A Picture Paints 1000 words

Images that are just a stolen moment in time and place, build stories if we step back from them. The image becomes more than a reflection of that moment, it develops a life of its own as we imagine a story around it. It is no longer just what we saw, it creates its own little world

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And a warm welcome to our home from all of us.Who are these people??

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The gate to a house in Chiang Mai. Who on earth lived here?

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The day of theTriffids

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Still smiling after 1000 years.

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Religion and commerce collide. We all get thirsty sometimes

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A magical mystery tour

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Stripped down lorry chassis carrying a throne.Rural Cambodia

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The claw of a very large chicken.

Each a potent story line and flight of imagination.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is art?

 

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I was reading a blog about art today which started discussing the perennial question “what is art?” That question is a recipe for a looooong inconclusive discussion in which we can drain all our resources of intellectual savoir faire, as will all the others in the discussion, and end up hours later none the wiser.

Anyone who travels will visit great works of art in one form or another, The Mona Lisa, great galleries of the world, cathedrals that contain artistic masterpieces in carvings, frescos, or just the architecture. We will visit strange lands where the indigenous art is part of our journey and will be part of the enriching experience.

But in the same way that it is not good to talk about politics or religion at dinner parties since it is a recipe for a disastrous evening, so conversations about art can have that same addictive fate even when the discussion is in one’s own head. In the end it is often about perspective, we see something in a gallery or building and we know its art because we went there to see art. It is quite simple.

It all reminded me of a picture I had taken that I posted in my blog about Cape Town’s townships so I played around with the picture for a while and the three outcomes told a story. The first is just a street scene. The second a building with a mural on it, a splash of colour in the grey street. The third is what? A painting? A work of art? Should I go and ask the owner whether I can buy their wall? Should I introduce the person to a gallery? Is it a work of art or is it just a tiny splash of colour in a grey street? Or is it nothing but some person having a bit of fun with their house? Is it Banksy???

I leave it to you.

Travelling The Townships of Cape Town

 

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When democracy came to South Africa in 1994 townships had developed on the borders of the city, some created, some the results of migration, ignored and sometimes not even on maps and they became part of the city itself.

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The contrasts between the Mediterranean cosmopolitan Cape Town of the brochures and the harsh realities of township life are stark. But while the areas can seem intimidating to many people, they are in fact fascinating worlds of culture, an economy, a society of their own, and the strongest community links.

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Having worked in those areas extensively before leaving business and not having been there for a while I went back the other day to see an old friend. As I came into the area I was reminded of what vibrant places there are. There is a true unique vibe, one that the residents recognise. There is an energy and drive.

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The townships have endless activity, music, family life, and economic and political structures. It’s alive and passionate and progressing. The days of seas of shacks now changing into formal housing, spaza shops, shops in shacks, now starting to include small malls, the township economies starting to grow and trade outside themselves.

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There is an irony there you can see in the names of businesses, my favourite on this day the Miracle Driving School. !! People are friendly welcoming and really enjoy visitors preferring the individual approach rather than coach tours that can make residents sometimes feel as if they are in a zoo.

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There is a famous township restaurant called Mzoli’s on the edge of Gugulethu where many visitors go to sample township food and township fun. Well worth a visit.

Whilst to go there is a great cultural experience and fun, its important not to forget that these are places of hardship, poverty, crime and sometimes destitution, but the positive is that there is so much talent and energy there, that there is a definite future of possibilities

If you go to Cape Town, don’t ignore the townships while enjoying the Europe in Africa of the city. Give it a visit, its great!

The Hippie Trail

 

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I am soon setting out on another journey and while I sit and think of where I am going, what I want to do, who I want to meet and what I want from the trip, I always end up reminiscing about old trips I have made what they were to me and most of all think of the anecdotes that so often make the story of a journey.

In 1967 I left school and took a “gap year” before university and with a couple of friend bought a land rover and set out on what had become known as the hippie trail, the overland route to India from London. Sadly the globalised world has given rise to seemingly globalised war so it’s not possible, but an amazing adventure for a 17 year old.

Three and half months of living with 3 others under, inside or on top of a vehicle is a real “learning to live with other people experience”, not helped by the fact the only place you could get water was from an open tap somewhere, and if you wanted to wash you needed to find a hotel and persuade them to let you have a shower. No email, sms, or phones meant a post restante somewhere obscure every week or so, to write to say you were still alive and receive any news from home.

Having arrived we went our separate ways and I stayed in India for a while travelling around. What do I remember? Goa being just a huge stretch of sand with a few huts and some hippies playing guitar. Spending a week in an ashram with many others, under the guidance of a guru where in return for teaching in meditation we had to carry large amounts of earth to make a huge mound, the reason being that in a recent India/Pakistan war the guru had stood on a mound of earth with his arms in the air and as a result the Pakistani air force bombs had failed to demolish a nearby bridge, the bombs being diverted by his incantations. Being approached one day in Mumbai, Bombay then, and being offered a large amount of hashish at a discount price and when I declined being offered and western girl for the night in exchange for the shirt I was wearing. Declined both. Buying a sitar in old Delhi simply because it was beautiful and when I stood there confused not knowing what was bad or good, being helped by a western man who came over to me and turned out to be George Harrison from the Beatles, Lying on my bed in a cheap guest house under a fan, avoiding the pre monsoon heat and 90% humidity, listening to news of the death of Robert Kennedy and the on-going carnage of Vietnam. Registering with the authorities as an alcoholic so that I could buy a beer in a city that was dry using my alcoholic’s allowance. Sitting on Juhu beach watching the sunset. Travelling on the roof of a train since it was full and having a long stop at one station cause some had died of heat stroke. Seeing a Tiger in the wild. Having to ask all the time for gallons of water since the food was so spicy I could hardly eat. Sitting on the banks of the Ganges at Benares and watching cremations. Drinking water that was green and filled with chlorine pills since there wasn’t anything else. Learning the beauties of Indian music and dipping my toe into the extraordinary world of Indian spirituality. The endless crowds of people everywhere and the friendliness and curiosity of Indian people. And so it goes on.

Hope this trip will bring as many memories although since I am older and marginally wiser they will be different.

Travel – Architecture and Cities

 

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I love it that every city I visit is different. Sometimes people ask me what is my favourite city out of all those that I have visited, and of course that’s an impossible question, but I sometimes try to work it out.

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There is a big difference between cities that were built as cities and those that simply evolved over centuries, from settlements beside rivers or the sea, into those that exist today. There are the great cities of the world, London New York Paris etc, and then there are cities, none the less great to those who live there, but not one of the places that everyone feels they must go to.

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London is a city that has evolved over centuries from a small settlement in Roman times to the metropolis of today. The City of London is formalised architecture the result of the great fire in the 17th century which led to the city being laid out but for the rest it has grown and evolved over centuries resulting a whole mixture of styles uses and inhabitants, some would say a whole series of villages strung together.

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As a contrast the centre of St Petersburg was planned and built and preserved, despite wars and changes, such that even today you can get the feeling of being just a step from the world of Tolstoy and the characters of War and Peace. Sometimes that purity has an almost big chocolate box feel about it, almost too good to be true, but such a pleasure to explore, and a living cultural museum.

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Eastern cities reflect the rises and falls of their history and culture and have become a world of enormous contrasts, where ancient powerful histories have faded and been replaced by new modern recoveries of prosperity, interlaced with the growth of informal settlements resulting from the migration of poorer inhabitants from the countryside to the city in search of a better life.

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Some cities are defined by nature, the physical environment dictating the shape and limits of the city, and nature itself being the limiter of its expression. Then there are the new, purpose built, modern cities of the 21st century, pragmatic, functional but none the less appealing for the imagination of their design.

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Which are your favourites, well you pay your money and you take your choice but for me, despite my efforts to analyse, I don’t know, I still love them all because what ever they look like, however planned organised or random and chaotic they are, it’s the inhabitants that define them

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Dubai – Another World

 

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Dubai is a city where time has a number of dimensions. On the one hand a city of the future, on another an ancient part of the world where the old world can still be seen; it’s a great intersection for world travellers from different time zones and it is a world of migrant workers.

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The airport, which I often use as a hub on my travels, is fascinating in that you can sit in a café at what is 1 am my time having a midnight snack and talk to someone having breakfast and another having dinner, all passing through at that moment. It is like a self-contained timeless place.

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Best known in Dubai are obviously the modern parts, the world of tall buildings modern condo developments, the marina and the commercial area. The Burj Khalifa always reminds on of an “about to depart” rocket when seen from the ground.

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My favourite part to stay is Bur Dubai at the western side of the Creek. This is old Dubai, a world where the Creek still has boats that transport all over the Arab world and the East, a world with the Souks, old buildings and mosques. A trip up the Creek in a small boat is great to be able to see both the old and new Dubai.

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The souks are modernised but nonetheless places to bargain and haggle and although many have stalls which sell the same as the one next door there are some gems to be found there.

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Dubai is a world of migrant workers, many living in Bur Dubai who work hard to support themselves and their families back home. I met a Manager of a coffee house, an Afghan, who shared 2 rooms with four other people, rotating the beds between those who worked day shifts and those night shifts, sent all his money home to his family but did not know honestly how long he would be there nor when he would see that family again.

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You like shopping, you like Dubai, the malls ranging from those with lots of shops that have no prices, fronted by men in dark suits white shirts and an earpiece guarding the door, to the more familiar shops we see in other places. It’s a world where for some money is no object. A Italian man was so grateful for directions to the airport to catch a plane he was in danger of missing, that he rewarded me with a cashmere suit before racing off to the plane. He would not take no for an answer.

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It’s fascinating, it’s a place you can live the western beach life or if you dig around you find the old world and the extraordinary cosmopolitan culture that Dubai has become.

 

 

Water Water Everywhere and Not a drop to drink

 

 

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My title, from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, talks of an ocean of salt water that surrounds his boat, but despite the forbidding description there is something that is fascinating about the image of being surrounded water itself, regardless of whether you can drink it or not. Even if they had loads of drinking water the image would still be powerful

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Humans have a true fascination with water. There are the obvious things that we need to drink it to survive, that our bodies are, to a large extent, made of water, that we wash with it, swim in it for relaxation and many will tell you its because that’s where humans came from in the first place. But that is all the practicalities of water.

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Travellers are no different, when we travel and explore we go and look for water. Millions of us go to the sea or the ocean to rest, we love to see waterfalls, we row on lakes or sail on the sea or take a barge down a canal, or even walk by the river. We sit and contemplate by a gurgling stream, we listen to the sounds of waves, we are in awe of the sheer power of water in waves or Tsunamis , water has a hold on us. We admire huge tracts of water and marvel at the place of water in religions we come across. We take delight in describing a mountain stream with the cool clear water of melted snow, and complain of polluted water, not just because we cant drink it or use it but because you just should not treat water in that fashion.

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If you travel to a country with a coast then at some stage you will visit that coast. if you are in a landlocked country we seek out rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls even a pond in a park. Its as if we need a little fix of the sights and sounds of water to make our journey complete. We even go on cruises, sitting atop that very undrinkable water the poet wrote of as we feel at peace with the world while we sail on the water.

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We might travel to be near water, or alternatively visit some nondescript seaside town for no other reason than to have stood beside the sea and be able to say we saw this this or that sea or ocean. Somehow a journey without the visit to some water is not complete.

 

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The Layers in Cities.

 

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img_6969All great cities have their layers, the public and the hidden, the prosperous and the poor, the safe and the dangerous, the historical and the modern, the picture and the real place. If you start in the middle its usually all the good things and as you move away from the middle it gets more ordinary and less certain, and the harder it is to find what in fact is the real life of a place. img_6971Sometimes these distinctions can exist side by side, and it can make the city all the more exciting to see if you visit these “other” places and feel the contrasts between the city as presented to you the traveller and the city as it really is. img_6956

In Bangkok, within walking distance of the Royal Palace, the Democracy Monument and the Golden Mount is am area with its own canals buildings and life hidden away from the Bangkok as presented to us, but it is the real Bangkok for those who live there.

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The canals there are grey, the water ruined by the life beside it, electric cables droop into the water, people are packed together living their everyday lives. A small area of historic houses, not the mansions of old but small ancient buildings, still accommodate people and have shops and people living in them and you walk the narrowest of streets beside them. If you walk behind the Golden Mount, a major attraction, you can see the old ruined graves of people of times gone by and that adds some life to the monument that you wont find from the monument itself.

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Not only are these areas of cities fascinating of themselves but also they add a valuable counterpoint to the city as it is presented to us and helps get the real feeling of the inhabitants and the lives they live.

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You would not know it was there is you didn’t go and look around, so its always good just to wander a bit off the beaten track and find these little gems. They are not as pretty as the “sights” but they have their own impact on you.

 

 

Travelling – The past and the Future, of Life Love and Experience

 

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I was 16 years old when I first travelled alone. On a summer holiday in my school days I earned some money picking fruit, bought a ferry ticket and a train pass and travelled from the temperate (rainy) climate of Britain to the sun kissed shores of the Italian Riviera.

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I arrived at 3.30 in the afternoon, the day seemingly cooling, headed for the beach threw myself into the warm waters and stayed there till dusk spending the next day and a half in bed with sunburn. I was cared for by the lady who owned the pensione I had found, being the cheapest in the place and one that served huge breakfast being the major meal for the day in my impoverished condition. She was the archetypal Italian Mama kind but serious gentle but capable. A 19-year-old girl of outstanding mediterranean beauty who was working there made it clear that she was not interested in 16 year olds, as I lay there groaning theatrically.

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Having recovered I made my way the next night to a piazza in the town and sat at a table in the square sipping a beer and people watching, a habit that was to become one of my favourite travelling pastimes. Looking around the buildings surrounding the square I saw a beautiful girl looking down from a balcony overlooking the square. Leaning on her arms on the balcony rail, the sight of those dark eyes, lustrous black hair and half smile was the incarntaion of perfection. Having exchange glances and smiles and being determined to bring this Romeo and Juliette moment to fruition, I was unfortunately unable to get past her Mother in my quest for the perfect love, despite my very best efforts and using every ounce of my youthful charm, a Mother intent on protecting her daughter from crazy foreigners.

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Still, onwards and upwards was the cry and the journey became a rich mixture of sun, food, wine, and above all people, people I had never dreamt to meet but who were there in the traveller’s road, waiting to share the new experiences of life as people do with travellers. Italian food, the pace of life, its colours, rich and bright, the variety of culture, the acceptance of things new, and a Canadian girl made it truly memorable, a keystone in the wall of my travelling life

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I sometimes wonder should I go back there. What for I ask myself, the players in this little scene are all gone to other places and other lives. Why does it interest me to go back? Those significant moments would not be significant now, I know too much, but the richness of the experience, the novelty, the people, the sights sounds scents and flavours of that concentrated moment in life, that’s what I want to find I suppose. But I know it wont be there, and I also know that those senses and emotions I will definitely find on my next journey to somewhere new, a place I have never been and a new whole rich tapestry of people and experiences that I never dream will happen. That’s where I will find it again.

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“And if I could call back all those days of yesteryear,

I would never grow old and I’d never be poor,

But darling’, those days are gone.

Stop dreaming

And live on in the future….”

 

Van Morrison