Thursday, 28 October 2010

Bucket List - reversed (5) (final part)

21.  I subjected myself willingly to surgical intervention to have a gastric band laparoscopically fitted, to enable me to lose weight after 35 years of being unable to do it for myself – and at great personal expense.  I knew there were risks, in fact it was explained to me in pretty lurid detail - but I had got to a stage where I felt I had nothing more to lose, and quite frankly, I didn’t care.  I didn’t want to carry on the way I was, so a fear of death was meaningless.  I think this fatalism, this willingness to gamble my life away because there was nothing left, was what made it possible – some years earlier this mindset would have been totally alien to me. 

And though I am probably the slowest weight-losing bandit in history, it has been worth every penny.  It is giving me back the peace of mind about my body I thought I had lost forever – though I’m not quite there yet with my self-image. 

When I’m sick, nauseous and wracked with discomfort, I rejoice:  my band is telling me firmly that I will not eat any more – and I’m grateful.  Each time (it happens less and less often these days) John gets very worried when he witnesses the process, and I make my (very) well-worn joke:  I paid a lot of money to feel this uncomfortable…

22.  I cook well with whatever ingredients are available, though with a lapband I’m less willing these days than I used to be.

23.  I’ve travelled to various countries and enjoyed every one – Canada, United States, Guatemala, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, South Africa, Tunisia, Turkey, 25 Greek Islands, most European countries, Russia when it was the Soviet Union, and the exquisite Maldives.  Except for the latter, travels to these countries were undertaken sadly before I became interested in photography.  Here are some Maldives pics -

From travel I have learned two important lessons – firstly that you come to appreciate your home country infinitely better when you leave it (for however short a time) and then return; secondly that we all should speak as many languages as we can, and certainly at least more than one, for there lies the resolution to most conflicts.   

24.  The United Kingdom’s countryside is among the most stunning in the world, it’s difficult to pick out the best I’ve seen which I will never forget, but I would probably settle for the Gower and the valleys in Brecon, Loch Lomond, the County Antrim coast, and almost anywhere in Dorset and Devon, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.  Then there are the ancient buildings so redolent of its history – from the elegance of Salisbury Cathedral to the cosiness of Anne Hathaway’s thatched cottage in Shottery and back to the sober magnificence of the Houses of Parliament – it all tells you that the beauty you see has evolved over many hundreds of years of people tramping over its ground and occasionally looking up and creating beautiful architecture, or standing back and planting extraordinary landscapes.  I feel privileged to be living near to all these wonders.

Talybont, Wales

St Fagans, near Cardiff

St Fagans Tunnel of Trees, near Cardiff

Markle, south east Scotland

25.  I understand Argentina’s failings and why it is sometimes negatively perceived from abroad (though certainly not from a touristic point of view – it’s one of the best kept secrets), but love its strengths and its beauty.  It has taken me till middle age to respect its history, realise how much I love it and that I’ve always felt proud to be Argentine.  It faces uncertain times ahead, with the death this week of the president's husband, who was himself president of Argentina during this decade, and was perceived to be the power behind the throne.

I am lucky to have seen the best the country has to offer, in many cases when it was still unpolluted and unspoiled – Cumbrecita, Sierra Grande, Sierra Chica...

...Valles Calchaquíes...

Valles Calchaquíes, Salta
... Tafí...
Tafí del Valle, Tucumán

...Bariloche, the Andean foothills, Tronador, Mendoza, San Juan.  Patagonia stands by itself, a land of wind and mystery, of pioneers who struggled to survive, of adventurers and larger than life personalities, a punishing climate capable of such beauty that you can only stand and stare.

26.  To have been given the opportunity to develop some skill with photography and get so much enjoyment out of it.  What makes it so special for me is that with concentration and effort (and an awful lot of pictures…), I can very occasionally produce an image which is timeless:  a view which conveys its atmosphere, or a candid portrait which conveys their feelings at that moment.  The greatest compliment would be if I took a picture of you that prompted you to say ‘you don’t seem to have made me look any slimmer/prettier/younger, but you’ve captured how I was feeling that day, and for that reason I like it’.

27.  The astonishing concept of the internet, communication by e-mail and the wonderful (and sometimes shockingly self-indulgent) means of self-expression that are weblogs. My two blogs allow me to combine writing with photography, and make so many friends.  The support I receive from other bloggers has enabled me to discuss openly the difficulties I face, and I no longer mind if my words are read by people who know me.  I keep the faith with other bloggers in recognition of their faith in me, and I’m more grateful than I could ever express in words.  I’m constantly amazed by how we help each other, and how much we need the support.

28.  I taught myself to write backwards and ambidextrously.  Quite useless, but fun.  Under this same category, learning and keeping up my shorthand is one of the most useful practical things I have learned, and not necessarily for work.

29.  My two cats, which came into my life in 2001 and changed it forever. 



30.  My education.  Being bilingual without the effort – I grew up that way.  Staying bilingual is another matter, I work hard at that and still rarely feel the same degree of fluency in both languages.  I'm so glad I also learned a few practical skills - to ride horses and bicycles, to drive a car, to swim - and guess what, I can whistle too!  (Sadly not the wonderful piercing whistle achieved by sticking two little fingers in one's mouth - I never quite got the hang of that).

I owe to my parents the excellent education I received in Argentina and my university education in England, and I recognise with loving gratitude the moral compass they provided.


Photo Finish -
from Lonicera's non-digital archive

November - season of Guy Fawkes, bonfires and fireworks

(This is a stuffed guy or doll, in case you were worried!)


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Bucket List – reversed (4)

Just to recap on why I'm writing this series of posts:

The Bucket List – named after the 2007 film - as defined by Lindsay at Suburban Turmoil, “generally contains 50 or so things to do before you die” – but she has preferred instead to list things she’s done which she’s proud of, or have made her happy, and called it the Bucket List Reversed.  And this is my list. 

(For entries up to 16, see the first post here,
the second post here 
and the third one here.)

17.  I’ve flown in a hot air balloon.  Being up there in the total silence and no wind – you’re moving with it – was a stunning experience, though the bumpy landing in a field was less so.

What it looks like as it's being prepared for inflation

1987 way up high, with my head getting scorched by
the burners, and idiot that I am, fed up that John was
photographing me again.  When we weren't flying over
traffic, I could hear conversations taking place below.

18.  For several years in the 90’s I took pictures of Bristol Rugby Club home games, at the behest of the programme printers, and was therefore allowed to go pretty well where I pleased around the pitch during the game.  John enjoyed the privilege of also sitting on the touchline.  I loved seeing my name in the programme...

I was also a very keen member of my local camera club, and was so proud to be joint holder of one of the cups one year -

Mid 1990s
(I wasn't feeling as smug as I looked, honest...)

19.  My Mollie Project.  In 2005 I bought a book on eBay which turned my leisure time in a completely different direction.  It was the Sand, the Wind and the Sierras – Days in Patagonia by Mollie Robertson.  She had an idyllic childhood on sheep farms in Patagonia just after World War I, and wrote about it in middle age.  For the past five years I have been translating the book into Spanish and investigating the background to the story – this blog has several entries about it.  I hope to publish it in both languages one day, but must first fight my way to the head of the queue with a publisher.

20.  The project has taken me round northern Patagonia in 2008 and 2009 as part of the research, and I have as a result visited a beautiful part of Argentina which I didn’t know, and forged many friendships. Also a wonderful surprise was to meet the grandson of the estancia foreman where Mollie Robertson had lived as a child.

A high point was meeting Marcelo Sánchez, who had encouraged me from the beginning and provided me with many notes about the area where he had lived for a time...

...Luis Cayuqueo who supplied me with a wealth of local historical information and sent me a lot of photographs so I could see what the places looked like...

... poet and magazine editor Raúl Artola who published an article about me in his literary magazine "El Camarote"...

...poet, historian and writer Ramón Minieri, who helped me with the translation, and his family (his daughter Vero visited me in the summer, and there were several posts about her during August)...

...writer, radio presenter and journalist Carlos Espinosa who organised my tour referred to below, and gave me as much publicity as he could...

...the late radio presenter Galo Martínez who interviewed me on his radio show on both of my visits...

...and Don Elías Chucair, a prolific veteran writer who is known as the uncrowned king of Patagonia – but to me its very heart. 

For the first time in my life I have given talks to groups of people about the project, spoken on (local) television and been interviewed several times on provincial radio.  It has generated significant local interest, and people were coming forward to tell me more about what life was like in the old days – and there lies another project, if I have the time one day.

(Click to enlarge)

To have been on the Patagonian steppe in the middle of nowhere at night time, and seen the complete 180 degrees of velvet black night sky floodlit by stars and the full Milky Way, without a hint of pollution or glow from any electric light.  It was magical and moved me to tears.


Photo Finish:

From Lonicera's non-digital archive

Pictures taken in the 1990's
at dress rehearsals of opera performances
- Bristol Opera Company

Don Carlos (Verdi) 1992

Nabucco (Verdi) 1999

The Marriage of Figaro (Mozart) 1994

Madame Butterfly (Puccini) 2000

Don Carlos (Verdi) 1992

The witches in Macbeth (Verdi) 2001


Thursday, 14 October 2010

Chile: From depths to heights [*versión castellana al final*]

(A brief interlude in my ‘Bucket List – Reversed’ posts)

Number of days the 33 Chilean miners were
trapped underground in the San José mine, Copiapó = 70

...The tumult and the shouting dies
The Captains and the Kings depart...
(Rudyard Kipling)

For anyone following the drama unfolding in the San José mine, Copiapó, Chile, the last few days have been an emotional rollercoaster, culminating yesterday, Wednesday 13th October 2010.  We’ve all had our reasons for being glued to the screen – the main one being that in this uncertain world, when the media actually give us good news we are irresistibly drawn into becoming a part of it if we can.  Conversely an ongoing human tragedy also has the power to bring us all together – we are all willing the people involved to give us a happy ending. 

This story has had both.  We felt the despair of being trapped underground and the euphoria of being saved.  The goodwill has flowed in rivers towards the brave 33 who not only survived, but seem to have conducted themselves in a noble and relatively calm manner while they waited to be rescued; towards the authorities headed by the Chilean president himself, who have behaved honourably and responded promptly to the emergency; towards the foreign powers and companies who have done the planning and sent in their expertise quickly and efficiently.  As far as one can see, this has brought out the very best in everybody who was involved.

But as the emotion recedes somewhat, I can’t help but wonder about the possible negative consequences.  For a start, the owners of the mine are in for the high jump, no question – there will be nowhere for them to hide.  The wider implications are massive – in Chile itself it is well known that safety in mining is a contradiction in terms, and once the President has come down from the gold pedestal he has occupied for the last couple of months (well earned, in fact - he is clearly a kind and genuine person) he will have to deal with the dirty business of straightening out the standards of all unsafe industries in his country – he has as much as said so. 

But how about the rest of South America where it is no better, and other corners of the world where the mining of their natural resources is an important part of their income?  I hope this will prompt a worldwide examination of safety, and an honest debate about exactly how much compromise is being forced upon mining companies by foreign economic interests, and naming who the culprits are.

The media will worm out of the miners every last snippet of ‘what went on down there’; even the parts which they insist are private between them.  All will cease to be private as soon as there is enough financial inducement to reveal every detail.  Every conversation and argument will be resuscitated, every angle examined for the delectation of the public and the satisfaction of their curiosity. 

The 33 miners (32 Chilean and one Bolivian) will now be “The 33”, and if their fame means they will never have to work again, then good luck to them.  But will it be that simple?  I worry that the media will tear them and their families apart, that seen in the long-term, the casualties will not have been the miners, but their wives and children.  We can only hope that they are given wise counselling, and that they listen to it.

I think we would all react in the same way – we can all be bought.  Sadly human nature is at its best under life-threatening difficulties, yet at its worst when there’s money around.

I have always loved Chile, its marvellous people, the scenery – both the gorgeous and the forbidding - which invariably captivates me; its history, in many ways bound with Argentina’s yet with its own singular tragedies, from bloody repression to earthquakes.  I have always felt compelled to follow its news, to pay special attention when it is mentioned in the media.  What for me has been wonderful about Wednesday 13th October 2010, put pure and simple, is that it was an affirmation of love. 

The effort to get the miners out was awe-inspiring, the organisation and their survival a miracle.  But what we’ll all remember are the tearful hugs exchanged by the miners and their loved ones and the warm and caring welcome by the rest, from the President downwards.  I found myself wishing I too could experience the joy the families must have felt as they embraced the man they loved and had given up for dead weeks before. 

I would alter slightly the old adage – it’s love and kindness that make the world go round, and they are all that matter.
Picture from Google Images from the time of the earthquake
in Chile earlier this year.  I think it encapsulates
the invincible spirit Chileans showed at the time,
and which I saw reflected again in Camp Hope.
Bravo Chile!


Desde las profundidades hasta las alturas.

Los últimos días han sido una montaña rusa de emociones para los que han seguido el drama que se desarrollaba en la mina de San José, en Copiapó, Chile, que culminó con el rescate de los 33 mineros el miércoles 13 de octubre de 2010. Todos hemos tenido nuestras razones por querer estar cerca de la pantalla, siendo la principal que en este mundo incierto, cuando los medios de comunicación realmente nos hacen llegar buenas noticias sentimos el impulso irresistible de ser parte de ellas. Por otra parte, una tragedia de actualidad es capaz de unirnos a todos – deseamos con todas nuestras fuerzas que tenga un final feliz.

Esta historia tenía las dos cosas. Compartimos la desesperación de estar atrapados bajo tierra y la euforia del rescate. Un gran río de buena voluntad fluyó hacia los valientes 33 mineros que no sólo sobrevivieron, sino que también parecen haberse comportado con nobleza y cordura mientras aguardaban el rescate; hacia las autoridades chilenas, encabezadas por el presidente mismo, quienes reaccionaron a la emergencia de inmediato y honorablemente; hacia los países y las compañías extranjeras que contribuyeron el planeamiento y los conocimientos técnicos con eficiencia y sin demora. Desde aquí nos parece que salió a relucir lo mejor de todos los que participaron.

Ahora que el alto grado de emoción ha comenzado a bajar un poco, no puedo hacer más que reflexionar sobre las posibles consecuencias negativas. En primer lugar, damos por sentado que los propietarios de la mina pagarán caro su negligencia y no les quedará ningún lugar donde esconderse. Las repercusiones más amplias son enormes – dentro de Chile mismo nos dicen que la seguridad en la minería es un término contradictorio, y en cuanto el presidente descienda de su pedestal de oro de los últimos meses (de hecho bien merecido – está claro que es una persona buena y sincera) tendrá que ocuparse del tema sucio de los niveles de seguridad en todas las industrias peligrosas de su país – lo comentó él mismo.

Pero – ¿y en el resto del continente sudamericano donde la situación es la misma?.. ¿y en otros rincones del mundo donde la extracción de los recursos naturales igualmente constituye un importante ingreso? Espero que estos sucesos provoquen un examen mundial de la seguridad, y un debate honesto sobre hasta qué punto las compañías mineras se encuentran comprometidas por los intereses económicos extranjeros, y que a la vez nombren a los culpables.

Los medios seguramente les sonsacarán a los mineros hasta el último chisme y detalle sobre “lo que pasó ahí abajo”, hasta lo que ellos mismos han insistido permanecerá sagrado. Todo dejará de ser privado en cuanto haya un incentivo financiero suficiente que les haga revelar todos los pormenores. Cada conversación y disputa será resucitada y examinada bajo la lupa para el deleite del público y la satisfacción de su curiosidad.

Los 33 mineros - 32 chilenos y un boliviano - ahora serán “Los 33”, y si la fama que les seguirá inevitablemente significa que nunca más tendrán que trabajar, pues que les aproveche. Sin embargo me pregunto si todo resultará ser tan simple. Me preocupa que los medios los destruirán a ellos y a sus familias, que a la larga, las víctimas no serán los mineros, sino sus parejas y sus hijos. Esperemos que reciban asesoramiento psicológico profesional, y que lo tengan siempre presente.

Me parece que todos reaccionaríamos de la misma manera – todos tenemos nuestro precio. Tristemente la naturaleza humana aunque se luzca bajo circunstancias de peligro mortal, pasa a lo peor cuando hay dinero de por medio.

Siempre he querido a Chile, su gente simpática, sus paisajes tanto hermosos como hostiles que invariablemente me cautivan; su historia en parte ligada a la argentina pero con sus tragedias singulares - la represión sangrienta, los terremotos. He sentido la compulsión de seguir sus noticias, de prestar atención especial cuando se la menciona en los medios. Lo que para mí ha sido maravilloso de los hechos del miércoles 13 de octubre 2010, dicho simplemente, es que fueron una afirmación del amor.

El esfuerzo realizado para rescatar a los mineros fue impresionante y conmovedor, la organización nacional y extranjera, y la propia lucha de los mineros por sobrevivir, un milagro. Sin embargo lo que recordaremos todos son los abrazos y el llanto de los 33 y sus seres queridos, y la bienvenida calurosa y solidaria de los demás, desde el presidente para abajo. Me hubiera gustado a mí también sentir la emoción de aquellas familias cuando abrazaban al hombre que amaban y que habían dado por muerto unas semanas atrás.

Altero ligeramente el viejo dicho – es el amor y la bondad que hacen girar el mundo, y son los únicos sentimientos que cuentan.


Photo Finish:
From Lonicera's non-digital archive

Flowers, Spain

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