Category Archives: Travel

Aberystwyth Castle, Sunset

Built as a diamond-shaped, concentric fortress, this stone piled up by Edward I to maintain control over the Welsh now stands ruined, almost impossible to imagine it as it once was. What better fate for monuments to war and occupation, and yet… my deep love for these bloodied stone skeletons shames me. The original castle on this particular spot was built by Llywelyn the Great (c1172-1240). He built a chain of castles from Tegeingl to Meirionydd — it paralleled the English chain from Cardigan to Montgomery. After initiating his campaign to subdue the Welsh, in 1277 Edward ordered his power solidified and embodied and exerted through architecture–updated to withstand all the new technologies of war–in 1277. But not the pounding of the waves. It was already falling down when turned against the English for a time by Owain Glyndwr in 1404. Cromwell completed the task, pounding the Roundheads within.

The townsfolk very sensibly used the stones to help build their town.

It was chance that brought us here at dusk, with a fierce wind that chased everyone else away. Strange to be so alone in this place huddled up to homes and buildings, open to the public to clamber and crawl. I loved that what remains of this place is so open to all, a breath of history knitted into the town itself in the way it is placed. Only the photographer in me cursed the many welcoming benches. In one hidden corner sat a cluster of teenage girls listening to the radio and laughing, the great stone walls sheltering them from the wind.

I did not mind one three-sided room we could not explore.

I wondered where you could see these same stones made humble and domestic in the town’s architecture, still ringing to the sound of Welsh you hear everywhere here.

Aberystwth Castle

Everything else stopped for a while as we looked up towards Pen Dinas where the Iron Age hill fort stood, and along the coast in either direction until the sea swallowed up the sun.

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Oslo Streets

Oslo is a lovely city, a wonderful city to wander — we didn’t realise how big it was until we took the ferry out to the Viking ship museum (zomg the viking ship museum, amazing), but it feels human size, liveable. I think partly it is because only a short walk from the center you reach areas where you find things like this:

Oslo

I’ve not been to a city with quite this shape — a yard or second road and houses tucked in behind them. It creates variety, interest, surprise — all the things Cullen and Alexander described as key to an interesting human environment. The above picture isn’t the most picturesque, but the only shot that managed to capture some of the contrasts, and just how cool a space this is.

Then there are the old streets of wooden houses. But I have already sung their praises.

There are balconies that seem well used, cafes spilling out onto sidewalks, coloured lights and tables and chairs inviting you to enjoy any summer evenings you can manage. Lots of street furniture too, in pallet style though I am fairly certain that is not cheap pallet wood upcycled.

It is also almost all mixed use and plenty of small shops, like this fruit and veg vendor protecting his wares by a small sacrifice to the birds. There are parks and green spaces all over.

Oslo

There is a museum dedicated to Labour — we walked up the Akerselva to the old working class neighbourhoods to get there (I confess, they don’t really feel working class any more).

Oslo

Lots of cobbled streets still. I love them, though I love them more since I stopped wearing heels.

The museum itself is small, nice, not quite enough about Labour and a little too even handed in describing the workings of capital, but we’re biased. It was worth a visit, and had we not gone we would have missed these splendid waterfalls in their entirety. They appeared nowhere in my admittedly quick search for weird and wonderful things to see — that turned up the mini bottle museum (closed), but not this beauty?

Oslo -- Akerselva River

This was the centre of Oslo’s industry, the museum had an exhibition on of paintings of the Aker. These waterfalls once powered sawmills, later textile factories. A vision of it as it once was below:

Oslo -- Akerselva River

Heading out towards the Munch Museum we passed what felt more like the current environs of the working class. Nice, I love these balconies, with their built in window boxes.

Oslo

There is street art everywhere, here off of Tøyengata we found a beauty, along with an impressive diversity and some old buildings and cracked walls and lots of tags and stores that sell everything with brand names you don’t recognise that made me feel right at home.

Oslo

Perhaps what I loved best was how massive luxurious modernity was squished into its own small section — though modern building is spread through out the city. This ‘landmark area’ still felt more vibrant and interesting than say Salford Quays (though we didn’t venture in), but they’ve actually done very interesting things with long narrow buildings lines all up in a row. I like them confined this way.

Oslo

With wonderful plazas, a parade for each day we were there, some of the best public art I’ve seen as well as awesome (often anti-fascist) graffiti and stickers, I enjoyed Oslo immensely, despite the rain. Just reminded us of home I suppose.

Oslo

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Henrik Ibsen — At Home and At Work

We went to see Henrik Ibsen’s home on Friday. In Oslo. We were in Oslo! It was cold for a summer day, quite rainy, never did really stop raining the whole time. So all my photos have a tremendous background of grey skies and water. Still, Oslo is a lovely place.

Reading Ibsen again was good too — I confess I read him too young. I read The Doll House I think, long long ago. Didn’t really understand it, what could I know of bourgeois emptiness and the disfigurement of women under hypocritical middle-class moralities? Like another planet, and a fairly boring, if not downright nasty one. I remember not liking it.

I like Ibsen so much better now — I worry, perhaps, that I know too much now about bourgeois emptiness. But still only from the outside. I can see, though, why Eleanor Marx would work so hard to translate them into English, why she wrote of seeing Hedda Gabler (1890) in the theatre and emerging transfixed. It was my favourite of these three. There are women here who save, and women who destroy, but all of them feel like real women. Rounded. Fighting their boundaries and the customs that hem them in, even if like Hedda, they don’t have the self-awareness to fight well. This is the tragedy of women who have not found meaning in life, but know that it is missing. Know that the narrow role allotted them is not enough. Hedda wasn’t brave enough to strike through to the centre of things — maybe she wouldn’t have been a nasty bully if she had. I wonder. But she was too brave to live constrained under the power of a man.

The there is The Pillars of the Community (1877). Here Lona has returned from the New World to the Old to shake out the stuffiness and the hypocrisy. She knows just what she wants, is comfortable in her own skin. The New World continues to be a place for Europeans to reinvent themselves, escaping the constraints and disfigurings of middle-class society. Here, the possibilities it offered and the woman who has grasped them, win a happy ending for everyone.

It felt a bit didactic, but I quite loved it as exemplary of that Victorian capitalist who long ago ceased to exist — the one who grew rich on others’ misery yet who was firmly anchored in position and place. This led to a paternalism, a sense of duty, a sense of being a pillar of the community. While it is entirely hypocritical to say that their investments were disinterested, they still had a care to ensure their investments could be seen as building and growing their community.

Hell of paternalistic and hypocritical though — here he has secretly bought up all the land where he is trying to bring a railway line in:

Karsten Bernick: See, I have risked this for the good of the community.

Lona Hessel calls him on it. You have to like her.

Karsten Bernick: And isn’t it the community itself that forces us into crooked ways? What would have happened here if I hadn’t dealt secretly? They would all have thrown themselves into the concern, divided it, scattered it, mismanaged and bungled the whole thing…That’s why my conscience absolves me in this particular case. It is only in my hands that these properties can become of permanent benefit to the many people they will provide with a living. (97)

He is, of course, in the process of replacing workers with machines, forcing them beyond their capacities, and almost commits murder. But at the last moment he is saved from his own self, which allows him to see himself truly and repent. Come out to the community he has felt so constrained by, even as he comes clean. A nice moral.

I liked the The Wild Duck (1884) better. Liked that the wealthy idealist in this play does more damage than good. Is as blind as his avaricious father, but in different ways.  I loved how this play turned The Pillars of the Community on its head in a sense, complicated the value of truth, showing its destructive power. I particularly loved this interchange:

Relling: While I remember it, young Mr Werle — don’t use that exotic word ‘ideals’. We have a good enough native word: ‘lies’.

Gregers: Do you mean the two things are related?

Relling: Yes. Like typhus and typhoid fever. (244)

I’m still thinking about Relling’s ‘medical’ use of the ‘saving lie’. Just another way towards misery, but whether more or less miserable is a difficult question. Hjalmar Ekdal is a vain, weak man. Perhaps What was best was whatever kept little Hedvig and the wild duck alive.

Ibsen’s house and the museum attached was by far the priciest thing we saw in Oslo, apart from perhaps Engebret Cafe, where Ibsen ate on occasion along with Grieg and Bjornstjerne Bjornson and etc (and where Munch was kicked out of, after accusing staff of stealing his gloves and scarf). It was delicious however, and all paneled wood, which you know I loved.

 Oslo - Engebret Cafe

I failed completely to get a good shot of Ibsen’s home’s exterior… here is an oblique shot, where this wonderful statue faces the park where the palace sits:

Ibsen in Oslo

What it once looked like:

We had walked across the park to get to the museum from one of the precisely ten thousand Scandic hotels scattered across the city. It was bought when Ibsen was old and famous and rolling in funds — and so he ended his days in a setting very much like one of his plays:

In face he did all the decorations himself, like his own stage set. It is quite opulent. The dining room and salon (with colours all off due to the light):

Ibsen in Oslo

His amazing study — his wife used to sell tickets to see it after he died, people would line up. She lived here until her death in 1914. It was turned into dentist offices before being returned to almost its original state:

Ibsen in Oslo

They even rescued the bath from a farmer’s fields.

Ibsen wrote five hours every day. Exactly.

One one wall of the study, Ibsen hung a huge portrait of Strindberg — his mortal enemy. I read Strindberg before our Stockholm adventure, and never got round to blogging that. While I quite liked The Red Room, his plays had me raging over the treatment of women. I prefer Ibsen.

Ibsen in Oslo

Suzannah died in this chair  (on the right behind glass) in the lovely but very little library, sitting up as she had wished

Ibsen in Oslo

Ibsen in Oslo

In addition to his plays with interesting women, there are the lovely hand drawn certificates he made for his wife Suzannah on special days:

Ibsen in Oslo

That was from the museum, full of fascinating odds and ends:

Ibsen in Oslo

Ibsen in Oslo

We didn’t go direct from his home to the Grand Cafe, where he went every day. But we did go. Here is Munch’s drawing of Ibsen at the Grand Cafe:

Oslo

It has changed quite a bit, but still feels very expensive and rather glamorous. We drank wine.

Oslo -- Grand Cafe

Oslo -- Grand Cafe

While wandering we also accidentally passed the location of his first house (I think, it’s in Norwegian) that his wife Suzannah hated, said it was cold and all corridors…

Ibsen in Oslo

I could end with his grave, which we found in Vår Frelsers gravlund…

Oslo -- Vår Frelsers gravlund

But instead will end with the cafe, where we actually found a very decent cup of coffee:

Oslo

Oweynagat: Ireland’s cave of the cats

Oweynagat, or the cave of the cats. This may not look like much, but is in fact a gateway to the underworld — it is more terrifying that it is small and hidden I suppose. From this portal have emerged herds of fiendish swine, the ancient goddess of battle Morrigan, malevolent birds, and a monstrous triple-headed creature. Also cats, who battled Cuchulainn and two other warriors. Later it was just known as a cave entrance to hell. Now it sits in a field to be entered perilously by the informed adventurer.

Oweynagat

Oweynagat from a fiend’s eye view, my partner’s legs, if not his very soul, here at risk:

Oweynagat

As St Patrick’s day is not only my dad’s birthday and a day for St Patrick himself, but also St Gertrude’s day, the patron saint of cats, it seemed fitting to share a few more photos of the great Ireland tour of ought thirteen. The cave is part of a larger complex, from the Rathcroghan website:

the royal complex of Cruachan, the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal Complex in Europe….Rathcroghan boasts a multitude of monument types, from the majestic and enigmatic Rathcroghan Mound, which in the Iron Age was impressively topped by wooden ramparts and ceremonial henges, and whose secret heart remains an untouched mystery. … Kings were inaugurated at the ceremonial heart of Rathcroghan and the site is witness to the rise and fall of great tribes, wealthy chieftains and dynastic families. Some of these went on to rule the whole island as High Kings, ensuring the continuing legacy of this unique complex well into the modern era.

This was the home of the

great Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb, who ruled all of Connacht from her home here in Rathcroghan, the origin point for our National Epic ‘an Táin Bó Cuailnge’ – the Cattle Raid of Cooley, which features a whole host of legendary heroes including Medb herself, the mighty Battle Goddess Morrigan, the Connacht Champion Fraech and the boy hero Cúchulainn, whose names and deeds are inextricably linked to the landscape that surrounds us here. Witness the site where the ferocious white horned bull Finnbennach, battled the legendary Donn Cuailnge, the brown bull of Cooley.

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Days at the Triangle L Ranch, Oracle

The Triangle L Ranch — our getaway for a few glorious days in Oracle, AZ.

A dirt road off of the 77, a sign of welcome:

Triangle L

The company was quite sparkling, the breakfasts absurdly varied and delicious (I mean, we had our first but not our last taste of clafoutis), everything wonderful. Our casita — the guest house, in a rare ray of sunshine:

Triangle L

I got no pictures that did justice the small but quite exquisite main room, but the sleeping porch came out all right — the perfect place to escape the summer night’s heat.

Triangle L

On the side table sat a couple of books on local history, and of course I read one of them. Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel by Barbara Marriott. It mostly looked at Oracle’s Mountain View Hotel, built and run by Annie (Box) and William Curley Neals, who were both of mixed Cherokee, African American and English ancestry — a fascinating discovery, and one I shall write about more. But there was a chapter on William Bloodgood Trowbridge who once owned this ranch, so I shall start there.

He came from East Coast money, and arrived in Oracle on what seems a most slender whim — when hunting with friends on the other side of the country they became fed up with their luck and headed out west without even going home for a change of clothes first.  Money, like I said. He decided to stay on a while, and returned regularly (staying at the Mountain View of course). When it came up for sale, he bought the Triangle L in 1924. It had been built for Mrs Westry Ladd, another woman of East Coast money whose family had built the Baldwin locomotive engine. This began its life as a place of privilege with its wooden floors covered with Navajo rugs and comfortable antique furniture.– but it feels a surprisingly modest, comfortable and welcoming one.

Most of the chapter, however, is about Trowbridge’s rather tawdry love affair — I am a bit more judgmental than the author I am afraid. It seemed Trowbridge had some kind of understanding with the daughter who with her mother managed the ranch — when he broke that informal engagement to marry a Miss Smith from Edinburgh, he moved them to another ranch in the area. The marriage did not appear to be a happy one, and he commenced an affair with a woman named Margaret in Tucson. While he burned the letters he received from her, she failed to burn his. They are a rather depressing look into a relationship where you really hope she was just in it for the money — Trowbridge, despite all protestations of love clearly had no intention of leaving his wife. His parsimony is often hinted at, and in fact he asks Margaret to keep an accounting of her expenses and the money he gives her so he can review it. It all goes wrong, he is blackmailed by the family, the wife finds out (though she seems to have known much all along).

Not very interesting but for the fact that somehow, some way, the packet of his letters to Margaret were found in the disused well on the ranch itself — I imagine it must be this well, right next to our temporary home.

Triangle L

Behind it you can see the main house — I realise I failed to take a good picture to give a sense of the whole, there is a wonderful old picture on the website, though this view is just as you enter:

I did get a few pictures from inside, though they fail to do it justice. It is a perfect kind of house to my mind: thick adobe walls, wood floors, dark stained vigas and wood ceilings. What Marriot called the 360 degree fireplace, with three openings all leading to a central chimney shaft. From the dining room

Triangle L

Triangle L

The sitting room:

Triangle L

A most wonderful enormous screened living room/sleeping area/porch:

Triangle L

In addition to the extraordinary breakfasts to be enjoyed in the main house, the ranch also now serves as host to artists’ workshops, a wonderful little gift shop and  a very large sculpture garden, primarily showcasing constructions of salvaged metal and glass, but plenty of other recycled materials here too:

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

This maze had music set off by motion detectors — some rabbits had triggered it while we were still some ways away, making it all a bit creepier than it should have been…

Triangle L

Pictures did not do this bird justice, nor its pair across the path with plumage of old shovels, I loved them both:

Triangle L

As I did these robots (most robots I confess):

Triangle L

This made quite an impact

Triangle L

Music Tree!

Triangle L

A beautiful new take on bottle trees:

Triangle L

Sabretooth tiger.

Triangle L

Triangle L

The country surrounding the Triangle L — hidden gullies and rocks of granite, dusk falling:

Triangle L

The old corral:

Triangle L

A wonderful place to stay and explore the surrounding country — Oracle, Buffalo Bill Cody’s mining claims, beautiful hikes through country teeming with wildlife and the most wonderful views, the Biosphere 2. All coming up.

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Valletta’s Spaces of Stone

Valletta’s architecture is unified in its building material — as is all of Malta it seems, but here it is most striking how this unifies the old and the new. Renzo Piano’s fabulous new city gate rises up as you enter, it’s massive square forms work beautifully in this space, as modern as they are. I wish I had taken more pictures.

Valleta

Just as I wish I had more pictures of the opera house beyond (the columns visible just beyond), where they chose not to rebuild the massive building left in ruins by WWII bombs, but to leave its foundations and columns to embrace an outdoor performance space, which I also quite loved. Similar pictures of the ruins were shown several time through the Cities as Community Spaces conference, a symbol of the city’s resilience.

Valletta opera-house-8-april-1942Valletta is in fact surrounded by monumental space, this stairway rises up to the left as you enter, leading to Hastings gardens along the battlements that protect the city.

Valletta

I’ll come back to those because they are fascinating, but still what most captivated me were the narrow streets in this Renaissance city, originally named the most humble city of Valletta, after the Master of the Knights of Malta, Jean de Vallette, who had successfully led the defense of the island against the Ottoman Turks in 1565. This city on the isthmus was to solidify defenses — and you can tell. Built in 40 years by Italian architect Francesco Laparelli, student of Michelangelo, and finished by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, I am curious to explore how it connects to other city planning from this time. Their auberges — grand renaissance building with a municipal feel that housed the langues and now house museums and government offices — are familiar, the churches also:

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These wonderful grand colonnaded spaces

Valletta

But the streets laid out in a perfect (then almost revolutionary) grid with these wonderful balconies — these are like nothing I had ever seen.

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

It is a city where the whole is beautiful to look upon, but the details are as well…

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

And just look at these balconies, the individuality they bring to each building front, and the craftsmanship of them, they all seem to have their individual touches amplified by the passing of time and the histories of their owners:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Interesting, though, that so many of them are enclosed and hardly large enough to be used as extended living spaces. They seem used for laundry and plants. You could not squeeze a table and chairs outside as we saw so often in Paris, you cannot easily connect and talk to your neighbour next door or across the way, even with the windows wide open as they are above. It seems an opportunity missed, a reflection of a more enclosed society or perhaps an aspect of the city that helps create one. Nor are there stoops or enough space to extend living into the doorways and streets the way families do in say New York. Much of this seems concentrated in the squares, but still, I wonder at the impact on the everyday life and conviviality.

These streets contain atmosphere, and the surprise lost through the absence of twists and turns is found instead in the variegated building surfaces and the faded palimpsests painted onto stone, the flaking remnants of the past .

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

I don’t have a picture of the old grafittied pictures of ships that was pointed out to me by someone from Valletta as we walked back from a panel through the streets — her friend had uncovered it as he was cleaning the stone. There is no telling how old it is, a deep ochre red and it looked like pictures of the galleys so prevalent in the Mediterranean I have seen in books. She told me too the use of statues of saints at the street corners instead of street signs — St Christopher easily recognisable embodied in stone for those unable to read the letters of his name. We laughed that no longer are we literate in that way. I had a thought to catalogue them, but it fell away, saints are not my favourite things, and these are many of them grand, not the humble saints dressed in hand-sewn clothing I am more used to. But I do love shrines.

Valletta

This on the other hand…on the grand masters palace on the edge of George’s Square. Perhaps this was explained on one of the tours or if I could hit upon the right search terms, I usually love grotesques but this man in European dress riding what seems to be a naked African woman? Telling, if rather horrible.

Valletta

I only really noticed it my last day, because always your eyes are drawn to the life in the square — though early on a Sunday as I headed to the airport is was more quiet than I ever saw it:

Valletta

There are fountains here which must be wonderful in summer, it was  always full of children, including two little girls swanning through delightedly on scooters. Tourists and townfolk and migrants alike make use of the many places to sit that ring the square, as did I the night I wandered here alone. It is a lovely space, especially at night when the cafes overflow and there is lively talk and the clink of glasses and the smell of food…

Funny that it almost never smells of the sea here. Yet the sea surrounds it, on the other side of these enormous fortifications. This is looking towards Sliema:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Finding these fields tucked away made me so happy though, I can’t image football in this kind of setting! I was glad too, as many of the conference speakers mentioned the way they had played football in the streets as children — streets now very full of cars, and it’s true no children play there now.

Valletta

More views, this of Fort Manoel with the massive luxury build in Sliema behind it:

Valletta

Back over Valletta itself — in the foreground graffiti. Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, I was happy to find Mohammed Ali quoted here.

Valletta

Valletta at night — it is magical, I confess I wrote reams, though nothing coalesced quite into a story. My thoughts circled around Caravaggio for some reason, swaggering through the streets. It struck me that sober he wanted to be like the knights who were lords of all this, and that drunk he wanted to destroy them. It is easy to imagine him wandering through streets such as these, unlike England the modern almost never intrudes to break the atmosphere. Maybe the story will come, tinged with the recent car bombings, the old man wandering down the street with a bird in a tiny cage held reverently between his hands, chirping as he went. The undercurrents you can feel here, though I am ignorant of their precise nature.

Valletta

Valleta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Looking across from the other side of Valletta, towards the Forti Sant’ Anġl

Valletta

There are spaces underneath as well — I was lucky enough to visit the air raid shelter beneath the Crypt of St Augustine where the conference dinners were hosted. The crypt itself is a beautiful vaulted space where many lived during WWII, escaping down rickety stairs at the sirens. Boards covered the puddles of water at the bottom, we half-drunkenly explored the long passages and rooms and it was wonderful.

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

I had to leave too soon. But luck brought me a window seat, and it is from the air that you can best appreciate how small Valletta is, and the position it holds within this much larger urban conglomeration. I loved the fields as well, these are small plots that can never become too mechanised or monocultured.

Valletta from the air

Valletta from the air

I think this was Gozo in fact, but you can see the stark lines of the towns and the terracing of the hillsides, even if you can’t quite see the wonderful blues of the sea itself.

Malta from the air

A wonderful place, I am so thankful for the luck and generosity of those I love that allowed me come here.

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Death in St John’s Co-Cathedral

Never have I seen so many momento mori, strange and yet not strange in this enormous almost unbelievable place.

Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-CathedralThese are knights pledged to give their lives willingly in battle — while running hospitals and protecting travellers they also pledged themselves to the fight against the Arabs, the Christian presence in the Holy Land, the stand against the Ottoman Empire. They enriched themselves through piracy against the enemy trading in the rich waters of the Mediterranean.

This is what Christianity — turn the other cheek, love your neighbour as yourself — this is what it really meant to them. It took me a while to find the enemies that they trampled underfoot, but they are hardly forgotten:

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The slaves upon which much of their wealth was built — and who built this city — are here as well:

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The wealth is staggering. Still, so many ruthless and wealthy men meditating on their own deaths — I suppose it’s not all bad. I confess it gives a sense of awe.

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The highlights were Caravaggio, of course. A massive painting, the Beheading of John the Baptist, simple, the great dark spaces of dingy and shadowy wall are even more immense staring at it from afar, framed by gold leaf and pomp. It fits, somehow, while also overshadowing its surroundings. These details of architecture and frame are hardly visible as you look at it, they fade into the background and the skin, the sorrow, stand out above all.

beheading-of-saint-john-the-baptist- Caravaggio

Opposite is St Jerome, elderly, simple. A skull, to match the hundreds of skulls in this place, but an honesty and decay that sits oddly here.

st-jerome

The other wonder that I never knew was here are the choral books, especially those of Grand Master L’Isle Adam. They are wondrous indeed, with miniatures of surpassing beauty (and I promise I am not using that word lightly despite my many enthusiasms), and along the margins the most wonderful grostesques, creatures of bark, creatures with horns and eyes in their stomachs — and there is nothing written of them in the cathedral or postcards for sale. I shall have to hunt for them further. Later. Now, more wandering through the evening and some wine. What I did find, to end:

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Arriving in Malta

I landed in Malta today, Malta! I jumped on the bus from the airport to Valletta — public transport defines all nations, doesn’t it? And you learn so much. The bus was full as it wound through the dusty spaces between the airport and Valletta, it seemed to me to be one third privileged (but not so privileged as to be in a taxi) tourists like me, one third migrants — a few Bangladeshi (?) and more African speaking in languages I had never heard, and one third (perhaps less of these) Maltese who almost all alighted at the park and ride. A strange English and very modern title for a stop amidst the Maltese names of places.

Ruins everywhere. Every. Where. Honey coloured, cream coloured stone, piles of rubble and a feeling of dust, of crumbling, of life now gone. A feeling of ages, of history — beautiful walls of stone blocks, cut beautifully, fit beautifully in dry construction, and that wonderful feeling of time passing in that there is a sense in driving along the road of the same blocks being used in different ways across the centuries. Miles of them, from farm buildings and walls to medieval and defensive-feeling buildings to more recent but still old buildings…I cannot explain how strange that feels to me. At the same time new buildings going up here and there, concrete frames, empty and often feeling as though they had been put on pause. This construction I remember from Greece, but that also reminds me of Rio’s favelas, concrete frames and apartments built to fit them in many different ways, often floor by floor differences that I love so much. So many old rows of houses with beautiful cut out and enclosed balconies, so many spaces empty and boarded up. The same colour of dark green against the light stone over and over again.

I have never seen so many ruins, so much history piled carelessly as though by a child alongside the road, waiting to be put away.

Nopales grew everywhere too, prickly pears.  I wondered when they arrived here from America.

The bus was full of languages, but the languages of everyone but tourists had disappeared by the time we  finally arrived at the final station outside the walled city of Valletta, a chaotic wheel of green and white buses. The triton in the middle, a great fountain, young men hovering around it the way day laborers might hover around an L.A. corner and I wondered how work and migration are managed here. Wondered if things are similar, or if it is just the limitations of my sight.

I walked through the entrance of this walled Renaissance city, over a walkway with a startling drop to either side that I did not expect and that construction fencing masked and no one wondered at. A gate that must once have been immense and impressive. I remembered this was once a closed place, inaccessible to those without permission.

Then the dread of a conference where I don’t know anyone, a couple of good keynotes and some words about justice and equality but not enough for the mood I am in. A reception and new friends and suddenly tomorrow is much more something to look forward to.

A wander back to my apartment through the night. I can only think of Caravaggio for some reason, wandering these streets full of swagger and insecurity, but my mind is also full of Abulafia’s history of the Mediterranean which has transformed how I think about things really and I am still processing, particularly the rise and fall of ages and their rules and understandings and how now I think we are in the middle of a great change…all of it wrapped up together and perfumed by wine in this warm beautiful night. I think about my luck, and how happy I am to be here.

Valleta

Where I am staying:

Valleta

Madrid, New Mexico: Coal Mining and Company Town

We drove from Los Cerrillos, down Highway 14 it’s only a few short miles to Madrid, New Mexico. But a world away.

A company town, an old coal mining town. The coal trail isn’t as picturesque sounding as turquoise I suppose. Madrid, New Mexico is full of tiny wooden shacks — the picture that brought us here:

From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States
From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States

So Madrid as it is now was completely unexpected.

I have no current pictures of them because this town was full up, no parking, no where to stop until we had almost driven the length of it. That quintessentially western kind of hippie counter culture, biker, tourist boom town. Either brightly painted or left/made to look properly old and weathered and ghost towny. More pronounced than Bisbee because it is nowhere near as substantial — and this town had all but died. Maybe it’s better to compare it to Tombstone, the bones of an old town twisted and touristed and made subject to a variety of interpretations of authenticity. I’m not saying it doesn’t succeed in many ways, though Los Cerrillos is more my kind of place. With trips down here for company and live music.

We spent most of our time here with its ghosts, alone for the most part in the museum backing off the Mine Shaft Tavern. So-called, because it has this:

Madrid, New Mexico

It is, however, also the original Red Pony in Longmire, which made my mother very happy. Other things filmed here (and a longer list for the Turquoise Trail as a whole — somewhere along here we passed the ‘private movie ranch’): Easy Rider (1969), The McMasters (1970), Flap Aka: The Last Warrior (1970), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Greasers Palace (1972), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Convoy (1978)… I’ll stop there, with this hilarious poster:

Madrid

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad once came through here, and from the tavern you go into what was once the engine repair room and is now a theatre, with an old engine presiding. It stares in at you through the faded velvet curtains.

Madrid

We walked through, out into the yard full of old equipment towards a larger shed:

Madrid

Madrid

Into wide open spaces crammed full of things, and more things. Some displays. I bring you Edison himself:

Madrid

He had attempted a gold extraction project in the mountains, but that failed. He did build a successful electric power plant at Madrid, though, to power both his failed gold experiment and the town. Every town had electricity by the 1920s, before Santa Fe, and they boasted the first lighted baseball park in the West.

The Madrid Miners, there is some very cool stuff on the baseball team.

Madrid

Some amazing old machines.

Madrid

Pictures of the old mine and equipment:

Madrid

This was a company town. From the town’s merchant’s association website, a kind of amalgam of beneficent yet autocratic rule, possibly a lurking hidden fear of strikes and unrest, a mandatory and worker-funded town pride:

in 1919 Oscar Joseph Huber was hired by Mr. Kaseman, of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company, as full time superintendent of mines. Under his capable leadership Madrid became a model for other mining towns to follow. Elementary and High Schools, a fully equipped hospital, a Company Store and an Employee’s Club were some of the benefits of line in Madrid during the 20’s and 30’s. Believing that idleness was an enemy to a stable community, Mr. Huber formed the Employee’s Club, requiring miners to donate from .50 to $1.00 per month for community causes. They were also required to participate in town events such as the Fourth of July celebration and the now famous Christmas Light Display.

In the Museum they describe Madrid as the “Town of Lights” & “Toyland”, as every Christmas the ballpark was converted, a miniature train and Children’s Ferris Wheel erected.

Beginning in the early 1920’s, Madrid miners lit up the winter sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The power was provided by the company’s own coal fed generators. The displays were the product of both Madrid and Northern New Mexico artisans and laborers. Madrid’s Christmas celebrations ended with W.W.II and the mines closed in the 1950’s.

It is hard to imagine planes diverting their flights to allow passengers to marvel at the light show from above, and promotion of Madrid’s celebrations in LA, Miami, Chicago.

The museum display states:

The last coal sublease, Johnny Ochoa & John Taber’s one care “wagon mine,” was abandoned in 1961.

A view of the Ferris Wheel now from on board the old engine:

Madrid

And the engine itself — so cool to see after riding the steam train from Chama…The engine:

Madrid

The controls (!):

Madrid

The blowdown lever — this expels water, creating the great spout from the side of the train and subsequent rainbows that we saw in the trip from Chama to Antonito.

Madrid

There were awesome engines of another kind:

Madrid

Madrid

It was good to find it so vibrant now, though this isn’t entirely my kind of scene. Way too many people. And I keep bumping into hard questions raised by sentences like this:

In the early 1970’s Joe Huber (Oscar’s son), then owner of the entire town site, rented a few of the miner’s cabins to rugged individuals, artists and craftsmen eager to make a home in the mountains of New Mexico.

Of course, the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company had put the whole town up for sale in 1954. I hate the idea of one company, one person owning a town. But I am glad this is no longer true:

Madrid

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Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, Chama to Antonito

The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad is amazing, a narrow three-foot gauge railroad along which the steam engines of yore still ride…Built in 1880 by the Rio Grande to serve the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. As we all know, the Sherman Act of 1893 destroyed the silver industry for a good long time, but this train line kept slowly going until the 1960s. This piece of the track was saved by a handful of wonderful people working to preserve this awesomeness, it was secured in 1970 by New Mexico and Colorado working together, and is now run by a commission and a friend group.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

I love how trains inspire the utmost love and devotion, brings groups of people to selflessly work together to keep them going despite all odds. People also stood by the side of roads and RV parks to wave at the train, a couple of cars followed us down I-17. A number of cars pulled off the road to take pictures of the train.

For me, though, this particular train had a slightly different glamour. I am not a proper fan girl of many, but James Garner is one. James Garner as Maverick? Especially. For some reason I climbed up onto this train and suddenly felt myself close, very close. It didn’t even take that much imagination to ignore everyone else. I stood at the end staring at the mountains and wished I had a cigar. It was grand. I didn’t even mind the constant shower of grit.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We climbed high up into the mountains, then back down to high-desert plateau. We saw deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, antelope. Unbelievably beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We even spouted rainbows.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Even more special, is that me and mum first took this trip with my Dad and my Godmother Clare when I was about 2 years old.

(I have skipped a day, yesterday we drove through rainbows but I was just too tired to think and write, and there is more to write! But it will be made part of this history)

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