Friday, 17 July 2020

Every picture tells a story .....Brava!!

The astounding work of Cristina Garcia Rodero. At the age of 23 in 1972, Garcia Rodero started a project that she hoped would capture the essence of the myriad Spanish traditions, religious practices and rites that were already fading away. What started as a five-year project ended up lasting 15 years and came to be the book España Oculta (Hidden Spain) published in 1989. At 39 years old, Garcia Rodero had managed to compile a kind of anthropological encyclopedia of her country.
 I can see Diane Arbus as a strong influence, in fact I think she out -Arbuses Arbus.
https://www.artsy.net/artist/diane-arbus

Strangely I see Goya very strongly, the same eye for the grotesque and pictorial satire especially against the church. This is one of the black paintings depicting the romero of San Isidro, you can see faces like this in the photographs taken in 1970s Spain.


Friday, 10 July 2020

Las Hurdes- A remote corner of Extremadura with a terrible history

Just to say don't let this put you off, we have travelled all around Las Hurdes, the scenery is amazing and knowing its history gives the experience and extra depth.

Crossing Las Hurdes today is like  any other corner of Extremadura, Castilla or Aragón: paved roads for its residents, the “jurdanos” and tourists, new towns, raised behind the ruinous “black architecture” of slate slabs, healthy people with thriving agriculture.
No one wants to remember or to be reminded of a past marked by all kinds of stigmas, real or imaginary: starvation, illiteracy, savagery, poverty, malaria, tuberculosis, alcoholism, hysteria, incest, polygamy, sodomy, typhus, ringworm, smallpox, trachoma, syphilis, goitre and cretinism.
Las Hurdes was a notorious place, becoming mythical with stories about  its inhabitants; deformed bodies like monsters with large heads and bowed legs caused by rickets, edema and osteoarthritis, a closed in-bred population hidden away in the ill-fated valleys behind the mountains. 
Chroniclers and travellers have perpetuated the horrors that they observed over the last 200 years: P. Nieremberg, Fray Tomás González, Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, George Borrow, Ramón Gómez de la Serna, Miguel de Unamuno, Maurice Legendre, Gregorio Marañón, J. Goyanes, José Mª Gabriel y Galán, Luis Buñuel, Antonio Ferres, Armando López Salinas and, more recently, Luis Carandell, Víctor Chamorro and Maurizio Catani.
In the mid-19th century, the biblical propagandist George Borrow heard of “a small nation or tribe of unknown people who spoke an unknown language, who lived there since the creation of the world, without crossing with other creatures and without knowing that there were other beings besides themselves ”(The Bible in Spain, 1842).
The Jurdanos were thought to be a singular race descended, according to legends, from the ancient Roman garrisons, scarecrows who walked naked or in rags, hiding in the thickets of the Batuecas. Word spread that they were political or religious refugees, such as the Moors expelled from Castilla and Andalusia or Jews escaping from the inquisition. For Gregorio Marañón, the doctor who accompanied the investigation of 1922, these people were “Spanish like the others, of the same race, with the same customs, the same religion and the same language; but more hungry than those of the poorest Castilian villages, almost entirely sick, an immense,mountainous retreat inhabited by people who seemed to have escaped from a hospital”Today Rodríguez Ibarra, president of the Junta de Extremadura, declared with rage: “There are still many visitors who come to Las Hurdes with a 'safarian' spirit, a video camera at the ready to capture the images that Buñuel had immortalized years ago, impossible to reproduce today”  Some environmentalists and archaeologists express their displeasure at the‘ intolerable ’advance of progress. People no longer have goitre; the roads that access Las Hurdes are nine meters wide; running water reaches all the houses; the towns have electric light.

 Two Iconic films made about Las Hurdes in the 20th century. 

The first is a record of the visit made by Alfonso XIII in 1922 accompanied by doctors and clergy. The images could be of medieval peasants living in extreme poverty and destitution. The statistics are awesome, thousands of people dying of starvation and disease, 15 children in every 100 born as what they describe as "cretinos" cruelly afflicted by congenital extreme mental and physical disorders. Goitre was extremely common due to iodine deficiency.


The second film is Tierra sin pan , Land without bread, a documentary made by Buñuel in 1933. Obviously not much has changed since the royal visit of 1922.  It is haunting work with its strange images of goats crashing down a ravine and a donkey being covered in honey by fallen hives and stung to death by thousands of bees, the corpse of a baby being transported over rough terrain and a river to bury it in the nearest graveyard;mentally afflicted boys leering into the camera as they jabber unintelligibly; a seemingly old woman with a goitre, breast feeding a baby, in fact the woman is only in her 30s ; frightening and disturbing images from the master of surrealism.
But look more carefully, Tierra sin pan is a film which breaks down the distinction between fiction and documentary. Many commentators have said that the voice-over narration and the particular subjects Buñuel chose to depict simply parody the documentary genre. However, at this point in the history of cinema the documentary mode was in its infancy. Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North: a story of life and love in the arctic (1922) was probably the most well-known film from this genre and there weren’t many others out there. The documentary as a genre didn’t have a fixed set of syntactic conventions that would have been available for film makers like Buñuel and his contemporaries to take as raw material for a parody. Like the grandmaster of contemporary cinema, Abbas Kiarostami, Buñuel does not believe in any fixed boundary between fiction and non-fiction film making.

However, one argument that Buñuel was parodying the documentary mode is the droll and sardonic voice-over juxtaposed with the terrible images on the screen. Actually the original film was completely silent. Bunuel provided the narration live during screenings. Abel Jacquin was hired to read the French voice-over in 1935 which was cut into the film along with sections of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.

The voice-over is detached and uninterested, casually remarking on disease and death but it is not a mere parody, Buñuel subverts the documentary, it becomes a propaganda film. Several sequences in the film were staged for effect, the falling goat and the bee stung donkey. Bunuel anticipated many future experiments with the documentary mode that wouldn’t come for another thirty years in the history of cinema, he transgressed the fiction/documentary boundary to indite both the Catholic church and the Spanish for allowing a place like Las Hurdes to exist, a real hell on earth.

This film was banned upon it’s release. Buñuel would go on to produce films for the Spanish Republics film industry: Don Quintin el Amargo, La Hija de Juan Simon, Quien Me Quieri A Mi? and Centinela Alerta. In 1937 he produced a Civil War documentary called Madrid 1936 (or Espana Leal en Armas) but he did not consider these as part of his artistic ouvre.
 

You may also wish to see this, it's an animated film of the making of Tierra sin pan
And finally, a little video about Las Hurdes today

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Corona project competed- Sanctuary village somewhere in North Africa



Inspired by images from 30 years of travelling to North Africa ; Morocco, Tunisia and Mali.
 A  little art project, purely decorative, no pretensions. A refuge during these long days,an imaginary village created with paper, oil paint, glue, oil crayons, chalk, bits of an ancient lampshade made of gilded card, hand made khadi rag paper bought in India and an old Spanish Law book from 1930 with aged yellow pages : on two boards.
Enjoyed all the little experiments and creating the busy little people and having time to embellish, just finished in time for the renaissance of our tourist business in the summer months unless lightening strikes again.....

The first stage

Work progresses
















Monday, 15 June 2020

Beautiful day for a trip to La Vera and the Carlos V path from Yuste to Jarandilla


Left early, took our dog…..yet ANOTHER great birthday out in La Vera this time, only 2 hours away but very different atmosphere in villages and countryside. Still very green with gushing water everywhere. Cherry harvest over but abundant raspberries and blueberries. Tobacco is big in this area, plants are growing now with the old brick drying barns everywhere. We walked 10kms of the Carlos V path from Yuste to Jarandilla. By chance Manfred was interviewed for local t.v. AGAIN, just natural charisma I guess! Looking forward to further celebrations, invited to dinner with kind friends, normal life starting again at last.
Here's a video of the waterfalls a few kms from Cuacos de Yuste, really wonderful to see and hear all that crashing water. Best to see video with full screen.













Sunday, 29 March 2020

Good therapy for these strange days- making smudge sticks







What are smudge sticks? Simply a bundle of dried herbs that have been wrapped together into a stick, light the tip, blow out the flame, and allow the fragrant smoke to waft through a space or around the body. The term “smudging” refers to a ceremonial or ritual practice of burning herbs to purify and cleanse a space or other people. Burning herbs and using aromatic smoke in ritual has been practiced since ancient times, it spans many different cultures worldwide.
Why Use Smudge Sticks? Using smudge sticks, or smudging, as it is called, is a way to connect to plants and herbs in nature-focused, spiritual practice.
Burn white sage or cedar when feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.
The aroma and sight of the smoke swirling around has an almost magical effect at easing tension and enhancing peaceful energy.
Each plant has its own properties, so there are many reasons to make a variety of smudge sticks.
For example, white sage is often used to cleanse and purify.
Cedar is used to boost positive energy.
Mugwort is used for dream work and divination.
Lavender is used for calming and de-stressing.






How To Use Smudge Sticks Simply light one end with a match, lighter, or candle. Hold the bundle in the flame for a few seconds, once there is a flame, wave the smudge stick or gently blow the flame out to release the aromatic smoke.
Wave it around a space, or over/under an object that you want to purify or charge.
You may need to relight the smudge stick several times. Some herbs (like catmint or Russian sage) will burn until the stick is completely used up, while cedar and many others need to be re-lit frequently during use.
 Have a heat-resistant container nearby when using smudge sticks for resting the stick between burnings.
Smudge Stick Making
1: Gather The Herbs
Use a pair of pruning shears to cut what is needed.
Any time of year is fine for harvesting evergreens like cedar and pine. For everything else the best time to harvest is when it is in bloom in spring or summer.
2: Pre-Dry
Before you can wrap most herbs into a smudge stick, hang them up to dry slightly for a day or two.
The hers should just be starting to dry but not be crispy. There should be enough moisture left to wrap them up without pieces crumbling off.
Typically, herbs are ready within 24-48 hours after harvest.
The exception is evergreens like pine, cedar, cypress, and juniper, which can be wrapped up into a smudge stick immediately.
Be sure to wrap the string extra tight when working with evergreens as the smudge stick will shrink in diameter slightly as they dry.

 3: Bind Them Up
Tying up smudge sticks is the trickiest part. Here’s how to do it:

a: Tie the bundle together about an inch from the base. Make sure it’s a tight, double knot. Be sure to leave a couple inches of string at the base. You’ll need this extra couple inches of string later. Natural cotton embroidery or any natural, untreated thread or string that is strong enough to pull tightly around a bundle of herbs.
b: Wrap the string tightly around the base several times.

c: Tightly wrap the string up the bundle of herbs, moving up in a spiral being sure to keep all of the plant material going in the same direction.
d: Wrap the string around the top a couple times, and then work your way back down toward the base of the smudge stick
e: Wrap the string around the base a few more ti6: Tightly tie the string together (the piece you have been wrapping around the smudge stick to the couple of inches of string you left when you tied the first knot.) Make sure it’s a tight, double knot.
f (Optional): Trim both ends to tidy up the smudge stick.


4: Dry Completely
After you wrap your smudge sticks, hang them back up to dry completely. This process may take as little as a week or two, or as long as 8-10 weeks (especially if working with cedar, pine, cypress, and juniper).

How To Store Smudge Sticks
Perhaps the best way to store smudge sticks (after they have been thoroughly dried) is to place them in an air-tight, glass mason jar out of direct sunlight.
Keep smudge sticks separate from each other. Store all cedar smudges together, don’t put a variety of smudge sticks together as the aromas tend to blend with undesirable results.
Use up your smudges within one year.

Plants To Use For Smudging
Just about any plant can be used for making smudge sticks, but some just work and smell better than most.
Sage (Salvia sp.)
Sage is one of the most popular smudge stick materials. The common name itself is associated with wisdom and spirituality.
White sage (salvia apiana) is THE quintessential smudge stick herb
When feeling stressed or anxious, lighting a dried leaf of white sage calms  and shifts energy quickly. Common kitchen sage (salvia officianalis) can be used as well.
Symbolism: Purification, cleansing, wisdom.
Harvest: Harvest kitchen sage anytime,  or wait until it flowers to incorporate the blossoms into the smudge.
Cedar/Arborvitae (Thuja sp.)
Cedar is, perhaps, the second most commonly used smudge.
Cedar is considered a sacred plant in many cultures.
The scent is a wonderful, sweet woody smell, and cedar wood is a good alternative to palo santo wood.
Symbolism: Cedar is said to cleanse and purify, while boosting positive energy in a space.
Harvest: Any time of year is okay for cedar
Smudge Tips: Unlike some other smudging herbs, cedar won’t stay lit, simply use a tealight candle and hold the cedar smudge stick over it until it produces smoke.
Be sure to let a cedar smudge stick dry for at least 6-8 weeks before use.
Mugwort/Croneswort (Artemesia vulgaris)
Mugwort is often used in dreamwork and divination, but can also be used to purify and cleanse. Also known as “Croneswort” or “Dreamwort”.
Symbolism: Dreaming, purification, wisdom, divination.
Harvest: When in bloom – late summer, early autumn.
Smudge Tips: Better to burn mugwort outdoors, the smell can be strong and lingering when burned in small spaces. With mugwort, a little goes a long way.
Be sure to incorporate the floral stalks into the smudge stick for the best aroma.
 Juniper (Juniperus sp.)
Juniper is another evergreen that is great to use in smudge sticks. It’s a common landscape shrub and tree.
Symbolims: Abundance, protection home and property.
Harvest: Anytime. Late summer if you want to include the “berries” in the smudge sticks.
Smudge Tips: A juniper smudge stick can take up to 6-8 weeks to fully dry before it can be used.
Pine (Pinus sp.)
Pine has a sweet smell when burned and produces a lot of smoke due to the resins in the twigs.
Symbolism: White pine (Pinus strobus) – Peace, releasing grudges, prosperity; Black pine (Pinus nigra): Protection, good fortune, prosperity.
Harvest: Anytime.
Smudge Tips: It is tricky to get started, use a tea light to relight it. However, once it get going it smokes well without needing to be re-lit.
A pine smudge stick can take 6 weeks or so to fully dry before it can be used.
Cypress
Cypress is another evergreen that is great to make into a smudge stick.
Symbolism: Cypress is associated with death and the underworld/afterlife, so it’s a good plant to use when letting go, releasing, or doing any ancestor work
Harvest: Anytime.
Smudge Tips: A cypress smudge stick can take up to 6 weeks to fully dry before use.
Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia)
Russian sage has a wonderful musky/minty smell, and once a dried smudge stick is lit, it burns until you either put it out or the smudge stick is used up.
Symbolism: Wisdom, knowledge, resilience.
Harvest: When in bloom – typically mid-late summer.
Smudge Tips: Russian sage can get a bit sticky when you work with it, so wash your hands well with soap afterward.
Catmint (Nepeta sp.)
Catmint is another common garden plant that makes a wonderful smelling smudge stick, and is super easy to burn.
It is related to catnip (also in the genus Nepeta), which can also be used in a smudge.
Symbolism: Affection, rejuvenation.
Harvest: When in bloom – typically late-spring.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
According to myth, the Trojan War hero, Achilles, was taught to use yarrow to treat his soldiers’ battle wounds. Yarrow was an important healing herb for soldiers in ancient times.
Yarrow has a mild aroma and burns  quickly.
Symbolism: Healing, protection.
Harvest: When in bloom – late spring/early summer.
 Lavender (Lavandula sp.)
Lavender is a popular smudge herb that can be combined with other herbs (like sage) in a smudge stick, or used alone.
Lavender has a distinctive, floral aroma that promotes relaxation and sleep.
Symbolism: Peace, love, harmony.
Harvest: Anytime, or after it blooms in you wish to incorporate the flowers into the smudge stick.





Friday, 13 March 2020

Trip to Coria and the castle of Trevejo in the Sierra de Gata


A beautiful spring day for a trip to the Sierra de Gata in the north west of Extremadura. An area which borders Portugal with some spectacular mountain scenery and intriguing ancient villages.
The oak woods are just coming into bud, mountain streams, spring flowers and vast views. 
Our first stop was Coria which is just to the south of the sierra, a bustling town with a long history due to its situation in fertile valley of the river Alagón.
 Before the Roman conquest of Extremadura it was known as Caura, during Roman times it was an important trading post surrounded by a wall with 20 square towers and four gates, it is a magnificent example of Roman defence architecture from the 2nd though 4th centuries, preserving some original funerary steles.


The Visigoths established the Diocese of Coria, it was conquered by the Moors in the first quarter of the 8th century renamed Medina Caura, it remained on the border between Moorish and Christian lands during the 11th and 12th centuries until reconquest by the Christian king Alfonso VII in 1142. The Alba family were granted the lands which include Coria in 1472 and continued as an important influence until the 19th century, sadly the Alba palacio opposite the cathedral is in a very dilapidated condition, now home to pigeons and cats.




The catedral de Santa Maria de Asuncion was built on the site of the former mosque in a variety of styles during a period of 250 years beginning in the 15th century in Gothic-Renaissance style. The stone carving is a magnificent example of work by Manuel de Lara Churriguera and Diego Copín de Holanda






The stone bridge below the cathedral was built in the Renaissance but it stands over a riverbed that is dry since 1590, when the Alagón river was naturally diverted from its course as a result of a powerful flood.
It is a pleasure to wander around the quiet streets of the walled town coming across other interesting sites such as the Royal prison and the Ecclesiastical prison, the convent of Madre Dios and castle tower which was built by the Dukes of Alba in the 15th century when they were given control of Coria by the Royal family.


There is an attractive restaurant and café with a garden and terrace in the old Bishop's palace which is now a hotel next to the Cathedral
 From Coria it is another 40kms to our destination, the castle of Trevejo. The journey takes us through some lush scenery, stunning countryside with one big blot on the landscape, a town called Moraleja, really incredibly ugly with a 2km stretch of the most unfortunate examples of 60s and 70s cheaply built shops and houses, just ignore it and move on.
 On a winding mountain road one glimpses the castle high up on the right before entering the village of Villamiel, it's just 2 kms further to the tiny hamlet of Trevejo now inhabited by just 24 people.

The village is absolutely charming, seems to have been organically created to blend perfectly into the wonderful scenery, it almost distracts from the looming castle ruins on highest point of the rocky outcrop. We explore the almost deserted village, just seeing a few inhabitants.


The houses are well kept and tiny gardens thrive with flowers and herbs. There were at least three Casa Rurales, I suppose they get busy in the summer when it might be cooler up here. We were happy to have this lovely little world to ourselves. The walk up to the castle is easy, there is a small church on the way with a separate bell tower and some interesting graves cut into the rock.

The castle is so gothically romantic, ancient lichened walls festooned with ivy, crumbling coats of arms, mysterious stone inscriptions, fabulous views and lethal drops, love it.








The castle has the predictable history for Extremadura, it was built on the remains of a Moorish fortress dating back to the 12th century. The fortress changed hands throughout centuries, from Alfonso VII, Christian King of Leon and Castile, to different military orders. Due to its strategic location, it played an important role during the War of Succession against the Portuguese. It was later destroyed in the 19th century during the Peninsular War by the Napoleonic army in retreat. The remains that can be seen today date from the 15th century.


It was quite hot and strenuous clambering around the ruins so we made our way back to Villamiel for a drink and snack before moving on San Martin de Trevejo, another fascinating village in the Sierra de Gata which even has its own language, La Fala, a blend of Castellano, Portuguese and Gallego.


The streets are cobbled with a central gutter where there is a constant flow of water. Charming old houses with overhanging eves, a central plaza with arcades and a fountain, some cafés and restaurants, a super retro bar that looks like it's been there since the 50s complete with aspidistra.













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