Rowing along…

Boat races, the heads and the regattas...

Being in a boat, moving at a speed powered by your own movement and force, is a feeling unlike any other.

If you are not convinced, try hiring a boat on a lake, enjoy the sensations it brings about.

The water has calming qualities. It reflects all there is and for a rower it is the mirror of the investment made in training, on land or water. Rowing is the ultimate competition with oneself.

The Boat Races, River Thames, UK 2018
Docklands Head 2017, East London, UK

University rowing crews, whilst studying, instead of joining their peers at the pub, they opt in for the sound of the alarm at 5am, getting in their boats in all weather, come rain or freezing conditions. Or the bravery of the learners turning up at clubs across the country, strengthening mentally and physically so they can lift their boats, catch up with more experienced crews, fine-tune techniques that didn’t even know existed, and balancing this, with work and adult life commitments. Or the juniors, set up in a single scull, a fine balancing act on a tiny boat sliding away at the gentle stroke, at a rate, self maneuvering in windy, and tide against weather conditions. Or the adult master sculler, competing well past their forties, unlike competitors in any other sport.

Crews during an outing in the port of Pireaus, Athens, Greece 2017

Scullers opposite Greenwich, London 2015

Searching out for the ultimate experience visit a rowing competition near you. There are events held on the river, on the coast, at the docks, or a marina, in boats of all sizes. Note the community spirit and peer support.

I am a four year old rower. That’s a baby by competitive standards, yet having transfered from gymnastics, a new lease of sporting life has rolled out in front of me when every other athlete I know, let it be from NBA or Rugby, retired by the time they reached the third decade of their life.I am not simply sharing my insights of the rowing sport, but a small sample of experiences I gained in my infant years, shown through the photos here taken from a range of races, club houses and events.

Head of the Charles Regatta, Boston, USA 2015

Royal Henley Regatta, UK 2015
Blisters and all, being a rower means you have a home at a boat house on any corner of the earth.

I welcome you to some experiences, many call home.

Liguria, La Spezia and Cinque Terra

Best known for the five cliff hanging villages along the coast, Liguria offers an authentic taste of Italian daily life by the seaside.

I will begin with La Spezia. A true working port, La Spezia stole my hear not just for its maritime history. It is a truly multi cultural town, dotted with people from accross the globe. Along with the traditional Italian shops and cafes, many other outlets are run by North Africans, Colombians, central Africans, and Asians.

Architecturaly the town is brimming with traditional sepia coloured three floor tall houses, churches from centuries ago and stately complexes embracing church squares. The buildings feature high ceilings, large windows caressing the sharp shadows cast by the blissful Ligurian sun, spacious rooms and grand communal spaces.

The pace of life in La Spezia is slow. Even though I visited during a cold spell in early March, no rain or dropping temperatures can hurry the locals. And that’s the uniqueness of the town in comparison to other. Even though it is the gateway to Cinque Terra, and tourism is a key component to the local industry, it didn’t feel rushed or a place where locals hassle for a quick return. They appear relaxed, welcoming, open to chat and give directions.

The station is a central hub for trains to neighbouring towns and the main big cities in Italy like Genova, Rome and Milan. With a day travelcard, all of the five villages in Cinque Terra are made accessible in less than twenty minutes. Trains run twice an hour until midnight. In the summer, for those seeking the options of a town, an affordable option is staying in La Spezia and coast hopping across the beaches and fishing enclaves of Cinque Terra during the day.

The winning factor in all of this is the weather. The climate is mild, with plenty of sun and a light humidity bringing up the smells of the sea and mixing them up with that of the coastal flora and fauna and the warmth of the earth. Palm trees, pine trees, cactuses…you get the picture. For a real treat take the train from Milan trailing through Genova along the coast where you can discover the many more picturesque towns and villages spreading all along the coast, with none being similar to the other.

Cinque Terra is definitely the right choice for the most romantic and adventurous out there. The five villages of Monterosso, Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza are stunning clusters of pretty multi levelled dwellings swirling down to the fishing ports, interconnected by a maze of steep climbing stairs, walkways and paths layered at variable levels of cobble and tile alleys between, under and below each architectural masterpiece.

The train service makes this a really accessible adventure, with the option of spending a couple of hours at each village, feasible, and even more so being well connected to major city airports a mere couple of hours away.

For a memorable breathtaking break in Europe, search no further. This is truly a stunningly beautiful and unique yet low budget opportunity for a break away from the city hassle in a landscape laid out unlike anything you may have seen before.

So which Hackney Wick

Walking through the waterways, up and down across the bridges I am confused as to what price you can place on which experience.

The Olympic stadium glares light in the distance, reflecting onto the waterways, drawing the eye over. There are street lights, yellow glare making seeing harder than it ought to be in the dark.

There is lighting and different shades, colours and intensities, warming up the night’s colouring from square box apartments paid for by the mill.

There are peeping john’s from dilapidated rooms upstairs from warehouse spaces.

The paradox is uncanny. Boxes upon boxes, with different vibration of electric energy lighting up the inside of the box, marking their position to the street below.

Dark chipped corners, with flaking paper glue adverts hanging off, contrasting the clean cut edges of the new apartments.

The most colourful and mesmerising visuals, the caked graffiti. Layers over layers, of spray paint. Different times of the day pushing backgrounds to fore, that shape and the separation from the other spaces, a rolling show of two dimensional characters and shapes.

It’s Carnaval again

For anyone finding themselves in Trinidad for carnival this time of the year, there is one thing you will be doing for sure: drinking all day, and some more.
Even without the alcohol, Trini carnival is a mind boggling experience. You would have passed the long queues at arrivals at Port of Spain International without being fleeced by some dodgy border official, through to the non descriptive arrivals hall, maybe welcomed by the sound of steel pan, if you are lucky.
Finding yourself in Port of Spain or Arima or San Fernando, in the morning, among the peeps taking the slow moving vibes about their business, requires a couple of cheeky doubles on your way to your business of visiting mas camps, passing steel pan yards, buying tickets for all inclusive fetes in town.

The fetes would have been happening for over a month prior and mas camps are just making small size adjustments, with hours before bands hitting the road.

J’ouvert, the morning of carnival. Fear the blue devils blowing fires and hustling you with their tricks. Start 1am at St James. Dress in your worse, you will land somewhere around downtown even worse for wear, at sunrise or well after. The only things you need: drink, money to buy more drink, and someone to give you a ride home to your nearest friendly friend’s breakfast welcome and bed. Just don’t follow some guys up to Laventille, there are other places to drive through for that waterfall sobering bath.

With Jouvert done you are well on your way through the Trini carnival experience. If you can, climb up the hills of Paramin for their local jab jab Moko Jumbies J’ouvert. It is really out of this world walking between the village corners for yet another jab performance literally crawling down or up the steepest roads and paths you will ever see. If not grown up in the north coast, only drive in a jeep and with a local driver. Family cars driven by tourists abandon all hope. Taxi maxi, privately hired is another respectable method of arrival. I fell in love at jab in Paramin.

North Coast is not too far if you want to wash the petrol and paint off your skin with a sea bath. Just don’t drink and drive.

Carnival Monday and Tuesday are kiddies and adults days respectively. I don’t think there is much difference other than the kiddies go through town from what I remember whereas adults move faster to the Savannah and St Anne’s. Unquestionably you will see the best, biggest, most elegantly handcrafted pieces of mas on those days. For medium and large costumes the sheer weight of them on the masqueraders is a notable achievement in itself. When I first went to Trini Peter Minshal was the winning name of masquerade. Incredibly really talented artists have made Trinidad their home. Chris Ofili and Peter Doig are some among those.

I always thought of Ash Wednesday as an anti climax, not for one cause I stayed in the North Coast were thousands of people descent to hang out en mass by any sound system audible from anytime 8am onwards, to also whine and drink.

Then a fight kicks off, and another, so less people hang around and it all becomes sort of local again. Handed back to the really slow paced sunny humid sweet tasting bake n shark self. For the small but safe surf, head to Las Cuevas.

View from the window

We are still in January and naturally been spending a fair amount of time indoors.

Whether it is in our nature to be looking ahead or instilled by the tradition of looking out at vistas, the landscape is our place of contemplation, connection and restoration.

We have in modern times moved away from trying to beautify it. In the 80’s and 90’s work by photographers like Martin Parr and Willie Doherty showed us our reality of urbanisation with landscapes littered by rubber tires and eye blinding beach accessories offending the natural flow of a beachy landscape.

In our sense of voyerism, I have been fighting my own struggle of being in a city whereas I feel being in nature is my call.

To balance this feeling I recorded the landscape as it changes with the weather from my office window. It doesn’t talk about the environment our damage to it or any of that. It is what you see, and with little description, I invite you to be part of that experience.

Meet Dangerous Dave,  the death-defying fisher poet

Original posted by ntskinner in peoplewemet.org

I interviewed Dave Densmore over the phone in December 2016, for a story about the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon. The photos were taken by Malte Jaeger on an earlier trip to Astoria.

Stories aren’t exactly in short supply at the Fisherpoets Gathering in Astoria, Oregon, or so I’m told. In the bars around this gentrifying blue-collar town, a hundred or so men and women – all of whom have had commercial fishing experience – read poetry, sing songs and tell tall tales of life on the seas.

But few, surely, can hope to match the storytelling chops of “Dangerous” Dave Densmore – who was the youngest king crab skipper on the Bering Sea, off Alaska, at 23; who survived four days on a tiny life raft in a violent storm in 1971; and whose father and son died in the same fishing accident in 1985. Dave has some stories.

Today, he’s speaking to me from the 54-foot ketch he lives on in in Astoria, and on which he’s planning to set sail around the world with his partner. “I guess I’m just happier on the ocean,” he says. “On land, it gets complicated – people, relationships, status, all that stuff. Out there, none of that matters so much. You’re in nature’s pocket, and you realise that in all that beauty and power, your shit doesn’t mean much.”

Born in the commercial fishing hub of Kodiak, Alaska, Dave bought his first boat at 13, and became a king crab skipper at 23, a preposterously young age in a game where respect is all. But, hearing about his time on that life raft, which is the subject of one of his best-known poems, you get a sense of the man that Dave was, and is.

“We’d been out fishing king crab, not far from the shore, when the boat caught fire and we had to jump ship. Having got on the life raft, we watched, helplessly, as a storm rose up, taking us further and further out to sea.  

“This was before survival suits were invented, and we were freezing – but I didn’t allow myself to think we’d die on that raft, bobbing around in huge waves, with driving snow. On the first night, I told my guys the rules: We weren’t gonna talk about food, water, wives, girlfriends. It was just the four of us, the raft and the here and now. We were going to tough it out, and we were going to live.”

Eventually, four long nights later, fate played a hand. A Japanese trawler came past and flipped the raft. “If they hadn’t seen us and stopped, that would have been that,” says Dave. But the sailors heard the screams and did stop, dragging the shivering Alaskan fishermen onboard. Not speaking a word, the Japanese seamen got to work instantly, taking to turns to massage Dave and his crews’ feet with Savlon and warm water.

“Without them,” says Dave, “I was told I would have lost both feet. It was a miracle that all of my crew survived without losing any parts of their bodies.”

But if that didn’t break Dave, what happened on June 28th, 1985, would have broken most men. Dave had been through a stint running a salmon trawler in Oregon and Washington, and a divorce. He’d moved back to Kodiak Island with his new partner, Pat, and his son Skeeter, in 1980.

June 28th, 1985, was Skeeter’s 14th birthday. That day the boy went out with Dave’s father on a skiff in Uyak Bay, Kodiak. Both were experienced on boats. Neither came back.   

“I lost everything that day,” says Dave. “It was mighty dark for a couple years, and to this day there isn’t a day that I don’t think about my son and the life he might have had. But, one day, I wrote a poem about my boy, and I realised that it helped. It was the start of a long road to coming to terms with what had happened.”  

He read ‘Skeeter’s Song’ in public for the first time at the Fisherpoets Gathering, which was first held in the winter 1998. “There was a couple in the audience who’d lost their son and they weren’t doing too well. It meant a lot that I wasn’t just helping myself, but that the poetry meant something to other people, too. Of course, it still hurts – but you can find a silver lining if you look hard enough.”

As for the idea of fishermen writing poetry, to Dave it makes perfect sense. “There’s real poetry in fishing,” he says. “You can’t live that close to nature without seeing the spiritual side of it. We see miracles out there all the time, whether you’re talking about the flight or a bird or a whale planing. I’m not a religious man, but I can see the spirituality in it all.”

You can’t live that close to nature without seeing the spiritual side of it.

He also sees poetry as a way to change perceptions about fishermen and commercial fishing. “It’s something I love and have given my life to, but as an industry, it sometimes gets a bad rap. I want to show people that there’s a human story behind that piece of fish in Styrofoam: blood, sweat and tears; a guy who missed Christmas with his family; a guy who lost a finger, or more.”

Dave talks about preserving the oceans, and making sure that future generations can experience the raw beauty that he loves so much. He talks about his plans for sailing the world. His story, it turns out, isn’t really one of suffering and loss, or how tough the life of a fisherman is. It’s one of beauty, and hope.

Read Dave Densmore’s poem about his son here, and his poem about surviving on the life raft here. Read more about the Astoria Fisherpoets Gathering here.

 

Christmas in Germany

Christmas markets in Germany date back to 15th century.

Every town hosts their own. Cologne has the biggest with seven markets merging into one. In Dortmund’s market (see my earlier blog about Christmas around the globe https://cowboysandeffigies.com/2017/12/16/christmas-through-my-friends-eyes/) you can find the biggest Christmas tree in the whole of Germany.

Castrop-rauxel decorations

The tradition has proven that even though many hire the markets for a festive season abroad, the Glühwein tastes million times better in its place of origin. It may be the humidity and fog, I am not expert in this, however I can attest to it as after years of tasting it in Britain: there is nothing that compares to the taste in the source of origin.

Wetten street market

In Rothenburg you will find the prettiest ever, jumping in a fairy tale adventure.

Spending time in North Germany this Christmas, you will see some of the ideas and festive cheer, sugar, sausages, cane, mushrooms, hot dogs, crafts, beads, logs, mineral rocks and a load of trees.

The bestest was in the Fredenbaum woods: log fires, masonry and fairy lights galore at Phantastischer mittelalterlicher lichter weihnachts markt (Fantastic Medieval Lights Christmas market). A full immersive experience of drifters dressed in handcrafted furs, leathers, wearing traditionally crafted bows, arrows, knifes in a wooden fairground made for adults.

Fredenbaum

Traditional craft maker stalls in Fredenbaum

In a nutshell,  Germans get top marks all the way.

Merry Christmas folks, have a good one.

Mr Robot

Things have moved on.

Evil Corp changed its name to ECorp.

Elliot got a job for ECorp.

Mr Robot is acknowledged by most and he is gettimg more aggressive by the day.

And then there are the stoops.

Have you noticed them?

China town gentrification thanks to Mr Robot being in the area.

Stoops and dumplings over time.

Here are the flash railings, and the refurbished stoop…

And still hooked on it just like since episode 1.

Off to Coney Island?