Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Madrid Protests

It's my first visit to Madrid, I don't speak Spanish, and I'm only here on a five-day business trip, so I can't claim to be any kind of expert. I'm only reporting what I see. I'd heard vaguely about the Spanish protests, but I was unprepared for the scenes when I emerged from the Puerta del Sol underground and into the square. It's a complete take-over by mainly young people - students I guess - and they're clearly here for a long stay. Tents, sleeping bags, stoves, kitchens and, according to a newspaper report "canteens, daycare, pharmacy, press centre and other facilities...". The picture above gives you an idea of the banners, mainly in Spanish, but I saw several in English with the message - shown in the picture above - saying ""People of Europe, Rise Up". It's quite staggering.

A large area of central Madrid has been taken over, not just the Puerta del Sol. Lots of other smaller squares are full of (mainly young) people who seem to have occupied them on a semi-permanent basis. The gatherings look like sit-ins , reminiscent of the 60s and 70s. And there are smaller gropus every now and then, sometimes gathered round someone making a speech, sometimes in animated conversation. And there are makeshift signs and placards everywhere.

There was a heavy police presence around the government buildings - one was the Finance Ministry, I think - around Puerta del Sol, but in the main the protests seem relatively unpoliced - something inconceivable in London.

On the late train back to Tres Cantos, the town I'm working in, three women in their 50s and 60s and a young woman spotted that we were foreigners - I was with three colleagues, two Dutch, one English - and they moved seats to speak to us about the situation: "What do you think of the protests?" "It's very important what's happening here." The two older women spoke in Spanish and the younger one interpreted. They asked about the student protests in Britain, asking "did the students attain their demands" (to which we had to say, sadly, "not yet"). They were keen to point out that the in Spain "it's not just students, it's everyone".

This is all I know at the moment, but, in the face of an almost total news blackout, I'd thought I'd at least give my limited eye-witness account. These demonstrators clearly see the "austerity measures" being inflicted on Spain as part of the same programme that's inflicting them on Britain, Ireland, Greece and other countries. That's why they're saying "People of Europe, Rise Up".

And that's why it's not in the news.

Madrid Protests

Madrid Protests

Puerta del Sol, Madrid

Thursday, May 12, 2011

In the novel 'Mr Palomar' by Italo Calvino, there is an episode in which the eponymous hero visits a Zen meditation garden - the Ryoanji in Tokyo - where he tries to meditate on the sand and rocks which are meant to invoke a feeling peace and oneness:

"[Mr Palomar] allows the indefinable harmony that links the elements of the picture gradually to pervade him.

Or, rather, he tries to imagine these things as they would be felt by someone who could concentrate on looking at the Zen garden in solitude and silence. Because - we had forgotten to say - Mr Palomar is crammed on the platform in the midst of hundreds of visitors, who jostle him on every side...

...What does he see? He sees the human race in the era of great numbers, which extends in a crowd, level, but still made up of distinct individualities, like the sea of grains of sand that submerges the surface of the world..."

I like that expression "the era of great numbers", which captures the combination of magnificence and banality that characterises our experience of living in an overpopulated world. If you're wondering where this is heading, well, first I just want to say what a wonderful piece of work "Mr Palomar" is: I've recently read this short novel, which reads like a set of prose poems, and which I'd love to be able to read in the original Italian. Secondly, the "the era of great numbers" aptly describes the poetry world, and probably the world of most other artforms, at least in The West. The number of poets and the volume of poetry they produce is overwhelming. But I don't take the high-modernist approach that it's too much, that the masses have usurped the citadel, and that the days when a few members of the elect dispensed poetry to the public was better (note: that's a tongue-in-cheek caricature). If you keep an open mind, you can enjoy the constant delights and surprises that crop up all the time - tinged with the regret that you're never going to get it all. A small sample of poetry arrives on my doormat or inbox at a steady rate. These are a few books I'm very much enjoying at the moment:

in arcadia by Alisdair Paterson (Oystercatcher)
Play. Pause - Words to Three Musics by David Kennedy (Cherry on the Top)
Shod by Mark Goodwin (Nine Arches)
Silk Egg by Eileen R Tabios (Shearsman)
A Stone Dog by Aidan Semmens (Shearsman)
Shifting Registers by Ian Seed
When the blue light falls 2 by Carol Watts (Oystercatcher)

All of these are excellent, and I hope to get round to writing short reviews of at least some of them; in the meantime I'm enjoying their variety and range - one benefit at least of living in "the era of great numbers".