Postcard from... Bingley Five Rise Locks

IMAGE: Paul Scraton

IMAGE: Paul Scraton

By Paul Scraton:

We walked up the Leeds and Liverpool Canal from Bingley town centre, past old factories and the quay where barges would once have been loaded and unloaded. The towpath was busy; Easter weekend and the walkers, runners and cyclists were out in full force. When the canal network was built, its function was transport and the aim was making money. What it is now is a reminder and a resource, a web crisscrossing the country that at once offers us a stroll through some of the country’s most beautiful scenery while charting the rise and fall of industry, and how water was replaced by rail and road.

I grew up a few hundred metres from the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, in West Lancashire on the other side of the great divide from Bingley. The canal was an ever-present in my childhood and teenage years, a place of walks and birthday bike-rides, the place where we snuck our first cans of beer and then – later – our first legal pints in a pub by the locks. There was a mill in our village. Now it has been turned into apartments. Where the bridge crossed the canal on my way to school there has been a new development since I left home, a cobbled courtyard surrounded by cafes and restaurants, galleries and other craft businesses. The 21st century industry on the banks of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

At Bingley Five Rise Locks we arrived as a barge had just entered the first of the locks. The lock keeper had come down from the office and was making the initial steps of opening and closing the various parts of the five-step system. In less than a hundred metres, the barge would rise nearly twenty – the steepest canal ‘staircase’ in the British canal network and a marvel of engineering. When the Bingley Five Rise locks opened in the 1770s, almost thirty thousand people came to celebrate. It was the 18th century shuttle launch, a technological wonder, and in all those years since there has been no real need to substantially alter the locks system. It just works.

We stayed to watch the barge make its progress, ever upwards, until it had reached the top of the locks. Later, I learned a word that seemed almost too good to be true. A gongoozler is someone who enjoys watching activity on the canals, born out of a derogatory term canal-workers used for those who stood idle while they worked up a sweat. The lock keeper at Bingley Five Rise did not look like he needed any help, so we let him get on with it. On either side of the canal, the gongoozlers stood and watched. We joined the club. 

Poetry: Zenith, by Shirley Jones-Luke

Image: Katrin Schönig

Image: Katrin Schönig

Ancient mariners were guided by a celestial sphere
they revered it like worshipers of a false idol
that's why many ships were swallowed by angry seas
sailors' cries of help silenced by waves of torment
wreckage of their lost lives scavenged by the villagers

A mast holds up the roof of my cottage on a neighboring beach
like a sundial its shadow moves with the passing sun
I use fabric from the sails of old ships to block the rays
splotchy patterns decorate the sundial's form
at night, silhouettes of palm trees are shadow puppets

Morning brings more storm-battered treasures
a ship's wheel entangled in seaweed, a broken
rudder wedged between two alabaster boulders,
a cannon torn in half floats in the water, 
I see the wealth in the sand

Hurricanes are common in the area, when
clouds turn black, destruction is on the horizon,
the villagers hunker down in caves on the
side of the mountain, I pack up my few
possessions - clothing, my journal and a picture of you

There are no ships at sea, the sailors
have learned the ocean's lesson, gulls glide
on electrified air, squawking their disapproval,
I make a note in my journal to collect feathers
once the storm has passed

The sky cracks open, rain comes down
like a butcher's knife, cutting into the island
the gulls are gone, nestled in their own
shelters, the villagers pray, casting wide eyes
at the sky, I think about you

In the morning, the sun brightens the damage
huts have lost their roofs, my cottage was knocked
off its foundation and leans to the side, the gulls
feast on dead crabs washed ashore, the villagers search
for what remains and I search for remnants of you

Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer.  Ms. Luke lives and works in Boston, Massachusetts. She has an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.  Shirley was a 2016 Watering Hole Poetry Fellow. Her work has been published by Adelaide, Damfino, Deluge and ENUF.
 

Neon

IMAGE: Jeanette Farrell

IMAGE: Jeanette Farrell

By Jeanette Farrell:

Come spring time everybody migrates towards the park; it’s as if the humble daffodil emits an ultrasonic soundwave and suddenly there we all are, an entire borough marching in unison towards our gated hill all filled with colour and squealing and light. We are boisterously reclaiming our place in a city whose tightly woven streets can deaden the clatter of our chat and so, the park, come Spring-time, this is our release. 

Brockwell Park reveals itself on a slope with its grand house perched on top. Surrounded on all sides by a densely compacted population in one of the biggest metropolises – everybody is there and there isn’t a continent unrepresented in multiplicity. Cities absorb people by portioning us off into offices and houses and pubs and buses and so out there in our urban meadow, that’s where we mingle. There’s the skate park and the lido, quaint markers of the athletic desires we presuppose is our reason for being there; that we’ll run and stretch and swim, dipping in and out of the ever confounding combination of Brixton’s noise. But most of us are content with the prospect of lying down on the grass. 

There is a comforting familiarity to Brockwell Park, an unsophisticated elegance of ritual through which we make it our own year after year once the grey recedes. Here, the idea of public space is at its most civic; we walk around as if it were an extension of our own home, knowing its pockets and its shade. 

While basking in this kind of outdoor domesticity we feel content that everything has its place and pace. The sky will change throughout the day and we will retreat beneath the trees in a pantomime of weather, watching the rain beneath sheltering branches. Nurseries will empty and the park will fill up. School children will linger/rabble-rouse eating chicken and chips, tumbling into each other from gate to gate and watchful locals will sit on drift wood taking it all in. There will be dogs and there will be roller bladers, there will be cans of lager and weed in the air.  And then all of a sudden this spell of the expected is broken with the shrill warble of the neon green parakeet and we look up to stare at this glamorous interloper. 

We’re not really meant to have these beautiful birds around here and yet they thrive, roosting in tall trees and causing ruckus with that noise they make. There are lots of theories to account for their presence; that a couple absconded from Ealing Studios and populated the landscape; that a gang of them escaped from an open container at Heathrow airport; that an aviary collapsed during a storm; that the original pair belonged to David Bowie, or to Jimi Hendrix. They are a mad dash of colour amongst the rich green of this cloistered pocket of south London. They’re not gentle and serene like this dream of spring time and routine, they are flying fluorescent chaos. Apparently there are thousands of them about, an anomaly in an otherwise textbook geography but the first time they’re encountered they’re like a mirage – ‘a parakeet, that couldn’t be!’

Now when they’re spotted, or heard, rather it’s like welcoming an eccentric old friend. Thank goodness for the parakeets, we think.  A gentle nudge to remind us that anything is possible, that this world, regimented and predictable though it is, is unbelievable too. 

Jeanette Farrell is a writer based in London. 

Postcard from... the Rakotzbrücke

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

IMAGE: Katrin Schönig

By Paul Scraton:

The basalt columns reach out from the sandy soil to create perfect hiding places for the mystical creatures of the forest as they move down to the water’s edge. The stones tumble into the gloomy lake, as if to provide a landing stage for the creatures lurking in the depths. And the bridge curls in an arch from one bank to the other, its reflection in the lake creating a perfect circle. 

This is, surely, the devil’s work.

In this corner of Germany, close to the Polish border, the Rakotzbrücke has also been long known as the ‘Devil’s Bridge’, but in reality the structure, along with the basalt columns and the other rock formations that stand at the water are the work of very human hands. The bridge is at the heart of the Azalea and Rhododendron Park in Kromlau, Gablenz; a landscaped garden created in the 19th century by the local landowner along ‘English’ lines. With the end of the Second World War the park became property of the local community, and since 1948 it has been protected as a nature reserve.

But despite the fact that you know this structure was created by mortal hands, and despite the queue of photographers at the head of the lake, looking for the perfect angle to capture the perfect circle, it still has a strange impact when you approach it through the woods. It could be the stage set for some fantastical film or HBO series. It could be the nocturnal playground for all manner of beings. And it is not hard to imagine it as a playground for those mystical creatures of the forest, even if they themselves have no idea how it got there.
 

Train

IMAGE: Sam Eadington

IMAGE: Sam Eadington

By Sam Eadington:

England is best seen from the train. The rolling landscapes of the patchwork quilt; the sheep, the horses, the cows, the deer; the noble oaks, winding streams, drystone walls and disciplined hedges. They’re all a part of it. There are the sprawling suburbs of bad brick banter, saloon-skinned culs-de-sac snakes of mini-mansions less than a yard apart, but importantly detached. That sense of independence, of possession, it matters, and transcends the shuddering windows to the carpeted isle where it blooms into righteous indignation with every incident of seat reservation noncompliance. It’s from the train you see England’s character exposed, its emotions raw, its real metal. Metal fences, metal wire, metal buildings, metal thieves; responsible for your delays. You are apologised to for the inconvenience this may have caused to your journey. You are apologised to again and again. Sorry, I nearly touched you. Sorry, can I just squeeze past. Sorry, this is my stop. Hopefully not a ‘Parkway’ stop, though. The new boys in town. Or more accurately the new boys out of town, where you’re guaranteed either a massive car park or a power station. Although, on second thoughts, perhaps not so unfitting for the dystopia Turner foresaw; hissing water falls, cooled, onto a concrete floor from a concrete tower, that train doesn’t stop at this station, just forces you behind the yellow line, a contemporary rendition of what was once called sublime. 

You’re back on the train flying through paintings. All those hedges, how blurry; impressionist. Then a tree shoots into focus stretching its arms into the sky still half asleep. Then more hedges, not blurry anymore. Sharp and predatory, judging by the huddle of deflated footballs gathered at their feet. Yet more hedges, but these ones looking fresh after a perpendicular swivel and slide between the stretched out gardens. So many trampolines, but nobody bouncing. There are lovely big windows but all the curtains are closed as if I might see something of you I shouldn’t, then see you again in town and tell you what I saw. There are tiny little windows on brand new houses, half glass, half white plastic frame, not even big enough to poke your head out for a smoke. 

Another station, another WHSmith, another poster about something Jesus said. Must be true, I’ve seen the same thing in Cheltenham, Doncaster, Swindon and Crewe. Corroborated evidence; not worth a thing anymore. The trolley rattles closer with its nervous disposition and although I’m not at all hungry I want to eat. Was this not the point of crisps? A bag of prawn cocktail, I can’t get those abroad. With an hour to go I fill my ears with noise I can choose. Pulp. I turn the volume right up and damage my ears so I don’t have to hear the businessman and his vacuous words. I pity the person on the other end of the line. I close my eyes and let Jarvis take me back in time.

Sam Eadington is a freelance writer, architecture student, and co-founder of design studio Estudio ESSE. Twitter: @SamEArch. Website: estudioesse.com
 

From the hills above Frigiliana, Andalusia

IMAGE: Marcel Krueger

IMAGE: Marcel Krueger

By Marcel Krueger:

I guess it was worth it, schlepping my overweight, 39-year old body up the hill. I had set out early in the morning and walked through the valley of the Higueron river, with the white houses of Frigiliana disappearing to my left and the Chillar ridge rising up to my right. Then I huffed and puffed up the 400-meter hill, and now sit on a stone on top of the ridge, with the brown and green flanks of the Sierra de Enmedio rising into the blue sky, early bees are busy around me in the morning sunshine, and across the Mediterranean I can see Africa through the haze. But as this is the Anthropocene, there is also the surf of the nearby coastal motorway soundtracking it all.

Before I make my way down the hill and to breakfast again, I wonder what a Castilian foot soldier might have thought, when stomping through the same hills hunting for Moriscos, descendants of Muslims under Castilian rule who were in rebellion in the 16th century. Probably the same thing foot soldiers have thought from the Crusades to Auschwitz: 'The man paid me for it, so best get over with it'. 

Elsewhere No.05: Submissions Deadline on Friday

IMAGE: Julia Stone

IMAGE: Julia Stone

For all you writers and visual artists out there, just a quick reminder that our deadline for submissions for Elsewhere No.05 – to be published in June 2017 – is this coming Friday on the 31 March. 

For the first time, along with our general theme of place, we are having a theme for the issue: TRANSITION, and the only guidelines are that completed pieces should be linked to both the idea of transition and place. 

With regards to length, most pieces we publish will be between 1000 and 5000 words. We also remain interested in photography, illustration and other visual arts projects related to the theme of place. Please remember that, unfortunately, we cannot continue to pay contributors to Elsewhere. We have long had this as our aim, but the project as it is right now cannot sustain it.

If you have something you would like us to consider, please write to Paul at: paul@elsewhere-journal.com

If you are interested in writing for the blog, you can find more information on our general submissions page.

Morning in St. Mary's Churchyard, Whitby

IMAGE: Laura Harker

IMAGE: Laura Harker

By Laura Harker:

8.45am in St. Mary’s churchyard. A jogger runs laps around the graves as I try not to lose Polaroid exposures to the wind. There are probably more bodies under my feet than are awake in the town right now on this cold December morning. A rare tranquil moment for the churchyard which, during the height of summer, is bombarded with crowds of tourists and goths. I forgot Whitby takes its time to wake up in the winter. As I ran from the train station through town and up the 199 steps to the clifftop abbey – trying to beat the sunrise – the only people stirring were a handful of delivery men on Baxtergate, the closest thing to a high street in the town. The few low-season tourists tucked up in their guest house four-posters wouldn’t be out for another couple of hours.

Whitby’s streets are riddled with ghosts, none of whom I wanted to bump into. Exes, former friends and old work colleagues. These old ties require more effort to fall back into the previous nuances each relationship had, and any conversations between us now inhabit a strange space between strained small-talk and stale in-jokes. The longer I’m away from the town, the more these ties fade, and the streets of Whitby are increasingly haunted with passing faces that stimulate only a haze in my memory. I felt more at ease facing the graveyard and its ghosts.

The film I’d used in my polaroid camera was out of date by a couple of years, and so the results were washed out and over-exposed. A grainy abbey silhouette; a white Royal Hotel behind the unmistakable arch of the whalebone arch; blotchy patterns on grey speckled sand. Barely-there images to match my barely-there ties to town. A strong wind whipped up over the lip of the cliff, I flipped up my collar and descended back down into town, head down, quick step, running from the ghosts.

Laura Harker is a freelance writer based in North Yorkshire. She blogs at northquarters.com

Postcard from... Sarajevo

IMAGE: Gavin Greene

IMAGE: Gavin Greene

By Gavin Greene:

The early evening rain spattered onto the marble floors of Sarajevo's Baščaršija, polished smooth over centuries by passing travelers, merchants and tourists. It fell in large spots at first, then smaller, lighter drops. Sitting on a rickety chair under the canopy of a dimly-lit café, I watched as the bustling market hastily retreated undercover to escape the shower. Traders hurried to cover their stalls with tarpaulins while young families dived for the cover of stone doorways.

From the sanctuary of the café, I looked up towards Mount Trebević, a looming shadow over the city, visible beneath the low clouds that had rolled into the valley. The mountain had hosted Sarajevo's 1984 Winter Olympics, and the world watched athletes speed down icy runs and steep snowy slopes. Just years later, skiers and spectators became snipers and mortar posts, raining destruction and tears onto the city below for over a thousand days. Again, the world watched.

Steam twisted from the copper pot of coffee at my side, swirling and hovering before disappearing into the crisp evening air. In the winding alleyways of Sarajevo's markets, the smell of roasting coffee blends with the warm aromas of herbs and spices of hidden backstreet food stalls. The sound of hammering metal and the gentle chatter of locals gives way only to the call to prayer from nearby minarets, and the pealing church bells echo across the city valley. The gentle drumming of the rain on the terracotta rooves of the bazaar built to a crescendo, the streets empty and shimmering with this latest deluge.
 
Sarajevo still bears the scars of the siege, but life has moved on, and there is now hope for this beautiful city. As I watched, three young children dared to dance in the rain, ducking and diving between raindrops. On the same road a few years before, their parents would have done the same, ducking between doorways to dodge the barrage from the hills above the city.

The rain continued steadily, now dripping from the canvas awning of the café into the gutter below, gathering pace and coursing down the narrow street, filling the scars left in the marble from the mountain high above. 

Pouring coffee from the pot into a small ceramic cup, the dark liquid turns to rich foam. They say the key with Bosnian coffee is to take your time. No rushing, no takeaway coffee in a paper cup. Time, patience and careful attention are all that is needed.
 
A break in the clouds let a shaft of sunlight onto the city and the stone buildings glistened in the warm evening light. Children emerged from their hiding places behind market stalls to splash in the fresh puddles, their reflections dancing and rippling in the clear water. Their parents watched on, smiling. The rain has stopped. The sun shines, and once more, Sarajevo is the most beautiful place on earth.

Gavin Greene is a travel writer and photographer based in London. Currently working at one of the world’s largest travel sites, it is Gavin’s aim to visit all of the 47 countries in Europe by his 47th birthday. You can read more of his work on his website The Travelogue.
 

Stoned: Castlerigg, Cumbria

Image: Caroline Millar

Image: Caroline Millar

By Caroline Millar:

Between an ancient, yellowed road atlas, an OS Landranger and a limited phone signal, I crept slowly along peering out for a trustworthy brown sign to tell me I was somewhere legitimate. I needn’t have worried. About twenty cars were parked up near the entrance. So much for Wordsworthian solitude.

Along the verge were signs of semi-permanent habitation. Gazebos strung out from the backs of vans created temporary shelter and marked out territory. Plastic picnic tables, cans of Tyskie lager, dogends and a single shoe told of long nights.

Looking back I don’t know what I expected to feel, but it wasn’t shame.

I almost overlooked the stones at first, my attention drawn instead to the people who’d set up camp inside. Within the stone circle sat another circle of hippies; crusties as we’d once called them, the dogs-on-string and lentil brigade, what my parents would call layabouts. A group of men their hair in dreads sat draped in duvets drinking early morning cider. Women with wilting flowers in their hair spread nutella on toast for unwashed toddlers. In the middle of the stones a white pile of ash from a dead camp-fire, empty packets of instant noodles and a didgeridoo.

I’d last been to Castlerigg about twenty years ago. As a student at Newcastle the Lakes had been an easy bus ride over the Pennines. It felt like I was there every summer, but in truth I think it wasn’t more than twice. In memory, my boyfriend and I turned up at the campsite late in the evening to be met by a red cheeked farmer crunching into an apple the same colour as his cheeks. He devoured our money with the same gusto as his apple and pointed to a wet field. For some reason his face has stuck in my head though it might be mixed up with the farmer from Withnail and I, the one with his foot wrapped in a plastic bag and a randy bull.  But re-watching Withnail was such a constant of my student days that fact and fiction are hard to separate.

That night we’d walked from the campsite across dark hummocky fields to a dream-like wood panelled bar. Like characters in a John Carpenter film we holed up inside, nursing our cheap bitter, dreading the call for last orders that signalled a long night in the cheap barely two person tent. When we walked down to the stone circle later with a take out bottle of wine, it was totally empty. I lay on my back, my bare feet placed on the stones wondering where all the stars had suddenly come from.

It was probably the Romantics who ruined places like Castlerigg by suggesting that by communing with old rocks we could find a way back to our primitive selves. Now we strain towards empathy at every heritage site, as if summoning the spirit of past is the only authentic response.  As I walked round the stone circle this time, I willed myself to feel something. I studied the alignment of the stones with the surrounding mountains trying to see how the entrance lined up with the Skiddaw and Blencathra. I ran my hands over the rough lichen-covered surface and even tried to hug one.

Disappointed, I headed back to the car, stopping on the way out to read the ubiquitous interpretation panels. They pictured illustrations of Bronze Age people looking a lot like the couple from The Joy of Sex. Long hair, beards, flowers in their hair. They were eating, drinking, watching the stars, having sex, playing instruments, sitting round the fire, pondering their future. Just like the hippies now.  It was me that was out of time and place here. What I’d felt in the stone circle was shame. The middle-aged hippies at Castlerigg were the real deal. Whilst I sought a relationship with the stones safe in the knowledge my hire car was parked near by and B&B already booked, they slept next to them, as I once had, before I grew up.

Caroline Millar is project manager for Discovering Britain - a series of interpretive walks run by the Royal Geographical Society. She also writes creative non-fiction and short stories inspired by the Kent Coast where she lives. Check out her blog – lights of sheppey

Caroline’s essay from Faversham Creek appeared in Elsewhere No.03, available from our online shop.

[25] Pockets of [Swansea], [Cardiff] and [London]

[25] Pockets of [Swansea]

[25] Pockets of [Swansea]

We were sent an email recently about a fascinating project called [25] Pockets of [...]. The idea is to create framed object assemblages through gifts, referrals and random encounters within cities. 

Participants give away to the assemblage an object possession and then write on a picture frame, directions for the next location and person, or 'pocket' to be visited in a particular city. The trail of referrals from person to person continues in any particular city until 25 objects from 25 referrals have been collected. The objects are then incorporated into a final collage.

[25] Pockets of [Cardiff]

[25] Pockets of [Cardiff]

Positioning of the assembled objects on the montage correlates to the locations at which these were obtained so that there is a relationship between the object's placements to these locations.
 
Instead of mapping out and arriving at a fixed definition of the identity and substance of a place, it is hoped that [25] Pockets of […] allows viewers to glimpse a city as a dynamic variation of living relations and discover a sense of a place via one of many possible open-ended, overlapping series of interconnections and encounters.

[25] Pockets of [London]

[25] Pockets of [London]

[25] Pockets of [...] is the brainchild of Victor Buehring, who drifts around cities, makes assemblages and enjoys writing. You can see accounts of his wanderings on his Artrospektive website, or take a look at the following video that explains a bit more about the project:

Event: Disappear Here Launch in Coventry, 16 March

We have recently discovered a fascinating project in which a collaboration of 18 artists have produced 27 films about the Coventry ring road as an inner city superstructure that crosses the boundary between Modernist and Brutalist architecture. Sounds interesting? Well, on the 16 March the work of the last few months will be launched at The Box - Fargo in Coventry where there will be a screening as well as a Q & A session with the artists and the organisers of the project.

Here are a few words from Adam Steiner, the Project Lead of Disappear Here:

“It’s been a great experience to work alongside emerging and established artists from Coventry and beyond to reimagine the ringroad through a series of poetry films. Coventry ringroad is one of the city’s most iconic (and notorious) physical landmarks , acting as both city wall, orbital conduit and dividing line. 

I feel the ringroad deserves to be celebrated as well as criticized – it is the duty of artists and citizens to engage with issues of public space, control of architecture and the human experience of our built environment – to shine a light on the fantastic, the boring and the universal in the everyday. Coventry has always been underrated as a place to live, work and create – so I hope the films will encourage people to visit and seek inspiration where they can to read, write and attend more poetry events!”

You can watch the trailer here and all important links are below:

New Music: Nadine Khouri

By Paul Scraton:

One of the joys of being involved with a project such as Elsewhere has been to discover many different artists, writers, musicians and other creative folk who we have connected to through via the journal, our events or our online activities. In the case of Nadine Khouri it was something of a re-connection, as I met Nadine in 2008 in Beirut where she was recording an interview for a radio show. I was staying with the presenter of that show, and after the recording we went for something to eat together.

Nadine was born in Beirut, although was forced to leave at the age of seven during the conflict in Lebanon. She is now based in London, and at some point over the past couple of years since Elsewhere was launched we got back in touch. I was especially excited to hear, and then receive, Nadine’s new album The Salted Air, which was released in January. It has been playing on heavy rotation ever since, a haunting and atmospheric collection of songs that contain a sense of loss, displacement and yearning for someplace or something else that certainly resonated with me as I was thinking about the theme of transition that is at the heart of the upcoming issue of the journal. 

Drowned in Sound describes The Salted Air as “a pocket-sized book of lullabies, and gothic shanties, whose sounds and lyrics evoke a series of wondrous daydreams and sorrowful, mood-filled, late-night tales,” which should be more than enough to get you to go and check the album out. Below are the answers to the Elsewhere five questions, that I fired over to Nadine by email in the last couple of days, and a live performance of 'Broken Star' from the album. For more on Nadine, her music and upcoming live shows, take a look at her website.

Five Questions for... Nadine Khouri

What does home mean to you?

For a person who was displaced from a young age and had to navigate between various cultures, you can end up feeling a bit fragmented, or at least unable to point to a single place.  "Home" is probably more of a state of mind for me, of total presence.  

Where is your favourite place?

Oh, it’s hard to say!  I love my room at my parents' place in Beirut as it’s inspired many a song…  And anywhere on the Mediterranean.

What is beyond your front door?

Some withered trees and a Turkish corner shop.

What place would you most like to visit?

I just got back from playing some dates in Portugal and I’ve always felt I'd like to spend some more time in Lisbon.  Honestly though… the list is long! 

What are you reading right now? 

Carlos Drummond de Andrade 'Multitudinous Heart' (Selected Poems) 
 

Beyond the Camera: Copenhagen

IMAGE: Laura Harker

IMAGE: Laura Harker

By Laura Harker:

The late-November winds blew down Nyhavn, biting my cheeks as I walked between colourful canal-side buildings and small wooden huts selling hot glog wine and sugared treats. Tourists and locals were meandering along the road, enjoying the Christmas markets that just opened a couple of days previously. Following the pavement around to the left, I came to a stop by the Royal Danish Theatre, its high glass walls loomed over the mouth of the canal, and the wooden decking was slippery underfoot. I peered inside and saw huge floor-to-ceiling photographs of stage actors in the theatre’s entryway and spacious café, none of whom I recognised from TV or cinema. This huge theatre also wasn’t something I recognised from the silver screen, and I’d never seen the view in front of me until now. Water in the canal sparkled under the low sun that cast a soft toffee light onto the ripples, a sight that the camera could never truly capture.

I’d only been in Copenhagen for half a day, and already my preconceptions were slipping. Even before I stepped off the plane at Copenhagen Airport, I had an impression of the city firmly in my mind. After being drip-fed information about Scandi-noir crime dramas from newspaper TV columns and mentions of Danish films by heavyweight directors like Susanne Brier and Nicolas Winding Refn in film podcasts, I’d immersed myself in Danish cinema and now wanted to see the city for myself, away from the rose-tinted glare of the camera. Even though I’d never been, I was convinced that the hours spent watching detective Sarah Lund chase suspects around the city in The Killing would be enough to get my bearings.  I’d even watch the city age and develop, going from political liberation in A Royal Affair to the gun-shot scared buildings during the Nazi occupation portrayed in Flame and Citron. Reams of show reel loosely sewed the city’s history, culture and geography together.

It’s impossible not to be influenced by what you see on film; a 90-minute snapshot greatly shapes your preconceptions of a city. James Bond’s London is all cocktail bars and Windsor knots; Amelie’s Paris centres around a bohemian Montmartre made up of quirky bistros; Hollywood shows us the American Midwest as a blur of white picket fences in God-fearing towns. I’d decided that Copenhagen would be chunky knit jumpers, muted Scandinavian tones, and omnipresent hygge.

Right at the end of the film Open Hearts one of the main characters gets in her little red car and drives around the city, the shaky handheld camera and low evening light giving this impromptu tour of Copenhagen a somnambulant atmosphere. As we’re taken around the city, it has a dream-like feel as lights in shop windows twinkle, cyclists and pedestrians are unwittingly caught on film, and the camera flicks across facades of hazy, non-descript buildings. In the run up to my trip, I used this scene as a starting point, recollecting shots from this final scene and weaving them together from scenes I’d watched elsewhere. I imagined walking through the city, through each scene, making note of each notable landmark: the town hall in The Killing; Tivoli Gardens in After the Wedding. Taking my mind along the pastel buildings along Nyhavn Harbour, knowing that the Charlottenborg Palace would soon pop up, and I could turn around and face the white-washed façade of the Noma restaurant across the river. My mind panned like a camera, framing the city in vibrant technicolour.

I told myself I knew the city: I could walk through movies and TV shows, I knew the tone of the city, I just had to follow the leads of directors, actors and film crews. I decided to leave the guidebooks and recommendations from friends at home. But I soon realised that wandering around the city isn’t as simple as flipping a page or cutting between scenes to get to the next attraction. It takes time working your way through a city and getting to all the sites. These slow walks or bustling train journeys always end up on the cutting room floor in the movies.

At the end of my first full day in Copenhagen, I climbed to the top of the Round Tower, looked across the burnt-orange skyline and realised I actually didn’t know this city at well as I’d told myself. This wasn’t going to be the Copenhagen showcased through film and chasing scenes in my head would be pointless; there’s no wide, sweeping shots of the city and there’s no camera that pans out, neatly framing each landmark for you. The nearest you get is staring out the window of the metro of the S-train as they pass underground, behind buildings or through industrial estates. You don’t have anyone telling you where you should look once you’re away from the TV screen. It takes longer to find the attractions if you’re your own editor and narrator, making your way on foot through streets.

I decided to write my own script for Copenhagen after that first day, and took to the streets on foot to explore and experience it for the city it really is, away from the stories told by a fil industry. Walking the streets, my view of the city wasn’t cut short by edited shots or hasty direction. I saw landmarks and buildings I’d seen on screen, but I also found a completely new side to Copenhagen, one that hasn’t had the gazing eye of an audience on it. And it is in these unpublicised, unglamorous areas and neighbourhoods in which the true soul of the city hides, far away from the intrusive gaze of the camera and the editing skills of a post-production team.

Laura Harker is a freelance writer based in North Yorkshire. She blogs at northquarters.com

Poetry of place: Chalybeate, by Evie Connolly

IMAGE: Evie Connolly

IMAGE: Evie Connolly

Chalybeate
(from a visit to Gorthaclode)

Do truths find their way home? Are there
imprints left behind from centuries before, when
smoke and steel drove paths beneath
amaranthine skies, through rolling forests
ablaze with oranges and golds? The spa well
spills its secrets into the pools of colour
collecting in the millrace and along the weir and
in the trout streams. 

In the shadow of a blasting furnace, iron water
was collected by the bucketload and pilgrims
soaked in the chalybeate spring. The
Gorthaclode Spa was hailed as miraculous
before events and circumstance dissolved a
ritual into history and stories were hidden in the
rivers and streams.  

Does a landscape summon its stories home?
Does an element return to its source over and
over?

Sitting along a pathway at Gorthaclode are
wagons loaded with steel as they wait patiently
for an old railroad to return to life. Sharing a
history with the crystalline rock birthed in the
soil and pulled home by the lodestone buried
in the hills, is this celestial metal merely finding its
way home and are we merely the transporters?

Evie Connolly lives in County Waterford, Ireland. Her poetry and short stories have been published in various literary journals and anthologies.
 

Mystical Mount Koya

IMAGE: Pete Martin

IMAGE: Pete Martin

By Pete Martin

Koya-san, which is 857 metres above sea level, is the base for the Shingon Buddhists, an esoteric sect of Buddhists. There are over one hundred and twenty temples on the mountain and there’s been a religious community here since 816. A monk named Kukai, who had studied Buddhism in China, founded the Shingon sect on his return to Japan. Legend has it that he threw his vajra (ritual sceptre) from China and it landed here in the mountains in Wakayama. The Imperial Court subsequently granted that Kukai was to build a place of meditation on the mountain. After his death, Kukai became known as Kobo Daishi. The monks to this day still believe Kobo Daishi to be alive, meditating in his tomb for the arrival of Miroku (the Buddha of the future) and they prepare three meals a day for him in Okunoin cemetery.  

I get off the bus at Okuninguchi for the Okunoin Cemetery. The cemetery is a sacred area and the pathway runs for two kilometres from here to Kobo Daishi's mausoleum. The path is lined with old, tall cedar trees and the cemetery contains over two hundred thousand gravestones and memorial pagodas. The trees are huge and close together blocking the sunlight. The graves are also packed together tightly, the dark grey stone, wood and black-grey marble give an eerie atmosphere. The ground is covered with snow and the base of the trees and the headstones are covered in moss. It’s not a place for anyone who is claustrophobic. The air is fresh, but the whole place is damp and slightly misty, adding to the enchantment. 

There are various signs in English and Japanese describing the legends that abound in the cemetery. This just adds to the ambiance. At the Sugatami-no-Ido (reflection well), legend has it that if a person looks into the well and does not see his reflection then he will die within three years. At the Ksitigsrbha Shrine, the bodhisattva Jizo is the Asekaki Jizo (sweating Jizo). The Buddha is made of black stone and is often moist due to the weather conditions. It is said that the statue is sweating because it bears the sufferings of others for their wrongdoings. At the Zenni Jochi memorial, a visitor can place his ear on the stone and hear the cries in hell. Near the end of the pathway, at the Mizumuke Jizo, the faithful pour water on the statues of the Buddhist deities for the peacefulness of their loved ones. Close to this is the Miroku-ishi, which is a stone that it is said to feel light to virtuous people and heavy to sinful people. I can't tell whether this is true or not, as it’s too heavy for me to lift. 

Along the path there are many gorinto (five-tiered stupas). The five tiers represent the five elements, from bottom to top, of earth, water, fire, wind and space, and these elements form the Buddha Mahavairocana, the fundamental deity of Shingo Buddhism, or the life force that is the origin of everything and that illuminates all. The goal of Shingon is the realization that each one of us is identical to Mahavairocana in nature, a goal achieved through initiation, meditation and esoteric ritual practices. 

Many of the statues have bibs, which provide the only colour in the cemetery. The bibs are placed on the statues by those who have lost children, in prayer to Ojizo-Sama, who is the guardian of children. It is said that the souls of children who die before their parents are unable to cross the mythical Sanzu River, as the children have not been able to undertake enough good deeds. Ojizo-Sama saves these souls from the eternal penance of piling stones on the river bank by hiding the children’s souls in his robes and this is symbolized by the bibs on the statues. 

At the end of the long pathway through the cemetery, there are three wooden temples in front of the stone bridge that leads to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. A group of four monks, again in orange robes and geta, walk noisily from temple to temple, stopping to pray and chant at each one. The stone bridge depicts the entrance to the precinct of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi. The bridge was originally wooden but it’s now rebuilt in stone. It has thirty six stone planks that, with the bridge itself, mark the thirty seven Buddhist deities of the diamond world mandala, which is the representation of the unchanging cosmic principle of the Buddha. 

To the right of the mausoleum, up the steps from the bridge, is the Torodo, the lantern hall. This is a plain wooden building, a modern reconstruction of the prayer chapel of 1023, erected by the disciple Shinzen. In 1016, a poor woman sold her hair to buy a lantern to pray for the rest of her deceased parents. The Emperors, Shirakawa and Showa, donated lanterns also, in 1033 and 1948 respectively. These three lanterns are kept burning continuously in the hall. 

Inside the mausoleum itself, monks sit at stalls at the front copying sutras carefully. The wooden building is dark and atmospheric. Lanterns and pendants hang from the low ceiling. Two monks flank another who sits in the middle of the temple chanting. Incense burns and the only colour is from the orange robes of the monks. I feel I’m encroaching on a sacred service, but another monk waves me forward for a closer view. It feels very spiritual with the chanting and the incense. It even smells other-worldly. I’m apprehensive about intruding further. On my way out, to my embarrassment, I noisily slip on the wet entrance floor. Nobody notices. Outside I catch my breath. The tomb is usually closed. I was only inside for a matter of perhaps five minutes but it felt like time stood still inside. The gobyo (tomb) has an aura that I have felt only in a few other places.

Pete Martin’s book Revolutions: Wandering and wondering on a sabbatical year is a compelling tale of travel and change and is out now. More information can be found at www.wander2wonder.com.

Breath

IMAGE: Louise Kenward

IMAGE: Louise Kenward

By Louise Kenward:

I sick up the last of my breakfast. Spittle drips on my arm and over the side of the boat. Diesel fumes mingle with sea and sweat. Anxiety has purged my stomach and pumps adrenaline in an attempt to stop me. I am compelled.

It is the second time I have reached this point, I cannot stay on the boat again, I cannot return to the shore without seeing for myself what lies beneath the surface.

Watched over by Mount Agung, I tip backwards over board and into the Indian Ocean. Weight and discomfort of my dive kit on land disappears with the horizon.

I suck at air, teeth gripping the mouth piece. It sits awkwardly, jaw aches, I'm holding too tightly. I adjust weight belt, tighten straps loosened by the water. The pressure gauge registers a full tank, clean tasteless air. I have already checked these things twice.

I am last to dip beneath the waves. Air released from buoyancy jacket, I am weighted down with equipment and 6 kilos around my waist. Despite this, I struggle to sink. Instinctively I take a deep breath before putting my head back under water. I bob up to the surface again. Looking down I watch others as they drop through the door to an other world. I continue to pull, to knock, it is jammed. Resistance of water against my body is too great. The blue beneath me tantalises and terrifies.

I'm being pulled down. My right leg is being tugged below me, dragging me under. I realise the need to push at this door, not pull. I let go of the breath I've been holding and slowly, slowly sink.

My first breath beneath the waves. Colour scattered blue, movement of fish, glitter and gold. Constant motion and total stillness. Swollen bubbles escape my mouth joyously as I descend further. Three, four, five metres deep. Submerged in water, a return to the womb, to the source of life, a time before evolution brought legs and lungs. A sanctuary. Yet life is taken as easily as it is given, stolen by cruel and unsentimental seas. A careful balance of body, air, water. It is easy to perish, to dissolve into saline. I try to swallow, for airways to adjust and regulate pressure in air cavities. I shift my jaw, willing ears to pop. Swallowing with the mouth piece is difficult. I bite down hard, swallow, ears release. I drop further.

Ten metres. I realise my buoyancy and its control is the biofeedback of my breath - my body acts as a balloon. I inhale, lungs swell, I rise up. I exhale, lungs deflate, I fall deeper. Having risen and fallen with initial breaths, I am now learning to pace inhalations, exhalations, slow, deep, breath. Steady, calm breath. An exercise in stillness, a meditation. The whole of my body is needed to focus on this one thing. Body connects breath, breath connects body.

Fifteen metres deep and I have never been so aware of my own breath. Never before have I had to attend so carefully or so completely to inhaling and exhaling. Rib cage expanding and contracting. It is more than concentration - to think about what I am doing I may lose control - I am a whole, mind and body acting as one.

Elusive, delicate, fragile breath. Mouth open, organ of life, pulls in air. Lungs, heart, connected, pumping blood, sustaining body. Twenty metres. Slow, full breaths. Senses alert. Mind quiet. Air swells from regulators as I exhale. Steady, measured, breath. All I can hear is the escape of bubbles to the surface and the crunching of parrot fish on coral beneath me.

I sink further. I look more closely, orange and white clown fish dodge the caress of pink tipped anemones. Wide flat laced table corals shelter blue and purple nudibranchs - tiny molluscs the size of a finger nail wearing their lungs on the outside of their highly decorated bodies. Delicate red sea fans sway gently as yellow tipped black and white striped angel fish glide past. There is an abundance of life quite oblivious to my presence. I watch, I drift, all feels at peace, all feels just as it should be.

Slipping through depths the gentle grip the ocean has taken does not let go. I do not ask it to. The further I descend, the tighter grasp the sea takes of me. Temperature drops, light weakens, I surrender to it. All consumed, it holds me. Immersion of body and mind. My pulse gently beats in my ears.

Sense of time is lost. I check the pressure gauge, I am running out of precious air. The spell broken, I have to surface. Again, gradually, slowly, I readjust my body to changing pressure. Rising too quickly is as risky as not rising at all. Emerging upwards warmth returns and sunlight dusts my face.

I return again and again. A calling of the sea sings more loudly than before. A sense of arrival, of coming home when I stand on the shore. A restful calm descends and envelops me, a sense of other, of completeness. Shoulders fall, breath quietens, thoughts calm. I am now embedded in molecules of ocean and they in me.

Louise Kenward is an artist engaging with place and person, past and present. Making journeys, writing, connecting. At times accompanied with 19th Century Victorian traveller, Annie Brassey.

Elsewhere editor Paul Scraton on the Papertrail podcast

By Paul Scraton:

I was extremely pleased to be asked to take part in the Papertrail podcast, a fantastic new audio series that invites writers and other artists to chat for a while about some of their favourite books. Because of my own writing, and the theme of our journal, we decided to select three books that are somehow dealing with the idea of place but which also have a special personal connection for me. If you want to find out what they are about, and why they are important to me, then you'll need to have a listen. Thanks to Alex for inviting me, and I hope if it inspires any of you to read these books I am sure you won't regret it.

Edinburgh and Elsewhere at the Artists' BookMarket

We are extremely pleased to be taking part at the Artists’ BookMarket at the end of this month, a two day celebration of books and artist-led publishing that is hosted by the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. We are being represented on a stall titled ‘Edinburgh and Elsewhere’, and as well as the many different stalls featuring a wide variety of artists and publishers, there are also talks and workshops to take part in.

‘Edinburgh and Elsewhere’ at the Artists’ BookMarket brings photography, illustration and publishing together with a special emphasis on place in all its forms, including the imagination. Edinburgh-based artist Catherine Marshall will be launching her book Fleetway, an imaginative story based on a failed roll of photographic film taken at the Cammo Estate in Edinburgh. Elaine Robson will be showing her artist book inspired by Japanese urban landscape and found text, Under City. As the Scarrow press co-founder, she will also present the contemporary photography 'zine Simulacra.

Husband and husband team O'Brien & Chiu will showcase their illustration and photography projects. 'Drawings in a Time of Dreaming' by Gerald O'Brien, features tiny mixed-up buildings and invented structures, humorously subversive in their resistance to daily life norms and expectations. In 'An Unexpected Return on my Journey to the West', Yi-Chieh Chiu embarks on a personal photographic journey in his partner's home country. He finds an Ireland suffused with colour and abstraction, finds poignancy in the everyday; a way back home even as he is far from his real home in Taiwan.

We are extremely pleased and proud to be in such company, and we think that if you are going to be anywhere close to Edinburgh on the 25th and 26th February you should certainly check it out.

The Artists’ BookMarket at the Fruitmarket Gallery
25-26 February 2017
Sat: 11am – 6pm
Sun: 11am – 5pm
Free Entry
Website

The art of Ellis O'Connor

We are extremely pleased to have the opportunity to feature the artwork of Ellis O'Connor here on the Elsewhere blog. Ellis is a visual artist based in Scotland, and since graduating a couple of years ago from Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design she has worked in residency programmes in Iceland and Norway. She recently returned from an expedition with the Arctic Circle Organisation to the High Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard, and in her work you can see how she uses the visual language of drawing and lithographic printmaking to challenge assumptions about the natural environment.

Through her work, Ellis wants to reintepret the grandeur of natural land forms and re-present this visual information laden with power. As an artist, conservationist and keen mountain climber, Ellis aims to address the issues of climate change and wild land in her work, in the hope of inspiring others to take action for the future as well as to highlight the significance of the natural world around us.

If you would like to see more from Ellis, you can check out her website, her blog or visit her instagram feed.