Category | Stories

There’s nothing plain about the rail in Spain

Autovia 8, west of Bilbao, where it finishes

Spanish rail is a delight.

It’s cheap, about as difficult as getting on a bus, and more or less on time, and you can travel locally at our train speeds (for about two euro an hour) or at 300km an hour if you’re going cross country and want to spend a little more. It’s a goddam pleasure at that speed to just have a glass of wine, lie back, and watch the train unzipping the countryside. Barcelona to Madrid is roughly the same distance as Auckland to Wellington. In Spain that’s less than three hours, from the moment that you dive into one underground until the moment that you emerge out of another.

It’s a similar distance to travelling, say, between Queen Street in Auckland and Lambton Quay in Wellington. With our check-in times and the quality of our transport to and from each airport here in New Zealand you’re lucky to make that sort of time if you fly. And we easily the have the population density to support just one train line between our two main north island cities.

For years our transport policies have focussed on getting more land under tarmac and more vehicles in and out of cities faster while refusing to invest in any reasonable alternative. The revolution in communications seems to be happening, but surely our bodies need to keep pace with our minds?

Grumble mumble mumble.

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Lake Eyre: A Little Trip to a Big Place

When I was told about a temporal sea in the middle of the Australian Outback I was immediately intrigued because it sounded more like a myth than reality.

Apparently – the story goes – every decade or so when drought breaks (see recent Queensland floods) the rain and floodwaters slowly migrate throughout the continent via networks of newly formed rivers, basins and subterranean waterways.  They end up in the country’s lowest point, located in arid South Australia.  Somehow fish get inside this huge body of water.  I’ve even heard some say that there are fish eggs in the desert waiting to hatch upon the water’s return.  With the fish come bird migrations and colonies.  And if it floods enough, the water sustains a brief ecological spurt; flower blooms erupt in the middle of the desert.   All this talk about water and biodiversity in arid Australia was an image I had not associated with the Outback.

And so with my romantic inclinations, I looked into it.

Lake Eyre satellite image

This ‘sea’ is otherwise known as Lake Eyre.  It is as real as it is mythologised, having been portrayed as a site of fascination and fear all throughout the national narrative of Australia.  According to some aboriginal accounts, Lake Eyre is a Kangaroo skin laid out flat.  In other accounts it is the site of death, with the salty remnants of tears shed by the Sky Gods.  For explorer John Edward Eyre it symbolised disillusionment after failing to find the heroic prizes usually associated with territorial expansion – resources, drinking water, power.  He then proceeded to name the lookout point upon which he discovered the Lake, Mount Hopeless.  Prior to that Thomas J. Maslen drew a fictional map, featuring an inland sea in the middle of the Australian continent.  The sea is shown as being connected by a massive river labelled “The Great River Or Desired Blessing”.   He thereby set the agenda for a national ideal, for a reality, which was at that time yet to be explored.  For geologist J W Gregory the Lake was branded as “The Dead Heart of Australia”.  Charles Sturt unsuccessfully carried a nine meter long whaleboat into the Outback, in a failed attempt to discover an inland sea.  Hydrologists lobbied to artificially kick start a permanently flooded Lake Eyre, as a means to irrigate the entire continent.  The stories go on and on…

I had the recent pleasure of visiting Lake Eyre and it’s surrounding satellite towns.  Here are some travel pics:

 

The ochre coloured township of Coober Pedy. Famous for opal mines and landscapes reminiscent of Mars. 70% of the population live underground, presumably to moderate the extreme temperatures experienced there. The topography of the town resembles that of a re appropriated opal mine, along with random mounds of excavated earth scattered all over the place. It is within these mounds that the houses are located. We had an interesting underground experience at a cafe where the owner closed the kitchen upon our arrival and politely showed us to the door because he needed to leave the shop to “buy some milk”.

 

There was a very cool space ship parked outside the local opal shop/town lookout.

More space junk in William Creek. This one is legit though – Stage one R3 Rocket from the 70s. Tangentially it is also near the historical atomic testing sites. Population: 5, or something to that effect. William Creek is one shop/petrol pump/pub/camping grounds. It is located midway along the Oodnadatta Track, which roughly follows the nearby western edge of Lake Eyre North. The track was previously an early explorers path, which followed a network of water bores.

 

Oasis. Big drought break. The desert was surprisingly green.

 

The remains of a Mosque located in Marree. The town has a history of Afghan Cameleers who settled there in the 1870’s. Coincidentally our travel routing plans were affected by lack of accommodation because of the coinciding annual Camel Cup races. Marree is also home to the Lake Eyre Yacht Club, which hosts a regatta every time the Lake is sufficiently flooded. It boasts to be the world’s most exclusive yacht club for that reason. They are currently in dispute with local Aborigines who oppose the practice of sailing on the lake.

 

The main course: The shores of Lake Eyre. 80% full. It’s a very salty lake, not much fun for swimming in especially for those with cuts or scratches. Up close it is shallow and not quite swimmable where we met the shore. It has a very thick mud base which never fully dries out under the salt pans even in the Lakes dried state. By this stage I’m feeling nauseous in our 1970’s colour schemed mini plane. But nevertheless pretty snap-happy on the ol’ camera.

 

A rather disorientating moment that didn’t help with my fragile state of motion sickness and feelings of strange juju.

 

Some salt pans that weren’t submerged by water.

Leaving the Lake. See you again next decade!

 

fin.

 

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Top Ten Stories of the Year

The good, the bad, and the beautiful.

1. New Bolivian legislation that gives rights to Nature.

Bolivia is set to pass the world’s first laws granting all nature equal rights to humans. The Law of Mother Earth, now agreed by politicians and grassroots social groups, redefines the country’s rich mineral deposits as “blessings” and is expected to lead to radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and control industry.”

2. The real effects of the cuts in Britain:

“While foodbanks may be an alien concept to many living in Britain today, the number of these centres helping the needy has grown rapidly in the past few years. The Trussell Trust, which runs most of the UK’s foodbanks, says the number of its centres has risen from 20 in 2008 to 65 today.

Disability experts believe that being forced to rely on charitable food handouts will seriously damage the health of people already battling chronic illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and ME. They warn that some may even turn to crime, such as shoplifting, to make ends meet.”

3. So this experiment with capitalism obviously isn’t going so well at the moment, but luckily there are some alternatives out there, such as participatory economics.

“Participatory economics is an economic system developed to foster six broad values: equity, or fair and just outcomes; solidarity, or caring and mutual respect among all people; diversity of outcomes which would benefit everyone; participatory self-management, or having a say in decisions to the extent that one is affected by their outcomes; efficiency, or not wasting resources; and environmental sustainability, which requires leaving behind stocks of each kind of natural capital as large as those we enjoy today.”

“As defense giants like Boeing, Raytheon (RTNFortune 500), and Lockheed Martin (LMTFortune 500) increasingly seek to peddle their wares to well-financed (sometimes by the U.S.) international customers, they have a surprising ally: the President. “Obama is much more favorably disposed to arms exports than any of the previous Democratic administrations,” says Loren Thompson, a veteran defense consultant. Or, as Jeff Abramson, deputy director of the Arms Control Association, puts it: “There’s an Obama arms bazaar going on.”

“In 2011 the end of NATO as a collective security alliance is seen in four events: the intervention in Libya, the downsizing of proposed US ballistic missile defence systems in Eastern Europe, ISAF withdrawal from Afghanistan and the creation of the Visegrad Group.”

7. Whales make and share their own pop music!

“Music mania is sweeping the ocean, and all the young male humpback whales are in on the latest trend. A new study reveals that, just like humans, humpback whales in the South Pacific follow musical trendsthat change by the season. Moreover, these songs always move from west to east across thousands of miles of ocean—from the east coast of Australia to French Polynesia—over the course of a year or two. The authors say it’s one of the most complex and rapid patterns of cultural evolution across a region ever observed in a nonhuman species.”

8.  The biggest company you’ve never heard of: Serco

“As well as thanking God for his success, CEO Chris Hyman is a Pentecostal Christian who has released a gospel album in America and fasts every Tuesday. Coincidentally he was in the World Trade Centre on 9/11 on the 47th floor addressing shareholders.  Serco run navy patrol boats for the ADF, as well as search and salvage operations through their partnership with P&O which form Maritime Defence Services. Serco run two Australian Jails already, Acacia in WA and Borallon in Queensland. Theyre one of the biggest companies In the UK for running electronic tagging of offenders under house arrest or parole.Serco are in one of the two favoured bid consortiums for the new Sydney metro rail line. Here are some amazing corporate videos from Serco, we fully recommend both if youre a fan of Verhoeven-esque corporate propaganda. You can watch the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo4_dF_Z1q0

9.  How we were convinced Climate Change is a hoax, by Chomsky.

10. The Authoritarians.  Why do people follow leaders when they know its is causing harm?

“Authoritarianism is something authoritarian followers and authoritarian leaders cook up between themselves. It happens when the followers submit too much to the leaders, trust them too much, and give them too much leeway to do whatever they want–which often is  something undemocratic, tyrannical and brutal.”

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Chur Chur now for sale!

Churchur is now for sale!  Only $NZ10 plus postage.

Click here: Freerange Shop.

All proceeds to Architecture for Humanity project in Christchurch.

On the 22nd February 2011 the people of Christchurch experienced  the most destructive earthquake in New Zealand’s young recorded  history. It was the third large earthquake to hit the region in the past six months, the first being a 7.1 earthquake on the 4th September 2010. 182 people have died, thousands are homeless, scores of buildings have been destroyed, and the central city is still closed to the public. This special issue of Freerange is a window into the experiences of some who are affected.

“Many people are still homeless and jobless, and some have lost loved ones. I can get my head around the physical damage that Christchurch has sustained, but the emotional I find hard to understand.  I wish I could assure my friends that it will be over soon… but it won’t. I can’t relate to their trauma and shock, to the stress they are living in, and I can’t share their burden of a life so changed by one event. But I can listen to their stories and I hope that helps. That is what this special edition of Freerange is about. Let’s listen, it’s the least we can do.”

Gina Moss

“It’s helpful to tell our stories and that’s mine. I have life and limb and all my loved ones but the emptiness reminds me  that I’m human and I need love and support. I know I have  that in big measure. Whether we’ve lost a little or a lot the  reality is that for each one of us in Christchurch that day,  life has changed forever. I will never be the same again.  I don’t say that in an airy fairy way, I just know that my heart has been broken in a way I can’t explain and it has affected me at a very basic level.”

Madeleine Peacock.

 

 

 

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Coincidence and Anna Z

Sometimes life seems to meet itself coming around a corner… where an incident occurs which relates to an idea or concept that you’ve been thinking about; working on; that’s been occupying your mind.

I’ve been finding this a lot recently. It’s almost as if there’s matter amassing around your head, like a magnetic cloud, which appears to attract other instances of this concept that has assumed a different form.

And it doesn’t only seem a coincidence. There are many theories of time coalescing and forming in different patterns: chaos theory; the butterfly effect; periodic orbits.

The theory of periodic orbits (Robert L Devaney) posits that time itself is cyclical in the way that a snail’s shell is, so that you come to similar occurrences over a number of years, which are however marked in some way as different – a different size, shape, patterning, or perspective – which means that the incident itself builds on its parallel that existed before, resulting in the end in the formation of something new, something that has been created as a ‘thing’, only because you have noted the parallel incidents and thus built them up and constructed them to create a recognizable form.

From a statistical perspective, coincidences are inevitable and often less remarkable than they may appear intuitively. Mathis says that an example of this is ‘the birthday problem’, where the probability of two individuals sharing a birthday within a group of 23 people already exceeds 50 per cent (http://www.jstor.org/pss/2031144).

Carl Jung was particularly interested in the idea that a given set of coincidences is a form of synchronisity: that the experience of events is causally unrelated, yet individuals group them together by their meaning. Since ‘meaning’ is a complex mental construction, the grouping of events is siginifcant only to the person observing the events. The percieved ‘meaning’ suggests the existence of a ‘deeper order’, where the individual is both embedded in an orderly framework and is the focus of that orderly framework.

Recently one such coincidence occurred to me, which prompted this deeper level of interest in the idea.

I am about to go on a ‘family history’ trip, to travel to Hungary, where my father is from, to find out more about my grandparents. We will be staying with my father’s cousins, who I have never met and only some of whom he has met, in a small village of approximately 800 people near the Austrian border. This village is so small that we are staying in a nearby larger village, Gyor, whose population is approximately 130,000.

About a month ago I was a first-time participant in a voluntary tree planting group, which was holding an event to attract more people to engage in the activity. There were about 80 of us who turned up on a crisp beautiful winter’s day, in the hills about 90mins out of Melbourne proper. We were encouraged to plant in pairs, and rotate partners so that we would plant a ‘tree per person’. Given the average planting time this meant we were able to meet approximately 20 new people throughout the day.

As part of this rotation I met woman named Anna Z. Anna Z was herself half Hungarian, and 20 years earlier had traveled to Hungary to find out more about her own father, who came to Australia just after the war, and had died when Anna Z was in her youth.

As it transpired, Anna Z’s father had grown up near Gyor, had left Hungary the year before my own grandfather, had come to Melbourne via the same Italian port, and had settled in the same country town as my grandfather.

I was blown away that Anna Z’s father had partaken on a journey so similar to my own grandfather’s. Had Anna Z’s father known my grandfather? And how was it that I met Anna Z so soon before departing for my own investigative experience, which would mirror Anna Z’s not only via the nature of the quest, but also as because of the similarity of experiences that Anna Z’s father had to my grandfather.

What events had passed that resulted in meeting Anna Z? Was it purely a coincidence that I decided to go tree planting on that Saturday? Is it enough to think that my own magnetic cloud of thoughts of Hungary and my family that swirls around my head gathering momentum attracted me to this activity and this location on this particular day, to plant with this particular woman.

It would be nice to think that meeting Anna Z was an event caused by the ripples and changes of my thought process emitted into the universe – it makes me feel special, significant, and part of a ‘deeper order’. But perhaps I am essentially assigning a form to causally unrelated events; shaping this experience so that it reflects my own thoughts; and thus creating meaning and validation of the significance of my trip.

Emily Hollosy

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Presence

Presence: the fact or condition of being present

I’ve been thinking about presence quite a lot lately, for two purposes that are interconnected but from quite different perspectives; one psychological and philosophical and one in regards to performance. So I thought I would attempt to nut that out a little in words…

I have been seeing a psychologist about issues I have with anxiety, something that comes and goes in my life and which is occurring often at the moment. Anxiety is generally triggered for me by uncertainty, and much to my dismay I have learnt that I’m calmer when my life has a routine, so being a freelance puppeteer and sometimes not knowing where the money for my next rent payment is going to come from isn’t ideal… My psychologist has introduced me to the psychological theory of mindfulness, which uses techniques with roots in Buddhist meditation. There are many aspects to it, but a focus on ‘the present’ and ‘being present’ has piqued my interest in a way that connects elements of my art practice with my mental health.

A good definition I found is from Jon Kabat-Zinn who is an authority on how to use mindfulness techniques to address clinical psychological issues. He says that mindfulness is: “Paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”. For my own purposes mindfulness has been about trying to pay more attention and engage more fully with the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It is about observing what is going on in my mind and body, noting my thoughts and feelings as they happen but not trying to change them. I have been meditating as a one way to learn how to be mindful. At this stage I’m simply sitting for 10 minutes in the mornings and observing my breath going in and out, noting how it feels and what happens in my body as I breathe. Also noticing when my mind wanders and then bringing my focus back on to my breath. It is so simple, and sometimes so difficult! It is hard to be truly present because it is something we don’t do often in life. We spend so much time multi-tasking and letting our minds run away on us, it seems like the moments when we are fully aware of ourselves are few and far between.

And this is where the connection to presence in performance comes in. It is extraordinary how engaging it is to watch someone who is truly present on stage. A big part of being a performing artist training to achieve this state, and the history of this training is something that theatre theorist and director Eugenio Barba has spent much of his career researching. He wrote a book called the Paper Canoe, which talks a lot about the similarities in training between dance and theatre in many different cultures. He coined a term called the ‘pre-expressive state’, which I would call in more simple terms: stage presence. He observed that performers the world over train to be able to be present on stage, and this training always includes a focus on “certain physiological factors – weight, balance, the position of the spinal column, the direction of the eyes in space – produce physical, pre-expressive tensions. These new tensions generate a different quality of energy, they render the body theatrically “decided”, “alive”, “believable” and manifest the performer’s “presence”, or scenic bios, attracting the spectator’s attention “before” any form of message is transmitted. (Odin Teatret)

In his book he gave an example of Japanese Noh theatre performers who learn how to perform with their weight shifted unnaturally to the balls of their feet. The effect of this is that the body is always full of energy and ready to (re)act at any moment, and it makes a performer interesting to watch because as an audience we feel like something is about to happen. You don’t want to take your eyes away in case you miss something. You could say the same about the position a sprinter might take before the gun goes, or a fencer’s light-footed dance before they strike.

For me the close relationship between the training I do as a performer, all those strange and obscure exercises that sometimes seem a little-self indulgent, and the mindfulness techniques I have recently been introduced to has been a revelation. I have gained a stronger understanding of why performing and rehearsing make me feel so good and calm, performance training is often time spent being mindful, being aware of my body and focusing carefully on very specific actions. Just like I do when I’m meditating. Mindfulness and performance both demand that I am truly present, and one of the best things about that is that there isn’t much room for being anxious when I’m focusing on my experience of the present. And the more I think about it the more I see sport in the same light. The best sports players have learnt to put themselves into ‘the zone’, which, just like stage presence, allows them to perform at very high levels. I’m sure that anyone who has played a team sport has experienced those sweet plays where it seems like everyone shares one mind and you barely have to communicate to pass the ball and get it in the goal. I have a hunch now that the euphoria afterwards comes in part from the exercise and in part from spending that time being present and aware.

If you want to read more about mindfulness check out: http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/mindfulness and this video

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North?

Last Weekend I went Rogaining, that is long distance cross country orienteering.

It involves navigation using a map and compass, one factor in navigating using bearings on a compass calculated from a map is adjusting for declination. Declination is the difference between true north (the direction of the geographic north pole) and magnetic north (the north a compass points to).

After talking to a friend prior to the Rogain event and discussing the idea of declination and  ‘north’ I did some research and found some interesting stuff.

Firstly, declination varies across the world in a strange way, almost like contour lines eminating from the poles. Declination also changes over time (see the great animation below), due to the magnetic poles moving and to flows of magnetic metals beneath the earths crust .

Secondly, we wondered how was the north pole discovered if a compass does not point to the geographic pole? Well, you can use stars, or the sun. If using the sun, around noon you follow the diagram below, and also see below for the astral version.

But then, how was north calculated prior to accurate time pieces? AND, how did someone discover that those rules actually work without accurate maps?!

Change in declination over last 300 years

Calculating true north using the midday sun.

Calculating true north using the stars.

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Myth more important than history

Recently I’ve been enjoying the Power of Myth TV Series released by PBS in 1988. The series has six episodes, each featuring an hour long discussion between host Bill Moyers and famed American ‘mythologist’ Joseph Campbell, collected over several years prior to Campbells death in 1987.

Here he speaks on a topic dear to Free Range:

During the Power of Myth the conversations are focussed around the traditional roles of mythology and ritual in human societies – topics ranging freely around subjects like Star Wars, animal sacrifice, catholicism and cannibalism. At the core of the series is Campbells understanding of the essential traditional roles of myth:

  • Justifying the existing social order
  • A record of observable cosmological information – an early instance of science
  • General guidance through life
  • Creating appreciation for the essential mysteriousness of life

He suggests the last two functions are needs not adequately provided in contemporary urban society, largely because rational scientific thought easily dismisses mythology as absurd. Therefore he has based his career, as a teacher and writer of mythologies, around the motivation that  ‘the most necessary form of societal change is teaching people how to live again.’ Whatever you think of this, he’s a wonderful generator of quotes, to give you a few:

“I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.”

“If the path before you is clear, you’re probably on someone else’s.”

“We’re not on our journey to save the world but to save ourselves. But in doing that you save the world. The influence of a vital person vitalizes.”

“The person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.”

“Computers are like Old Testament gods; lots of rules and no mercy.”

“Half the people in the world think that the metaphors of their religious traditions, for example, are facts. And the other half contends that they are not facts at all. As a result we have people who consider themselves believers because they accept metaphors as facts, and we have others who classify themselves as atheists because they think religious metaphors are lies.”

“Myth is much more important and true than history. History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.”

“Man should not be in the service of society, society should be in the service of man. When man is in the service of society, you have a monster state, and that’s what is threatening the world at this minute. …Certainly Star Wars has a valid mythological perspective. It shows the state as a machine and asks, “Is the machine going to crush humanity or serve humanity?” Humanity comes not from the machine but from the heart. What I see in Star Wars is the same problem that Faust gives us: Mephistopheles, the machine man, can provide us with all the means, and is thus likely to determine the aims of life as well. But of course the characteristic of Faust, which makes him eligible to be saved, is that he seeks aims that are not those of the machine. Now, when Luke Skywalker unmasks his father, he is taking off the machine role that the father has played. The father was the uniform. That is power, the state role.”

One fundamental discussion he has with Moyers is about where responsibility lies in contemporary society for the communication of myth. He contrasts the traditional myth-delivering Shaman with a contemporary Priest who is ordained into an existing body of knowledge and teaches from this. He describes the Shaman as a figure experiencing a schizoid-type breakdown and given powerful access to their unconscious, whereas the Priest represents a contemporary institution that often seeks to maintain a status quo (for example through alleviating guilt). Instead he suggests artists, a necessarily ‘elite’ educated group, have the responsibility of re-interpreting traditional myth into contemporary figures – something that I would suggest is conspicuous in good art be it film, music or gallery art.

What do you think about this? Does our society lack this mythic awareness as urgently as Campbell argues? Are many of our so-called problems caused by this absence? Or does Campbells thinking suggest a nostalgic view of human nature and society? Perhaps more interestingly, do any myths have this type of life guiding power for you?

 

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