Tuesday, 26 December 2017

City light for Christmas

Back from subdued family festivities...
Quite a pleasure to live in the Netherlands, where on feast days the trains continue to run, as well as the trams, and people DO wish you A Merry Christmas...
Here in Amsterdam the city is dressed is pretty lights (I think they copied this from Torino's Luce dei Artisti...)
Above is the Utrechtse straat, quite close to where I live, festooned with light.
The wind, I should add, is bitter cold!
Below, the Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, courtesy of my friend Maria.
Goethe would have liked this... (Mehr Licht).

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Light in the darkness

So here in the North the days are short, the wind is bitter, snow falls ... and it it the time when small lights shine out in the darkness of the streets, from Christmas trees or candles lit inside, lights of remembrance, lights of hope.

Families gather together and plan a feast.. well, my family is having a mini feast, no roast turkey but I have managed to procure a real English Christmas pudding. This is mainly so that the children can sing "WE wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year" which they have learnt at school.
For the first time we shall have all the grandchildren and their parents together on Christmas Day, a cause for great rejoicing.

Here in Amsterdam the weather is being suitably chill but we've had a snow and I don't think more will come this week.
I am contemplating a Christmas tree, but there's really nowhere to put it, so I think I'll make do with strings of small lights. That, after all, is what it's all about.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never put it out.
And we certainly need to hold onto that hope, as we look around the world today...
This is the light shining into the Rijksmuseum...

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

More repetition

That's what comes of not reading through what one has already written!
Sorry about the doubling of the pix...
Now we move on to Paris ... When still in Portugal I had booked the train return from Amsterdam to Paris Gare du Nord.
David would have liked to come too, but is saddled with the cleaning of our boat's mast ... happily Andrea is assisting, otherwise it would be a long and exhausting job. As it is, they have spent many weeks cleaning it. Now almost finished. The Atlantic outside Porto where our boat is moored is wild and windy. Glad I'm sitting in the train crossing the French countryside.
We set off at dawn, the skies lowering: snow is forecast. Here is a view out the window (still in the Netherlands):
Once arrived in Paris, there was the sun. Oh splendid city with winding streets and little hills and the white tower of Sacre-Coeur. We drove out to Nanterre where Samir, our Algerian friend, lives.
Next language to learn is Berber. My French manages very well. I had an excellent teacher at my secondary school. Miss Bishop. I was very lucky to be so well taught.
Souaad (also from Algeria) presented me with a magnificent Berber dress. Hand made. Here it is:
And here are Samir and Souaad and one of their wonderful meals ... later on came a home-made couscous...
So we ate, we talked, we went for walks, we watched the TV (an interview with Jean d'Ormesson the writer, member of the Academie Francaise, who has just died) we met other members of the Berber family (I listened to them speaking Berber... maybe I'll learn it later ...) and I slept in utter quiet because in Samir's new flat in Nanterre there is clever double glazing.
Days of wonderful relaxation, and being splendidly looked after.
And for all my literary friends, here are the madeleines:
Oh the utterly mouth-watering delicacies of the French patisserie...

We were warned from various sources of huge gales and snow storms reaching the French Atlantic coast, so I was prepared for a long journey back ... but all went smoothly and of course I found some people to chat with on the train, and watched the snow flurries outside.
Everything was delayed but finally I reached home and it felt pleasantly warm. The next day the central-heating thermostat died ... but that is another story.
Homeward bound:
How swiftly we move and how little time we spend in quiet contemplation... Train journeys are great!

Too much to tell...

Too little time to tell it in...
There was the film Festival in Torino (Turin).
And seeing old friends from the days when we lived there.
Such a pleasure to be in the city, walking under its many arcades, drinking bicerin (!) or the incomparable thick hot chocolate.
Of course, I had my hair cut by the parruchiere whom I was recommended in 2006...
Here I am sitting in one of the many excellent cafes of Turin reading an Italian newspaper ...
What you can see of my hair reveals its shortened length!
I saw 18 films during the festival, many of which I could happily see again. Noteworthy were The Death of Stalin and The Genius and the Opera Singer and Darkest Hour.
None of these were fiction, all based on actual events; The Genius and the Opera Singer is a documentary showing a mother aged 90 (the former singer of the title) and her daughter (a very smart /clever girl!) now aged around 60, living together in a small apartment in New York, engaged in constant haggling dispute. Wonderfully filmed (the editing was superb) so that it flowed and grew, sometimes with flashbacks using photographs, sometimes through dialogue with the filmer, Vanessa (Stockley, from England!) whom we heard speaking. Without any commentary (that was its strength) the film revealed the attachment between the two women, together with the slumbering fury in the daughter, who was convinced that her evidently "failed" life was the result of her mother's inadequate mothering.
There is much more to say about this film; it contains hilarious brilliant dialogue, (Jewish) humour of great wit, and with clever camera work reveals layers of the lives of mother and daughter; so that at the end (and it was just over an hour long) I felt I had known these two women many years. I think many people, especially women, in the audience, recognized aspects of their relationship with their mother.
Several of the films I saw dealt with specifically Italian matters, such as Vento Soave (about water and air pollution in Brindisi, in the southern Italian province of Puglia where David and I kept the boat a couple of years ago); or Cento Anni (which I saw twice) about forms of racism and intolerance of those who are different (!) and the growth of fascism in Italy.
The most impressive film I saw was the Portuguese A Fabrica de Nada by Pedro Pinho from 2017. The title was translated "The nothing factory", a factory that stopped producing ... and the film was about the failure in western Europe (and wider) to ensure that there is some kind of equality of income (!) in society and time and money to enjoy life (it also raised the question of how different people experience enjoyment...). The problems of production and distribution were discussed, (there was a  group of bearded intellectuals speaking French who pondered the problems of Capitalism) ... I wondered if the maker of the film has read Pikerty's Capitalism (yet)?
The narrative followed the life of one of the factory workers and his girlfriend, showed his father, a former revolutionary who thought the only way to beat the system was using weapons/explosives (echoes of terrorist attempts to disrupt social order) and there was a moment of sheer genius, when the disconsolate factory workers had an offer of work from Argentina and suddenly:
burst into song and dance as in a musical comedy, beautifully choreographed and composed.
Completely unexpected and very powerful.
Ah yes,  Portugal... so much to tell...
Below: Looking towards Piazza Castello on a grey day
When the sun arrived and the snow shone, a corner of Torino:

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Torino Film Festival

Every year I try to return to the Film Festival in the Italian city of Torino (Turin). We lived here from 2006 to 2010, and then a couple of years later spent several months in Puglia on the southeast tip of Italy. I speak the language mediocre-ly  (don't think that word exists) and understand and read it fairly well, and it is always a great pleasure to continue improving my knowledge of Italian and Italy.
And of course the films are always both entertaining and informative. They widen my world and I learn a great deal about other countries and cultures.
Saw some excellent films this year in the space of eight days and feel greatly enriched.
It was also a great pleasure being in Torino and walking round the streets I know so well. Usually in sunshine, though we also had a wonderful snowfall whitening the trees and roofs.
After one day's grey, the sun returned:
There at the edge of the city, stand the white mountains. Clean air for those who can get out.
So many contradictions in this place.
More thoughts soon.
Here I am in one of the many many cafe's, reading an Italian newspaper...
Much more to tell...

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Silence and the sea

We wake in the grey of dawning. The boat is gently rocking. Gradually it grows warmer: outside is preferable to inside! Off the boat (an easy climb now David has cleverly attached the small ladder which reduces the need to leap from toe-rail to bouncing finger pontoon). Then up to the land (more bouncing on wider pontoon...) and into our Club House for morning coffee (or cha verde, green tea). Yes, cha as in Cockney English: 'Ave a cuppa char. A word brought back from India, where the Portuguese explorers landed centuries ago.
Today we watched a three-master move grandly into our marina.
Here she is:
Beside her, just for size context, a sailing yacht only a little smaller than ours.
There is always something going on around the harbour, no shortage of entertainment at coffee time.

This is a place where I can let go of the fretta fretta (excellent Italian expression for 'rush rush' and stress!). This is because the sea is often quiet and David and I have developed the custom of walking at sunset time to a little cafe on the beach where we watch the sun sink and the sky turn to glory.

There we sit, two people sharing many years of memories (very mixed) and watch while the colours subtly change; and there is only the muted sound of the waves, no seagulls' cry, and the out-there-beyond filled with silence.
We don't need to say anything. Is this sweet content? Or 'calm of mind, all passion spent'? I don't think so. Soon I will create something new and delicious for supper (as my son once remarked to me: food is one of the best things in life!). Especially when shared: a couple of nights ago we invited three young French sailors onto the boat for a meal and David produced a most excellent stampot (memories of the Low Countries) and Sophie, one of our guests, presented us with a most excellent box of pastels de natas, a Portuguese pastry delicacy. And of course there was fine Portuguese wine and bread.
Nor do we forget the spirit. I write and reflect, and make poems... Here is one that grew out of my thoughts around the recent deaths of friend and family:

 Poem in time of death

Between the unwritten lines
in the unspoken speechless silence
breathes understanding, unworded,
though I hear echoes
I did not intend

Better to concentrate upon the children
who look, watch, smile, yell,
in relative simplicity

Uncertain words frolic inside my head
or reach down to toes and fingertips

While in the dark interstices
Between the swelling of a rising wave
and the all-shattering bursting at the crest
comes that moment
when we wait

Another sunset comes...
In the quiet English Midlands, near where my friend lies at rest.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Reducing the speed...

Now I have returned to Portugal for a couple of weeks.
Atune my ear to the language again; those dark "l's" and the disappearing vowels...
The weather is a delight: clear days with the sea sparkling, clear nights, with the air cold and crisp.
Sleeping on the boat, gently rocked as in a giant cradle.
We now have Andrea with us on board; my former 'professore' of Italian from Bari. He helps David with many tasks connected with the boat, and presently with cleaning the mast, which is resting on the hard, at the side of the marina.
Here's a pic of him and David and the glittering sea at the harbour mouth.
Yes, it's coffee break, and time to talk about fishing ... this is Andrea's passion, and today he bought a certificate for the astonishing price of four euros, permitting him to fish in Portuguese coastal waters, with a rod...
 Ah, another little quirk of this programme and it has decided to print my words from the centre outwards... so I think I'll finish this post. Anyway, time for a swim (in the excellent heated, saline swimming pool which is in the Sports Centre conveniently adjacent to the marina).
A dopo, or ate logo (accent on the 'e' of ate, not part of the verb "to eat"...).

Thursday, 9 November 2017

The winter days

Travelling again. Friends die and we travel to celebrate their life...

So now I'm in England, and soon go to remember one of my oldest friends, with whom I shared my sixth form days at Beckenham Girls' Grammar School, then three years at Oxford, and then kept in touch for the following fifty or so years...
A very strange idea that she is no longer in this world...

Meanwhile, David is joining me, called to England by the death (expected) of one of his dear relatives.

Suitably, I am reading Max Porters wonderful short novel titled Grief is the things with feathers.
More later about this amazing book. Such a solace in thoughts clothed in beautiful language.

Now off to catch a train.
I am very happy to be in England, as long as I don't look at any newspapers ...
It is still a green and pleasant land!!! See below: Bedford

Monday, 30 October 2017

Rainbows over Amsterdam

It is cold. Unexpectedly, the wind slices into the face as you walk along a canal, you hunch into your inadequate jacket. The water ripples like a cat's back raised in fear.
This is me turning purple after a creative writing session, ha ha!
No, I take that back about the creative writing, having just had an excellent morning working on poems we had written, with some other writers. Very satisfying.

Then I walked home through the centre of Amsterdam, past the queue outside the Anne Frank House (little Anne I am glad so many remember you and read your words). Her Diary is one of the most eloquent books I have ever read and translated. Such a mixture of insight and humour and courage.

The tourists crowd the streets. I like it, and try to catch what language they are speaking, and say "Ola" whenever I hear Spanish or Portuguese. (An "h" for the Spanish hola!!)
The trees are turning browns and yellow, and already many leaves (from the plane trees and the sycamores) litter the pavements.
And then, across the Prinsengracht, a rainbow appears. Magical, as always.
Out came my handy iPhone and I captured the moment.
Hope returning, always a rainbow somewhere.
Ah, hope fading: I have recently done some fiddling with my laptop and iPhone and now cannot move a photo into this blog as I was wont.
If there is something I would change in this world of 2017...
But now for some Pilates and meditation, that should restore a balance!

Here's the rainbow!

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Back to my northern home...

There will be something like a ten-degree-Celsius drop in temperature, as I travel north from still-sunny Portugal to the grey skies of home...
David stays here, enjoying coffee in the Clubhouse and working on cleaning Stroemhella's mast ... a race against time because he needs to get it finished before the seasonal rains arrive.
I am looking forward to seeing the familiar gables of the Netherlands and of course, all my friends and museal haunts...
And sleeping without the rocking of the waves ... still can't choose between the salty and the city world! But actually don't need to.
I enjoy both...

Here a few pix from Leca de Palmeira (there should be a cedilla on the "c" of Leca).
Above: David at work and signs of our Portuguese life...
Below: the sea, the sea...
This shows our daily walk, watching the waves, ever-changing, ever-fascinating.
But too cold for me to swim, alas...
Waves showing the remains of hurricane Ophelia...

A wonderful place to be!

Monday, 23 October 2017

Sea stories under the sun...

We are back in Leixoes, and hurricane Ophelia has passed on... There were some magnificent waves, hurling themselves against the jagged rocks here and inspiring many stunning photos and videos. People arrived with their cameras and waited for the moments when the huge rollers broke, foaming white and rolling shorewards. I have one such photo as my screen saver: wet rocks in the foreground and tumbling white foam splattering onto the sand's edge.
One of my favourite pix shows the two restaurant cats who came down to see if there were any fish being tossed out of the wild waves: this is specially for my sister and Tilla, who are cat rescuers.
They soon returned, fishless, to the restaurant, where the next day I saw them lying in cattish abandon, soaking in the sun.
This stretch of beach forms part of our daily walk; it is a constant delight, in mist, drizzle or brilliant sunlight. On our walk we sometimes stop at an excellent Padaria (one of the many bakers and maker of delicious cakey delicacies) and treat ourselves to a hot chocolate, thick and rich, that needs to be spooned from the cup. Memories of Torino, and before that, of Madrid. It is definitely NOT cocoa...
Today we had a prisoners' adventure, when we found ourselves locked outside on the quayside. We were with the seagulls, behind a high spiked fence:
Seagulls free; us imprisoned, or rather, ex-prisoned. The drivers of the van in the photo on the left had driven off and locked the gate, while we were walking onwards towards the end of the quay.
The fence was too high to climb over. We did spy some distant figures and I yelled "OLA!" with all my acting training at voice projection. But to no avail, too much crashing waves and screaming seagulls.
David decided to walk right to the end of the quay (in the distance in this photo) where we had noticed some old stone steps leading down to the pontoon (where Stroemhella lay moored).
Happily, oh serendipity, a young man in his rubber dingy came motoring round the end of the quay and David called out to him for help. We soon found out he was French, had arrived with his young family, and he it was who owned the broken boom lying on the pontoon beside our boat.
With his help we cautiously descended the stone steps, leapt onto our pontoon, and home was in sight. We chatted to our rescuer, who had come round in his dingy to discuss what to do with his broken boom.  We practised our French and thanked him heartily for his help and David provided him with some useful tips.
Above: Two seagulls wondering whether to risk a dive...
I think this one is asleep; it's a juvenile seagull, hence his speckled feathers. I find the young ones handsomer than the adults. Could be said of many species...
We have established a very pleasant routine here in the marina. And while the weather stays kind, we mingle inside and outdoors, rejoicing in the vast sky and the endless sea...
 Sunset over the Atlantic...

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Smoke clouds over Coimbra

A week ago we left our boat safely moored in the marina at Leixoes and took the train to Coimbra.
Partly because we had heard from so may friends that this was a historic city we must see; and also because of hurricane Ophelia, then screeching across the Atlantci and threatening to hit the coast of Portugal within a few days. Wave heights forecast to be above five metres. I did not like the sound of that!
We had packed all we reckoned to need for a week in a small bag on wheels (only two of them!) and providently brought some food for on the way.
It was hot; l watched the bright colours of the autumn trees, with, in the distance, the shimmer of the sea.
How shall I describe Coimbra? We have a room near the river, in the Baixo, Lower, section of the old city. Wonderful view from our window of the university which tops the hill, illuminated at night.
I've decided to try to send a batch of photos I took in Coimbra (one of the most photogenic cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit!) at a later point. So this will be pure prose.
It grew hotter (going up to 34 degrees centigrade on Sunday) as a result of over-friendly Ophelia.
We puffed up the hill and made mental plans of the intricately zig-zagging cobbled streets, rising often very steeply to the flat top where the university now sits enthroned.
We were extremely lucky to have found (via my friend Amal Chatterjee) a superb guide, in the form of Pedro Ribelo. He arrived as we had arranged, on the morning after the huge forest fires had swept over northern Portugal, and he had had a sleepless night watching th flames as they approached closer to his house. Fortunately the wind changed when they were just 500 metres away from his home.
I felt like saying, "Pedro, if you are feeling shattered after last night, we can plan another day for the sightseeing..." But I have the feeling that he so enjoys telling the history of this town/city that his energy soon returned. Anyway, it was a fact-filled day but also lots of fun, Pedro recounting little anecdotes about some of the places he showed us, quite a lot of climbing but also time to sit down in between, and of course far too short a time to see all we would have liked. But I began to get a feel of this amazingly higgeldy-piggeldy place and I began to understand why one of my Dutch friends, much-travelled, said "Coimbra is like nowhere else!"!
Coimbra has its own Fado music, not the same as the Fado we had heard in Lisboa (Lisbon). We reserved places in the Fado Capela for Saturday night, arriving about nine p.m. and being given the last two seats in the back of the small chapel. The singer was a young man, accompanied by a Portuguese classical guitar and a Coimbra guitar. These two in combination produced a sound to wake the angels. It was as if I could hear a chord of five notes resonating through my body. Somewhat like turning into molten gold and flowing gently into the night. Although I understood little of the words of the singer, it didn't matter. Glorious voice, beautifully controlled, sometimes lingering on a whisper, sometimes as if forced painfully from the guts, filled with anguish, but filled with power.
I bought a CD of this trio...
We also went to a small bar Diligencia recommended by Pedro and others, where a slightly more low-key (if one can call it that) Fado was sung. One singer with classical guitar. This place has a warm and inviting atmosphere, it comes highly recommended and was close to our room, and the night was rainy. After a light supper cooked by David in the kitchen of our Residenzia, we emerged clothed in rain capes (first time it's rained for me in Portugal in months!) and soon found the bar.  There were four other people there when we arrived. We chatted to the guy who runs the bar and ordered a glass of red wine from the Alentejo (excellent!) and sat down at the empty table between the two couples.
One pair was from Brazil, and I tried my Brazilian Portuguese which was fairly successful. The other couple, more the age of David and me, were from Denmark and Sweden. Both retired teachers, very interesting and well-informed. Then in came a young woman who I heard say she was Italian, so with great delight I went and told her I spoke Italian (one of my favourite-of-all languages, though in fact I love every language even if I only have a smattering.) Then arrived another young woman, long dark hair, might well have been Portuguese but she told us she was from Greece. Better and better, kali something we cry in delight. It was at this point, as the warm rich singing started, that I was filled with a sense of not belonging to any one country but simply of being me: born in Canada, with European ancestry, here I was with a mixture of Europeans from the north and south, from Sweden to Greece, or from Portugal in the west to Turkey in the east (because the Greek student had ancestors from Turkey, she told us). And I know how lucky I am, how privileged to have been placed/born in a free country and never to have been told that I was someone's slave.
The Italian, Rossella, joined us the next day with her Portuguese boyfriend, Jose, and we had more linguistic games (by this time my Italian is becoming contaminated (silly word!) with Spanish and Portuguese, but at least I still know when I say something incorrectly). It dosn't matter with Rossella because she speaks Italian, Spanish and Portuguese as well as English.

Time to stop now; the fires in Portugal were finished by the rain on Monday night. The sun returned and great bubbling white clouds. David and I spent the next couple of days exploring the utterly beautiful old churches and cathedral and climbing up ad down excessively steep staircases, remarking upon how fit all this activity was keeping us.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Fogbound in Porto

A white impenetrable wall that we can walk through but remains enclosing us; always present,  permitting no vision of anything beyond.
The foghorn hoots mournfully and the huge cruise ships chug into the harbour, lights ablaze, and wait for the sun to reappear.
Our French friends set out in their small sail boat one evening when it was still bright, but we know there was fog out at sea so we are hoping to hear they have reached Lisbon safely. The sea is cruel, I never lose a threatened sense.
Here in the marina the fog presses silence on all activity.
David and I went for a walk along the front, where a couple of days ago people lay sunbathing on the sand. Now even the breakers seemed hushed. A few black shapes moved into view, cycling or walking, and then were gone again.
Here is our dear Stroemhella, waiting at the mouth of the Douro, for the mist to lift, a week ago.
Happily, the sun does return. So we could chug round the corner to Paco do Palmeira where, in a more down-market marina, we find all the heart could desire.
Now I have started writing a short story about two brothers at sea (ha ha, the metaphors are plenty!) trying to sail through the mist ...
When we were off the northwest Scottish coast (Outer Hebrides) many years ago, we encountered a mist like this. It makes everything quiet and mysterious.
Through that stillness we heard the melancholy sound of bagpipe music and slowly through the mist came a small yacht with the bagpipe player standing on board. We sounded our (also musical!) ship's horn. He responded. I plan to merge this unforgettable scene into my story...

Monday, 2 October 2017

Return to Porto and much feasting...

Each day on the Douro was a delight. We were overwhelmed by the peace...
No other boats were attempting this slightly tricky journey, except of course the huge cruisers whom we encountered at mooring places. In Pinhao we were lucky on our upward trip to find the only unoccupied pontoon. All the rest were bagged by the Biggies...
Here we are having a quiet night in Pinhao before we were joined by our Dutch friends, Harry and Ati.
The next few days were passed going deeper into the quiet, 'between walls of shadowy granite' (line from Tennyson's The Lotus Eaters) (actually the rock of which the soil is composed is apparently chist, although I am sure we encountered some black basalt...). It was utterly magnificent. We would sit silently absorbing the warmth of the hills. Every day sun. The rocky or the tree-filled slopes are coloured in intricate complexity. Here a pic!
Still waters sometimes, as here, but at the end of the day the wind could get up, whooshing down the river, urging us into a secure sheltered spot.
We cooked splendid suppers on the boat (our two-burner stove proving itself very good at subtle adjustments of temperature!).
And of course it is grape-harvest time, and often along the road bordering the river we would see the lorries loaded with fruit, being taken to the Quinta where it would be pressed, put into casks, later to be bottled...

This is a grape-laden lorry at one of the places where we moored on our way back down the Douro.
I would have liked to do a little grape-trampling but I suspect you have to arrange this in Portuguese, and so far I am limited to asking for beer or vinho verde (actually I'm slightly more fluent than this would suggest, which is proving very useful...).
Going down through the locks I spoke a mixture of English and Portuguese on the mariphone, and all went extremely smoothly.
It was marvellous to have Harry and Ati with us, helping with tying fast the boat when necessary, often doing the washing up (!) and to have their company during these days. David and Harry exchanged engineering talk, Ati and I shared a more artistic take on events...
Unforgettable days. Long hours in ever-changing light. Quiet evenings. We all slept deeply and untroubled. Stories for grey winter nights...

Monday, 18 September 2017

Halfway up the river Douro

Sitting in a riverside restaurant in Pinhao, halfway up the river Douro to the Spanish frontier.
Around me are voices speaking Portuguese with its distinctive intonation and "sh" sounds (every time an "s" occurs...).
I feel I have eaten too much fish for lunch, accompanied by the excellent local vinho branco (white wine), cool and delicious and far from costly!
Ever since we left Porto five days ago the sun has accompanied us, dispelling the early morning mists and urging us into shady places at midday.
Now we have moored Stroemhella at a convenient pontoon, where she bounces happily and is admired by the local fisherfolk.
I attempt a pic at this point:
Yes, this is our mast-less Stroemhella moored at the bouncing pontoon, beneath a verdant weeping willow. We are presently just with the two of us on the boat. We were accompanied from Porto marina by Ricardo, a young Portuguese student who proved indescribably helpful and also very entertaining and of course utterly indispensable when it came to speaking Portuguese with the lock-keepers. I am somewhat trepidatious (!) about my Portuguese on the return journey... but Ricardo has offered to help. (Long-distance telephoning...).

From the very start the trip was beautiful. The river gently curving first through houses and winding roads, further on between steep rocky hillsides.
Here we are leaving Porto and chugging upstream.

On the second day we had left the paved streets and on either side was woodland or huge rounded hills, often scorched by this summer's devastating fires.
And then came the rocky slopes, the huge boulders and the cracked stones, with the trees beginning to claim their autumn tones.

At the end of each day we found a quiet place to moor and David prepared us splendid meals so that we did not envy the guests in the five-star hotels. We would sit in the back cockpit until it grew too dark to see... And the nights were still and rocked us gently into bright dreams.
Sleep is deep and soft and holds no anguished moments.Unblemished.
Tomorrow we shall continue gently further.

This reminds me of:
Swete Themmes runne softley 
Till I end my song...

Ah, but today is very windy...

White wavelets across the river.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Another try for pix

Here is the monastery at Lece do Bilhao, where for four days there was a splendid costumed medieval fair, with music and jugglers and wondrous-tasting food cooked in wood-fired ovens. I have more jolly pix but as this one took over a minute to position here, I refrain from more until I've found an efficient manner to transfer them!
The weather continues sunny and friendly and helpful for outdoor activities.
The mast has now been taken down and the rigging extracted and washed and hung up to dry.
We have introduced ourselves to the staff here and practised Portuguese and are feeling very cheerful at the prospect of several months in this area.
But first the river Douro. So with lots of wishes for a Boa Viaje we plot our trip upstream and apply to the first locks that we'll need to negotiate.
We have asked a young Portuguese student to come with us : very useful as interpreter when my Portuguese becomes too Spanish (!) and very helpful for the moments when ropes need pulling, tying etc., since I still have considerable pain in my shoulders.
I plan to sing a lot as my contribution to the journey...

Monday, 11 September 2017

Wide horizons

Out there is only sea, unceasingly breaking in rushing foamy runnels, whooshing onto the sand. I have got used to its sound and now do not hear it all the time. But when we have stopped talking (or singing) there it is, unceasing, scarcely comforting, except in its familiarity.
It sucks away the sound of our voices, our words shrivel and there is only a huge wideness.
So how can I write when words become so trivial? All I need is the wind on my face and the sun on my back, and no aches in legs or shoulders. And off we go, at a good pace, across the wet sand and the bumpy hillocks and the uneven rocks.
This place is full of grace and cleanliness. Our small boat is moored at a pontoon (weathered slats of black wood, sometimes splitting, always rocking as we walk along it) ad our neighbours are boats of similar length, from other European countries, often waiting to cross the Atlantic to the Caribbean.
Not us: we have taken down our mast (quite a to-do) and in a few days will begin our trip up the river Douro to the Spanish frontier. Six locks to negotiate, many bends and day after day of quietness (at least, that's the idea).
We have also been entertained by some urban delights, in the centre of Porto, things like ancient buildings (churches and so forth) and fine meals in good restaurants (I never knew how excellent the Portuguese cuisine could be!) and medieval music at a beautifully organized Fayre in an old monastery nearby, which I have a charming picture of but the internet connection is so abysmally slow here on the boat that I will stick to words, not images.
In fact I'll try tomorrow when there's not such an overload!

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

These autumn days...

I'm getting ready to return to the boat which is now in a marina in Porto (northern Portugal, on the Atlantic coast).
Change of life-style, no more space to twirl in but instead a rocking floor (!) and lullaby of the waves washing onto the sandy beach.
Bags packed, weight checked, should be just the right amount...
Too many thoughts chasing around in my head, stories friends have been telling me, tales of death and sickness, countered by the laughter of children playing in the street outside my window.
I must try to make a pic of me sitting typing at my long oak table, looking out across the narrow road, to where the roses climb up the brick wall of my neighbours' house.
Below: me looking from my balcony.
Last night I lay thinking about my life onland in contrast to my life on the boat. I still prefer a dry bed...
Something like this: how grand the sea viewed from the shore, how beautiful the clouds when not about to shower down and make the deck slippery ... and no space inside the boat to get dry...
(The painting above is of course by a Dutch master and presently hanging in Berlin.)
I love it, the soft colours, the huge sky, I feel the wind blowing, I hear it soughing in the sails (or it that only for the leaves of trees?). Very happy to be near the sea (where I was born, with the Rocky mountains on the other side).
We'll give it another try.
Seven weeks before the winter rains arrive in Porto.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Amazing urban peace...

In the night it started to rain. Puddles appeared where there had been green grass. The sand could not absorb the downpour. Lots of happy ducks.
People donned rain capes and cycled off as usual. The day remained grey.
Amsterdam remains beautiful! Indeed, a quiet envelopes the streets. It is still August, holiday month, but almost over.
I walked down to the Town Hall (known as the Stopera, combined with the Opera House) and noticed a considerable decrease in tourists. But still met a couple from the region of Abruzzo, so could keep my Italian oiled. When we sailed down the east coast of Italy a few years ago we visited Abruzzo and admired its mountainous beauty. That was September 2014 (for the record!)
Today in Amsterdam there were still quite a few people out on foot, despite the rain. And of course, it did clear up.
Here some pix of a flotilla cycling through the Rijksmuseum, and nearby canals.
Returning home from my expedition I encountered a sad sight: on the corner of the street where the (historic monument) building has stood for several hundred years, the once French consulate, Maison Descartes, was being emptied. The building (a landmark monument) has been sold to a property developer and the French consulate is off to The Hague. No more lovely French films without subtitles (!), no more delicious meals (there used to be a real French cook who produced real French cuisine, not minimal!) and no more cultural activities (I once had the pleasure of hearing Tim Parks talk about his writing). Definitely the end of an era. Not yet clear what will happen with this building (presently in need of considerable t.l.c.): we wait to see. Happily it is a monument and thereby protected...
Here some pix:
taking boxes and furniture from an upper storey
Boxes being exited!
Yes, I think this counts as the end of an era ... or perhaps simply part of the ever-ongoing urbanization of the inner city. It seems that "ordinary" people are being pushed out, schools closing, and cities in Europe and elsewhere being taken over by hotels, restaurants and trinket shops. No, this is definitely not true of Amsterdam, though I do detect these tendencies ... But the Gymnasium (secondary school where you can learn Latin and Greek and many other subjects to a very high level before opting for university if you wish) which my kids attended is still round the corner from our house and still flourishing. However, the small bakers and butchers and flower shops have all gone; the supermarkets and "to-go" shops have taken over.
Yet this remains a fascinating city to live in; and on my visit to the Town Hall (the Stadhuis, donating its first two letters to the name Stopera: the Opera wins!) this morning I enjoyed a wonderful typically Amsterdam scene: two children, strangers to each other, a blonde three year old girl and a dark slightly older boy, played a  game circling one of the large pillars in the spacious waiting room. It was a kind of hide and seek... she found it hilarious and her delight was infectious: the little boy, more serious and shy to begin with, was soon sharing her giggles and whoops of delight. One of the many Dutch people watching, said how good it was to see this uninhibited pleasure (before the woes of the world overtake these children!).
Outside it is raining again. Here's a picture of the sky brightening. Beautiful city. Trees, and bikes, and water.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Golden late summer

A friend of mine who has lived in Amsterdam for around forty years claims that August is the best month to be here. I tend to agree (well, provided there's plenty of sunlight.) It's holiday time for schools and businesses, and the traffic is substantially diminished. Of course, over the past decade there have been increasing numbers of tourists, so that there are a few streets, like those round the Museum Plein and the Rijksmuseum, where it can grow pretty dense... But I have a soft spot for tourists, and just love practising my languages (presently I'm into Portuguese and have charming chats with visitors from both Portugal and Brazil). Yesterday in the Flower Market, buying Dutch cheese with a friend, I detected some vowel sounds that seemed unfamiliar, and indeed, our assistant told us she came from the Ukraine and had married a Dutchman. Kiev is one of the cities I haven't yet visited, although my son had a school-friend whose mother was Ukrainian and one summer the two boys went to Russia, as it then was, and adventured to the Crimea and swam in the Black Sea (or was it the Caspian...??). Things to do! We have a family from the Ukraine living in our street (employees of Google I believe) and contributing to the considerably multi-ethnic character of this neighbourhood. At our last street party I spoke to people, just from my block, of nine different nationalities. This is Amsterdam for you... 
Living right in the city centre, I am close to the Vondel Park, where once I took my small children to play in one of the sand pits, still there today. I watch the kids who are intently building sand structures, talking to themselves about, or with, their invisible heroes, making the necessary noises to enhance their story. So far they are not distracted by smartphones, headphones or such like and can create from their imaginations the adventures that they choose. I am relieved.
I saw an astounding performance under one of the bridges near the main entrance to the Vondelpark, by SK Thoth, whom I had never heard of but my younger companions had. We looked him up on Youtube when we got home and watched "the story of his life" made about fifteen years ago. Born in the US, here he was in the Netherlands, playing his violin (a very good musician),  dancing and rhythmically stamping his feet so that the small bells round his ankles chattered an accompaniment. He sang and the sound caused goose bumps, a rich full alto voice (I thought at first it was the young woman singing who accompanied him playing on her violin) and then a full bass tone, the words resembling Italian, or perhaps an Indian language. Amazing. Rich and tender, powerful and haunting.
The sun shone, people stood still to listen, scattered over the grass lay the young and old, relaxing in the warmth.
Here a pic of the light through the green...