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blast from the past – when women´s power was sacred

8 Mar

13094283_10153726001031936_3919395081106064955_nThis amazing art in praise of women is from a small, unvisitable chamber in the complex of sacred sites which is the cave known as Tito Bustillo just near Ribadesella in Asturias, Spain.


Sing on, sweet bird

19 Feb



photo by John Wright

Up this green woodland-ride let’s softly rove,
And list the nightingale – she dwells just here.
Hush ! let the wood-gate softly clap, for fear
The noise might drive her from her home of love ;
For here I’ve heard her many a merry year –
At morn, at eve, nay, all the live-long day,
As though she lived on song. This very spot,
Just where that old-man’s-beard all wildly trails
Rude arbours o’er the road, and stops the way –
And where that child its blue-bell flowers hath got,
Laughing and creeping through the mossy rails –
There have I hunted like a very boy,
Creeping on hands and knees through matted thorn
To find her nest, and see her feed her young.
And vainly did I many hours employ :
All seemed as hidden as a thought unborn.
And where those crimping fern-leaves ramp among
The hazel’s under boughs, I’ve nestled down,
And watched her while she sung ; and her renown
Hath made me marvel that so famed a bird
Should have no better dress than russet brown.
Her wings would tremble in her ecstasy,
And feathers stand on end, as ’twere with joy,
And mouth wide open to release her heart
Of its out-sobbing songs. The happiest part
Of summer’s fame she shared, for so to me
Did happy fancies shapen her employ ;
But if I touched a bush, or scarcely stirred,
All in a moment stopt. I watched in vain :
The timid bird had left the hazel bush,
And at a distance hid to sing again.
Lost in a wilderness of listening leaves,
Rich Ecstasy would pour its luscious strain,
Till envy spurred the emulating thrush
To start less wild and scarce inferior songs ;
For while of half the year Care him bereaves,
To damp the ardour of his speckled breast ;
The nightingale to summer’s life belongs,
And naked trees, and winter’s nipping wrongs,
Are strangers to her music and her rest.
Her joys are evergreen, her world is wide –
Hark! there she is as usual – let’s be hush –
For in this black-thorn clump, if rightly guest,
Her curious house is hidden. Part aside
These hazel branches in a gentle way,
And stoop right cautious ’neath the rustling boughs,
For we will have another search to day,
And hunt this fern-strewn thorn-clump round and round ;
And where this reeded wood-grass idly bows,
We’ll wade right through, it is a likely nook :
In such like spots, and often on the ground,
They’ll build, where rude boys never think to look –
Aye, as I live ! her secret nest is here,
Upon this white-thorn stump ! I’ve searched about
For hours in vain. There! put that bramble by –
Nay, trample on its branches and get near.
How subtle is the bird ! she started out,
And raised a plaintive note of danger nigh,
Ere we were past the brambles ; and now, near
Her nest, she sudden stops – as choking fear,
That might betray her home. So even now
We’ll leave it as we found it : safety’s guard
Of pathless solitudes shall keep it still.
See there! she’s sitting on the old oak bough,
Mute in her fears ; our presence doth retard
Her joys, and doubt turns every rapture chill.
Sing on, sweet bird! may no worse hap befall
Thy visions, than the fear that now deceives.
We will not plunder music of its dower,
Nor turn this spot of happiness to thrall ;
For melody seems hid in every flower,
That blossoms near thy home. These harebells all
Seem bowing with the beautiful in song ;
And gaping cuckoo-flower, with spotted leaves,
Seems blushing of the singing it has heard.
How curious is the nest ; no other bird
Uses such loose materials, or weaves
Its dwelling in such spots : dead oaken leaves
Are placed without, and velvet moss within,
And little scraps of grass, and, scant and spare,
What scarcely seem materials, down and hair ;
For from men’s haunts she nothing seems to win.
Yet Nature is the builder, and contrives
Homes for her children’s comfort, even here ;
Where Solitude’s disciples spend their lives
Unseen, save when a wanderer passes near
That loves such pleasant places. Deep adown,
The nest is made a hermit’s mossy cell.
Snug lie her curious eggs in number five,
Of deadened green, or rather olive brown ;
And the old prickly thorn-bush guards them well.
So here we’ll leave them, still unknown to wrong,
As the old woodland’s legacy of song.


28 Jun


And Jovellanos!  And finishing things! Look how many themes I´m shoe-horning in!  I spent this morning putting together this little homage to Jovellanos, Age of Enlightenment native son of Gijón, whose two portraits by Goya you can see here.  I´ve had all the elements for years, I kid you not, but had to take a break from writing my book “1001 habits of unsuccessful people” this morning to actually put it together. To the left is a contemporary (with him) picture of where I´ve just been to bathe this morning – and behind is a small seascape of this very beach which I finished in my painting class last week.

I love sitting and cutting up paper and glueing things together, tongue sticking out of the corner of my mouth.  It helped ground me, in these emotional times of two horrendous election results (for a Brit in Spain) within 3 days of each other. I´ll let Jovellanos have the last word: (instant translation – mine, not google)

“The light of the Enlightenment doesn´t move as rapidly as that of the sun; but once its rays have touched some hemisphere, it spreads, although slowly, until it fills the most distant horizons; and, either I don´t know my nation well, or this phenomenon is appearing in it.”

The name of the Rose

17 Apr

A dear friend from my reading group in the library, in La Calzada, Gijón (as Greenock to Edinburgh, so La Calzada to Oviedo) encouraged me to post this. So here it is.  With apologies for an unoriginal title.

The name of the Rose
Two qualities which poets fail to remark
in writing of the rose
are her close kinship to the briar
-as tough as old roots –
and her liking
for a bed
of manure.

El nombre de la Rosa
Dos cualidades
que los poetas
pasan por alto
al escribir sobre la rose
son su vinculo estrecho con la zarza,
fuerte como raizes viejas,
y el gusto
por un lecho
de cuchu.

Love of nature, nature of love

25 Mar


I stood watching while this cow gave a thorough face and neck wash to her adolescent offspring.  Usually, by the time you get your camera out the moment has passed.  But she was so thoroughly in it – eyes closed, mostly – and he was enjoying it as much.  I felt the utter is-ness of the business.  Happy Easter, everyone.

a musical advent calendar

8 Dec

Light the way, Asturias by Toli Morilla

There´s a stereotype about English punctuality here in Spain, with which I don´t conform. So I´m starting my musical Advent calendar on the 7th of December, and intend to share with you each day a convincing musical argument for why Gijón, Asturias, Spain is such a great place to be.

First off, Toli Morilla´s “Alluma´l to Camin” – I need a little help with the translation before I risk it here – one of his most deeply-felt songs about this beautiful land and the struggle of its people to survive.

Toli is one of the most influential singer-songwriters and interpreters of contemporary Asturian music.  He sings in the Asturian language and Spanish, and has Bob Dylan´s permission to sing translations in Asturian, as you will hear later.

Enjoy the Advent Calendar!


artist solidarity

19 Mar

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “We Built This City.”

I´m thinking of my friend Mabel, painter, illustrator, cartoonist and all-round excellent visual artist, who is in a group of artists, who meet weekly to dine and talk. They exhibit together, in community centres and libraries where they can´t sell, and each time I visit one of their exhibitions I´m amazed by the quality and variety of their work. I´m sure some of them can and do sell privately, in so far as anyone can, in Spain´s current economic climate. But for me, in their commitment to their work and their collective support for one another, they are world leaders.
This was what immediately sprang to mind in response to today´s prompt. But then something else happened, on the way up to listen to a jazz gig (free) in a favourite bar – another of the outstanding examples of a supportive community. I went into the foyer of a bank to get money out, and while I was doing that a middleaged woman came in, and deposited a filled bun (bocadillo) wrapped in cling film, on the waste paper box, and went out again. It took me a moment to put two and two together: obviously it was left for someone who was going to sleep in there.
I feel so glad and grateful to live in a city where people are like this.