Category Archives: My life in London

Cormorants at Farne Island

The Puffins had already left Farne Islands for the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean the week before we arrived at Seahouses in late July. But that didn’t stop us to visit Staple Island – the boat trip alone around the outer islands was worth it…and, in the end, we did see some Puffins after all. And then there were the Cormorants, thousands of them, and other seabirds, of course. But seeing Cormorants for the first time in a natural setting, watching them spread their wings to dry, was one of many things I’ll never forget about this wonderful trip. 

The shots below were taken when we waited for our boat to pick us back from Staple Island after we had had about an hour’s exploration time. I watched a group of Cormorants getting on with their everyday life, ignoring their snap-happy onlookers.

P1070806.jpg Oooh, I’ve got an itchy bum!P1070808.jpg Ah, some loose feathers…P1070805 Mmmh, that feels better now.P1070804.jpg , What????

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Yes, a Puffin 🙂

 

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Closeness

Patient and loyal

they wait when one falls behind  or

steps out of line

 

This was taken at St. James Park one grey afternoon. Those three lovely chaps entertained me and other bystanders – they’d been standing motionless (from the distance, as I was approaching, they looked as if they were statues, so you can imagine how motionless their motionlessness was) for quite some time until the one standing the furthest back decided to move up a bit…and once again reunited they continued with their quest…

Bearded Woman

I looked sheepishly around the empty central courtyard of Pilates House, permanent residence of the Dukes of Medinaceli, right in the centre of Seville, and quickly pressed the shutter button again. Click click. The sound of the double shot is usually drowned by the noise of busy city dwellings, but there, in the quiet winter’sp1060689 air, it hung just that little bit longer.

We’d arrived early to pay our entrance fee, which included an audio guide and a guided tour of the upper floor. We were keen to roam the place before it filled up with other visitors. After all, we’d been waiting a few years for this day to arrive. 

During our last visit to Seville in December 2010, we were disappointed to find this 16th-century Mudéjar style gem closed.

Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz are here! They’re filming an action movie, we were told just after ordering, Dos cañas, media ración de croquetas de salmorejo y media ración 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:

¿De dónde eres?

De Austria, pero vivo en Londres.

Ah, Austria  ¿Es la primera vez en España?

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

I’d learned, that sometimes, for the sake of conversation flow, it’s best to stick to the polite ‘conversation script’. So, I left out my usual enthusiastic talk about Madrid and the small villages and towns of Castilla y León, and continued with my part:   

Me encanta Sevilla. Siempre fue un sueño para mí 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. 

Sí sí sí. Hay  que venir, sí sí sííí…, 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 audioguide picking up interesting information, such as why the palace became to be known as ‘Pilates House’. Then I decided to have a quick walk around one of the gardens. When I returned to continue with the tour,  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.p1060698

Oh, what a portrait, I cried out and hurried towards it to have a closer look and read (yes, I admit, my audioguide concentration span had at that moment elapsed) to read the plaque below it. How utterly fascinating, I thought when I read the story of its protagonists, and how beautifully executed was the composition in its entirety. I absorbed Magdalena Ventura’s feminity, highlighted by a large breast – perhaps a bit too centred on her chest? – and her breastfeeding an infant. Her thickly grown beard, the one prominent feature of her masulinity. Apparently, Magdalena started to grow a beard only at the age of thirty-seven after having given birth to three sons.
Some may find the portrait disturbing, but I stood in front of it in awe. I was surprised that other visitors, who have 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, who herself – her body – is meeting point, that of male and female.

 

 

A Forest and the ghost of Queen Victoria

 

One day early in November last year, patient partner and I decided to visit Ashdown Forest which in medieval times had been a deer hunting forest. More recently, its northern part (The Hundred Acre Wood) became the setting or ‘home’ of Winnie the Pooh and his friends.
P1030901It was a cold and misty day, yet we felt excited, like explorers, ready to face an unknown wilderness.
Moments later we stepped inside the safety of the Forest’s visitor centre (ha!). Can I help you?, we heard a cheerful voice address us, and soon after, equipped with detailed maps, we set off to explore the forest’s beautiful landscape and trees and autumn colours. It was magical.

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The next day we visited Ightam Mote, a 14th-century moated manor house, which has 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 and I wouldn’t have been surprised had  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 against cobblestones marked the end of my solitude. So I turned to acknowledge the other visitor…

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OMG, Queen Victoria!! Had I finally come face to face with a ghost? I stood mesmerised waiting for her pass through me. To my disappointment, she didn’t. But, she did acknowledge me very gracefully – oh dear I nearly curtseyed – before disappearing 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’m 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 (Brașov), my grandmother’s birthplace.

flad-czepez-castle_dracula

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 🙂 …yes, it’s one of those feel good places!

 

Happy Valley

Unchoreographed and
clumsy like, they dance
together. It’s their
first time. They’re whistling
loud their tune to end

the years of solitude.
What patient beings!
But now they’ve  earned their
prize – a missing piece
in life’s grand puzzle.

Theirs was a journey
unhurried, enthused
by love’s enduring
desire. Their reward
too is universe’s

raving applause. As
they dance together
in Happy Valley
they’re soon in sync with
eyes fixed on one’s kindred spirit.

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 peña 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.

pier stormy sea2

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

glistening sea waves2

birds beach_hut

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

Lifeboat promenade2

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’s beautiful countryside, our talk soon turned to the referendum, or “Brexit”. What followed was usually a heated discussion. Its main topic immigration. It’s not about you, I’ve 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.  

Mandarin ducklings

 

 

They’re just so beautiful, Mandarin ducks. Beautiful, too, is their symbolic meaning in Chinese and Korean culture. We’ve got quite a few Mandarin ducks in our local park, and it’s there where I’ve seen them for the first time.
Whenever I’m in the park, which is often, I try to catch a glimpse of them. To my surprise they still evoke the same emotions as they had on that very first time … and I still express these emotions in much the same way. That is, pointing frantically towards the ducks and simultaneously shouting to my patient partner, Look there! Loook!!! Mandarin Duuucks! What beauuuties! Aren’t they beauuutiful? waiting for the usual much anticipated answer, Ah. Yes. Beautiful. Mhmm. And when patient partner is not around? Right, then I tend to drop all that pointing and shouting. But on few occasions I caught myself muttering to myself, Mandarin ducks…beautiful, aren’t they?  and ended up having a brief chat with or receiving smiles from friendly passer-bys.
But now back to my story. A fairly recent event (below) prompted me to type brave mandarin ducklings into the search engine, which, by the way, led me to this video, and that is how I discovered that Mandarin ducks nest in tree cavities, which means, that the ducklings have to jump a long way down to the ground to begin life’s many adventures just a couple of days after they’d hatched…phew (!), in the video all of them did land softly.

The evening I was greeted by a trio of inquisitive Mandarin baby ducklings in our local park …

… I was standing near the edge of River Beck to watch a pair of swans with their offspring. All of a sudden two adult Mandarin ducks and three ducklings appeared from the undergrowth some 1.5-2 metres away. The grown ups were chatting lively, their beaks touching frequently. Neither mother nor father duck noticed their tiny youngsters heading decisively toward their possibly first human. I crouched down and wished I’d had my mobile at hand to record this magical moment. As soon as the little pioneers had reached my feet, their parents took notice. They waddled in our direction quacking instructions to their offspring, who, probably having lost interest in my purple trainers, swiftly returned to their parents. Reunited again all five of them got into the water and swam away. A couple of days later I returned. This time clutching my mobile phone. I really hoped to repeat that experience. I didn’t. Still, amazing images were added to my mental library.