Monday, 31 July 2017

Venice 2017

This year we again made our pilgrimage to another Venice Biennale. As usual we had done our homework and knew in advance what to watch out for and the impressions of some critics. However this time around we had the added incentive to see the installation of dear friend David Medalla, one of whose works was chosen to be included in the Arsenale. Logistics aside Venice was in full swing and as usual the heat of July meant that we had easy access to all venues, despite the exorbitant cost of the ‘vaporettos’ which meant that generally we walked everywhere. Our hotel was the same one we have used on our last few visits, very central, and from where we were within walking distance of most venues. This also had the added benefit that in passing we walked through most of the tourist spots, something that one always wants to include even if you have seen them a few times already. Venice was full of people but the great majority had no idea that this huge event ‘The Biennale’ was happening under their very eyes.
David Medall's 'A stich in Time'
Lorenzo Quinn's Hands

Now I am not an art critic but I do like to comment and discuss, and this year there was much that incited a response. The first thing that disappointed was that the German pavilion was missing the performance that is its main exhibit this year. Perhaps the performers were taking a day off, much like I used to do in my youth, when the sun shone outside, or perhaps there was a dispute about salaries or who knows what, but although it had been touted as a highlight this year, we were treated to an empty scene where a glass floor with the two spaces (above and below the glass) loomed empty like something was about to happen. It reminded me of the story about the Munch painting (The Scream) in which a long line of visitors at a museum waited to see (and take photos of) the empty space from which the painting had been stolen!

Kiki Smith's at the Central Pavillion

The Russian pavilion, generally my favourite, was a bit less exciting this year, though they did have some new ways of displaying some twenty or thirty mysterious sculptures, in that the shadows which one could see behind each sculpture were not created by light but in fact projections, which is kind of strange. Why would an artist go to these lengths to create shadows when the same effect can be arranged more easily, unless you had a few assistants who had nothing to do and you gave them this huge challenge. ‘Now go and create a shadow for each of these sculptures, take photographs, buy storage media, buy projectors and install electric fixtures, and project from a suitable location to make the whole thing look authentic’! 
Russian Pavillion
Still, art works in mysterious ways and who am I to criticise.
Phyllida Barlow at the British Pavillion

There were a few pavilions which need not have bothered to show up but there were also those which had made huge works and filled their spaces to the brim. One of these was the British pavilion which was so overstuffed with Phyllida Barlow’s sculptures that it was difficult to walk around. The Japanese and Chinese were also full of innovative pieces. It would be hard to do justice to the whole event without getting into a lengthy discussion so let us just say that there was much to see with a few duds. A few that stick in my memory were Azerbaijan, Ireland, Japan and Canada.

Japanese Pavillion

The ones who seemed to be having difficulty with their spaces were the likes of Uruguay and Venezuela. Uruguay appeared to have a collapsed roof, the reason for which I can only guess, and could be that a heavy object suspended from above or the huge storm the previous evening a few minutes after our plane landed in Venice, might have contributed to its shutdown. Egypt was also listed as closed, but it seemed to have recovered by the time we got around to it, showing a video story which was mysteriously left unresolved by the time it ended.
Rina Banerjee at the Arsenale
The two different locations of the Biennale as usual and the myriad associated ‘Collateral Events’ in beautiful ‘pallazi’ made us really hustle during four days of intense walking. On our first day at the Giardini, as we made our way out at closing time a huge storm blew in and mercifully a largish tavern in front of the exit accommodated what seemed like a few hundred visitors, squeezed in like sardines, for an hour while we downed our ‘spitzers’ and the storm raged and finally ended into bright sunshine.

Marisol in Venice

On our last day we tried very hard to find the Scottish pavilion located in a remote church. We got there just before it closed and saw the video which had received some curious reviews. ‘Not my cup of tea’ I thought to myself as it had the story of Pinnochio on a loop in a fantasy setting. Nicely done but not worth the effort to go and find it! The minor silver lining was that nearby and quite by accident we discovered the Palazzo Ca’ Zanardi where our friend Luca Curci (Itsliquid/Bari) has curated his exhibitions during the Biennale season.

All in all a very nice and interesting Biennale and enjoyable in the company of our friends Maximiliano and Maria Jesus, who know a thing or two about Venice.
The full set of photos from Venice Biennale 2017

Some pics of me in Venice (photos by Marisol Cavia)

Monday, 26 June 2017

Camino de Santiago - 2017

In English and Spanish 
En Español un poco mas adelante

Full set of photos from the Camino 2017

I was not thinking of writing a post to describe the latest excursion to continue our yearly progress along the Camino de Santiago, since we have now settled into a routine for organising and going along from day to day. The group of pilgrims is the same and the basic scenery, problems and experiences are more of the same. However a few friends have asked basically the same questions and wondered why I have not communicated this year. So I have put together a brief one off post.

This year we tackled the part of the Camino from Belorado (where we finished last year) up to a few kilometers before Sahagun at Terradillos de los Templarios (what a name!), the reason being that the last leg would have added up to 40 Kms if we had wanted to finish in Sahagun itself and that was about 10 Kms too many for most of us.

Montse, our travel expert and Ione her very suitable assistant had spent an entire day planning the overnight stays and we had advanced reservations for nine people in specific hostels or albergues along the route, and I watched for a while, when they did this.

They calculated for each day, more or less, where they thought we would get to with a rough estimate of the group's walking abilities. Ours were around 25 to 30 KMs max. Then on a good map they found a place at around that distance and found all 'Hostals' or 'Albergues' in the area on Google. Then they chose one or two, which looked promising, called the phone numbers and asked for availability and reserved if the price was right. Most of the hostels reserve and you pay when you arrive. Which means in many cases you have to call again a day or two in advance to ensure that the reservation is confirmed and that they know that you are already on the camino and confirm the time when you expect to arrive etc. It was time consuming but in the end worth every ounce of effort, especially when you find that your bed awaits when you arrive. Most importantly if you are using the mochila (rucksack) taxi then you know where your mochila should be delivered.
I used the mochila taxi throughout this time for various reasons. 1 it was cheap, 2 it allowed me to have a bit more flexibility with contents of my bag, and 3 it made walking (specially uphill) easier, which I found quite difficult the previous year.                       

All that worked very well. We typically started at 7am and generally arrived by 1.30 or 2pm. Then we had showers and a long lunch, followed by a siesta, a small walk around the town, dinner and to bed.
We started by taking the bus route from Laredo to our starting point of Belorado. The first day was a short walk to our first night’s stay because we did not start the walking until about 3pm after the long bus trip. After that we consistently walked 25 or more kilometers every day.                     

We had good weather except for a 30-minute downpour, which caught us in a very muddy part of the camino. My walking boots turned into muddy boats and luckily soon after the rain subsided we managed to find a bar, which had facilities for washing muddy shoes!

The Camino was just as delightful as other years and the fitness, plenty of meditative walking not to mention the customary eating and drinking followed by hours of conversation with other pilgrims made for another great outing.

However there were a few difficult moments along the way. The section of the Camino from Belorado to Burgos was very pilgrim non-friendly.  At one of the overnight stops at Orbaneja de Riopico we stayed at a small hostal, but we discovered the next morning that in the small town no bars opened until 10am! So our 7am start meant that we could find no breakfast until we were in Burgos about 3 hours later. This was a big deal for some in our group who typically needed a good strong coffee to wake up and get going.

Another annoyance for me was noise. Sharing rooms with several beds invariably leads to having to learn how to deal with this and I found this disturbed sleep somewhat and that invariably led to having to walk while not fully rested. Fortunately for my years I don’t need that much sleep and earplugs are the obvious answer. The other source of noise pollution that I sought to avoid as much as possible was the banter at high pitch of a group of people walking together. In this case keeping a few meters ahead or behind the group with my meditation exercises was the answer. I also had at my disposal a phone full of music and its easy manipulation through my Pebble watch.
Yet another difficulty was learning how to keep up with much younger fellow pilgrims while walking uphill. And here I discovered this year how to use breathing as an aid to make the extra effort.

There were also a few niggly ailments and the usual foot blisters among our group, but nothing much to write home about. Most of these are best left to the memories of those who suffered them. Fortunately for me I was once again spared most of these, through using good footwear and diligently applying non friction creams and other foot care.

On the last day of our walk with the end in sight we nearly missed a bus that was expected to take us from our finishing point at Terradillos de los Templarios to Sahagun, 12 Kms away. However we found out during the walk that there was only one bus that day and it passed our end point at exactly 1 pm. Given the length of our walk that day we estimated that we would arrive sometime after one. As our destination approached and we began to walk faster and faster, it became clear that unless the bus was delayed, we would be only just making the bus stop at one pm. In the end we arrived just a minute before the bus pulled into view and finished our journey comfortably.

Now we just have another 250 Kms to complete the entire camino.
From Terradillos de los Templarios to Sarria.
Roll on 2018.
Buen Camino.

 No pensaba escribir esta vez nada sobre el tramo de Camino de Santiago que hemos hecho hace una semana para continuar nuestro ritual anual, porque en nuestro grupo de peregrinos hemos ya conseguido una rutina para organizar el proceso diario y mas o menos es la continuación de la experiencia y no hay mucho nuevo que contar.  Pero algunos amigos me han preguntado porque no he escrito algo, y también varias preguntas sobre como hemos logrado alguno o otro detalle.  Así que aquí tengo un breve descripción de la excursión.

Este año hemos andado la parte del Camino que empieza en Belorado (donde terminamos el año pasado) hasta Terradillos de los Templarios, unos doce kilómetros antes de Sahagun. Ya el ultimo tramo tenia 28 kms y andar 12 kms mas hasta Sahagun era mucho para algunos de nosotros.

Montse, nuestra agente de viajes y Ione una asistente muy hábil pasaron un día entero planificando las estancias en el camino y el grupo tenia reservaciones confirmadas en hostales o albergues para todas las noches. Tuve la oportunidad de observar como ellas hacían esto.

Primero calculaban para cada día donde el grupo podía llegar con nuestras capacidades de andar (unos 25 o 30 kms cada día). Después con Google buscaban todos los hostales disponibles en la localidad seleccionada. Llamaban por teléfono a varios y buscaban alojamiento para el grupo, y si el precio era aceptable lo reservaban. Casi todos los hostales y algunos albergues reservan, y uno puede pagar cuando llega. Pero es necesario llamar un par de días antes para que sepan que estamos en camino y confirmar la reservación, la hora de llegada etc. Era mucho trabajo pero valía la pena para tener la cama disponible cuando llegábamos después de varias horas de andar. Aun mas importante era tener una dirección para usar el ‘mochila taxi’.

Este año utilicé el ‘mochila taxi’ todos los días porque 1- era bastante económico, 2- me permitía mas contenido en la mochila y 3- hacia mas fácil la caminata especialmente las subidas que me fueron difíciles el año anterior.

Todo funciono bastante bien. Salíamos todos los días a las 7 y en la mayoría de los casos llegábamos a las 2 de la tarde. Luego nos duchábamos y seguido de una larga comida, siesta, una pequeña excursión para explorar el pueblo, cena y a dormir. Muchos de los hostales tenían horario de apagar las luces bastante temprano.

Empezamos con un viaje de varios autobuses desde Laredo hasta nuestro punto de partida en Belorado. Ya eran casi las tres cuando empezamos el camino del primer día, un tramo de doce kilómetros hasta nuestro hostal para esa noche. Después todos los días hicimos entre 25 y 30 kms.

En general tuvimos suerte con el tiempo, aparte de una media hora cuando llovió torrencialmente en un tramo con mucho barro. Mis botas parecían como barcos de barro pero afortunadamente un poco mas tarde nos encontramos un bar donde podíamos lavar nuestras botas.

 El Camino estaba bonito y encantador tanto como otro años y el ejercicio, la meditación, y por supuesto la comida y bebida seguido por horas de sobremesa y conversación con otros peregrinos resulto otra vez en esta excusión muy agradable.

Naturalmente había momentos difíciles como hay de esperar. Por ejemplo la sección de Camino desde Belorado a Burgos carecía de muchos servicios para peregrinos. Teníamos una parada en el pueblo de Orbaneja de Riopico y era complicado encontrar algo para desayunar cuando empezamos el día siguiente a las 7am en punto. Andamos tres horas hasta Burgos para encontrar un bar abierto donde podíamos tomar un café, requisito fundamental de algunos de nuestro grupo para despertar y empezar a andar.

Otra molestia para mí era el ruido. Compartiendo habitaciones con varias camas invariablemente conduce a tener que aprender a lidiar con este sueño algo perturbado y invariablemente tener que caminar no totalmente descansado. Afortunadamente para mis años no necesito tanto sueño y tapones para los oídos son la respuesta obvia.

La otra fuente de contaminación acústica que traté de evitar en la medida de lo posible fue el tono de hablar alto de un grupo de personas caminando juntos. En este caso, la respuesta era mantenerse unos metros adelante o detrás del grupo con mis ejercicios de meditación. También tenía a mi disposición un teléfono lleno de música y su fácil manipulación a través de mi reloj de Pebble.

Otra dificultad era aprender a mantenerse en ritmo con los compañeros más jóvenes mientras caminaban cuesta arriba. Y aquí he descubierto este año cómo usar la respiración como una ayuda para hacer el esfuerzo adicional.

También había unas cuantas molestias y las ampollas habitual de pie en nuestro grupo, pero no hay mucho que destacar. La mayoría son mejor dejados a los recuerdos de aquellos que los sufrieron. Afortunadamente para mí, una vez más no las sufri, a través de usar buen calzado y aplicar con diligencia cremas y otros cuidados de los pies.

En el último día de nuestro paseo, con el final en vista, casi nos perdimos un autobús que nos llevaría desde nuestro punto final en Terradillos de los Templarios a Sahagún, unos12 Kms. Sin embargo, nos enteramos durante el paseo que sólo había un autobús ese día a la una de la tarde. Dado lo largo de nuestra caminata ese día estimamos que llegaríamos algún tiempo después de la una. A medida que nuestro destino se acercaba empezamos a caminar más y más rápido, quedó claro que a menos que el autobús se retrasara, estaríamos llegando a la parada del autobús muy justos. Al final llegamos un minuto antes de que el autobús apareció y terminó nuestro viaje cómodamente.

Ahora solo nos faltan 250 kms para terminar todo el Camino

Desde Terradillos de los Templarios hasta Sarria.
Seguiremos en 2018.
Buen Camino.
Todas las fotos desde Camino 2017

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Saramago, Manrique and Omar Sharif What do they have in common - Lanzarote

Mundo Senior - holidays in Spain for the oldies to escape winter. We decided this year to try Lanzarote, a volcanic island in the Canaries which we had not been to. Strange island covered in lava and black volcanic ash and a difficult existence. That is until the artist Cesar Manrique decided that unless they attracted tourists, the economy would remain in doldrums.

Manrique is associated with all the good things in Lanzarote, conversions of homes, tourist spots adapted to tourism and general ecology of the island. Several initiatives are attributed to him. These include the absence of Advertising boards, the limit of 4 floors on buildings and the white colour that all buildings have. Apparently one pays 2000 Euros a year in taxes if they want a different colour, and there are virtually no exceptions. Manrique's own house and the building that houses the Manrique Foundation are worth seeing. Sadly Manrique died in a traffic accident in 1992.

Saramago won the Nobel prize for literature in 1998 and his house is a gem of a place. We were shown around by a family member and loved the place. The library that houses his book collection has many books dedicated by the authors. One shelf contains all of his books translated into different languages. Our guide pulled out a couple translated into Indian languages of which I could read the Hindi but not the Tamil. I had not as yet read any of his books, but I certainly will read a few after that visit. At the end of our visit the guide said that Saramago always invited visitors to a coffee in his kitchen, and this custom has been maintained and we were treated to a lovely cup of coffee in the kitchen overlooking the garden.

And Omar Sharif, what can I say about the house called LagOmar that was designed for him and built into a mountainside. Its a terrific place on a grand scale. The curious thing is that if we are to believe the tale, one week after it was completed OS (who was an accomplished bridge player) lost the house in a bet while playing bridge with the constructor. Apparently OS did not know that the opponent was an international bridge player in his own right!

So there you have it three big characters share the common ground of a small island in the Atlantic.

The following is a list of things that we got around to seeing apart from the buildings listed above:

Paseo de Playa Blanca - a nine kilometer walk on the south side of the island in the town of Playa Blanca where we stayed in Lanzarote. While most of it is packed with restaurants and bars there are long sections with stunning scenery, beaches and in the evening views of sunsets not to be missed. The Marina Rubicon is also a very lovely area which this paseo goes through.

The Timanfaya volcanoes - This is a bizarre and frightening landscape where everything is flooded with lava flows. Temperature very near the surface can exceed 200 C. No one is allowed to either drive or walk around. A bus takes the visitor through the landscape on a single lane road. You would not want the bus to break down in this hostile but beautiful environment! Yet, that is exactly what happened to a bus ahead of us. About half an hour passed while it became clear that there was no way out, and then by some miracle the drivers of the buses cleared a space in the lava and luckily the inoperative bus was on an incline so they could ease the bus down to one side. We could then drive past, waving sympathetically at the stranded passengers.

Mirador del Rio, which has spectacular views over the island of La Graciosa

Charco de los Clicos, near the nice town of Golfo

Jameos del Agua, a lava tube created by the gases and explosions during lava flows, which was converted (again by Manrique) into a restaurant, bar and some concert spaces. Perfect acoustics.

Caves of Los Verdes, a lava cave which is probably similar in formation to the Jameos, contains a surprise which those who have seen it are obliged not to reveal!

Mercado de Teguise, a Sunday market where all tourists end up. The town is very nice but probably best appreciated on non-market days.

The vineyards, different from any others elsewhere because of the way the vines are protected from the wind with walls built from lava rocks. Hard work and this probably explains why the wines are not cheap.

The Museum of Modern Art, a converted fort refurbished again to a Manrique design. It is said that to start off the collection, Manrique did an exchange of his own works with some famous artists.

The Red Mountain, about which much has been said, that its a place where a lot of UFOs and aliens might be found etc. It was just around the corner from our hotel and we duly went up for a walk. It did not disappoint in terms of natural beauty and an interesting crater, but we did not see any aliens or indeed any UFOs.
Once again it was time to pack our bags and return home, wash clothes, recover from an upset tummy and then head out to our next destination. Madrid and ARCO 2017.
A retired life is equal to a tourist's in that it is hard!