All posts by Andrea Gibbons

The autumn will take everything (Pessoa)

319 [14/9/1931]

In my thoughts, I already walk among the leaves and dust of the atrium, caught up in this senseless orbit around nothing, my footsteps the only human sound on the clean flagstones that an angular sun — from where I know not — burnishes with death. The autumn will take everything, everything I ever though or dreamed, everything I I did or did not do, spent matches scattered at random on the ground, discarded scraps of paper, great empires, all the religions and philosophies that the drowsy children of the abyss play at making. The autumn will take everything, everything that is that made up my soul, from my noblest aspirations to the ordinary house in which I live, from the gods I once worshiped to my boss Vasques. The autumn will take everything, will sweep everything up with tender indifference. The autumn will take everything. (295)

Fernando Pessoa, edited by Jeronimo Pizarro,  translated by Margaret Jull Costa (deserves all the commendations she’s been getting)

Dubrovnik

There is in truth something fairly incredible about how this city managed to play such a role in the Mediterranean world. I have a couple of histories that try to tie this world together, to understand the past not in terms of single countries languages cultures, but how they all came together around this great body of water in flows and connections. I love how this undermines the careful separations of cultures and continents that many histories and nationalisms invest so much in.

Agents of Empire by Noel Malcolm did this most beautifully, though I have yet to read Braudel.

Dubrovnik: A History is a little too static for my taste, but it does give a taste of how pivotal a role this city played in the complex relationship between Hapsburg Europe and the Ottoman Empire. As Tanner writes

In contrast to ruined Biograd or ravaged Zadar, Dubrovnik enjoyed a steady growth in prosperity, thanks to the diplomatic dexterity of its merchant rulers as well as their trading skills. Since its foundation in the seventh century, the city had been attacked seriously only once, by the Normans in 1071. Occasionally it was besieged by Bosnian or Serbian warlords who descended from the hinterland, but for the most part Dubrovnik successfully played Bosnians, Croats, Venetians and – later – the Ottomans off each other, periodically ceding sovereignty to one or other of the powers that encircled it without ever surrendering self-government or the right to conduct its own foreign policy.(24

I tried to imagine the conversations that must have happened in these incredible streets, in this jewel of a city.

The many thousands of tourists lined up to walk around the walls, to go up the thronging the streets, made this fairly impossible. There were torrents of Game of Thrones fans. We spent most of the week here trying to go elsewhere. Disappointing.

Of course what Dubrovnik made so clear was the asphyxiating nature of this city for so long. Here the patriciate worked so hard to maintain their purity there was no upward movement at all. Marriage to a ‘commoner’ made of you a commoner as well, and only the patriciate had any say in the running of the city. Venice, for all its faults, at least pried this open to some degree in Split and other cities under its control.

In Split, in contrast with Dubrovnik, the ‘closing’ of the Great Council to commoners in 1334 initiated a series of bitter disputes in which, once the city came under Venetian rule in 1420, the Serenissima itself became involved. The Venetian counts were inclined to promote the interests of the wealthy commoner families (as in Dubrovnik, called ‘citizens’) against those of the nobility, partly because of a genuine sense of equity but also in order to divide and rule. (188)

Harries quotes at length a Venetian count, Marco Barbarigo writing in July, 1568:

Between the men of Split there exists that hatred which prevails in most of the Dalmatian towns. This hatred comes from the fact that the nobles have their own council in which they choose public representatives every three months. These nobles are poor, as far as their fortunes go; but puffed up with empty ambition the citizens, who because of their crafts and trade live much more comfortably… On the other side these [citizens] since they are not allowed to meet and choose some officials, cannot with a peaceful spirit tolerate the privileges which the nobles have on the basis of the old laws of this city.

Harries continues with how this did not happen in Dubrovnik:

The closure of the Ragusan nobility to all but a few foreign entrants for some two centuries–and the closure of its polity to non-aristocrats for almost five–did not have the effect of stirring up similar resentment among the non-noble  inhabitants. After a time, the very impossibility of a commoner joining the patriciate’s ranks probably made for a certain acquiescence and so stability. (189)

Ah, for the days when peace and quiet exploitation could be won through complete domination rather than an almost complete domination. It’s not entirely surprising that the commoners didn’t all hang together to support the patriciate after the great earthquake, nor that their servants seems to have  been positively rude in the face of the nobility’s suffering. As Tanner writes:

By the eighteenth century Dubrovnik was a political and economic fossil. It had been many centuries since the populace had played any part in its government by acclaiming laws outside the palace of the rector (knez), but by the eighteenth century even the vestiges of representative government had been discarded. … In practice all power was concentrated in the Grand Council, which elected the Senate out of its own members. And the Grand Council was entirely composed of nobles who never married out and hardly ever allowed any new blood in. Even within this tiny noble caste marriage was forbidden between the families of the most ancient nobles of all, the Salamanchesi, and the ‘new’ nobles, the Sorbonnesi, who had been created after an awful earthquake in 1667 forced the nobles to let in some new members, to make up for the ones who had been killed. … in the eighteenth century, they began to die out. From about 200 or 300 members in the sixteenth century, the Grand Council was down to between sixty and eighty by the eighteenth century. (Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War.)

Words fail me there, although the suicide of an entitled class throughits own snobbishness is actually quite poetic. But the earthquake…the earthquake was incredible. This is a description from someone who lived through it:

Suddenly there was a deep rumbling, and a violent blow rocked the city… A large part of the city collapsed. Rocks poured down from Mount Srđ. A thick cloud of dust rose, spreading a pall of darkness over the ruins. the ground shook and large crevasses opened up, swallowing completely some modest dwellings in the suburbs. The city walls swayed before falling back into position. The wells emptied of water, only to be refueled with thick yellow mud, which in turn drained away, leaving them quite dry. From our over the Adriatic there arose a roaring sound similar to continuous cannon fire. The sea withdrew from the harbour entirely and the ships moored there smashed their hulls on the now-exposed rock bed. Several times the tide returned and withdrew again. Flames… (320)

Imagine the tide receding completely.

Dubrovnik

This was from an account by a Dutchman, who was trapped in rubble and gave an improbable story of his servant despairing and only recovering hope when ordered by his master to try harder to escape and bring help.

The earthquake was a turning point indeed, but things had already been unraveling a bit before this. The world was changing, the centre of gravity shifting to the wealth of the New World and the ships of the Spanish, Dutch, English. With the decay of the Ottoman Empire as well, the key strategic bridging role held by Dubrovnik no longer existed. She writes things like

Unfortunately, like the villas to which they were attached, many an orsan has since fallen prey to insensitive road schemes, socialist housing and a mindset unsympathetic to the cultivated, patrician lifestyle of the Ragusan Republic.  (318)

Mindsets like mine. Still, Dubrovnik is very beautiful. Massive walls, narrow winding streets and stairs

Dubrovnik

A saint that always carries the city in his arms.

Dubrovnik

Cats everywhere. Tanks painted in gay colours and a museum of remembrance of the ‘War of Serbian Aggression’ (but never any mention of fascism or WWII). We saw a concert in the Rector’s Palace, it was beautiful indeed to be there in the late evening.

Dubrovnik

We climbed hills (so many hills), had fabulous food, wine of the best. Saw the small archaeology museum, ethnographic museum, the absolutely fabulous natural history museum with its incredible Freddy Mercury homage.

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Its collection of shells.

Dubrovnik

We rode a pirate ship to the islands, saw the great ruined hotels of Kupari, visited the salt flats at Ston. Saw some of the social housing and modernist architecture and liked that very much. Found a gecko our very first day.

Dubrovnik

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Cats of the Dalmatian Coast

There were cats everywhere. I loved that and also…they were all very young, cats do not live long there. Were I myself to live there, I would quickly become the cat lady. But still. It may be Kotor in Montenegro that has a reputation as the city of cats, but the places we stayed all seemed to give it a run for its money.

This post also must include the best picture I have taken in ages:

Vis

Cats Of Dalmatia

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Romans on the Dalmatian Coast

There are a number of Roman ruins along the Dalmatian coast. I love Roman ruins, frustrated archaeologist that I am. But some of the most beautiful things were the small things, these exquisite pieces of metal and ivory and glass.

Split archeological museum

These are from the museum in Split, look how wondrous this workmanship is.

Split archeological museum

Split archeological museum

This extraordinary hand, foregrounded against a collection of rings

Split archeological museum

stork battle!

Split archeological museum

fascinations of ancient melted glass (and dice)

Split archeological museum

Split archeological museum

Glass unmelted:

Split archeological museum

Split archeological museum

The old city of Split is built within the walls of Diocletian’s palace itself, pieces of Roman architecture knitted within its walls and cellars. The most amazing cellars lie beneath the city, matching the layout of the palace that once stood above.

Split

An old olive press

Split

The cathedral, once Diocletian’s mausoleum. I read this, about the fall of Salona:

The Latin inhabitants of these ruined cities fled for sanctuary to the Adriatic islands off the coast. As a peace of sorts returned, many of them made their way back to the mainland, where they laid the foundations of two new cities. In central Dalmatia, the refugees from Salona moved into the vast, ruined palace of the Emperor Diocletian, 6 located a few miles away from Salona at Spalato. In this giant hulk with its vast walls, sixteen towers, huge mausoleum, reception halls, libraries, cavernous underground cellars and hundreds of other rooms, the survivors of the barbarian onslaught created the city of Split. They converted the mausoleum of this notorious persecutor of Christians into a cathedral and dedicated it to St Duje, after Bishop Domnius of Salona, one of the victims of Diocletian’s purges. The watchtower over the main entrance was converted into small churches, two of which, St Martin’s and Our Lady of the Belfry, survive. The refugees from Epidaurum moved a short distance down the coast and founded another new city, which was to become known as Ragusa, or Dubrovnik (Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War).

My pics of the dome didn’t work somehow, but here’s the space.

Split Katedrala Sv. Duje

The temple of Jupiter.

Split

We got on a bus and traveled to the city of Salona. From the museum’s website:

Initially, Salona had been the coastal stronghold and the port of the Illyrian Delmats in the immediate vicinity of the ancient Greek colonies Tragurion and Epetion. Along with the local Illyrian population and the Greek settlers, Salona was at the time inhabited by a large Italic community. Following the civil war between Caesar and Pompey in 48 B.C., Salona was granted the status of a Roman colony thus becoming the centre of Illyricum and later of the province of Dalmatia.

It is massive, the coliseum preserved as a memory of the violence just as central to their civilisation as the beauty and the warm baths.

Salona

Salona

Salona

Salona

Salona

One last note, there were griffons. There were a number of griffons. They were beautiful.

Salona

Split archeological museum

Romans In Dalmatia

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Kupari: the sunbathing uncanny

Kupari was an amazing place… luxury hotels built by Tito for the relaxation of military personnel. Shot up and burned out during the war. All four of them. Three are great modernist frames of still structurally-sound concrete. They have been stripped, remain full of rubble and broken glass and you can pick your way up and down stairs. Plants grow exuberant in the courtyards and into the lobbies and corridors. The four hotels sit on a cove, the beach full of local families and tourists. Occasionally some of them wandered up the concrete stairs in chanclas, sunburned bellies pouring over flowered bermuda shorts.

I didn’t blog over our trip, a terrible thing because there is so much we saw, so much that was amazing, so much that I learned. There were also so many cats.

We took a bus down the coast from Dubrovnik, terribly hot humid no windows open standing room only. We got off and walked through a bit of woods and found this. We approached through the trees and the long grass, it felt lonely and abandoned. Empty.

Kupari

Kupari

It used to look like this

Now inside it is uncanny and strange and beautiful.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

We went on to the next, a great square building around a courtyard burgeoning with life. Through almost every window, an incredible view of the sea:

All Inclusive! My favourite piece of grafitti.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

I think perhaps these two might have been enough, but there were more to see. We continued. The next building was older, riddled with bullet holes. This is the only place we went, I think, where the conflict felt real.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

The last building, the most interesting perhaps but I already felt full.

Kupari

Kupari

Kupari

Coming to them from the beach full of baked bodies and primary colours felt so much more unreal. We walked from shadows to bright sunlight to shadow again. We found a bar at the end of the sand blasting Beyoncé. It could almost be any beach, though sandy beaches were rare here, and perhaps it is the looming hotels that made these a bit less crowded.

Kupari

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Decline and Fall: Waugh’s hilarious thoughts on marriage and home

I’ve never read Waugh, I found this a hilarious, biting satire, and enjoyed it greatly to my no small surprise.

They should have told me about marriage. They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children. I should have been warned of the great lavender-scented bed that was laid out for me, of the wisteria at the windows, of all the intimacy and confidence of the family life…Our life is lived between two homes. We emerge for a little into the light, and then the front door closes. The chintz curtains shut out the sun, and the hearth glows with the fire of home, while upstairs, above our heads, are enacted again the awful accidents of adolescence. There’s a home and a family waiting for every one of is, we can’t escape, try how we may. It’s the seed of life we carry about with us like our skeletons, each one of us unconsciously pregnant with desirable villa residences. There’s no escape. As individuals we simply do not exist. We are just potential home-builders, beavers, and ants… (102)

And an extra thrown in:

for anyone who has been to an English public school will always feel comparatively at home in prison. It is the people brought up in the gay intimacy of the slums, Paul learned, who find prison so soul-destroying.

Waugh, Evelin ([1928] 1968] Decline and Fall. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin. Books

History of Croatia in Maps

We are going to Croatia today! Dubrovnik for a week and then Split, and a conference on… I’m not sure.

Gravity assist is a slingshot move, when one object uses the gravity of another to propel itself out of orbit. This concept from space travel, first used with the Mariner 10 probe in 1974, functions as a metaphor for escaping the constraints of the present to create change for the future. The conference, to be held by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Split, Croatia, 14-15 September, 2018, aims to examine strategies for challenging the limitations of the present in order to escape from them.

I’ve been at RGS all this week, I presented a paper on rural homelessness in Wales, I spoke about how austerity is tearing its way through people’s lives and concreting itself into the landscape and service provision. This is why I do not have a paper for Split, which is really Mark’s bag of course, but it would have been fun to think about this. I will enjoy being there and seeing old friends again, but mostly I look forward to exploring a new space and place and have, of course, been reading a great deal. I read a short book on the history as it was all I could find in our library, it was all right. I most loved the maps that trace this much-contested area over time, and they are presented in order here. From Tanner, M. (2001). Croatia : A Nation Forged in War. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Not quite peaceful countryside: Ilford Manor and Farleigh Hungerford Castle

You can get the train to Freshford, I don’t know why we had never done this, for it looks like there are several lovely walks to be done from here. There is also a lovely pub with the best lemon crumble I have ever had in my life. It is, you know, redolent of rich people, but for a day that’s quite all right. And really, this walk was all about the violence hidden in the tranquility of the countryside, made possible by wealth inequality really.

You follow narrow lanes from the station to Ilford Manor — I didn’t think the gardens would be open but they were. A description from the website:

The Grade-1 listed gardens were designed by Harold Peto during his tenure at Iford from 1899-1933, and represent one of the finest examples of steeply terraced hillside gardening in the UK. They are characterised by colonnades, pools and steps, and offer magnificent rural views over the valley.

They are beautiful gardens though a bit small perhaps. I particularly loved the millstones set into the paving stones, the stairs up hillsides with their cascades of daisies, lovely borders, the smell of rosemary, wisteria everywhere. Quite a wonderful sculpture of a dog scratching itself.

Ilford Manor

But behind it you can see the sarcophagus — whose? There is a pond full of waterlilies, wisteria growing in bush form in a great circle around it which is quite beautiful — I haven’t seen it like that. And then suddenly you realise the statue of the old sage is actually holding what looks like a dog and the water pours from the wound in its breast.

Ilford Manor

There is a cloister, and likewise it is full of carvings of hawks and kestrels hunting hares and partridges, that moment of capture and cruel claws seen also in a lion holding a pig, and suddenly this beautiful garden felt quite a cruel place. Not least from the worry over the provenance of these old scraps of carving, columns and statuary collected from around the world…

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From there we followed footpaths down the side of the River Frome to reach Farleigh Hungerford Castle. There is not much of it left, it is true, but more than would appear upon first glance. A quite incredible chapel, I am still not entirely sure how it fits within these ruins, approached as you might the center of a snail shell through a walled garden behind which rise the ruins.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

There are burials here too, but at least you are quite sure that they belong here. The old, unexpected colours restored, but this families disappointing obsession with their own ancestry also on view.

Freshford Walk

Underneath a crypt, rather terrifying lead coffins. The kid who came down behind us legged it.

Freshford Walk

This family has only violence to make it stand out, really. It was built in the 1370s but Sir Thomas Hungerford, steward of John of Gaunt — I do appreciate that he was the first recorded speaker of the House of Commons. Yet he destroyed the local village to make way for the park alongside the castle. The family did well in the 100 years war, made a fortune through kidnapping Frenchmen and demanding ransom. The beautiful chapel had been a parish church, but became a private one when the walls were expanded around it. In 1523, Lady Agnes Hungerford was hanged with two of her servants for murdering her first husband, John Cottell. They waited to bring her to trial until her second husband Sir Edward Hungerford died (a natural death it seems, but his desire to marry Agnes was, of course, her motive). Given her first husband was strangled and burned within the walls of the castle itself — well.

The ‘Lady Tower’ here is so called because it was used to imprison Elizabeth Hungerford, wife of Sir Edward’s son, over a period of months. She also accused him of attempting to poison her. Sadly, this is not the reason he was executed. He was executed on charges of treason and ‘unnatural vice’ (almost makes you like him) after his patron Thomas Cromwell fell from grace with Henry VIII.

His grandson would go on to accuse his wife of adultery and an attempt to poison him. He lost the court case, refused to pay her costs and went to jail. The castle was lost to the family by Sir Edward ‘The Spendthrift’, who gambled and frivolised away the fortune under Charles II and was forced to sell it.

I don’t really know why anyone thought aristocracy a good idea. But someone here did own this lovely little thing created to tamp down tobacco in the bowl of a pipe:

Freshford Walk

I do also love ruins, probably because they are ruins and reminders that all tyranny must pass.

Freshford Walk

Though it felt good and fresh and clean to escape into the countryside, down along the other side of the river.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

We also passed the site of an old priory where the lay brothers once lived attached to the Carthusian Priory of Hinton. Little remains but the practice of farming (pigs, bees, lovely vegetable gardens) and some of the old cottages (now with solar panels) and this sign showing what it once resembled:

Freshford Walk

And then back to Freshford. The countryside is so beautiful here, but sprinkled about with absurd mansions being too close to Bath for comfort.

Freshford Walk

Freshford Walk

But the Inn at Freshford, as I say… incredible cakes, ales, full of dogs and beautiful in itself.

Walk from Buxton — Axe Edge Moor

We started in Buxton — old spa town, regency architecture, mummers and dancers in fancy dress in a square (Mark murmured about the horror but I rather like them), lovely park suitably filled with follies and screaming children and people with money. It does have an old sacred well spilling out geothermal waters — St Anne’s.

Walk from Buxton

I was thinking about going to Poole’s Caverns, following in the tracks of Romantic poets and such, but you have to walk through a chintzy gift shop to get there — you don’t even get a cliff face and a gaping dark mouth to enter. It was full of people. We fled. We are getting old crabbit maybe, but that is hardly a good way to spend an afternoon. The woods just, however, are beautiful, despite being sandwiched between Go Ape and a caravan park.

Walk from Buxton

I wanted moors and wide open spaces and we found them, but really it was a bit grim. I don’t quite know why it feels so different on this edge of the Peak District. The day was grey, to be fair, but this was as good as it got really…

Walk from Buxton

The sheep, as always were amusing

Walk from Buxton

There were remnants of mining up here in the form of pitted ground, the earth peaty and carved away oddly by water

Walk from Buxton

Walk from Buxton

There was a lovely little area with three bridges and a confluence of streams, that also came with about 40 french kids and a number of other walkers so we fled that too. This tower might have, thus, been the highlight.

Walk from Buxton

Walk from Buxton

And this beautiful glowing in the sky, which I have never seen before

Walk from Buxton

Or this moment when we thought we were close to the promised land of the pub.

Walk from Buxton

Like so many of our walks, we had such high hopes but the Cat and Fiddle had been closed for years and we had to make our sad, cold, hungry way back to Buxton.

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