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:
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.
It used to look like this
Now inside it is uncanny and strange and beautiful.
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.
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.
The last building, the most interesting perhaps but I already felt full.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This also remains.
Other remnants sit engulfed in the architecture of Christian kings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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:
The rooms are full of light — at least the day that we were there. Beautiful rooms.
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:
Some terrifying (though I confess I rather liked the latter)
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:
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:
Most of this complex still serves as just another park.
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.
The castle was interesting, the transport museum — I loved seeing the train carriages of Bismarck:
And Ludwig II, I love trains and these were absolutely brilliant.
I’m glad to have seen all this, also more happy than usual to be home.
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…
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
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.
The shadows alone, so beautiful.
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.
And the tongue and cheekiness. Like the Aurora, Battleship of the Revolution:
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:
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.
Begun in 1224 and ruined by 1560, we found Elgin Cathedral frozen into the grass, inscribed against the sky.
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.
Enough remains to remind you of just how beautifully human being worked this stone.
The chapter house, still miraculously standing
A Pictish cross, with barely visible views of falconry
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.
Enda Walsh… we didn’t know what to expect at the Smock Alley Theatre. We didn’t set our expectations high enough for Disco Pig and Sucking Dublin in this space that I loved quite uncritically, and M liked with rather more critique of highs and lows being lost to us as was a bit of the stage. Bright and violent and shining, seventeen and the world before them when, if, they were able to emerge from the world they had created with each other. Pig and Runt as an us versus all of them, a bit terrifying, a bit beautiful. The sea as a birthday gift. Blue the colour of love. Still babas awakening from a violent innocence. It is also all about how awakening means wanting more, knowing that the other will always hold you back even if you love them. It’s about getting out. Seems like one working class world is so very much like another, a bit glorious, a bit terrible, all we have to differentiate ourselves is our language and the nature of the music that calls us and the drugs that get us through, or our trajectories out and away from grinding work and reproduction. The language was fucking amazing. Of course anything about getting out always rips my heart out, and he threw heroin and some violence against women in there as well so Sucking Dublin finished the job.
I know too there is more than this, that getting out isn’t required. Getting out scars you. A lucky one. An unlucky one. I don’t know.
A lovely, flying, terribly-timed weekend trip to Dublin on the grounds that M was examining a PhD on Friday, both of us studiously trying to ignore the crushing sleep-withdrawing pressure of deadlines and just enjoy, which wasn’t too hard although the weather was baltic and I earned myself the nickname of old face-ache.
So we didn’t walk around too much, just saw a few things. Ate Pho. Climbed down into the crypts to see the mummies in St Michan’s, which were quite amazing. I’m rather glad you can’t touch them anymore. I took this before seeing the no pictures sign. Waste not want not.
The Sheare brothers are also here, hanged, drawn and quartered after the 1798 uprising, and maybe just maybe Robert Emmet. And above, a rather wondrous organ that Handel played the Messiah on.
The Dublin of contrasts.
Friezes of household items, notably fish and carrots on the old market building
Posters of Irish women writers:
We walked through Temple Bar, bookshops, the book market in the freezing wind.
The Little Museum of Dublin, crowdsourced and one of the best little museums I’ve been to and couldn’t recommend more. If we could have had our guide Patrick escort us through the streets of Dublin the whole weekend we would have done. For his story of the duck keeper of St Stephen’s Green during the Easter rising alone I would have paid an entry fee. Ground floor was all George Bernard Shaw…I have my mixed feelings about him, usually want to punch the Fabians, but a GBS posing as the thinker in the buff was quite extraordinary. And I love these old Georgian houses, though I know they were the housing of colonial rule.
Second best behind Patrick and the ducks, what they believe to be Flann O’Brien’s chair hanging from the ceiling.
I pretended it was his policeman leaning there rusty against the wall in the next room.
Went to the Long Hall, once patronised by an excess of 150 Fenians. I don’t know if you can have an excess of Fenians, but perhaps. There were certainly an excess of loud shoppers on a horrible Saturday afternoon and our pints were cold. Jesus. It was beautiful but still we fled. Walked past the big pointy thing again.
Across from our hotel the blessing of the taxi cabs.
And the An Bord Pleanála, which google tells me is an independent, statutory, quasi-judicial body that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland. All I know is that it has a wonderful sculpture of cleaning women, and I love this building dearly.
By night, seagulls on the Liffey.
Last day, Sunday, National Gallery day, surprisingly enjoyable. Malta has made me enjoy those rooms of medieval and Italian Renaissance paintings so much more now that I’ve realised they have spurting liquids and batshit crazy demons and angry horses.
I am now going to resume writing about homelessness in Wales. Because life is a bit shit and I have so much to do before Friday and mum arrives tomorrow and I have duvets airing and the rubbish needing to go out and clothes folding and I haven’t hoovered and I am still overdue with that film review and there is no way that article that has been almost done for months is getting out before Christmas. But Dublin will be remembered.
Just communities, just cities, Just connections between country and city. Also, the weird and wonderful.