Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A day in Darcyshire

for Miss Lydia.

I took my first proper walk in Darcy-shire (or as it is known to non Austen-ites, Derbyshire) today and as with anything Darcy related it did not disappoint.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, the fields were green and I set out on a picturesque morning with no plan but high hopes.

Sure the air was icy, the wind was fierce enough to keep the flags (English and Pirate?) flying and blow my hat off once or twice and the way forward was far from clear, but after a false start or two- where the way was lost (to me) in open paddocks I found a promising path.

I admit that I am still a little disconcerted by the English form of 'footpaths' which consist of an occasional arrow pointing through a hedge and off into the distance through miscellaneous farmland. A girl with any sense of adventure, and no particular plan or map, will have to follow along as best she can, though it may sometimes send her awry.

And a girl with no map may wish she new a landmark or two to help her decide when it is the right moment to give it up and turn back, or should she perhaps take a look around one more corner, over one more hill in her search for home, or palatial manor in need of a Mrs, or at least a still operational pub.

Although I found non of these things as I zigzagged across paddocks looking for path markers I did find mud enough to dirty Elizabeth Bennet's petticoats shockingly, hills enough to make Maryanne Dashwood swoon and Fanny Price delight and plenty of paths for Mr Darcy and Elizabeth to get lost on.

Luckily I had left my petticoats at home and the mud did not worry my hiking boots too much, I managed not to twist my ankle on any hills, which was fortunate as there was no devilishly handsome Willoughby in attendance to carry me dramatically home; and although I had no beau to help me over rickety stiles, I managed well enough on my own.

I did find plenty of produce along the way, free range eggs for a pound, apples for the picking, chickens for the poaching and a field bursting with corn- though I resisted my inner Hobbit and did not pocket any corn or chickens for my dinner.

Cresting a hill I sensed I was re-entering the world of cars and houses and my no-sense suggested I had come full circle and would soon be making use of my own amenities. Alas my sketchy calculations were mistaken and my home was nowhere to be seen. I crossed the road and plunged down another public path, passing an unfriendly dog I quickly climbed a gate, putting it firmly between myself and the dog and persevered until my up-till then handy markers vanished and hunger got the better of me.

Icy wind penetrated my defences as I ate my lunch perched on a damp log, that and the building site in the distance popped the happy Austen bubble I had travelled in all morning and I decided to cut my losses and turn back. I headed for home before the dark clouds could fulfil their promise of rain and the romance of the day wore off completely.

Returning home I balanced a mornings rambling with a hot bath and a few pages of my Jane Austen biography, followed by a hot (second) lunch, embroidery and some BBC Pride and Prejudice couch time.

But much as I enjoyed my immersion in the world of Austen from within the walls of my little Derbyshire cottage, nothing compares to walking with her along the narrow country pathways with the wind in our hair and mud on our boots.

 We will be out again very soon.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Another City, Another Story

I've been travelling for a little while now (4 months and counting), and lately I've had days where I get utterly worn out wandering about in yet another unfamiliar city. It's all noise, anonymous people, dirt, tourist souvenirs, too hot, too cold, blah argh get me out of here and to quote the great Paul Kelly “every fucking city looks the same.”

But on other days I can happily break new ground; and wandering from the library to the park to a gallery and a coffee shop feels just right. I soak up the stories, the grand old buildings, the art and the history of the city and I remember why cities are interesting places to inhabit; because every place has its own story and no city is the same.

On the streets, first impressions:

Venice- an abundance of brilliant surface detail, buildings, waterways, bridges; you could wander happily amongst churches and cafes for days on end and never glimpse a true Venetian, never see beyond the mask the city puts up for the tourists.

Edinburgh -wears its history proudly for all the tourists to see, the Golden Mile is bursting with ghost tours and kilted bagpipers, and everywhere you look there is another historic and stunning castle, kirk yard or blackened monument to photograph.

Dublin- Around Merrion Square the houses are laden with plaques marking past happenings, Schroedinger worked here, Oscar Wilde lived here ect. every other building tells of the cities proud history of literary, scientific and artistic achievement.

Belfast- The plaques and murals on the walls memorialise killings and killers. The history of violence and division can be seen in the walls still standing and the gates that still close every night dividing up the residents of Shankill Road and Fall Street. These are two sides with two distinct stories sharing one city.

As I've wandered about seeing the sights I've come across artists who are also in conversation with the city streets, using them as material, as a stage and a place to find an audience.

Art – taken from the streets: 
This could be a place of historical importance.
Braco Dimitrijevic's wall plaque at Dublin Contemporary 2011 was a great reminder of the blinkers we put on when we only look at a city the way the tourist board wants us to.

Low Road: 
Another artist asking us to look at city streets differently is Ingrid Calame, an American artist whose work I saw at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. In this body of work she has taken tracings directly from the street, and using those nothing marks we walk over every day as the starting point for her work she draws our focus to detail which usually goes unnoticed underfoot.

Path Art: 
Also in Edinburgh I came across h57collective a group of artists and non-artists creating an alternative art space on the trees along Jawbone Walk . This thoroughfare, which is more likely to be used by local students than tourist hordes, places art alongside weekend soccer skirmishes and ultimate Frisbee collisions in the Meadows. The work, exposed to the elements is there to be seen, changed by the weather, added to by a passer by and perhaps even taken home in somebody's pocket.

Inside and Out: 
Dublin graffiti artist Maser's piece Emancipate Yourself is at Dublin Contemporary, but the work exists outside on the streets as well. The artist uses the streets as both platform and inspiration for his message of positivity in a downtrodden city, his bold and colourful text and image based works merging street, pop and fine art.

Outside In and Inside Out: 
Entering the Central Pavillion at the 54th Venice Biennale there is a lot to see, and peering down from the rafters high above the Tinteretto's are dozens of taxidermied pigeons, reminding us of the noisy squalor of Venice that sits alongside the splendid. 

In Venice the pigeons are inside and the naked men are outside. On the very tip of the Sestiere Dorsodoro is a larger than life statue of a naked young boy holding a rat. The Biennale alumnus, who passed away in July this year, Lucian Freud painted a frail and raw portrait titled Naked man with a rat. In stark opposition to this, the boy standing tall in Venice is super human and gleaming, he makes everything around him small and squalid by comparison. Perhaps together, the pigeons, Tinteretto and the two rat artworks are an apt portrait of the city? That mix of Venice's brilliant exterior and masked humanity allowing for a glimpse of the city as it really is. At least that's the story I made up for myself.

To many, street art translates as graffiti, tags, and destruction of property. In my travels of late street art has translated itself to a broad conglomeration of stories about and on the streets I have been visiting. And I have to give my thanks to all the street artists who have enlivened my visits to so many of the worlds great cities.

street art in Istanbul