Friday, 30 November 2012

Santiago Montes 1911-1954

Some years ago a close friend of ours in Laredo, Miguel Angel Montes, told us the story of his father Santiago Montes, who was hidden from the the Nationalist police for many years during the Spanish Civil War. While in hiding Santiago learned how to paint and in particular how to make copies of old masters. I felt that this story needed a wider audience and we decided to put together a web page

Here is an excerpt from the web page:

In July of 1936, the Spanish Civil War affects the life of Santiago, who fights on the side of the  Republican Government. When the Nationalists are about to take the city of Santander, he joins the Republican exodus of political exiles to France, but is unable to make it onto the available departing ships.
Santiago uses his skills to repair an unused boat so that a group of Republicans can sail to France, and to safety, as the Franco forces invade Santander.
While Santiago retrieves his rucksack from his home, the boat sails, leaving him stranded.

Read more at where I have recently added pages from an album of portraits which were done in prison by Santiago Montes.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

2012 - Year of Turing Anniversary

I have a bit of an empathy with Alan Turing..he was a pioneer in the field of computers and has always been an inspirational figure.
So what do I have in common with Alan Turing, you might wonder.
Well, the other day a mathematician friend Luis, who works at the University of Cantabria in Santander, suggested that I might want to exhibit my fractals at the Faculty of Science, because this year they were celebrating the Alan Turing anniversary during their Science Week. He convinced the faculty chiefs that this would be a good thing and having cut short our trip to the orient, I was in time to participate and exhibit my fractal images.
Printing of a few images were hastily arranged and today Marisol and I arrived at the venue early to put up the exhibits!

So I am honoured to be in someway associated with this most famous of figures from the computer world.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Travels 2012 - Bangkok - days 19 to 28

We arrive in Bangkok without any hiccups and a half hour high speed and very cheap taxi ride later we are at our hotel where we will stay for the next 9 nights.  Our first outing is to the nearby well known outdoor market called 'patpong'. Place is full of the usual copies stalls  but after all those trips to China we no longer have  the urge to acquire any more watches or bags and its hot like hell. There are also a few go-go girls and men are trying to entice us into back rooms for what is labelled  'ping pong' with sexual overtones. Fortunately we have seen similar seedy scams in China, so we steer clear of those. Later we learn from another Spanish couple that they got stung for large sums of money and had to fight to get out. Phew!

The next day we head for the more promising Grand Palace and the temple of the Emerald Budha. This is a stunning site, the palace architecture is very Siamese, and lovely. it has been obviously kept well maintained, and although much of the interior is closed to the public the exterior is worth seeing. The temple is a great structure, but the Budha statue is tiny and looks insignificant for the size of the hall of the temple.
Then come some small museums, and in one of these, there is a room where we have to remove our shoes, and go up some stairs. Afterwards when we try to recover our shoes, I am horrified to find that someone has pinched mine! There are some pathetic looking flip-flops in their place, probably the robber's footwear, but I don't want those. Instead I walk around barefoot, including walking the streets, although this shocks a few people and is quite a strain on my feet in the heat.
Then follow a few days of intense site seeing which includes a trip to the old capital of Siam called Ayothya, which has some beautifully restored palaces with buildings of Victorian architecture influenced by a trip to Europe by the King. The palaces have beautiful gardens and temple buildings, and the area is full of ancient monuments from the old times. This must have been a spectacular capital, and is now a world heritage site. The trip is concluded by a buffet lunch on a river cruise to take us slowly back to Bangkok.

Then there are more temples to see including the one with the huge reclining Budha, and some others with some spectacularly high statues of Budha. We decide to take in an evening show which promises to be good, as it is staged in a theatre which is listed in the Guinness book of Records, for its big stage. It turns out to be spectacular, with no expense spared, and there are hundreds in the cast, who recount some key themes in the Thai culture in three parts. The stage has flying people, huge mythical figures, entire ships cris-crossing the stage, at one point there is a river flowing through the stage with lightening and rain. Its something out of Hollywood, or the theatres of Las Vegas. Outside there is a replica of an old Thai village, with a canal boat ride and many quaint features of village life. All very pleasant.
Appropriately we have our bouts of Bangkok Belly, but recover just in time for a long anticipated Indian meal at a Punjabi by Nature restaurant that we noticed on the day of our arrival! The meal is miraculous Delhi food, Golguppe, Aloo Tiki chat and many other mouth watering dishes are on the menu and this meal makes up in a small way for the disappointment of not being able to go to Delhi.
We will be back.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Travels 2012 - Dubai - days 11 to 18

Travels 2012 - Dubai - days 11 to 18
So we arrived in Dubai after a few hours of fun and games on the Emitates flight from London. The plane arrived late from an earlier flight so it was on a 'remote stand'. It took the 600 passengers about 2 hours to board the plane by bus! We were late .. the inflight entertainment was daunting with a thousand channels.. the customs agent said to Marisol, Madrid or Barca (Madrid) .. a short taxi ride with the most spectacular Dubai skyline, and we arrive at Maya and Steve's house! We have not seen them for over ten years so its a nice meeting.
                                          Dubai Skyline
On a whim we decide to call the Indian counslate to check the status of Marisol's Indian visa, and discover that all is not well with her PIO card (Person of Indian Origin). We try all alternatives including getting a new visa but nothing works unless we want to hang out in Dubai for a month!
So the Indian leg of our trip will have to wait for the next time and we hastily reorganise our flights and hotels. Then we start going around Dubai. So many tall buildings including Burj Khalifa, the tallest in the world. We reunite with old friends Rima and Mustapha, who are seeking a refuge here from their native Damascus..

The number of shopping malls, luxury hotels is staggering. People must have a lot of money here, although in the old part of town there is also an air of decay that one finds where large population of Indians exist. The Emirates mall is huge, incorporating a huge aquarium, and a comlete ski slope.
On one of our outings we head for the old part and in an attempt to park the car end up near the canal that runs through Dubai. The sun is scorching and we walk around looking for shadows. Suddenly a Sikh man appears and we are ablle to hire a boat, and head for our destination in style sitting on deck enjoying a cruise on the water.
The museum is housed in an old style building complete with wind towers. The speed of change is remarkable. We learn that all the skyline of Dubai has appeared in the last 15 years and Dubai has virtually no history.
Dubai swimsuits on display at a department store

Over the next few days we eat a lot at exotic Indian, and Persian restaurants, with our friends, their friends and we meet Lara, who is on a work related trip from Sydney, where we last saw her a couple of years ago. We take in the huge development at the Palm and the Burj hotel where Steve was project manager a few years ago.
Finally the saturday arrives and we take our leave and in the early morning take a cab and head for the airport and take a flight to our next stop, Bangkok.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Travels 2012 - Oct 18th - Day 9 - The 60th

Day 9
So we arrive at the 60th of Marisol and its our anniversary to boot, so a day to be enjoyed.
Shopping followed by a mouth watering meal at Massala Zone on Marshall Street, then exhibitions at the Royal Academy on Picadilly and Tate Britain in Pimlico.
Finally a birthday dinner with Anil, Hannah, John and Loli at an Italian restaurant in Soho, called Boca di Lupo or mouth of wolf - which is like saying 'break a leg'. 'you are in a lucky place', the waiter told us.
Mewith Anil and Hannah in London

We could get used to this!!
Happy Birthday and anniversary, Marisol and Arvinder.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Travels 2012 - day 7,8 - more art

Day 7.
After the usual morning rituals we headed to the shops and later after a quick bite to eat got to the Saatchi Gallery on Kings Road. Some great photographic exhibitions, but the thing that really made us smile was the huge array of Karl Lagerfeld photographs that take up an entire floor, where all the images have been printed on paper then hung directly on the walls with small pins...exactly the same way that I hung my Fractal images in Laredo. One of the associates of the gallery expressed his concern on seeing what I had done, and said he thought that it was a cheap way of putting up an exhibition. I thought it was quite a modern way to display, and buyers could choose their own frames..never mind we bring progress slowly to the provincials!
Karl Lagerfeld photo hung straight on wall with pins at the Saatchi Gallery

Day 8.
More shopping, lunch at the Cafe Pacifico, which appears to have improved quite a bit! They had a lunch special, where everything was half price! and a glass of wine 1.50, Margarita 3 pounds! amazing for London..then we saw the 'On the Road' movie which has just arrived in London. I was a Kerouac fan, and was one who had read the book with some interest, however the film dissappointed me a bit. There were obvious nostalgia moments, however the treatment of some events was too graphic and in your face, whereas in the book they were passing references. So instead of building an atmosphere, the film spends two hours where the characters are going nowhere and appear to make a nuisance of themselves along the way.
Oh well, I had been looking forward to seeing this but it did not quite live up to my expectations.
Then as we left the cinema and began to walk down Shaftesbury Avenue, someone on a bicycle shouted 'Marisollllll' and came to a screeching halt on the avenue, causing a minor panic in the traffic. It was Wayne Chisnall from the London Biennale group of artists that we used to socialize and work with in the past. He had just bought a new bicycle too!
Marisol and Wayne on Shaftesbury Avenue!

Dinner with Derek and Pat near Regent Street was much more relaxing and enjoyable..

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Travels 2012 - Day 5, 6

Day 5 was interesting..we decided to join Anil in London after browsing the markets around Brick Lane, Old Spitalfields market and the big market at Brick Lane itself.
Now there is something distinctive about someone picking you out of a crowd full of people, however it soon turns to degradation if it happens to be a ticket inspector who boards a bus full of people and comes straight to you and asks to show him your ticket. The day improved soon after that.
We were expecting to meet Anil around lunchtime, however a phone conversation revealed that he was not feeling too well. The cause of this malady was a party the night before when the attendees were stamped on their wrists with a warning that went something like 'beautiful debby f***'s you', perhaps referring to the special punch the hostess had prepared for the revellers! Apparantly everyone had a tremendous sickness and hangover the next morning and had to call the hostess to find out how to cure it. Designer Hangover was an apt description.
Anyway, Anil was late, we ate fast food from a market stall ( Morrocan food which was almost like curries) but it was nice to see him, as that was one of the main reasons we had stopped over in London. We hung around the Bethnal Green area shown around by Anil and Hannah, then headed back home to Epsom.
Day 6
Today we packed our hand luggage to spend the next week or so in London, staying at the beautiful home of John and Loli, almost within touching distance of that famous zebra crossing made famous by Beatles' Abbey Road album.
Two things stand out from today, the first being that Mr Saatchi made a big mistake - advertising his 'New Sensations' exhibition as finishing today, so when we arrived at Victoria House at Bloomsbury Square, we found that the show had closed the previous day!! Not possible, this is London!
Never mind, we had just enough time to head for the Tate where we were meeting Luis and Maruja for art, jazz and later dinner when our hosts John and Loli also joined us.
The 2nd thing that stands out today is a small news item that attracted my attention in the free paper you can find everywhere in London. The first public law suit against American and European banks  for the interest rate manipulations  for the subprime mortgages in the USA. That could be collosal, a total estimate of all such cases could be more than 200 billions dollars!

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Travels 2012 - Day 4 - Cork Street

Day 4 and we headed back into London and we bump into Jon Gershon, an artist we used to know before moving to Spain. We decide to join him to go to Cork Street, where the annual breakfast and Champaign happens during the Frieze week. This year a protest was planned as all the galleries are threatened with closure,  to make way for expensive apartments. So in complete sympathy we visited the galleries, signed the petition, had the breakfast, and met up with other old artist friends (see Mali in the photo)
With Mali in Cork St

Me outside the Flowers Gallery in Cork Street

Then we were off to Marshall street to try some Indian street food at Masala Zone, but not before Marisol had bought a must have pair of shoes at the amazing Irregular Choice, as a birthday present. To get an idea of the kind of shoes see
 this photo!!
The Irregular Choice in Carnaby Street

Later we arrived in Epsom for a dinner with friends, which was number 3 of Marisol's birthday celebrations. There are a few more to go,  in London, Dubai, Delhi and Bangkok.

Travels 2012 - Day 3 - Frieze Art Fair

We skip day 2, which got used up in catching up with various  UK activities and friends in the Epsom area, and head into day 3 which had been scheduled for visiting the Frieze art fair. As luck would have it Anil asked us a few days ago if we wanted some tickets to Frieze, which Hannah was able to get as she was working at the stand of an American art magazine. Did we just!!
So we made our way to Frieze at Regents Park, where Hannah met us with our tickets, an early 60th birthday present. We were soon walking around the massive site and enjoying the huge array of art on display.

This year there are fewer surprises and a lot of 'low-brow' art and the overall impression is not as inspirational as other years. That does not stop us from walking around for seven hours, and take in the topical wooden functional structure where they are wining and dining people with red hair! I am not wearing my red turban,alas, or I may have qualified!
Then there are the galleries from Mumbai, where there appears to be a dead body in a wedding dress, and a video of a performance with the dress, and a project to film ' a murder at an art fair' using the visitors as extras! There is a lot to see and we dutifully walk through each and every booth.
Later totally drained we avoid all entertainment to get back to Epsom and a nice dinner at the home of Fionnuala.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Travels 2012 - Day 1 - London

Ok, so the time is ripe for a short six week escape and to visit a few friends and to see some new places. Its Marisol's big one this  year so this is kind of a big present, but I am sort of tagging along. She needs me I am sure, says I. Its our anniversary too, so hopefully I  deserve this too.
So its day 1 and we have taken Vuelling flight from Bilbao, a few miles east of where we live. An hour or two later we landed at Heathrow, and a short taxi ride brought us to our friend Fionnuala's home in Epsom, just south of London.
The next few days we will be in and around London, Frieze art show, Anil, Indian food, and a few birthday celebrations. Marisol has already had two or three gatherings, including a surprise party which had her shaking and in tears for several minutes! However her big day does not actually happen until the 18th, so there is still time to arrange more celebrations as we pass through different places and meet up with friends and family. The idea this yearis for us to go to our friends instead of the other way around,
So the trip will take us from England to Dubai, to Steve and Maya, then on to India where will catch with family. Then a week in Bangkok, before retrace our steps back to Spain.
I will be writing a travelogue and you all are welcome to follow our exploits as events unfold.
Wish us luck as we head out to enjoy ourselves.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Praying for an equation

A few weeks ago, just before the inauguration of my Fractals exhibition, I went to a neighbouring town where some friends had setup an exhibition jointly with some Italians, and there was some poetry reading and live music, all very nice. One of the poets, read out a poem in Spanish, whose last line really surprised me. It was in English and said 'I feel like praying for an equation'!

Now as you all probably know by now, my Fractals are based on mathematical equations, and I happened to have a Tablet in my bag, with the images of my exhibition. So at the end, I could not resist the temptation to introduce myself to the poet, and compliment her on her poem, comment on the sudden switch to English at the end, and ask 'Would you like to see an equation'?

I was not the least bit surprised when she said 'yes, of course'.

So I pulled out my tablet and showed her a few images from my collection. Needless to say that she was impressed, and I invited her to my exhibition, and to read out the poem in front of an audience during the 'finnisage' or the closing event, where all of my sponsors, buyers and invited friends enjoyed this story and the very same poem.

Thanks to Mar I Bel, some things just happen as if they were meant to.

Monday, 3 September 2012

The urge to forward a mail to all your contacts

Recently I read one of those stories that tug at your heart strings, written by a mild celebrity (and forwarded to me by email), where the writer proposed that ´we reap what we sow´ and suggested as usual that the reader may want to share the mail with their friends. Now, I am normally thoroughly against forwarding anything unless absolutely necessary because it used to be frowned upon as a practice at every computer facility I worked at, along with the use of ´reply all´, and with good reason.
To tell you why it makes sense not to forward something to even two contacts, let me tell you a story..
When I was a child at school, one day my maths teacher told this story to our class. 
A wise man introduces a King to the game of chess. Once the King has learnt the game and is suitably impressed he tells the wise man to ask for anything and if it is within the King's power then it shall be granted. The wise man says that he only wants some rice, and not much at that. He stipulates that if they take a chess board, then place a single grain on the first square, then 2 grains on the next square, 4 on the next and so on doubling the number of grains on every square then he would be happy to take as much rice as the entire chess board might have at the end of the sequence.
The King laughs and says 'Is that all?, you can have anything you want so why not ask for something more substantial'. The poor wise man says 'No, that's all I want'
Those of you who have heard this story before must know that by the time they got to the 30th square the numbers got so huge that the King had to admit that they could not satisfy the demand even if they could get hold of the entire produce of the whole world.
After 10 squares the number was 512 (so far so good)
After 20 squares it was 524288 (still not too bad)
After 30 squares 536 million
and after 50 squares it would be 562 followed by 12 zeros
and still 14 squares to go..

Now lets get back to the forwarding of can see what I am getting at..if we forward a mail to just two contacts and they each forward to two more and so on, we can start a chain reaction which quickly builds to an avalanche of emails that can flood the Internet.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Fractals - Order and Chaos

I have been fortunate to be given the space in a local gallery for a period of three weeks during which I will exhibit a set of images which are collectively known as Fractals. If you scroll to the bottom of this page you will see an example of the kind of images that will be on show. Fractals are often referred to as 'Geometry of Nature' because they seem to remind us of complex geometry of many structures in nature such as the coastline of an island or the cracks in weathered rock formations. Images such as these were popular in the 80s and the 90s, and many books with wonderful images were published.
For the exhibition it is necessary to write a short explanation of what these images represent and it is hard to find the words to explain the process without drowning the reader in complex mathematics and iterative equation manipulation programming techniques. In an attempt to make a start in assembling this write-up, here is what I have come up with...

The geometry of nature - Fractals - Order and Chaos
The images which makeup this exhibition have been generated by a computer program which follows the behavior of some mathematical equations that represent complex dynamics using complex variables. The behavior of these equations is represented by the images where the black regions are zones of stability and order and the brightly coloured areas are zones of chaos.
While mathematicians have known for hundreds of years that these equations behave chaotically, it is only in the last thirty years with the invention of computers and high resolution plotters that we are able to enjoy the chaotic behavior in glorious and beautiful images. The complex planes show self repeating patterns which seem to extend to specific boundaries which take us to the edge of the ordered zones.
When we view the images it is as if we are in the presence of something cosmic and familiar, and this is because many of the structures in nature and in our surroundings behave in a similar way. The coastline, the structures in biology and botany, the behavior of populations and economies, the meteorology, cosmology and the study of turbulence in air and fluids all have elements of chaos which is essentially what we can see in the images in this exhibition.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Langar and the Olympics

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of this post allow me to apologize for my absence from this blog for the last couple of months. Its not as if I had little to say but various projects have kept me busy and although I am still busy with them, I have to get back into the habit of writing so that I don't forget the Queen's language, in which I am most able to express myself.
Langar is a word used by the Sikh's to describe the blessed meal that follows most religious events at the Sikh's temples. All comers are treated to a decent meal without regard to their faith or appearance without any cost of any kind. Now you may be entitled to ask what this has in common with the recent Olympics extravaganza that took place in London. Let me elaborate..
What came as a very pleasant surprise at the start of the games was that one of the relays of the Olympic torch as it made its way to the Olympic stadium in East London, was entrusted to the 101 years old Fauja Singh, a Sikh gentleman who has lately been on the news for running marathons in London, New York and other locations. As if it was not enough to compete with David Beckham for advertisement space, and to receive a letter of congratulations from the Queen on reaching the 100 years miilestone, he must have been thrilled indeed to receive this honour.. Not to be left behind at this opportunity a team of Sikh volunteers declared that to coincide with FS's torch relay run, they would provide 'Langar' along the route, that is to say free food to anyone who wants to enjoy some basic but good Indian cooking.

More about the Langar thing at the end, but let me say that I really enjoyed the Opening and Closing ceremonies of the Olympic games. The choice of using the themes of the Industrial Revolution and the National Health service were strange to say the least, however the conservative party in power would not have missed the obvious digs for the cost pressure on hospitals in England currently. Sir Paul McCartney could also have stayed at home and watched the ceremony from his couch instead of the pathetic outing milking the success of the great music.

The closing ceremony of the Olympics was much more to my liking, with much of the music from my favourites and outstanding performances from Brian May (Queen) and The Who, who should have trashed their instruments at the end of 'My Generation', in the spirit of Woodstock. Ray Davis (of the Kinks who I once saw perform in London at my college in the early seventies) should have stayed at home and George should have quit after his first song, but you cant get everything right all of the time.

Getting back to the Langar, Jasvinder, my elder sister and her husband Birinder donated the Langar the same Sunday of the closing ceremony at their local temple (or gurdwara as its called in Punjabi) in New Jersey, no doubt with the tension from the news of the recent altercation at a similar place of worship in not too distant Wisconsin fresh in the mind of the congregation. After all that has been said on the subject, it is truely exasperating to feel the pathetic helplessness in the face of the US laws relating to the use of firearms. While my thoughts are with the families of those who needlessly lost their lives, I have the warmth of the deed of my family which inspires admiration and brings much spiritual energy to all of us.

Sat sri akal.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

El Camino Day 7 After the finish

El Camino Day 7 After the finish
Santiago is flooded with tourists and Camino pilgrims. There is a great atmosphere of friendship and a lot of greeting for everyone who looks familiar from so many days walking and the evenings spent in hostels and hotels. I too have known a lot of people on the way, and get a lot of smiles and greetings.
We take a walk around Santiago which is full of old monumental buildings. The cathedral and its daily 'fumeiro' is not to be missed. The museum of contemporary art is also worth a visit, notably a Matta Clark installation and an exhibition titled Gravity and Disgrace. The old city is full of life with its shops, bars and restaurants.
In the cathedral area I am greeted by Ceaser, an Indian christian from Bangalore. Later someone comes to tell me that they have seen a Sikh man, and my hopes of meeting Amrit, mentioned in an earlier blog are revived. Indeed I meet the man at the foot of the stairs up to the cathedral entrance. We feel like long lost friends, exchange information, he is also with fellow walkers including a seventy year old lady from San Antonio, Texas. There is more amazement when I reveal that Manjeet lives Close to them in Austin. Amrit and I exchange contact details, Amrit is interested in doing the coastal Camino, which passes through Laredo, and we agree to stay in touch and to meet in Laredo when he comes by.
After a quick bite to eat at one of the many ordinary and disappointing eatries we run to our hotel to collect our packs in pouring rain and to get taxis for the bus station to catch our bus that will take us home.

I have been sending out positive energy everyday from the Camino de Santiago to all my family and friends, and I hope that you all have felt it coming your way..

Buen Camino for the rest of our lives..

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Camino de Santiago Day 6 Pedrouzo to Santiago

Camino de Santiago Day 6 Pedrouzo to Santiago 18 kms
Breakfast was interesting. We stayed at a family home and were served in their dining room..just as well since the place was a good distance from the town and saved us time. The man of the house however became unpopular with the girls when he announced that he would suppprt introducing in Spain the old Indian custom of burning the wife in the funeral pyre of a man!
Soon we were on the Camino and evryone excited by the prospect of finishing. One of the group had discovered that when a group reaches the Monte Gozo, about 5 kms from Santiago, they had to race up to the point from which the cathedral spires can be seen. The first to arrive is declared the 'king' of the group!
Once again the camino passed through beautiful countryside, and we met many interesting people along the way, such as Martin the 'Bill Bryson' look alike American who had spent 6 weeks on the Camino, the Korean couple who had learnt Spanish at school and amazingly could converse easily, and the Australian from Cookstown who appeared happy to be approaching the end. 
I had walked quite fast for a while and was amazed to find myself miles ahead of everyone, and it occured to me that the group had conspired to let me arrive first at Mount Gozo. I was mortified and had this urge to share the honours with the group. I stopped at a nice little church and after about fifteen minutes was united with the group. We finished together flushed with happiness.  
A few kilometers later we all arrived at the cathedral, a wonderful piece of architecture, and flopped out in front of it. After a few celebratory photographs, we queued up to get our 'compostela'. When my turn came and I approached the agent at the Pilgrims Office, the young man looked up from his desk and said to me 'I know you'!! It turns out that he had seen me on the Spanish Tv program Destination Spain on which I appeared a few weeks ago. 
After a week full of so much emotion and tears this was quite a treat, needless to say that we all got our certificates and went off to give thanks and celebrate. 
This has been one of my best experiences in Spain.  

Friday, 15 June 2012

El Camino Day 5 Arzua to Pedrouzo - 20 kms

El Camino Day 5 Arzua to Pedrouzo - 20 kms
Once again we head for breakfast at 0730 and am one of the first of our group to appear with my roommate Fonsi, who is the undisputed fastest and fittest of the group. He is an ideal person to share lodgings, clean, flexible, polite and most importantly quiet! He is also experienced walker so is an important member of the group. All the group members came to India in 2008, on my birthday party and thats a bond that unites us in that we are comfortable in the company, even though there are minor irritations as in any large group. There are ten of us, two couples, four women and two men without partnrs. 
Getting back to breakfast, I notice a woman sitting in the corner of the bar, finishing her food. A little later she gets up and as she passes by she stops and says hello to me. This is not unusual, given my appearance, which attracts attention in most parts of the world. 'You are from India, right?' and when I agree she says 'I was not sure because you look so white'. Not a very good opening but it emerged that this Italian woman lived in Switzerland, had spent some time in an ashram in India, had done some pilgrimages around Dehradun and had walked all the way from her home in Switzerland. We exchanged experiences and stories, she had been walking for two months but finding it less spiritual than India. I had the opposite experience even though we have been out for only 5 days. Having lived in Dehradun myself it was a very interesting encounter.
We started walking through a haunting landscape in woods with tall sycamores in howling wind and rain. A blackbird followed me for virtually the whole walk and I began to get into a trance with the sound of the wind. Remembering the writings of Castaneda, I began to let the wind take me flying up through the trees and to my folks. I imagined being with Dad and Mom, Mamaji, Marisol, and Jito. And I would have sworn that I was hearing Beeji (Grandma) and Angel (father in law) who may have been smiling at me walking along the Camino.
Suddenly someone passed me and wished me 'buen camino', looked at me and although I was totally hidden in a rain cape, said 'are you Indian?' Once again I agreed and discovered that he was too. Vikas, a young man of about 30, from Delhi and his Korean friend were like me following a spiritual quest.    He was a bright Management type from an IIT in India headed to Stanford to continue his studies!  Comforting that others like me believe that the Camino is universal, even though all the symbology and themes relating to it are predominantly Christian.
Only 18 more kilometers left and tomorrow we will stand in front of the splendid cathedral at Santiago de Compostela.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

El Camino Day 4 Melide to Arzua - 14 kms

El Camino Day 4 Melide to Arzua - 14 kms
After a good nights rest recovering from the excesses the evening before we woke up as scheduled and took stock of the injuries. Apparantly people had recovered somewhat and since we had only a small walk today, we did not to visit any medical facilties.
After a good breakfast we took to the Camino in rain with our hoods from the start. Everyone is now so used to the rain capes that its now part of our routine. This stage of the walk came as a surprise in that we walked during long periods through beautiful countryside with absolute silence. All the senses were in full function, and all the natural sounds such as birds, flowing brooks and the blood rushing through the veins were creating a deafening roar in my ears. It was as if the ears were using automatic adjustment of volume in the absence of sound.
I was listening to the sounds of silence. 
At one point I could hear a stream but could not see where it was. I followed the sound and saw a small stream flowing under a head of vegetation with a beautiful meadow and an idyllic place to meditate and forget the world. I wondered how many pilgrims had stood at the very spot and took a few deep breaths to absorb the energy of the spot.
Later we came to a small town and the smallest sounds were deafening to my ears used to the silence. A hedge trimmer was like a chain saw and a car going by was like a plane taking off. It stopped raining, more wonderful nature, a Frenchman with his bags on a donkey, and getting almost runover by a car while I listened to The Byrds' I was so much older then, I am younger than that now with tears rolling down my face...... 
This experiece is infectious and I can see how some people get hooked on doing this for long periods. By 11am we had already reached our destination, and nearly carried on as we could not believe how quickly the walk was over for today. 
We are now 38 kms from the end and two medium walks will see us in Santiago on Saturday!  

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

El Camino Day 3 Palas del Rey to Melide

El Camino Day 3 Palas del Rey to Melide 16 kms
Overnight I slept badly but took the opportunity to meditate. It was as if a TV had switched on in my mind! I would like to believe that in my meditative state I saw my guardian angel for the first time. Seeing her (it was a woman) a lot of things in my life begin to make sense.
My senses are now fully alive and I feel the energy of the travellers on the Camino. Its only the third day and already there are problems with legs and feet in the group. A quick trip to a local surgery resolves the urgent cases and we take to the Camino. 
Today we did only half of a long section so it was a relatively easy walk in the most amazingly gorgeous countryside. We started a bit later than usual, and by about 11am we were already half way sitting in a cafe and tucking into food and drink. Later on the outskirts of Melide we came to a very pretty little town called Furelos, where there was a Roman footbridge and a nice little church with a special display to mark the day of San Antonio. I paid my dues from numerous occasions when we have pledged a contribution to find a parking space (Mr Anthony is the patron of finding things!). Then I said a little prayer and lit some candles, got my compostela stamped before continuing.
Soon we were in Melide and relaxing with a few drinks followed by lunch, by which time the group had collectively consumed about ten bottles of local wine! The siesta naturally followed and thoughts moved to the next stage. Along the way today I came across the following written on one of the road signs that we passed
I am on my own but not alone
I truely love you
And I am doing this for the two of us

 I could not have put it better myself...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 2 Camino Portmarin to Palas del Rey

El Camino Day 2 Portomarin to Palas del Rey 25 kms 
Once again we made an 8am start for the 25 km stage. There were a few showers along the route but by now we are used to them and the rain cape and the hood continue to make carrying their weight worthwhile. The terrain was quite hilly and about half the walk today was uphill, and while this makes for a thorough aerobic workout, it did separate the group once again into two sets, the faster set and the rest who were not too far behind. 
The Stage itself was very pretty but less than the previous day, with a few kms going along roads which spoil the experience somewhat. At one point we were treated to a spectacular rainbow, as if nature was compensating the pilgrims for having to walk in rain. At one point we caught up with an Italian group of two couples, one of the men being of my kind of age. After a brief greeting we got talking and I learnt that Mario had retired recently, rather like me and sought some experience on the Camino. He said he was afraid of what lay ahead in his life but could not explain his reasons, and was hoping that he would feel something when he finished in Santiago. We discussed a few ideas among them the possibility that our meeting had some spiritual significance and perhaps important messages for each other without being aware of what these messages were. 
During our talk we realised that our paths had crossed in the early seventies when Mario had visited London and the same locations which I used to frequent during the same period. We were starting to be on the same wavelength and parted by exchanging emails and agreeing to continue the conversation after Sangtiago. 
There were much less to see on this section, and only a handful of cafes to stop at. We made it to Palas del Rey around 3pm just like on the previous day when we walked about the same distance. After checking into our hostel for the night we once again did a little excursion to find a place to have lunch,  followed by a shower, rest, sightseeing, a drink or two and to bed. Palas del Rey had very little to offer the sightseer, but a collection of Camino walkers looking to pass the time and virtually no locals out and about. Sort of eerie! 
All of us are relatively well and beginning to gain confidence that the physical walk is going to be possible. Everyone has some pain or the other but nothing that cannot be fixed. So far so good, the weather forecast for tomorrow is good, but showers for the rest of the week. Luckily tomorrow is a short section, so virtually a rest day! 
Wish us 'Buen Camino'

Monday, 11 June 2012

Day 1 Sarria to Portmarin

Day 1 - Sarria to Portomarin 24kms
We assemble for breakfast at the only bar open at 7:30am near our hostel, and we are ready to start our Camino. Everyone is prepared and excited to finally start walking after weeks of preparation. We have to pull out our rain capes straightaway as a shower comes down but we have already practised in our preparation. We get two or three showers during the day but not enough to cause any problems such as soaked shoes.
We walk exquisite countryside, the path is well maintained with excellent markings and many cafes and hostels alomg the way. We have a lot of company as dozens of walkers are going the same way as us. Everyone uses the greeting 'buen camino' with the walkers or buenos dias with the locals. We walk at differnt speeds and soon the group is split into two or three sets. We chat to many walkers from all over the world. One Scottish man tells me he has seen another Sikh man called Amrit, who maybe within twenty kms of where we are and the Scot comments 'his beard is not as spectacular as yours'. I am thrilled and look forward meeting up with Amrit. Later I meet a Japanese lady who has been walking for a month starting from the French border about 600 kms away.
Finally comes a casual meeting with a man, which is destined to kindle my spiritual fires. Its only a fleeting encounter as he is the only one walking in the opposite direction, one amongst hundreds. I can only think of asking his name and where he is going and he has such an air of calm and reminds me of the 'sadhus' of India, who give all earthly belongings and relationships to discover the meaning of life and Nirvana. He is Pedro and walking back to his home in Barcelona, more than a thousand miles away. Without knowing why I am overcome with emotion and we continue our walks in opposite directions.
Later, after getting to Portmarin, checking into our hostel, lunch followed by a shower, I lay down and remember the meeting with Pedro and wonder if it was one of those meetings that was supposed bring me a message. I cant help feeling that I have missed an opportunity and perhaps I should have asked him more searching questions. Questions like what he found on the Camino, what were his objectives, what did he feel when he got to Santiago and stood in front of the cathedral and many more. It occurs to me that the Camino must be full of the energy left behind by millions of walkers, many of them highly spiritual, and that I should try and feel this energy and absorb it for my own develoment. Also I should watch out for more people like Pedro and try and get the messages they may have for me.
I have a new excitement for the days ahead, and I am thankful to have this opportunity, which I owe to a large extent, to someone who may not even be aware of what she has done for me merely by not being able to join me on this walk!!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

El Camino - Day 0

It is day 0 and we catch a train from Bilbao and make our way to Sarria where we will begin our walk tomorrow morning. The group is in a good mood and there is a lot of laughter.We go through stunning countryside as we make our way to Galicia.
After a drink and a few snacks ( including a bagful of pistacios) we have a nap - its a long nine hours on the train. We listen to music and keep an eye on the French open tennis final where Nadal is playing  (rain interrupted continues tomorrow) and the Euro 2012 football match between Spain and Italy (ends 1:1).
Finally we arrive in Sarria, get to our hostel, take a walk around town, have dinner and visit a bar for a nightcap. The barman wants me to try his curry and I dont have the heart to tell him its lousy. Everyone wishes us well and in good spirits we head for our rooms for an 8am start and set our alarms.
Everyone is raring to go!!!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

El Camino - beckons

In a couple of days we, a group of friends and I, will embark on a walk of some 110 Km which forms the last section of the bigger Camino de Santiago. This is the minimum that one needs to do in order to obtain the certificate known as the 'compostela' which needs to be stamped in numerous places on the way to ensure you actually did the walk. This last section consists of five stages which we will try and walk in six days.
Why are we doing this? Each member of the group has his or her reasons, mine are:
  • Discover the psyche of the culture of Christian peregrination
  • Improve my own spiritual karma
  • Learn to be for a long period in a group and also on my own
and confront my destiny..what is the meaning of the rest of my life..

I had read many books on the subject and talked to many people who had done it, and recently also saw the Holywood version, so I guess it was inevitable that one of these days I would get to do some portion of the Camino, and with the support of a large group, it seems possible.

What should we carry? As with any project of this nature the goods you carry with you are as important as the walk itself. Having read Bill Bryson's 'Walk in the woods' about his adventures with the Appalachian Trail on the east coast of the US, where he starts off with a pack of about 50 Kilos and by the third day has thrown most of the contents of his backpack away (including that most essential of items - chocolate!), I decided on the light rucksack.
  • Three pairs of socks
  • equal number of underpants
  • teeshirts - three again
Maybe there is a theme building around the number three here
  • One extra pair of shorts
  • A rain cape (sort of tent that covers you entirely) - the heaviest item at about half kilo
  • slippers
  • one light jacket (for the early morning starts)
  • a few toiletries (all small)
  • Tissues - (this also useful for toilet emergencies on the Camino!)
  • Wallet with CC, cash, and some ID - not forgetting the compostela!
  • Pair of walking sticks - these are still debatably optional - might leave these out..
  • Foot creams and some medicines
  • Plastic bags, safety pins and clips to hang various items from the rucksack or clothes lines or whatever.
It s almost certain that we will have forgotten to take something or the other along, that we will only discover when we need it. A long bus/train journey takes us to Sarria in Galicia where we start. Then follow six days of walking and resting at various hostels along the way which we have reservations for already.
People tend to start early, some as early as 5am, but I have a feeling our group will redefine early to around 8am.

For the last few days the bigger outdoor sport shops have been doing a roaring trade with our group, who have mostly never done anything like this so have to buy all new kit. Hopefully most of the things are a good investment, but I cant help thinking of all those medieval walkers many of whom were convicts doing this as a punishment, and who never had access to the big stores selling all kind of stuff to make their journeys comfortable.

I am sure we will be missing all that hardship..I will report from the walk itself next week..and send out positive energies to all of you as I build my spiritual Karma..

Wish us luck and make a prayer to help us along if you can..

Thursday, 31 May 2012

A letter to David Hockney

Dear Mr Hockney,
It was a real pleasure to see your latest work 'A Bigger Picture' at the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. The building can be intimidating for anyone, however the sheer volume and the vibrancy of your paintings leaves the environment on the back foot for a change.
Having lived in the English countryside, your work came as a bit of a surprise, since for the majority of the year the only colour you get to see is green in its infinite variety, lost in rainy dank and dark conditions and grey skies,  yet even your views of winter bring the colours to life in contrast to the reality. Perhaps for a month or two in the summer and autumn the light is enough to get close to the colours of your landscapes. That is perhaps the beauty of looking at the view through the eyes of an artist's imagination, as in this case.
 The Grand Canyon is also painted in vivid colours and once again, having seen the spectacular canyon, the vibrant paintings are a shock for the eyes. Perhaps as the sun sets over the canyon the bright reds emerge, but generally the landscape is more physical than colourful.
On another topic you should be congratulated on your work with the IPad tablet, as I am sure its not easy to control the composition in colour as well as you have achieved. Apple should be paying you for the service you have provided in displaying the virtues of using their hardware and the associated painting application.
Also impressive is the sheer volume of your work on display, considering that each of the larger works are madeup of a matrix of normal canvasses, there must be several hundred elements in the exhibition. I wonder what the whole exhibition is insured for; a wild guess would be in excess of a billion pounds..
No matter what anyone says, it has been a real pleasure seeing the exhibition, and we look forward to what you might delight us with in future..
Yours sincerely

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Winning and Losing

Imagine yourself at the last football game of the season for my local team 'Laredo'. They are currently in the 4th Division. They are very well placed near the top of the table and a win will take them into the 3rd Division. I know this may be a bit dull for those who do not have a taste for football, but it gets better and takes us to a wider view of the 'crisis' mentality.

Laredo is winning 1-0 and its looking good for a promotion, the end of the game approaches and the crowd is in a good mood eagerly waiting for the final whistle. The referee adds on some extra time for time lost during the game for injuries etc. the crowd begins to whistle and shout as this 'extra' time grows to 5 minutes. Still no end..10 minutes added..something is wrong, the ref has gone to sleep? He is not looking at his watch?..the visiting team suddenly score a goal..the score is level..Laredo have lost the promotion..the ref now blows his whistle signalling the end of the game. The crowd is indignant and want to lynch the referee..rightly so.

What went wrong? Rumour has it that the Laredo management reached an agreement with the referee that he would ensure that Laredo do not hook or by crook. Why? It turns out that in the higher division the team has to do a lot more travel and there are no funds available and no sponsors who are willing to provide resources for the team. So its best if the team remains in the current division!

What a defeatist attitude..nobody bothered to tell the players? I am sure if they had been promoted someone might have been willing to provide sponsorship..

Just as I thought that this was bad, the very next evening the Spanish entry into the Eurovision song contest, which was widely expected to win, came tenth. Not as bad as Englebert Humperdink who managed just 'un point' on the evening and was very close to being last.

Apparently the authorities took a collective sigh of relief, because had Paloma won the contest, it would have meant that they would have had to look for several millions of Euros to make the arrangements for the event next year..specially as the facilities for the event in Baku, Azerbaijan so fabulous.

And as everyone knows Spain is going through an economic crisis. Perhaps its wise to lose to live to win another day. I don't buy it!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Virtual Travel

In a week that has seen a multitude of invitations from all corners of the world, I have decided that the best course of travel is virtual. It is a bit of the same thought process that went through the previous post about Art Collection...that is, if its in your mind then it must be as good as..or the next best thing.
First there was the invite for the Frieze New York, which together with its satellite events would be worth a visit considering the Frieze events we have been to in London. Then came an invite from our London Biennale artists friends to go to the inauguration of the London Biennale events in London this year. More recently an ex colleague who moves from Poland to Mumbai via London asked me to join her in London for a drink! and if that was not enough another ex colleague in Shanghai asked if we would be coming to China anytime soon, so that we could get together. With prospects of a holiday in Mallorca, or a 100 Km hike down the Camino de Santiago also on the cards you can see where virtual might hold its charms.
By this time I was feeling a bit worn out already..
Since we do have a few commitments locally, I am afraid that its going to be an exercise in imagination. Now I would give anything to sit in a street cafe in Cairo or Istanbul watching the world go by or kids flying kites or whatever you are supposed to do in such establishments, or indeed get as far up the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (its reputed height makes me dizzy just thinking about it) to get a spectacular view of the desert and the sea, and to feel the scary significant movement that by my calculation the Sheikh must feel in his imaginary apartments atop the building, however I must resist the temptation and wait for a suitable opportunity...ugh that dreadful phrase 'a suitable opportunity'.
Now I do have the time and could save up the money to do all these things, but with the weather improving in Northern Spain, and no urgency on taking on this travel all at once, I would happily join you in an imaginary world and drink a toast to your health and/or have a drink/coffee in the cyber bar/cafe of your choosing!!
Best wishes to all and Sat Sri Akal.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Collecting Art

This is a sore topic specially if you are an artist in most parts of the world. Usually you have to invent increasingly devious methods to tempt people to buy and collect art. A gallery owner in Santander told me that in its home city there were hardly any buyers. He had at most six or eight regular buyers, and that to survive he had to travel far and wide mostly to other countries to engage artists and organisations in projects which kept his gallery afloat.
Increasingly its becoming fashionable to hold discussions with art critics and curators and the odd collector to change views and to try and create an atmosphere where art collection might hold some attraction. In Spain specially where people rarely entertain at home, its more usual for people to buy a nice car than to buy art works to decorate one´s home.
It is no wonder that for virtually 99 percent of artists its impossible to live off their art output.
So it came as a welcome change to hear that the Christie´s auction yesterday sold Munch's famous painting (one of a set of four in existence) called The Scream for a world record sum of 120 Million Dollars.
Nice acquisition for someone although I have to say the painting does not excite me in any way and I would have found more useful ways of spending the large sum of money, but I guess that the buyer would probably not display it and have it under lock and key to sell it someday for a much bigger sum.
You might recall that a few years ago another version of The Scream owned by a museum in Norway or Holland was stolen for a time. Rumour has it that while the painting was missing its place on the museum's wall was left empty with a notice that the space belonged to the missing painting. Even so the number of visitors who queued to see the notice and the space of the missing painting were considerably more than when the painting had been in the museum. Interesting how us humans react to different happenings. Does a famous painting ever have to be seen to be enjoyed? We have in our brains a mental image of the painting and we just have to close our eyes and see it whenever we want. 
With this idea I once created a small space at an art event in London, and named it 'Imagenary Museum'. The word Imagenary was intentional distortion of 'Imaginary' since the concept involved the above mentioned Image. The small room had two small cards on the wall. One said 'Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci on loan to the Louvre in Paris' and the other 'Guernica by Pablo Picasso on loan to the Reina Sofia in Madrid'. I asked many of the visitors to the exhibit what they thought, and usually they volunteered that they thought it was a joke.
I then asked if they actually had visualised the painting when confronted with the contents of the cards, and each and every one said 'yes'. There and then the penny dropped and they left with smiles on their faces, much to my satisfaction. Of course I could not sell my work and would have had an equally difficult time trying to live off those kind of ideas!
For me, the real fun is to see what we cannot imagine, through the eyes of an artist that no one has heard of, who thinks of a fresh way to show us something that moves us.
I would much rather buy an art work that comes with a story attached that I can enjoy by buying it and having it at home with me. In this world where the art market is controlled by a few Galleries and 'Collectors' the real gems are to be found in the art fairs at smaller venues, which need to be nurtured for reasons other than investment and financial gain.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

April Showers or 'Abril Aguas Mil'

Rain...more rain and then some more
And now wind and more wind
The region has been under a blanket of rain accompanied by gale force wind for weeks. It seems that its never going to clear..and god knows where all this cloud wind and rain is coming from!
Thought this only happened in England, but no, its the same in Northern Spain, at least in April.
Now the famous saying 'April Showers' is coming true here except that in our case you can add both continuous and torrential as in 'Continuous and Torrential April Showers'. The Spanish version in the title literally translates to 'April waters thousand' and roughly means 'Thousands of Showers in April' except that Abril rhymes nicely with Mil.
To get out of the rain yesterday we went to see the movie of 'Hunger Games'. Having read the books last year, when Manjeet gave us the Kindle versions, we knew they could be spectacular, as the current glut of reality shows have given the film industry plenty of experience in setting up something like this. But having read the books was both an advantage as well as a downer. The advantage being that many key points of the story were not treated very well so one knew from the reading...however knowing how it all ends affected the surprise and tension that the non-readers may have enjoyed. It was also quite long as I  was reminded by the aching knees when we finally got up to leave. Old Age!
Life goes on..I thought I would have a go at translating some Spanish art related documents into English, and that has tremendously increased my vocabulary of art related expressions. And to top it I was paid too..not much but cant complain. I can now put together statements such as ' The work of X has a spiritual quality and one can feel the energy that emanates from it, result of a somewhat disturbing view of a search for identity that the artist has portrayed'. Or ' A more ornamental and clear way of composition reveals a characteristic use of colour, full of rhythm and vitality which shifts the thematic definition of the work in the interest of obtaining a richer reality. '.
If that was not enough I thought I would take pity on a friend who had shot about six hours of video during a trip to India and now did not have the patience to sit through the overlong footage. Having learnt a thing or two about videos and editing I took his video footage and reduced it to a one hour documentary that is much more watchable. I did have an ulterior motive as you migh be forgiven for suspecting. The trip was made during my birthday celebrations and the video contains a considerable section that record the birthday party, where everyone came dressed in Indian clothes.
Some of you may well have been present at that memorable event now more than three years ago, when I sent out invitations to the party with the shocking revelation that it was to be held in far away Delhi. Very convenient for those who were already in Delhi of course.
Anyway I hope Fonzi likes my editing..

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

I saw you on the TV!

Its the morning after the TV program went on the air..
Not just any program but one in which they record histories of several people who have come from other parts of the world to live in Spain. Last night's program included my own story. Elsewhere on this blog there is an account of how producers of the program called 'Destino España' or 'Destination Spain' came to spend a day with me and shot several hours of film. This was then reduced to a seven minute segment to be included in the program last night on Channel 1 of the national Spanish network.
Well, arrived the hour, midnight and about ten minutes late, the program started. Everyone who knew me was aware of the time and the date of the program and we did not know exactly when in the program my turn would come.. We need not have worried as it turned out that my piece was first up, which meant that those of us who are early sleepers could get off after about the first ten minutes!!
The seven minutes passed in a flash, and we felt that it was so short after the long period of filming. Seeing it later at leisure on the internet it appeared much longer. We had absolutely no prior knowledge of what it would look like. In the event the IM Communications team did a very good job and the action flowed smoothly including all the main stories. 
The stories about the photogenic nature of the Spanish cities and landscape, the celebrations in the street when they thought the world was going to end with a collision involving Hailley's comet,  and the one about the Sikh clothesline on the moon have all survived the cut. I find hilarious and laugh at the encounter with our friends at a local bar (La Dolce Vita). MariCruz tells the story of my ability to grab the attention in any situation. She cant resist the 'This Indian is with us' to get the girls in a Tourist Information Office to concentrate on her questions!! What, me worry?
The video can be seen from the Spanish TV's Destino España website. Click here.
The first phone call from friends and family comes about five minutes after the program ends even though it is 1 am, well past most people's bedtime.
Now its the day after..and virtually everyone we meet on the street, looks at us (Marisol is also very much part of the whole video sequence) with a knowledgeable look, as if they know us a lot better. There are smiles and people stop us to say that they had seen us on the TV program last night, how much they had enjoyed it and that they loved the program. We play a guessing game of 'yes', 'no', 'maybe' as we make eye contact with everyone we pass.
There is a continuous stream of emails from our friends who have seen the video and liked what they saw. Some of these mails are from people we knew more than thirty years ago! They have managed to look up our emails from the Internet.
We have sent out links of the website where it can also be seen but of course the dialogue is all in Spanish, which will make it impossible for the Indian side of the family to understand the conversation.
We may have to construct a video with subtitles in English.
Basking in the sunshine of the attention...lets hope it remains good.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Travels of Marco Polo

Almost eight centuries ago Marco Polo wrote (or perhaps dictated in a prison cell) his accounts of his marvelous travels to all parts of the world. In many schools these accounts are essential reading, however my own schooling never came across his works. That is until now..even though I have long ceased to attend regular schools, nevertheless I thought it was time to read the potentially exotic accounts of MP.
I managed to locate a Vol 1 of the travels translated by Henry Yule and with commentaries by Henri Cordier from about 1920, at the Kindle store on Amazon. This first part of the travels deals with the long travel route from Turkey to Mongolia and finally the court of Kublai Khan in China.
Its a strange writing style, with brief chapters often no more than one or two paragraphs. However this use of few words by Marco is more than compensated by the copious notes provided by Mr Cordier. There are interesting anecdotes about many of the cities that Marco travels through and often Cordier points out that Marco never went to a city that he is talking about. As one would expect about description of long stretches of central asia with an endless list of small towns, there is a lot of dull descriptions and Marco tries hard to report at least one interesting event or monument in each place. On the whole I think he could easily have given the central Asian areas the miss as they were nothing but vast spaces of sand and rock and dilapidated towns and cities (with perhaps one or two exceptions) and concentrated on the few centers of civilization.
Two or three reports are amazing
One of them relates to the story of the three kings who are supposed to have come from the east when Jesus Christ was born. Apparantly there were tombs in the city of Saveh (In Persia near Teheran, also known as Sava or Savah and described by many as a heap of rubble) where these kings were supposed to be buried and there were local folk tales relating to the events at Christ's birth. Later the history tells us that the bodies were removed and the relics brought to Europe.
One of the local tales reveals that the three kings brought three gifts to test the personality of the newborn messiah. The idea was that they would offer frankincense, myrrh and gold to see which present would be chosen. If Jesus Christ was to be considered a king then depending on which present he chose would reveal if he was God, Physician, or an earthly King. However the test became confused when all three presents were accepted.
In return the kings were given a wooden box, which the kings did not see the contents of until they  had returned home. It supposedly contained a stone, and believing it to be of no value they threw it away into a well. They say that a lightening or a ball of fire descended from the sky and set this stone alight, and the kings realised their mistake and recovered a part of this stone, which remained burning for centuries in a church with a sect of devotees who always prayed to this fire. Perhaps Marco got confused with the other fire worshipping communities of Zoroastrians and Magians, that may have existed in his time.
Another story relates to the palace of Kublai Khan, who apparently had people who would be entrusted to find six hundred of the prettiest girls every year, and the Khan would sleep with six of them at a time, changing to a new set of six every three days!! Nice one Kublai Khan.
And then there was the masterstroke of paper money that the same Kublai Khan invented. Made from the bark of a tree, totally black with a royal stamp, this money was used more or less like money today with (as I understand) one crucial difference, that the only way to get this money was by exchanging your valuables like gems and gold for this money at the royal mint!! MP says that with this little provisor virtually all the gold and gems in the country ended up in the royal treasury!! 
No wonder he could afford all those ladies ;-)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The highs/ups and the lows/downs

Its been a strange few days..last Thursday morning (today is Sunday) we woke up with 3 Centigrade and deep winter. Friday morning saw the thermometer showing 20 degrees and people were on the beach in force and some were even swimming.
Saturday and Sunday continued to be scorchers and its time to start believing that summer has arrived early even though we have just begun Spring (22 March). But this happens every year when a few days of good weather gets us chucking winter clothes into storage and begin to don sleeveless shirts and shorts. Then a few days down the line suddenly normality reigns and we end up with colds and coughs.
To change the subject a bit, spare a thought for our favourite Indian cricketer Sachin Tendulkar who last week reached the impossible landmark of scoring a hundred centuries in International cricket, something that no one has come even close to doing in a career, but (yes sometimes there is a niggling but) the Indiam team lost the match and that too to lowly Bangladesh! After the win at home agains England and debacle of the matches series in Australia I am beginning to think that something is going on that does not make sense. The Indian team has been having a lot of ups and downs.
And now for something completely different (Monty Python) .. today Manjeet (#1 son) pointed out something about the Ferrari Formula 1 cars  and the standings of the drivers after today's hectic race in Malaysia. What he stated is (and I quote)
'Alonso:35 points (top of the driver standings), Massa: 0 points (tied last).. and it's the SAME CAR!'
Figure that one out!  Come on Massa - start racing!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Destination Spain

Spain's state television RTVE had been calling me during the last nine months to see if I would be interested in participating in a program which is quite popular here in Spain. The program called 'Destino España' goes out every Tuesday night and shows several foreigners who live in Spain. A seven minute video of each participant creates a  brief sketch of their lives and tells their story.
For one reason or another, usually because I was not available on the dates that the TV network were recording in our area, I had not been able to participate until now, but finally this week everything came together and Marisol and I prepared ourselves for the recording session which would last virtually all day. The two network men, Alberto and Pep, showed up punctually at half past nine and the action began.
Alberto was the one who would talk to me and ask the questions, and I was told to always look at him and not at the camera when talking, while Pep would run the camera which looked like it weighed a ton. How he managed to keep it on his shoulders through the whole day is beyond me. We hit it off right away, which was fortunate as it made for a very enjoyable day.
We had discussed a rough outline of the items we would include in the program, so we started more or less straight away. First on the list was me tying my turban, which Marisol and I had some misgivings about. However a chat with Dad in Delhi convinced me that it should not be a problem. The turban tying was followed by a little religious ceremony which included reading a few verses of our holy book ´Guru Granth Sahib´. There were quite a lot of questions and answer sessions about my childhood, the student years and how I met Marisol and the rest of our lives. They wanted to know all about our choice of coming to live in Spain and how we were getting on.
After a few shots of the family photos and Marisol´s art objects at home, we took to the streets around Laredo. First on our schedule was the tunnel which links Laredo to an old attempt to build a port on the far side of a big hill. And soon it was time to head for the beach and a rendezvous with someone who was going to show me how to ride a cart with a sail known formally as kart land sailing. The TV folks had asked me if I wanted to do something during the day that I had never done before and I had scratched my brains for something interesting. Finally decided on the cart sailing which I had seen on the beach and thought would be kind of fun.

Unfortunately there was very little wind, something unusual for Laredo where it is usually quite windy specially on the beach. However not to be thwarted we resorted to a few helping pushes which gave me enough of a momentum for a few video sequences. I was also strapped with cameras front and back so that they could record my view of the ride.
By this time we were ready to keep an appointment with a few friends at a local bar. Many of our friends, amongst them several who actually came to India on my 60th birthday, had agreed to meet at a given time to participate in the video shoot. Still I was pleasantly surprised to find about twenty five of them gathered to greet me and to say nice things! A few drinks, some snacks at Manu's bar La Dolce Vita, complete with Montse's famous toast (arriba, abajo...) and we were ready for lunch.
After lunch we walked the streets of the old town, recording the main tourist points such as the old gates in the medieval wall, the main church, the port and the houses where the Queen Isabel and her daughter the famous Juana la Loca are supposed to have stayed. Astoundingly the year in which this happened was during the life of our first Guru, Guru Nanak Dev Ji! I gather that this is not a very commonly known fact around this town..
To finish the program we headed to the top of Laredo's own hill known as Atalaya, which has panoramic views of the town, its beach and the surrounding areas. As we shot the closing scenes it occurred to me that our families had gone far and wide and that we were connected from Australia to the United States, and that it is quite far fetched from my childhood to where I have ended up. I recalled the often quoted tale invented by someone with a gift for comedy, about the US Moon mission, that when they arrived on the moon and after the famous '..a giant step for mankind' , they found a clothesline with a Sikh's clothes hung out to dry!!
We are everywhere..

Now everyone around the town knows that I am going to be on this program sometime soon..

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Beings of Light - an installation created by Marisol Cavia

I have to say that every new artwork that Marisol creates, invariably involve the use of, and hence the purchase of something unusual. In the past she has required rat traps (sourced in an Indian market), hair pieces that weighed more than twenty kilos each (sourced in China) and thousands of sewing needles (also obtained in China). By the nature of where she obtained these items, they had to find their way to her studio through transportation on planes, in the luggage, and it is uncertain what the customs authorities would have made of them had they made careful examination of the luggage that contained these items.
In the latest work from Marisol, called Beings of Light, she has once again opted for the use of some equally unusual components. Rubbing shoulders with photographs and textile is a child's pram and a translucent balloon of  serious size. She describes the work as a representation of the aura that emanates from and surrounds all beings. The work was created to be exhibited in Leon, and she has stated that the inspiration of this work came from the colours and light that one sees inside the Cathedral of Leon, when the sun shines through the spectacular coloured glass windows of the Cathedral.

She explains that the aura which she has captured through the use of a program that processes images (of people who agreed to have their images included) snapped through a digital camera, appears in the form of all kinds of colours which change as our feelings and thoughts change. The colours are associated with characteristics which are often described in works on the topic of aura, and the installation shows many of these aura photographs together with a display of the characteristics for some of the colours.
The installation is in two parts displayed side by side. The first part depicts the aura of a newborn child and it shows a pram from which a white balloon emerges which has associations with pregnancy and childbirth as well as the emerging aural energy which being white represents purity and innocence. The balloon is back lit from the recesses of the pram which gives the piece its 'light'. The second part consists of the photographs of adult auras which are displayed captured in glass jars, whose covers give off halos generated by the clever use of lighting. There is a digital display of photographs as a slideshow and a cloth that has been covered in a variety of colours with words describing the characteristics of each colour. A brief explanation informs the viewer that the colours used come from the Hindu festival of  Holi, which is a celebration of life and is held the springtime in India.
In Leon at the well known Vela Zanetti Gallery, her installation formed part of an exhibition of work by a group of London based Spanish Artists known as SAL (which stands for Spanish Artists in London). Needless to say the pram and all the elements of the installation had to be transported to Leon from her studio in Laredo, about two hundred miles away. Later the same exhibition was moved to Laredo at the Sala Ruas, for which all the work in Leon had to be packed into the back of a small car. It helped that we had experience of travelling on Ryanair and often had to pack our cases with careful use of space.
Public response to her work has been interesting, since this kind of conceptual art is not so common in the communities where it was shown. People of all ages made positive comments. Young people found the use of the unusual materials intriguing, while adults appreciated that the work was different from the traditional view of 'art' and that one had to think about the concept to grasp its significance fully.
Later this year Marisol has another exhibition planned. If her past work is anything to go by, it should be interesting to see what she comes up with next.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Carlos and Liliana come for a short visit

How much can one pack into a single day?
Apparently a lot if you are Carlos and Liliana, who came for a whirlwind visit. They were with us for less than two days, but a catalog of what they managed to squeeze into this time is phenomenal.
They started in Guildford in Surrey, England. They whirled around to Stansted Airport and checked in for a Ryanair flight to Santander. The usual preocupations on a Ryanair flight, overweight, reorganisation of contents of bags to avoid having to fork out exhorbitant amounts of money, rushed to grab a seat and finally arrived in Santander.
We picked them up and we rushed straight to Kiko's birthday bash. Friends, food, wine, dancing and around midnight we headed home and rest. Next morning assembled artworks for the exhibition to be inaugurated later in the evening at the Ruas gallery. Two phone interviews with local radio stations, lunch at the Marine company restaurant, a little rest, then off to start the exhibition. Speeches by politicos, Marisol and the visitors, lots of people on a freezing night, lots of networking and art talk, wine and food, followed by a large group moving to a bar for more wine and tapas. Again arrived home after another late night.
Next morning after breakfast, drove off to Bilbao to take in the Guggenheim museum, a coffee and we said goodbye.
Phew now we can relax for a few hours!