c a r a c a s

[ 17:49 thursday 31 december – bus from caracas to playa grande, venezuela ]

stuck in traffic at the edge of caracas airport with landing airliners passing low overhead. car horns and salsa music blare on every side, punctuated by the report of exploding fireworks as excitement builds towards new year. the sixteen seats of the bus are filled with people returning from a day in the city. around us the jungle-clad mountains are hung with sullen clouds as the tropical twilight quickens towards darkness.

i flew into caracas airport yesterday afternoon and immediately threw myself into a battle to find a seat on one of the two light aircraft crossing to the island of gran roque. my friend matias lives on a miniscule islet called rasqui, where there is no mains electricity or water, which is located in the same archipelago. there’s no way to contact him but he’s expecting me in the next few days. it proved impossible to get a seat for today but the application of a modest bribe secured me space on a flight leaving caracas at half past seven tomorrow morning. it will curtail my new year festivities but i find myself blithely unconcerned about that. from gran roque i’ll find someone with a boat willing to take me over to rasqui.

after a sublime ten-hour sleep (having had none on tuesday night) at a small hotel near the airport i spent today exploring caracas with a young french yachtsman called adrien whom i met at the airport. he got a seat on the same flight as me to join his friends and their yacht at gran roque. he’s an excellent fellow adventurer.

the first thing that struck me about caracas is that there are no tourists. during seven hours today we saw a total of three. this has the benefit that the usual poor-country ecosystem of aggressive touts and “guides” is also absent. it also means that we are wildly conspicuous. people stare at us everywhere we go. in general people are very kind and solicitous. every few minutes someone comes up and warns us that walking around in whatever area where we are is dangerous. the second thing that struck me is the ubiquity of enormous posters featuring the ever-grinning mr chavez accompanied by revolutionary slogans.

this evening adrien and i will follow our noses and seek some entertaining dive in which to celebrate. then it’ll be time to catch a few hours’ sleep and begin the next stage of the journey. this will probably be my final despatch until i return from the island.

in the meantime, feliz ano.

: c :

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v i d e o : maria delle mercede

[ 17:26 friday 25 december – sandhurst, gloucestershire ]

christmas day, perched afront the log fire in mum and dad’s sitting room. this afternoon we went out walking in the forest of dean. everything was crusted in snow. a deep, timeless silence hung amongst the trees disturbed only by the crunch of our feet on the icy ground. the river wye was in full flood, winding around the limestone cliffs of symonds yat and churning tirelessly over the shallows. the sun hung low above the horizon and sent fingers of gold piercing the mist between the boughs. we got lost and ended up walking rather further than we intended. it was breathtakingly beautiful. i took photographs with a sense of wide-eyed wonder.

for christmas day i’ve made a little film of the procession i stumbled across in palermo at the end of september, celebrating the feast of the madonna delle mercede. it was a magnificently rowdy affair with two large marching bands, a dozen boys pulling the giant statue of the madonna and shouting fervent invocations to her, then at the climax the most intense firework display i’ve ever encountered. it felt as if we were under artillery bombardment. even the palermitans around me stopped gossiping for a moment and looked slightly nervously at the flaming projectiles darting on all sides.

anyway happy christmas to all who read this and i hope you enjoy the film.

: c :

v i d e o : stromboli ix 2009

[ 02:58 friday 4 december – haggerston road ]

here’s a 6 minute film edited from the footage i recorded on stromboli at the end of september. the weather in sicily¬† that month was rather savage. there were flash floods across the island. cars were submerged in trapani. hill-side houses collapsed in a mudslide in the suburbs of messina. i reached stromboli on the final boat before communications were cut off by a fast-rising scirocco. four days later i departed in the face of another scirocco. the crews running the siremar hydrofoils between milazzo and the eolian islands are courageous men. it seems to me they love their work most when it’s stormy.

the video is recorded in high definition. to view it at a larger size, right-click anywhere on the video and select “watch on you tube” from the menu.

: c :

v i d e o : t r a p a n i

[ 22:56 monday 16 november – haggerston road, london ]

i’ve compiled a five minute edit of the film i recorded in trapani at the end of september. following the pattern of the previous few clips it consists of a succession of brief snippets keeping strictly to the sequence in which they were recorded and retaining the original audio. the only innovation this time is a few captions to provide contextual details. there’s not much narrative, my aim is simply to capture some vignettes of the trip and convey an impression of the whole.

in retrospect animals feature quite strongly. the beautifully-plumed but ill-mannered blue parakeet which attacked me repeatedly at sergio’s family home. the similarly aggressive crab with which sergio did combat. the prawn which alessandro pretended to eat then miraculously brought back to life (it was fine). the giant cricket sergio and i found ricocheting between houses in confusion. the rat we chased and cornered. in between there are glimpses of the sea, of trapani’s crumbling palaces and of the bizarre weather which mystified people through the whole of september.

: c :

p h o t o s : sardegna & asinara v 2009

[ 18:28 saturday 24 october – haggerston road ]

i finally got round to uploading two sets of photos from my trip in may to sardegna and the abandoned prison island of asinara which i wrote about at the time. there are thirteen photos from alghero and the stintino peninsular, then eighty-four pictures from asinara exploring the crumbling prison buildings, the abandoned village at cala d’oliva and the breathtakingly wild coastline where it feels like no human foot treads for months at a time.

: c :

v i d e o : c a r n i v al

[ 21:52 monday 12 october – haggerston road, london ]

i’ve finally edited the film i recorded at the notting hill carnival at the end of august. i spent twelve hours with jan, eric, antonella and martin spanning the parade, sound systems, an illicit steel band session after curfew, revels on the post-carnival streets, a drum circle in tavistock gardens, an after-party at a friend’s house and the slowest bus journey ever back to east london. carnival is the best thing that happens in london.

: c :

f a c c i e

[ 08:58 monday 28 september – bus from central palermo to punta raisi airport, sicilia ]

it’s touch and go whether i’ll make my flight back to london. i got to the station quarter of an hour early for my 8:09 train. after twenty minutes it struck me as odd that the station was swarming with people, predominantly school children, but i hadn’t seen a single train. this seemed ominous for peak time on a monday morning. arrivals were being announced and passengers advised to stand back from the edge of the platform but no trains were materialising.

i asked an old man on the platform who said “if the train doesn’t come, maybe the next one will” which was admirably philosophical but not exactly reassuring. 8:09 came and went. then the indicator board mysteriously went blank and details for the 8:39 appeared on the next platform. i searched out an official who apologised that there was a strike and all trains were cancelled.

once i would have felt irritated that no signs had been put out, no announcements made, to warn travelers of the situation. but my relationship with sicily has reached a point where i accept her foibles, perhaps even feel affection for them. so i simply rushed outside and got a seat in the half-hourly bus which runs from the station to the airport.

that was half an hour ago. this is the peak of the morning rush hour and we’re still battling through the palermo streets towards the autostrada. my chances of reaching the airport before check-in closes are evenly balanced.

i flew into trapani last saturday with sergio and spent several days there with his family. then on tuesday i journeyed to milazzo and took wednesday morning’s first hydrofoil to stromboli. the crew told me a scirocco was rising from the south-east and they were uncertain if they’d be able to dock. indeed there was a large sea running by the time we reached the island three hours later. but they managed to come alongside just long enough for me to leap off.

that was the last boat to dock until saturday. within an hour the waves were crashing down on the quay. there’s a special atmosphere on the island when it’s cut off like this. nobody arrives, nobody leaves. then after two days the wind and sea shifted ninety degrees and a maestrale came up from the north-east. now the waves pounded spiaggia lunga whilst scari and the quay fell into the lea of the island. stromboli was re-connected to the outside world.

yesterday afternoon as i was packing my bags the wind shifted back to the south-east and waves began to lick the sides of the quay again. one of the two companies running hydrofoils to stromboli cancelled their services. but my boat managed to come alongside. the hydrofoil was pitching and lurching alarmingly as we ran up the gangplank. it was the roughest i’ve seen anyone dock there.

the journey back to milazzo was quite an adventure. every few minutes the forward foils would catch a wave and the bow would slam down sending torrents of water over the cabin. i have the greatest admiration for the siremar crews. they continue to operate these machines masterfully under conditions in which most would stay in port. we reached milazzo right on time and i caught the last train to palermo.

it was eleven in the evening when i arrived in palermo. after my time on stromboli and with sergio in trapani i was expecting palermo to be the anti-climax of the trip. but sicily blessed me with one last surprise and i found myself in the chaos of a religious festival in the quarter where i was staying. a huge statue of the madonna was being carried through the streets by young men with priests and white-robed women carrying candles in front and two fifty-piece brass bands following behind. every twenty metres a handbell would ring, the statue would be set down and one of the bearers would shout invocations at the statue at the top of his voice to be affirmed by the rest of the bearers with an impassioned cry of “viva maria!”. all the while the bands kept playing, one alternating with the other to save the musicians from complete exhaustion. it was incredibly moving, there were moments when i had tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

dangling my camera, video camera and audio recorder from various limbs i threw myself into the thick of the procession. it took an hour passing down via roma before pausing and turning into piazza sant’anna. the piazza was blazing with ornate festal arches studded with coloured lights. as the procession entered a welter of fireworks commenced which rose to a deafening crescendo. fragments of burning carboard began to rain down and people started retreating nervously before a series of huge explosions marked its finale. the statue passed into the small plain church of maria of the mercede. there was an awkward moment when it came off the ramp to its resting place at the alter, triggering a thrill of terror that some harbinger of bad fortune was about to transpire, then a final heave restored her to her resting place and everyone relaxed.

i ate a carton of panelli on the street, drank a few glasses of rum at the tiny bar “monkey” on the piazza where i met some friendly musicians, then it was time for me to retire and get a few hours’ sleep.

thus sicily continually tests me and shows me her different faces. it is a place, a people, where i find a vividness and intensity of life that raises me above myself.

we are on the autostrada now. i think i will reach the airport in time.

: c :