Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit, bremain, bregret and breenter: witnessing Bristory!

(introducing the soon very fresh #thisisnotacitybreak!)

Among other things - such as postcards and enveloppes, the blog you're reading and a certain art-de-vivre -, Un(t)raveling came with its own set of rules. Some are quite specific, like "sharing a nice piece of red meat with red wine every now and then" or "safely belaying each other on multipitch climbs and all the way down to the ground". Others are more subject to interpretation (which doesn't mean we don't have a pretty clear idea of what they mean for us at the moment), like "taking each other until the end of the world... and back". So, one of the un(t)rave-rules was no planes!

if any message at all about an airline we won't name here, it'd be this: "avoid'em!"
We believe they account not only for a good amount of greenhouse effect and air pollution, but also for a delusive mis-perception of space, time and distances in the post-modern, global world: flying 10.000 km in about 10 hours is just slightly insane, unnatural and very likely to make one believe the world is actually smaller than they think! I am sorry CS campagin advisers and other wooooh! people: the small world is actually bigger than our consumer society claims (i.e. it is much more energy-costly to fly us on holidays worldwide, ship all the stuff we buy worldwide, extract, process and transport huge amounts of fuels and resources worldwide, while wasting for these purposes huge amounts of energy and resources all year round... and this is so energy-costly because the distances covered daily are monstrous, only we are not aware of it anymore). And at the same time, it is much smaller and more finite than the consumer society tends to believe (i.e. based on the paradigm of a globalized, exponential growth to feed the over-increasing appetite of "markets", the one and only planet is too soon too small for any best-case scenario. It's always nice and scary to (re)have a look at the 1972 Meadows' report "The limits to growth" and its "Forty years after" sequel). How fresh and delicious a paradox: the world is bigger than we think, but smaller than we think, too. Both. And at the same time. It depends on what our set of accepted beliefs is. Earth both big and small, dead and alive, as Schrodinger's cat in a closed greenhouse box... But this is taking us way too far from Manchester...

Anyway, as long as we can, we try and reach our destination(s) without the help of planes and hopefully can keep doing so for some time. Nevertheless, when work took us to Manchester, U.K. for an "important" (we won't discuss this here) meeting/congress, our options to hitch-hike, sail then get on a train appeared to be limited for both a tight schedule and obvious technical reasons. We had to fly, accepted it and agreed it could be considered NOT to be under the Un(t)raveling set of rules. "So, why do you make a blog post about it, then?", you may (should?) be asking. Well, because some unexpected and relatively interesting things happened there. And because Un(t)raveling is about telling stories from places we happen to walk through, regardless of tags like "work vs. holidays", "here vs. there" or "home vs. travel" - this whole sentence is maybe a bit too much of a tu vois c'que j'veux dire? Hum... One's backyard is as exotic as one's antipodes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, years don't ever come alone and so on. As the old one put it: everyday is a journey and the journey itself is home. Or as the other illustrious translated: The old pond, a frog jumps in: Plop!

treated on our way upNorth by two of our all time, holy, favorites mountains: el Montserrat català and l'Ariégeois Mont Valier.
First of all, the direct flight from Barcelona to Manchester, operated by a young and attractive lowcost, was quite an adventure, as we shared it with a wild bunch of (sorry to call them what they were) rude, drunk, noisy, retarded Manchester twenteenagers who were back from a week of Spanish delight. Translation: Mexican sombrero, tetra brick sangria, frozen paella and party all night. Never seen a group of idiots disturbing so many people at the same time without being said a single word. At some point, embarrassed by their own lack of education and/or pissed by the absence of reaction from the crew and the rest of the passengers, they stopped singing and performing something that could have been The rocky horror picture show had they had any bit of pop culture and started to complain loudly at our "lack of fun". They then progressively got quieter as their blood level of vodka and red wine kept rising, until a steward cautiously stepped over one of them snoring in the pathway. At that point they somehow gave up and backed to their seats, giving us a most welcome ten-minute break before landing. Not that interesting a story, I reckon, but they almost made us miss  on our way up North, the fantastic views of Montserrat, of the Pedraforca, then of the impressive and unfamiliar figure of our Mont Valier, its lakes and late snow patches. We later recognized Golfech nuclear plant and beautiful Agen, with the remarkable feature of the Pont-canal, an architectural treasure along the course of the canal du Midi/canal latéral à la Garonne, whose straight line and regular shape is perfectly recognizable from 20.000 or 30.000 feet above.
the greater Manchester and a beam of light showing the way to... Bethlehem?

We landed on June, 21st with a dense schedule until the 24th included and a flight back on the evening of the 25th, which meant (even though nobody had anticipated it when the meeting/congress event was first planned) we would be there to witness the so-called "Brexit" referendum we had heard of and talked about so much over the past few weeks! Being where you had no chance to be just when big (un?)expected things happen can be a great gift and your Un(t)ravelers wouldn't miss such an opportunity! So, outside our professional obligations, which we won't say a word about (non-disclosure, online privacy and such... sorry for this NSA, this will keep secret), we tried and wandered around the city center, ears and eyes wide open to any manifestation, demonstration, story, fact, hint or clue about what was going on in the U.K. at that time. And it was actually quite easy to at least prendre la température of the place: on the first day, on the first hour after landing, on the first bus ride straight off the airport, on the first page of Metro newspaper. Not exactly comforting on D-day minus 3... We acknowledged and -as Bill hicks wisely advised us to do- decided to enjoy the ride, both on the bus and through history. "Follow the flow: the sea refuses no river", says the driver/captain who gives the character a life-changing lift on his car/boat at the beginning of Richard Linklater's beautifully bizarre Waking life...

"take back control, vote to leave! (and a ticked box)", June 21st 2016, U.K.
We got to our (cheap and nice, absolutely lovely and cozy) hotel/B&B and enjoyed our (scarce) time off-duty walking up Oxford Road (a.k.a. U.M.M.S., for the University of Manchester MotherShip) to the downtown area (a.k.a Patratrastincha - for past the train tracks and stinky channel) and back, taking some pictures along the way, at different times of the day and night. We saw nice buildings and street art, places, moments, people and stuff like that, in  a seemingly random fashion, with some Euro 2016 supporters in between. We obviously searched for stuff happening before, around and during the refeyendum, as she brilliantly renamed it. But we soon started to experience this awkward frustration Ryszard Kapuscinski talks about in Another day of life, mocking the reporters who rush to anyplace right after anything happens and don't have a clue about the state of things at that moment. Sadly they don't have a clue on where to find relevant information either. They typically get their news from the taxi driver at the airport or in their hotel's lobby and rely either on pure luck or the vague speculations of some colleague around a scotch or a gin and tonic in the little hours. I mean, there's this beautiful little gem of a piece of advice in Jean-Marc Vallée's Wild movie: "you can put yourself in the way of beauty". Similarly, one could say "I want to put myself in the way of History". But, how do you do that in the first place? Intentionally. On purpose. Like you know what you're doing. Let's say: where do you start from? What is it exactly you are looking for? What Kapuscinski meant, if I don't miss the point, was he (like many others, of course) had been living in places, waiting for something to happen, witnessing it, acknowledging it and foreseeing it for months or even years, so as to be able to document it when it would, at last, care to occur. We're not reporters. Sadly for those who follow this blog... ;) But we try very hard not to be digital tourists, either.
Left to right: "sweet home à la-bas Manchester", "where do I begin to tell the story of how great Britain can be" and
"I'm an alien, I'm a legal alien, I'm a continental in U.K.".
Fortunately the world is not that black-or-white, binary, boring little thing. Between serious journalism and an average #citybreak, we believed - and very much hoped, to be honest - there would be a fair scale of greys we could find ourselves (or get lost) in between. Some random images caught on film could by chance fit in and feed the illusion that we were anything close to understanding what was about to happen. The NHS was spending millions in bio-medical research, the City was spending millions on developing the University's facilities and the housing for thousands of students, the health business was flourishing, public teachers were on strike for their wages and women's votes were desperately nurtured and expected. Ah!, and brick was still a solid value to rely on.

we called this hungry fellow the Brickosaurus ; "women use your vote" ; one of a long series of brick buildings...
a two-wheeled tribute to Gil Scott Heron ; on framework and the big picture ; looking at the (old) men in the mirror.
We tried some local food and some local beers at our local pub, some average round-the-corner kebab and fries and some traditional breakfast of toasts, beans, eggs, bacon and sausage ; only that the latter were fake, vegan, soy-based, "smoked" bacon and sausage! Not any healthier than regular industrial meat o be fair, at least in terms of sugar-, fat-, processed GMOs'- and carcinogen-intake. But, hey, we tried to blend in and did as the Romans seemed to be doing. We were repeatedly told we were being very, extremely and shamelessly lucky with the weather, which we appreciated. We consistently answered with both confidence and a big smile that maybe we had brought it from Spain just to cheer'em up a lil'bit.. Ha ha! Grin (Bryonia Cunnigham, or whatever your name is, sors de ce corps!). Actually, it rained only several times per day, not too much and with enough dry pauses to live a regular Mediterranean life, that is: to walk to and from everywhere.

University of Manchester ; University of Manchester ; a piece of British climbing history ; University of Manchester ; University of Manchester.
And then it came: Refeyendum day! We saw nor heard nothing special on D-day. Neither did we on D+1. No songs, no honks, no firecrackers, no anthems, no protests, no demonstrations, no civil war, no bank holiday, no fires, no gunshots, no riots, no Royal Family at the balcony, no groundhog, not a single mole at the booth... Not even the average tumbleweed cruising the desert streets. Ironically, a sunbeam or two, to wake the colors up during a few very nice hours, but little more. The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky, are also on the faces of people passing by. I see friends shaking hands, saying !how do you do?" but they're really saying "I love you". And I think to myself: what a wonderful world! What a wonderful world. See the picture? You can always have a look at them below here... We re- (and eventually re-re-) walked the narrow streets of cobblestone looking for the present or the near future ; but we ended up looking at the past: mummies, dinosaurs, ice age weapons and other stuffed, long-extinct animals, posing for free at the Museum of Natural Science. How ironic... Even though at some point, you may briefly experience, you may get a feel - or maybe even a thrill - of what it must be like to be from a small island who once owned the whole world just enough so that your very home is still full of the fauna, flora, arts, gods and silent memories of most the cultures from about everywhere around the globe. How would you not believe, when looking at the Channel from Dover on a foggy day, that the Continent got isolated? Perspective is everything...

I'm painting my room in the colorful way ; another (painted) brick in the wall ; one of the Doors (of perception?).
the one and only original Swimmosaurus from head to tail-ish ; and of course Mr. Hancock's Headhunters' Chamaleon!
And suddenly, that was it: they had voted, and they had voted they'd leave. Who would? How come? Leave what? Where to? What for? We were left with so many questions and so few answers. The big man resigned, everybody was shocked, some even cried. And suddenly, no later had they Bleft that they all seemed to Bwake-up. They Bregretted all around the polls and drooled all over the internet. Apparently, they had mis-Brunderstood the whole thing, or they were told Bratant Blies. If not to late, they wanted to Bremain and if it was, well they hoped to Breenter a.s.a.p. They were given a microphone to say loud what their votes failed to transmit with clarity: they allegedly wanted to express their disagreement, but didn't expect their vote to count at all. At the end of the day, what the interviewed on TV came to say was that the best position is when "you" voted "out" but "in" won with a tiny majority, so you can complain that you are almost half the country and you're not heard and that's outrageous! But voting "out" when you secretly want to stay "in" (so you can keep complaining and acting as you're an oppressed, unheard minority) and winning a ridiculous victory you never wanted in the first place, and having to face big, complex and tough decisions, while almost exactly half the country is against you, it's a bit different. SO: they wanted "out" deep inside but believed the "in" would win on the outside. They all looked pretty upside-down. They even took the dust off the good old #notinmyname... They thought it was good to ask for the exit but didn't expect to get it. Or they wanted the others to leave so they themselves could Bremain? In just a few words: Brassive-aggressive Brehaviour at its best. Or maybe not: maybe we all got so used to voting and seeing how it has no consequences whatsoever, that we ended up believing voting was not going to change anything ever. Voting as a way to just complain about things we wouldn't like to be different... Aaah, Brolitics!

the hangover of the day after ("same old blues"): while men scream at their miserable condition, Gods laugh and smile up there.
But hey, try 'n understand'em: suddenly, the Pound was in free fall, unemployment was exploding and some hungry tuberculous badgers were invading the suburbs of London. Suddenly, their vote had been stolen by some inglorious liars who didn't seem to want their trophy anymore, as though victory actually tasted bitter. Or just plain rotten maybe? So, yes: it was, indeed, a surprise for everyone. And yes: we, indeed, felt extremely sad. And yes: we, indeed, were not alone. And yes: we, indeed, were greated with a lot of uncomfortable smiles and very little eye-contact on the street and in the shops, as if they all were apologizing for a "leave" they personally didn't want nor had voted for. "Moths are symbols of transformation and the Peppered Moth has particularly strong links to Manchester. Look out for Peppered Moths throughout the Museum, as you explore the past, present and future." Never better said. Before flying out of the country and back to the solid (and somehow familiar) ground of the continent, we thought we had to enjoy at least a mouthful of some of the most generous and colorful of the old Empire's food... and ran into an Indian restaurant, right in front of a bus stop to the airport (#43, if I remember well). We had two different curries with clover rice and some garlic naan to make sure we wouldn't leave a drop of sauce in the plates, then wave at a bus and got to the front of the upper deck to enjoy more of the ride.
blade runner or ghost in the shell? ; moths on the shelf or purple rain? ; remembering D-Day in a Mary Poppins style.
The ride in question was sleepy and digest-y ; the flight home was grounded for an extra hour and a half because of who knows what ; the shuttle to the long-term car park was endless ; the drive inside Barcelona on a Saturday night was surprisingly smooth. From here: with the sea, the summer and the crowds of guiris, but mostly with love to you all: the Britins, the Britouts and to all those in between and around ; or across and beyond borders...
Wallis and Futuna