Saturday, October 04, 2014

Final European post (almost)

 Oh no, I thought, not him!
(It wasn't.)

 This a cathedral.

This was my favourite dog.
I met him in Livia, a Spanish enclave in France, just over the border.
(Should be more of it.)

The morning after I arrived home from Europe I plunged into the Great Southern Ocean and stayed there until my bones clattered and my heart screamed.

I have loved this place all my life. It is as though the bit deep inside that holds my blueprint, the bit that defines me, was created here
This is not surprising, given one of my grandmothers was born and grew up here and my father’s sister lived here much of her life.

I love to travel but when home I dread leaving. As soon as I am on the road, however, I seem to grow into it. Among the wonderful aspects of travel, for me, are the learning, the regeneration and the confirmation of the blessings of this place, Kinjarling.

Here are some final observations, Paris seemed to feature a lot of people talking to themselves while Barcelona was the city in which just about everyone seemed to be talking, usually to someone else.

Whereas almost people everywhere seem offended by graffiti, I quite like it and was very disappointed by the quality all the way from Spain to France. It was as though the graffiti folk were caught in a narcissistic bubble and were only interested in writing their names. It wasn’t until Belgium and the Netherlands that artists found the art and splashed over walls, buildings and even the tops of high rise apartments and office blocks.

And now a few short final quick notes:
- Most people speaking English as a second language, Netherlands
- Most pickpockets, scammers, beggars, trinket sellers, Rome
- Best looking men, Barcelona
- Best looking women, Barcelona, Rome, Paris, Utrecht
- Best food, Lucca (Italy), Paris and Barcelona
- Most churches, Rome
- Most steps, Rome
- Most Romans, Rome.

The trip was in part book research and to attend an international conference in Utrecht – the World Humour Conference.

And where did I get the most laughs? As always, wherever I was with family, friends, or sitting on Barcelona’s La Rambla watching the passing parade.

Sponsored by Creative Albany.

Hardly saw a dog in Lucca and I was beginning to think there were none when huge door opened next to our outdoor restaurant and lady walked out with a dog on a leash. Both walked with elegance and were out with a purpose in mind.
In Paris? Dogs everywhere and not shy to leave their excreta and their handlers not shy to keep on walking.
Rome helped make clear to me a comment my father once made: Shopping centres are the new cathedrals. Not in Rome (and other European cities), in Rome the cathedrals are cathedrals and people are encourage to visit them but also to gather in open but pleasant settings, with trees and seats readily available.
Australian shopping centres are cathedrals and we are encouraged to gather in them, listen to inane music and allow ourselves to be bombarded with nonsense.

 Graffiti in Italy

Graffiti in Belgium and the Netherlands

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Netherlands

The original version of this piece first appeared in the Albany Advertiser 28/8/2014

My Netherlands is a country of memories and comfort.

When I first arrived in 1977, the airport police threw me in jail because I had no on-ward ticket, no money and no visible means of support. This caused much consternation for the family of my wife-to-be, as the banks were closed and they couldn't raise the bail money.

Her grandfather, Aage, a wise and frugal old chap, managed to find the required sum under his mattress.

Aage lived near the centre of the village and displayed all the cleverness you would expect from an old fashioned Dutchman. Every bit of available space was utilized for growing vegetables, storing vegetables, and the old house was remarkable in its confined spaciousness.

This trip the police only smiled at me and offered assistance when I looked lost and confused.

And this trip I spent most of my time in the ancient and wonderful city of Utrecht and given there is a push for Albany to be a university city there is much to learn from an historical place full of bikes, pedestrians, cafes, and open spaces.

Utrecht is built for easy movement of pedestrians and cyclists. It was a wonderful sight, walking home at 1am after the Dutch loss to Argentina in the World Cup, to the sound of bicycles clattering along over cobble stones, riders speeding home with downcast eyes and no lights. Some carried passengers perched on handlebars or rear luggage racks.

Like Albany this city has fine old historical homes and in front of many you could find a plaque and a box with eyeglasses to see photographs of how the buildings changed over the generations.

And in front of others were tiled renditions of famous artworks.

Back in Albany I have had visions of works from the fine Noongar Carrolup Collection and perhaps past Albany Art Prize winners displayed in tile form on public walls to add to visitor knowledge of the cultural depth of the region.

While in Utrecht I stayed within the old city and this made getting about simple and easy, although, like in that other ancient city I stayed in, Italy's Lucca, I did need a day or two to learn the twists and turns.

The stairs from the first to the third floors also took a degree of concentration and after three days I was able to walk their perpendicularity without tumbling either up or down.

Like Barcelona, Utrecht also has its legendary architect, Gerrit Reitvelt, a man like Gaudi well before his time and after a brief visit to one of his homes you could be forgiven for thinking we still haven’t caught up.

Sponsored by Creative Albany.

View from The Dom Tower

Street bookseller in Utrecht

Under the Dom Tower are the remains of a Roman fort.
Above: a skeleton, probably a Roman.
Below: ammunition.