Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Many people are lucky enough to some point of their life to experience an unforgettable evenings, or if you are very lucky several, so if you are ever in Madrid in June, be sure to visit the Teatro Albeniz to watch Danza Espanola y Flamenco. This theatre plays host around this time, to a choreography competition for all the best flamenco schools in Spain. This is a competitions for the best new work in dance, music and choreography, it should be an original composition. I found this theatre quite by accident, having asked my hotel if they could recommend a venue were one could view authentic flamenco dancing.
On the evening I attended, I immediately became aware that this was not just some normal night, everything seemed to be on a high octane level. Those in attendance were not your normal audience, but seemed to be a highly select group. Looking around the theatre, one became aware that it was full of dancers and knowledgeable patrons. They were mainly young, beautiful, and critical. Dressed in all the finery of Spanish fashion, the girls with red flowers in their jet black shiny hair, were a sight to behold, as they chatted excitably about the coming evening's entrainment. These exquisitely dressed young women, filled the air with that buzz of excitement that only the young and passionate are capable of, They seemed to have come from not only Spain, but all over Europe. The couple seating next to me had only just arrived from St. Petersburg to watch their son, young Juan dance.
This competition is held over four days, three nights of elimination with only the three best from each evening, going through to the final. All the performances seemed to me to be out of this world, how one could judge was beyond my limited knowledge. This was no tired nightclub routine, but the real thing, for not only were reputations at stake, but substantial prize money could be won. An electric current surrounded each group of dancers, as their seamless intensity of movement griped your throat. The girls twirled and spun in their well-trained routines to the haunting sounds of flamenco voice and guitar, as they moved around their male partners. Each individual performance of these young dancers filled the theatre with their passion, skill and power, the visual sight was one of sheer joy, and love of their dance. There would be short quick flicks of a foot that sent their dress flying through the air, to fall in some perfect pattern upon the stage. The crisp defiant body movement, the tossed head and flashing eyes were a language in themselves. Their tense steps, seemed like coiled springs would suddenly release, as they turned away from some unwanted lover. One particular performance on the first night I was there, a choreography of memory, of a young girl, as she used her cape to represent various aspects of her life. Her first love, her child and the death of that child, Spanish culture is very dark, but also wonderful.
It seemed inevitable, that I was destined to return the following night to watch the final. The sensation of this night was even more intense than before. The winners of this competition was Olga Pericet, who played and sang with two other dancers, one male, one female. They danced out their life with such passion, that many eyes were somewhat teary. The audience and performers had become one, each twirl and movement was greeted with a shout of Ole, the audience by now were one their feet, shouting in great excitement, as they encourage the dancers to even more daring feats. The guitars seemed ready to burst, as frenzied feet beat the stage at greater and great speed. You felt you were at a bullfight, as this fierce national pride over took over the theatre, it is hard to explain the experience to anyone, unless you were there in the flesh. The crowd just clapped in time to he music, as they stamped their feet, shouting their approval. Life and death seemed so close, as the male dancer in this sager departed from this world, leaving his partner to her lonalyness and grief. This performance won both the music and dance section, and left me with this wonderful memory of an unforgettable night. I have never in my life experience such a high powered evening, and I only hope that such a night may come again.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Friday, May 18, 2012
At this time of the year our olive grove takes on a festive look, the hillside appears to be akin to Christmas decorated trees. Before we started to grow olives, I always believed birds did not like olives, they most certainly are not palatable to human tastes before being pickled.
Parrots are the main villains, they just sit there cracking the olive open in order to eat the seed. They try one, then another until an olive meets their requirement. One lone parrot would not be too bad, but ten, twenty or more can make short work of the crop in no time. Other birds, also seem to be addicted , starlings have this addiction, only they seem to be more intent on seeing how many they can pluck, drop, pluck, drop, there seems to be some sort of competition to see who can remove the most within some sort of time frame.
The olive tree embodies human history, the beginning of our civilization. The farming, harvesting, and pressing the olives for oil, to be used as food, medicine, burning for light, stretch back into prehistory. There are gnarled survivors in Lebanon that have been carbon dated to several thousand years. Olive growing therefor is a very serious business, it is not an activity to be entered into lightly with only short time frame in mind. I must confess that our decorated trees don't seem to be all that effective, I thought the silver and red tape fluttering in the breeze would discourage birds. It seemed to work at first, for a year or so, but not any more, so you see birds do discuss these things among themselves. European olive groves don't seem to have this problem to the same extent, they have already eaten most of the bird life, so numbers are now more controllable.
Another first for this years harvest will be the trying out of a mechanical wand, it consits of two clapping like hands, that also move sideways at the same time, causing the olives to fall onto tarpaulins around the base of the tree. These machines run on a tractor battery so that you can move from tree to tree. It all sounds very simple, you rake or comb the tree, and the olives fall down! Yields of course are highly problematical, what with the birds, wind and other natural interventions. Is it all worthwhile, I hope so, most things we do in life just don't have the time frame of an olive grove. You need a long vision into the future, plant them hopefully for many generations to come. They are after all called the eternal tree, they can be burnt, chopped down, will withstand heat, frosts and still regenerate, no wonder the ancients loved the olive tree. Sacred to the gods, it is said when Julius Cesar chopped down the sacred olive grove in Spain he sealed his fate.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
|Pilgrim Hostel, St Jean Pied de Port.|
The human urge to travel, seek inner truths, to explore the unknown, are traits as old as human kind. Why do people embark on these journeys, I don't know. But this quest for some deeply hidden truth lies deep within us. Over the years, I have often toyed with the idea to undertake this pilgrimage from St. Jean de Pied de Port to Santiago. A current film showing at the State in Hobart titled, "The Way" brought back many of these hidden desires and memories. In my less rational moments, I feel I should complete this walk on foot like a true pilgrim on foot, not experience the journey from a car, train or bicycle as I have done along with many do others. My only semi-serious attempt to travel to Santiago was by car, bus and, I am ashamed to say very little walking. This pilgrimage was from Lisbon, Tomar, Braga, and on to Santiago Di Compostela. Now whether I have left it a little late is hard to say, to walk some 840kms in my mid seventy posses more than a few health and fitness problems. This is not the first time I have had this urge, a few years ago I spent several days in St. Jean de Port, a lovely little town in the foothills of the Pyrenees, before driving across northern Spain. It was the first time I became aware of this thousand year old pilgrimage undertaken continually over this vast span of time. St. Jean, with it's hilly cobble stoned streets seemed like an ideal training ground, it is all up hill from here over the mountains, until you arrive in Spain. This route is often called the French way, you could of course undertake the journey from anywhere, Paris, Granada or Berlin as many do, depending on how far you think you could walk. My first confrontation with pilgrims was in a church here in St Jean, where three potential walkers were singing hymns, staffs in hand with their scallop shells as symbols of pilgrimage. Outside, I suddenly became aware of all the scallop shells everywhere, something I had not noticed on my arrival, they hung in the doorways of hostels, cafes, and official registration points for those wishing to undertake the duties of the pilgrim.
What drives so many modern people [100.000 last year], to undertake what really is a religious experience I have no idea. Living as we do in what many would call a Post-Christian era, yet vast number of walkers undertake this demanding hike over several weeks in search of some inner peace and truth. Interestingly, the characters in the film I recently saw, all gave different reasons, one to lose weight, something he badly needed to do, another wanted to give up smoking, while a third wished to write a book about his experience. The star of the film, Martin Sheen had had no intention of undertaking the Camino at all when he arrived, he was in St. Jean to collect the ashes of his son, who had meet his end a few days early, while only a few days into his journey. There was no one cast undertaking the pilgrimage for spiritual reasons. Various people I have spoken to over the years, who have walked the Camino, claim that less than half undertake this journey for any religious purpose.The vast majority do it for their health, the experience, to circuit break some unsatisfactory period in life, or simply are addicted to long walks and a love of nature. Pilgrimages, Crusades, the voyages of Odysseus, searches in general are all part of being human, personifying the truth that the journey is what is important in life. Personally, I feel there must also be some hidden reason buried deep inside every one's psychic, some guilt or desire to right some perceived wrong in the past. It is possible that the rational self has rejected religious belief, while at the same time feel that life must have a meaning beyond day to day existence. A young Japanese couple I spoke to in Santiago, who had walked all the way from Paris to Santiago, were Buddhist, yet felt that such a pilgrimage was within their religious belief. Many pilgrims claim that the experience changed their view of life, but often seem unable to tell why.
One thing I did find disturbing was the lack of any genuine religious atmosphere in Santiago. It was not what I had expected, like Rome and many other religious centres the city appeared to have scummed to greed. The cathedral itself is surrounded by tourist shops of all kinds, attempting to maximise their profits at the pilgrims expense. The simple scallop shell, symbol of St. James stands in marked contrast to the gold and silver ones in the shops surrounding this shrine. But it was my experience inside the Cathedral itself that provided the greatest shock. Behind the high alter there is a narrow stair way leading up to a small room, that I assumed held the bones of St James. No sooner had I mounted the staircase, than a rather sinister figure emerged from the gloom. Dressed in purple, with a skull cay planted on his gaunt head, clutching a ornate box that he trust under my nose requesting a donation for St James. His long tapered fingers clutched a box, his rather disconcerting appearance gave me quite a shock, I had not expected to be waylaid in such a manner.This churchman had all the qualities of the hunchback of Notre Dame, it was almost as if I had emerged into the middle-ages. I was so shocked by his appearance that I turned and fled back down the stairs. His appearance haunted me for the rest of the day. I felt I had walked into the middle of a Hieronymus Bosch painting with their visions of hell.
What ever the reason modern pilgrims undertake this walk, it most certainly was not to meet this churchman. What ever the reason most people undertaken the camino to Santiago, all seem to agree it changed their view about what is important in life. The facilities on route are basic, there is no place for pretence, the walk becomes an obligation to reach Santiago at any price, and pay whatever homage you may want to make to the tens of thousands who have gone before. I am no Steven Hawkins, nor particularly religious, but nor can I put behind me the childhood experience of a religious education. This experience was more about memory, it's fears, the distaste of having to kiss dead nuns at the end of their funeral, the hours I was compelled to knell for hours on end in chapel, Hours I was required to spend praying, the long retreats and constant religious services Religious instruction and church services of one kind or another, often took up two to three hours ever day, seven days a week.. I felt that by visiting Santiago, I could expel some of this weight that I have been carrying around all these years. In this sense, this churchman sitting in the dark, next to the bones of St. James worked wonders, and I am very grateful.