Thursday, 5 June 2014

Ghetto Wall

A metal plaque draws a line through the cobblestones to mark where the Wall of the Warsaw Ghetto stood from 1940-1943. One of many chilling spots you keep coming across as you walk the streets of the city.

Today people cross this line without noticing, deep in contemplation or conversation; children play in the park, cyclists cycle and dog-walkers walk their dogs. Back then it was a line of life and death.

The path at the back that people are strolling along was Nalewki, the busiest market street in pre-War Warsaw. There are some wonderful photographs of it, full of bustle and trade, in the exhibition at the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which I saw yesterday.

And at the very back, in the park beyond the railings, they are excavating the site of the building that was the headquarters of the workers' organisation The Bund, where the resistance in this area of the Ghetto was co-ordinated by Marek Edelman, amongst others. Here is his account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in the course of which most of those not yet killed lost their lives.

Nalewki in the 1930s
photo by Roman Vishniac

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

A herd of gurdies

Cousin Mira's partner Ray with old gurdy-buddies Sam Palmer, Nigel Eaton and Cliff Stapleton, heads still buzzing after the Blowzabella do on Saturday.

Ray didn't play with BZB, but he will be playing the hurdy-gurdy solo for the live orchestral soundtrack to the 1927 silent film 'Napoleon' at the Festival Hall on 30 November. At least, that was his excuse for not coming to our Dansez Français Bal that night ...

And if you want confirmation of just how dangerous this instrument is, just look at Cliff's arm.

Cousin Report #27

There I was, at the Blowzabella do the other night, pretty much minding my own business, soaking up the music and sipping down the London Pride, when I was accosted by this woman asking "are you Michael"?

Well I couldn't really deny it, especially when she said "surname Shade?", and I'm glad I didn't because it turned out to be my distant cousin Mira. We had never met, though we did have a brief email exchange a few months ago, during which we realised we would both be going to the BZB do last night.

She's my great-grandmother's brother's second wife's great-grand-daughter - is there a word for that? She'd been googling for her grandmother, Mary Levin, and came across a photo I'd put up on Flickr a couple of years ago from a Walk I did around some of our Levin places in the East End: I'd tagged the photo with some of the family names, and Google spotted them.

It turns out she and her husband are keen on French traditional music, and he plays the hurdy-gurdy. The world, as they say in Spain, is a handkerchief.

BZB 35 - hit by a Wall of Sound

Blowzabella held their 35th Anniversary do at Cecil Sharp House on Saturday. A packed dance workshop in the afternoon, a four-hour music session in between times, and a non-stop 3-hour Wall of Sound in the evening, with a mix of old and new repertoires all unashamedly for dancing, which we did, unashamedly.

In the photo Jon Swayne and Paul James sing on the pipes, Jo Freya swings on the clarinet, and Grégory Jolivet hums to himself on the hurdy-gurdy. Not to mention Dave Shepherd on fiddle, Barnaby Stradling on bass, and Andy Cutting on melodeon - couldn't fit them all into this picture, but here they are below. What a band!

They brought on too many former members to mention them all here - but it did get rather special when Nigel Eaton, Sam Palmer and Cliff Stapleton were all up there gurdying away together.

There's a new CD - 'Strange News', as in "Strange news is come to town / strange news is carried", a line from the beautiful English traditional song The Blacksmith. If the record is anything like the live performance, it'll be a cracker.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Le Potager du Roi

While we were in Paris last summer, we went over to Versailles to see 'Le Potager du Roi', the King's Kitchen Garden, built for Louis XIV in the 17th Century. It's a few hundred metres from the palace - they must have needed a good few wheelbarrows to get all the produce into the kitchen every day! Nowadays they sell most of it in the little shop by the entrance. Only a few photos this time, as it started raining and I decided I'd be better off keeping my phone dry.

Le Potager du Roi

You wanted to reach out and pick those pears, and eat them there and then!

Jan took some photos as well ... The Potager has a website, it looks like it's in French only. And once again, I was prompted to upload the photos by seeing the programme 'Gourmet Gardens' in Monty Don's French Gardens series on BBC2.

Jardin du Prieuré d'Orsan

A couple of years ago we visited the Jardins du Prieuré d'Orsan, in central France. As usual I took loads of photos, but I didn't get round to uploading them until today, prompted by Monty Don's French Gardens programme the other night on BBC2.

Les Jardins d'Orsan

A couple of years ago we visited the Jardins du Prieuré d'Orsan, in central France. As usual I took loads of photos, but I didn't get round to uploading them until today, prompted by Monty Don's French Gardens programme the other night on BBC2.

So here they are. I'm not writing anything about Orsan, because Jan wrote a lovely post that says more than I ever could and in far fewer words, so I'm leaving it to her. Jan's photos are here - you'll recognise some of them from mine, but as usual her eagle eye spots things that I miss.

Orsan's website has some lovely pictures, though you might want to turn off the annoying chirping birds, and a fascinating gardener's blog - Blog du Jardinier - for those that can read French.

You can watch the Gourmet Garden programme in the French Gardens series via BBC iPlayer  - UK only, and you'll have to be quick, it's only available until 22 February.

Friday, 23 November 2012

A pause for thought

A pause for thought, and more

by Davi Windholz
Nahariya, Israel
translated from the Portuguese original by Micalet

As an activist of the left in the areas of both politics and education, I am regularly in contact with Israeli Arabs and with Palestinians. As a Zionist activist I am regularly in contact with Olim - Jewish immigrants to Israel - whose stance is often opposed to mine. As a social activist I am regularly in contact with people from the lower levels of Israeli society, who are mostly Sephardic Jews originating from Arab countries.

We have had 100 years of conflict, and at the moment it does not matter who is the guilty party or why. Neither is it of any relevance whether this Land belongs to the Jewish people, who ruled over it for a thousand years and created two independent States, and were parted from it for two thousand years, or to the Palestinians who have lived here for the past 600 years. Two peoples, two narratives of history, of pain and of suffering, of definitions of ‘Good’ and of ‘Evil’. These two opposed narratives are in total conflict, the only things they have in common being their simplicity, their misrepresentation of facts, and their lack of profound analysis, all borne along by demagogy and propaganda.

A hundred years of War, two narratives, Israeli and Palestinian. Two narratives which only serve to teach people to hate more, which only provoke more alienation from reality, and allow the political, economic and religious elites to seize the opportunity to continue their dominance. Narratives of hatred and prejudice, with their own definitions of justice.

These two narratives give rise to two others - that of the Jewish Diaspora, blindly defending the Israeli narrative, and that of the Left, blindly defending the Palestinian and Arab narrative, and contaminated with a double dose of anti-semitism. How otherwise can we describe the attitude of Jewish communities in the face of the constant and murderous violence perpetrated by Israel through 45 years of domination over the Palestinian people? And how otherwise can we describe the attitude of the Left, who say nothing about the murder of more than 25000 civilains in Syria, or the attacks and assassinations carried out by Palestinians against civilians in Israel, or the prehistoric attitude of Hamas towards women?

We can continue with these four narratives, at local level and world-wide, and carry on generating hatred and destruction, and the murder of children, women, men and the elderly. We can swear on the Torah and on the Koran that this Land “belongs to us and only us”.

These vengeful and violent attitudes come from darkness, from the Middle Ages, from ignorance. We can stay in the darkness cast by the Holocaust and continue to justify our actions with “Never again”. We can stay in the darkness of the Nakba (the expulsion of the Palestinians in the War of 1948), and continue to justify our hatred of the Zionists. We can continue being victims of history and carry on in the darkness of the Middle Ages. We can continue in our ignorance, hating without knowing why.

After a hundred years we all need Peace, we are all in danger, not only physical but also emotional and spiritual, and only a critical consciousness, achieved by re-educating ourselves, can change this situation.

A hundred years of War, and we have never given a chance to Peace. Peace is an internal state of belief, of disconnecting yourself from anger and hatred. Now is the time to wake up and understand that we are all connected one with another, for all time. We are each a part of each other, and the soldiers of the future are our children. And the dead of the future are our children. But, our children are also our Peace.

The only solution is to persuade ourselves and those around us that there is no absolute ‘Good’ or ‘Evil’. There are no soldiers, no terrorists. Any soldier that dies, Israeli or Palestinian, is equally a child of someone, irrespective of who is his mother or father. The demonstration of grief and of false pride through ‘Shahid’ (‘martyrdom’ in Arabic), or via the heroes of Yad laBanim (association of the families of fallen Israeli soldiers) is simply a cultural way of dealing with, and glorifying, death, instead of living life.

The only way is to make a peace agreement, in which the first item would be 100 pages dedicated to re-educating ourselves to life, to critical consciousness and to the love of life.

We are in a new pause, a truce. We have to take advantage of it to reflect, to recover our physical, emotional and spiritual strength. I ask all of you, my friends, and those who receive this message as it is passed on, if we wish to influence what is going on here, in Israel, in Palestine, in the Middle East, we need to reflect, be critical, leave behind the stereotypical narrative. We should criticise the Israeli government, the Palestinian authorities, Hamas, Syria. We should demand a permanent cease-fire. We should cry out against barbarity, of all sides and against all sides. We should no longer accept one-sided narratives, we should not criticise “enemy” narratives just for the sake of criticising. Let us read, study, question, analyse, and open our eyes and see the cruel reality of both sides.

I ask all of you to open your hearts, to bring opposites together, against the tyranny of power, of hatred and of death. We have to put an end to this madness, before one more child is killed.

NB: Davi organised all the cultural events for our 'Merkavah' trip to Israel in 2009. You can read about the trip on our Merkavah site, and see the photos in this Collection. Davi is originally from Brazil, and has lived, studied and worked for many years in Israel; you can find him on Facebook.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An Dro The World

Some of Jeudi Matin - the Dansez Français house band - take part in 'An Dro The World 2012' - a mass simultaneous An Dro at the Festival Interceltique at Lorient, Brittany, and around the world, on Sunday 12 August. Everybody had to play, sing and/or dance to the same tune at precisely midnight, French time.

Note the soon-to-be traditional Breton instruments - concertina (Elizabeth and Charlotte) and ukelele (Éamonn), and the confident singing - Richard's the one in tune. Jan reckons it's too slow for dancing, so it's a good job we didn't have any dancers there on the night. Personally I reckon it's too fast for singing.

We only heard about An Dro The World a couple of days beforehand, and what with summer holidays, folk festivals and family commitments, we could only muster half-a-dozen people, but we registered anyway and went for it. A few minutes rehearsing the tune, and a couple of run-throughs for me and Richard to - almost - get our tongues round the words, and c'est parti!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

It's not all Cycling

But it is this week!


It's been Olympic Cycling Week, and I've managed to get to three of the four major road events - the Men's Road Race on Saturday, and the Women's and Men's Time Trials yesterday. And what a wonderful week of sport it's been! The streets and parks have been packed - estimates say over 500,000 were at the Men's race on Saturday, and it must have been similar for the time-trials yesterday.

UntitledThat's half-a-million happy smiling people, of all ages, shapes, sizes and nations, on their feet for hours, shouting encouragement to every competitor, with a special roar for their own favourites of course.

My companion on Saturday morning was 85, and she stood there with the rest of us waiting for an hour for the riders to come through. She lives round the corner, and came to watch because it was a historic event, and she thought it would be fun. As she said, "We won't see anything like this again in our lifetimes".

Cycle races on the road are always difficult to follow. You only see the cyclists pass once (except for Box Hill on Saturday, which they went up and down seven times because there aren't any mountains in this part of England), and they go by so quickly it's difficult to recognise more than two or three of them, especially in their helmets and wall-to-wall sunglasses. It's impossible to judge how the few seconds you are seeing fit into a day's racing that may last several hours.

But it's colourful and it moves, it's human, and it's free. And above all there's admiration for the immense effort and dedication shown by men and women relentlessly pushing their bodies - and their minds - to the limit.

It didn't work out for the British riders in the Men's Road Race. The team of five were set up to shepherd Mark Cavendish, the fastest and most feared sprinter in the world, through to the final half-kilometre, where it was hoped he would be able to unleash his devastating speed and go for gold. However Mark doesn't climb very well - you can't have everything - and when the attacks came on Box Hill his team-mates had to hold back to pace him along. There were repeated attempts to get away; eventually a group of twenty seized their chance and disappeared, and the British riders were unable to close the gap.

Untitled I was watching the latter part of the race in Putney, 9 or 10km from the end. I didn't realise it at the time, but as I was snapping away I caught a moment with Alexandre Vinokourov of Kazakhstan, the eventual winner, at the head of the leading group, looking over his shoulder to see who's with him, judging when would be the best time to break away. He apparently shot off 500m later, coming out of a sharp turn; only one rider was able to follow him, but Vino had too much power for him in the final metres. But you only find all this out afterwards.

By the time the first British riders reached us - Bradley Wiggins, Ian Stannard and Mark Cavendish - they clearly knew they had no chance of catching the leaders. An immense disappointment for Cavendish, but I'm sure he'll bounce back - he always does.

But never mind, we all had a great day out at a wonderful sporting event. And Bradley Wiggins, of course, was going to be coming back a few days later for the Time Trial . . .
You can see my photos from 8 km from the start (just over Putney Bridge), and from 10km from the end (along Upper Richmond Road). And Bradley Wiggins was kind enough to ride close up to the camera for us, in the morning, and then again in the afternoon (see above).

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

It's not all walking

Today is the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Scout Trespass, a mass action whose repercussions led to the formation of the Ramblers' Association, and the creation of the first National Park in the Peak District in 1949. We owe the 'right to roam', which we now take so much for granted, to actions like this.

There's a lovely little 'In Praise of . . . Benny Rothman' in today's Guardian - Benny, a keen rambler and cyclist, then aged 20, was the driving force and principal leader of the trespass. He died 10 years ago; you can read an obituary, or go for the full story from the Working Class Movement Library, which I highly recommend.

The Guardian's 'In praise of . . . ' piece says that Benny had "a rare combination of being able to imagine a different way of organising society and a willingness to fight for it." Not so rare, maybe - they bred them like that in the 1930s, my aunt Margaret Stanton, for example.

I went to Kinder Scout for the first time last year - on my birthday, which was nice. We walked for an couple of hours, but didn't have time - or energy - to go right up to the top; nevertheless it was wonderful just to breathe in the calm and timelessness of the hills. Thank you, Benny.