Posted on

River Women

The river is our mother…the land is our mother

I have just attended a workshop, River Women, down on Dartmoor. It was run by dance and movement artist and musician, Denise Rowe and was about connecting to our ancestors and the land. I have been interested in my ancestors and recently researched my family tree mainly on my father’s side. When I think of ancestors – especially on the female line – I can now name real people; Iris, Eileen, Alice, Frances… but about their lives, I know little.

In a village hall, we lay on the floor and moved gently, stretching our spines, loosening our joints, feeling our backs into the floor. I heard somewhere that we hold our pasts in the small of our backs. Denise brought out a mbira – a spiritual African instrument – and sang gently while she played it. The mbira dzavadzimu is the voice of the ancestors to the Shona people of Zimbabwe. It is important for cultural identity and is brought out at religious ceremonies. The music calls to the ancestors who are believed to be closest to the gods. Their spirits are invited into a spirit medium who is then able to assist with community problems.

River Dart
Banks of moss, grass and fern. Green, green, green.

The notes fell like water in a mesmerising stream of music. We drew pictures and wrote whatever came to us. Then we took ourselves to Newbridge on the River Dart and shared lunch in a grassy meadow. The sun emerged and warmed us. Denise told us about a project she is working on to remember the persecution of witches back in the Middle Ages, Dolls. She wants to gather five million little cloth dolls and suspend them from trees over Dartmoor so they can dance freely. We spent a few minutes making little dolls to add to the collection.

Trees over the River Dart
Looking up through the green layers of leaves.

The afternoon session began with various exercises such as walking barefoot in silence keeping our focus forwards, relating to trees and other natural objects aware of their being and retaining a respectful space. Eventually we arrived at a stretch of the river where the banks were green with trees, ferns and moss. We each chose a site on the bank to settle in, to move in and to move from within ourselves not from our minds. In silence for an hour, taking in the river, I felt held by the land beneath the aspens, the oaks and the sycamores. It was lovely to see women curled up in the mossy embrace of the earth.

River Dart
Sometimes shoes on, sometimes shoes off…the water was cold but not so very cold.
River Dart Root
Some of the tree roots were like hands gently playing the water.

wander in dream her banks
with joy and grief in your heart,
give your soul the earth
a soft singing

she hears, she hears

Thoughts
  • Interesting (0)
  • Like this (0)
Posted on

Fadistas

Fado, which means “fate”, has obscure origins – in back street cafes, bars and the alleys of the poorer parts of Lisbon perhaps. Some say it began with lonely voyages when sailors would sing of their homesickness and loves left behind. Whatever it’s origins, there is a strong association with the sea, and with that loss, longing and nostagia.

Below are two illustrations inspired by Fado. Initially I was going to draw in blue pen but decided that I wanted a darker, richer illustration with more depth, so I chose mixed media using black and blues, ink and watercolour pencil with collage. Woman of the Song was created a while ago and in greens; she was a woman draped in greenery similar to my Sleeping in the Forest illustration. I wasn’t happy with it then, but felt better adding words and a blue overlay of ink to create a woman in mourning. Not all fadistas are women of course, but mine will join my other women portraits and pictures. Sometime I’ll work harder at depicting men, which I don’t do very often :)

The FadistaWoman of the Song

Thoughts
  • Interesting (0)
  • Like this (1)
Posted on

Blue Tiles, Bones and Time Out in Nature

My recent visit to Portugal has left me with many impressions. We stayed at Pego Ferreiro in two cabins, the Boar Hide at first followed by The River Lodge. The Boar Hide Pego Ferreiro The Boar Hide is shrouded in trees and overlooks a glade where wild boar come to forage. We spent some evenings watching the scene silvered by the light of a waxing moon.

But no boar came. By chance, we spotted a family of boar across a vale making their way through boulders and broom scrub while we were out wandering one morning.

Most of my days were spent dawdling by or in the river, watching butterflies and enjoying the peace and beauty of nature. In the River at Pego Ferreiro But we also went for walks, tended the fire – The smells of woodsmoke and yellow bloom linger in my memory – cut wood, filtered water, showered in sun-warmed water and read; heard nightingales, cicadas, frogs in the depositos and the river that never slept.

The River Lodge Pego FerreiroView from The River Lodge The River Lodge is a tented “cabin” perched on a platform on rocks overlooking the River Sever below. The river suffused my days and dreams. The moon embedded overhead, shone like a pearl and spilt into the waters below; vapour trails of planes became waves across the shores of the night sky. Mayflies, butterflies, frogs and snakes came by day and at dusk, crepuscular toads crept too inquisitively close to the fire.

Boar Bone? One day, we found the bones of an animal and wondered whether they belonged to a boar. I sent photos to the experts to find out. They’re bones of a horse apparently… I think of some poor, stray animal lost in the hills and vales without a rider…

From Pego Ferreiro we went to Coimbra and Porto. I found myself atuned to urban nature in the cities, the wildflowers growing in gutters, the screeching swifts scything the air and the scimitor wings of a kite over the rooftops.

We paused in cool, shadowy cloisters festooned with moss and algae and the odd green man.

Green Man in Cathedral Cloisters in Coimbra

I loved the fading, crumbling shabbiness mixed with the grandeur of the past. Blue tiles and murals were everywhere – like this one of Jesus on a kite on the facade of Carmo Church in Porto.  Why blue? The cobalt blue of porcelain… I am drawn to blue. The Portugese call them Azulejos, from the abrabic word Zellige but so similar to azul, the word for blue.

Jesus on a Kite Mural in Porto

Fado leaked into my conciousness; it strained from the speakers of a souvenir shop selling fake tiles and a couple played and sang outside a restaurant down some narrow street where children played and fruit boxes spilled over the pink, ceramic cobbles and I caught my passing reflection in boutique windows. There was a Fado Centre with plush seats where Fadistas performed each evening; a strange, bronze statue of a woman with the body of a guitar stood beside one of Coimbra’s old, city walls and closeby our favourite square where a lame siamese cat slipped the affections of passersby. I feel drawn to Fado, the sentiment, the nostagia, the longing or as the Portugese describe it, “saudade” – a word with no real translation. I can see how some of my drawings hint at the same pathos – like Embracing the Waves from my Turtle Dreaming story – the longing, the sea, the loss…

Embracing the waves

If a gull would come
Bring me Lisboa sky
In the drawing it would make

In that sky where the look
is a wing that can’t fly
Weakens and falls to the sea

What a perfect heart
In my chest would beat
My love in your hand
In those hands
Where my heart fitted perfectly
…….

Words taken from a Fado song with no title.

Thoughts
  • Interesting (0)
  • Like this (0)
Posted on

They will lean that way forever…

The other night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed, thoughts tumbling through my mind…and then the song, “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, started up in my head. I began to sing the words and before I could think properly, I crawled out of bed and fetched my guitar, blew the dust off it and began to play. Or tried to. A friend taught me how to play it, so I can play it but not very well. That night it didn’t really matter, it was just good to be singing and switching off my work head.

Leaning birds

Today I’ve had the day off and decided to make something related to a phrase in the Suzanne song. The phrase I particularly like is:

“there are heroes in the seaweed,
there are children in the morning,
they are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
while Suzanne holds the mirror…”

I found a piece of sanded scaffolding board that I had since my “Blue Goddess” painted board and got to work. The result is far removed from children and seaweed, instead I’ve painted birds! I’d like to have painted heroes in seaweed but couldn’t quite manage it. The result isn’t great but it’s a start to getting back into creating after months of learning and working (which has been enjoyable but different.)

I shall talk about birds soon, perhaps next time, I can see a theme there….

The Leonard Cohen lyrics are great and can be found here.

Thoughts
  • Interesting (0)
  • Like this (0)
Posted on

The poetry of wood…and rust

A recent cloudy day beside the sea yielded these photos. I love the weathered, sea-washed wood of these groyne posts and the rich rust colours of the pier’s iron pillars! Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
groyne postgroyne post2groyne post3groyne post 5groyne post6groyne post 8groyne post 9wood-groynewood-groynewood-groynewood-groyne

I didn’t realize the words on the pillar were the chorus of a Spandau Ballet song until later!
rust-on-pier-polemessage-on-rusty-pole

Gold
Always believe in your soul
You got the power to know
You’re indestructible
Always believe in,because you are
Gold

Thoughts
  • Interesting (0)
  • Like this (0)