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Category: Spain

ROCK ART

Bangkok, 18 June 2016

As readers of this blog cannot have failed to notice, I’m a bit of a history buff. I suppose it runs in the family. My father had an extensive collection of history books, which as I grew up I filched for a quiet read in bed, and my elder brother actually teaches the subject.

As perhaps we all do, my interest in history started with the grand events, the Kings, the Queens, the battles. But with age, I became more interested in the history of the voiceless: the poorer segments of society, the goods and chattel which we humans have enslaved and used for our own material comforts, and – the topic of this post – our forefathers from the time when there were no written records: pre-history. Precisely because they have no written history, the latter can only talk to us through the material remains they have left behind, and through the chemical and biological tracers they have scattered about, from our genetic codes to such mundane things as pollen records. This post is about a particular material remain left to us by the voiceless, rock art.

My first meeting nearly half a century ago with this art form was not very propitious. They were rock paintings, in the middle of Lake of the Woods, on the US-Canadian border, where I was spending a week canoeing. They were painted on a small overhang on the water’s edge of one of the many small islands that dot the lake, so that we could bring the canoe alongside to study them. They looked something like this.
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If I’m to be honest, I didn’t think much of them. They were pretty crude drawings, and awfully faded. I was far more excited by the very old man we met on another island, who told us that he remembered as a child being hurriedly bundled off into a hiding place because the local Indians had gone on the warpath. Wow! Indians on the warpath! To a boy of 15, that was something to talk about, not those crude, faded rock paintings.

At about the same time as I was gazing with a certain skepticism at the rock paintings on Lake of the Woods, I came across my first rock engraving. It was the White Horse, carved in the mid-19th Century into the escarpment of the Yorkshire Moors near my high school.
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I have to say, though, that I was more taken by the gliders soaring silently on the updrafts created by the escarpment than the White Horse carved into it.

Well, time passed, I grew up, and I became wiser (I hope). My growing fascination with pre-history meant that I became more interested in rock art. Not that I saw that much rock art in the flesh, as it were. For instance, I have never managed to see the rock engravings in Valcamonica up in the Alps, not that far from my wife’s home town of Milan, even though it was one of the first places to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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On the other hand, when my wife and I visited Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona early on in our marriage
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we came across some rock engravings among the old American Indian pueblos.
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I may not have been seeing much rock art, but I was reading up on whatever new finds were being made. For instance, new caves were being found in France and Spain with art from the Paleolithic era, adding to what was already known. I give here just a few examples from some of the better-known caves:
Lascaux
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Altamira
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Chauvet
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Now this is really art! Visiting these caves is on my retirement bucket list – if we can manage to get in. Many of them are closed, or access to them is severely restricted, to protect the paintings. Forget the problem of stray fingers touching where they shouldn’t. Even our innocent breath deteriorates the artwork.

Several of the articles I read were about rock art in Australia. For instance, there was much excitement several years ago when it was announced that some rock art in the Northern Territories had been dated to 28,000 years ago, which made it Australia’s oldest dated rock art, and some of the earliest in the world.
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Then there were articles a few years before that about the fascinating rock art in Kakadu National Park, also in the Northern Territories, which goes from the ancient
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to the modern – Australian rock art didn’t stop tens of thousands of years ago.
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All this meant that I approached the rock art which we visited on our recent tour of the Kimberley with a lively interest. We found ourselves confronted with two quite different styles of painting. The more recent, Wandjina art, is dominated by these alien-like faces.
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To my mind, these paintings were only mildly interesting. Of much greater interest was the considerably older Gwion Gwion art, which is peopled with stencil-like figures like these.
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In contrast to many of the representations of people in rock art, where they tend to be reduced to mere stick figures, Gwion Gwion art shows them dressed and coiffed. I don’t think it’s too fanciful to say that one can get an idea of what the painters of this art might have looked like if we had met them.

There are very recent articles reporting scientific analyses which suggest that these paintings could be 50,000 years old. This very much favors the theory which I mentioned in my previous post, the author of which argues not only that African peoples sailed to the Kimberley and brought the baobab tree with them but also that they were the authors of the Gwion Gwion art. He claims similarities between this art and the rock art of the Sandawe people, hunter-gatherers from Tanzania.
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Personally, I’m not convinced. But hey, I’m no expert. In any event, reporting this claim has allowed me to segue smoothly to Africa, a major storehouse of rock art. And here I will leave my readers with some remarkable rock art from the Sahara, once a green and verdant land full of game and peopled by the humans who hunted them and who recorded their lives on the rock.
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Lake of the Woods rock painting: http://www.panoramio.com/m/photo/8653359
White Horse, Kilburn: http://www.jdw-fitness.co.uk/ben-campbell-5k-10k-trail-races/
Rock engraving Valcamonica: http://www.italia.it/it/idee-di-viaggio/siti-unesco/valcamonica-larte-rupestre.html
Rock engraving Valcamonica: http://www.invasionealiena.com/misteri/articoli-misteri/963-arte-rupestre-delle-alpi-la-valcamonica.html
Canyon de Chelly: http://www.thousandwonders.net/Canyon+de+Chelly+National+Monument
Canyon de Chelly pictographs: http://www.inn-california.com/arizona/apacheC/canyondechelly/rockart.html
Cave wall, Lascaux: https://www.reddit.com/r/Showerthoughts/comments/2xfe1z/what_if_cave_drawings_are_done_by_cavechildren/
Hunters, Lascaux: https://hartogsohn.com/category/טכנופוביה/
Bisons, Altamira: https://www.pinterest.com/gfrilli/prehistoric-art-altamira/
Horses, Chauvet: http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/september-2011/article/prehistoric-cave-paintings-of-horses-were-spot-on-say-scientists
Bears, Chauvet: http://www.ancient-wisdom.com/francechauvet.htm
Rhinoceros, Chauvet: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10920920/French-cave-paintings-inscribed-on-Unesco-World-Heritage-list.html
Reindeer, Font-de-Gaume: http://artdiscovery.info/rotations/rotation-1/packet-1/
Nawarla Gabarnmang: http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2012/06/24/spe31.asp
Kakadu woman: http://fr.123rf.com/photo_10231459_aboriginal-rock-art-namondjok-at-nourlangie-kakadu-national-park-northern-territory-australia.html
Kakadu kangaroo: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/521502831831829461/
Kakadu boat: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/10/photogalleries/australia-aboriginal-art-photos/photo4.html
Wandjina art: https://www.pinterest.com/rosadevaux/wandjina/
Gwion Gwion 1: our photo
Gwion Gwion 2: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/bradshaw_paintings.php
Gwion Gwion 3: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/bradshaws/photographs/
Sandawe rock art: http://africanrockart.org
Giraffe, Dabous, Algeria: http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/giraffe/
Cattle, Djanet, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Antelope, Oued Dider, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Man and dog, Djanet, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/
Archer, Oued Djaret, Algeria: http://africanrockart.org/rock-art-gallery/algeria/

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TROMPE L’OEIL AND STINGINESS

Bangkok, 27 July 2015

Trompe l’oeil is a very respectable art form, with a long and distinguished presence in the world of art, at least in Western art. I am told that the Greeks and Romans practiced it, although I do not recall ever having seen an example. In any event, artists took it up again with a vengeance during the Renaissance, and art thereafter is littered with pieces which “fool the eye”, tricking the viewer to see three-dimensional depth where there is none. We have a beautiful example just up the road from our apartment in Milan, in the church of Santa Maria presso San Satiro. My not-yet wife took me there on my first trip to Milan in 1975 and my eyes were indeed fooled.
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What I had taken to be a deep apse behind the altar is actually an almost flat wall. The clever artist in question was Bramante, who painted it in the 1480s. In this case, he didn’t do it just to show how good he was, it was to give a feeling of greater depth to a church which was squeezed in between the adjoining buildings.

I could go on giving other examples from High Art, but actually I want to focus on a lower form of the art found in the province of Liguria. We’ve just come back from spending a week by the sea, near Genova, the province’s capital (and from where I managed to launch several of the previous posts).

One of my recurring pleasures as I walk the streets of any conurbation in Liguria, from Genova down to the smallest village, is to come across houses like these.
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This form of trompe l’oeil is only found in Liguria, to the extent that the practice is almost a D.O.C.. In these cases, the painter (I hesitate to call him artist) embellishes what is otherwise the drab and flat facade of a house (you see an example to the right in the photo) with architectural elements which are painted so cleverly as to fool the eye into thinking that they are three-dimensional and “real”. The result is to make an ordinary house look more imposing, which in the old days no doubt (and perhaps even today) raised the residing family’s social standing a notch or two. It is even a way of making up for unfortunate blemishes in a facade, like the absence of a window which mars the symmetry of a house.
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What is nice is to see is examples which run from the fresh and new to various states of weathering and finally decrepitude brought about by sun, rain, and more recently pollution.
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Of course, one has to ask oneself why this art form is so popular in Liguria and nowhere else. My theory, for what it’s worth, is that it is a reflection of the well-known stinginess of the Genoese (and more generally Ligurians). In Italy, the Genoese have the same reputation as the Scots in England for being tight fisted, and there are loads of jokes about it, as indeed there are in the case of the Scots (“There was an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman in a pub. The Englishman stood a round, the Irishman stood a round, but the Scotsman just stood around”; sorry, I thought I would just quickly throw that one in). According to this theory, then, the Genoese (and by reflection the Ligurians) preferred to paint architectural elements onto their facades à la trompe l’oeil rather than go with the real things, because it cost them less.

I’m sure the Genoese must feel that this typing of them as scrooges by the rest of Italy is grossly unfair and they probably find it very irritating to be the butt of incessant jokes about it. But as they say, “there is no smoke without fire”. There must surely be some reason why they got this reputation. Curious to see what I could find out, I did an internet search on the topic (in truth, my wife did it since she’s very good at internet searches). Several suggestions popped up. One is that Liguria is in general a very poor land, made up of steep hills and little good agricultural land. People who live in such lands tend to be more careful with their hard-earned wealth scratched out of an unforgiving earth than those of us from richer lands (I’m sure this is the basis for the Scots’s reputation for stinginess). Another suggestion is that the Genoese in particular made much of their wealth in banking (they were the bankers of the Spaniards in the 16th century), and like all bankers got into the habit of not throwing their money around like we foolish non-bankers do. A third, which I like so much that I have adopted it, is a variant on the second (I have to thank Grimaldina, a citizen of Genova, for bringing it to my attention).

In 1586 or thereabouts Philip II, King of Spain, decided that he was going to invade England to uphold the Catholic cause, of course, but also to teach the damned English a lesson for attacking Spanish treasure fleets and shipping more generally. The worst offender was this gentleman, Sir Francis Drake

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a great Englishman for the English, but nothing more than a damned pirate for the Spaniards.

To invade England, Phillip was going to need a navy, and a big one. As I said, the Genoese were the bankers of the Spaniards, so he came to them for the funds to build the necessary ships. I suspect the King made the Genoese an offer they couldn’t refuse. In any event, after much hesitation because it was a huge amount of money, and no doubt after extracting juicy concessions about trading monopolies for Genova in England once conquered, the Genoese accepted to fund the venture. Thus was built the Spanish Armada, or the Grande y Felicísima Armada, the “Great and Most Fortunate Armada”, as the Spaniards called it. And here, just for the hell of it, I throw in pictures of Philip II and Elizabeth I (it’s clear already from the pictures who’s going to win; I mean, look at Phillip II, have you ever seen such a nasty scowl?)
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Alas, the Spanish Armada was perhaps great but it was not fortunate. After several engagements in the English Channel, where overall the Spaniards got the worst of it
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the Armada was driven by the winds up into the North Sea, all the way up to Scotland. At that point, the Spanish commander decided to give up and go home. His idea was to round the top of Scotland, head out into the Atlantic, and then turn south. He turned too soon. His remaining ships found themselves too close to the west coast of Ireland, where, hit by terrible Atlantic gales, many were driven ashore. Of the 130 ships which left Spain only 67 limped home. The English cheered, but the Genoese cried; their fortunes had sunk to the bottom of the sea along with the ships. Genova went into a steep economic decline thereafter, from which it never really recovered. Thus was born the Genoese’s parsimony (and not stinginess, as stressed by Grimaldina). Like all great families which fall on hard times, it had to keep up appearances with less money in its pocket: ideal conditions for heavy adoption of trompe l’oeil.

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Santa Maria presso San Satiro: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/Sansatiro5.jpg (in https://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bramante#Santa_Maria_presso_San_Satiro_.281482-1486.29)
Genoese facade-1: http://www.sampierdarena.ge.it/joomla/images/phocagallery/villesamp/litoraneo/pallavicinocreditoitaliano/thumbs/phoca_thumb_l_dsc_0617.jpg (in http://www.sampierdarena.ge.it/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=94:villa-pallavicino-sec-xvi-via-sampierdarena-71&catid=48:litoraneo&Itemid=59)
Fake windows: https://dearmissfletcher.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/finestre-6.jpg (in https://dearmissfletcher.wordpress.com/2015/03/page/5/)
Genoese facade-2: https://timelessitaly.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/20131103-175731.jpg (in http://timelessitaly.me/tag/nervi/)
Genoese facade-3: http://rotellando.vanityfair.it/files/2015/06/IMG_6719.jpg (in http://rotellando.vanityfair.it/2015/06/16/piemonte-10/)
Genoese facade-4: http://cdn.pleinair.it/wp-content/uploads/106011.jpg (in http://www.pleinair.it/meta/viaggi-camper-l-impero-dipinto/)
Genoese facade-5: http://www.liguria.beniculturali.it/getImage.php?id=779&w=100&h=100&c=0&co=1&f=0 (in http://www.liguria.beniculturali.it/index.php?it/136/percorsi-tematici/3/5/3)
Sir Francis Drake: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#/media/File:Gheeraerts_Francis_Drake_1591.jpg (in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada)
Phillip II: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#/media/File:Philip_II,_King_of_Spain_from_NPG.jpg (in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada)
Elizabeth I: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#/media/File:Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait).jpg ( in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#/media/File:Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait).jpg)
Spanish Armada fighting English ships: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada#/media/File:Invincible_Armada.jpg (in https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Armada)

PRICKLY PEAR AND THE COLUMBIAN EXCHANGE

Bangkok, 23 January, 2015

One of the most far-reaching effects of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas was the so-called Columbian Exchange, the exchange of plants and animals (and bacteria and viruses) between the Americas and the rest of the world. This map shows some of the major crops and livestock which made the journey in either direction between the Americas and Europe.
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We see, for instance, that the tomato crossed to Europe from the Americas, along with the turkey and corn (and possibly syphilis), while the cow, the horse, and the onion, went the other way, along with smallpox, measles, typhus, and a whole series of other diseases (the diseases nearly wiping out the Amerindian populations).

But I want to focus on a plant which normally doesn’t get mentioned in discussions of the Columbian Exchange: the prickly pear, a plant whose history is very much centered on Mexico. Here, we have an exemplar standing guard, as it were, at the site of Teotihuacan.
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In fact, the prickly pear is so centered on Mexico that it graces the Mexican flag as part of the latter’s central emblem (for those with “mature” eyesight like mine, it’s what the eagle is grasping with its talons at the same time as it grasps that snake in its beak).
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Maybe the prickly pear’s low profile in Columbian Exchange discussions is because it’s such a nasty, spiny plant, which really doesn’t endear itself to anyone.
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Or maybe because it’s not much of a commercial crop; the Food and Agricultural Organization, which collects global statistics on some 160 crops, collects no statistics on the prickly pear, for instance.

Whatever the reason, I wish to right this injustice and pay tribute to the prickly pear and its role in the great Columbian Exchange. It may perhaps have played a modest economic role, but it helped to fill many an empty stomach, and it sure as hell has played an important ecological role, sometimes wreaking havoc in the ecosystems into which it was thoughtlessly thrust.

I first met our prickly friend in the country of my birth, Eritrea. Here, you see a specimen in front of the delightful little train which runs from Asmara down to the seaport of Masawa on the Red Sea.
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I have a vivid memory of taking that train to go down to the coast for a holiday on the beach.

It was the Italians who, as colonial masters
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introduced the prickly pear (please note the plant waving at us from behind the colonial troops and their Italian officer). The Italian colonialists brought it from the mother country, of course, where it grows in profusion in the more arid southern regions of the country. We have here an example gracing the ruins of Agrigento in Sicily.
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But southern Italy was just a later stop on the prickly pear’s journey out of Mexico. It must surely have reached Italy from Spain, which was the first port of call for many of the biological journeys out of the Americas. Here we have a Spanish prickly pear, nudging its way into a photo of Sagunto castle in the province of Valencia.
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In truth, I have chosen pictures which show off the prickly pear to advantage, but normally the plant is much more unprepossessing. This photo of a ragged, messy patch of prickly pear in a village of Ethiopia is much more typical of how the plant presents itself
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especially when its population levels begin to explode out of control in some foreign ecosystem which has no natural biological defenses against it. The Global Invasive Species Database lists several countries where the prickly pear is now considered an invasive species. Eritrea is one of them, along with the neighboring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia – the Italians, who colonized all three countries had little idea of the damage they were wreaking. But South Africa also considers it an invasive species (here is a picture of prickly pear invading the Kruger national park).
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And Australia had a catastrophic invasion. The prickly pear was initially introduced as an ornamental plant for gardens. Then some bright spark thought of using the plant as natural fencing (sensibly enough, cattle and other animals desist from pushing through breaks of prickly pear because of the nasty spines, and they don’t eat them for the same reason) and to start a cochineal dye industry (the little beasties from which the dye is extracted munch the prickly pear’s pads). But the prickly pear went crazy. It eventually converted some 260,000 square kilometers of farmland (which for those readers, who like me don’t think in square kilometers, is more or less equivalent to a square 500 km by 500 km) into an impenetrable green jungle. Farmers were driven off their land by this “green hell” and their abandoned homes were crushed under the cactus growth.
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The authorities finally managed to get the plague under control in the 1920s by introducing a South American moth, the Cactoblastis cactorum, whose larvae feast on prickly pear. This led to a crash in prickly pear populations, and while the plant has not been eradicated from Australia it has been brought under control (the Australians were lucky, by the way; there is always a risk in this kind of biological control that the agent will find another native plant much more to its liking and wipe that out instead, or once it’s dealt with the original pest will turn its hungry eye on to something else and become an invasive species in its own right).

Why did some Spaniard ever bring the prickly pear back to Europe in the first place? Because, as far as I can tell, he thought he could brighten up a Spanish garden somewhere. But it cannot have been because of the beauty of the plant itself. More likely it was the flowers, for indeed the web is full of pictures of the flower of the prickly pear. Here are a few of the more pleasing examples.
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At some point, though, people, especially the poor with bellies to fill, began to also focus on the fruit, the “figs” of the prickly pear
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These had been enjoyed by the Mesoamericans for millennia before Hernan Cortes and his conquistadores arrived and have been enjoyed by the Mexicans ever since.
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I add here a close-up of the fruit
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first because it’s a nice photo, but second because the sharp-eyed reader will notice the hair-thin spines which nestle lovingly around the crown of the fruit. Their scientific name is glochids. They are the nastiest little buggers imaginable. They come off easily and lodge under the skin of the unwary picker, where they cause exquisite and unending agony as the said picker tries and tries and tries again to extract them, always in vain. Bloody little bastards … Readers may have gathered from this little burst of ill humour that I have personally experienced this exceedingly painful trial. It was in Eritrea as a matter of fact, where as a young and foolish lad I tried picking the fruit.  I then ran to my Mummy to get the horrible little things out, which she eventually did after much wailing on my part and cross admonitions on her part for me to keep still. I had tried picking the fruit because my mother had earlier bought some, perhaps from a lady like this
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and I had liked them – a little too many seeds perhaps but nicely fresh and sweet.

Personally, while I like the taste, that early brush with glochids has always made me wary of the fruit. The pain in the hands was bad enough but the thought of those things getting stuck in your tongue or gums because the fruit was badly cleaned is dreadful. And the thought of them getting stuck in your throat is simply too horrible to contemplate.

But others around the world consume the fruit without a second thought, especially around the Mediterranean rim. Here, we have some cheerful young lads selling the fruit in Egypt

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While here we have a more solemn Moroccan doing the same
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And here a smiling Sicilian ditto
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As readers can imagine, over the centuries people in the countries where the prickly pear was introduced eventually got around to putting the fruit into alcoholic drinks – at least in those countries where such drinks are tolerated. Thus, we have a prickly pear-flavoured liqueur called “Ficodi” in Sicily, we have a prickly-pear flavored herbal liqueur called “bajtra” in Malta (another country, by the way, where the prickly pear has been declared an invasive species), out in the lonelier reaches of the Atlantic, on the island of St. Helena (where Napoleon Bonaparte was banished), the potent “Tungi Spirit” is produced with the fruit, while prickly pear fruit is the main ingredient of a popular Christmas beverage in the British Virgin Islands called “Miss Blyden”. Looking at how all these various drinks are made, I think I would plump for Miss Blyden: prickly pear steeped in rum and sweetened with sugar. Mmm, sounds good …Yohoho, and a bottle of Miss Blyden, is what I say.

But actually, these drinks are all derivative, if I can put it that way: you just plunk prickly pear fruit in an alcoholic medium; it could actually be any fruit that is plunked. The Mesoamericans, on the other hand, came up millennia ago with colonche, an alcoholic drink using just the juice of the prickly pear fruit, fermenting it over a number of days. I have read that it is a sweet, fizzy, red beverage. Here’s a photo of a glass of colonche, together with the fruit from which it is derived.
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I regret to say that I did not try the drink while I was in Mexico. However, I have asked my son to try it and report back. If the feedback is good, we can discuss about getting into the business of exporting it!

What I will not promote, through export or otherwise, is the eating of the pads (that is to say the fleshy leaves) of the prickly pear. They eat them in Mexico – and in New Mexico too (and perhaps some of the other southwestern States of the US). The original peoples of Mexico were eating them when Cortes burst in on the scene, and it’s still quite popular. I saw them sold in the supermarket around the corner from where we were staying in Mexico City and took a photo, but I prefer this more sympathetic photo of a Mexican lady on the street selling them.
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I mentioned in an earlier post that I had tried the pads, cooked and with melted cheese, in a taco. I also tried them, with cheese but without the taco. It didn’t change the taste much.
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I’m all for trying things once (with the exception of insects). But not necessarily more than once. Pads of the prickly pear fall into the latter category.

But who knows? As the Mediterranean countries slowly go down the economic drain, and more generally as we 99 percenters slowly get poorer, perhaps we will join our Mesoamerican friends and start eating prickly pear pads – as the poor of the Mediterranean lands turned to the fruits of the prickly pear some three hundred years ago to fill their empty stomachs.

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Columbian exchange: http://globerove.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Columbian-Exchange.jpg (in http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/cbgobble/columbian-v-triangle)
Prickly pear in Teotihuacan: https://farm1.staticflickr.com/214/444712763_0a91a8353e.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/eternal_sunshine_of_the_spotless_mind/444712763/
Mexican flag: http://www.freepressers.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/mexican-flag-640.jpg (in http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2011/k1302_10_21.asp)
Prickly pear: https://seekraz.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/prickly-pear-cacti-in-tucson-desert.jpg (in https://seekraz.wordpress.com/tag/prickly-pear-cactus/)
Prickly pear by Asmara-Masawa railway: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8633/16089064905_44b9e68e48_b.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/dave-hill/16089064905/)
Italian colonial masters: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/it/6/6c/Ascari_penne_di_falco.jpg (in http://it.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regio_corpo_truppe_coloniali_d’Eritrea)
Prickly pear in Sicily: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8299/7826141194_33f0e36a8d_b.jpg (in https://www.flickr.com/photos/mari-mora/7826141194/)
Prickly pear in Spain: https://themostbeautifulplacesineurope.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/dsc_0048.jpg (in https://themostbeautifulplacesineurope.wordpress.com/tag/castle/)
Prickly pear in Ethiopian village: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-YutF1G9Qjbo/Up44cIZUf_I/AAAAAAAAMPA/fydBOTfLCNY/s1600/00041775.jpg (in http://jhodgesagame.blogspot.com)
Prickly pear in Kruger National Park: http://academic.sun.ac.za/cib/news/images/20120611_opuntia_stricta_impacts_fig1.jpg (in http://academic.sun.ac.za/cib/news/20120611_opuntia_stricta_impacts.htm)
Prickly pear in Australia – the green hell: http://chinchillalibrary.chinchilla.org.au/Images/Local%20History/johnty%20turner’s.jpg (in http://chinchillalibrary.chinchilla.org.au/HTML/HeritagePricklyPear.html)
Prickly pear in flower-1: http://www.fotothing.com/photos/4aa/4aa38f6709881bcb9b0dc2f7bce87dea.jpg (in http://www.fotothing.com/AzViper/photo/4aa38f6709881bcb9b0dc2f7bce87dea/)
Prickly pear in flower-2: http://photosbygarth.com/travels/DesertGardens4-23-11/prickly_pear_cactus_flowers_0887.jpg (in http://photosbygarth.com/wordpress/)
Prickly pear in flower-3: http://www.summitpost.org/prickly-pear-cactus-flower/294673
Prickly pear fruit-1: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-_NFH_ZhWJCU/T1kjB-HTOWI/AAAAAAAAA84/rBf30_8f5qg/s1600/5.jpg (in http://docsfitnesstips.blogspot.com/2012/03/prickley-pear.html)
Mexicans selling prickly pear fruit:
http://i.gonoma.net/i/destinations/1106/zacatecas-images/prickly.jpg (in http://gonomad.com/destinations-xxx/3205-zacatecas-mexico-rsquo-s-overlooked-colonial-gem)
Prickly pear fruit-2: http://cdn.c.photoshelter.com/img-get/I0000O2m8f8jI.vU/s/600/600/PPCA-021548.jpg (in http://rolfnussbaumer.photoshelter.com/image/I0000O2m8f8jI.vU)
Ethiopian lady selling prickly pear: http://jamminglobal.com/2012/05/ethiopia-part-6-historical-axum-and-mountainous-twisties.html
Prickly pear seller Egypt: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/Media/NewsMedia/2013/7/16/2013-635095893366005272-600_resized.jpg (http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/3357/25/The-fruit-beneath-the-thorns.aspx)
Prickly pear seller Morocco: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b1/Prickly_pear_seller.jpg (in http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opuntia_ficus-indica)
Prickly pear seller Italy: http://www.fotografieitalia.it/foto/3126/3126-08-20-44-1557.jpg (in http://www.fotografieitalia.it/foto.cfm?idfoto=65383&idfotografo=3126&crono=1)
Colonche: http://173.236.14.43/fotos/nota/2014/9/18/4d68094af571428.jpg (in http://www.am.com.mx/aguascalientes/especiales/espiritus-de-la-republica-144117.html)
Seller of cactus pads: http://holeinthedonut.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/Nopal_Cactus_Seller_Mercado_Hidalgo_Guanajuato.jpg (in http://holeinthedonut.com/2010/06/01/mexico-food-nopal-cactus/)

Cactus pad and cheese: http://s3.amazonaws.com/foodspotting-ec2/reviews/846163/thumb_600.jpg?1315336866 (in http://www.foodspotting.com/150802-amandahugnkiss)/)

 

MEXICO: BASHING THE PIÑATA

Mexico City, 4 January, 2015

As my wife and I wandered around Mexico City this last week, we were struck by these strange ornaments which we saw hanging in many places. This particular one, for instance, was hanging in a street somewhere

pinata 002

while this one, somewhat incongruously, swung over the cars in a gas station.

image

Intrigued, I asked our son what they were. Piñata, he told us.

Ah. I had never heard of them.

Undeterred, I rolled up my sleeves and did some research (i.e., browsed the web). I am now ready to report my findings.

What we have here is an example of the strategy used by the Catholic church in the early years of the Spanish conquest of Mexico to christianize the local populations. The church adopted, with the necessary adaptations, those local religious traditions which happened to have similarities with Catholic traditions. The thinking was that this would make Catholicism more familiar, more “user friendly” for the local populations, who would therefore convert more readily (and if necessary, a little gentle pressure from the sharp end of a sword could no doubt be used to help along in the decision-making process).

In the case of the piñata, the local religious tradition in question was part of the Aztec festival for their patron god Huitzilopochtli, sun god, god of war, and god of human sacrifice.
image
The whole of the Aztec month of Panquetzaliztli, which ran from 7 to 26 December in today’s calendar, was dedicated to this festival. The people decorated their homes and trees with paper flags, there were ritual races, processions, dances, songs, prayers, and to top it all off there were human sacrifices.

Only one of the festival’s activities is of interest us here. In it, priests would place a clay pot on a pole in front of the statue of the god. The pot was filled with tiny treasures inside and decorated with colorful feathers outside. The pot would be ritually broken with a stick or club, and the treasures would fall to the feet of the statue as an offering.

It so happened that the Spaniards had a very similar custom, the Dance of the Piñata, which took place during Lent. There, too, a decorated clay pot, the piñata, was suspended and during some kind of dance routine got broken with a stick. Quite what the religious significance of this was is unclear to me, nor do I know if there was anything in the pot.

The canny Franciscan monks who were spearheading the conversion efforts in Mexico (along with Dominicans) figured that they could harness this Lenten custom from Old Spain to a new Christmas custom in New Spain and in so doing help to draw away the indigenous people from their old, “pagan”, “idolatrous”, “devil-worshipping”, etc. religion. They also borrowed from a superficially similar Mayan custom. The Mayans had a game rather like blind man’s buff, where a player was blindfolded, perhaps spun around to disorient him, and then left to try and hit and break a suspended clay pot. No doubt his blundering misses made spectators roar with laughter. Again, I don’t know if there was anything in the pot.

The Franciscans used all these threads to weave together a new, fun custom which the indigenous people were encouraged to practice, in the church grounds no doubt, in the run-up to Christmas. A clay pot, filled with sweets and other goodies, and decorated on the outside, was suspended. The “players” were blindfolded, and guided by the onlookers, would try and bash the pot and release the goodies. If successful, everyone would throw themselves on the goodies. But of course the Franciscans gave the whole thing a religious twist, using the new piñata “game” to inculcate in the locals some Christian catechism. Thus, the clay pot represented Satan, with the outer decorations now transmuted into seven colorful cones or horns representing the seven deadly sins (for those of my readers who have momentarily forgotten which these are, we have, in alphabetical order: envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath). The outside was made beautiful to remind the viewer that evil is tempting, and the goodies inside the pot represented the temptations of wealth and earthly pleasures. Once the game started, it became a morality play for demonstrating the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. The blindfolded players represented Blind Faith, groping their way towards salvation. The piñata now represented Hope. The onlookers looking up at the hanging piñata were actually gazing towards Heaven, yearning for the salvation that would come from the smashing the pot and the triumph of Faith over Evil. The sweets and other goodies that showered forth now suddenly became the rewards of maintaining the Faith. But everyone shared in the goodies, thus symbolizing Charity. After this dose of religion, it seems to me only correct to include this statue of a Franciscan monk having a bash at a piñata.

image

If any of the players impatiently waiting to have a go at smashing the pot understood any of these theological subtleties I take my hat off to them. If my own youthful experience of catechism is anything to go by, I would guess that they quietly let the priest blather on about whatever he wanted to blather on about and then they got down to the serious business of having some fun. These two photos, which I took in the Museo de Arte Popular (about which more later in a future post), capture nicely the fun aspect of this religious game.

image

image

I’m sure it is the jolliness of smashing something and scrambling around for goodies that makes older Mexicans remember piñata with fondness rather than the catalogue of the seven deadly sins and the triumph of Faith over Evil. In fact, at some point it seems to me that the piñata lost much of its religious connotations and simply became a game to play at parties, and at the same time there was a switch from a ceramic pot to hold the goodies to one made of papier-mâché or cardboard – no doubt fond mothers were worried about having their dear ones and those of their neighbors showered with pottery shards during the children’s parties they organized.
image
Indeed, I have this vague memory of a similar game being played at the birthday party of one of my son’s friends years ago in Italy. By the way, for those of you who like me are fond of useless facts, the Spaniards borrowed the piñata from the Italians, where it was called pignatta. And it seems that the ultimate source of the custom was China, although how it got from the Middle Kingdom to Italy is a bit of a mystery to me (my sources suggest Marco Polo, but he gets mentioned whenever no-one has a good idea how things got transmitted from China to Europe).

In any event, it now looks like the piñata is morphing into a simple Christmas decoration. I certainly don’t think that all the piñatas we’ve seen hung up are there to be bashed vigorously with a stick. In this new identity they have become the equivalent of those stars which seem such a popular Christmas street decoration.
image
Soon, they will morph once more, becoming tame Christmas tree decorations. Indeed, if this Christmas tree at one of Mexico City’s bus stations is anything to go by, the morphing has started already.
image
From reverent offering to the sun god to cheesy decoration on a Christmas tree, the fall has been long and hard.

_____________

Piñata: my photo
Huitzilpochtli: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/cb/Huitzilopochtli_telleriano.jpg (in http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huitzilopochtli)
Franciscan monk hitting piñata: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piñata#/image/File:MonkPiñataAcolman1.JPG (in http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piñata)

pix from the museo de arte popular: mine

Children hitting a piñata: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Posadas#/image/File:Las_Posadas_Pinata.jpg (in http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Posadas)

Christmas street decorations: http://wallpaperest.com/wallpapers/street-outdoor-christmas-decorations_074228.jpg (in http://toplowridersites.com/iphone-5-38528-christmas-christmas-street-decoration-jpg/)

piñata on Christmas tree: my picture

TROUBLES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN

Beijing, 27 May 2014

Ten days ago, this was.

We walked into Camogli from Recco, getting a first glimpse of the little harbour from the road

Recco-Camogli

We walked down to the harbour, skirted its edge

camogli port

and passed on to the boardwalk on the other side of the church.  Glancing back, this was the sight which greeted us

camogli-boardwalk

Our goal was San Rocco, sitting high above Camogli on a steep spur of Monte di Portofino

san rocco from the sea

We started climbing, slowly, stopping often, huffing and puffing, using one of the old mulattiere, mule trails, which criss-cross the hills around here.

Camogli-San Rocco path-2

We toiled up past rather decrepit houses and semi-abandoned olive groves until we finally reached San Rocco.

There, from the little piazza in front of the church, we had these gorgeous views, south-east towards Punta Chiappa

monte di portofino-1

and north-west towards Genova

monte di portofino-2

We sank onto the bench and drank in view and sun. And as we sat there, in my mind’s eye I overflew the seaboard of the Mediterranean. Burning, burning, all burning …

Egypt

egypt-2

The West Bank

west bank

Syria

syria

Lebanon

lebanon

Turkey

turkey

Morocco

morocco

Algeria

algeria

Tunisia

Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration to call for the departure of the Islamist-led ruling coalition in Avenue Habib-Bourguiba in central Tunis

and finally Libya

libya

libya-2

from where, amidst all this rage and pain and despair, poor souls are struggling against all odds to cross the Mediterranean and sneak into Europe

pantelleria

a Europe which is itself sinking under its own weight of troubles: Greece of course

Greece Financial Crisis

but also Italy itself

italy

as well as France

France Strike

and Spain

spain

I closed my mind’s eye. Tomorrow, tomorrow, I said to myself, my wife and I would worry about the state of the universe tomorrow. Today, sitting on the bench and enjoying sun and sea, we just let the world go hang.

san rocco-1

____________________________

Recco-Camogli: http://www.mareblucamogli.com/images/Camogli_porto_oggi.jpg?129 [in http://www.mareblucamogli.com/page_31.html%5D

Camogli port: http://blog.marinayachting.it/media/458191_246746435438893_111283799_o.jpg [in http://blog.marinayachting.it/ai1ec_event/13-trofeo-challenge-nicola-dodero/?instance_id=%5D

Camogli-boardwalk: http://www.portofinotrek.com/trek/17-category/da-camogli-san-rocco.jpg [in http://www.portofinotrek.com/trek/17-da-camogli-san-rocco%5D

San Rocco from the sea: http://www.villagoduria.it/media/img/dintorni/s-rocco%20dal%20mare.jpg [in http://www.villagoduria.it/i_dintorni.php?lang=it%5D

Camogli-San Rocco path: http://www.alpioccidentali.it/escursioni/images-esc/Camogli-SanFruttuoso_glicine.JPG [in http://www.alpioccidentali.it/escursioni/Camogli-SanFruttuoso.htm%5D

Camogli San Rocco path-2: http://www.portofinotrek.com/trek/10-246-thickbox/da-camogli-a-san-rocco.jpg [in http://www.portofinotrek.com/trek/10-da-camogli-a-san-rocco.html%5D

San Rocco-1: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/3427674.jpg [in http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3427674%5D

Egypt: http://www.cairoportal.com/media/k2/items/cache/296cd9de158e249f3870555c2eeb013a_XL.jpg?t=-62169984000 [in http://www.cairoportal.com/news/9739#.U4NTHXYUZ40%5D

West Bank: http://stat.ks.kidsklik.com/statics/files/2011/07/1309663247638250606.jpg [in http://elmustakeem.blogspot.com/2011/07/sekolah-anak-anak-palestina.html%5D

Syria: http://www.dw.de/image/0,,17607086_303,00.jpg [in http://www.dw.de/syrias-war-economies-add-fuel-to-the-conflict/a-17609218%5D

Lebanon: http://gdb.voanews.com/B5FAA55E-7326-4D3F-B6F4-97DD2C6863FA_w974_n_s.jpg [in http://www.zeriamerikes.com/media/photogallery/june-23-2013-day-in-photos/1687666.html%5D

Turkey: http://82.222.152.134/imgsdisk/2014/05/22/220520141648544381677.jpg [in https://twitter.com/gokmen%5D

Morocco: http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/WORLD/africa/02/21/morocco.protests/t1larg.morocco.feb20.gi.afp.jpg [in http://www.cnn.com/2011/WORLD/africa/02/21/morocco.protests/%5D

Algeria: http://l1.yimg.com/bt/api/res/1.2/Z.PSaSbzYDbmat1.7F6nKg–/YXBwaWQ9eW5ld3M7Zmk9ZmlsbDtoPTQyMTtweG9mZj01MDtweW9mZj0wO3E9NzU7dz03NDk-/http://media.zenfs.com/en_us/News/ap_webfeeds/cb75ae006f10880a4e0f6a7067006b93.jpg [in http://news.yahoo.com/algeria-activists-stage-rare-anti-govt-protest-145742769.html%5D

Tunisia: http://revolution-news.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/3540ab5d-15a8-49c8-91ff-a9649aea4186_16x9_600x338.jpg [in http://revolution-news.com/category/middle-east/tunisia/%5D

Libya: http://wartime.org.ua/uploads/posts/2012-01/1325936226_vyskova-operacya-v-lvyi-rozkrila-slabku-boyegotovnst-nato-5.jpg [in http://wartime.org.ua/648-vyskova-operacya-v-lvyi-rozkrila-slabku-boyegotovnst-nato.html%5D

Libya-2: http://www.bigpicture.si/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/1241.jpg [in http://www.bigpicture.si/archives/tag/sirija%5D

Pantelleria: http://292fc373eb1b8428f75b-7f75e5eb51943043279413a54aaa858a.r38.cf3.rackcdn.com/world_03_temp-1303281776-4dae8070-620×348.jpg [in http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110420/world/Nationalism-comes-of-age-in-anti-immigrant-bailout-Europe.361418%5D

Greece: http://latimesphoto.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/greek-crisis08.jpg [in http://framework.latimes.com/2011/10/19/protest-in-greece/%5D

Italy: http://www.ctvnews.ca/polopoly_fs/1.1773564!/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/landscape_960/image.jpg [in http://www.ctvnews.ca/world/anti-austerity-protest-in-rome-italy-turns-violent-1.1773562%5D

France-Marseille: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2013/9/10/1378816498459/3befa5d8-0b5b-4ca9-be36-9ef459246334-620×421.jpeg [in http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/sep/10/french-unions-hold-protests-over-pension-reforms—live%5D

Spain: http://img.rt.com/files/news/1e/1d/30/00/000_dv1422028.si.jpg [in http://rt.com/news/spain-protest-austerity-corruption-347/%5D

San Rocco: http://static.panoramio.com/photos/large/3427674.jpg [in http://www.panoramio.com/photo/3427674%5D

 

LET’S DANCE!

Beijing, 24 March 2014

Jean Renoir, son of the French impressionist painter of the same name, was a good film director. In fact, he is considered by some to be among the greatest film directors of all time. He made such classics as La Grande illusion (1937) and La Règle du jeu (1939). So it was with some anticipation that some years ago my wife and I went to see The River, a film he had made in 1951, on location in India, in English, his first in colour, and which won the International Prize at the Venice Film Festival.

The River

Bad, bad mistake! The theme of the film – loss, love lost, love found – had all to hold one. The problem was the actors. They were all, to a man and woman, dogs – it’s the only word to adequately describe the appallingly amateur acting that we were subjected to. To this day, I ask myself what on earth happened in the making of this film. How did Jean Renoir lose control of his creation? Was it lack of money? Loss of talent? – was he getting too old for the job? Was it working far from home and in a foreign language? Mystery …

The worst actor by far was an Indian woman, Radha Burnier by name. She later gained a certain fame by becoming president of the Indian branch of the Theosophical Society (fame defined here as having an entry in Wikipedia). But that was still in the future when she acted in this film. I literally gritted my teeth every time she appeared on-screen and droned out her lines tonelessly. And then, at some point in all this hideousness, she acted out a dream sequence. For some reason which I cannot now recall, this dream required her to dance a classical Indian dance. What a transformation!  This ugly duckling of an actress morphed into a beautiful dancer. We were treated to a powerfully expressive, supremely graceful performance of Indian classical dancing.

I immediately forgave her all her poor acting.

I was forcefully reminded of this episode a few weeks ago when, during a long flight back from the US, I decided to watch An American in Paris, a film also made in 1951, directed by Vincente Minelli and with Gene Kelly in the lead role.

An_American_in_Paris_poster

It was an exceedingly silly film, with the lightest of plots (love lost, love gained, the whole with a papier mâché Paris in the background), but at least the actors could act. It also had a good musical score by George Gershwin. So I smiled indulgently and let myself be carried along on the silly frothiness of it all. At some point, though, Gene Kelly went into a tap dancing routine. My attention suddenly snapped into focus. What a dance! Light-hearted though it was, it was a superb rendition, a wonderful example of what a highly accomplished classical dancer can do with the hypnotic rhythms of clicking shoes.

In a way, I think these two threads of dancing come together in Spanish flamenco dancing – the syncopation of tap dancing fusing with the sinuous, sulphurous eroticism of Indian classical dancing, which also carries its own brand of stressed rhythm with the use of feet bangles. Staying in the film medium, I give here a wonderful example of Spanish flamenco from Carmen, a 1983 film directed by Carlos Saura.

Carmen_by_Saura

It’s a remake in the flamenco style of Bizet’s famous opera of the same name. Here we have love exploding between Carmen and Don José

but alas! it all ends badly

Ah, the madness of jealous love!

I cannot end without bringing in tango, that most sultry of all dances. Which is just as well because that allows me to introduce a final clip from the 2005 film Je ne suis pas là pour être aimé

je-ne-suis-pas-la-pour-etre-aime

in which two lonely people, Jean-Claude and Françoise, find a common love, and love, in tango

Ah, l’amour, l’amour! After a few taps of my toes and a pirouette, I turn in for the night.

______________________

The River: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/7/77/La_Fleuve_1951_film_poster.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_River_(1951_film)%5D

An American in Paris film poster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:An_American_in_Paris_poster.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_American_in_Paris_%28film%29%5D

Carmen film poster: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carmen_by_Saura.jpg [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmen_%281983_film%29%5D

Je ne suis pa la pour etre aime poster: http://www.bestofneworleans.com/imager/french-cin-club-je-ne-suis-pas-la-pour-tre-aim/b/original/2222223/686d/f8df3e30_je-ne-suis-pas-la-pour-etre-aime.jpg [in http://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/french-cin-club-je-ne-suis-pas-la-pour-tre-aim/Event?oid=2222222%5D

PLANE TREES

Beijing, 30 July 2012

Until a few years ago, plane trees were not high on my list of favourites. The memories of my youth were of leprous-looking trees in a ragged line along anonymous city streets, with long strands of dirty bark peeling off them, a pathetic crown often savagely chopped to allow the passage of telephone and other wires, and every passing dog peeing on them. My grandmother would say that they were used because they were the only trees that could survive in cities. But what a life, I thought. Better no life than this …

plane trees in streets-4

And then one day, on a holiday with my wife in Spain, we were walking through the Jardín del Príncipe in Aranjuez, near Madrid, when we came across a row of absolutely magnificent plane trees, of vast girth, with huge spreading crowns of light green sparkling leaves, and whose bark ranged in colour from pale beige through pale green to ivory white.  Simply ravishing. If we took photos, I have no record of them here. So I insert this picture of a plane tree in these gardens which I found on the web, to give the reader an idea of the beauty of these trees.

plane trees jardin del principe Aranjuez-6

I add this picture of a row of the trees in the gardens to give an idea of their girth.

plane trees jardin del principe Aranjuez-1

And I add this one simply because I like the colours!

plane trees jardin del principe Aranjuez-4

I remembered that glorious moment of discovery yesterday when, visiting Ritan Park in Beijing on a beautiful day with a blue and – that rarest of things in this city – clear sky, we found ourselves sitting in the shade of a lovely plane tree.  It was not as majestic as the specimens we had discovered in Spain, but it was still arresting. It had been manicured so that it grew more regularly in all directions, and a bench had been arranged around it in a wide circle.

ritan park 002

ritan park 003

We just sat there, drinking in the quiet beauty of it all.

POSTCRIPT:

One year on from writing this, I must report the saddest of news. Seventy years ago, US soldiers disembarked in Italy, carrying with them munitions boxes made with wood of the American plane tree. That wood contained a fungus, Ceratocystis platani, unknown to the plane trees in Europe and against which they have no defence. It has left Italy now and is slowly spreading throughout the rest of Europe. Eventually, it will kill millions of plane trees throughout Europe. This was reported by the BBC, where they were saying that the thousands of beautiful plane trees planted along the Canal du Midi

canal du midi plane trees

are becoming infected and will have to be cut down and burned.

Canal du midi plane trees being burned

I fear that the same fate will soon be shared by those lovely old plane trees in the Jardin del Principe. One more tragedy caused by the global movement of goods and people – and bugs that go with them for the ride.

_____________________________

plane trees on a street: http://animestoi.midiblogs.com/media/02/01/2964573664.jpg

photos of the Plane trees in the Jardin del Principe, Aranjuez:

first: http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/14735886.jpg

second: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-sCRByt2Qd6s/UUsvkfma43I/AAAAAAAAZ10/eTOTJ_kaYxQ/s640/Platanos+de+sombra+Aranjuez+01.JPG

third: http://turismoenaranjuez.com/sites/default/files/otonojardinprincipe_0.jpg

photos of the plane tree in Ritan Park: mine

Canal du Midi: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/56128000/jpg/_56128150_canalview624.jpg

Canal du Midi-plane trees being burned: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-4yIXXHCnDRY/UYN1Ru6K3yI/AAAAAAAAAuM/16Cdm8bNqT4/s1600/Canal+du+midi+abattage+PK+143+%25287%2529.JPG