Marching bands and ballerinas
Parade the street, pulling public,
Producing impromptu dances
Around pushchairs and infants
Held aloft; cheering and chants
And stampings, stampeding
Children screaming gleefully
Gobbling up potato chips, fried
Calamari, scampi and such snacks
Washed with beer and wine,
Vermouth and gin and an ever-
Growing list of sin, resisted
Until the wee hours under stars,
Revelling unrelenting. Renewed
As sunlight reveals debris and
Blinkered vision revolves to
Another village, a different festival,
Of a reencountered countryside
Ready for recreation after a year
Of restraint and restriction. See
A need for sun burning, but
Another urge underneath fuels
This seeming endless summer:
A sense of a September looming
Despite peaceful scenes.
Heat will resist yet, bringing
Only waves of pain. Winter comes
Indeed, but carries no snow,
Nor silent ice-glazed stasis,
Only storms. The wars await,
Worse than after a former August
And this is our last cabaret,
Held under a hammer cocked,
A trigger primed, and all
Staggering at the tipping-point.
We were finishing up the festival of San Fermin Txikito, or little San Fermin, last weekend, which was kind of the last festival of the summer – one which had the youths going to as many festivals in as many villages round Pamplona as they could get to, after the two years they missed out on because of the Covid restrictions. And I just said to myself – good luck to them. They’ll have shit shovelled out in front of them soon enough. We have had a terrible summer in terms of exacerbated “natural” disasters, but as the weather gets cooler, we can only look forward to a winter, if not of discontent, then of a realisation of how bad things are going to get (in the privileged west where it hasn’t actually started yet unlike many other places) on our current global trajectory. We just have to turn down the thermostat here, and shorten the shower times, while in other places they’re kinda sorta fucked, as it were.
After I’d written this poem, someone on twitter, commenting on the current fiasco in the UK compared it to Weimar economics, and look how that ended up – suggesting we have a final cabaret.
So it’s not just me, of course…
I have few photos to illustrate this poem for obvious reasons…. who wants their photo on the internet with a pile of beer bottles etc. round them? I wouldn’t! But no judgement if you’re enjoying yourself – a drink before the war, as Sinéad sang…
Among the things I’ve done this summer, is take part in the village festivals. It’s a very small village, but very village has its festival, even if it’s just a dinner for the one family left there. During ours, one of my jobs is to help with the kids game where they’ve to break a flowerpot with a bat, to get at some sweets inside.
It’s called a botijo. It’s like a piñata, but more heavy duty – hence the bike helmet. The older kids are blindfolded to make it interesting. And to spice things up, in one of the pots, instead of candy, lies a creature of some kind – usually a frog or a toad.
It’s been my job to catch said amphibian for the last few years.
This year, instead of a frog, we’d many. And salamanders and newts into the bargain. About twenty or so animals all told (very small, on the whole – there was plenty of room in the flowerpot!).
I’ve no photo of that pot or its contents, because I’m too busy running the event to take photos, and the one above was sent to me since it’s my own daughter knocking the pot to pieces. However, when the pot was cracked open, there was pandemonium.
As you’d expect.
But not for the reason you’d expect.
There were kids everywhere, trying to catch the fleeing animals. And catch them they did, much more eagerly than they’d gathered the sweets that had been scattered for them earlier (in the pot piñata, they know that the sweets are for the kids who breaks the pot, so they hold back).
Once they’d caught them, some of the older kids wanted to keep them. We didn’t allow them, of course, but it shows how starved these kids are for such experiences, and how enthusiastic they are to have them. Another example of the urge to rewild ourselves that George Monbiot describes.
And yet, some of the adults (parents of these delighted kids handling the amphibians) were critical of me and my fellow amphibian catchers for capturing the creatures
It is good that they were concerned for the animals, but at the same times it’s easy to criticise from a position of ignorance. These were mostly people who would scream if they touched one, and who wouldn’t know where to go to see one if it hadn’t landed on the lawn in front of them.
I find that those who can catch such animals are usually the same people who love them, and would not harm them.
The simple reason we’d so many amphibians this year was because we’ve not had rain for over a month and there were scores trapped in a disused swimming pool that had dried up. Only a layer of pine needles in the bottom provided any moisture to keep alive those that were still alive – most of the big frogs and toads had died. Only a week before forty salamanders were rescued from their certain death, and a couple of fat snakes which had had easy pickings. We had collected the remaining animals we could find.
So, while we’d some fun giving the kids a new experience with the animals, we’d not gone and collected scores of salamanders from their pools, but saved them from certain (and unknown, unremarked) deaths, and as soon as they’d been collected, set them free in a 2-metre-deep pool fed from the village spring and never let dry up – and filled to the brim so any which wanted to leave could seek pastures new.
Which was what I saw happening later, when, ironically, I went to that pool to capture a frog again – a much more difficult exercise, I can tell you!
The salamanders, and some frogs, were on their way out of the already busy pond, no doubt to find less congested environs where competition for insects is less.
I’d been asked to get a frog by a Montessori teacher trainer, who’d a course two days later on how to teach the five classes of vertebrates to kids. She’d never used a frog for the course, despite the fact that the course material uses a frog as an example, and had always had to rely on a fish provided by a colleague who’d a pet goldfish in a tank at home.
She’d never know known how to go about getting a frog before….
I showed her. It required patience. And man, was it hot in the sun that afternoon.
But these are the things animal lovers do to spread the word about the creatures we care about.
The heat here disappeared and a storm saw the start of the school year last night but the next festival in Pamplona is already setting up…
The city of Pamplona used to be divided into three Burgos. This is mine.
The celebration of the privilge of the union of these three (592 years ago) takes place on the 8th of Sept. Small San Fermin, or San Fermin txikito takes place at the end of September.
For me, September started with dental surgery, but I’ll save you the photos of that…
Anyway, ’twas a good summer.
Apart from sitting on the beach and visiting home, I watched three seasons of Mad Men, read half of MR James’s Ghost stories, and all of Lonesome Dove, wrote a novella, and almost all of a novel (still not ready for submission, albeit) I put on a few kilos, saw several species of raptors every day and a few foxes and roe deer around, but got few decent photos, made a saw horse (as well as cut and constructed a few walls of logs) and mounted a headboard in the village house.
What I haven’t done is write many blog posts, but I hope to rectify that this autumn..
I did scribbled a few more poems, one about mountain biking, which I didn’t do enough of this year, really – sticking to my desk instead.
Here are a few more of these…. two are inspired by having a child ask the questions we never got good answers to in our day… at least I didn’t.
Along Hallowed Paths
Old friends we seldom saw
Except in photos or in a bar,
But who shared a hobby, such as
Biking or hiking, where we are alone,
Never enter our thoughts upon the
Mountain; only when we return to recount.
However, now they are gone from those
Groups in the bar relating their days in
The saddle, their face comes to mind any time
We sit upon a mountain bike, it seems,
Every crazy climb and mental descent,
Every path picked over rocks and
Gravel track or long asphalt road
Through fields and forests
Is hallowed ground.
Dogs don’t go to Heaven
They told me dogs don’t go to Heaven.
If so, then much less the wolf,
Nor would the fleet deer flee.
If there are no dogs allowed,
Then neither birds nor bumblebees
Enter, I’m sure. Who visits flowers, then?
None need, for they are also absent.
Mountains there are equally bare
Of the forest that covers the one before me.
When they tell me of Heaven, I can hardly
Imagine how the water flows and falls there,
Or why one would swim in the wide blue sea
Without a fish to see.
They tell me
Dogs don’t go to heaven, so I’ve decided
That’s not somewhere I’d for ever want to be.
Thoughts on Obvious Questions Reappearing as a Parent
Why did Cinderella have to go home by midnight anyway?
What kind of fairy godmother gives a taste only to take away?
Was it because young ladies do not linger out all night?
Yet for the rest the party was in full swing when she took flight.
Control and strict rule sets of the time seems to be at base,
For readers to learn early how a suitor should give chase
And girls be given freedom only in small doses, lest
They reject the men who’d take them and clutch it to their chest.
The Poplars and the Church Tower
The church tower of Olleta has stood five centuries
In the fork between the river and the gulley;
The row of poplar trees four fewer, but for forty
Years now have stood a few feet taller; a monument
Of Nature making the village square shadier.
But they won’t stand longer,
For they’re coming down this week;
Some to make room for renovations to the church wall,
Lest it fall in ruins – after all, ’twasn’t built to last this long –
And the rest to return the view
Of the sun-drenched sandstone
From before it was shielded by such tall trees;
Proving man prefers to gaze upon
The wonder of his own creation.
Sometimes it feels like a nuisance, as a writer, to be a poet too.
So many hours can go by just making some short poems as perfect as I can make them…
But you can’t escape the way the writing comes.
Here are a selection of this summer’s work…
The Weight of Centuries
From the hilltop, the plain extends into haze,
A mosaic of mixed farming and forests
Even against the noise of the swish of
Windmills, the insects persist, cicadas trill, drill
Butterflies flutter across this pre-alpine meadow
Which has persisted despite pine plantations
Roads cut into the red earth
I sit on a fallen stone wall on which so many days have stretched,
Spying small valleys into which vineyards have been etched
And I feel the weight of centuries.
I have returned from my homeland to my adopted home
And wonder now where to take my holidays.
I watch tourists of my same shade trail past
This terrace exploring the old town of Pamplona,
Its small cobbled streets, of which I live in the thick.
It’s a privilege to drink this beer here, in holiday clothes
With nothing to do but write and raise my child, and
While aware this is my own particular “first world problem,”
I wish still to somehow, for some days, “get away from it all.”
The ultimate experience of
A walk into the wilderness
For most – that stroll in swimsuit
Along the surf alone
While the family builds sandcastles,
Untethered to anyone – is now tainted
By the telephone taken along.
Last Bastions for All to Admire
The last bastions of utter luxury
And we can look upon them
What it must have been like
Who were able to enjoy them
Before the rest of us arrived
Upon the sand.
In an Old Farmyard
Sun warms a wall, formerly whitewashed,
Now sand blasted to expose the beauty of
Raw stone and soft mortar in irregular mosaic.
Similar pillars stand centuries, supporting
Painted red gates that seldom open upon
A lane left to the birds and other wildlife,
Now a road to nowhere in time, like byres
And empty stables into which swallows
Still swoop to suspended nests of soil through
Slit windows, simply monuments to former toil.
At the Waterfall
Waterfall echoes white noise,
Breeze whispers through oaks.
Observing butterfly lawn,
Lounging on picnic blanket
Under piebald white and blue sky,
But unable to block out banal
Banter and utter bollox of
The barbequing family
Who parked their car beside us.
I’ll Take the Moon
Over festivals all very stimulating,
With curves as wonderful as any in creation
During a night as long as stars can sustain,
A concert of the songs of our
Latest pandemic’s potentially greatest loss,
A spectacle of lights and dazzling objects,
I’ll take the moon,
Rising orange in third quadrant
Past the Pyrenees.
Happy Saint Patrick’s day…
Most people will probably be looking for something green here.
But I have nothing.
I’m not at home in Ireland today. I’ve celebrating my fourteenth Saint Patrick’s day off the island.
I might have a pint in an Irish pub.
I might not.
It will be a fairly busy day and it won’t bother me either way.
I’ll have a dram of whiskey at home in the evening. I’ve a nice 12 year old Jameson I got for xmas sitting here.
Just like I’m having a dram of Black Bush right now.
Everyone here expects me to do something special, though. I tell them I never did anything special at home, bar go out on a Monday rather than a Saturday. And have to drink on the street because there’s no room in Mulligan’s. And the Gardaí let us drink on the street just this once.
Here I can drink on the street any day of the week. It’s usually sunny, ever bar has a terrace, and you can take your drink up the street and sit down on the pavement in the sun and nobody will say boo.
Every weekend would put our St. Patrick’s tolerance of street revelry at home to shame.
Trying to describe what we do at home is fairly hollow compared to what people have experienced here in the realm of festivals. My forthcoming novella under the name JD Martin’s, One Night in Pamplona will give you a hint of the mayhem…
But then I haven’t been home in a decade for the day.
And certainly won’t be wearing green.
I don’t actually have any green clothes – bar my hiking/hunting gear.
I don’t like soccer, or rugby or GAA, so I have never worn a football shirt in my life. And I don’t intend to start now.
To be honest, I’d feel like a bit of a tool if I put something on just for the day.
I’m not sure why, but I don’t go out of my way to meet up with my fellow ex-pats outside of Ireland. I mix with the locals, and other blow-ins. Hanging out with Paddies just because they’re Paddies was never my bag, baby.
I’d probably have to watch football, then.
This doesn’t mean I’m not attached to my own land. I am. I love the island. I feel more at home with my feet in the soft peat of a heather bog than on the sharp stony soil growing lavender and thyme and a thousand thorny bushes here. And when I’m home, that’s where I take myself. Up the hill, as we say.
But I always remember the words of a character in a New Zealand film called Once Were Warriors.
A pretty impacting flick. I recommend it.
The older brother asks his younger brother if he wants to get the traditional tattoo on his face (ala Mike Tyson) and the kid shakes his head and smiles, says, “I wear my colours on the inside.”
He was no less Maori for not getting painted. He was probably more so than his brother, since he’d learned traditional warrior arts and methods.
That film made me think a lot – I wrote a poem about one aspect back in the day, and have pasted it in below (it’s from my formal rhyming period of poetry writing).
So enjoy the day, as I will: another day in a life of being Irish, of having cups of tea and whiskey and worrying about the immersion (thank goodness we don’t have that here!) and thinking of the next time I’ll be up the hill. And writing.
Which reminds me – I’ll be on http://thecelticroseblog.blogspot.com/ tomorrow evening 6 Irish time/10am Pacific time…. with a little blurb of Five Days on Ballyboy Beach – if you’re looking to transport yourself to the old country for a while…
Once Were What?
The people of a now downtrodden race,
However they live under western ways,
Can remember the glory of past days;
They have their ancestors to give them grace.
But here, our warriors have long since past;
Forgotten graves under tides of good times;
Yet oft’ the bell tolls, when we think it chimes:
Do we realise what we’ve lost at last?
On whose shoulders do I stand upon then?
No others’ colours can I wear inside;
I must paint my own image of those who died,
Must live in me, maybe, they were proud men.