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2015 Grateful 30

Are tattoos to bodies what graffiti is to walls and buildings? I’m not sure. There’s been a lot in the press lately about tattoos and how they colour our judgement of a person who sports them. I’m not sure how I swing on that one, so perhaps this is why I found myself more attentive than usual this week to the tattoos worn in Budapest. For the most part, I don’t give it much thought, except to wonder why anyone would tattoo their face – that’s beyond me. But a couple I came across were particularly fascinating [and this doesn’t count yer man who had Ferencváros italicised across his chest…].

The first was on the décolletage of a young girl of about 18: a blue owl about 6 inches high, with its wings extended to her shoulder blades. It was beautiful, but I wondered how cool it would be when fashion became an issue. A statement that blue would certainly limit your colour pallette although, on reflection, a blue sky goes with everything. But how does she cope with the world staring at her chest all the time? That would freak me out.

The second was a gym-body in his mid-thirties. On the front of his left shin, he had a knee-high pair of hands clasped in prayer. On the calf, he had the beatitudes, in English, although he wasn’t speaking English. I’ve seen crosses and all sorts of religious emblems before, but never a full transcript of the beatitudes. And were I to stereotype him, it wouldn’t have been as a churchgoer but then you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the beatitudes.

But each to their own. I flirted briefly with the idea of getting a tatt when I was in Hawaii one year, but I didn’t. There was nothing original in book I leafed through. And if I was going to mark myself indelibly for life, I wanted it to be with something that no one else had. And that would require more thought than I’m prepared to give it.

In TIMG_0315 (600x800)uscany recently, the graffiti was just as strange, ranging from clever witticisms to painted anguish. For a while it was as if I was reading instructions on how to live my life. I should have come to Tuscany years ago.IMG_0233 (800x600)

I’ve often wondered what goes through a  mind before the spray can or the paint brush or the stencil is lifted? Do they have a design, a plan, a burning need to share? Do they know how a few random words on a wall might impact a life?

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This one in Palma had me thinking for quite a while. I actually went back a second time and a third time to see if I could decide if it was the work of one person or two. It took me back in time to my trip to the Holy Land and the graffiti on the wall in Bethlehem. The sense of hopelessness jumped off cement and stopped a few others in their tracks, too.

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This one, in the walled city of Lucca, the furthest place from Planet Shit you could imagine, had me laugh out loud at first. And then, later, as the heat got to me and I passed it a second time, I had visions of a collective suicide and that sobered me up. Goes to show though, that even in paradise people are miserable.

This week has been a different one. I’ve been (and am) in a strange mood, not sure which end is up. I’m not depressed, down, or dispirited in any way – and for that I’m grateful – really grateful. I’m actually fine. It’s just as if my people plug has been pulled and while I can happily relate to one or two, anything more leaves me completely blahed. I’ve been crowded out. It’s taking way too much effort to be sociable. It’ll take another week of this horrible 32-degree weather before I can blame it on the heat (and don’t you dare tell me to be grateful it’s not minus 32 – that I could live with). Perhaps in this heat-induced lethargy,  I’ll start thinking about my tattoo.

Athenian attitude

I have a long list of places I’d like to see before I pass from this mortal soil. The order changes occasionally, with new ones being added to the list on a regular basis. That’s only to be expected. The older I get, the more I learn; the more I learn, the more I want to see. For some reason, though, neither Greece nor Athens have ever appeared on that list. The whole Greek island thing passed me by after I had my first (and last) sun holiday in Spain back in 1984. Athens for me has always been epitomised by the Acropolis and the Agora – and I’m not much of a one for seriously old ruins.

But if you decide to check with your astrologist to see where your soul would be best positioned on your birthday so that the next six months would go well, and he says Athens, Greece, then you go. So I went. And I learned.

IMG_3786 (800x600)IMG_3897 (800x283)IMG_3782 (800x600)IMG_3927 (800x600)The juxtaposition of old and new in the city of Athens is both confusing and comforting. Wandering though the city centre was like walking through any main European city centre, with many of the usual international chains firmly ensconced on the high street.  The parliament is positively plain, when compared the Hungarian one. And the changing of the guard wasn’t quite as impressive as Buckingham Palace. But stop! This is where I realised that I was tired and in need of a major attitude adjustment. When I start comparing cities, I stop seeing what’s there for what it is. It’s a bad habit, one that I usually have under control. It only surfaces when I’m overworked and my brain loses what little capacity it has to see things without tagging them comparatively for convenience. So I set out to consciously notice.

IMG_3935 (800x600)First off, in Athens store security guards wear bullet-proof vests. That’s something I’ve not seen before. It has to be out of necessity as wearing steel plates in temperatures that regularly hit the high thirties can’t be fun. In the city, both the centre and the suburbs, police trucks park in squares and at intersections, each of which is a mobile riot unit. There’s a heavy police presence, particularly around major international hotels. I’m still not sure if this provided some degree of comfort or just made me a little more insecure. I had thought that the riots of 2010-2012 were pretty much over, but apparently not. When we counted the ninth truck to pass in as many minutes, we asked a waitress what was going on. She shrugged, smiled, and said ‘It’s Athens’.

IMG_3806 (800x600)IMG_3802 (800x600)IMG_3900 (800x600)IMG_3796 (600x800)I was soon distracted though by the many gorgeous churches around the city. It would seem that no expense was spared. All are beautiful; some are jawdroppingly so. And the number of priests and nuns walking purposefully through the streets led me to believe that religion is pretty strong in the city, a religion lived rather than one simply talked about. I will admit to being quite fascinated by the black-robed bearded priests and the look they all have in common, worn almost like a badge of office. I’d quite like to have chat with one of them.  For every grand place of worship, there is a small, simple church that is equally holy. It would be worth walking the city with a man (or woman) of the cloth, just to get their perspective. (Note to self.)

I lit my fair share of candles, said my prayers, and went in search of the old town (or I would have done had I known there was one).

IMG_3904 (800x600)IMG_3908 (800x600)On our way back from the Acropolis, we ended up in a maze of narrow, paved streets which seemed centuries removed from the bland modernity of the city centre. Graffiti takes no prisoners in this town; just about every wall has some sort of acknowledgement that someone saw it in passing and left their mark. The vast majority is urban scrawl, but the occasional gem slips through. Along these narrow streets, cafés and restaurants ply their trade, offering up plates of fish, meat, and rich desserts. The wine was cold, the beer was local, and the service friendly yet unobtrusive. This part of Athens I could grow to like … a lot. Time took on new meaning and three hours passed in a flash.

IMG_3913 (800x600)IMG_3918 (800x600)The layers of walls tell centuries of stories. That no attempt has been made to fix them up only adds to their charm. With few others walking the narrow streets, I quite fancied that I was strolling through a giant book, turning a page as I went around each corner. Yes, there were still some hopeful vendors here and there, but it was nothing like the warren of stalls down at the flea market (which incidentally, is nothing like any other flea market I’ve ever seen – instead of the makeshift stalls and blankets on the ground, this is street after street of shops selling everything a tourist might want). I spent some time in a spice shop and one of these fine days might even try my hand at making souvlaki.

IMG_3921 (800x600)IMG_3920 (600x800)The Agora was on my rather short list of places (3) to see in Athens. The remnants of this ancient market place are quite spectacular. I was slightly amused at the sign at the gate urging me not to take any indecent or defamatory photographs… I spent a good five minutes wondering what exactly had prompted this precaution. The removal of stones I can see. Permission to use a tripod is arguably needed. But indecent photos? The mind boggles. Am sure the spirits of the ancient debaters who used to come to air their views at the Agora are having a field-day trying to figure that one out.

Was it worth a few days? Definitely. Would I recommend it? Yes. Would I go back? I could be tempted.

 

2013 Grateful 4

IMG_8447 (591x800)I’m a fan of graffiti… not the aimless posts of I wuz ‘ere or the the like … but the clever kind, the witticisms, the art. So on that night a few weeks ago, when I crossed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, I was so absorbed in reading the graffiti on the wall that I didn’t really notice the wall itself. Having only just landed, I wasn’t nearly brave enough to do something stupid like take out my camera, but emboldened by some degree of familiarity that came with five days of residence in Bethlehem, I got up early one morning and, accompanied by the very able (and somewhat imposing) MM, headed back to said wall to take some photos.

IMG_8564 (800x600)IMG_8466 (800x599)IMG_8526 (800x600)Bethlehem is contained within parts of what is known as the Israeli West Bank barrier – a division, that when finished, will run about 700 km in total. The jury is out on what it’s actual name is: Israelis describe it as a separation, anti-terrorist, or security fence while the Palestinians call it a racial segregation or apartheid wall. The BBC prefers to call it a barrier.

IMG_8476 (800x599)IMG_8446 (800x600)Right now, the 8-metre (26 ft) wall that runs alongside Bethlehem for about 15 km is an open page for graffiti artists the world over. Probably the most famous of them all, Banksy, visited in 2005 and left his mark on the city. Unfortunately, so early in the morning, the Banksy shop hadn’t yet opened for business (good to see, though, that some enterprising soul is making a living from the art).

IMG_8508 (800x592)As we wandered roundIMG_8534 (597x800), what stuck me most forcibly was that I hadn’t even known this wall existed. Unlike the Berlin Wall, it doesn’t seem to attract the same degree of infamy. Once again, I was reminded at how sheltered I’ve been and how little I really know about what is going on in the world. It’s as if I live in a bubble far removed from anything bad or evil. And while I might read about what is happening elsewhere, I can’t really even begin to understand what it must be like for people living with this every day. For me, crossing over from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and having to walk through the checkpoint was a little exhilarating the first time; an inconvenience the second. To accept this as part of everyday life would, I’m sure, not take very long, but what is lost in that acceptance?

IMG_8538 (800x600)I stopped dead at one point and felt a surge of helplessness. What could I possibly do that would in any small way make a difference? There is so much bad going on in the world, so much injustice, that were I to sit and think about it all, I’d surely go slowly mad.

Tomorrow, I’ll share some wall stories with you – but today, as I look back on the last few weeks of travel and the different places I’ve been, I’m truly grateful that the novelty of packing a suitcase and going hasn’t yet worn off. It might be fading just a fraction, but the chance to see new places, experience new things, and create new memories is one for which I’m eternally grateful.

Note: For a reminder of what the Grateful series is about, check out the post Grateful 52

Editing the truth

I’m a self-confessed pedant when it comes to punctuation. Already this year I’ve written to two companies to point out their misuse of [it’s] to denote possession rather than a contraction of [it is] or [it has]. Lying in close second place to this increasingly common error is the incorrect use of ‘lead’ as the past tense for the verb to lead. When did the world forget about led?

I have an illness. I’m sick. I know. In the time it takes me to choose from a menu, I have automatically clocked all the errors. While I’m slowly getting to grips with seeing beyond them, I show no mercy to native-English-speaking companies or people. I am working on being a better person, honestly. But it’s difficult.

Given the current climate in Hungary and the apparent liberty some are taking by airbrushing people out of photos and perhaps even editing texts and interviews (is this how rumous start?), I was reminded about some graffiti I saw last year in Budapest – down a little street off Raday. I took two photos of it,  one being an edited version. It shows a wish from the artist that the tourist enjoys his or her time in Budapest and goes home happy.

But the full picture reveals a different story: AT (maybe Attila)  apparently simply wants this tourist to just go home. Exclamation mark. End of story. And then he will be a happy camper.

Our perspective of a problem or an issue or a text or an interview is coloured by the angle we read or hear it from – by our own experiences and interpretations. We work with the information we have to hand and all too often, that’s simply not enough. So what then? Do we wait until we’re sure we know it all before making a decision or just wing it and hope and pray we’re on the right track?

According to the Mayans, 2012 is going to be a transformative year in lots of ways. It’s the end of the Mayan calendar for starters. Just a week into this new year I’m already feeling that the focus, for me, is going to be on truth – truth with myself and with others. You’ve been warned 🙂

 

 

Who the f!*$ is Basil?

Like a lot of things in Malta, the graffiti is contained… contained mainly to underpasses and skate parks. The island is not awash with colourful murals, insightful snippets, and entreaties to vote this way or that. And like so many other things, its absence here underscores its presence in , say, Budapest, or Subotica, or Belgrade.

I quite like graffiti and the liberal concept of the external walls of our built environment providing a ready-made canvas for urban artists. Admittedly, just as paper will take any print, walls will take any paint, and a lot of what is written should have been left in the spraycan. Declarations of undying love and affection alongside racist and derogatory comments have no place on our public walls – but colourful murals, invocations of hope, morsels of wisdom… by all means.

Somewhere in Malta there’s someone with some large stencils and a spray can. They sign themselves off as Basil and write not just on walls, but on pavements, like this one, beside the Church of our Lady of Mount Carmel in Balluta. It gives little in the way of clues as to Basil’s identity. Sadly, the minds of many generations have been destroyed by madness. I wonder what, if anything, can be read into its proximity to the Catholic church.

Closer to the university, Basil strikes again. A little more personal this time. And again, I have to wonder if Basil just happened by one day with the spraycan and stencils and decided to pick on this particular wall, or if its location, right by the University, says more about the message than the message itself? Now some might argue that the artistic merit in these messages is minimal, if it exists at all. How hard is it to use a stencil. But then how difficult was it for Marcel Duchamp to put a urinal in a room and call it a fountain and thereby make it art.

Right now, I can’t get the Smokie song out of my head – Living next door to Alice – Basil, Basil, who the f*&! is Basil?