Camden, for the soul

On the first chilly day of autumn, I walked out of the house for work to find my brain clicking into Camden cravings.

I’m not talking about the food options, the bashing vibes, the shopping or drinking ports.

That would be too much detail.

I’m talking about the warming feeling I get when I’m here.

In Camden Town, at sunset, on a crisp day. It feels like belonging, it feels like home.

I could climb under the cobble stones and sleep there for the night.

And wake up to crawl back up from beneath them, to see Camden in sunrise.

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Notting Hill Carnival, in love again

Now was this another carnival to remember?

Come carnival Monday the clouds were hanging low over the sky. That never and didn’t either in this occasion, stop over 1million revellers going on the road.

Windrush scandal overcasting, Brexit bringing more tensions, and the usual fair amount of racist press and media coverage did not stop us having a blast of a time. The stupidness of anyone reporting on crimes before carnival are equal to those not understanding that in 1million drink fuelled crowds, the crime figures are low and well below what could have been in other crowds. Stormzy rightly pointed out they should start reporting the drug den bust ups of pre-Glanstonbury season for the shake of fairness.

I am a firm believer if you put the kids from Glastonbury in carnival, not only they would have had a lot more fun, for much less, they would definitely stay away from the hard drugs that are being sold freely during the field based event.

Notting Hill Carnival was buzzing, end of. On a personal level, I could not have asked for more. The day begun downbeat, given that most of my Caribbean friends are either in the Caribbean itself or were not up for the road, for the first time in many years we have been going together. I would have gone on my own, happily and by lunch other friends decided to join.

The beauty of having the afro-caribbean community being free and expressing itself is invaluable. The rest of the year, people hide away at home or community aimed parties, the vibe that we, the rest of us are missing enormously. This always makes me feel like I’m missing out.

I was really lucky to come across one of the carnival bands I was involved in many years ago. I got to see some beautiful and familiar faces, still spending their summer months in preparation for this beautiful event. I got to carry a large costume for a couple of hours to give one of the masquerades a break. I got to climb up the bus and see the enormity of the crowds on the road on that beautiful evening sunset on this August Bank Holiday.

I will have to wait another year before this, unless of course, I choose to go to Trinidad carnival.

Love ya carnival crews, keep it alive and don’t let anyone blame you for anything otherwise.

Tragedy, in the home of tragedies

This summer I went to Epidaurus (/ ˌ ɛ p ɪ ˈ d ɔː r ə s /; Ancient Greek: Ἐπίδαυρος Epidauros) was a small city in ancient Greece, on the Argolid Peninsula at the Saronic Gulf, because I always wanted to watch an greek tragedy in the ancient Greek open air theatre.

I picked the play Elektra because it is a classic and a true tragedy, set in the city of Argos a few years after the Trojan War, it recounts the tale of Electra and the vengeance that she and her brother Orestes take on their mother Clytemnestra and step father Aegisthus for the murder of their father, Agamemnon.

The play was directed by a relatively new director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, who has found increasing attention, in a relatively short space of time, and in a very competitive genre.

I really loved the drive to Epidaurus, in the late afternoon, nearing sunset, travelling through the mountains with many other thousands, for the one purpose, to be at this venue and watch an ancient play. My expectations were close to none, as it would have been my first experience. I only assumed, Elektra would have been translated into a slightly more modern version, as many other cultural references and movements in Greece nowadays do.

I only realized the enormity of the crowds gathering there when I saw the size of the carpark and the queues when we got to the theatre gates. The ancient stone carved and built space welcomed us with a stage made in the same shape of its roundness, all in white with a round hole cut out on the white backdrop, linking the stage with the backdrop, by steep dramatic steps.

Epidavros

The tragedy begun and it was a disorienting and confusing experience. There were women covered in see through cloths, moving effortlessly like on-screen ghosts from the 70’s era. They reminded me of Catholicism and that became even more apparent as the play evolved. They were judgmental and backbones-less. The main character squeaked and screamed in unconnected personas making it even more uncomfortable. Yes she was going through a huge trauma however she did not need to be portrayed in such a misogynistic way. She was neither a woman, nor a devil. She was bitter and lost but the character portrayed was uncharacteristically poltergeisted for the pain and revenge she was planning. The whole lot of the other characters played out the same, they were either too weak or a copycat of Dracula like comicon characters that lacked dimension – this was a huge disappointment. The director could have played out the roles much more and did not think about their human element. It felt like he imposed his impression of the story on the actors. This left me with the impression the actors did not connect with the Director, and that is was pretty obvious he had made little effort to collaborate them even between them.

At the end of the tragedy, a bigger one happened. As the actors were bowing to their audience and receiving lots of thanks, the director, Thanos Papakonstantinou, went to the stage, dressed in an outfit resembling a German soldier outfit from the 2nd world war.

I did not find that funny or creative. I understood well his tendency to associate with the dark wave movement in Athens, after all I once was part of it too and remember al the boys getting excited with memorabilia, only to find themselves very isolated in the end. His choice was distasteful and inappropriate given we are at the verge of fascism all over Europe.

Thanos Papakonstantinou, failed on all fronts. It sounds like someone is pushing him to the front stage, however unqualified.  The Greek economy may be small, and opportunists like him can get attention and success, however Greece doesn’t deserve people like him mocking the situation (this is not a creative license, whatever he may come up to say) and fueling the division in our society further.

I wish to not see Thanos Papakonstantinou getting opportunities any day soon and for greek stages to host the original grassroots talent that exists but doesn’t try to buy in their way, through controversy. This is not USA, and there is no reason to be wearing an offensive outfit, not un-similar to Melania Trump’s ‘I don’t care’ outfit as she visited the children immigrant detention centres.

Calgary BKS Dance Festival

This post discusses the Calgary BKS Experience [url: http://www.dancebks.com/], a dance festival I attended over June 22-24, 2018. BKS refers to the three featured dance styles: Bachata, Kizomba, and Salsa. Bachata and Salsa are Latin dances, while Kizomba is of African descent.
bks banner
The festival was self-contained in the downtown Delta hotel. The instructors were from all over (Canada, USA, Dominican Republic, etc.) and most of the remaining 250+ attendees were Canadian. The main draws of festivals of this type are workshops by the local and visiting instructors, performances by professional and non-professional dancers, and social dancing until late at night. Some instructors provided private lessons on demand for a fee. There was also a small expo where one could buy dance shoes or see a chiropractor.
During the daytime I busied myself with a total of eight Bachata workshops. The most interesting workshop for me was “Sensual Bachata Isolation” by Angela of Unleashed Dance Company [url: https://www.unleasheddancecompany.com/] in Calgary. Below is a panel of photos from the lesson demonstrating body rolls. These moves are initiated and controlled by the male’s hand on Angela’s back. In the right panel, Angela is set upright as the male creatively moves his hand up and left like a fish swimming upstream. I was so enamored with Angela’s teaching that I took a group private lesson with three other individuals (which reduced the cost without diminishing the quality of the lesson).
Dr Angela of Calgary lessons
My second favorite workshop was “Dominican Footwork With Style” by Julie of Fiestafitness [url: http://fiestafitness.ca/] in Montreal.
Julie from Montreal
Also popular was the workshop “Bachata: Various Triple Steps – The How & When” by Rodchata, who teaches in the San Francisco Bay and Reno, Nevada areas.

Rodchada in action

Performances took place on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, with the best ones happening on Saturday. Some of the highlights from Saturday night are pictured below.
Robin & Felisa:

Robin and Felize perform

Indira Castello’s Ladies Team in green catsuits:
Ladies team
Salsa Rica Semi Pro Team:

Rica performance

Patrick & Scarlet, who have won many awards for their Salsa, including three Canadian championships:

Patrick and Scarlet perform

While I was having tons of fun at the festival, I was also eager to see city of Calgary itself. From what I saw of the downtown, Calgary seems to be a clean and safe city (relative to San Francisco, at least). I was also pleasantly surprised that the weather in Calgary was warmer (approximately 77 degrees Fahrenheit or 25 degrees Celsius) and more humid than San Francisco.
A few themes emerged when exploring downtown Calgary. First, Canadians are extremely friendly and fun to talk with. This was also true to the Canadians back at the festival. Second, the downtown area is populated with random, yet tasteful, artwork. Below are some examples.

City art in Calgary

Finally, Calgary is famous for its historical ties to the Wild West. This is evident from western-themed shops and references to the annual Calgary Stampede rodeo and festival. Examples below.

Cowboy montage

In closing, I strongly recommend visiting Calgary. It is only 175 miles north of the Montana-Canada border and is an easy three-hour plane ride from the American west coast.

Written by Tim Weinzirl, 2018 July

Messene western Peloponnese from Methoni

So here I am, baggage dropped off at our spacious apartment at Ilias apartments on Methoni beach and I find myself having late lunch on the seafront at the brilliant Varka Bay restaurant (biggest portions of homemade delicious Greek cuisine around at incredibly reasonable prices) in camping Methonis, reflecting how I got to decide what brought me here given I have no family connections, neither special recommendations by friends or acquaintances.

Earlier in the year, late in the heavy British wintertime, I was trailing Google maps for the perfect spot on the beach. I sought the experience the Ionian sea following the many summers I have spent riding ferry boats for hours to the beautiful yet overpriced cycladic islands.

This time I was looking for a shorter journey time from Athens, and a solid mainland vibe of Greek culture, with a smallish village for the ultimate necessary ice cream and souvlaki supply. And I got my dream in Methoni.

In my blog I will talk about the best bits of my holiday here and highlight a couple of things worthwhile your visit in the region of Messene.

Methoni is a village on the west coast of Peloponnese featuring a brilliant castle from 14th century. The village has an array of corners and squares connected by two main roads the upper and lower streets. It is truly homely and unpretentious.

On the seafront there’s a castle built on the contrasting, to the sandy waterfront, rocky outpost. Methoni Castle is the perfect afternoon walk offering unique views over the sea with plenty of areas for exploration in the castle grounds. You can also walk around it on the clear water beach to the fishing boat pier moorings, and on its other side for dramatic views over the rocky landscape, the Ionian sea and the sunset. It costs a mere 2 euro.

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My friend turned up from his archaeological work at Nestor’s Palace to join us for kayaking and drive us to more unique finds in the region.

Nestors palace

We went to Voidokilia, the whale tail water shaped beach where surfers have the safest low surf. The water is warm but do bring an umbrella or visit in the afternoon, the trees are far and few, but there’s cold coffee delivery from the turn up the road a few miles up, so do bring a phone!

Voidokilia

My friend also talked of the Griffin Warrior. An unidentified man of leading importance in the region excavated from his tomb recently alongside thousands of mycenaean gold and bronze swords cups, boar tooth helmet parts, body armour and all sorts of antiquities. I’m waiting on edge to find out more about this man and it will only be down to the work of scientists.

Please donate here http://griffinwarrior.org/griffinwarrior-excavations.html without them we would be in the dark about our history or even worse the looters could have gotten to it before us.

In Methoni town h Palia Istoria restaurant and Nontas souvlaki are my favourite eateries in the village. The decor in the form has rainbow umbrellas so I guess gay friendly, and an outdoor nursery space so kids can do their thing out of your way.

Palia Istoria restaurant in Methoni

On the beach, Kotronakia cafe is the ultimate bohemian oasis. Hanging off the rocks above the beach you get the best sea breeze under the shade and beautiful views across the bay to the castle.

In front of the Kotronakia bar
Messenea is rich in ancient history. Nestor Palace is a must historic place to check out. It was discovered in 1950s and recently got a canopy for our enjoyment and its protection out of the sun.
On our way back we stopped at the Kookoonari beach cafe bar where you can use the kayaks for free or play beach volleyball up the walkway. I really loved my time at this place. The vibe of the staff there is as cool as it gets.
Kookoonari beach bar

In the evening, we headed to Finikounda, a young family haven built off the pier with restaurants patisseries bars and shops lay on the paved high street, the central walk to spend time. A mile away are camp sites and wide pavement makes cycling back and forth fun to any time of the day. Boat trips are on offer to explore more of the region by the sea.

Finikounta

Staying in Methoni is the perfect holiday choice. The sea is clear and shallow and the length of the bay offers light busy and really quiet spots overlooking the two islands of Sapienza and Schiza.

Methoni beach view

The locals are friendly as you get and you run no risk of being overcharged. If your idea of a beach holiday is to spend peaceful hours swimming, tasting many greek dishes in very reasonable prices and discovering greek history, you have

arrived at your destination.

Bath and Wiltshire

So I decided to pull this guide together after having visited Bath and the wider Wiltshire a number of times over the last two years, visiting friends who moved there from London, for a change of lifestyle.

Wiltshire is a true representation of rolling English countryside, opening up to create the setting for the landscape of fields further afield in Devon and Cornwall, and to the end of the land of the British Isle. Scenic drives, quaint old cotsworld like villages dot the landscape, however note these are increasingly interrupted by new housing developments.

The area is knows for its afluent resident demographics. Housing is as expensive as it is in London, and Bath is a catwalk of contemporary design options, found in inoffensive gorgeously lit boutique shops. There are a lot of options to choose from, and an equal amount of cafes and foodie options to satisfy the pickiest of the souls out there.

Some of my favourite moments are both in Bath and the surrounding Somersetian countryside. When I get there, on a Friday, we head for the Star, the only – I believe – authentic pub, a mix of old and new, music or not, regulars and all embraced in a coffin shaped building. The walk there is equally cool, strolling past residential windows of yellow brick roman dwellings, sitting on the rustic raised walkway above the passing traffic passing below.

On days out, more recently I discovered Corsham. The walk through the tiny village, or the walk of the green space outside the stately home, are true to form of cutiness. The home itself and the gardens are architectural highlights so pick based on the season, trusting both will be a very rewarding experience.

Castle Combe is another little wonder to check out. I loved the walk from the car park to the village itself, hanging branches of tall trees canopying over the road. Prettily decorated door fronts, stone buildings, stone brick bridges, and water streams would have you thinking you are visiting Smurf land. It is not too far off that, hoping no offense caused by this description.

My earlier experience of Wiltshire was visiting Avebury stone circle. If you haven’t, this is a piece of british ancient history that equals Stonehedge. Avebury stone circle is the largest, with a village in the middle of it, supported by numerous super natural stories. I think my dream home is also in that village. Walk around the circle, but also do go for a walk through the village. I am sure you will get lost.

Box is known for the train tunnell and Thomas the tank. There is an underground town down there built out of sight to evacuate local residents on occassion of need.

Devizes has an eerie story of its own. The Black Swan is known to harbour ghosts of past times, and I did stay in room no 4 where numerous signtings and disturbances are known to take place. I must say I did not enjoy neither slept much and things happenned that I can not explain. The landlord soon sold the pub and moved on, like many others. However can’t fault the pub food and the atmosphere – warm, cozy and lively.

Devizes is also known for another trouble – that of its locks. If you own a riverboat, you will know the ladder of locks one has to wait through to get one side to another. A friend that did it told me that it took them around 9 hours to do Caen Hill. Not a feat for the lighthearted boat dwellers.

There is a lot more to see in this wonderful area however I will leave you with these pointers to begin with. I am sure you will be soon returning for more.

Ode to the London Overground

So imagine you are in your city but it suddenly feels a different place altogether.

It wasn’t in a place I had not been before either. I think my state of mind was in an altered state being there like that for the first time. It involved using the public transport but the difference was in the vibe, the society, the moment.

I have been on the london overground a number of times, going to meetings, hopping out east to the wick or north to highbury. I know the trendies, the mummies, the original hackneys carriaged away up and through neighbourhoods previously out of reach. I been in situations where the rodent were getting trodden on by the passing cars, in full view of affluent dining audiences. Seen it all.

But that was new. Before midnight jumping on the overground at Hoxton station, me and others after or on the way to boozing. Gracefully space etiquette adhered to, spaces between seats, no roughing, no shuffling. Air con, smooth ride. Hovering just about leveled with top floors of Victorian terraces, bridges, warehouses. Light reflections on the inside, obstructing sensible assessment of the view on the outside. Spaced out in a spacious vehicle, with all the room for a poetry based on shuttle messages, all so effortless and out worldly smooth.

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.