#JezWeCan

This blogger has of late been particularly vegetative politically. But in every other aspect of life has been overwhelmed with major crises of augmentative proportions. Hence – no blogging, no motivation for blogging, no inspiration for blogging.  Zilch. 

The Scottish Referendum was exciting but failed to initiate a post.  The General Election came and went. So far, so underwhelming.  I voted Green, being mega- pee’d off with the offer of Austerity-Lite from the Labour leadership.  I even felt vindicated by the fact that my vote didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the end result despite friends threatening me that hell would freeze over if I didn’t vote for Ed. Labour lost by a landslide anyway. 

Then came the Greek crisis and a mega political infatuation with Yanis Varoufakis. I still hang on to his every word. BUT I understand why Tsipras backed down and gave in to the Euro Bullies. The alternative was too horrendous for Greece to cope with alone. Even though 60% of voters were apparently up for risking it.

And now we have Jeremy.  Bless’im.  Bless him for agreeing to stand.  Bless him for talking straight. Bless him for standing by his principles.  Bless him for trucking around the country at the age of 60 something rallying the committed and the disenchanted. Bless him for initiating the most exciting political debate for decades which was sadly missing during the election campaign. Bless him for ignoring the personal abuse.  Bless him for his calmness in not rising to the bait. And bless him for motivating me to write again. 

And him such an unlikely JC figure. It doesn’t even matter if he doesn’t win cos he’s started something. But I think he will win. And it doesn’t even matter if the Labout Party splits as a result because it is about time the Labout Party did split – Into those who believe in capitalism and those who believe in kindness. High time for them to stop getting the two confused.  And when it comes down to it,  the electorate will also have to choose whether they believe in capitalism or kindness and I’ll go with the majority cos I believe in democracy. Even our crummy first past the post sort of democracy cos that’s all we’ve got for now.   And if capitalism wins in the short term,  I’ll pursue the Creative Commons and continue growing the alternative.  “In a world thus redirected from the ‘shareholder value’ of neoliberalism to the ‘labour value’ of postcapitalism, there would still be labour. But, increasingly, it would be labour voluntarily shared for mutual benefit, rather than contracted and corralled by a capitalist.” (https://opendemocracy.net/robin-wilson/this-time-it%E2%80%99s-different)

But call me naive and simplistic and unrealistcally optimistic I don’t think capitalism will win. #JezWeCan!!!!

Charlie – To be or not to be – that is the question!

In and amongst wall to wall world wide coverage of events in Paris, long conversations with daughter resident there, email exchanges with francophile friends, reading and re-reading of articles that free speech is all or respect for others is all, culminating in Russell’s uncharacteristic reticence to proclaim anything other than the fact that ‘Love Is All You Need’, I got Mum out of ‘The Home’.

Turns out that these days it is mainly late stage nursing patients, often bed bound, who are resident there. Is this because the current ethos is to try to look after people in their own homes? Or is it the eye watering expense of residential care should the client have more than £23,000 in assets? Either way, my mum had a major wobble as soon as she realised she was stuck there. Despite a plethora of competent staff, she was isolated in her own room, didn’t want to fraternise with the few mobile inmates and thoroughly resented the rigid regime. I visited twice daily and on every visit I was greeted with ‘I hate it here’. Staff reassured me she would ‘settle, but actually I didn’t want her to ‘settle’. So it was a no brainer to approach Mrs Nice Manager and ask if we really had to stick it out for the trial month and hand over the few thousand quid that that entailed. Mrs Not Quite So Nice assumed a slightly pained expression but said we could go.

I am now on a crash course of understanding dementia, specifically Contented Dementia (Oliver James). This involves agreeing with everything Mum says, never interrupting her and most importantlŷ not asking any questions. The latter is the hardest. If I forget and ask “Would you like a cup of tea or coffee or would you prefer hot milk? ” or “Do you think it is time to go to bed now?” the look of bewilderment immediately reminds me of my mistake. I am learning to speak in short simple factual sentences, never making more than one statement at a time. And the moment is always NOW.

It is easy on Day 1 of life’s next big challenge to convince myself I CAN do this. I CAN put the rest of my life on hold because this is what I must do now. My mother needs me more than anything else in the world. In the past she has always selfishly demanded more of me than I was prepared to give. She never appreciated that anything in my life was as important as her need for me. Jobs, children, partners, grandchildren, friends, events, study. Nothing compared with her need to have me all to herself. But This is different. I examine my own feelings and wonder why on earth I feel this compulsion to give in to her now. Am I succumbing to to the need to be needed? I remind myself that this same mother (in another lifetime) abandoned me to unimaginable six year old grief, when she left me in a boarding school for children of ex service personnel. Because she had a twenty- something- year- old life to lead. My apparent loyalty and devotion defies all logic. I am suspicious of it. But all I can do is act on a gut feeling of certainty that the the life of this extremely vulnerable frail old lady is inextricably interwoven with mine and now is not the time to untangle it.

Paris has been on the streets today in a collective emotional declaration of ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Despite agreeing with some dissenters who have cogent arguments against being Charlie and the uncomfortable feeling of showing solidarité in the company of the likes of David Cameron and Benjamin Netanyahu, I have a sense I would liked to have been there. To share with so many others the sorrow and sheer incredulity that the predictable irreverence of cartoonists could cost them their lives. The lives of soixante huitards with whom I feel I have so much shared history. This is bonkers! But the bigger complicated picture looms large. Colonial legacies. Marginalisation of minorities. Rampant racism. Inequality. Illegal wars. Radicalisation of people with confused identities. Dangers as well as elation when large numbers of people gather to speak with one voice. So at the end of the day, I have no idea if I am Charlie or whether I am not Charlie.

But ironically, at the end of this particular day, the Last Tango was thankfully not in Paris. It was in Halifax!

More on Mum

Today is the day I am due to take Mum to Horsfall House. She woke up at 6am and is very anxious. They are taking me to this home. Some strange place and you won’t be there. She seems to have forgotten the reasons she wanted to go. I try to remember. But there will be nurses there who will look after you. I think about the stark room I have seen and mums lovely house. There is no comparison. Should I have done it differently? But I can’t look after her. She is now so demanding of my time. But I could have got care in. Trouble is I am so knackered and emotionally wrung out I can’t think straight, So shall I use this time for respite and rethink and discussion with friends and family? I haven’t had any proper conversations with anybody because mums face contorts when I say anything she doesn’t understand and if I’m out of the room she shouts for me. I can’t even begin to think about the practical side of how to physically pay £5000 per month In advance by direct debit. Haven’t had a chance to ring the solicitor to sort out Power of Attorney. I keep thinking about how I could make the room nicer. I will take Brian Dowling’s painting. It means a lot to me so hopefully it will mean something to Mum even though it is new, so not familiar yet. I will take her V cushion and the little lavender one. I’ll take the new Countryfile calendar she was so pleased with. And some chocolates. And I will buy some flowers. It is a room that faces south so gets the sun but the view is obscured by another wing of the building. I can’t remember what is on the floor. Keep thinking this is the last time she will sleep In her bed, this is the last time I will make her supper, this is the last time I will make the porridge that she loves. Why am I doing this? Because she asked me to. Because she begged me to. Get me out of here, she pleaded. Did she REALLY mean it? Have I got it all dreadfully wrong?

We have a cup of tea and she is making some sense. She knows and accepts she is going today. I don’t want to take my furniture with me. I want to leave all my rubbish behind. I want to leave all my worries behind but I can’t get rid of them. You MUST leave them behind. Otherwise there is no point. Think positive. Think of a new beginning. I just want to go to sleep. OK you have another little sleep …….

Mum – Xmas Eve 2014

I am feeling so sad tonight. I have been on the edge of tears all day as it has been such an emotional roller coaster. Mum wants to go into Horsfall House so we went there this morning with my very hurried application form. The very nice manager asked us bluntly whether we would want a place next week if available. I looked forlorn and confused and mum said yes. I asked if we could have a trial and she said one months trial is their policy for everyone. I said I felt negligent because I hadn’t even gone to look around yet. So she said I can go next Monday at 11am. I don’t think mum has given it much further thought except to say they will sort her feet out and at one point this evening in a distressed moment she said ” oh please Jen get me out of here” – out of this house that she has idolised and fretted about so much. She doesn’t seem to be interested in anything to do with it now. She said to the lady at Horsfall House “how nice and peaceful it is here even though it is Xmas Eve”. I am just staggered that this is happening. I can’t believe she actually knows what she wants. It is probably the best thing for her but how come she can recognise that when she is so confused about everything else? I will remember this moment for ever.
Somehow in and amongst the mayhem and tears I made the traditional glazed ham and spiced red cabbage that I always do for Xmas eve. We decided Tom and Molly and children wouldn’t come back to eat. I was frightened of D getting agitated by the disruption and Molly didn’t fancy driving in the dark. They will eat the curry I made for Anna which is still hanging about. So it was a mournful little Xmas eve supper for me and mum. D had a tiny taster and wondered what meal this was. She has been so anxious today trying to remember things that are probably not real so impossible to remember anyway. She had me driving round and round Minchinhampton today looking for something but couldn’t remember what it was but if she saw it she would remember so we couldn’t give up. This something was producing all the power that would sort everything out.

What kind of Revolution?

I haven’t yet read Russell Brand’s book and I probably won’t get around to it – unless maybe I do it retrospectively, that is, AFTER the revolution. But I have read excerpts from it, I follow the Trews, I have seen most of his promotional interviews here and in the States, read copious criticisms of his views and actions and a few supportive ones. Personally, I love him for what he is trying to do. But I can see he is an easy figure to hate. He is a loud mouth (good!). He has a messiah complex (suspect?). He mixes politics with spirituality (confusing but I try to understand – sort of like Gandhi maybe?). Some critics accuse him of being a narcissistic religious maniac which he doesn’t seem too eager to refute. And then it’s hard to get over the fact that he used to be such an idiot! I think the first time I noticed he had a brain (and a heart!) was a Guardian article he wrote in the wake of the brutal murder of the soldier outside the Woolwich barracks. His writing stunned me in it’s accuracy, it’s understanding, it’s sensitivity. Amongst the shock and horror and Islamophobia, it was what I needed to read to make sense of a senseless situation. I was so touched I shared the article on Facebook. One friend commented with words to the effect that ‘I can’t take seriously ANYTHING this guy says’. So I knew he was up against it.

Media Lens (http://www.medialens.org/index.php/alerts/alert-archive/2014/781-russell-brand-s-revolution-part-2-the-backlash.html) helps explain the link with spirituality :-

“As we saw in the first part of this alert, there is a strong case for arguing that mindfulness – awareness of how we actually feel, as opposed to how corporate advertising tells us we should feel – can help deliver us from the shiny cage of passive consumerism to progressive activism.”

As I understand it, religion is supposed to be about teaching us right from wrong. And Russell has definitely got right on his side. He is hammering on incessantly about the ludicrous way we have arrived at running this world. Even those pundits who criticise him for lack of solutions must surely agree with the diagnosis that Capitalism has had its day. But deciding on the treatment is a much harder and seemingly impossible task.

This particular Political Vegetable admits to being stumped. But the will is there to try anything to speed things up as long as it doesn’t involve standing on a street corner in the rain with a placard saying “NO”. I have tried this along with 50,000 others and it appeared to achieve zilch! Maybe if the sun is shining and the placard says “YES”, I might reconsider. Oh no – a fair weather revolutionary!

However, I CAN still be arsed to vote (that’s Paxo lingo, not mine) My grandmother, my great grandmother and three great aunts were all imprisoned and force fed as suffragettes in order to secure the vote for women so I can hardly not use mine. But it does a feel pretty useless exercise given our current system. Somehow the whole Westminster charade and it’s political partner, the BBC, seem SO irrelevant. Tinkering around the edges. Totally ignoring the elephant in the room. But I’m willing to concede that IF the silent millions wake up we could conceivably have a significant Green contingent in Parliament that would force Labour to rethink its neoliberal stance. OR we could have a new left party sweeping the floor as happened with Podemos in Spain (“We need to redefine politics from Left vs Right to Us vs Them, creating a new discourse that exposes the privilege of those who hold power in society”). OR …. we could have a Tory/UKIP coalition or….or…..if……but…… Ultimately, it is unlikely ANY significant change will come about this way. But however uninspiring, least worst is probably better than most worst.

So back to the Revolution. Starting from the premise that we want to avoid the violent overthrow of anybody or anything, no Molotov cocktails, no suicide bombers, no guillotines, no charging police horses, no tear gas or tazer guns – how on earth will it happen? Can we even begin to imagine? Russell thinks we can co-operate our way to a better world. Some of us can. But what about the 1% who are quite likely to be sociopaths and therefore fundamentally unable to have any empathy for us mere suckers. How on earth are we going to rehabilitate them?

History tells us that Revolutions come about when a particular set of circumstances converge like kindling wood in a campfire and someone or something applies the spark. The Industrial Revolution happened not just because Britons had brains but because Britain had COAL! The spark for the French Revolution was in fact an Icelandic volcano eruption which wiped out the grain production in Northern France which caused widespread bread shortages and BINGO!! Just how tenuous is our link with everything we take for granted? Will the next eruption ground the planes bringing in green beans from Kenya or flowers from Florida causing Waitrose customers to have their own mini revolution before Christmas?

I hold out a secret hope for social media being either the kindling or the spark. Maybe we will have an internet mediated revolution? Is it only me who finds information on line so much more interesting and to the point these days than anything the Today programme has to offer. So much mis information padded out with interminable conjecture about trivia. So from the self confessed political exhibitionist with the massive ego that gives us The Trews (https://m.youtube.com/user/russellbrand) to the self effacing, self confessed social anxiety sufferer who is Another Angry Voice (http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/) I worship at your alter of enlightenment.

I take heart too from Naomi Klein (http://books.simonandschuster.com/This-Changes-Everything/Naomi-Klein/9781451697384) talking about the ‘next economy’, the post-growth economy, the redistribution economy, the environment preserving economy, the caring, sharing economy. She has done the research, understands how it must happen and gives us hope from her world that it IS happening while the rest of us can only sit back and groan that Fracking is probably a bad idea ………

Then I’ve come across this Jeremy Rifkind guy who predicts The Third Industrial Revolution http://www.thethirdindustrialrevolution.com/

“We are seeing the final triumph of capitalism followed by its exit off the world stage and the entrance of the collaborative commons,” Rifkin predicts.

Hmmm – the collaborative commons?

This brings me neatly to my own contribution to ‘the collaborative commons’ – VEGETABLES! Local, seasonal, affordable, organic, healthy, beautiful, scrumptious, challenging, baffling and definitely deserving of time and effort. I don’t know what particular vegetables RB favours but I did read an article that said he had a penchant for Avocado with Himalayan Pink Sea Salt! Blimey!! Well Russell I hope you paid the environmental cost of these ingredients reaching our shores!! And I hope you subscribe to a community veg box scheme to support local producers who are fighting against the odds to produce food sustainably, where the money you spend stays in the local community and people aren’t enticed and bamboozled into buying trash with BOGOFS when all they need is carrots. But somehow I can’t imagine Russell has much time for cooking – he is too busy being everywhere, doing everything, getting this Revolution thing rolling.

At the risk of seeming like I’ve got a massive crush on Him (I haven’t), in my eyes, Russell Brand has redeemed himself a million fold. With true religious fervour, I even forgive him the sins of rampant sexism and disgustingly groping behaviour still embarrassingly preserved on YouTube which should in theory make him want to hide under a stone. Of course he hasn’t got all the answers. Of course there is no blueprint for the Revolution we so badly need. The script cannot be written in advance and there will undoubtedly be unintended and unforeseen consequences. But he has succeeded in putting Revolution on our lips. We can now say the word, it can roll off our tongues and we dare believe it can be peaceful. Bring it on!

My Silent Summer

Today is October 1st. It is my mothers birthday. She is 94 and she is not very well. Before me lies the unknown territory of “How best to look after someone when they can’t look after themselves?”. And by extension “What will happen to me when I can’t cope alone? ” Behind me lies an eventful three months of sunshine and shame, A summer when I lost my voice but the Scots found theirs. The establishment wobbled and I held my breath. But not a squeak came out ….. until now.

I remain astounded that the Establishment can wobble THIS much. But it restores my faith in humankind. The missing millions may be keeping their heads down sharing pictures of their cats on Facebook but they are ready to pounce given the right circumstances.

My summer of shame started when I returned home from the Camino del Norte to find a court summons lurking in a pile of mainly junk mail. The charge was “being in possession of a dog dangerously out of control”. What?!!! Said dog was ‘very dangerously’ and very tightly tied up outside a café in the Yorkshire Dales while negligent owner was inside partaking of tea and cake. Short, square and very aggressive gentleman burst into café shattering the tranquity of a balmy afternoon with shouts of “whose dog is that?.” and “you will be hearing from the police” and “you will be hearing from my lawyer”. And so it came about that I found myself in a courtroom hanging my head in shame in front of 2 rows of schoolchildren studying O Level Citizenship or similar. I now have a criminal record and dog has a conditional death sentence. I hasten to add that ‘the victim” was not badly hurt but the moral of the story is – Do NOT tie your dog up outside a cafe in the Yorkshire Dales. In fact, do not tie your dog up anywhere. She will feel vulnerable and there are short square aggressive men ready to take advantage of No Win, No Fee.

In order to exorcise my shame and extreme angst I had to take to the hills. So I started walking, stepping outside of my house and heading Northwards. I followed the Pennine Way. The sun shone and the terrain was tough. I slept in youth hostels and bunk houses and I walked and I walked until one day I reached the highest pub in England. But there I did not find a kindly giant nor any goose laying golden eggs. And worse still, my sins were not absolved. I think the problem was that the Pennine Way took me right back through the dreaded Yorkshire Dales and my nose was continually rubbed in metaphorical sheep poo. I saw a lot of border collies rounding up sheep and I really, really wanted to ask every farmer whether they would like a really, really intelligent and good natured dog to add to their menagerie. But I didn’t. And I sulked and I thought about George Monbiot’s Rewilding Theory. After all, the Dales are actually a green monoculture caused by too many sheep. But if we didn’t have sheep what would Border Collies do to justify their existence? They would have to stay as pets so perhaps I better keep her even though she has raised my anxiety levels off the scale of anything I have ever known. But then I’ve never been trapped underground in a collapsed mine with the cadaver of someone I’ve just murdered. Unlike Étienne in Émile Zola’s Germinal which I just finished reading for French book club. So I suppose I am quite lucky really.

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Returning home I find that £500 roof repair has morphed into £5000 plus roof replacement because Yorkshire stone slates are very hard to come by. Can anxiety levels go any higher? Yes they can. Because I have to borrow £5000 immediately from very good friend and I have to collect the CASH from the bank and I have to stuff it into my bag looking over my shoulder to make sure I’m not about to be mugged. And then I have to hand over cash to roofer of as yet unknown reputation on trust that stone will materialise from dodgy deal and my house will have a roof again. Thankfully the sun is still shining.

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By now we are into August and I have a roof and new guttering and Rebecca, the Lovely Lime Goddess, has painstakingly repointed the whole front of my house. I think I MIGHT now be watertight. But the suspicion i still have not paid sufficient penance for the past haunts me. My stomach churns periodically and I recall reading about the gut- brain connection. I won’t go so far as actually recommending the particular book but I was desperate enough to start boiling up bones which I got for free from the butcher on the pretext they were for my dog. Actually, I have to say the resulting ‘broth’ was amazingly calming once I’d got over the preliminary yuk factor.

As it turned out, I had to go to Lands End to finally get liberated. My secret ambition was to start walking from there to John O’Groats. I had met people doing the ‘End to End’ trail on the Pennine Way and the notion of just walking everyday for ever and ever had massive appeal. But the project was cancelled (postponed?). I opted instead for intense seaside therapy surrounded by close friends and my entire family (except elderly mother who was excluded by virtue of steep cliffs) and accompanied by all the joy and petty squabbling that close living can bring.

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So both Politics and Vegetables have of necessity taken a back seat this summer although I have managed to ‘seasonally source’ elder flowers from my garden

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And Mirabelles from mums

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And made elderflower cordial, mirabelle jam and the odd tart

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Obviously, I have eaten SOME vegetables but my enthusiasm and creativity have been at a low ebb. An exception has been the discovery of black cabbage (cavalo nero) salsa – an intense mix of finely shredded and blanched kale mixed with chopped mint, parsley, capers, anchovies and parmesan. Definitely one to be archived https://www.facebook.com/BurnleyCropshare

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For the month of September I brought my mum up to stay in my house in the hope of selling the frozen North to her by way of an Indian Summer. But nothing came up to scratch. The house was too noisy, too hectic or too cold. Apparently, my friends paid too many unplanned visits and stayed too long. She didn’t seem to want company but resented being on her own. And she was sure all the doctors and nurses in the north were newly qualified and didn’t know what they were talking about. But she was ill and disorientated and missed her house and her friends and I was making a good job of completely de-skilling her by attending to her every whim. So now we are back in her house and I am trying to reconcile the fact that I might have to live in two places 200 miles apart. I find myself pining for a simpler time long gone when extended families all lived under the same roof, when Granny sat in the corner in the rocking chair, occasionally waking long enough to gently rock the baby’s cradle with her slippered foot.

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Bilbao

Saturday 14th June

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Now we are only three! Just Mo, Anna and I. Bernt and Peter are continuing on the Camino del Norte for a bit longer. Jude and Derek fly off this morning.

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We had THE most fabulous day from 10am to 10pm at the Guggenheim without getting exhibition overload. The programme is so varied and we punctuate it by meeting up for morning coffee, lunch and afternoon tea to exchange stories. The day is at the same time both stimulating and restful because I spend 2 hours prostrate in the afternoon listening to music.

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Spent the morning with Georges (Braque). I was particularly pleased to catch this exhibition because it was on at Le Grand Palais in Paris last autumn when I was there but the queues put me off. All I knew about him was that he was a mate of Picasso and did Cubism. Sludge and slate colours come to mind. But he did a lot more. He started very colourfully inspired by Matisse and the Fauvists at the Salon d’Automne 1901.
Lovely photo of him as a young man (well, aged 40 I’ve just worked out) by Man Ray

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He was badly injured in WW1 but recovered. Seem to lead a quieter life than his contemporaries living and painting on the Normandy coast with the same partner for over 50 years. He painted a lot of musical instruments and birds.

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And in later life went back to landscapes

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But the postcard I bought to remind me of this expo was of his early work and fauvism

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It’s my third visit to the Guggenheim and I’ve never done a guided tour of the building before. But this time it was on offer in English and it was well worth it Learnt about the incredible regeneration of Bilbao it has kick started, the fish scale tiles are titanium, the massive ground floor maze sculpture are at different stages in the rusting process. And lots more I’ve forgotten.

When I met up with the others at lunchtime , Anna did a sterling job of trying to persuade us that Yoko Ono was a conceptual artist who in the 60s was well ahead of her time. So I went into her exhibition with an open mind, thoroughly burying my fierce resentment as a 15 year old that she bust up the Beatles, totally aware that the females in artistic partnerships usually get unfairly subordinated to their mate. But could not hack it. Being generous the slow motion magnified film of a fly on a nipple hair was momentarily fascinating. But her ‘music’ made me internally scream as loud as she does. The only good bits were with John in – the ‘bed-in’ film and Give Peace a Chance. Sorry Yoko!

Moving swiftly on, the most surprisingly stimulating and enjoyable experience was the musical installation by Icelandic artist, Ragnar Kjartansson. He filmed and recorded a group of friends playing different instruments and singing in separate rooms, including himself in the bath. Each one was displayed on a giant screen but the sum total was hugely greater than the parts. The effect was electrifying and mesmerising People, including myself, were drawn in, initially disorientated but soon impelled to sit down or lie down to watch and to listen and TO SING!

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http://www.guggenheim-bilbao.es/en/exhibitions/ragnar-kjartansson-the-visitor
I was in a well relaxed mood by the time we met up for early evening aperos. For some reason Mo had ordered me a Bloody Mary. Went down a treat! We strolled off site for our last pinxtos and pushed the boat out with some weird and wonderful seafood specimens. Then ice creams on the way back to the Guggenheim for the 9pm outdoor installation.

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What a fabulous closing day to this adventure. To be continued …..sometime ……… probably back at http://caminocomrades.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/camino-del-norte.html?m=1

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Gernika

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Friday 13th June
We had planned to part walk/part train into Bilbao today. It is 35k and will be tackled by most serious pilgrims/walkers. But in the event we are so exhausted and keen to see more of Gernika (pronounced Gerneeeeka here) that we decide to dump walking altogether. We pack up our walking gear and boots and send them by taxi to Hotel Rio in Bilbao (50 euros). We split up from the chaps today and the gals decide on a cultural and historical tour of the town. We set off in light mood due to light weight clothes and sandals, no rucksacks and admire the hill we might have climbed had we been so inclined.

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Walking up the Main Street we hit upon the ceramic mural copy of Picasso’s famous painting. We learn that he stopped working on a commission for the 1937 Paris exhibition to capture his thoughts and feelings about the catastrophic flattening of Gernika by Nazi Germany at Franco’s behest. We were astonished to learn that German involvement wasn’t admitted until 1989 and that Franco attempted to blame the saturation bombing on Basque separatists. It was George Steer a British reporter for the Times who was at the scene soon after who revealed the truth. http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Steer
Light mood turns increasingly heavy at the realisation of what happened in THIS town at that time.

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This extraordinary church survived as did the famous Gernika oak tree, symbol of Basque freedom.

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We did get a bit confused by the tree issue as this is now the 4th generation of sapling from the original oak dating from the middle ages. This one was only planted in 2005. There is a relic of the 3rd tree (bomb survivor) in a marble pillared cage in a prime place next to Assembly House and other saplings planted here and there just in case.

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The Assembly House is open to the public and is well worth a visit if only to see the enormous stain glass windowed ceiling – see below.
It was originally conceived as a Church-Parliament and may still house meetings for the governing body of Bizkaia.

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Our main reason for sticking around in Gernika was to visit the Museo de la Paz (Peace museum) but while we waited for opening time we walked up the hill to the Parque de los pueblos de Europa to see two famous sculptures. Henry Moore’s “Large figure in a shelter” was given as a tribute to those who perished for the Republican cause

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“Gure Altaren Etzea” (Our Fathers House) by Eduardo Chillada is designed to give a view of the Tree of Gernika from its window

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Two massive works of art vying for our attention – one soft and smooth and golden, the other stark and grey and concrete cold. But later at the Peace Museum, I think I saw elements of Chillada’s vision in footage of the post bombing devastation. The greyness of broken masonry and images of incomplete circles seemed to be a déjà vu.

Writing this, as I am, one week later, it is difficult to recollect the highs and lows of the Peace Museum. It was admirable but confusing in its attempts to make sense of Gernikas tragedy by promoting global peace and reconciliation. But it was tricky for us to follow because of the plethora of images accompanied by Basque and Spanish commentary. There was a hard hitting re-enactment of 27th April 1937 with an English commentary. As we sit in a reconstructed 1930s Spanish parlour it is truly traumatic to be reduced to rubble.

The stained glass ceiling of the Assembly Rooms

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A whistle stop tour of the Euskal Herria Museum – pretty inaccessible except for the dancing which needs no translation- before getting the train to Bilbao. In Bilbao, we eventually managed to get the tram from the station to the river where we only had to cross a bridge and walk along the opposite bank to find our hotel. Three of us were here last year and were confident of the route but we got lost and went well out of our way. Much to our embarrassment. But it turns out the place has changed beyond recognition since last year. Regeneration is moving downstream from the Guggenheim and the ‘hood of our hotel is going to be an island so next year it’s gonna be a boat ride away – and probably a lot more expensive!

Monastario Zenaruzza – Gernika

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A really hot and hard day! In the Ciccerone guide it says 13k with at least 8k on the road, not very pleasant in the heat. Fortunately since the guide was written, the path has been redirected off the road but it appeared to be much longer. Not sure how far we actually walked but as temperatures reached 30C and there was a lot of uphill again, we were completely exhausted on arrival in Gernika.

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The first part of the walk was pleasantly shaded. We stopped in Muntibar for coffee and bought tortillas and bananas at the bar for lunch.

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Anticipating no further shops or bars until Gernika, we were surprised to find another one a couple of hours later. We stopped for Cerveza y Limon (Shandy) – very refreshing and the patron brought us out 2 bowls of spicy lentils and bread ‘to keep our strength up on the Camino”.

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We met and chatted to lots of bods – an Australian girl doing an MA in Gregorian chanting in Limerick, another young women studying economics about to attend a conference in London, informing us about the federalised government in the Basque region which refuses all foreign investment.

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It is by now VERY hot and there are mixed opinions as to how far we have to go ranging from 5k-11k. I think it was more like the latter and it was really hard going. Peter rescued a young girl Erica who was really struggling and carried her bag. She had bad blisters which she had burst and sown up herself!

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Long hard slog on a hot road for last couple of kilometres.

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Exhaustion and elation when we finally arrived

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On final arrival in Gernika we flop in the first bar and meet a handsome basque character who speaks great English and tells us a bit more about the Basque psyche and what to do in Gernika. He is a teacher and says wages are equivalent here to France unlike the rest of Spain where they are low. Possibly down to regional government promoting strong economy.

Derek had decided not to walk with us today as his blisters are bad. He went on ahead with the luggage and got us booked in the youth hostel when they opened at 3pm.

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We are stuffed in a small room all together impossible to move around but manage to shower, rest and get out again for evening meal. The 15€ pilgrim meal is marred only by the industrial cheese and membrillo which is inedible.

Markina- Xemein to Monastario Zenarruza

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Lovely breakfast send off from our host and hostess at Inxtauspe. Big blister operations before take off with 7 different opinions on the best treatment. Only a short day today so we afford to meander and take our time.

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Lovely walk along a river/creek until we reach a bar for a coffee and pastry stop. Methinks calories in are going to exceed calories out today.

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Onwards into the little town of Bolibar, the ancestral home of Simōn Bolivar, where there is now a museum celebrating his life and achievements. Namely the Liberation of Venezuela from Spanish colonialists. No wifi to check out more info. But a good guy.

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After the museum, lunch in local bar. Jude and I braved Lingua (tongue). Anna was in heaven with a plate of pasta. Cheese and membrillo (quince) is available for postre but I’ve got to stick with yogurt to counteract antibiotics.

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A beautiful cobbled path takes us to the Monastery Zenaruzza, a fabulous cloistered building in a tranquil and peaceful setting. An exhausted French guy who has walked from St Michel in Normandy is already waiting for opening time at 4pm. On snooping around we find at least a dozen pilgrims ensconced in various dormitories. The guide book says only 11 places available. Strange. We think we have reserved 7 beds through Peter (our best Spanish speaker). At 4pm, Father Rāmon appears and greets Peter like long lost brother. We are escorted to a posh new part of the building and given individual rooms with en suite facilities. What IS going on? Understandably, French chap is confused and pissed off. “I was here first” he bleats. And indeed he was. So feeling a tad embarrassed by our overtly preferential treatment. Makes a change though.

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Happy to find out that French guy and others are not turned away. They are in the “Donativo” quarters (free or donation). We are apparently paying 35€ each for bed, breakfast and evening meal but we are all chuffed to bits with our unaccustomed luxury.

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A few rare hours to ourselves. Jude and I venture into the lowly pilgrim quarters to see if there are any tea making facilities. A group of 5 Irish brothers are lying on their bunks counting the number of dead people in their street, presumably to pass the time. Jude performs the monologue “Albert an t’ Joobilee” in exchange for 2 tea bags and use of microwave. Move outside with the luke warm tea and Father Rāmon appears eerily out of the shadows in his white robes gesticulating for us to beat it. Not sure if he is unhappy about us fraternising with men or with lowlife, or both. Feel about 15 years old and do what we are told.

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Still in acquiescent but inquisitive mode, we go to Vespers in the church at 7.30pm. Moving singing especially from the organist and Bernt does a sterling job of joining in.

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Waiting for supper is embarrassing as we know we have food and wine in our package and the table is set for 7. The other pilgrims wait around in hopeful anticipation and are rewarded with a big pan of veg soup and loaf of bread. We are escorted into the dining room for a very civilised meal. Just don’t know how this happened but many thanks to our Swede Peter for arranging.