Friday, 21 October 2011

Age before beauty ...

A very short one today connected with the post below. This one I found by accident Googling for "Border Collies".

I love the Internet, don't you?

Something remains for me to do or dare
Even the oldest tree some fruit may bear
For age is opportunity no less than youth itself,
but in another dress.
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars invisible by day


Monday, 17 October 2011

Beauty is Truth; Truth Beauty...?

For the past few days I have been thinking about youth and old age. Not, actually, connected with me personally. More that I spent two days at the Marbella Film Festival and three of the films I saw involved a juxtaposition between people when they were younger and now.

One of these films was called Mila’s Journey. It is the story of Mila Jansen, a woman from Amsterdam, who when young had gone with her husband to India there to embark on a 1500 klm trek through the Ladakh area of the Himalayas. The journey was filmed by herself and her husband. Some sort of serious disagreement ensued once the trek was over, however, and was so acrimonious that the couple parted, and so did the footage of the journey with Mila keeping one half and her husband and soon to be ex-husband the other. Mila doesn’t elaborate on the source of the split, but she does hint that he wanted not to return to India, and she most wholeheartedly did.

Fast forward almost 40 years and Mila wonders what happened to him. She finds that he is dying, of cancer, and goes to his bedside.

My first thought on seeing both of them in the 70’s was how incredibly beautiful both were. Hans, her husband even comments on this when he sees his picture. Mila, so many years later, is still a beautiful woman with fine bone structure and laughing eyes. Hans is a skeleton. His once fine and handsome cheekbones reduced to painful protuberances.

Mila wishes her ashes to be scattered at a certain lake high up in the mountains and decides to go back, to try to meet up with some of the people with whom she had walked and, most especially, to locate the guide who had become one of the family. She succeeds in most cases, although many have died. Mila has had a recent heart attack and is far from well physically, but this doesn’t stop her initially; although later she finds that the altitude is too much for her. The crew must go on, and she must return.

The second film I had pause to consider was called Spanish Steps. This film looked at a group of mainly English people (and a few Spaniards who had found themselves transplanted in England) who had become not only aficionados of flamenco, but practitioners of the art themselves, mainly in dance. The footage this time took us back to more or less the same time period as Mila’s Journey; perhaps a little before.

In both cases, the people I saw on screen were more or less the age I was when singing with a band and later a folk duo: running a folk club in the Midlands and spending late nights entertaining many musicians who were to go on to considerable fame, and their friends. The film footage of those times was so dated that I might have been looking at Dageurrotypes!

What struck me about both films (and both were truly excellent) was the realities of aging. Once young, beautiful and energetic, the people in these films were now overweight, lined, slower of movement, more ponderous, and in some ways, more innocent than they had been before, although most of the dancers in the latter film had no problem once the Duende – the spirit of flamenco - entered into the scene.

The last film called Beyond the Noise directed by and featuring Dana Farley, a young filmmaker who had struggled all her life with serious learning problems. Dana had been introduced to Transcendental Meditation by the filmmaker and director, David Lynch and it had helped her enormously to concentrate and overcome her fear of such things as exams and so on. The last third of the film is an interview, initially Dana interviewing Lynch, until then he turns the microphone on his young friend. The resulting conversation is quite an extraordinary one: a sharing of knowledge and most of all camaraderie between the famous man and the young student. The juxtaposition between young and old simply melts away in the light of a shared passion.

“She doesn’t really know who he is,” her almost lookalike mother Karen told me over a beer on the hotel’s terrace. Lynch, of course, is perhaps best known for the series Twin Peaks and the award-winning film The Elephant Man. Dana had met him in a context quite different from the Hollywood glitz in which most people would meet such a person. As a result, while she knows of his fame, it doesn’t seem to have any impact on their interaction. Dana's film follows her own difficulties with growing up dylexic and suffering from attention and processing difficulties and the bullying and self-esteem issues which are endemic to young people with learning "disabilities". As an educator myself, I greatly enjoyed it and for one so young it is a remarkable effort.

So going back to my original thoughts. Why do we have to change physically as we grow old? Do we really have to "wear out"? Do we have to become redundant, leaving the world to a younger and more attractive "race" of people who do not have our wisdom and abilities, nor our own particular beauty? Why do our limbs begin to fail us? ("Bits are falling off," said the outspoken Prince Phillip recently.) Why do our thoughts become so much harder to process? Why sometimes do we make excuses for ourselves citing our age as reasons? Why do we so delight in sending each other those slightly offensive (but “fun”)) “age” cards for our birthdays? Why does “beauty” so often seem to be equated with “youth”? Is it because once we grow beyond our childbearing years (and of course I am speaking more for women here) that “looking beautiful” is no longer seen as so important because we have no need to attract someone with whom to mate? Yet from a man’s point of view, it also seems to put most of us out of the running in the romance stakes… Have you ever watched a man sitting at a café on the street direct his gaze to the butt of a woman in her 50’s? I thought not. And what about the one who said: “Well, with her long hair she looked pretty good from the back, until she turned around”. (From a Facebook post from someone I have as a “Friend”: Not about me as far as I know, but it could have been!)

I watched a film recently in which Angie Dickenson’s words were (mis)taken as a “come on” by a much younger man: “Why would I do that with an old stick like you?” the man says. Under the dirt and trappings of an alcoholic bag lady, Dickenson still looked beautiful, at least to my eyes.

Why when we look at a photo of someone when they were young do we say: “Wow. S/he was so good-looking/pretty then,” when the person in question has gained an inner beauty through self-confidence, risk, knowledge, peace? Can't we acknowledge that instead?

Oddly, I would not want to be any age but the one I am now. Not if it meant that I had to go back and re-live all those years of struggle and doubt. I look at a photo of someone like Vanessa Redgrave, gorgeous still at seventy something and without a trace of hair colouring or botox, and say: “I’d like to look like her” whereas I have no desire to look like, say, Cameron Diaz or Keira Knightley. I don’t mind at all what I see in the mirror.

Furthermore, I know that what I have to give today is of great value. In that sense, I guess I consider myself “expensive” in the way that a younger woman might value her looks. If diamonds littered the beaches, then diamonds would have no value.

What does concern me though is this assumption, often by men closer to my age than either of the stars above, that women “of a certain age” are no longer attractive. Living in Marbella I see so many “trophy wives” (the Marbella Woman is legendary) on the arms of men who quite clearly have left their own wives to start a second family. Often these men are in their 50’s and 60’s, even ‘70’s and well… not what my mother would have called “an oil painting” themselves. Do they think those women are in love with them? What about the wife or wives they have left? I find this very, very sad indeed.

Is there a conclusion to this general rambling and ambling I am taking? I don’t really know. Perhaps I am looking less for a “Fountain of Youth” and more for a shady avenue of trees under which beauty achieves a broader recognition and in which we can walk together without coming into a meadow in which we are to be put out to pasture...

Your comments (young and old!) would be most welcome.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Pay It Forward...?

I was trying to come up with a blog post this morning and nothing would come. I made myself a cup of tea (always good for inspiration and sympathy) and had a quick look on Facebook. A mutual Friend had posted a link to another Friend's blog. I have been thinking about it all day.

There is no way I could top this one today, Rebekah, and perhaps not ever.

From Big Fun in a Tiny Pueblo by Rebekah Scott who practices love every day from her home on the Meseta.

Will you Pay It Forward just a little today...?

Link to the original also follows.

"This is going to sound "woo-woo," but what the hell.

I watch the news, and most of it is bad. Soon our money will be worthless, the plans we made to keep us in comfort for the next few years are not so stable and sensible after all. What can I do? How can I get ready? How can I change a system so evil and so entrenched?

I felt scared for a little while. I looked at the wall of negativity on the Web, and I sat down with it to think. I decided to look round the other side of it, at what else could happen. I looked for a glimmer of light.

On the other side of this mess is something simple and beautiful.

I pray for it. I think so much of the answer to the fear and suffering around us, the suffering that is and may be to come, is for everyone to calm down, shut up, and do something Good.

Doing Good doesn´t have to cost anything. It is therapeutic, calming and cleansing. It has tons of historic precedent. You don´t need lessons or workshops or seminars to learn to do it. You don´t even need to believe in anything or anybody. It is as natural as breathing. It is something humans just do, whether or not they call it "prayer" or "works of mercy" or "charity work" or "volunteering" or "standing up for what´s right."

My friend Claire made me think a couple of days ago, when she quoted author Brian Taylor, an Episcopalian Rector:

'Do you feel God most directly when you sing the blues? Then sing the blues and call it prayer. Do you blurt out things that everyone seems to be thinking but no one is saying? Blurt one, and call it the prompting of the Spirit. Do you love to cook and eat? Hold parties and consider it Holy Communion.'

So he expanded on the "prayer" thing a bit. My point is, many of the things we do naturally are, with a simple re-phrase, doing Right. Doing Good. People have stuck labels on all these things and assigned them to lists and Virtues and Gifts of the Spirit, Sacraments, etc. etc., as if they were church property.
Nope. If God is as big as the church people say (s)he is, no one can co-opt goodness. It is from God. It is natural and human and therapeutic. It is not Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, liberal or conservative. You know what it is, because you are good.

Unless you are a sociopath, you know what is right, and you know what needs to be achieved in your house or yard or street or neighborhood. Shut off the goddam TV and/or computer and go do it.

For all our sakes. For God´s sake.

It will put your mind at ease. It will correct wrong, clean up the mess, solve a few problems. Just imagine if everybody stopped snarling, snarking, fighting, and worrying, and just did something good. Every day. Not waiting for the government to do something, not worrying about someone else taking advantage. Just doing it because it needs to be done, and our hands are free, and the needs are clear.

Even if the über-rich win and we all must live under a bridge, if we all are in the habit of doing Good we will make the bridge into a community, where good people do good for one another, without having to make a buck out of it, without having to score points at someone else´s expense. Maybe when we are all collectively screwed out of all our "belongings" we can dump our over-hyped, alienating "Individualism" and learn to take care of each another.

Jesus talked about that. Jesus the homeless brown-skinned revolutionary, the woo-woo Jew. (If I am just a silly dreamer, I am in very good company.)
We cannot stop a financial armageddon. But we can stop being afraid, and go out and be kind to our neighbors. This is the only answer I can find."


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Review of Emilio Estevez' The Way...

My pilgrim daughter, Rebecca, and I went to see the film in Malaga last year. I was expecting to be disappointed. But I wasn't.

First of all, it is balanced. There is acknowledgment of the religious aspects of the Camino, but also the idea of the Way as the destination, as Tom spreads his son's ashes at various waymarks along the path, but also decides - having had a conversation with a helpful gypsy in Burgos - to take the path beyond Compostela to Muxía to scatter the remainder of the ashes in the sea on the rocks in front of La Virgen de la Barca. Having visited Muxía myself this year I was delighted that they chose this place rather than the more commercialised Finisterre.

Secondly, it is powerful. The notion of a Tom who changes gradually from someone who sought to impose his own values and lifestyle on his adventurous son follows the idea that no matter who your are or what you believe in, the Camino WILL change you in one way or the other, as Tom does, "seeing" his son along the Camino and even visualising him pulling the ropes of the Botefumeiro with great satisfaction in the Cathedral.

Finally, it is funny. The scene where the four are practicing baton-twirling with their bordones had me laughing out loud. In fact, the dialogue free part of the movie as they move across the Mesa was my favourite. It helped to encapsulate what happens when individuals with nothing whatsoever in common, come together in commonm circumstances.

I didn't particularly like two of the characters and in this Rebecca and I were in agreement: Sarah the Canadian is much too brash and intrusive from the outset (and who wears skin tight jeans on the Camino?), but perhaps she had to be hard in order to mellow through the journey, as she seems to do. There was nheed to flesh out the character but perhaps little time. The Irish writer selfishly only wants to take the lives of others in order to break out of his writer's block and it is hard to warm to him at any time although even Tom accepts him for what he is later in the movie.
Tom, however is brilliantly portrayed by Martin Sheen whose facial expressions leave extensive dialogue unnecessary. A true award winning performance.

Purists will complain about the non-Latin Compostela and the fact that the replacement was given so easily (can't tell any more though...). No we don't go up the steps and through the Great Door: I believe only the King does that! Both Rebecca and I as long term residents of Spain were offended by the unpleasant "Madame Debril"-type character who has never walked the Camino and who informs Tom that he is in Basque country - Navarra in this case - and not Spain. This was a gratuitous, misleading and unncecessary throw away by Estevez and I could hear people bristle around me here in the cinema in Andalucia. It's a touchy subject. More Catalunians think themselves "not Spanish" than Navarese, or even those from Pais Vasco. Also police are not likely to throw enebriated and noisy pilgrims in the drunk tank (God knows they'd never get any real work done else!).

On a positive note - and there are many - "El Ramon" from Jack Hitt's wonderful book Off the Road was a great little vignette as were others taken from that favourite Camino book of mine (though not where the bird drops from the sky, alas). Read it for yourself; it is still the best.

I am looking forward to the DVD and the chance to see it in English. Certainly it can only have a positive effect on those who are feeling the Camino draw them closer. It's gently done, perhaps too gentle for a general audience, but it has a lasting effect and made me want to get my boots out (yet) again.
More soon on my recent adventures in Galicia and the birth of the Little Fox.