Women. Change. Creativity. 100 years Ago and Now.

What do women need in order to write, be creative, fulfil their potential? The writer Virginia Woolf claimed it was ‘ A room of one’s own’  and wrote about this in the book with that title. I am back now in my sanctuary room at Navasola and adding a few more finishing touches to my novel. I am struggling a bit with the time needed to fully prepare for self publishing and still trying to be noticed by agents I send the work to. 12 weeks wait now!

Looking at what I have needed in the past I am grateful to those who fought for our right to vote in the UK. I am also grateful to all those who pressed for better working conditions and maternity rights. Without these steps life would be quite different today.

In Manchester we were fortunate to go to some art exhibitions linked to those in the suffragette movement. It is one hundred years since women were given the vote. One very creative artist who painted and drew working women in the North of England gave up her art work to devote all her time to the suffragette cause. A loss for Art ? A gain for all women. Some of her work is below and can be seen in the Manchester Art Gallery.

Sylvia Pankhurst, daughter of Emily Pankhurst, was a trained artist and went on a journey to various places to record the lives of working women in 1907. The Pankhurst family are famous for their leading role in the Votes for women/ suffragette movement. This collection belongs to her granddaughter.

After seeing this collection we thought this would have made a wonderful book and record of the lives of women like our grandmothers. One friend’s mother worked in the potteries. Here the use of lead had terrible effects on health. My granddaughter, Olivia’s great, great Aunt started work at age 14 in the Bolton spinning mills. However, Sylvia Pankhurst was compelled to spend all her time on the Votes for Women campaign and all those women worked tirelessly to create the change needed for our generation.

During my time in the U.K. I have been attending to all the wonderful stuff that we women often have to attend to. Family and friends and looking to the future.

I have enjoyed watching my baby granddaughter go through some amazing changes in the past two months. From beginning to grasp with one hand to coordinating both hands to bring things to her mouth. Getting ready to feed herself?  Rolling one way and getting stuck to rolling both ways and onto stomach and back. Getting ready to move herself along! And lots of sounds as she experiments with her voice.  But the most amazing smiles as she has fun and recognises us.

It seems important to really stand up for the right to a clean and safe environment and to protect our planet and the natural world from further destruction. The young people of this century deserve this and our generation must listen and respond with actions.

Spain and Navasola have been busy too, responding to events. Thankfully a lot of rain in the Sierra has created much green and new running streams at the finca. In Spain,  there have been some amazing marches all over the country for women on International women’s day.

View from my sanctuary room for writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can also only salute and give support to the young people of America suffering from the effects of gun crime and their determination to overcome personal tragedy and create a safer society.

Change has happened. Change will happen.

Sometimes as with Sylvia Pankhurst we have to sacrifice our own individual creativity in order to give time to create the changes that are needed. Sometimes we have to harness that creativity to be part of the changes needed.

In love and hope to all who follow my blog or just pass by.

Passagem de Ano: The Passing of 2017 into 2018 in Portugal. Our thoughts for those who work to care for all creatures big and small.

The ‘Passing of the Year’ is the expression in Portuguese as the old year finishes and the new one begins. A time of hope and it seems nowadays fireworks to celebrate. We have now enjoyed the fireworks and a walk on the beach for the third year running in Monte Gordo on the Algarve. There is a strong sense of families celebrating together whether in the hotel, the local bars and the marquee for dancing in the New Year.

However, the sun rose on a sad sight on New Year’s Day but also an incredible sight and an occasion to see how we as human beings in Europe in the 21st Century feel for the plight of a stranded whale. There were tears, attempts to push the whale, common sense and finally the Portuguese lifeboat service with the maritime police all wetsuited up came and towed the whale out. It was spouting and alive. The last photo shows the boats out in deeper water trying to ensure the whale heads out to sea.

After being close to the whale with crowds of people on the beach and a strong desire for the whale to return we then watched from our hotel with binoculars the boat rescue. The hotel staff were all very moved to tears too and we were relieved and thought it was a happy ending. However, I research too much. The whale was a cachalote in Portuguese, a sperm whale, of about 9 to 10 metres long. Many sperm whale can live up to 70 years, mainly on squid, in those cold seas. However, they do suffer from diseases and can get washed up ashore because of this or disorientation. It did seem unusual for a whale to be so near the coast but they do live in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and could migrate through this more narrow stretch between Africa and Europe.

My ongoing research led me to a news report about 24 hours later. A cachalote had been found washed up dead on Isla Armonia near Olhao. It was about 10 metres and believed to be the same one that had been rescued at Monte Gordo. Cause of death? Not old age it was not fully grown and possibly a young adolescent male.

Thanks to Becky and her blog about living in Portugal I also researched the Portuguese word Presepio. These are the miniature Natavity scenes that are popular in houses and also on a more public scale. I found out about the one put together by the Bombeiros of Tavira, the fire and rescue service. Above is the entrance to the fire station with beautiful wrought iron doors. Inside were really interesting miniature scenes. As well as showing the bible story set around the birth of Christ it’s also common to show scenes from Portuguese rural history with mills, ovens, windmills and plenty of animals, water and miniature local boats. Worth going to if you are in a Tavira from December to January 7th. But don’t expect baby Jesus to be in his crib until Christmas Day!

One of the largest presepios in Portugal is just at the end of the N125 not too far from Tavira in Vila Real. This is called the Presepio Gigante and it was certainly long as seen from the photo with all the blue lighting.

The actual crib scene is quite small but around are many rural scenes. Some were more Portuguese but at the far end the Roman influences and boats being built were more evident. It is interesting to note that at the time Jesus was born there was a lot of Roman influence and empire along the Algarve and near Seville where there are some amazing amphitheatre ruins called Italica and a bit further north, Merida. All easily accessible from Rome by sea and river routes. Rome ruled the seas and made the roads then!

Animals did feature in this Presepio too. Wild white birds with an eagle flying above, storks nesting and a rabbit being caught by a lasso! No guns then? However, the fun part which is supposed to amuse children is the ‘man with the red cape or coat’. He is to be found behind a tree or a bush ‘ doing his necessities’ in Spanish or Portuguese and translated as ‘having a poop’ in English! My new camera was quick enough to catch that!

As now its almost two weeks from the year passing over from 17 to 18 I have to explain my delay in posting. I struggle getting the photos from my new camera onto the laptop and I then struggle to upload to WordPress. I have also been submitting my novel to some more literary agents and it really seems like making a job application, which it is and I find each agency sufficiently different in the structure needed. At least these ones have an automatic response email and guarantee a short reply if not successful. Let’s hope for a phone call or positive email soon. One has 100 submissions a week so that does make for a lot of work. Thinking about it though I would mark at least 30 English GCSE essays a week, 20 A level and at least another 30 of the younger classes and all mainly in the evenings after teaching all day. Comments needed!

Here’s some of the last lights of the festive season from Vila Real, Portugal  and wishing you all well for 2018.

Feliz Navidad, Felices Fiestas a todos. Seasons Greetings from Southern Spain

Greetings to all and as many of you know it has been a busy year but we are now in the Sierra Aracena and able to have a restful Christmastide. At present we can enjoy the Andalusian blue skies in the middle of the day and log fires for the evening chill. We managed a midday walk around the pueblo of Valdelarco. Here the Sierra villages have a tradition of crochet decoration for winter. In Valdelarco the trees in the square and the benches have been given a warm covering of colourful crochet.  A great idea for the cold iron benches.

It was our intention for our walk to be circular and we headed off from the upper part of the village. It was hard to park as all the parents and local school buses were attending a festive programme for the linked primary schools of our three local villages. Rural life seems well supported in Spain and there are the local school, village pharmacies and regular GP surgeries. As we climbed up there were some good views back over the village and through to the other hills of the Sierra Morena of which our Sierra is a part of.

We followed the map and turned right before the barranco/ stream with the pilgrimage church for the romeria on the other side. The romeria is the local village festival and usually takes place on the feast day of the village saint but usually in warmer weather! I showed the major romeria for most of the local villages in September when horses, carts and the bullocks set off for the church of the ‘Queen of the Angels.(La Reina de Los Angeles.)We walked quite a way and were hoping to complete a circular route. The path was pretty but finally came to an end with an impressive locked gate and lots of notices to confirm we would not be welcome to continue. Sin pasar! A lot of the well know public paths are kept open forming a network of ‘senderos’ but most of these are long distance and there are few circular routes. There is also a local group that tries to keep paths open and this had certainly looked a very clear path on the map.

Walking back was uphill! We planned to eat by the pilgrimage church in the full sun but ended up by a signed post and opposite the red sandy banks where the bee eaters nest in the spring. They have gone for a warm respite to somewhere in Africa. These birds also feature in my novel so I am very fond of them!

Greetings to all. We are all well and Trevor managed to overcome some of his difficulties with walking. We are plodding on with finishing the house hence view of my new shelves with Christmas cards and tools. I also managed to create a festive space with some solar lights.

We will have a pot luck veggie Christmas with friends. Chestnut and Apricot nut loaf and a trifle with sherry and madroño are my offerings. I am finally finished with the chestnuts and the blisters they give me. Why such a tasty and nutritious nut should prove so difficult to peel is beyond me! I managed to complete a vegan challenge in November and certainly felt good with the diet and overcame my desire for tea with milk. I now have light black tea with ginger and/ or lemon.

I am beginning to look into how the way we eat and farm does affect the natural world and is probably one of our biggest threats and challenges for the loss of biodiversity and climate change. In the news there was a report about the scale of recent deforestation amounting to the size of Spain. Spain is huge. The views I show of the Sierra should really be covered in trees. Reforestation could halt drastic rises in world temperatures.https://www.theguardian.com/environment/radical-conservation/2017/dec/22/failing-our-forests-in-two-years-weve-lost-enough-trees-to-cover-spain?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Thanks to everyone for all the love,support, cards, messages and comments this year. This is the time of year for the Baby Jesus story so I will sign off with the first smiles of my first grandchild. Babies seem to encourage us to look after them and think about doing what we can to provide a good life, inner and outer. Here’s to our desire and hope for peace, and for a future that’s good for all living things on this beautiful planet earth. Abrazos a todos. Hugs to everyone.

Reservoir Dogs. Water, wells and walkies.

To own a dog is both a privilege and a responsibility. Walks are essential. To live in the countryside, close to nature, with an abundance of trees is both a joy and a worry. Water is essential for all living things. Here in the Sierra we took a trip to the reservoir or embalse in Spanish. It is a large lake with a dam. The water is a clear deep blue under the bright blues of an Andalusian sky. We walked around the shore and enjoyed the warmth, the rocks and the beauty of water, rippling gently in a slight breeze.

In the summer of 2016 I swam in the reservoir with my daughter. The water level was at is normal shoreline. In 2017 we have not had any usual downpours of rain for which this area is well known and gives it its green and wide range of trees. The water level was very low, perhaps 2 metres and we walked over the dry rocks where we had swam.


It has been a busy few weeks back, with the chestnut harvest in full swing in our area. One of the main comments is the size of chestnuts are smaller than usual due to little water. These trees need a reasonable amount of water and are not found on the hotter and drier south side of the Sierra. To me it seems amazing how the chestnuts and all the other trees seem to cope with the lack of rainfall. It has only been the cherries that have looked wilted. Their roots must penetrate deep and draw out water from sources underground. Our well on the finca is called a manantiel, meaning a possible spring coming into the rocks. It is not a very deep well and there are some stairs that go down too. This makes it easy to adjust and check the water pump. We have had to do that twice this Autumn as the water levels have gone below the pump. We must now use our water supply very carefully. Lets pray for the rain to come soon. A raindance might be lively but also perhaps we should take action in whatever ways we can to mitigate the effects of our species on this planet.

While looking after Lotte my friend Ruth’s tibetan terrier we walked down to the well and I took photographs of the changing colours of leaves in the late afternoon sun. She’s used to this as a Ruth is an artist and photographer. So there were lots of stops and starts in the walk.

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Hawthorn berries
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Arbutus Unedo berries.
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Quince or membrillo

The Sierra Aracena is well known for its Autumn Fall colours and is quite unique in the south for this. It is the most popular time to visit and coaches come on tours too. In Southern Spain this variety of colour from many trees is rare. Because here we usually have very high rainfall and a variety of deciduous trees.

I have been busy with produce too and making chestnut rissoles, membrillo from the quinces and madrono jam from the rather gritty but bright red fruits of  Arbutus Unedo, the strawberry tree. For this month of November I have taken on the challenge of eating vegan food. I thought cutting the dairy would be hard but have got used to my tea, light black with lemon and ginger. AI love to eat a lot of fresh vegetables and rice it has not been too hard. Perhaps a recipe post is needed at the end of the month?

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Lentiscus leaves
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Chestnut leaves

Abrazos, hugs from us all in Spain and thank you all for all the lovely comment on the arrival of my first grandchild, Olivia Jane. I am having a go at planting some olive seeds courtesy of you tube!

Olivia and the Olive Trees of Navasola

I am back at Navasola and involved in the chestnut harvest and looking for any olives I can find that have not fallen. So I will post about the wonders of the Mediterranean olive tree and my first granddaughter Olivia. Thank you for all the kind comments on my previous post as we awaited the birth and particularly Eliza Waters for the interesting expression about birth ‘ may it unfold with ease! Well, as with most births there is some drama but it was with ‘relative ease’ that Olivia Jane arrived into this world. The name Olivia was chosen by her father and the name Jane is a family name. Unknown to this little Olivia the name seems to derive from Italian and Oliva after the significance of olive trees in Mediterranean and biblical culture. However, it seems to be William Shakespeare who made a slight addition of the ‘i’ to create the character Olivia in 12 th Night.
So here at Navasola I have plenty of olive trees for Olivia to one day get to know. I’ve included a photo from Wikipedia to show the development of the flowers. These can be so small and easily missed. On my botanical illustration course I drew some olives from a photo but could not remember ever seeing the flowers. As that was when I was working I thought I just missed the season they bloomed. I am also aware that I am missing some of the small changes as Olivia grows but thanks to video and Skype I can follow the progress of a small human too!

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View from era to house, through olive grove of 21 trees

The beauty of the olive tree may be in its evergreen silvery grey dancing leaves, its light bark and of course its fruit, the bitter olive that the birds still peck at in Autumn. Olive cultivation is very old but seems to have originated from the region around Italy. We are not sure how this bitter fruit was first discovered to be so useful as there are certain processes needed to remove the bitter phenols in it. However, with crushing the bitter phenols break down. Therichness of the oil became sacred and well known for its healthiness and healing properties. The Olive branch has become a symbol of peace, purity and wisdom in ancient times used in wreaths to recognise achievements. 

I decided to plant an olive seed or two for Olivia but on looking this up encountered a few surprising facts about cultivated Olive trees. It seems to be that by just planting  a seed it will only produce a wild olive. This will produce smaller fruit.  Cultivated Olives are engendered mainly through grafting. This might explain why I do not find many new olive trees growing on the finca unlike the productivity of the chestnut seeds. These and plums seem to grow up anywhere possible!

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Black olives high in tree against Andalusian blue sky
However, the Olive is a long lived tree and it’s roots can withstand fires and will send out sucklings. Here at Navasola the trees have become too tall to harvest commercially but I will set out today to see what olives I can find for our own use. It has been such a dry, long hot summer and this has affected the size of the chestnuts and seems to have dried out a lot of olives. Many have fallen to the ground early and in a wizened state. But there are some and I will finally do a count of the olive trees, mostly situated on rocky slopes, where they can survive with much less water than the chestnuts. How much less is not yet known. I hope we can help all learn to be more resilient to climate changes and its effect on our own landscape, flora and flora here and globally help prevent more rises in temperature.  This has been our hottest and driest year yet.

With thanks to all my readers and followers and I hope to have more of a routine set up to write to and follow all your posts in the coming year.

Below, the growth of Olivia Jane, week by week. From newborn to 4 weeks and many subtle  changes. And the growth of flowers on an Olive tree!


 

 

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The growth of Olive flowers by J Oteros on wikipedia

Changing seasons:Changing times. At the Crossroads! 

A summer of sunflowers. Stopping at a crossroads with sunflowers stretching out in all directions. I pause on our long journey back home south to finca Navasola to get a good shot. Last year I missed the opportunity to take photos of sunflower fields and by September all the bright faces had gone. Carpe Diem or Sieze the Day, especially for photos! Here we were in the middle of rural France after a short break to see Monet’s Garden and my cousin. It seems like the only holiday we’ve had this year but let’s not be ungracious as living at Navasola is a joy, if at times hard work.

I will try and post on Monet’s garden and other gardens soon but the busy schedule of 2017 is coming to fruition with an Autumn birth. We hope soon to meet my first grandchild  and I have been back and forth, north and south, throughout the past few months helping with all the changing of houses and stuff that seems to arise around pregnancy and birth. Changing times for us all as the seasons change and we wait for the birth.

Colour schemes in one part of Monet’s Garden.
I have also been busy with my novel with lots of careful revisions and editing. I’ve finally taken courage, thanks to a blogging friend, Sarah at Wildfomelody,  who has read some of the novel and told me to have the courage of my characters and so I have sent off the first few chapters to one literary agent. This felt like a big step alongside the fear of rejection. I have several more agents I have researched and will now need to be persistent in following this through. It’s 4 weeks and I have had no response but this is supposed to be the norm. It would be good to have even an automated acknowledgement though. I feel inclined to now try the next agent that I think might be interested in my writing.

One blogger has a good description of writing a novel as giving birth. Unfortunately,  it reminded me too of the incredible work of the strongest muscle, the uterus as it builds up to that final push. Thankfully that’s not my role as an expectant grandmother and I’m not sure I wish to relate to the pain involved in childbirth to the process of writing. Does much good writing have to emerge from painful experiences or be painful?

I replied to James Clark http://jamesclarkthenextiteration.wordpress.com/ that I thought my creative writing has been more like my attempts to dig away at a vegetable garden than childbirth. It’s also taken me longer than 9 months, two years in fact, but I suppose like the gardening I haven’t been able mentally to work away at it full time. It has had growth spurts and then some resting periods but hopefully I have strengthened the roots and pruned away at some rather straggly bits. Sometimes I wonder why I bother with the garden or the writing but I love doing both even when the heat and flies drive me crazy.

As so far there has been no response from the first agent  I need to keep up the water pressure or try a different fertiliser so I can reach out further and hope the novel will take root in some literary agent’s rather full garden and be able to bloom into a publication. This seems to be the way in the UK now as most credible publishers only accept submissions through agents.

I wonder as with the sunflowers that the land of publishing tends to be one of monoculture for mass audiences. Monoculture in farming tends to restrict biodiversity. Does this approach with publishing stifle our creativity and diversity of ideas? Should we carry on regardless of the ‘market’ ? Or how do we get our product to the market?

Blogging seems to create a supportive network but my understanding from other bloggers is that this will not fully get your vegetable or flowers onto many tables! As with my garden I will try different places, different seeds, and keep on with the joy of growing! I have more writing ideas that I wish to develop now and want to move on to the next project. I enjoyed the research and the seeds of ideas and  design of the whole garden of the novel coming together. Some areas were bright and full of breezes others more shady but the novel flowed and I have the momentum for more journeys for my characters.

Certainly,  the wild flowers of Navasola have great resilience to the changing seasons. So I too will need that resilience so that my novel can meet the outside world. Maybe the creative process is not just about birth but about the nurturing needed for a human child to pass through many stages of growth before blossoming into maturity.


Thanks to all who read and follow. I appreciate all the likes and comments. I am now off Northward, like my characters, and hoping for a not too difficult birth for my daughter and partner and a happy healthy baby for them to grow with!

 

Festivals in the Sierra Aracena: The Romeria of La Reina de Los Angeles

It’s the 8th of September and the day of my favourite festival in the Sierra. Its full of horses, mules, donkeys and a wonderful mix of devotion and conviviality. Today is the day where each of the surrounding villages pay homage to the Patron Saint of the Sierra Aracena, La Reina de los Angeles whose hermitage is at the Pena de Arias Montano. This is a beauty spot on a rocky outcrop overlooking the village of Alajar. It is also full of history and the extraordinary story of Arias Montano, a highly learned man of the Renaissance times.

Although in 1970 this Romeria was given a very public and national status it is truly a very local event. At least nine of the surrounding villages go on a pilgrimage to the hermitage and this includes Seville. All travel on foot, horseback or the lucky ones in a carriage. The Virgin Mary of each local village church is taken by bullocks in beautifully adorned carts. These are paraded in front of the Queen of the Angels at the hermitage. She too is then taken out of her seclusion and shown the beauty of the views.

If you live in or close to one of the villages such as Fuenteheridos and Castano de Robledo this is also the time to meet up with neighbours and share good food and drink. After the religious devotions there is time for picnic and chats. It is a balancing act of cultural traditions, religious devotion and neighbourliness which also seems to honour the natural beauty of the area and rural lives, past and present.

For many it is time to get out the wonderful flamenco dresses, ride your horse, sing songs and enjoy a day out. For me I relish being here as it was the one festival I always had to miss as the school term had begun. I was always given a running commentary about the horses. Perhaps one day I’ll finally get back on a horse and ride up over those hills to the Pena. I might need a little assistance too!

 

Nature needs Nurture

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