Rainbow Boy

Rainbow Boy
Rainbow Boy by Chris Shea

Week 9 of lockdown is moving into week 10 tomorrow. This week was tough.

In a way, I was lucky, realisation of this, our new reality, crept in four/five weeks late. So I’m a month or so behind. Reason being, I was kept quite busy experimenting with different platforms (i.e. Zoom, Google Hangout which is now Google Meet, Skype, Google Classroom, Edmodo…), exchanging information with fellow tutors, and thinking up new activities to keep learners, especially those in larger group settings, motivated and engaged during our weekly 90-minutes session.
Now that all is working more or less smoothly (I mean, realistically, there’ll probably always be some sort of technical hiccup to deal with, albeit occasionally), I’m in the process of getting used to what will be my new routine. My new routine, until, I believe the autumn. And I like it. Even though I need people, real people around me, rather than just faces on screens, because I enjoy feeling energy of people, of students, family, friends and different places, I do enjoy the tranquility and peace (no more long commutes!) this new life has brought, and believe that everything is going to be alright in the end ūüôā

But now let me tell you about “Rainbow Boy.

I spotted the beautiful image sometime in April, on a fence not far from where I live, whilst on my daily one-allowed-exercise-per-day walk. From one early evening to the next, Rainbow Boy had appeared, just like that. I was incredibly excited. My face lit up and my heart raced the way it hadn’t for some time. I kept saying, Oh my god, this is a Banksy! A Banksy! We have a Banksy in Beckenham! ¬†Since then I’ve spotted three more Rainbow Boys on my walks around the neighbourhood and realised that it was not a Banksy.

When I actually googled Rainbow Boy, I discovered it to be the work of Croydon artist Chris Shea. Chris said, “During these unprecedented times I’m aiming to lift peoples spirits with my artwork. My work is my passion and a lot of my inspiration comes from watching my son grow, taking those moments and turning them into art that everyone can relate to. The rainbow boy that I am painting on garages, houses and buildings stemmed from a photograph of my son watering our plants in the garden. I then saw the local children painting rainbows to thank the NHS for all their hard work. This gave me a feeling that there is hope in youth and it should be watered like a plant.”

I then remembered the poem by Derek Mahon, “Everything is Going to be All Right”, and thought it a perfect match for Rainbow Boy.

Everything is Going to be All Right

How should I not be glad to contemplate
the clouds clearing beyond the dormer window
and a high tide reflected on the ceiling?
There will be dying, there will be dying,
but there is no need to go into that.
The poems flow from the hand unbidden
and the hidden source is the watchful heart.
The sun rises in spite of everything
and the far cities are beautiful and bright.
I lie here in a riot of sunlight
watching the day break and the clouds flying.
Everything is going to be all right.

Cormorants at Farne Island

The Puffins had left Farne Islands for the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean the week before we arrived at Seahouses. It was late July. That didn’t stop us, though, to visit Staple Island. The boat trip alone around the outer islands was worth it (!) and in the end, we did see some Puffins, and there¬†were lots and lots of¬†Cormorants and other beautiful seabirds. Seeing Cormorants for the first time in a natural setting, watching them spread their wings to dry, was one of many things I‚Äôll never forget about this wonderful trip.¬†

The shots below were taken whilst waiting for our boa at Staple Island after we about an hour’s exploration time. This small flock of Cormorants got on with their everyday life, completely ignoring their snap-happy onlookers.

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oh, some loose feathers…
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…that feels better…

 

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A puffin :-), so glad we spotted one as most had left only days before our visit

Copyright (c) 2017 Gerda Brenner
All rights reserved

Closeness

Patiently and loyal they wait

when one falls behind         or

steps out of line

This was taken at St. James Park. Those three lovely creatures¬† entertained me and other visitors of the park. They’d been standing like statues for ages, until the one on the left, decided to move up a bit. Reunited, they were once again ready to continue their walk.

Copyright (c) 2017 Gerda Brenner
All rights reserved

Bearded Woman

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We were lucky to find the central courtyard of Pilates House empty for the first few minutes after we had arrived at the magnificent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli. Click-click. The sound of the double shot of my camera, which is usually drowned by the noises of busy city dwellings, echoed through in the quiet winter’s air.

We’d arrived early that morning to pay our entrance fee, which included an audio guide and a guided tour of the upper floor. The last time we were in Seville this 16th-century Mud√©jar style gem was closed because…

…Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are here! They’re filming an action movie, we were told just after ordering, Dos ca√Īas, media raci√≥n de croquetas de salmorejo¬†y media raci√≥n de albondigas de choco, at a nearby bar. This spontaneous (the closure turned out to be a perfect excuse to stop for a small glass of beer and some tapas) but nonetheless vital break allowed us to ponder where to head next. And then the all too familiar tourist-native exchange followed as soon as one of the two cheerful Sevillanos behind the bar picked up on my non-native Spanish accent:

¬ŅDe d√≥nde eres?

De Austria, pero vivo en Londres.

Ah, Austria  ¬ŅEs la primera vez en Espa√Īa?

No, pero aquí, en Sevilla, sí, es mi primera vez.

I’d learned, that sometimes, for the sake of conversation flow, it‚Äôs best to stick to the polite ‚Äėconversation script‚Äô. So, I left out my usual enthusiastic talk about Madrid and the small villages and towns of Castilla y Le√≥n, and continued with my part:   

Me encanta Sevilla. Siempre fue un sue√Īo para m√≠ ver los naranjos.
(That is very true, and besides, I love Seville orange marmalade thinly spread on my breakfast toast, and the next time I return, it’ll have to be in March because I want to see the trees in bloom and take in their subtle fragrance.)

Tienes que venir durante la Semana Santa. 

S√≠ s√≠ s√≠. Hay  que venir, s√≠ s√≠ s√≠√≠√≠…, I nodded as the image of me bumping into Cameron Diaz in the narrow streets of Seville crept into my mind and …

Anyway. Back to January 2017 and Pilates House. We had about one hour to wander around the house to absorb the wonderful architecture of the central courtyard, its adjoining rooms and two gardens, a fusion of Italian Renaissance and Mudéjar-Gothic styles, before our guided tour started on the upper floor.

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For twenty-five-or-so minutes, I listened diligently to the man and woman trapped inside the audio-guide, picking up interesting information on the way, such as why the palace became to be known as ‘Pilates House’. Then I decided to visit one of the gardens. It was then when patient partner called me inside a small room next to the Praetor’s Study. The room was furnished with a desk, a couple of chairs and on the wall behind the desk and …there she was, La Mujer Barbuda by Jusepe de Ribera, 1631.

Oh, what a portrait! I rushed towards it to have a closer look and read (yes, my audio-guide concentration span had already been exhausted) the plaque below it. Fascinating, I thought after I finished reading the story oft the painting and its protagonist.
The painting is beautifully executed. Magdalena Ventura’s femininity is highlighted by a large breast (it’s positioned quite central on her chest) and by her breastfeeding an infant. Her thickly grown beard is the one prominent feature of her masculinity. Apparently, Magdalena started to grow a beard at the age of thirty-seven after having given birth to three sons.
Some might find the portrait disturbing. But I liked it a lot, and was surprised that other visitors, who’d slowly started to arrive, entered the room without looking at the painting.
An interesting article, La Mujer Barbuda by Ribera, 1631: a gender bender, by W. Michael G. Tunbridge, can be found here

For me, Pilates House is all about fusion, that of Christian and Islamic workmanship. Thus, I thought it was the perfect place to have stumbled upon Ribera’s portrait of Magdalena Ventura whose body is a meeting point of both fe/male.

A Forest and the ghost of Queen Victoria

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One day early in November last year, patient partner and I decided to do an overnight stay in Ashdown Forest. I’d heard that in medieval times it’d been a deer hunting forest and that more recently its northern part (The Hundred Acre Wood) became the setting or ‘home’ of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.
It was cold and misty, when we arrived that day. Yet, we felt excited, much like explorers ready to enter an unknown wilderness. Seconds later, we stood inside the safety of the Forest’s visitor centre looking for maps of self-guided walks. Once we’d chosen a medium-length walk we stepped inside the forest’s beautiful landscape with trees showing of their autumn colours. It was magical.

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The following day, we visited Ightam Mote, a 14th-century moated manor house with a Grade 1 listed dog kennel – see if you can find it.

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Let me tell you, it was¬†so quiet there that I wouldn’t have been surprised if¬†I’d seen a ghost. Pfff! Ghosts!, I thought as I wandered across the sunny courtyard …

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thud thud thud. The sound of¬†a walking stick hitting on the cobblestones marked the end of my solitude. So I turned to acknowledge the other visitor…

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OMG, Queen Victoria!! I’d finally come face to face with a ghost! I stood motionless, waiting for her pass through me. To my disappointment, she didn’t. But, she did acknowledge me quite gracefully – I almost curtseyed – before she disappeared through one of the doors.

Halloween Party

Now, that Halloween has arrived, I wanted to get a little bit “in the mood”. I found this¬†poem¬†by Kenn Nesbitt¬† browsing through the poetry foundation site.
And yes…I’m having a typical lazy Sunday! ¬†Sitting on my sofa, I’m all snuggled up in my snuggly blanket and I sip steaming Orange & Cinnamon Tea enjoying very much the company of books…and a bowl filled with Jelly Babies.

Halloween Party

We’re having a Halloween party at school.
I’m dressing up like Dracula. Man, I look cool!

I dyed my hair black, and cut off my bangs.
I’m wearing a cape and some fake plastic fangs.

I put on some makeup to paint my face white,
like creatures that only come out in the night.
My fingernails, too, are all painted and red.
I look like I’m recently back from the dead.

My mom drops me off, and I run into school
And suddenly feel like the world’s biggest fool.
The other kids stare like I‚Äôm some kind of freak –
The Halloween party i not till next week.

 

When I was a child I loved nothing more than listening to my grandma telling the gruesome story of the ‘real‘ Dracula, Vlad Tepes, whose castle stood close to Kronstadt (Bra»ôov),¬†my grandmother‚Äôs birthplace.

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Bran Castle, Summer 2013

“Near Kronstadt¬†stands a big and beautiful castle, called Bran. It is set amongst the Carpathian mountains and surrounded by dense woodland. History tells that a gruesome prince would impale anyone, who went against him, around his castle. And so blood ran down the hills into the valley day and night so that the place soon became known as ‘the forest of human bodies.'”

My hairs stood up on my neck and arms every time she spoke the last sentence. And I’d ask, ‘But did he really exist?’
A quiet nod was her response. 

 

 

Happy Valley

 

As soon as I put my feet on the grass of Happy Valley (near Croydon) I feel like dancing ūüôā …yes, it’s one of those feel-good places!

 

Happy Valley

Unchoreographed
Clumsy
they dance for the first time
The tune is joined laughter
impossible to end

It’s their solitude’s end

Their kisses are
Two missing pieces in
Life’s giant jigsaw

Universe gives its
raving applause to their
unchoreographed dance and
turns it into sync when they
lock each others’ eyes
                                           transfixing

                         Kindred Spirits

Copyright (c) 2016 Gerda Brenner
All rights reserved

The Truck

English song title, ‘In order to be happy, I want a truck.’¬†

‘You’re the least patriotic person I’ve ever met.’
I take a sip from the steaming fennel and mint tea and look at my friend who I met in Pret.
‘Mm-hmm,’ is all I manage to reply before I start running after my mind, that has decided to ramble down memory lane to find relevant and recent evidence of my still existing emotional support of Austria. A few hundred meters later, I saw …¬†

1. Taste of the Alps Week, when unaware of this exciting fact, I¬†entered my local Lidl. Nostalgia didn’t hit me hard –¬†bang! boom! bang!¬†– when I discovered packets of Austrian sliced sausages and hams in the refrigerated cabinet, but I did grab, albeit mistakingly, a fellow happy shopper’s arm and pointed frantically at some pink boxes of wafers that sat on a shelf near the freezers, shouting ‘Mannerschnitten!! I can’t believe it. They have Mannerschniiitteeennn!’ I was surprised to hear a friendly ‘Ah, they look nice,’ from a smiling lady with Eastern¬†European accent, who didn’t¬†mind that I’d grabbed the wrong arm.
‘Why don’t you buy some ?’ I heard patient partner’s calm voice from my other side, clearly oblivious of the mixed-up arm affair.
‘Na, not really interested’ I replied quickly. And that was that.

The following day, early evening.
‘Gerdiiitaaa, there are ten¬†packets of that Austrian meat selection in the fridge…um, and six 4-packs of Mannerschnitten in the kitchen cupboard!’
 

2. Euro Cup 2016. I watched Austria vs Portugal. I have to add that I’m not at all an overly enthusiastic football lover, despite the fact that I’ve been a longstanding member of la pe√Īa de Atletico de Madrid of Belmonte de Campos. In fact, I did not have a choice but to join the club when its chairman Luis shouted excitedly, ‘Somos INTERNACIONALES,‘ thrusting a red and white membership card firmly into my hands.
So, after Austria’s second qualifying game my voice was hoarse for a couple of days thanks to¬†all the cheering. What amazing result…0-0 for those who are interested.

3. ‘The’ truck. Late morning last Friday, before walking into the office for the usual language training sessions…20161014_104617

Alas, homeland! Sweet homeland!

How strange is this sigh,

Fifty yards from my

work destination

I see a truck stuck  

near St. Lawrence church in a narrow lane.

 

It sure looks impressive:

High sides  almost touching

the adjoining building 

that’s raised in the City.

 

A few steps later

I startle and scurry back,

to fish out my phone

from its protective sleeve

and take a picture of

its registration plate: A‘s the Country¬†

 

Then a double L,  

three numbers, two letters –

Austria, Linz-Land,

my birthplace, even

homeland? Now I realise it still is,

and look for the driver to ask how he is.

Flying Robert

 

This film was created in Hillary Younglove’s puppet class at Sonoma Academy in 2011. This is the story of Flying Robert from the children’s book Struwwelpeter (1845) by Dr. Heinrich Hoffman. The song is by British cult trio¬†Tiger Lillies¬†. Tiger Lillies collaborated in the award-winning musical Shockheaded Peter, which is based on Struwwelpeter.

I checked the weather forecast before we left. Gusts of winds of up to 60 mph on exposed coastlines were expected. When we arrived in Littlehampton it was not only very very windy, but it rained quite heavily, too. So we briefly discussed the question that had crept into our minds: Shall we just turn around and drive back home and hide from that bad bad wind…and rain, or, ¬†shall we stay?¬†Once our thoughts-in-sync were out in the open we unanimously kicked them out of our heads. Never mind the rain or galeforce winds! We’re here to enjoy ourselves!

We got out of the car and checked into our studio holiday apartment opposite East Beach. From our windows, we had some fabulous sea views irrespective of the weather. And then the rain suddenly stopped and the grey sky turned blue and we decided to go for a walk along the beach.

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Patient companion, “Gerdita, turn around, this is a safe distance to take a photo of you.”

Me-who-much-prefers-the-active-photographer-role-instead-of-being-the-object-of-interest-of-the-snapper, “Ahm, really? Do I really have to…? ¬†I continued in my mind, ¬† “…pose and smile the smile that for sure will as usual end up looking like a grin that makes me look just like the Cheshire Cat?” , and I replied,¬†“All right then.”¬†

Because I decided to take an umbrella, which, I know, was pointless considering the forceful sea breezes,  I decided to pose as Flying Robert and almost turned into a Flying Gerda.

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As I leant back into the wind the pure force of gust kept me from toppling over and I’m definitely not a lightweight.

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Suddenly one of the stretchers of the umbrella broke and my imminent departure to faraway lands fell through. 

So, with me still on the island the two of us visited Chichester and Arundel the following day and we even managed to do another long coastal walk. Below are some photos from those days.

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When we arrived the beach and promenade were almost deserted. But suddenly, within minutes, blue sky!

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That same weekend the River Arun Waterfront Festival took place. The weather was fantastic and Littlehampton packed with people.

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A new beginning

24th June. 4.30 am. I cannot sleep. I get up and put the TV on. I watch history in the making.

Oh. Please. No.

During the last couple of weeks xenophobic sentiments have been rising predominently in areas with little immigration, we were told by the media. When talking to friends and acquaintances or to people at my local hairdressers or in the pub or to fellow ramblers during an organized walk through South England‚Äôs beautiful countryside, our talk soon turned to the referendum, or ‚ÄúBrexit‚ÄĚ. What followed was usually a¬†heated discussion. Its main topic immigration.¬†It’s not about you, I‚Äôve been told. Perhaps not in their eyes. But I am an immigrant, too, and ¬†I feel part of the “other”. Yesterday I was overwhelmed with sadness. Sandness because of the feeling that I no longer belong here, and that I am no longer welcomed. But I know that emotions change, they always do. And after the initial shock and anger I thanked Britain for having given me a wonderful life packed with so many exciting opportunities and a home filled with joys and friends.
When I woke up this morning excitement got the better of me. Excitement of a new beginning, perhaps in another country, who knows. And I sat down to the first draft of my possible new journeys.