Category Archives: Travel

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

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

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

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

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

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

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.

Zaragoza Cityscapes

I liked Zaragoza, and for the first time in a long time felt properly hot. The old part of town with narrow streets kept cool and shaded by the unbroken rows of several-story buildings on either side. The ways that they suddenly opened up into small plazas, most of them filled with tables and chairs for food and drink, somewhere to sit for those who bought nothing. Wonderful public spaces, full of generations. The way that this old town centre was still so residential, full of life and children and a mingling of different kinds of people. We only found the wealthy area by accident on our last day, it relied more on trees for shade, and everyone wore the same well-groomed discontented faces. I didn’t like that part so much.

We were privileged to dine at Montal, delicious food and the best of brilliant post-viva company, and it gave a better sense of these old  residences with their open colonnaded centres stretching up two stories. They are so lovely. I explain them badly, so one individual picture.

Zaragoza

Too lovely for such a terrible hierarchy of aristocrats as once were found here. We were let down into the cellar to see the museum of the great leaning tower that once stood in this little plaza, there are hundreds of drawings of it, interspersed with gated doorways beyond which sit dusty bottles of wine.

The Museum of Goya is nearby, he lived here for a time and there is such a collection of his prints as will amaze you. They are wondrous, able to rip your heart out. We started in the print room as advised, and that was undoubtedly the very best way to experience the museum.

Roman ruins, the basilica, a river and ancient bridge, the mudéjar architectire and Aljafería, the graffiti…I did very much like this city.

 

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

Palacio de la Aljafería, and Zaragoza’s Mudéjar architecture

El Palacio de la Aljafería is an incredible building, containing within it the material remains of many periods of Spain’s troubled history as well as the ways that each of these histories has been reimagined and retold. It is built over an Islamic fortified enclosure, and the semi-circular turrets date and base of one of the towers date from the 9th Century. They are massive — and the contrast is wonderful with the delicate columns and arches of the inner courtyard, the carvings, the sound of running water, the oratory with its traceried windows. This dates from the period of the Taifas, or the independent kingdoms of Spain before the consolidation of the Almorávides. This period saw the building of the Alhambra as well, but this building predates it, and our guidebook describes it as a model for both that glorious place and the Reales Alcazares in Seville, which I have not seen.

This was the extent of the Taifa of Zaragoza as it was expanded under Abú Yaáfar Áhmad ibn Sulaymán al-Muqtádir, who had this exquisite courtyard built.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

This also remains.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Other remnants sit engulfed in the architecture of Christian kings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza was conquered by Alfonso I (El Batallador) in 1118, and this was converted into the Palace of the Aragonese monarchs. This period remains visible through some of the interior rebuilding, above all these carved ceilings with their heraldic paintings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

In 1492, a new palace was plonked down on top of both the old by Ferdinand and Isabella — 1492 was such a terrible year. They did not have anyone as capable of the work as the Mudéjar architect, Faraig de Gali, and he blended the styles together as best he could. These, then, are on the top stories, with lovely tiles and interesting (if gaudy) carved and coffered ceilings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

From here it enters its decline, Phillip the Second ordering it repurposed to become a fort in 1593. He built more defensive walls with pentagonal bastions at the corners and the moat and the drawbridges.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

You have to wonder why this fort was necessary in the middle of the Spain, the little pmaphlet states:

…the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in teh face of teh Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as teh monarch’s wishing to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza.

Nation building wasn’t entirely smooth it seems. The building later became a barracks. Many of the islamic carvings were removed and put into museums, and it was a very slow process (1931 declared historic, excavation and reconstruction began 1947) to convert this building into the palimpsest it represents today where original and reconstruction sit together, and they do it rather beautifully.

I remember reading of the Marranos y Moriscos, Jews and Arabs who to some extent or another or not really at all converted to Christianity and remained after Aragon and Castille conquered the Peninsula, who stayed through the Inquisition. But before this point in 1492 (and for how long after?) there were the Mudéjars. This is from the Encyclodpedia Britannica:

Mudejar, Spanish Mudéjar, (from Arabic mudajjan, “permitted to remain”), any of the Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista, or Christian reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula (11th–15th century). In return for the payment of a poll tax, the Mudejars—most of whom converted to Islam after the Arab invasion of Spain in the 8th century—were a protected minority, allowed to retain their own religion, language, and customs. With leaders assigned by the local Christian princes, they formed separate communities and quarters in larger towns, where they were subject to their own Muslim laws.

The Mudejars were highly skilled craftsmen who created an extremely successful mixture of Arabic and Spanish artistic elements. The Mudejar style is marked by the frequent use of the horseshoe arch and the vault, and it distinguishes the church and palace architecture of Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla (Seville), and Valencia. The Mudejar hand is also evident in the ornamentation of wood and ivory, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles; and their lustre pottery is second only to that of the Chinese.

Such architecture is everywhere here in Aragon, what I think of as the heart of Spain. It is everywhere here, particularly churches, and very beautiful.

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Nuremberg – Nürnberg

Nazi memorabilia, brothels where women stood in windows above their names, local people who, it felt, rather hated us…they certainly hated my poor attempts at German.

But also moments of the sublime.

St Egidien…we walked past and heard the most beautiful music and just sidled in the great doors and sat to listen to a rehearsal.

Nuremberg

An older man who was brilliant but a young woman who was truly one of the best I’ve heard, singing there in a white t-shirt and cut-offs. Not Bach, but of the period I think. We could have, should have, lit a candle to the angel of history in the back.

Nuremberg

And then there was the fairly brilliant bar Mata Hari (tiny basement bar, regulars, DJ playing 70s vinyl and loving every minute of the music, a German whiskey)

Nuremberg

Albrecht Dürer‘s house — quite beautiful, from a time when this was a vibrant centre of politics, trade and culture, one in which Dürer chose to stay rather than be lured away to Venice. He lived here just below the castle, in front of one of the main entrances to the city:

Nuremberg

The rooms are full of light — at least the day that we were there. Beautiful rooms.

Nuremberg

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

Not so beautiful, perhaps, how he and these rooms were reinvented to the greater glory of Nuremberg and Germany. A lot feels reinvented here for those reasons somehow, though I loved the sausages and the dark wood paneling and the wine — and wished I could still drink beer. The Golden Postern was delicious and friendly, couldn’t really say the same for anywhere else.

Mark giving a lecture and doing a class at the University in Erlangen, and we deciding to stay in Nuremberg. It is a beautiful town to be honest, and one where life can be lived with grace I think — wide pavements, well maintained buildings of flats, lots of colour that I love. Lots of timber construction, a vibrant market in the centre, brilliant public transport. Also a number of people rough sleeping. Addictions — though they felt of a different kind than those so familiar in Manchester or London.

Statues that were bewildering:

Nuremberg

Some terrifying (though I confess I rather liked the latter)

Nuremberg

Nuremberg

Yet I think we will not be going back to Bavaria, at least not to stay.

It didn’t leave me with the physical sick to the stomach feeling of Bayreuth — the visit to Cosima Wagner’s Wahnfried and Winfred Wagner’s home next door, where Adolf Hitler felt at home, sneaking in after dark in the days after the 1923 failed putsch and then openly feted after his rise to power.

But this was ‘The most German of German Cities’, a centre of Hitler’s support and where they planned to build the massive and monumental Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

A map of what would have been, had not World War started and been lost:

There is a museum in part, it was alright. The building for party rallies still looms monumental, sitting at one end of the two-kilometer road for marches and parades:

Nuremberg

I read Speer’s autobiography many years ago when he writes about designing this, the great outdoor rally grounds with the massive banners, the use of floodlights to create the cathedral effect. It is almost down to foundations now, called the zepplin grounds because a zepplin once landed here in happier days.

It made me happy to see this there though:

Nuremberg

Most of this complex still serves as just another park.

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

This is also the city where Kaspar Hauser appeared on 26 May 1828, claiming to have been held prisoner, rumours ran rife of his parentage, especially after he was stabbed and killed.

Nuremberg

The castle was interesting, the transport museum — I loved seeing the train carriages of Bismarck:

Nuremberg - Bismarck's train

And Ludwig II, I love trains and these were absolutely brilliant.

Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train

Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train

I’m glad to have seen all this, also more happy than usual to be home.

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow

Marvelously mechanical, haunting carvings incorporated into scrap wheels and cogs and machines that are beautiful in their stillness. We were able to take pictures of that, but not when they come alive…

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

From the website.

Eduard Bersudsky (b. 1939, St.Petersburg, Russia – then Leningrad, USSR) is a self-taught visionary artist. He started carving in his late 20-s, while making a modest living as a metal worker, electrician, skipper on the barge, night guard and a boiler man, and got his education in museums, libraries, exhibitions, and evening classes for drawing and sculpture.

In 1974-80 Bersudsky took part in some exhibitions of “non-conformist art” – a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.

In 1974 he found a job in the park department to carve giant figures out of fallen trees for children playgrounds. At the same time in his only room in a communal flat he began producing the kinemats – kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro mechanical devices, incorporating pieces of old furniture, metal scrap and grotesque carved figures. Until 1989 his kinemats could be seen only by few friends and acquaintances.

In the centre of their new Glasgow home, a space roughly the same size as this room in St Petersberg and the kinemats that once filled it

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

We didn’t time it right to see the evening show when these were set in motion.

In 1988 his met Tatyana Jakovskaya (b.1947), a theatre critic and director. Together they founded Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (opened in St.Petersburg in 1990). A mechanical movement of kinemats has been supported with music, light and shadow play. The third member of team – Sergey Jakovsky (born 1980) – joined Sharmanka at the age of 13 and gradually became responsible for light/sound design as well as technical management.

It is the combination of all of these things that make these so entirely magical.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

The shadows alone, so beautiful.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

The bittersweetness of each sculpture, like the Rag’n’Bone Man above, most dedicated to friends who made art, who stood with integrity. The Master and Margarita. Below the Titanic, and the dissemination of forbidden books.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

And the tongue and cheekiness. Like the Aurora, Battleship of the Revolution:

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Words fail in description, so go there. I love that it is in the very same building as the Britannia Panopticon, another wonder of Glasgow that I thought I had blogged but did not…how? An old music hall full of wonder, Stan Laurel started here. These are from 2014:

Britannia Panopticon

Britannia Panopticon

I hope that just a little of the love and ingenuity and brilliance of this carry on through our own year and its many endeavors that feel so daunting now.

Elgin Cathedral, its Memento Mori and strange beasts

Begun in 1224 and ruined by 1560, we found Elgin Cathedral frozen into the grass, inscribed against the sky.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Its bulk fades into fragility, its space shaped loosely by huge gaping walls, remains of windows that spin your view about the grayness of sky. Stubs of pillars that pull it down again to the grass and fill its center with memory.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Enough remains to remind you of just how beautifully human being worked this stone.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

The chapter house, still miraculously standing

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

A Pictish cross, with barely visible views of falconry

Elgin Cathedral Elgin Cathedral

I have not seen so many Memento Mori since St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, certainly never so many in the UK. Here they are carved into stone, reminders of death sat alongside symbols of labour in life. How much better is this than the polished marbles of conquest and pillage.

Memento Mori, Elgin Cathdral

Flickr Album Gallery Powered By: WP Frank

And there are some most beautiful stone heads, human and animal alike.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Views of the ruins from above

Elgin Cathedral

And views over Elgin from the tower:

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral