Friday, 20 May 2016

Terra Pericolosa: Speak, why are you here?

Derek Hersey:Photo Gary Thornhill

Intimacy with the planet keeps us wild, undomesticated, unwilling to submit to social conditioning.   Lash.

As a self-professed outsider in the outside arena it may come as no surprise when I view this culture as absurdly obsessive.Yes, I am at odds. As a climber has it always been so? I guess so, to an extent, but those obsessive climbers that I remember were never taken seriously and mostly ridiculed. Top activists these days are creating awesome problems and their goals, achievements, breakfasts and hair styles reported with such serious liberal yawn –where is the scornful, difficult but untroubled nature not chocolate-boxed by the mass media? The channel is switched to celebs, politics, sport, celebs, politics, sport… Who ‘literally’ is tying the rope to their balls out there…? Who gets bummed by a BMC employee…? Who breaks his opponents leg in a fight…? Who abuses sponsorship, robs banks, attempts to drive a scooter up to Dinas Cromlech…? Who puts another top climber in a headlock until he goes blue…? Who puts kettles into cracks…? What climber has had the most road accidents on-route from Llanberis to Chamonix…? Answers to come!

I know this is gender biased, but women tend to be more sensible. These people cannot represent anything but themselves. They cannot hold down jobs! Their climbing was alive and not staged and in my view preserved the way of nature. When I see the gob-smacked-talented bold ‘n’ young, I cant help feeling like there has been a ‘cover-up’… they behave like scouts and girl guides collecting their efficiency badges from the ministry of good behavior at the BMC. The cover up conceals the energy that climbing is grounded in, the right to say ‘fuck off’ to insurance and a paid job.

Nick Bullock has lately said that the present day climbing world is no longer as replete with ‘characters’ as it once was. He blames this shallowness of the younger generation being spoon fed on climbing walls, sport and consumerism…

Of course there are many characters still out there in climbing, but hey ho, everyone can’t be Stevie Haston, ‘cos there aren’t enough six inch nails to bend and there would be no peace for any geezer. It seems crazy to say everyone used to be a character, but perhaps characters breed characters in the culture they find themselves in. Perhaps there were more people with mental health issues? That can’t be correct. But where are the insouciant Gary Gibsons, boldly claiming routes they never climbed? The more enthusiastic climbers lived their lives through climbing and operated more like computer geeks, and kept notes and guidebooks. I don’t remember their names! These geeks are now widespread and are ace, civilized, beta-gathering, hummus and halva eating folk on bouldering circuits, counting calories and cleaning a range of toothbrushes with Ecover products.

Back in the day, a young Geraldine Taylor was ‘mad for it’ a precursor model of the femme sportive, but widely seen as chic-eccentric. She was not subdued. Not so these days. They have multiplied and instead of help-support groups that take the piss, there are competitions and Pilates and a super range of clothing. Where is ‘dirty’ Derek Hershey with his plums hanging out…dead of course. Where is Neil ‘Noddy’ Molnar with a reefer high up soloing…dead of course. Where is Al ‘playboy’ Harris, speeding up Fachwen…dead of course.  Where is ‘big’ Jimmy Jewell, hanging on holds all day…dead of course. And then there was my friend Paul Williams, a self-confessed obsessive with monstrous enthusiasm, that motivated many a climber including Ron Fawcett, Andy Pollitt and myself. If you ‘hung out’ with Paul you did epic new routes because he knew where they where, would take you there, hold your ropes and entertain you! Through obsession…dead of course. 

Paul Williams: Photo Ian Smith 
There were cleaner, more ‘sporty’ types, but the idea of a sport never entered the equation. Life was too funny, random, still a dirty business with side-stalls of anarchy and nonsense, when rock was more a guide to thought. The repression I feel in the climbing world is a manipulation of the human spirit, is corporate and in essence, religious. I am an artist, an outsider artist of course, and quite frankly I don’t give a flying fuck!

I know that anarchy doesn’t sell. And characters die. And that sport is seen as ‘clean’ and a cash crop goes without saying.

Whooooo, hang on, calm down, this article was never meant to be about personalities and sport, the synonymous duo. I was just using up a few leftover words from my last rant against sport. How vulnerable am I? I will now, I believe, succinctly tie in all of the above in relevance to the below. As above so below.

For those who frantically lose themselves searching for a hard-move, in fitness, adventure and sport I offer some alternative medicine… My article was supposed to start here… I flick the coin.

I open my door onto a street, and I am lost in awe at the safari before my senses. I have taken no twelve-hour flight to get here. I am not on holiday. No travel arrangements have been made. No fees paid. No apps or maps or guides are needed. My heartbeat is not monitored. No fitness necessary. No special clothes are needed. I am not chasing anything that improves my health or fitness. I am neither retreating or recoiling into myself nor escaping anything. I am not actively seeking anything. I am not self-observing. I am just being in a place where I live. I am. As I said, I am in awe at the world before me. I have only to step out and walk a short way for my senses to chatter away to each other and enable the unique imprint of place into my being. This is not ‘I could be anywhere’ state of mind, but specifically somewhere. This is not sitting back and looking at the panorama of life before me like a tourist brochure. Neither is it an examination of why I view the world as I do.

This is an active engagement with experience. This engagement creates a connection and one enters a vision. This vision already exists. It animates with soul, generates a voracious awakening to the pleasure of seeing, touching, feeling and vital inspiration and to strange creatures that do not scorn ceremonial life. Perhaps this is what Arne Naess calls ecosophy – planetary wisdom? It can seem that all else that evokes the nonsense of losing oneself in everyday tasks has been abandoned…

I am on ‘forensic’ safari from my house and it costs nothing but imagination…

Remain true to the earth – Nietzsche

Two meters out from my door and the heat of the sun hits me. I am on my knees in the lane facing a thin, sticky coating of tarmac that has melted, ground-up and bared with use by hot, rubber tyres to the coarse sand beneath. This is the material of the original lane, a piste, when donkeys did their stuff. This quartzy metamorphic rock is the substructure of my house, the foundations of which were cut and fashioned from it by craftsmen who knew its character, structure and strength. I know that five feet underneath my knees is a cold tunnel that connects to my cave in the basement. It is blocked half way but locals tell of a huge network of passages used to smuggle all kinds of contraband including people. I ponder the Retirada, the traumatic exodus of Republican Catalans escaping Franco’s persecution and regime…into the clutches of Vichy France…to concentration camps and a different death and to tunnels and walls within walls and families fighting within themselves and within their own walls a battle of allegiances, subterfuge and espionage.

I had recently been privy to a Lama, a spiritual healer, who had been commissioned to exorcise my friend’s house on the border with Spain. He detected the energy that my friend felt in her cave-atelier and told of what he ‘saw’. A terrified woman with three children was hiding there after crossing the border and escaping persecution. She was awaiting the ‘passeur’, a person paid to facilitate your passage from danger. He raped her and cut her throat in front of the children. The three children fled and were lost in the woods. He turned away from his internal screen to face us and said, ‘Perdu – lost’. The Lama did his stuff, said a prayer and we left. 

Perillos work: John Redhead
I ponder the horror of the Lama’s psychic vision with an ironic smile as Maricka, my neighbour, starts her rendition of ‘musette en liberte’, on the accordion, behind the bars of what was once the village jail, screaming from her open window something about hell and her Mother…! Like the anthem of an alienated, wailing demiurge, the ‘regarde moi’ score resonates the rue with melancholy and incarcerated souls.

I move from the Gneissose-scar, pocked on the tarmac three meters to Placa Sant Antoni and sit down on a granite bench under the Horse Chestnut tree. St Anthony is the patron saint of lost people and finding things. He is noted for having a vision of the Christ’s child whilst reading a book. In a niche on Maricka’s house there is an odd statue of St Anthony holding the Christ’s child in one hand outstretched from Christ’s buttocks. The alarming figurative has replaced some meaningful symbolism for the Saint, as there is no book. I ponder the surreal world of Saints and visions, of Paul, John and Jerome et al. Is it not the case that these Saints enter the world of a vision when the ‘will’ decides to intercede into more than can be seen, ’what the fuck is all this man, all this shit that is of monstrous crazy chaos, this unseen world that is part of me and in me…must be God yeah’. The poverty of the desert fathers and the poverty of their desert souls absorb the poverty of a dead land, frantic for a fresh world matrix. It continues to saturate the minds of man with stupidity and a nature-rejecting abstract.

Under the Horse Chestnut tree I am with the treescape. Strangely, I have seen its down-there business as its finer, tangled roots dangle Pan-esque in the tunnel of my cave. I am left to feel and what I feel is that what I see, including my own body is the part that doesn’t exist. Of course there is more and you move to it in stillness. You move to it by recognizing a negative compulsion to the physical. It is an empathic connection of belonging, with no self-reflection.

‘Outer world and inner world are interdependent at every moment’  Ted Hughes

I also ponder ‘the miracle of the jealous husband’, St Tony’s finest hour, when a husband cuts the throat of his wife believing her to be an adulteress. He is mistaken but all is well after our hero in Placa de Sant Antoni, gives her the kiss of life. He cannot kiss his own life however for he dies of ergot poisoning, his skin looking like a mess of Guignaria leaf blotch that afflicts the Chestnut tree in autumn. My fingers are also blotched with cobalt, cadmium and black pastel from my sketch, waiting to assert itself on my return.

Maricka finishes her serenade with ‘la boite a musette’. A barking dog adds vigour to the drone. Bravo. Is her flamboyant ‘rapture’ any less meaningful than Tony’s visions, because they both ‘belong’ to this moment? Is one influenced by the divine-demonic and the other by mental illness? Is it just the culture that decides an experience is divine or pathological? I feel that neither is of knowing. I catch her eye, and the contact drifts on a whim. I realize she could be anywhere. Adversely I feel that the Catalans seem to ‘grow’ here, like plants, embedded in a pact with the land. They inhabit. In deep-ecology it is understood that this bond is essential to sanity.

So, wandering on in my mind, I realize that the tree is itself a droning musical instrument. Thousands of honeybees gather in the rich source of nectar and tits of all variety chomp up the insects. It is alive and in bliss with abundant life forms. I listen. Not so my neighbour who is defined by isolation, not realizing the music she offers is not of this world, but a victorious battle of her will to be. No matter. The sensory nature of the collective drones is a mystery of collected differences. The altruistic bees seem indifferent to the melody, seem indifferent to pollination and pathology as we know it, the conker and being busy… with the moment, eyes lost in the engine of honey-ecstasy.

The horse chestnut leaf is used for eczema, menstrual pain, coughs and joint pain, but not ‘St Anthony’s fire’, which is ergotism. As if to scoff ridicule at man and his diseases and personalities a black scorpion squares up to me at the base of the tree. Challenging. Pincers out, tail up, as if demanding an explanation. Only three possibilities come to mind – I am in a vital period of inspiration and you are part of it – I am in a metaphysical state and you are my friend – I am about to get stung. The latter wins as I shuffle away believing that it is the scorpion that is the poetic mouthpiece to some supernatural power.

The tree is a native of Turkey and its name in English may be from the fact that when the leaf stalks snap off they leave the indentation of an upside down horseshoe on the branch. Etymologically not so in France where it is called, ‘marronnier’. Each culture has its folklore and naming and the locals here tell of collecting the marrons to give to horses to alleviate coughs. I hear no one talk of or indeed play, marrons, the game. Too rough I guess!

When I first moved here, at noon every day, an old boy used to sit where I am sat. It is a cool place and welcoming. He propped his walking stick against the tree, the handle of which had been fashioned into a penis and painted red. He reached into a crack in the tree and pulled out a toothpick and proceeded to take off his shoes and flick the soil out of the tread of the soles. It was an obsession not a ritual. I engaged this happy man many times in strange conversation, thinking it good for my socializing and vocabulary, until I realized his French was utter gibberish. However, who knows what knowledge a madman imparts when words fail? Who cares about failing words when spoken by a happy soul? Perhaps the red penis was a clue?

The Eight-sided hydrangea tub sits opposite with an abundance of pink petals, symbolically noted for its heartfelt sincerity, grace and beauty. A small gecko emerges like a clockwork toy from the deep, cool interior to soak some sun, hard-wired and mindful of pleasure and intent, no doubt. No challenge.

My safari has taken me the grand distance of five meters so far.

Uncharted land…Terra Pericolosa, speak, why are you here?

‘To understand what it is to be part of the world and not an enemy of it’. Persig

On a previous ‘forensic’ in Liverpool I wrote – ‘I had always been interested in the family of idolatry, addiction, habits and neglect. Even though heavy words they float through all walks of life. They squeeze out from the squeaky-clean duty of attempted order and roll headlong from the leafy-ocean of suburbia, shopping for bric a brac, domicile to domicile, and wash up on the rocky-shoreline of inner-city streets where raw and naked chaos seems awakened. I feel this chaos… I am receptive…this abstract structure, this island of concrete, this heart… radiating and revealing some deep-ecological pulse as if the heart of the jungle’.

This jungle on my Placa is no different, just a little more contained, calmer and secretive. The bags of sardines or hash still move slowly over the border. The wary locals still check car number-plates. They know where all the mushrooms are. They wonder what the hell I do. They must read my mind. Through strobes of luminous green, I see the distant vapor trails from Ryanair jets en-route from Liverpool to Girona. Here, there, no matter. The village tree holds the distance. I face the granite wall by the font of 1888, and pick a few leaves of Pennywort (Venus’s Navel) for a little snack. Associated with lovemaking, it grows in profusion in the fissures along with its mates Toadflax and Herb Robert. I guess that these dark fissures contain all the sexy-life of the Cosmos, rooted in the Earth. It is a sensuous revelation.

‘The solid Earth but ever the sky’.

After five meters of moving ‘stillness’, I must return to my pastel sketch, ‘The moving of slimes and slops of birth and life to its end’.

To be continued.

John Redhead, May 2016