In the modern world, parched of ritual and starved of mystery, we don't register these communicative moments as often as we might. The idea of a conversation with a landscape is foreign to minds schooled in the separation of humans and nature. Well-seen photographs, wrought in the attuned moment, can help us renew the connection. They invite us to the necessary work of addressing the land.
The article is so very worth reading. I miss the wilderness here in Belgium. It is one of those lands that have been peopled forever - New Zealand's precise opposite perhaps.
I'm off to Genova soon. It can't come too soon. I miss the Ligurian sea, the hills that almost surround the city, the caruggi and the people too.
And the espresso. How could I forget the espresso.
But a photograph I found when I was back home in New Zealand. I was photographing the hot pools in Rotorua and captured a Taniwha.
What else could it be ... Taniwha are supernatural creatures whose forms and characteristics vary according to different tribal traditions. Though supernatural, in the Māori world view they were seen as part of the natural environment. Taniwha have been described as fabulous monsters that live in deep water. Others refer to them as dragons – many taniwha looked like reptiles, had wings and ate people. They could also take the shape of animals such as sharks, whales, octopuses, or even logs. Some taniwha could change their shape, moving between different forms.
You don’t really have to have knowledge — what you have to have is curiosity.
2 // take a break from your carefully packaged & organised life; suspend all the doing, sit amongst the shambles of half-read books and empty cups, let blessed rest find you.
Leonie Wise, lifted from her beautiful blog.
Murray left yesterday and I collapsed into a small pile of crumple today. I can do stuff ... I can but oh how I pay. Just till the iron medication kicks in.
I'm so impatient for it to work though. And so I was always going to love Leonie's wise words, suspend all the doing.
Although, rather than suspend all, I'm doing slowly and carefully, then resting. Multiple loads of laundry have been done today because ... it's 17 celsius here in Belgium. Unusual perhaps, or simply an Indian summer. It's good, as so many of my very best people are arriving on Friday.
Shannon and Erik are zooming over from Holland, Teresa and Kim from the UK, Jayne is coming and her Steve is flying back from Dubai, Ren and her lovely Norwegian are coming too.
Steven and Isabel, Martin and Gaby, Ellen and Anna, Marcia and her man ... I'm happy.
My photography exhibition has its official reception/opening on Friday night. Saturday night is the night of the birthday party. But honestly, it's mostly about my pleasure in catching up with these people I love.
I'm scared I've forgotten to invite some people and they need to contact me because I am haphazard at the moment. The anemia has surely caused problems with energy levels but also with concentration. And I thought it was enough to take the medicine and move slowly but it's the 'not doing' that is making me most crazy. It feels like someone has removed my larger station wagon motor and replaced it with the engine of a very small scooter.
Or that's the way I'm explaining this loss of forward motion.
Slowly, slowly ... let's see how it goes.
Leonie, thank you for the music too.
Of all the world's creatures, perhaps those in greatest need of rewilding are our children. The collapse of children's engagement with nature has been even faster than the collapse of the natural world. In the turning of one generation, the outdoor life in which many of us were immersed has gone....So many fences are raised to shut us out that eventually they shut us in.
I absolutely borrowed this from Terri Windling's blog, Myth & Moor. I wanted to note it some place ...
The main task in life is to give birth to our self to become what we actually are.
A shot taken from the Ligurian Sea. I love that coastline.
Of all the things I wondered about on this land, I wondered the hardest about the seduction of certain geographies that feel like home - not by story or blood but merely by their forms and colours. How our perceptions are our only internal map of the world, how there are places that claim you and places that warn you. How you can fall in love with the light.
Ellen Melloy, Writer
Note, the photograph was taken on one of the Princes' Islands out in the Marmara Sea, Istanbul.
Name an artist or inventor, anyone that affected social change on the most massive scale. Who were they before they became, say, Gandhi? Pasteur? Picasso? If they had waited to make a name for themselves, doing the very things by which they made a name for themselves, were deemed special, they’d have never done a thing. Gandhi didn’t know he was Gandhi until he became, you know, GANDHI. He just did his thing. And even then I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what all the fuss was about. Who others thought he was and who he knew himself to be were probably always different. And I guarantee you it was not easy. Have you read his biography?
David duChemin, photographer.
I have been selecting photographs for the exhibition at the end of this month and so, it goes without saying, David duChemin's article, Forget Special, was incredibly timely.
The risk is more than we can imagine ... And until they get the answer they think they need to hear, they remain paralyzed, their art undone, their business unstarted. Waiting to be special, first.
Perhaps this write-up captures what I found so enjoyable about his book: When poet Andrew Greig was asked by Scottish mountaineer Mal Duff to join his ascent of the Mustagh Tower in the Karakoram Himalayas, he had a poor head for heights and no climbing experience whatsoever. The result is this unique book.
Summit Fever has been loved by climbers and literary critics alike for its refreshing candour, wit, insight and the haunting beauty of its writing. Much more than a book about climbing, it celebrates the risk, joy and adventure of being alive.
But having 'discovered' Andrew today, beyond rereading his book and carrying it with me as I've moved towns and countries, I have truly enjoyed finding his poetry and everything else too. He's a well-rounded artist it seems.
And I found Mal's Song (embedded below) ... beyond special. I'm on page 38, rereading my paperback version yet again and Mal is currently introducing Andrew to the mountains ... in preparation for their adventure in the Himalayas. Like in the song.
Mal Duff was an extraordinary man, a superb mountaineer, a good friend to many, and all kinds of other things that I can't possibly imagine, I'm sure. He died at Everest's base camp back in 1997.
Joe Simpson, who also had some epic times in the mountains with Mal, wrote of Mal's favourite quote in the introduction to Andrew's book, Summit Fever. The quote:
He either fears his fate too much
or his deserts are small,
that dares no put it to the touch
to win or lose it all.
- the Duke of Montrose.
But of course.
And that would be Joe Simpson, that other writer/mountaineer whose books I love.
For a homebody surrounded by the familiar or a traveler exploring the strange, there can be no better guide to a place than the weight of its air, the behavior of its light, the shape of its water, the textures of rock and feather, leaf and fur, and the ways that humans bless, mark or obliterate them.
Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.
Ellen Meloy, Writer.
I believe that half the trouble in the world comes from people asking 'What have I achieved?' rather than 'What have I enjoyed?'
A wholehearted yes to this quote, found over on Terri Windling's beautiful blog, Myth & Moor.
I have decided that to die rich is stories is another way to measure a life. I have never 'achieved' in the normal sense of the word but I like the way my life has played out so far. I've lost everything twice but not in a traumatic way ... it's more that I simply stepped away from 'stuff'.
I read of people desiring, quite desperately it seems, to declutter their lives and I think, 'move countries' and take only the 23kg limit allowed by most carriers out of New Zealand. It was the same when I moved from Istanbul. What you can't leave behind becomes clear ...
I discovered a graffiti park, here in the city, once upon a time ...
Of course developers took it over, 'fixed' it, and these days it's a shadow of its former luscious self. But here's a photograph I made before it was fixed.
Gert is home after having a shot of cortisone to the shoulder. The specialist told him not to expect much for 2 to 3 days. Fingers crossed this is the beginning of a cure, as he's been in pain a long time.
Jess is out of surgery and they're waiting for the doctor to let her come home. I can't even imagine how it must feel to have 4 wisdom teeth removed but we have a freezer full of good quality ice cubes, and there are the popsicles too. She has her very own Flemish bloke with her there.
Inge raced in to spend some time with me this afternoon, only to race out about 10 minutes after meeting, as a small family emergency called her home. It wasn't serious in one way but it couldn't be ignored in another. We'll try that Antwerp city tour again, if possible. Meanwhile she's invited me to visit her in her Westhoek world. That would be her Flemish childhood home ... as, these days, she's a fulltime resident of New Zealand.
It's been an intense few months but today signaled a change in direction. I'm working on something a bit special and hope to mount a photography exhibition here in October. More news to follow with regard to that.
Meanwhile while Jess recovers from tooth abscesses and surgery I'm back on the trams 4 hours a day, not enjoying the heavy pollution we have here but having fun with Little Miss 10.
So yes ... it's like that.
The image below was taken at Cooks Beach in the Coromandel. Early one New Zealand morning when I was out wandering alone.
Well yes ... I am having fun with the new set of photography borders and tool kit they come with. Thank you.
Ubuntu: I am what I am because of who we all are.
These days seem to be full of lessons about community and communication and there is a concept I remember reading of once, so I searched out the quote and found a photograph in my archives.
The concept is Ubuntu, is a Nguni Bantu term roughly translating to "human kindness." It is an idea from the Southern African region which means literally "human-ness," and is often translated as "humanity towards others," but is often used in a more philosophical sense to mean "the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity."
On the image below I used the note I made in one of my journals back in 2011, despite wikipedia presenting it more clearly.
Note: there are many different, and not always compatible, definitions of what ubuntu is...
Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, One of the sayings in our country is Ubuntu – the essence of being human. Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole World. When you do well, it spreads out; it is for the whole of humanity.
As for the photograph ... I was out on Flanders Fields back in October 2007, covering the Passchendaele commemorations. The London New Zealand Rugby Club was over playing a French side, and a delightful group of veterans had flown in from New Zealand.
I was fortunate enough to capture a traditional Hongi, or Maori greeting, between a rugby player and a veteran. It seemed like an appropriate image for this idea that seems so very important in these times.
There's not much that gives me more pleasure than finding a really good book.
I have two 'suppliers' here in the Flemish city of Antwerp. The first is De Slegte aan de Wapper, just a couple of doors away from Rubens House. The second is more of a secret. It's the place where I find quietly superb books for .25 cents to 1euro.
We hired a city car for a few hours today. Jess had an appointment with the dental surgeon and we delivered her to the hospital. Then the Belgian bloke who is on holiday, and I, slipped away to the secret book supply shop and voila, treasure was found.
We found 4 beautiful hardcover Roald Dahl books for Miss 10, printed in Nederlands. Then I discovered Dinner with Persephone by Patricia Storage (.50 cents), Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali (.75 cents), and The Colour of the Moon by Alkyoni Papadaki (1euro).
I love the randomness of secondhand bookshops. I find so much treasure in them. I just finished Tim Parks novel, Dreams of Rivers and Seas tonight. I had loved his 'ethnographical' book titled A Season with Verona. This fiction was something else. Someone else's treasure, now my secondhand treasure.
But really, the reading is done on the trams mostly. I was back on that early morning school run this morning. Jess had her dental surgeon appointment today but turns out she can't have her wisdom teeth out until Thursday as there is an abscess which, combined with the pain of her teeth, is knocking her around something fierce.
We were quite traumatised by our 5am ER visit and by the time she had been treated we didn't even dare ask which painkiller they'd IVed in to her, much less insist they might be wrong and that there was an abscess involved.
We actually laughed as we walked out into Saturday morning afterwards ... that stunned ohmygoddidthatreallyhappen kind of laughter. But today was an experience so opposite as to be surreal. It was very healing and I confess, we were very very relieved.
So there is work to do and family to work around ... Gert has his appointment with a shoulder specialist on Thursday. We're hoping he doesn't need surgery but it's not looking good. He's been in much pain for 2 months now.
My football team played a brilliant game in Italy last night. I was glad not to be here. The tension ... missed chances and the fact that they lost in the final minutes. All this against one of the top teams. It might be an exciting season this season based on the exciting squad they've put together.
I was wandering out on Flanders Fields one frosty morning, with a small group that included then New Zealand Prime Minister, Helen Clark. I noticed these trees and stopped for a few moments, wanting to capture something of the light.
The quote. Justine Musk ... I enjoy her writing.
Listening to Avicii. That Wake Me Up When It's All Over song, the one that somehow got under my skin and into my head earlier this year. Miss 10 just asked me to 'play it again' and so there I was, trying to work out font colour for the photograph below, listening to that music.
Miss 10 heads back to school tomorrow, after the last week of school holidays where it seemed Autumn had arrived. As traditionally happens ... 26 celsius is predicted for next week.
Ms 28 and I rushed off to ER early on Saturday morning, 5am actually. We were mostly the only ones there but that didn't help. Turns out you're not meant to race off to ER, you're meant to go to the after hour-doctors however ... we were both concerned about abscessed wisdom teeth and the possibility of blood poisoning. She had never had pain like it and I found her pressing a plastic ice pack directly onto her face.
They loaded her up with an IV painkiller and anti-nausea meds. We walked out there sometime around 8am I think. The IV dose worked for quite some time but there's no real way of avoiding pain when you have wisdom teeth actually pushing your real teeth out of their socket.
Turns out she needs 6 teeth, in total, removed. She's looking into that tomorrow ...it can't be too soon I suspect.
Yesterday was full of 'things that had to be done'. Two trips to the emergency pharmacy on the bike, the supermarket too. Cleaning the house in preparation for another lovely guest ... Inge, the Belgian living in New Zealand. She's back home for a visit and had a 24 hour window of time just for us.
And there was the pavlova to cook for the BBQ at 1.30pm and then ... once there, Fiona committed to filling my glass while we caught up with Ruth and Lucy. Marc, Charlie and Benoit too. And Tom, the lovely Belgian doctor, just home after some years spent living in NZ.
It was a day full of the most marvelous folk really.
I was running on 3 hours sleep and crashed out of this world sometime after 10pm. Feeling so tired that I felt ill.
Today has been a new day. Gert, Miss 10, and I spent the morning spent talking with Inge and Elise. Then I had a few more hours of sleep after our guests had returned to the Westhoek - home for Inge when she's in Belgium. Elise starts school in the morning too.
As so often happens here in my world, it's been a magical, difficult, exhausting, quietly superb couple of days. Inge and I spent quite some time comparing our experiences in each other's countries. Same same but different would best sum them up.
I would love to write of the good, the bad and the ugly of the immigrant thing but perhaps that's for another day, when I'm less tired than tonight finds me.
I noted the following quote in one of my journals. It's a favourite, by Susana Fortes, and I found it in her interesting book Waiting for Robert Capa.
And the photograph ... it was taken at Herculaneum, in Naples. I spent some hours wandering there one hot summer's day.
I think, one of the things that become most obvious when you leave the country where you are known and understood, is that those invisible unspoken things protecting you ... the habits, the customs, the family and known behaviours will disappear. Out here, it's just you.
One of my favourite poets, Anne Michaels, writes in her poem Blue Vigour:
I think, if you have lived through a war,
or have made your home in a country
not your own, or if you've learned
to love one man,
then your life is a story.
Yes. A story because all that you have known and understood is somehow broken. Smashed even. Each country is different. The way I lived in Turkey is different to the way I live in Belgium.
Those 3 months in Berlin ... so different to all my 2 and 3 week stays in Genova, Italy.
And I feel like a blind woman sometimes, reading braille. The braille of being human ...
So this behaviour, I wonder, where did it come from?
What formed these people, their culture?
Why is this acceptable here and not there?
I'm always curious. And not learning the language of each place I arrive in helps somehow. I do try learning but I am beyond terrible. I think I have some kind of learning disability however these weren't invented until after I was educated and so ... I am simply judged lazy.
But not learning the language ... sometimes I'm not sure it's some kind of gift. It means I have had to become a close observer of body language. I was a photographer alreadyand so perhaps I always was a close observer of body language. Even in that country called Home.
There's a massive birthday approaching this year and I have this feeling of being filled in ways that I didn't expect. Filled with so many stories, of so many people and places, that perhaps it's time for me to re-evaluate who I am and where I am heading.
Anyway, enough ...let's leave this post with the ultimate in wise men, quoted there on the photograph below.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time ...
C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992.
These frantic busy days ... they just keep coming at me. I'm hoping to complete so much in the days ahead, allowing me to concentrate on one or two things instead of juggling 20.
So here I am, taking a little time out, needing some peace of mind, I was searching for something beautiful to note down, then decided to share old photographs from other adventurous days.
Back in 2008 I found myself in Cairo, working with good people, meeting lovely Egytians, having one of those delicious adventures.
I wrote of arriving in Cairo: I felt an incredible overwhelming of the senses as the taxi flew through the (far too) long underground traffic tunnel taking me to downtown Cairo ... the driver completely ignoring the 50km speed limit, then calmly settling down to wait, windows open, when we were caught in the middle of the tunnel’s 3km length with carbon monoxide choking us.
I noticed that Cairo drivers talk to each other via their car horns ... a gentle reminder they are there, that they want to change lanes, and anything else that needs discussing out there on the road.
I hadn’t known what to expect ... perhaps Istanbul but the only similarity to Istanbul was only that it was so different to most of my everyday life.
Later, I read that Cairo has some 17 million people in the metropolitan area and is the sixteenth most populous metropolitan areas in the world ... a busy city.
It was full of people and pollution and when I looked round, from my 6th floor balcony, I could see this layer sand and desert on rooftops.
The first 48 hours was challenging in almost every way. Challenging but oh so excellent to be out again.
A 3-hour afternoon nap does wonders when it comes to restoring the soul ...