Asni: Multimedia Art & Design
Occupy the Internet!
: Middle Earth New Zealand photo calendar 2012
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- In this newsletter:
- *** Occupy the Internet!
- *** News and Current Projects
- *** Cool Things Friends Do: Pat Knorpp
- *** Old Friends, Old towns: Brugge and Stockholm - Photo diary
Occupy the Internet!
When I was travelling in Europe a couple of months ago, I was staying at backpacker hostels, in shared dormitories, and I talked to people. There was one story I heard over and over again, from the twenty-somethings who make up the largest part of the backpacking and shoe-string travelling crowd. Quite a few of the people I spoke to weren't leisure travellers at all.
There was the kiwi girl in London, on her "OE" ("Overseas Experience", something of the equivalent of the 19th century "grand tour" young people of a certain class were expected to undertake, to broaden their view of the world). Or she may have been looking to stay in London permanently – I suppose, as often as not these things depend on circumstance and chance. She seemed quite glad to talk to someone from "home" – slightly ironic, seeing that here in New Zealand, she might well have insisted to know "where I was from", implying that whereever it was, it was *not* New Zealand.
In any case, she spilled her heart and told me about her job in "hospitality": a bakery in Covent Garden, where she was working 16 hour shifts and barely had time to grab enough sleep inbetween. In fact, doing the maths, and assuming an average of 8 hours as a healthy measure of sleep, she clearly did *not* have time to ever sleep enough, taking into account that it would probably take her up to a couple of hours to commute to and from work ... I told her that working shifts of this length on a regular basis was clearly illegal. She shrugged her shoulders and said: "if I make any trouble about it, they'll fire me and give the job to someone else". She was living in that eight person shared hostel dorm more or less permanently, because it was the only place she could possibly afford, where she wouldn't have had twice the commute, or more. I didn't ask how little she got paid. 16 hour shifts!
So much for a century of fighting for labour rights and employment legislation. Not that my own experience of employed life has been much different, if perhaps less drastic – at one stage, I was working for about a year or so in an open plan office with a couple of chain smokers. What, you have chronic asthma? Well – do you want the job, or not? That was about 10 years ago.
Then there was the young lady from Spain, whom I met in Cardiff. She sat there in the common eating room in her stylish black suit and white shirt, looking very sophisticated indeed. Fluent English, of course. Friendly, open, courteous. She said she had come over from Spain to look for work, and would have to stay in the hostel until she found a job and started earning an income. I can't remember how long she said she'd been there, but I think it had been a little while. I think her background was in a media related field. They ought to have hired her on the spot just for her classy appearance. I wonder if she is still looking.
The unemployment rate in Spain is currently at about 21 % – which translates into nearly 5 million people. That's about the same number of people who were unemployed in Germany when I left there in 2003. Five million. And that's just those working age, not studying, not self employed, not housewifing people who actually register as "seeking work". Five million. That is more than the entire population of New Zealand. One country in Europe.
While others work 16 hour shifts and never get enough sleep. And no money to speak of, either.
Occupy San Francisco - source: Occupy San Francisco Facebook page
So, it seems we have a problem. We've been having that problem for a good long while. But it is amazing just how difficult it is to get people to LOOK at that problem – be they parents, teachers or friends, politicians, public service employees, or the media. Poverty, exploitation, that's Africa, or somewhere far away, long ago. Poverty, exploitation, that isn't us, right here, right now.
Me myself, I have spent about 12 years in formal higher education – going from a couple of music performance degrees to an MA (as top student of the year) and a year toward a PhD, and then later a computer graphic design diploma – *supposedly* a skill which is highly in demand. I once believed that if I was a good girl and did well in school, I would be certain to find a good job and income. The few "jobs" I have had which made use of the skills and knowledge I acquired in my formal education, were short term internships, which were inadequately, or not at all paid. Read No Logo by Naomi Klein for a whole chapter on how that works. I should have dropped out of school and "learned on the job" way, way, *way* earlier.
During those short spells of employed work that was even remotely related to my education, I have helped set up the Berlinale Talent Campus, an initiative to foster young talented film makers from anywhere in the world, which is now a regular, and as I hear, very successful part of the Berlin International Film Festival. I have written an online article for the ZDF website, which has ended up on the reading list of a university course about "Media reactions to the September 11 terrorist attacks". Inbetween doing all this, and continuing my studies, I have built a performing career, which, while it wasn't generating a sustainable income at the time, has been sufficiently impressive to earn me a residency permit in New Zealand. And 633 friends on Facebook (and counting), for all *that* is worth.
I have not been too precious to accept jobs that were below (in some cases, way way way below) my level of qualification. I took them on, and I did good work – at least, where I wasn't actively prevented from doing so. Twice, I have been bullied out of these kind of jobs. The third time, I quit before it got to that stage. Each time, I wound up with stress-related health issues that put me out of commission for about a year.
In two out of three of those jobs, what I was earning was hardly enough to pay the rent, anyway. Worktimes were "flexible", which was supposed to be an advantage, in that it was supposed to allow me the freedom to pursue my self employed activities on the side. In reality, it just meant that I never knew how many hours a week I would work and be paid for, or when, and that I had to be available on call, or else not get any shifts. Both times I got fired, it was in direct relation to pursuing some professional performance activities that made me unavailable to work at a particular time. I never lied about the fact that I did those things, and it was always part of the original employment agreement that I could. Holiday entitlement? Who cares.
For the past five years, I have been unable to earn an income of my own that would even barely support me, any way whatsoever.
Find a job? A little while ago, I spent half a year writing job applications, a couple of them for jobs where people ought to have been licking their fingers for my skills and experience, let alone personal qualities such as self-initiative, honesty and reliability – certainly compared to the New Zealand average! I was *not once* invited for a job interview. According to Statistics New Zealand (you can look that up), the most common reason employers cite for turning down a job applicant is not lack of qualifications or experience, or any such measurable parameter. It is that "they haven't got the right attitude". Maybe self-initiative, honesty and reliability are not the attitudes employers look for in New Zealand. Maybe my attitude is too old, too female or too German. It must be worse for those people whose attitude is too Asian, or too Black.
Too educated? Too, well let's say the word that people around here regularly choke on – could it be that I am, really, "too talented"? That would be absurd, wouldn' it? Or would it. Sometimes I think the reason people like myself don't get hired, is that everyone is afraid we will show them up. So the New Zealand government organizes expensive job fairs overseas to recruit people for their "Talent Visas", then when they get here, they get to drive taxis and clean toilets. Makes a whole lot of sense in terms of the national economy.
Maybe it's just a scheme to boost the national self confidence. Look at New Zealand! The best educated *international* toilet cleaners in the world!
My own business? I make websites, and I make bloody good websites. I also make bloody good art and bloody good music (at least, a variety of people regularly tell me so), and occasionally I sell some stuff in my online store, which so far, is pretty much the only place that sells my things. At this stage, the business pays for itself, and that is already an achievement. At 44 years of age, with all the education, experience, skills, and perfectly good work ethics I have, I am still financially dependent on my parents – and I have to consider myself very privileged, in having parents who are able, and willing, to give me that kind of support. I can only hope that by doggedly persisting in doing 12-16 hours of work a day most days (perhaps just a little less on weekends), I can somehow pull myself out of that hole before they will be unable to continue doing so.
I have tried telling this to people for the past five years. They are deaf, or they think I am lunatic – vastly exaggerating, and in any case, I am obviously not trying hard enough. When they find my dead starved body in a sleeping bag under a bridge one day, they will probably lament that "I should have told them."
At least, the people whose first reaction when I mention WINZ is not "how come you can come here from overseas and be on a benefit???" – As if I'd invaded the place. Not come here on an invitation by the NZ government. I am not on the dole, btw, even though I could have been this whole past year. WINZ clearly thinks I lie to them on a regular basis, and I would rather not subject myself to the treatment I have received from them in the past, if I can possibly avoid it. More bullying is not what I need, to have the peace of mind to be able to focus on getting myself out of the hole they have put me in.
Is it any use reminding them of Articles 22 and 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? "Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality" it says in Article 22, and "Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment." – "Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work." – "Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection" are paragraphs 1,2 and 3 of Article 23.
Maybe someone should tell WINZ. But Human Rights Violations, of course, only occur in such noxious and far away places like China and Timbuktu. Not in that Perfect and oh so Liberal Society which is New Zealand. Or any of the rest of the Civilized Western World. Eh? Or else, perhaps we need to read the "his" and "himself" literally. That could be.
If it had been up to me, I would have been doing the things I am doing now – focus on generating an income out of where my real skills and talents lie, rather than chasing after "a job" no matter what – 15 years earlier. It wasn't that hard to see the future – after all, I've made a reasonably thorough study of the past, and all it takes are some pattern recognition skills. Something artists are generally good at. In hindsight, I had all the right instincts – I may not have had the knowledge or discipline I have now, but there is no reason to assume that that wouldn't have come over time, anyway. Unless someone is stubbornly convinced to always assume the worst of people – even their own children.
Then I was in my late twenties, full of energy and enthusiasm, with a strong circle of like-minded friends, and riding the wave of a performance career which up to that date, had been really quite successful. Now, I am in my mid fourties, in an environment where in addition to the mountain-sized prejudice most people have against art as a viable career to feed oneself, I am confronted with all the prejudices against aliens and age, and a lot of the time, I am just tired, tired, tired. Only, I would have needed some support at that time, and I did not get that support, from anyone. I am getting it now, from my family, and with interest, but there is no amount of money in the world which can buy me back 15 years, and my youth.
The worst mistake I ever made in my life, was doing as I was told. Instead of trusting myself, and my own judgement.
But that is just my personal rage. I am not even beginning to talk about the insane greed, the complete lack of morals or responsibility even for sheer self-preservation, which poisons our air, our water and our food. The sense of entitlement that condones the killing of our forests and wildlife, the tormenting of animals on a massive scale, and the draining of all sorts of natural and human resources. The very word "human resources" makes me think there must be something wrong with a society which can coin such a term. At least "slave" calls the thing by its name. The complete disregard for human dignity that is in everything from our housing to our workplaces to our schools – where people with dreams and ideas are being molded into cogs, to work without causing friction, to be stowed away as economically as possible when not productively engaged, and to be disposed of discreetly when no longer useful. The way of thinking that says that anything that isn't motivated completely by self interest measurable exclusively in hard profit, is a bad business proposition, and therefore stupid.
Speaking of business propositions: have you heard about "fracking" – Hydraulic Fracturing? If not, I think you should. It's a method employed by petroleum and natural gas companies, to access underground reservoirs by inserting high pressure fluids containing a large number of toxic chemicals, which fracture the surrounding rock and allow for more rapid extraction of the fossile fuel reservoir. I hope I have explained that ok. Unfortunately, the rock surrounding underground gas or petroleum fields is also where the ground water lives. Fractured rock, toxic chemicals, natural gas or petroleum, ground water used for drinking water supplies – bad mix. Well, depending how you look at it. From a business perspective, it's actually perfect. Fracture rock, extract fossile fuels, poison local water supplies, start a secondary business selling bottled water from somewhere else to the locals. My business advisor would be proud.
Perhaps he'll one day ask the people "Why don't you drink wine", when they come and complain that the water has run out.
The bad news is, this is actually happening. All over the place. Of course all the "unbiased" scientific evaluations prepared by an "independent" university professor whose chair is probably funded by the company who commissioned the report (or their nephew's company), state that the process poses no danger for the environment. The people living near fracking sites, who suffer from regular headaches and other health symptoms, and who apparently, in some cases, can literally set their tap water on fire, might have a different impression. One of the things that brought the people in New York up on their feet, from what I hear, is that there are currently plans to employ fracking to access a natural gas field in the area which supplies the drinking water for New York City.
The real problem, however, are not the 1% who pull the strings. The real problem are the people who willingly let this happen to them, because they believe or have been brainwashed into believing, that it is the only way, that "this is how things are" and otherwise they won't be "safe", and that it is not their responsibility anyway. They've worked hard all their life in jobs they hated, and they deserve their standard of life. You can't feed everyone who is starving, so you end up feeding no one. What can one small person do anyway, eh? It's so much easier to sit in front of the tv and believe what some "expert" says, than to go to the library, find a book and read up on things.
The real problem are the people who choose and defend slavery because it is easier, and costs less effort, than having to think for oneself and make one's own choices, and run the risk of failure without the ability to blame it on someone else. "I only did what I was told" was the excuse of the people who operated the gas chambers in the German KZ's. Remember?
Occupy Wellington! - source: Occupy Wellington Facebook page
I hear about those people who Occupy Wall Street, and all sorts of other places, and my heart flies out to them. Finally, FINALLY, I think, someone is getting up the backbone to step up and make a noise even the corporate owned media can't safely ignore.
Basically, I am writing all this just to give them a shout out, and let them and everyone know that I am 100% behind them. I wish I could be there and play my harp and sing songs to entertain them. It would be worthwhile. I know a good one about global warming: "Come gather 'round people, whereever you roam, and admit that the waters around you have grown, and accept it that soon you'll be drenched to the bone ... " – I think it would be uniquely fitting to the occasion.
As it is, I can only sit here occupying my quiet corner of the internet and toot my little horn, as indeed I have done ever since I started this newsletter. I have been chased off internet forums a couple of times for stating opinions that I now find repeated almost literally in the banners and slogans of the Occupy movement. I wish to point out that I wrote this whole text, *before* I found all those cartoons which echo my exact words. At least here, on my own site, so far, no one can shut me up. Though people have tried! Sometimes it's just good to know that there are others out there who see the same things and draw the same conclusions. It can be demoralizing, all this refusal to see or hear, let alone speak.
Actually, that's not true, that this is all I can do. This is a global protest, and so we have our very own Occupy Wellington. Come to think of it, I know some folks right here in Featherston, though there isn't much to occupy. The revolution starts in your own backyard, as they say. Literally – or what did you think all this growing of greens and swapping of vegetables with the neighbours was all about. I suppose better get serious about the singing of songs, then. You should hold me to my word. And I guess I know what I'll be doing this weekend!
I didn't much like the reports of London burning, some months ago. I can't help remembering the last big economical crisis in the 1920's, and how it turned into a hotbed for fascism. Though I would be a hypocrite to say I can't relate to the anger that gives rise to actions like what we saw in London. My own anger sometimes threatens to drown me.
The people who manage to channel that burning anger into *peaceful* protests, and into what looks to me like an exercise in learning democracy from the ground up all over again, have my highest respect. Many of them are people in their twenties, and they are even worse off than my generation. At least, we still had benefits and well earning parents. At least we could still remember a time when employment rights weren't just a piece of toilet paper, and the media had a political mission to help conserve democracy, by unbiased research and reporting of facts. Even if the days of clean water and air, and when "organically grown food" was just "food", were long gone already by the time of my birth.
When I was looking up things on the internet the other day, I had to laugh at the (presumably well paid) WMASP egghead at Reutters, who was just reinforcing the point that has been made about the conventional media, with his long derisory tirade about those "leaderless" kids who don't even have an "agenda". I always wonder if the people who go on about the importance of strong leadership, realize what the German translation is of the word "leader". It's "Führer". As in, "Der Führer".
I don't know if those brave people who camp out on Wall Street have an "agenda", or what their agenda would be, beyond stating the obvious: stop plundering our planet, NOW, and make the criminals in the offices on Wall Street, who have lost us our jobs and our incomes, accountable for their crimes. Perhaps an "agenda" in the classical political sense of the word is not what is needed. Seems to me that people with agendas usually do more harm than good. Perhaps the very act of what these people are doing is already their "agenda" – gathering together, talking to each other, and refusing to shut up any longer and accept things which are in every way completely unacceptable. Reclaiming our basic human rights. We, the people. Wir sind das Volk.
News & Current Projects
This month, I have broken even (and a little more than even) on the production costs for my 2012 Middle Earth New Zealand calendar, which continues to be availble in my shop, and which I will now also be listing on Ebay.
I have also broken even on my CD Baby signup fee, so I am now in the process of submitting my 700 Years of Pop CD for digital download – pending some information I need to find out about the publishing rights for some of the songs, and if I owe any of those people any money. I expect the album, and individual tracks, will be available for digital download by the end of the month.
A new sheet music book, the second volume of the Spanish baroque dances by Diego Fernandez de Huete, is now available for pre-order, and will be ready for shipping in a couple of weeks. This volume includes longer and more elaborate variation sets on some traditional Spanish dances: Gallarda, Españoletas, Las Vacas, La Tarantela, and two Pasacalles. The pieces are very similar to the eponymous dances in the "Luz y Norte" collection by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz –– essentially, they are the same pieces, with a different set of variations, whose style reflects the 30 odd years which have passed between the two publications.
Fernandez de Huete's "Compendio numeroso de cifra para harpa" is one of the most substantial sources of original harp music before 1800. This edition is a transcription of the second book of the first volume of the Compendio numeroso, published in Madrid in 1702, and contains the original fingerings. A must for anyone with an interest in historical harps, or Iberian baroque music! The pieces are written for "harp or keyboard", and are equally suitable for historical keyboard instruments. Please go here to pre-order your copy.
The Harp & Hobbit Press now has its own dedicated Facebook page, where I will be posting updates about new sheet music releases and things. Oh and – 633 harp playing Facebook friends do come in handy when you start up a thing like this. Like me!
The latest addition to the Asni household is my brand spanking new iMac! 27 inch, no less. Quite an upgrade from the old laptop! And a blessing for my not-so-young-any-more eyes. Have I mentioned that I am now also the owner of a pair of very stylish reading glasses? Another present from my mother. Finally, I *look* like the geek I am! :P
As you can see on the computer screen in the photo, there is more illustration work-in-progress in the making. With this new machine, it will probably only take half as long! The large and complex image files I have been working on lately, have been pushing the boundaries not only of the screen size on my Macbook, but also of its processing power. The faster processor, extra working memory, and super fancy graphics card I bought for this new machine, are definitely noticeable! For one, it now takes a lot less time just to save one of those files.
After I had tried, and spectacularly failed, to buy the same machine with the same configurations from the Apple website a couple of months ago (it was so bad I have written a song about it: New Computer Blues) – this time, I did my shopping through Noel Leeming in Masterton, who were friendly and competent and got me the machine to pick up in their store a couple of weeks later, no hassle.
This time, the keyboard works, and the screen doesn't do weird scrambly things. Perhaps that New Zealand Couriers delivery dude who messed up so bad I decided to return the computer first time round, because I suspected it had been damaged in transport, really did give the box a kick. From what I have seen of that guy, it would be precisely the sort of reaction I'd expect. It would go with the saucy note he left on my door when I pointed out that it might be a good idea to come round the house and knock at the back door, when delivering a few thousand dollar's worth of computer equipment. I hope he is happy that his job performance has been under scrutiny from Auckland to Singapore, due to my absolutely not being prepared to put up with that kind of crap. That's some kind of fame.
Take it as my personal token of respect for Steve Jobs – without whom, I wouldn't be doing any of this – that after that severely off-putting experience, I still stuck with an Apple computer anyway.
I have now completed work on the website gallery content management system I have been programming last month. If nothing else goes wrong – and if the client does not request another 150 redesigns going back to ideas I originally suggested – the site ought to be live in a few weeks. Well, maybe I should be grateful if she does, for I have now started charging her for the additional time. Even my patience and endurance has its limits. I am also working on setting up a content management demo on my webdesign.asni.net site – keep a look out for that, if you are interested.
A few of my oil and acrylic paintings are currently on exhibition at the Carterton Exhibition Centre, run by the Wai Art Group. Check it out if you're in the area! The centre is about to move to a new space, so a lot of empty wall space was spontaneously available, and I put my hand up for it. Last month, I brought my latest oil painting Song in Green Sharp Major along to the monthly meeting, and I won the voucher! They do a lottery for 20 dollar art supplies voucher each month, anyone who shows off a piece of work goes in the draw. I never win anything in lotteries, so this really made my day. More importantly, it also earned me a meeting with a lady who is opening a new art gallery in Carterton next month. But more of that at a more appropriate time.
In community involvement: I did a slide show of some of the photos from my trip to Europe at the Featherston Community Centre, as part of the weekly series of movie showings they have there. Quite a few people came, despite the heavy rains we've had, and they listened to my talk and watched attentively for a solid two hours! Funny that. To me, those are just the streets and neighbourhoods I used to live in. For my good Featherston neighbours, all this is as exotic as the other side of the world – which, of course, is precisely what it is. Mind you, I look at those images and I begin to think Europe is the most exotic place there is on the planet, too.
And I cooked! It was a small crowd at my now almost traditional Easter Down under party this year, but we had a great time (and more than plenty of great food), and for the first time, there were more people from the Wairarapa than from Wellington. We didn't anywhere near eat it all, so as an added benefit, I didn't have to cook breakfast, lunch or dinner for an entire week afterwards. Perhaps I should do this more often!
The other night, I spontaneously decided to pop in for the Cross Creek Blues Club night at the Tin Hut just outside Featherston – it was the thing to do on a Wednesday night in spring while suffering from a bit of a toothache, and I will probably do it again some other first Wednesday night of the month, even without the toothache. Overhearing a girl who sat next to me mention to someone that she played drums, I spontaneously asked her for her contact details, and she invited me to come along to their weekly sessions – she and a bass player – in Featherston! I haven't been yet, but I will. I reckon it is worth checking out. If I want to get serious about being a harp playing rock star with a social conscience, I might just have sorted myself out with a band. Really. Who needs London.
I do apologize for not being able to include a new piece of artwork in this newsletter, but reading over all the things I've done this month, I think I hardly need to feel guilty. Keep your eyes peeled for new work in my DeviantArt gallery – and on my Reverbnation profile, too, for I am also working away on a song. I did take a few hundred photos of spring time in the Wairarapa, a tiny selection of which I am posting here.
Oh, and before all this sounds too upbeat and optimistic – the total income from my business activities I made in the last two months, was less than the amount of GST *refund* I claimed for that same period. So that's a bit sobering, isn't it. Better hope that some of that hectic activity will one day actually pay out as a sustainable income. And better hope that someone gives me another paid job to do some day soon!
The one thing I didn't do much of lately, is sleep. So go ahead and call me a freeloader if you want.
Cool Things Friends Do: Pat Knorpp, aka p-e-a-k
p-e-a-k's gallery on DeviantArt is one of those I have been watching for ages, but which never seemed to offer much occasion to offer a comment, or get into a conversation. Mostly, her images of flowers and tropical vegetation are simply gorgeous, in an exuberant, colourful, up close and personal way. She has the rare gift to paint images which pop off the page in a photorealist, three-dimensional fashion when seen in small size (or from far away), but which are completely painterly, almost abstract in some cases, when one looks up close.
I knew Pat was a fellow expat German, living – for the most part – in the Philippines, and sometimes in France, though she also seemed to visit a lot of other exotic, faraway, and eminently paintable places. What made me finally out myself, were a couple of still lives of liquorices she recently posted – unmistakably, they were Haribo ("macht Kinder froh, und Erwachse ebenso"). And thus, I thought, it was about time I picked her work for one of my features.
"I love flowers! I always have flowers around, so I guess it's not surprising that I like to paint them or rather what they mean to me. Also the play of sunlight on the petals fascinates me, and maybe this is what I try to paint even more than the flower itself. Not many people take the time to really look at a flower, which is why I like to paint them big, bold. up close and personal and in your face!"
"My flower paintings are all done from photos. As I mentioned, the light is a big factor in these paintings and as it changes constantly there is no way I could do this from real life. Another problem: many tropical blooms last only one day, and bougainvillea not even that: they wilt inside one hour if you cut them and take them to the studio to arrange a set-up. So, for flowers it is photos, but always my own shots, never other people’s. I also make a point of never painting things I haven’t seen with my own eyes or places I’ve never been to."
"Still lives are a different matter. Here it depends on what the subject is. At the moment, I’m doing some poppy seed pods I brought from France. That arrangement can stay for days or weeks, no problem. Anything edible can’t stay on the table due to the climate/ ants/ other bugs, so sketches and photos for those."
"Landscapes – depends. Plein-air when I can, but often it has to be very quick sketches plus lots of ref photos due to time constraints while traveling with other people/ having to stick to an itinerary/ not wanting to make the others wait for me."
"Why am I living in the Philippines? The short version: Because here we can live at a level of comfort and luxury which we could not afford in Europe."
"Both my husband (also German, btw) and I have lived most of our lives in S.E. Asia, in the Philippines among other countries. We were here in the 1970s and 80s and we loved it. It’s a beautiful country with delightful people – not at all your typical Asians. It’s easy to make friends here and communication is no problem – everybody speaks English. We were very sad to leave here (in 1984) for Singapore where we stayed for the next 17 years until hubby’s retirement in 2001. Then came the big question: where do we want to live? Singapore – very nice, but too small, and getting too crowded and expensive. Forget Germany or France (hubby’s sister is married to a Frenchman – hence the French connection) - both hubby and I simply can’t stand the cold, we’d absolutely die in a European winter!!"
"In the end we simply decided to go “home” to Manila. Beautiful country – old friends, old neighbours, we still had our house here, even my old housekeeper from way back when came back to work for me plus I have all the additional staff to make life pleasant.... During summer (or what nowadays passes for such) we move to our little village in the Loire valley – we bought a small summer house there many years ago. Our French clan-by-marriage also have summer houses in the same village, and the German clan come over to visit."
"As to your question about homesickness: No, I don’t miss Germany, not a bit! I mean, even when I’m in Europe I’m in France, not Germany. I don’t think you need worry about not missing Germany yourself!"
I asked her about her paintings of shanty towns in Manila – in the comment to one of those images, she had written that she was in two minds about painting scenes like this. I told her about the time I had spent in Brazil as a teenager, and that some of her work reminded me of the kind of paintings that were popular there at the time (in the early 1980's) – both the exuberant tropical vegetation, and the "picturesque" shanties. In São Paulo, where we lived, there had been a veritable industry of selling quaint paintings of "favelas", as the shanties are called there, to rich tourists. Did she feel she didn't want to prettify the poverty?
Her response was: "No, what I meant was this: There is a lot of beauty in this world but, unfortunately, also more than enough ugliness and misery. So, question to myself: Do I really want to paint this ugliness, and who in their right mind would want to hang something like this on their wall?? – Well, you just answered that one for me with the favela paintings. There you are - you never know what sells!"
"Still, I'm not sure that I want to go out and do some more slum paintings. Maybe if I happen to see one somewhere... It's not as if I was surrounded by such sights! I know every time the Philippines makes it into the news, it's always because of some disaster or other, but the part of Manila where I live is modern, clean and high-tech and could be in any big city anywhere in the world. No slums for miles around."
"I did not study art but languages. My only formal art instruction came when, many years ago and just for a lark, I signed up for lessons in classical Chinese painting. I liked it and really went into it for 6 or 7 years in all, I can’t even remember it’s so long ago, but it proved to be a wonderful foundation for my later switch to watercolours. The only thing I had to bone up on was (Western) perspective. Watercolours I mostly learned from books and in a few workshops with established painters in Singapore, in my village in the French boonies, and right here in Manila."
"Favourite artists Aside from such obvious watercolour greats like John Singer Sargent, I’d have to say: Singapore’s very own Ong Kim Seng – he's a great guy and I absolutely adore his work!"
"For me, painting is a hobby. It is nice when a painting sells but I am lucky enough not to need the money from sales to buy new supplies. Drawback: I’m too lazy (and shy) to go out and pester gallery owners etc.. I probably should because when I did put some pieces in shows in France they sold."
Old Friends, Old Towns: Brugge and Stockholm – photo diary, part III
By the time I arrived in Brugge, I had developed a cold, but was still hoping I could beat it, and travel on to Utrecht the next morning as planned, to wander in the tracks of nostalgia, and prepare for the gig I was supposed to do at the Tolkien Shop in Leiden. Hannelore Devaere, an old friend and fellow early harper (and there aren't all too many of those on the planet!), picked me up from the station. First thing she said was "You haven't changed at all!" – which is truly an understatement, given that we haven't seen each other for at least 15 years. But I know what she means. She hasn't changed one bit, either.
Me and Hannelore go waaay back. First time I met her, was the first time I came to the Akademie in Bremen, for a "Lutes and Harps" week-long workshop, which pretty much sealed my musical fate. I had only found out about the workshop a couple of days before, accidentally seeing a poster at the music library in Berlin, and I had rung up first thing on Monday morning – the first day of the course – to see if I could still come. My father, recently back from a work stint in Mexico, didn't flick an eyelid at the thought of driving his daughter 400 km to Bremen – in September 1989, this still meant going through the border controls between east and west Germany, twice, though I think at that time they might already have relaxed somewhat. I arrived very much in the middle of things, and hadn't organized a place to stay. Yeah well, the things you do when you are twenty-two.
Turned out a bunch of my fellow harpers were staying in the caretaker's flat that was attached to the building, and which was at that time, unoccupied. Someone – I think it might have been Hannelore –– invited me to stay there too. We all camped on the floor, there wasn't much furniture, as I remember. The Akademie, at that stage, had only been running for a year or two and was still in the process of organizing itself. Those days were easily some of the best times I have had in my entire life.
I had visited Hannelore in her hometown Brugge a couple of times before – after all, it had always been a convenient road stop on the way to or from London. Brugge has got to be one of the prettiest cities on the planet. It's famous for its lace, and the late gothic Flemish architecture that makes up the bulk of the old town, has something of the fragility of lace about it, built and carved in stone. I had been very much looking forward to spending an afternoon sketching. And I wasn't going to be entirely deprived of that, no matter how bad I felt! I only managed one sketch – and a quickish one, at that – but I did bring home half a memory stick full of photos, at least.
As it turned out, Hannelore had to rush off the next morning for a gig, in Dubai, of all places. As she was also teaching all afternoon til 9pm, that didn't leave us a whole lot of time to catch up! We did our best, over lunch and dinner, but I never got to meet her kids. The older is now thirteen ...
The plan was that I would borrow one of her small harps for the gig at the Tolkien Shop in Leiden a couple of days later. At the time, she had been thinking of coming along, but with her rushing off to Dubai, we needed to arrange a way to get the harp back to her after the gig, since I was continuing on to Germany. This was a bit of a mission, but eventually it was accomplished, with a Dutch student of Hannelore's offering to take it from Utrecht, where I was to drop it at her neighbour's, since she was away for the weekend.
I did decide, early on, to postpone my travel on to Holland to a day later, and give myself some rest – one thing about this tight knit international crowd of crazy early music people I hung out with in my twenties, is that we offer each other this hospitality as a matter of course. Comes with being part of a traveling profession, I guess – you never know when you might need a bed in a strange town yourself! I'm not sure if Hannelore's boyfriend was much pleased though, being stuck with a stranger sleeping on their sofa. Funny though, that after two years at university in Holland, I couldn't think of anybody to ask who might have helped me out in the same way there.
Anyway, as it turned out a day of rest was not enough to fix me and make me feel able to tackle a train trip with three or four changes, a heavy suitcase and harp, a night in a shared youth hostel dorm, and a mission to find an address in the Utrecht suburbs. The performance I could have done. All I would have needed was a road team, really. Lesson learned: if I ever want to tour again, it needs to pay not just for a youth hostel dorm, but for proper accommodation and a support team of one or two. Well you know, one could always try to become a rock star.
I stayed another night in Brugge after I'd finally made the call to cancel the Tolkien Shop gig, but I didn't want to let my pre-paid train ticket from Utrecht to Bremen lapse – that would have wound up being expensive! So the next morning, Hannelore's much put upon boyfriend drove me and my suitcase to the station, in time to catch the train that would connect with the 11 am service from Utrecht I had previously booked. I ended up on the train to Berlin, and perhaps it would have been smart to just carry on, but it was a long trip as it was, and I didn't think the extra three hours journey would make me feel any better! Besides, I was greatly looking forward to seeing my friend Julie, and I was sure that just hanging out in the flat we used to share, and where she still lives with some of my old furniture, would make me feel better.
Turned out her current flat mate was having a big party that night, so when Julie picked me and my suitcase up at the station, she told me that she'd booked me a room at a guest house, so I could have some quiet and rest. Which of course was very kind and caring of her, though at the time I was just disappointed. The drawback was that there was no way I could feed and care for myself without going out of the house – so poor Julie then had to go on an errand to find me food and medicine, for after that long train ride I was feeling *really* sick and just wanted to bury myself under the blankets. In the evening I called my parents and asked them to pick me up in Hannover the next day – a shorter car ride for them, and a short train ride for me. So I arrived in Berlin a day earlier than planned, and never saw anyone in Bremen, except Julie, rather briefly. Which was, of course, a huge disappointment. I didn't mind too much missing out on my trip down memory lane in Utrecht – but having to skip Bremen, that really stung.
The next aim was to get well enough in time for my detour to Stockholm and the Eurocon. I was still coughing bad enough to make my friend Pia Örjeheim pull a concerned face when I arrived, but two days later, I was walking around Stockholm and taking pictures quite merrily, and with no ill after-effects. I somewhat suspect that the whole falling sick thing might just have been a very elaborate form of stage fright. Perhaps Asni the Harper just wasn't quite ready for her come-back just yet.
Pia is a brilliant harpsichordist, and another fellow student from my Bremen days. She arrived a year after I had started my course of full-time study, and shared a flat with another friend and fellow student from Sweden who was in my year. For a while, their place became a hub of the Bremen social life, and something of a second home to me. I was very sad when they had to move out! Everyone else was living in that run-down building of cheap one-room appartments with the rubbish smell in the hallway, and a night club in the basement. That's because there no one ever complained about us practicing all day.
I am not sure what prevented Pia from following through and having a brilliant career in early music – she is a seriously good continuo player – but she moved back to Sweden, and I think, eventually found that being a full-time harpsichordist, in that environment, wasn't going to feed her. What can I say – been there, done that! She now works at a radio station, as second in command, which seems to be a fun enough job, and certainly better paid than freelance musicianship.
I have been working in Stockholm a few times in the 1990's and early 2000's, so I had been seeing Pia reasonably regularly, and stayed at her old place once or twice. But she's never been one for keeping in touch via correspondence, and I had lost touch with her completely for the last decade or so. But along comes Facebook – which has got me back in touch with a whole lot of people I used to be friends with in those days, but left behind in Europe or America. When I mentioned that I was toying with the idea of coming up to Stockholm for the Eurocon, she immediately offered a bed at her place, and that pretty much settled it. It was great to see her again – doesn't really matter if we haven't heard from each other for a decade, we just pick up where we left off. And this time I got to meet her kid! She has a five year old son, Love (that's the Swedish form of Lewis, Louis, Ludwig) - who, when he realized I couldn't really talk to him in Swedish, spontaneously started to pick up some English words. Maybe next time I see them, we can meet somewhere in the middle! :D
The Eurocon experience, I have to say, was a bit underwhelming. Trying to communicate with the organizers, to find out about the programme, and how to register, and all that, had been a bit taxing – first time I tried, I was *way* too early for them to really be able to tell me anything, next time, I had almost missed the deadline for registration. I had expected the convention to run only two days on the weekend, but eventually their programme got so huge that they started halfway through Friday, which was the day I had meant to hang out with Pia and her kid. The cheapo airline re-scheduled my flight back to Berlin from Sunday evening to Sunday mid-afternoon (this is what is not so great about cheapo airlines!), so I gave up on attending on Sunday altogether. I had booked a stall for merchandize, but was also interested in some of the talks. In the end, I only attended one talk, and guarded my stall instead and talked to the other merchants, and the people who came to look at my stuff – which was probably just as well.
From the one talk I did hear, I didn't get the impression that world shaking insights were being offered. Maybe I am a little bit spoiled from hanging out at all those early music conventions, back in the day when early music was the hot new stuff. Then again maybe, if I attended any of those now, I wouldn't be so impressionable either. I did collect a bunch of business cards and added ten people to my mailing list, and it can never hurt to have the contact details of some likeminded people in Europe. A couple of people who said they were looking for illustrators, looked at my portfolio.
The main item of merchandize which I had intended to hawk at the convention, my Middle Earth calendars, didn't arrive in time from Leiden, where I had sent them and never got to pick them up. So it was all a bit of a disaster in that way. I sold a couple of CDs and the one copy of the calendar I had on me. The proceeds were about enough to pay Pia for the postage to ship those calendars back to New Zealand, once they arrived, and to buy some food and beers and a bus ticket back to the airport ... Quite a lot of people picked up my business cards. Who knows, one or two of them may now be actually reading this newsletter.
After being at the convention and not really achieving much all through Friday afternoon, I decided to turn up late on Saturday, and went for a good long walk with my photo camera through Gamla Stan, Stockholm's old town centre. Stockholm is built on a couple of islands in lake Mälaren, and it is easily one of my favourite cities in the world. First time I came to Stockholm was as a child, when we went kayaking in Sweden for our family summer holiday a couple of times. First time I clearly remember, was when we took the ferry to Helsinki from the Stockholm ferry dock, the year before we moved to Brazil.
You can take a day cruise on a little boat out to the Stockholm archipelago, a belt of rocky, pine and moss covered small islands in the confluence of the Mälaren into the Baltic sea. I remembered a day when we went kayaking in the archipelago when I was a kid, and another day when Pia and I did a day cruise to one of those little rocky islands, and they could hardly get me out of the water, swimming and diving like a seal. One summer when I was working in Stockholm, I stayed with my lutenist colleague Sven Åberg at his summer house on one of the larger islands. He introduced me to the concept of growing fresh mint tea in your garden. We did a series of duo concerts at some of the stately homes around Stockholm, one at Gripsholm castle, and another one dressed up in historical clothing at Skånsen, Stockholm's living history outdoor museum. Sweden, Stockholm, the archipelago, pine forests, little lakes, smooth round rocks warm in the sun under bare feet, blueberries everywhere, pickled herring, filmjölk, cinnamon buns, elder blossom syrup and weak Scandinavian ale, that's the essence of summer, to me. This is what I miss most, when I miss Europe.
Pia lives in a suburban area about half an hour's train ride south of central Stockholm, in a complex of new apartment buildings close to the shores of the Mälaren. It was just two days to midsummer, and it doesn't get dark in Stockholm at that time of year. There was a bit of quintessential Swedish forest just over the street from Pia's door, so one evening while she was putting Love to bed, I took the camera and went for a stroll. It was about 9 pm when I left, and I think the sun finally went down at about 11 pm ... it is an enchanted sort of place. Then again, of course, when I think of Sweden, I always think of midsummer. The one time I was there at another time of year, there were ice floats covering the Mälaren in the middle of March.
Arohanui, from Asni