The Meaning of Mountains – Part I

At the Sella Pass in Val Gherdëina, South Tyrol, Italy, The BB and I are pushed into the telephone box cable cars by the attendants. Two passengers to a booth – standing room only. The agility of those scrambling aboard determines how far towards the precipitous drop the attendants must run in order to stuff them in and snap the door handle shut. There is much hilarity amongst those in the queue.

IMGP0055 Continue reading

Porridge in the Pale Mountains

Signor Porridge is giddy with excitement.

flower with whirling background

So much so that he barely knows what’s up and what’s down.

Porridge in the Dolomites

All because he’s back in the alps.

Dolomites mountains

The Dolomites, glory of northeastern Italy and a UNESCO world heritage site, once again offer themselves as a playground for our fun-loving friend.

Dolomites path

With his ear for languages, Signor Porridge quickly picked up the local dialect of the Romance language, Ladin, spoken in the valleys of the Sella Group in south Tyrol. (He has engaged in discussion with other scholars who argue it extends into adjacent valleys also.) It’s taught in schools, together with German and Italian – languages in which S. Porridge (modestly) professes proficiency.

fly on flower

Signor Porridge is as at ease chatting with academics as he is with local wanderers.

short alpine flowers

A Porridge-eye view of the magical world of the Dolomites.

Dolomites mountains

The carbonate rock was named after mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu who first described it. The colour gives the range its nickname, The Pale Mountains. Coincidentally, Porridge is sometimes referred to as The Pale Rapscallion.

 

Lead You Through the Streets of London

While one man wheels his belongings along a London street…man with bags on trolley…two hundred metres, an adulthood of dedication and lucky rolls of the dice away, another man takes a call on the latest iPhone from a statue of Newton.man and Newton statue                                 —————————–

The statue of Newton is in the courtyard of the British Library in London. Use your phone’s QR Reader to activate the call which provides information about Newton.

Flamenco on the Roof

Last night I saw live flamenco.

Almost unknowingly, I have carried it with me since my childhood in rural Australia.

My grandmother returned from an overseas trip with a gift from Spain – an ersatz tortoise-shell comb to add drama to one’s hair. It features a delicate painting of a pair of flamenco dancers. Their tiny, slender bodies emanate grace and drama. (As a child I couldn’t see the passion.)

Last night I saw live flamenco in a rooftop amphitheatre.

The city, dense before us, thinned as it was gathered and lifted by the hills beyond. The Alhambra, a mighty palace complex, jutted proudly on its perch across the valley. Beneath us, at street level, a tall man – muscled and gleaming, with panther-like confidence and grace – ran a fitness class. Combined, they were the perfect opening act for our evening show.

Falling darkness brought our focus to the waiting stage. Four chairs against a dark plum background. The musicians filed in: two female vocalists, two male guitarists.

Earlier in the evening I caught a few minutes of rehearsal, having been informed it was the real thing. The dancers were wearing trackie dacks (Australian for ‘tracksuit pants’). I was shocked. Had things changed so much since the days of my comb? Had flamenco been contemporised and casualised to such an extent? (I quickly realised it was not so but it was a nasty moment.)

In front of the night stage I waited for the dancers to appear…and sat back with pleasure when they did. The women wore bottom-defining, ruffled, black skirts. The men were streamlined in black pants fitted to their ribs. The dance (and comb) held true.

flamenco man and woman

I marvelled at the dancers’ ability to remember complex choreography – curlicued hands; feet working different rhythms and actions (something that doesn’t happen often in daily life); swaying hips and strutting, swinging, stamping legs. When they began, I thought of spiders – graceful, tendril-like, moving into the space around them. Then they claimed the space and the spiders were gone, replaced by scorpions, snakes, bulls.

Perhaps some of the intensity was lost in the space between us – we were 30m away. I admired the dance but it was only at the end, in something like a jam session, that I felt it.

Guitarists, singers and dancers stepped past the mikes. That simple act transformed the situation. It became them and us beneath the stars.

flamenco two women front on, purple

The singers danced together first. Then the dancers took turns – somehow not just showing what they could do but asking the singers to call them so that the dance might be.

A woman gave her mournful, harsh, ancient sounds. A man danced. And he could only dance because she called him to it. Woman to man, person to person, longing to response, call to answer. Vulnerable. Strong. The voice requiring response in order to exist and then to be complete.

I watched an idea pouring from one human vessel to another – transmogrified from song to dance; voice and body expressing it simultaneously.

Last night I saw live flamenco. And now I crave more.

flamenco two women side on

———————-

One doesn’t have to go to Spain to experience the drama of dance or the embodiment of an idea. Last week in my ballet class, one of the attendees brought along an Indian friend who danced a story for us. As in flamenco, she was expressive face, precise hands and deliberate feet. She was prince and princess, hunter, farmer and evil-doer. Find a dance class. Find a dance show.

Be your own dancer in the moonlight. A few hand gestures and foot movements can awaken you in surprising ways.

Perhaps for you a piece of music will become not a dance but a poem, a brooch, a building, a garden bed.

one woman dancing flamenco, purple

The Gamble of Sunrise

Is watching the sunrise, mountain top to mountain top, worth a 4.15am rise? Getting up very early to experience or accomplish something is a gamble few of us make. After pondering the long list of considerations revolving around the possibility of satisfaction, one is left with good old opportunity cost, “Would I be better off sleeping?” If you can catch such a sunrise any day then maybe you would trade the early rise in summer for a later rise in another season. But, The BB and I cannot.

After we’d bought the tickets for Mammoth Mountain’s* inaugural Sunrise from the Peak in July, friends of ours advised, “It’s only sleep.” They opted not to join us. Continue reading

Fortress and Fairytale

Dear John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute,

Thank you for Castell Coch.

Of course, you were not entirely responsible for it – you inherited the ruins and employed William Burges, architect, to rebuild and embellish – but your vision and interest in history (not to mention, vast wealth – weren’t you one of the world’s richest people?) fuelled the project.

HDR+pS Continue reading

Walking and Singing

With a thrill of excitement and a touch of disbelief, we took our passports when we walked across the bridge, town to town.

Walking into another country amazes and delights me. Growing up in the south-west of Western Australia meant that travelling to another state was a huge event – one requiring more than a cut lunch and a waterbag. Going to another country was a feat. Transport affordability and border restrictions have changed since then but the novelty hasn’t worn off – memory stalks and history breathes.

Because of their speed, we expect landscape, cultural and time zone changes when we travel in vehicles. Walking is such a simple act, homely and unassuming, so it is all the more surprising to find massive, rapid change attached to it.IMG_6529

We are in the little German (Bavaria) town of Laufen, which is about 21km north of Salzburg. It was once one town spreading on either side of the Salzach River. The river was its lifeblood, as precious salt from the Salzburg mines was transferred here from small boats to larger ones. In 1816, following the Napoleonic Wars, Laufen was separated from its suburbs over the river and became German. The new town was named Oberndorf and given to the Austrians.

Salzach River, Laufen

The river commits a great U-shaped curve through the towns.

The traffic bridge is moody. In the evening sun the plaques and statues glow benignly. In the morning, mist renders it ‘Gothic crime novel’.

IMG_3573

On day four of our stay, after rain-filled day three, the river, which normally appears sluggish due to its width and pale grey-green opaqueness, is raised and racing. It is littered with sticks and branches and I almost expect to see a body. Waves surge up the piers but the bridge is stalwart. (It was completed in 1903 to replace its less-reliable wooden predecessor.)

Salzach River, Austria overflowing

The Salzach flows down a nearby road, misting in the background.

Laufen:

monastery - hotel

This monastery has been added to and is now the hotel, Kapuzinerhof.

Laufen houses

frescoes

Frescoes in the cloisters of the church at the bend in the river.

IMG_6521

T

A two-way street runs under that arch. The sign at the side indicates the right-of-way obligations…or you could just drive around.

IMG_6518

chapel

A disused chapel in the monastery grounds.

IMG_6516

Across the bridge, walking the streets of Oberndorf, one treads almost hallowed ground. It is the birthplace of the carol, Silent Night, first performed in 1818. The town priest wrote the lyrics and asked a nearby organist and schoolmaster to compose the music. The latter accompanied the inaugural singing on his guitar. The church in which it was sung was demolished in 1913 due to flood damage. A memorial chapel was erected on the site in 1937. It is here that people from all over the world gather on Christmas Eve to sing, in many languages, this beloved carol.

Silent Night chapel

colourful house

Crossing cultures and times can be as easy as walking or singing.