Walking in Mind

A Trail of Thoughts


1 Comment

Elsewhere

Launched in the spring of 2015, Elsewhere is, in the words of its Editor-in-Chief, Paul Scraton, “a journal dedicated to writing and visual art that explores the idea of place in all its forms, whether city neighbourhoods or island communities, heartlands or borderlands, the world we see before us or landscapes of the imagination”.

Alongside the print journal, the Elsewhere website also hosts a blog, to which I am delighted to have contributed a piece of writing entitled A Dance of Memory. You can read my piece here, although I recommend you also have a leisurely browse around the Elsewhere website. The print journal appears twice a year, and you can take out a subscription covering four issues for just €48.

IMG_3587


Leave a comment

Stories That Need To Be Told, And Heard

In my final post of 2015 I reflected on my walk across France this summer, and on how different my experience and situation was from the plight of those who walk to save their lives. The focus of that post was a piece of music by Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté, Lampedusa, and one of my final reflections was that it is in the telling of people’s stories that we weave a thread of hope from events worthy of lament.

The purpose of this new post is simply to share a link to a programme that was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 29 December 2015, but which I only heard when it was repeated yesterday. In The Boat Children, Hashi Mohamed, once a child migrant himself, travels through Italy gathering stories from some of the young people who have made it this far from Eritrea, from Somalia, from Afghanistan. He reminds us that these are children who have travelled alone, without their parents, for thousands of miles, and through their stories we learn of their ordinary dreams, of their hope for a better life, not just for themselves but for the families they have left behind.

One of the young men interviewed explains that his goal in life is to wipe out the poverty in his family, and as I listened to his story I thought of my Cornish ancestors who sailed for America in search of a better life, and of the many Catalans from Sant Pere de Ribes, the town where I now live, who did the same. These Cornish and Catalan emigrants were not fleeing war or persecution. They were, in today’s parlance, economic migrants, a class of person who is now regarded as less deserving of settler’s rights than is the refugee. We have forgotten, it seems, that a thread of economic migration runs throughout our own past, and that it contributed to the accumulation of the wealth we now enjoy.

The stories recounted in The Boat Children need not only to be told but also to be heard, so please share the link widely (the programme is available indefinitely via the iPlayer Radio app and the programme website).

 


2 Comments

Last Post

As I walked this summer from Catalonia to Cornwall there were many songs and pieces of music that accompanied me along the way, and I have written about some of them in a number of recent posts. Of all the music I listened to on the trail, however, there was one piece that haunted me like no other, and which became that most oxymoronic of beasts, a welcome earworm. The focus, then, for this last post of the year is a piece of music that might stand as that other kind of last post, as a commemoration of the fallen, in this case, of those whose lives have been lost while seeking refuge.

No-one plays the kora, the 21-string West African harp, like Toumani Diabaté, although his son, Sidiki, is clearly on course to take up the mantle. The Diabaté family are descended from a long line of griots, custodians – through music and storytelling – of the oral traditions of their people. In 2014, father and son joined forces and released a CD of ten kora duets, entitled simply Toumani & Sidiki. Following griot tradition, each of the ten pieces is named in honour of people, places or events, and the title of one of the songs, Lampedusa, manages to evoke all three of these things.

If, at the start of the millennium, you had asked me to name the southernmost point of Italy I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that it was the island of Lampedusa. We all know this now. Despite being part of Italy, Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia than it is to Sicily, and over the last ten years or so it has become one of the main entry points for migrants seeking a foothold in Europe. Some have made it, many have perished in the attempt. In the first four months of 2015, an estimated 1600 migrants were taken by the sea on the crossing from Libya to Lampedusa.

I don’t know how many times I listened to Lampedusa as I walked home this summer. It was there at the outset as I crossed the border into France along a high mountain trail that was once used by smugglers and fugitives but which is now a designated hiking route between Port Bou, in Catalonia, and Banyuls-sur-Mer. At no point along that trail was I required to show any identification or proof that I was entitled to be there. Such are the freedoms I have been gifted simply by being born in a certain place and time.

The song was still with me eight weeks later as I walked west out of Bains-sur-Oust in southern Brittany. I had spent the night as the guest of Dominique and her husband, Gaël, in a house large enough for three families, let alone three adults. In the room where they served me breakfast that morning, a giant flatscreen TV showed the news images of the day, desperate men clambering over wire fences, plodding along railway lines, pleading with lorries. I thought, then, of the minor trespasses that I had committed while walking across the French countryside, and of how close I was, geographically, to Calais. Politically, however, I was a million miles away, for I am a citizen whose rights include the possibility of walking for pleasure rather than to save my skin.

As I write these words on the last day of the year, I am listening to Lampedusa still, this time on a one-track playlist that is set to repeat. Round and round goes the kora dialogue between a father and son who, as griots, know the value of storytelling, and who understand that it is in the telling of people’s stories that we weave a thread of hope from events worthy of lament.

Here, then, are two versions of the saddest and most beautiful thing I have heard all year. The first is the original studio version, the second a live version filmed in Madrid (with Sidiki offering a flavour, I think, of what Jimi Hendrix might have done with a kora).

Happy New Year, one and all / Bledhen nowydh da, onen hag oll