Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Spain - Click or no Click

I’m happy to report that the looming disaster which the previous blog entry heralded has not eventuated. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m in the process of writing up the experience as a short story using the original title of “Two weeks in Niguelas”. Sound familiar? I’m not confident that it’s an original concept but will ignore that nagging doubt. More of that in later blogs (Niguelas 2, 3, 4 etc). That's the Fabled Alhambra on the left and some Arabic decorative inscription at the end of this piece. Granada turned out to be beautiful - any city with a lighting system (below left) as beautiful as this has to have a sense of itself as a thing of beauty.

But for now I am interested in the whole experience of travel as seen through the eyes of the camera. I have been observing myself, my brother, other travellers and tourists and asking the question: What are we trying to capture on our tiny screens? The obvious answer is ‘the beauty of these places’, or ‘memories on film’ or more ambitiously ‘the essence of a place or a culture’.

I take a lot of photos myself; my brother outdoes me fourfold; the wives take almost none. They seem to think that the cultural experience is a multi-sensory experience. They shop, taste, smell, see, hear and think and communicate at the same time – it’s the old women multi-tasking clich√© in action. My camera, on the other hand, can only capture framed versions of this much larger experiences. No matter how artistic the intent, each photo exists only as a moment in its own right. It’s what the image neglects to show which is the real story.

I tried to capture a day trip to the Mediterranean this week (30 minutes from our cottage in Niguelas) but the impossibility of it was frustrating. How can you combine in the one image the experience of swimming in ice cold, blisteringly clear aquamarine waters while in the distance snow capped peaks mock the sun; this combined with a grey pebbled beach strung out before imported palm trees while foreign tourists sun bake half naked beside umbrellas scattered along a half kilometer of beach-front. I failed. Yes I could probably create a conscious photo essay of the day but that would turn the day into an assignment rather than a family day at the beach. The dilema hangs on a question of balance. When am I the snap happy tourist? When am I fellow traveller in shared conversation with my companions about our common experiences? When am I the artist? And when should I put the bloody thing away and just experience the day as it unfolds in all its rich complexity?

What I love about writing is that it is a reflective process which attempts to capture the essence of, or the narrative of the experience at distance. It allows the writer to mull and shape the competing mixture of events of the day. The photographer must make instant decisions and cannot be fully within the experience, always being the observer rather than the participant.

Don’t get me wrong I love photography and get a buzz when by some fluke I capture a special moment, be it a human interaction, a beautiful place, a quirky moment or just the right play of light on a laneway.

I just wish I could reproduce what I have experienced in my head. It would be much simpler.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Two Weeks in Niguelas Part I - Anxiety Attack

Anxiety Attack

Woke up with a knot in my stomach. Felt like I had a hole the size of a dinner plate instead of intestines.
I’d had a good night’s sleep in a room darkened by timber shutters. Even with the sun in full fury here in the Spanish summer the room was as dark as a bat’s cave. I could have slept all day. In fact I would have preferred that.

My anxiety had begun yesterday as we drove from picture perfect Ronda in central Andalucía towards the Sierra Nevada mountain range and Granada. We descended from the heights of Ronda perched on its precipitous cliffs to pass through a beautiful landscape of olive plantations spread from horizon to horizon across undulating hills with blue tinged peaks in the background. We then gradually entered a broad valley reminiscent of the plains of Australia Рbrown, flat and uninteresting. I was excited.

Ronda and its mountainous scenery had been striking but I was really looking forwardvto the rugged Sierra Nevada where I imagined that Niguelas, our destination, would be tucked into the narrow end of a deep valley surrounded on both sides by steep cliffs. It would be majestic. My expectations were further lifted when the road curved eastward and there, revealed for the first time, were the snow capped peaks of the range. Our destination was a mere hour away.

Our path would take us past Granada. We would get a glimpse of this fabled city but would hold its charms for a fuller viewing later in the week. Through a series of accidental choices we ended up on the road we needed, a high speed ring road skirting the southern suburbs. From this vantage point the city was disappointing. There was no sign of the ancient Moorish city I had pictured, only a jumble of ugly buildingsof various heights and block shapes. It was a dull dung coloured Lego city. I could see none of the beauty of the ancient Alhambra Palace I had read so much about.

I had convinced my travelling companions of my choice based on the expectation of an exotic Granada surrounded by quaint villages nestled in the foothills of the mountains.

Now I I saw were endless acres of shabby housing sprawling in all directions and not a village in sight.

We were still 40 ks from Niguelas so there was no real need to panic. To my consternation each kilometer took us past what appeared to beyet another satellite suburb of Granada. Even well beyond the city limits anything resembling a village to consist of a ramshackle collection of brown buildings occasionally marked by a single bulky church steeple.

In the background the Sierra Nevada rose in a series of steep crumbly hills scarred by huge white gashes apparently the result of quarrying. The hills were bare – not a single tree in sight.

As the four of us drove on there was an eerie silence in the car. Mine was driven by a rising panic that I had booked a house in one of these villages for two weeks and had dragged, not only Andrea, but my brother and his wife to share this idyll.

I sensed a disaster looming.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Magpie 19 - Pain

Magpie 18 Click here to view further work by writers.
At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Seville is an exhibition by women artists of Spain. The recognition of women artists as equal alongside their brother artists is fairly recent in this country. Many of the works were inpenetrable to me. One was most perplexing. I'm interested in your take on this. It is a video documentation of a piece of performance art.

A tall dark haired woman stands before an audience. She is beautiful. The stage is empty save for her. She is dressed in a beautiful full length off-white dress, heavily embroidered not dissimilar to a flamenco dress but not with the same degree of ostentation. It is elegant, formal. Her hair is long and secured in a spiral at the back, held in place by black clasps.

She begins.
She reveals a fine sharp implement in her hand. Not a knife but a short pin clearly visible to the audience. She begins walking on the bare stage. It is silent. as she walks she stabs herself numerous times in the chest above her left breast. she does this until blood begins to flow and seep into the fabric of her dress. She then repeats this on her right. the patch of blood is quite evuident now and both breasts are becoming saturated in red. Finally she applies the same technique to her abdomen. A series of perhaps a dozen fine jabs in quick succession to induce a blood flow across her stomach, her womb. Her face shows no expression. she continues walking. She is silent. There is no interaction with the audience. Her dress is now saturated with blood in the three sites. She exits.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Seville's obsession - La Macarena

La Macarena - the Virgen de la Esperenza Macarena (the Virgin of Hope).


I was brought up a Catholic - taught by nuns, had a Catholic secondary schooling, attended mass every Sunday etc etc.

I was a very devout young boy who in a moment of juvenile madness even considered a vocation to the priesthood. Luckily it was a passing phase.
My local church, Our Lady of the Assumption, was lorded over by an Irish priest with a passion for golden tabernacles and hugh golden easter candle stands and other ornaments. The church was small and plain but for the gold. Fr Whelan was a zealous collector of donations to the church - he had a lot of debts to pay off. It's rumoured that when he retired and returned to Ireland so did his treasures but that may just be scutlebutt (in which case I will have to go to confession to seek forgiveness for my sin).

So I am not unfamiliar with the extravagence of richly embossed priests garments and what seems now like pagan rituals worshipping golden idols. I've been there done that.

I was not, however, prepared for the madness, the obsession, with the Virgin Mary in Spain.
I swear (there I go again - something else to confess) that her image adorns almost every lane and wall in the central area of Seville and in particular, ironically, the former Jewish Quarter, Santa Cruz (therein lies another story).

She takes many forms as you can see, each going by a different name but the primary Immaculate Conception image in Savilla is La Macarena (protector of Bullfighters among other things). The highhlight of the year is Corpus Christi when she is paraded atop a huge platform (golden of course) through the streets of the city where she is showered with rose petals and accompanied by bands and men dressed in roman costumes and others wearing robes topped with high conical hoods identical to the Klu Klux Klan but here in black velvet.

Spain (as Portugal) is fiercely Catholic, at least in tradition. Having spent 800 years trying to wrest control back from the Moors to re-establish a Christian kingdom they are not going to let it go lightly. And the Virgin is on their side.

I'm sad to say that the Christians treated the Muslims and particularly the Jews appallingly - not that the Muslims were saints either, but the Christians were fierce (an Inquisition lasting 200 years must be some record).

The Immaculate conception, by the way refers to Mar's conception not that of Jesus. She is deemed to have been born in a perfect state od grace and to never hencefrward to have sinned - not a swearword, nor a temper tantrum, certainly no sexy thoughts about boys. Is that your ideal girlfriend? I'm happy to say I'm not married to one of those.

I am also happy to say I am a confirmed agnostic with a love of the great art which all religions have fostered. Most of the above images are on the sides of buildings and made out of beautifully decorated and fired porcelaine tiles.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Travel - Spain (Seville)


My very good friend Nev B has sent me instructions to make my travel entries more chaty and less of an historical treatise and has given me some guidelines. To that end I can report that there is at least one KFC in Seville but not too many other American chains. The streetscapes are delightfully free of giant M symbols.

We drove into Seville on Saturday with all our navigational technology in hand (maps, two guide books, Mick’s Blackberry tuned into Google maps). We had quite an armoury. We still managed to get hopelessly lost in the centre of a maze of laneways which turned out to be about 3ks drive from here but about 1k by foot. We had to phone our hosts who spoke Spanish and who didn’t couldn’t figure where we were or how on earth we had got there. Eventually they came on foot and saved us, driving us back to our apartment.


The Portugese win hands down on attitude to tourists. The Spanish (in Seville at least) seem intent on being as unhelpful as possible. The tourist office was reluctant to give us a map of Granada, our next stop, and when we asked for two there was a lot of rolling of eyes and sighing. The woman serving (I use the term loosely) us then asked us where we came from. I was expecting this to lead to a bit of chitchat about the weather and the world Cup – but she simply entered us into her database and turned away. Reminds of the French 30 years ago.


We have had one or two nice exchanges but they have been rare. It’s more disinterest than directly abusive. At lunch today I was ordering tapas and three beers. Well was that a fiasco. The barman was proud of his efficiency and appalled at Mick and my inefficiency. It didn’t help when I asked for three beers and help up four fingers. In his eyes that confirmed my ignorance of both the language and my numeracy.


They have a tram in Seville. It’s a big one which runs down the main avenue and connects the cathedral with the University. It’s the only line in the whole city and runs 1.1 klm – about a five minute walk. The Sevilleas shrug their shoulders and mutter about stupid politicians. It’s universal.


Had a great night at a Flamenco bar last night. No cover charge and cheap drinks. We were the oldest people there partly because it didn’t start until 11pm I suspect, and other mature (nice word that one) tourists were safely tucked up in bed (as were Mick and Mally) by then. The Spanish (and Portugese) body clocks are mad. It’s not uncommon to see a family out promenading or eating at 10;30 or 11 at night with their young children.

Churches are on every other corner and vivid images of “Mary” in glazed tiles on almost every wall of the city.

One final story.

A Portugal story - We witnessed a fracas on a tram in Lisbon between the tram driver, a screaming passenger and a “gypsy”. The driver stopped the tram, locked the doors, came down the aisle, exchanged a few minutes of abuse with the “gypsy” unlocked the doors having summonsed a policeman who just happened to be on the spot and ejected the gentleman without, it appeared afull hearing into the matter – though that may have occurred as part of the extended shouting.

To finish off - three words:

Seville is exquisite.

Magpie 18 - I wrote a letter


A creative writing response to the above image. To view responses by other writers to this prompt click here or on the image.
The link with Spain and Portugal? Almost zip - except that I am today in Seville, a most remarkable city in southern Spain. Next week Granada and the Sierra Nevada. More travel blogs on the way.
Magpie 18
I wrote a letter

A young teacher, fresh from college, awward and enthusiastic.
A new career.
A sharpened 2B pencil.
A classroom of 10 year olds
A maths test

To my love

An older woman, full of vitality.
A shared staff room.
An attraction.
Flashing eyes, a willing teacher.
The maths test.
A note written with shaking hands.
“Meet me in my classroom. I’ll be waiting.”

And on the way

A young boy.
A trusted student. The messenger.
“Paul, since you’ve finished first, I want you to run an errand for me."
" Take this to room 6B”

I dropped it

An unexpected fire drill.
The school gathers on the parade ground.
A note disappears, never reaching its destination.
Paul fears he has failed this test.

One of you has picked it up

“I have lost an important piece of paper”
The young man declares to his class.
“If you find it and return it to me unopened you will be let out early.”
Silence.

And put it in your pocket

“I know one of you has it.”
Panic rising in the voice of the young man
Children's eyes darting, guessing, whispered stories.
“I want each of you to come to the front of the class one at a time."
"The rest of you continue with the mathematics test."

“Not you”

“Not you”

The wind swirls a playground full of lunch wrappers and a note towards the Principal’s office.

"Not Y O U"

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Portugal - photos plus questionable commentary

Here's a few images from 10 days in Portugal - in no particular order. (mainly because I can't figure our how to reorder them on this page) The monks in Evora got sick of being rich and lazy and needed to remind themselves and their parishiners of the shortcomings of earthly existence. So they built a chapel of human bones. This is one section of one wall. Fortunately Portugal is not at all like this in general!!Evora is a walled city totally Heritage listed. You can't even change your bowel habits without written permission. They paint thier houses yellow and white which makes ordering paint a lot easier than in Australia. Yellow is supposed to protect from bad spirits.

The Moors loved tiles and geometric design (Islam doesn't approve the depiction of humans or animals) They tile any surface they can find. Saves painting if you run out of yellow or blue or white.Andrea and pigeons and fountain - main square in Lisbon.

Ancient Moor castle in Sintra. You wouldn't want to live there. Too many steps. Too windy. No ensuite to guest rooms.
One of the 7 hills of Lisbon. This tram line takes you to the top. Lisbon loves its trams. I walked up.
There's that castle in Sintra again (on top of the hill). Imagine the difficulties the local postman must have doing his deliveries each day.
A tram - in case you've never seen a tram before.

The top of one of the 7 hills. That's the water in the distance. This garden looks idyllic but in fact was full of beer bottles, disposable cups and wine casks after a big Saturday night. Not all of them were ours.
Well every city needs an arch to celebrate something. In the background you glimpse the streetscape disappearing into the distance.

Central Square in Lisbon from near our apartment. Yes we were central, no doubt about that. In the far distance you'll see Andrea standing in front of the fountain with the pogeons waiting for her portrait.
The main square again showing off the cobble stones. Everywhere black and white cobblestones in geometric patterns. Any city could do this, and what a great way to reduce the unemployment rate. Maybe a century of work across the city ust laying stones. that's flat by the way. It's just designed that way to help the drunks navigate their way home.

At this point I realise how limited and unrepresentative this collection is. But as I am committed to avoiding 'death by powerpoint' I'll leave you there and recommend you visit Portugal yourself. The economy needs your help and the people are welcoming.
Cheers Steve

Friday, 11 June 2010

Lessons from Lisbon















1. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Portugal is the world’s home of natural cork. The international cork market is in crisis thanks in no small part to Australian winemakers take-up of non cork corks and screw caps for even the best of wines. Local vinos in Portugal would rather turn to vinegar than be sealed with a screw cap. Portugal is also one of the economic basket cases of Europe with 10% unemployment.

A cork crisis calls for creativity. So now you can buy cork place mats (what’s new?),wallets, hats, travel bags, aprons, shoes, umbrellas (yes cork umbrellas - makes sense since cork is waterproof doesn't it?), and cork postcards. Any country which can be that ingenious deserves to succeed.




2. Miracles can happen? Or is there something in the food?


Portugal is home to one of Catholicism’s great modern pilgrimage sites – Fatima -where The Virgin Mary appeared to three young girls in 1917. They were given three messages, the final installment of which was supposed to be revealed towards the end of last century. I recall that it was thought it would reveal some terrible secret. There was speculation that it might be a new world war or a pestilence to rival the plagues of the Old Testament. After Hiroshima, and the recent bird flu pandemic (non event) and global warming perhaps there wasn’t much more to tell. Turns out the message was thae there would be an assassination attempt on the pope – which there was. What an anticlimax.
\
Perhaps the girls just had a bad dose of food poisoning or ate the wrong mushrooms? I’m not
sure but the Portugese love a good miracle.

Another one concerns a cockerel who saved an innocent man’s life when it jumped up from the dinner table as the magistrate was about to carve it up and crowed just as the innocent man had foretold. Could be that it was a miracle or could be that the chook was just a little undercooked.


Anyway it struck a chord with the locals and there is now what you might regard as a chook cult across the country. There are thousands of decorated chook figurines and images adorning anthing which will take a transfer - including cork postcards.

Ironically roast chicken is also the national dish.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Portugal and the sea

The Portugese were once a mighty power. They still tell stories of the great days of the 15th to 17th Century. Sadly those days are gone.

Our walking encyclopedia, Paolo, who spent five hours walking us around the city was at pains to tell us, in a self deprecating style, how the Portugese were once the best at many things; that their city was voted the most inclusive in Europe; that for 800 years the christians, the Muslims and the jews lived in harmony; how the revolution of 1974 was the first peaceful peopl'e revolution in history and more than that that the Portugese invented 'afternoon tea' - the queen wanted to check up on her philandering husband and would invite all the ladies of the court to "afternoon tea" if one failed to show I imagine that that was probably the last afternoon tea for you.
Now tea being an east indies herb brings me to the seafaring part of the story.

At Belem west of Lisbon a huge monument celebrates the golden age of Portugal. Belem is the site from which the great sailors (Diaz, Vasco Da Gama etc) embarked to discover the world beyond Europe. It's a big story, too big to tell here but it's a beauty.

This tiny seafaring nation was at least a century, maybe two, ahead of its sister countries of Europe in terms of exploration and as a result, wealth. They were crazy for sailing into the unknown. They were the first Europeans to round the Cape of Good Hope and annexed almost the entire coastline of Africa - east and west; they then took on the Indian Ocean and hit India (not an easy boat ride given that they didn't know where the next landfall was) and proceeded to take control of that coastline from Mumbai around to Burma.
They then continued along the Asian and South East Asian landmass to finally claim parts of China and Japan. As a side trip they included Timor and stayed on for a few hundred years. They did all this without any other trading nation knowing where the hell they had got to. This was 1490s to mid 1500s. They brought back huge quantities of spices, food, gold, slaves - you name it - and made the merchants and the country filthy rich. All this had previously been carted overland and the losses (bribes, taxes etc) were expensive.
Not satisfied with that they then headed southwest fron Lisbon and bumped into South America (now Brazil) and also, though less well known, headed northwest and came upon Newfoundland (N. America) and the fabulous fishing grounds of the Grand Banks.
For the next century the rest of Europe couldn't figure out where all the salted cod was coming from. (for a great story about this part of Portugese history and a telling insight into how to ruin a fishing industry read Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by Mark Kurlinsky). Salted cod is still a popular traditional dish and is offered in nearly every restaurant in the country.

Then they got lazy. got invaded and lost the plot. In 1807 the King (Ferdinand) fled to Brazil for 20 years or so to avoid defeat by Napoleon. On his return there was afeud between the sons as to who the next king should be and having lost momentum and focus went downhill from there.

The moral of this tale.

1. Too much of a good thing will ultimately become a bad thing.

2. Plenty of Ying always leads to Yang.

3. Some things survive despite the odds - salted cod and potatoes; tea and coffee; memory and pride.


And then there's the Moorish history and the terrible fate of the Muslims and the Jews at the hands of the Christian fundamentalists.
Then there was the invasion of the tourists.







Magpie 17 Stoney Faced

Call me old but
I like my women
with chiselled features,
mouths wide open with laughter
and love.

I like my women
with sandblasted cheeks
eyes alive with excitement
and anticipation.



I like my women
with blond(ish) hair
broad foreheads
full of knowledge
and stories.

Call me old but
I like my women
au natural and botex free
with laughter lines and
lively eyebrows
and maybe even a hint of gray.





For more writing by the network of writers associated with Magpie Tales click here or on the image.

Yin and Yang in Portugal


Arrived in Portugal last Wednesday after two days break in Singapore en route. Helene (Chinese Singaporean guide you may recall) introducecd us to Taoism five days ago as we trod the streets of Chinatown with her. I now seem to be constantly having the Yin and Yang experience. Her's a few that have occured to me this week.

1. We arrived in Lisbon and got access to our apartment. It is probably the most well appointed and well fitted out place we could have imagined - and then there was the hammer drill going in the apartment above. As Filippe, the owner explained: 'They are doing some renovations' Understatement!

2. In Singapore the taxi driver who drove us from the airport appeared to be deaf and to have a death wish. 120 ks along the main airport drive. In Lisbon our taxi driver was a darling writing down lists of his favourite cafes and must dos. Unfortunately he did this as he drove. I made the misatake of asking him about the weather forecast. He proceeded to pull out the newspaper and search for the right page while driving - no hands. Andrea was shitting herself. I think that makes this taxi driver experience a Yin Yang Yin.

3. We wanted to go to a Music concert (Fado) scheduled to play at the castle overlooking Lisbon. I went to book tickets. SOLD OUT. We decided to go to the castle anyway for a sunset walk. As we bought our entry tickets we asked about the concert in the vain hope that there might be some spares. YES. WHOO HOO!


4. The concert was crap but the views from the castle over Lisbon and the port were stunning. And the blokes setting up the street decorations for the Sardine Festival gave us a couple of breautiful cotton banners promoting the Festival. Yin Yang Yang?

5. Went out for a meal of grilled sardines (Sardine Festival of course)venturing into the wild side of Lisbon - Alfama. The sardines were great, the ambience enchanting. Then the bill arrived. Talk about ripped off. $1.50 per sardine -forgivable; $10 for a plate of boiled potatoes, no dressing nothing - wait a minute!(Writing a story about this night - keep an eye out) Yin Yin YANG!

On balance though Lisbon has a five star rating from all of us. Its been fabulous.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Singapore haiku for Helene

Innocence

Young pigtails bobbing
courier for opium
Grandparents sleep in peace



Luck

Sticks rattle and shake
Incense curls prayers to heaven
Good fortune follows


Spirits

Father lies dying
Brings bad spirits to this house
Family dilema

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Singapore 2

Travel for me always begins as an adventure. A feeling of excitement, of potential and of discovery. Only later do I realise that in fact it's really about reflection. and self discovery rather than simply learning about other cultures.

Thus my two days in Singapore worked in both directions. Much of my time was spent in the company of Helene who led the two walking tours which I signed up for. Like the best of teachers she made me think as much about Austrtalia as about the Singapore which she was introducing me to.

Helene is a proud Chinese Singaporean (with a touch of Malay) who walked our group through first the colonial history of the state and then into her personal Chinese history. She was extremely well informed about both but her heart clearly lay with her Chinese heritage.

What struck me was the repeated celebration of herself as a third generation Chinese/Singaporean. She had a way of saying it which made it sound ancient. Perhaps this was supported by the fact that we were clearly in Asia.

As I listened I became aware 0f the parallels between Singapore and Australia. That Singapore's history, as we know it, is relatively recent - the British only took control of this trading outpost in the early 19h Century - after Cook and Arthur Phillip had well and truly established Australia as a British penal colony.
Helene's grandparents would have arrived from China about the same time as my paternal Italian side was arriving in Australia and in similar conditions. While they were willing migrants the survival rates were appalling. Only one of her grandfather's 3 siblings survived. In my case my Great Grandmother died on their arduous voyage.
Two thoughts struck me. While personal and national history can be recent, it has deep roots which we sometimes dismiss or fail to recognise. My second reflection was the untruthful way we can present our history when we choose to ignore the indigenous past (Aboriginal or Malay). Singapore was tempted to erase its colonial history when they became independent in the recent past but wisely chose to be honest and own both the good and the bad in their 200 year history, though their Malay origins are not as clearly present..

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

New Singapura



Its amazing what you can fit into two days in a city.
In Singapore we went on some guided walking tours and soaked up the stories.







In Singapura
a city state misnamed
by a myopic Prince
who mistook a tiger for a lion,
wealthy wives of oil executives
lunch at Raffles
on Beach Road
now distant from
its once prime
waterfront views.

Wealthy wives
mix
with wealthy tourists
in acres of shopping malls
where
sophisticated luxuries
compete with tick tack
in garish colours
all made
in factories
in the ancient homelands
of new Singapore

In new Singapore
the old has no value
locals return from sojourns abroad
to find their history
as land fill.
National Libraries
make way for million dollar tunnels,
schools relocate to ease
traffic snarls,
self congratulatory high rise buildings
rise from the ruins
of their colonial heritage.

The Singapore
of Somerset Maugham
is a story told in guide books
and on walking tours
for wealthy wives who
know too little
of Japanese invasion,
Chinese starvation or
near neighbours
once the centre of
empire and
the wealth of nations.


Old Sultanates
forgotten
in the new history
fight for attention
alongside Colonial founders
and stories of
forced labour,
enterprising Armenians
and East India spice traders
in magnificent museums
built on transplanted mountains
and imported sand.