Tuesday, December 10. 2013
Tuesday 10th December, cool and grey. We haven't seen frost on the grass yet this year. Bird action in the garden however, is picking up despite the warm weather. I like seeing them. Gabriel playing Haydn downstairs, a flying visit, he has a recital in Brighton this lunchtime at the Chapel Royal.
Fear To Tread. . .
Supersized Celebrity Charities getting asked some awkward questions, BBC Panorama tonight, it's a date. They invested the donated millions in what. They had to! It's all about money, isn't it? I'm getting really sick of the capitalism-isation of charities, and really sick of this whole concept of paying obscenely high salaries for celebrity or high-flying candidates in public or compassionate leadership roles "because you have to attract the right people."
For God's sake!
On the other hand, I feel I'd happily endorse an MP pay rise to £74,000 p.a. (a topic currently clocking a fantastic number of comments on the BBC news site.) On condition that anyone in government office, local or national, "earning", or found to be otherwise aquiring, an annual income above £74,000 p.a. should be liable to instant dismissal and a mandatory custodial sentence. Just joking.
Swings and Roundabouts
But what can you do? Either you grovellingly award rule to the Good and the Beautiful, on the grounds that probity comes naturally to the wealthy and the successful (eg George Osborne, Dave Cameron, Margaret Thatcher & the CEOs of several charities and ngos I had better not name). Or you righteously award rule to the Opposition to this natural state of things. And you end up with er, Tony Blair?
Have a great big proper old clear out occasionally; seems to be the default solution, in modern history. Maybe not the best one.
The students of Sussex university, and elsewhere. The police brutality in London, as shown on tv, is looking scary.
Wednesday, December 4. 2013
Wednesday 4th December, colder, lighter overcast. No sign of the threatened 80mph storm Arctic Plunge, don't think we get it here on the south coast. 4-5 goldfinches on the nijer feeder this morning while I was making harira, and the starlings gang of course. We have no squirrels any more in the Crescent back gardens, which may or may not be entirely because someone got rid of the nest in their loft (not us).Squirrels with wings fill the niche.
What's wrong with this sentence? "Many individuals and groups use and cherish the night for what it is. (okay, two sentences) They do not want to put up lights but rather need darkness for their actions and doings: thieves, demons, hunters, warriors, healers, or just people wanting to celebrate. . ." I find I often know more on many article topics than the New Scientist writers these days; natural consequence of having followed (popular) science and tech stories in their helical paths for longer than writers have been alive, but this is a new one. & it's not even true. Demons are fine about doing business in the noonday sun. I read that in the Bible.
My Fracking Update
Blow from the US for the greenwash selling point about shale gas "reducing emissions"
The Ruth Galloway mysteries. I like these. Forensic anthropologist stories, based in North Norfolk. Elly Griffiths lives in Brighton, apparently, haven't read the bio but I bet she was born in Manchester.
Arctic Monkeys AM Bought the cd a few weeks ago. On my "cloud player", at my desk, this morning. Yes, I know, I know. I'm shocked at myself too.
They use what?
When we were hanging around demonstrating for the Arctic 30 a week or two ago, some woman came up and bent our ears, scaremongering about the DU-lined (depleted uranium) shaped charges routinely used in horizontal frack drilling. Smile and nod, we thought . . Apologies, lady in the chocolate flounced skirt, I feel we may have been wrong.
True or false? Mr Cameron, Mr Davey, Mr Osborne, could you please explain?
Keynote Picture: I've decided I'll use this photo, December Oak taken, near Clayton I think, this time last year; notionally representing Bob Peck as a tree, until the end of the month
Sunday, December 1. 2013
Sunday 1st December, a chilly grey day. No frost yet. Starlings descend on the birdfeeders & hoover up the dried mealworms, blue tits doing damage to the suet block. Yesterday we walked around Wadhurst, through the Wealden fields and woods, over dark streams under bright leaves, looking our last and getting hungrier and hungrier as all the pubs within reach, and the Linney tea rooms, fondly remembered, were out of action. You cannot assume any given country pub will still be functioning now. . .the leaves in beautiful colour at last after a cooler spell, fabulous beeches on Argos Hill, and foraged some fine fat late season chestnuts. Today I have skinned the chestnuts, Peter has raked leaves, and we have baked our Christmas cake. No sign of Ison, sadly, but maybe it's just as well. Do we really want to see the sky full of great big comets, given all the other portents.
G: What do you think about Scottish Independence?
P: Not going to happen. Spain will refuse to have them in the EU. Catalonia issue
G: Ooh, yes. I never thought of that. No Dissolution for UK because everybody will want one. . .There'll be quite a few EU states with that reaction. What do you think about the UK quitting the EU?
P: xxxxxxg stupid.
G: I completely agree about the xxxxxxg stupid, but I think it's possible. I also think that in a few years, say ten years, only taxpayers in the UK will have the vote. And you should listen to me, I've been right about a few things. . .
Searching for I don't remember what I came across Troy Kennedy Martin's Northmoor manifesto, and thought again how true that bizarre unravelling ending felt (1985-style true about the future, though Kennedy Martin may have come to feel it was wrong in every detail). & I remembered crediting Edge of Darkness, in my Bold as Love Band Of Gypsys page, on just this issu. You just have to say to yourself, when you are fated to live on such a cusp, born in a hopeful world, growing up or growing older in a disaster zone, well, okaythe black flowers will bloom. Private debt collectors racking up the interest, on student loans that will keep the kids indebted for a lifetime? Not worth worrying about, it had to happen, that "government" scheme was always doomed, my son has the right attitude. Shale gas UK? It makes no sense, it will be devastating, but the signs are clear, any legal barrier will be removed, all rational protest buried deep in inside pages. Global Climate change campaigners becoming indistinguishable from battlefield emergency workers, pleading for aid from the ruthless combatants themselves? Both our leaders, Miliband and Cameron coming on strong against the mounting tides of immigration, making speeches in Parliament like an invitation to Kristallnicht? So it goes. (No doubt the Bulgarian govt would talk tough about its own "immigration" problem, if it wasn't too busy falling apart). It's history, it's the cold equations. Can't go round this thing, got to go through it.
Just haul as hard as you can, as long as you can, in the opposite direction, any chance you get. The mission is still the mission: save the future.
Saw Gravity in 3D. Excellent. Gripping, unremitting thrillride from start to finish. Fabulous special effects. A Ripley for the 21st century, who doesn't even rescue a cat, facing the real, utterly terrifiying and pitiless monster of whom that metal lobstery thing with the acid blood was a mere shadow: Outer Space itself. I have suddenly lost all desire to train as an astronaut.
Also saw Blue Is The Warmest Colour; didn't like it much. It's about two hours too long, the sex scenes are definitely exploitative (& not helped by the fact that we'd viewed Berberian Sound Studio the night before. Those who have seen both movies will know what I mean). The two main characters are cliched and boring, though to be fair, the inordinate length of the thing was hard on such a slight story, and the manipulative queen bee dyke's "art" is truly dreadful. A director to be avoided. Arthouse porn at its pompous tackiest.
An email from Mike Ashley (currently writing the fourth and final volume of his history of the SF magazines for Liverpool Univ Press) who has dug up part ofThe Star. Rachel Pollack's meditation on the Tarot card, an interview with Storm Constantine, reports from an Amnesty UK conference on Female Genital Mutilation, my (fondly recalled) "Big Board" gaming story, and all those crazy colours. . . I found a less tattered remnant once, but that was many years ago & I'm amazed at this survival. The things this unpredictable swamp called the internet preserves. . . Try your luck, if you have time:
Many thanks to greywyvern for identifying my Axel Oxenisterna Latin quote for me. (Do you not know, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed?)
Wednesday, November 20. 2013
Wednesday 20th November, thick grey skies, the sycamore is bare, the red maple and the birch almost naked, our young elm still hanging onto most of its leaves, but it's winter at last, and I might start feeding the birds soon. Cold rain outside my window now, but the night was clear and Orion stands in our landing window again. Time starts to fly as you get older, but as the future contracts, the past expands. How many times, really have I climbed the stairs on a clear winter night, and seen, and stopped to notice that pattern of jewels in the darkness, and looked for the Pleiades, high up above the hunter's left shoulder (hope I've got that right, my sense of right vs left is hopeless)? Probably not many, and only amounting to twenty minutes or so, in twenty years or so, but in memory it seems like an endless sequence of chilly peaceful winter nights, up the stairs, there's Orion. . .
Mixed news on the plans to frack in Sussex. Cuadrilla bedded in at Balcombe, with the support of a willing landowner and despite the dogged efforts of the Environment Agency guys to do their job. Protesters evicted from the roadside, however, went off and set up camp outside West Sussex County Council's front door in Chichester, with the surprising result that WSCC's Louise Goldsmith has entered into dialogue with them, and plans to write to Dave Cameron. Ms Goldsmith has made the same promise to Frack Free Fernhurst
Meanwhile, Kirdford and Wisborough Green Parish Council voted unanimously to reject the proposed Celtique Energie/Magellan Petroleum drilling near Boxal Bridge.
So what now? What happens when the people, the voters that is, say no, with an assist from mounting tally of Biblical-proportions extreme weather?
The fracking goes ahead, no doubt*. Possibly after a show-debate. Nescis, mi fili, quantilla sapientia mundus regatur** (No idea who said that, I picked it up from T.H.White; quoted in The Master)
*cf mysterious silence on the UK fracking bonanza issue, in UK tv coverage (starring Ed Davey as the knight in shining armour of Climate Change Control) of the fracas in Warsaw.
New Bad News...?
Nah, not really. Just surfaced now, for some reason. Unbelievable, inevitable. They've got to be kidding, haven't they?
I tried to worry my son about this, but he's tired of worrying about the mounting tally of terrible news. Yes, yes, he said. But I'm planning a recital right now. Philip (his friend and teacher), likes the Haydn sonata as an opener, what do you think?
And I repented. Let the young be young.
Date For Your Diaries (if you live in reach of London)
I'm going. I think I probably have strong differences of opinion with Shaker Aamer. I certainly do not like his old mucker Moazzam Begg. But the horror of Guantanamo is beyond belief. If you haven't seen the animation, it can be watched here:
<Les Dieux Ont Soif, Anatole France. Latest from my father's french library. A novel about the Terror: humane and pitiless. Reminding me so much of the catastrophic consequences of the so-called Arab Spring, still unfolding.
And The Hours, Michael Cunningham. I hadn't watched the movie until last week, for the petty reason that I saw the trailer, and the Ouse by Rodmell does not look a bit like that and didn't in 1941. But then my friend Elly convinced me, so now I've seen it and liked it, with reservations; and had to get the book.
Later: I liked the movie better. Ironically, the movie featuring three of the BIGGEST FEMALE NAMES in Hollywood managed to seem a lot less "Hollywood" than the novel: & certainly a lot less obsessed with fame and celebrity.
The News, of course. Gripping stuff. Don't you just love End of Days disaster movies?
Keynote picture is your link to Naam, the song voiced by Christy Azumah for Aissa Maiga's role in Bamako. I spent ages looking for the singer, owing to the fact that I was convinced she must be Malian and young, like Aissa Maiga. No, Ghanian and dating from the Seventies. She's dead now, died in Los Angeles, of cancer in 1999 they say.
The Christy Azumah and the Uppers vinyl is going on my Christmas list.
** You have no idea, my son, with what little wisdom the world is governed...
Monday, November 11. 2013
Monday 11th November, just past the eleventh hour of the eleventh day. It's a rainy, windy, rather chilly morning, and time for a review of the fracking situation. I wish I had better news, but I don't.
The Lords' committee questioning the extreme energy bosses were so tender with the pirates, it almost brought tears to my eyes. If you have the patience, meet Mr Andrew Austin CEO of IgAs, favourite movie, Local Hero, when gently teased over this preference by Lord McGregor, turns out Andrew only liked the soundtrack (he didn't inhale). Hear him explaining that some of these communities, some of these planning authorities, haven't got the message, my Lords. . . What do we need? What we need from you is a Big Stick. (cf Mr Eagan, hurt and distressed we're not fracking. Really we're not). Our interest is in exploratory drilling, see. We're promising you riches, but that's later, we'll be gone, you'll have to deal with the mess.
Climate change didn't get much of a look-in, except as one of those pesky minor issues that has to be dismissed with a serious expression. Meanwhile, the Mirror has an article of Typhoon Haiyan, that joins up the dots we're not supposed to join up. And in Fernhurst, Surrey, the prospective drilling site in the South Downs National Park, the "willing landowners" in the case are feeling some ire from their neighbours, while the National Park authority (SDNP) has no objection to the prospective Celtique drilling, but has objected to a solar farm on the grounds of visual impact.
And here's a mystery. I know there's strong opposition to fracking in the UK, and not only from culture of protest types. From the Low Weald to the Forest of Bowland, and not even counting those who just disinterestedly feel that climate change is a clear and present danger, I bet there's more than several 100,000 of you out there. It's not so crazy. We can say no. Other countries have said no. What happened to clictivism?
Take your pick, try signing one or two of these. I'm not saying which, just see what happens.
Avaaz is doing terrible.
The Green Party was doing slightly better than the rest:
but it seems to have given up and gone home.
You could try the specialists, if the expression climate change chaos is okay with you:
And then there's the peleton (this is just a sample)
Sad, isn't it.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice
I'm out of the loop, and happy to be out here, but therefore I have to be more cautious about attributing sf political engagement. When I read Ancillary Justice it seemed to me that Ann Leckie's default pronoun could purely be plausible extrapolation. The future will be ambiguous, there's signs things are going that way, and why not? Why use "she"? Well, just ask yourself, how's "he" going to sound. . . I went looking, and found this splendid rant. Wonderful, couldn't have put it better myself. So then I knew.
If you're a BSFA member you should be getting this review, in a slightly different edition, in your next mailing. http://homepage.ntlworld.com/gwynethann/AncillaryJustice.htm
In Brighton this Friday? Gabriel Jones and Marianne Wright are in concert at the Unitarian Church, New Road. lunchtime, see link for details, singing mainly Debussy and Poulenc. Also at the Chapel Royal 1pm 1Oth December.
The keynote picture is the remains of our impromptu, minimalist garden firework display on Tuesday night. Reviving an old tradition, except we used to tramp up to the top of Racehill (cf Kairos) and except that the skies are a lot quieter on this night than they used to be.
Tuesday, November 5. 2013
Tuesday 5th November, rainy morning, raw grey afternoon. Today I've felt cold in the house first time this season, despite warm jumper and a shawl. But it's not time to start using the central heating. Not while outdoor temperatures are still struggling to get below 15 degrees. Not green, however, but gold november and gold hallow'een in York, from the showers of orange gold and yellow gold leaves that rushed around, covering the walk by the Ouse as we strode up and down. Which looks likely to be drowned deep a couple of times at least: this is going to be one of those mild and wet, wet, wet global warming winters, on the signs so far. It rained on us a lot; not a problem, as it led to spending a v pleasant session on Friday afternoon in the Guido Fawkes, pub where Guy Fawkes was born, 1570 (perhaps building was not a pub at the time), watching the wet world go by
York, ah, one of the Lonely Planet three top global destinations! I don't know how that came about, it seems bizarre to me, even though of course this country is a first class treasure, but it's certainly a fine place to visit for the feast of the dead and the death of the old year, the old town all en dark and scary (if you're afraid of chocolate pumpkins) fete, the costumed ghost walk touts prowling, and then for All Saints, a magical Open Night in the Minster, where we joined the throng lining up to add candles to the spiral of lights in the Chapter House. We stayed there for a long time, in one of the stone mediaeval bays under the weird carvings, and I suppose I should have been thinking of my dead, of whom there are getting to be quite a few, but I didn't, just sat and gazed at the lights in the darkness, the faces, wishing it would never end.
Anyway, go to York next Hallow'een, and you won't be disappointed. Not if you book early, that is.
Last week I sentenced myself to an Alice week, meaning I had to watch all the movies I believed I was dying to see, and had recorded off the tv guide, or else chuck them:
I watched this one, but I didn't really like it. Fiction filmed in documentary style, in this case turned out to mean the drama is as opaque as if you were watching strangers & never finding out what's really going on. Set on the world heritage Banco Chinchorro coral reef, but the reef is only an extra, all anyone did about it was catch fish to eat and lobsters to chop the tails off and sell. The little boy was okay, and so was Blanquita the cattle egret, but I got to quite dislike the pretty-looking free spirit daddy.
Bamako is the capital of Mali. This is a brilliant movie, about Africa putting the post-colonial exploiters on trial. Seek it out. The music is excellent too. The bad thing about watching it was knowing what has happened to this city and to Mali, since 2006.
Mahanagar The Big City. Set in Calcutta, in the fifties. Not the best Satyajit Ray movie I've seen, but pretty good, beautiful to look at and Madhabi Mukherjee is just amazing. The hopes and dreams of India, of a man and a woman, walking off into the utterly daunting future, proud to be paying the price of their decent ideals: heads high and side by side. Heartbreaking final shot.
A Separation One of the best movies I've seen in a long time. Compelling naturalistic direction, compelling, low-key devastating story. The husbands don't come out of it too well, unfortunately, but there are no villains. If you are like me and kept meaning to go and see this and lazily never made it, seek it out now.
Basketcase Deleted unseen. It's no fun watching horror movies on my own, and Peter does not like them. Also, it's Hallow'een and I have captured a new collection.
Night Of The Living Dead recorded for old times sake. Deleted unseen; see above.
The keynote photo is of course the spiral of lights for the dead, in the Chapter House. The thumbnail next to this is Piano In The Rain, my favourite Dana Schulz, who's having an exhibition at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield at the moment. Nothing like the Turner at Margate, this is not wishful thinking it's a really great gallery, with of course plenty of Barbara Hepworth. I loved her sculpture galleries; and Henry Moore, but also (currently) Dana Schultz and Tissot, my top jigsaw man. In the Calder (a big cavernous brick shed they use for installations), we watched, or witnessed, a new Roger Hiorns installation (no name, far as I can tell) about a naked youth, and fire, and various oddly assorted objects. Many people didn't stick it out (awful cold in that shed) but I thought it was good, beautiful and engrossing, if not quite as stunning as the spiral, and then enlivened by Peter's having spotted a baby squirrel that had got itself stranded on a windowledge, far above the raging Calder river... The rescue operation intensified the experience no end.
We left while this impromptu work was still in progress, but to all who took part, it was great, and I hope the squirrel came out of it okay.
Rhubarb? I think it isn't the season.
Happy New Year!
Tuesday, October 15. 2013
Tuesday October 15th, clear and chilly morning, bright sun and warm air now. Saturday the 12th we went foraging, over to Hurstmonceux, but we were too early. Beautiful weather, the trees just turning, hedges full of red rose hips and holly berries, and plenty of conkers, but only a pocket full of chestnuts and no funghi to mention, except two undersized field mushrooms, which we carried around pour encourager les autres, and some raggy little old fairy ring mushrooms that we left in peace. So we had lunch at the Bulls Head, Boreham Street, one of the nicest pubs we know, very pleasant drop of Harvey's Bitter you get there, and wandered onward, heading for a beautiful sunset, great sweeping brushstrokes of warm pink across that deep clear blue you only see in autumn skies, me just vaguely looking out for those parasols we usually find somewhere around here. It's almost exactly a year since the news of ash dieback in the UK broke, so I was looking at the ash trees (of which there are plenty around Boreham), and seeing them not withered and blighted, not yet*, but all smothered in bunches of keys and some just turning from green to lemony. . .& then I saw a white ovoid in a clover field, and decided it must be a mushroom. Far too big, says Peter, but something in my ancient little brain said different, so I went haring over there, and stumbled on a monstrous fairy ring of giant puffballs. I've never seen even one giant puffball, except in pictures. They are very strange. Unbelievably huge, pure white lumps the consistency of beancurd with a kid leather skin, and one of them (the one I had spotted from far away) well young enough to eat. As big as my head? Nah, twice that! Like having a big fat tofu ham in the fridge. Enough for a week at least!
Saturday: sliced giant puffball on toast, fried in butter and garlic (very good)
Sunday: puffball curry with chapatis and dahl (surprisingly excellent)
Monday: Puffball and celery soup, with sherry and Worcester sauce (dreadful. Slime flavoured with worcester sauce and had to be replaced with an internet recipe for puffball, corn kernel, onion and milk broth.)
Tuesday: Chinese vegetables, puffball and rice
Wednesday: creamed puffball and pasta
Actually, I'll cook the last of it tonight. Wednesday isn't going to happen, owing to me having omitted to cut off the growing point, where the fruit connects to the mycelium. . . so our giant puffball went on growing up, and when the spore mass is mature, it's inedible. I knew that, but forgot in my astonishment.
Have posted off my written objection to the "exploratory drilling" at Wisborough Green, which is a weight off my mind. I intend to post it on Gwynethann as well, so you can read it if you want to, although it's pretty boring really. (and here's the link) I also intend to add a short snappy one to the growing number on the WSCC site. Nobody is going to be able to say it happened because we did nothing, in our tiny patch.
On the other hand, here's a site to watch, for a reality check on our global chances:
And meanwhile, from the Brighton Independent: Caroline Lucas, my MP, and in my humble opinion the best MP in the UK, has decided to plead not guilty and go to trial, over her alleged public order offences at the Balcombe drilling site protest. I am very proud of her, and when the trial comes up, I intend to be there.
Not found anything to replace Breaking Bad yet. Blacklist is just feeble. Last night, when we eventually convened for some tv leisure, we watched part of The Mummy Returns (which never tires) and Avengers Assemble, on Gabriel's recommendation. A supersized, fat and sugar feast of silliness, but not a patch on the former entertainment.
The keynote picture is the giant puffball in our fridge of course. *I ducked the ash dieback story this morning, wondering what the reporting was like, a year ago, and was it really so doomladen? Yes, it was, is the answer. Ash dieback will spread at a rate of 20 miles a year, and nearly every ash tree in the UK will be infected in a decade... It could still be true, but maybe, possibly, it won't be quite that fast, or so devastating?
Wednesday, October 2. 2013
Wednesday 2nd October, grey skies, clammy air. Rain in the night, but it didn't change anything. Spider season in the garden has come and gone since I last added anything to this blog, and far too much of the time between has been spent reading the documents supporting Energie Celtique's application to drill for oil and/or gas, at a site between Wisborough Green and Kirdford, Chichester district, West Sussex, deep in that "intimate and secluded" landscape, (I'm quoting from the ES) that still retains (miraculously! ed) its mediaeval character. There's 1000 pages of the stuff. The ancient headland church at Wisborough Green is the haunted location I chose for my "Tom and Em" story The Flame Is Roses The Smoke Is Briars. The Sussex Wildlife Trust has a reserve adjoining the site, frequented by all sorts of bats, including the rare species our present regime mysteriously insists that it protects to the point of reverent worship (cf great crested newts: they're obsessed with great crested newts, they love to catch them and carry them around in jars, like rapacious small children of fifty years ago). SWT wasn't consulted, of course. They're asking all their members to object, and of course many of us will, but the process is a mean joke. If we so much as hint at the term "fracking", our objections will be tossed. If we say, exploration? Well, what are they exploring for, if they don't mean to exploit?, our objections will be tossed. If we say, we know what outcome is planned. We've read the letter to the shareholders, and it's all about tasty unconventional energy reserves, do you think we don't know what unconventional means?... Do you think we don't know how many wells they'll need? our objections will be tossed.
Sometimes I wonder, what could be the Invasion of Poland, the game changer, in the preamble to this war against the worst threat our civilisation has ever faced? And I can't think. I just can't think.
Not many people realise this, but that dust, the eutrophic nitrogen in all the heavy goods vehicle emissions just duing the 3 years of this "exploration" license, will be enough to destroy a lot of the "value" of these choice "landscape receptors": and I mean permanently.
& that's only one of the threads I'm involved in. I'm drowning in hopeless activism here. I really must get a grip on this.
& so, goodbye Breaking Bad. On Friday night we took a break, and another on Saturday: then realised we weren't going to make it without a huge effort, and it was worth it. 3 episodes on Sunday, and a race to the finish on Monday, late. There's times when I've grown impatient, and many times I've grumbled that the two female characters had very little to do except wander vaguely about being witless (I'm not counting the Wicked Witch of the East with her iconic red soles; or that zero-hours contracted baby), but even Marie was a huge improvement on the usual sopranos and madmen collusive and enabling pneumatic dolls. The melodrama of the last stretch was peerless. Pantomime elements in the mopping up of secondaries fine with me. I like a fictioneer who isn't afraid of pantomime. Happy ending for the monster of evil, reunited with his true love, also okay with me. It was neat.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice; for Vector. Very interesting! All I'm going to say about that for the moment.
A change in the weather.
Keynote picture is my gentian sino ornata, that I bought to cheer myself up. This plant will have to live in a pot when it moves to the garden, as it hates chalk, yes, I know that. Couldn't help myself. Bright blue October sky...Memo, must visit Sheffield Park this month.
Thursday, September 19. 2013
How ironic that Nick Clegg decided to come out in favour of Nuclear Power (with a slightly muted side order on how much he loves fracking), the same weekend as we learned that Cumbria is again to be considered as the site for a massive nuclear waste store. How can this be, when the proposal was dismissed, on geological and a slew of other grounds, just eight months ago? Simples! Our government (cf horizontal drilling) is going to change the rules. And go on changing the rules, for as long as it takes, I presume. If you're interested, there's a comprehensive round-up of why the proposal keeps getting thrown out here:
But it's a tough situation. Last winter, when I went looking, I swiftly discovered that the chief "unbiased blogger" supporting the Wasdale scheme was Sellafield's press officer in a different hat. Shock, horror? Not really, not even blameworthy, really. What's an industry to do? The waste is there, it has to go somewhere. It's not going to go away. Okay, so bury it under Sellafield, right there on the rather unattractive seaside! It looks like the elegant solution. But perhaps not, considering what's happening at the seaside at Fukushima right now... I'm not fanatically opposed to nuclear power. Really, I'm not. I'd be cautiously receptive to the idea of thorium reactors: except I'm not in favour of massive investment in a new, doom-laden fossil fuel start-up, instead of investing in the future. It's just that the industry's difficulties seem so hopelessly recalcitrant, after sixty years of trying. Can't even get rid of the government subsidies: can't even begin to stand on its own feet... Ask yourself, why is the political "Western World" so slap bang convinced that Iran is on the road to building nuclear weapons? Because the leaders of the "Western World" know fine well that as long as you have two sticks to rub together in the way of other energy sources, nuclear stinks. It's only good for one thing: Weapons Of Mass Destruction.
& I think Nick Clegg knows that as well as I do.
Gabriel was down at the weekend. Ginger and I spent some of Sunday watching him play Fall Out "America's First Choice In Post-Nuclear Simulation". Just like old times, when it used to be Counterstrike. We hunted Deathclaws at Quarry Junction, we helped a couple of young lovers to hook up, we dealt with some giant ants and turned the solar power generators back on at I forget where. It was good fun: a Final Fantasy type RPG at heart, but I think I'll stick with Zelda. Under the surfaces, nothing much has changed. I watched the background, this parched, cruelly impoverished environment that the kids take for granted. There's a strong founding father element in game creation, chunks of code that turn up over and over, appearing on your screen as wooden crates, railway sidings, rusted metal sheds; vaguely identifiable South West Seaboard US cityscapes: but that doesn't completely explain it. Why are the games so sure?, I wondered, somewhat spooked. The Apocalypse mooted in Fall Out isn't seriously "Nuclear". It could just as well have been Zombie Plague that did the damage. "Nuclear" is a convention, a shorthand. It covers a lot of things, the intractable truth about how we got where we are now. What we see ahead, and how poor in solutions we find ourselves.
Binging on Breaking Bad
I'm starting to feel as if I'm in an eating competition. Thank God these people show no sign of getting LOST, but they're spreading what they have fairly thin. Why does the product have to be so staggeringly pure, btw? I mean, right down on the street like it is? I didn't think the drug industry worked like that. I know what she's going to do with some of it, saw it coming a mile off, but why doesn't Skyler (stupid name) just burn a stack of the dirty money? Nah, don't tell me. I'm ticking off my guesses, right and wrong, as we move into the home stretch: it's something to do.
On the High Court's decision about West Sussex CC's attempt to evict the Balcombe protestors, who will now be able to maintain their presence until the current planning permission runs out on the 28th September. And vindication for the anti-fracking movement, in reports of catastrophic damage to farming, esp livestock farming, in the USA; that are now reaching UK farmers. Our water, and now our food production. Leave aside all the rest. Will this be enough? The end of the threat? I very strongly doubt it. Fernhurst, Kidford and Wisborough are up next.
Revisiting Bold As Love
Eating out last night at the Eastern Eye for Maude's birthday, conversation with the young people gave me an update on the cold equations of being in a hot, cool, but unsigned rock band. I've promised to send Charlotte and Lizze, best friends of my friend's daughter, copies of the Ax, Sage and Fiorinda portraits. Oh no, my digital copies have become corrupt. I'll have to scan from the originals again, or get it done properly for me... Hoping they might be online somewhere (nope), I turned up this gem from 2011. Nothing to do with me, I swear.
little darling, it's been a long cold lonely winter...
Sadly, the graphic novel version of Bold As Love advertised by The Guardian in support of my review of Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season does not exist. What they have is just the US hardcover, with the Union Jack cover design (augh!), being sold by whoever bought the stock from the deceased Night Shade books. That's nothing to do with me, either.
I wonder how the fanbase (in so far as there is one) will take to Aoxomoxoa at forty five. If I ever publish, that is.
But what was it like in modern Greece, 2013, you'll be asking. Surely that's the real story. Protests? People coping with the Economic Crisis? Nazi gangs? Were you affected? Yes and no. We heard some sad stories. Trouble brushed by us, probably more often than we knew. & we were in a strictly cash economy all right. Nobody wanted to see a credit card. But having credit line problems is one thing: grinding poverty is another and often invisible, same as in the UK. The rich were carrying on regardless, far as we could tell.
As tourists with a hired car we were removed from the harsh underbelly of the recovery. The tourist towns were struggling, no doubt about it. The tour-buses still rolled into Delfi, but nobody in town was getting much of a taste & it was like that everywhere. As for Golden Dawn, we were keeping well away from Athens and that, I admit, was part of the plan. We, personally never had any trouble. But now, the news this week from Athens, just when I was thinking of how to frame this necessary coda: the murder of Pavlos Fissas, brave man, that's such bad news. The scenes of Far-Right vs Communist street-fighting. So eerily familiar, is this the nineteen thirties?: so close to my own fiction: such a chilling re-enactment game being played out in the real world. Can't think what more to say.
Tuesday, September 17. 2013
The Oracle at Dodona is well signposted off the Egnatia, about twenty kilometres west of Ioannina, but easy to miss close up: hidden in plain sight behind plain black railings with no signage, no billboards, only the two flags, one blue and gold, one blue and white, and a tiny brass plaque; like a dentist's. Entrance to the site of the greatest and most ancient Oracle was 1 euro. We'd set out very early, as a precaution against tourbuses, but I don't think it was necessary. We were completely alone for most of our visit, except for a single, very plump guard who never stirred from her shady seat; except to blow her whistle when we ventured too near the Do Not Cross tape around the proscenium.
The theatre was built to hold 17,000 people, which is quite a thought, considering how they'd have had to get here. It's functional again, there was a stunning production of Medea here a couple of years ago. Originally and for a long time there were no buildings. Ge, the earth mother was worshipped in the open. When Zeus (also known as Dion) moved in, Ge became known as his wife, Dione and they lived together in a sacred house, beside the old sacred enclosure. The Zeus of Dodona is known as Nias, the dweller; which I liked. It makes him sound homely, like the naiad of a stream. He dwells here in Ge's sanctuary. Later on, other shrines were built for other deities, and a council chamber for Epirote decision-making. Only the foundations remain.
The historical record of this place is obscure and confusied, but it seems that priests, male, and the "doves" female accepted written questions on strips of lead, and gave answers based on what they heard in the sound of the sacred oak's leaves, rustling in the breeze. Later on, metal cauldrons suspended on tripods were set around the oak's trunk for the breeze to shake, which probably made a more impressive noise. We listened, but we could barely hear a whisper. I don't know about Peter, but I couldn't frame a question, which was a slight problem. I'm just not in that mind set. There aren't any cauldrons, currently. In the fourth century CE, local Christians chopped down a huge ancient oak and dug out the roots, hoping for buried treasure. All they found was a big empty hole: I suppose that was some kind of answer. The tree in the courtyard of the Sacred House now was planted by one of the archaeologists on Constantin Carapanos's famous dig, about 1880. In Ioannina's archaeological museum (at the gates of a park opposite the Town Hall) you can see some of the lead strips. The questions are banal, direct, heartfelt. Should I marry? Did he steal from me? The answers, archaeologists reckon, must have been delivered orally: as there don't seem to be any replies.
In the butterfly-haunted isolation, austerity and silence of Dodoni we asked ourselves what did Delfi do right (or wrong)? Was this site too remote? Too near the border; the seers not crazy enough? We knew what to expect at the navel of the world, of course. You never hear of Dodoni: Delfi is a world-famous UNESCO celebrity. On this trip we arrived early not to escape the tourbuses (the Delfi experience in quiet loneliness would be a contradiction in terms), but to avoid the worst of the heat. It was stinky hot, the whole time we were in Sterea Ellada. You could have fried eggs on the pavement, when we were eating our supper at 11pm or so, down in Galaxidhi. Obviously, when you get here, what Dodoni did right was to be a long way from those pesky city states. There was nothing going on up in Epirus to inspire the jumble of insanely competitive erections, like a gargantuan toybox spilled by a giant child in a temper, that turned the eagle's eyrie site of the Sacred Precinct of Apollo into such an unholy mess. I couldn't stand the place (nb, I had not had my breakfast). The crowds, esp the Japanese in costume (various) and the nice friendly Greek man in the Burberry check suit with matching umbrella were by far the most interesting and engaging part of it, and I bet that's been true for a long, long time. Entrance to the precinct and the museum inclusive cost us 12 euros each; catering is private enterprise, aggressive and totally inadequate.
You were required to wash your hair in the Castilian Spring before you consulted the Pythia. Byron jumped right in. You couldn't do that now, the pool is dry (says everything about Delfi). But you can fill a bottle, from a gutter where the water runs under the fence. It's cold and good. When Alexander tried his luck, wanting to know whether he would conquer the world, the priestess refused to say anything, until he dragged her off her hallucinogenic gas-vent by the hair, at which she shrieked You are unconquerable!, and Alexander said "I have my answer." Absolutely typical Delphic utterance: she got him good, haha, as he wasn't strictly conquered, he died of typhoid. The more you look into it, the more you wonder why anybody ever paid for this service. Why not just come to Delfi and hang out in the wine shop: pick up on the information exchange less twisted out of shape and on the cheap? I suppose, actually, that's what most people did.
The Sibyl's Rock, where the Sibyl used to stand to chant her oracles, before Apollo moved in, is still there, an incongruous natural outcrop in the overturned toybox. In all the sacred places, at Dodoni, in the royal tombs of Macedon, in Dion, in Delfi, and in the Corycian Cave, high above Delfi in the Western Parnassos, we found this same message: Ge was here. Our original divinity was the earth. We read her as female, we called her mother, she gave us everything and we owed her everything. The sky-gods took over, long ago. Apollo rode into Delfi as a dolphin, and killed the sacred python. Zeus turned up one day at Dodoni, in the form of an eagle, and insisted on changing everything. Hades stole the Maiden... But she was here, and she's still here, not gone, only demoted, partially erased, co-opted; in everlasting mourning. (She's still here right now, known as the Panaghia, the All-Holy; the God-bearer, under the current regime and on much the same terms). It was a strange counterpoint, anyway, to our travels here, and to the trails I insisted on following; in these rapidly darkening times, for Greece and for the world. The sky-gods, the heroes and their brief adventures, playing against the rivers, the forests, the numinous hollow hills where spirits dwell.
The springs of Acheron was the best thing.
Monday, September 16. 2013
Another day, almost our last day in Greece, in the Sacred City of Messolonghi, Peter finally rebelled. He'd had enough of my latest wild goose chase, wanted to know why we had to stop for ten minutes, let alone spend the night, in this dump, flat as a pancake, sickly, glaring hot, unfriendly, nothing to see but a dreary great lagoon with litter bobbing at the shore; totally devoid of attractive features... I blame myself. To me it was so obvious that Messolonghi had to feature on the Roumeli tour, I'd forgotten to explain what we were doing. I'd also forgotten to give my patient companion proper warning that even I wasn't expecting to like the place, and he probably was not going to like it either. Maybe I'd been hoping that Messolonghi would beat the critics, but August is not its best month. This flat modern town is the reverse of picturesque, the downtown area is the only place on our whole trip where I felt a foreign woman should be uneasy alone, and there was a cockroach in the shower. Okay, the roach was dead, always the best kind, but even so...
Why are we here?
Philip of Macedon's blitzkreig empire didn't last long. Philip got assassinated. Alexander went off on his own astonishing go for it until you got no armies left World Domination game, and basically never came back. The generals scrapped, the chain of command was broken, democracy had died and (for all democracy's many awful faults) permanent warfare proved an inefficient substitute: Greece ceased to be a great power. Macedonian rule had a late revival under Philip V, but then he unwisely backed Carthage against Rome. Things fell apart again, and the Romans, to cut a long story short, just walked in the back door as soon as they had a free moment (168 BCE).
The Greeks had huge cultural influence as Roman citizens. They went on doing pretty well in the time we call the Dark Ages, through the collapse of the Western Empire and for hundreds of years after that; off on their own prosperous and dazzling Byzantine track. But the Byzantine empire never recovered from the debacle of the Fourth Crusade. In 1453, Byzantium (aka Constantinople aka eventually Istanbul) fell to the Ottoman Turks. Arabic, Byzantine and nascent Western European scholars had been scouring lost libraries and inacessible lamasaries for shards of the old Greek magic since the fall of Rome, and piecing the fragments together. At the time when a new world civilisation, that endures, just barely, even to the present day, was rising from those magic shards, Greece itself fell off the map, and vanished.
There'd been other revolts, over the centuries. The War of Independence (1821) was different. The Ottoman Empire was dying, rotted from within. Primed by the success of (allegedly) egalitarian, idealistic revolutions in France and in the American colonies, the world was watching. Philhellenes of many lands, thrilled at the prospect of rescuing the Cradle of Civilisation, rushed to the barricades. Delacroix painted scenes of lightly draped, glamour-model carnage. George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous poet, who'd found good copy and had a wonderful time around here, on his Grand Tour, (as Peter & I had seen memorialised, in Ali Pasha's citadel in Ioannina), offered his services. He arrived at Messolonghi, the rebel HQ, in January 1824, extravagently equipped with weapons, money, scarlet uniforms and gold braid. He was welcomed equally extravagently and set his considerable gifts to work, trying to organise some decisive action. He did not succeed. The freedom fighters were vain, venal, and quarrelsome as a sack of cats. The weather was awful, living conditions sodden and squalid. At just turned 36 Byron was not a young man (worn out by too much fun). He caught a fever and died, within a hundred days of his arrival, on 24th April. His intervention, and his death, had considerable effect on world opinion, and in Greece he is still regarded as a national hero. In 1827 the Greeks regained their independence: some would say for the first time since Cheronaea.
But that's only half the story, because I wasn't drawn to the idea, the romance of Greece, directly. I was never in that league. It's all second hand, a bag of scraps bequeathed to me by nineteen and eighteenth century schoolboys (and their sisters, who fed on the crumbs from that table), raised on those magic shards. We're here because the spartans on the sea-wet rock sat down and combed their hair, because Heracles wore the intolerable shirt of flame, that human power cannot remove...; because the real hero of Marathon deserved something better than fame, Name not the clown with these... because Keats hungered for "Tempe and the vales of Arcady", places that for him, as for me, lived entirely in the imagination... Cavafy's in there too, of course. The echoes and tags a writer follows, wanting to know the story. The Romantics and their interesting times, from whence I date my formation as a writer, when the world turned upside down...
And if it hadn't, I wouldn't be here. (I mean, someone like me just would not exist.)
At Messolonghi, with Byron (I've never rated his best-selling major works, but maybe I'll give Harold and Juan another look), the trails meet.
So, anyway, we visited the Byron room in the War of Independence museum in the Town Hall: inspected the plan of the great siege-battle and admired the miniature cricket bat signed by a Notts County team; among other curious treasures. We made peace, walking in the quiet green Garden of Heroes, where the Philhellenes are buried, and found ourselves a better hotel. I think the naked young girl on Markos Botsaris's equivocal monument is meant to be Liberty? She's beautiful, anyway, and reminds me somehow of Neolithic Cycladean statuettes. If you ever visit Messolonghi, after I've talked it up so splendidly, go in Spring or Autumn. Check out the birdwatching and the mediaeval painted cave-chapels, and stay at the Liberty, opposite the Garden. It's a bit blockhouse-looking and drab, but fine indoors.
That's Dionysios riding on the panther, a mosaic from Pella, a reminder of a different Greece. We had a phrasebook, never opened it; except for me to look up words I wanted in the dictionary, and find that they weren't there. Really, English is all you need to get by. On the last drive I had a look inside, and found young British tourism of the early 21st century lovingly enshrined.
I'm very drunk, please could you get me a taxi?
Would you like to have sex?
I'm going to be sick!
So many graves. Back in Ioannina, on the nameless island in lake Pamvotida, I'd bought a "silver" pomegranate for eight euros. As you probably know, Demeter got her daughter back in the end, but Persephone, the Maiden, she who destroys the light by leaving us, has ever afterwards had to spend half the year in Hades, because she ate a handful of pomegranate seeds there. I didn't realise it at the time, but this symbol of life in death and death in life came to seem like the ideal souvenir.
Sunday, September 15. 2013
Sunday 15th September, four o' clock in the afternoon, the sky's darkening and the branches are tossing, I think the tail of that storm is finally about to arrive. Decisions, Decisions, Decisions, Am I going to return a response to the new Defra consultation on "biodiversity offsetting" (aka, the license to trash law) that can currently be found on "Citizen Space"? I believe I will. I find I'm as suspicious of this pretty-sounding term as I was the first time I heard it, and I seem to be a member of several of the groups who are very quietly being asked to give their opinion. It'll be a chore, but I think I've grasped the basics, and I know where to get help. The RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, and others are providing guidance. If you are interested in this issue, I urge you to give the consultation form a go. How can the government know that woodlands, meadows and little brown birds (whether skylarks or nightingales) have the power to vote, unless a few people take the trouble to tell them so, and keep telling them so, for as long as we can? The Medway Core Strategy link is by way of giving you a taste of the language. Consultation is open now and until November.
Yes, I know that consultations are not meant to give me a voice, they're meant to shut me up. I know that on the day before Cuadrilla was obliged to withdraw its current planning application, for horizontal drilling at Balcombe, the government launched a "consultation" aimed at getting the law that was in the extreme energy lobby's way changed. Just like that. . . But you work with what you have, not what you don't have. I'll still return that response.
Thursday, September 12. 2013
We left Guesthouse Euridiki very early on St Paraskevi's day. Goodbye to our hostess, and her quiet husband. Goodbye the cool, hushed lobby with the ranked preserves and the craft goods nobody bought; goodbye Elia's Corner. By ten thirty we'd reached Sacred Dion, at the foot of Mount Olympus. One more Macedonian city, but not an architect designed show-off from the World Domination years, like Pella: a city that just grew, the way proper cities ought, around the national shrines. A lovely, unexpected place. The ruins, mostly Graeco-Roman, first century CE, inhabit a shady wetland, hopping with bright green frogs. The deities, Demeter, Zeus, Afrodite, have been replaced (effigies of effigies) just as they were found: small, not gigantic, presiding over the dragonflies. In the museum where the originals are kept we saw portrait statues of ordinary bourgeois, men and women, neither royal nor divine (that's Rome for you), and a beautiful, remarkably well preserved "hydraulis": water-powered harmonium for public entertainments. The silent movie cinema had not survived.
They'll find a Graeco-Roman tv or a spaceship somewhere around here, one of these days. Or discover it, in a museum drawer, labelled unidentified artefact.
In the car park we reviewed our supplies. The Euridiki boiled eggs were fine, my cheese and honey had been quietly behaving themselves, but Peter's jam had escaped and been scampering about. So we dealt with that, admired the wall tile reproduction of sixteenth century holiday crowds, dancing and swimming and boating in the Vale of Tembe & then back to the road. But we had left the Egnatia, and re-entered the real world. It was hot, the traffic was drastic, the signage outrageously unreliable. No More Mr Nice Motorway! Legendary Tempe, the leaf-fringed gorge where the river Rhinios cuts a pass, celebrated for millenia by poets and scholars, that Keats dreamed of; where Ovid's Daphne lived happily ever after, having escaped from rape by turning into a shrub, was hellish. St Paraskevi, who has a magic roadside spring here, wasn't helping, but I feel that until more of the romantic crags have been razed, and the roadworks completed, this bottleneck is best avoided. Take the long way round.
Volos, the port from which Jason and the Argonauts set out, wasn't much fun either. We bought some famous loukum there, and drifted like ghosts of tourism past, unable to rest or to move on. By the time we'd beaten the interminable mini-hairpins of the ridge-backed peninsula, and struggled up and down the fancy 5km precipitous street, that is the four parishes of Zagora, searching for our guesthouse, I'd forgotten why I ever wanted to visit Greece again, never mind the Pilion (it was centaurs). Or what was supposed to be so d***ed attractive about these cutesy, disgustingly well-heeled villages with their arrogant 4x4 drivers that could turn on a perpendicular sixpence and despised anyone who faltered at the task. . . For the record, I cannot endorse the country walks, but the hospitality we found here was beyond compare, the blackberries around the stony cove at Elipsa were sweet, and the pool under the chapel headland very good for snorkelling.
30th July. At the first petrol station on the road out of Volos we stopped for a decent kafe elleniki, served by a friendly, competent mother and small boy team, and then onward, hugging the coast for safety, down to the Maliakos Gulf. Still hugging the "coast", but with silted up and reclaimed farmland on our left, we found the Thermo part of the legend without any difficulty, soon after skirting Lamia. The "Gates" (Pylae) are no more, of course. This is no longer a narrow strip of land between the cliffs and the sea. The hot springs, where the Spartans of the rearguard (according to legend), bathed and oiled themselves, preparing their bodies for death, were right there by the road, just as The Rough Guide describes. There's a fence, but the gate was open. A medicinal spa building stands near by, but it seemed, on our visit, empty and half-derelict. It was very quiet. Peter declined, he didn't want to smell of sulphur. I stripped off, I was wearing my bikini under my clothes on purpose. I'm afraid I disturbed the three or four Greek bathers (didn't look like tourists, maybe locals, bathing for their health), but I couldn't help it. The rocks in the spring were green with algae, the water hot and bubbly and definitely sulphurous, paradoxically refreshing in the midday heat.
We had slightly more difficulty tracking down the battlefield, until I realised that the Rough Guide assumed we were approaching from the south; from Athens. So we drove on, about a hundred metres, and there they were, two huge and distinctly fascist monuments (if a Latin term may be excused). The Hill of Kolonos, the burial mound that reaches to the stars*, stood across the road. There were two cars in the car park, counting ours. The services complex off in the distance didn't look to be doing much business. Boy-racers had left their aimless tracks across the salt pan at the foot of the hill. Despite the beribboned wreaths** on the monument steps, everything seemed deserted: ancient history trapped in a half-built motorway intersection. We climbed the Hill of Kolonus, paid our respects, and ate our lunch of bread and honey, cheese and boiled eggs, & 2 superb peaches, in a hollow in the spiny-oak scrub; not far from the current version of the tablet that reads Stranger, go tell the Spartans that here we lie...
Here I am, I thought. Finally: in the place that has meant so much to me, for forty years or more. Go and tell the Spartans, someone.
Why so much personal meaning? It's a great story, and quite possibly the third day sacrifice of the rearguard here, actually did change the course of that particulat war: allowing the Athenians a little more time to evacuate; giving Themistocles a breathing space and a second chance at that vital naval victory. But how can I know that the good guys even won, at Salamis, after all this time? The Spartans, for instance, were absolute b*****ds when they were at home. Fascist is a polite word for the way they carried on... And the Athenians were no better than they should be. The word Thermopylae means something different to me. It has evolved. It means a poem by Cavafy, that I met when I was an undergraduate, a expatriate Greek's austere, modernist concept of heroism. The sober business of recognising a just cause and sticking to it, even if you know you can't possibly win. Even if you know (as many do forsee, as Cavafy says) that might is sure to triumph in the end.
Honor to those who in their life
Set out and guard Thermopylae.
Never wavering from duty;
just and forthright in all their actions,
though yet with mercy and compassion;
generous when rich, and when
poor, still in small measure generous,
helping again, as they can;
always speaking forth the truth,
yet without malice for the deceitful.
A higher honour indeed is due
when they foresee (as many do)
that Ephialtes will in the end appear,
and the Medes will eventually break through.
C.P.Cavafy trs Evangelos Sachperolou
The next stage was exhausting. We made a mistake, when trying to leave Thermopylae, made another mistake when trying to undo the first, and had to climb all the way up the mountains (the views over the Gulf were stupendous), on a single track road with no turning places. Worse still, when we reached the village of Karia, high up in the sky in the middle of nowhere and dead to the world, there was no way down the other side except via alarming-looking, unsurfaced, dirt tracks. So we turned and drove all the way back to the Thermopylae junction, & saw what we ought to have done at once (its often the way). The roads were good and played no tricks from then on, from Thermopylae to Regini, via Modi and Kato Tithorea. Cheronia (ancient Chaeronea) took us by surprise. It was roasting hot. We bought ice creams from a supermarket man who unpadlocked his freezer for us, and told us the antiquities were just on down the road. We ate our ices, with cold lemonade from a kiosk (best ice I've ever tasted) outside an aestivating cafe, and drove on. Here, in 338 BCE, a hundred and forty years or so after Thermopylae, the dream of the city states, that the Spartans died for, died itself, under the onslaught of Philip of Macedon's ambition (with a little help from his son). What we had come to see was hard to miss: a 6 metre tall white marble lion, raised by Alexander himself, they say, to honour the Theban Band, that army of lovers, who died here "to a man". He probably slaughtered some of them himself, personally, but I'm sure they'd still have appreciated the gesture. Blokes are like that.
Reports differ, maybe some of the lovers survived; maybe the Thebans paid for the lion, and Philip and Alexander just graciously allowed them to honour their dead. But still, lost for centuries, dug up by Ali Pasha (he couldn't get it transported to Ioannina), admired by Byron in its fallen glory, the white lion has been restored, patched together and replaced on its pedestal. It stands in the middle of a green lawn where the Theban Band are buried, surrounded by cypress trees. It's a very nice lion. We liked it a lot. "This is the end of the Philip of Macedon trail," I told Peter. "The end of what he did to Greece, anyway." And we stayed there for a while. Nobody else came by.
*The philosopher Apollonios Tyanefs (1st century CE) was once asked, which is the highest mountain in the world, and he replied: "Kolonos is the highest mountain in the world, because on this mountain law keeping and noble self-sacrifice have put up a monument, which has its base on the earth and reaches the stars".
**I didn't look too closely at the wreaths. I feared they were fresh, and sentiments expressed on those blue and white ribbons might be a little to the right of Nationalist. If you know what I mean.
Wednesday, September 11. 2013
Vergina is a single work art-show, for the present. The Royal Palace, extensive and tantalising, is closed for refurbishment. All you can see is the tombs. The museum, what a brilliant idea, has been built on site, and a Tumulus mound raised over it: so that you enter, as the funeral processions would have done, via a sloping tunnel; into darkness, glimpsing the ghostly white sunken doors of the houses of the dead.
There are just three royal tombs: the untouched one identified as Philip's, where a woman, possibly one of his wives was also buried, in an antechamber. The one called "the Prince's tomb" (possibly Alexander's son, Alexander IV, who died young), and the so-called "box-shaped grave", where the bones of a man, a woman and a newborn child were found in the plundered chamber. This is the one with the wall-painting I had come to see, a lifesized "Rape of Persephone". There's one more monument, down here in the dark, a massive thing called a Heroon, the shrine of a hero awarded divine status. Presumably Heracles, the legendary ancestor of this royal line.
Wonderful things, wonderful things , as Carter said: and though not on the same scale, more impressive to me than Tutankhamun, because this is a window into a deep past I thought I'd never see, and of a culture closer to home.
It didn't take long to walk around. Here are the famous, fabulously delicate gold wreaths, oak and myrtle. The silver and bronze vessels; the outsize bathing utensils for the funerary rites of a king. The metal parts of a king's dress armour (Philip wasn't a big man, apparently). A solid gold larnax ; funerary container, in which they found the charred fragments of a middle aged man's bones, wrapped in purple. A "queen's diadem". The tiny ivory portrait heads, recognisable as Philip and his son, from a chryselephantine dining couch. The tombs themselves, Philip's with the Doric facade, and the wonderful painted hunting scene above the door. The fascinating doll's house reconstructions: showing exactly what Manolis and his team saw, when they broke in, thirty years ago. The treasure of massive metal, jumbled anyhow; the imperishable gleam of gold.
The Rape of Persephone is a true fresco, executed swiftly on wet plaster, with great freedom and virtuoso skill. The colours seem to be intact, and used sparingly. On the eastern wall, Demeter sits on a rock, as she is described in the Mysteries of Eleusis, exhausted and desolate. To her left, there's the abduction itself. It made the hairs stand on the back of my neck. There is nothing else like this. No other greek painting of this quality and completeness has survived, and yet I've seen that attendant nymph, looking so bewildered and dumbfounded, clutching the veil. She's in the young Cézanne's energetic version of this scene. See her there, off to the left, standing in the water? But why am I amazed? Dynasties rise and fall. A story, an insight as powerful as the Persephone and Demeter myth can leap over dark ages, the smallest detail mysteriously intact.
The video presentation at the end of the tour (not that anyone was guiding us: we were very early, the hall under the tumulus was empty) is a work of art in itself: an account of Manolis and the discovery, and a meditation on the meaning of these secular icons I had just been venerating. Death and memory and forgetting are intimately linked forces. We bury the dead with honour because we love them and fear them; and then later, patiently and lovingly, we dig them up again because we need them. . .
You will find a spring on the left of the halls of Hades, and beside it a white cypress growing. Do not even go near this spring. And you will find another, from the Lake of Memory, flowing forth with cold water. In front of it are guards. You must say, 'I am the child of Gê (Earth) and of starry Ouranos (Heaven); this you yourselves also know. I am dry with thirst and am perishing. Come, give me at once cold water flowing forth from the Lake of Memory.' And they themselves will give you to drink from the divine spring, and then thereafter you will reign with the other heroes From the Orphics, Petelia text, fourth-third century BCE
I'm not really up on Orphic mysteries, but I suppose the first spring is the waters of Lethe & of forgetting.
In the afternoon we walked around the fields, inspected the fatal theatre (all grass grown) and viewed the huge area of the Palace, closed off until at least 2017. Goats rambled, scarlet-skirted grasshoppers leapt onto us. We discussed the Pausanius story, the smoking gun and the grassy knoll and the obvious conclusion one must draw. There was a lot of handwaving at the time, about this poor disturbed young man, unjustly treated by his powerful lover; Philip's bad habit of playing his gorgeous bodyguards off against each other, etc etc. But there was CSI evidence that Pausanius had expected to get away with his crime of passion. That just doesn't make sense. Unless somebody (and there's really only one person who could have done this) had convinced him he'd survive. . . Peter spotted a wayside shrub bearing woody fruits; exactly the same little etched, ochre roundels we'd seen featuring in the funeral wreaths worn by the living, some of them found intact in 2,500 year old funeral debris. I looked it up, later. It's called the Jerusalem Thorn.
The tour buses were arriving as we left.
The next day we took a minor road trip, to ramble around the baked remains of ancient Pella, where Aristotle taught the young Alexander, and see a different range of finds, prosperous everyday luxuries, the people's treasures. Signs are that a very ambitious archaeological reconstruction was planned for this site, but it's all frozen in place now. Sparrows chatter, the shrikes lie in wait for them, blue borage flowers cluster over fallen stone. Closed for refurbishment. And then Edessa, up on the escarpment, the town with the waterfalls running through it. We had a good time there, a very nice lunch at the restaurant under the plane trees, in the sound of the roaring water. It was after dark when we got back to the guesthouse Euridiki. The dogs hurried to check us out: decided we were okay, and licked my hands. We went to Elia's Corner for a tsipouro mezzes supper(a generous tumbler of clear grape brandy, flavoured with anise at your choice, and accompanied by hearty nibbles), and watched the night-time town en fete for the eve of St Paraskevi. Very popular around here, she's depicted with her eyes on a plate (my greek teacher says) because she grants enlightenment; her name means "Friday"*. Later, I lay awake for a long time and listened to the dogs of the plain barking to each other, near and far, around and around; into the endless distance.
*Obscure footnote, I'm certain that this woman called Friday, because she was born on a Friday, (apparently a real and formidable person, even allowing for the fact she probably couldn't do magic and one hopes she didn't have to survive gruesome torture quite so often as reported); whose eyes seemed to follow us around the whole time we were in Greece, is one and the same as the Catholic church's St Lucy, who also lived in the 1st century CE, and also carries her eyes about on a plate, "about whom little is known".
Sunday, September 8. 2013
When I first planned this tour around the Roumeli, I imagined we'd use public transport: reliving the intimacy and the drama of our tour of Java and Sumatra in 1978. You have to get to know the people, and you have to speak the language, when you're stranded with a bunch of them at a houseless railway junction in black night, in the deepest, darkest Sumatran rainforest, and the scheduled bus doesn't turn up... (Don't try this today. The forest is gone, for one thing). But then I found out what had happened to the KTEL timetables, and then our beach apartment landlady told us there was no bus from our port to Loutsa. She probably had that wrong, but my nerve failed, due to internet dependence and old age. The tour became a road trip, and immediately, always a sucker for buried treasure stories, I wanted to get to Vergina, in far off Central Macedonia*, where in 1977 Manolis Andronikos, found the untouched Macedonian Tombs: Greece's Tutankhamun.
So, we set out from Loutsa and took the Egnatia Ethniki, the big new (2009) national motorway that retraces the route of the Roman Egnatia Way, from the west coast at Igoumenitsa, slashing through swathe after swathe of impenetrable mountain country, right across to the Turkish border. From Loutsa to the Oracle at Dodoni, from Dodoni to rainy Ioannina, Ali Pasha's citadel on the lake; the nameless island on Lake Pamvotida, where we did not eat the sad tank-eels; the friendly Chevalier bar inside the citadel, and the Mythalogi, where we first met tsipouro mezzes. It wasn't pretty going. Roadworks, active and abandoned, sporadic and systemic, scar the green wetland coast from end to end. The Egnatia is flanked by pans of naked red earth and raw sawn-off ends of hillsides: stepped and netted for landscaping that never happened. An immemorial tapestry of stork-haunted villages, towns and countryside destroyed, but someone else's heartbreak, not mine this time. At least after Ioannina things became spectacular, if never elegant, as we tunneled through the Pindhos Mountains in cold driving rain.
A detour southwards from the first kombos after Metsova took us to Kalambaka, where the rock pinnacle Meteora monasteries are. About five hundred years before the Fall of Constantinople, a band of wild monastics formed the notion of replicating the then-trending Pillar Living style of the Syrian Desert in this extraordinary landscape. The pioneer was apparently St Athanasius, riding on the back of an eagle. The labyrinthine Orthodox lamaseries that followed were constructed and supplied by rope and tackle. In living (tourist) memory it was still quite an adventure to get access. Today, fierce and squalid isolation is no more. There are stairways. Custodians take your money, dispense natty monochrome pareos for decency if necessary, and conduct you to the dark, livid, painted sancturaries, every niche and corner teeming with inventive means of execution. The paintings at Ayiou Nikolau Anapafsa, work of a Cretan, a contemporary of El Greco are far and away the best. The tiny 9th century painted cathedral down in the town is worth the lot of them: unless you're just here for the thrill of peering off the edge of a sheer, 100+ metre drop, and imagining you might fall. Not many people stay.Coachloads upon coachloads of devout Russians, Bulgarians, Romanians, process up the precipitous single track road, pour off their buses, climb the stairs, obsessively venerate every icon in sight, pour back onto their buses and do the same at the next lamasery along. At 3 euros a pop, this operation must be a regular goldmine.
The pinnacles are really giant boulders, heavy-shouldered smooth sea monsters, standing in the air. They look their best from the village of Kastraki at their feet; in twilight, or in starlight. You can clamber over the lower ones, which we did; or go hiking around them, but it wouldn't be much fun in July.
Next day we were back on the Egnatia. In ways it was rather horrible, the great road so empty, the mountains and forests so desolate, the sidings so ugly, no services offering intriguing pitstops, nothing to do but eat distance; demolishing a journey of weeks in an afternoon. Zoom. If a Hyundai Atos can be said to zoom... The Deer warning signs turned into Bear warning signs, the forest dissolved into bleak parched upland, we had started to lose height: fantastically endless views of the Thracian plain opening up below. We made one halt to eat Ioannina bougatsa at a scruffy wooden pagoda by a roadside spring; a corner-boys' old leather car seat for extra seating. A small, motley-attired group appeared out of nowhere in this emptiness, looking slightly sinister (bet we did too), and reminding me of Once Upon A Time In Anatolia. But all they did was wash their fruit. As we came down off the mountain, approaching the unprepossessing ancient city of Veria, the Egnatia filled up at last: thundering frieght lorries from Central Asia and Russia, scary truckster driving, stinking fumes of hammered brakes. In the commercial sector we took a ring road. Crossed a glimmering great reservoir, set in green, that wasn't on the map, and suddenly we were in Vergina. A small town with a big coach park, baking in July heat: a few tavernas, a few empty empty guesthouses. It was the low season, Greece's aestivation. Vergina is a winter and spring resort. There's skiing not far away. Two and a half thousand years ago (give or take...) this was the site of the royal city of Macedon.
Aegae (goat town) was founded when the Macedonians were outsiders, no-accounts of history; dividing their second-rank favours between Athens and Sparta whichever way the battle turned, in the Peleponnesian War. Philip II,* (359 - 336 BCE), single-handedly changed all that. He spent his youth as a hostage in Thebes, the greatest military power in Greece at the time, had excellent training with the legendary Theban Band, and went home to build an army for his older brother the king. A few years later his brother was dead, the Macedonian army had been ripped to pieces by the Illyrians (western Balkan tribes), and the country was falling apart. Philip's first job was to secure his own throne, and then, by sheer prowess in the field, canny adoption of new military technology, and a remarkable series of polygamous marriage-alliances, he set about his project of World Domination. Nothing and nobody could stop him. In 338 BCE, when the Theban Band died to a man at the battle of Cheronea, way down south in the heart of the city-states, he completed his conquest of Greece. In 336 BCE, at forty six years old, he was in the process of invading Persia, and had consolidated his dreams of a pure-blood dynasty by marrying into the Macedonian nobility for a change. Then one Spring day, during the celebration of his daughter's wedding, he was attacked as he entered the theatre by a young nobleman called Pausanias, a member of his bodyguard and possibly one of his lovers, and stabbed to death.
Why did Pausanius do it? Why so publicly? We'll never know. He was put to death instantly, by close friends ofthe king's son Alexander, who, although estranged from his royal father for a while after that dynastic marriage, was standing right beside Philip when the assassin struck.
*Definitely not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia
**NB, caveat emptor, this account is one of many, and differs in detail from others eg wikipedia
Wednesday 11th September, cooler, broken sunshine. US humanitarian missile strike on Syria holding off for the moment thank God; villagers (some of them) expressing solidarity with the anti-frackers fighting eviction from Balcombe, and the "Transparency of Lobbying Bill" under determined attack. We have bottled plums, started a litre of plum whisky (like sloe gin, only sweeter), and restored some order to the late summer debris of our garden. Sadly, there are fewer frogs at the bottom of it than there were before the rain last friday. They lost their heads and went frolicking about, and paid the price. I found Grey Frog lying in a border with one forelimb torn off, on Saturday morning. The predator/prey relationship isn't healthy, there are far too many cats: about as healthy as a fox in a chickenhouse for my amphibians As always, I just have to hope one or two mating pairs make it through.
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