Interzone : Tangier’s Hedonistic Years

Interzone : Tangier’s Hedonistic Years

I made the journey to Interzone from Tarifa across the 11 mile stretch of Atlantic where, in the distance, the Rif mountains stood in a coruscating haze of a bright September day. Interzone is an area where sea, ocean and cultures collide.

Tangier was an International Zone from 1912 to 1956 and became the destination for many European and American spies, writers, artists and musicians. It enjoyed a reputation for hedonism where any pleasure was readily available. Indeed author William S. Burroughs who lived for long spells in Tangier, wrote, “Tangier is one of the few places left in the world where, so long as you don’t proceed to robbery, violence, or some form of crude, antisocial behaviour, you can do exactly what you want.” (more…)

Beyond Assi Ghat,  Varanasi

Beyond Assi Ghat, Varanasi

Assi Ghat is the southern most ghat in Varanasi where the Rivers Assi and Ganges join in confluence.  It is a quiet ghat,  popular with students from the close by Benares Hindu University,  Hindu worshippers who bath before paying homage to Lord Shiva in the form of huge lingam situated under a peepal tree,  and tourists who desire a quieter experience than that in central Varanasi.

Its origin is again bound up in Hindu folklore.  The first legend states that after slaying Shumbh-Nishumbh, goddess Durga threw her sword away, and where it landed resulted in the emergence of a big stream ( the river Assi).  Secondly,  legends say that Lord Rudra was furious with Asuras. This fury has led him to slay eighty Asuras in a day. Eighty in Hindi would translate to Assi. So the place where these Assi (eighty) Asuras were slain, has been named as Assi Ghat.

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Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Mullick Ghat Flower Market

Besides the river Ganges/Hooghly  and traversing both sides of the mighty Howrah Bridge in Kolkata can be found the Mullick Ghat Flower Market,  one of the largest flower markets in Asia.  Both flowers and colour play substantial roles in the world of Hindu worship and everyday,  in a fascinating spectacle of humanity,  vendors and buyers meet to fulfill the spiritual requirement for flowers over west Bengal. 

The market starts around 4 am in the morning with flower sellers from adjacent areas of Kolkata gathering with their colourful merchandise. The sellers displayed their merchandise – roses, marigolds, sunflowers, garden balsams and other flowers lay in all their colourful glory. There is utter chaos everywhere, the market is overcrowded, but the experience of seeing such a vibrant market is altogether unique. Quite obviously, the market becomes all the more booming during the festive and marriage seasons.

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Pilgrim Portraits

Pilgrim Portraits

 The  alluvial mud plains of the river Ganges allow,  for a matter of months,  a magical canvas city to be fashioned which attracts up to 100 mllion visitors over its short lifespan.  Following the visitors’ departure the river swells again with monsoon rains and the city returns to its natural subterranean landscape,  all traces of human occupation swept aside in the currents.  At the heart of the temporary festival-city-landscape is a confluence of rivers where the Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical underground Saraswati come together in a flourish of colour and energy.   This is the spiritual heart of Prayag,  today known as Allahabad.

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Qurbani

Qurbani

It was almost 2 years ago that I was in Morocco on the occasion of the Muslim celebration of Eid al Adha,  more commonly known as the Feast of Sacrifice, a celebration of significant importance in the Arab world which marks the end of the annual Hajj pilgrimage.

I had crossed into Africa by ferry from the Spanish port of Tarifa and completely by accident found myself at the beginning of the preparations for the festival in Tangier.   Sheep and goats were herded through the city streets,  loaded into cars and busses and chased through the colourful narrow streets of the medina.  Adults and children were excited as the animals neared their own homes,  children rushed to greet them and local families keenly watched as sheep and goats were tethered outside in the medina.  Residential areas became temporary livestock quarters.   In the Muslim cemetery adjacent to the strikingly green Marshan Mosque hundreds of feted but fey animals grazed on the grasses between gravestones,  shepherds watching and ensuring their short term safety.  Walking back into the city, the spinning wheels of grinding machines noisily announced the incipient celebration as men queued with knives at the roadside hardware shops lining the Avenue d’Anglettere.

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Love is Always in the Mood of Believing in Miracles

Love is Always in the Mood of Believing in Miracles

“It is strange how few people make more than a casual cult of enjoying Nature. And yet the earth is actually and literally the mother of us all. One needs no strange spiritual faith to worship the earth.”

John Cowper Powys,   A Glastonbury Romance,  published 1933

It is perhaps a truism that disparate faiths sit uneasily together in West Penwith, Cornwall.  Evidence of its strong Christian tradition, both Celtic and later,  can be seen everywhere in its wild landscapes and its settlements.  The latter contains its Methodist heritage, reflecting the impassioned ministry of John and Charles Wesley who undertook journeys of 7 days duration from London to Cornwall on horseback to preach both in natural ampitheatres and selected chapels.

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Sancreed

Sancreed

“Sancreed is a land of stone circles and cave-dwellings, crosses and cromlechs, barrows and menhirs, Holy wells and ancient oratories. In no other part of the country are there so many relics of what is popularly called the prehistoric age. Myth and romance, legend and folklore gather about its grey stones. Where so much is hidden in the mists of antiquity, recourse must, on occasion, be had to conjecture in piecing together the story of the past.” (Anon)

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Grenfell

Grenfell

The recent conflagration at Grenfell Tower in London seems destined to be one of those defining moments which socially and unconsciously resonate for generations.  At its most simple ( if it can be described as such ) it is an indescribable tragedy where upwards of 80 people lost their lives.  At its most complex,  it can be seen as a metaphor for the ongoing battleground between political, social and economic groups at different ends of a spectrum,  and for the reductionist set of values current political classes have displayed towards the most poor and disadvantaged within our society.  That this battleground exists within one of the most affluent areas of the UK creates further almost unbearable tensions.

Although essentially a humanitarian tragedy,  there is little chance it will be seen in any terms other than political.  Clashes between council and housing organisations portraying extreme conservative ideology and a population group frustrated by continuing austerity and cutting safety corners predate this tragedy.  Literally inflamed by resident’s concerns regarding safety being ignored for years by the same organisations, those angers and conflicts are currently visible during meetings between elected local government officials and representatives of the local tenants;  early post-tragedy attempts to hold meetings behing closed doors suggested continuing extreme differences of opinion.

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