Art and remembering echo come to us in so many rich forms. I came across a photo of Aksana Nairanouskaya earlier today and remembered meeting her in Barcelona a few years ago. Her enthusiasm and joy were infectious and, like the city itself, unforgettable. Interestingly though, I came to meet her by way of having first been moved to tears.
Ambling along on one of those balmy Barcelona days, the afternoon temperature just perfect for me, I suddenly felt myself welling up, ‘tears tripping,’ as they say, without immediately knowing why. And then I saw Aksana at her cimbalo, and recognised her playing – on that occasion – what is, to me, one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most haunting, loving, tender, teaching pieces of music on earth: the theme for Schindler’s List. That’s the power of music’s evocation – moved to tears before even properly registering what I was hearing. And ever thereafter still echoing …
Aaah. Beautiful, beautiful Barcelona! … fins la pròxima vegada ...
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that travelled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.
The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.
We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.
Somewhere in us a dignity presides
That is more gracious than the smallness
That fuels us with fear and force,
A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks
For being betrothed to the unknown
And for the secret work
Through which the mind of the day
And wisdom of the soul become one.
John O’Donohue The Inner History of a Day
To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings
I’ve been enjoying photos of the Eclipse as seen in the US; and good and brave souls embracing and ‘getting back to normal’ on Las Ramblas in beautiful Barcelona; and hundreds of other snapshot fragments of life around the world on the 21st August 2017.
And I’m so grateful for John O’Donohue’s calling our attention to the ‘eucharist of the ordinary’ – that quiet inner life, the dawn ‘born quietly from deepest night,’ where all humankind and natural phenomena together are joined in the ‘work through which the mind of the day / and wisdom of the soul become one.’
Oh Barcelona! Beautiful city. Home and host to the Temple of Light, unsurpassed art, my nephew, and a host of international friends; beautiful, warm city where only months ago 160,000 compassionate and humane citizens marched in favour of opening wide gates of welcome to desperate refugees from Syria – how are we to retain optimism tonight?
How are we to avoid sounding cheap or trite when our hearts reach out to friends, some as close as family, in these days of bewilderment in the United States of America? Or Berlin, Brussels, Damascus, Homs, Jerusalem, London, Manchester, Nice, Paris, Stockholm …? I do not know.
I only know that I must reach out, holding fast to – and speaking frequently of – the kind of optimism that on the surface of things simply doesn’t make sense on evenings and in weeks like these. Holding fast to the kind of optimism (if that’s even the right word?) that insists every day on recognising the height and depth and breadth of goodness that does, truly, exist in the heart of humankind, though loud and shocking minorities work to have us believe otherwise.
Human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good – these things are not controlled by, nor in the gift of lawmakers, nor the ‘politically correct,’ nor presidents, princes, preachers or praters; not controlled by, nor in the gift of the demanding, the domineering, the fanatical, the leering, the violent, nor those who have difficulty hearing anything but the sound of their own tragic, woeful ignorance.
Optimism, the hope of the world, human love and tenderness, hospitality and welcome, compassion and forgiveness, holding fast to good, walking hand in hand, standing shoulder to shoulder – these things are in the gift of the majority of humankind – whose hearts lurch in horror as they think on events in Barcelona today, or in Charlottesville just days ago.
‘They tried to kill my child, shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her,’ said Heather Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro …
Height, depth and breadth! Love in the mothering heart of just one humane human that may leave us speechless for a while. Speechless but not hopeless. Our task, wherever we are in this wounded yet still beautiful old world, is to turn up the volume, not of rhetoric, but of Susan Bro-like optimism and magnifying love. Like a candle in the dark.
‘Sorry, I’m a bit pushed for time today,’ I said to my friend Robert twenty years or so ago. ‘I’ve got to think of something to say to a large assembly of the Women’s Institute tonight. Their invitation asks me to speak on ‘any subject that takes your fancy’ and I’ve come a bit unstuck.’ ‘Nonsense!’ said Robert (and RSC will know exactly who he is!) – ‘just go and tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’
So for an hour and a half or so I told a large gathering of women my story about what it had been like to live and study for a month on the very edge of Bethlehem, wandering into Jerusalem in the early mornings to buy my daily newspaper, about the colours of the souks, the sounds of the calls to prayer, the scent and the sound of olive groves, of sunrise, and of sunsets over the Judaean desert, of ancient history, and of contemporary youths singing together in groups outside, in late evening warmth, eating ice cream.
Many further such invitations followed. ‘You speak with stars in your eyes and in the telling’ one kind soul told me after an evening during which I’d thought I’d wittered on too much. How often, since, I have thought of Robert’s ‘tell them about one or two things that really light up your life.’ How very often since then I have noticedthe things that light up my life.And though aware that tonight you won’t be able to hear me, I can nevertheless show you – as quickly or as slowly as you decide – some such recent lights in Barcelona, Cataluñya, España … with stars – and gratitude – in my heart x
My friend Mimi is chief among my encouragers where photo-journalling is concerned. With her usual enthusiasm and generosity of spirit Mimi spoke of enjoying “seeing Barcelona through your eyes.” If my beloved friends and family could only know how often I feel I’m seeing simply allsorts on their behalf as well as my own!
How to describe the extraordinarily vibrant and cosmopolitan city that is Barcelona?
Well: I’ve come to the conclusion that only the presentation of all things colourful comes near to proper description here. From tens of thousands raising their own heartbeats and ours in the Barcelona half marathon this morning, through a breathtaking spectrum of colours throughout the rest of the day, culminating in one of the best flamenco shows I’ve ever seen, heard or felt vibrating in my very bones, Domingo en Barcelona es
Footsore tonight as, after class, we took the Metro as far as it could take us before the steep climb on foot up to Parks Guell and Carmel for the panoramic mirador of Barcelona – and down again. Every muscle in our bodies, and especially in legs and feet, encountered the city’s surprise of the week. I was dumbstruck by the sight of octogenarians scaling the steep streets without turning a hair. They must have been born here. But oh, was the hike worth it? The early evening light was a photographer’s dream, and the stunning Sagrada Família quite patently Gaudi’s! What a day.
Blogging’s a bit like exercise. You can’t always do it every day, even if you really want to! The last couple of days have flown by – even as we ourselves have flown – to the beautiful Barcelona and a curso de español intensivo.
We’ve found ourselves in good company today with a German electrician, a Jordanian Headteacher, a German surgeon, a Saudi Arabian architect, an English chartered accountant, an English student of politics and international relations, and a Scottish viajero – a world traveller – in our class alone, with bags of opportunity for relating to the other 140 international students who, like us, think that studying in Barcelona is ‘the bee’s knees’.
Our professors speak to us only in Spanish, so we’re learning to swim in the deep end fast! But they – and all our fellow students – are possessed of warmth, together with cheerfully energetic good humour, so though I haven’t a clue (yet) as to how this might translate – we think we’re going to have a ball here! Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned the fantabulous food on every arty street corner. And the Fitbit? Well, 5 miles already today, despite time in the classroom, and there’ll probably be another 2 or 3 tramped between now and bedtime.