perhaps it's not something we master ... perhaps it's something we survive, a corner we turn, a state of mind we need to re-enter.
So today, instead of launching myself out into a new and unknown world I am contemplating the debris of our breakfast, my disastrous desk ... and my luggage over there by the couch while playing that new song, hearing its question ... am I who I want to be?
I have an EU affairs manager phoning me up about the details of a job for December today, and I hope to hear more about the Middle East project this week.
Now I've put the word out that I'm willing to travel to work, I'm never quite sure where I might wander next and yes, to answer the song's question, that is who I want to be.
I am a creature who has always struggled with routine, since the time when I was so small that my mode of escape could only be my little 3 or 4 year old legs or the red and white plastic tricycle and my mother would be phoned to come pick me up from the school next to our house. And if a locked gate was involved, I could climb too.
I have always struggled with routine even while finding it comforting ... like the huge cosy blanket on a couch near a wood-burning fire with a good book and a labrador for company on a stormy day.
It's a love/hate thing, as I launch myself into the unknown I wonder why and what what drives me? but it has always been that way with me.
So, to work.
I have started on the new to-do list which is, of course, an old one reworked ... Diede & Francien, Hunter, Newsletter are there at the top of the list today, sharing the space with dishes, washing, and unpacking..
I hope your day is a good one.
It's something to think about.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I noticed these in the concrete, somewhere close to the gift shop at Sagrada Familia and they made me smile ... a small fossil for some archaeologist to find in a few hundred years maybe.
I think this is what most fascinated me ... walking around a curve or being in that place in that point in time so that the light did this.
I found it staggeringly beautiful and now here I am, like a child playing with pretty stones found on a beach, as I work through the photographs, feeling the magic again and again.
For some reason, I find sculpture almost as beautiful to photograph as people ... I have no idea why. I guess it is about light and transformations.
People are a little more self-conscious and I try to respect them in ways sculpture neither needs nor asks for ... so, I sat a while and studied this image of Jesus, examining the light some.
Later I read that this particular image sustains the optical illusion of always looking in the direction of those observing it.
I thought the work stunning.
I bought 2 books by artists involved in work on the Church of the Sagrada Familia. I loved this door with its words and went back to the books to see how the door had been written up.
Josep Maria Subirachs wrote of his work: I have always believed that the central double door should synthesize the entire work of the façade . I finally found the theme that I think is suitable: I reproduce the texts of the Gospel illustrated by the sculptural groups. The two massive doors separated by the mullion, will be like two immense open books; yet the background texture, with over 8,000 letters melted in bronze, will not distract attention from the figure of the flagellation, which is located in front.
I almost didn't publish the bad experiences I had in Barcelona and in fact, I haven't touched on all of them. I don't like doing it about any place but my time in Barcelona as a tourist was both good and bad, in ways that I hadn't experienced while traveling lately.
The tiredness of those I met in the tourist industry was noticeably different to any place else I had been and in some instances I wondered about the burden of tourists on locals in Barcelona.
So if you want to only read of the good, then choose the appropriately titled post ...
Hasta la vista.
It's about kind taxi drivers and interesting travelers, it's about finding a really excellent book I've wanted forever written in English in a city where English is the language of the foreigner. It's about cafes and restaurants with staff who are friendly and who make a space for the stranger in their world for a while.
It is about photography and the buildings that invite you to fall truly madly deeply in love with them, and it's about having the chance to observe other cultures while recognising that you too are another.
It's apologising for my New Zealand English while being happy that I am from New Zealand, and it's about bringing back stories that make other people want to travel ... or sharing with those who can't, won't or no longer travel.
Sitting here in an airport cafe, having arrived far too early but prepared for it with my huge book, my laptop and a head full of words ... these are my thoughts on leaving Barcelona.
In fairness, I was looking for the cheapest possible trip. I was there to spend 12 hours of two and half days in the city with Mary Lou. I didn't research Barcelona in the way that I normally would. I had just returned from my 17 days in Genova, that city I fell so deeply in love with, and had fitted in that 3-day work trip to Berlin to came back, repack and fly out to Barcelona.
RyanAir did a great job and Barcelona Bus, on the ride from airport to city gave me no clue that my camera gear and laptop wouldn't be welcome on-board the bus when departing the city. But in fact, it wasn't and that last 24 hours in the city was a mix of good news and bad.
I am tempted to title this post, 'The Grumpy Old Men of Barcelona Estacio Nord' but perhaps that's a little too mean when it only involved the fierce and angry overseer, and the mean bus driver, both of whom have clearly been dealing with tourists forever. I was stunned when he tried to snatch my bag out of my hand and when I protested, he snarled at me that I should catch a taxi to Girona – some 100kms out of the city. His fury was impressive and intimidating ... as I tried unknowingly breaking the rules of the kingdom of this particular bus, trying to explain that my carry-on bag had my photography equipment and laptop and that the same bus company hadn't had a problem with it when I arrived in the city. We were all allowed our bags on-board the bus and my bag wasn't that much bigger than a small full backpack which were allowed on-board.
In Italy, I'm almost sure that, had they imposed the same rule, they would have put my bag in the hold with charm and exaggerated gentleness, promising to guard its precious cargo ... mocking perhaps but so much gentler than the rage of the Barcelona Bus men ... whose colleagues were, as I said, so much nicer on my arrival.
Perhaps it was seeing the pickpockets at work that left me uneasy about life in the city but on leaving, the only nice thing that happened was the taxi driver who drove me back to the bus station, delighting me when he charged half the fee of his colleague who made the same trip with me on my arrival. My heartfelt 'Gracias!'surprised him, making him smile too.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
We flew out through some bumpy turbulence, and crossing the Pyrenees caused the plane to lurch about that bumpity way I can stand on a bus but which creates a huge tension in me when I'm that high in the sky in a flimsy metal construction. Then came the landing ... zero celsius, snow!
I'm crawling off to my bed, trying to forget that this morning I was in my Barcelona bedroom, windows open, blue sky, warm air ...
Fortunately Gert met me at the airport tonight, with my warm winter coat and my special hat. It's good to be home.
Oost, west, thuis best ;)
(A whisper, that was for Gert because he travelled 2 hours by train and another 15 minutes on a cold bus to come meet me at Charleroi Airport - 70kms south of Brussels.)
I met up with friends this morning and we were on the underground metro, returning from Salgada Familia. One of our group was ahead of me and there was a woman next to him, shadowing him as we all surged onto the tram. I could see she was searching his pockets but so brilliantly that he wasn't feeling a thing.
The few seconds I had watching this woman work, even as I called out a warning, were a little like watching an animal in some place where I didn't expect to see one, and doing something I had never observed before. Somehow she didn't seem human - it was one of those really odd and surreal moments in life.
I called out to warn him again but he's deaf. Fortunately, a lovely guy on the metro spotted her and her gang. He pulled her off my friend and pushed her out the train, shouting at her even as she was jammed in the doors and staring at him uncomprehendingly. Her behaviour was so odd that it still makes me frown in concentration as I try to write of it here.
We thanked him not only for that but because his intervention helped another traveling companion pull her handbag away from one of the other thieves.
You know, it was almost as if there was some psychological or physical transformation that occurred in these thieves and it moved them beyond normal everyday behaviour and into a body language that separated them from everyone else, making their actions all but invisible.
Puzzling but anyway ... it's true, watch out for the pickpockets of Barcelona.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
If it wasn't 10euro to enter Sagrada Familia, I think I would like to visit each day to try and photograph what the light does with the material it is given to work with ...
Then again, I guess commuting from Belgium would be silly.
Well there is the waitress who lived in New Zealand but that tapas bar is a busy one so we just talk a little each time.
Today I set out with a guide for the city but foolishly wandered into a bookshop I happened upon by chance. Due to recent experiences, most particularly in France, I decided to immediately ask where the English books were ... hoping there were some.
The lovely man looked surprised and said, 'They're all English'.
I replied, I'm sorry, I'm a tourist.'
I just did the same downstairs before leaving for tapas, the I'm a tourist thing ... 2 women leaving the building at the same time thought I was trying to lock the door as I was leaving but somehow I managed to explain that no, I only wanted to be sure I knew how to get back in. They were kind, they took me through the procedure and voila, I'm back in after a dinner of tapas and with a little Mr Robert Fisk on the side.
BCN Books, Barcelona ... you must visit if you're a lover of English books because it sells itself as Your English Bookshop - something I'm wishing I had noted as I wandered in. You can find this store at Roger de Llúria, 118, 08037 Barcelona and if I have written that out incorrectly, then you can email them for directions at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone them on 934 577 692.
There is a website but I think he said it's not quite there but then again, it depends when you read this, doesn't it.
Really ... I looked over the shelves, pre-the almost-fainting-over-the-light at Salgrada Familia and almost fainted over the selection of books that BCN Books have on their shelves. And truly, I'm not a fainter.
They're so intelligent, tempting, diverse!
I have been trying to force myself to buy books that are about entertaining me and losing-myself-in-them simple because I would like some of that sometimes, but I just can't pay money for them however this bookshop satisfied all my other bookish desires.
I once heard Robert Fisk speak in Ghent university and I loved what he was saying and the passion and the other times, cold calm, with which he spoke. Some say he is too emotional, too personal but I'm not sure I agree that that is possible, especially when you've spent most of your journalistic life in the Middle East.
So I knew I had to buy his massive tome of a book - The Great War for Civilisation. The Conquest of the Middle East as soon as I saw it there.
1286 pages ...
Sometimes you wander into the church just as the light is at a particular angle and slices up the smoke from the workmens fire.
It was heavenly in there today ...
I bought 2 small booklets today, both written by artists working on Sagrada Familia.
Josep Maria Subirachs Guide to the Passion Facade and Joan Vila-Grau on The Stained-Glass Windows.
It was in the book by Josep that I found this beautiful description of the light I found inside the Sagrada Familia this morning.
In a piece titled, The Sun, The Best Painter he wrote: Gaudi is a master of light who knows all the resources needed to create heart-captivating atmosphere, and knows how to cover the windows, if need be, with colour, or how to simply guide the light over pure architectural surfaces.
He ends with a quote from Ignasi Puig Boada: The elements of the windows transform the Church walls with a palpitating light, as if the light, working like water flowing over stone, had dug into the thickness of the walls in a process of slow and polyform erosion.
I am the crazy lady wandering Barcelona with her camera, muttering about the light and the colour here ... another city, like Rome, where you should get up early to follow the light changes and then, wait until the sun is going to bed and watch as the city transforms back into a city of golden light.
I was over by Sagrada Familia by chance this afternoon and almost fainted from sheer pleasure as I glanced over at the temple ... I was cold and needed a coffee more than anything else in the world but couldn't resist one or two more photographs of the temple bathed in the late afternoon light.
That said ... this photograph is of something else entirely.
And so it seems that I am one of the few people in the world who didn't know the genius of Antoni Gaudi, his ideas about Nature and how he incorporated them in the famous Temple Expiatori Sagrada Familia.
I wandered there this morning and stayed the entire morning, watching the light change ... watching it stream through the stain-glass windows by Joan Vila-Grau and play on Gaudi's tree-like pillars.
It was truly stunning but knowing I had to locate a supermarket - shampoo, conditioner and deoderant were left out of my hand luggage - I finally found the strength to walk away from the surreal and stunning landscape of Gaudi and re-entered the world.
A small taste for you ...
Reasonably priced rooms in the centre of Barcelona may have one or two drawbacks.
I didn't know that there was flooring that could radiate a million creaks from every footstep taken but it's true, there is flooring like that and so when the first person creaked out to the bathroom just before 4am, I woke.
I believe everyone may have woken because in the course of the next 15 minutes, everyone here seems to have creaked their way to the bathroom. I had only heard footstep volume like that on Mr Bean or perhaps in a Monty Python show.
The couple next door appear to have begun packing and I think one of them is showering as I write. I guess they have an early flight ...
Good morning world, from Barcelona.
Update: 4.42am: long shower over, room neighbour has just blow-dried her hair as she and her partner talked.
Another guest just creaked into the bathroom.
Coffee is still 4 hours away.
I do hope this post has helped anyone out there suffering from Barcelona-envy.
Oh the quaint charms of 19th century buildings and guests who have no qualms about how much noise they make at 4am.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
If ... let's say hypothetically so I can tell you without entirely losing face, I once worked for a Dunedin city photographer who found it fall-on-the-floor-laughing funny that I would become disorientated on the spiral staircase to the basement in his office area (I was very young at the time), obviously giving him the impression that I am geographically inept, to the point where it's probably some kind of syndrome ... well then, I shouldn't go out with a key ring of 5 keys, some of which are just for show and some of which are for real, to be used in a complicated system of unlocking doors to get back into the guest house where I'm staying.
Just for show ... I didn't get what she meant about that.
Tomorrow's big question over breakfast perhaps.
2. If I know I am geographically inept and I had already noted that the guest house owner appears to have given me the wrong street address by one number ... truly, she has, then I shouldn't go out into the night because ... I will press the button of my floor on the WRONG building.
Sigh, he sounded lovely and did want to help.
3. So I was correct to hang my head in shame when I finally identified my building but couldn't make the keys work ... not one of the 5 keys actually, (although they were spectacularly less successful in the wrong building). I was correct to hang my head in shame when my real Spanish neighbours had to let me in and showed me, (and I could tell this was a regular thing with silly guest house tourists, despite their very gracious manner), showed me how to work the complicated key system and which key holes were fake.
I can only hope they appreciated me sending the elevator back down to them. I didn't call them down, I was just lucky they were coming in.
But now to the good news ...
On my way to the supermarket (because one does get terribly hungry at 4am, when they're done with sleeping from that early night they took to avoid going out in search of food for fear of getting lost or locked out) ... on my way to the supermarket I accidentally wandered into a rather excellent tapas bar, as one does in Spain.
I ate at de Tapa Madre and the food was stunning, the wine was excellent, the price was superb and ... the waitress had lived in New Zealand last year and loved it of course!
Unfortunately she wasn't given approval to live there, for which I apologised ... my people are rotten about foreigners which is terribly hypocritical when you consider that some of the New Zealanders came by their land by foul means, as in land theft and colonisation.
My waitress's English was perfect and even better, she understood mine ... but seriously, if you're in Barcelona and you want good food and a nice atmosphere, then I would really recommend de Tapa Madre
Oh, and the complicated system of keys and locks ... further complicated by the fact that my guest house host rarely picks up the phone so when I arrived earlier than expected from the airport, I ended up being let in by other guests who happened along.
So far I have been twice-saved from a night spent sleeping rough on Barcelona streets ... I think I'll just curl up and sleep now.
What is it Scarlett O'Hara said?
After all... tomorrow is another day. ;)
Then I sit down on the train and for whatever reason, my worries begin melting away. Later, the plane lands in a new country and voila, it's okay.
Tonight I'm in the middle of Barcelona city, close to Temple de La Sagrada Familia and it's all a little bit daunting at the moment, as I arrived in the dark and have been warned at least 16,000 times about pick-pockets. I have to smile, as usually my pockets have nothing but used tissues in them but we'll see ... I left my new lens at home in recognition of the fact that the pickpockets here seem to be more famous and more feared than pickpockets in Istanbul and Rome.
I might have fallen a little in love with the mountains and hills I could see from the bus that brought me to the city from Girona Airport. I noticed the light out there (more than an hour from the city) was special too.
And it was noticeably warmer than the grey bone-chilling drizzle I left as I stepped on the plane back in Brussels. They're talking about 16-17 celsius with clear skies in the morning so I might take my camera out for a stroll after breakfast.
Oh, and I've changed my weather underground badge to Barcelona weather reporting while I'm here.
Living in countries not my own has made the internet an important part of my life. It's where family and friends know they can find me and of course, I can find them. It's been nice tonight, realising that I could open my laptop here in my bedroom and enter that other 'home' that I have while trying to decide whether to wrestle with the interesting set of locks and keys on the guesthouse ... all the way from the street to my room, or simply go to bed without any dinner and try to catch up on the sleep that I so desperately need.
Anyway, the plan is to be far more interesting tomorrow. That would be interesting in a good way and not in that other way ... I'll let you know.
Hasta la vista.
If the words of a 16 year old wishing for a more equal world interest you, then you can read Waverli Rainey over here.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
That would be the little bag that usually just carries my camera gear, laptop and equipment ... and yes, they are still going with me.
It's littler than 55 by 40 by 20cms and it slips in under the limit for RyanAir's cabin baggage requirements.
So Barcelona will see 2 pair of Di's black jeans, her red shirt, the green shirt. I'll wear the jacket, the scarf, the 1 pair of shoes ... it should be fine. I'm a New Zealander and therefore I am quite unwilling to write of my undergarments, although getting through customs is best done when wearing the white bra (under everything of course). The black one always sets off alarms, in much the same way that the safety pin that held up my favourite black jeans as they were coming to the end of their natural life, set off the alarms.
I hope to do postcards but I am collecting an unfortunate series of international Post Office experiences ... if you get one well, it's more about bizarre luck than anything else in these days of wandering in countries where I don't speak the language.
Hasta la vista!
Monday, November 17, 2008
An email came in in the afternoon and funding has been approved for the project in the Middle East. I have a meeting in Amsterdam on November 26 to find out what my role will be.
I'm working in Brussels tomorrow and fly out to Barcelona on Wednesday.
Ummm yes, that would be my head that's spinning.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
I just finished watching the movie In Bruges , amidst many head-shaking 'did they really just say that?' moments and guilty little episodes of laughter.
Van, I think you need to see this movie.
I think you will like it. You too, Mark. Actually, maybe you should wait till you come over in 2009, I'll get some Australian red and we can kick back and watch it.
I'm not sure what Gert will think of it ... but me, well I'm still giggling trying to write something serious and completely failing to do more than smile.
If you liked Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels well, you'll like this.
If you have a wee bit of a thing about Bruges, as in you love it ... I'm not so sure this is for you however ... in the movies defense, the mayor of Bruges did have a part in it so it's not really that bad.
Oh, and there's more bad language than I've ever heard seen in a movie, although that could be more about the kind of movies I normally watch.
I think that's all I have to say.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
A long story, a beautiful relic.
Taken without flash, somewhere in the back of this ancient building on an impromptu tour with an Italian-speaking guide who invited me to join his tour group when he found me exploring the church.
I had read of these padlocks elsewhere and I presume these are more of the same ... couples padlocking and stating their love for each other.Update, to explain: In 2006, a romance movie based upon the novel "Ho Voglia di Te" was released in Italy and it started a ritual with young Italian couples. In the movie, a teenage couple is seen writing their names on an ordinary padlock and locking it with a chain around a lamp post. Both the novel (a sequel to "Tre Metri Sopra il Cielo") and the movie were hugely popular and people began to imitate the practice, throwing the keys into the water in a gesture of undying love.
I guess this photograph means far more to me than to anyone who just sees this ... there are 3 seats behind this wall and the sea directly below.
It's a beautiful place to sit awhile, to soak up the sun and blue skies, or to enjoy the warm breeze pushed ahead of a storm while the god rays beam down from a wind-blown cloud-filled sky.
I loved the graffiti too ... the plaque, the graffiti and the padlocks image to follow seem like conversations to me. Real people live here.
Or is that Italian chocolate made the old-fashioned way ...
I interviewed the man who makes chocolates while I was in the city. The machinery he uses is from the 19th century and the processes are still the old processes where ever possible.