Friday, March 20, 2009

Signs, Shrines, Towers and Tributes

As mere mortals occupying a brief moment in the history of the earth, collectively and individually we search for significance in the shapes of the natural world about us ..

Symbols and signs that exhibit distinct geometric patterns, whether real or imagined, are a necessary part of our interpretation of revelation and social construction .. In the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, this ancient stone shares etchings that I use in my own work - yes, I designed this piece long before I saw the rough-hewn Pictish rock ..

Leaving our mark and creating relevance from observed forms imposes our thoughts and dreams of permanence on this transitory existence ..

The Lionesque shape that is Arthur’s Seat has inspired many artists to draw on this familiar form to suggest a strong, brave warrior trait in the ‘Scottish character’ .. Yes, possibly an out-moded way of defining identity, but most people still assign specific stereotypical traits to ‘national character’ ..

In fact the ‘national character’ is exactly that – a politically reinforced sense of shared attributes that artificially bind a disparate group of people to develop allegiance to a creed ..

Ever since Ruth Benedict and other anthropologists approached this area of study for the US military during WW2 .. anthropology suffered a setback in universal acceptance of objectivity and the research into shared traits was denigrated as potentially racist and presumptive ..
.. however, we all recognise certain ‘home truths’ in regional culture, and exploit those similarities brought about by collective history to maintain links with the past ..

We design crests and shields to commemorate battles and other historical events .. we sculpt statues to honour heroic figures and manufacture flags to symbolise unified territories while perpetuating and propagating knowledge of a cohesive identity .. I carry this particular clan crest on my key ring – the family motto in Latin “pro libertate” translates as ‘for freedom’, or ‘liberty’ .. and has always been a significant feature of my own personality ..

We create headstones as burial markers to acknowledge the presence of a previous life and give notice that life has a beginning and a definite ending .. like this gravestone that carries an inscription for my grandmother and grandad who now occupy the same space high on a hill in the largest municipal cemetery in the UK .. I found it interesting that the woman who maintained the records was chilled by the thought of me driving to the furthest boundaries of the burial park at dusk - to wander amongst so many dead ancestors as the gloaming approached .. I told her I was only going to visit my gran ..

We build tombs to stand for all time as recognition of the importance of remembrance, giving weight to shape in a hopeful gesture of the connectedness of eternity, and we pass along these memories in the vain hope that succeeding generations will consider our lives as having had some value ..

On 11th September 1297, the Scots under the command of William ‘Guardian of Scotland’ Wallace, defeated the English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge .. helping to shape the destiny of this land, instilling a sense of loyalty and character into tribal factions, and giving reason to others to memorialise and celebrate his life ..

Thomas Rochead designed the National Monument to William Wallace at Abbey Craig in the Bridge of Allan, Stirlingshire in 1861 .. this magnificent and unique Victorian Gothic sandstone structure is over 220 feet high .. needless to say the view from the ‘crown’ is one of the finest in the world .. you can see the likeness of Wallace sculpted by DW Stevenson on the corner ..

On November 30th (St Andrew’s day) 1893, a replica bronze by Stevenson of his statue of the great liberationist was presented to the city of Baltimore by William Wallace Spence .. I took my dad to see it when he visited Maryland .. the iconic image, 17 feet tall excluding pedestal, was placed on a hill overlooking the lake in Druid Park ..

One of the greatest and most symbolic of natural phenomena, a signifier of death and rebirth – a covenant of new beginnings and hope, can frequently be witnessed in ‘God’s Own Country’ ..

I captured this exemplar rainbow recently, over the town of Greenock in the west of Scotland, as the morning mist lifted to reveal a dark past creeping from the shadows with the promise of a brighter future .. a history and culture I share, and a dream I look forward to helping make real ..

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Winters in Mallorca

A whole host of exciting celebrations and interesting events during the months of January and February welcome the visitor to the Balearic Island of Mallorca .. As an occasional off-season resident familiar to the island, I am fortunate enough to have a lovely place to stay with a stunning view toward the marina at Puerto de Alcudia ..

However, I am not the first traveller to have spent ‘A Winter in Mallorca’ – as George Sand (pseudonym of Aurore Dupin, Baroness Dudevant) and her children stayed there for several months from 1838-39 with her companion and lover Frederic Chopin .. subsequently writing the classic, if somewhat critical and ethnocentric book about their trials and tribulations during those less comfortable days at the monastery in Valldemosa ..

Thanks to friends and associates in the area, I have had the opportunity to witness several of the most fascinating traditions – especially frightful is witching night in Sa Pobla, where the locals dance round bonfires till the wee hours dressed as ‘El Diablo’ and Sant Antoni – the ascetic of the desert, and patron saint of farm animals who, like the Christ, faced his own demons in the dry parched landscape of the wilderness .. The ‘night of the devils’ fiesta was first documented in Sa Pobla during the 14th century .. Watch a video ~~~~>

A unique tradition to celebrate the feast of Saint Antoni on 17th January occurs annually in the Port of Pollença, a few kilometres along the coast from Alcudia ..

Early in the morning, after the Beneïdes – a blessing of the animals, a small fleet of fishing boats heads around Cap de Formentor where they locate and chop down an enormous fir tree (a very tall pine – which they call the Pi de Sant Antoni) and after stripping it of all but the highest branches, lash it to a boat and haul it back to the port, where it is hoisted up onto the dock .. the tree is then handed over to the young men of the town who ceremoniously drag it through town ..

The event takes several hours and is accompanied by much revelry and dancing with songs and music provided by the local Xeremiers: musical troupes that consist of bagpipes (which they claim to have invented), hand-held percussion drums called ximbombades and whistles ..

A main feature of the procession is the drinking of copious amounts of Tunel Herbes, a sweet alcohol that I was, only on this occasion, liberally adding to my frequent cups of coffee ..

After much mirth and merriment we arrived through the church to the main square Plaça Vella, where everyone partakes of a traditional lunch of pa amb oli, arrengades i vi (Mallorquin for bread with olive oil, herrings and wine) ..

The tree is then raised to a stupendously eerie height of 20 metres .. The young men of the town then compete to get to the top, where a bag of sweets and money awaits – it is a difficult task and many brave souls try and fail, either by losing their nerve, sliding back down exhausted or more often, being dragged off the tree by their friends and fellow climbers .. however the one conquistador who finally achieves the feat gains the bragging rights to remind everyone for the next year who got to the top of the Pi Antoni ..

December heralds the annual parade of giants through Alcudia – the old town proper on the hill, with its Roman ruins, Moorish walls and fabulous Sunday market ..

The family-friendly event marks a social revolution and commemorates the handing over rule of the town from royalty to landed gentry and elected officials .. here we see giants representing each of the traditional trades and craftspeople of the region as they march through the streets demanding the right to determine their own laws and be compensated with fair economic exchange for their learned skills ..

Accompanied once again by the Xeremiers in local costume and colours, the giants proceed through the narrow streets, past boutiques and cafes that fill with locals and tourists as they swarm en masse toward the main square .. (rather like the newly-established Derby Quad event which you can see by scrolling down to the next page)

Eventually, the giants arrive at the Town Hall to stage their re-enacted protest and claim the right of self-governance – here represented by the giant mayor and his wife .. after the obligatory speeches by the actual prominent figures of the town council there is more song and dance before everyone descends on the plaza restaurants for lunch ..

January 5th sees a colourful flotilla of boats that announce the arrival of the Three Kings in the Port of Alcudia – marking the visit of the Magi, the astrologers from the East who followed the North Star to find the young Jesus and bestow gifts upon this ‘chosen one’ ..

However, the most enjoyable days out are often in simply discovering the natural scenery of the island .. one of my favourite regions can just be seen in this picture as the ‘twin plateaus’ of a massive cloister of peaks ..

I often looked upon this mountain at sunrise from the north terrace of the penthouse I stayed in one recent winter in Mallorca, and considered scaling the heights ..

The Tramuntana Mountains range across the northern coast and have stunning and seemingly inaccessible peaks and valleys where through the strenuous effort of climbing and hiking one is rewarded with panoramic views of the beautiful island, and can gaze down upon the tourist towns famous for their magnificent beaches and hedonistic nightlife ..

Although getting back to the apartment on the beach at the end of the day was always a treat .. sharing with friends the sunsets and sunrises, caliente pan and cheese, a bottle of roja vin and a cool evening on the terrace ..