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I’d awoken with a headache and horrible, foggy eyes from sleeping with my contacts in after I don’t know how many hours sleep, but not many.  The flat was silent and stale smoke pervaded, but there had clearly been an effective pre-bed tidy-up, so I didn’t feel too bad about heading home. It would be about a 25 minute walk back to my place. For once I was glad to see a grey sky, since I’d neglected to bring walk-of-shame sunglasses. I’d anticipated making the walk through the Alameda and into the centre as quickly as possible, to breakfast and my bed at the other end, but there was something so satisfying about those streets this morning…

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville which I must investigate.

Calle Miguel de Carvajal, one of many interesting street names in Seville to investigate.

In contrast to New Year’s Day at home, which has something of the post-apocalypse about it – desolate street scenes with occasional bands of refugees, fleeing, bedraggled from a night of kamikaze boozing, or family units wrapped up to the hilt against a bitter northerly wind, journeying to share sustenance with elders; barely a vehicle on the road and absolutely no public transport – the streets were full of people. Walking dogs, jogging, or dressed in smart coat, umbrella in gloved hand, as if out for a Sunday stroll. And there were buses running. Given the Spanish fondness for holidays and – dare I say it – not working, I was a little surprised. All of the shops and most of the bars and cafes, however, remained closed. It was a great opportunity to feel Sevilla differently, without the distractions and the bustle of commerce, of shoppers, of the crowds taking tapas. The dull light added an unexpected, soft peace, and right away I made the decision not to take the quickest route home, but to turn in another direction and find a path previously unknown.

Vespa under orange trees.

Vespa under orange trees, que Sevillano.

Rain on Plaza del Museo,  a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes and five minutes from my flat.

Rain on Plaza del Museo, a marble, hedged patio endowed with two huge, ancient fig trees, outside the Museo de Bellas Artes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It turned midday and the bells on all the multitude of churches clanged.  Along with the Chino bazaars, they were the only thing open. Seville is a city of twisty-turny streets and alleys, without hills, and so churches come upon you unexpectedly – a high, flat stucco wall suddenly merging out of a block of apartments. Through one great, studded wooden door, I saw a set of Franciscan sisters in white habits. Through another, I heard Gregorian chant benedictions. I walked on but the sound echoed in my head, and the tinny pop music from a café a few streets on seemed unbearably empty. I tried to find my way back, not sure that I would – the streets here are tricksy like that – but then the church came out of nowhere again and I heard the monks. I lingered in the small plaza outside, under the ubiquitous orange trees (they have fruits, even at this time of year) where someone had parked their Vespa, and listened, trying to pretend I wasn’t. I’m not religious and I always feel a bit awkward and embarrassed to show interest in it. There are moments sometimes though, like that one, where I understand it…

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

Door to the church of the Gregorian chanters.

The unusual motif outside the church of the chanters. The saint is Guadalupe, but I'm not sure of the significance of the turbaned men who flank her.

The unusual motif outside. The saint is Guadalupe, but I don’t know about the turbaned men who flank her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I walked on, and around the corner this time (I chose a different one) I could hear above me a continuing party with a soundtrack of funk. I smiled, felt a little envious, and carried on into a shabbier area, with broken bottles, swept piles of revelry rubbish, and homeless sleeping behind cardboard ramparts.

Walking the damp streets of my new city this morning, I really felt that I was starting this new year in the best possible way. I’d celebrated the previous evening with my fabulous new colleagues in my new job. Here I was, exactly one month into my stay in Seville, first wages in the bank, a spacious place to live, and no longer a waif. A whole year ahead of me to explore and love and hate this country that’s been on my mind so many years. I can relax! For a bit, anyway…

A man out for a New Year's Day stroll.

A local flaneur, out for a New Year’s Day stroll.

A couple of posts ago I hinted at my rage at Halloween having become a commercial sham and an excuse for people to dress up in a fashion that is in no way relevant to anything, get shitfaced and behave disgustingly (damn I’m transforming into a grumpy old Scotswoman at rapid pace here).

I say this as if I have some sort of aversion to getting drunk and behaving badly – I don’t, I do this all the time. My revulsion is at something once culturally significant being turned upside down and its insides squeezed out for commercial gain, to the point where it really does mean nothing to the ignorant souls donning their ‘pirate wench’ and ‘zombie cowboy’ outfits, other than another excuse (as if they needed one) for a night of debauch.

There’re two aspects that bother me, one being the Americanisation. When I was little (cue grumpy old woman), there was no such thing as ‘trick or treating’. Halloween/All Saints Eve/Samhain, whichever name you care to give it, religious slant or otherwise, was a pagan, Celtic festival celebrating the end of the harvest season and the commencement of the dark half. It is firmly rooted in Scottish heritage.

 

Guisers on the Isle of Uist [image: angusmcphee.blogspot.co.uk]

‘Guising’ would see you go round your neighbours with your wee pals in your wee witch or warlock costume, tell a joke, a ghost story, or sing a wee song, and get a sweetie or a few pence in return. The custom originates from the belief that dressing your children to blend in with the evil spirits abroad on the Eve of the Hallows would protect them, and it was considered prudent to give them small gifts to help ward off ill will from the souls of the dead.

 

Kiss front man Alice Cooper, who was disappointed with the Halloween celebrations growing up in the US [image: nndb.com]

The Americans in their true, naïve, culture-crushing style, have taken away any element of lore and replaced it with, well, that great American virtue – greed. As Alice Cooper, who now always celebrates the date in the UK, said of Halloween growing up in the States – “It was all about the candy”. This is the attitude that the global corporatisation of traditional events and holidays has succeeded in supplanting over here in the years since I grew up.

And it was turnips, not pumpkins…

 

Proper neep lanterns [image: blog.makezine.com]

The infamous harlotty Halloween costume which has now become the norm has also come to grate on me. That other renowned American virtue, vanity, comes to mind. It goes beyond vanity though. We all want to dress to look our best (I shall be doing so at a Halloween-themed cabaret night tomorrow), but Halloween outfits for women have transgressed into the downright degrading. A friend’s work colleague was apparently dressing this year as a ‘slutty skeleton’. A slutty skeleton. I could certainly see that being thrown as an insult at some of the sights you see on a Saturday night, but actually – a slutty skeleton. I have not words…

 

Oh yes, it really exists [image: thebroccolihut.com]

This has even less to do with Halloween than trick or treating, and is in fact part of a wider trend of sexism, pornification, and the division of genders that is happening across the board in the West, and which has been on my mind a lot over the last year but is so huge that I’m unsure where to even begin writing about it. I’ll leave that one at that for the moment…

The state of what Halloween is fast becoming is only one facet in the list of traditions and festivals that have been slaughtered by a market-driven culture. With Christmas marketing having begun before Halloween was even over this year, expect a follow-up rant soon…

Yesterday’s sunny Autumn day offered a fine opportunity for a hilltop stroll…

The onslaught of Arctic winds (in all seriousness – straight from the NNW) froze my fingertips and made photographing a little challenging, but the images I came away with really capture the fluidity and drama of the light (and the weather) at this time of year…

Mmmm, desolation…

From desolate to picture-postcard in 5 minutes…

I have a couple of panoramas from the top of the Caterthun I’m going to try and stitch together.

And it was the last day of Autumn indeed – today, snow arrived on the wind…

We like our lore in Scotland, traditionally at least, and this be peak faerie season. Lock up your babies!

The Enchanted Forest event at Pitlochry plays on this, and of course tourists it up, but you can’t deny the fun in creeping through an artfully lit forest staffed by druids and unicorns, on a calm, cold, moonlit night in the days surrounding Halloween (or Samhain, to give it its Celtic name). A good and proper way to celebrate the passing of this ancient festival (rant about commercialised, americanised ‘trick-or-treat’/harlot-y costume abomination soon to follow…)

The tree-based light installations surround a small loch, making for stunning reflections on a still night. Turn these images sideways, however, and the faces of the Faerie Folk come out! –

By all accounts, if walking out at night during this high season of supernatural activity, it is best practice to wear your clothes outside-in and back-to-front. Centuries-old established method of faery-mischief repellence…

Since I’ll be leaving the country again soon, and indefinitely, I thought I’d best make the most of my remaining time at home and get out into the landscape, by far the best thing about my homeland. My home county of Angus is a tourism backwater, and its dismal towns either suffer for it, or are the cause of it, it’s hard to say which. But the agricultural pastures which roll between hills and woodland and right to the cliffs of the North Sea shore make it the most beautiful of the land, in my opinion, and are what shall one day bring me back.

Though I took a lot of classic shots of that landscape today, I’ve chosen slightly abstract ones which display textures:


Light through the beech leaves and on the bare dreels, post-harvest.

I like this one cause it doesn’t really fit. It’s ambiguous, homogeneous even. It could be anywhere, though it makes me think of Kansas, or Nebraska. Not that I’ve ever been to either, but I did fly over them in an aeroplane once…

Today, I’m feeling monochrome…

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This afternoon I was overcome by an urge to head for the coast. The sun had retreated, but the breeze was still warm and the clouds made a fine spectacle. There were others on the stony shore at Auchmithie, enjoying the close of the summer. Slavic voices fleeted up on the wind, too distant to tell where from, and I wondered how they had come to find this hidden cove.

 Some houses for sale: tiny, squint, one-story things, like rural homes ought to be; and I fantasise of a bleak, seaside existence…